Funny thing about explosions. They kinda take you by surprise and don’t really follow any schedule. I mean, it doesn’t matter what crafty ninja plan Leo comes up with … the ground bucking under your feet and a few tons of sewer water landing in your lap are gonna put a bit of a crimp in it. ‘Course, being the perfectionist he is, he’ll take it personally. You almost expect the guy to have this huge flow chart drawn up. With all those little arrows, you know? One that sends us to that little rectangle on the bottom right side of the chart that says “Plan E” in case of natural disaster.
I’m not sure what Plan E would be, but I have a good feeling I’m following it. Right now, I’m trying not to drown, because something seriously nasty has just gone on directly underneath our feet and now I’m falling along with a helluva lot of water. And I’m not the only one. I can hear Raph coughing and choking and trying to swear … he’s getting farther way. And somewhere, I can hear Leo issuing orders for Don to snag Raph like he knew this was going to happen all along, only he didn’t. You can hear it in his voice, that little snap of tension that says we’re not gonna be undone by some stupid freak accident. Because he’s Leo, and nothing gets the better of him.
The last thing I hear before I get churned under by a bunch of mud and filthy water is a heavy splash. It freaks me out, because I’m pretty sure diving into New York’s newest natural waterslide isn’t smart by anyone’s definition. After that, I don’t have time to think about it. The surface has just disappeared and I’m stuck in water I can’t see through, banging against hard rock as I get sucked right down through narrow, newly made tunnels that have cracked open and I try so hard to come up for air, but there’s so much muck and churned up water that it’s like trying to inhale with a shower nozzle jammed in your face. And I’m falling a long way, which is weird. I mean, sure, there are a whole bunch of layers to find under your standard city sewers – aqueducts and old catacombs and such, and let’s not forget the huge spooky underground area with all the damn monsters – but how far down and how powerful was that explosion to give us so much grief near the surface?
Wow, New York reporters will have a field day… Hope the guys clear out of the area long before they send workers down.
And then it occurs to me that they’ve got the easy part – because I, Michelangelo, am going through one hell of a hazardous descent. And once I stop falling, how the hell do I get back up again?
Assuming I survive the fall …
Okay, now I’m panicking. It doesn’t help that when I break the surface fully, finally, take a gasp of air and go under again – I can’t see. There is no light down here, wherever I’m going. I barely have time to process that when I stop banging into rock and go straight into free fall. Oh, shell. I have no idea how far down it is, I’m effectively blind, I don’t know what I’m gonna hit—
--As it turns out, it’s metal. And I land heavily along what feels like pipes, uneven and creaking underneath me because everything’s unstable down here. I can’t breathe; landed well enough I guess, but the fall knocked the breath out of me. My shell absorbs most of the damage but I can feel a rib or two go as I tumble. The water’s still pounding down on me, and it’s pretty clear I’m not going to end up staying here for long. My hand flails for purchase and I can feel the warp in the metal as if it’s about to tear loose. I can’t see anything, but I can hear just fine – the water falls a long, long way. I’d probably be screaming like a girl if I wasn’t choking on a serious lack of air.
So, watch me scrabble to stay up here as long as I can. I don’t wanna fall. That would seriously suck. Of course, staying up here indefinitely is … well, sorta stupid. But it’s better than falling down there. Maybe I can follow the pipes along to somewhere a little less unstable. And find a tunnel, maybe… The sheer scope of having to get back to everyone else while in the dark is really not filling me with good cheer, but it’s not like I have much choice.
I get my breath back, bit by bit, and bunch my knees together, balancing on the back of this huge, creaky pipe. The water is pouring down on my shell, and I’m ducking my head to try to keep my bearings. The logical thing to do would be to get out of the water’s path and then work out where to go. The pipe is sloping just slightly upward, so I guess following it that way might be okay … or down? Which is better? I hesitate – and this is why you should never rely on me to make a good choice. Because while I’m frozen there on the pipe, something cracks and groans and shifts, and suddenly I’m not so much balanced on the pipe as I am swinging down with a whole section of it as one of the joins gives way.
It’s still attached. Sort of. And now I’m clinging for my life, sliding down it bit by bit despite my desperate grip, all the while listening to the long, ghostly echo of water hitting ground solidly somewhere below. See? Have breath, will scream. Oh yeah … just listen to that girlish screech. I’m almost glad Raph is nowhere around to hear me. I know he’d never let me live it down.
There’s a thump and the whole pipe shudders and I slide a few more inches. And then there’s a hand, lashing out of the darkness to latch around my wrist. It’s not very gentle, that hand – those huge fingers are practically grinding the bones together, and I can’t help but scream some more out of sheer shock. So wasn’t expecting that. But it’s just in time, because the pipe section I’m clinging to gives way entirely at that point. There’s a loud groaning of metal and that jarring squealing sound that’d make my hair stand on end if I had any … and then I’m hanging in the darkness, water raining down around me, this unknown hand clamped around my wrist to stop me from falling.
I’m still screaming, by the way. Well, what else am I gonna do?
“Mikey!” Leo’s voice. “Stop screaming and give me your other hand!” He’s yelling at me, trying to be heard over that thundering water and falling pipe and my own flailing scream. For a second it doesn’t really sink in – and then I realise that the person crushing my wrist to death is in fact my big brother. So relieved. I’m not alone. How he got here I’m a bit confused about, but hey … I’ve long since given up trying to work out how he manages half of what he does.
And once I realise I have company, reality reasserts itself and I realise his position can’t be all that good either. His face is close to mine but he’s hanging on to a wrist, and I’m trying to work out the logistics of that – he’s upside down. What’s he doing, hanging on to the broken pipe with his toes?
I swing a bit uselessly for a second, and then I grit my teeth and swing my free arm up in the darkness. Leo catches my other wrist a bit more gently this time, and just for a moment we both hang there, listening to the last descent of the broken section of pipe. It occurs to me he must thrive on this last minute rescue thing … and then I also remember that we’re both effectively blind right now. He probably wouldn’t have known where I was until I screamed. Who says panicking isn’t useful?
“Okay, listen to me.” He’s hanging upside down in the middle of the great underdark, weighed down by a half-hysterical turtle in the middle of a bunch of pipes and water and rock that are conspiring to kill us both off, and Leo still manages to sound like he Has A Plan. “I’m going to swing you back up to the pipe.”
Well, I never said his plan had to be a good one. I stare wildly upward. “The pipe’s broken!”
“Not all of it,” he yells back. He doesn’t have any choice – the water is still loud, dropping down in a heavy waterfall right next to us. At least I’m out of its direct path now. Something warm drops onto my snout – a drop or two. Great, now he’s spitting on me. Thanks a bunch, Leo. “We can’t get out of here like this. I need you to hold your own weight for just a few seconds. Can you do that?”
Translation: Leo needs to be right way up before he loses his grip. Yeah, I get that. So I nod, and then remember he can’t see me anyway. But it doesn’t matter – before I can say anything, I’m swinging in the darkness with a speed that’s vaguely unsettling. My stomach lurches. Only way he can get that speed straight away is if he kicks off of something, so …how the heck are we not falling? Maybe we are and I haven’t noticed … stupid thought, you know. But the moment it enters my head I get real dizzy.
And it really doesn’t help when Leo swings us back the other way without a word. It’s like some big trapeze act, only nobody can see us. Heck, I can’t see us. I have this bizarre image in my head now of a bunch of blind people at a circus, trying to work out what’s going on from the random creaks and dramatic music. It almost makes me laugh, except for the fact that what’s left of the pipe suddenly makes this tortured groaning sound.
I’m sure I hear Leo swear at that point. You know, that freaks me out more than the pipe. But then his grip gets so crushing for a second I give a yelp, and I get a bunch of confused impressions in the dark as he wrenches me up, half twisting himself …
…and then he lets me go.
I sort of react to that with half ninja, half Mikey reflexes. I know what he’s doing, and my arms automatically spread out, trying to focus on where that pipe is in the dark. And yeah okay, I’m screaming again. Maybe I’ll try and pass that off as a survival reflex – ‘But Leo, I was just making sure you didn’t lose me!’ – but at least I’m not as stupid as Raph likes to call me. I can hear the steady fall of water off to my left, and I know that was where the broken pipe length was. Leo’s aim is good. I’m up above and descending fast, and hey … my reflexes have always been totally awesome. Can’t keep us Battle Nexus Champions down, you know.
So there I go, landing with total catlike grace on the pipe. Balance, straighten, pose! I bet I never looked better.
Then the pipe gives under my feet.
You know, I’m so glad it’s dark and nobody can see that. I jump again, trying for a piece of pipe that isn’t falling. Land and slide and realise, as the shuddering gets worse under me, that the whole thing is coming down any second now. And—and where the heck is Leo? I hope he wasn’t—
--clinging to the pipe join that just fell. Oh, shell. I’m not scared. Hell with that. I’m terrified. He can’t have fallen, he can’t have left me here—
I have to remember this screaming thing. Clearly, it makes me a target. He hits me at that point. Not a punch, just collides with me and knocks me off the pipe. I’d be freaking about that, only the impact has just reminded me that my ribs are feeling none too good, and the pain that claws its way up my side robs me of any notion to do anything else. I think I manage a faint squeak.
And then his arm snakes around me and holds tight, and he speaks calmly into my ear. “It’s okay, Mikey. I’ve got you.”
Oh, I so cannot resist. Especially since I’m squeaking right now. “You’ve got me?” Lois Lane, eat your heart out. “Who’s got you?”
He says nothing. Of course he says nothing. Leo probably doesn’t get the whole Superman thing. But it’s not like I care that much right now. He’s warmer than the pipe was, and we are definitely not falling to our doom. We’re swinging, actually. Leo was carrying a grappling hook earlier; all part of our cunning plans for the evening before the earth so kindly upended underneath us. So I squirm a bit in his grasp and latch my hands around his neck so he can free up his arm, because I know he’s gonna need it.
Well, this is cosy. Can’t help it. I snicker against his plastron. Hi, my name’s Michelangelo, I’ll be your damsel in distress for the day! I can just tell he’s looking down at the top of my head with a baffled look. It comes out in his voice, this sort of odd note as if he’s trying to work out what I’m thinking. Oh, he probably thinks I’m in shock. I’m not in shock. Of course I’m not.
“Hang on,” he says finally. Like I can do anything else. Leo, master of ninjutsu, meditation, driving Raph nuts and The Obvious.
But it’s okay. He has good qualities too! Like … I know there’s no way he’ll let us fall. And my ribs hurt... and let’s face it, it’s been a hectic few minutes. Now my heart rate’s slowing down, all I really wanna do is hold on and wait for him to get us down somehow. We’re not staying still. I’m not sure, but by the way we’re moving, I think he’s finding places along the wall. At one point I heard the hiss of something and I’m pretty sure it’s rope, as he braces against some unsteady place and tries to work out where to go next. But I still can’t see a thing. Leo’s more used to working without sight and all … I’m hoping that counts for something.
Of course, when we finally do go into freefall, I panic again and wonder if maybe the rope gave. But Leo isn’t saying anything and his other arm is wrapped around me again, so I figure this is deliberate. And then we land in mud and water and go sliding, but that’s definitely solid ground underneath all the dampness. It’s slippery, but it’s safe. More or less. I can still hear water pouring down, getting slower now. It’s going past us. So he’s found us a ledge or something. I hope it’s enough.
“Are you okay?”
Yeah, I’m lying and we both know it. But I’m just achy and sore – not like anyone can do anything about it. I have nothing much else to say. I’m too busy getting all my nerves back under control so I can act like a ninja turtle again. You know. As opposed to a total and utter wimp. Why does it have to be so dark?
The water stops not too long after that. We’re still getting damp over where we are – some sort of splash back, water drifting in the air like really light rain – but that stops when the waterfall does. It couldn’t last forever; there’s only so much water to drain downward from where we were. Like a giant underground bathtub or something.
We’re sitting with our shells to stone, getting our breath back and listening to the water taper off. I know Leo had a brief ‘look’ around … well, I heard him walking around really tentatively. He found the edge, and he backed right away from it. From the feel of it, Leo says a lot of the ground has been washed away, and there used to be a lot more of it … the ground beneath his feet apparently slopes real suddenly and then cuts off. I don’t want to think too hard about how he found that out. We’re both safe where we are, relaxing. I’m beginning to feel every bruise I took on the way here. And my ribs … it hurts to breathe. Makes me wonder how I managed all that screaming earlier.
I think Leo’s reading my mind. He asks after a few seconds. “How hurt are you?”
Kinda think he’s noticed the hitch to my breath, somehow. I think about shrugging it off, but I suspect that will just earn me one of Leo’s knowing silences. I’ll end up telling him anyway just to stop his damning lack of words. So I admit it. “Aching all over. And I think my ribs are bruised or something.”
“Bruised or broken?”
I consider that. Breathing hurts, but the only real stabbing pain I got was when Leo slammed me off the pipes. “Bruised. I’ll be okay.”
He sighs. Gives me the warm fuzzies, you know? I know what Leo’s like. Worries about everything. Wonder if the whole ‘being stuck with brother someplace dark’ is anywhere on those imaginary flowcharts of his. He’s wondering how to get us out of here, I bet. It’s not just us I’m worried about, of course. Once it sets in properly that I’m not going to fall to my horrible doom any time soon, I work up the courage to ask.
“Don and Raph?”
“They’re okay,” he tells me. “Raph didn’t go under as fast as you did and Don never fell to begin with. Hopefully they’re making their way back to the lair by now.”
Of course. Don fished out Raph – that’s the last thing I remember Leo saying. It’ll be a mess up there, but if they can manage to get around it and find their way back to Master Splinter, then they’re probably gonna pack up the Tunneler and come looking for us. That’s a nice thought. I wonder how they’re going to manage it, and then I remember. And then I panic, because when I fish around in my belt, the only thing I can find are my nunchucks. I’ve lost everything else in the fall.
Then there’s a flicker of green light, and I finally see Leo’s face, giving me one of his rare smiles above his open Shell Cell. The light is spitting and fading, and it doesn’t take a genius to know the Cell is dying. Too much in the way of water and heavy impacts on the way down, I guess. Unusable. But …
… Light. I’ll never take it for granted again, I swear. Even the faint light from the Cell is so sweet.
“It’s okay,” he says. “They can track us with mine. I think the tracker still works unless it’s crushed.”
So now I’m grinning like an idiot, because everything will be fine now. Don and Raph will probably come down here in an hour or so with the Tunneler, and then we can just go home and I can have a shower and then go to bed for another day or two. Don will tell us all about his theories on the sewers upending on us, and Raph will scowl a lot. Because he’s, y’know, Raph. Heh.
Leo’s looking at me in the faint light, and he’s checking me over with that look of concentration that says he’s taking inventory. I wonder how bad I look. Sure, I took some bruises, but I’m not bleeding or anything. Leo’s gotta be as bruised as I am, anyway. He’s staring at my snout with an odd look, and I have no idea why. I think that pretty much came through with no problems. I was too busy covering my face half the time.
I run the back of my hand over my snout self consciously and pull it back to inspect it in the light. And … okay, I am bleeding. I mean, that’s blood on my hand. I don’t remember getting hurt. Leo leans back with a soft sigh and the light from the Cell finally dies. I hear him shut it with a snap, and realise his sigh sounded relieved. Which I don’t get. I’m bleeding, and he’s happy?
It takes a few seconds to click. My fingers run all over my face and I find no injury, and then I realise. That blood’s not mine. Leo didn’t spit at me before. He was bleeding at me.
Well, so much for relaxing. Oh yeah, Leo. Thanks so much. It really does freak me out, because it’s so dark and he could be sitting there with half his arm torn off or something and I can’t see a thing. And of course he’d say nothing. I don’t bother accusing him of hiding it. We all know what Leo’s like by now. I just reach over and latch onto his shell, pulling him close and I put on my very best Mikey-means-business voice. “Where are you hurt?”
He’s silent for a second. I actually think he’s surprised. And then he says, “It’s a scratch. It’s really not that important—“
“Just a scratch?” I flail at him. Flailing’s good. Oh, I’m upset now. “You’re spattering blood on my face and it’s just a scratch? Tell me where! How bad?”
He sighs again, and this time it’s the sound of the insufferably patient. Insufferable, anyway. “Look, Michelangelo—“
Mimicry is a gift, I swear. It shuts him up. But then he surprises me – I feel his fingers back on my wrist again, and then he works down to holding my hand. There’s this second of sheer panic. I’m seriously expecting him to gravely state he’s lost a leg or something. Well, maybe not. I mean, I’d have noticed by now. But instead he just holds my hand for a couple of seconds, and then pulls it down to lay flat against his leg in the dark.
“Feel for yourself,” he says gently. “I can’t show you. I mean it, Mikey. It’s not that bad.”
Well, here I am patting my brother down in the dark. There are so many bad jokes that can be made, I swear. But I keep my mouth shut, letting him move my hand along the muscle. I can feel the gash in his upper thigh, but it’s not wide and it doesn’t seem very deep, even if it is long – goes down past the knee. The blood has already stopped flowing. He must have torn it just before he caught me the first time. Probably on the broken pipe, now that I think about it.
But he’s right. He’s not bleeding to death or anything. Wow. For once, Leo says it’s just a scratch and actually means it. Film at eleven.
“Are you satisfied?”
There’s some faint amusement in his voice, and I grin at him in the dark, even though he can’t see me. “Gee, Gramma Leo, what fat thighs you have—“
Leo has really good aim in the dark. Did I mention that? But he’s gentler than Raph when he smacks me in the back of the head. Heh.
I hope Raph’s really okay. Don too.
“Come on.” Leo’s standing, and I blink in the general direction of his voice. “If you’re feeling well enough to make bad jokes, it’s time to move.”
“Why are we moving?” I’m confused. I’m also getting a sudden sinking feeling. “This place isn’t gonna collapse or anything, is it?”
“I don’t think so, Mikey,” he says reassuringly. “But we need to see if we can find our own way up.”
I don’t get it. Wouldn’t it be safer for us to just stay in one place and wait for rescue? I mean … Don! Tunneler! Dramatic saving of lives that makes Rescue 911 look lame! Well …lamer…
“We can’t rely on Donatello tracking us down,” Leo adds, as if he knows exactly what I’m thinking. “They might have been cut off from the lair. He might not be able to make it back to track us for a while. Raph …might need rest.”
The pause there tells me that Leo’s not one hundred percent certain on Raph being okay. Which figures … he would have dived after me before he could find out for sure. He’s worried. Which makes me worried. Of course, last thing I heard from Raph was a whole bunch of words that’d curl Casey’s ears, so... that’s a good sign.
“They’ll be fine, Leo.” Reassurance can work both ways, right? I reach out a hand blindly into the dark, and he takes it again, pulling me carefully to my feet.
Leo’s silent for a moment. And then he says, “Yeah. Probably. But … I have to tell you.” He pats me on the shoulder. “Even if Don is back at the lair right now getting all his search and rescue gear together, he’ll probably come after us on foot.”
“Ground’s too treacherous,” he murmurs. I hear a small crack, and I jump. “That …whatever that explosion was, it cracked right through a bunch of stable ground. I don’t think Donny will risk the Tunneler. It’s too heavy. It might do too much damage.”
I don’t understand for a second. And then I realise he’s right. Trying to tunnel with heavy machinery through ground that’s just been shot through with all kinds of cracks is just asking for trouble.
Well … crud. Guess that means a long wait either way.
There’s another crack, and I flinch again. Leo’s hand is gone from my shoulder. Uh …“Leo?”
“Keep talking, Mike.” His voice is … wait, he’s climbing. That’s what the crack was. He’s got his shuko spikes on. Good thing one of us managed to keep his stuff. He could have warned me, dammit. Doesn’t he know my nerves spook easily?
“I can’t see you.” I can hear his methodic climb up the stone. Guess he’s looking for an out. Taking it slow. “So let me know where you are.”
“Oh, I gotcha.” I can’t resist teasing. “Don’t wanna feel alone?”
“Mikey…” He sounds vaguely exasperated. “Would you prefer it if I lost you?”
Well, when you put it like that. I give a weak laugh. “Heh. So … how far do you think we fell?”
He’s quiet for a second. I don’t mind. I can hear the tapping of those shuko spikes across the rock, so I know exactly where he is. Leo is Mr Concentration – he’s trying to find us an out. But I know he’s giving serious thought to it. “We’re not too far down,” he says finally. “Not if there’s still piping in this area.”
“Far enough though, huh.”
“You got any food?”
He laughs. Now that’s nice. He doesn’t do it often, and when he does it’s to make fun of me. “I’m afraid you’ll have to go hungry for a while.”
Oh, that’s not a good concept. “How long are we talking here, Fearless Leader? Hours? Days?” I’m feeling hungry already. “Weeks?”
“I seriously doubt it will be weeks.” The patient tone is back in his voice again. That’s right, Leo. Humour your baby brother. “Though it might be more than a day. No more than two.”
“Two days?” I’m squeaking again. “You want us to starve for two days?”
“Wanting isn’t the word I’d use for it.” He’s moved across the surface of the rock, not up. Guess he’s doing the round tour before searching higher. “But finding us will be complicated. That’s why we move. If we can get to better ground, we’ll be easier to find. And maybe we can meet Don and Raph half way. We can survive two days, Mikey.”
He chuckles again. “I’ll buy you ice cream when we get home."
I snort and cross my arms. “A likely story. Pity you didn’t stash some chips in your belt. It’s not like you didn’t bring everything else. Man, you’re like a boy scout.”
“Not quite a boy scout?”
“Not quite everything,” he says wryly.
“Huh. What’d you forget?”
He goes silent for a minute or two. I can hear him up higher now; got to the end of our ledge, I guess. So up he goes another few feet and starts searching the next area. Kinda like one of those little space invaders in reverse. See, I didn’t need the sudden image of an 8-bit Leonardo making small retro arcade sound effects and shooting lasers at me …
“Michelangelo.” He sounds irritated. “What are you laughing at?”
“Nothing.” Nothing he’d understand, anyway. I’m still grinning like a lunatic. That image is gonna keep me entertained for ages. “What did you forget?”
He’s quiet again. I think he’s trying to work out whether I’m laughing at him or I just snapped. And then he speaks so softly I almost don’t hear him.
Smile drops right off my face. “You…how can you forget those?” They’re strapped to his back, for god’s sake. It’s not like he would have drawn them to fight an explosion. How can he—unless he deliberately—
“I took them off, Mikey. Don probably has them now.”
I try and piece that together. I mean, Leo and his swords are inseparable. I can’t work out why he’d deliberately throw them aside. So I’m quiet as he continues his search work, looking for an exit that may or may not exist. Something we can get through without too many problems—
--and then I realise. My ‘chucks fold nice and neat under the belt, pressed close to my plastron. But Leo? I have a horrible picture in my head now. Of my big brother diving in after me, trying to maneuver through those thin underwater cracks and bolt holes with two hilts jutting up above his shoulders. He couldn’t have done it with the swords. He’d probably end up wedging himself but good in one of those little tunnels. Drowning, instead of following me out …
I blink at the note of triumph, and peer in the general direction of his voice. I can hear the shift of his body as he nestles somewhere high up, so I make my way carefully over to just beneath him. “Just give me a few seconds, Mikey. I’m gonna see if this goes anywhere.”
“Sure thing,” I say, and then hesitate. “Uh … Leo?”
I shift from one foot to the other. “I just wanted to say …thanks. For … coming after me an’ all.”
“Can’t leave you alone in the dark.” He’s smiling. I bet he is. It’s okay. Guess that’s his version of you’re welcome. His voice is a little distant … he’s down his little hidey hole, poking around. I think that’s a good sign.
I don’t hear him for a while after that … well, I can hear him shuffle. He’s sounding very muffled now. As long as he’s still moving so casually, he’s okay. I stand around at the base of the wall and try not to let it get to me that I can’t see a thing.
At least he warns me this time. The rope unfurling and dropping over my shoulder doesn’t make me scream, it just makes me jump and nearly fall over my own two feet. Thanks so much.
“—this tunnel feels really smooth.” He’s holding the rope for me, nice and sturdy so I have a way up. “It’s not very big, but I think it’s a waterway.”
“Does that mean we’re gonna get wet again?” I ask sourly.
“Maybe, but I don’t think so. It’s dry.” He gives me a hand over the edge, and then puts a hand on my shell. “Don’t sit up. You’ll smack your head.”
Have to grin at that one. I guess that means Leo already did. He’s right … the rock does feel very smooth. It’s not man made, but it doesn’t have to be. If this has been worn away by water, then there’s an entry point above us somewhere.
And going up is a good thing.
The tunnel’s really tight in places. Sometimes there’s crawling space and sometimes we’re flat on our stomachs, worming our way through the gaps. The big problem is our shells – if we were human, we wouldn’t have a problem. But we carry a bit more bulk.
Either way, my face keeps running into Leo’s feet. You know, that’s icky at the best of times … I mean hello, we run around in sewers barefoot all day. But Leo smells of sewage and sweat and blood, and even though I know he’s not bleeding anymore that still makes me feel queasy.
“Yo, Leo. Can’t you go any faster?”
“No,” he says shortly. He’s stopped completely, and I start wondering if the worst has happened and the tunnel’s just too small. I can hear him shifting in the darkness, and I know he’s flattening right down. Great. Time to be uncomfortable again.
There’s some very nasty scraping sounds. Apparently nails on a blackboard have nothing on a shell scraping past solid rock. I wince. Not only because Leo’s shell has been damaged enough in recent times, but …in a few seconds I’m gonna be going through the same thing. Be nice if we were like hermit crabs or something. Just slip out of our shells and drag them after us …
…hah. Ninja crabs, no way. “You okay, Leo?”
“Give me a second …”
I’m half expecting to hear a dramatic pop, but the scraping just stops. Leo sighs in the dark. “That’s a tough one. But I think we’re almost there.”
“How can you tell?” I ask innocently. “Is there a light at the end of the tunnel?”
Apparently that was worth a gentle foot shove to the face. Well okay, I deserved that.
“The air smells different. More dirt, less stone.” He’s quiet for a second, then adds, “I think I can smell …sewer.”
My turn to try and scrape through that tiny hole. Ohhh, my poor shell. Actually, my poor ribs. This hurts. “You sure…” My breath hitches. “That’s not just us?”
I hate this tunnel. I hate being hurt. I hate being lost. And of course, I’m really kinda sick of not having any light. “Does that mean we’re back to normal sewers?” I ask hopefully.
He doesn’t say anything. I keep edging forward, and nearly jump when I feel his hands on mine, guiding me forward. Oh. Apparently this was the end of the tunnel. We can stand again. Not that I’m going to for a few seconds. I take my hands back to fold my arms over my plastron, willing that extra pain to go away.
“I don’t think so,” he says. “That smell will travel a long way. But … maybe closer than we thought. Are you all right?”
“Nothing a pizza and a hot bath wouldn’t fix. Just gimme a second.”
He doesn’t say anything. I know he’s standing right next to me – his fingers have settled down to rest on my shoulder. Leo’s worried. But there’s not much anyone can do about some sore ribs. And of course, it can’t escape Leo that now we’re standing in a place we can’t see, that we don’t know the layout of, that we don’t know where the exits are or in fact if there are any exits. Finding our way up is going to be hard. I can hear a clicking sound in the dark, and I think Leo’s opened up his Shell Cell. Trying to coax more light out of it, maybe.
I can feel moisture on my elbow, which is weird. This new place we’re in has a certain damp air, but I don’t recall sticking my arm into anything. I lift my arm to sniff at it, and cringe. It’s blood. Must’ve picked it up in the tunnel. “Uh, Leo? You’re bleeding again.”
“I know.” Leo sounds calm. “Just scraped it on the stone, that’s all. It’ll be fine.”
I glare in his general direction, secure in the knowledge that he can’t see me anyway. “Not if you keep pulling it open it won’t. Can’t you bandage it?”
Oh. Duh, stupid Mikey. It’s not like we even have bandages, and that cut is way too long for our masks to be of much use. Well, that’s fine. I get to my feet stubbornly. I think I’ll do the strenuous work from here on in. Can’t have Leo spilling his blood everywhere.
“So …” Peering around is a total waste of time. I still can’t see a thing. “Where to now?”
I can hear him tap at the walls, which is my first clue we even have walls. So I turn away from him and stretch my hands out, walking tentatively. I hit something hard, which makes me flinch a bit. But then I realise that’s what I wanted; a solid surface. Running my hands over what I’ve found I realise something else: manmade. Bricks. And if Leo is just over behind me tapping …
Sweet. We’re in a passage. This makes me feel much better. Passages go places. Leo’s come to the same conclusion, I know. So I don’t bother stating the obvious. I just ask him, “Which way?”
He’s silent, and I know he’s trying to work out in his head which way the lair would be from here. I have no clue which direction we’re even facing …lost track a while ago when Leo was playing spin-the-turtle.
“This way,” he says finally.
“That’s great. Which way is this way?”
His fingers brush against my arm, then reach down to take my hand. “This way. Come on.”
I let him tug me down the passage. He’s right - the ground beneath us is dirt. It’s not very clean dirt by the feel of it squishing between my toes … it’s damp and feels kinda slimy, and I wonder if the ‘sewer’ smell is just the run-off that’s managed to make it down this way. I don’t know how high the waterway tunnel took us … it went forever but it wasn’t very steep. Maybe only ten feet. Maybe fifteen. Not more than that.
I stick by my first statement though: passages are good, and a helluva lot better than some crumbling ledge in the middle of no man’s land. I keep the fingers of my left hand trailing over the wall beside me so that we keep going straight. From the faint scraping sound I can hear every now and again, Leo’s doing the same on the right. Seems like this corridor is just wide enough for a couple of turtles to have a nice evening stroll.
I’m just a little behind my big brother, my hand in his, and I pay attention to the bricks I can feel under my fingers. The walls aren’t in real good repair – the brickwork is uneven and I can feel gaps where it’s broken down. I stub my toes on a fallen bit of masonry at some point and yelp and nearly fall into Leo. It’s stupid. I have bruised ribs, and now my toes are hurting.
After that, I’m even more careful. At least we’re not going too fast … Leo might want to get home, but he’s taking this real easy. We can’t afford mistakes in the dark.
Well, I guess this is the boring part of the trip. We walk. We stop to get our bearings. Occasionally we find a whole bunch of debris that we have to climb over – that’s never fun. Time goes by. I wonder what time it actually is … we left the lair just before midnight. No way to find out. We find a couple of branching paths to the corridor, and that stalls us every time, because the best we can do is guess. I think Leo might still have a vague sense of direction, although he’s hesitating more and more, so maybe not. But I hope so.
Every now and then he’ll ask how I’m doing. He doesn’t talk much more than that. Probably too busy stressing about leading us to our doom, or something. I mean, it’s possible we’re just walking in circles, and he knows it. But he never lets go of my hand. I wonder for a second if maybe he likes knowing he’s not alone too. And that makes me grin. Well, why not? Leo’s not that much older than I am.
Heheh. Guess it’s up to me to take his mind off things.
“I was just thinking of ways to pass the time,” I say cheerfully. “Any games spring to mind?”
“I’m sure you’re about to suggest some.”
Ooh, he’s been taking lessons in sarcasm from Raph. I grin in the dark. “I guess I Spy is out…”
That gets a small laugh. “You’d guess right.”
“How about …uh …” I founder. “…Tag?”
“Tag,” he repeats slowly.
“In the dark. Here.”
“Blind Man’s Bluff?”
“What?” I am the picture of innocence, I swear. “You got a better idea?”
“How about Follow the Leader,” he says wearily.
“Ouch. You know, Leo, I’ve been meaning to talk to you about these so-called puns of yours—“
His hand wrenches at mine roughly and I stumble forward with a yelp before he lets go. Leo hits the ground with a heavy thud. That was … really surprising. I drop to my knees next to him and find his arm after a few blind tries, latching on as he struggles up again. “Dude! What happened?”
He mutters something so quietly I can barely hear him. I mean, he seems to be okay. Gets back up and I can hear him brushing the dirt off self-consciously. That’s when I realise what he said.
And I grin. “Say that again, Leo? I can’t hear you.”
“You heard me,” he mutters.
“You tripped.” He tripped. “Over your own two feet?” I can’t believe that the Enlightened One here tripped. I’m snickering in the darkness.
“Over rubble,” he snaps back, sounding vaguely guilty for some reason. He takes my hand again and stalks off, half-dragging me behind. “I’m not perfect, Mikey.”
“Chill, Leo. It’s not the end of the world.” I’m still grinning, though I’ll never admit to it. Well … not to Leo, anyway. Raph and Don might get a good kick out of this later. Heh. “We already knew that. Remember the mines you accidentally—“
I stop in my tracks then, effectively jerking Leo to a standstill. My left hand, practically on automatic by now when it comes to touching the walls, has just closed on metal.
He’s quick to realise I didn’t just stop talking for the sake of self preservation. “What have you found?”
I don’t answer for a second – I want to make sure. I feel along the metal; it’s warped and rusted and I can feel something flaky. Peeling paint, maybe? It travels up the wall. It feels a little dented in places, but … I reach past it and pat at the brick, and find what I was looking for. Rungs.
It’s a ladder.
“Bro?” I’m smiling in sweet relief. “We got a way up.”
Leo gives a sigh. “That’s good.”
“This one’s on me. I wanna see where this goes.”
He doesn’t argue the point. I found the ladder, after all; I get first dibs. Well … that, and the ladder feels so old that I bet there’s broken rungs and all sorts of problems with it, and I’d kinda prefer Leo didn’t find another way to start bleeding at me again. So I’ll make sure it’ll hold us, first.
“Just be careful,” is all he says.
His hands shift to gripping the ladder for me, and I hoist myself up onto the first rung I can find. It creaks a bit under my feet, but it holds steady. There are broken rungs: some slanting to the side, and some missing completely. This thing is old. This whole place is pretty ancient, though … I have to wonder where we are. Catacombs or something. I remember Don saying something once about the amount of stuff down here – like old post routes or something, and passages between hospitals, but I think they’d be higher up than where we are. It didn’t really interest me back then. I’m sorta wishing now that I’d paid more attention.
The ladder is still climbable, though. I take it real slow. I don’t want to get hurt either, and I really don’t want to give Leo a reason to mock me for falling.
As it is, I smack my head on the ceiling pretty hard. Ouch. Ouch ouch.
“I’m all good.” Nothing a couple aspirin couldn’t fix, anyway. I put a hand to my head for a bit, and then I reach up and feel above me gingerly. I can feel the depression in the ceiling – there’s a trapdoor or something here. But it’s not budging.
Not yet, anyway. I brace on the ladder, fishing one of my nunchucks out of my belt. I’m hoping the trapdoor isn’t moving just because it’s been a while since anyone used it, and not because it’s padlocked on the other side. I mean, it’s probably not the end of the world if it is locked … we could keep searching and find another way up a bit later, maybe. But I think we’ve both been stumbling around in the dark a bit too long.
There could be light up there.
Light is a good motivator. It’s why I bunch the nunchucks in one hand, and slam the ends up into the edge of the trapdoor, and duck my head away from the shower of dust and flakes that waft down on me. Oh yeah. Nobody’s been here in a while. I keep it up, cracking the grips up in a pattern around the edges of the trapdoor, trying to loosen it up a bit.
Down below, Leo coughs once. Oops. Suppose I should’ve warned him. “Sorry about that, Leo.”
“It’s okay,” he says wryly. “I guess I should have expected that.”
I grin, and then tuck the ‘chucks away in my belt and shove at the trapdoor again. This time I can feel definite give … but it’s still not moving. Maybe something’s on top of it. I hook a foot under one of the more solid rungs and reach up with both hands now, balancing carefully. Okay, Michelangelo. Strength is good, right?
So I push up, hard. I can feel my ribs protest, but in light of the fact that the trapdoor is creaking open, I’ll ignore that. What I’m not prepared for is the sudden dumping of rank water on my face. Given the way we ended up down here, it kinda makes me panic … I flinch and cover my face, and then promptly lose balance and topple backward.
…Damn. Guess I’m falling after all. Well, at least I’m not screaming this time. I feel Leo’s arms brace under my shell and then we both fall in the dirt. The jolt to my ribs isn’t as bad as it could have been, but still … ow.
“Mikey?” He sounds worried. I think I ended up yelping after all. “You okay?”
I’m feeling water on my legs and I kick a bit, before I realise there’s really not that much of it. It’s practically just dribbling down from above. Oh, of course. The trapdoor’s shut again, so no more water.
“Yes. Fine.” I cringe as I roll, getting off my big brother so I can stop pushing him into the dirt. “We can’t go that way.”
He’s quiet for a second. Then he says thoughtfully, “No. If it was flooded, you wouldn’t even be able to lift that trapdoor.”
Right. Okay. I’m an idiot. Not that I’m gonna say that out loud. So instead, I offer a hand for him to take with a sheepish laugh. “Guess we’re both even in the falling stakes, huh?”
He doesn’t say anything to that. Does take my hand, though, so I pull him up with a faint wince. His hand is nice and warm; the water is freezing. Makes me shiver more. But he’s right … maybe there’s just a puddle of water collecting above the trapdoor, but much more than that and the water would be too heavy for the trapdoor to lift.
Guess I’ll just have to grin and bear it, or something.
“Do you want me to open it?”
Leo sounds tired. It’s gotta be what …five in the morning by now? And we’re both kinda bruised and stiff. I think about freezing water raining down on my head, and then I think about Leo’s leg. Easy decision. “Nah, I’m cool. Just startled me for a second, is all.”
“Okay. Be careful.”
“Sure thing, Mom!” Heh. Up the ladder I go. I hear Leo scuffing around in the dirt beneath me, and then he takes hold of the ladder again. I think he’s afraid it’s going to come off the wall. Which is a possibility, I guess. I brace for impact, and shove at the trapdoor again, eyes squeezed shut. Icy water splashes down on my head and shoulders. Cold! But this time I don’t freak out and keep my grip. And Leo’s right …after a few seconds, the water stops coming.
I push the trapdoor all the way up and listen as it topples back into dirt, leaving us a way up. Awesome.
Still dark. Not so awesome.
It takes me a second to get the courage to crawl up into this totally new space. There’s muck everywhere …mud and what feels like leaves and definitely small pools of water that stink. I’m shivering by the time I get up onto my own two feet.
There’s a faint creaking sound as Leo comes up the ladder. He’s taking it real slow. I wonder why, until I remember all that water would’ve dumped down the ladder as well. He’s just making sure he doesn’t slip.
So I crouch next to the open trapdoor with my hand held out carefully in mid-air. “I’m right here, bro.”
“Thanks.” His fingers catch at my hand, and I help him up into the new area. We’re definitely getting closer to civilization if there are dead leaves down here … but there’s still no light, so we’re either still in catacombs (maybe?) or in parts of the sewer that have long been closed off. And leaves can be carried a long, long way in water.
He doesn’t answer. Just puts a hand up on my shoulder. I can’t help shuddering a bit – the difference between cold Mikey and warm Leo is a little too much. I open my mouth to ask him where next, and instead I end up saying, “I’m tired.”
The minute I say it, I realise: more than tired, I’m exhausted. All my aches and pains, and all this walking, and all this cold … I just want to sit down and sleep.
“We should keep going,” he says doubtfully. “Just a little longer.”
“Why?” I smile in the dark. “Are we there yet?”
“No.” See, he is tired. Leo’s the serious one, but even he can usually tell when I’m joking. “But we should push on as long as we can.”
“You said yourself this could be more than a day,” I argue. “We’ve been walking for hours, Leo. You know we have to rest some time, right?”
He’s quiet. And his hand is still on my shoulder, and I’m beginning to notice he’s actually leaning a little on me. He’s exhausted too, and yet he wants to keep going. Man, I thought I was the one who didn’t like the dark.
So I hunt for some logic to throw at him. “You know, Leo … the longer we go without sleep, the more we’ll make mistakes. I don’t really wanna end up heading the wrong way or maybe falling into someplace bad when we’ve come so far.”
Aha! I felt that little flinch. His hand tightens for a second on my shoulder, and then he sighs. I feel a bit guilty, because of course he took that as an accusation of his judgment being less than sound … but Leo will deal. And we both know I’m right.
“All right,” he says. “But let’s at least find drier ground. I don’t want you getting sick.”
Yeah well, the feeling’s mutual and all. Besides, if there are puddles on the ground here, then that means water came through here not that long ago. Waking up to a flash flood would be less than ideal.
“Sounds good,” I say. “Which way now?”
He’s silent long enough to make me nervous. I mean, I’m probably expecting too much of Leo to be some walking compass zeroing in on the lair, but the notion that we’re always getting just that little bit closer to home is very comforting. I really hope he isn’t about to open his mouth and tell me he has no clue.
His hand drops away off my shoulder. And then I feel his fingers latching onto mine. “This way,” he says softly.
Off we go again.
There’s no wall to keep track of, so we’re a little awkward to start with. I think Leo’s angling to find one, because he’s sidestepping a bit and being very cautious where he puts his feet. The small puddles and the mud are cold and disgusting, and I try not to think too hard about what else we might come across. Eventually, Leo finds something that I find kinda cheering – not a wall, but it’s definitely a step up in the world. Literally.
“Containing wall,” Leo says. “This is split level.” I hear him climb up, and then he guides me up over the edge. I think we only go up about four and a half feet. Where we are is much more dry. This isn’t mud. This is concrete.
Leo finds the wall after that, no problem. It’s in much better condition than the ones below us. Seems we’ve found a walkway that runs next to a drain or a canal or something. Which would normally seem promising, but I still don’t think we’re in any place even vaguely familiar.
Still … we’re out of the mud. I scrape my feet clean against the edge of the walkway and lean against the wall, closing my eyes. “We’re stopping now, right? Just for a couple hours, right?”
“For a couple of hours,” Leo agrees reluctantly.
That gives me pause for a few seconds, because … he’s acting more of a slave driver than usual. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with resting here, is there? But I hear him shift and slide down the wall, stretching his legs out. I guess I can put it down to that sense of responsibility … he just wants to get us home.
Still, something’s nagging at me just a little bit. I’m not sure what. So I narrow my eyes, and squeeze his hand gently. “Hey, Leo…”
“Sorry, Mikey.” He tugs me down next to him, wrapping an arm around my shoulders. “I don’t mean to say you can’t rest. I’m just…”
He is nice and warm. I snuggle up to his side and let his body heat chase some of the cold away. “Just worried about the guys?”
I grin in the darkness. Leonardo and his big brother act strike again. I snake out an arm and settle it comfortably across his plastron. “Just a couple hours, then.”
“Agreed.” I think he’s smiling again. “Now get some sleep, cold one.”
Don’t need to tell me twice. I have me a Leo-pillow, and I’m gonna use it. Doesn’t take long to just let go … I think I count maybe two or three times Leo breathes in …and then I’m gone.
This was meant to be a one-shot, dammit.
Sure, it’s not a very restful sleep. But then I guess I have no right expecting one, given where we are and what’s happened. My dreams are shot through with floods and falling and all the ways our luck could have run out. I fall from the pipes. Leo drowns. I have one bad flash image of Raphael being pulled under the water and when Don goes to pull him out all he gets is Raph’s severed arm. I know I wake a couple of times, but Leo’s still wrapped around me and I go back to sleep again.
I have a really disturbing one of being stuck on the pipes again and hearing them shudder, and I know it’ll be okay because this is the bit where Leo swings in to rescue me. And he does, but he’s twisted and warped the way he was in my nightmares, way back when that monster on Wall Street got the jump on us. His left side is a mess of those red tentacles and he’s grinning like a maniac. So we struggle and he drops us both into the abyss, falling down, water roaring past our ears while he crushes the life out of me…
…and I’m glad I wake up at about that point, yes I am, but I can still hear the roaring. It takes me a bit, panicking in those first waking moments and trying to fight my way out of Leo’s grip, for me to realise the roaring sound is not part of my dream. I can hear it, echoing down our tunnel, and while it’s a lot fainter in real life than it was in the dream, I know immediately what it is I can hear.
It’s a train.
I laugh at that point. Train, in earshot! Sure, the sound is echoing and bouncing all through the tunnel, and I have a suspicion it’s coming from above us somewhere … but it’s still loud enough to fill me with a lot of relief. We’re not that far off from familiar territory after all.
Leo has moved. Actually, we both have – from curled up against the wall to lying flat along the concrete, and I probably have even more bruises now. Leo has gone from one arm over my shoulders to wrapping both of them around me like I’m a cuddly toy, and I snicker a bit – I guess that’s where my last dream came from. It’s kinda cute - wish I could take photos.
It takes me a bit to wake up fully, and he’s dead to the world. I’m having a suspicion that we slept a helluva lot longer than two hours, that’s for sure. And following that suspicion comes this horrible niggling sense that something isn’t quite right. I start trying to unwrap his arms from me, and then I hesitate, my hand still on his wrist.
He was warm before. He’s hot now.
I swallow, and put the back of my hand to his forehead in the dark. He’s got a fever. And that freaks me out. I mean … what’s he doing getting sick? I shake his shoulder and try to wake him up, and he curls in around me for warmth, making a faint sleepy noise. Again, it’s cute, but now I just want him to wake up. I need to know what’s wrong with him, and--
I sit there for a while, my hand still on his shoulder as he sleeps. I have a bad feeling, and I’m sort of reluctant to have it confirmed. But in the end, I decide to put off trying to wake him up again for now. After all, I know once he is awake, he’ll be stubborn and he won’t let me check, and I can’t believe I didn’t pay any attention to the warning signs because he was so warm last night. This morning. Whatever.
So I lift my hand quietly and shift in the dark, working out where his leg is. There’s no rude comments that come to mind this time, that’s for sure. I put my palms down on his injured thigh, and I feel for myself. There’s a faint stickiness. I don’t think the wound is actually bleeding, but the flesh around it is really hot and … dammit, it’s too dark for me to know anything else. But that has to be what it is. He’s been messing around with a friggin’ open wound in sewer water and filth and I’m such an idiot, I didn’t even think about it. I fish around in his belt for the Shell Cell and flip it open, shaking it in the vain hope that now it’s dried out the light might work again.
No dice on that one. But it’s while I’m checking, shaking the Cell and swearing at it that Leo’s fingers wrap around my wrist, and I yelp and nearly drop it.
“What are you doing?” he asks fuzzily.
Well, okay. I feel a little better knowing he’s among the living, even if he does sound half asleep. People with fevers can still function; it’s a good thing, I guess. Leo’s still okay, sorta. But I’m struck speechless for a few seconds, just listening to that mild question. I mean …there is no way Leo can not know that he’s sick.
So there I am gawping at him like a fish. After a second, he plucks the Cell out of my hand. “Can’t make it work,” he says. “Tried.”
“You…” I untangle him finally, standing up. Just so I can have the moral high ground and all. Boy, it’s rare that I have that. “You’re sick!”
Oh, perfect. Michaelangelo, also master of The Obvious. Go me.
We’re both quiet for a while after that. I can hear Leo sit up, and then I hear the soft scrape as he leans against the wall and draws his knees up. “Mikey,” he says finally, “I’ll be fine.”
Well, fine, he’s still clear-headed enough to act as stubborn as always. Some of my wake-up panic starts to fade. He’s not too bad. Okay, it’s been … how long? I could guess maybe six or seven hours since the pipe rescue plus however long we ended up sleeping, but I don’t know how long that is. I’ve had infected cuts before …but they took a couple of days to get infected, and even then it was just a matter of cleaning the wound out and treating it nicely until it went away. I guess chances are good that all sorts of fun icky stuff got into that gash of his. I’m wondering how much faster a wound will get nasty under far less than prime conditions.
I feel reasonably awake. Let’s say we slept for around six hours in our exhaustion. Eight tops. So … probably, the whole infection thing has only just started messing him up. I hope. So that’s good news. Got plenty of time for it to be treated before it gets worse.
Crud. It’s going to get worse.
Then the suspicion hits me. With the absolute calm of what he’s just said to me, I know.
“You knew you were gonna be sick,” I say quietly. “Didn’t you?”
I’m remembering the fall he took. And the long time he took going up the ladder. I bet he wasn’t feeling too well, then. And of course he didn’t say anything. My brother, the martyr. Leo’s getting up now, standing a bit awkwardly. But he doesn’t fall or anything. He sighs, close enough that I feel that tuft of breath on my face.
“No, I didn’t know. I just …”
“Suspected it? Considered it? Guessed?” Hell, I bet the second Leo cut his leg open, he though to himself: uh oh. He’s always on our backs about our injuries – how could he not know?
How could I not realise? I’m such a moron.
“Mike,” he says sharply, “Don’t. There was nothing that could be done.”
“You coulda warned me.”
“No point in worrying you.”
“Well, I’m worried now!” My voice is rising. In absence of Raph, Mikey is apparently more than willing to snarl at Leo in his place. “Did you think I wouldn’t notice or something?”
He’s not yelling back. Instead, I hear him rub a hand down his face. “No,” he says softly. “I was hoping we’d find our way out before it became an issue.”
Down here, there’s nothing we can do about it. Trying to clean the wound out isn’t gonna work without clean stuff and some light to work with. So Leo pushes us to try and meet Don and Raph halfway, because he knows Don will be able to help… and I make us both sleep…
No. We needed sleep. Maybe we couldn’t afford to sleep so long, but I’m pretty sure we’d have been falling over in exhaustion if we’d kept going. But … no point in standing around arguing, right? I know why he didn’t say anything – can’t have baby brother panicking on him. That hurts a bit. I mean, did he think I was gonna go into hysterics and be totally useless to him or something?
But it’s a Leo thing to do. I swear, one day he’s gonna come home with a couple of swords sticking out of his shell and covered in blood, and he’ll tell us he cut himself shaving. Which is an image that’s both horrifying and blackly funny, and I don’t wanna dwell on it too long either way.
So, what’s done is done. We need to move while we can, right? “I heard a train earlier,” I say, nice and calmly. “Not sure where it was, but we’ll probably hear another one soon.”
His voice is very quiet. “Can you remember which direction?”
“Um…” I’m not about to tell him I was freaking out at the time because I thought Leo had tentacles. But still, after thinking on it for a couple of seconds, I nod and point. “This way.”
“That’s great, Mikey,” he says wryly. “And which way is this way?”
It takes me for a second to catch the amusement in his voice, and then I remember where I’ve heard that line before. Well, I guess Leo still has his sense of humour. Such as it is. So I snicker and search around in the darkness until I find his hand and then tug him after me. “Follow me.”
He stumbles when I pull him. I try not to pay too much attention to that part.
We hear another train after a while. It’s not soon, but it’s not forever either. So probably we’re nowhere near any of the busier parts of New York City. All of which doesn’t help me that much when trying to work out how close to home we might be. The real disappointment is that we get no flash of light or anything when the train goes overhead – and it is above us – so we’re still buried deep in the dark. We follow the walkway around, both of us now edging along the wall, hoping we might find another ladder or maybe a ramp or stairs or …something. We obviously need to go up at least one more level.
Now that I know he’s all infected and stuff, I listen a lot more to the way that Leo sounds in the dark. He’s quiet after my discovery – sheepish, I bet – and his hand is hot in mine. I can hear the way he’s moving. It’s real subtle, but he’s definitely favouring his injured leg. Well, duh. I wonder if he was doing it yesterday and I didn’t notice. It makes me feel guilty, and then I just start worrying. But I keep that to myself.
We can hear the trickle of water from somewhere; it’s pretty constant, but it’s not a heavy stream, so I figure whatever that is we can deal with it. I wonder if the canal we’re walking along has water pooling into it. It’s hard to tell. But while I’m trying to work that out, I nearly fall as the wall I’m following suddenly ceases to exist. Leo snags my arm and hauls backward as I stumble, and my left foot scrabbles at empty space. Our walkway has ended here.
I crouch down and feel along the concrete and realise the drain has a cross-section here. We can turn right or go straight, but either way we’ll have to jump back down again.
“Which way, Leo?”
The moment I say it, I get a feeling of impending doom. He’s still holding on to my arm, even though I’m now more in danger of falling on top of him instead of down into the canal, the way he’s hanging onto it. And he says nothing.
I’m a little louder that time. He straightens and tries not to tug on my arm so much. “Sorry,” he says evenly. “Distracted. What did you want?”
Right this second, I’m missing the light more than ever. I really want to see his face, because all I have to go on is the heat of his skin and the sound of his voice … and while his words still sound nice and crisp and Leo-like, I can’t help thinking about the only time I ever saw Leo get drunk. It was sort of accidental, and he ended up drinking with us because Raph goaded him into it, but I remember at the time that he insisted he was sober – in perfect, pure clarity, you know that every consonant sounded out, kinda thing – about two minutes before he slid off the chair in a snoring heap.
Side note: Leo can’t hold his liquor. Heh. But the moral of that little story is I’m not sure how far I can trust how fine he sounds. I think he was distracted because he was busy fighting off a dizzy spell … that tells me he’s at least a little out of it. And on the heels of that comes the notion that maybe I shouldn’t be asking him for directions, either. And that thought stirs up a bit of panic – it’s not like I have any clue which way to go. Leo was the one who had all the ideas.
“Mikey?” Leo sounds a little impatient, and I wonder how long I’ve been standing there weighing up how lucid my brother is. He must be doing okay, because he’s still doing his mind reading thing. His next words sound annoyed. “You know, I’m still fine. You don’t have to worry so much.”
Ohhh, yes I do, big brother. But that’s not gonna get us home, is it? So I laugh a little nervously. “Sorry. Was just trying to work out …uh, where to go from here.”
He’s quiet for a second, and then he says something that surprises me. “Have you worked out which direction the train is travelling?”
“Not really. Why?”
He makes a small disappointed sound. “Might have to wait for the next one, try and listen to the way it runs. If you try and follow along under the train line, we might find an access way up. Especially if we end up beneath a station.”
I’ll take his word for it. Actually, I’m just happy that he’s being Mr Strategy at me, because it means he can’t be that bad, even if it’s kind of an admission that he’s not sure where to go from here. It’s been a while since we heard the last train, so we’ll probably get another one in a few minutes. So I sit down carefully on the concrete and dangle my legs over the side. I know it’s only just over four feet, but I still don’t wanna jump into complete darkness.
“How you doin’, Leo?”
“I’ve been better,” he admits. “Ribs okay?”
I haven’t even thought about my ribs since I woke up. Funny, because they still hurt – I guess I’ve been distracted. I take a couple of breaths, and wince. Stiff and sore. Hard to tell if they’re improved any – more stiff, less sore? But I shake my head. It’s not too bad. So, can’t help grinning in the dark as I reply. “I’ve been worse.”
He laughs softly at that. “Fair enough. Hang on, Mikey. It can’t be far now.”
I’m not sure whether to take heart from that or get paranoid … you know, someone always says something all reassuring just before everything goes to hell. But not too long after that, we hear a train. It’s a little bit louder than the last one, so we’re much closer to the actual tracks. The echoes bouncing around in here are hard to sort out, but I’m quiet, listening to the roar overhead and trying to focus on its point of origin. Well … its track of origin, anyway.
Straight is best. I’m pretty sure of it.
“That’s a fair way up,” Leo notes. His voice is flat, and he sounds a little disappointed. “Could be another floor between us and the train line.”
Which means our chance of access up to the trains from down here just halved. But … if Leo doesn’t know the right way anymore, then straight is as good an option as any. At least if we follow the train line where we can, we won’t end up going in circles. So I’m all for it.
“I say we go straight,” I say with as much authority as I can muster. “You could be right, but there’s still gotta be a way up somewhere. Staying here isn’t gonna help, right bro?”
“Right,” he says. Then he puts a hand on my shoulder for a second. “Let’s go.”
I brace on the edge of the concrete and lower myself down into the canal, and I yelp as my feet land in ice cold water. I hate being right. The water’s only shin deep, so I guess it’s not that bad. Either the canal itself has sloped down into water, or that trickling we can hear is backwash coming in from somewhere. Either way, we’re gonna have to do some minor wading. Which sucks. I’m already cold again.
It doesn’t help when Leo splashes down next to me and I get icy droplets splashing up my legs. Yeah … thanks, Leo. I can hear him hiss at the shock of it though, and it makes me grin. For all of two seconds, before I start wondering whether it’s a bad thing for the Feverish One here to be wading around in icy water. I mean, I don’t know – Donny used cold washcloths to try and bring my temperature down when I was sick a while ago, so maybe it’s a good thing. But … I think even if that’s right, this might be overdoing it a bit…
I just don’t know. I’m not really medically inclined. That’s Donny’s department. Maybe it’ll be okay if it doesn’t get any deeper. And let’s face it; we could be out of the water again shortly, so …I’ll save the worry for later. In the meantime, I make sure I have Leo’s hand firmly in mine and grit my teeth, moving through the frigid water with as little splashing as possible, free hand outstretched. The first few steps are really awkward – we have to strike out into the darkness without any guidance. Leo nudges me a little sideways at one point and so I change angle, and I’m relieved as hell when a wall finally materializes under my hand. I don’t wanna be stumbling around without that guidance, especially if there’s now water involved.
We’ve crossed the intersection and we keep travelling. The walls are damp; more than that in places. There’s water running down them from somewhere above us. I’m a bit nervous about that – it’s not like it’s a lot of water, but the last thing we need is being forced to wade any deeper than we already are.
Leo’s grip on my hand is getting tighter to the point that he’s squeezing it painfully again. It’s when I stop to get my bearings that I realise it’s because he’s freezing. I mean, I’m cold, but I can hear his teeth chattering. This is not good. I’m gonna say at this point that … no, wading through icy water is not good for the fever-ridden. But there’s nothing I can do, save carry him...
…Yeah, about that. “Leo? Um …”
“You are not carrying me,” he says between his teeth. Thus proving yet again that Leo is a spooky-ass mind reader with far too much pride.
“Why not?” I grin in the darkness. “Raph’s not here. I won’t tell him I gave you a piggy back.”
“That’s not the issue.” He loosens his death grip on my hand and takes a half step back, as if he’s afraid I’m gonna pounce on him and throw him over one shoulder. Well, I have to admit, the thought is tempting. Especially when that little half step turns into a stagger, and I end up bracing his arm to stop him from falling. My stomach is beginning to shrink on me a little. He’s definitely worse than he was an hour ago.
“Sounds like the issue to me, bro. You know, you are way too proud some days.”
“And you have bruised ribs,” he shoots back straight off the mark. He’s so fast on that one that I feel a bit guilty. He’s not proud, he’s worried … okay, he’s proud and worried. “You can’t take my weight, Mikey. It’ll hurt too much. And we still have a long way to go.”
“Yeah, but the water—“
“A little water isn’t going to kill me.” I think that’s debatable, but before I can say as much he continues on more thoughtfully. “Can you hear that?”
I’m more inclined at this point to keep arguing, but the tone of his voice makes me stop. We’re both silent, and once I tune out the trickling of the water down the walls, I can hear it. Off in the distance …there’s splashing. A lot more heavily than just the water coming down the walls, that’s for sure. It’s not too far off, and for an instance I freeze because my first thought is that there’s water flooding in from somewhere. But … there’s hardly any disturbance to the water that’s up to our shins, so …
Leo puts his other hand on my shoulder. “Take it real slow.”
Yeah, well. Don’t have to tell me twice. The further we travel – nice and slow – the more I can feel the faint tug of the water around our legs. There’s a current. The ground is sloping downwards, but really gradually. And the water is deepening around us – up past our knees - which means there has to be some kinda blockage up ahead, shoring the water up.
We hear another train come through, and this time it’s crossing directly above the tunnel. Two levels above us or not, that’s loud. I stop and hug the wall while it rattles overhead. Can’t think with all the noise!
And then there’s a flicker of light down the tunnel, and I stare.
For one brief and awesome second, I think it’s because Don and Raph have finally found us. Because it’s a flicker that shines like torchlight. But the way it’s moving is too fast, and it’s coming from above. I get a brief impression of some kinda boarding over the tunnel – something I really hope is breakable, because otherwise we’re about to hit a dead end – and then the light is gone.
So is the train, rumbling away into the distance.
Man, I could cry. I miss Don and Raph so bad right now – I need to see them, I need them to help us and for Donny to do something for Leo - and we don’t even know if they’re okay. If they are, shouldn’t we have seen them by now? We’ve been travelling for ages. Maybe Leo was wrong and the tracker isn’t working in his Shell Cell. Maybe—
“Mikey. It’s okay.” Leo might be shivering, but his hand’s still hot on my shoulder. He means it to be comforting, I bet. He does know me way too well. But all I can think about is his temperature, and wondering if he’ll get to the point that he can’t travel any more. What do I do then?
I scrub a hand over my eyes. Think, Michelangelo. Light, just a smidgeon, as the train went overhead. Which means there’s a way up there, right? I can put the pieces together just fine with a bit of time. The boarding I saw in the light is causing the blockage in the water – we get around that, the water level will go down. I hope. And the waterfall I can hear …
I know what’s up ahead. And it probably is a way up. I’m not sure if it’s a way up we can use, but we have to check. It’s either that or we go back. Try and find some other way out. It’ll take us a while to get back to where we were …
Yeah, my stress levels are rising just a bit. I think I’ll make an effort not to sound like I’m freaked out. I know if Leo thinks I’m losing it, he’ll try and take charge again, and I don’t think he’s really up for it right now. “I think,” I say carefully, “There’s a shaft coming up – we might be able to climb. But the tunnel’s been boarded up ahead.”
My voice is a bit rough, but he doesn’t call me on it. Instead, his hand squeezes my shoulder and then drops away, leaving just his other hand in mine.
“Then we’ll just have to see if we can unboard it,” he says, in such a mild tone of voice that I have to smile.
So we continue on. It’s my feet that hit the boards first – my toes push into something decidedly squishy and I flinch back, putting my free hand out. There’s wood, rotten and creaking and stinking of god knows what, crisscrossing across the tunnel. It’s gotta be pretty old by the feel of it – maybe even decades old. I pluck at one of the planks and it practically snaps off in my hand.
Well, that’s one problem easily dealt with. It’s a barrier that isn’t designed to dam up water, but so much muck and other unidentifiable icky stuff has fetched up against the bottom planks over time that it’s blocked the lower part of the tunnel off completely. So we ignore that bit, breaking away the rotten wood about halfway up. I’m a little worried about the fact that it was boarded up to begin with – that means it was deliberately closed off years and years ago, and that could mean we’re going into a bad place.
Which means we’re going to be treading very, very carefully.
Once there’s enough of a space, I squeeze through the gap we’ve made as gingerly as I can. I don’t really wanna knock any of the other planks out. Then I help Leo through, which takes a little longer. I can feel it now – he’s definitely having some balance issues. On the other side, the water drops dramatically, pooling around the soles of our feet. It’s trickling through from the other side, but nothing’s blocking it on this side. The sound of the water falling is closer than ever, and it’s definitely falling down from here.
So I edge forward bit by bit, closer to the waterfall, until my toes meet with empty air. We’ve hit the shaft. They’re everywhere in normal sewers, usually to collect storm water and pack it off safely to the river … I guess this is an older one. It goes down from here … but if I’m not seriously mistaken, it also goes up. All the way to the train line.
I stop, bracing for Leo as he nearly runs into me, and take a step backward to force us both away from the edge. I know he’s proud, but I don’t think he’s stupid. So I decide just to be matter of fact about it.
“Think you can just stay back here while I scope the place out?”
He’s quiet for a while. Leo hates this, I know, but he’s thinking it through at least. I keep my mouth shut and let him work it through. He’s light-headed by now – probably thinks he’s floating three feet above the water – so he has to know that letting me deal with this is the right thing to do. Right?
He sighs in the darkness. “Just … be careful.”
Man, he does love that phrase. Just for a second, I’m tempted to answer like Raph – heard you the first thousand times, Leo! – but I can tell how worn down he is. So I put a lid on it, just this once.
“Not goin’ very far, anyway.” I feel my way back to the edge and press up against the wall, stretching an arm out to feel around. I know the chance of some nice ladder or something just hanging in easy reach is pretty tiny, but I have to check. It would make things so much easier, wouldn’t it? But the truth is, despite my ribs and Leo’s leg and all these hours of being lost, we’ve been lucky so far. We’ve come a very long way without any light to see by. I’m really hoping our luck holds, because if the law of averages decides to smack us over the head we’re gonna be in big trouble.
Funny thing about light, though. There’s some filtering in from somewhere, because I can now at least see the shape of my hand in front of my face. I’m guessing it comes from a signal or something up where the train line is … high enough and out of reach enough that it gives me nothing else. It’s a relief to have any kind of light – still can’t see squat, but now I can pick shapes against shapes.
Which means when I back off a step and glance back at Leo, I can tell – just – that he’s crouched down against the wall, huddling against the cold. I wonder if he knows I can see him. I’m not about to enlighten him, though. The poor guy is freezing, and I have to check the other side. So I don’t say anything.
No handy, all convenient ladder on the other side either.
Well, that sucks.
So I retreat back up to where Leo is and hunker down next to him. “No easy way up.”
“Fair enough,” he answers, cool and even. “Then we climb.”
I don’t know if he’ll ever realise how much hearing that tone from Leo right now is reassuring. But I’m thinking realistically here – strange, I know, but whatever. We’ve got one set of shuko spikes between us and Leo … Leo is giving me some doubts about his ability to ninja his way up. I mean, he might manage to claw his way up out of sheer stubbornness, but …
A hand catches at one of mine, and I don’t even realise until then that I’m clenching both of them into fists. Okay, yes, I’m still stressed. I’m expecting him to do the whole soothing big brother thing, but instead he’s tugging at my fingers, easing them out until my hand is relaxed in his.
He presses something into my palm. I can feel the leather straps before my fingers curl gingerly over something sharp, and I realise what he’s given me. Leo’s shuko spikes, for all those special occasion ninja climbing sprees. He’s put them both in my hand, and I stare at him for a few seconds as I realise just what he expects me to do.
“Okay,” Leo says calmly. “Here’s the—“
“I’m not leavin’ you behind!” My voice sounds real loud. I want to put it down to the fact that I have to yell over the water, but I really don’t. It’s just panic. Clear as day, I know what he expects me to do. Leave him, go for help, come back. Is he nuts?
Leo’s quiet for a second, apparently not expecting resistance on his cunning, martyrlicious, stupid plan. Which makes him doubly an idiot in my opinion. Then he starts with a hesitant voice, “Mikey, there’s only one set—“
“I don’t care.” I reach down with my free hand and poke him hard in the plastron. “I can’t believe that’s the best you can come up with! You want me to leave you just hangin’ out in the—“
Leo’s voice is a little uneven now even in his impatience, the hitch of uncontrollable shivering creeping into his voice, and I swallow. But then he surprises the hell out of me by bursting into soft laughter. I swear, that gets me to shut up far more effectively than his calling on the Power of Full Names. I just stare at him. I half think he’s cracked, but he doesn’t sound hysterical. And I jump when his fingers touch my face.
“You shell-for-brains,” he says good-naturedly. “I appreciate the concern, Mikey, but you aren’t leaving me behind. Okay?”
“But…” It’s a standard response, isn’t it? The wounded guy in the movies always stays behind. You know. Makes an inspirational speech, sends you on, tells you he’ll catch up. Then you hear his agonized scream echoing after you … standard horror movie cliché. I know Leo will end up doing that to us all one day – I like to think that the day he does, Raph and Don and I will just look at each other and smack him over the head and drag him along behind us and then mock him about it for weeks …
Apparently that day isn’t today, however.
“I have a temperature.” Leo is talking patiently while I imagine random ways to mock his future attempts at melodramatic self sacrifice. Come to think of it, maybe I’m the one that’s cracked here. “And that means my reflexes are a little off, sure. But if I ever decide to stay behind, I’ll have much, much better reasons, Mikey.”
Reflexes a little off? Whatever you say, Leo. I’m gonna put aside the debate on whether any reason would be good enough – that’d probably go into some nasty territory, and I’m not inclined to do that while lurking in a freezing tunnel in the middle of nowhere.
“Okay. But that doesn’t explain how you’re gonna climb if I have the spikes,” I tell him. “Don’t even think you can do it bare handed.” I dunno, maybe The Ancient One taught him how to stick to walls like a fly, but I really doubt it.
“You’re forgetting something,” he says. And then I feel the rope coils of the grappling hook being put in my other hand.
Oh. Right. I start to relax a little; I know what the plan is now. “So … climb up and out, and then toss the rope down to you?”
“Got it in one,” he says with approval.
It does technically mean leaving Leo behind, but not for very long. And then I can pull him up after me. Wow, Leo chose the easy way to get up; wonders never cease. But I can deal with that. I don’t like the idea of leaving him sitting around in this cold water, but hopefully I won’t take too long. Maybe even just a few minutes. It depends on how straightforward the climb is, I guess. So I ease the spikes over my fingers and do up the straps, flexing them to make sure they’re snug.
It’s only when I glance out into the shaft that I realise there is a small flaw with Leo’s plan. I frown. “Uh … it’s gonna be a bit hard tossing the rope to you if I can’t see where you are. And what if I climb out of range?”
“The rope’s over thirty feet long, Mikey. I don’t think you’re going up that far. On the off chance it is … we’ll improvise.”
Easy for him to say. And then there’s the whole darkness part of the plan. I get the image in my head of trying to toss a rope down to him blindly, and sure I’ll be able to aim for his voice … and Leo with his ‘slightly off reflexes’ making a grab for it and then falling. Uh. Not a happy image.
So I come up with an alternative. The grappling hook is designed to fold flat when it’s not in use, which is just as well, because otherwise my cunning plan would involve me getting jabbed uncomfortably and repeatedly on the way up. I take the folded hook and thread it under my belt until the rope is pulling through and then tie it off in a secure knot. The hook itself is dangling down, scraping against the bottom edge of my plastron, but I can deal with that. I hand the rest of the rope to Leo.
“Hold on to it,” I tell him. “Wrap an end around your wrist, whatever.”
If he keeps a hold of it and just gives me enough rope to climb, we can control the distance between us. Once I get to safety, all I have to do is hook the rope to somewhere stable. Simple! And he gets the idea. Well, duh … it’s Leo. I hear him measuring out enough slack for me to get a handhold on the wall.
So I guess it’s show time. I edge back to the shaft and make for myself a good handhold with the shuko spikes, heaving myself out onto the wall with a good deal of nervousness. Sure, I’m in better shape to do this, but it’s still way too dark.
Leo’s quiet, standing just slightly away from the edge. I can’t see him anymore, but I know what he wants to say. I grin. “Be careful, right?”
“Got it in one.”
“Well, same goes for you.” Talking is good. I can concentrate on something other than the invisible climb, and I can also make sure Leo doesn’t pass out when my back is turned. Not that I really expect him to – he does seem reasonably awake. But that small feeling of paranoia never quite goes away.
“I’ll be fine.”
“Says the infected one,” I snort. “Just don’t fall over from gangrene or anything.”
His reply comes back amused. “Mikey, I really doubt somehow that I have gangrene.”
“It takes longer than a day for an injury to get that bad,” he says patiently. “You do know fever is just your system trying to burn out infection, right? It usually works. Stop worrying so much.”
“Great.” I’m up several feet now. The walls feel a little powdery, which means I’m very careful where I’m putting those spikes. Last thing I need is the wall to crumble and send me all the way down. I don’t even know how far down this shaft goes. “You realise …” I’m a little short on breath. “You sound like Donatello.”
“Would you prefer I sounded like Raph?”
No thanks. Been there, done that, ducked for cover. I grin in the darkness. It doesn’t last, though. I can hear the shiver in his voice, and his words are starting to slur just a little. It occurs to me that Leo probably feels worse than he’s letting on. But …at least he’s not delirious or anything.
“I’d rather you sound like you,” I tell him with complete honesty.
“I’ll take that as a compliment.”
At this stage I’m hoping it doesn’t matter. We could be up on the train line in the next half hour. From there it should be easy, even if we never run into Don and Raph. Though I’m really kinda hoping that we will, and very soon. It’d be so awesome if I got to the top just in time for Don to appear and give me a hand out … Leo said two days at most, and it hasn’t even been one. But … unless we’re somehow going the entirely wrong way, we should be halving that time. So …
I keep climbing. Hope is nice, but Leo is right. We need to look after ourselves. What worries me is the small, niggling thought that maybe they never got home.
They should be okay. If Leo says Don never fell, then—
“You okay?” Leo’s voice is a fair way down now, and he sounds worried. Huh. I’ve been silent for a while, I guess.
“I’m fine, Leo.” Something chooses to scrape at my shell at that point and I flinch, pressing up against the wall. It’s something solid and unmoving. I can’t get a good look at it, which is a problem – it’s behind me and it’s dark. But I don’t hear anything. Must be a beam or something lodged in the shaft. I climb a bit further up and try reaching back with a foot, and I feel wood under my toes, heavy and solid. Yup. I’m right. It’s fallen, or someone’s dumped it in here.
If there’s one, I wonder if there’s anything else dumped in here. That would explain the shaft being blocked off; old and out of use and full of stuff. Huh. Maybe it has something to do with the train line being just above us … I could see people using this as a dumping ground for leftover construction junk.
Which gives me a sinking feeling all of a sudden.
I blink in the darkness. “Sorry, Leo. Just …thinking.”
“Think aloud, then.”
Can’t help it. I grin as I climb a bit further up, still aiming for that elusive exit. “You sure you wanna be hearing what I have to think, Leo?”
“I’m sure I want to know where you are,” he returns smartly. “Just talk to me.”
The shuko spikes on my left hand crunch into a wall so chalky that a layer of it crumbles away, and for a second I hang just by my right hand until I manage to slam the left into a more stable area. …Yeah, so glad Leo isn’t climbing this. I think he’s all out of heroic stunts.
On the other hand, he’s doing a wonderful mother hen impersonation. “What was that?” he demands. I’m making too much noise in my attempt to keep from falling. I mean, I’m safe now, but that won’t mean anything to him.
I keep going. And ignore the question. Instead, I say, “So. Out of curiosity, how did you find me in the dark?”
Oh, nice memory, Leo. “On the pipes. Yesterday.”
“How do you think?” He sounds amused. “I followed the screams.”
“Ha, ha. I meant, where were you?”
“Just a bit above you, actually. I didn’t … fall as far as the pipes.”
I wonder how that’s possible, and then realise that Leo did come after me with a grappling hook. He’s already shown a flare for casually attaching it to roofs while in freefall. Showoff. I have an image of Leo just hanging out on a rope in the middle of nowhere and wondering where the hell his baby brother has fallen. Guess it was just as well that I did scream, huh?
“Anyone ever tell you, Leo—“
I stop. Because for the second time, my head has smacked into something hard. Gah! I make a strangled sound and cling to the wall with my eyes clenched shut and wait for the sudden pain to die down a bit. I swear, the ceilings of the underground are out to get me.
“Mikey,” Leo says steadily. “You are not reassuring me here.”
“I’m here!” Waiting for my eyes to stop watering. “Sorry, ran into something.”
“There’s a ceiling!?”
“Not necessarily.” I finally manage to lift a hand and pat at what’s above me. It feels like the wall …but there must be a way up here somewhere. Otherwise we’d never have seen light from the train.
I stretch my hand out as much as I can, and my fingers slide over an edge. There is an opening; it’s just not as wide as the shaft itself. Well, that’s a relief.
Or it is for as long as it takes for my exploring fingers to catch hold of metal. Heavy, thick strands of metal twined around each other. .
There’s a grate laid down over the entrance.
Guess my sinking feeling is on the money. We should’ve thought of it well before I was halfway up the wall. A train line means regular maintenance, and there’s no way they’d leave a great hole in the ground for a worker to just fall into.
It’s not necessarily the end of all hope, on the other hand. It might not be bolted down. The trick is getting enough leverage to check – and right now I’ve only got one option, and I really doubt hanging off the grate by my hands is going to open it.
I bet Leo’ll be none too happy about this, but … I mean, come on. Light and familiar territory on the other side of this grate! It has to be tried!
“Okay, Leo.” I carefully get my hand back to the wall and start easing down again. “Just give me a few minutes to check this out.”
“What’s the deal?”
Just for a second, I kinda wish Leo was feverish enough to be out of it. That question sounded awfully suspicious. “There’s a grate over the top,” I explain casually. “I’m just getting it loose.”
I climb down very carefully; harder to go down than it is to go up. But I only want to go down to where I felt that wooden beam.
Leo gives me a good six seconds of grace before his response comes back, measured and full of big-brotherly vibes. “How are you doing that, exactly?”
“Um … carefully!”
“Trust me on this one, bro.” I reach out with my foot and shove against the beam. It doesn’t move an inch, although it does creak a little.
Leo doesn’t say anything. I hope that’s more because he’s decided to trust me and not because he’s fading out. I take a breath and shift my weight.
Dropping from the wall to the wedged beam.
Well, it totally fails to crack in half and dump me however far it is to the bottom. That’s a good thing. But I do hear something crumble and fall away down the shaft. I just don’t know what. So I stay where I am for a second, ready to leap back to the wall at a moment’s notice.
Nothing else happens.
“Just be careful, Mikey.” Leo sounds tired. Like he knows he can’t stop me doing what I’m doing, and he’s resigning himself to bailing me out of it at some stage in the very near future. I can’t help feeling sheepish.
Of course, ‘be careful’ is fast becoming the most overused phrase of the year where Leo’s concerned. But he worries about everything, I know. Which reminds me of earlier thoughts, and I grin as I crawl carefully up the wedged beam.
“Hey, Leonardo …did you ever give any thought to one of those big whiteboards?”
“I was just thinking, bro. You could totally clean up on all that strategy stuff you do.” Edging up. I’m trying to judge where to stand. “Write it all out. Dot point format. Little maps. Flowcharts!”
While he’s busy trying to work out what the hell I’m talking about, I stand on the middle of the beam and stretch my hands up carefully. I am so relieved when I touch the grate. Give Mikey points for knowing where things are! Or as Donny would put it, ‘spatial perception’. Handy for us ninja types. Man, I’m good.
I can push on the grate from here. So that’s what I do. Trying to get it to budge, lift, whatever.
“Flowcharts are a waste of time.”
I blink. “Come again?”
Leo speaks with the deliberation of someone giving a totally pointless subject a lot of thought just to get on your nerves. “They’re too rigid for people like us. There’s no point in designing a flowchart for a handful of things which might happen on an infiltration mission when the status quo tends to be that we get hit from left field by any number of random variables. Like … sewer explosions, for instance.”
“Random…what?” Now he really sounds like Donny. And he’s doing it on purpose.
“Care to discuss any other strategy tips?” he asks politely.
Wise guy. “Yeah. How about—“
And it’s at that point that I hear another soft crumbling sound as I shove at the grate … and suddenly, the beam shifts underneath my feet.
I can’t help the shriek as I stagger and then fall, reaching out to cling at the beam with both hands. It’s on a much steeper angle than it was. You know, physics and Mikey aren’t the best of friends, but even I know that’s a bad thing. It was wedged nicely, and now it’s not. That crumbling sound was the nice chalky wall; didn’t like my weight, I guess.
Okay, this could be worse…
There’s a very tentative tug on the rope at my waist as if he’s making sure I haven’t fallen, and I’m very fast to reassure. “I’m here! I’m fine!”
I’m hugging the wood with my knees, balanced in that fragile attempt to not upset the nice beam any further, and cursing my rotten luck. It won’t take much to knock the beam down, and I’m not looking forward to falling. The plan was sound. It’s just that the walls weren’t.
It does seem to be holding now, though. After a few moments I start edging for the wall, pausing to cringe every time I hear a bit of something crumble away into the void below. It’s like being back on the pipes, only Leo is below me now, and there’s no way he’s saving me from this one. And once my heart rate starts slowing, I realise something else that really hurts – I’m now out of reach of that grate. There’s no way I can get it open.
We’re gonna have to go back.
I’m chewing over that piece of bad news when I hear the train. Its heavy rumble is still a fair distance away. And wonder of wonders, its lights hit the grate above. It’s blinding to begin with … too much time in the dark. But then as my vision gets used to it, I can see the heavy metal criss-crossing our escape route, and as light filters down into the shaft, I realise I can look down. So I do. It’s gloomy, but it’s the best vision I’ve had in a long time.
I can see Leo for the first time in far too long, standing near the edge of our entry tunnel with his back to the wall. He’s staring up in my direction, and I can tell the exact moment when he sees where I am, because his eyes get really wide. It’s too dark to pick much in the way of detail beyond that, but I can tell by the way he’s leaning against the wall that he’s not well. I can see the end of the rope is wrapped tightly around one wrist. And then I finally shift my gaze to look all the way down the shaft.
It’s not like it’s a stupidly long way, but it’s long enough. If this was just a shaft with water in it, I’d probably still manage to be okay with the fall. But I can see that – although there is water down there, slowly being filled from above – there’s a whole bunch of debris, too. Fallen beams. Smaller planks of wood. Even some friggin’ masonry. If I fall from this height, there’s no way in hell that I’m gonna land well.
My knee-jerk reaction is to cling to the beam with a small whimper. The light’s getting brighter, and then I realise the train’s coming awfully close. Close enough to make everything shake.
I think Leo works it out at the same time as I do. He sounds desperate. “Mikey! Get out of there!”
It’s an obvious call, and I’m already trying - bunching legs under me in an attempt to make a jump for the wall, hoping like mad I can catch myself with the shuko spikes. But before I can make it, the train howls past – it can’t be more than a few metres away from the shaft. It’s deafening, it’s powerful … and it sends a mass of vibrations through the ground beneath as it goes.
I hear a crack and something gives. And then the beam is crunching down, with me still clinging to it. I jump – I have nothing else I can do. Try for the wall and come up way too short. But I’m not screaming. I’m falling, and I remember the sight of Leo there with the rope, and I know what’s going to happen next. Without a doubt. I’m too terrified to scream, and my fingers are going for the knot at my waist trying madly to undo it.
I can see in my head, far too clearly, that Leo’s idea could work if he wasn’t already standing in water on such a slippery surface. And shell, he has to know it too, he’s not that far gone, but he’ll do it anyway because I’m his brother—
And in the end, I yell. It’s desperate. And futile.
“Leo! Let go! ”
The light’s gone. The train is past. I’m left with a fleeting image of his eyes narrowed in the gloom of the tunnel and I’m not sure I even saw that or I imagined it. But there’s a sudden sharp wrench on the rope and then I do scream as my belt is yanked hard against the rest of me and I feel like I’m about to be snapped in half. As it is, my ribs are suddenly a flaring mass of agony … and then I slam into the wall.
My shell hits first. If it wasn’t my shell, I’m not sure if I’d stay conscious, but the sudden whiplash effect both slows my momentum enough to protect me from worse and twists me enough that my shoulder doesn’t take the brunt. I’m hanging there stunned, and trying to work out why I haven’t fallen all the way – there’s no way Leo should’ve been able to keep his balance up there, right? - and as if in answer, I shudder down another six feet or so. And there’s a strangled, cracked sound somewhere above me, which sounds distinctly Leo-like and fills me with more panic than the idea of just hanging in mid-air in the shaft. And then I can’t hear anything more, because the beam has just crunched to earth somewhere beneath me, causing a whole mess of destruction where the rest of the debris is concerned. Not very far at all. I’ve fallen most of the way, and I’m not dead.
I can’t hear the train any more. All I can hear is the soft grinding of things settling beneath me and the steady flow of water. Come to think of it … I reach out a hand painfully and water splashes down on it. So I know, I’m hanging beneath our tunnel. Wow … Leo actually did manage to stop me from crashing all the way down. Hurt like hell, but I’m still going to survive. Although I think my ribs are worse.
I didn’t need to warn him after all. He managed it. Leo…
I heard him cry out, didn’t I? Something’s happened. And I have no idea what. And I’m stuck down here—oh shell, this is all my fault—
His voice is harsh and strained, and still above me, and I jerk my head up in an attempt to see anything. And of course I can’t. But I swing a little on the rope, trying to get back to the wall, and I know we both regret that. My ribs set off a blinding stab of pain at the wriggling around – and I hear him scream. Short, and almost surprised, like someone just leapt out of the dark and drove a knife into his hand. I go very, very still.
The world is shrinking on me. Something bad has happened and I don’t know what’s going on. So my voice is a pitiful shadow of what it was, dealing with that whole pain thing and panic so thick it’s practically choking me. “Leo, what happened?”
He’s silent for long enough that I come very close to just screaming his name. But when he does speak, he sounds inhumanly calm. His words are slurred again. That’s the fever, right? “Mikey. Are you all right?”
“Am I all right?” My voice is cracking. “What happened to you?”
“Mikey,” he says. “I’ll be okay.”
“Like hell you will!”
“Don’t say that.” His tone is eminently reasonable, and I’m blinking in the dark as he continues. “Swearing doesn’t suit you, Mikey. Listen. Can … can you get down? Can you support yourself?”
I can’t believe what I’m hearing. Swearing--? He has to be in shock. I shift as carefully as I can, ignoring the complaint from my ribs for a moment, flinching as I hear another soft sound above me. It’s the rope. Something’s happened – maybe he’s caught in the rope –
“Leo,” I whisper. “What happened?”
He doesn’t answer. Then again, maybe he didn’t hear me. Because when he speaks again, it’s still with that lunatic calm. And it’s scaring me. “Mikey, please. You should only be a few feet from the bottom. Please tell me you can be safe.”
He’s right – I can hear the water splashing and it’s only about ten or twelve feet below. I take a breath, slow and careful, trying not to hurt myself more. “Hold on, Leo. I’m gonna … I’m sorry if this hurts.”
My fingers go for the knot in the rope again, but it’s been pulled far too tight. I’m right near the wall, but my fingers are just out of reach – so I lash out with a foot to push off from it. I know it hurts him, but if I want to get out of the rope it’s the only thing I can think of …bar cutting it, and even then sawing at it with shuko spikes is my only real option. It’ll take forever. But Leo makes no sound this time as I swing on the rope, coming back to the wall. I slam both hands out, driving the shuko spikes in as far as I can.
And then I climb. The rope starts gaining slack.
“I’m sorry, Leo.” My voice sounds strange to my own ears. “This is my fault. Just give me a few seconds and I’ll be right up there.”
I can barely his answer to that. He sounds half conscious. “Not your fault. Accidents happen. And I was … stupid.”
“Don’t pass out!”
“Are you all right?"
“Yes!” I’m practically yelling, now. “I’m fine, Leo! I’m on the wall and I’m safe and I’m coming—“
He doesn’t say anything at all. He doesn’t need to – I just know. Can feel it as he lets go, and it’s only when he falls past me in the dark that I realise. I know what happened. He braced to try and stop my breakneck fall and the force of the rope snapping taut yanked him right off the edge. He’s been hanging there—
Leo hits water, and I don’t even think. I kick away from the wall, aiming for the sound of his splash below me, and the freezing water hits me so hard that I nearly inhale it in shock. I’m thanking every god I ever heard of that he landed in water and didn’t bounce off the debris down here. The water’s deep and full of junk, and I can’t see a thing, but I don’t need to. The rope that ties us together is going to save his life – I bunch it in my hands and haul upward to the surface.
I want to be gentle, but I can’t afford to be. I’m almost sure he can’t feel this anyway. I break the surface and take a breath, and I keep reeling the rope in until my hands snag his wrist. And then I scoop him up - get my arm around Leo’s chest and make sure his head is out of the water, and I start swimming.
Well, at least he’s not hot anymore. Nice icy dunking, cold skin … no, I’m not panicking, not at all. Actually, I’m on automatic. I keep treading water with my heart hammering in my ears, trying to remember where that masonry was that I saw from above. The first thing I find is a large piece of wood just jutting out of the water like it’s waiting to spear someone – that woulda hurt to fall on. I move around that carefully enough, free hand flailing in the water for any kind of solid purchase.
When my fingers scrape against stone, I almost start crying in straight relief. My eye weren’t playing tricks on me - it’s a big slab of masonry that’s sitting with one edge of it dipped beneath water, but it’s flat enough that I can get out of the water and drag my big brother with me. But I can’t see what’s wrong with him. I lay him out, trying to find out if he’s breathing. I have no clue if he was even conscious when he hit the water, but I doubt it. He was only under for a few seconds though, right?
He helps me out a lot by coughing at that point. I can hear the wet wretched sound of it – getting rid of whatever he accidentally drank, I guess – and I get my hands around him to turn him over, half hugging him as he hacks it up. He’s breathing, he’s coughing, he’ll be okay. Right? I should be saying something, shouldn’t I? Like reassuring him, or making some joke about failing ninja class, or… no. I’m not saying a damn thing. Just holding on and waiting for him to stop sounding like his chest is tearing out.
And he does stop coughing eventually. Lying sprawled across my knees, not trying to move after that. I’m wondering if he’s awake, and then I’m back to wondering what the hell happened. The rope, wasn’t it? Moving it hurt—
Then I work it out. And go cold.
He speaks so abruptly that I jump, a thin whisper that I suspect he’s dredged up because he knows I’m waiting to hear it. “Sorry.”
Figures he’d apologise. “Why?” I’m only a little curious … we’re all used to Leo’s apologies by now. I’m more interested in keeping him talking as I shift my arm gingerly, looking for his right hand in the dark. I’m moving so carefully. I don’t wanna hurt him more.
“Didn’t think.” He’s not any louder. “Doesn’t work like that. I should’ve ..switched to …something else. Wasn’t thinking. Nearly killed you.” He’s quiet for a second, and then he mutters again, “Sorry.”
“You’re making no sense,” I inform him, “And I don’t care. I’m the one who was bouncing around on beams of wooden death.”
I know what he is trying to say, though. I remember the rope being wrapped around his wrist. And I definitely wasn’t too keen on the idea of accidentally dragging Leo off the ledge as I hurtled past … but he didn’t fall. Not all the way, anyway
My fingers find the rope. Coiled around his wrist, pulled over his hand tightly, practically embedded in his flesh. If he’d wrapped the rope around his waist instead, his shell would have protected him from some of the force involved – but instead, he took the brunt of my weight jerking on that rope with his arm. You know. The incredible, flying, heavy Mikey, dropping on past at who knows how fast. Dragged him over the edge, too. So there’s Leo, hanging by his one free hand while his baby brother tries his level best to rip his other arm clean off. Oh, shell.
“Leo.” I sound so cheerful. That’s really not right. “You’re an idiot, you know that?”
“So I’ve been told.”
And I laugh at that, and this time I can hear the hysterical edge to it, because Leo’s hurt because I screwed up and then he screwed up, which is rare but hey, he’s sick, right? Rare bout of bad judgment from Fearless Leader there…
“Idiot,” I tell him again after a while. “You should’ve let me fall.”
He doesn’t say anything to that. I think maybe because he doesn’t want to argue, and then I realise he’s passed out.
So I swallow, and go about the queasy duty of extricating Leo’s arm out of those strangling coils of rope while he’s not awake to feel it. And I wonder how bad his arm is, whether he got away with maybe just a dislocation or something much worse. I’m thinking worse, if he’s passing out on me. And I wonder how we’re gonna get out of here if his arm is useless, because he won’t be able to climb, but maybe it’s all moot anyway because he’s out cold.
Horrible mess. So much for our luck holding out for us, huh?
I just settle him on my lap and curl my arms around him in an attempt to share some warmth. Right now, there’s nothing else I can do.
IN order to upload this, I had to use a file that still had beta notes tacked all the way through it. I think I've found and deleted them all, but if you find any weird bracketed comments, please let me know and pretend they're not there otherwise. |D
All in all, I think I’m doing a really good job of not panicking.
Well … sort of.
It’s kinda funny. I think my mind switches off for a few minutes – there are all these things I really should be doing, I’m sure, and instead all I do is sit there. Leo doesn’t move so neither do I, and I just …have this thought that circles round and round in my head, and it’s something Raph said a while ago, sarcasm and all, when we were just having one of those days that kept getting worse as we went along. At least it’s not rainin’.
Every time I think it I almost snicker, and then something shifts into place and I remember where I am. And it is raining, kinda. There’s water still coming down from the tunnel, and that means I’m getting occasional splashes over here. Or maybe there’s more than one tunnel feeding water into this shaft, which is generally the way of things. I didn’t see one earlier, but then again I wasn’t looking for one.
Either way, it’s the water that finally gets me out of my shock, and that’s because a little warning bell has kinda gone off in my head. Sure, there’s not a lot of water coming in … but the shaft is full of junk, so even if there is some sort of drainage system here it won’t be very effective. So I blink, and then try and work out how long it will take the water to rise. We can stay here a little while, but we sure as hell can’t stay forever.
So this is the part where I need Leo to stop being out cold, because he’d be really handy right about now. Leo’s the one who comes up with all the plans, right? It’s not his fault the last couple of suggestions ended so badly. My fault that we’re down here now. I should’ve known the walls weren’t very strong … I got plenty of warning before I climbed onto that beam.
I still don’t know how badly he’s hurt. I can’t see anything. Not all the way down here. He’s not bleeding at all – I checked that much at least. But his arm feels wrong in the dark, and after I peeled the rope away from it I just didn’t wanna touch it anymore. Yeah, that sounds cowardly …but it’s more that I remember him screaming on the rope, and I just don’t know what to do. I can’t see what I’m doing … I could hurt him more. I could mess him up permanently.
He could already be messed up permanently. Shell. I need Donny. Maybe the guys will get here in the next half hour …
Well, I guess technically I’m the leader right now, being there’s only two of us and Leo’s taking a time out. Okay. What are my options, here? Hmm. Stay and drown? No. Go into hysterics? Tempting, but … okay, if Leo can’t climb, then probably my best bet is tie the rope around him and then go up the wall with the shuko spikes. I can ease him up after me, gentle as I can.
I don’t know how long it will take me to get back up. That’s a problem. I leave him behind here in the dark, and he might go under the water before I have a chance to get him, and … I wouldn’t notice. Not at all, until I pulled him up and found out the hard way…
The image that gives me is enough to make me curl up in a ball next to Leo with both hands over my mouth until I manage to fight the panic down. I have way too much imagination.
I hate the dark.
Oh shell, I don’t even know where I’m going. Where’s the tunnel from here? What side? How far?
What if I hurt him more? What if the rope breaks?
Okay, that’s it. Even I know I’m being way too paranoid … not to mention stupid. For a start, I can take a good guess where the tunnel is – find the fall of water and climb up next to it. My hearing works just fine – I can find the tunnel by sound if nothing else.
On the other hand, I’m really not sure if I can just leave him down here on his own. I’m thinking maybe trying to wake him up and get him to talk to me while I climb. Not sure the conversation would be that great, mind – if I’m not mistaken, this is exactly the sort of situation where Leo will tell me to leave him and go get help. Because, you know, that makes perfect sense when I don’t even know where I am or how to get out of here to get said help … but he’d say it anyway. It’s a Leo thing to do.
“Your reasons still aren’t good enough,” I tell him. So Leo’s unconscious …still makes me feel better, doesn’t it? Besides, this way he can’t answer back. Mwaha. I grin for a second in the dark, and then reach down to put a hand on his cheek. And it’s just as I’m about to try some gentle wake-up methods that I work out the flaw in my plan.
It’s distance. I know Leo had a lot of the rope around his wrist, but even if that accounts for – let’s be generous – six feet or so, I was still a good fifteen feet from the water when that rope snapped taut. Maybe more.
I can’t climb up and drag him after me. There’s just not enough rope.
Well, that sucks.
But there’s another option. It’s probably gonna hurt like hell and might not work, but I can’t think of anything else. I feel around for the rope coiled on the ground and gather it up carefully, making sure it hasn’t knotted anywhere. This will be hard. But I have to try, right?
I crouch down by his head and ease an arm under him, levering him upright so he’s leaning against my shoulder. This is seriously awkward … it’d be easier for me if Leo was actually awake and helping, but in the end I think I feel better with Leo still out cold, because what I’m doing is gonna be a lot easier for him. So I loop the rope around him a couple of times, and then I start the lengthy process of tying him securely across my back. Not the intended use for a grappling hook, but it’ll have to do. Heh. This is gonna be so much fun. Not. But I can do this. I don’t have much choice, do I?
Anyway, it takes me a while. I’m not really sure what to do with his arms – tying them in front of me isn’t an option for any number of reasons. I end up trying to brace the bad one at his side, at least for the trip up. I’ll work something else out when I get there. His head is up near mine now, tipping forward, and high enough that I can feel the tickle of his breath on my shoulder. It’s comforting. A little shallow, I think …but still fairly even. Maybe I can convince myself he’s just been working too hard and needs to sleep for a while. Yeah. Way to go, Mikey. Live in denial.
I guess I’m giving him a piggy back ride after all. Now if only I wasn’t giving him a lift while climbing up a slippery wall with some seriously hurting ribs…
Oh, well. No time like the present. At least I’ve always been a good swimmer; I still have to get back over to the wall with Leo on my back. It’s not like he’s incredibly heavy – I think Raph’s the heaviest of all of us – but he’s a dead weight, and he sure isn’t gonna be helping me any. I ease into the water real carefully, holding onto the edge of the masonry. I’m half hoping the shock of the cold will wake Leo up again – but then I still think it’s better for both of us right now if he stays out of it. He doesn’t move. I take a breath, and then push off in the direction of the waterfall. It takes a bit of effort to keep our heads above water, but it’s not too bad and I don’t have to go too far.
The really hard part is gonna be going up this wall. I know it can be done. Theoretically. None of us is a weakling, and we’ve had to carry some hefty stuff before … but not on a vertical climb without a rope, and it’s pretty obvious Leo is a lot heavier than any rucksack. I mean, duh.
And the moment I dig the spikes into the wall and try to lift us just a little bit, the other real problem makes itself known. There’s this hot, awful stabbing - like someone just tried to pry me open by sticking a knife between my ribs and twisting it in underneath. I give a little squeak and stop trying, letting the water carry our weight instead. That hurt. So bad. I bob for a second, taking in tiny breaths, trying to assess the damage. Definitely more than bruised, now. That last snap of the rope put too much stress on them. So at least cracked, maybe broken outright.
I can’t climb all the way up there like this. I can’t. Oh shell, we’re gonna be stuck down here, and I can probably stop us from drowning by staying at the walls and using the spikes like this, but being stuck in this freezing water for too long isn’t gonna be good for either of us .. and what if Raph and Don never come? What the hell do I do?
I’m frozen. My mind has just completely blanked on anything to do because the only options I can think of are impossible ones. How long can we stay here? Maybe the water will stop coming down in a few minutes and we can hang out on that masonry slab for a lot longer. Or maybe any second now I’ll hear the grate above slam open and Raph will come sliding down on an extra-long rope to fish us out of this hole. Or maybe Leo will wake up in just a second and say “Ho ho ho, I had a plan all along!” and proceed to sprout wings and fly us outta here. Oh yeah. Because that’s just as likely. Come on, think Mikey, you need another way out—
Wait. There probably is another way out. Literally. I mean …there’s nothing that says I have to backtrack, is there? What would be the point? Chances are good there’s more than one tunnel connecting to this shaft. Maybe there’s even one lower down. I’d still have to climb, but if the distance isn’t so great …
I kick back away from the wall. Find something to latch on to and keep afloat. Trying to center myself in the shaft – well, as much as I can while sharing my swimming space with random bits of junk – and trying to focus past the waterfall to see if I can hear any other entry points for water.
It’s a good plan. Problem is I’m coming up empty-handed. Either the tunnel we came down is the only one currently flooding, or there’s no other tunnels leading in. Which would put me straight back to square one.
It’s really tempting to go back to panicking again at that point, I swear. But suddenly there’s light up above, and my head jerks up. It only takes a couple of seconds to work out that yet again, it’s not Donny with a torch – dammit – but it does mean there’s a train on the way. There’ll be more light in a second. How’s that for karma? So I hold still, staring up intently.
The train doesn’t sound so loud going past, now that I’m at the bottom of the shaft and not the top. The light flickers through the shaft, and I see the damage left by the beam that crashed down – there are huge score marks down the shaft walls near the top. The good news is that – wonderful relief – there is another tunnel leading into the shaft. Two of them, actually, but one of them is only about fifteen feet above my head, on the other side from our original entrance. The other is way up high, and I can see the lower edge of it is crumbling and has given way a bit. I wonder if that’s where the beam was wedged earlier.
The bad news is the rattle of the train sends a whole bunch of stuff raining down into the shaft. I freak a bit when I hear the splashes, but they’re small and I get lucky. Nothing hits us. There’s still bits of wall collapsing down under all that shaking. It makes me real paranoid – I’m wondering now if the damage done with the beam is enough that half the shaft is gonna collapse in on top of us at some point.
That is me being paranoid, right?
I can’t risk it, that’s for sure. Not gonna waste any more time in here than I have to. I strike out for the opposite wall. Got a good marker for where the other tunnel is. Something scrapes across my shin and I yelp at the sudden sting of it, and then realise that there’s debris built up under the water here. So I put my hands out and find the edge of something that feels like stone and hoist us up onto it. I’m on my hands and knees in the water now, and Leo’s weight on my back nearly makes me overbalance face first, but I brace well enough.
I’m still gonna have to climb a little bit. But at least this stone under me will give me a leg up. Guess I only have to manage about …ten feet of actual climbing. Which is much better than the thirty plus journey of death on the other side of the shaft, but still … it’s gonna be a real pain. Hah. Oh yeah, and I thought Leo’s puns were bad … someone shoot me now.
Ten feet. I can manage ten feet. It’s not that far. I’ll just take it slow.
I stagger upright, bracing against the wall for a second as I try to adjust Leo’s weight. He has to be freezing by now …but there’s not much I can do about it. Not until I get to the top. It’s a given – I make it up there and it’s dry enough, I need to get some more warmth into him, but right now I have to climb.
I rest my head on the wall. It’s mostly dry on this side. I hope that makes things easier. Lift my hands one by one, try and psyche up a bit for the onset of pain – and start climbing.
I’d like to say the first part is the hardest, but it’s not. The first part I’m sort of prepared for … teeth gritted, eyes clenched shut – not like I need my sight – and my arms already feel the strain of trying to lift so much weight. Not to mention my ribs. But you know, I manage it. That first little bit? Hurts like mad, but I still climb. I’m wincing in anticipation of something crumbling away underneath me – all I need to do is lose one hold on the wall and that’ll be it – but so far my luck is holding out. Maybe all that chalkiness is only on the walls higher up.
Or maybe life has just decided I’ve been picked on enough recently. Hah!
I can find a few good toe holds, which makes the load easier on me. Not by much, but hey. I’ll take what I can get. The problem is managing the couple of feet and realizing that I’m nowhere near where I need to be. It only took me a few moments to wrench myself upward once. About three times as long to do it twice. I’ll get slower as I go, because it hurts and there’s no end to it. Not until I get there. I’m having trouble breathing. Leo’s weight on my back is putting too much pressure on my ribs – I’m sandwiched between him and the wall. If I lean back I can shift his weight a little more off me, but then he’ll end up peeling me right off the wall, so it’s not like I have much choice.
I hear a small whine, and for a second I think it’s Leo coming round …but no, that’s me, air hissing between my teeth. It’s so tempting to let go and fall and just … hold out as long as possible in the water, you know? Hold on to that childish belief that somehow everything will work out okay. But it’s only a second. I have to think realistically. Falling is not an option – Leo will hit the water first and my weight will push him right under, and that probably won’t end well…
Okay - don’t go there either, Michelangelo. Just focus. That’s all there is to it, right? So I try. Sort of; don’t really wanna focus on the hurt. So instead I do my best to concentrate on other things. The water splashing down behind us. Leo’s breath, still on my shoulder. My leg stings where I scraped it on the stone, and I wonder if it’s bleeding. Wouldn’t that be great? We can be infected together! I grin weakly at that. Well, if I can still find things funny it can’t be so bad …
My fingers find the edge of the tunnel. I hang there for a few seconds, and then I start hauling myself up. And suddenly my chest is a mass of fire, all at once. The world kinda goes a bit white on me at that point – the edge of the tunnel is a hard line of concrete pressing down along my ribs as I go up, and I know that croaky little gasp I just heard belongs to me, because Leo hasn’t so much as twitched. I’d be screaming if I had the air for it. This abuse is not helping. But I just keep going, dragging myself up and over until most of our bulk is lying flat on the grimy floor and letting go won’t mean that we go sliding back into the shaft.
And then I finally collapse face first in the muck.
My feet are still sticking out into the shaft, but I don’t care. Oh, shell. Never again. Please don’t let there be more climbing. I swear, if there is a handy elevator at the end of this passageway I will donate every one of my Silver Sentry comics to charity and clean Raph’s room for him for a month. I lie there gasping for a while – tiny little gasps, trying not to set off more pain. Leo’s weight is pressing me into mud, but I really don’t care. I’m in the mud, he’s on me – means he’s got a nice warm spot, right?
I’m shaking – going into reaction, I guess. My muscles are all protesting at the hell I just put them through. I reach up with a hand – have to find the end of the rope to tug the knots free - and let it drop again. Too worn out. I just… need to rest for a minute or two...
Leo’s still out cold. I’m guessing shock, but I don’t think already being sick helps. I’m wondering, again, just what I managed to do to his arm. He’s still shivering, too. Which means I really can’t just lie here. I need recovery and he needs warmth, so all I need to do is move just a little bit and then I can rest. I’m not moving away from here until after the next train comes, that’s for sure. I want some light to see my brother by. Then maybe I can work out what to do next.
So I go for the knots again, and this time I have better luck getting my fingers to obey me. I tug the rope a bit looser and then start easing out from under him as carefully as I can. It’s almost as awkward to get free as it was to tie him there in the first place. More so when all my muscles are burning. Once I’m out from under him things get a lot easier, though. I’m still shaking, but the pressure on my chest has eased off a lot. I push up to my knees and put the shuko spikes away; untangle the rest of the rope from Leo and hook it to my belt. Then I gently get my arms around him and edge backward until my shell hits a wall.
Then I just sit like that for a while just inside the tunnel, sprawled against the wall with my arms wrapped around my big brother. It’s the only way I can think of to give him some warmth, but this is a lot better than the icy water or the mud.
Now all I need to do for a while is rest. Yeah.
I think I can handle that.
It’s hard to be really sure, but I think the trains are coming maybe every half hour – maybe a little more or less, I dunno. I could try and count out the time but I don’t see much point. Not to mention … it’s me. Heh. Pay attention long enough to count out thirty minutes? I don’t think so.
Besides, I’m thinking of other problems. For one, I’m getting thirsty. Going without food for a couple of days is a pain, but … some water would really be nice. Kinda funny that there’s a whole bunch of it just to the right of me, and there’s no way in hell I’d trust it to drink. I know you can go for a while without water – a few days? – but that doesn’t mean I don’t feel lousy in the meantime.
If I’m thirsty, Leo will be too. Shell, he has a fever. I already know about the whole ‘drink more fluids’ thing when it comes to fever. I really don’t think whatever he swallowed in the shaft counts, especially as he coughed it all back up again.
At least he doesn’t seem to be shivering as much. I guess I’m doing something right.
Still hasn’t woken up, though.
I really wish he would. I mean … apart from the whole reassurance angle, this place was a lot easier to deal with when I had Leo to talk to. It’s really hard, sitting here in all this darkness without any kind of distractions. My mind plays tricks on me. I mean, I can’t see, and my imagination goes wild. For all I know, there could be a whole flood of rats just lying in wait further down the tunnel. Or some freak with an axe, creeping up on us right now with his footsteps masked by the waterfall …
I pull my feet in a little. See? Imagination is stupid. I can be all logical and stuff and say that there’s no way some axe murdering creep could be down here without a light, but I’m listening for his footsteps, just the same. Or some squeaks. Or some sinister laughter or something. Maybe there are squishy tentacley things that managed to avoid Bishop’s antidote for that whole mutant outbreak thingy. You know. Giant ... uh … preying mantises! With those demonic red eyes and sharp pointy teeth and … I really should stop thinking about this sort of thing, right? Maybe if I just imagine that any monsters around here are too busy, I dunno, playing poker to care about us. I mean, monsters have to have hobbies other than traumatizing the Mikey. Well, okay. I’m not so sure about that. I mean, look at Raph. He only has one hobby—
I guess a nice dose of light will do wonders for my imagination. But more importantly, there’s Leo. I untangle myself in the dark and crawl around in front of him, keeping a hand on the wall by his head. We won’t get a huge amount of light, I guess, but it’s better than nothing. So I wait for that tiny bit of light to grow as the train gets closer, and then I get my first good look at Leo since the ground upended underneath us, forever ago.
Then my stomach turns over.
His colour isn’t the best from what I can tell, but I was expecting that. It’s his arm that sucks in all my attention – even I can tell with the awkward slope to his shoulder that it’s been dislocated. Hell, I was expecting that, too. Only he’s got this bruising starting to turn up along his upper arm from the shoulder and I don’t know what that means – I wish I could say it’s because he banged it on the concrete, but I have a feeling it’s more complicated, and that worries me.
The welts around his wrist where the rope was wrapped are really nasty. I think his wrist might be broken. It looks pretty bad. Oh, Leo … no wonder he passed out. I was hanging off this arm? How the hell did he manage to hold on for so long?
The train’s gone again and with it the light, and I’m sitting there blinking like it’s possible to adjust my sight and keep right on looking at him. And feeling guilty as hell, because this is my fault. And frightened because I’m wondering if Donny can fix all of this …and then seriously frustrated because I’m trying to go through options on how to treat his arm here and now, and I’m coming up with nothing. Don talked me through helping him with a dislocation once … but I can’t do that on my own, and even if I could I’m not sure if it’s possible to do without hurting some other part of that arm more.
I just … don’t know what to do with all this damage. I could put the entire arm in a sling for protection if I had the bandages, but here’s a newsflash! I don’t. I’m not sure there’s anything I can really do without better stuff.
It’s too much.
As if I’m not feeling horrible enough, there’s a deafening crunch and thud from the shaft, like thunder right next to me, and I scream and nearly land in Leo’s lap as we get hit by a few drops of water. Catch my balance on the wall just in time. I can guess straight away what happened, but it doesn’t stop me screaming my heart out – that was stupidly loud. Nearly gave me a friggin’ heart attack! Shell.
The echoes are dying, and I can hear water settling back down. I’m thinking part of the upper wall in the shaft just caved in. We’re not in there anymore, and the only thing we got hit with was a bit of backwash as the water was upset, but … my blood is all ice just the same. Guess I wasn’t being paranoid before. If we’d stayed down there…
Then I shriek again and flail backward as fingers touch my face. Land on my butt hard, and flinch as it wakes up all sorts of aches and pains. “Ow!”
Okay, that took me by surprise. But the word is sorta breathed at me, all thin, and it occurs to me – a bit late, yup, so quick on the uptake I am – that there’s only one person here who’d be having a conversation with me. That gets me up fast, edging back over to my brother.
I hear him shift a little in the darkness, and he stops so suddenly I don’t need to be a mind reader to know he’s just tried to move his arm. The only sound he makes is a faint, back of the throat little noise, and I cringe and reach out gingerly until my fingers brush against his plastron. “Don’t move right now, okay?”
He doesn’t say anything for a while. I know he’s still awake – I can hear the sharp breaths he takes, and he holds them for a couple of seconds before he breathes out again. So I wait. Shift my fingers up to his good shoulder and let him come to terms with it on his own. Well … what can I say? Tell him the one-armed bandit look is really in this season? I don’t think so.
“Mikey?” He’s very quiet and his voice is a little hoarse. But he’s still with it, which is good. “You okay?”
Or maybe not. I can’t believe he just asked that. “Am I okay? Dude, you totally have your priorities wrong.”
Oh, great. So Leo’s out cold for the climb and the train and the huge bang, but wakes up just in time to hear me embarrass myself? Well … I guess I did just scream in his face, pretty much. I snicker a little. “What else is new? I’m fine. Ish. Better than some.” And after a moment of letting that sink in, I add, “You try and tell me you’re okay, and I’ll kick you back down into the shaft.”
“I won’t,” Leo says softly. Kinda drowsily, actually.
“Good.” I sit back down next to him and rest my arm up across the back of his shell a little tentatively. He takes the invitation and sinks back against my side. I’m kinda relieved on that one. I half expected Leo to try leaping to his feet and making leaderly orders and flailing motions until he fell over, or something.
But no. Rest is good. For a little while.
He doesn’t ask me where we are, or what happened, or if we’re still underground. I guess that’s not really a surprise. I know if I woke up feeling like hell I’d probably just wanna go back to sleep again. Feels odd coming from Leo, though – he hates being in the dark about anything. No pun intended. But then, I don’t know how good his concentration will be right now, given the circumstances.
I consider that for a bit, and then cough a little. Even if he isn’t listening … I’d really rather not have this whole oppressive silence thing going on. So I guess I’ll update him anyway.
“We’re out of the shaft on the other side. Um … good news is that means we’re out of the water.” The bad news is we’ve lost a lot of ground, given we were a lot higher up before, but I don’t have the heart to tell him that. “Uh … I guess when you feel up to it, we’ll keep going.”
He shifts a bit at that – okay, stupid Mikey. Not a good thing to say. “No hurry at all, Leo,” I add hastily. “Just … take your time.”
“Time,” he echoes.
“Um, yes. Time.” Okay, maybe he is a little loopy. I swallow. The idea of a loopy Leonardo makes me kinda uneasy. For all I know, he could be one of those people that goes totally nuts when delusional, or something. I mean, probably not. But you never know. “Time that we have, uh, lots of, in plenty. Yeah. You know what? You should go back to sleep—“
“Need your help, Mikey.”
I stop cold. What was that? I don’t like it when Leo asks for help. Well … okay, Leo asking for help is a lot better than Leo not asking and dying like an idiot, but … the fact that he is asking makes me think things might be worse than I thought. Which is no mean feat, I might add.
“What do you need?” I ask cautiously. “Anything from a piggyback to impersonating a comfy pillow, you know I’ll do it.” Preferably the pillow over the piggyback. I am incredibly sore. “Just take it easy, okay?”
“Can’t.” The sleepiness is still in his voice, but I can also hear that note of tension he often gets when he’s working through a plan. Or maybe trying to, in this case. “No time. I can’t move my arm. How bad is it?”
Oh, crud. I wince. “You really wanna know?”
“No,” he mutters. “But tell me anyway.”
I smile a bit at that. It doesn’t last long. I really wish I could make this sound less like a shopping list of injuries, but … gah. I take a breath. “Your shoulder’s ripped out of joint. And I think your wrist is broken, and there’s …” Muscle damage. That’s what that bruising is. He’s torn the muscles in his shoulder, I think. My breath catches. “Um. It’s pretty bad. But you can still feel it all, so that’s …good, right?”
He’s silent for a while. I’m listening to him breathe again, a little faster, more shallow. Maybe it’s because I can’t see, but hearing him is all I need right now to know that he’s having trouble dealing with that news. And …did I just tell him it’s good that he’s in agony? Man, I’m such an idiot.
But when he finally answers me, his voice is still soft. And all he says is, “Right.”
Right. Right. Good answer, Leo. Just once, I’d like to see him freak out like a normal person. Although maybe now isn’t the best time for that. Well … I guess if he can stay calm, then so can I. Maybe.
We sit there for another minute or two. Leo’s gone totally limp against me, and I wonder if he’s checked out again – I have to say, much as I hate being stuck down here in the dark, my body is practically screaming at me to stay put and rest for a while. Maybe Leo’s sleeping is a good thing. Provided he’s not dropping into a coma or anything, but I doubt it. Of course, the second I think that my imagination takes off in directions I really don’t want it to. I’m so busy trying to clamp down on my stupid, stupid brain that when Leo moves, it nearly makes me jump in surprise. He’s not getting up – but I feel his good arm move up past my shoulder and tug at something. And then shortly after that, I feel some cloth dropping into my lap. It’s his bandana, I think.
“You’re going to have to bind my arm,” he says distantly. “I’m sorry, but …I don’t think I can.”
So that whole ‘keeping calm’ thing just got seriously tested. I swallow. “Um … you sure you wanna do that?”
“Has to be done. Can’t … it won’t…” Leo pauses for a bit, and then just breathes, “It’ll hurt too much if I don’t. When I move. We have to go.”
“We don’t have to go anywhere,” I point out sharply. The fact that he sounds so guilty about admitting that his arm hurts really ticks me off. “I mean … we do, but it doesn’t have to be right this second, Leo. Can’t you rest for a while?”
“Move while you can, Mikey.”
I nearly retort to that – I mean, I’ll be just as capable of moving in an hour’s time as I am now. But then I think about that overdeveloped sense of guilt my brother has, and suddenly I work out what he’s trying to get at. Leo isn’t gonna get better from here. He’ll get worse. It isn’t so much a case of moving while I can, but while he can … because we’ve already had that fight about carrying him with my ribs the way they are.
I guess he hasn’t worked out that the only way we coulda made it out of the shaft is if I carried him, but …okay, there’s only so far I could piggyback Leo in any case, given how much I hurt right now. He’s got a point. If we don’t move now, we might never move.
My fingers close on the bandana in my lap, and I shift carefully away from Leo, one hand up on his shoulder. He’s leaning pretty heavily – I think if I take my hand away he’ll probably fall. “Okay. How do you want me to do this? I mean …your mask isn’t gonna go very far.”
“Doesn’t have to,” he murmurs. “Just need to … anchor the arm, I guess. Fold it … you can use my belt.”
I get it. “Can do.” I shift him more upright so the wall will take his weight, then settle back. “Ready?”
I half expect him to scream when I move the arm. I mean, I’m really careful – just holding it gingerly above and below the elbow – but I have to bend it, resting his forearm across his waist where his belt is. But Leo doesn’t make a sound. Not until I start threading the end of the bandana under his belt and wrapping it across his palm and above his wrist – then all I hear is that same little strangled noise from before.
I really don’t like that sound. It’s like he’s trying too hard not to cry out, and I know it’s because I’m here. I just keep my mouth shut and wrap the rest of the cloth around his arm and the belt, trying to keep it even. It’s not perfect – far from it. But all he needs is to stop the arm swinging around, and that I can manage.
“I’m done,” I tell him. “You still alive?”
“More or less,” he says wryly. Makes me snicker. Okay, we both still have a sense of humour. Guess that means things can’t be that bad. Or maybe we’ve both just gone nuts. Whatever works.
“Want a hand up?”
Well, here goes nothing … I get an arm around his shell and I feel his good arm settling over my shoulders, which makes me relieved. He’s not gonna be stubborn about this. But … shell. Hauling us both up to our feet hurts a lot more than I expect it to. It’s not Leo this time who cries out – it’s me. Wasn’t prepared for the drag of his weight, and my muscles are screaming in protest.
So the yelp escapes before I have time to bite down on it, and I so regret it because Leo immediately goes rigid. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing.” I grit my teeth as I stagger up. The pain eases a lot as Leo finds his feet and I’m not supporting so much of his weight anymore, but … I don’t get it. How come I’m so sore?
“No really, Leo. Nothing.” I don’t need him freaking out over me. Hell, no. Then he’ll start feeling all guilty about making me move and then start panicking because we have to move, and then his head will explode. Or something.
He’s already trying to pull away from me, which I don’t think is a very wise move. “That’s not nothing,” he insists.
Either I’m getting better at working in the dark or I just … know him too well. His arm drops away from my shoulders, and my first response is to snatch at him with both hands and I catch him just as he falls. Call it a hunch, but I think the Enlightened One here can’t walk on his own right now. Can’t imagine why.
“Do you mind?” I demand. “It’s hard enough denying I’m hurt without you interrupting me by falling on your face.”
He laughs at that – sort of a surprised half-gasp as I haul him up again. “So you are hurt.”
“Duh. Remember my ribs? I just forgot to be careful of ‘em when I picked you up. That’s all.”
He tells a half truth, I tell a lie. Well, given who we are I think that makes us come out even … right. I’m not the most logical turtle here. But that’s all he’s getting from me, and I’m hoping Leo will buy it. It’s not like he’s really got a crystal clear mind right now.
So I’m careful not to sigh in relief when he eases his good arm over my shoulders again. Honestly, after that first attempt at dragging my brother up it’s not so bad – maybe I’ve stressed the muscles too much. I mean, I did just haul both of us up out of that shaft, but … I think everything hurts now. Enough to make me feel a tiny bit sick in the pit of my stomach.
Or maybe that’s just because I’m hungry. Heh.
“You swear?” he asks faintly.
I grin in the dark. And I take a step forward. He’s leaning on me, but he’s still walking on his own. This is a good thing. We can do this. I keep one arm braced around his shell and the other outstretched until I catch at the wall so I have a bit of guidance.
“Sometimes,” I say, all innocence. “But I kinda heard once that it doesn’t really suit me.”
Yeah. Keep on laughing, I guess. One way or the other, we’ll make it home. Right?
So we walk, or sorta stagger, down the tunnel, and I still haven’t told Leo we’re further down than we were before. At this stage I’m thinking it doesn’t matter if he knows or not. Harsh, but there’s nothing we can do about it, and I’m thinking it won’t really occur to him to ask. So why make him worry? Besides, he’ll probably feel all guilty about it, even though anyone halfway sane would lay the blame at my door.
Maybe that’s why I’m being so careful about this. I’m careful to keep quiet about my own aches and pains, because I need Leo to keep thinking I’m fine. Because I need him to keep relying on me. Because quite honestly, I think he’s pretty bad already and I don’t want him to fall or do anything stupid in the name of being the protective older brother. Feels so strange to try and be the responsible one here. The really funny thing is, it occurs to me after a while that I’m sorta pretending to be Leo.
Okay, that weirds me out. Maybe I should start lecturing him on the art of zen and meditation and say ‘we must flow with change!’ a lot, just to make it more realistic. Hah! I’m kidding. Besides, one of us going all Jedi is enough for me.
My leg still stings. Sort of a sharper pain over the general ache of everything else. I think I did cut it open. I’m trying not to worry about it, and I’m mostly succeeding. I mean, when I consider everything else I have to panic over – being lost, no food or water, no sight, hearing weird trickling sounds that make me think we’re gonna be flooded out any moment now, Leo’s arm, Leo’s trippy fever, Leo’s …um, well. You get the idea. A cut that might be a bad thing in fifteen hours isn’t gonna be high on my list of priorities. If we’re still stuck down here without help by then, we’re gonna have bigger problems anyway.
Well, that’s cheering to think about.
The walls are dry here at least, and the ground beneath us is damp and kinda mossy, slimy dirt, but there aren’t any puddles of water. I can hear random trickles from somewhere, but I’m not coming across any water, so it must be echoing from somewhere else. Of course, neither of us know where we’re going now. We’re moving away from the train line though … the next train goes overhead and I can hear that it’s moving more on a diagonal away from us now. So we can’t really follow it too well. Maybe if I take the next right I find I can keep track of it. I’m thinking Leo’s original idea to do that was a good one.
Leo’s been pretty quiet, mind. I know he’s hurting, and I know he’s still too cold, and I’m pretty sure he’s not saying anything because he’s concentrating on moving. One foot in front of the other, kinda thing. But when we hear the train, he stops dead for a second. I guess he’s trying to work out where it’s going himself.
But no. Not quite. When he finally speaks, I feel terrible. Because he sounds so crestfallen.
“We’re a lot further down … aren’t we?”
I was kinda hoping he’d be feeling nasty enough not to notice … okay, that sounds bad, but you get the idea. “Yeah, we are,” I say frankly. “Sorry. But going back up was—“ Too painful. Too high. Too much for Mikey to deal with. My fault. Not his. “—impossible. Um. The shaft started collapsing. Had to get us outta there. Took the fastest route.”
Which is mostly true, when you get right down to it. I wonder if that last train caused more of the shaft to fall in. I don’t think it did – we haven’t covered enough ground to be out of earshot and I’ve heard nothing but the train and the trickles.
“How much farther?”
“No idea. Hopefully not too much longer to go.”
“No, Mikey. How far did we fall?”
Oh. Yeah okay, I’m not very bright. Sue me. I do some quick estimates on distance and sigh. “About twenty feet, I think.”
“No.” I blink at that, and he continues wearily. “Can’t be helped. Just be careful. Down …further than I’d like.”
“Sorry,” I mutter again.
“Not your fault.”
“Not yours, either.”
“Deal. Call it … bad luck.”
I’m kinda fascinated by the way he drifts off in mid-conversation every now and then. I’m trying to work out whether it’s because he’s having trouble catching his breath or he’s just summoning enough concentration to make sense before he keeps going. Or maybe he’s just trying to impersonate Captain Kirk, go figure.
Well, not really that funny. “Leo? You wanna stop for a bit?”
“Was that a yes in disguise?”
“No.” He sounds amused, at any rate. “But thanks anyway.”
“Can’t blame a guy for trying."
I lose track of time after that. I can hear the trains come and go, but they’re getting fainter, and it’s a while before I find a passage that opens up on my right. My hand slips off the wall and snatches at empty air and I stagger, but not too badly. Guess there’s advantages to moving so slowly. Leo doesn’t say much at all, and just for now I’m not bugging him about it – he’s still walking right along with me, even though he’s half-slung over one of my shoulders, and as long as he can still manage that I’m not gonna mess up his focus. I can still hear him limping. You know, I didn’t even think to look at his leg in the light … hope it’s holding up okay.
We turn right, and I try not to think about how useless this kind of navigation is. No idea where we’re going. Just trying to follow the train line. But with supporting Leo on my left – and with Leo not really having an arm free - it’s difficult to really scout out these tunnels properly. For all I know we could’ve just missed some access ramp on our left hand side. Of course, with the roughness of the walls I kinda doubt it.
Stumbling around in the dark it is. Which seems pointless in a way. If we don’t know where we’re going, why are we trying?
I guess because we have to at least make the attempt. Because if Don and Raph can’t find us for some reason, then we have to find our own way out. And if they are only five minutes away, then the chances that we’re getting even more lost won’t matter so much. Not with Don and his geeky tracking ways on our tail.
So I drag us through the darkness in some sort of laughable line, still trying to catch up with that train. Go down another branching tunnel. Stumble forward blindly past another turn until I catch at a wall again. Definitely lost track of time. I really hurt now, and that’s seriously unfair. I guess everything’s just catching up with me. Right now I’m almost glad we haven’t stopped and are still pushing on, because I’m starting to get the feeling that once I sit down and relax, I’m not gonna move again.
I honestly don’t wanna think about how Leo’s doing. He’s very quiet except for his breath, which is developing all sorts of interesting hitches. Shivering again. Heh. Here I am, hauling him through cold tunnels where every step has to hurt like hell, and even though it’s because he practically demanded I do it, I can’t help feeling like I’m somehow being cruel.
He’s still walking. I’m still walking. We’ll manage. He won’t ever tell me when to stop, I know that. So that’s a decision I’ll have to make at some point. But right now … as long as he doesn’t fall again, we’ll keep going.
You know, it occurs to me that even if we find a ladder it’s gonna be awfully hard to climb it.
I’ll deal with that problem if and when it comes up. At least the ground is sloping up a little in this area. The tunnel is curving round, too. Sorta reminds me of the storm drains we find closer up top – when they’re dry, they’re a helluva lot of fun to skateboard. I couldn’t do it down here, of course. Too much mud or silt or stuff clinging to the ground, and it’d clog up the wheels something terrible—
--and why am I thinking about skateboarding at a time like this? Boy, I’ve got some great priorities. I lean against the wall for a second, taking the time to rub at my eyes. They feel a little sticky. Too much mud and gunk and dirty water around here. Man, that’s something I want to do when I get home. Hot, hot bath. So cold down here.
Leo stirs a bit – I feel him lift his head, and that’s when I realise his cheek’s been resting on my shoulder. Has been for a while. For some reason, that makes me jump. Shoulda picked up on that.
“Y’okay?” he croaks.
Heh. Am I okay? “Just catchin’ my breath,” I tell him. “How about you? You sound like you ate a cheese grater.”
“Just a bit …” He pauses as if considering what to say. Well, I guess he knows ‘fine’ isn’t really an acceptable answer, is it? “…Thirsty.”
“Yeah, well.” I reach up and give his free hand a quick squeeze, and then start shuffling off down the tunnel again. Carefully. Don’t want to overbalance him. “When we get home, I’ll make you a chocolate thick shake or something. With that ice cream you’re gonna buy me.”
“Rather have tea,” Leo murmurs. Makes me grin.
“Yeah, but tea is boring, Leo. I mean, you drink it every day. This is a celebratory, ‘Wahoo! We made it home!’ toast. Have something special. I mean, I could try and make you a tea, um, shake…”
“Or we could steal Raph’s beer.”
That surprises a laugh out of me. Was so not expecting that from Leo down here in the middle of nowhere. “He’d kill us. Uh, if he had any beer to steal.”
His cheek’s back on my shoulder. Make no jokes, Mikey. Let him rest. Not a good time to get Leo’s pride flaring up…
“Behind the stack of … old pizza. Bottom shelf.”
Okay, that throws me. I blink. “You know about that?”
All this and he’s still capable of sounding smug. Go figure. I grin. “Right. So we’re back to Raph killing us.”
“That is a problem,” he agrees gravely.
“You pick the weirdest times to grow a sense of humour, bro.”
My footsteps slow again until we come to a stop. Then I’m leaning up against the wall again, reaching out with my hand for Leo’s face. He flinches a little at my touch, which isn’t a good sign. He’s burning hot. Fever’s winning out.
Well … I guess it’s not like I wasn’t expecting it.
“Leo,” I tell him wearily, “You have got to find a better way to lighten up “
“I’m still here,” he says, voice mild.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
He’s quiet after that. I stand there for a long time in the darkness waiting for a response, and when I don’t get one I just ... don’t move. Things just keep getting worse, and this place is just … See, I need to stop doing this. I’m thinking about all the ways things can go wrong for us. There isn’t much of any way things can go right.
Yeah, that’s not me, is it? I’m meant to be the optimist. I can’t … shouldn’t just …
Leo murmurs again into my shoulder. “Keep moving, Mikey.”
So I do.
He’s still here. I get what he means. Leo switches between being deathly quiet and casual breathless talk about rain, and Raph, and Splinter’s lessons and other random stuff. It’s not delirium – my brother is still here, he’s just a little off kilter. He asks me for a train update at one point, and that’s when I know he’s not really listening to them anymore. I can still hear the trains – we’re getting closer to the line again – so I tell him that, and he gives me a hmm like he’s concentrating. But he doesn’t say anything in response.
“We are higher, though,” I point out after a while. Okay, we’re not higher by much, but we are sloping upward. Counts for something, right?
“Higher is good,” he says. Which almost makes me snicker, because there’s two ways I can take that. But my sense of humour is getting kinda shot to pieces down here, so I keep a lid on it.
Leo’s getting heavier, and after a while I realise that’s not just me getting tired. He’s surrendering more and more of himself to my support, feet kinda tripping on the ground as he stumbles forward, and I realise that we have to rest. I don’t want to. Moving means keeping busy, and I know stopping here means maybe not getting back up. Give me ten minutes of sitting and I’m pretty sure all those painful muscles of mine will seize. And Leo … will probably go out like a light.
But I’m starting to stumble too. And I can’t keep this up.
I am so thirsty.
“Leo?” He doesn’t answer, so I just stop in my tracks. “Gonna rest here for a while, okay?”
“I can keep going,” he says quietly.
Too tired. It makes me blunt. “I can’t.”
Leo sighs. I’m not sure if he’s disappointed or relieved, but either way I feel his arm start sliding away from my shoulders. So I shift my grip to help ease him down against the wall and then sink onto the floor beside him. I feel a bit light headed, and that nausea I can feel roiling around in my stomach is making me wonder if there’s anything left in me to throw up. The last thing I need right now is to get sick. With the way everything hurts, maybe it’s just exhaustion. Or something.
Either way, there’s not much I can do about it. But at least while we wait, I can try and do something about the cold. Leo’s not the only one shivering right now … I reach out and draw him in close. “Cuddle up, bro. You may as well sleep some of it off.”
“Shouldn’t.” His voice is real thin. “Don’t think—“
“That’s an order, Leo.”
Said the baby brother to his Fearless Leader. But hey. I figure he’s not gonna have much choice about it anyway. If he’s gonna pass out, he may as well do it while he has a Mikey pillow.
“But it’s dark,” he says reasonably. I frown. What does that have to do with anything? … Well okay, a lot, but when it comes to sleeping? Yeah, just keep going loopy on me, Leo.
I keep my tone teasing anyway. “What’s the matter, need a night light?”
He’s silent for such a long time I think maybe he just drifted off while trying to think up reasons to be stubborn. But then he shifts under my shoulder, and suddenly I feel his good arm reach out and settle across my chest, fingers feeling down my wrist. So I catch his hand in mine, and I hear him give a faint sigh.
He settles down after that. I’m blinking at the whole latch-onto-Mikey thing, but it’s not like I mind. It’s just I’m more used to doing that to him. Heh.
“Not goin’ anywhere, Mikey,” he says sleepily. And then he’s out. Figures. My brother goes all enigmatic on me even when he’s half-baked. What a surprise.
I keep hold of his hand though. If that’s the price of him sleeping, I’m more than fine with that. I sorta hope that maybe an hour or two of rest might actually do him some good, but I get the feeling nothing much will change. I’ll just … sit here for a while. Keep a look out, listen for anyone maybe yelling for us. Nothing, though. Except for those spooky trickling sounds.
It can’t be that long now, can it? I know we probably haven’t spent all of this day walking, but we’ve gotta have put in a lot of hours. Just gotta hope Raph and Don aren’t far now. Because I don’t know how easy it’s gonna be to keep going.
Tired. Very, very tired—
So I didn’t intend to fall asleep. It takes me a while to click that I have – you know, there’s just that small lucid moment in the middle of a dream about surfing and sewer sharks when the brain says ‘You’re dreaming. Wake up, idiot.’ And it’s a dream that doesn’t make any sense, because there’s just jumbled impressions of Leo cackling in a corner somewhere with a tea shake, and I know at some point Raph tries to kill me because Splinter stole his beer and apparently it’s my fault but I don’t remember why, and in between all the flittering images of the lair and rain and some dancing Purple Dragons stealing Donny’s bandana is the sound of Raph roaring my name in this absolute fury, and he throws the fridge at me. And all the ice cubes have melted and pour out in a huge wave—
And of course I wake up at that point sprawled on the ground with ice water flooding into my mouth and a feeling of absolute panic and the echo of something bouncing off the walls, and I’m so disoriented it takes a while before I realise that Leo’s trying to haul me up with all the strength of a kitten and he’s destroying what’s left of his voice trying to yell at me.
“—you, Mikey, wake up!”
He’s gasping, and it strikes me that I’m icy cold. And then I lurch upright, feeling the cold run over my legs and break around my toes, and that’s when I finally work out that there’s water flooding down the tunnel.
That’s … oh, for crying out loud, can we please have a break here?
I’m up fast after that despite the flare of pain that goes through me at the sudden move, coughing up the mouthful of rank filth I just took in, and my panic dies a little – it’s fast water, but it’s just up to our shins. We’re on a slope, right? The water’s all going someplace else. Everything is still fine, right?
Right. Sure. Paranoia kicks in. I crouch down in the water again, reaching blindly in the darkness for Leo, and my fingers hit his shell. He’s on his knees, and I take a breath and catch hold of his good arm, hauling him up. It’s not the gentlest thing I could have done – I don’t hear him cry out, but then I could hardly hear him yell either.
He staggers once he’s up, and I wrap an arm around his chest to balance him. “I gotcha, Leo.”
Okay, so we’re not drowning. This is a good thing. But this water is way too cold. My feet have gone totally numb. The sheer shock of it is enough to make me gasp like I’ve just been kicked in the stomach. I nearly fall over again, and instead my shoulder bangs into the wall, so I lash out with my free hand and catch hold of rough stone.
I need a few seconds for the world to shift back into some sorta clarity. Should’ve picked it from the way we’ve been walking slightly uphill - this has to be an old sluice tunnel or something. Water’s piled up somewhere until it’s spilled over – or maybe this is still more freakish explosion damage, or maybe it’s storming outside and a lot of…who cares? The water’s deep enough and fast enough to make traveling a lot nastier – but it’s clear we can’t stay here. No rest for the wicked, huh?
“We’re gonna have to move.” I have to practically yell to be heard, and my voice is cracking. I don’t get an answer, either. Leo’s shifted against my plastron to wrap his good arm around my neck, and I get this little sense of déjà vu … didn’t we start like this? For a second I’m worried that Leo’s lost it – maybe he wasted what he had left trying to get me out of the water. But he’s still moving, struggling to get around to my side in the cold, and once I realise I crouch down a little so he can shift more easily, and I hook my arm around his shell again.
He doesn’t say anything. Or maybe he does and I can’t hear him. It doesn’t matter. I feel him nod against my shoulder and I grit my teeth, pulling us further up the corridor.
Sleep hasn’t helped – it’s made things worse, which is pretty much what I was expecting. I feel like someone cut all my muscles out and replaced them with broken glass. Well, maybe if I’m real lucky the water level will rise and make everything numb. Hah. I’m trying to be thankful for small things … it’s not even past our knees. So I just have to stagger my way up the current, because going back is so not an option any more…
…You know, going ahead might not be much of one either. There’s a few things working against us here. Like … where is this water coming in from? Are we gonna run into an intersection that’s the sewer version of the rocky rapids or something? We’re not up to that. We wouldn’t be up to that on a good day – which makes me hope like mad that the water level isn’t going to rise. It could, if enough starts flooding down here fast enough. If we’re really unlucky the whole tunnel could turn into one giant water slide from hell.
See, this is what having an overactive imagination gets you. You know, I keep thinking of that scene in Indiana Jones when Harrison Ford is hopping around yelling Water! – and look where that got him …
Shell. The water has risen. It’s up to mid thigh. Will not freak out—
We need to get out of this tunnel. I just don’t know how. Find another one coming in, from higher ground? I’m practically dragging us along with my fingers clawing at the wall, because I can’t feel my feet and while Leo is still doing his best to walk, I have a feeling that if my arm wasn’t hooked around him he’d slide down off my shoulder. I also get the feeling that if we don’t find an escape route this is gonna be a really short trip … how far can we really travel like this?
About twenty minutes, I think. Yeah. That’s about the time it takes for me to lose my footing as something hard smacks into an ankle … some kinda old trash I guess. I go down on my face into all that liquid ice and my senses kinda overturn – I’d like to say the room spins, but I can’t see the room so how would I know? I’m so taken up with being dizzy that I hardly notice my head’s under water, until I try and breathe. And then I panic because now I’m inhaling a whole bunch of sewer water and I’ve lost any sense of direction and—
Leo manages to snag my bandana by the tails. I think. I can feel a sharp tug at my mask at any rate, and I’m thinking it’s so like him to be so absolutely wasted and still manage to save my ass. He’s not strong enough to pull me all the way out of the water, but he stops me from sailing off down the tunnel and the tug gives me enough focus to work out which way is up and I surface coughing and hacking and flailing.
It takes me a couple seconds to realise that I’m not actually holding onto Leo any more. I don’t panic about that at least – I mean, I can feel his grip on my mask. He’s still holding on tight, and after a few seconds I work out why. And I cringe. He fell with me, of course. That had to hurt. I reach back awkwardly, trying to pry his fingers loose from the ties, and when that doesn’t work I snag his wrist and give it a squeeze. Let him know I’m here and would like my mask back, sorta thing.
Leo drops the tails and I stagger to my feet after a few failed attempts. I don’t let go of his wrist – everything’s going way too numb and I want to hold onto him because he still feels warm to me. But he’s not making any move to get up himself, and after a second I reach out for his face just to reassure myself that Leo hasn’t vanished under the water. Accidentally poke him in the mouth – clenched teeth and all, and I don’t think he even notices. He’s hunched over in the water. I lurch around him and get an arm under his good shoulder, trying to lift him up.
No dice. And I just don’t have the strength – too frozen. “Come on, Leo,” I plead. “You need to help me—“
I feel him flinch, and then he’s struggling up, and between us we manage to get him upright. The whole tunnel’s echoing with some odd vibration – the water’s loud enough, but there’s something else adding to the noise, and I can’t pick it. But I have bigger problems right now. Diving into the water has made things a lot worse for both of us. Too cold, way too cold … where the hell did the wall go?
Then the wall reaches out and smacks me in the face, and I realise I’m over-balancing. Oh. There it is. Okay, add being dizzy to my long list of issues. Why the hell am I the one with the balance problem here? Leo’s the one who’s sick—
--and not holding his own weight, I realise. He’s sagging in my arms and I tighten my grip in panic, trying to haul him up. “Come on, don’t do this to me now!”
He’s still trying. I can feel him struggling to get his feet supporting him again, and I’m wondering just how long I have before I’m gonna be trying to carry him anyway. As it is, I brace my weight against the wall and heave – drag his arm up over my shoulder and latch onto the back of his belt with my other hand. Do I really need to say again how much this hurts?
Ignore it. Keep moving. Stick close to the wall and let it support you, Mikey. That’s what you do. At least the water hasn’t risen much more – we’re still okay. Right?
Then I hear it again. An echo of something over the water, and this time my head snaps up as I realise I’m hearing another voice. Distorted over water and tunnels and no clue what direction, really …
…but that was definitely someone calling my name.
I could be going insane, of course. But shell, I hope not. Maybe it’s Raph come to scream at me about his beer, but it doesn’t sound like it. Wait, I dreamt that bit. I’m … hmm, okay, I’m losing it. Keep it together, you little twit. I stop trying to move at that point and concentrate on keeping us up, and I yell as loud as I can. Which isn’t very loud, because my voice is starting to go as well. I hope it’s enough.
“Here! Down here!”
Or up here, or across here, or three tunnels and a floor away here … I yell myself hoarse. It has to be Raph and Don finally arriving like the cavalry, so it doesn’t matter if they can’t find me by my voice, right? They’re tracking us anyway. I start laughing in the dark, hugging Leo to my chest. Everything’s gonna be fine. “You hear that, Leo?” I say hoarsely, close to his face. “They’re here. Just hold on—“
And then, just to prove that turtles don’t get lucky breaks in disaster zones, something large and heavy smacks into me from the side and knocks us clean back into the water.
You know, it’s still not much more than thigh deep – it’s just fast. And whatever hit me – wood, junk, piano, whatever –came hurtling along in the water with enough force to sweep us along before it, and now we’re both tumbling back down the tunnel and my feet are sliding across the floor trying to get some purchase, but I’m not having any luck. Leo starts slipping from my grasp and I lash out in panic and manage to snag his wrist and hold on tight. I break the surface gasping, and … we’re going too fast. We’ll go flying all the way down where the really deep water is ending up and that’ll be it.
So, I have a free arm right now and I try not to freak too much that Leo might be under water drowning right this second, but I have to stop us sliding. I flail backward and my knuckles strike wood, and I find an edge of it – whatever it is - and try and shift it around us. Just as long as it’s not pushing us ahead of it, I don’t care. At least that’s not the hard part – I’m fighting the current and this thing is not, and it goes hurtling past us and smacking off a wall further down.
Now all I have to do is find a handhold somewhere. I thrust my free arm sideways, outstretched, and I feel the burn of stone skimming past under my fingers. The drag of it hurts, and I wonder if I’ll damage my hands … but at least doing it pulls us a little closer to the wall. We slow down just enough for me to get a grip on the wall – a broken part, just under the water level, and my fingers sting.
Then my other arm snaps taut as Leo keeps going, and suddenly I’m trying to keep grip with both hands, stopping us from sliding further, keeping hold of my brother. Water’s breaking around the back of my head and I keep getting it in my eyes. I need to get my feet back on the ground and maybe get upright—
And it’s not gonna happen. The water’s too fast. Panic’s rising again – I can’t get us up, and Leo doesn’t even have a free hand to try. We’re stuck. Checkmate. All it takes is any other debris hurtling down this tunnel and it’ll crack me in the back of the damn head and then we’re gone, and I don’t even know if Leo’s head is above water—
No. It is. He’s still conscious. I can feel his fingers after a few seconds, shifting against my wrist. It’s a small relief. I still can’t get us out of here. So I just keep holding on.
And then my relief starts turning into absolute terror as I feel him trying to pull free of my hand. No. No, he wouldn’t dare do this to me. Don’t you—I can’t keep hold if he fights—he’s trying to be big brother again and I won’t let him. “Leonardo,” I snarl, “Don’t you fucking dare!”
My fingers clamp down on his wrist, crushing force, and I dare him to keep trying after that. And wonder of wonders, he stops. I have no clue if it’s because I just swore at him or he’s finally passed out, but … I mean, sure if I let go of Leo I can pull myself up again, but doesn’t he understand the price is way too high? There’s help coming. There’s help coming. There’s—
Light. Bright, blinding, and I flinch and squeeze my eyes shut. The train is back. No. Too bright, and did I mention I’m having trouble focusing on things right now? Of course it’s not the friggin’ train, not unless it’s way off course and floating down the tunnel with the rest of us… I crack an eye open after a second and see something large and monstrous stalking its way fast around the curve of the tunnel, throwing its shadow everywhere, and I scream. Such a girl. I’m such—
The blur resolves itself with that urgent yell, and I realise it’s no monster at all. Not my brothers either; throws me for a loop when I look up at the giant crocodile and realise Leatherhead is looking back at me with shock. What the… but I can just make out the headset – dude sure looks funny with it on – and I realise. Duh. My brothers brought in the heavy support. Can’t think why. Not like we need carrying or anything.
He’s reaching for me and I shake my head, trying to push Leo at him instead. I can hear him talking, but it’s not to me – think I hear Donny’s name and found, but things are getting kinda hazy. It’s the light. Way too bright, you know. Then Leo’s weight is gone and I see Leatherhead hauling him out of the water with one arm, a sodden ragdoll.
I know he reaches for me as well, but something goes wrong. The light’s gone, and it’s cold, and there’s no pressure on either of my arms any more. Did I let go? I have no Leo to carry, so I can get my feet down and stand, and…
…can’t. Overturn. Keep falling. Hear Donny’s voice yell out in alarm, “Raph! He’s heading your—“
Then I hit something solid. Arms close around my chest, and someone’s heaving me out of the water, and then I think after that pulling a Leo is nice, so … I’m gone.
“—be okay, April. We’ll be back up soon, just let Master Splinter—“
I’m warm. Sort of. There’s something heavy draped around me and someone’s chafing at my legs, getting me dry. It’s a really nice feeling. There are arms still wrapped around me over the blanket, and that was Donny speaking over somewhere else, so the person holding me must be Raph. I try and sit up and the arms tighten.
“Take it easy, Mikey. Just sit. We’ll get you home. Man, I take my eyes off you for one minute…”
Raph’s voice is rough, and I get my eyes open, and there’s three of him, staring down at me with dark eyes like he hasn’t slept for a while. I blink a bit until there’s only one of him – I mean, who wants to deal with three Raphs? I peer around at the dim light – there’s a couple torches just sitting on the ground, and it’s Casey who’s drying me off. Heh. They sure brought reinforcements in, all right. I can just see LH crouched hulking on the ground and he still has Leo curled in his arms all wrapped in blankets, and Donny’s over by them checking out Leo’s arm.
Don looks over at me and gives me a strained smile, and I realise then just how worried they must’ve been. Hunting for us as long as we’ve been hunting for them. I swallow. “I’m sorry—“
“Don’t be an idiot all your life,” Raph snaps in a low voice. “It ain’t anyone’s fault. You start babbling and crying and I swear I’m gonna ditch you back under water.”
Empty threat. Hah! He doesn’t mean it. I know, because I try and sit up, and I fail, and Raph suddenly hugs me. And that hurts too, but I don’t care and … I know, I’m a baby, all right? But they’re okay and we’re okay and now I get to go home and have my hot bath, and… and I can’t stop. Tears, hot and blinding, and I’m just crying and I can’t stop.
Raph sighs the long-suffering sigh of the serially grumpy. “Moron,” he says.
Then he tucks me up close to his chest and just holds on.
I don’t remember much of going home. I know it takes a while … we’re in deep, and it’s not like home is right next door. And we don’t move straight away, either. Donny’s hunched by Leo with his back to me and I can see the rigid tension in his shoulders – he’s worried, so bad. It makes me feel a little sick to see that. But I can’t see what he’s doing. All I see is the moment when he lifts his hand to fling Leo’s dirty blue bandana on the ground next to him. I wonder if mine is as filthy as that.
But that’s not the real question here … I spend some time leaning on Raph and watching Don, because I can’t really see Leo. I have to wonder if that’s deliberate on Don’s part. He spends some time talking to April over his headset – heh, he has those night goggles perched on his head – so I get from that she’s waiting up above somewhere and she probably has Splinter with her. Makes me feel really guilty, even though I know that … well, this was just an accident.
Things are a bit hazy, and I know I’m starting to doze, but at one point Raph shakes me awake and I blink to see Don’s crouched down in front of me, and his smile’s a lot warmer up close. And he has fresh water with him! I could kiss him. Uh … in a brotherly kind of way.
“Just a little,” he advises. “Don’t drink too fast or you’ll just lose it again, Mikey.”
“I’ll make sure he’s okay,” Raph says wearily, reaching out and plucking the bottle out of Don’s hands before I can free a hand from the blanket to snatch it. Spoilsport. “How’s Leo?”
“Leo’s sick,” I tell them.
Don gives me a sharp glance, and then nods at Raph with an expression that kinda makes me feel like there’s something I should know. But all he says is, “Mikey’s right. But he’ll be okay.”
“What about his arm?”
Raph’s voice is all edges, and I try and find the energy to say something about that too, even though I’m pretty sure he wasn’t asking me. But I fade out again at that point. Real tired. Wake up again when Raph gets some of that water down my throat, just a trickle, and it’s the best thing I’ve tasted in ages. I think I’m worn out. I can’t stay awake, and I get the impression at one point that someone’s picking me up, but I can live with that. Coddle the Mikey, whoever you are. I deserve it. It’s been a long day.
I get some vague images after that. Raphie’s giving me a piggyback, heheheh. He won’t be able to keep that up all the way home. I have to remember it for later. Leatherhead still has a hold of Leo, which makes me so relieved. LH is a big guy; he can cradle Leo like that without hurting his arm. I can’t see much of my big brother except for his head just peeking out from under the blankets. He looks comfy, at any rate. And Casey keeps shoving his face close to mine and I’m trying to work out why, and I hear Donny chase him off with an annoyed tone of voice. Then later, when I wake up again, it’s Casey that’s got a hold of me, and Don’s close by and talking in hushed tones about something or other. Weird. I’m being passed around. Heh. But … you know, I’m good with the not walking thing. I really am.
I don’t remember much more. Get the impression of a warm, furry hand brushing along my forehead at some point, and that’s when I know I’m home. I can hear Master Splinter talking, and I have no idea what he’s saying, but he sounds concerned. I try and wake up enough to offer him a cheerful smile or something, but I’m not really sure if I succeed on that one.
Then I wake up. Tucked in my bed, fluffy pillows, all that. I already know I don’t want to move – I feel overstretched and thin and worn out, and I know the second I try something will start hurting, so I’m content to just lie there and peer at the ceiling for a while. It’s a very nice ceiling. You know, the best thing about my ceiling is that I can count all the little cracks and rough spots, because I can see the damn thing. Never thought I’d be so happy to stare at it.
It takes me a while to realise I can feel something tickling along my left arm and I shift my head after a few seconds to try and work out what. My arm’s on top of the covers, and Donny’s head is resting right next to it on the crook of his elbow, and I grin. Poor guy has to be so tired. I can see gauze caught in one of his hands, and I look down my arm to the fingers. Neatly wrapped up – I guess I did damage them after all. But they don’t sting too bad.
I feel clean, too. Pretty comfy, even if moving isn’t in the cards right now. Guess I got my hot bath after all, and I wasn’t even awake for it. Was I that tired?
Come to think of it, what’s Donny doing here? Shouldn’t he be doing something with Leo? I blink for a second at the complete silence of the lair, and I wonder what time it is. And Leo I guess could be tucked away in his own room, but … I lift my arm gingerly to maybe shake Don, and the moment I do his eyes flick open. I don’t even have to touch him.
“Mikey?” It’s kinda cute how he squints at me. Like he’s not sure that I’m me or something. But he smiles, and straightens up next to the bed, and I’m trying not to snicker because he still has gauze tangled round his fingers and he doesn’t seem to have noticed.
He reaches out with his other hand and puts it against my forehead for a second which makes me blink. Then he tilts his head and glances at me thoughtfully. “How do you feel?”
“Try again,” Don says wryly.
I smirk. “Not so okay?”
He smiles at that. “Can you sit up? You should probably eat something. Or at the very least, have some more to drink. You’re a little dehydrated.”
Yeah, and probably thirsty too. Sure, I’ll try sitting up. And it’s not as hard as I thought it would be – everything still aches, but it’s not as sharp as it was. I don’t think I’ll be moving very fast for a while, though. There’s a tightness around my chest, and when I push the covers away I find that Mad Doctor Don has definitely been at me – lots of bandages wrapped over my plastron. Heh. Must’ve been some serious bruising showing up on my sides for him to do that. I can see all the other bruises now in the light, but they’re fading a bit – they’d be all the ones I took falling in the first place. Still, I guess I look pretty bad.
I wouldn’t be the only one though.
“Donny? How’s Leo?”
Don blinks. “He’ll be fine. Raph’s in with him right now.”
Which goes a way to reassure me that Don probably spent a whole bunch of time in with Leo before making his way in here, but … that’s a pretty vague answer. I narrow my eyes. “Is his arm gonna be okay?”
He hesitates on that, which means it doesn’t matter what he tries to say to me. I already know there’s a problem. And he knows it. So he sighs. “It should be. But it will take a while. Leo just needs to be convinced to give it time to heal.”
Which is always a problem with Leo. Worst patient ever. “How long are we talking here?”
“Not sure,” Don mutters. “Maybe three months?”
I stare. That’s way too much time for a broken wrist. “That bad?”
Don gives me a thoughtful look. “Are you up to telling me what happened?”
Now that was an attempt at a subject change. Pretty lousy one, too. And I draw in a breath because now I’m worried, and Don just shakes his head, holding a hand up. “He really is going to be okay, Mikey.”
“Don’t Mike me.” Gotta admit, I’m proud of how calm my voice is right now. One day someone is gonna have to explain to Don that avoiding the subject isn’t a good way to stop people worrying. “I did that to his arm, you know.”
“If you did,” he says mildly, “You know it was an accident.”
Kudos for not looking shocked. Don peers at me for a couple of seconds, and then shakes his head again.
“Tell you what,” he says. “You eat, I’ll talk. I’ll go make you some--”
I cut him off, giving him my very best stubborn glare. Which admittedly isn’t as stubborn as some, but does have the added threat of being followed with pouting and the world’s best puppy dog eyes. “You talk, I’ll eat.”
Don gives me this doubtful look, but I can see he’s gonna cave. I mean, it’s not like I won’t find out the second I get out of my bed and go find Leo, right? Which, I might add, I’m gonna be doing just as soon as I’ve eaten.
“All right,” he says finally. “In layman’s terms? Leo’s torn the muscles in his shoulder, and he’s probably strained a whole bunch more, but that’s something that will hopefully mend over time. I’ve already dealt with the shoulder and wrist dislocations. Given enough time and care, his arm should be fine.”
Well, at least his wrist wasn’t actually broken. Though a dislocation is probably just as bad in its own way, I guess … if I remember correctly, just snapping it back in isn’t all the care it needs. But I stare at Don. His mouth is twisted slightly in a way that makes me think he’s wondering how to phrase the bad news, and I know he’s not done. Three months?
“There’s another but, isn’t there?”
“Yes.” Don shifts uncomfortably. “It’s hard to say how bad it is, because Leo’s … not really giving me straight answers.” Translation: Leo’s still out of it. Or being his usual stubborn self. Either way. “But I believe he’s taken some damage to the nerves in the back of his hand.”
That isn’t something I wanted to hear, really. Nerve damage? Leo? “And what’s that supposed to mean?” I demand.
He shoots me a faintly irritated look, and it’s then that I’m reminded of how tired Don looks. I wonder if the nap on the edge of my bed was the only sleep he’s had in the past day or two or … however long we were gone. “He doesn’t have full use of his fingers,” he says quietly. “I don’t think he even felt me prodding at them. If I were to take a guess, I would say that the impact damage to his wrist wasn’t anywhere near enough to sever the nerves, which—“
“He can’t feel his fingers!?” And here I thought I was meant to stop panicking when I got home. After all that? Doesn’t take a genius to realise that you can’t hold a sword without—
“Mikey, would you please hear me out before you freak out?” Don gives me a crooked smile, and I swallow and try to look attentive. “Nerves can heal. Admittedly very slowly, but unless they’re severed completely, Leo should be fine.” He pauses, and then adds wryly, “Provided, as I said, he can be convinced to give it time. I looked it up. Crush damage to peripheral nerves heals at a rate of one millimeter a day. Then after that, there’s the process of restoring coordination, and … let’s just say it will take a while.”
Shell. Leo’s gonna go nuts. I wonder how much patience he has for something like this. Then I hope Don’s right and everything will be okay, because nerve damage isn’t exactly his specialty, but … no. He wouldn’t have told me that unless he was very sure himself…
“Have you stopped panicking now?”
“I think so.” I give him a weak grin. “But, you know, gimme a few minutes, I’m sure I can find something else to freak about.”
“I’ll try not to make any sudden moves,” Don says, straight-faced. “Anyway, Leo is sleeping. April’s probably on her way back here now with some more painkillers for him. He’ll be fine.”
“So now I’m going to get you something to eat. And then you’re going to tell me what happened to you.”
I blink. “What? Why?”
“Because,” Don says steadily, “I want to know how you got hurt.”
Nothing much to tell there, is there? But … I figure Don deserves at least the abridged version, because maybe he needs to know how Leo’s arm got mangled as badly as it did. So Don fetches me some plain toast and some ridiculously sweet Gatorade, which is probably the best thing I’ve tasted in ages. Food is good!
And after that, we talk.
I leave out all the screaming I did. Heh. And I also leave out what Leo did, right at the end. That … is something I’m gonna be talking about with Leo, up close and personal. Thinking about it now makes me upset. Don’s eyes are watching my hands, clenching the coverlet up in my fists, and I force them to smooth out.
But it still hurts.
When I finish, Don’s still looking at my hands. “I’m sorry we didn’t get to you sooner, Mikey,” he says, voice quiet. “We came back to the lair to patch Raph up, and by the time we came back—“
“Raph was hurt?”
Don stops at my stricken look, and smiles sheepishly. “Not badly. His arm was cut, that was all. It wasn’t deep. But if we were going to look for you underground… and then when we came back with all our gear there were people everywhere and it was … well. We had to be so careful. I’m sorry, Mikey.”
I shoulda thought of that. New York reporters will have a field day … heh. “Not like it’s your fault, Don. At least you came.”
He nods. “And luckily, you guys were on the move yourself. You were a lot closer to the lair than where you started. That’s some good travel time.”
I grin. “Leo figured we’d save you some time looking for us if we met you halfway. It’s just a pity we couldn’t use the Cell to actually call you.”
“Would’ve been nice,” Don agrees dryly. “We were a little worried.”
“Least you knew we were on the move though, right?”
The look Don gives me then is very weird, and he opens his mouth as if he’s going to say something. And then he shuts it as we hear new arrivals in the lair – sounds like April and Casey. Master Splinter is talking to them in low tones. I can’t hear what he’s saying, but Casey’s voice drops a few notches in volume so I bet Sensei just told him to keep a lid on it.
“Guess I should go talk to April,” Don murmurs. “Let her know what—“
I reach out and snag his arm as he starts to move. I’m missing something, and Don’s just gone into avoidance mode. “Don? What aren’t you telling me?”
Don’s quiet for a few seconds, and it’s enough for me to peer back at his face and see the uneasy look that he tries so hard to hide. It makes my stomach sink a little … I’m getting the impression something bad happened.
“The shaft,” he says finally.
Not what I was expecting. Kinda left field. Don looks down at his hands now. The piece of gauze caught in his fingers gets yanked free and crumpled in one hand. “The one where you had your fall, I guess. It was half caved in, and we had to be so careful going in there—“
“Whoa, whoa…” I’m confused. “We left that place hours and hours before you found us. How come you went there?”
“Because that’s where we tracked Leo’s Shell Cell to, Mikey,” Don says softly.
“That’s not right,” I point out. “We had it—“
I stop. We did have it. The last time I saw it was when I pulled it out way before we got to the shaft. And then we fell …and Leo got … and … why didn’t I even think to look for it? I just assumed …
Things got rough. That was a heavy fall we both took - of course we lost the damn thing. That … I take a breath. We left it behind in the water, and I didn’t even know it was gone. Shell, we walked away from our lifeline. And I can imagine - they would’ve thought we were buried under all that junk and—
Oh, god. We walked away. I start shaking. Should’ve just let Leo sleep and ignored his request to move – we could’ve avoided everything after, we could—
“Mikey!” Don’s hands are on my shoulders. “Would you calm down? You’ll end up hurting yourself if you keep that up.”
I have no clue what he’s talking about, until I hear the laughing. Oh, that’s me. I guess there’s something hysterically funny about the whole thing. I take a few breaths. Walked away. Oh, that’s rich. And somehow terrifying. And something, I think, that I am not gonna tell Leo.
“Typical,” Raph remarks sourly from the doorway. I glance up to find him leaning there, arms crossed as he glowers at me, and I put a hand over my mouth, trying to swallow the giggles. More hysterical than funny, I guess. “Leave it to Mikey to freak out after the fact.”
Don rolls his eyes a little at that. His hands are still on my shoulders, and he shakes his head. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have told you.”
“Why not?” I snort. “It’s the truth, isn’t it? It’s just …funny.”
“It ain’t funny,” Raph says, voice flat. “We thought—“
He breaks off with a scowl. And suddenly I don’t find it funny at all. Because now I know what they’re getting at. Even if it was just for a second … they must’ve thought we were dead. Oh shell, Raph woulda gone nuts. I can almost imagine Casey down there, trying to drag him out of the water before he killed himself looking…
I guess … it really wasn’t a good time for any of us.
“So…” I trail off for a bit, watching Raph burn a hole in the ground with his glare. Then I continue, a little softly. “How’d you find us?”
Don gives me a weak smile. “Did you cut your leg when you climbed out?”
I stare at him. What’s that got to do with anything? “Yeah, but…”
“Donny and LH did some lookin’ around,” Raph mutters. “And you sorta …left a trail on the wall.”
I cringe a little at that. Didn’t know I bled that much … heck, didn’t know I bled at all. Oh, I bet that made their day, too. ‘Don’t worry, Raphie! They’re not dead, they’re trailing blood up into this here tunnel!’ … yeah. Shell. What a mess.
“At least we knew you’d continued on,” Donny says softly, as if he’s reading my mind. “And we could see two sets of footprints, so we knew you’d both survived the shaft. It was actually a lot faster once we just started following a real trail.”
Yeah. At least until the tunnels started flooding, right? I take a breath. Definitely not telling Leo. Ever. I mean, I can already imagine him going on a massive guilt trip about it… because, y’know, he shoulda somehow known, realised, whatever. According to whatever passes for logic in Leo’s brain some days.
“April’s here with pain killers,” Raph is saying to Don. “Heavy duty stuff. She said you asked her for somethin’ to make him sleep?”
“For a while,” Don replies. “Is Splinter in with him now?”
Talking about Leo. Heavy duty pain killers, huh? I frown. “Leo is gonna be okay, right?”
Don shakes his head a little, and smiles wryly. “Like I said, it’s just … he isn’t going to be using that arm for a while.” He looks vaguely annoyed. “And if he’s not careful, he won’t be using it at all, but I’m sure we can enforce certain restrictions one way or the other.”
“Full body cast sounds good,” Raph suggests, one corner of his mouth turning up in a smirk.
This makes me think Leo’s woken up and tried to be difficult about things. Which is a very Leo-like thing to do, so it makes me grin. It reminds me to ask something else. “Is he still sick? He wasn’t …very well.”
They look at each other, sorta knowingly, and that makes me wonder whether I should start panicking again or something. But then, Raph moves around to my other side and sits down on the bed, draping an arm casually over my shoulders. “Leo,” he announces, “Will be fine. So quit worryin’ about it.”
Don grins. “His fever broke not too long after yours did. He’s just sleeping now.”
I stare at him. “I was not sick.”
“No, you weren’t sick.” Raph snorts. “That’s why you babbled at me the whole way back, genius. You told us Leo was sick only, oh, eight times—“
Don looks away at that. He’s trying to keep a straight face, and I wonder what else I could have said. Annnd all of a sudden I don’t wanna know. Not really. “Fine,” I say grumpily. “But I don’t see why. I didn’t have some huge infected gash.”
“No, that’s true. But.” Don has that tone of voice that tells me I’m about to receive a lecture. “Mikey, you put yourself through a lot of stress, physical and otherwise. Not to mention the amount of damage that you must have sustained falling like that—“
“But Leo caught me!”
Don narrows his eyes at the interruption. Oops. Sorry, Dr Donny. “Yes. And trust me when I say we’re all happy that he did.” Yeah, tell me about it. “But do you know anything about physics? Every bit of force applied to Leo’s arm also applied to your spine when you jerked to a stop. You’re lucky you’re a turtle; your shell will have protected you from …”
He trails off for a moment. Probably because I’m blinking at him stupidly given I have no idea what he’s talking about. So he sighs. “Look. The body isn’t designed to snap like that. As it is, you probably jarred most of your nervous system in the fall. Do you understand?”
Oh. Is that why I hurt so much? But I already feel better – more stiff than anything else today. Of course, I haven’t tried standing yet…
“Yeah. I get it.”
“Good.” Raph nudges me. “So take it easy.”
“You aren’t too bad, Mikey,” Don says. His tone is still in doctor mode, but he’s smiling again. “Just … kind of a little wrung out. And you’ll probably feel a lot better in a few days.”
“Oh, goodie,” I say, all innocence as I clasp my hands together. “But Doctor, will I be able to play the violin?”
Then Raph smacks me over the back of the head, and I know everything’s back to normal.
It’s not like I can’t walk myself … but I guess I just look so awkward hobbling toward the door and trying not to let on how sore I really am that my brothers decide to give me a hand. So Don gives me a smile and heads down into the lair to catch up with April and collect the stuff she’s brought with her, and Raph just sighs and practically scoops me up, and I blink a bit as he follows Don out.
I smirk at him. Raph’s got the long-suffering voice down pat – like it’s practically killing him to be nice to me here. “Well, I dunno. I was feeling kinda like some ice cream and there’s that awesome new place up near where April lives—“
“Ha. Ha. Would Sir like to be thrown into the pool as well?”
“Leo,” I say quickly.
“S’what I thought.”
I half expect him to try carrying me bridal style over the threshold or something, and I’m just fighting down the jokes that spring to mind because, y’know, the last thing I really need is Raph throwing me at Leo in a fit of offended rage … but he actually deposits me just outside the door. Wow. Thanks for those six whole seconds of assistance, Raphael. But it’s kinda cute. And I know why he stopped here. With his hands full of Mikey, he would’ve made too much noise trying to open the door. I guess Leo’s sleeping.
Raph turns the door knob and gives it a small push, then looks at me doubtfully, so I say “I can manage the rest.”
“If you say so.”
He turns to go, and I swallow. “Hey, Raph?”
For some reason, the first words that come to mind to say are: Leo knows where your stash is. And I stick a hand over my mouth to hide the grin for a second, because I figure he doesn’t need to know that. Instead, I sorta mutter into my hand. “Sorry about the whole ‘worry’ thing.”
Raph practically sneers at me, but he claps a hand down on my shoulder anyway. It’s even a little more gentle than usual. Isn’t he sweet? “I’m used to you bein’ a pain in the shell,” he says. “Don’t sweat it.”
He heads off, and I hear him start talking to Casey, and the look he gives me as he goes tells me that they’ll probably give me at least a few minutes alone with my big brother before Don comes back this way. Nice of them.
Then Leo’s door opens the entire way, and I stand there blinking as Master Splinter looks at me gravely. Oh. That’s right; Raph was saying something about him being here. “Uh, Sensei--“
“You should not be out of bed yet, Michelangelo,” he says gently. “You need rest as much as your brother does.”
“Um, yeah, I know, but…”
I trail off as he steps forward to put his arms around me, and instead I just return the hug. It’s weird how gentle he is – being extra careful of the bandaging around my chest, but I can feel his fingers latching onto the back of my shell, and I can take a guess just how relieved he is that we’re both still in one piece.
“Ten minutes,” Splinter says, pulling back after a few moments and giving me a firm look. “Then Raphael will take you back to your room.”
I feel like telling him I’m really not that bad. Honestly, it really is just a whole bunch of aches and pains that I can deal with, but … well, we scared them, didn’t we? So I swallow. “Sure thing, Master Splinter.”
He smiles faintly and then moves past, and I hear the tap of his walking stick as he heads for the living area.
Guess that leaves me with my big brother, huh?
I edge inside the room and close the door real quietly. Splinter or Raph have left a couple of his candles flickering on the dresser, which I can totally understand. After a day or two spent in pitch darkness, I’m thinking having a little light would be comforting even for Leo.
Not that I’d ever say that out loud, of course.
There’s extra pillows on his bed – couple cushions from the living area, and I recognise Don’s spare from his workshop – and Leo’s propped up in bed with the blankets tucked up across his waist, and if I thought Don had gone a little nuts on treating me, Leo’s got it much worse. I can see the whiteness of all those bandages practically welding his arm to his chest a lot more securely than his bandana ever did, all the way from his shoulder to his fingers.
That arm is definitely gonna drive him up the wall after a few days. Once it stops hurting so much, probably.
He doesn’t actually look as bruised as I do. Then again, I guess his dive after me was a lot more controlled than my panicked flail. So right now, apart from a couple of mottled marks on his good arm and a nasty bruise on his jaw and a few minor scrapes, he doesn’t look too battered.
Looks a lot more comfortable than the last time I saw him, at any rate.
So I’m sidling up to his bed and I’m wondering whether or not to wake him up … and if I do, what I yell at him about first. There’s his fingers, for one thing. I have to wonder. Did he know before he got home that his fingers were messed up, and just didn’t say anything? Or was he so distracted with everything else that hurt that he didn’t notice? It’s hard to say. I suppose, even if he did know, there’d have been absolutely nothing either of us could have done about it. Leo would have filed it under ‘deal with it later’ and settled for making me freak out about everything else...
Okay. Free pass on that one.
Now I’m standing here, staring down at his sleeping face. My brother, the martyr. How do I say what I want to say? I suppose I could say it while he’s not awake. I’ve already discovered how, y’know, therapeutic it can be to lecture Leo when he can’t answer back—
I swear he makes me jump halfway across the room. Thanks a bunch, Leo. His eyes are still closed, but I can see the corner of his mouth turn up in the gloom, so I guess he’s all amused at his jumpy little brother. I settle for glaring at him, even if he can’t see it. Bet he did that on purpose.
“You should be in bed,” he says after another moment. Calm as can be, although from the vague sound of his voice he’s either just woken up or he’s about to sleep for hours on end. “Are you okay?”
And despite everything, I grin at him as he opens his eyes. “We held a vote while you were out cold,” I tell him. “You’re not allowed to ask me that for at least another two weeks.”
“I see,” he says dryly. “Then I won’t ask.”
And of course, I watch him watch me. Taking inventory again. His eyes rake over the bandages across my plastron and his smile gets a little thin, and I end up crossing my arms across my chest and pretending nothing hurts at all. “So would it be a stupid question,” I ask tartly, “To ask how you are?”
“Not a stupid question,” he murmurs. “I’ll be fine.”
“Didn’t ask how you’ll be, did I?”
He meets my eyes at that, and he opens his mouth to answer me. Then he shuts it. I don’t know, maybe the incredibly bandaged Mikey is intimidating or something, because he shifts his gaze away to stare at the floor.
“Master Splinter says no training for at least a week, probably two,” he says, and I blink. Wow, Leo’s being on the level. “And after that … well. I won’t be using this arm for a long time. But now, I think …” He shifts his gaze back to me, and he smiles again. “I’m just sore. And tired.”
I grin. “So sleep.”
“I’ve been sleeping all day,” Leo retorts. “Besides, you’re here.”
“Not like you haven’t fallen asleep on me before this.”
It’s meant to be a joke, but as soon as I say it I realise Leo will take it another way. The smile fades and he glances down to his wrapped up arm, and I give a sigh. And after a second, watching the guilt sorta creep into his face, I shift forward a bit to take hold of the blankets and pull them away.
Mainly I’m satisfying my worry about something else. Of course, Donny was really thorough with both of us, wasn’t he? Leo’s leg is wrapped in nice clean bandages as well, though nowhere near as much as his arm. The wound is clean, so it’ll heal just fine. And I already know Leo is nice and lucid and back to being his usual guilty self.
He hasn’t said anything about my sudden attack on his blankets, so either he knows exactly what I’m doing or he’s too busy getting all angst-ridden about, you know, daring to get hurt. Heh. But I get his attention when I sit down carefully on the bed and curl up next to him, pulling the blankets back up. Not the most comfortable place in the world right now – there’s no way in hell I’d ask Leo to try moving over to make more room, so it’s not like I have a lot of space to work with. But he needs distracting.
And besides, I’m cold.
Leo raises an eye ridge at me. “What are you doing?”
“You told me I should be in bed,” I say cheerfully. “So here I am.”
“This is my bed.”
I smirk. “Mine’s too far. If I try leaving Raph will sweep me off my feet and marry me or something.”
Leo laughs softly at that. “I’m not even going to ask.”
And after a second, he shifts his good arm up across my shoulders to make more room, so I curl up a little closer against his side. It’s really nice, you know. Having his arm around me when we’re both safe at home and we don’t have to drag ourselves through some dark tunnel of murky doom. Should happen more often.
Course, we’ve done this before, every now and then. But believe me, I’m really appreciating being able to curl up with my big brother, now more than ever.
For a few minutes, we just sorta sit there. Cosy. Relieved, I think. Yup, here we are. Home. And everyone’s safe. Happy ending. And I notice Leo relax more and more and realise he’s gonna fall asleep again shortly, and I still haven’t said what I really want to say. And Splinter did say ten minutes …
“It’s not like I minded, you know."
“You getting hurt.” Wait, that sounds stupid. I snicker a little sheepishly.“Well, okay – I hated you getting hurt. And me getting hurt as well, come to think of it. I mean, ouch. But … you know, it couldn’t be helped. And I’d never mind if you needed help, because I don’t know if you noticed, but you helped me first and you wouldn’ta needed help if you didn’t help me first, so that kinda makes us even, you know?”
Sue me, I’m not all eloquent and stuff like Leo and Don are. But Leo’s arm tightens across my shoulders, so I guess he understands. “I know, Mikey.”
“So stop feeling bad about it already.”
And that’s still not what I wanted to say. Well … it’s a little hard.
“I could say the same to you.”
I blink. “Huh?”
“It’s not your fault we fell, Mikey.” His voice is clear and serious, and I shift my head to peer up at him. “So stop thinking that you’re responsible, okay?”
Well, that’s not the same thing. I mean, it was me messing around on the beam that screwed us over …
“Besides,” he adds wryly, “Don’t think I don’t know how hard it must have been to climb out of that shaft. And everything that came after … you really pushed yourself hard.”
I give him a nervous smile. “Uh, not so much. I mean, you’d be surprised how far hysterical panic can get a turtle—“
Leo gives me a level stare, and I shut up. And then he smiles at me, but he doesn’t say anything. And I get the idea. I guess he won’t say it, because let’s face it … it’d probably sound really patronising. But I feel all warm on the inside anyway. My big brother is proud of me, isn’t he?
Heh. Well, as long as I have his respect …I take a breath. “Leo?”
His eyes close, and he shifts back to rest against the pillows. “Mm?”
The words sorta catch in my throat. You know, I really want to say it. In fact, there’s part of me that wants to shake him even if that will hurt, and rant at him until I’m out of breath. Don’t you ever do that to me again. Don’t you EVER. Two minutes from rescue, and you try the whole self-sacrifice thing just to buy me a few minutes? What, you think I’d want to be okay without you? Didn’t you listen? Didn’t you hear me when I said there was help? What were you thinking!?
How do you say that to someone, well and truly after the fact? Especially when chances are good that he was so out of it at the time, he doesn’t even remember doing it?
I swallow. “You’re an idiot.”
I expect him to get confused at that – open his eyes and stare at me as if I’m nuts. But Leo doesn’t move.
Instead his arm tightens around me again, and his words are very soft. “I’m sorry, Mikey.”
He remembers. And I’m quiet for a long time, just letting him hug me, because I honestly don’t know what to say. I wonder if he’s sorry that he tried, or he’s just sorry that it hurt me. Or maybe both. Well … he was sick. Maybe things would have been different. Maybe not.
“Don’t do it again,” I mutter after a while. “Ever.”
And Leo doesn’t say anything. I think for a second that maybe he’s just thinking over some way to say, Yes, Mikey, I promise! … without sounding like a horribly cheesy movie ending or something. Kinda hopeful of me, I know. And the silence stretches, and that’s when I realise. I’m stupid.
Leo isn’t saying anything, because Leo doesn’t like to lie. He’s still holding on tight, just his one arm wrapped around me because his other one’s so messed up, and I can feel the tension all the way down to his fingers, and so I know at least that what I said really gets to him. And I think about how I felt in that flood, that terror of losing my big brother despite how hard we’d fought to get to that point. How I would have had to live with it afterward. Or woulda tried to.
The fear sinks deep. I don’t ever want him to do that to me again. To any of us. It’s not just his choice, is it? My fingers curl a little on his plastron – I can’t reach out and wrap my arms around him, because it’ll hurt him, so I just have to settle for clinging to his side.
And I take a breath, and try softly, trying to keep my voice level. “Please?”
Leo breaks off, and he takes in a short breath. It’s sharp enough that I think maybe he’s hurt himself, so I crane my neck up to meet his gaze, and I swallow again. Because he’s staring at me with this really odd look, and I can’t place it too well because it’s not something I’m used to seeing on Leo’s face. I mean, he’s the Fearless Leader and all.
Not that he looks afraid. Just … unsure. No, more than that. Lost. Like I pushed him out in the dark somewhere and left him there, and he has no clue how to get back. Or maybe just …
…I get it. I think. So I smile at him, even though right now it’s a little hard. And I sink down again, pulling the covers up. “S’alright,” I mutter into his side. “I understand, okay?”
And again, he doesn’t say anything else. I guess he doesn’t know what to say. Heh. Of course he doesn’t. I breathe in deep, and I let it out again, tickling against his skin, and I wonder if I should add something else. But I’d be lying. I can’t say something stupid like, Just make sure you’ve got no choice before you try killing yourself next time … because there’s no way in hell I mean it. Maybe I’m selfish. Or maybe I’m just the smart one.
I know Leo will never answer that question for me. Because he can’t. So I’ll just … keep hold of him as long as I can. Literally, in some cases. Heh. I close my eyes and get comfortable. I figure if I at least look asleep, when Raph or Master Splinter comes back they’ll just let me stay here.
I don’t realise how tired I really am until the touch of Leo’s fingers on my shoulder makes me start, just a little, and I realise I’ve started falling asleep. And the soft touch on my shoulder smoothes out, and I hear him sigh.
Three times now he’s just said my name, and I can think of any number of ways to mock him for it. But I don’t. There’s a time and a place. Even I know that.
“Thank you,” he says softly. “For not letting go.”
I go still. I can feel the faint nervous grip of his fingers on my shoulder, like he’s waiting for me to scoff at him or something. And just for a second, I really don’t know what to say.
Just for a second.
I grin in the gloom and snuggle back down, and hook an arm up to his good shoulder. “You’re welcome. S’what I’m good for. But you sure you’re okay with that? I mean, gonna be awful hard to shower and stuff with a brother clinging to your leg…”
It’s a really lame joke, but it doesn’t matter. Leo laughs again – a nice genuine laugh - and it makes me snicker against his plastron, and if Raph comes in now he’s gonna find us laughing like idiots. But who cares?
And not so long after that, I think I sleep for real. I have no idea if anyone comes back to take me back to my room. I just know, when I wake up next, that the candles are out, but I don’t care because Leo’s still got an arm around me and I can still see light filtering in from under the door. And it’s warm, and pretty comfortable for a turtle stealing a portion of Leo’s sickbed for himself.
So I snuggle closer and go right back to sleep.