Michaelangelo was really looking forward to this, he'd gone all out tonight. Fettucinine alfredo, garlic bread, salad and roasted red pepper chicken with chocolate mousse for dessert. Raphael was actually in the house at dinner time for a change and Mikey would drag Donnatello out of his lab by the headset if he had to. They were going to have a proper family dinner, and if all went well, maybe some honest to goodness conversation.
Things had been rough, the youngest turtle would be first to admit. But lately Mikey had started feeling up again, Master Splinter had always been a rock, Raph was spending more and more time around even if he wasn't really talking yet and Mike wasn't going to let Donatello stay cooped up much longer. The family chef pulled the chicken out of the oven and nearly dropped it when he saw his brothers already at the table.
"Smells good Mike. Is it ready yet?" Wow, Donnie's voice was hoarse from talking on the phone all day, but apparently his stomach and good sense had won out for a change.
His little brother beamed. "Yeah, yeah Donnie, just lemme get Sensei and we can start."
Then Master Splinter walked in. Mission Family Reunion is a go. Everyone's here on their own too. But then he saw the look on his father's face, the blue mask in his paw and everything fell apart all over again. Why now? Why tonight?
"My sons. There is no good time, no good way to say this…but…" Splinter sighed and composed himself, "I do not believe Leonardo still lives."
There it was. The secret fear they were all denying. But now, they couldn't turn away from it anymore. Their father had laid it out plain and now they were forced to acknowledge it. Not that they all would without a fight.
"No. No way Mastah. This is Leo. We would know if he was gone. 'E's probably found 'imself some little cornah 'o paradise and doesn' wanna come back is all."
Donatello couldn't help but shake his head at the contradictions in Raphael. He simultaneously believed Leo too great to be brought down and too self centered to come home to his family. It was as if he couldn't decide whether to admire or despise his older brother.
He turned to check how Mikey was reacting and sighed watching silent tears run down his little brother's cheeks. Oh Mikey. The purple turtle reached over and pulled the weeping turtle into a hug.
"Ssshhh. Easy little brother, easy."
Raised voices drew his attention back to his older brother and father.
"My son, I realize this is difficult to accept.."
"Difficult? This is my big brother you're talkin' abou' here!"
"And my son!"
Huh. So it was possible to shut Raph up.
"I wish I could say differently Raphael. More than anything I wish that. You're theory that he had simply chosen to stay away is something I wish I could believe, though I think you know as well as I that Leonardo would never do so. But we have not heard from him since before he was set to return and though I have searched deeply I have not been able to find even a trace of his presence in over a year. Please, believe me Raphael, I would not give up on his return if I did not truly believe your brother beyond hope. I am sorry my son. I am so, so sorry."
Raph shook his head twice more in denial before his seemed to curl inside himself. He glanced up at his remaining brothers and drew up again. His eyes narrowed and he asked, "Donnie? Why are you so calm? Don't you care? He's sayin' our brothah is dead."
The turtle in question heaved a sigh. "Because I'm not surprised Raph. It's been so long, I kinda figured something had happened to Leo when he didn't come home. I just didn't say anything because, well, I suppose saying it would make it real. And I didn't want to take away what hope was left." He pulled Mikey a little closer. "I guess I've already accepted he was gone and done my mourning a long time ago."
Michaelangelo started crying harder, as if the idea that his smartest brother had given up on Leonardo's return made it even more unlikely that he still lived. This seemed to be the last straw for the now eldest brother. He stood and stormed out of the Lair, woe to any crooks who crossed his path this dark night.
Splinter sighed again and sat in the chair next to his two youngest. He would do what he could to comfort them, and hopefully Raphael would be more receptive in the morning.
But this was supposed to be a good night. The broken thought echoed through the youngest turtle's whirling mind. No, no, nonononono. This isn't right. No, he can't be gone. No, he's coming home someday. He is! He promised! No. Mikey was helpless in the face of grief so long denied. All he could do was ride out the storm while clinging to his father and brother, his anchors. All he could do was try to ignore the voice whispering from somewhere inside, what do we do now?
Raphael skidded to a halt on the icy roof and wondered how he'd gotten to Casey and April's place. The mad dash from the lair and over the streets had been little more than a blur of brick and tar. He stared in through the windows. The happy couple sitting down to dinner after a hard day at work. If he went down there, that would change in an instant. Casey was closest to Raph no doubt, but he had still liked Leo, and while April was Donnie's tech buddy she'd become an older sister to them all and Raph knew that Leo had gone to her when he needed to talk with someone he wasn't responsible for or too. How, how could Raph break this to them? He suddenly had a surge of sympathy and guilt. This must be how Splintah felt before he told us. I shouldn't a gone off on him like that but… He closed his eyes and tried to brace himself. This is gonna suck.
Before he could pysch himself out too much, the emerald turtle leapt across the street and descended the fire escape to his friend's living room window. Two soft knocks and April's smiling face appeared to open it for him. She wasn't smiling long. She'd gotten to know her boys well and something was obviously very wrong.
"Sorry tah drop in on yahs like this but, well. Crud. Um."
Uncharacteristic stammering only added to April's concern.
"Raph, you're scaring me. What's wrong?"
He looked up into her eyes and felt tears swimming in his own. Casey came up behind her and reached over to put a hand on his friend's shoulder. "Raphie? C'mon man, what's goin' on?"
The distressed turtle squeezed his eyes shut and forced the words out.
"Splintah has declared Leo dead."
April gasped as her hands flew to her mouth and her eyes flew to her husband. Casey lowered his head and a groan rose from deep inside his chest. Many times the couple had worried about what would happen should four ever become three, and the last few years had been an unwelcome preview. To know that one of their strange little family wouldn't be coming home was painful. But right know, they had a job to do. As one they reached out and drew Raphael into a three way hug as the tears began to flow for all of them. For now they would support each other, the next day they would tend to the rest of the clan. As for the days, weeks and months to come? They would think about that when they had too.