There was nothing sinister about this darkness. Rather, it was soothing. Contained within the hours of the night, this darkness was a haven for the weary where the chance to rest was offered freely. Such an opportunity was almost impossible to pass up and it was one a certain red-banded turtle was currently using.
It was only half-past ten which was still early by any teenager's standards. Even so, Raphael was overriding his night-owl nature for once. Having spent the previous evening out late with Casey and the majority of the day in the dojo training with his brothers, he had reached a level of tiredness that was no longer ignorable. Knowing that falling asleep on the couch put him at high risk for one of Mikey's pranks, Raph had decided to skip movie watching with the youngest turtle and instead seek safety inside his bedroom. Fresh out of the shower, he was now nested inside his hammock for the night.
All the lights inside his room had been turned off. No noise disturbed the dark silence except for the steady creak of the hammock as it swung back and forth. To Raph, the sound had become a sort of lullaby that played as he rocked himself to sleep. A soft smile was on his face, signifying his contentment. His eyes were only half closed, but the golden irises were fast succumbing to the heavy lids.
Rare were the moments when Raph felt this much at ease and as he teetered on the edge of wakefulness he wondered how it was possible for a hammock to be so calming. After all, it was just a piece of red canvas strung between two support columns in his room. And yet, the ferocious sai-wielder could hardly deny that he loved the thing. Truth be told, his sleep was restless and unsatisfying whenever he bedded anywhere else.
Raph had become aware of this fact years ago. As toddlers, he and his brothers had all slept together on a neatly arranged pile of pillows and blankets. Their secondhand state wasn't what bothered Raph -- the items were actually quite soft and Master Splinter had made sure they were all clean. It was just that he could never get comfortable. He couldn't sleep on his tummy because he felt like he was suffocating himself with his own pillow. His shell made sleeping on his back completely awkward. If he slept on his side, he would awaken with his arms painfully numb from paresthesia. Most nights he would fall asleep in a sitting position and wake up to a sore neck. Other nights, he didn't sleep at all.
Thing's did not improve even after Splinter managed to scrounge up a queen-size mattress for his children. Raph's constant tossing and turning disrupted his brothers' rest. Because of this, the red-banded turtle was the first to be given his own bed. When that failed to accomplish anything, Splinter was at a loss for what to do next.
It was Leonardo who came up with a solution. The turtle who would grow up to become clan leader had been reading The Swiss Family Robinson and his fascination with the tale depicting the adventures of the shipwrecked family gave him an idea. At Leo's suggestion, Splinter constructed a simple hammock by tying the ends of a sheet around two parallel pipes in their first underground home. Raph had eyed the contraption warily and it was only by Leo's encouragement that he gingerly clambered inside. The hammock had rocked dangerously, tipping far enough that Raph tumbled out, landing flat on his shell. Rather than laughing at the display, Leo had pulled him to his feet and offered to help him learn the technique for staying upright. Later that night Splinter discovered his two sons curled up side-by-side in the hammock snoring gently. Smiling to himself, the rat tucked a blanket around them and let them be.
That had been the best night of sleep Raphael had ever gotten. The way the hammock fit the curve of his carapace was like a hand to a glove. Not having the nuisance that the presence of his shell created, he was able to wake without pins and needles in his limbs or the cramp in his neck. From that point on, he was a devout user of the new bed.
That wasn't the only time that Leo could be found next to his brother either. Raphael didn't have nightmares often, but when he did they left him in a state of shock and sometimes elicited ear-splitting screams that seemed to come from his very soul. On those occasions Leo would slip in beside Raph, holding him and whispering words of comfort until they both fell asleep.
But as is the tendency of children, Raphael grew and soon enough became too big to be supported by light sheet. This reality was discovered one night when the young ninja crawled inside and not two minutes later was dumped on the floor because the sheet had ripped clean down the middle. Forced to spend the rest of the night on the couch he, of course, had not slept well. After a week of that, Raph's tolerance level was at an all-time low and it didn't take much provocation to set his temper off. Michelangelo discovered this the hard way after receiving a black eye for flicking a pea at his hot headed sibling during dinner one day.
Concerned about his turbulent son, Splinter looked for a way to resolve the issue, but once again it was Leonardo who saved the day. On a scavenging trip to the dump with his father, Leo happened across a genuine hammock, still inside its original box. Closer inspection revealed that the canvas was perfectly fine though it was dusty and smelled awful. Leo thought that perhaps it had been stored in someone's garage, forgotten about for a long time until it was rediscovered during a cleaning session, deemed unworthy of continued possession, and set upon the curb to be removed with the rest of the trash. Wanting to surprise his brother, Leo had Splinter help him sneak it back into the lair.
Under the pretense of meditating, the oldest turtle spent the majority of the next day cleaning the hammock. He then had Donnie set it up while Mikey distracted Raph. Finally ready, Leo led a grumbling, irritated, and blindfolded Raph to the salvaged bed. The sai-wielder was definitely surprised when the blindfold was lifted away. No words left his mouth he wasn't capable of forming any. Instead, to express his thanks, he embraced Leo in a brief one-armed hug. For the leader, that tiny display of affection meant more than spoken gratitude ever could.
These were the memories flashing through Raphael's mind years later as he lay inside his gifted hammock waiting to drift off to sleep. A lot had changed since then. Mikey had gotten even more annoying, Donnie had gotten smarter, Leo had gotten bossier, and he had gotten stronger. Not just that, he had also gotten angrier though he couldn't understand why. Fights with his eldest brother were more frequent and more physical than they used to be. Did he regret that he had become distant with Leo? That they were locked in a seemingly constant challenge for superiority? Yes, he did. He wished that they could go back to being as close as they were as kids, when they had been best friends.
Raphael rubbed a hand across his tired eyes and sighed. As many issues as he had with his eldest brother, he still cared about Leo. Apparently, the sentiment was mutual. Why else would the leader crawl in next to him when he had nightmares like the ones that plagued him after Splinter went missing or when Don was mutated by Bishop's aliens? Though he'd never admit it, the only time Raph ever felt truly safe was when he was cocooned inside his hammock with Leo.
Yawning widely, Raph turned on his side and pulled his blanket up closer. He could still pick up traces of his brother's scent on his pillow. The sideways motion of his hammock slowed as his eyes finally slid shut. Raph's last conscious thought was that he ought to thank Leo for giving him this blessed bed. Maybe he would tomorrow.
Tonight, his dreams would be filled with visions of the katana wielding turtle.