None of them heard a goddamn thing, except for Leo. 'Course he did. A book could tell you blind people had no better hearing than anyone else, but Fearless could apparently identify inanimate objects around himself by feeling the vibrations nearby cars sent ricocheting up through everything.
Whatever he'd had heard, it was enough to send him bolting across the skyline so fast he didn't even find the time to call out a word to either of them. Like he thought he needed every scrap of air to move as fast as possible? Raph and Mikey were left to pursue the extremely nimble blind dude across gulfs and past obstacles that really oughtn't have been traversable by someone who couldn't see.
Night snaked, cold, through the slowly recovering city. Most of the Foot insignia had either been taken down, or were falling into disrepair. Gang wars lit up the heat map here or there.
Made Raph nervous.
'Xpecially on nights like t'night when they'd been thinking about the future, and whether they even had one. Dead ends made Raphael nervous. The Foot regime was technically broken and the East Coast was recovering, but they had no real road before them or happy ending to gun for, and it just fucking felt like a dramatically appropriate time for tragic endings.
Raph hadn't been there for Donnie, and he'd barely gotten there in enough time for Mikey, and maybe Leo wouldn't presently be using echolocation or magic or whatever the hell for way finding if Raphael hadn't been such a fucking asshole and thrown him off his game that night, reaming him for decisions it was way too late to take back anyway.
"Slow down, Fearless!"
Of course Leo didn't. Tch! Idiot. Karai was still unaccounted for, and if this was a trap-
"Is it a cat?" Mike blurted, and if Raphael strained his hearing he was pretty sure he could hear some small animal howling.
"C'mon, not everyone's got your priorities," he snarked to his brother.
"You wouldn't see me light out like that over a cat," Mikey growled.
"Woulda once," Raphael teased. Paranoia or not, he'd been smiling a lot more since Shredder'd finally been shredd-ed.
Mikey scoffed with a disgusted noise in the back of his throat, and Raphael briefly went nostalgic for a time Michelangelo had been less like... like himself.
They caught up with Leo as he was descending at break-neck speeds into an alleyway, and followed. It sounded like someone had thrown away an unwanted litter of puppies or something. Smelled like it too, all blood and musk and body fluids. Sure enough, Leo threw open the heavy lid of a dumpster, and began frantically throwing aside poorly closed bags of rot and garbage.
Mike and Raphael shared a look. Leo wasn't as much of a hardass as Mike or Raph were these days, so maybe he would go try and rescue somebody's unwanted pet. Still, break-neck speeds for five blocks travel seemed excessive. Michelangelo's curiousity ended up piqued, and when he hopped down closer to Leo, it was damn good proof his old spirit hadn't completely shriveled away to nothing, so Raph didn't intervene. They could all hear the muffled, piteous crying of something or another.
Leonardo leaned into the dumpster, pulled up a bag, drew a katana, and slit off the top. The whole inside of it was creamed in red gunk, which spilled and spurted out down the side of the dumpster, along with meaty organs that looked sorta like liver and sausage.
That's not what they were, though.
Raphael went ram-rod straight when Leo set down his katana, reached into the bag with both hands, and hoisted out a slimy, twitching, human baby. It wheezed, mewled, and coughed, and Leo just stood there looking as frozen as Raphael felt, breathing heavily but otherwise just holding it aloof beneath the armpits. The baby appeared vaguely cognizant that its present circumstances were a great improvement on its previous circumstances, because it stopped crying.
"That..." Mike was the first turtle to find any words at all, "is not a cat."
Loathing filled Raphael, and he glanced up and around at the brownstone buildings whose inhabitants were either guilty or complicit in abandoning kin. He spat on the ground. "Humans are disgusting," he uttered. "Let's get outta here, need a drink to forget this stench."
"What do we do with it?" Mikey asked him, leery. Decades of everyone and everything being owned by the Foot were stamped on all their minds, and few humans other than April and her immediate lieutenants in the Rebellion had left an even halfway decent impression on them in a very long time. Today surely wasn't restoring anyone's 'faith in humanity,' har har.
"Leave it," Raphael muttered, because it was obvious. "And get Leo a bath in case he doesn't realize what the fuck he just drenched himself in."
"Leave it..." Mike repeated, but sounded unsure. Raphael glanced back at him.
"Maybe a real miracle'll happen and one of them'll hear it crying, and remember what responsibility is to their own damn flesh and blood."
"Or even just their own kind," Mikey muttered. "Yo! Leo? Bro! Can you hear us?"
Leonardo just stood there, still holding up the baby like it was the start of the fucking Lion King or something. Man had it been a long time since they'd had a proper TV. Ugh. Here he was missing Disney Movies. Either nostalgia was being wicked today, or he really was getting old. "Leo!" Raphael shouted loud enough to get his attention. Leo jumped slightly, and turned his 'gaze' back over his shoulder to indicate he was listening. "Drop it! Let's go!"
Leo remained in place, though, weirding both Raph and Mike out a bit. The baby was starting to move again, and if it had the life left to scream, it was going to attract attention. Mike gave Blue's shell a gentle shove. "Yo wake up!"
Leo blinked once. Twice. Then he turned his attention back to the dazed child. His arms bent at the elbow, pulling it down against the front of his clothing and slicking him in even more grime, where he wrapped an arm about it and reached out for katana. He cut the umbilical.
"Oh just great," Raphael tossed his arms. "What the fuck are you doing? Gonna drop it off at a hospital? Police station? Group home? Forget what shit world we live in? That the streets are swarmin' with riotin' kids, and ain't a public institution that ain't strugglin' at full capacity? Leave it. Sad truth is it's kinder."
"This is a baby," Leo stated as he turned to them, as if they could have even possibly been confused on that detail.
"It's human, yo. What do we owe humans?" Mikey grimaced. "April's still good, but we just downed a tyrannical regime they all let happen to themselves; Let them clean up their own messes, bro!"
"This is not a mess, dude," Leo said. "It is a baby."
Raphael snarled in the back of his throat but made a dismissive guesture. "Forget it Mikey. Let him try to pass it off on the hospital or whatever the fuck."
"Why?" Mikey asked. "Bro, Foot are still out there taking in unwanted kids and making brainwashed Clonetroopers. I say just leave it. If someone wants it, more power to them, but this is just feeding a twig to a fire we spent years putting out. No point to it, Raph's right."
Leonardo looked to Michelangelo. "This is a baby girl," he explained. "And she is coming home with us."
And Mikey's armor might have slipped just a bit, just then, changing disgust into wonderment; but Raphael strode straight up to Leo and shoved his face in his brother's. "Over my gutted shell," he laid down the law, voice low. "We have enough problems. Drop it, and move ya tail. Now."
"You don't give orders to me," Leo said without looking to his face, because he couldn't, "I think Michelangelo should name her."
Mikey's face went through paroxysms of uncertainty, as two very different sides of himself warred for control, and old broken things surged out scrambling for expression. "Yo, don't- don't even joke like-"
Raphael sneered and grabbed for the scum-covered pink problem between them, and Leo twisted away. Raphal grabbed his shoulder, and the edge of his shell, to manhandle him into turning about.
"RAPHAEL!" Leonardo exploded, and the amount of venom in his voice could have felled a dragon, which was crazy because it came from absolutely nowhere, and stung so hot that Raphael recoiled a step in surprise. Leo glared in his general direction, milky eyes actually expressive for once. "Why in father's name would you find it acceptable to forcibly tear a newborn infant out of my arms, be it reptile, mammal, or even alien? What the hell?"
Raphael's face darkened. He was quiet a long pause. "If you were ta do this, it'd blow up in our faces," he intoned. "Badly. Drop it."
"Do not lay a hand on her," his idiot older brother warned him.
Raphael drew and twirled a Sai. "You can't fight me and carry that unwanted tumor at the same time, can ya?" Leo had sidelined Mikey, who otherwise would have backed Raphael; but Raphael didn't really need the backup.
Leo all but tossed the child into just one arm, and snatched his katana up again. "What has gotten into you? I know you have anger issues, but this is obscene! I remain your leader, and this is a baby, not a tumor."
"What's gotten into me? How about you? Maybe I'm about ta declare ya temporarily unfit!"
Leo's eyes narrowed, easing a foot back a step in a clear indication he was willing to try his luck at giving them both the slip. "Be careful. Be very careful what you do next. You are not yourself without a family to protect, and I cannot imagine how badly you'd torture yourself if another member went missing on you, and it actually really was your fault for once."
Raphael dropped his hands. He stared through his brother, because if he stared straight at him he was going to tackle him headlong into the side of the dumpster, and throttle n' concuss him into unconsciousness to keep him down. And then drag him someplace safe and tie him down there, for fuck's sake. Leo!
"Whoa!" Mikey snarled, jumping forward and raising his hands up flat between both of them. "Yo Raph's right, Leo, this is a terrible idea. But nobody should be talking about squashing any babies or running away from any families!"
"Guys, it's October," Leo interjected. "Leaving her here through the night is tantamount to infanticide."
"Her parents or some shit left her there!" Mikey disagreed. "Us doing nothing is just not being good Samaritans or something! Just forget you found her, yo!"
"How can I possibly forget that? I can hear her breathing. I can hear her heart beating. When the weekend newspaper features a small paragraph detailing that an infant was found dead in a dumpster, I will know I could have done something to save it. I cannot forget that! How can you?"
"You can't read newspapers, you are blind!"
"Dude," Leo protested. "I do not rub your disability in your face," he gestured towards Michelangelo's missing arm.
"Okay, look, I'll give you a hand, and we can leave her at some group home. Okay?"
"As you so astutely pointed out, many of those are still overseen by Foot operatives," Leo just bickered.
"Then what are you going to do with her!?" Michelangelo exploded. "You can't take a baby back to our Lair!"
Blind eyes blinked a moment. "You do not think it might be fun to be a father, Mikey?" Leo inquired, and Michelangelo's brain visibly, if metaphorically, exploded.
"But what... what... do we feed her?" Orange mouthed.
Leo frowned and settled down a bit at that, clearly thinking. "I would have difficulty identifying infant formula without opening the canister..." he did realize, before lifting up a very concerned expression. "Will one of you help me?"
Seething past words, Raphael slowly zoned out as an alternative to hitting anyone. In a day or two, when the thing was screaming and forcing them to once more abandon their latest hiding place, the two of them would get quickly over this shit, and either he'd get them to give it away or, hell, jam it back in a plastic bag and lob it into the Hudson.
Because my intentions may be hard to judge, I should tell you that the infant is not the main character.
In theater, I believe we would call her the complication.
The fact that they were breaking into a supermarket for no good reason would have had Raphael on edge any day of the week, but right now it was all he could do to avoid pushing an entire aisle's worth of shelving units over in a fit of rage. And keeping a throttle on that was fucking important, because you had to hire one hell of a lot of guards to keep a huge-ass store running in New York City these days.
Most chain stores had abandoned ship and got the hell of doge when the Foot had taken up shop. Those clever bastards who remained behind negotiated contracts for operation under the totalitarian regime. Usually it was at the expense of hefty public relations dilemmas with the rest of the free world; they'd try to pass their economic savvy off as altruism whilst kowtowing plenty enough to never cost Shredder any face.
The inside of each place still looked like they had in the good old days, before Oroko Saki had carved out a swath of territory and named it his own personal Daimyō. Pfeh. Like the rule of thumb was to go on with a big blissful Walmart smile and pretend half the world weren't dotted in alien technology and the holdings of an evil ninja overlord! Pissed. Him. Off. But anyway, that was over. Nowadays, looters, gangs, and public unrest were the big issues. Every last mall or Home Depot or Target Superstore had security guards policing the entryways and exits.
Of course, giant mutant ninjas, with expert lock-picking skills and superhuman strength, could throw one-another up four or five stories to catch a rooftop, and break into just about anything. So at least - fucking - that.
Raphael kept quiet during the procedure, and stayed far away from Leo and their newest huge problem. He was hoping it would cry and give them away; a few gunshots overhead or pinging off their shells would at least bring Mikey back down to earth.
Couldn't even be counted upon for the one thing babies had a reputation for: Crying.
Red's nerves were alight. If he had to follow his brothers up and down aisles collecting pampers, he was going to blow his top. He wanted to follow them. He wanted to be close enough to help immediately in an emergency. He wanted to never let a single one of them out of his line of sight ever again.
Instead he went and found himself steak, ribs, hamburger, and sausage. Lots of it. Every brand. Varied enough nobody could tell shit was missing. Some uh, greens, too, since spinach was hard to get these days.
"Have you seriously eaten nothing but beef all week?" a long-gone voice chided him from the depths of old memories. "That's not how nutrition works, Raph."
Leonardo had snatched up a few regrettably Foot-branded eco-friendly canvas bags from near the registers, which had clearly been the supermarket's attempt to stalwartly ignore how bad reality had gotten. More power to em, it was a valiant attempt, it had probably kept a lot of people glued to sanity! Mikey grabbed a super sized bag of M&Ms from near the registers to do the exact same thing for himself. Sannnitttyy cheeckkk!
Oh right, Leo. Michelangelo led him through the baby aisles, trying to quickly discern what was needed.
Diapers! Television had warned them both that babies pooped hysterical quantities of poop. Mikey took one pack of each brand from the front and then eased out the products behind them to sit on the edge, so nothing would look out of place.
"Mikey," Leo whispered urgently, as Orange used his phone light to quickly scan formula canisters.
"Kinda busy." Why were there so many different kinds of human milk? Wait, was formula made from real human milk? Was there some sort of factory somewhere with-!? Okay Mikey, even you know that sounds stupid; We lived through an evil ninja takeover, not a Mad Max movie. Channel your inner Donnie to solve this problem! How about just look for the word 'newborn?'
"Mikey, she's like super cold."
"Don't think we have time to shop for onesies, bro," Mikey remarked, feeling afloat on some weird high that felt like it might come crashing down any second. Aha! Newborn! Dee would have been so proud of him. "Got minutes till the next guard patrol."
"Blankets?" Leo pleaded, as Mikey quickly bagged the canisters. He grabbed his brother's sleeve (forgetting that doing so was unnecessary) and led Leo towards home furnishings, and hoped they ran into blankets instead of curtains or rugs, even as that would be totally funny.
They nailed the blanket aisle, woo! Leo ran his fingers down everything as they jogged, till he stopped at something cotton, and picked that out to wrap the kid in. Mikey grabbed more of the same and handfuls of whatever was next to it, too, cause that was softer. Not like they could see much.
He did see Leo kneel down and pick the kid off of his shoulder to bundle her up, and when she didn't kick or wiggle much, Mikey got hit by a wave of extremely strange, stomach-twitching dread. But, hey, they'd tried their best, and if she did die then that honestly would probably be the best thing for them.
On their way back, he paused beside the pharmaceutical aisles, with their heavy bullet-proofed pharmacy and its jail-cell-like bars, and dared to flick on his phone one more time. He snatched up a colorful box with the words 'Cold and Flu.' Colorful always meant 'for kids,' right?
Raphael found them almost before they started looking for Raphael, and he was carrying a very big duffel full of what was probably food (so yum, this break-in wasn't completely wasted!) The three of them got the hell back out onto the roof, and by then it was kinda super noticeable to all of them that the baby just wasn't crying. Nobody commented, though. Was best they didn't fight.
There there. That's a good Raphael, you're clearly the victim in all this, you go sooth yourself with red meat; You'll feel much better and totally ready to handle silly Leo and his nonsense baby thing. Yeah.
A 'Daimyō' is an ancient feudal Japanese kingdom.
'Oroko Saki' is Shredder's name. Or 'Ch'rell,' depending on exactly which continuity I identify most with on a given day. Maybe I'll leave it up to you?
Raphael snatched, stalked off with, and probably burned those unfortunately-branded canvas bags. The baby supplies had already been emptied into a teetering stack off in a misshapen corner of their teeny-tiny 'lair' by then. While they waited, Leo took the opportunity to open up a diaper pack and pull one of them out. He set to examining it with his hands. Which direction was up? On the floor beside him, the electric water kettle started to bubble and boil.
The baby continued to be (what Mikey presumed was) unnaturally silent. Which meant it would probably die, and then Mikey wouldn't have to be the one to remind Leo what a mess this was gonna snowball into.
The electric kettle turned itself off with a merry little 'pop,' task completed, and Leo put the diaper aside. Mikey glanced over to see his brother slowly pour steaming heat into a chipped bowl of cold water, like it was no more daunting or complicated a task than brewing himself some tea. How hot was 'too hot?' Leo made the judgement call.
Blue set the kettle down, soaked a wash cloth in the bowl, wrung it out, and then carefully unwrapped that much-too-quiet baby. For a second, Mikey thought that it might already be dead. Then
it she made a little coughing noise and abruptly sobbed in alarm. Not loudly, exactly, just like she'd been scared awake by a bad nightmare, ya know? She quieted down almost immediately, maybe cause Leo was whispering stuff in Japanese to her.
She was covered in cheesy-looking white and red birth stuff, which Donnie probably would have had a name for, but Michelangelo sure didn't. It stunk, but Leo just patiently picked up each leg and wrapped the washcloth around it and pulled it lean, like he knew exactly what it was doing and had done it a thousand times before. He rinsed the cloth in the water, which reheated it. He dabbed her face, and turned her this way and that to get her shoulders and head. He lifted her up to wipe her bum, and picked up each foot and started doing the toes.
Those were tiny toes, man. Like... just tiny.
The baby made weird little squeaks, or something like that, as if she found it weird to be touched. Hey, maybe she did. Hadn't she most probably just come out of someone's stomach earlier in the evening? Right, so it wasn't like there were any hands around poking her prior to this. New experience!
Leo finished washing her as deftly as he started, got her up onto a relatively clean section of his lap, and then started to work on the operation of that diaper. Popular culture would have led Mikey to believe diapers were difficult contraptions, particularly for middle-aged unmarried dudes who'd never so much as touched one before (and were blind). But, eh, Leo didn't have a particularly fussy patient; She more or less laid where he'd deposited her and breathed heavily like she wasn't particularly happy about something but, whoa, man, crying was just way too much work.
Blue successfully wrapped the diaper about and taped it into place. The result looked secure! Mikey nearly gave a thumbs up, before belatedly recalling, for the billionth time, yo, he can't see. So then Mikey nearly clapped, instead! But what's the sound of one hand clapping? Yeah. Exactly.
At least Leo seemed satisfied with his handiwork, because he reached for a fresh blanket and somehow managed to swaddle that baby into an amazingly artisan-looking burrito.
How the hell? Welp, just showed you that if you folded a futon, kimono, haori, or hakama enough times, you got really good at making fabric look neat. At least if you cared. Which Mikey didn't, as his rolled up bundle of futon mat and duvet cover would attest.
"Uh, Leo?" Mikey interrupted. "Your whole getup's still covered in gross red birth crap."
Leo jumped. For someone so neat and clean they could make washing anything look trivial, blindness was a curse, yo. At least Leo could feel when he was particularly grimy and stuff, but stains over the plastron or shell could go unnoticed. Mikey didn't even have the heart to try and mix reds in with his whites on laundry day or tag post-it notes to him; Cause, like, it ruined the prank if you had to explain it, after all, and it wasn't like Leo could catch sight of himself in a mirror anymore.
Raph wouldn't laugh, either.
Leo hesitated and then temporarily found a safe place to set his newly burrito-ed child down on the futons, and went about removing his clothing. October was brisk, but he did not immediately B-line for his only fresh change of threads. Instead he picked up that baby and tiptoed over to poke through their supplies. Was he looking for baby formula? Oops, he was.
Mikey gave in to common courtesy, and hurried over to help him. They found the plastic bottle Mikey had almost forgotten to buy, and managed to fill it up with what anyone's best guess was as to the right temperature of water, with the amount of formula powder as was specified on the canister. Mikey made sure the lid was screwed on tightly, and shook it. Leo picked the baby back up, and took the bottle with a murmur of thanks.
She did not have any idea what a bottle tip was, and she didn't seem like she wanted to find out! Heh!
Leo kept one finger gently against her cheek as a guide, so he could tell exactly where her mouth was, but no matter how he offered her that bottle, she either turned her head, made grunts of displeasure, or else completely ignored it. Eventually, it bothered her enough that she started crying. Mikey almost giggled and quickly looked from her to Leo, whose facial expression was borderline frustrated and definitely worried.
They weren't gonna keep her. It was a bad idea.
But that didn't mean he wanted her to die of starvation with perfectly good food nearby! That sounded horrible!
"Lemme try," Mikey finally blurted as he scooted up beside his brother, shoulder to shoulder, shell bumping shell, and took the bottle from him. He got some formula on his forefinger, and pushed it into her mouth. She coughed, and snorted, and then made a funny smacking noise with her lips and tongue as if going 'whoa! what was that?'
"Come on, dummy, airplane's coming," Mikey cooed, even as a bitter voice in the back of his head shouted 'can't you hear how stupid you sound?'
Perhaps for unrelated reasons, the baby did open her mouth and lifted her tongue a bit, and rubbed her face against what was immediately available (which was the curve of Leo's hand), and Mikey took the shot and got that bottle right in there in. Tada! This time she latched hold like that bottle was a slice of marshmallow hot sauce pizza. Om nom nom.
Two turtles heaved a sigh of relief. Who would naively have assumed that getting a hungry person to eat could be difficult? Human babies were totally dumb!
Then the smell of beef wafted in to them, and they were both treated to the realization that Raphael had turned on the little propane grill. Ooh-hoo, they'd be eating deliciousness tonight! Not a bad day, all-in-all. Iiiffff one discounted the lifetime commitment chowing down on reconstituted probably-not-actually-human-milk milk-stuff beside him.
Heh. She made funny little hungry noises, little 'mns' and 'hnhs,' and her forehead was all wrinkled up like this was the most serious business in the entire world. Totally with ya there, burrito-baby, food's absolutely serious business!
...They weren't really keeping her, were they? They couldn't. Not only would she most likely die if left with them (because clearly they had no idea how to take care of her), but she was a direct drain on all their supplies, energy, martial prowess, and lucky break quotas for the year. They lived in a concrete lean-to sandwiched between two still-inhabited but heavily damaged brownstones, the sad aftermath of some kind of rocket fight! And their literal lives were at stake at least bi-weekly, for goodness' sake!
"Thank you," Leo said quietly.
"Yeah," Mikey answered uncomfortably, and then cleared his throat and went to go drool over whatever Raphael was making.
When Mikey 'helped' Raphael bring the food inside, Leo was doing their laundry. By hand; they'd yet to find or fix a machine. But a makeshift wash-board was easy enough to cobble together, and he was presently scrubbing out blood stains from his hakama with white vinegar.
How Leo could accomplish removing stains all on his lonesome was an enigma to Mikey, who had trouble accomplishing the same even whilst sighted, but one supposed if it boiled down to elbow grease and remembering where the contaminant had been, Leo was theoretically patient enough just to time it. Mikey wasn't patient at all. Of course, Leo still held up the garments at the end to ask them if he'd succeeded, and Raphael had nearly killed Mikey the one time Michelangelo had answered 'yeah' without even looking.
Which was fair. Being tidy was part of being Leo, and taking that away from him was sorta cruel.
He'd washed the cottons he'd originally swaddled the baby in, too, and set those out to dry on their clothesline. Burrito-child was presently curled up upon his calves as he leaned forward over the laundry basin, and one could just imagine he'd looked to his left, looked to his right found nothing clean to set her down upon, and simply gone for the only remaining direction, which had been backwards. Probably kept her warm, though.
Kept her out of Raphael's immediate line of vision, too, which was an extra good thing. Raphael was presently a rare, dead-silent sort of pissed. Despite that, Red passed a plate of grilled sirloin and leafy greens over to Leo, and Leo took it and thanked him. Neither of them mentioned babies to one another. Raphael went over to hunker in his 'corner' of the shelter and eat. Leo finished his food first, to demonstrate appreciation for it, but then couldn't quite recall where the stains on his laundry were, and required Mikey to come over to him and point them out.
Mikey plugged earbuds into his cheap-o, screen-cracked phone, kicked up his feet, and chilled. One thing the Foot had never managed to steal from him was his library of tunes, and not for lack of trying! Raphael ignored both of them by means of a newspaper. Leonardo managed to dress himself one-handed, which would have been more impressive if Michelangelo didn't already dress himself one-handed each and every single time he ever got his threads dirty, period.
These were the weirdest moments of their lives: when they were still awake but the sun was up, and they were three restless adults, crammed together in small spaces. Leo joked it had taught Raphael tolerance. Mikey had disagreed, arguing instead that it had only taught Mikey how to hold farts in (which was totally unhealthy, yo!), because there was no escaping Raphael's retaliation if the best shelter they'd managed to find was to crawl under the chassis of some broken armored tank or another. Raphael had a tendency not to pull punches much, regardless of context!
But when it came down to it, Mikey wouldn't want to be anywhere else. After you'd spent your entire life pretty much alone with your own quadruplets, relying on each other for everything—and learning to stay calm even when things were completely outside your control—it didn't really matter how different you all were, or how much you fought. You needed each other. You'd always share this indescribable wavelength nobody else could even get close to. The inside jokes could be one word long and leave them all in stitches for the better part of an hour.
By the time the three of them were finally ready for sleep, Mikey had nearly forgotten about the B-word, and it didn't look to be the first thing on Raphael's mind either. The three of them got out their bedding—the empty floor space was just big enough to accommodate all three mats—and Leonardo laid down first, carefully, with his burrito fastened to his chest. He centered her atop himself, eased up his hold as he made sure she'd stay where she'd been plopped, and then pulled the duvet up over the tip top of her head, like a little tent.
Raphael took one look, kicked an annoyed Mikey's mat over beside Leo's, and then laid down not-between-them for the first in a really, really, really long time. Shell, he even rolled away from them, and slept on his side, which looked pretty painful on so thin a mattress. Mikey frowned, shrugged, and went to get in bed, only to see Leo also rolling away from both of them. Only this wasn't surliness; Leo was clearly keeping one shoulder bowed protectively around the baby, like he wanted to make sure Raphael couldn't snatch her away from him in the middle of the night.
Ugh. Mikey looked from one brother to the other brother. Anger surfaced, anger that Leo would risk their safety and group-dynamics over some human kid, who was probably Foot born-and-bred anyway, and who definitely wasn't their problem. But that anger fought with the new and confusing memory of Leo craned over a baby and cleaning its toes. Her toes.
Mikey hadn't named anything in a long time, and all of those had been monster names, not cute girly ones.
He flopped back on his shell and pulled his blankets up over his head. Both of his brothers sucked, and he wasn't going to back up either of their shells right now.
Wish you were still here, Option Number Three. He wiped his face and tried to get some sleep.
If you're American, you probably hear 'futon' and visualize a folding bed/couch.
A Japanese futon has no wood or frame components; it's the mat, duvet cover, and itty bitty pillow of a traditional Japanese bed, which is laid on the floor for sleeping and then neatly folded up and placed away in a sliding door cupboard upon the wall during the day to make room for living space. For a turtle on the run, it's a lightweight piece of 'furniture' to pack up! Was also probably widely available and easy to replace during the Foot Regime.
Leonardo was the lightest of three light sleepers, and the troublesome note on which they'd gone to sleep had left him on-edge.
So when the baby started moving about within her loosened blankets, his eyes flew open by immediate reflex, and he put a hand against her to gain a read on her situation. Had anyone else woken up? No, Raphael and Michelangelo still breathed evenly through slumber. As hair-trigger paranoid as he and his brothers might have been, they did live in a busy city with plenty of vehicles, people, background ambiance and stray animals; Everyone's sleeping mind had to be sharpened enough to decide between 'white noise' and 'possible ninja ambush.'
Alright then, what was the issue with Baby? She was awake, that much was obvious, and she appeared to be wiping the front and sides of her face against his kimono. This gesture was peculiar but simultaneously also very distinct, so he supposed it must have meant something which his limited knowledge of babies was unable to explain to him. He ran a thumb over her nose and mouth to see if something was the matter, and found a great deal of drool but nothing more alarming. Then she 'kissed' the pad of his thumb with her tongue up.
Leonardo squeezed her gently against himself in an effort to keep her quiet and content while he sat up and felt around for the water kettle. It was still slightly warm, and that would have to do. Though blind, and unfamiliar with the tools of this trade, he managed to find the canister and pry it open with his nails, fished out the scoop, rinsed out their baby bottle, and successfully prepared fresh formula.
Baby started fussing and mewling, but it seemed her small noises had yet to trip Raphael's unconscious Danger Detectors. Before she had a chance to cry, Leo slid the bottle sideways into her hungry 'kisses,' and she took that bottle with an immediate intensity and sucked on it. Leo leaned back a bit, relaxing. What time was it? Early. Would she wake him up again?
She passed out almost immediately after eating, and he wiped off her face, rinsed out the bottle, and preemptively dropped a scoop of formula into it under the suspicion he'd need it. He pushed these supplies up against the electric kettle, which he tapped to set to boiling. Hmm. He reached around himself and loosened his kimono, and then laid himself back down carefully so he could tuck her face against his naked plastron. If she minded the glossy texture she didn't show it, and this way he'd be able to hear and feel her stirring more easily. One thing was for certain: If she was going to wake any of them up, it best not be Raphael.
By the time dusk was on the horizon, Baby had woken Leonardo up no less than four times. Four seemed excessive. That would imply new mothers never actually got to find REM sleep, and instead were expected to operate on a string of cat-naps which varied between two and three hours in length. If that was the case, nobody was exaggerating if they referred to motherhood as a full-time job. What other jobs forfeited sleep? Soldiering? Firefighting?
At least she was 'conscientious' enough to always start with face-rubbing, but kicking and unhappy noises would soon follow if he delayed in supplying her with food. For whatever reason, she didn't seem to have it in her to get particularly loud. Had her lungs been injured during her close encounter with asphyxiation? Leonardo couldn't know. There were a lot of questions only someone like Donatello could have ever been expected to answer off the top of his head, and Donatello hadn't been there for a very long time. They made due with guesses and half-answers.
Presently she was awake again, and she sounded particularly unhappy.
Leonardo wiped sleeplessness from his eyes, propped himself up, and then paused and grimaced into the intense and competitive smells of feces and urine. Somebody's diaper had grown heavier and heavier through the night, and an itchy sensation crawled over his skin. This was very much like she was carrying a soggy, stinky, dead animal around under her butt, and he was ashamed to have let it happen.
He poured the remaining lukewarm kettle water into a bowl, and then tiptoed over to refill it for everyone's tea and instant coffee, seeing as they'd be up soon regardless. Either Raphael woke up naturally, or the crisp sound of poured water startled him; either way, his movements stirred Michelangelo, who yawned loudly. Leo was preoccupied.
Under the nagging surety he ought to have changed that diaper at least once (perhaps twice!) throughout the evening, Leonardo returned to his futon, snatched up a pack of diapers as he went, unwrapped her blankets, and picked her up under her armpits. Oh, ew. I am so sorry, you poor helpless creature. Ew, ew, ew. She kept her knees curled up and her toes pointed out as if she wanted to be as far away from her own poopy as possible. Leo sympathized. He folded her blanket into a work-space upon his futon, and laid her down.
There, he cautiously unfolded that diaper. Oh dear. Well. Leo was slightly glad he could not see the color or consistency of what had happened, even if that meant there was a significantly higher possibility he'd accidentally touch some of it; the smell alone was a sufficient explanation. He rolled up his sleeves and pulled the water bowl and wash cloth closer to himself; This could get messy!
Agh! Don't kick, you'll splatter your heels in it!
The moment Raphael sniffed in and whipped around to stare at him was obvious, if only because the other turtle's aura darkened in an instantaneous rush. Leo bit back on a reply. 'Be grateful I ensured you slept soundly through he night' would most likely fall on unsympathetic ears. Blue ignored his brother as he held Baby's feet out of the diaper mess and tried to decide how to pull off the feat of cleaning her without the problem 'spreading.' At last he decided to hold her by the ankles and hoist her butt just a little off the diaper so he could slip it out from underneath her. There! Now fold that up, maybe use the tape to keep it all... inside?
Michelangelo crawled up beside him, and helped him lay another diaper flat. Leo didn't say anything because it best not to aggravate the dark red dragon glowering at them in the back of the household, but he was thankful. For now, there was a great deal of butt wiping to conduct. Oof. It was all in her little baby fat creases. No wonder she was displeased; Leo was vicariously displeased for her. At least she didn't have a tail to work around.
Raphael eventually stalked out into the dark October afternoon. Mikey watched him go and then looked back to Leo, who was taping the new diaper into place.
"Holy crap!" their littlest brother wheezed in laughter. "So much poo!"
"This crap was definitely unholy," Leo shuddered as he lathered his hands and every surface he'd touched in liberal amounts of soap, feeling as germaphobic as Donatello in the moment. There was something almost terrifying about poo you couldn't see. He would never eat out of his bowl again, which probably meant he needed to find more bowls. And wash cloths. At least it was easy to lean outside of the shelter and dispose it down the same drain the three of them used for their own leavings. "Am I clean?" he begged for an accurate answer.
Michelangelo was still laughing, and it was familiar and comforting to have him cracking up over something so juvenile. "Yeah, dude, you're good!"
"Good." Leo shook his head and started swaddling up the baby again. "Alright, Mike? You and Raphael will need to go out alone today. Tell him he is in charge; That should cheer the hothead up."
Mikey stiffened, mirth evaporating in a burst of surprise. "You're staying grounded, bro?" he could hardly believe. "You?"
"Yeah. I think I should. I want to keep her inside today so I can accurately time how often she needs to eat," Leo explained, scooping her back up to rest her temple against his plastron. "Are you getting the same vibe she's a little... weak?"
"She's not noisy," Mikey agreed something felt wrong. "Is that a good or a bad thing?"
Leo shrugged, with facial expression and body both. No amount of decades putting up with Mikey taught a person how to take care of an actual child. "Do you think you can find a signal to use that?" he gestured in the basic direction of Michelangelo's phone, usually in a back pocket up under the lip of the shell, to keep it safe. Mikey got pathologically stressed without his music, in no small part because his library had been preserved from the time they were children and likely let him escape back to simpler times.
"Man if Raph catches me trying to hack wifi to websearch baby shit on patrol, he might throw my phone. Again." Mikey didn't seem on board with the idea, though being able to pun with 'baby shit' kept his mood bright. "And it'd be hella slow anyway. Dunno. Maybe I'll try. No promises."
Leo nodded, understanding that this was the best he'd get for now. Neither of his brothers seemed particularly excited about this new idea; But then Raphael was something of a neophobe, so that was to be expected. Far more upsetting to Leo was watching Michelangelo repeatedly pull away from a cute and helpless mammal, for it flew in the face of everything that had once been true about their littlest brother. "Well if you scavenge up any material for wash clothes, rest assured I'll put it to use."
"Sure thing bro! Good luck with your, uh, burrito."
Well, if she was going to sleep for the time being, one presumed Leo might get some early morning exercises in. Perhaps he'd take one of these clearly all-important 'cat naps' after her next meal, and sneak another two hours of slumber in.
Men's kimonos resemble a thin bath robe being used in place of a tunic or shirt.
In this case, the kimoni is covered by a haori, a hip-length or thigh-length jacket.
It's also tucked into the hakama, the pleated, skirt-like trousers.
And of course ninja tabi complete the outfit. Naturally.
This is not to say I disliked that sexy black trench coat and blind-glasses design, but Japhanophile Leo is my jam right now. I feel being a bit of a traditionalist would be his way of honoring Splinter... whilst simultaneously giving the (proverbial) middle finger to the Foot. (Turtles don't actually have middle fingers... Unless Raph's Sai count)
Chapter 5: Imprint
The Japanese here is him murmuring nothing much of anything. And very politely thanking her for demonstrating she is not dead, naturally.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
This was her third dirty diaper that day, and Leo was dead-set on religiously changing them. No kid under his supervision was going to end up steeping in their own fecal matter ever again! Absolutely not!
Mathematics revealed a problem: If babies did in fact eat once every three hours—at minimum—and if they pooed roughly as often as they ate, then a twenty-four hour period would consume eight diapers. In a week, that would be fifty-six diapers. That was an absurdly large number! If accurate, their stash of pilfered disposables wouldn't last long!
"Did father go through this?" Leo asked himself, flabbergasted as he disposed of the most recent poo bomb. "With four of us?"
Staggered by the sheer quantity of waste management four babies would have required, Leonardo wondered if he and his brothers hadn't simply pooped diaper-less all over the place, with father's best and only solution being a mop. If so, who could have faulted him?
Well Leo didn't have four butts to police. He had one, and no excuse not to do his best by it. He finished wiping her clean, tossed out the wastewater, and then frowned down at his perplexing charge. He gently touched her elbows and knees to feel where her limbs were. Even outside the swaddling, she kept her arms and legs bent up close to her in the fetal position, with her fingers tightly clenched, and Leo did not know enough about babies to assess whether he ought to be encouraging her to stretch.
In fact, Leo did not know anything about babies at all. He might have been in his thirties, and thus arguably old enough by human standards to be educated on these matters, but he'd never even touched or seen a baby up close. He had never had a discussion about babies with any friendly humans. He had certainly never read a book on the topic (and now, sadly, he never would). Multimedia often depicted them as pooping machines, but that did not suffice as any sort of instruction manual.
Babies were supposed to cry, no? Frequently, and loudly?
Screw it. He'd give her another sponge bath. He wanted for an excuse to make her stir and move around a bit, to display more indicators of life. He poured fresh water, and tested the temperature to ensure it was less than hot. As he shifted things about, she coughed some miserable-sounded sobs, and Leo immediately felt no small guilt over so selfishly disturbing her.
But then he had plopped her back atop the warmth of his lap, and was running a moist cloth over her skin. Doing so seemed to energize her a bit. Sobs transitioned to tolerant mumbles, squeaks, and grunts, and the tiny uncoordinated kicks and elbow-waggles she gave him seemed more excited then upset. Ha! Well, she wasn't a turtle, but clearly bath time hadn't been a terrible idea.
"Arigatō gozaimashita..." he breathed gratefully, and either the feeling of his breath or sound of her voice made her wiggle. "Anata ga ikite iru koto o shimesu..."
Hunkered down over her, marveling at the soft texture of her skin, and her chubbiness, and the fineness of her little nails, Leonardo realized he had no idea what she looked like. What color was she? Dark? Light? Her skin, her hair, her eyes? He 'looked' towards her face, stricken. Maybe...?
Leonardo slipped a hand under her shoulders and up to support the back her head, where a full head of extremely soft hair would probably make her look like a fuzzy monkey just as soon as it dried. Were most babies bald? Was it a matter of ethnicity? He hesitantly lifted his other hand up, touching her face that he might slowly and gently trace her features with his forefinger. An image came slowly together in his mind, details solidifying like a colorless photograph. She didn't flinch or wiggle when his touch drew near her eyes, and he concluded she wasn't opening them much just yet. He felt a light crusting over her eyelashes and lids, and so abandoned his examination and took up the very edge of the wash cloth to break it up and dab it away.
"Soko ni soko ni," he whispered. "Sore wa yoidesu ka?"
Leonardo did not know how to tell if she was healthy, or eating enough, or sickly, or disabled. Donatello would have been able to tell; Failing that, Donatello would have known how to quickly learn the information. But Leo did not have Donatello any longer, and he wasn't sure how much he could even count on his remaining brothers to help. Mikey's ambivalence left a sour, sad feeling in his gut that he simply had to ignore for now. He had to figure this out himself.
Very well: Leonardo didn't have his eyes, but he had his other senses, and those were what he would have to know her by. He leaned close to her skin, sniffing suspiciously for hints of afterbirth. He found some behind her ears, ears which felt so thin and delicate it was no wonder he hadn't though to wash behind them previously. The smell of poo clued him in he needed to wipe her underside better. There. The wound from the severed umbilical appeared to be healing, which was reassuring because he'd had no idea how close to her to cut it.
Leo felt the brush of an eyelash against the curve of his thumb, where her head still rested in the cup of his hand. He 'looked' up from her belly towards her face, his snout just inches from her nose. By what he could feel against his hand, she squinted straight at him and blinked a few times, before squeezing her eyes closed again, turning her face into his hand. Apparently that was quite enough vision of the world for one day. A humming rumble trickled up from the depths of his chest, and for one incredibly peculiar moment, the entire world felt exactly as it ought to be. A nonsense smile crossed his face.
Then he blinked through the sensation, shook his head, cleared his throat, and went back to sniffing her up and down for anything else the matter. She didn't smell ill. Nothing smelled of decay, blood, or infection. If anything, she smelled quite plesant, like a faint aroma of warm biscuits. Hmm. Very well then! He concluded she was as clean as any baby was ever going to get, and so dried off each and every last little inch of her. He swaddled her back up in her blankets and pulled her to his shoulder, and pet a hand along her back as he listened to her breathe.
"Haruka ni yoi..." She was already very much asleep. He touched delicately at her face, admiring.
Perhaps... perhaps he really could trust his instincts, and that would be enough for now. He was a turtle, yes, but he had plenty of human genes. She certainly seemed their best expert on how often she required nourishment. He could keep her warm, clean, fed, and dry.
Familiar footsteps—and a deathly bitter aura—made Leonardo reconsider his feelings about her silence; He immediately prayed it would hold out a few more days. When Raphael entered the small concrete shelter, it was clear a night atop the city had done nothing to improve his choleric temper. Raphael took one look at him, sitting there with this completely harmless child cradled across his chest, and the sneer which contorted his face did not require vision to pick up on.
Leonardo rapidly reconsidered how visible the baby ought to be, and wondered if it might be best for him to place her somewhere as unobtrusive and out-of-the-way as possible whenever Raphael was there; At least until Red had calmed down and grown more used to the idea of keeping her. On the other hand, Leonardo was slowly growing angry that Raphael was still fighting him on this, particularly when someone's life was quite literally at stake. He wasn't so sure he wanted to cater to his brother's ill mood.
After all the times Raphael had broken basic safety rules as teen to rough-up armed robbers and thugs... Was there any of that distinctive, pugnacious, rough-edged goodness left in Raphael at all? Or had it gone the same way as Michelangelo's empathy, lost to the annals of time?
But then... where was Leo's nobility?
It had been a long time since he'd insisted on sparing the life of an enemy. Whenever the three of them sniffed out Foot patrols small enough to engage, the brothers dealt with them to a man—and gave chase to any of them who fled—to prevent them from reporting in to their overseers. Some Foot soldiers were not yet full adults, but that had always felt bitterly fair; The turtles had been forced to fight for their own lives since they were just barely fifteen.
And one of them had never made it to eighteen at all.
Enough. These were dark thoughts, and would help nothing. Leo decided to just weather through his brother's disapproval, and smiled thinly to remind him which of them still led this team, and this family. "Good morning, Raphael," he prompted. "Anything to report?"
Raphael stalked wordlessly past to obtain sausages from the icebox.
Leo frowned and slowly lifted a hand up to shield the back of the infant's head.
Whereupon he felt that her hair had indeed dried into an omnidirectional poof of monkey fluff, and had to stop himself from breaking out laughing with how absolutely fuzzy she must have looked. Well, Raphie might be trouble for now... but he'd come around with time.
Hate to break it to ya Raphael, but I think Leo's in love.
Chapter 6: Just Being Practical Here
It seems somewhere between 2003 and 2012, mankind researched the technology required to give turtles different eye colors and body types. I assume it must have been easier on the animator to work with four nearly identically-shaped characters before then? Bless you, 2012. Bless you.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Crippled? No problem.
Depth perception gone? Ha! Hold my beer.
Blind? Pssh. Clearly Grandma Turtle back on Mom Turtle's side boffed a bat, because I'm about to give The Dark Knight a run for his money for that superhero name of his.
But Sudden Accidental Baby Acquisition!? Holy shit, I'm staying inside, it's dangerous out there!
Michelangelo entered the mini lair soon after Raphael, ignored mister big-red-and-grumpy, and instead glanced disbelievingly at where Leo was sitting there upon his folded futon, exactly where they'd left him.
The last time Leo had failed to join them outside, it was because he'd just been slashed across the eyes. Which had kept him inside a grand total of (drum roll please!) three days. After which he'd disappeared on them for months, to figure out how to become self-sufficient. (And on that note, 'Our newly blinded, fevering, and possibly suicidal older brother is missing,' still ranked as the most stressful thing that had ever happened to them, easily beating out all of the actual deaths.)
"Dude, have you even moved?" Mikey laughed as he tossed Leo a can of Mountain Dew (cause pop was always a treat!).
"Of course," Leo caught the can without looking (of course) or elaborating. He cocked his head as he manipulated the Dew to flick it open. "You both smell and sound like you've been in a fight."
"Ha, not a big one! Anyway, I'm pretty sure this old fossil can mop up anything I'm too busy being badass to bother with," Mikey chirped with a thumb jerked back at Raphael. Neither brother laughed. Derp. Oh great, you really are fighting again. He gave an annoyed shake of his head. "Was weird not having ya, though."
Not that Mike liked to babied by either of this brothers! He was missing an arm, yeah, but he could break skulls with just one nanchaku plenty-good, and he exercised the stub solidly because he wanted to be able to use it to bitch-slap opponents hard enough to break necks when he was feeling particularly cocky (or, uh yeah, in an emergency, cough, right Leo). Though honestly, ya'd be surprised how many ways there were to kill a person with just your feet!
...But having one of his brothers missing absolute crawled under his skin, and left him feeling a special form of agitated. Speaking of brothers! Raphael stalked out to cook without a word to either of them. This was getting dumb. 'Angry glowering' wasn't the right way to go about trying to persuade Hamato Leonardo, whether in this dimension or any other.
In fact, Leo raised his voice enough that Raphael could still hear him: "I'll be staying here tomorrow."
"What? Again?! Why?" Mikey whirled on him with wide eyes.
Leo nodded. "The 'burrito' needs to eat about once every two to three hours, and she poos almost as regularly. Anyone holding her would need to take frequently breaks, even if she stayed dead silent, and she can't be left alone. So unless you want to stay with her...?"
Mikey waved his arm (and stub) in a rapid 'no no no!' because that sounded horribly boring! Leo tossed a bemused expression his way, but apparently sensed and interpreted the hand gestures. Hehe.
After the initial amusement and alarm had faded though, Mikey felt resentment and uncertainty, and wasn't sure to make of this whole situation. How long was Leo gonna keep this up? It didn't make any sense.
"So you're just never going out again?" Mikey asked rhetorically, because of course the answer was 'no,' and that would demonstrate how taking care of a baby was completely impossible.
"For right now I might not be at the top of my game, as she is also eating and pooping through the night," Leo slowly remarked. "I am trying very hard not to wake either of you up." Mikey sat forward in surprise with a guttural exclamation. "I'm guessing, based on admittedly very limited knowledge, that her stomach has started off very small and needs time to stretch. But as for how long it will take to transition from twelve meals a day into three...?" Leo shrugged. "We'll find out."
"Dude, without you we're at two-thirds strength!" Michelangelo tried to make him see reason. "That limits what we can do and makes for a super bored me and a super pissed off Raphael! We still have to feed ourselves and keep putting pressure on the Foot to keep any lieutenants from assuming control and quashing everyone and putting us right back where we've started, in case you've forgotten!"
Leo inclined his head in acknowledgement, but said, "That is not nearly as hard today as it was a year ago, but give me a few days to figure out a-"
"So what dude, you want to artificially increase the difficulty curve or something!?"
His shout apparently startled the baby, who jumped a little in place and then woke up with a good, loud cry. Mikey recoiled in surprise. Leo swiftly tried to comfort her, but one cry turned into more. Mikey glanced towards the exit of the lair, panicking over Raphael's low tolerence threshold. I did this! He looked back to the baby, and then scrambled forward on his hands and knees.
"Figure out some way to 'rock' her!" he hissed to jar their stupid leader's brain.
Leo snatched up the suggestion, deftly transferred her weight down onto his forearms and the crook of the elbow, and then rocked gently in place with her. She didn't immediately close her mouth, but her next sounds were all soft hums and burred squeaks. The crying fit was over as soon as it had started. Mikey settled back on his knees, dropped his head, and breathed out a sigh of relief. No Raphsplosions. Good. Shell.
Mikey lifted his head to grimace at Blue Leader, but was startled out of his train of thought by the sight of her open eyes. She'd closed her mouth on a bit of her blanket and was humming to herself and staring up at Leo through the early morning gloom. Mikey stared at her.
"Michelangelo..." Leo murmured as he preemptively made some formula one-handed. "Will you... describe her to me?"
"Small, fat, and big-headed?" Mikey wondered aloud, before realization dawned on him. "Oh. Oh. Yeah, uh, okay." He scooted closer, and leaned over her to help Leo part the blankets so he could see her better. Those little eyes jumped to him and she made a sound into her blanket. "Whoa, is she looking at me?" he whispered incredulously. She waggled her brows a bit like she was still getting the hang of them, and they gave her such ridiculously exaggerated facial expressions! Haha!
"She seems to like faces," Leo agreed as he teased the bottle into her mouth. "She doesn't look at bottles or hands. Just faces."
"Even green faces?" Mikey found that weird, although one supposed humans came in a lot of shapes and different colors. "Huh. Well, uh, she's definitely not green. And her hair's hilarious, just standing straight on end like stuffed animal hair, and it's this impenetrable dark chocolate brown. Like I can't even really see her scalp through it. Just: Poof!"
Leo leaked a little laugh. Mikey glanced curiously up to his fond expression, and then back to her.
"Her eyes have this goldfish cracker shape, and they're deep, but she's got the second eyelid line and super long lashes, so I got no idea if that means she's Asian or not? She's kinda a funny color, actually. Like, not brown, not really yellow, not pale or pink... Hey, it's almost like you spilled green tea on paper. What ethnic group's that?"
"Mediterranean?" Leo wondered aloud. "I think that skin color is called 'olive-toned,' despite—as you mentioned—not actually being green."
"Not sure!" Mikey chirped. "Maybe I'll figure out a way to look it up. Heh! Her forehead and chin pucker up so much! Bro you can't see it, but she's making this hilariously stern old librarian face right now! Ha!"
"Heh." Leo smiled. "And her eyes?"
"Brown, looks like."
"Well most humans eyes are. Can you describe them any further?" the poor blind guy pleaded.
"Lemme try to see without shining a bright light in her face," Mikey bit his lower lip as he leaned closer. La Burrita made the task easier by continuing to stare at him, though her eyes crossed and that was super adorable. Oh. Oh.
"I was expecting brown if she is Hispanic, Mediterranean, or Japanese," Leo's chatter suggested he was secretly desperate for an accurate mental picture. "Are they dark? Light? Nearly black? Dull? Honey-like? Have they any other pigments?"
"They're, um..." Mikey coughed a mirthless laugh. "They're kinda red. They're like, um, auburn-colored. But eyes instead of hair. Really warm."
Leo was quiet a breath. "Mahogany."
Mikey sat back up, and rubbed at his face, but didn't say anything. That had just sent him on a backwards memory spiral. A silence passed between to them, as a fortunately not-enraged middle brother cooked them up some delicious-smelling bratwursts. Mikey went to go sit on his own and pull out his earbuds.
Offhand, Leo mentioned, "We need a space heater. Do you think you two can find one?"
"Dunno if that's gonna fly with Big Red," Mikey's lip curled, for he was resentful to have been confronted with Donatello's eye color when he totally hadn't been ready for it. "You a little obsessed, bro?"
Leo sighed as if Mikey were being intentionally difficult, even though Mikey had just helped him with something. "Seriously?" Blue asked him. "Mike, the last time we picked a hideaway above ground level—and failed to obtain a heater for the winter—both of us ended up snuggled in a ball under Raphael, with every scrap of clothing we possessed piled on top of us. And, bro, the sheer quantity of times I felt you evert onto the inside of my thigh was sufficient to leave me briefly questioning your sexual orientation. Can we not have a repeat experience when November gets here?"
Mikey's jaw dropped, and he felt his face going from green to brown to red. "What?" he squeaked.
Evert meant, um... 'turn inside out.' And, uh, it was the word a certain dork had given them during the awkward phases of teenager-hood, to uh politely and scientifically describe whenever someone's...
(...scary alien purple death worm made an unexpected guest appearance?)
They had started wearing clothing about then, if memory served! Yup! Clothing! Good stuff!
Leo looked positively surprised. "Raphael never brought it up? Huh." A slow smile twisted across Blue's face. "He told me he was going to dunk your head in an outhouse toilet first thing once spring came."
"G... guess I d-dodged a bullet," Mikey stammered, mortified. (Bad tail! Bad! You deserved to be frostbitten!)
If Donatello had been there, he would have something scientific about biology and turtles and stuff. But Donnie wasn't. This year he'd been dead exactly as many years as he'd ever even been alive in the first place. Even if, somehow, it always seemed like just yesterday they'd had him with them.
Still blushing scarlet, Mikey scampered away to go find Raphael. And mope about missing dead people. And recommend they visit the dump looking for a portable heater, yikes!
Don't worry Mikey, I have full faith that once you recover from the embarrassment of this, you will mercilessly tease Raphael about it. Somehow. That's just kinda what you do.
Chapter 7: Weak Scales
Suddenly! Another complication!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Mikey was started awake by the sensation of motion above him, and tensed reflexively in anticipation of a fight. When he glanced up, however, Leo was just stepping across him to access the baby supplies. Whatever Leo wanted, Leo apparently couldn't find, which was kinda weird given that there were only like three kinds of things over there.
"Whassup, bro?" Mikey groaned, annoyed to be awake.
"She is not eating," Leo whispered.
"Again?" Mikey stretched, and then belatedly recalled Raphael was right beside him, because Raphael came awake with a deep breath and a flash of green eyes.
"She smells sour. She breathes quickly, and her skin is hot to the touch," continued Leo, perhaps honestly oblivious to the fact that the least sympathetic ear in the household was now listening. "She's sick."
Michelangelo popped up and pressed Raphael's shoulder with an arm stub to keep in place. 'I got this,' he tried to say without saying anything. 'Don't eat Leo.' Keeping both of them in the same family was rough some days, no matter how protective either of them were over the other. Or, maybe, because of that. "You lookin' for the medicine?" Michelangelo could find small packages amidst a plethora of unfamiliar objects faster than Leo could, and quickly snatched up the cold and flu stuff and offered it to him.
Leo reached for it, paused, and then smiled appologetically. "Can you read me the dosage?"
Oh yeah. Mikey wiped his eyes of sleep and blinked down at the package. "Well, I've got good news and bad news. Bad news: consult your pediatrician for usage in infants under three months. Good news: Primary active ingredient is acetaminophen. Didn't Donnie make us memorize an 'easy' weight to dosage ratio was when we were like, six?"
"Fifteen mg per kg," Raphael said without vocal inflection.
Gah! Mikey stiffened and resisted the urge to glance back at him in surprise. Help from the least likely source!
"She's a little more than five pounds," Leo estimated. "Maybe six or seven."
Mikey looked bad at the box. He blinked again, and then shook his head and rubbed his face. "Yes, I can math. Durr. That's like half the min dose in this. I'll measure it, you go..." he waved back towards Leo's futon mat, and Leo took the hint and got as far away from Raphael as floor space allowed. Blue sat himself down and arranged the child in his lap, and Mikey crawled over to him with a dollop of medication in the little measuring cup to see the problem for himself.
La Burrita was breathing through her mouth instead of her nose, and looked visibly hot and sweaty, with her skin all heated up in splotchy pink. Leo was clearly fighting a battle just dabbing up all the drool and boogies. Hmm. Was she going to spit the medicine out or cough on it, if they put it in her mouth? Well, they'd already established Leo wasn't very good at getting her to try new things.
Mikey dabbed some of the medicine onto a finger, and leaned over and got it on her tongue. She did this little wiggle-grimace-dance and curled her toes, like he'd just given her something crazy sour. Maybe if they mixed it with milk? But Leo said she hadn't been eating. Probably cause her poor nose was all stuffed up!
Now Michelangelo was pretty much on Raphael's side; the baby had to go, and she wasn't their responsibility, and she was weakening their team; but, right now La Burrita's sad face was making him feel super guilty about watching to ditch her. Still, she'd be better off with her own kind!
"We could drop her off at the hospital," Mikey mentioned, even as he ended up feeding her all the medicine himself, droplet by droplet on the tongue. He paused every so often to make sure she was swallowing. "We probably should, ya know?"
Leo scowled, but then seemed to seriously think about it. Mikey glanced quickly at him and then quickly back to Buritto-Baby.
"Yeah," Mikey liked where this was headed. "Yeah, come on, you know we can't take care of her. We don't know anything about human babies." Right, so this wasn't about them or their problems, this was about poor Burrita's best interests! This was pure altruism! "The emergency center's usually overloaded, but they're still gonna know how much Tylenol and stuff to get her, and she'll be really fast for them to treat. Just like that!" Mikey snapped his fingers. "It'll be easy for them, they have to do this all the time." At least he hoped so, but after they dropped her off it wasn't really their business anymore anyway.
Anyway, trust 'the right thing' to be Leo's biggest weak spot! "You might be right," their eldest brother admitted and then shrank a little bit, clearly dwelling on the idea and turning it over and over in his head.
Raphael got up behind them and started folding away his mat and foraging for breakfast. He didn't say anything, which probably meant he could tell what Mikey was doing and was giving him room to work. Excellent! Pay attention, bro, a master persuasivist is at work! Poor Leo's resigned tone meant this would all soon be over.
"Dude, she's kinda small," Mikey pushed, gently. "Don't babies get sick faster and worse?" That was probably true. "Kittens sure do. Iunno, dude, you gotta make a decision about how badly you wanna risk it."
Leonardo wrapped both arms completely around his aesthetically well-swaddled child. His shoulders started bowing together and his expression drooped, and, whoa, Mikey's gaped at him a little, because in all his life he'd never seen Leo look like depression had just literally eaten his soul out of his body. Like, ever. Even when they'd lost Donatello, or when Raphael had been laying into him about Splinter's death. But now Leo held that baby—that baby he'd only picked out of a dumpster two days ago, by the way!—like he'd rather melt away into ooze if he had to let go of her.
"Um..." Mikey swiveled about, sat slowly down beside his brother, and reached tentatively across the back of his shell. Whatever had gone through Leo's head the moment he'd found that baby, it, uh, it definitely wasn't what had gone through his or Raphie's. Like not even on the same game board.
Leo closed his eyes and was silent for a long moment, probably soaking in the comfort of having a brother nearby, or maybe just listening to the baby and the super rough time she was having. A long moment passed in quiet between them, after which Leo asked him a little meekly, "Have you thought of a name?"
'Naming it implies we're keeping it,' Raphael had warned Mikey the day before.
"Haven't actually thought much about it," Mikey lied.
"I see," Leo murmured. "Psychology question, Mikey. In which case do you think her survival odds are higher: If exhausted and understaffed healthcare workers have a name for her, or if she is referred to distantly as 'abandoned child number two-zero-seven?'"
Derp. "Well I haven't thought of any good names," Mikey un-lied. "It's not like she has any monster stuff to go off of, so unless you like 'Poopy Dumpling,' or 'Dumpster Dudette,' that won't work. I could just list random girls name. Susan. Patricia. May. Johanna? I got that one from a musical!" A tragic musical, doh.
"Would it not be more traditional to use something Italian, or at least art-historical?"
"What, our family's shtick?" Michelangelo blurted, only to see Leo frowning his way. Mikey blinked. Uh. Okay. He looked down at La Burrita. "Iunno, maybe that's just for turtles, yo? Dad's name was Splinter, and I don't know any girl Renaissance painters."
By the sad look in Leo's milk-and-stardust eyes, neither did he. Mikey bit his lower lip, wide-eyed gaze flicking between SadLeo and La Burrita. He tried super hard not to cave and give SadLeo whatever SadLeo wanted. Focus! Blah blah blah! Mikey was usually the one making sad puppy faces, not resisting them! This was weird and backwards, gah!
"Well! Uh, if you want to take her now, my vote's on Johanna!" he succesfully forced himself to stay on target! "Way more sing-able!"
Leo lowered his head. "Let me see how she responds to the medication, first. If it's enough... or..." He cleared his throat. "If it snowballs into an emergency before dawn, I will very carefully bring her to the hospital."
"Yeah, sure. 'Carefully.'" Raphael muttered as he sat down with a bowl of Cheerios (ironic cereal pick, bro!), apparently wanting them to shut up about the baby. Mikey rolled his eyes, but then too much quiet from Raphie would have been suspicious. "I'll believe that when I see it."
"I apologize for waking you early," was Leo's reply, and he straightened and seemed to resume his stoicism (that was a word, right?) as Mikey made faces at Raphael. "Well, since you might not get many more chances to... Mikey? Would you like to hold her?"
Michelangelo looked back in surprise, fumbling for a reply that surprised him by never arriving. He made some kind of guttural sound, though he wasn't sure if it was an affirmative or a negative, and then quite suddenly there was a baby being offered to him. Um, so he took her hesitantly into the only arm he had (which left him with the question of what he ought to do in an emergency if he was about to drop her) and stared down at six pounds of grumpy grump, red-faced, forehead-puckered, fuzzy-headed monkey-baby.
"Omigod," Mikey slurred, mind exploding with sugar sprinkles and kittens riding rainbows in bow-ties. "W-wait, what's she doing?"
"Is she rubbing her mouth into your plastron?" Leo inquired, sounding swiftly hopeful.
"My best guess is that she is looking for a breast."
"Oh man. Am *I* a mega disappointment. Muchos sorry, dudette...!"
"Mike," Leo sighed as he offered him the bottle. "Can you see if she'll eat for you?"
Mikey was eager to try and reached for the milk, only to be confronted by an old and suddenly bitter limitation. "Leo, I... only have one hand."
Leo glanced his way, and then reached around him and grasped the round of his shoulder, sliding the length of the bottle in between Mikey's plastron and the severed tip of his limb. Mikey squeaked, and then very carefully maneuvered the bottle around using pressure and the full range of his shoulder. The baby, who was mouthing at his plastron anyway, grabbed hold of the bottle tip just as soon as it got into range, and suckled hungrily through grunts and sputters.
"Omigod," Mikey squeed, thrilled beyond words. "She's such a little chicken nugget...!"
Raphael made an inarticulate noise of disgust.
"Is she eating? Oh, she's eating," Leo groaned in relief. "Why are all diminutives food with you?"
"Food's my Love Language!" Mikey blathered hysterically, much too busy holding and feeding a poor sick adorable baby to worry about all these silly questions!
I'm not sure who is giving who a gentle shove in what direction anymore. On the other hand, turnabout is typically fair play!
Chapter 8: Critical Reasoning Skills
I had to go with April's iconic yellow jumpsuits, they're more suited to her job as a researcher in 2003 than tube tops anyway. Even if her coloring was a sneaky visual cue about which turtle she's got the strongest bond with in nearly every medium!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Raphael stalked back and forth past the entrance of their little 'den,' his gaze fixed on the horizon and red tones of the fading sun as he waited for it to be safe to leave the cluttered and damaged alleyway.
He heard Michelangelo come out behind him, but ignored his youngest brother (his only remaining younger brother).
"Hey I totally forgot I grabbed a bag of M&Ms at the superstore!" Mikey cooed seductively.
Mikey grabbed his arm, and Raphael whirled on him with a glare. His brother obtained his hand, and deposited a tidy pile of all the red and green M&Ms onto his palm. Enough that Raphael reflexively cupped his hand not to lose any.
Raph scoffed, but then turned half a smirk up to Mikey's face. "We're still sortin' them, eh?"
Mikey beamed and showed off his own supply of oranges. "I didn't count to see if the proportions were still the same," he admitted. "But it seemed fair enough!"
Raph chuckled softly. "What'd ya do with the browns and yellows?"
"Oh. Lit one of the candles and left em as an offering in the back," Mikey answered somberly.
A long time ago, Mikey had suggested they needed to divvy up all M&M packs by color: Blue went to blue, Red went to red, Orange went to orange, Donnie could pick a color (Mikey suspected the lack of purple M&Ms was probably secretly one of the reasons Donnie preferred Skittles) and they'd split the rest.
Raph had felt something awry with this plan and consulted Donatello. After a quantitative analysis of a standard bag of M&Ms, Donnie had gotten on the phone with the New Jersey Mars Chocolate factory. He'd returned to Raphael and reported only two colors, blue and orange, took up a whopping fifty percent of an M&M bag. Raphael had immediately put Mikey in a headlock for M&M embezzlement, until it was determined Raph and Donnie would get two colors each.
Watching how Donatello went about solving problems had taught Raphael a lot of things about critical thinking. And Donnie had even given Raphael the green ones, and taken the least popular colors for himself, because Donnie was just like that.
Of course, one time O'Neil was in the Lair, and after babbling at mach five for over half a minute, Donnie had gone awkward silent and promptly passed all his yellows to her. Which was only slightly less goofy than all of Mikey's winks, flexes, and pick-up lines. Oi!
"Well," Raph cleared his throat and ate some chocolate. "You better remember to clean em up again before we get roaches."
"No worries, dude, I'll totally eat stale, post-offering M&Ms!" Mikey snickered before calling over his shoulder: "Hey Blue! We're headin' out!"
Leonardo held his forearm against her head after he changed her diaper and realized the fever was down. Whether it was within 'good' parameters was woefully unclear to him, especially without a thermometer. He knew fevers were a body's means of burning out illness, but he also knew they could turn lethal.
He had to keep her hot, but not too hot. How hot was too hot? Had they given her too little medication? Too much? He couldn't afford to change Mikey's original guess; poisoning her with too much acetaminophen would be a surefire death sentence. Did she need clear fluids, or were calories and nutrients vital at this juncture? And how much should he exhaust her trying (and failing) to get a bottle in her mouth if she just wouldn't suckle?
Leo wrapped her up, and rocked her against his shoulder. He took up a fresh bottle and stroked the tip against her cheek, a gesture which always made her lips purse. Alas, no sooner did she contemplate suckling than she sobbed in frustration, scrunched up her forehead, turned away, and rejected the food.
He persisted and persisted and persisted, until finally she was too exhausted to fight and suckled. Leo almost called a tentative victory.
Then she vomited on both of them.
Leonardo wiped them both clean of undoubtedly greenish, bile-mixed milk, and tried to give her the bottle again. She just wouldn't take it. He stood and paced back and forward across the shelter, sleepless and nervous; rocking their miserable little chicken nugget to keep her calm as he sorted his feelings from one another.
She's not eating because her nose is clogged, he was sure. She feels like she is suffocating, and panics.
Leo wished he had Michelangelo there to read him the back of the cold and flu medicine bottle again. He wished the Foot hadn't commandeered every cellular tower and broadband provider on the East Coast. He wished they were back at their home, their Lair, with a computer. That he wasn't blind. That they still had Donatello.
Leo wished for a lot of things.
Leonardo felt her blow fresh mucus bubbles out between her lips, which was disgusting, pitiful, and horrible, and he knelt down and took a wash cloth to wipe her face. By touch, he found irritated skin along her nose and upper lip, and realized these repeated applications of boogers, soapy water, and wash cloths were far too rough. Much more of this, and she'd break out into real rashes. Some kind of cream or ointment surely could have helped—if his brothers would only just help him!
Perhaps he needed to order them to. The chesty sobs of his newborn made him tingle with the desire to act, and he considered bundling her up and tracking down his brothers to have an argument about all this right then and there. But taking a sick baby out into the crisp October evening air, potentially for hours, sounded ill-advised.
To be fair, what more could they really do? Common colds weren't treatable and had to run their course, which was both good and bad. Good, because it precluded frantic scrambles for hard-to-find antibiotics. Bad, because the symptoms could turn lethal, and it was maddening not to know how well one was doing at managing them.
"Focus, Leonardo," he muttered. "Calm yourself, think back, and employ your reasoning capabilities." He held her in his lap, tracing fingers up and down her little abdomen, feeling tiny lungs hard at work. "What would father have done for you?" He thought as far back into his childhood as memory would allow. He thought about soup, bottled water, and tissues. None of that helped; A newborn couldn't even blow it's own nose to try and clear it. But boogers got out one way or another...
Wait. Could he help her cough some of it out? He had little else to try, and little things might be able to help. How to go about it?
Leonardo slowly turned the baby this way and that, considering, before turning her about so she was facing away from him. He tried to figure out how to hold her, particularly as her poor fluffy head lolled about so much. Human infants, Leo had learned, could not hold their enormous heads up straight upon their itty bitty necks.
Okay. Gently, he tapped upon her back. Then, a little firmer. When she didn't react much, he gauged his strength to give her a startling little 'thump!' between her shoulder blades.
Lo! With a loud cough, the baby shot a thick wad of mucus out like she was some form of projectile weapon! Bua-ha! Ew! Immediately she started crying, but all the rattling reverberations from the back of the throat were gone, and Leo nearly jumped for joy. Ha! Oh dear, oh dear. He pulled her back to hold her across his chest as he wiped her face and rocked her.
"Soko ni soko ni," he whispered, ducking his head with a giddy grin. "Good girl..."
Now what had he learned? That babies were not particularly talented at clearing their own airways, and that a gentle but firm rap upon the back was an acceptable method for helping! In fact, as long as he was holding her, and could be sure she wasn't smothering herself, he could try holding her slightly face-down to employ gravity's assistance with mucus drainage. Ha! That was disgusting.
Wait! He reached out for the bottle and tried to give it to her, and she must have forgiven him about the rude back-pat because she chomped down very seriously on that bottle tip and furrowed her brow up to deliberate extensively about the relative pay-offs of milk vs. air at any one moment in time. Leo let her sort it out, and was careful not to startle her or press on her belly lest he induce another bout of vomiting. He even cut her off before she'd finished her usual ration, reasoning that would be safer than watching her fight and lose another fight with nauseousness. She didn't put up a fight, smacking her lips and squinting up at him.
She felt better, he realized. Still warm, still sick, still with both nostrils clogged and the beginnings of a rash on her upper lip, but she felt better; good enough to perk up and inspect the universe from the crook of his elbow. The medicine was doing its job.
Leonardo took a very deep breath. He stroked her cheek, and smiled as she absently suckled on the tip of his finger. Her eyes slid about thoughtfully but returned to find him, like he was the only shape she was sure she could identify and thus he was required for referencing purposes. After a moment, Leo gathered her closer and touched the tip of his nose to her hair. Her mouth rounded in an 'o' as she yawned in big, and then she went to sleep right like that.
Perhaps it would be best if he got some sleep, too. When the fever returned, he was going to have to make some very difficult decisions about when and how much medicine to feed her. If they were lucky, they'd get one more feeding in before that happened. Leo returned to his futon and laid down with his tiny burden, knowing the worst parts of this night might still be ahead of them. For now the best either of them could do was rest.
Raphael had been right about one thing: if the fever worsened, Leo was going to be anything but 'careful' about getting her into the care of hospital workers. And if he suspected an overdose of acetaminophen?
He could well imagine ending up on the front page of Raphael's weekend newspaper, threatening triage nurses at sword-point in bold print on the front page: 'In an startling midnight incident, an infamous mutant insurgent rushed a hospital emergency room, disarmed four guards by katana, and demanded emergency attention for a completely normal human baby.'
Whereupon Raphie really would would bludgeon him to death with the first large, blunt object he laid eyes on.
A sick newborn is a special form of hell.
Chapter 9: Sleep Deprivation
(Derp, I posted this chapter early, so make sure you've seen the previous one)
Given that the opening theme song for TMNT 2003 literally has 'Turtles count it off! One! Two! Three! Four!' Repeated ad nauseum, having one of them dead feels even more horrible.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Leo lay on his shell, unable to move so much as even to twitch. He could not open his mouth to call out. The entire interior of the little lair was visible, which Leonardo was rather certain it should not have been. He'd lived in a world of blank gray with occasional bright flashes for a very long time now.
Familiar footsteps padded across debris and gravel, and one of his brothers ducked into the shelter and squatted down. "Hmm," Leo heard, quickly followed by the crunch of sugar and chocolate—an M&M peice—between teeth. "That was sweet of Mike."
Leo could not move so much as to cause his own breath to hitch, and there were no words to describe how helpless that felt. But the brother who came further into the lair leaned over him with a pitying smirk was still eternally young, and obviously could not have actually been there.
"You've never had a Night Terror before, have you?" Donatello asked conversationally as he climbed onto Leonardo's plastron and sat down cross-legged upon his chest. "Talking from experience here: they suck. Commonly, people hallucinate a demon sitting on them, crushing all the breath out and slowly suffocating them."
Leo couldn't answer that, because he couldn't even move his head to nod that he understood. He had only the capacity to stare, and so stare he did.
"I hope I'm less frightening than that, but try to keep calm either way; I know it's very stressful feeling unable to breathe," the genius drawled wryly as he ate a mouthful of brown M&Ms and draped his forearms across his knees. "What's actually happening," he said through crunchy chocolate, "is you're awake just enough to experience your body's natural sleep paralysis, which is kinda cool. Now loosely speaking, sleep paralysis is what keeps you from physically acting out your dreams. It also lowers and controls your respiration rate, which is the reason for the 'pressure' you feel on your chest; Obviously I'm not really here and sitting on you."
No. Obviously not.
"No," Donnie smiled apologetically. "Sorry. But the big thing I want to underscore is that all of these things you're experiencing are natural, and you are in no danger from them. In fact, after years of training your instincts, and given the near-REM cycle nature of this specific experience, my official judgement is that you would still wake up to anything that would usually wake you up. You aren't helpless. You just can't consciously end the Night Terror, in the same way you couldn't end a bad dream. The subconcious is in control of everything."
Objectively, that did sound like it ought to have made him feel better.
"Well, you also have zero ability to control or mitigate your body's fear response, Leo. Do you get what that means? The only thing you can do to cope is just resign yourself to experiencing it. It's... sort of like going through a panic attack, or withdrawal symptoms. Make sense?"
This was persistent, all-encompassing fear in every single nerve, without any ability whatsoever to move. This was feeling everything, affecting nothing, and experiencing tremendous cognitive dissonance about the realness of anything. It was aptly named; It was terrifying. If this was what some people felt like on a regular basis, whether owed to naturally imbalanced brain chemistry or poorly chosen drug addictions, than Leonardo had just gained a greater empathy and appreciation for quite literally everyone.
"Ha! If only we could give Raphael one, am I right?" Donnie winked. "Adds a training course to Sensei's mantra that," he imitated Master Splinter, "'Bravery is not a lack of fear, merely a commendable reaction to it.'"
Well. With the science and ninjitsu lessons out of the way, perhaps Leo had no particular desire to be awake.
"Holy crap, Leo!" Donatello laughed in disbelief, as if he'd heard that. "Really? It's as easy as that for you, huh? 'Fearless.' Hey, listen," Donatello leaned forward and planted a hand on either side of Leo's head, staring straight down into his soul. "This is what I wanted to tell you: I'm with you. I'm always with you. It will always be the four of us, and never just three. You know that, right?"
Did Leo know that?
Pervasive and unending fear was as painfully bearable as Donnie had just suggested; What hurt more was this inability to move. Leo wanted to reach up and latch hold and not let go; Instead, he couldn't even answer.
Donatello's expression twisted to compassion, and he lifted a hand and wiped tears from Leonardo's face. "I know," Purple murmured reassuringly. "I know. I'm sorry. Look, I need you to have a tremendous amount of courage right now, Leo. And faith, if you can believe it: Me, asking someone for faith instead of proof. But the world isn't always logical, sane, or fair, and you were the only one who was listening."
Leo wasn't certain what his brother meant, but it was cryptic enough beside that absurdly lucid lecture on Night Terrors to feel both ominous and real.
Donatello smiled and shrugged almost helplessly or bashfully. "Unfortunately, I need to wake you up now. But I promise you—I promise you Leo—I am with you."
But you are not. Not except in memory.
"Don't argue. Where has your spirituality gone?" Purple chastised. "I am."
... ... I believe you.
And though Leo would have preferred a few more minutes, or hours, or years; he used what seconds of this vivid insanity remained to recommitted his brother's features to memory. Donnie pitied him and held still for a moment, before leaning forward an inch and placing a fraternal kiss on his forehead.
Crying. He heard crying. Leonardo woke choking and gasping into darkness, shaking so hard and feeling so winded, that for a second he had no idea where or when he was, or why he couldn't see anything. Then he registered the tiny body fussing in the bow of his arm, and the entirety of his life rushed back to him so that he could comprehend that she needed to eat.
Unfocused and disoriented, his breath ragged and his face damp, he fumbled for the bottle and kettle. His hands shook as he splashed warm water atop fresh powder and forcing himself through the mechanical motions of sealing and shaking the bottle. He brought the result to his chest and managed to touch her face with the tip, and she latched on and fell silent to suckle.
Leonardo slumped. He bowed his head into her, and the tears flowed hot down his face.
He could still see his brother's seventeen-year-old face hovering over him.
There weren't words sufficient for this; what tore out of him could only be expressed in sobs. What the hell had that been? It had felt nothing like a normal nightmare. Had it actually been a 'night terror?' Had it been a vision? But no sooner had Leo spent three seconds trying to process the physiological trauma of that eerily vivid 'dream sequence' than he realized the baby was crying again. Leo bit his lips, throttling expressions of grief to listen to her, to her needs.
When she calmed down almost immediately, he was treated to the realization she might have been crying only because he'd been crying. He reached for her face. She was staring right at him.
"I'm okay," Leo breathed in hoarse and raw, an instant before a wave of protective fierceness entered into him. "I'm okay," he repeated firmly, and felt over her head. "Oh. Your fever."
She was still hot, and whined plaintively as if reminding him she was already having enough trouble eating and breathing with her nose stuffed up, and why did he have to add all the extra work of crying onto her platter for no good reason? Sheesh. He stroked her cheek and coaxed the bottle back into her mouth, and she argued with herself about air/milk trade offs.
"Easy now," Leo whispered softly. "You have all the time in the world. Don't rush."
I'm with you.
Dammit Donnie! Don't you know calm scientific lectures and ghostly dream sequences are incompatible!? You're doing it wrong!
Chapter 10: Slowly Vivid, Old Colors
Oh, right. Sick baby. Gotta shake off the heebie jeebies, Leo, there's no time for dwelling on ghosts at a time like this!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Blindness had made it very difficult for Leonardo to achieve a meditative trance, perhaps because there was no greater sense of isolation achieved by closing his eyes. He'd lost the habit of it altogether, years ago.
But some things were like riding bicycles, and Leonardo desperately needed to find some sense of inner peace to deal with their newborn's illness and put strange 'night terrors' out of mind. Still carrying her, he sank into squat with his heels together and his head lowered, and held himself immobile, balanced, and poised. He focused upon their breath and heartbeats, and let his senses bleed out and mix with his surroundings.
When the fever first started making a comeback, Leo needed to assume the medicine was leaving her system. He reached for the bottle of cold and flu remedy with no small trepidation, but, as it turned out, the dosage lines on the little medicine cup were demarcated by grooves instead of colored lines, and Leo could find them by touch. He carefully prepared half a minimum dose, and then fed her the way Michelangelo had done: droplet by droplet upon her tongue.
And the medicine did what it needed to do. It didn't poison her. It repressed her fever, it kept her little aches and pains sufficiently alleviated, and it was most likely also an expectorant, and therefore loosening up mucus so she could drool and cough it out with his assistance. The next time he offered her the bottle she managed to take it, and she opened her eyes and furrowed her brows up at him, seeming terribly perplexed with why everything was so very uncomfortable. She certainly did huff a lot about it.
Patience wasn't a virtue Leonardo had previously associated with babies, so he wondered if she might be staying 'calm' only because he appeared calm. She could clearly identify faces, so it was no huge stretch to speculate she knew the difference between stress and tranquility. If that was the case, then Leonardo's meditation was serving a previously unknown purpose: It was helping her rest while they waited this out.
With a renewed perspective on just how often she might be looking to him, Leo decided to smile at her more often. He also kept his face in easy view every time he changed her diapers, to make absolutely sure she never felt abandoned, not even for a moment.
He tried to think of something to do for her reddening skin. What he wouldn't give for even a tube of lip balm...
Wait! Leo felt about his things, looking for the rolled maintenance kit for his katana. From beside his peening steel and grit stone, he recovered a bottle of flaxseed oil, squeezed out a droplet onto his fingertips, and then dabbed it gently upon her lip and around the folds of her nostrils.
"Soko ni..." Much better. She huffed tolerably. He smiled. This would give her just a little protection against future sticky and caustic substances.
Michelangelo's written Japanese was very poor, and he knew next to no kanji, so he was thrown for a loop when he realized he'd just spotted a rough transliteration of 'baby,' ベビー, above a shop window. He redirected his motion and then hastily tried to get around the building before Raph caught an inkling of what he was doing.
Certain things hadn't made the switch back to English yet, and shop signs seemed both expensive to replace and a great way of drawing too much attention to oneself during widespread paramilitary and civil unrest. Not to mention kids as old as twenty had grown up without daring to speak anything but Japanese outside the house. Culture wars had consequences, man; this might never be fixed.
Mikey was the team's reigning champion lock-picker. Given that he also only had one hand to do it with, he was also the most creative lock-picker. No challengers! Sometimes he literally did even use chewing gum. Donnie would have been proud of his inner MacGyver!
"Mike," Raphael snarled warningly, at the exact second the lock gave way. Mikey pushed the door open and spun about to back up shell-first into the store. He raised his arms to placate the angry tiger who prowled slowly in after him.
Raphie read Japanese just fine; He'd analyzed Foot propaganda rags for almost two decades to mine info between the lines and triangulate troop movements and political maneuvers. Anybody who took one listen to Raph's guttural accent and pegged him for low-intelligence just hadn't seen what he could do with a sneaking suspicion and next to no info. (He took after April that way!)
"Don't hit me, bro! I know what I'm doing!" Mikey tried hard to appease.
Raphael sneered. "A baby store?" he growled, gesturing around at the little hole-in-the-wall establishment. "Ya gonna encourage dis?!"
"Bro, we need Leo back, but we need his head in the game!" Mikey hissed his reasoning. "He needs a clean conscience, dude!"
Raphael's nostrils flared, but he cracked his neck and remained where he was. "N' what's dat mean, 'xactly?"
"Just abandoning a sick baby ain't gonna fly!" Mikey was sure. "I'll get him to go with the hospital plan. We'll leave it in a carrier, in some cute onesie, with a name scribbled on the back." Raphael wasn't sure he bought that. "He's gotta be able to tell himself 'I did my best and this is the right thing to do.' You read?"
Raphael straightened and contemplated this. He eyed Mikey for a long moment before huffing, neither approving nor strictly approving, but at least acknowledging. "Hurry up," he growled, and turned about to leave and keep watch.
Mikey heaved a tremendous sigh, turned about, and was startled by the big, picture-heavy, 'All About Your Newborn!' books perched on top of the display tables.
Cue dramatic comic panel angle...
Mikey bolted for the books, snatching one up and running a thumb through the table of contents. Colds, colds, colds, colds... Blah blah blah, consult your doctors—ha! Snerk! Haha!
Their little one was very weak.
By the time dawn was threatening on the horizon, she was as quiet as she'd been the night they'd found her. All the energy she'd amassed over the past two days looked utterly spent, and Leo even had to wake her up for mealtimes, stroking her face to send her hunting for that bottle tip. She'd taught him crucial information about what was 'normal' prior to taking ill, and now it all seemed up to him.
Leo channeled his thoughts away from morbid things, and away from the sleep-deprived dream and/or vision he'd endured.
An early, fast-moving set of footsteps surprised him, and he stood and drew his katana partway from its sheathe before concluding this was Michelangelo approaching, and that his breaths did not sound fearful.
"I got some stuff!" Orange gushed as he bounced into their shelter. "How is she?"
"Her fever has worsened," Leo admitted, sheathing the sword, "and I had to unpack the swaddling to cool her down a little. Where is Raphael?"
"Rooftop," Mikey waved. "I know how to make her presentable for the hospital! Please tell me we're going to take her?"
Leo stiffened. "I've decided against it."
"What?" Mikey stopped mid-motion. "Yo, she's sick! What are you thinking!?"
"She's been in the care of humans once before," Leo dismissed.
"That's why I said the hospital, dude!" Mikey fought back. "Holy shit, stop being selfish about this!"
"Selfish!? Do you not think I realize she might very well die in my arms?" Leo rounded on his brother with a sharp growl. "It's all I've had to think about all day! I am well aware! But in the age we live in, she is just as likely to die of neglect in an over-crowded and ill-sanitized inpatient room that hasn't been properly washed, renovated, or staffed in a decade! If she must die, let it not be unwanted or alone!"
Mikey cringed momentarily before bouncing back into Leonardo's personal space to reveal with this argument was really about. "Raph doesn't want her, Leo! At all! You're kinda abusing executive privilege over him right now, cause he still says no!"
"And what about you?" Leonardo pressed, sure his youngest brother still had a heart. "Do you not like her!?"
"Liking something is completely different from taking care of it!" Mikey snarled right in his face. "She's not some pet! She's not gonna be an adult by the end of the year! Meanwhile she's taking one of the world's best ninjas completely out of the game! The Foot should have lobbed babies at you a long time ago; She's been more effective at keeping you down than armies, missiles, and a gruesomely efficient blinding!"
"Michelangelo," Blue scowled in reproach.
"No! No, I'm fucking PISSED at you, bro!" Michelangelo detonated on him, startling the baby. "I don't like you screwing with us and what we have going on! I hate it! You want someone to need you this badly?! Don't you realize we both already need you!? Your brothers need you! Your family needs you! Us!"
Leo flinched backwards, his eyes widening. Then the baby burst out sobbing, misusing energy she ought to have been conserving. Alarmed, Leo rapidly tried to recapture his balance, partition away his shock, and rock her. She wasn't entirely convinced by him, but quieted down to wrinkle her face at the universe.
"... But you know what?" Mikey unexpectedly continued, quietly. "I'm not gonna take it out on Chicken Nugget, and I'm also not gonna let you kill her." He set down the 'basket' he'd been carrying, and drew out something. "Hold this."
Leonardo winced at the barb but then blinked, lifting a hand an accepting a strange rubber implement that felt a bit like some kind of squeaky toy. "What is it?"
"A nasal syringe," Mikey growled as he opened up their first-aid kit and fished for a bottle. "The book said to drip saline solution into her nostrils to break up the mucus, and then use the syringe to suck it out. That way she's not constantly drowning herself while she's eating."
"Book?" Leo whispered. "Mikey, where did you go?"
"Just shut up and don't let Raph see any of this," Mikey whirled on him and stalked back over to prod forcefully at his plastron. "He only let me get away with going into the store because of the hospital plan, so I got her a carrier and an outfit, but then the book said she can't go above a hundred point four degrees and to use a rectal thermometer for accurate readings, so after I stopped laughing hysterically—"
Leo threw an arm around Michelangelo's bad shoulder, grabbed the lip of the shell, and dragged his littlest brother to his side, crushing him there and pressing their foreheads together. Michelangelo tensed up as if to push away, before partially collapsing into the embrace and shuddering violently. Leo cringed, confused by why his little brother seemed emotionally vulnerable. He threw an arm across the back of Mikey's neck and the lip of his shell, squeezing him as close as he could without turning to face him head on. The baby sputtered, flustered.
"Thank you," Leo murmured fiercely into him. "Thank you for not leaving me—or her—alone...!"
"Fuck you Leo," Mikey sniffled just as fiercely, glued to him with one hand curling reassuringly around one of the baby's arms. "You and Raph are the ones always trying to leave."
I feel like if this was an elementary school class, we'd be putting a bunch of gold stars next to Mikey's name right now. I mean I'm not 100% clear what we're grading him on, but I'm sure about the stars.
Chapter 11: Irony
Okay Raph, put your try-hard face on. It's time to take Leo on!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Tension in the shit-hole they called a 'lair' was already hot before Raphael even ducked inside. Michelangelo was stubbornly wiping at his face and ignoring Leo, like some kind of serious tantrum had been let loose and Leo had just sealed up and gone stone-faced and unlistening through all of it.
Raph sneered and shook his head. Then he padded over to lean down and get a better look at Mikey. Surprised him for a moment when MIke just stubbornly glared away from him.
He doesn't want ta be ammo in a fight.
Raphael leaned back on his heels and took in a slow deep breath. Yeah. That's fair. Raph was wound up, and clearly Leo wasn't snapping back to his senses any time soon, and the air was ripe for a fight. But ain't your responsibility to be Peacekeeper, Mike. It's ours. It's on our shoulders to work shit out. He touched his little brother's shell.
Orange had watched Fire and Ice try to walk away from one-another before, on days when they were both their very different definitions of fed up; One of them acting like he was better'n than them; One going full alpha dinosaur stomping tantrum. Hell, hadn't Leo and Raphael threatened something to that effect less than a minute after finding that damn kid? A fight? Like it was okay to just give up, to leave family behind; Like they weren't all in the same ugly-ass boat together; Like they didn't need and rely on one another for everything; Like the Hamato Family had the luxury of growing apart.
Let's try this Mikey's way.
"He's right," Raphael said, straightening to look at their elder brother. "Mike's right, and I weren't the one who put 'im up to it. He asked me ta come home slow, so I wouldn't screw anythin up."
"About what?" Leo asked him, still feeding that godforsaken pink lump he was serving as an organic pram for.
"You're thinking with rose-tinted lenses, Leo. Only so many reasons a person abandons a baby," Raphael reasoned. "Could be drugs, could be AIDS. Red Light girls can have nearly anythin swimmin in their bloodstreams. Point is: You dunno what the fuck was up with her ma. Kid could be on a timer, in need of serious medicine."
If he'd expected Leo to cringe up a bit and look decently guilty, that wasn't what happened. "Medicine is expensive," he answered quietly. "With the city as it is, I don't think she'd receive specialized care for free. But," his voice turned sardonic, "thank you for your concern, Raphael."
Red shrugged, keeping his cool. "Is it not worth at least tryin?"
"I am convinced she only has the flu," Leonardo answered, patiently, patronizingly.
"Which, if mem'ry serves, can snowball into pneumonia."
"Raphael, handing her over to the mercy of literally anyone, without much hope they'd do a better job than I, would make me no better than the last person who abandoned her."
"Ain't true! Leavin' her at a hospital or group home or even a random old beggar lady ya find on the street, ain't the remotely same as buryin' in her in a trash bag out in the back alleyway! You've already done your part by just savin her life. S'time ta hand her over to someone whose actual job it is ta take care of sick babies. You're a ninja. And even if ya wanted ta spontaneously retire, do a one-eighty, and change careers, ya can't. Cause you're a mutant, a freak, and ain't nobody gonna let ya run a foster home. Hell, you can't even keep a home; People are weekly tryin ta kill ya. The second they know you got a weak spot, they gonna aim straight for it."
"You make a very compelling and well-reasoned argument, Raphael," Leo admitted.
Damn straight I 'ave.
"But you greatly underestimate both my resourcefulness and my awareness of your ulterior motives."
FUCK. YOU. LEO.
Raphael snarled, "That's as good as saying 'I ain't gonna listen ta a word that comes outta ya mouth, Raphael, cause it ain't what I wanna hear!'"
"No," Leo 'glanced' towards him. "If I believed you cared about her well-being, even just for my sake, even if your sense of justice has otherwise shriveled to naught but reactionary violence, I would feel more comfortable—"
"And what if I'm fuckin' right!?"
"—working as a team with you to research the circumstances of her birth and scout out reputable organizations or acceptable adoptive parents to place her with. As it is, Raphael, I cannot trust you with her safety, nor take your 'advice' with anything but the utmost suspicion."
Raphael advanced on him, fingers clenched, arms shaking, livid.
He saw Leo smooth a hand back to the hilt of his katana, like doing so was subtle.
('I don't trust you.
with her safety')
Wounded and enraged beyond words, Raph spun around and stalked out of the shelter.
"Leo..." Mikey whispered. "Leo!" He spun back towards the interior of the enclosure. "He's gone...!"
"I can no longer hear him nearby," Blue confirmed worriedly as he stood up and came over to stand beside Michelangelo. "He's gone?"
"It's day," Mikey breathed. "Is he insane? You barely even argued with him! All our complaints about how Nugget's so dangerous to us, and he just-?" He gestured helplessly out towards the ghetto streets.
After a very long silence, Leo summarized the situation perfectly: "Shit."
The sun was already high when Raphael dragged finally himself back to their pitiful excuse for a home, sweaty, hot, shaking, gross, and miserable. He dropped down to ground level and shuffled inward to find that his brothers were sleeping, but that all three sets of bedding already laid out: Blue, Red, Orange.
He scoffed bitterly, but then grimaced, pulled his trench coat off, and stumbled past loose items to drop to his knees upon his futon and collapse forward with a heavy (and somewhat satisfying) thud.
Raphael expected to be out almost as soon as his head hit the mat, but that wasn't what happened. Not a split second later, Leonardo gracefully sat up and twisted around to look at him. Raph sneered.
Go on. Spin up a lecture. Bombard me with questions. Where was I? Was I seen? Why do I reek of alcohol? What the fuck did I think I was doing? Am I completely retarded? Have I lost my goddamn mind?
"Mikey," Leo whispered, which swiftly revealed that Brother Number Two hadn't been asleep, either. "Blood."
"I don't see a wound. Twenty bucks says he was punching concrete again," Michelangelo grumbled as he got out of bed and started reaching for things. "See if you can get him to give you his hands."
"I'm fine," Raphael snarled, trying to pull his arms protectively under himself where neither of them could see or reach.
"Oh, I don't think any of us are ever entirely 'fine,' bro," Blue murmured with unexpected softness, stroking coaxingly up and down his shoulder and bicep, and finally tickling him under the arm where his ribs met his plastron. Raphael squirmed and cussed haphazardly before finally tilting to the side and reluctantly relinquishing first one arm and then the other. Leo pulled them out for inspection, gently uncurling fingers to grunts and winces.
"He break anything this time?" Mikey asked as he leaned over Raphael's shell with a hot rag. "Phew. I've got the Betadine, here. Hey, don't hiss at us, dude! We aren't the ones repeatedly 'mistaking' rocks for punching bags!"
He wasn't hissing at them, he was pissed at himself. His fingers curled needily against the skin of whoever was cleaning his knuckles out. Fuck. He'd laid down with the wrong side of his head facing up, and couldn't see them right now. Maybe that was best. Meant they couldn't see the only functioning tear duct. Fuck.
Raphael was really only ever okay when he could feel them both against him like this. Hell he didn't even care Mikey was such a goddamn snuggler; It was the only excuse for why they sometimes ended up smashed against Leo, who'd otherwise hide from physical contact on the far edge of his futon. Leo was absolutely not a snuggler. Maybe Raphael secretly was. God, how much had he drank?
"One of us is gonna have to keep watch to make sure he wasn't spotted," one of his brothers muttered. "This is more than a few cups of sake past tipsy."
"There are cuts across the shoulder, and they don't look self-inflicted. He's been in a bar fight."
"What!? That's why we couldn't find him!? It's noon!"
"Well, seeing as he'd have caved skulls in before successfully injuring his hands this badly, I assume a wall was indeed punched somewhere along the way. But this up here was from a broken bottle. Of Budweiser, I think."
"Budweiser?" Pause. "Well at least he was at some hella shady dive. Most of the big gangs still got culture wars rules in place."
"Small mercies. Can you see if there's any glass fragments still in it?"
Orange clambered more on top of him. "Oh. Yup. Good catch." A hot rag was draped across his bicep. "Say, would you kindly pass me the tweezers, Doctor Hamato?"
"Of course, Doctor Hamato, I have them right here. I dare say, might I also interest you in a sturdy, reptilian-proof, surgical-grade, pre-threaded stitching needle?"
"Oh, indubitably, Doctor Hamato. I'll do this first and be right back with you in a jiffy."
"Why, carry on, Doctor Hamato, carry on. I shall prepare the gauze in advance."
Raphael heaved out something between a snicker and a sob. He felt both his brothers pause to touch wordlessly and reassuringly at his head and cheek, in a way he absolutely didn't deserve. It was the last thing he was conscious of before passing out.
And the aware for most self-destructive and self-loathing of the Hamato siblings goes to...!
Chapter 12: Hesitant, Soft
What Raphael calls a speakeasy is most probably an illegal, well-hidden club or bar that serves bootlegged alcohol. The term originated in the prohibitionist period of the 1920s. This is partially confirmed by his choice in beverage.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Red woke up to a mild hangover and the sound of city coyotes howling to celebrate the coming dusk, and found himself smashed between his brothers. Mikey was glommed around his shell with an arm thrown up over his side, and that was sorta normal; but Leo was sitting right up against the both of them, resting an elbow on a raised knee and holding a naked katana protectively between them and the entryway.
It took a moment for Raphael to register Leo was on watch duty because of him, and because he'd passed out without saying much, and there was every reason for his bros to worry he'd led home trouble.
"How are you feeling?" Blue greeted.
Raphael wasn't gonna complain. Through headache and nausea, he got his freshly bandaged hands on the mat and slowly propped himself up. Mikey made inarticulate noises in the back of his throat, but didn't actually wake up. "M'fine." He sat himself down slowly, and rubbed his face with a forearm, and then chafed his knuckles together to feel the dull ache of them. "Thanks."
Leonardo didn't immediately reply. He didn't launch an inquisition. He didn't start any speeches. He asked: "Do you mind if I lay down, then?"
Raphael glanced over at him, and realized he nothing short of exhausted; There were even dark circles under his eyes, and Raphael felt like scum knowing he'd caused it. His gaze did flick down to the lump in Blue's arms ultimately responsible for all of this shit, but then he looked away altogether and nodded. "Yeah, go ahead."
Leo sheathed the katana and laid down facing them, inclusively.
Raphael ground his teeth, cause the lack of rebuke or questioning was giving him nothing to shove back against, or fight, or cuss at. "I'm sorry," he growled.
For a second he thought his older brother might already be asleep, but then Leo murmured, "We had no way to find you. We combed our surroundings for hours, hoping to find some place you'd gone to cool your head. In the end we had to trust you'd made it out safely, and that you'd make it back."
Raphael grimaced, rubbed at the back of his neck, and leaned back into the wall. During the fucking day. "What'd ya do with the kid?"
"Made a satchel for her out of her blanket and tucked her into my kimono. Michelangelo woke up twice after you were already back, because he'd nightmared April was calling him to say they'd gotten intel you'd been captured."
Guilt settled in hard. "How's... uh," he cleared his throat, "how's the fever?"
"...Like a war of attrition against an invisible enemy." The baby started moving, and though it didn't seem like much, Leo groaned a feeble, "Oh, I do owe you a bottle right about now, don't I?"
Raphael glanced over at where the kettle and bottle were sitting right beside his own elbow. The bottle already even had powder in it. "Wait," he interrupted with a touch at Leo's shoulder. His brother stilled hesitantly. "Yeah," Raphael reaffirmed half to himself, and then leaned over, poured the water, and passed the filled vessel and lid to Blue.
Leo took it, sealed it up, shook, and then offered it to the child with an accuracy that belied his blindness. Raphael looked away, gaze settling on the formula canister and the place Leo always set up everything for her ahead of time.
A clean conscience...
"Thank you," Fearless murmured uncertainly.
Red snapped out of his thoughts, and looked back to his neatly wrapped hands. "Sure thing."
Raphael might have been the one suffering from a hangover, but he'd clearly gotten more sleep than either of his brothers. Mikey, who was usually restless to get out and onto the city, stayed down hard for another hour. When he finally managed to wake up, he took one sleepy glance up at Raphael, blew a raspberry at him, and then crawled over to Leonardo and sprawled sideways across their pallets and over top of Blue's legs to make it impossible for Leo to reflexively roll away from him.
Middle Brother went to pick through their icebox for something to grill. Good food was standard procedure for making anything at all up to Mikey, and Leo had just gone days shut away on his own without his brothers around, so maybe some 'attention' from them was overdue. Even if it was Leo's own damn fault.
Yeah, whatever Raphael, keep focusin' on Leo fah that goddamn baby, so ya can pretend ya didn't wreck half a speakeasy without more'n a coat, hat, and scarf ta hide the green.
He did remember making it back to 'safe' turf, and setting up in a good stealthy lookout position, before wasting himself on truly disgusting bourbon. So maybe, in their ghetto neighborhood with its boarded up windows, he really had gone unseen just fine. But it wasn't clear at exactly what point in the middle his judgement skills had gone belly-up, so how much did he really trust himself? With Leo staying behind and alone every night?
Did he have any root veggies in here?
Plates of grilled carrots and chicken glazed in a pack of honey mustard sauce were enough penance for Michelangelo, who came awake like Frankenstein, with both arms (tch, but just one hand) held out to receive his food.
"Zombie Mike Smellsss Whiiteee Meeeattt..."
"Knucklehead," Raphael smirked as he handed over a plate. "Leo?"
"Mn," Blue propped himself up.
Raphael always cooked, if there was food. He'd successfully made dinner with a coffee can that had collected rainwater, a lighter, powdered gelatin, a half-finished can of stale mixed nuts, and the only part of a discarded ramen brick that didn't have mold on it. Because, ya know what? Mikey had been hungry. It wasn't like Raphael had many other ways of showing he cared. Thrashing enemy ninjas was something he'd do anyways just for kicks; Successfully turning garbage into an edible jello casserole that boosted morale on a really bad day had seemed the bigger act of heroism.
"So, uh," Mike prodded him in the leg with an arm stub, "on a scale of one to ten, exactly how screwed are we right now?"
"I was sorta careful," Raphael muttered. "We're scoutin' after we eat, see if anyone's sniffin' around."
"Oh we are? Yo, after that stunt, what makes you think I'm not in charge?" Mikey pressed.
Ha. "D'ya wanna be?"
Orange held his stare with an excellent poker face for just a sec, before snickering and ducking his head, and stabbing up another piece of chicken. "Nope!" he admitted through food.
Red smirked, but sat down apart from them, still feeling slightly in the doghouse. He listened to Mikey and Leo disagree without arguing with one-another. Mikey still wanted to bring her to the hospital. Leo didn't. Everything stayed low-key. Peaceable. Raphael didn't get involved, instead distracting himself with looking over the objects in their hovel. He didn't feel riled.
Raphael encountered the carrier which probably still factored into this 'hospital plan,' which Michelangelo had brought from the baby store. It had a wicker exterior and a cotton-padded and blandly upholstered interior, with a few things thrown on top. Raphael nudged it, and then reached in and picked up some green fabric from within and overturned it to see what it–
What the fuck, Mikey! Raphael grimaced incredulously, but then scoffed a little fondly at soft and nostalgic memories. Ya seriously picked out a Kermit the Frog onesie?
Michelangelo had done just that, complete with a hood with two big white frog eyes. Oh yeah, ya have dis whole hospital plan figuahed out, don't ya? Low blows and everythin. The tag on the back even had 'It's not easy being green' written on it. You said it, Kermit.
"What about April?" Mikey asked in the background over bites of chicken.
"Dude," Leo scolded. "The idea that April—the resistance faction leader—might know what to do with an abandoned baby just because she's a girl is not only unlikely, but also sexist. Her job is insanely difficult right now."
"Not what I meant! She's got the bird's eye view, bro! She'll know who can be trusted to bring lil Nugget where! We know where to dig up enough cash and robo parts for barter, I bet we could afford any medicine she needed! And it'd be one step closer to finding her some kind of home!"
Leo's silence meant he was thinking, but it might not have been the way Mike wanted him to. Raph tuned out. He didn't want to be mad at anybody right now.
In the rear of the hovel, Red stood up and leaned over the remaining baby supplies to count them. Not... curious, necessarily. Just poking his nose around. Yeah. He saw they'd gone through an entire pack of diapers already and started in on a second, and since they were labeled 'jumbo sized, 40 disposables' one had to wonder where Leo was putting the damn things. Forty of em? Seriously? Ten a day? Hnhh. The formula was lasting longer; Leo hadn't started into the second can yet.
Hey... Raphael remembered this brand of cold medicine. Geeze. Blast from the past. 'Made in New York.' No shit? Well then, welcome to da club, medicine company, ya survived. Imagined ya did shady shit the same as the rest of us. Wish we had an anonymous support group ta offer ya.
His brothers had picked up a pretty hefty stack of blankets; way more than one imagined so small a baby needed. That was fine. They'd probably need the cloth, whether for quilts or tailoring or whatever. He reached over and thumbed through them.
And got a kinda nasty surprise.
Well hello, Raphael, is that you deep down there under all that armored plating? Come out, please? Leo swears the baby doesn't bite. Please?
Chapter 13: How Ugly You Are
Well, looking at that chapter title, I have a funny feeling someone is about to disappoint me.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
"I think La Burrita Chicken Nugget is overdue for a third nickname," Leo remarked, interrupting their discussion of April, hospitals, and alternate adoption plans with something which took Mikey completely by surprise. "You know. For luck. Until she has a real name."
Wait a minute, Leo liked those names!? Well, if it was all in the interest of good fortune, how could Mikey refuse!? He leaned over her sleepy face, and found her to be awake with her warm brown eyes squinting open. "Can she be Cocoa Bean?" he wondered. "Is that what you are, Little Bean? Are you nummy nummy chocolate?"
"I think she should indeed like to be a non-meat product for a time. Raphael-?"
That was all the warning Mikey got before Raph suddenly whirled on them and lobbed a stack of blankets to the ground between them.
"Why?" Red snarled, oblivious to how Leo bristled protectively up around the baby again.
"Why what, dude!?" Mikey protested, because hello this was a delicate project here! He had a lot of work to do if Cocoa Bean was to get into better hands (and out of their own)!
"Why did ya two do this?" Raph almost looked more startled than angry. "Pick these?"
"Bro, we just grabbed shit and ran!" Mikey complained. "What's wrong with them? Got a pattern you don't like or something, huh?"
"You mean ta tell me ya didn't do it on purpose?" Raphael's upper lip curled as he glanced between them both, as if he wasn't sure he believed them. Little Bean mumbled and huffed in distress, but maybe if Raph didn't start yelling she wouldn't start crying.
Poor Leo started 'looking' through the blankets uncertainly, so Mikey gestured to their obviously guileless brother with both limbs.
"Hyello, Earth to Raphael? He's. Blind. It was pitch black. We're lucky we didn't grab home towels and floor rugs. What's even wrong with them? They've been here days already!"
It seemed to dawn on Raphael that whatever the hell they'd done 'wrong,' they obviously couldn't have done it on purpose. "Nothin," he grunted, and turned away. "Forget it." He rubbed his face, turned away, and ducked out of the hovel to go wash off his plate and, from the sound of things, use the 'bathroom.'
Mikey was a little nervous the hothead might just take off on them again, and waited to make sure Raphael planned to stay nearby. Neither of them knew what had set him off so badly the day before. "Man, what the shell is up with him?" Orange muttered. "We should be furious with him, and I've never seen you let him off so easy in our lives, and he's just... ugh!"
"I do not want to put her through the stress of listening to me become angry." Mikey looked back to Leo in surprise at that. Blue shrugged gently. "Could you look over the blankets?"
Michelangelo did. "Definitely no Foot insignia," he reported in. "Regular materials: just polyester or cotton, not even must variation in... color?" Mikey paused and turned the bundle sideways, and got out his phone to shine it on them. "Leo... they're purple. Like, all of em, even the one you've got her in right now. Purple flannel, purple polkadots, purple fleece, violet, purple, lavender, purple, violet, aaannnnd purple again."
Leo's pale eyes widened as he rattled off the complete list of fabrics.
"Musta gotten lucky and hit a girls' aisle, am I right?" Orange laughed nervously.
"What happened to the chocolates you set out last night?" Leo wondered aloud. "Did you clean them up?"
"What?" Mikey squeaked at the crazy topic change, before looking around quickly to find the little 'altar' he'd set up on a broken peice of rock in the back of the hovel. The candle had burnt away to nothing, but the surface was otherwise barren. Not an M&M to be seen. "Iiittt looks like the rats got them!" he laughed louder (and higher). "Cute little devils!"
"I see," was all Leo said before returning to his meal.
Michelangelo stared at Blue and the baby with wide eyes before remembering some of his own food was still going woefully uneaten. He shoveled it down, and reminded himself, repeatedly, that there was no such thing as ghosts.
There were no such things as ghosts. Cruel coincidences were just crueler mirrors, reminding you how ugly reality was, how ugly you were.
Raphael went to break a chunk of concrete, and only the tight feeling of gauze and bandages still around his busted knuckles made him pull the shot. Wasn't the pain he withdrew from; He didn't want to put his brothers through patching him up again. Unpleasant waves like grief, fear, paranoia, and nervousness crawled across his shoulders and under the carapace of his shell.
Bipedal hips and shoulders, proper knees and elbows, powerful clavicle bones and pectoral muscles, and abdominal muscles; these were the only reasons he or his brothers had been able to learn ninjitsu at all; but they were also things that made them human, derived from fragmented human DNA they'd contracted—like a disease!—cause of their exposure to the mutagen.
Their shoulder blades were under the shell—under the ribs—and right for a turtle. Raph had seen their skeletons by X-Ray before, and man that dense, mutagen-enhanced, and bullet-resistant shell dominated everything. They were turtles. Turtles. They had hard material called keratin in their skin which built up in rough patches of overlapping scales on their shoulders, legs, and outer arms. They didn't have a scrap of hair anywhere on them, they didn't have external ears or noses. Hell, they had tails.
But look at any of them from the side, and squint a little, and the tall, proud profile and upright head could be mistaken for a bald, discolored human wearing a shield across the back. The more-than-passing resemblance to 'real' humans was what let them slip by unnoticed in heavy enough clothing and bad lighting. Like 'real' ninjas, passing for laymen. And that was saying something, cause not one of them could have never passed for a 'real' turtle.
Raphael lifted up the concrete, threw, and roundhoused it. He wasn't drunk this time, and made contact with the target just right, and the feeling of it vaporizing into lime powder across the sweep of his heel was amazingly satisfying.
There were no ghosts, just ugly truths. Truths which Raph didn't like to have shoved in his face, but knew better than anyone they simply had to get over and deal with. The four of them—three now—were the only members of their own kind, and that number was never getting any bigger. They weren't human; humans saw them as freaks, monsters, vendettas, trophy items, and science experiments. Humans were slime who would sell them out in a breath for pennies, or take them apart for curiosity. He and his brothers had been hunted their whole lives, and always would be.
They shared some of that with lots of other mutants, some of whom were neutral or potential allies, most of whom Raphael remained appropriately suspicious towards (pfeh!), but none of whom were actually part of the same family. And that family was Raphael's priority.
And yet it was Raphael who had just gone and put them all in danger! Over nothing! God! Raphael spat on the ground. Fuck! In any other situation, the three of them would be picking up right now and moving camp. (And reaming him for being a hothead!) So why weren't they? The unspoken reason was very clear: Because of Leonardo. Because he was exhausted. Because of that little pink leech he'd fished out of a dumpster.
Another chunk of concrete went airborne.
(Because Raphael had just kept him up all day and night, worried out of his mind.)
Another chunk of concrete exploded into white dust.
'He needs a clean conscience.'
'He has to be able to tell himself this is the right thing to do.'
'The second they know you have a weak point...'
'I don't trust you.'
Then Raphael had to take care of things himself, and quickly, before his own mistakes caught up with his family, before the Foot could get word of a burly green dude in a trench coat and start methodically combing the nearby ghetto, and long before anyone had a chance to lay hands on either of the only two family members he had left. He'd keep them safe.
There weren't too many hours left of the night, but it was still enough to take a peek!
Raphael was subdued as the two of them carefully crept through the ghetto, keeping to the harshest shadows. In a neighborhood with no glass windows—just boards—it usually wasn't tough to go unseen. Sometimes people crept into and out of dumpsters, alleyways, and sewer entrances looking for warmth, shelter, or other refuse to eke out a living on. Anybody who could afford one of the actual houses kept the doors locked tight.
Quiet shanties had built up where once there had been streets, traffic, and life. The power grid was still up, and spiderwebs of jury-rigged cables sprawled out from poles, but only about a quarter of the street lamps still worked; the others had either burnt out, or been knocked out by rocks by delinquent kids. Kids who ran occasionally past in pitch blackness, quick as cats, off on drug or weapons runs, or intercepting runs, or passing info. Until they got old enough to 'earn' tabbards from one faction or another, it wasn't clear which were on what side.
Some parts of Shredder's 'kingdom' had been neat, militant, honor-bound utopias. Some parts had been paved over with white-washed factories, laboratories, and warehouses. Plenty parts had muddled on, pretending to be nice, middle-class neighborhoods while prostrating themselves before the letter of the law. Many, many other neighborhoods looked like this; Cluttered, dilapidated, third-world.
Leo had a partially collapsed wall, layers of fence and open ceramic sewer pipes, and a permanent car crash all occluding him from discovery, but right now they needed to keep a vigilant watch over routes to the hovel while simultaneously getting in position to listen to rumors and whispers.
"We're almost outta ramen," Raphael mentioned quietly when they ended up beside an old lady's 24-hour cardboard box grocery and newspaper stand, lit up almost entirely by the jury-rigged mosquito lamp buzzing away beside her radio. ('Succession wars continue to spread across most of the New York and Jersey territories, while most government posts stand empty-blah blah blah.') Mikey climbed carefully up onto a sturdier old window frame to keep lookout. Raphael unfolded a wad of discolored money, picked up a pack of noodles and a not-terrible head of cabbage, and paid.
Not all humans were bad, but it was totally understandable that most of them were perma-afraid of trouble. Course they were also too poor to keep providing groceries if the bros stole everything, so a turtle had to be careful about sourcing food. And though Mikey was a way nicer customer than Raphie, he also had trouble hiding his missing arm. Rumors could add up.
A street away, a kid who couldn't be more than eight went up to a nearby door to wait on a dubious package, wearing over-sized clothing filled with holes that had just been taped down with duct tape, and a moth-eaten and grease-stained baseball cap. Mikey took note, frowned, and then stared. The boy hopped about in place, eager to earn a buck, rubbing his hands together and breathing in to them to keep them warm. He had no future, but didn't know it yet. Feelings welled up in Michelangelo's gut, until one boiled out:
That will not be our Cocoa Bean.
Raphael got back and swatted him, startling him out of his distraction. "Numbnuts!" he hissed. Mikey squeaked, but Raph was in a forgiving mood. "C'mon, I wanna get some coyote bait. D'you hear em earlier?"
"Good call!" Last thing they needed was to add wild dogs to Little Bean's list of problems!
It's too bad I'm not writing with a third-person omniscient perspective like you do for cartoons. Otherwise we could pan to this:
Spirit of Donatello: *Narrows eyes suspiciously. Puts down book, watches brothers go past.*
Spirit of Splinter: *Sighs sadly for his most troubled child.*
Chapter 14: The Right Thing to Do
Raphael was calmer, now that the decision was made.
Their first night after the bar incident had gone just fine. No disturbances, no sniffers, no robots, no rumors; not from any side or anywhere else in multi-block radius around them. Raphael had explained the circuitous route he'd taken back home to Mikey, and when they got back he told both of them he'd saved most of his drinking for once he was alone. Even if, yeah, he had gotten in a fight before that. Genuinely sorry about that, actually.
"Ey, ey, Mike watch it. Don't let that touch the food."
"What else did you bring?" wondered their blind member. "It has a slight mustiness to it."
"Gonna scatter around poisoned bait for the coyotes so they don't get ballsy," Raphael explained. "Sorry for your nose."
"It's very, very faint," Leo dismissed with a wave. "I recognize it now."
"D'you think the rats will eat it?" Michelangelo was understandably concerned.
"Prob'ly not more'n one or two," Raphael figured. "After Shredder tried that stupid ten step program to rid the city of 'em, the crafty little bastards likely know what every poison on this whole bloody earth smells like." He reflected on that. "Might kill someone's poodle, though," he grinned a little cruelly at Mikey, who grimaced.
"As long as you clean it up," he told Raphael, who shrugged and headed out to bait the alleyways.
Leonardo wasn't wrong to assign them watch duty. There were enough hours of daylight for them all to get a decent amount of sleep. But of course Leo wanted to take the longest and central shift for himself, so Raph scoffed and leaned over to eye their eldest brother.
"Ya do realize you're the one who's gonna be on his own t'morrow?" he asked Leo.
"I'm not going to be out. You two need to be at the top of your game because–"
"–Yeah, shut up and listen fah a second," Raphael put a hand over Leo's mouth, getting a very startled and huffy Blue. "Neither me nor Mikey is the guy who has ta be able to hear a fuckin' Ninja ambush comin' for him; We ain't the ones hunkering down in a static, scoutable location."
Leonardo pushed his hand away. "Your concern is heartwarming, but I will be fine," he implicitly cautioned Raphael not to mention his disability.
"Really? Tell me ya ain't been napping while we're not here, then! The kid ain't givin' ya enough rest."
"Leave her out of this specific discussion."
"For fuck's sake, stop jumpin' down mah throat. Pretend I'm Donnie fah a sec." And then, because Raphael couldn't really imitate voices for shit, he went full throttle for girly lisp: "On the small handful of very specific days you're statistically most likely to get ambushed alone here, you should be tip-top shape." Mikey broke out snortling in pangs of laughter, and Leo's eyes widened. "Dat's all I'm sayin. Ya read?"
Leo frowned, but finally did seem to realize Raphael was speaking sense. Yeah. Thanks for noticin.
"Hey, Leo. What if I helped you?" Mikey giggled as he wiped his face of laughing tears. "I could stay up with the baby for the first watch, and then Raphael could wake me midway through his watch to get that last feeding in, and then you could stay up with her for last watch! You'll get eight hours of sleep to catch up on, and I'll still get six or so!"
Raphael raised a brow and looked from Mikey back to Leo.
Blue looked stiff and uncertain of himself. "You... would be willing to do that?"
"It's every two hours, right? Food and possibly a poop?" Mikey chirped. "I can do that! I've even got a phone to time it by! Raph? You'll wake me up right?"
"Uh. Yeah," Raphael decided, straightening up with a shrug. "No carapace off my shell."
They'd trapped Leo, who had no real choice but to give into their incredibly reasonable demands. Leo never liked that, never liked retracting an order he'd already carefully considered; Always glanced nervously about like he was sure he was failing in his duty if he second-guessed himself. That bit was probably Raph's fault; He challenged Leo all the damn time, even when he knew better, even when he just didn't like the best answer, and Leo had to be tough to tell him 'no.'
Leo finally took a deep breath and let it out in a long sigh, deflating slightly. "Very well. Thank you. Both of you."
"Yeah, thanks for agreein ta sleep. Idiot," Raphael sassed as he stood himself back up. "Now that dat's over, I'm the one with the split watch. So goodnight gentlemen."
He headed over to lay his bedding down and get some sleep, but paused as he saw Leo very hesitantly handing the baby over to a gleefully smiling Michelangelo.
"Er. Yo. You lovebirds wanna snuggle over dat thing, since ya sharin' it?"
"What?!" Mikey jumped with a confused expression, before suddenly laughing. "Look at poor Leo's face! Dude! Have you even put her down since we got her?!"
"Barely," Leo muttered with obvious agitation, rubbing his forearms together as if he wasn't sure what to do with his hands now that he wasn't holding a baby. "I've already grown accustomed to feeling her breathe." He reached for his futon and started unfolding it with completely unchecked body language that suggested he was nervous. Raphael calmly looked away, moved his own bedding down on the far side, and went to sleep there.
"D'awww," Mikey snickered sympathetically. "Don't worry dude, I got her, I won't let you down. D'you manage to unclog her nose again?"
"Yes, and she's eating again, but she's still very tired and weak," Leo muttered. "Pay close attention to her temperature, Mikey. If it spikes even for a short time-!"
"I've got it, I've got it, dude, chill...! Cocoa Bean will totally still be here when you get up!"
Leo didn't sound like he was entirely sure he wanted to go to bed without lecturing to death the person who was telling him to 'chill,' but what choice did he really have? Mikey was apparently the only person he could 'trust.'
Hands were clasped nervously over top of his arm, as if in prayer. "...Leo? Bro...? Please..."
A hand grasped his shoulder to shake him gently awake, and he blinked awake into a moment of disorientation during which omnipresent darkness made it ambiguous when exactly he'd woken up. Almost without exception, Leo dreamed in full color. Still, sometimes when half between worlds, he was left confused about whether someone might have been saying something to him just as he was coming-to.
"Your watch," Raphael chuckled with an unexpected and affectionate touch at the top of his head. "Man, you were out cold."
"Oh." Leonardo felt slightly bashful. He'd probably needed the sleep. He wiped at his face, and took a split second to feel over the floor with his hands to reorient himself. There was Mikey. He sat up and leaned over his sleeping brother, and gently felt for their newborn. Easy: Michelangelo had fallen asleep with her atop his plastron. Leo gingerly scooped her up and cradled her close to listen to her.
Was everything alright? Her smell, her breath, her temperature? She was warm, but the medicine was scheduled once every four hours, which meant she was coming due for another dosage. He touched her sleeping face, and felt an unexpected smile cross her lips. And then she pooped.
"Hey," Mikey whispered to Leonardo as Raphael prepared their coffee and tea with the kettle. "How'd ya sleep?"
"You need to learn how to diaper her appropriately," Leo chastised, before adding fondly, "but seriously, thank you. I needed that."
"No kidding, I think I need a diaper lesson!" Mikey snickered as he scooted closer. "But, um, sitting with her made me realize how sick she is."
"This can't continue," Leo admitted, "if the fever doesn't break soon, her strength will give out first. " Mikey did not immediately suggest anything, perhaps giving him compassionate solidarity instead. It gave Leo time to gather his courage up and hesitantly admit, "I liked some of your suggestions, about perhaps contacting April, for information, tips, advice. Perhaps we can get some help."
Mikey perked up. "With...out giving her up? You know, ya might have to compromise..."
"I... will try to make my best judgement based on whatever information we can get."
Mikey clapped his shell. "Well Big Red's not gonna wanna leave you here while we sniff around for her agents, and anyway we're short on time. I can try hacking wifi or telecom, but I might give up our location. Can you get Cocoa ready to move?"
"Yes, but you must bring me back one more thing: A proper poncho, preferably with adequate ventilation. It's going to storm."
"Really? Looks like open skies, bro."
"He smells it coming," Raphael drawled as he gave them their drinks, sipped his coffee, and stood up to go have a look at the darkening sky. If Cocoa got caught in a deluge with no way to dry her or warm her up, that would be the end of her. "Wrap ya boots, knucklehead. We need ta be fast if we wanna beat the rain ta an article of clothing."
When the two of them headed out, Michelangelo climbed quickly for the roofs, but Raphael lingered a moment at the entryway to the shelter. "You're good, right?"
"I am wide awake," Leonardo answered, and Raphael grunted and went to duck out. "Raphael?" Red paused and glanced back at him. "Thank you. For... The sleep. The coyote bait and so forth."
"Sure," Raphael replied with a startling lack of antipathy. "Was just the right thing to do."
Leonardo crossed his legs and eased their newborn down into the curve of his knee to cradle her. She gave a little garbled 'nyah!' to complain about his audacity in interrupting nap time, but then peered up at him with her eyebrow muscles flexing and un-flexing. First came the diaper change, during which she jerkily waggled her arms and legs, and kept him advised on just how much her own poo upset her. Then came her tiny dose of medication, drop by drop, with cleanly washed hands.
Next he he performed the mucus-extraction operation Michelangelo had taught him: one drop of saline, each nostril, and then suck out the slurry with the nasal syringe. She hummed and huffed and finally cried out and spat up some goo on her own. "Yoku yatta," he chuckled even as that was absolutely disgusting and required immediately cleaning. Oh Sensei, the things you must have gone through for us, he admired nostalgically. Far too many green-colored bodily substances, I'm sure. And that sounded twice as stressful when their father had actual fur to keep clean.
Once she was loosely wrapped back up in blankets again, and unfortunately already looking incredibly exhausted, Leonardo reached for the kettle and poured fresh warm water upon her buttery-smelling formula. Leonardo lifted the bottle and sealed it, and shook. "Oh don't you yawn at me, Little Bean," he murmured. "You need to eat."
He stopped on the third shake.
The smile drained off his face.
Blind eyes slid slowly to the bottle, dangling there in his hands, where powdered white formula could not be seen, but could be felt to swirl harmlessly, bit by bit dissolving into the water.
Leo turned the bottle upright, and unscrewed the lid, and breathed deep to see if it smelled sour, or otherwise like old or spoiled dairy. Nothing smelled wrong with it at all. Frowning, he twisted about and reached over to pull up the edge of her formula canister, prying it up to sniff the contents. As always, it smelled rather delicious. He sniffed at the canister, and he sniffed at the bottle.
A memory hit him, of Donatello growing suspicious towards delivery pizzas. Leo spun to his feet. He felt around till his hand landed on half-empty bag of coyote bait and small plastic tub. Leo pulled it out, and pried the lid off, and leaned over to smell.
Raphael had bought sodium cyanide—a fine, white powder with nearly no odor—under the pretense of poisoning the coyotes. He had seen where Leonardo had set the baby's formula out ahead of time. He had been the last one to touch the kettle that morning, while making coffee.
Raphael had put cyanide in the baby's bottle.
Leonardo would have never even known.
'Was just the right thing to do.'
Chapter 15: Taken for Granted
A 'honeypot trap' is a term for a fake network with relatively easy access which you use to try and lure unsuspecting hackers to.
The Eastern concept of 'face' basically translates to 'respect,' or 'honor,' or the first feeling other people get when you are mentioned in a conversation.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Michelangelo was not an incredible hacker. He wasn't logical. He wasn't patient. His 'Attention to Detail' had received a solid D- on its report card.
Worst of all, he didn't get much practice before real emergencies cropped up, because trying to tamper with the tightly controlled communications networks and 'intranets' permitted under the Foot Regime had always been extremely risky. But April had been and still probably was one of the better computer scientists and security experts in the nation, which was how she'd ended up working for Stockman all those years ago. When she'd offered to teach one of them about security, encryption, safe information transfer, and how to hack, Mikey had volunteered for a kinda personal reason:
All those times Mikey had bothered Donatello in the lab, and knocked and broken something, or dragged him from his computer to play a video game; Mikey owed him for all of it, and would pay him back as best he could, with this, with carrying the torch as best he could.
At first Michelangelo had gotten Raphael to build him a laptop. Raph could put together the parts of almost any device to make them work, and knew enough stuff about the low level 'firmware' (instead of software!) that made everything turn on and drain the right amount of power and play along nice with each other part. He told Mikey he'd learned it from putting together sensor systems with Donnie for his bike.
Later, when more black-market movement started opening up under the Foot's feet (doh-ho!), homebrew phones had become every hacker's instrument of choice. Which was good! Because Mikey had ended up a little shorthanded, eh-heh, and he could use a phone like lightning-fast.
Now Michelangelo had the software he needed to try and hack himself almost anything, gathered painstakingly from here and there, from The Resistance and from shady underground mini-clans, half-gangs, and queerly fanatical nerd collectives. (The V for Vendetta guys were always his fave!) Mikey also had the stuff he'd need to resist being hacked back. What he didn't know for sure was how any particular joust would go. He never had Donnie's surety, and now-a-days everyone's tech tended to be backwards and all-over-the-place, courtesy of social disorder as various forces fought to hold or take or heal the city.
So Mikey might be able to hack himself some wifi or broadband access, or he might not. His attempt might be waved away as nothing, or it might mean trouble. And if they realized a 'bogey' was trying to burrow into their network from just outside the building, they might immediately think 'TURTLES!' or they might think 'RIVAL GANG!' or they might not even have the energy to care at all. That was the sorta game you played when an already-dead regime was crumbling to cinders and everyone who wanted to be the next 'shredder' was sabotaging everyone else, all while trying to look totally calm and in-control.
Anyway, to the present: If Mikey wanted to try and make contact with April, he needed to get himself into someone's telecommunications, and he'd have to do it before this rain that Leo promised could come, so he needed to select a location and a method from all his available options, and get cracking. Er, hacking. Whatever!
But no sooner had he prepped his phone for action than he saw a full strength signal was being provided under the name Viva La Resistance!
No way. Had to be a honeypot trap, right?
"Something's going down," Raphael interrupted his train of thought with something that turned out to be highly relevant. He was standing up tall on the building and gestured with a hand. "You hear that boom? That's not normal gunfire. That's a tank, ain't it?"
"Naaaw, no faction would deploy heavy weapons this far out into the open... Would they? They can't afford it." But the booms cracking from across the cityscape, litters of gunfire and distant shouts, and glows of red suggesting fire, suggested there was a serious fight going on. He perked up, curious. "We checking it out?"
"We need ta stay near enough ta home in case there's an emergency," Raph muttered, not pleased at all by that limitaiton (but honestly he could suck it, because he was the one who'd gone out drinking in the middle of the day).
Michelangelo looked back at his phone. Okay, here it goes. On a leap of faith, he jumped that cellular signal.
Welcome! We have captured the old library cellular tower, and have militarized the zone around it for four blocks! Steer clear, and attempt to evacuate the surrounding area if you have small children or elderly! We anticipate heavy retaliation from the gangs which have stolen this city from us, but we are determined to make our stand and prove their power is waning! We cannot guarantee to you we will succeed this time, or the next, so gather all the information you can which has been kept from you! Remember: Do not trust this signal or any other until the day our city stands free, so that the trickery of the gangs cannot impersonate La Resistance or harm you! Do not transmit personally identifying information! Stay off social networking sites! Assume all connections are insecure!
"It's them!" Mikey blurted. "That's a Resistance army unit holding its ground out there, bro!" This was exactly the kind of fight that screamed for Turtle action! "The gangs musta briefly allied and moved in to try and crush them because they captured a cell tower! I'll bet they're trying to blow the tower down ASAP to save face!"
"Do you have internet?" Raphael suddenly realized, spinning towards him.
Michelangelo had been just about to head for the only search engines that had worked in this goddamn part of the country for years, but on instinct wondered if The Resistance had copied an external DNS. He typed in www.Google.com.
"Oh. My. Sweet. Ancestors." Mikey showed Raphael. WE HAVE LA GOOGLEZ." It had been about fifteen years of Michelangelo's life since he'd seen that beautiful and oh-so-simple blue, red, yellow, and green banner. Sometimes, he'd dreamed about it.
"Well hurry up!" Raph laughed scoldingly at him. "Ask it the answers to life, the universe, and everything! How the fuck do you make mozzarella!? Fuck Shredder and fuck the Foot for outlawing cheese!"
Holy shit did Mikey have a lot to Google! Was there someone on the other side keeping a giant repository of all the best memes half the country had missed out on over the last decade and a half of terror!? How had Lost ended!? Had Megan Fox's career ever recovered!? Who had won the World Cup the last decade!? Was Eating Super Fast an Olympic Sport yet!? Were Chezbrgr Cats still a thing!?
'Italian baby girl names with meanings,' was what he swiped across his keypad, and an internal voice squealed in horror and delight! Okay, okay, he'd just look for something very simple. Nothing crazy like their names! No painters! What about a name that just meant something totally simple, like 'girl' or 'lady' or 'beautiful'? Oh god, oh god, oh god, look at all the results he had! He tapped away like a maniac, and then tried to search in page.
'lady' he typed, and the webpage jumped down four letters.
Dona, Donna (f): A lady, particularly of noble birth or high status.
Donata (f): A gift. Feminine of Donato.
Donatas (m/f): One who is helpful; One who lends or needs a helping hand.
Donatella (f): A gift (from above). Diminutive of Donata. Feminine of—
Michelangelo dropped his phone. He tried to catch it with his opposite hand, and failed for obvious reasons, it hit the ground and clattered so the screen faced down. Mikey blinked vacantly, one hand still in front of him, contemplating his screen protector and phone case and wondering if he had just—again—destroyed a device he depended on daily for music. He must have been incredibly out of it, because Raphael had time to jump down, come up beside him, lean over, and pick up the phone.
"What the hell spooked you?" Raphael wondered.
Mikey reached feebly up towards him, but Raph had already turned the phone around and beheld the (still alive!) screen. "Don't throw it," Orange begged. "I didn't know that's what would come up. Please, I didn't-"
"Shit happens," Raphael muttered darkly as he handed the phone, intact, back to him. "Just reminds you what you have left to lose. Let's leave the humans to fight their own battles, and circle back around the ghetto to make sure we ain't got problems crawling up our own tails." There would be no turtle heroics today, not on behalf of non-turtles. And no more joyful googling either, it seemed.
Mikey clutched the phone to himself and staggered to his feet.
Water splattered on his phone, and he looked up just in time to hear the crack of thunder overhead. Oh boy. He swiped away his internet browser and quickly brought up a communication app. Time to send a quick encrypted message and pray the other end was still operational.
The rain came down and it came down hard. It came down like someone had upended an ocean on them through a salad spinner, just a sheer gray curtain of rain that stretched everywhere. Michelangelo and Raphael were turtles, but cold rain in autumn could give one of them Cocoa's flu, so they made use of the ponchos they'd pilfered as they bolted, slipped, spun, and hopped their way home.
"Leo! I got a message through to April!" Mikey called as they neared the hovel. "She transmitted back meeting coordinates with all the right codes, we're set! And best part is, we might be able to—"
Raphael had paused right in the threshold, which kinda made it difficult for Mikey to get inside and HELLO it was raining out here! But as Mikey elbowed his way in beside Raphael, he beheld a quietly changed interior:
The large duffel bag which Raphael had used to transport so much food back from the superstore was gone. The wall of diapers, cans of formula, bottle, and medicine were missing. Only two rolls of futon bedding sat in the rear. An extra change of clothes and certain neatly wrapped personal possessions were missing.
"No," Mikey breathed, staggering a disbelieving step inward and looking around the tiny space in search of all the missing items (and the missing people). "Did the Foot actually get the drop on him?"
"There's no sign of a struggle, Mikey. The Foot wouldn't have packed up all the baby shit, or cared what futon was his." Raphael's voice was dark, monotone, dead. "Leo ditched us."
... That's not the word I would use, Raphael.
Chapter 16: Intermission: Eye for an Eye
This is an intermission chapter.
We're going a few years into the past, to take a peek at a time when one of our turtles was being held captive by a paramilitary clan of street thugs subordinate to the Foot regime. The clan is called 'The Red Lions.'
Think of it as a flashback.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Intermission: Eye for an Eye.
Some years ago...
"You fuckers can't even be the ones ta kill me," the battered terrapin laughed tauntingly, as if his face weren't already crusted with blood and swelling with fresh bruisers. "I'm worth too much."
The Red Lion Lieutenant smirked and then nodded to one of his thugs. The next punch hit with a loud crack—had to, the bastard's skin was thick—and threw the turtle's head to the side. But the turtle they called 'Raphael' didn't yelp or scream, he just laughed louder.
"Call up the Foot already!" he boomed, voice irksomely commanding when he was less than a prisoner—when he was just chattle. "The fuck ya think ya can do ta me that I ain't done ta myself for fun?" He spat. "Bloody tired of waitin'!"
"Oh you're 'worth' a lot, mutie," the Lieutenant sneered. "Trouble is, Shredder tends to pay in prestige. Some of us, we like colder, more tactile things than dat." He rubbed his fingers together. "Cash comes to mind."
"Zhat supposed to scare me?" Raphael grinned. Like he wasn't currently in the middle of an enemy base, deprived seven days of food and three of water. Like he hadn't been sleeping tied up in his own shit and piss, with the rats gnawing on the edges of him. Like he didn't have his arms bound behind himself in chains, with six men holding him down. Like those six men were a badge of honor.
"And some of us, well..." the Lieutenant continued, "we just like our kicks, and you owe us a bit of payback."
"Bring it," the turtle taunted.
"You don't understand your situation yet, mutie, so I'm gonna explain just for your benefit. First of all, you ain't a prisoner to us, a'right? You're just a really big, ugly, fat cow. So first up: Boys? Gag him. Cause animals, ya know, they can't talk."
Something vulgar came out in a roar, but between an entire army of men and just one turtle, the turtle lost. They pried open his jaws and got wadded cloth and leather between them, muffling and partially joking that wide mouth.
"Right. Next part of the plan I'll keep sayin' aloud, even if, ya know, animals can't understand." The Red Lion Lieutenant came closer, grinning. "But that's just us humans, we keep talkin to the stupid things anyway: Dogs, cats, cows. You're a bein a good bull right now anyway, ain't ya?" Green eyes stabbed up at him, and nostrils flared. "So back to what I was saying: We're gonna sell you, that's right, but we're going to do it in six pieces." Realization didn't dawn fast enough on that furiously angry face, so the Lieutenant clarified. "That's right. We've got six separate buyers, who all want a chunk of you. The most important of them's the Foot, but you're a hardy bastard, ain't ya? You can take it, right? And we won't cut anything you need. It's not like the Foot are going to care whether they get a bull or a steer, right?"
There it was: a flicker of understanding. But much to his fucking disappointment, the turtle didn't get scared. At least he got mad! And boy did he get mad, lunging into the hold of the men like he had a chance in hell of escaping, growling and croaking audibly, eerily, through the gag.
"Right." That would be enough. He turned away "Boys, get him on the table."
Bestial, muffled roars and snarls echoed as the thugs hauled their 'cow' along. The turtle fought so hard he managed to cause them some difficulty, and when it became clear he might temporarily drag some of them back a step and embarrass them in front of their boss (how fucking strong was this thing!?), one jammed the butt of a gun hard into his chest armor over the solar plexus. It did enough to wind him with all that food deprivation helping them along. They got him up onto the old carpentry table, clamping down chains with bolts and vices, and then leaning on the captured limbs to make extra sure there would be no escape.
They'd had enough casualties at the hands of these freaks.
"That rotary saw ready?" the Red Lion Lieutenant inquired almost innocently as he fetched a small metal implement, and across the room one of his subordinates depressed on the previously unnoticed machine's trigger with an ominous ZZZWWWWWVVVV!
The Red Lion Lieutenant looked behind himself, and grinned. That sound had been what ultimately got the turtle's full attention.
"Awe he's scared." The Lieutenant slipped around the carpentry table, and walked along it. Green eyes flamed towards him, and a low and 'dangerous' rattle worked its way vainly out. "I thought you were the badass of your little freak 'team,' hot shot? That could you handle anything anybody could throw at ya?"
"D'aww, you poor, dumb, animal, of course you're scared. You can't understand a word coming out of my mouth, can ya? Must be my sentimentalism, wanting you to heard the reassurance in my voice. You're gonna be just fine, cause Shredder wants you alive." He traced a gloved finger over the prone body and naked yellow scutes, "But, see, your body makes mutagen, and mutagen is the stuff everybody wants right now, the stuff everybody's scared of, everybody wants to control. And there's a couple parts of you which you don't need. Kidney? Half a liver? Balls? Yeah, those are no use to ya. A smart guy can take stuff like that out and put in suspension fluid, and ship it off to a lab to make more of that slimy liquid green gold. Am I right? Now that would be a small operation on a normal cow but, trouble is, you're a freak a nature and got all this thick armor in the way," he gave a scute a hefty pat. "So we gotta do something about that.
"And don't worry about us, this armor'll probably never heal once we're done with it, but do you think the Foot cares how pretty you are? Nah, just that you're alive. And—apparently—you think you can survive anything. So you better not jump or twitch or, ya know, we might accidentally cut a little too deep."
No growl came this time. The Red Lion Lieutenant grinned.
"First thing's first though. You see this?" The Lieutenant lifted a hand and traced a scar over his own face and his useless left eye. "This was a shuriken, courtesy of one of your freak brothers. And before we manage to get them down on this table too, I wanna send em a gift ta scare em a bit, let em know how royally they fucked up. So let's see that ugly face of yours, cow." He raised up the small, metal teaspoon he'd fetched. "I think that bright eye color'll of yours'll be pretty recognizable, don't you?"
The turtle obviously did not play along quietly. So the Lieutenant waived over more men, and had them grab hold. Even then, he was one hell of a tenacious bastard, and they eventually ended up pulling his head back in a noose and playing with suffocating him. What was the danger? They had defibrillators on hand.
Eventually the spoon went in. And the spoon came back out.
The turtle made the lowest, most satisfyingly mournful groan, and the Lieutenant knew exactly why: The second that eye had come out, there went with it all depth perception. Forever. He'd never aim, throw, or jump straight again. It was already over, with that one tiny implement and that one tiny injury. No need for missing limbs or major stab wounds, just that one... little... thing.
Man, he was going to treasure this moment for a long time. "Good. Cauterize it." The hiss and smell of burning flesh didn't elicit another cry, just a violent twitch, because of course it didn't matter the way the missing eye had. "Get the saw over here! We're on a time table, remember. Pile on the bastard; he's not going to get out of this by tryin ta cut an artery—"
Black gas spilled into the room.
Death came for them all, quiet and swift as the sound of raven wings, as they screamed and shouted to one another. They couldn't see, and they knew their enemy also couldn't see, and that was their fundamental misconception about the fairness of the match-up. They did not even have enough time to suppose they were under attack by large numbers, nor begin to hamper one-another by mistaking each-other for foes. Death simply covered the chamber in one quick circle, and then everything was quiet.
One by one, the vices loosened. A rotary saw came to life, soliciting a terrified jump, but then its blade was obliterated as it was put to use cutting all of the chains. When it remained too dull to cut the last shackle, a bolt-cutter was found among the surrounding tools to finish the job.
It took that long before Raphael managed to talk without vomiting. "I'm not like you." His voice cracked. "I can't—"
Warm, three-fingered hands clasped his face, smoothing over eyelids and injury. Raphael nearly swooned. Not enough to eat. Not enough to drink. His skull felt inflamed, and bright flashes were sparking up where the eye had been. "You do not need to be," came a familiar voice, calm and nearly monotone. "You are not blind." Then hands moved around his head, and Raphael felt the touch of cloth. He realized Leonardo had found his mask and was giving it back and tying off the tails.
"I-I..." So much had just happened. So much more had been about to happen. Nerves tingled along abdominal muscles beneath threatened plastron scutes. Leo gave him some water; Raphael grabbed numbly at the bottle, sloppily imbibing some.
"Michelangelo is clearing our way out. Can you walk?"
Red had possessed the strength to nearly out-wrestle six men. Now his limbs were leaden, and he wanted to collapse. In all the times Raphael had ever been helpless, nothing had ever been intimately vulnerable in this same way, with strangers' hands on his body as they called him an animal, an object, and talked casually about all the things they were gonna pull out of his body and bottle.
Silence echoed between them for a moment. Then Leo suddenly grabbed hold of him and wrapped both arms tightly around him, filthy as Raphael was, and crushed them together. "I have you," Leo whispered, voice no longer calm or in-control as he pressed their foreheads together. "I have you, bro. I have you, and your gear, and your sais, and your mask, and I'm here. I'm so sorry I'm late, but I'm here. And if you want me to, I will compose an entire sonnet to describe the sheer titanic fervor of my wrath and grief," he snarled, "but it has to be once we are safe and we've been able to take care of you. Okay? Raphie. Please. Can you walk?"
His family had found him and come for him. No missing kidneys. No more starving. No broken armor. No saws. If anything, he just finally matched them.
"Yeah," Raphael huffed, and pushed himself up off the table. "Yeah. Give me a fucking weapon. I'mma need ta practice my aim stabbing out every fuckin' left eye I see."
Well that was nice.
Our regularly scheduled program shall resume with the next episode!
Chapter 17: Unhinged
We resume from Raphael's questionable assertion that 'Leo ditched them.'
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
"Leo wouldn't 'ditch' us...!" Mikey whimpered. He clenched his fingers through shivers, but then recalled how fiercely Leo had reacted to Mikey's help—Leo didn't want to be alone! Conviction strengthened Orange Turtle's voice. "He wouldn't have done that."
"Well he just did, Mikey," Raphael muttered as he went to rummage through his own things. He drew out a cigarette, but couldn't immediately find a lighter. He grabbed a spare. "Musta decided he didn't trust us not at fuck up that new 'project' of his, decided to go it alone."
"No, he needed and wanted our help," Mikey disagreed immediately, still trying to suppress panic and get his bearings. "W-we need to find him. He could be in danger."
"He's a big boy, Mikey. He'll find us when he wants to," Raphael muttered as he cupped the cigarette to light it. "If he ever wants to. Seems to prefer humans at the moment."
"Would you quit moping!? Mikey paced. "Leonardo doesn't just abandon people! Ever!"
"Moping? Pfft. Must be misremembering how he made us leave Splinter."
"Dad died for us, Bro! Why does every conversation with you have to cycle back through the same ancient history? You know, Leo's stalked off hissing that he 'doesn't need your shit' before, and sometimes he's made some serious mistakes, but aside from you, none of us are paranoid psychos! He would never in a million years have just walked out of our lives without so much as a–"
Michelangelo stiffened. Then he slowly turned his head, eyes widening, brows furrowed, mouth drawn in a line of livid rage. He stared back past his shoulder at his red-masked, self-destructive brother. Raphael raised a brow.
"What did you do? Mike breathed.
"Fucked up a bar," Raphael reminded him.
"No," Mikey turned on him, voice thick with barely contained rage. "Leonardo would only have left like this if someone had given him a reason."
Raphael opened his mouth to say something snide and tired.
Michelangelo lunged at him like a viper, slamming into him so hard and driving Red's shell into the side of the hovel with such a loud crack, flecks of water and dust burst out from the wall. "WHAT DID YOU DO!?" Orange screamed into his elder brother's startled and sneering face, his voice ragged. "WHY DID YOU DO THIS TO US AGAIN!?"
Raphael tried to push him off, which of course Raphael had every reason to expect ought to be easy; but Michelangelo dug his heels in, shoved one of Raphael's elbows away his own, shoved away the other using just his stub own stub, and grabbed the older turtle's throat. Michelangelo drove Raphael's shell back into the wall a second time.
"What did you DO, Raphael!? I forgave you, I trusted you, I took your side! What did you do to my family!?"
His brother's mouth slackened and his eyes widened, and then stared at him in numb and shaken silence for several seconds, as if searching for something. Then Raphael slowly dropped his arms, sank back into the wall, and half closed his eyes. "It was what you said about him needing to have a clear conscience."
Mikey stared. "What?"
"The poison wasn't really for the coyotes. It was white; you wouldn't have noticed it sitting on top of the regular powder. Slipped in the bottle he'd already prepped, just before we left. Causes respiratory failure, which in this case woulda looked like the flu. Nobody woulda blamed anybody. Coulda grieved a bit, had a little funeral or whatever, and gone back to normal, focusing on what's important: the safety of this family."
"You..." Michelangelo released him and staggered backwards."You killed her...?" Raphael slowly peeled himself off the wall, brushing off lime.
(Killed their dead brother's last gift to them?)
"Don't imagine he'd have packed up the baby gear if it was dead," Raphael muttered as he stooped to pick up his fallen cigarette. "Thought havin the bait already around th' house woulda tricked his nose, but he musta smelled it anyway. So now I guess that leaves us to bank on the flu. Unless you really do wanna try and track him down right now."
"Us?" Michelangelo breathed, face still blank and numb. "You want to kill your older brother's five-day-old baby, and somehow think I'm peachy keen with that?"
"Oh come off it, like you don't want it gone too? It ain't his problem, ain't our problem. He wasn't ever gonna give in to your plan. My way was ugly, but it was the only right thing left to do. By us or by it; this world's shit; death's a bless—"
Michelangelo went through what had happened like an adrenaline-rushed cut-scene in a video game with QuickTime events embedded at all the major action points, where you had to hammer key buttons to land awesome combos. No time to think, just time for waves of excitement at each next crazy stunt.
Like: crashing out into the heavy rain of the alleyway in a tangle of roars and limbs! He remembered every slick trick he'd learned for grappling with one limb reduced be half, all the holds he'd perfected and all the ways he'd learned to use his knees and feet. Winning an unfair fight? You didn't need all your limbs! You did need to be strong, but you didn't need to be the biggest, or smartest, or log the longest practice hours.
You just had to be out of your mind creative. A little bit insane.
A lot insane!
Nanchaku were flails, and his were condensed hardwood, and there were few things in the world reinforced just right to handle repelling that kind of collision; concrete broke and cracked open in plumes of powder if he missed, as his target tried to keep one step ahead of him, or twitched his head just far enough to the side, or attempted to hook the weapon in his cute little ninja forks. That was funny! Splash grit and water into his eyes with a foot!
Slam, slam, crackle, kick, slam, powder concrete, go for the face, go for the good eye with a thumb, with mud, with water; Hit aside the weapon, grab glass shards up with the toes, throw them as improvised weaponry; Kick, get him down, trip, pretzel, slam, wind, catch; Try to garrote with just the nanchaku, grasping the flail head with one knee; Fail (but who cares!?), pursue, disarm one sai, slam, lost the nanchaku (so improvise!)—powdered concrete and brick shells cracking into walls and metal!—scratches and the threat of implantation from upraised spikes of rusted steel rebar (Yoink!) dodged just in time, hit the head into the wall—
—Michelangelo woke up from his fervored button mashing, crouched half on top of his stunned brother, holding a sai upraised and already driving it down in an arc right for Raphael's throat, just to pinion him there and end it, and give them all the 'blessing' of another death.
Mikey pulled harder and faster back on the ark of the weapon, and the tip came hard down into Raphael's breastplate where the natural armor of the plastron was the thickest and could resist impalation. 'Crunch!' went the tip of the sai, and Raphael lurched and grunted hard in pain and surprise.
Michelangelo broke out howling in laughter, adrenaline and testosterone and madness vibrating in every nerve; He wasn't scared of himself, or of what he had almost done, he was exultant, enraged, euphoric, homicidal, and giddy! He let go of the sai handle and left it embedded there deep enough to remain standing straight upright; He leaned over, wide-eyed and grinning from ear to ear down at Raphael. Raph stared back up at him, both hands against his plastron in hesitance, confusion, and anticipation.
Rain and mud had soaked them.
You got taken out by a cripple, asshole! So funny! So funny, why aren't you laughing, you fucker!? Isn't this all so funny!? (Where was his actual voice? Why couldn't he scream and vent? Where was the dialog tree for this game?) Mikey clutched one-handed at the lip of his brother's plastron and collar bone, shifting and changing his grip. Raphael held his stare, fingers hesitantly touching shell and sides, not sure whether to resist or steady him. Mikey was still snickering, still laughing.
The violence was over? The violence was over. ♪♫ Hehe! ♫ ♥
"You are going to do exactly what I say," Michelangelo lilted sweetly, still grinning painfully tight, shudders ghosting over him. "Okay? Because Karai is still unaccounted for, and if she was waiting for a moment of vulnerability to dramatically kill off her diametrically opposed rival to avenge her dead master, this is it. And we are not going to let that happen. Do you hear me? We are not losing Leo. We are not losing him like we lost Donnie and Dad. We aren't even gonna lose the baby, because—ya know what?—we're just fuckin' awesome like that! We are not losing any more eyes, or any more limbs. You are going to find our brother—fast—because he needs us, and we need him. Cool?"
Raphael stared at him searchingly a few seconds, and his mouth opened as if to try and say something; but then his gaze darted to the side, and, with reflexes that would have made dad proud, Raphael rolled them both out of the way of an explosion of gunfire. Both brothers sprinted to their feet, dodging the wild patter of firearms from the rooftop above.
"I see seven," Raphael said as he leaned against the back of the hovel for cover and yanked his only locatable sai out of his own chest. "No obvious colors. Musta just homed in on the commotion, figured they'd bag a kill."
"Got the four on the left," Orange licked his lips eagerly.
"You're," Raphael swallowed, "unarmed."
"Bro, where you been for the past dozen or so years? It's called 'one-armed.' Beat ya to the middle kill!"
Pardon me for a few notes, I've lost my ability to even.
Chapter 18: Search and Rescue
Who's in danger!? Darn you chapter titles!
This chapter isn't my *best* work, but I had to let it exist so that the next chapter could be written. Good luck, lopsided, crazy little chapter...! Do your best! Mama's here for you!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
"Alright," Raphael said as he hoisted up his gear on his shoulder, bit the cap off the highlighter, and splayed open their map across the wall of the hovel. "We got a few more hours of night, so we've gotta move our tails if we expect ta– Are you just... takin' that with you?" He gestured at the four foot long sleek techno-advanced assault rife Mikey was still leaning on under his stub like a crutch.
"Sure! Don't you think it's nifty? That guy's sure not using anymore, and lotza ammo for it floating around now-a-days."
"S... just not very 'ninja-ish.'"
"No. No it is not." Mikey beamed, blatantly oozing crazy.
"Uh. Right. Like I was sayin'," Raphael looked back to his map, "We both know Leo can be slippery as fuck, but for the next twenty-four hours or so, there's still only a limited amount of places he can be."
"How'd ya figure?" Orange wondered. "If I were him I'd just pick a direction leading away from you and book it!"
"Yeah well, that rain came down hard," Raph gestured outward. "You hear any police sirens at the local urgicare? Right, so that ain't where he's at right now. Leo has ta be someplace safe and dry. More importantly, he knew the storm was comin' but he didn't know exactly when, and he lit outta here with a sick baby he ain't gonna takes risks with. So he has to be someplace conservative we already know about."
"A sick baby he has to feed and clean every two hours," Mikey cooed, peering thoughtfully over the map. "He needs access to power or hot water."
"Not yet," Raphael disagreed with a raise of a hand. "Some of my lighters are missing and the sky'll give him plenty of clean water till ya the storm lets up; He's gonna try buy himself some time by heating up the formula by hand, which could mean any number of things: that he has a distant end destination in mind, that he plans to scout for resources in person, anything. Which is why we gotta move quickly, cause while the places he might be will skyrocket by tomorrow, we can be nearly sure he's pinned down right now."
"So come on, hurry up, where we headed!?"
"We gotta check these, these, and here. But notice something? Opposite directions, and only so many hours left. What you want to do, Orange Leader?"
"Split up, duh," Mikey complained as if 'splitting up' was ever something Michelangelo proposed. "I know where these are, little shaky on that one but I can find it. We can meet up here." Raphael stared. "Yo. Yo? Raphael! Tight time table!"
Raphael shook awake and nodded, marking off the destinations he'd have to hit before nightfall. The workload was pretty evenly divided. "If ya find him–"
"–I might have to actually talk to him so he doesn't run away again from Raphael-the-Child-Killer!" Flinch. "So if I'm a day late to out meetup, just suck it," Mikey said. "You're a 'big boy,' you can handle yourself. Now let's get the hell outta here! Tag!"
And with that, Orange kicked up his gun, shouldered it over the stump, slapped Raphael's shell, and bolted for the exit. Raphael took a hard step after his baby brother, and came up short. That shell disappeared into the rain. Raph's nostrils flared, and he swallowed hard. Then he recapped the highlighter, and folded up his maps, and tucked them away on his person. He took one last look in his ice box, and all the meat he wasn't going to get to eat.
He pretended he was mad about that.
Raphael had pointed out six locations out on the map for himself, but he went fast, and he checked into the state of fourteen. If Foot were watching them, he'd rather them think the turtles had left heading west instead of east. Fourteen alcoves, ledges, half-buried shanties, collapsed buildings, and broken basements later, and several spots which had been destroyed or re-inhabited, and Raphael had to conclude he'd picked the wrong cardinal direction.
He didn't explain to himself why that was so goddamn terrifying. Not yet.
His and Mikey's meeting place for the night was the one big outlier on their map, slightly south and closer to the whole epicenter of the fucked-up Hudson River area. Closer to territories still held by factions of 'Foot.' There were a couple reasons it was a good hideout, and a couple glaring ones why it was bad.
The upper tip of the sun literally bloomed on the horizon just as Raphael slid off the rooftop and down into the forgotten, boarded up garage that had gotten smashed between two rapid construction projects. Raphael glanced up and behind himself. If Mikey hadn't found Leonardo in any of the eastern spots, then he'd already be here. Raphael crawled down and under the boarded up doorway, and over the threshold.
First glance immediately told him it was empty, and had been for a very long time. The thick layer of dust on the ground would have shown two-toed footprints if either of his brothers had been there.
Raphael remained crouched in the entryway for a long moment, water draining off his poncho and running in streamlettes over the old concrete, wetting dust.
So, barring tragedy, Michelangelo had found Leonardo first. Which meant the two of them were talking about him right now, over that baby. And Mikey had that extra poncho with them, the one they'd gotten for Leo. Even if the rain held out another day, it wouldn't keep them in place.
...What would happen if they decided Raphael was dangerous?
Of course he was 'dangerous!' That was his whole fucking idiom! But his brothers could trust him through hell and back! He'd only been trying to help along that sick sack of puss Leo was treating like—
(Hothead. Drunkard. Beast. Psycho. Paranoid. Animal. Bull. Betrayer. Child-Killer. Monster.)
Quietly, calmly, Raphael cleared a place to lay down his futon. He got some sleep.
The odds Michelangelo had been spotted and successfully ambushed while on so odd a route were unlikely.
'If I'm a day late to our meetup, just suck it'. Kay. You're the boss.
Raphael waited an hour, and then two, looking over his maps. The key to being found was for the 'searcher' to move while the 'searched for' stayed put. But Raphael waited much, much longer than he knew it ought have taken a person to make the trip between any of the eastern scouted locations and his hovel. If Michelangelo hadn't found Leo, he was wasting time, because the rain was still coming down hard and they could be looking. But if he had...
(Then you've already lost them, asshole.)
Fine, then needed to get off his tail and bust his ass looking for them. Even if they'd already booked it the night before, he'd find traces of them and be able to make a mental picture of where they might be headed. He knew how Leo thought, and he knew how Mikey thought, and most importantly, he knew they were carrying a very ill baby who was going to restrict their movements.
(You've lost them. Stalking family members who think you're an insane danger to them makes you an insane danger to them.)
Fuck that. He needed to stop 'moping.' Particularly as Michelangelo had clearly indicated he intended all three of them to regroup. One or both of those idiots could be in very serious danger if Mike had failed to make the rendezvous.
Mikey slid down the pipework, hopping over a sudden crack and skidding the rest of the way to ground level. He ducked to army-crawl into the little shed or whatever it was, dragging in lots of water. Woops, Tehe! Not that they'd stay long; Raph would have an idea where to look next, if he hadn't already–
The sobering smell of blood hit him like a wave of steam in a sauna, and he looked up to the sound of breath catching, and one green eye staring incredulously at him through the darkness.
What? Was he injured? Raphael usually cussed when injured.
Oh. Oh. Oh god, Raph.
Mikey scrambled forward, barely gaining his feet before he was already sliding to his knees and reaching out through the darkness past quaking arms. His brother was breathing hard, somewhere between snarls and whimpers. Michelangelo didn't stop to see what he'd done, to scold or bandage him; He threw his arms around his brother's neck and shell. Raphael huffed a feeble, tearful whimper. Michelangelo pressed a firm kiss into the idiot's cheek, and got a startled huff in exchange, because nothing could shake Raph out of one sets of thoughts faster than 'blatant, unambiguous affection.'
Bad time. This had been a bad time to leave him alone. Right after doing so much wrong—and deep down knowing it.
Raphael curled slowly around him, head, tail, and knees only, which probably meant his arms were a mess and he was too ashamed to share any of it Mikey didn't smell of alcohol, tobacco, or vomit; Just blood. For a moment it was all Mikey could do to hug the shit out of him, squeezing tightly, ducking his face down into his brother's shoulder even as there was kinda an emergency afoot.
"W-where...?" his brother croaked, heady from blood loss.
"Looking for Leo!" Mikey snickered, and then pushed firmly back against Raphael's plastron. "I knew better! I knew where to be!" he crowed. Red's leg and abdominal muscles tensed almost involuntarily, as if to prevent him from leaving, and he made a weak sound in the back of his throat.
But Mikey kept the bad arm on Ralphael's shoulder, to give him weight and reassurance of another body, as he unlatched his medical supplies from himself.
He reached through the gloom to find Raphael's shoulder, and pulled along the bicep, and slowly turned and sat himself down with his shell up against Raphael's plastron, until his brother melted into docile putty and let him have that forearm. Mikey held it there with his stump and pulled his phone out to have a better look. Raphael's self-destructive patterns usually had some cathartic or basal pleasure somewhere along the way. Not this, not just a naked sai down skin, over and over, splaying the same cut deeper and deeper till it was obvious he didn't know when to stop. It didn't even look premeditated, or Raphael would have stripped down first before soddening all his clothing with blood.
"M'sorry," Raphael slurred, head hung low as he cooperatively lifted up both shaking arms, palms up. Mikey picked up the stitching needle carefully, so as not to accidentally unthread it. Disinfectant and saline on everything first. Keep it clean. "F'kn st'pid n' dr'matic n'–"
"and fragile, bro?" Mikey spat as he used knee and stub to keep stabilized the injured limb while he closed angry red lines up with ugly black thread. Raphael didn't even twitch at the needle point. "That's what you are, that's what we all are! Fragile!" And how long can we keep doing this before something gives for good? How much duct tape and paper clip is too much? Mikey bit the thread to sever it, and moved to the next arm.
"M... M'sorry," Raphael whispered, his snout butted tentatively into the back of Michelangelo's neck and slowly leaning there, likely from exhaustion. Or because they all knew each others' smells, and drawing comfort off that was the only imitation any turtle would ever have of drawing comfort off a soulmate life wouldn't ever be giving them. "Thought... ya weren't..."
"Coming back for you?" Mikey grimaced, and finished the stitches. "Bro, I can't even sleep without you! Maybe I just wanted you to panic, huh, ever think of that!? After you do the same shit to us over and over again!?" He traced guilty, red-stained across his handiwork.
('Her parents left her there! We're just not good Samaritans or something! What do we owe humans?')
All the fire left him. All the jokes. "Maybe you did it," Mikey slumped back into his brother's plastron, defeated, lost, thin. "But I helped."
A heartbeat passed in mutually worn and bloody silence. Then Raphael lifted his head, cognizant.
"You didn't do this," Red whispered hoarsely into him. "I did. I did all of this."
Mikey felt tears press at his eyes. He lifted his bad arm, resting it against his brother's neck and hugging his head close. "You do a lot of shit, Raphie. Doesn't mean we ever stop loving you." Orange sucked in a deep breath, and let it out in a shudder. "And I believe you now. We were supposed to die like proper tragic Asian heroes, mortally wounded in one last blaze of glory as we defeated the tyrant and avenged our fallen. We had to hold it all together just that long; to see it through to the end. And all that's left is piss, wind, ghosts; tatters and broken half-parts of ourselves that don't work anymore. There's no epilogue to this story, just four sad graves and a sadder haiku."
"Mike," Raphael croaked.
"But I have an idea," Mikey perked up conversationally. He reached behind himself and found the sai Raphael hadn't bloodied. "You'll probably like it." He drew it out, and tilted his head back and to the side to look up at his brother. Then the spun the sharpened tip of it facing up, and laid it against both their necks. Same time?
His brother's hand caught his, almost more to ask 'what are you doing?' than to actually stop him. With a whimsy belied by years and years and years—of slow waterboarding, slow erosion, slow exhaustion of all mirth, energy, an innocence—Mikey clenched the muscles necessary to drive that sai back and across.
Raphael's hand tightened, shook, fought him, held him back. A green eyed widened slowly, wondrously. Then his other hand shot up, grabbing at Michelangelo's elbow. Nostrils flared. He breathed heavily through grit teeth.
Mikey stared quietly up at him, over the long seconds of quivering muscle against muscle, strength against strength. Orange slowly smirked, his brows furrowing up sadly in the center. "You're gonna give," Mikey predicted. "You're too weak from blood loss, you don't care enough anymore, and the tip's closest to you anyway."
Raphael's face slackened. Then his hand hand at Michelangelo's elbow released, surrendering its advantage in leverage, and leaving behind a knowledge that at least this wasn't going to happen to them alone. They weren't going alon—
That hand darted under his armpit and tickled him. Michelangelo yelped and leaped in surprise.
Raphael tore the sai out of his hand, and threw it so hard into the opposite wall it wobbled and sang in place. Then he squeezed hold of Michelangelo, stuffed his snout back into the shoulder of that bad arm. Red pressed a hand against where what remained of the upper arm, which still stretched up to lean against his neck, pressing to keep it there, to stay part of the embrace. Mikey stared at where the one green eye blinked slowly just beside his face. Then he closed his eyes, and let the tears come.
You are supposed to be looking for Leo!!! Not killing yourselves!!! *Collapses off chair, snarling angrily at story from floor.*
Chapter 19: Father
Wait... so... while those two are busy not dying, where the hell is Leo?
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Leonardo thrust the tub of poison back from himself with a howl. The baby, whom he'd left in her swaddling upon the futon, jumped in visible startlement and then started to cry. The sound of her alarm sent prickles along the skin of his neck and scalp and he wanted to crawl back to her side in a frantic panic. He dared not. Dared not let her see or feel him so out of his mind.
He grabbed up the bottle and bolted for the entry way, dumping the contents with an angry slap of liquid against the sewer grate. Where was their medical kit? He dug it out from under Michelangelo's things, and took out the bottle of hydrogen peroxide. How much did he need? No way to tell. He poured an inch of it into the bottle, shook it furiously, and then bathed and washed every part of the plastic teat and lid in the residual. He poured it out, and repeated the exercise. He washed out the bottle, filled it with water, and drank from it, drawing the liquid onto his tongue critically.
Anyone but Leo could have easily stolen another bottle from somewhere. Anyone but Leo could have seen what they were looking for from afar. Leo had to depend a fastidious palette and memories from half a lifetime ago.
'Hydrogen peroxide detoxifies cyanide,' said a dork as he peered curiously at the two-liter bottle he'd just treated. 'Well, so do other things, but we have this. Neat, huh?'
'So I can drink the Orange Crush after all!?'
'Uh, well it's safe to *dispose* of, but just because it doesn't have cyanide in it anymore doesn't mean you should drink its byproducts or hydr-'
'I vote Mikey drinks it.'
'Well then you can be on vomit cleanup duty Raph.'
Leo threw the medical kit away from himself with a hard clatter, and a scream of his brother's name, his fingers twitching upon the hilt of his katana as he stood in the entryway and stared hatefully out into unending darkness. His own sharp, angry breaths, and the flames burning in the confines of his soul drowned out the sound of everything. Almost everything. Not the sound of the sick and terrified baby thrashing with jerky, uncoordinated movements upon her back. The baby. Bared-teeth and sneering lips faded away into a grim, tight line. He breathed in deeply through the nose, and wiped his face to clear it. Eyes closed, he took in a second, deep breath.
Cool, calm, twilight settled across his mind. A soft rumble of thunder in the distance left him staring blindly up towards the starless overhead sky. He blinked slowly. Languidly.
Intention cemented immediately. He turned and strode back into the depths of the shelter, and knelt quietly before her. He reached down, finding her tiny arms and cupping his fingers around them, only to be treated by an unexpected surprise her swaddling had previously left him ignorant of: The moment his fingertips settled on her little palms, all of her fingers closed around his, and her frantic wails and kicks all stilled. Leonardo stared quietly down at where she was, and then eased one of his hands out of hers and up to cup her head, and to find her face all wrinkled up in concentration and her eyes on him.
Leonardo couldn't smile; He was not Mikey, and could not pretend things were alright when they were not.
After a moment's silence, he leaned over all the way down to her, and touched his snout to her soft hair.
"I will keep you safe, from your first day until my last," he told her quietly, rubbing a thumb reassuringly over the back of her tiny hand.
If Leonardo had actually been anything like his father—a wiser leader—perhaps he would have known how to address the situation peaceably and help each member of the family in equal measure.
As it was, confronting his brother right now would be tantamount to fratricide. Leonardo had never felt so calm in his life, and the sheer quietness of it blotted out rage so hot it had threatened to become a full-body physiological experience. He'd never felt anything like that. Ever. If there was one time in all their lives where he might genuinely lose all control—might lose his mind—and actually attempt to murder Raphael in combat, it had not been when his nearest brother was screaming at him about abandoning Splinter, or blaming him for Donatello's death, or holding him responsible for each and every other friend, ally, and loved one they'd every lost. But oh, oh it would be now.
That meant removing himself and the baby from the situation was the only possible option left to him.
But how? Spontaneity. The trick hadn't been getting out of the house, the trick was getting someplace his brothers could not find him. This intense emotional experience would not be over swiftly, and certainly not by the morrow. And while Michelangelo had all the tracking instinct of a senile magpie; Raphael was a canny detective, and had been the team's mapper for years. Leo would already have his work cut out for him just to find a single destination by memory; but Raphael would be able to inventory every single possible location he could be, rank them by quality and likelihood, and plot an optimal search path across all of them. If Red Turtle didn't have the basic wisdom to give him a few day's space, that presented one hell of a sieve to escape.
Thunder crackled ominously, and the wind picked up with odor of ozone and warned him he only had so much time left. On one hand, he had a stray plastic garbage bag to suffice as a miniature poncho in an emergency. On the other hand, Leonardo would prefer never, ever swaddling Cocoa in a garbage bag, regardless of whether or not she'd be on his shoulder with her face clear and perfectly safe. He had enough loose psychological shrapnel stirring around in his mind as it was.
There it was, just ahead of him: The key to eluding Raphael. Doing something ill-thought-out and poorly planned that nevertheless got him out of the rain. He skid to a halt on the fractured asphalt, and felt with his toes for where a computerized and heavy steel lock ought to have been. None. Crushed long ago by tank treads and street wars, carried off as a looter's salvage and never replaced, bordered by the rear walls of tin shanties no one had the time to tear down. Leonardo knelt. The first speckles of rain hit the ground around him. His fingers slipped over the Japanese Kanji for 'forbidden', and pressed into them for purchase on the heavy steel cover, He gave it a sharp twist that broke rust, and then heaved it open.
There was no ladder descending into the depths. No way easily in; no way easily out: a sheer tube of concrete. Leo glanced up towards to the sky as he checked that Cocoa was secure in her satchel. Rain splashed on his face. He nodded, gathered up a piece of gravel, swung his legs into the tunnel, slid down a foot, braced with his feet against the opposite wall, and pulled the manhole cover back over top of himself.
For a long moment, he stayed there, with the only known exit still against his fingertips, still above him...
Mousers. Footbots. Turrets. Cameras. Gates. Traps. Patrols. A military-sponsored and maintained transport system and infrastructure. Train carts after train carts after train carts filled with political prisoners, slaves, children, invalids, and bums rounded up from the streets. The skeletons of buildings fallen into sinkholes; ruins of wars and demonstrations and examples made. For at least a decade in the middle there, 'sewers' hadn't necessarily meant 'safe.' Closer to 'suicide.' Too many bad memories. Too many nostalgic memories beneath the bad ones.
Now there was only silence. Silence and stillness but for the soft skitters of vermin and the trickle of water. The smell was familiar, at least. Leo dropped that piece of gravel he'd taken, and listened for how long it took to hit the ground. By the small 'tak!' noise it made, the maintenance walkway wasn't flooded. The coming storm would have rainwater pouring from above soon. Leonardo eased the duffel bag off his shoulder, and dropped it first. He dropped the empty wicker carrier, and his bundle of personal things and futon. He looked towards the baby at his chest, touched her face, and found her to be sleeping. Very well then. With a deep breath, Leonardo took his foot off the wall, and slid.
It felt dark.
Accustomed to seeing through the noise of a city, with its all its constant rumbles and movements, Leonardo felt the 'darkness' through his feet. Each drip, each rivulet, each faucet, each rat stood as a satellite on a black vellum darkness, broadcasting information in white chalk outlines. He stepped slowly, carefully, feeling the ground ahead of him, occasionally reaching out to toe the edges of the sewage canal and ensure it was exactly where he expected it to be. He needed time to adjust to this quiet.
His first order of business was to circumnavigate the paths around his only sure exit. A bolt cutter could open a locked manhole cover from topside in an emergency, but only a heavy explosive to could blow one open from below. Before he headed anywhere, he needed a sense for where he was and how to return there; for scaling a narrow vertical column was no challenge at all next to escaping a sealed labyrinth in which he'd lost his sense of direction.
Sounds and smells that ought to have triggered feelings of comfort or homecoming did not; this felt like descending into a crypt, not the sewers of his youth.
The hard rubber of power cords was obvious only when it came directly under heel. Leonardo frozen, standing before one of many stone archways, furrowing his brows as he turned his head from side to side. At first, the nondescript tunnel yawned into open nothingness. Then slowly, bit by bit, he pieced the story together: the security cameras hanging dead and silent from the ceiling, facing away, the gate sagging on its hinges, apparently buckled under several years of constant rust. Leonardo crept forward, feeling over the ground, until his toes found the edge of an automated defense system. No electricity sizzled within.
Leonardo stared silently down into the darkness. Then he lifted his head and took in a slow breath through his nose, and tiptoed forward to prod at the gate with his sheathed katana. For the rust to be so extensive suggested this tunnel often flooded. He turned, listening to the water trickle in through manhole covers, but pour like fountain heads from the street gutters. Thunder boomed someplace muffled overhead, resonating through steel, earth and concrete, and briefly illuminating his surroundings in vibration.
Soft and tiny feet passed him on ground level, two sets of four. Leonardo listened as more rats passed, heading onward in droves through the holes in the gate, off into the darkness.
After a long moment of quiet, he abandoned his plan, turned on heel, pushed aside the rusted gate, and followed them.
Leo, I'm pretty sure your 'wiser leader' father would have torn a murderous brother's throat out with his teeth before letting them anywhere near his babies.
Chapter 20: Rainy Days
Nothing much to see here, just everybody rained in.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
A still-functional power outlet in the forgotten garage proved the key to filling a basin with steaming hot bath water. Michelangelo soaked a clean hand towel in it and then leaned over the futon and pushed the blanket away with his elbow to squeeze out trickles of hot water over his brother's shoulder and shell. Raphael groaned. Mikey snickered, and lowered the rag, rubbing over scales up under the lip of the shell, and sloughing away layers of sweat and grime.
"S'not any blood there, numbnuts," muttered a Red Turtle quietly.
"Bro, you're gonna shut up and endure my tender loving care," Mikey chided, holding himself up with his stump braced upon the apex of the shell. "S'making me feel better."
"Slavin' over mah sorry ass makes you feel better?"
"Well naturally why else would I do it? Because I feel sorry for you? Tch. Sad to say you've punched me one too many times for that." He ran the wash cloth up the back of his patient's head, pushing up and aside the mask tails and swiping under the band of the eye-patch.
Raphael huffed a big breath. Clearly La Burrita Chicken Nugget Cocoa Bean took after someone; she did the same thing when exasperated. Huff.
Michelangelo rinsed the rag off, and gingerly dabbed clean the stitches on his opposite shoulder. The forearms were going to take a lot more careful work; even with turtles, mutant turtles, who really did regenerate well when kept properly hydrated, it really wasn't smart practice to completely submerse tightly sutured injuries. You wanted to pat them clean, and pat them dry. Technically you wanted to use sterilized saline solution, but Leo had snatched that out of the medical kit before leaving. Sorry Raphael, Lil Bean's breathing is more important than your dumbassery!
Not to mention Raph had dyed the edge of his jacket and one leg of his cargo pants bright red, and Mikey had half a mind to pitch the clothing and tell him 'too bad, so sad, good-luck finding another extra large biker jacket or trench coat in this political climate!' Mikey wasn't a laundry person; He left the articles half-submersed in water with some soap. Taking care of his bros, though, that was fine with him. Even if every old scar along the side of the plastron and down the leg—all usually was covered up with clothing—brought back dark memories.
"Did I black out and miss doin' somethin' to deserve a spa day?" growled a very surly patient, who clearly did not at all like rewarded for doing absolutely everything wrong (but, hey, at least that made him semi-self-aware, right?)
"You want a spa day? Hmm. Tall order!" Mikey glanced slyly across the garage, to where pine soap and ammonium cleaner sat next to a dusty bin of squeeze bottles. "But hold that thought, I like where it's headed!"
"That's not what I fuckin said at all, bonehead–!" Raphael snarled as Mikey temporarily tossed the wash cloth over his shoulder and slipped over to poke at that box. Red's voice cut off.
"Eureka!" Mikey proclaimed, holding aloft an old, forgotten hand brush with a thick oval of bristles.
"I-I don't-" Raphael sputtered feebly, looking from him to the brush.
Giddy and sleepy, Michelangelo scooted back over to rinse the dust off with cold water, and then dipped the brush into the bath water. "What's that dude?" he asked as he deposited the brush onto the top of the shell carapace, pressed the bristles into the crevices between the scutes, and pushed the first, slow scrub of it over the dome. "You were saying something?"
"Nope," Raphael denied quietly, cause no sane turtle in the entire world would ever turn down the soothing awesomeness which was shell maintenance.
Scrub! Scrub, scrubbbbb, scrubbb-de-dub-de-dub! Probably six months worth of grime—more? when had they done spring cleaning?—came off in itchy clots and crusts. Turtles, even acrobatic ones, did have quite a bit of trouble cleaning their own shells; and nobody had been feeling particularly affectionate towards anyone lately. Three diametrically opposed personalities in tight spaces with no goal of vengeance/justice/closure left to unite them? The last year had been rough. Mikey had started realizing Raphael would be the first one to throw them the middle finger (sai blade required) and walk away. And Mikey had almost been goading him into it. Just to get it over with quick, like a band-aid; to cut each other off like so many lost limbs, in morbid curiousity, to find out if they'd even survive.
A long, loud, crackly, nasal, alligator purr brought Mikey back to the present with a loud laugh. He leaned over his brother's shell, leering victoriously. Hee! Turtle shells and scrub brushes. "I heeearrrrd that," he drawled to someone who absolutely hated admitting to any need for cossetting, much less enjoying it. "You owe me."
"I owe you," Raphael croaked pathetically, eye shut. "Big."
"Good," Mikey went back to scrubbing; this was always a load of hard work, "cause I want a pony."
Raphael busted out laughing.
Leonardo considered the tunnels below, which were already filled knee-high with water.
His was presently in the company of about three hundred fairly ordinary-sized rats, all of whom seemed equally interested in lining up to lean over and stare down at the rising water levels. They were all, Leo included, sitting upon a nice sizable alcove overlooking a level change the sewers. This spacious room was about thirty-feet and unfurnished in each direction, and had formed when the foundation of a dilapidated basement had sunk and sunk and sunk slowly down into the earth to near-sewage levels, and cracking concrete and topside wars had eventually opened a wall between the two. Upstairs, rain pattered on tin-covered and boarded windows, and the charred and half-destroyed roof of the building had long ago fallen in on one side, leaving the interior up there covered in plant life, scorched rubble, grass, rat droppings, and mold.
Leo (who it must be noted had found a clean object to sit upon, and thus avoided too great an acquaintanceship with a very large amount of animal dung) decided the rats were remaining near him because there was very obviously a tom cat upstairs; the tom could be heard howling and howling as he prowled back and forward, but apparently he refused to come downstairs and take his chances with anything human-sized and smelling-of-reptile. The rats, it could be said, were taking their chances, but they'd placed their bets well. Still, despite the coincidental nature of their temporary acquaintanceship, Leo could not help but feel there was a cartoonishly adorable, ironic solidarity in this, to be the presence of just so many tiny, furred, and distantly familiar individuals on his very first day back in a sewer, waiting out a flood.
Now and then a new individual managed to swim its way to them, surmount the great climb leading up to the alcove, take one shocked look at Leo, and then shrug and join its cousins or siblings or what-have-you like nothing whatsoever was peculiar about this arrangement.
Having found this place gave Leonardo hope. It had been a single day, and already he had covered a substantial stretch of sewers without confrontation, and knew of two routes topside. The underground was less controlled—at least in this region!—than he or his brothers had realized. If he'd found two routes, then he could find more. So far he had more than he needed: a dry place to rest against a wall for awhile, fresh water for Cocoa, and an eye on the sun. He did have to politely shoo rats away from the two packs of ramen noodles which he'd managed to pack for himself. Cocoa's formula canisters were more robust.
Speaking of Cocoa Bean: By the way she started fussing against his plastron, she was either hungry again or wondering why in god's name her surroundings smelled so absolutely disgusting. Or pondering the existential mysteries of the universe. Sometimes, what with the way her forehead and chin puckered so intensely, it was amusing to imagine she contemplated a great many very serious and complicated topics.
"Good morning," Leonardo greeted his poor sick child, stroking her cheek.
She gave him a wrinkle of both brows that could not be interpreted anyway other than 'excuse me old man, where exactly have you taken us?'
Leonardo couldn't help but laugh. "I washed my hands after climbing up here," he whispered conspiratorially to her as he stood up. "Are you ready to watch a master ninja successfully change your diaper in his lap, while both squatting in place and yet simultaneously holding you, his own tail, and all of yours and his supplies off ground level and away from all the lichen and rat poo?" She nommed on her blanket and hummed, but that was likely just because some light had fallen upon him, and she could actually see his face now. Hmm. Now that he thought about it, he ought to pick a flashlight up if he came across one. "While blind?" he'd forgotten to add, but it appeared she'd already agreed to be impressed with him no matter the specifics.
"It's still early, and it's still raining," Raphael wasn't challenging Mikey's order of bed rest, but he'd perked up a bit and was cleaning his sai with oil. "Ya should be lookin' for 'im."
"Nah. Not leaving you like this, bro." Mikey yawned; he could practically imagine Leo writing that lecture. "Not risking it. Sides, I didn't sleep. You want me to be clumsy, maybe mess up, trip and shoot myself?" He could imagine that lecture too.
"Knowin you're luck? You'd trip n' shoot someone else, right as they were about to kill you. While heroically rescuin' a bus load of children'r somethin."
"Damn straight, I'm just amazing like that," Mikey agreed lazily, kicking open his immaculately (In retrospect, that ought to have been a hint) folded futon for a nap. Both of them perked up on spotting the folded piece of newsprint tucked into the crisp lines of fabric, and Mikey leaned forward to grasp it. "It's origami," he realized.
Raphael's lip curled. "That Leo's aloof way of sayin' goodbye?"
"No, it's a paper crane, dude," Mikey slowly fanned its wings out. "Dad made them at Christmas time, for family."
"Sensei made 'em for dead people," Raphael growled and went back to attending to his weapons. "Seems pretty clear-cut what that's sayin."
"Yeah well if he wanted an evil baby-killer to interpret the paper crane, he'd have put it in your futon," Mikey kicked the edge of his brother's shell. "Stop being psycho, cranes totally have a positive symbolic meaning! Right?"
"'If ya fold a hundred of them, ya wish comes true?'" Raphael asked rhetorically over the polish of steel.
That sounded vaguely familiar. "Yo, I wish I paid more attention as a child," Mikey lamented.
"I wish ya paid more attention now."
"I wish you had real emotions and actually did shit to make people like you," Orange retorted snidely as he finished rolling out his futon to get that nap in, "instead of masking how dark and personal you take literally everything with your sarcastic, crab-apple badassary, until all the levies fail and your Feels end up splattered all over stuff in blood. But hey, we're thirty! Thirty-four? We're probably not growing up any more than-!"
Raphael must have grabbed hold of him with one arm and one leg, and dropped him there, because Mikey ended up bundled under his older brother's chin, with two covers getting shared over top of them.
"That worked?" Mikey blinked. "D'aww, you're such a big ole sap-!"
"I'm freezing and delirious from blood loss, wise guy. Now shut up and let me sleep. ...N'Mikey?" Red crushed a fraternal kiss protectively down into the top of his head. Mikey could count the amount of Raphie-smooches he'd gotten in all his life on his fingers. Of which he had? Yeah, exactly: Not Many.
Michelangelo refrained from commenting, burrowed in tightly, and determinedly slept.
Just literally couldn't get the picture of Leo sitting with his legs dangled over the side of a rectangular little alcove, watching stuff float by in the flood with this army of totally polite rats sitting there with him keeping him company. Cause, ya know, why would Leo think mixing rats and babies was a bad idea? Nonsense!
Chapter 21: Desensitization
We will take this moment to remind you that culture wars in this city have been fought using language (likely to help control/restrict information), and that all people twenty and younger have grown up in a world where they were expected to learn Japanese and use the language exclusively whenever kowtowing to their Foot Overlords. Fortunately, you will not need to know Japanese to proceed—skim right over it to read the English.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
It had been three days.
The two brothers were waiting in the shadow of an overhang, waiting for a firefight to subside ahead of them before either sneaking past or—depending on what was left—mopping up the leftovers. The street gangs involved were Foot splinter factions, and looked to have a few properly costumed members and more than a few scrappy new recruits in civilian getup. What they were fighting over wasn't entirely clear, and it looked like a brawl had broken out over something trivial. Tensions were high these days; nothing unusual, just the normal sort of stuff turtles either dealt with or dodged on a regular day-to-day.
Mikey made sure his rifle was properly reloaded, and cleaned the barrel. Raphael took out a deck of cards. The two of them started playing rummy, listening to the little snaps of small improvised explosives, and the crack of gunfire. Just a road away, people were mostly going about their own business, if a little more tense and hunched up than usual. Stray bullets were an omnipresent threat in this city. Sometimes Mikey wondered if he ought to scrounge up a Kevlar helmet or something; he'd been skimmed across the shell by some random rifle shot from nowhere once, and it had been pretty terrifying.
While they were waiting, some chick started getting aggressively stalked by a band of guys. She turned into an alleyway and started to run towards the violence, likely willing to take the risk of it all to shake her pursuit. The sad thing was she'd made a bad pick of getaway route: that alleyway newly dead-ended in a crashed delivery truck. Which was on fire.
Dialog floated up to the two turtles. The dudes chasing the chick seemed to recognize her as a prostitute, and wanted free samples.
Raphael discarded, and lit up a cigarette. Mikey drew.
"Hazukashi garanai de, honey, you are just very beautiful!"
"She's fat and clean is what it is," another laughed. "Smell her hair. Momo to kurīmu!"
"She has the tattoo!" Legal sex workers always did, a brand on the back of the neck.
"Mochiron, watashi wa sudeni anata ni itta, I told you, she's from Gendai Madamu No's! Those girls are always clean. You need a health card just to get in."
And that was when the woman herself spoke, requesting with a dignity and calmness that would have put Hamato Leonardo to shame: "Watashi ni furenaide kudasai."
"Kanojo no koe o kiku! Listen to that Japanese! Like a cute little girl...! How old are you?"
They argued in (fairly sloppy) Japanese about whether she was thirty or twenty; either way the verdict was she must have received special linguistic training, which was apparently proof of something they'd both suspected and liked.
Mikey discarded. "Do you wanna something about that?" he casually prompted his pugnacious bro.
"What? Oh." He shrugged. "Eh. What's the point?" Raphael muttered. "Fifty crimes are goin' on in a three block radius, not even counting the gunfight."
"Bored?" Michelangelo shrugged. "Something to do?"
Raphael gave him a sidelong look. "Drawing attention to ourselves with hostile bogeys nearby? While we're supposed to be looking for our missing brother?"
"Man, stuff like this used to get you super pissed," Michelangelo teased over the sounds of increasingly aggressive 'flirting.' That poor whore probably wasn't getting out of the alleyway without dispensing free samples.
"Still does. Humans are disgusting. More pissed I have to listen to people rutting than anything." Raphael blew out smoke. "Your draw."
"Remember back in the day? You went AWOL all the time to play vigilante. Splinter kept grounding you, Leo'd wait up all night...!"
"Yeah. Well, none of us are young or naive anymore. Can't fix a leaking faucet in a hurricane."
The whore was calmly explaining—in perfect Japanese—that she was under obligation not to take unchecked clientele because contracting a sexual disease would be cause for dismissal and she'd lose her job, residence, and healthcare. It was unlikely the boys harassing her cared about those sorts of things, but the unfazed way she spoke to them suggested she was older than them and might try using sheer force of grace to talk them down. And ya know what? They sorta took the bait, talking to her and promising her they were all 'clean.' She apologized to them, perfectly, saying that she could not take customers outside the brothel doors, not for any price, but explained that she could leave them with her card.
And getting a girl's phone number was almost good enough for some of them, but then one of the guys told her that this was fine, and that they just wouldn't pay her 'any price.' Doh.
Now, Mikey, Raphael, and Leonardo had sat on a rooftop listening to people getting molested, robbed at knife-point, or even murdered many times before. Many, and that was the sad part, because there was no exaggeration there. It chafed them all in different ways, but Mikey felt like watching Leo stare impassively off at nothing (while something horrible was happening!) almost hit harder than the actual crime... cause, deep down, Mikey had to believe it was a mask and that something of his brother's innate personality attributes were still in there, somewhere. Raph had always been an asshole, but Leo had once been... noble.
Their lives had been rough and they had to pick their battles, and Shredder and his men had taught them—early on—that their desire to help people could be easily exploited. The sooner they'd grown desensitized to things like this, the sooner the Foot had stopped baiting them out with public executions. And, like Raph had said: leaking faucets in hurricanes... drawing attention... all of it was true.
"You know, I miss it," Mikey confessed a little as he discarded. "I miss feeling like heroes. Back when we knew we were the good guys, and not just the 'counter-bad-guys' guys."
"Pfeh. Look around, Mikey, ain't any such thing as heroes. We killed the fuckin' Shredder, we didn't owe anyone more'n that. Sides," Raph flicked the butt of his cigarette away, "why do they need turtles? Where are the human heroes?"
Mikey knew the answer to that: "Working for April!"
"Hnh." Raphael gave him that. "Should be more'n that. People who just throw down their shit and go, 'I can't take this anymore. Somebody's gotta do somethin, and if no one will, then I will.'"
"Like Casey?" Mikey asked a little sadly.
Raphael didn't answer, quiet and staring at his cards as he took another drag.
Casey would have been the first person to rush in and bash open heads, come to think of it. Would he still be that way, now, if he were alive? Probably. He'd always been more of a doer than a philosophizer, and consequences had never much mattered to him! Heh. Poor Raph, Mikey shouldn't have mentioned Casey.
It turned out that the whore in the alleyway didn't have a weapon or a sneaky getaway plan. She didn't have an ace to play, or any heroes coming to her rescue, or scary consequences to threaten, or any leet combat skills. She was potentially facing down the entire end of her livelihood and joining the ranks of the destitute—all depending on how honest her rapists were being about their present state of health—and on top of that she was about to be gang-banged on the garbage-crusted floor of an alleyway without any of the usual rules, regulations, and bouncers which usually kept her safe, which would probably still be traumatic even though she was a prostitute. (Mikey didn't actually know how that worked, but Mikey also didn't have any prostitutes to question on the matter, and, to be honest, victims kinda all had the benefit of the doubt in his mind.)
And yet all of this she faced down with quiet decorum.
She didn't scream for help, start pleading, or anything. She lectured them softly and firmly, repeating that she would not consent to this and asking them to stop, even while the guys were talking to one another about who was going first, and how to get her clothing off (or whether just to cut it off). It was so weird that one kid even started slipping in a ton of honorifics and apologies and it became clear she'd made at least one of them feel incredibly guilty. Mikey had witnessed a lot of terrible things, a lot of really gruesome deaths, a lot of bloodcurdling screams, a lot of suicides, a lot of ghetto violence, and also some really bad 'public demonstrations.' The Foot liked to perform executions by beheading people in open plazas. Technically rape was illegal and punishable by death on every level of society, but who enforced that in the ghettos? Plus, forced marriages were handed out by government officials like paid holiday time had been in a previous era. Mikey had witnessed enough to grow desensitized to it all. But this, this was kinda new.
This was... brave. It hit Mikey somewhere, somewhere nostalgic that reminded him keenly of Leonardo (and of a baby girl who was about to grow up in this really shitty world). Something writhed in his belly, itched under his shell, fighting to tell him that the only reason he'd ever grown desensitized to any of this in the first place was because there had long been nothing he could do to help.
But... hadn't that changed? Wasn't there something he could to help, now? Now that the Foot didn't control everything?
Mikey didn't know anymore.
He stared unseeing at his cards.
"She's old," one guy snickered. "She's like your mom's age, ha!"
"Damare, she's got an eel cave, she's good enough."
"Let's see that pretty face of yours, Ushi. Oh, don't be scared. Don't cry," one laughed condescendingly, even though no sobs were audible, which painted an incredibly vivid picture of quiet and helpless despair. "You're so strong, you can take it."
Do something, a tiny voice writhing inside begged. Please? I don't like this. I don't want to be like this anymore. I don't want to live like this anymore. I can hear what's happening down there, to a real person. Please?
Mikey reached hesitantly, slowly, and almost subconsciously for his rifle...
Raphael vaulted out of the overhang, swung to the opposite roof, and surmounted it. Mikey scrambled after him, just a little slower because Raph had both hands. He reached the alleyway as Raphael slid into it, where a woman sat in neat Japanese seiza posture with her clothing peeled open and men holding her hair and head in place as another guy stood in front of her face with his trousers sagging to his knees. Raphael wall-jumped halfway down into the alleyway, and landed so hard on one of the guys shoulders with a downward kick that bones could be heard to crackle somewhere . The sai went straight down into the top of the other dude's head.
Caught-With-His-Pants-Down Guy stumbled backwards with an incredibly unmanly squeal of alarm, and turned about to run. Raphael drew the other sai and threw it so hard that all three prongs burst out the front of Trouser-Boy's chest.
Well. That was definitely a thematically appropriate upgrade to Raphael's technique for handling street crime. Mikey grinned, getting his rifle ready and looking around to make sure his bro was in the clear and nobody had overheard or was going to investigate.
The woman jumped slightly at all the violence and quickly wrapped her arms around herself to cover up her nudity, but, true to form, did not move from her location or start screaming. Raphael had to actually walk around her to go get his other sai back, and stepped down on the body to pull it free. And then, being the drama queen he was, Raph licked blood from the blade. Geeze! Seriously, bro, you don't know where that human's been! Gross! Stop mixing your timelines, dude, that was for back from when you were only scaring them straight, you don't even have an audience anymore!
Except for the half-naked woman who'd just gotten covered in human blood on all sides, and whose mascara had definitely not been waterproof. She was kinda old for a brothel girl, but it was only noticeable cause her makeup was messed up. And she just sat there, maybe in shock, staring up at the giant green mutant who had just murdered three people and was displaying shock-value psychopathic suggestions of cannibalism for no reason whatsoever (or possibly just because he still had way too much adrenaline in his veins to think straight; he'd sure lit out to kill those guys faster than Mikey had thought the situation warranted; maybe they'd said something that had triggered him?)
Raphael glanced back the whore's way, displayed no expression at all for a moment aside from flared nostrils and generalized aggressive breathing. Then he cocked his head to the side incredulously. Cause, ya know, people didn't usually thank their rescuers, when their rescuers looked/behaved like Raphael. Running-and-screaming had been pretty standard even when the four of them had been five-foot-six and totally adorable.
"Do you intend I offer some form of payment?" she asked with brows furrowed thoughtfully.
Red looked her up and down. "Not interested, Babe," he made sure he was very clear, and then turned away with a rub of the back of his hand against his missing eye and a resumption of his cigarette.
Michelangelo nearly fell back laughing, and when Raphael swiftly climbed back up to the rooftop, Mikey gave his brother a hefty pat on the shell. "That!" Mikey wheezed through delighted, relieved, estatic giggles, "Is still the Raphael I remember! 'Knightwatcher!'"
Raphie growled, scowled, scoffed, but then maybe enjoyed the comment just a little. "Let's get the fuck out of here in case someone notices the bodies. Oh." He un-tucked his rummy hand from his belt and showed Mikey. "I won."
Mikey really did laugh that time, long and hard, leaning on his brother. Maybe Raphael wasn't a lost cause after all. Maybe there really was some good left in him; in all of them. Maybe the only question left was 'how to reach it? '
Maybe the world really could have 'good guys' again, soon.
Let's see that pretty face of yours, Ushi.
牛 "ushi" (n): cow, cattle.
Chapter 22: Clueless
Thank goodness for Donatello explaining nutrition to Raphael as a child; Otherwise he might have never gotten taller and more buff than Casey, and that would have chafed him something awful. He'd have never gotten over it, never.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
'Hey, wanted to tell you something serious,' Casey Jones had began over a beer. 'If anything happens ta me–'
'–I bang your wife?' Raphael had grinned wide over his own drink and saluted. "Orders received!"
Casey had headlocked him and cussed him out, and Raphael had taken it and laughed. 'You'd look out for her, right? April.'
'I don't need *you* to tell me ta look out for mah own big sister, meathead!' Raphael had snickered as he'd pushed away and taken another swig.
'Promise me, though! Promise me you'd stick with her no matter how bad it gets. C'mon, she's already been captured once before!'
Raphael had blown him off, taunting him for being sentimental. He hadn't (and still didn't) liked thinking about anyone's mortality, and he had possessed the bigger death wish, so If either of them was going to die first, they had both known it was going to be Raphael.
Quick bit of trivia: When helicopters crashed or ran into things, they didn't actually explode the way they did in Hollywood movies. Raphael would know, he'd survived more than his fair share of helicopter (and vehicular) crashes. But if you managed to pierce the gas tanks or engine just right, with something flammable? Well, mind ya, that kind of explosion still wasn't quite as exciting as it looked in the movies, more of a quick orange 'POP!' than a tower of fire... but that didn't make it any less instantaneously lethal.
So back in the day, fighting against the Shredder, when they'd watched that missile fire straight for the battlecopter Casey was piloting?
'POP!' hadn't felt worthy of or dramatic enough to take from them what it had actually taken.
As it turned out, April hadn't been the one who'd needed someone to look out for her. April had placed her hand over her mouth, and her face had scrunched up as if she'd been about to scream out in shock and disbelief; but then a second later, she'd dropped her arm, turned back to her walky-talky and battle map, and resumed calling out very precise and level-headed orders. April had been fucking fine. She'd just lost her support pillar, her ever-loyal partner, her husband of eight years, and somehow she'd held her cool and soldiered on.
It had been Raphael who had fought ahead of their battle lines to tear apart the enemy artillery weapons with his naked sai; Raphael who'd been slicked in his own blood and screaming for vengeance; Raphael whom Leonardo and Michelangelo had needed help sedating, whom April had ordered dragged and carried back through their fighting retreat at the expense of several other peoples' lives. Lives he'd needed to pay back to her ten times over before he'd finally broken down and properly grieved.
The two of them had been searching for their eldest brother for over a week.
Despite the paper crane which Michelangelo kept insisting 'meant something,' Blue Turtle was nowhere to be found. But what did that mean? Leo could have been in trouble—could have been dead—or he could have been ghosting under the radar like some haughty, silent panther. Unless the Foot started parading around an empty turtle shell or broken katana, Raph had no new info. Neglecting to look for him felt irresponsible, but the sensation of being avoided by the smug bastard left Raphael wondering why he ought to bother.
"So," Orange Leader dragged out as he loaded fresh ammunition into that rifle he was enjoying way too much, "bro, serious opinion poll: Do you think we should just chill and look out for ourselves for a bit? Cause as much as I hate to admit it, by now he could be anywhere, and in retrospect he probably wasn't in a very conversant mood when he left. Maybe he wants space?"
Raphael cleaned off his sai and shook his head unknowingly. "Dunno, but what you said ta me about Karai rang true. Normally Leo could handle himself, 'xcept he can get damn stubborn when he's a point to prove, and on top of that we both know he ain't sleeping. Even assuming he even knows how to find us, he might not ask for help till it's too late."
Michelangelo thought about this. "We could try to seduce him out."
"We could what now?"
"Remember the last thing Leo asked for? A space heater. We could pick a new place for the winter, get it all set up and heated and comfortable... And then strategically place baby formula cans and diaper bags in a display outside the front door. 'No big, Leo, just if you happen to be keeping tabs on us...!'"
"We're not keepin' dat goddamn thing," Raphael muttered. "But the other bit sounds like a plan; Leo can't do electronics salvage on his own."
"Bro, seriously, what is it that you have against babies lately?" Raphael twisted to look at Mikey incredulously, and then gestured out at the city to indicate their blatantly missing brother who might or might not be dead. "Uh, dude, if you hadn't tried to kill his baby, Leo wouldn't be missing."
"It ain't his! I was trying ta keep us safe and focused!"
"Great job, it was highly effective, ten out of ten!"
"I effing-! Ya know what? I don't want ta talk about this shit."
"Then what do you want, yo?"
"Some more shit I can punch, ta get my mind off pandering ta someone who up n' ditched us." Raphael turned to him with a gleam in his eye. "Got an idea. You made contact with April the day he left, right? Well that means she's been waitin' on us over a week now. How about we don't stand the pretty lady up any longer'n we already have?"
Headquarters for their 'Rebel Leader' had moved and spread out since the fall of the Foot Regime, and even though Mikey and Ape supposedly had a solidly secure method of communicating, Raphael was super wary in approaching the designated coordinates. He'd kept tabs on the Resistance through rumors whispered in the streets, but there was a lot of disinformation rushing about right now, and he had a non-solid picture of exactly where they were going. Made him itch. Still, despite repeatedly holding sessions of democratic congress (in a way no older brother did, ever), Mikey was still holding onto the present leadership title for their group-of-two, and Raphael...
... Well Raphael didn't actually want that back yet. So he made disgusted noises about Mikey's 'carelessness' in the back of his throat, but followed close on his tail, hyper-vigilant, hyper-alert, ready to dive his little brother out of the way of danger at the slightest hint of danger.
Then Mikey actually recognized some of the guards by name and face.
The two of them were waved and pointed deeper and deeper into the pretty impressive compound, past medics, soldiers, rough guerrilla fighters, grease monkeys, hackers, counter-propagandists, and in general a much broader selection of skilled laymen then Raphael had ever seen one of their bases manage to support in the past. Bothered him, somehow, but not in that itchy paranoid way. The frenzied, hopeful energy of the whole place was right. Always felt that way around April, like she carried around a storm of it.
April wasn't in a debriefing room for once; Nevertheless, they did find her sending off a unit of well-equipped men and women in black who looked to be a little special ops group. April was never not working. Mikey waited in the doorway for—as he quickly explained to an annoyed Raphael—the 'right moment,' and then proceeded to dispense of all his normal respect for the woman with a holler of 'Mama Bear!' as he leaped across the room to bury her in a hug. Raphael squinted after him in dismay, but then shrugged.
"Mikey!" April laughed, catching the spirited hug and returning it with a warm one, before pushing him out to arm's length and looking at him very seriously. "Tell me you still have Raphael?"
"Yo," Red greeted as he padded forward with his hands in his pockets. "Why me, specifically?"
"Because it's not like you to miss a date," she scolded with visible relief. "You keep me in the dark for a year and then leave me worried a whole week!?" She held out her arms to insist that no amount of hands-in-pockets would prevent her from getting that hug. He scoffed but then dutifully submitted himself. And hugged her back, tightly and a little longer than he strictly had to.
"Good ta see ya, Ape," Raphael pulled back and gave her a once-over. She looked healthy, like she was eating right, all of her clothing but the purple headband was fresh and clean, and the dark circles that had been hanging under her eyes forever were almost gone. She was even wearing a yellow jacket. She'd just turned forty-one, but she looked ten years younger than she had when he'd last seen her. He smirked. "We're bored and out of work. Got anythin' for us?"
"As a matter of fact, I do. We've tracked down one of the last big mutagen factories and could use a sturdy spearhead to help capture it." April looked between them. "Leo?" she prompted an explanation.
"Oh yeah! Say, Raphael," Mikey asked snidely, rhetorically, "where is Leo, again?"
Tch. "Who the hell knows?"
"Oh, you're fighting. Of course you're fighting," April muttered in (relieved) exasperation (because at least no one new was dead). Then she tilted her head near Raphael to say, "You walk on Mikey again, I'll shell you." Raphael huffed in agreement/understanding. She almost laughed. "What was it about this time, dare I ask?"
Fuck, that would get Mikey going. "It's nothin,'" Raphael answered gruffly, glaring at his brother.
"Nothing?" wondered Mikey with exaggerated awe and wonderment. "Wow...! Ya know, I really thought it had something to do with how someone tried to kill the baby!"
"Baby?" blurted April.
Mikey pointed accusingly up at Raphael (with a stump) as if tattling on him. "He put cyanide in her bottle! She could have died!"
"He did what to what!?" April looked baffled between them, likely off-balance by how juvenile Michelangelo was behaving.
Raphael looked irritably away and snarled through grit teeth, "Leo found this half-dead kid what some hooker shat out in a dumpster," so Mikey wouldn't info-dump any more wastes of time. "Thing was gonna die anyway."
April turned to look back up at him and didn't immediately say anything, and Raphael didn't add anything, so Mikey tried to embellish. April lifted a hand to silence Orange. "Wait. Let me see if I understand this," she pieced together with a heavy sigh of martyrdom. "Leonardo—our Leonardo—is missing today because he has mistaken himself for a nursemaid and is out there singlehandedly attempting to feed, diaper, and shelter an infant?"
"Like he's lost his fucking mind," Raphael looked back to her. Mikey tried to talk again. April's eyelids tightened slightly and her mouth thinned in a not-very-convincing smile.
Then she socked Raphael across the jaw, hard enough that he actually stumbled and had to shake his head to clear it of stars. Wow. She hadn't clocked him like that in... how long? Nice right hook, girl, you still got it. Raphael looked back as she shook out her hand, grabbed his shoulders, steadied him, and held his stare.
"That was courtesy of Case. Now: What exactly did you do?" she asked him, brows furrowed like she genuinely wanted to understand something. "And why?"
"That thing was Not. Our. Problem." Anger boiled up that she—of all people—didn't understand, when she was constantly called on to make hard decisions; Anger (wounded anger) she'd take Leo's side over his, when Leo wasn't even there, when she barely knew Leo.
April released him and leaned back, eyes heavy lidded. After a moment, she said, "I'm sorry. A year apart and I guess I forget your unusual circumstances: You're a mutant in an unfriendly city, an enemy of the Foot; you have a lot of problems already, and you need to look after your own. Obviously, unwanted babies drowning in human waste in the gutters of the city aren't actually a turtle's problem." She paused. "Weren't a rat's problem either, come to think of it."
Red Turtle's brows furrowed down at her. What?
"Raphael..." Concern for him—not concern for Leo, not concern for any babies, not condemnation—wrinkled at the corners of her eyes. "Once upon a time, that was you. You and your brothers. The motherless baby in the garbage was you."
Durr. Raphael, didn't you see the story comments? Someone literally pointed this out on chapter one. Keep up!
I like to think most of Raphael's reunions with his favorite people involve someone punching someone. It just seems in-character, no?
Raphael's intense misanthropy: Mysteriously disappears when in proximity to his human friends. Where'd it go!? Who knows?
Chapter 23: The Upside
Leo pulling out the Japanese baby-talk involved me conducting some forensic Googling to figure out what I was evening looking for (Quick recap, the answer was: "ikujigo"). But it was worth it, because Leo saying "No good no good! Dirty dirty, washy-washy...!" needed the cover of a foreign language to hide how cute he was being from us.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
"Do you honestly need me to tell you that you aren't supposed to be martyring yourself?"
Loud, passionate crying woke up Leonardo up. He lurched reflexively for a sitting position, only to remember he had a baby sleeping under his hand and atop his naked plastron. He reflexively pressed her to him, catching her and all her blankets.
"Oh," he blinked rapidly in surprise, and then grimaced critically towards the opposite hand he now had flat against the grimy concrete. "Oh good evening," he yawned, juggling her into the curve of his elbow and squeezing her up so he could touch his nose to her hair. He kept that other hand firmly against the sewer floor for now; It had just come into contact with residues of human waste, and he needed not to pass any more germs on to their Cocoa Bean.
Cocoa flailed her limbs about with great gusto, and as if she found them no more useful than a ship's oars. Leo blinked towards her in fond curiousity. Then his eyes widened, and he turned his cheek into her forehead to feel...
...The fever had broken!
A cry of relieved laughter escaped his chest, and Leonardo sat forward and leaned her against his knees. Excited, he reached to where soap and basin of water were waiting, all ready to go, that he might swiftly wash his hands. "Dame dame! Jiji kireikirei...!" he chuckled in soft reassurance to her sobs. He shook his fingers dry and cupped his discontented child in both hands. Her eyes were completely open, she was breathing freely through her nose, and she sounded absolutely famished!
Picking through his and her things where they stacked up neatly upon their garbage bag, Leo mixed her formula, fished out and shook the last of the lighters, and flicked the latter on for its heat. The baby jumped slightly. He chuckled. This would take a minute or so.
The baby mumbled quietly before beginning to waggle her limbs again; Leo glanced down inquisitively, but both his hands were occupied. Her sudden rush of exciting bleating sounded happy, and her toes found and curled against his armor. She kicked him harmlessly. He shifted his knees so as not to accidentally drop her, and used his elbow to get her blankets back over her feet. An involuntary smile rocked him suddenly, stretching the corners of his mouth tight. The fever had broken. The fever had broken, and she was going to live, and this was her feeling energetic for the first time in her life.
He hadn't failed her.
"Well," Leo cleared his throat shakily, "I think you must have spent all the good fortune of 'Cocoa Bean' this morning. What are we to do in Michelangelo's absence?"
It sounded like she hummed happily while nomming on her blankets.
"I have an idea," he decided as he swirled the formula over the lighter to avoid scorching any of it. "We shall use his preformatted examples: a Hispanic food, a meat product, and a dessert item. If we repeat that pattern over from the beginning, perhaps you might be La Enchilada? How do you feel about that?"
La Enchilada had no idea what he was saying, but squeaked as if absolutely thrilled with the universe. Leonardo finished with the lighter, got the bottle ready, brought it to her face, steadied a finger against her cheek so as not to poke her in the eye, and guided the teat to her mouth. She chomped down and nursed very seriously. Then she let go of the bottle and made feeble sounds of displeasure. He chased her mouth and stroked her cheek. She chomped down again, and released again. She thrashed her head from side to side and started to cry in frustration. Leo frowned.
With sudden, somber knowing, he picked up the lighter and flicked it back on.
La Enchilada jumped, again. He slid the bottle back into her mouth, and she took it and latched on and nursed contentedly. He did not need to touch her face to know she'd been fussing because she wanted to see him. I understand, he absolved, even as they burned through the last of the lighter fluid, and mandated he go topside to find a solution before one hundred and twenty minutes could elapse. He had to; She had to eat. I understand. I want to see you, too.
She passed out almost as soon as she'd emptied her bottle, and the heat of the lighter sputtered out not three seconds later. Leonardo did not immediately reach for his neatly folded clothing, electing instead to carefully pick her up against his collar, press snout to her hair, and rock them both in place for a short while.
Blue Turtle crept across the tin awnings of the unexpectedly thriving night market, smelling the steaming juices of fried foods, and listening to the shouts, gossip and soft laughter of people who were managing to enjoy their lives despite the bleak times. He wasn't certain what nearby factory or attraction kept so many people up and moving at this hour, but the livelihood reminded him vaguely of old Chinatown or other long-gone ethnic parts of Manhattan. He sniffed and prowled carefully from support beam to support beam, nervously searching.
He'd eaten but twice in the last four days. Somehow, amidst all this activity, Leonardo needed to try and snag himself some food.
A guard strolled by, chasing away beggar women. Leonardo slipped down in the hollow behind a battered old plastic garbage bin. He waited patiently. Most of the refuse which people placed inside consisted of plastic cups, straws, disposable chopsticks, and kebab sticks. The presence of garbage—any garbage—denoted he was in a slightly wealthier area than the rock-bottom ghettos in which he and his brothers had made their last home (where no quality of chopsticks was too low as to be considered 'disposable'). Still, no real food. Not yet. His little Enchilada woke up and warbled at him, and he rocked her to coax her to silence.
A disgusted passerby walked past, muttered something in a language Leonardo did not recognize, and threw a closed Styrofoam container into the garbage can's mouth. Leonardo's stomach might as well have felt the weight of it, as it sailed through the air and landed amid the refuse. Weight meant that it was full. Carefully, while praying no one else had witnessed this careless disposal, Leo twisted about and reached through the back aperture of the garbage can...
...Back up on the rooftops of this sprawling shanty-covered market town, and nestled between two boarded up windows, Leonardo hesitantly peeled open the cover of his spoils, uncertain what he'd find. An entire, fat, fried squid, purple and steaming, sat there atop a packed mound of soy-coated rice. On review, one, single tentacle looked to have been bitten into. Someone with disposable income had ordered this by accident, been too flustered not to pay for it, and simply hadn't liked the taste of squid.
Leo stuffed his face.
The food was so good it almost hurt, which made little enough sense given that he'd endured longer periods of famine before. He swallowed almost without chewing, just tearing portions free. He ate every grain of rice, and then tipped his head back and felt the press of something like heat or tears against his face. Perhaps food reminded him of his brothers. Perhaps he missed them with a part of himself that hadn't gotten the memo on what Raphael had done.
The swoosh of air and a heavy thud woke Enchilada up and put her to fussing, because Leonardo jumped in place. He blinked to himself, and then reached blindly over to feel for the laundry item which had nearly landed on him. He picked it up to rub it between his fingertips, and found it was a tattered old bamboo mat, like the sort one ought to put under a futon.
"That's it. Not just her. You, too."
None of them were sixteen anymore, and sleeping naked on wet concrete—while probably quite natural for a turtle—had left Leonardo feeling cold, slimy, and stiff. The personal maintenance tasks required to get up and dressed after just two hours of that were lengthy, which had left him either A) disinclined to try his luck at gathering supplies or B) traveling about chilly and naked for the first time since puberty. Now that he could lay down a futon again, two-hour catnaps had never felt more energizing.
Leo mustered his brazenness. Mustered his appetite. He fed and secured his infant and went topside again, aggressively tracking down food and water. Three tries let him make a functional stove out of a tin can, and he stole candles, lighters, wood chips and whatever else he could get his hands on. As his pork sausage cooked later that night, he had his hands free to touch La Enchilada's face as she watched him. He furrowed his brows down at her and conspired with her. She furrowed her brows up at him. He blinked in surprise. Had she just-? He felt her blink 'in surprise.'
Whereupon Leonardo surely had a Michelangelo moment and squealed deliriously, because the baby was copying his face.
Leonardo flopped giddily on his futon, unwrapped her swaddling, and set her on top of his plastron to her baffled mumbles. He picked up her feet and gently rolling her onto her back and stomach, both to entertain her and get her to stretch. All sorts of delighted mewls and bleats answered him. Whenever she was on her belly, she kicked and palmed the surface of his armor like she was very determinedly trying to get up. Exercise! Excellent! Hmm. Where was that onesie?
After obtaining the outfit and feeling about in search of all its features, Leo felt large circles sewn on the hood which might have been eyes or spots, and deduced Mikey had elected to dress her as some sort of adorable animal. More importantly, the garment would keep her fingers and toes warm during play time, and had a flap at the buttocks to be used at diaper time. He felt her face just as soon as she was in it, and laughed. Michelangelo was correct: she always looked like a sour old librarian.
Previously, he had not been the turtle on ground level, risking having his face seen, but now her little hood jarred him to his senses. His next trip topside, he stole a shoulder cape and pulled the hood low like he was trying to get through a heavy rainstorm. He found leather gloves with grips, with the intention of letting out the hems the fingers to stitch them together. He found a scarf. He started looking for a heavier coat; if he was any chance he might end up outside with La Enchilada in the winter time, his clothing preferences were going to start running more Russian than Japanese.
"I am even sacrificing my fashion sense for you," he conspired with her mirthfully as he sewed, and as she hummed contentedly into his shoulder after a particularly satisfying bottle. "Do you have any idea how peculiar that is for me? I don't even talk about clothes with anyone, I just... dress a certain way because... well it's difficult to explain. It is not like I even know what color this is; I could be wearing Hello Kitty right now and remain oblivious to it. That's... embarrassing. Yes of course I know I have more important things to worry about but-"
La Enchilada suddenly gave an enormous belch. Leo straightened and 'looked' at her incredulously. Then he started laughing. "Well! I think Mikey would be extremely proud of you right now." He kissed her fluffy head. "I know I am." She hummed.
Mikey holds up Card that says 8.5/10! "Bonus points for spontaneity yo, but you gotta learn from a master!"