"Hey, there he is," Raph called, emerging from the kitchen wearing the frayed apron with 'Kiss Ze Chef' in faded script across the chest. The remnants of his crimson mask were tied around one bulky bicep; still firm despite the years. He never put it aside completely, as the rest of them had. An eye patch covered his left eye.
Mikey smiled, the familiar dimples puckered in both cheeks; lifting the case of soda with one hand, a grocery bag slung over his opposite shoulder and another in his other fist. April, dusting her hands with a wash cloth came up behind Raphael.
"Bring that in here, Mikey."
As he crossed the room he nodded at Donatello crouched behind the largest of the television screens, tinkering.
He raised one hand but remained behind the set. "Greetings, little brother."
As Mikey passed by April she gave him a peck on one cheek and he made a soft, 'Oo' sound and chuckled.
"Okay, I've got chips, dip, popcorn, cheeses of just about every shape and size and variety, pepperoni, onion, peppers, hot peppers, our favorite brand of jelly beans, if I do recall correctly and uhm," he set the bags on the table and peered inside. "Oh yeah, anchovies!"
Raphael groaned from where he stood in front of the stove, stirring a large pot of April's secret recipe of pizza sauce.
"I haven't had April's famous homemade pizza in about ten years and you ain't gonna ruin it with those little bits of dead fish."
"Sheesh, Raph. I'm here two minutes and you're already arguing with me, some things never change," he grinned with a shake of his head. "Poor unevolved taste buds. I'll just put them on mine."
"Fine. Just keep 'em away from my pie. Uh, did you get the . . ." he paused and shot a look at April then back to Mikey.
April rolled her eyes. She stuck an errant strand of white hair behind one ear. "Like you have any secrets from me." She reached inside one bag as Mikey opened the fridge, allowing April to take charge. She withdrew a large bag of iridescent gummi bears, held them up to satisfy Raphael and tossed them to Mikey.
"Squishy goodness," he said and squeezed the bag.
Raph shrugged. "I like how they taste," he mumbled into the sauce as April joined Mikey in laying out the rest of the necessary ingredients for their family's favorite pizzas and their toppings. Casey strode into the kitchen. His chin tipped as he cradled a cell phone between his jaw and shoulder.
"Yeah, okay. That's fine, Angel. 'S long as you get here before nine. Okay." He looked up, graying eye brows crinkling, "Angel says not to worry, she'll be here. Just running a bit late."
"I hope she doesn't miss the show."
Casey shrugged as he hung up. "She might. Nothin' she can do about it, though. Work's been busy at the Teen Center. She's starting that new program for at-risk kids and they've got a meet with a couple investors."
"Can you help shred some of this cheese?"
He nodded, then, "Hey Mikey, how's Renet been?"
Mikey's smile deepened, eyes twinkling. "She's good. Got the kids over at her place this evening so I could come."
Casey started to grate the wedge of cheese. The curls of mozzarella spilled out over an increasing mound of off-white on the plate. "Whoa. All five kids?"
Mikey added with a misty look on his face, "She's so good about stuff like that. But yeah, Lord Simultaneous will be there to keep them busy."
Casey nodded. The streaks of white in his dark hair stood out in the light of the kitchen.
"She's a sweetheart, Mikey. And a natural with the girls," April added as she hefted the large wooden rolling pin. "But I think I'd be good, too, if I had a scepter that could freeze or rewind time whenever the kids got into things."
Donatello came into the room. "Television is set. The reunion show will start in just under two hours."
"Thirty years, I can't even believe it sometimes," April said, kneading the mound of dough. She turned and started another batch in a large dented bowl.
"Tell me about it," Raph said. He snapped his fingers, "Went like that."
Donatello eyed the proportions of water April was adding to the bowl. "You know the ratio of water to flour for a crispier crust shouldn't be more than-"
April shot him a look and he ducked his head, rubbing the back of his neck. "Right, your recipe." He made a move like zipping across his lips. She gave him an appreciative nod.
"How's Jhanna, Donnie?" Mikey asked. He had the various canned fish open and ready to be spread on top of the pizzas.
"Fine. She can't make it. But sends her love."
"I bet." Casey said and winked at Mikey who chuckled at Donatello's slight blush. Nearing fifty and the shyest of the group still had it in him to blush.
"Casey, behave," April chided. Then added in an undertone, "God, to have those hips, though."
Donatello lifted his hands up in surrender, "Okay, if I'm not, uh, needed in the kitchen, I'll be in the old lab. It's been a while, you know? I want to see if those mold samples are still where I left them."
"Don't get caught up in nothin', Donnie."
"I won't," he said defensively to Raph.
"We're all in the living room in T minus, uh, about two hours, got it?"
"Of course," he gave a slight bow and left the room.
Raphael leaned against the counter near the stove, a can of soda in one hand, dripping spoon in the other. He watched Donatello head for the lab that he'd once spent most, if not all, of his time inside and was hit with a nostalgic bitter-sweetness that made his good eye water. He was the last to leave the lair after Donatello had gone off when Jhanna had come back and rekindled whatever had been started all those years ago in Casey's grandmother's farm in Northhampton. He never saw his brainy brother so happy as he was when she came back.
Mikey opened another can of sardines and looked around. "Speaking of formality, where's Leo?"
Raphael blinked and said to the floor, "Where do you think?"
* * *
Upstairs in the dimly lit room, the room that remained frozen in time for the past six years since his passing; the room no one ever entered, no one except him; but that was on rare occasion now; Leonardo sat in half-lotus position. A candle illuminated the small space of darkness in front of him. His knees, battered and riddled with arthritis, could no longer hold the full lotus for more than a few seconds before the pain became too intense. His shoulder ached where his sword had once punctured through to his shell, wrecking it and leaving him forever scarred. His posture was as close to perfection as he could bring it. And though he knew things like that mattered little in the larger scheme of things, he wanted everything about today to go perfectly. And knowing he'd hear nothing but the vast emptiness that had taken up residence in this room, he listened. Searched. There were no answers to his seeking heart. Not anymore.
Distantly, he heard the happy banter and the muffled sounds of activity coming from the rooms below. His heart was a mixture of contentment, pride and melancholy aching. From out reaching dimensions to distant states, he'd managed to collect the family together again. Whole, more or less, thanks to his efforts over the years as their leader.
He'd like to think that Splinter was with them. He wanted to believe it. That he saw them now; aged but not changed, not too much. Where there had been evolution, it had been for the better. Old vices conquered, old negative habits mastered and discarded, and in their places were contentment and satisfaction. The kind that only living hard and surviving the worst to make it into old age; shocked a little after all, surprised that they had made it this far; brought. A ghost of a smile came and went over the stoic, serious face.
There had been fighting and there had been laughter. There had even been joy, sometimes. Though mostly fleeting. Overall he was grateful. His melancholy soul rested like a migrating bird upon the moment of peace, between the south of his nostalgic ache and the north of his regrets. It was time to face them. It had been too long and he didn't want to get lost in his mind here in his Sensei's old room. It was too easy to do these long, lonely days. But not tonight. Tonight he would not be alone.
He blew out the candle, bowed respectively to the artifacts that claimed this room as shrine to his father and teacher. The one he'd loved more fiercely than anyone else his entire life. He missed him terribly. Longed for the happy reunion with his Master that awaited him one day. But for tonight, a different gathering awaited and he'd kept them waiting long enough.
* * *
The light from below was momentarily blinding as he descended the stairs to greet his family members. He ran the back of his hand over his weak eyes. Limping slightly as he moved, bones protesting. He was immediately caught up and embraced by the youngest. He hadn't seen him in over a year and a half and tears sprang to his eyes to hear the laughter bubbling from him, to see the joy in his bright blue eyes, still so young, as he looked at Leo's face. Michelangelo pulled back and gave him a once over.
"Wow, man. You got really old."
"Mikey!" April chided.
Raphael chucked the apron to one side as April took the pot from him to lace the rolled out dough with the sauce. He crossed his arms over his chest and eyed him. "Thought you were gonna stay up there all night."
"Course not," Leo replied a little sharply, chagrined but not really hurt.
Years ago, when it had happened, he'd taken Splinter's passing the hardest and for a while it was too much of an effort to leave the room in question. He lived inside the dark empty space. Spent the long hours of days that turned into weeks and eventually, months. There had only been Raph to pull him from wasting away; chasing after his master into that unknown. And even Raph's strength of will and stubbornness was nearly not enough. But he'd gotten better. Eventually.
He glanced around, eager to change the subject. Casey waved, sucking sauce from one finger as April hit him playfully with the end of a wooden spoon.
"I'll get Don," Raph said.
They took their places, in the living room and Mikey leaned forward where he sat on the old couch, springs squeaking and groaning with his weight. He rubbed his hands together, elbows braced on his bent knees. His smile was warm and bright. As it had always been and no doubt always would remain. The thought made Leonardo happy.
"The lair looks great, Leo."
He smiled. "I've been busy redesigning the dojo. Have you seen it yet?" He looked hopeful and started to get up when Mikey gestured for him to stay seated.
"I'll look later, you just sat down."
Leo crossed his arms. He huffed in irritation. "I'm older, Mikey, I'm not a geezer."
Mikey laughed so hard he had to wipe one eye. "I didn't mean it like that. I was just teasin' before. You look great for what? Eighty?"
He yelped as the wooden spoon cracked him on the top of his head. He peered over his shoulder at April who shook her head again and made two fingers go to her eyes then back to him. Mikey chuckled.
"Security's tight as ever around here."
Donatello came into the room followed by Raphael, bringing in a large bowl of popcorn as Don turned on the set.
"Can't wait to see if Macy Alexandra still looks the same. Remember how she never seemed to age. I mean, Master Splinter watched this show forever and she looked exactly the same when the show was canceled like twenty five years later."
"It's called plastic surgery, Mikey."
"I think she's a vampire."
Donatello sighed and sat next to him. April and Casey entered with more drinks and bowls of snacks. Donatello pointed the remote and switched it to the channel. The conversation ebbed and flowed as the time passed and the celebrity reunion show commenced. It had been the longest running soap opera in television history and Master Splinter never missed an episode. Except for the times he'd been kidnapped by the Shredder, but Donatello had found the episodes on Youtube for Splinter so he was filled in on all the juicy details he'd missed while in captivity.
"Remember the story where Mindy and Sean were taken by aliens to that planet full of replicas of old movie stars?" Mikey asked through a mouthful of popcorn.
April briefly left the room to return a moment later with two pizzas. She set them down on the coffee table amongst the bowls of snacks and empty soda cans. She nodded. "My favorite one was when they went back in time and fought dinosaurs."
"Yeah, we'd know how that feels," Raphael commented with a shiver. "Don't remind me. Still having nightmares of all those giant dino-bugs."
"Didn't they have one where there was some kind of dimension portal-thing-y open up?"
"That happened a lot," Mikey said.
"No, I mean the one . . ." April scrunched her face up as she tried to remember and the guys shushed her as the woman who played Macy Alexandra came on screen to answer fan questions.
"A very good plastic surgeon," Don corrected.
April squinted, "I may have to agree with Mikey on this one."
Donatello looked scandalized. April glanced around. Raphael had a wry grin on his face, Leonardo remained passively relaxed in the easy chair that Splinter so often sat in when he was still with them. Casey was nodding in agreement, next to Mikey on the floor.
"I've never seen her give an interview in the daylight."
Mikey's eyes went wide. "Called it."
"Donnie, you know better 'n anyone that anythin' is possible."
Donatello huffed and picked up another piece of pizza, flicking the multi-colored gummi bears off his slice onto Raphael's plate. He snatched them up one at a time and popped them into his mouth.
"Did you take your insulin?"
Raph stopped in mid-popping, rolled his eye to the ceiling, thought a moment and then nodded. "Yeah, I did. I think."
"Don't change the subject."
Donatello gave up. His brother's poor pancreas would have to wait. "I guess, I can admit to some things that I may have expected to not be a possibility to perhaps have some merit," he finished quickly and half-mumbling.
Everyone laughed and he flushed.
"You're so cute, Donnie," Mikey teased. "The guy that's been around the galaxy, in and out of dimensional portals, everything from dinosaurs to sky highways that distort reality, to power hungry demons and aliens in robotic suits to look like humans and you can't wrap your mind around the simple idea of vampires."
"Just don't try and tell me that they sparkle," he groused.
April and Casey started to laugh. Mikey pouted. "Some do."
The reunion show continued, focusing on the stars, the guest stars and the variety of cameos made by famous people on the show. Then it switched to interviews with some of the fans that had followed the show since its inception, thirty years ago. The small family fell silent as people reminisced about raising children while watching the series, losing jobs and starting over, about losing themselves in collecting memorabilia of the show, even some who've become popular fanfiction authors; so devoted to the show continuing on after its cancellation that they started up stories that mirrored the early plot lines or took them in bizarre unimaginable new directions; all out of devotion and love to a show that seemed silly to some; even mocked by others. It was touching. Hilarious and fun.
But when they started interviewing some of the fans reminiscing about their parents who were loyal fans, but had passed away, Leonardo excused himself. He went to the washroom and ran cool water over his face as the salty sting of tears mingled with the slightly brown water of the faucet. He'd need to remember to ask Donnie to look into the pipes for him before he left again. But not tonight.
Tonight was to celebrate. To remember. He willfully slid the encroaching melancholy away from his heart. He didn't want to be sad. Not tonight. He stepped out of the bathroom and leaned heavily on the railing, looking down at his family as they enjoyed their favorite food, laughing and joking. The scene was lit with the flickering light of the large screen.
He memorized every detail, as his heart pinched and swelled. Drinking in the joy of seeing his brothers and friends together again under the same roof. Knowing the joyful moment would pass, wishing he could slow time and stretch it out, just this moment. The only comfort was that this memory being forged would live on in his heart; forever.
"I hope you can see this, Sensei," he whispered.
And next to him, as he always was, smiling down with infinite joy, unseen, unfelt, Master Splinter nodded in approval. He wouldn't have missed this reunion for anything.