Last chapter! Thanks so much to everyone who has read along and left feedback! It really means a lot to me. :) Thanks to Skitsmix for catching all my typos and for nudging me to write the opening scene with Casey and JT.
When the buzzing sound jolted Casey out of a sound sleep, his first instinct was to swat at his alarm clock until it clattered to the floor. The noise came again, though, and he realized that it was his door buzzer. He rolled out of bed with a groan and shuffled across his darkened apartment in his t-shirt and boxers, groping at the wall until he hit the intercom switch by his door.
"What?" he growled.
"Casey, it's me, JT Fuentes. I'm sorry to wake you, but I need help and I don't know where else to go."
"Huh?" That got Casey's attention, and he immediately switched on the light, squinting in the glare. "Yeah, come on up," he said, pressing the button to buzz his friend inside. He unlocked the deadbolt and headed back to his room to hurriedly pull on a pair of wrinkled jeans. He heard his door creak open and close with a quiet thud as JT let himself in.
"Dude, what's goin' on? I thought you were undercover!" Casey said, staring at JT in astonishment. JT was wide-eyed and out of breath, and he looked as if he'd been roughed up. When he turned to the window to close the curtains, Casey saw an angry-looking bruise darkening his cheek.
"I was. I got made," came the grim reply.
"Whoa. So...wait, how come you're here? Shouldn't you be back at the station or something?"
"Yeah. Yeah, I should. I just…" JT sat down heavily on Casey's couch and let his head fall back against the cushions. "I can't go back yet. Tonight was really strange and I can't talk to my sergeant until I know what I'm gonna tell him."
"You want a beer?" Casey asked. "Two AM is a little early for me to start drinkin', but you look like you could use it. And you're with me, so you wouldn't be drinkin' alone."
"No thanks." JT scrubbed his hands across his face. "It sounds good, but...I want to keep my head clear."
Casey flopped down in his battered armchair, settling back to listen. "What happened?"
"Okay, well...I told you I was going undercover. My assignment was to infiltrate the Purple Dragons," JT began. He was too distracted to notice Casey's startled flinch. "It was going really well - I was about to close the operation, actually. Just another couple days. But somehow they found out I was a cop. I don't know what - or who - tipped them off." He swallowed hard. "They were going to kill me, Case. Another few seconds and..." He took a deep breath, lifting his head and fixing Casey with a pleading look. "I had to talk to you because I thought you'd understand," he said in a rush. "Because you got mixed up in that thing last year when the triceratops alien things hit the city."
Casey hesitated before speaking, having a sneaking suspicion of where this conversation might be going but not wanting to make assumptions until he knew for sure. "What do aliens got to do with anything?"
"This is going to sound crazy." JT dropped his gaze to the floor and pulled off his fingerless gloves to run his hands through his shaggy black hair. "So...Hun has talked about these...turtles from time to time. I thought it was just some vigilantes in costumes or a rival gang, but...I saw them tonight, and they're real. Real, talking, five-foot-tall turtles with weapons and…" He looked back up at Casey. "They saved my life," he said quietly. "I don't know where they came from or how they knew to help me, but they did. They broke in and fought off the Dragons so I could get away. I ran until I'd lost the last of the Dragons who were chasing me and then…" He shrugged helplessly. "I came here. Hun took my phone and my wallet when they grabbed me. It was just a burn phone and the ID for my undercover assignment, not my real name; but I couldn't go back to the crash pad I've been using for the past six months and I couldn't go back to my real home, and I didn't want to go back to the station until I knew how to explain this."
Casey didn't say a word. JT's shoulders slumped. "I told you it's crazy," he said dispiritedly.
"Naw, man," Casey drawled. "It's not crazy. What you saw...they're real."
JT's head shot up. "You've seen them?"
Casey put his hands on his knees and pushed himself to his feet. "Forget the beer," he said, heading to the kitchen. "We're gonna need some coffee. This story is gonna take a while."
The ride home was as swift and uneventful as their journey out. They'd been gone less than two hours, and the moon was still high over the tops of the skyscrapers as Mikey backed into the abandoned warehouse.
Mikey led the way to the elevator and back to the lair; Don couldn't open doors with his injured hands, and Raph was still half-carrying Leo. When the elevator doors hissed open, Raph was unsurprised to see their father hurriedly making his way towards them - but he stopped short, stunned, when he saw that the fur on Splinter's cheeks was dark and damp with tears.
Don's eyes widened in alarm. "Sensei, what is it?"
Splinter didn't speak right away. He came up to Michelangelo - who was still walking in front of his brothers - and wrapped his arms around him in a fierce embrace.
Mikey hugged him back but darted a bewildered glance over his shoulder at the other three. "Did something happen, Sensei?" he asked.
"You are all right," Splinter choked out, finally releasing him and moving towards his other sons. He embraced Donatello as well before stopping in front of Raph and Leo, resting a hand on each of their shoulders.
"Sensei, what's goin' on?" Raph demanded, anxiety making his voice harsh.
"My sons...I thought I lost you," Splinter's eyes flitted back and forth between the four of them as he spoke. "I was meditating, and a short time ago I thought I felt…" The words lodged in his throat and he had to take several deep breaths before he could continue. "I felt your deaths," he forced out. "All of you. I...I cannot explain how." He bowed his head. "Even now as I try to remember what I saw, I cannot. But I cannot forget how I felt. In that moment, I knew that you were all lost to me."
The four brothers exchanged glances. "Well, we...we had a bit of a close call," Don said, "but we're okay. Maybe it was a dream?"
"No," Splinter said forcefully. "It was no dream. I knew…"
"It's been a weird night," Mikey said. "You guys remember those black hole things that kept popping up?"
"Yeah." Don frowned. "They all vanished as soon as we got out of the warehouse, though. I was watching. I wonder what they were?"
"Hopefully we don't find out," Raph put in. "I didn't like the look of 'em." He glanced down, then, as Leo abruptly tensed and clamped a hand on his arm.
"M'sorry, Raph," Leo slurred. "But I gotta sit down. I don't think…"
"Whoa." Raph felt a surge of alarm at the tight, pale expression on Leo's face. "I know that look, bro," he warned, hastily shuffling toward the couch. "And if you puke on me I am gonna drop you."
Despite his discomfort, a small sound that might have been a laugh escaped Leo's chest. "No guarantees."
Leo's interruption brought his father and brothers back to the here-and-now. Mikey curled his hand around Don's arm. "Come on, Donny," he said, giving him a tug. "We'd better take care of those hands."
Although the worried expression remained on Splinter's face, he withdrew to retrieve the first aid kit and bring it to his sons in the main living area. He handed the box to Michelangelo and sat nearby, folding his still-shaking hands to keep them steady.
Mikey gave Don a little push so he'd sit on the couch next to Leonardo, then took a quick detour to the kitchen, returned with a basin of lukewarm water, and perched on the table across from him. "All right, dude. Gimme," he said, gesturing for Don to hold out his hands. Don complied. He let out a hiss of pain as Mikey gently started wiping away the dried blood, but sat still and didn't pull his hands away.
"My sons. Please tell me what happened." Splinter's voice was low, but the fear and grief he had felt were still present.
The brothers exchanged glances briefly, then Don started talking. Splinter listened without comment. Although he was used to hearing his sons talk about fights with the Foot or Purple Dragons, tonight the retelling left him looking tired and shaken. "Thank you for telling me," he said when Don was finished. "I do not know what it was that I saw...but I am glad it was merely a vision and not reality."
Raph finished cleaning the wound on Leo's head and rummaged in the first aid kit for a bandage. He saw Leo blinking heavily and prodded his shoulder. "Hey. Stay awake, Leo." Leo sighed tiredly but gave himself a little shake and sat up straighter.
Mikey had picked up a thin pair of tweezers and was delicately picking gravel out from the abrasions on Don's palms. Although Donatello's mouth was tight, he didn't flinch while his brother worked. Raph recognized the glazed look in his eyes that meant he was trying to distract himself from the stinging pain in his hands by thinking about one of his many ongoing projects - but then Don's gaze focused with alarming suddenness and he sucked in a sharp breath. "Mikey, that wound on your neck…"
"Hm?" Mikey looked up briefly and gave a dismissive shrug. "Aw, don't worry about it. I'll take care of it when I'm done."
"N-no, that's not what I - " Don bit down on his uncharacteristic stammering. "Mikey, that's a bullet wound."
Everyone froze, looking over at Michelangelo in alarm. He fidgeted underneath the scrutiny, poking gingerly at the oozing welt burned in the side of his neck. "No wonder it stung," he said, forcing a light laugh, but his hands shook and he had to set the tweezers down.
Splinter strode over to Mikey and put a hand on his shoulder, taking hold of his chin with the other hand and tilting his head up and to the side so he could inspect the injury. "It is not deep," he said hoarsely, "but this does little to reassure me." His hand tightened on his son's shoulder, and if his claws perhaps dug a bit deeper than was comfortable, Mikey didn't react.
Raph finished taping the gauze square over Leo's head wound, then quickly cleaned up the rest of the small abrasions the fight had left on Leo and himself. Mikey patted Splinter's hand briefly before picking up the tweezers again to finish removing the debris from Don's hands. He rinsed the last of the blood away and patted them dry before wrapping them in light bandages. It took him only a few moments more to change the bandage around the persistent wound on Don's right leg. "There," he said, applying a final piece of tape with a satisfied air. "Now, pay attention." He waved a finger in Don's face with sternness that was only half-teasing. "No typing, no mechanic-ing, and no fighting until you are cleared by Dr. Mikey. And if you need anything, ask Raph." That coaxed a laugh out of Don even as Raph rolled his eyes and pretended to be annoyed.
"Okay," Mikey said, putting his hands on his knees and pushing himself to his feet. "I'll be back in a sec. Gonna get myself cleaned up."
"Nope," Raph said firmly. He crossed over in three long strides and snagged Mikey by the back of his belt. Mikey let out an indignant yelp as his brother hauled him backwards and put a heavy hand on his shoulder, pushing until he sat down on the table again.
"Stay," Raph said, tapping him forcefully on the forehead with one fingertip before retrieving the box of bandages.
"Raaaph, I can do this myself," Mikey drawled.
Raph scowled down at him. "Humor me." Mikey just gave him a knowing little smile and sat still while Raph cleaned and bandaged the wound.
Don shifted over to sit closer to Leo on the couch, gently bumping their shoulders together. "Hey, Leo. How are you feeling?"
Leo managed a small smile despite the lines of pain around his eyes. "Better," he said. "My head's killing me but I'm not dizzy any more."
"And you're managing complete sentences again!" Mikey put in cheerfully. "Nice!"
Leo let out a little huff of laughter. "Feels like that's about all I can manage." He gingerly prodded the area around the bandage. "You've got one heck of an arm, Raph."
"I told ya, bro, it wasn't me. But like I said...I'll take a rain check." Raph reached out and rested his hand on Leo's head, stern face softening when he felt his brother lean into his palm.
"I'm really tired," Leo said softly.
"It should be okay for you to sleep. We'll just have to wake you every couple hours to check on you," Don told him.
"I'll stay with him," Raph said. "C'mon, Fearless. Up we go." He ducked down so Leo could put an arm across his shoulders, then straightened and lifted his brother to his feet. Leo was more steady on his legs but still leaned against him as they made their slow way to his room.
Raph sat Leo on the edge of his bed and stepped away briefly to carefully put his sai on Leo's bookshelf. "I expect you not to push me off," he warned.
Leo smiled tiredly. "I'll do my best."
Mikey poked his head in the door. "No way there's room for both of you in there. Fortunately, Donny and I have a solution." He entered Leo's room with Don close behind. Both brothers were dragging their mattresses and carrying their blankets and pillows. Raph smirked. He helped Leo stand again, then pulled his mattress off the bed frame and plopped it on the floor next to Mikey's and Don's. Four turtles on three mattresses was a bit of a snug fit, but none of them minded. In spite of the fact that it was rather early for any of them to turn in, the turbulent events of the night had left them all feeling drained, and it wasn't long before the brothers all sank into an exhausted sleep.
Raph's mental alarm clock woke him a couple hours later. A sleepy, puzzled frown crossed his face as he found himself sandwiched between Leo and Don, but it only took a moment for memory to return. Leo's head rested against Raph's shoulder. His breaths were a little faster than usual, shortened by pain even in his sleep. Reluctantly, Raph reached over and gave him a gentle shake. "Hey. Leo," he whispered. "Wake up for a second." Leo made a soft sound of protest, but didn't open his eyes. "C'mon, Leo," Raph said, shaking him again. "I hate to do this to you, bud, but you gotta wake up."
Leo sighed heavily and lifted his head, blinking wearily at his brother. "'Kay, I'm up," he mumbled. "Now can I go back to sleep?"
One side of Raph's mouth lifted in a fond smile. Despite the uncharacteristic mumbling from his usually articulate brother, in the dim light from the hallway, Raph could see that Leo's eyes were clear and his gaze was lucid. "Yeah, go back to sleep," he answered. "I'll wake you again in a couple hours."
"Can't wait," Leo replied dryly. He shifted into a more comfortable position, leaning his head against Raph's shoulder once more. Mikey stirred a little, disturbed by the movement, but after a moment he settled and curled a little closer against Leo's side without waking up.
Raph could feel sleep pressing against his mind again, but he held it off just a little longer as he turned his attention to Donatello. Don had given him just a bit more room, but was still lying close enough for Raph to feel the warmth radiating off of him. He reached out carefully and very lightly rested the back of his hand against Don's forehead, letting out a little relieved sigh as he determined that his brother's temperature was normal. Don had started spiking fevers at night, likely due to the non-healing wound the mutant had given him several months back, but tonight, at least, it seemed that he'd be able to rest comfortably.
Raphael sighed contentedly and closed his eyes, letting the sound of his brothers slow, gentle breathing lull him to sleep.
Renet looked up from the Orb of Hindsight, smiling brightly in spite of the tears that clouded her eyes. "See? It was worth it."
Simultaneous gazed through the hazy sphere at the four sleeping brothers, disapproval and relief warring for dominance on his face. "I know why you did it," he said slowly. "But you still shouldn't have interfered. You nearly destroyed their existence for the sake of one person. And four lives were still lost."
"Just three," she answered shakily. "Raph, Don, and Mikey thought it was worth it, too. Their existence in their home dimension never even happened, but they saved Leo. And even though they only existed here for a short time...even though I'm the only person who'll mourn them, it's enough." She frowned a little in confusion. "I don't understand how Splinter knew, though. No one was supposed to be able to know. I fixed their timeline so Leo never died."
"Splinter said he was meditating," Simultaneous answered. "I don't pretend to know how that astral plane stuff works. That's beyond me. But for just a moment before you fused the timelines, the two forks of destiny coexisted; Leo was fatally wounded in one, and his brothers sacrificed themselves to save him in the other. I guess Splinter was at a plane of consciousness where he could sense it, even though technically he was perceiving things that never happened." He paused then, giving a sad little sigh. "And, Renet...you won't be the only one to mourn them." His gaze became pointed, though, as he continued: "But, there were four deaths. Have you forgotten that poor fellow who was swallowed by the rift? I wonder if he would think it was worth it?"
Renet's spine straightened, a hint of professional pride showing through in spite of her grief. "You mean the gang member? You don't have to worry about him. I caught him."
Simultaneous' brows lifted. "You did what?"
"I caught him. Grabbed him with the time scepter before the rift closed and dumped him back where he belonged just before the timelines fused," she answered.
"Well…well, that's - that was quite skilled of you," Simultaneous forced out. "Actually, Renet, in spite of everything, I am quite impressed. I'm not sure if even I could have merged the timelines successfully." His voice firmed again as he recovered from his surprise. "But you still can't use the time scepter again. Not for the foreseeable future. And I'm a time lord - I can see a long, long, long way."
"I know." Renet gave a last wistful look through the time window before sparkling pink fog clouded it once more, obscuring the brothers from her sight. She wiped away her tears and smiled, turning back to her mentor. "Guess this means I should start dusting, huh?"