"Cleaning the chicken coop," Raphael threw over his shoulder as he flung the screen door open on the old farmhouse and stomped towards the battered wooden structure at the rear of the yard. If Casey and Donatello heard him they gave no indication, aggressively insulting each other as their thumbs frantically punched the controllers for the video game that continued their tedious war.
Outside it was beautiful; the yard and the woods that surrounded the house covered in pristine white snow, glittering beneath the sun that slowly sank beneath a line of black trees, completely unlike the dirty yellow sludge he had known in New York City. It was eerily quiet, a watchful sort of peace broken only by the tread of Raphael's feet as they crunched beneath him. Hs breath misted on the air, goose pimples rushing over his skin, but he set his jaw and then his sights on the coop and ploughed on.
He just needed five minutes. Just five minutes.
No one came out to the coop except Raphael. No one wanted to get their hands dirty. He'd taken it upon himself to repair it for the chickens they'd liberated from a neighbouring farm, keeping it clean and packed with fresh, dry hay. It was the only activity, besides training, that could take him from Leonardo's side. The chickens needed care and if he didn't do it, nobody else would.
And inside, he could be alone.
The calm, contented clucking of the chickens could be heard as he approached, his frigid skin already anticipating the dry warmth within the coop, his fists clenching hard against the painful constriction in his chest.
Just five minutes. Then he could go back inside. Keep it together for another few days.
Just five minutes to sink into the dry tickle of hay, lean up against the wall while all around him the scent of feathers and earth and the steady bok-bok of the chickens lulled him, and let a brief flood of tears scald his cheeks.
But as he drew up to the coop, another noise mingled with the low, rhythmic clucking, a sound that made him abruptly halt.
Soft flakes of snow drifted to speckle his scales as he stood there, his toes growing numb, listening.
Again, and there was no mistaking it, the hitch of breath, the shuddering gasp of a sob.
Of the eruption of feelings he experienced then, the only ones he was willing to identify were frustration and annoyance and he lunged for them like a drowning man after driftwood. Of all the – who would – why then – typical. Just typical.
For several moments he stood there, clenching and unclenching his fists, until the stiffening of his joints jolted him into awareness; go back to the farmhouse – or go on to the coop.
Raphael had already turned to go when a choked hiccough, pathetically unguarded, broke the late afternoon silence. Arrested in motion, Raphael grit his teeth and turned back, telling himself it was what Leonardo would want him to do.
Stealing silently to the door of the coop, he peered in.
April was up against the far wall of the coop, nestled in between roosts, knees drawn up to her chest and face pressed to them, her narrow shoulders shaking as she cried.
And even though he had expected to find her there, Raphael's heart plummeted like a rock.
Damn. What the hell was he supposed to do now?
Leave. It was the obvious choice. Clearly she wanted to be alone, or she wouldn't be hiding in some stinking coop sitting in scratchy straw and chicken shit.
And he wasn't any good at this sorta thing.
But something about the way she sat hunched over, hiding her face, her hands clawed in her hair, bawling her eyes out so brokenly –
Since they'd arrived at the farmhouse three weeks ago, April had taken charge with an almost breathtaking ferocity. The O'Neils had not been to visit the house in over five years and there was a lot to do to make it comfortable. She'd delegated chores and errands, furiously cleaned large portions of the ramshackle house herself, planned out how to use the limited supplies they could obtain, or found in the pantry, showed them how to chop wood and lay a fire and a dozen other little skills necessary to life on a farm. Raphael hadn't seen any of this; his brothers had told him about it when they came to visit. And when April did, often with food for him, all she asked about was how Leonardo was doing.
She'd seemed so – well, together. Capable.
He'd been relieved by it. With him watching over Leonardo, someone needed to keep an eye on his brothers. April seemed to have stepped up.
It hadn't occurred to him she'd be feeling the strain. He kinda figured she'd needed the distraction. To the extent he thought about it at all.
But he and his brothers weren't the only ones who'd lost their father.
And everything else they'd ever known.
With a silent groan, Raphael backed up a few paces and then noisily reapproached the door to the coop.
By the time he got there, April was standing, hastily brushing straw off her leggings and smiling with strained brightness.
"Hey Raph," she said easily, the afternoon gloaming not yet dim enough to disguise how swollen her eyes were.
"Hey April," he said back, with equal nonchalance. "Laying an egg?"
"Funny, I was about to ask you the same thing," she retorted and he snorted despite himself as she pushed past him into the yard, snow crunching beneath her boots. The sun had vanished entirely behind the trees by then, but the sky was bright enough he could see the spider thread of red veins in her eyes, how her fair skin was splotched beneath the freckles that spattered her cheeks. April looked back towards the farmhouse, slatted in the long shadows cast by the trees, and inhaled.
She turned back to him, a weak smile quirking the side of her lip.
"I just needed five minutes," she said, her quiet voice betraying more than he suspected she wanted to.
He regarded her gravely and nodded, once.
She was okay now. She'd sorted herself out. He didn't have to stay.
But as he watched, she lifted her chin, determination glittering stonily in her eyes as her hair slowly dampened beneath the drifting snowflakes and something about it seemed to reach deep down inside of him and violently tugged.
And then he was turning to face her square on, gesturing to the barn house with a jerk of his head.
The barn wasn't much warmer than outside, but that hardly mattered once they got started. He drove her back with a fierce attack to which she could do little more than defend, eyes wide with surprise. No doubt Donnie and Mikey had been going easy on her. Well, she couldn't expect that of him.
He had her flipped within seconds, her expression contorting as she hit the straw-strewn ground with an oof. He eyed her critically and slowly shook his head and then she was up, eyes flashing, coming at him with aggressive intent. Good. This was more like it.
Despite the cold that had stiffened his bones, he was still faster and stronger and more experienced and he neatly evaded her kicks and punches, letting her think she was driving him back until sudden frustration prompted him to catch a punch and hook a foot around her ankle so that she smacked the ground hard.
"Come on, April," he snapped at her where she lay, panting, while he felt barely warm. "Try and make it a challenge."
She flipped onto her feet, teeth bared, her cheeks reddened and eyes bright from rage now. Again she came for him and again he took her down in moments. He wasn't in a mood to talk smack, but he didn't hide the roll of his eyes or his exasperated sighs and every time she got back up she was madder than ever and went after him with renewed ferocity.
The straw was kicked up in their wake to reveal the packed dirt ground, hard as stone to strike. He manoeuvred her through the obstacle of dilapidated equipment and around the old truck that rusted like a measure of time in a cobwebbed corner, then back out into the open.
"You're sloppy, April," he told her as he ducked a punch then spun away from a kick. "You should've at least tapped me by now. I'm not even sweating."
The furious whine that ripped from between her teeth was shrill enough to ring around the barn and she came at him with blood in her eyes.
If she had taken a moment to calm down, to strategise, she could've taken him down at least once or twice. But he'd known from the start that wasn't what she wanted.
What she wanted was to be out of control. What she needed was someone to let her.
April was slick with sweat, strands of hair hastily puffed out of her eyes, her flushed skin radiating heat any time she got close enough. He was merciless as he blocked and ducked, his powerful musculature unforgiving against her slender bones, the space he opened receiving her as her own momentum carried her stumbling through it. When she shook off the pain or whirled back to him, her reddened face contorted with fury, he met her glare dead on, his own mouth set in a grim line, and beckoned her toward him.
"Why don't you hit me back?" she screamed at him, all poise lost as she stomped her foot and clenched her fists, on the verge of a full blown tantrum. Good. Good.
"I will when you actually land one on me," he snapped back and she shrieked and pelted blindly towards him, the unhinged fury in her eyes something he imagined he might see in a mirror.
He caught her easily and flipped her over his shoulder, the whump as her body hit the packed dirt echoing in the silent barn. He turned and stared down at her impassively as she groaned and slowly shifted, pushing herself up onto her hands.
"Had enough?" he asked her quietly.
He wasn't at all surprised when she glared at him and staggered to her feet.
Chest heaving and head lowered, her hands clawed by her sides, she regarded him savagely, her eyes slits of hate and rage that glittered in the dusky light of the barn. He inclined his own head forward and met her stare steadily, calmly.
"Come on, April," he challenged her. "Come on."
This time she was silent as she hurtled across the dirt towards him, her features tight and furiously focused. He settled his weight and waited.
She struck out, aiming a punch for his face, a move that was easily blocked. She followed it with the other fist, then the other, over and over again and each time he blocked her. Yet still she kept on, her teeth gritted, beads of sweat flying off her forehead with every sweep of her arms, glaring at his face with such intent it wasn't hard to imagine what she saw there.
"Come on," he growled at her as he shifted his arms to block every punch she threw at him and something strained and snapped behind her eyes and she gave up on any semblance of form or technique and simply battered her fists against his forearms, his shoulders, his biceps, anywhere she could reach as he stood there, immoveable and unflinching beneath the barrage. She grunted and panted as she vented her long-suppressed futility and frustration, her breath hitching in a furious whine and as her eyes glistened and then welled, he dropped his arms to his sides and she drew both back fists at once and beat them together once, twice against his plastron before sagging against him, sobs violently wracking her exhausted body.
After a moment, he put his arms tentatively around her, supporting her weight gently as her knees crumpled beneath the force of her emotion. April bawled loudly and without restraint into his neck and he swallowed hard as he held her, staring silently ahead across the barn where a pitchfork rested at an angle over a bushel of hay. As he gazed at the prongs of the implement, dark images rose to beat the corners of his mind; the flash of blades in the dank gloom of a sewer, the ring of steel, pitiless and unbowing, beneath his fists. He inhaled sharply and tore his gaze away, his face turning into April's hair, arms tightening around her.
Her hair was damp and strong with the scent of her sweat, surprising him for a moment – the only other person with a pelt he had ever embraced did not perspire – but he did not shift. Her body was slight against his huge hands but he could feel the resilience in muscles trained hard as she shook against him. And as he recalled all that she had been forced to bear, he felt something warm and suffocating well in his chest.
"Come on," he said raspily as her sobs slowly ebbed, taking her carefully by the shoulders and pushing her upright. He wasn't sure he knew what all about this comforting thing and it had started to feel awkward. April swiped at her face with a sleeve, her face mottled red and swollen but calm now. She turned wet eyes to him and he was startled by how vivid the blue of her pupils was against the watery redness they swam in.
"Thanks," she said shakily, a little grudgingly, wiping at her face again and turning away.
"Don't mention it," he shrugged, offhanded. "We need you focused April, otherwise who's gonna make dinner?"
She grimaced and punched his arm. He let her get the shot in – and it actually kinda hurt.
"That was a better effort than you put in all night, O'Neil," he said as they started towards the barn door.
"Oh really? You wanna try round two?" she threw back, her eyes glittering dangerously.
He snorted. "Please. You'd be limper than overcooked spaghetti at this point."
They reached the barn door and he shifted forward without thinking to open it before she could, holding it for her. Outside the dark yard was luminous with silver, snow banks shimmering softly, the lights in the distant farmhouse warm and yellow. April stepped to the door, then hesitated, casting him a glance from her puffy eyes.
"So when is it your turn?"
Raphael chuffed and moved past her, shaking his head. "As if. Don't worry your snotty head about me. I'm just fine." The snow was freezing as his feet sank into it but he didn't even pause, just stomped towards the house, hands in defiant fists by his side as icy air prickled his skin. Behind him he heard the rapid crunch of her boots as April caught him up and fell into step beside him, arms crossed tightly over her chest.
"Okay," she said easily. "But you know where to find me."
He felt the weight of the look she shot him but kept his face trained forward, intent on the farmhouse before them, blurring behind the steam of his breath, thinking of nothing but the fire and a hot bowl of stew. After a moment, she looked away again.
Then he nodded, just once.
Over the past couple of weeks I've found myself getting more intrigued by the idea of writing 2k12 Raphril. I've been shipping them for awhile, but my focus was really on 2k14 and getting what I wanted done there. I'm kinda over 2k14 now, at least for the moment – I did have other plans for it, but I've found my motivation sinking more and more lately as I've become besotted with 2k7 once more and excited about the new season of 2k12.
The Raphael & April of 2k12 are pretty different to 2k14 so I hope I can do them justice.
Much as I'm enjoying the new season, the fact they've skipped forward three months makes me wonder about all the trauma they had to process and deal with when they first left the city. So much! Yet it never really gets mentioned. And April, by this point, has been through SO much – losing her dad THREE times now. Too much! She must've been holding on by a thread for a while there. Yet she always pulls it together. I really admire that even though my heart aches for her.
Plus I'm noticing some interesting nuances to Raphael's character so far… he seems to have matured in some ways, taking on a leader and carer role as Leo heals, and is definitely hiding a huge amount of grief and pain himself. He has no one – even Casey is palling around with Donnie now. Yet he too is just ploughing onwards, being strong for his family.
I also wanted to write something with Raphael comforting April for a change as so often it is the other way around, including in my own work.
I loved the moment in the first episode when Raph got so cocky and April clocked him a good one. She's getting so good at her martial arts skills and I love the thought Raphael played a big part in her training cos I do think Donnie and Mikey would go too easy on her. Not that they were really training here, or even properly sparring, but maybe this was the beginning…
I do have some other thoughts on 2k12 Raphril fics, but we'll see how I go. I'm a little demotivated at the moment.