A/N: I could have added this to my drabble collection, and maybe I should have, but I just really liked it a lot! So I sort of wanted to let it stand alone.
Also, I have a soft spot for Casey Jones that's roughly the size of New York.
Casey used to go camping with his parents a lot in the summers before his mom died, before his dad hit the bottles for good. They'd pick a park or a campground (and his dad always voted for a spot in Long Beach, so they could cross the bay to Jones Beach Island and take a dorky family picture in front of the sign) and then they'd set up camp for the weekend.
They'd have their dinners around a fire—try to fish for their meals, and end up roasting deli meat and candy bars instead—and Casey would fall asleep every night with his sister's head on his shoulder, and a million stars in the sky.
So when Mikey skidded into the main room of the lair out of the blue one afternoon, with a family magazine in hand, still folded open to an outdoorsy two-page layout of tents and trees, Casey thought he knew exactly what was coming. And sure enough—
"I wanna go camping!" their youngest brother blurted, eyes as wide as the moon, with a smile to match. "Look, I found this thing all about it—we should totally go, dudes!"
Raph rolled his eyes; didn't even bother looking up from his comic. "You kiddin'? I had enough of that nonsense back at the farmhouse."
Some of the initial glee faded out of that expressive kid's face, and it was a damn shame to see it go, but he hung in there. "No, it'd be way different this time! We could sleep in a tent, and go fishing, and make s'mores and stuff!"
"We don't have a tent," Don said plainly. "And where are we supposed to go camping, anyway? We live in Manhattan." He winced at the sudden, sharp jab in the unprotected cartilage of his side—courtesy of April's elbow—and glanced up. Took in the sinking, sagging lines of Mikey's hands and shoulders, the drooping disappointment in his eyes, and closed his laptop with a click. "It looks like an interesting article, though. Can I see?"
And that's how Leo found them, grouped around the water-warped catalogue; April was telling a story about a Girl Scout camp she'd gone to as a little girl ("—and then our troop leader accidentally dropped all of our food in the lake. The whole thing." "Seriously?" "Seriously. We were the only girls that got to order pizza the last three nights in a row. Good thing the delivery boy didn't mind the hike.") and Mikey's spirits were back in peak condition by the time his blue-banded brother emerged from the dojo.
"What's going on here?" Leo asked good-naturedly, taking them in with a soft edge to his eyes that Casey was beginning to recognize as a sibling exclusive.
"Mikey's got it in his head that he wants to go camping," Raph said, and Mikey stuck his tongue out impishly. Leo blinked.
"Don't knock it till you try it," April said, apparently having adopted a pro-camping stance probably just for the sake of giving Mikey a leg to stand on. He beamed at her, and she winked back, then added, "And I mean camping, Leo—not mystical, spiritual journeys of self-discovery and survival."
"Don't knock it till you try it," he parroted in return, a lopsided smile tugging at his mouth. He hopped down into the pit, sitting by Raph as their hot-tempered brother scooted over to give him room, and read through the article when Don turned it around for him. "You know, it does look fun. But we can't exactly book a camping site, Mikey."
"And parks are probably pretty busy this time of year," Don added, tapping Mikey's carapace with his fingers in a familiar way, to make the inevitable a little easier to hear. "There's no way we wouldn't get spotted."
April harrumph'd, but Mikey shrugged one shoulder, his original, beaming grin faded into something half its size. And when he reclaimed his magazine, it was without a trace of that bright-eyed enthusiasm he'd started with.
"Yeah, I know," he said, pretty cheerfully. "Nevermind."
And it wasn't the same, but the look on his face reminded Casey right away of his little sister, and her expression that first summer after their mom got sick. "No trip this year," their dad said, and that was all he'd said, and Casey had hated him a little bit for that. Hated him for thinking it was okay to let Shadow lose anything else when she was already losing her mom.
Casey reached over to thump Mikey's shoulder, and told him the same thing he'd told her all those years ago:
"It ain't campin'," he said, with a crooked grin, "but I got another idea."
Fort Tilden was an abandoned military base on the tip of the Rockaways. It was a pretty well-kept secret; the beach was so remote, so damn hard to get to, that the handful of times Casey had been there with his sister (even on weekends, in the hottest half of summer) they had the whole ocean stretch all to themselves.
And on a cool Tuesday night in September, with twilight already creeping across the sky as early as seven p.m., Fort Tilden was all theirs. They each had blankets or bags tucked under their arms, and flashlights in hand, and Raph and Casey were hauling a cooler between the two of them.
The first leg of the trip had been a nightmare—prickly, over-worried Leo seeing danger or human in pretty much every unfamiliar twist and turn. But Casey had kind of guessed it would be that way. Leo had a responsibility to his family, and he didn't take it lightly; and that he even agreed at all was enough reason to be patient with his paranoid attitude.
Besides, their leader was calmer now that he knew firsthand how all-around inaccessible the place was. And he smiled when Mikey let out an excited whoop and made straight for the shallow tide.
"Never been to the beach before, huh?" Casey asked, and Raph snorted.
"We've never been anywhere before."
"Careful Mikey," April called a moment later, as Mikey splashed farther into the black waters. "Don't go too deep. The riptide's a monster out here, and mutant turtles can't exactly call the Coast Guard for a rescue."
Don looked somewhat horrified at that, even though April was probably partly kidding, and Casey noticed for the first time how careful he was to keep controlled distance between himself and the night ocean.
(Casey made a note to ask him about it, but not just then. Donnie was a decent guy—decent enough to wait until they were alone to talk to Casey about the bruises shaped like hands under his sleeves, about why he hated the smell of alcohol and being stuck in small spaces, and why it took him so long to get used to Mikey's octopus-armed hugs. So if it was some type water phobia, then hell, Casey could be a decent, too.)
And Don looked up, and blanched at how much deeper Mikey had gone in the last handful of minutes, even though the waves were barely lapping the kid's thighs, and didn't waste time hurrying to the water's edge to beckon Mikey back out.
"Come back and help me find sticks for our campfire," he said, arms still reaching, and Mikey came wading back agreeably enough, with a smile bright enough to light the whole shoreline. He slammed into Don's side full-force, talking at about a mile a minute, and his voice carried back to the rest of them as he and Don made their way toward the brush—an excited rush of "so great" and "really fun" and "best family in the whole world" that made Casey grin.
They'd only been gone a few minutes when Raph grabbed a flashlight and went after them, and Leo took his spot by Casey and April on the blankets they'd spread out beside the cooler. His eyes were cool blue in the lantern light, and he smiled when Casey handed him a root beer.
"Don't mention it," he replied, fitting the cooler's lid back on, and Leo shook his head.
"No, I mean—thanks."
"For giving them something I couldn't," probably. April leaned over to tug at the tails of his mask, fond and exasperated; Casey tossed a handful of sand at him.
"And I mean don't mention it."
The missing three of their party returned quickly, with a pretty impressive haul of branches and brush and what looked like most of a dead tree. Between the six of them, and the shameless amount of tinder Casey had brought along, they had a roaring fire going in the lesser part of seven minutes.
There were hotdogs to roast, and hot chocolate to make, and s'mores to assemble, and most of it fell in the fire. It got cold pretty quickly on the beach, so they bundled up in the blankets to keep warm. (Raph complained there'd be sand in his shell for days, but he let Don scoot in next to him anyway.) April remembered a few ghost stories from her single week of Girl Scout camp, and Leo knew a few creepy Japanese fables; and pretty soon scary stories turned into any stories, and they stayed huddled together, talking together, through all the darkest hours of the night.
By the time the first pink touches of dawn were reaching across the water, most of Casey's friends had fallen asleep, and the fire was little more than a few burning embers. Raph, with his arm around a dozing Leo, met Casey's eyes and nodded; they'd have to pack up and get home soon, before the city woke up.
They didn't move just yet, though. It'd be okay to wait a few more minutes.
It was hard to see the stars this close to the city, but Casey glanced down at the warm, solid weight of Mikey against his side, at the freckled head tucked neatly against his shoulder, and decided it was a pretty fair trade-off.
The sky could keep its stars. For the first time in his life, Casey was getting the better end of the deal.