(Author's Note, content warning: This story contains sex. As in, the OC lover of one turtle has comfort sex with the other turtles. The OC is polyamorous. If that sort of sexuality makes you uncomfortable, please do not complain. This is how the story played out.

(Author's Note, acknowledgements: I would like to extend a very special thanks to Celeste38, as well as WinxPossible, who became my beta of sorts while I bounced ideas back and forth. I would also like to thank those readers who told me why they liked my Original Character, Gaia Mako, as she is the first OC I have written since the early 2000s who wound up in a romantic relationship with a canon character. She is, in fact, based on parts of me, such as my disabilities, my temperament, my sense of humor, my sexuality, and my creativity.)

(Author's Note, summary: The story ends with Michelangelo waking up from his six-month coma at the end of "Hold The Door", the final chapter of "Ouroborous". It takes place between the final battle between The Shredder and Michelangelo and Mikey's awakening. It will not be the end of the "Cold Fire Rising" series, however, it will set a new precedent for the relationships portrayed in "Ouroborous".)
The story "Hold The Door" can be read here: s/11943034/21/Cold-Fire-Rising-2-Ouroboros-What-Happened-After

Lightning Crashes (The In Between)

"Between the desire
And the spasm
Between the potency
And the existence
Between the essence
And the descent
Falls the Shadow"

-TS Eliot, "The Hollow Men"

"Love will lead us, alright
Love will lead us, she will lead us

Can you hear the dolphin's cry?
See the road rise up to meet us
It's in the air we breathe tonight
Love will lead us, she will lead us
Life is like a shooting star

It don't matter who you are
If you only run for cover, it's just a waste of time
We are lost 'til we are found
This phoenix rises up from the ground
And all these wars are over "

-Live, "Dolphin's Cry"

She was on the floor, screaming, and it took them ten minutes to help her before she spoke. Sinking into the couch, shaking as her sister made her drink the medicated beverage through a straw, she looked down and the illusion flickered again; the blood and stab wounds, and the pounding in her head.

"It's Mikey, isn't it?" her sister's wife said in a soft voice.

She nodded and finished the drink and waited for the sedative to kick in. She explained what happened in halting words, broken by sobs. Rhea cursed so hard she wound up switching between three languages. Gaia just stared out the window and whispered, "I need to be there" over and over. She couldn't breathe.

The three of them sat in the pit of the den, on the couch and around the couch, as everyone rushed around with blankets and pillows, ice packs, splints, massive rolls of bandages, gauze, antiseptic. Karai had yelled at Donatello four times to stay away from his own lab and sit on that floor before she turned snake and sat on him. He grumbled in ways nobody had ever known as he instructed April, Casey, and Splinter on the finer points of first aid, while Leatherhead grumbled back at him in a different way, almost threatening to place his hand on Donatello's face just as a reminder.

"But he's dying!" Donnie cried for the sixth time, making April's left eye twitch.

"And Karai is in there taking care of him," Casey snapped, again forcing Raphael to lie down and accept the ice pack before Casey strapped it down.

"But if the surgery is botched-"

"Shut the hell up, Donnie," Raph mumbled, "I don't need to listen to your doomsday thoughts."

"You don't even like her!"

"I like her right now. She's saving my brother's life."

Leonardo struggled to sit back up, and leaned against the couch, gasping. "Don, trust Karai. She offered to help. You're too injured. We're too injured. We need care and rest and you know it. In fact, can somebody call Rhea and-"

"Already on it," a voice said from the turnstiles, and the three women were already laying backpacks and duffel bags around them, Rhea preparing antibiotics while Freya held onto a very weak Gaia, who was incredibly pale and staring at the doors to the lab.

"How did you know? Leonardo asked. "Wait, is Gaia okay?"

"She sensed your fight with the Shredder," Freya said in a low voice. "She felt Michelangelo's wounds. She's been connecting with him…"

"Wait…" Raphael grunted, getting to his feet while swaying. "She can reach him? Why can't I?"

Gaia took a step forward, looking at him with glazed eyes. "Lover's bonus, I guess. Lie back down."

"No. I can care for myself."

And somehow she was pressed against his plastron, both hands pressed against his shoulders. Her claws were out. "Sit your ass down before I make you."

He snarled at her.

She snarled back.

"Children," Splinter called.

Rhea and April were wiping their hands on towels, watching. Casey was still on the floor, looking aggravated.

"Rhea," Gaia said in a sickly sweet voice, "please come here and patch up Raph while I hold him."

"What? I said I can—what are you doing? Stop that! Unfair!"

The others watched with some amusement and Raphael's arms were pinned to their sides. As Rhea and April came to him, he just stared at Gaia while she smiled, hands on her hips. "I'll release you on my sister's say-so."

It was fifteen minutes before Rhea stepped back and said, "You're good. Sit down." Raph swung his arms out and stomped to the couch, muttering about telekinetics and showing off.

Gaia collapsed forward. Rhea caught her before she landed on top of Leo, who still sat up and grabbed her, pulling her down to his lap.

"What are you doing?" Gaia muttered.

"Making you sit down," Leo said softly. "You look like you're in shock, had a seizure, possibly an autistic shutdown, and you've been crying uncontrollably."

She smiled halfway and shrugged.

"Can you shut off the connection with Michelangelo?"

Gaia laughed hoarsely. "That would be like cutting off oxygen. We're way too intertwined. But I can block it for a while. A little."

He held her to his plastron and they rocked together. Right next to them, Donatello sat up with effort, reached over, and rubbed Gaia's arm. His absolute frustration and helpless agony seeped through and she wrapped around it until he was breathing slowly.

"You don't have to do this empathic healing thing," he said.

"Someone has to do something," she smiled, as the confusion slowed down.

Rhea and Splinter stood just outside the pit, shoulder to shoulder. "I believe they will be all right, with care and time," and Splinter's voice was as calm as ever, strained and tearful tightness woven underneath. "Thank you, Ms Mako."

"Always, Hamato-san," she whispered. "I think I'll let my little sister take care of their emotional needs. She will need to occupy herself."

"If you think it is best. I do not see her leaving our home for some time."

"I'll come at least once a week, until everyone is healthy." She looked at her fingers, making calculations in her head. "Everyone has bruising, lacerations, muscle tears, abrasions. Leo has three broken ribs, Don has a concussion and a neck injury, Raph sprained his wrist and bruised his collarbone. Gaia will probably wind up healing them. Karai will want to watch them. April will want to feed them. I'm the only one with professional medical training, but I'd say they'll be fine in those hands."

He just nodded. "And…Michelangelo?"

Rhea closed her eyes, inhaled deeply. "From…from what Gaia told us, he's got bruised lungs and internal bleeding, plus myocardial contusion – his heart is bruised. That alone is bad enough, but he's also got half his ribs broken, his left leg is shattered below the knee, his skull is fractured, massive concussion and that open wound, obviously multiple stab wounds that somehow did not puncture any organs, his right shoulder is dislocated, his left wrist is sprained, his right hip is also dislocated and the knee is misaligned…I really wish Karai would let me in there to help with the surgery." And abruptly, she spun on her heel and walked to the lab again, banging on the doors. "Karai, I'm serious, open the door. You need my help!"

Karai snarled from within, "Lung has been repaired. I am stitching him closed!"

"That's nice," Rhea said, "I'm still a doctor. He still has a boatload of injuries. Let me look at him."

There was movement, and hissing, and more movement, and the lab doors came unlocked. Rhea pushed them open and disappeared inside. Everyone else stared, and murmured voices were heard, and neither woman left the lab for a very long time.

It was hours. It had been hours. Raph slept on and off. He hadn't meant to, but his body was in shock and…Mikey? Mikey was…wait, where were they…

He was sprawled out next to his brothers and everything hurt and the world was blurry, and Splinter cried out his baby brother's name, and the Shredder was screaming and then Mikey was screaming and why was everyone screaming…

His eyes snapped open. When had he closed them? He was on the couch. His muscles and connective tissue still felt raw, but that lingering ache had backed off and was almost where he didn't have to care. He grunted and sat up. The living room was dark.

"Going somewhere?" someone said.

He growled. He didn't have his weapons, but that didn't matter.

"Nobody's hurting anyone, you know." And a light turned on. He was face to face with Gaia, whose eyes were sunken and rimmed red with old tears. She was crouched in front of the couch and looked ready to pounce on anything. Her claws were out and clicked together, a nervous sound. He frowned at her.

"You've been out for about nine hours," she said, gesturing to his two brothers, who were asleep on the floor wrapped around each other and blankets, looking like stranded sailors desperate for a rescue ship. "We made April and Casey go home. Freya and Splinter are in the Dojo. Karai and Rhea are still in the lab."

Raph blinked the rest of the sleep away and couldn't clear his throat enough. "Mikey?"

She made a kitten-like sound. "He's alive. He's…he's alive."

He realized she was shaking and reached out and took her hand, tugging, until she slumped onto the couch and rested against him. He didn't say anything. He waited, and her lightly furred bicep was like silk.

"He's finally stable," Gaia continued. "Lots of surgery, most of it minor. He's…it won't be the same, Raph. You know that, right? He won't ever be the same."

He swallowed, feeling something shatter. "Ev-ever?"

She shook her head and nuzzled his shoulder. "Rhea said…it's…um. His brain…it. It can only handle so much. Even w-with the…the psionics. S-so…so he'll have m-more…damage. But…it's still okay."

Raph stared at her, eyes going wide. "Okay? How is being brain damaged gonna be okay?"

She rolled her eyes up at him, corner of her mouth quirking. "Hey, now. But, yeah. I know. At first, it's like…well, fuck. But, Raph, take it from a brain-damaged person. You adapt. Like ninjas."

He blew out a breath, nodded. "Like ninjas. Okay. So. How bad?"

"It's hypoxic anoxic encephalopathy. But it's mild. Like, more mild than my hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy. For me, it's cerebral palsy. For him, it's…a brain injury. It's on the right side of his brain, which controls the left side of his body. So he'll have muscle balance issues, motor issues. You know. He'll be more regular, slightly less extraordinary Olympic everything Batman level incredible."

He felt his arm tighten around her and he couldn't think. "So…so…um…does this mean he can't, like, patrol or train or…"

"He'll be fine after a while," she said, sounding exhausted, melting deeper into his side. "A long, hard while. You guys are ninjas. Brains are already wired for that sort of thing, right? It won't stop him. Maybe he'll need to concentrate on his balance where he didn't have to before. But once he wakes up he'll need a lot of help. You know. With everything."

Raph struggled to dissipate that cold lump in his throat. "Okay."

"If he needs help brushing his teeth down to tying his mask, we'll do it," and a sleepy Leonardo blinked up at them, as a sleepy Donatello yawned and sat up, grimacing.

Gaia let out a breath, and Raphael wondered just how severely the trauma had settled into her bones. A protective, adoring ferocity rose in him and he wasn't expecting it, didn't expect to bury his face in her hair and calm himself with the mocha scent of her shampoo. When he looked up, he realized that Gaia, while leaning into him, had taken the hands of Donnie and Leo and was smiling at them, and they were smiling at her as though she were the last lifeline. Everything was going to be okay. They were going to be okay, right? She would help them be okay.

The doors to the lab opened.

Donatello's first thought was my precious! and he staggered to his feet, not letting go of the hand that was attached to the source of those empathic waves of comfort and trust and love and kindness. Then he did. Then he moved toward his lab and no one stopped him.

Karai and Rhea walked out, leaning on each other. They looked at him, and both half-smiled. Rhea nodded. "Go ahead."

And he rushed in, and heard the familiar footsteps behind him, and the smells of his beloved sanctuary washed over him, and he and his brothers gathered once again around their youngest. His eyes picked up everything, all the tubes providing and draining, all the gauze and pads and sutures and splints and casts, and Mikey looked worse than ever before, too pale and too tiny and too fragile.

He spun around, and saw Karai standing right behind him.

"He fibrillated right after I sewed him up initially," she said, expression neutral. "We applied adrenaline, then the paddles. His heart muscle is weak and bruised."

He nodded, then adjusted the tube going down Mikey's throat, holding his fingers against his brother's cheek, where bruises warred with freckles to stand out. Out of the corner of his eye, he watched Leo pick up Mikey's left hand as if it were porcelain, running a finger over the bandages and splints.

"Thank you," Donnie found himself saying hoarsely. "Th-thank you, Karai. Thank you."

He felt her hand on his shoulder. "You are welcome, Donatello. Donnie."

He met Leo's eyes, which were soft and sad and relieved and worried.

"He'll be okay," Raph rasped from next to Leo. "He's gonna be okay, he has to be okay."

"We will make sure he will be okay," Don smiled as best he could.

Leonardo forced his family to eat a full meal, because Freya and Splinter put enough into making it, and he remembered his father doing his best to make algae and worms as appetizing as possible, and it hadn't really mattered because they had been hungry children and it was food, and besides, it was Mikey who had grabbed the first handful when they were babies and showed it was safe, and it had always been a trusted food, and his belly had been full enough; and Leo breathed in those memories while he sipped the tea into which Splinter had brewed painkilling herbs. This was a pasta dish with chicken, and Freya kept saying that they needed to eat as much as possible and wasn't accepting protests – he smirked when she grabbed Raph's fork in one hand, his face in the other, and almost had fork to mouth when Raphael shook her off, took the fork, and chewed long and slow, glaring at her.

He did that a lot, the glaring. As though he could fix them all by glaring.

Don was shoveling food in his mouth while mumbling about getting back to the lab, and Splinter had to tell him to slow down before he made himself sick. He was so impatient, as though his movements would heal Michelangelo faster. Freya wordlessly removed his fork until he looked up and stared at her, petulant, and when she gave the fork back, Don ate more slowly, eyes downcast.

Leo didn't jump when Freya stood behind him, and he felt her eyes bore into his half-finished plate. He calmly ate another bite and felt her nod. He kept eating that way until there was nothing left. She silently took the plate, and he heard Raph mumble something about "teacher's pet" but he didn't say anything. His bruises hurt and he was tired. He needed sleep but he wanted action. And okay, maybe he was being a little too attentive and obedient, but his team was hurt and his family was hurt and he needed to help them get back up and ready.

"Drink your tea, boys," Splinter said firmly. They drank more tea.

"Rest now," Freya said, softly, and when Raph and Don threw her a pleading look, Leo stood up carefully. "Guys, we really do need rest and sleep. We're recovering. We're not gonna be any help to anyone."

"But," Donnie said, "I have projects…"

"The can wait," Leo said in That Voice. He really was tired. Freya's hand was already on his shell and he was walking toward the bedrooms. He heard Raph grumble tiredly. He was in his room, undressed and in bed, before he realized he'd moved, and he closed his eyes…

Raphael opened his eyes and realized it was mid-morning. He sat up and yawned and stretched, feeling every bruise and crack and cut and abrasion, and he was too used to beating himself up by proxy that he almost ignored it all. And then he stood up. Haha, nope.

"I am getting too old for this shit." And he shuffled out of his room, deciding to find the good painkillers in the infirmary.

He bumped into Donatello in the hallway. They paused and stared at each other.




"In coffee?"

"With painkillers?"

Donnie shrugged. "Fuck it, yeah. C'mon. I'll show you where the morphine is."

Raph grinned.

And Karai hadn't realized how sore she was until she stretched, and she burrowed under the blankets, grumbling. Someone knocked at her door. Wait, not her door, not really, the guest bedroom, although with the way Splinter had looked at her before sending her to bed, that was…did she really want to think about—

She sniffed the air and those snake senses picked up a scent. "Come in, Gaia."

The door opened. Gaia closed it behind her. She had a tray of food in her hands. "I figured you could use breakfast. And a chat."

Blinking, Karai sat up, hands automatically scrubbing through her face and hair. "Thank you."

Sitting on the bed, Gaia held the tray while Karai chewed her toast and drank her tea. "Are you feeling all right after yesterday?"

She paused, watching the cat woman through hooded eyes. The woman's sister had certainly helped in the infirmary. There was a lot of damage to that poor body. Rhea had even talked while she worked, as though giving Karai a private anatomy lesson on mutant humanoid turtles.

"I am…fair," she admitted. "My…the man who raised me. He's dead."

"Yes. That's going to be something to process, isn't it?"

"Yes, I suppose. It's hard to turn around like that. He loved me in his own way."

"But he was also an abuser, an evil person," Gaia said, looking her right in the eyes, even though it looked as though it hurt. "You understand that."

Karai nodded. "I do. I was under his heel, and then brainwashed, for so long, and it is hard for…" She paused. She pushed the tray away.

She didn't expect that hand to feel so soft on her arm; it was both human and feline, silky.

"You can talk to me," Gaia told her. "That's what I'm here for. I put the guys to bed by talking to them."

Karai smirked. "Just talking, hm?"

Gaia smirked back. "You noticed that, didn't you?"

"I know that whatever emotional comfort you have given them, there is something else below the surface."

"I didn't expect that. Mike did. He reads his brothers like books no matter what state they're in."

Karai raised an eyebrow. "So what will you do?"

Gaia shrugged. "Michelangelo and I talked about that. He…said it was all right. If they needed comfort."

"Smart boy."

"We'll see what happens. Right now, I want to talk about you." And Gaia's hand on her arm was very warm, and very soft, and her hair was falling in front of her face, and an on instinct Karai leaned forward to tuck it behind that cat-like ear. Gaia smiled and leaned her head into Karai's palm.

"Have you told them you prefer women?" The question was sudden enough to make her blink and hold very still, and the cat mutant smiled again, but it was very gentle and kind, and Karai realized that those lips must be very soft.

"No," she whispered. It had been a long time since she had dated anyone, female or male.

Gaia only nodded, sharp cheekbone shifting under her fingers, and neither of them moved.

"We're not going to talk about my sex life, are we?"

"We'll talk about whatever you want, I just wanted to make sure you were okay."

Someone not pressuring her into anything, someone not pushing her into a role or setting her into a place or demanding or commanding. Just talking. Just touching.

Karai took a deep breath, and began to talk.

Donnie had no idea why they were practically tip-toeing: Mikey was comatose, and it wasn't like they were sneaking something. He pulled up short; Raph bumped into his shell.

"What's up?" Raph asked sleepily.

"I don't know why we're sneaking around in my own lab. It's my lab. It's my stuff."

"Ah. You haven't had your coffee?"

"Yeah, okay."

Sighing, Don pulled open the drawer containing the strongest medications. He retrieved three tablets from a bottle marked with a black X, and turned to his brother.

"This, Raphael, is Demerol. It's potent as shit. It is not meant to be mixed with alcohol. Seeing as we're giant mutant turtles, and you are…you, I am not certain how mixing this with alcohol will affect us. I can only warn you once. You can take it with booze and either we wind up treating you in the infirmary, or you're interestingly buzzed." He slapped one of the pills into Raph's hand, holding on very tightly and frowning straight into his brother's widened eyes.

Raphael blinked rapidly. "Gotcha. I'll just have coffee or tea or something."

Don smiled. "Okay, then. Let's go make breakfast. I just wanna stop and check Mikey's vitals."

Said vitals were unchanged, to Don's chagrin. He palmed his only little brother's head, sighing, and began changing bandages. Raphael helped, cleaning the wounds and murmuring to Michelangelo. As they headed out, Don swallowed the lump in his throat, and Raph put an arm around his shoulders.

Leo greeted them in the kitchen, boiling water. Don took the two tablets out of his belt. "Demerol, Leo? Help with the pain."

About to shake his head no, Leo winced as a nerve twinged up his spine. "'kay," muttered." The brothers grabbed cups of water and clinked them together as they swallowed. "Coffee soon?" Raph yawned. Leo smiled tiredly just as the kettle whistled. "You guys make the coffee. I'll wake up Karai. I'm pretty sure I saw Gaia carrying a tray of food to her room, but you never know."

He made his way back to the bedrooms. The door to Mikey's room, where Gaia had been sleeping, was still open, and Gaia wasn't there. He shrugged. Karai's door looked firmly closed. He knocked. No answer. He knocked a little harder. "Uh, Karai? It's Leo. Are you awake?"

His keen hearing picked up sheets rustling, and Karai's whispered mumblings. He frowned. "Uh, anyway, I wanted to let you know that everyone's awake and Don and Raph are making coffee, but I thought I saw Gaia bringing breakfast to you, and…"

Giggling. Karai was…giggling? "Yes, Leo," she said in an overly cheerful voice, and on pure instinct he opened the door.

Karai was sitting up, blankets wrapped around her. She was looking at him owlishly, her hair mussed. Right next to her on the bed, under the blankets, was a strange lump. As Leonardo stared at it, something moved….and a calico tail snaked out and thumped against the pillow. Leo's eyes widened, and Karai burst out laughing.

"You know that doesn't make you invisible, right?" she snorted.

The lump lengthened and stretched, and Leo's mouth dropped open as a distinctly human shape formed, turned a few times, and lowered the blankets to reveal Gaia, her head and bare shoulders squirming onto the pillow. "Feline instincts," she pouted. "Morning, Leo. I fed her already."

"I see that," Leo said, blinking slowly.

"But we can always use more coffee."

"I will get more mugs."

"Thanks, Leo!" Karai chirped.

He shut the door and shuffled back down the hall, still blinking.

In the kitchen, his brothers were looking more awake. They stared at him.

"Something wrong, Leo?" Raphael asked.

"No," he said, "not at all. "Gaia was in Karai's bed."



"Ahhhh." The two sipped their coffee in unison. Don grinned. "Looks like Karai needed a little therapy."

"Speaking of," Leo said, pouring his cup, "I think we need to have a talk with Gaia."

"About what?" Raph inquired. "How she's helping us not fall apart?"

"Well, yeah, but about how she's helping."

"What, the hugs and stuff and the oh."

"What's wrong with that?" Don said, almost defensively. "She is pansexual and polyamorous. For all we know, we might be. We've never actually had any opportunities to explore sexuality and sexual orientation until she and Michelangelo began a sexual relationship, so-"

"Don," Leo cut in, "Relax. I want to make sure everyone is on the same page so nothing is misinterpreted, misconstrued, or miscommunicated."

There was silence. Raph coughed. "So, hey, I don't plan on thinking about anything like that until—ohh, heey, the stuff's kicking in," and he leaned back, a small grin on his face.

"Told you it's potent," Don said a soft voice.

"Pain? What pain?" And Leo smiled a ridiculous smile.

By the time Karai and Gaia entered the kitchen, the brothers were laughing and telling childhood stories. Karai raised an eyebrow. "Looks like they're on painkillers."

Gaia blinked, leaned in toward Donatello, and grinned. "Aww, Donnie gave them Demerol." When she rubbed his head, Donnie gave an odd giggle-snort. "Guys, do you want anything specific for breakfast?"

"Pacific?" Leo said, blinking at her. "Mm. Egg pizza?"

"Ooohh, I like that idea," said Don.

"Thirded!" Raph shouted, and laughed.

The women looked at each other and shrugged. "Scrambled eggs on pizza it is," Gaia said.

The boys nearly inhaled it, and the coffee. They politely waited for Karai and Gaia to finish eating, then raced for the couch and the video games.

"Careful of your injuries!" Karai called. "Just because you can't feel them right now doesn't mean you need more."

"You're not my mom!" Raphael called back, which set off more giggling. The women just sighed, then fistbumped.

Five weeks passed since the day Shredder died, the day Michelangelo's heroism cost him so much. Gaia had been coming every other day, sleeping either in Mikey's room or in Karai's. Rhea came twice in that time, to show Karai some different medical techniques. It was right before she left, the first time, that the first cardiac arrest occurred.

They were playing poker in the kitchen, with Ice Cream Kitty as dealer. Raph didn't trust her not to cheat and sat next to her ice-filled bowl, occasionally leaning over to stare at her and getting a chilled lick on the cheek. A hand had just been dealt, when Gaia's eyes widened and she dropped her cards, her chair screeching back. She was already up and running when she screamed "Code blue, code blue!"

"No!" Karai cried as Rhea yelled "Damn it!" and the turtles were off like a shot, and Ice Cream Kitty began wailing.

In the infirmary, Gaia had just administered adrenaline and was crying as she fumbled for the electrodes and the defibrillator. Rhea took it and slapped the pads on the still plastron. Everyone leapt back when she yelled for them to get clear and activated the paddles. The electric surge echoed through the lab like a gunshot.

Even as the first weak beeps started, Gaia and Donatello already yelled "He's good!" in unison, and Rhea almost let the paddles fall before Karai helped her put them away.

Everyone but Karai and Raph went weak-kneed and grabbed something. Raphael staggered to the bed and took Mike's hand firmly in both of his. "Okay, little brother," he gasped. "S'okay. It's okay. Damn it." Michelangelo didn't react, but they knew that. The hiss of the oxygen was a little too loud.

Gaia and Donnie were holding each other, leaning against the wall. Leo was in a chair. Rhea had grabbed the edge of the bed and steadied herself.

"Well," Karai murmured, her snake-like eyes flashing. "That happened."

Rhea was already peeling off the electrodes and putting away the defibrillator. "Next time it happens, you know what to do."

Karai nodded. "Damn right."

Everyone just stared at each other.

"Well," Rhea said, "on that note, I should get ready to leave. Karai, you know how to administer his care after an arrest now?"

"I do," Karai said, a little shakily.

"Okay. Gaia, help me pack up and gimme a hug. Boys, don't let the cat cheat you too badly."

Three more weeks. Two months marked in a red circle on the calendar.

Gaia jolted up sobbing, and Karai embraced her. After a few moments of nuzzling, cat and snake sounds blending (after all, cats adapted to the sounds of snakes), Gaia got dressed and wandered out of the room on autopilot. She stopped in front of Donatello's door, and the part of her mind that knew exactly what she was doing grinned.

She knocked.

The voice inside mumbled, "C'minn…"

Donnie was sprawled over his desk, making a sound somewhere between a snore and a grunt. She smirked sympathetically. Her hands gently hooked the edges of his upper carapace, fingertips stroking the grooves and bumps and pressing into the lines. He jumped and shuddered, "I'm awake, I'm awake!" and she chuckled, and he looked at her, and he grinned.

"Gaia," he whispered.

The part of her mind that knew exactly what she was doing flooded everything, and she cupped his face in her hands and kissed him, tongue requesting, and without any surprise he opened for her, and his hands scrabbled to catch at her arms, her sides, her waist her hips, and he was standing almost to knock over the chair, and their mouths were wide explorers.

Two weeks ago, Donnie had come to her in Mikey's room and bluntly asked, "Did you and Mikey ever discuss you having sex with Leo, Raph, and me?"

And Gaia had put down her laptop, looked him right in the eyes, and said, "Donnie, you really are observant."

"Tell me," he said.

"Why?" she asked, a little coyly.

"Because you and I, we flirt. You do it with Raph, and he's noticed. I see it as scientific curiosity, you know."

"Oh, really?" she smirked. "I love that!"

"What did my brother say?" Don asked.

Gaia took his hands and they got comfortable, and she led him dreamwalking into the astral plane.

"Now," she said, "understand that when we meet Mikey, it's going to be a memory of him, but his real self is still in control. He is too deep in the coma to truly communicate, so this is a sort of spiritual time travel. He'll still respond to you."

"I…think I got that?"

She patted his cheek and grinned.

They were surrounded by white, and then there was the endless jade tree, that giant bonsai, and leaning against it was his baby brother, who looked up at them with a glint in his eye. "You two holding hands as a message, or are you happy to see me?" Don recognized that odd accent; it was his Weird trait. But it was Mikey. It really was Mikey. He dropped Gaia's hands and threw himself at his brother, who laughed and embraced him in a crushing hug.

Don couldn't speak; he was too choked. Mikey patted his carapace and nuzzled his cheek. "I can guess why you guys came like this. And it's okay."

"What really? Really?"

Michelangelo stared at him, that glint of merriment in his eyes. "Well…I can't say it's not weird. But Gaia said that it would be an astral plane thing. Unless. You know." And he blushed.

Donnie tilted his head. "Mikey?"

Michelangelo sighed deeply. "Look. You guys are hurting because of me. I…I knew this might happen. I don't know how bad I am. But…but I told her that…you know…I mean…you're my brothers, my best friends, you gotta be tearing yourselves apart, and Gaia's empathic soothing might not be enough, and…Donnie, you don't have to. But, like, I'm okay with it if you choose to. I want this for you."

Donatello blinked like a cat, nodded slowly. He saw his baby brother wince, grit his teeth in obvious agony. "Mikey? What's wrong?"

"Pain…" his brother muttered. "It comes through if I stay up here too long…I should be down in my underconscious resting…"

And Donnie grasped the concept, and nuzzled him again, and said, "Go. Go. I understand. Please heal. I love you."

"Love you, Dee," and then Michelangelo was gone. A hand was on his shoulder. Gaia was smiling at him. Donatello nodded.

Back in their bodies, Donatello and Gaia smiled at each other.

And now, two weeks after, Donatello knew exactly what he was doing. It was all science, after all. He lifted her up and crushed her to him, his mouth moving swiftly to her jawline and tracing it with his lips. He took a step from the desk to the bed, like dancing, and sat with Gaia on his lap, and slowly they undressed. Pressing his mouth to her ear, he murmured, "I want this real. Not spiritual. I want you for real. Please? May I?"

And there was a soft, sweet silence. And then Gaia nuzzled his face, and whispered, "Okay, Donnie. You may. I'm cool with that. Mikey's cool with that. I give my consent."

Deep inside him, a pressure rose and began to hurt in a beautiful way. She was beautiful. She was warmth and softness, a sweet embodiment of pure biology and chemistry and physiology and neurology, muscle and fat and flesh, of sparkling hormonal stimulation and glimmering sparkling neurotransmitters, of burning physical arousal and drowning emotional arousal and physical sensory overload and yes, she blinded him with science. Floodgates opened and his entire nervous system felt like fireworks. Muscles and cartilage and tendons and ligaments shuddered and shivered, and for half a minute he couldn't feel his legs. But when he breathed it was in gasping laughs. Gaia smirked and tickled him with her claws as he lay on his carapace while she propped her chin on his upper arm, and when she asked if he felt truly relaxed, honestly free of stress, he looked at her with wide eyes and a wide grin and confirmed that he was utterly, thoroughly, powerfully de-stressed, and she made a laughing noise that sounded like a song, and she kissed the corner of his mouth, and whispered that he should sleep perfectly.

Donatello fell asleep to the sound of purring and soft humming, and for the first time in a very, very, long time, his sleep was perfect.

A week went by. Gaia and Donnie didn't alter their relationship, but they did acknowledge what happened when asked. No one seemed upset or disturbed. Donatello breathed a sigh of relief, recalling the way Raphael had flared his nose and narrowed his eyes the morning after during breakfast. When the two had passed each other while cleaning dishes, Raph had breathed, "Go you, bro" like a fistbump. Don's face had reddened a little. He glanced over at Leo, who simply inhaled, raised both eyeridges, and smiled widely. Even Splinter had tilted his head down, smirked, and noted that Donatello looked incredibly well-rested.

Apparently, comfort sex was taken well in this family.

Raphael had wandered into the lab, humming, and outright asked "So, how was it? Who was on top?" and Don had coughed, dropping the Philips head screwdriver. Raph picked it up, and waited. Don quietly said "She was" before getting his tool back.

"How'd it feel?"

"Raph, can we talk about this some other time?"

"No, because right now your mind is on work and you can chat more fluidly without paying attention to what you want to say."

Donnie blinked. Raph was technically correct. He sighed.

"I…Raph, I feel weird discussing it right now. You could…you could always find out. For yourself."

There was a heavy silence. Donatello glanced up. Raph's eyes were narrowed and he seemed deep in thought.

"I dunno if I can."

Donnie nearly dropped his tools again. "Now that's interesting. For someone as physically intense as you, sexual release would make the most sense."

"Yeah, well…it feels complicated, you know? I don't…I mean, what if I mess up? What if I make too many mistakes? What if it hurts? What if I hurt her?"

Donnie grinned. "You're nervous. You're really really nervous."

"Cautious," Raph snapped. "Just because I jump in everywhere head first doesn't mean I don't think." He exhaled heavily. "I'm worried about…emotions. Hard feelings."

Don raised an eyeride. "How? We know Mikey gave his own consent a while back while predicting this, Gaia gave hers, there wouldn't be hard feelings…wait. Would there?" He tilted his head.

Raph opened his mouth, rubbed his neck. "I. Um. Donnie, how do you, like, feel about Gaia, anyway?"

"She's a great friend, she's a fantastic conversationalist, she's funny, she's kind…"

"Yeah, but…remember how you used to act around April? How she was your first crush and you still haven't really gotten past it."

Ah. Don bit his lip. "Do you mean to ask if I feel romantic toward Gaia? Because… well, a little. There's a lot about her to fall in love with. With April, it was a sudden plunging crush, because as you said back then, she was the only girl we'd ever seen. Even though we'd seen humans before, of course, on television…"


"Right. Um. I…can't say much more than that. I don't know what's happening with April. I feel like it doesn't matter. Our experiences in the world have become much richer and broader. I'll always love April. I just don't know what kind of love that is anymore."

Raphael nodded, stepping closer and leaning against the long desk.

"Making love with Gaia, that was…it's difficult to explain, Raph, it was…a tension reliever. An emotional comfort. It was casual. I can't begin imagine how Michelangelo feels for her; he's truly in love with her. But she and I have gotten really close as friends. Hell, maybe that's what that cliché 'friends with benefits' means, if you think about it."

"I am thinking about it," Raph said slowly. "I'm thinking about a lotta things right now."

Don reached out and patted his arm. "Why don't you go think with your fists for a while? That seems to clear your head." When his older brother blinked in surprise, he smirked. "I've been observing this family for sixteen years, you know. I know when to say the right things."

"Smartass." But it was said with a wide grin. When Don turned back to his work, he heard the air displace as Raphael left his lab.

The mix of tension and calm in the lair simmered as Raphael quietly stalked all over without a word. Training. Working out. Running. Katas. Long, murmuring sessions with Chompy and Ice Cream Kitty in her bowl of ice – really Donnie should make a special portable cooling box just for her – and his head was beginning to ache and squeeze. His shoulders and neck wouldn't stop hurting, the muscles spastic and hot. After six days, he slumped on his bed too tense to bother meditating. Or moving. He was alone, and it was dark, and he was fine. He was fine.

Someone knocked on his door.

"You are so not fine," a familiar alto voice came through. "You're making me tense. May I come in?"

"Door's open," he muttered.

Gaia slipped through and then locked his door. "You and I are going to talk."

He lifted a shoulder and dropped it, and they both winced.

The bed dipped slightly when she sat next to him, shoulder to shoulder. "I've never seen tension like this," she said. "You can barely move."

He grunted.

Carefully, Gaia turned him toward her and pressed her hands against his shoulders. "No massage will undo this, you know."


"I can still help," she said, "if you want."

Raphael was breathing harshly already, but his heart sped up when he looked into her eyes. There was softness there, kindness, compassion. She smiled a barely-there twitch of the lips, and lowered her eyes, her fingers pressing into the flesh between plastron and carapace, lightly dancing up toward his throat and neck, smoothing out along his jaw until she was cupping his face in her palms. Her thumbs rested just below the corners of his mouth. The whole thing had made him shiver, and he felt the muscles in his jaw and neck loosen. She raised her eyes and blinked, very very slowly, the way a cat did out of trust. He found his hands pressed to the sides of her face, thumbs tracing her cheekbones down her lips, and as they curved up he ran his thumb over the smoothness left from balm. Gaia tilted her head slightly, saying nothing, simply waiting.

Raph didn't think. He surged forth and pressed his mouth to hers, and the way she leaned in told him everything. He deepened the kiss and she responded, and they held each other and explored with tongues and lips and voice and breath, and he pulled away with a light churr. Gaia grinned. "How do you feel?"

He licked his lips. "Light-headed."

"Still tense, though."

He swallowed and nodded. His muscles were shaking, he felt exhausted.

"I have an idea," she said. He felt her hands slide down until they were on his shoulders, very very gently pushing him down, until his head was on his pillow.

When Gaia straddled him, his brain burst into a thousand shrieking lights. She smirked, and swung a leg off to lie beside him. She ran her hand down his arm and gripped his hand in hers.

"We are going spiritwalking," she said. "Dreamwalking, if you will. But more connected. Our bodies will bear the experiences and aftermaths. You remember."

He nodded, not sure if he should speak.

"Close your eyes."

That was the last thing he remembered physically. His mind was pulled out and up and spun around, and he felt completely unmoored. He jolted, and blinked, and found himself in the white place with the jade tree.

Gaia, her hand in his, smiled at him and waved her arm across the wide expanse. It shimmered and became the dojo, except this dojo had padded mattresses in each corner, incense was lit, lights were dim, it was only the two of them.

"Are we meditating?" he asked.

"Something like that," she said. "We are beyond the physical realm, as deep into the spirit realm as I can bring us right now. Let's just say that anything that happens here will have a neurochemical reaction in our bodies, but not enough to impact our bodies."

He was quiet, turning that over in his head. His astral body felt completely light and gentle, free from the tensions and aches from moments ago. Grinning widely he grabbed her and pressed her to him. "Soo, if we were to do this-" and he kissed her hard, "we might remember feeling it when we, ah, wake up?"

She grinned back. "There you go." And she wrapped her arms around his neck. "What should we do now, oh big bad hothead?"

He widened his eyes, sensing the waves of gentle intimacy rolling over them. "Weelll," and he dropped his voice, "I do need some relaxing, don't I?"

Her head cocked to the right and that grin still on her face, Gaia backed up only slightly and quickly shimmied out of her clothing. A thrill ran through him as she pressed her hands to his upper plastron.

Gaia half-closed her eyes and bit carefully at his jawline. lips traveling across until they met the connective tissue leading to his neck. Then she opened her mouth a little wider and bit down harder, and Raphael saw stars before the first groan left his throat. His body began to shiver, and Gaia continued employing her entire mouth as she bent at the knees, scraping her finger nails across his plastron, her tongue running over the edge of where his plastron met his skin. Raphael let out a long guttural whine and felt his knees shake.

"Wait," he gasped, and she pulled back so quickly he hardly felt it.

"I…" Raph swallowed. "This…but…Mikey…"

Gaia looked into his eyes, really looked into his eyes. He couldn't quite remember the last time she did that voluntarily. After meeting her, he had Donnie pull up information on autism, and it was pretty clear that Gaia didn't make eye contact unless absolutely necessary, or unless it was Michelangelo.

Here she was, on her tip-toes, naked, fingers lightly touching his shoulders, and she was looking right into his wide eyes and smiling at him, and she nodded, lowering her eyelids.

"Hang on," she murmured. "I want to show you something."

She took a deep deep breath, her breasts rising and falling gently, and the landscape altered, and they were in Mikey's room, staring at the bed. Mike and Gaia were naked and tangled in the sheets, sitting up against the headboard while Mikey furiously sketched something.

"So," Mikey was saying, "we know that when Raph puts his mind to it he's super mega good at painting figures. And I get sloppy if I want. Like those drawings I did when we were hiding out at Antonio's. Those were so half-assed I embarrassed myself, dude."

Gaia was leaning against his shoulder. "Well, these are extraordinary."

"That's because I took my time. And…and you know how much I admire Raphie. He's my hero."

Mikey unexpectedly shut the sketchbook and grabbed a laptop, biting his lip as he opened a document. "So I made a comic 'bout him. I studied his style."

Standing there, watching the memory, Raphael gaped, his mouth dry. Gaia's hand squeezing his kept him from rushing over and taking a peek.

In the memory, Gaia had her hand over her mouth. "Honey, this incredible!"

Michelangelo had that satisfied smirk. "Yeah, it's pretty awesome. Still needs work, though. Raph is so uptight I think he's made of muscle knots and scar tissue."

"I could always combine empathic soothing with telekinetic massage," Gaia murmured against his shoulder.

Mikey paused. "Speaking of that…remember that thing we discussed? You know, the comfort thing?"

Gaia smiled. "Yes?"

Michelangelo grinned and nodded, as if to himself. "Go for it. With him. He'll need it."

She nuzzled his neck. "I am proud of you for saying that, you know. But nothing is gonna happen to you, Sunshine. Nothing will hurt you so severely that I might need to bring your brothers closer with comfort sex."

He pressed his chin to her head. "Just in case. You know. You never know."

Raphael shook himself when Gaia snapped her fingers and the scene disappeared. The dojo was back, and Gaia was breathing heavily.

He turned to her, eyes wide. "He really…I mean…his hero…he really looks up to me."

She smiled. "And he wants whatever makes you happy and relaxed. He is completely selfless, you know."

Taking a deep breath, Raph stepped back and stared at her, head to toe, drinking in her body, as his arms reached out and enfolded her, quickly bringing his mouth to her neck. Her purr vibrated through his spine and her palms pressed against his plastron like they belonged there.

When she began nudging him to fall back, his carapace met with a mattress. And before he knew anything, that pressure inside his lower plastron, between his legs, built and built and then her hand was there, palming the slit in his lower plastron, and then he cried out when her mouth took over. Tongue rough and sending fiery explosions across his brain. Hands silky and squeezing and doing extraordinary things. He whimpered and churred low and deep. His body was shuddering, hands grasping and clenching and dear gods this was what his brother experienced all the time? He suddenly forgot all that tension, all the worry. The world was gone and there was nothing but now, and the two of them, and suddenly something in the back of his brain, something animalistic and fiercely primal, burst forth and a growl tore from his throat, and the warmth was suddenly gone because she was leaning over him, face to face, her feline eyes dilated. He didn't know exactly how he looked but he could feel it, he could feel that primal heat and surge and the toothy smirk and he watched as her nose twitched, her eyes became slits and then round again, that slow Mona Lisa smirk creeping along her lips.

"Good boy," she hissed. And he wrapped his arms around her and flipped her, pressing her down down into the mattress, and her legs automatically lifted and her hips automatically rubbed, and juuust there, riiight there and OH— and his eyes rolled into the back of his head and the two of them shuddered in unison. Movements were slow and he held her like porcelain, until her claws came out and dug into his arms and dragged hard enough to leave blood, and they growled at each other and his instincts were screaming to go harder faster more and the sounds she made crashed through him and his body completely took over and he could barely breathe and nerves were screaming along his legs and suddenly she let out a rising breathy howl and there was a pulsating tightening sensation and then he lost himself and was thrown over an edge so steep he yelled until his voice gave out.

They lay entangled, gasping for air, and she was purring at a high pitch as she nuzzled his face. "Keep your eyes closed," she whispered, and pressed her hand over his eyes.

The hand pressing on his face lifted. Raphael gasped long and deep, eyes snapping open. "What the fucking fu-"

"Indeed." And next to him, hand still clenched in his, Gaia smiled, her eyes sparkling. She still had her clothes on. He ran a quick senses check on his own body. Nothing had happened. Everything was in place. And yet he really did feel like…he really felt loose, and relaxed, and calm, and…and goddamn beatific!

"Fascinating, isn't it?" Gaia was purring as she spoke. "Not many telepaths can take it that far without getting hurt or burned out. I admit that even now I feel a migraine coming and I'll probably have a seizure some time later."

He stared at her, wide-eyed and gaping. She leaned over and brushed her knuckles across his cheek. "It's all right. I know you three will be with me. I will be okay. You should sleep."

He whimpered. He gripped her hand even tighter. No, but what if she…but…

"Raphael," she murmured. "Sleep."

There was no pressure against his mind. She purred, hand against his face, and his eyes drooped closed, and any dreams he had were full of sunshine.

It was very, very deep. Neither of them had ever gone this far. They didn't even think it was possible. But she could feel the hands of Hecate and Apollo guiding her, and the tangle of fears in her throat unknotted. Slowly, dream-like, she turned her head and managed to smile.

He turned his head to look at her, and he smiled back, brilliant and wide, and he took her hand, casually. "I love you," he said, and it was an underwater echo.

"You shouldn't be here," he said, and she was straining to listen. "You don't need this place like I do."

And she frowned when he squeezed her hand. "Mikey, don't. I made it this far, don't do that."

He sighed. "Gaia…what if it hurts you?"

"You know you can't protect me from myself, Sunshine."

There was silence, and his azure eyes widened just a little, and she knew she had him there. The place swirled around her, mist curling and coagulating, darting like little silver fish, and some of it brushed up against her head, her face, her shoulders, parts full of tension. She let her eyes wander. It wasn't pitch black, like stories said, it was navy blue, like how oceans reflected, like how darkest blue clothing blended perfectly with night skies. She noticed how the slips and slivers of fog and energy pressed against the visible wounds on his body, as if time didn't count, as if time was just one heavy circle devouring itself. It had been weeks, but here it meant nothing. Wounds and scars disappeared and appeared as they would; there was no time.

Her neck was throbbing. Her head was pounding on both sides. Breathing deeply was hard, like floating among mountains where the air was thin.

"I'm happy," Michelangelo was saying, and she smiled wanly. "I love you. I love my brothers. They're staying close. They're together still. You are taking care of my family, and it's excellent. Everything will be fine."

"I love you," she said, and her throat burned.

"You should go," and then his arms were wrapped around her and he was saying something to someone she couldn't see. "Get her out of here."

And Gaia was pulled away, but she was warm, and everything was going to be fine.

When she opened her eyes, three turtles, a rat, and a Japanese girl were staring down at her.

"Oh, thank fuck," Raphael gasped, and Gaia realized he was holding her hand in a vice grip. She was lying on his bed and she felt light-headed, sore and burning everywhere, horribly dizzy—

"Did…did I seize?" She didn't bother moving. It would take a few minutes.

"And how," Donatello said, his burgundy eyes huge. "Raph was almost sitting on you; we thought you were going to fly off the bed.

She bit her lip. "Secondary generalized tonic clonic, then. How long?"

"Ten minutes, give or take," Don replied, and she winced. Oh, it had been years since anything longer than five minutes.

"Here," Karai murmured, leaning over and tipping a bottle of yellow Gatorade to her lips. It tasted so good she groaned. Oh, dehydration. What a bitch.

"All right," Gaia said. "Somebody help me sit up and I'll see how this migraine is progressing."

Raph carefully scooped her in his arms as Leo prepped pillows, and she lay there, head tilted back. "Someone get me the good painkillers, please? And caffeine. Then we'll talk about how I saw Mike and how he's okay for the moment."

Murmurs rippled through the room; Karai left quickly, her movements like a striking snake. Splinter leaned forward eagerly, ears perked. "That would be wonderful to hear, child."

Karai returned with an energy drink and Demerol. After swallowing, Gaia found herself hungry and wondered who was best at making the crunchiest bacon. But important things first. She closed her eyes, sighing.

"Mikey is in a place generally inaccessible if one is not in a deep coma or other kind of severe unconsciousness," and she smirked, hoping to feel laughter, but all she felt was exhausted. "I'm not sure how I ended up there. But he says he loves all of you and that he's happy you're still close with each other, and he says that everything will be fine, and he's happy. Wow, I'm sorry, that sounds like he's dead. Sorry."

"No, it is all right," Splinter said evenly. "I understand. He is healing. Slowly."

She just smiled. "Can…can someone make me some bacon?"

Donnie smirked. "Leo's really good at burning it."


"I'll make some," Karai said, and touched Gaia's thigh with tender fingertips. Raph and Leo helped her out to the couch, where their grips on her waist and shoulders was just a little too guarded.

Karai made the bacon perfectly crunchy. Don made popcorn, and put just the right amount of butter on it. Gaia just smiled again at the bottles of Gatorade lining the floor in front of the couch.

Two months went by. April, Casey, Freya, and Rhea visited. Gaia went back and forth to her house, bringing textbooks for Don, teas and candles for Leo, stress toys for Raph.

Leonardo was kneeling underneath the tree in the dojo preparing for meditation, when something desperate tugged at his senses. He bolted to his feet. Splinter and Karai were out on a walk. Raph, Don, and Casey were at a junkyard, April was with her father.

He had just reached the edges of the main pit when a small human form pushed through the turnstiles and fell forward onto the steps. He yelled and launched himself, landing on the toes of one foot, and he registered everything so quickly that his yell was still echoing by the time he had turned Gaia around in his arms, wiped a smear of blood from her chin, and made it halfway to the infirmary. At that point, Gaia was pushing at him, muttering "Leo, Leo, I'm okay, I just hit my jaw, hang on-" and her burst of thought, Oh right, ninjas, hit him and he chuckled grimly, and she rolled her eyes and let him set her down on a smaller cot. He knelt and carefully prodded the lower half of her face, applying the proper creams.

"What the hell happened?" he asked. "Did you trip?"

"Um, kind of? I was at the turnstiles when I sensed a bad thing coming up and it made me trip over myself…" And her eyes were widening and her ears were quivering through the curtain of hair, and as his gaze followed hers to the main bed, the worst sound in the world pierced the air and they both screamed.

He lost his grip on the strip of light and hurtled through that deep blue expanse, deeper down into the red, and all he could do was exhale because there was hardly enough air to scream, and a part of him flung outward and shot upward and clung to the mind that reached for him…

…and she wasn't even sure how but she grabbed the paddles and the gel pads and she was already trying not to forget how to do this, and Leo had his big hands over hers, directing the defibrillator, and that flat, flat sound had been going on for too long, and when the paddles connected she shrieked and jumped and if it weren't for the weight of his grasp and his plastron at her back she might have crumpled completely. But that bolt of electric current worked, gripping Michelangelo's body in a single therapeutic current and restarting his heart before Gaia had time to let out the sob choking her. While they listened for the steadying beat on the heart monitor, she stumbled back and his arms shut around her, like softly swinging doors. The back of her head collided with the place just above Leo's plastron and she let her mouth hang open, jaw aching, breath dragging, and she listened to the frantic pounding of his heart and his breathing, and suddenly they were on the floor together in a heap and she was crying and he was shaking so hard the world rattled.

Gaia began crying harder, wailing, howling, screaming, shaking like a foundation crumbling rapidly. And all Leonardo could do was hold on tighter, as she turned and buried her face against his chest, and it was maybe twenty minutes before the sobs died down, and she managed to whisper, "Can we go do the dojo? Please?" and he merely helped her stand, and before they left she stumbled to the bed and kissed Mike's forehead, her fingers pressed against his cheeks gently.

In the dojo, they sat, lotus-style under the tree, breathing slowly, both still showing the dried tears on their faces.

"Highest plane," she said hoarsely, holding out her hands.

"But I…I've never…"

"I'll take you," she whispered, breath hitching. "I just need to…I need…Leo, I can't-"

And her eyes were closed, her hands were grasping his like lifelines, and he shot so far away from his body he almost lost his breath and his very sense of absolute self. They swirled and spiraled higher and higher, and he didn't think even Splinter had ever been this far into the astral plane, and then he wasn't even thinking – he existed, he became, he was, he floated. There was nothing. He was nothing. But he was a spark of something, then, and he flailed to hold on to something familiar, and suddenly there was a hand holding his, he knew what a hand was, he had a hand to grasp. His physical form was with him, ephemeral and air sylph, shimmering like water. He blinked, and Gaia was in front of him, her eyes shining, and their bodies were naked and glimmering.

"How…" and Leo paused to adjust to this new voice, "how often do you come here?"

"Not often" she said. "It expends so much energy. But sometimes I have to. Sometimes living physically hurts too much. This is more of an escape."

"Michelangelo spoke of your incredible telepathic range and strength," Leonardo murmured. "This is beyond impressive."

They were nowhere. They were everywhere. It was not a blank pace or a white space or a black nothing. There were colors as clouds, there was atmosphere shifting. Even as he tried to call up a spiritual place he could be familiar with, nothing changed. This wasn't a plane that shifted to willpower. This was higher than anything. He felt that he shouldn't be here.

"I have my reasons for being able to inhabit planes like this," she said with a smile. "They are hard to explain."

"I won't ask," he said quietly. "But… have you brought Mikey here?"

"Not yet; we have been one level lower, though. You should have seen his face. Psychotropic drugs have nothing on the highest astral planes!" and she giggled.

She did some complicated gesture with her fingers, sketching things between her upper body and his. They hovered and glowed, burned and singed before vanishing. Suddenly things seemed much clearer. Gaia reached out and pressed both hands to his abdomen. "Here. Do you feel your line? Your cord?"

Leo nodded.

"Good. It's powerful. Keep it that way."

As she moved her hands away, Leo saw the shimmering, glittering rope-like line attached deep into her own navel. He closed both hands around it and slowly pulled. Gaia giggled again and wrapped her arms around his wide shoulders; her hands just touched his carapace. He let his hands grasp around her waist. His fingers connected.

She smiled, moving her arms to his neck and pressing her hands to the back of his skull. "Breathe," she said in a low, soft voice. "There is no fear, there is no worry."

He lowered his head, lips brushing her forehead. "Is there desire? Understanding?"

"If you wish," she murmured, and he felt his mouth graze hers. Her fingers tightened against the hollow between his head and neck. She didn't move, but the way she stared directly into his eyes was so encompassing that there was nothing else.

They were floating, and standing, and lying down, sitting up. When he kissed her, hard and full, the world that didn't exist turned upside down. Heat poured from her mouth and skin. Gently, he nudged her legs apart with one knee. She rose to meet him, lower body pressed flush, until he relaxed himself and let go, pushing insistently into her, and her legs wrapped around him and her hips flexed and he slid so far he lost himself. And there were no more bodies, there was thought and desire and understanding and wish and feelings like colors made of clouds. Leonardo stopped thinking. He wrapped himself in everything he could feel, as though sensation were all the things he wanted to touch and hear and see. He absorbed and was absorbed. He was fire and he touched fire. Sounds were feelings. Emotions were colors. He let himself tumble, falling, and Gaia, wrapped completely in him, tightened and kept him from losing his grip, while her pulsating sensations rippled through his not-body and he felt himself liquefy.

Dropping down and down and down felt like coming up from drowning, like every cool sharp gasp of air was flooding him with life.

When he finally landed, he felt corporeality settle into him like a perfect coat. Slowly, he opened his eyes. He was met with a pair of unblinking golden cat eyes, pupils wide.

She smiled weakly, pale and trembling. "Hi, Leo. How was it?"

He didn't have words. He barely knew what words were.

In response, she touched her forehead to his and exhaled, and they sat and breathed together.

Everyone was back, and that initial shudder of horror was passing, flowing back into the infirmary on Donatello's heels as he and Karai checked Michelangelo's vitals. They couldn't explain the arrest, and all Gaia would say was "he slipped." She was still huddled in Leo's arms in the dojo under the tree, shaking but smiling, and the way Leonardo nuzzled her hair and sighed became a tell that made Raph smirk and fold his arms until Leo rolled his eyes.

When Gaia fell asleep, spasming quietly in the beginnings of a seizure, Leonardo quickly rushed her to Michelangelo's room, where he and Karai monitored the length and intensity. After four minutes and nine seconds, Gaia opened clouded eyes, smiled at them, murmured, "Love all of you," and went back to sleep. Karai stayed, climbing into the bed and spooning her.

The brothers gathered in the pit, mindlessly picking movies and making popcorn out of habit.

"Hey," Raphael said, "remember when we got our first microwave and Mikey was the only one who knew how to use it?"

"Donnie got so jealous!" Leo grinned.

"Remember when Mikey made the very first pizza after we got that taste topside? It was just cheese, but I think it was better than the one on the roof."

"Hey…did you know that Mikey plays the guitar? And sings?"


"He does?"

"I heard him in his room. He was playing Metallica!"

"When the hell was this, Raph?"

"Mmm…few months ago? Like, right after we met Gaia. I think Freya gave him the guitar."

"Wonders never cease."

"I swear she taught him a couple of Norwegian metal songs."


Four memories later, Karai came and sat on the couch between Raph and Leo. "What are we talkin' about?"

"Stuff Mikey did that made us laugh." Raph tossed popcorn into his mouth. On the second toss, Karai quickly shifted her face and her snake tongue lashed out. "Good popcorn. I remember when he said he was my brother for the first time. If I hadn't been so fucked up from Saki's manipulations, I would have responded."

Slow nodding all around.

"And he met me on a rooftop once," she murmured smiling. "After I coughed up the brain worm. Did he tell you?"

"No," Leo said, eyes wide. "Really?"

Karai propped her chin on her hand. "I was expecting you, maybe. But he showed up with a backpack full of snacks. We talked for hours. He told me about the M'Kari, and about the Alchemist. And we shared his T-Pod and danced until the sun came up. I…I think I almost fell in love with his spirit right then and there. I swore to myself I would protect him. I couldn't imagine those horrible things happening to him, that sweet boy, he bears so many scars…"

They were watching her now, faces relaxed but eyes sharp. "During that…that last battle…I…" She bit her lip. "I saw my adoptive father attack him and I couldn't stop him in time. I heard the sounds of…I couldn't…oh god, I thought he was dead…"

On pure instinct, Leonardo reached for her and she leaned into him, shuddering. "When Shredder fell from the building and Mikey collapsed, and there was so much blood, and Father was holding him…there were tears on Father's face. You couldn't see it, I'm glad you couldn't. I wanted to run to you three, you were so injured, but I didn't…I couldn't…all I could see was my father holding my baby brother and it was like a requiem…he was crying and praying in Japanese, he was saying how proud he was, and then Mike…Michelangelo, he said…he said it was okay, that everything would be okay, and…"

Karai inhaled, shuddering, and Donatello grasped one hand while Raph put his hand over her other hand. Leo squeezed her.

"He couldn't breathe, he was choking on blood, but he was smiling. He was smiling. His body was having these tiny tremors and his skin was literally losing color by the second, and all I could do was press bits of cloth to his chest wounds and his head wound, and I set his leg bone, and he looked at me with pure trust, he looked at me like he had always trusted me. After everything I'd done, after everything I was…"

A tissue appeared in front of her face. Splinter was kneeling there, and Karai burst into tears. "Father," she gasped.

"Daughter," he whispered.

"You saved his life, you know," Leonardo said.

"I love him," Karai gasped again. "My darling otouto. He danced with me while the sun rose. He taught me how to let chocolate melt on my tongue. He held me in his arms and said I would never be alone. He became like sunlight after rain for me. I can't…I don't know what I'd do if…" She lifted her head and stared fearfully at Donatello's lab.

"He will be all right, Miwa," Splinter murmured, caressing her face. "Our Michelangelo is very strong. Even without these psionic powers, he is uniquely extraordinary. Given time, he will heal, and he shall help us heal."

Raphael made an odd sound, somewhere between a choke and a laugh. "Never thought I'd be so happy he found himself a girlfriend. Even if it wasn't supposed to be like that. Gaia really did a lot for all of us."

"What do you mean, it wasn't supposed to be?" Don asked.

Raph shrugged. "Mikey told me. It…like, they never even considered being that close. Gaia didn't have friends, not really, and Mikey got that, and they just wanted to hang out and be together, and the telepathy really pushed that along, and then one day totally at random they hooked up and that was that."

"Were you ever jealous?" Karai asked.

"No," Raph said. "She was as much a friend as April was. I think we needed more human friends close enough to really get to know us. You know? And Donnie's weird lust thing over April was fading anyway…"

"Finally," Leo cut in, and Donatello blushed.

"And he and April were settling into this great close friendship, but me, I was fine, and then Gaia started deliberately hanging around me, talking to me, getting to know me. And she'd tell me things about Mikey that I never knew. That he made a comic about me."

Everyone's head shot up.

"A comic book?" Splinter said.

"Seriously?" Leo said.

"That's amazing," Don grinned.

Raph was blushing. "Um. Well. Like…she did a meditation session with me and took me into her memories. And I got to see it happening. I don't know where Mikey hid it, though. He copied my style, though. Ya know how I teased him about those childlike drawings he showed in the lab that one time? He was pretending. He did crappy drawings on purpose because he liked what I did to the Party Wagon."

"He was always a gifted artist," Splinter said. "I do not understand why he would choose to hide this ability from his family."

"He…he didn't always," Leo admitted. Sometimes he drew on the walls just outside the lair. He'd erase them."

There was silence. Raph cleared his throat. "Gaia's memories…she showed me the first time they, you know, they made love. In his room. I mean, she kept it, like, in the shadows, but I saw how blissed out Mikey was after. Like, the smile on his face could power a whole city. It was like something in him came alive. No wonder he wanted us to have that experience. I dunno if it's Gaia, herself, I mean, I guess she's got the psionics, but…"

"I've never slept so well in my life," Donatello admitted, blushing. "She even sent me into a dream about a technological candyland-style place. I…we did it again. After we woke up."

Everyone stared at him. "My son," Splinter said quietly, "You made love with her physically? Not spiritually?"

"I…I asked," Don murmured. "It was more like a scientific experiment. A theory, if you will. I knew I would not be satisfied with the astral aspect. And she said, heh, she said Mikey predicted this, out of all of us, that I would…I mean, physically…"

When they just kept looking at him, he ducked his head and cleared his throat. "We…we talked through it. She told me what she was doing and what I could do, and the, ah, the technical aspects. We did everything I could think of. She knew I wanted to explore. She didn't suggest anything, she just gave me pointers. I think we made charts."

"Wow," Karai smirked. "Kinky."

"Then," Splinter smiled, "is your infatuation with Miss O'Neil lessened?"

"Yeah," Don whispered. "Lessened. I mean, she's my best friend. But…I mean, polyamory is a thing, it's possible, and so is the idea of friends with benefits. So…"

"Donnie!" Raph slapped his knee. "You player!"

Don folded his arms. "Okay, so how was your astral fuck, then?"

Splinter stood and cleared his throat. "I believe I will retire to my room for meditation."

A chorus of "Sorry, Dad" rose after him, and he smirked and rubbed his beard.

Raphael leaned forward, eyes predatory. "Oh, we fucked like porn stars once I got the hang of it. There's a lotta stamina when you don't need your body. First time was awkward, I didn't want to hurt her. But she encouraged it. Said I needed a good release, better than violence. We probably did it like six times."

"Seven," Gaia's voice called from the edge of the pit. Raph actually jumped a few inches. "It was seven, if you count oral." She grinned toothily and stalked to the couch. Before anyone could move, Gaia had settled herself on both Leo and Karai. "Probably why I woke up with a seizure. Not your fault," and she quickly lifted her hand to Raph's open mouth. "I just don't usually take anyone but Mike that far into the astral plane." And she winked. "We can go up to ten times, by the way."

"Oh, now you're just gloating," Karai hissed, flicking her ear. Gaia hissed back. Briefly, they displayed their tongues, until a loud cough from one of the boys caused them to giggle.

"And you," Gaia tilted her head to face Leo, "we never did talk about how your session went."

"Oh ho ho," and Don rubbed his hands together.

Leo rubbed the back of his neck. "Well, you did take me to the highest plane, and we did kind of…melt into each other."

"But did it make you less tense at all?"

"Oh, Oh, yes. A lot. A whole lot. Um. And…better. Less panicked. Because. You know."

"Good," Gaia said. "That's all I wanted. You four will always choose each other and I wanted to make sure it stayed that way. Even if I'm not the only lover you all have, I need you to know that I just want to keep you four together. It's not about me. It will always be about you brothers."

They all nodded, visibly relaxing.

She sighed heavily and leaned against his shoulder, adjusting her legs on Karai's lap. "I'm sorry I broke down in front of you. Only my sisters get to see me like that. I just…he slipped, you know? I felt him slip and I honest to gods thought he was gone."

"Don't be sorry. It was a shock. What do you mean, he slipped."

She frowned. "How do I put this? There is a part of the spirit world where you go during comas, right? And it depends on your personal perspective, it can look like whatever. I saw him. When we were in the lab, you and I. He was reaching for a stabilizer that would help push him a little closer to the lower astral planes, the ones that eventually lead to consciousness. He reached out for me. That was the only way I was able to grab the defibrillator. My body wanted to stop working, just shut down."

"Wait," Donatello said sharply. "Gaia, exactly how deep is your link with Mike?"

There was a long pause. Gaia looked at her hands. "If he dies, really dies…I might too."

Don sucked a breath in through his teeth.

"Shiiit," Raph said.

"What about them?" Karai asked, pointing to each turtle. "Mikey linked with all of them. Raphael especially."

"Not to the same extent," Gaia said. "Raph, did you feel anything at all?"

He frowned. "I mean…I just felt cold, and that something was wrong, but it was vague."

"Same here," Don said.

"That's Mikey's failsafe." Gaia breathed out in relief. "He'd pull away from you and sever the links if he knew he would die completely."

"'kay, now I'm terrified," Leo muttered. "When will he wake up?"

Karai and Gaia looked at each other, frowning.

"At the beginning," Karai said, "I suspected six months."

"Same," Gaia said.

"And it's been what, four?" Donatello sighed shakily. "Well, he does have a great deal of recovery to do."

The movie that they had been ignoring was long over. Gaia didn't bother getting up. Tapes floated, circling, and one at random slid into the player.

"You gonna surprise us?" Karai said.

Gaia's lips curved up. "Yeah. I think I am."

It was a documentary on human sexuality. They laughed in unison.

Over the next month, the turtles, Karai, and Gaia met in the dojo for a specialized meditation. Gaia led them to the white place with the bonsai tree, and then a little higher, a little deeper. The specific spot they stopped at was always the same: a beach with white sand and teal waters, surrounded by reeds and dirt paths. Michelangelo would join them, and his hands were streaked with black marks like burns, his eyes shadowed and hollow, skin pale and movements shaky. But he smiled every time, and the sun was in that smile every time.

Gaia nuzzled him, like a cat, and the sound he returned was almost a purr. He held her and looked at his siblings, sighing.

"It's good to see you guys all together. You look good. Really, really relaxed."

Karai smirked, one sharp eyebrow raised, and cocked her hip. "You can thank your lady for that."

"I do," he said. "Every chance I get." He wrapped his arms around Gaia and then held out an arm. "Come on, dudes, group hug."

As they gathered, snuggling and nuzzling, warm bodies pressed as tightly as possible, Michelangelo's aura flared and wrapped around them, yellow-orange and blue and purple and white crackling. I missed you, the lights were saying, I miss you. I have to stay. Just a little longer. Please don't be sad. Please. And it was hard to scold, hard to plead, and they knew he needed that time.

"Karai," Mikey whispered, "Are you all right now?"

"No," his adopted sister murmured easily. "I may never be, But I am in acceptance. I understand. I will grow into a new me. Somewhere beyond Karai and Miwa. And I thank you for that, little brother."

"That's what I needed to hear." He sounded close to tears. "You guys, you'll wait for me, right?"

"Mikey…" Donatello raised his head, tilted his shortest brother's chin up with a finger. "We will. Always. Count on it. We love you."

"Love you," echoed Raph and Leo.

"And you're still a brat," Raph added with a smirk.

"I know." Mikey squeezed harder. "Dude, I cannot wait to spill a bucket of paint on your head when you come out of the bathroom."

"And I can't wait to tackle you into the pool," Raph whispered. "Come back soon, otouto. We need you, we really really need you."

Michelangelo chuckled. "Remember when I thought you didn't? When I kept calling myself useless and a screw-up? Because you kept saying I messed up all the time?"

"Kids say the stupidest shit," Leonardo hiccupped.



Grinning, Michelangelo kissed them each on the cheek, and Gaia on the mouth. "Be awesome to each other. Babe, keep up with the anatomy lessons," and as Gaia laughed, Donnie blushed deeply. Mike slapped him on the shoulder, then grinned at Raph. "I told her she was good, bros. We should keep her."

And Donnie blinked tilting his head. "I…we can talk about that when you wake up."

Raph just grinned wider. "Oh, we can and we so totally will."

Gaia just giggled. "I have the bestest friends ever." And Karai murmured assent, reached out, and kissed her so deeply that Leonardo groaned.

"Okay, yeah," Mikey said. "No need to get excited. It's exhausting enough just hanging out here."

They all looked at each other. Nodding, Gaia kissed him on the mouth, Donnie kissed him on the head, and Raph cupped his jaw. "Hey," Raph said, his voice heavy. "Be okay, baby brother. Don't make me kick your ass."

Michelangelo just smiled.

Time passed.

Dreams were shared.

Nightmares were soothed.

A single crystal clear vision brought them all together.

Michelangelo slowly opened his eyes and recognized everything. Inwardly, he smiled, and waited for his body to catch up, so he could finally tell his family that he was home.

Fighting and running from
Turning from who we really are
Cannot suppress
So let's find the one we have shaped so far

Flying too close to the sun
As if we're invincible
Cannot dictate
Dominate the earth that we're living on

We can't defy the laws
Cut the laws that we consummate
Around the world
We grow weaker as we exterminate

The only thing that gives
Thing that brings air and light to us
Wake up one day
And find what we got is so serious

We are the children of the sun
We are the children of the sun

The human greed and our creed
Is all that we have to share
Knee deep in tragical
Fabrical issues everywhere

Cannot replace the one
Chase the one that we used to be
It isn't how we were
Why we're here, what we're meant to be

Fighting and running from
Turning from who we really are
Cannot suppress
So let's find the one we have shaped so far

Flying too close to the sun
As if we're invincible
Cannot dictate
Our fate on this earth we are living on

We are the children of the sun
The love for everyone
Always on the run
The fire in our eyes
The passion never dies
We are the chosen ones
The children of the sun

-Thomas Bergersen: Children Of The Sun