Author Note: And the last one-shot is up . . .
I've had a lot of fun writing these, and getting reviews has been great. I've another series of one-shots planned, though they're very different to 'In Passing', and a long story titled 'Professional Maniacs', the first chapter of which should be posted in the next few days, and is much lighter in tone. Hope you stick around for those!
Extra note: I've avoided any mention of bandanas, for two reasons – mentioning colours would be much too obvious; and I wanted to keep it ambiguous as to which TMNT 'universe' the stories were taking place in.
I want someone to tell me I'm doing the right thing.
We leave the fluorescent glare of the convenience store and step out onto the dark street. The doors close behind us, cutting off Steve's stream of insults. Out here in the cold air my temper fades and I don't know what to do.
Sophie yawns and rubs her eyes. 'Mommy, where're we going?'
I lay a hand on top of her head. Her hair gleams like chestnuts. 'We're going home.' When I reach down to pick her up she fusses and struggles.
'I want to walk!'
I should call a cab, but I don't have any money. It's one in the morning; my shift should've ended at six. There are plenty of people around then.
Cabs are a waste of money, says an inner voice that sounds like my mom. I always try and save what little money I have. She'd be proud.
I take Sophie's hand and start walking. Two streets and we're home. I repeat it like a mantra.
Two streets and we're home.
Oh, this is so stupid. I should swallow my pride and beg for my job back. I should simper a little and apologise for storming out, pretending like he never grabbed me. It's not like this is the first time someone's looked at Sophie, looked at me, guessed our ages. Done the math. Made the assumptions.
Our feet crunch on broken glass. It always seems that every other window in this neighbourhood is broken, every other building crumbling at the edges. Most of the streetlights are dead. The room I rent is cramped and dank and I can always hear rats scrabbling in the walls.
We pass a payphone. I want to duck inside; I can imagine my call – 'Hey, Mom, Dad, can you come and pick me up? I'm tired of being an adult.'
Sophie drags on my arm. 'Mommy, I'm tired. Go slower.'
'We're almost home, sweetie. How about I carry you?'
'I want to walk.'
'If I carry you, we can get home faster.'
'No! I want – '
'Sophie, for God's sake let me carry you!'
Her face crumples and I hear footsteps.
Two kids with knives; boys in clothes designed to make them look tough. They don't look any older than me; they might even be younger.
'Give us your wallet.'
I'm not scared. I've been mugged before. I'm walking home in the dark in a bad neighbourhood – I knew something like this would happen. I hand over my purse, pulling Sophie closer to me. She doesn't seem to understand what's going on.
One of the boys takes my purse and searches through it.
'That it?' He throws it off to one side; I hear it thump against a dumpster in the alley. There's a tone of indignant disbelief in his voice, as if I'm being poor on purpose.
'That's it,' I say. 'That's all I've got on me.' I can feel the fear worming it's way in now, like a cold hand around my heart.
There's a long, taut moment – the boy who took my wallet just stares at me as I stand there and his friend looks back and forth between us, his movements nervous and jerky.
'Hey, man, we should get out of here.' He glances up and down the street. 'We – '
The other boy's hand snakes out and grabs me, clamping down on my wrist. I feel Sophie jump in surprise, then press against my legs; I feel my wrist bones grind together; I feel a flash of fear so bright it's like I've been stabbed.
'Hey,' the other one says. 'Hey, what're you doing?'
'What does it look like?' He brings the knife up until the gleaming point doesn't quite touch my neck.
Sophie clings to my coat. 'Mommy, what's going on?'
'I want to go home,' she wails. 'I'm tired!'
The boy nods his head towards his friend. 'Shut the damn kid up.' After a second of indecision, the other boy reaches out and pulls Sophie away from me.
She screams. The sound is high, wild, raw with panic and fear.
'Leave her alone!'
I surprise him, I think. My voice is so much bigger, more commanding than I expect it to be. My free hand comes up and swipes the knife to one side – it's a stupid move, but it works and the knife skitters away across the sidewalk. After that I hardly know what I'm doing. I punch, bite, kick, scratch, scream, and then one of them throws me to the ground and I know that this is probably it, it's over now.
There's a weird shadow leaping down the building.
The shadow lands in the street. So quiet. Have I gone deaf?
The others notice it too. For a moment no one moves, no one speaks. All I can see of the shadow is a short, blocky outline and glinting eyes. It raises a hand, reaches behind its shoulder, and then hesitates.
Its attack is fast and silent. It takes seconds to bring the two boys down – a swift kick, a punch, a few moves that pass too quick for me to take note of.
The shadow is green.
It stops, the boys sprawled unconscious at its feet, its back to me. Strange back. Like a shell.
It turns around; I take in a few more details – very broad face and mouth, bald. 'Are you okay?' A male voice.
'Um . . . I . . . you're . . .' I scramble up. A terrible realisation steals my breath. 'Sophie!'
I stagger a few steps down the street. 'Sophie! It's okay now! You can come out!'
I jump – he's standing right behind me. I try to bite back panic. 'My daughter. She must've got scared and run off. She must be hiding. Or . . . someone's grabbed her and . . .' I turn away from him and call out again. 'Sophie!' I spin back to him and grab his arm – and, oh God, it feels real. Muscles under my hand. Tough skin. 'You've got to help me!'
'I will.' I let go of his arm. 'But you need to calm down.'
And I do, just a little. It must be his tone of voice; steady, soothing, the voice of someone who knows what they're doing. I wish I sounded like that.
'You check the street that side of the road, I'll do this side. Don't worry, I'll keep watch on you. We'll find her.' I notice that he's actually looking up at me. I'm taller. Weird; it feels like it's the other way round. 'Okay?'
I nod and cross road, peering under cars to see if she's hiding there. I refuse to think of the alternative. We will find her. She's safe.
Now the adrenaline's wearing off I ache all over. There's the bitter taste of someone else's blood in my mouth and a sharp pain in my wrist. I focus on the physical, making little mental notes of each injury. Behind it my thoughts run, confused, tangled and fragmented, trying to fit the attack, the rescue, the green man and Sophie together.
I call her name over and over again. If something's happened to her it'll be my fault, because I made the wrong decision.
But nothing's happened. She's just hiding.
I find myself whispering that as I reach the opposite side of the street and go down another alley. It's too dark. How am I supposed to find her like this?
Please, don't let my last words to her be angry.
Please, I didn't mean it. I was just tired and scared and worried.
For the second time this evening I hear footsteps behind me. But when I turn I see it's the green man – and he has Sophie in his arms.
He smiles slightly at me over the top of her head.
'Sophie!' I rush forward. He hands her too me. Her eyes are squeezed shut and her hands are clamped over her ears. I hold her as close to me as possible and feel her heart beating against mine, fast as a bird's.
'It's me, sweetie.'
She starts crying.
'I . . . I'm sorry Sophie, I . . .' Oh, damn, I'm going to cry too. I look over to the man. He's still standing there, watching us with an expression I can't understand. 'Thank you,' I say.
He seems to ignore that. 'Do you live far from here?'
He glances back over his shoulder at the street. 'I'll escort you home.'
Escort? 'Oh, um . . .' I should say no. I shouldn't let strange . . . men? . . . know where I live. 'Okay.'
There's no one about, but he keeps very much to the shadows. Sophie falls silent; I wonder if in fact she's sleeping. It'd probably be best if she did. I don't know how to explain any of this to her.
Questions build up in the silence. I refuse to say them. I guess it's my way of showing gratitude. I end up telling him about Steve instead, explaining why I was walking back at night in the first place. I don't want him to think I'm stupid, or irresponsible. He doesn't speak and I can't see him well enough to know if he's even listening.
'So, um, now I'm jobless.'
'It was . . .' He pauses. 'It was the right thing to do.'
Another long pause. 'You've taught your daughter about dignity and honour. They're important lessons.'
I really don't know what to say. We reach the building where I rent a room. I still don't know what to say.
'So . . . thank you.' Sophie stirs in my arms, yawning and blinking. 'For everything.'
He nods his head and fades away into the shadows.
'Bye,' Sophie murmurs.
I stare into the darkness. But there's nothing to see. He's gone.