Beta read by Sassyblondexoxo; Raphael fan, gifted writer and all around great gal. Go read her fics.
Disclaimer:They ain't mine, and I'll be just as poor after I post this as before. (Insert resigned sigh here)
This fic contains violence and cursing. Y'all have been warned:)
The elevator doors hadn't seen maintenance in months, and their sudden sliding squeals chewed through my nightmares like a hacksaw.
A lifetime of training and recent paranoia had me on my feet before I'd even opened my eyes, my weapons drawn and a snarl of warning on my lips. I relaxed quickly, however, when my vision cleared and a very familiar voice said, "Take it easy, Raph. It's just me."
I'd walked her to the bus stop only a day ago, so it was almost embarrassing the way my heart lifted at the sound of her voice. It was sad how depressing this damned place became when she wasn't around. Sad… but not exactly surprising, since the lair now had all the warmth and charm of a butcher's corpse pit.
Leaping over the couch where I'd restlessly dozed and belting my sais even as I dropped, my feet touched concrete and I padded silently over to her side. "I got these," I said gruffly, taking the two oversized grocery bags from her hands. Her quick smile was grateful and it warmed me to my toes, but I did not return the gesture. As difficult as she was making it now, I had to remember that I was pissed at her.
I pressed the bags against my side to hold them steady and said, "Why the hell didn't you call me first, April?"
"I had to hustle to catch the last bus," she replied, seemingly oblivious to the ice in my tone, "so I didn't have the time."
"Why didn't you just wait 'til morning then?"
She shrugged. "I couldn't sleep, so I thought us insomniacs could keep each other company." April paused for a moment as she looked into my eyes, still bleary from such an abrupt awakening, and suddenly looked contrite. "Oh, god, I'm sorry. You were finally sleeping, weren't you? I should go-"
"You're not going anywhere tonight," I said, in a tone of voice that brooked no argument.. To add emphasis to my point I shifted the bags to a more stable position and turned slightly, offering her my free arm. "It wasn't the restful kinda down time anyway."
Pride made her hesitate briefly before she gave in, looping her good arm around mine and leaning gratefully. Damn it, this was one of the many reasons why I didn't want her walking here on her own. Even the scant few blocks from the bus stop to the warehouse was enough to tire her out.
We walked to the kitchen in silence punctuated only by the stiff scrape and slide of her leg brace, a consequence of the injury that had turned her movements into an awkward parody of what they once were. All the natural grace that had defined her life and made her so fascinating to watch was gone, and although she never complained I knew the loss bothered her. It sure as hell bothered me.
April reached out with her withered left arm and flipped the light switch. The fluorescent lighting chased back the darkness just enough to reveal what a wreck the once-spotless kitchen had become. I knew I needed to clean up this mess -or at least wash the dishes and empty out the overflowing trash bin- but I just couldn't muster the energy. There didn't seem to be much point anymore, and it wasn't like Leo cared.
Leo didn't care about much of anything anymore.
I set the grocery bags down on the scarred tabletop and rifled through them as April carefully lowered herself into one of the rickety chairs. My search was quickly rewarded as I moved aside a bushel of carrots, revealing a carton of Camel Reds. Eureka.
Opening the cigarette carton and removing a pack, I gave April a penetrating look. "From now on I want you to call me first before you come over. Is that clear?"
April appeared to be paying more attention to the pack I was tamping down than to what I was saying. Her eyebrows drew into a small frown, an expression that clashed with her pixie face and close-cropped hair. "If I was a better person I'd refuse to buy those for you."
I snorted and tore the plastic wrapping off the pack before depositing it in a pouch on my belt. "They're the only things that help; you know that. And don't change the subject."
April's scarred hand absently lifted to her mouth and she bit lightly at the protective glove, a nervous habit she'd acquired sometime during the past few months. "I can take care of myself, Raph."
My eyes narrowed and I yanked open the refrigerator door, forcefully tossing in the carrots and various other food items in an effort to blow off a little steam. "Not any more you can't," I said bluntly. "The warehouse is in a bad neighborhood and with that bum leg of yours you're an easy target."
Releasing the door handle and letting it ease shut on its own, I spun on my heel and glared down at her seated form. There was stubborn glint to her eyes that I knew all too well. I suppressed a sigh. Since when had incessant nagging become part of my job description?
Hell, I understood why she was fighting me about this -the freedom to go where you chose was a difficult thing to give up- but this was important. I had to make her understand, so I gripped her by the shoulders and tried another dose of truth. "Do I have to spell it out for you, April?" I hissed. "You're all we have left. If we lose you now it'll fucking kill us." My fingers dug involuntarily into her flesh, and I eased back only when she winced. "Now promise me!"
She glared at me and for a moment it seemed like a verbal throw-down was inevitable… and then her eyes abruptly softened. She sighed and took one of my hands, squeezing briefly. "I promise, Raph. I'll make sure you're there to walk me from now on."
She could be more stubborn than me when she put her mind to it, so I was a bit surprised at her easy agreement. That is, until I looked at our clasped hands and noticed the slight trembling of my fingers. A tiny argument, barely a one on my personal Richter scale, and already my hands were shaking. Fuck.
I snatched my hand out of her grip, as if the burn scars across her fingers could still emit heat. "Good," I said. Just to keep my hands occupied and hopefully still the tremors, I continued putting away the food. I needed a cigarette in the worst way, but I wouldn't smoke while April was around. It bothered her too much.
The uncomfortable silence reigned for a full minute before April pressed her good hand against the table and slowly, awkwardly, levered herself to her feet. "Is Leo still in the dojo?"
I managed to keep my voice level, but its sharp undercurrent of bitterness was jarring even to me. "Of course. Where else would he be?"
"Right," she said sadly. Smoothing out her sweater, long-sleeved and oversized to hide the scars, she continued, "I'm going to say 'hi' to him. Then we can make something to eat and maybe watch a movie, okay?"
Busying myself with storing the canned goods, I grunted, "Sure. Whatever."
Her shoulders slumped a little and she turned away, limping out the door with her gloved hand clamped firmly between her teeth. I waited until her uneven footsteps faded from hearing before collapsing in the chair she'd vacated, cursing under my breath. Nice work, Raphael; guilt-trip her into submission and then ignore her. You're becoming more like Leo every day.
My hand ran across the tabletop as I berated myself, idly tracing a long scratch in the finish with a single finger. It had been there since we were children; proof positive that sharp objects and Mikey don't mi-
-fighting to get purchase on stones made slick with my own blood, I was blinded and choked by airborne ash and still half deaf from the recent explosion, but it didn't matter because Mikey was under there somewhere, under this manmade hell of splintered wood and shattered concrete, and I had to find him and so I pulled yet another stone away and there he was, shell shattered and body broken almost past recognition and he had to be dead, except he wasn't for he opened his eyes and gone was all the warmth and laughter, replaced by something like death and, oh god, he opened his mouth and he screamed and screamed and screamed-
It didn't last long, only a few seconds at most, but the memory fragment still left me gasping. From my suddenly rigid position in the chair I once again tasted ash on my tongue and heard a distant banshee wail of mortal agony. An echo of my brother's screams. Not again. Oh, god, god…
I felt bile rise in my throat, thick and burning, and I choked it back with difficulty. Sending my chair toppling backwards, I surged to my feet and began to pace, as if I could shake off the flashback by sheer frantic movement. My hands scrabbled at my belt and cigarettes fell like coffin nails before I finally hooked one with fingers that shook so violently they seemed to blur at the edges.
Matches were a hell of a lot cheaper, but I simply wasn't dexterous enough to use them at times like this, so I clamped the filter between my lips and I hurriedly lit up with the Zippo I always carried with me. Snapping the lighter shut, I gripped the cigarette between my suddenly clumsy fingers and inhaled greedily, the filter rattling against my teeth as I fought to maintain control.
A milky cloud of smoke had begun to form an irregular halo above my head before my pacing gradually slowed. Lulled into something resembling calmness by nicotine and slight oxygen deprivation, I just stood there for a long while, deliberately inhaling noxious fumes and waiting for my hands to stop shaking.
More coming very soon!