Title: One Hand Clapping

Author: Stormy1x2 (travelingstorm)

Words (fic portion) for chapter 1: 9710 (approx 23-24 OpenOffice pages)

Rating: PG13 for language

Pairing: Mention of April/Casey, Casey's mom/dad

Summary: Book 1. Casey learns not all battles can be won with a hockey stick, and April, and the TMNT learn there's more to their so-called 'simple' friend then they ever dreamed.

Notes: Since Casey's mother was never given an official name in the cartoon, I went online and researched Italian female names. The first one that jumped out at me was 'Adelina', which means 'noble' and fits with my interpretation of her. Her maiden name is 'Esposito'. His grandmother's name is 'Fiametta', meaning 'little fire'. Casey got his energy from his mother, and Adelina had to get it from someone. I've also created a history for his maternal/paternal grandparents and subsequent family members. None of these things are canon, and are the result of my own ideas. I've tried to work everything around the existing episodes (except FF) and they seem to fit into the extremely detailed time-line I've created that I'll post at the end of the fic (since the time-line contains spoilers).

The idea of Casey's mother being of Italian descent is my own idea. Casey's dad is most likely of Jewish descent (Jones being Hebrew, according to www dot last-names dot net), and I chose the name David, since it is a popular Jewish name. This is not cause for major issue in the fic, nor are there any religious issues brought up at any point, but I just wanted to explain the names I chose.

Also, in order to include all the details – cousin Sid, ownership of the farmhouse, Casey's family line – I had to tweak it a smidge, making the Esposito's (Casey's mother's side of the family) and the Joneses (Casey's father's side of the family) become good, close, family friends after the marriage of their children – Adelina Esposito and David Arnold Jones.

The turtles are 17, almost 18, since I'm guess-stimating only a year and a half approximately has passed since the beginning to the end of S3. Season 4 is largely being ignored, since I don't have access to all the eps, though a few key incidents will be mentioned (primarily ones from eps that I've seen i.e Cousin Sid, Donnie's mutation, the demise of Baxter Stockman, the appearance of the Rat King etc). I haven't seen any of the eps for the lost S5 details are going to be heavily glossed over. S6 or FF does not happen – but ideas from FF are going to be used. You'll see how, as the fic progresses.


Italics -- indicate thoughts.

9696969696 -- indicates scene changes/POV switches.

-- indicates flashbacks

Special Thanks: To One Small Monkey who went over this with a fine tooth comb, made some great suggestions, and helped me fix too many things to mention. I went back and added/changed things after the beta'd versions came back, so any mistakes found here are mine and mine alone.

Finally: This fic is dedicated to my best friend of seven years, Kathy (aka LJ's angelkatchan). She may not have the same problems as mentioned here, but she certainly knows about living with adversity – and she's most definitely a survivor. Toughest gal I know, next to myself. And her son is going to rule the world.


Man, I'm gonna be late again! Casey groaned and resumed his search efforts, flinging jackets and assorted junk out of his way. He stopped by the sofa again – his sixth time – and all but ripped the cushions off it instead of feeling through the cracks like he had before. He scanned the newly-naked couch and then slumped. Nothing. Nada. Zilch.

Keys, keys, keys, keys, KEYS, he chanted inside his head, pulling out drawers and dumping over containers. He ran his hand along what surface remained of his cluttered coffee table, and then began tossing copies of Maxim magazine and Playboy over his shoulder, his growls of frustration growing louder as each newly-revealed layer failed to produce the keys to his bike.

Magazine, magazine, TV Guide, empty popcorn bag – ew, roach, die DIE – gum wrappers, remote – remote? Damn I was LOOKIN' for that one – DVD, centerfold that was of course, unfolded – hellooooooo nurse, gotta save me that one – newspaper, more gum wrappers, his cell phone that he tossed into his bag and his Shell Cell that he shoved into his pocket.

No keys.

Casey sighed, tilting his head back.

"It's because April's expectin' me, and I actually want to be on time, isn't it?" he asked the ceiling. The ceiling didn't answer, which was a good thing. If it did, it meant that he had much more serious issues than lost keys.

Something shiny – oooohh! Casey leaped across the room and pounced on the small, battered stand by the door – the area he had designated the 'hallway', even though there was no actual hall – and groaned again as he registered the quarters scattered on the desk. He had discovered those last time, on his fifth trip 'round the living room. He scooped them into his pocket, grabbing the jawbreaker sitting there as well as an afterthought. He popped that into his mouth, ignoring the metal taste that candy can acquire, particularly when said candy sits unwrapped on a pile of loose change for...who knows how long?

"Here keys," he crooned. "Nice keys, good keys, come to daddy. Where are you?"

Toss, throw, shift, trip – whoops. So THAT was where his Slugger 67 had gone, tucked in next to the radiator with just the handle sticking out. Bad bat. No tripping daddy. Casey yanked on the handle, freeing it from the heater-slash-prison and stuffing it into the golf bag slung on his back. It was a tight fit – might have to start rotating some of these babies out – but he managed, and then straightened up, glaring at his living room as though it had openly defied him.

Well, in a way, it had. Refusing to turn his keys over to him. How dare it? He had legal rights! Full custody! There was NOT going to be a mutiny in his own living room!

About to begin the seventh circuit around the room, Casey was distracted by the phone ringing. For a second, his heart stopped – maybe it was April? Nah, she would have used the Shell Cell, right? His eyes focused on his watch, and he realized he was only about five minutes past the promised meeting time of six o'clock. Technically, that meant April wouldn't actually expect him for another ten to fifteen. He'd have to hustle but heck, he could use his special short-cut, the one that had left Mikey almost white – s'not like I hit the walls, we had three whole freakin' inches clearance – and had caused Raph to make him promise never to use it again while he was in the vehicle with him. Considering how rare it was that the guys let him drive the Battle Shell, it wasn't like he was gonna do it any time soon.

Well, okay, so the shortcut was a little – unorthodox, as Donnie would say. But it would save precious, precious time and maybe also save him from being hit with a mop like she did at the farmhouse--

A shrill beeping noise interrupted his inner monologue. Oh yeah, the phone. Ooops.



There was absolutely no mistaking that raspy voice. And there was only one person who called him by that name and lived.

"Ma?" Casey automatically pulled the phone away from his head and stared down at the receiver in shock..

His mother had a habit of not calling very often. They found it made both their lives less stressful. Casey didn't have to make up things that he claimed to do in his spare time (that he actually reserved for skull-busting with Raph), or the fact that he hadn't yet made her a grandmother, and best of all, he didn't have listen to that hated first name of his. His mother, on the other hand, didn't have to hear that her son still didn't have a full-time job or a decent education, or that he was seemingly always recovering from an injury or three that he would never properly explain how he got.

It was a win-win situation for both of them.

The squawking from the receiver reminded Casey that his mother was still talking, and he quickly lifted the handset back to his ear.

"--and so it might be best if I come over tonight, okay dear?"

"Uh, yeah. Sure. No prob-"

Wait a minute.

"Tonight?" Casey blurted out. "Ma, I got a date tonight with April – the girl you met at the farmhouse last year? I'm like, out the door in two minutes. Maybe four. Or five. But soon. Can't you come tomorrow?"

"Arnold, I'm sure April won't mind postponing your date. Besides, you're already late. Let me guess – you couldn't find your keys."

Casey gaped at the handset. "Good guess."

"Please. I know you Arnold Casey Jones." Casey winced, but let his mother continue. "Go and get your keys from the front door dear – someone might steal them."

"What are you talkin'-- Ma, I did not leave my keys in the door," Casey growled into the phone, but his feet were moving anyway, eternal slaves to the 'don't argue with me' tone of his mother's that he had learned to unquestioningly obey when he was younger. "I'm not that--"

He froze as he took in the sight of his keys dangling from the lock, glinting teasingly at him in the light from the hallway. No way. No way.

"That is seriously scary, Ma," he declared into the phone, viciously yanking his keys free. "How the heck do you DO that?" She'd been doing it for as long as he could remember, but he didn't remember her as being so...accurate.

"Magical powers, dear. Remember? All mothers gain them as soon as their children learn to crawl, walk, and stick forks in outlets. Or in your case, plastic bats in the garbage disposal. And don't pull your keys out like that, you'll bend them."

"Cut that out!" Casey glared at the phone, and then looked suspiciously around the room. It had been a while since his mother's last visit but he wouldn't put it past her to have planted cameras or something.

"So I'll be there in a couple of hours."


"It's important to me Arnold. I ask for so little of you – you can miss one date and spend an evening with your mother. I need to talk to you about a few things."

Casey froze as his mind went into panic mode. He blamed the sudden shift on his pre-teen years, when his mother's birds-and-the-bees speech had taught him to truly fear the words, 'We need to talk.'

"Whatever it is, I didn't do it," he blurted out. His mind raced through the last few battles he and the guys had fought, combing his memories to see if any reporters or cameras had gotten him on film. Heck, he hadn't even been mentioned in the last wave of Purple Dragon-bustin', something that bugged him, especially since Raph had gotten a 'man in a green costume' mention, but now he was thanking his lucky stars.

He gave himself a quick once-over – no bandages, no bruises that he could see. Since meeting up with the turtles, he had been picking up a few defense tips – or having them forced on him, in some situations – and was proud to see himself walking away from PD encounters with less damage then usual.

His mother was laughing on the phone, low and gravelly.

"I know dear. And if you did, I promise not to ask about it."

He thanked his stars again. This time, individually and by name.

"It's about me, and don't worry, I don't plan on embarrassing you. But I do want you home tonight when I get there. Say, eight o'clock?"

Casey sighed, seeing his plans of dinner and a movie with April going down the tubes, circling 'round and 'round and disappearing altogether like a swirlie in the toilet. "Okay ma. I'll be here."

"Good boy. I'll see you later then." She hung up.

Maybe he could still have dinner. He had almost an hour and a half until his mom showed – no, she'd probably show up early to see if he really was there. Casey gave another mournful sigh and then replaced the handset with his Shell Cell. His finger hovered over the pink button that would connect him with April. It was kinda weird how hard it was for a tough guy like him to be afraid to press that little button. Terrified even. But he did. Face the fear, and all that new-age garbage.

A warm and familiar voice answered, and Casey silently ordered his knees to cease that infernal knocking. They complied, but hesitatingly.

"Yo, April? S'me, Casey. Look, about tonight..."


Three sharp staccato raps on the door had Casey almost leaping over the couch backwards in fright. The glowing numbers on the VCR – that he programmed, mind you, NOT Don, though he did kinda have to walk him through – revealed that it was seven-thirty, and he shook his head with a small grin.

His mother may know him like the back of her weight set, but luckily, he also knew her.

Striding over to the door, he pulled it open and flung his arms out. "Ma!"

A bag of groceries was thrust into his arms. "Put those in that closet you call a kitchen, and be careful of the tomatoes – I don't want them bruised."

"Yes ma'am!" About face, march. Casey scurried into the kitchen, dumping the bag on the tiny metal and plastic table wedged into the corner. It was the one room of his home that stayed clean, a direct result of his devotion to the fast food industry, and the wonders of disposable plates. His mother followed behind slowly, and when she entered, he turned to face her again, arms outstretched. This time, hands free, she returned the offered hug.

"You look good, Arnold. A bit pale though – you need to get out in the sun more."

Casey thought about convincing Leonardo to do mid-day patrols. No, that probably was not going to happen. "Uh, sure ma."

He took a good long look at his mother. She looked tired, a bit pale herself. He noticed with shock that some grey had finally started to penetrate the black strands wisping about her angled face. She was a strong woman, his mother, but as he stood there looking at her, it occurred to him for the first time that his mother was getting old.

Suddenly, she smacked him upside the head.

"OW! Ma!"

"I'm not THAT old, junior," she said dryly, before pushing past him to empty the grocery sack. Casey rubbed his head, blinking. She did it again – how? Mind powers? Mother-given telepathy? And now she was glaring again, one hand halfway raised.

"Sorry, sorry!" Clear the mind, that's what Splinter always says to do, right? No thoughts, no thoughts!

His mother quirked an eyebrow, and lowered her hand to one of the bags. Success!

"Make yourself useful." She handed him the tomatoes to wash and dice. Casey watched in confusion as she pulled out a bag of pasta, several containers of spices, a small bag of mushrooms, a package of ground beef, a container of Parmesan cheese, and some green bell peppers.


"I know I made you cancel your dinner date, so I thought I'd make it up to you. You never have anything substantial in this place to eat, and those tacos you had for a snack before I got here didn't even put a dent in your appetite."

His mother was a freakish mutant with mind-boggling powers that could see into his head. Not for the first time, it occurred to him that he was probably spending too much time reading Mikey's comic books. Still...no thoughts. No thoughts. "Uh, thanks."

He diced the tomatoes, quickly, evenly, and dumped them into the large pot she'd unearthed from a cupboard. He didn't even know he had pots. He added some water and the tomato paste, and turned the heat up high. Without asking, he also grabbed the bag of mushrooms, taking them over to the sink to wash before cutting them up as well, while she mixed and molded the ground beef. As he helped her make his favorite home-cooked meal – spaghetti and meatballs, home-style – he glanced sideways at her, wondering if he should ask, or wait.

Yeah, like he'd ever been good at waiting.

"So what's up ma?" He gestured to the food, and herself. "Making me cancel a date, cookin' me dinner, saying we gotta talk. Should I be worried?"

His mother gave him a small smile, and added a pinch of oregano to the sauce that was slowly beginning to bubble. "We can talk after dinner, dear. "

Okaaay. Casey didn't like that smile. His mother could smirk with the best of them, and could probably send even Raphael running for the hills with her angry face, but she didn't often smile like that. Big toothy smiles, yes, but not little, 'I've got a secret' or 'I'm sorry to have to tell you' ones. Those ones made him nervous.

But his mother had obviously made up her mind about the course of events for the evening, and he knew nothing would make her break away from them. So it was best to keep chopping things. At least he was good at that. He smiled back at her, relaxing as hers widened a bit into something less scary, and added the mushrooms to the pot.

It didn't take long to make the meal, the two of them falling into a familiar rhythm of working together in a kitchen. After his dad died, it had been just the two of them, and dinnertime had become an important daily event. He'd help her make the meal, washing, cutting, slicing, stirring, all the while telling her everything that had happened during the day. They cleaned while they cooked too, washing things as they finished using them, which made the after-dinner cleanup fly by.

Putting the last of the dishes away, Casey patted his still-full stomach, belching contentedly. It had been a while since his last home-cooked meal. Wandering back out into the living room, he saw his mother relaxing on the sofa, idling thumbing through one of his muscle mags.

Adelina Jones had been a champion bodybuilder when she was younger. His father had been a pro hockey player until he got hurt, and then he'd bought the store that he'd run until the day it had been burnt to the ground. Casey was proud of his parents' strength, crediting them with his natural toughness.

He frowned though, as he took in his mothers' form, looking a bit thinner then usual. And she'd only eaten a few bites of the delicious meal they'd made, pushing the rest around her plate, while serving him heap after heap. She had always sworn by carbs and protein during her training days, he remembered. No fad diets for her. Wasting food wasn't a habit either – if he tried it, he got rapped knuckles. For her to leave so much...that meant something was up.

Coupling that thought with the obvious fatigue brought a frown to his face, and he joined her on the sofa, throwing one hand over the back of it.

"So, are you gonna tell me what this is all about or what?" He prodded gently. Well, their version of gentle. Mama Jones had never babied her son, preferring blunt honesty and openness, and Casey had learned to return the favor. "I'm starting to get worried."

Adelina folded her arms and sighed, reaching one hand up to pinch the bridge of her nose under her glasses. "I'm not really sure how to begin this Casey."

Oh shell. And he wasn't even going to laugh at himself for using Mikey's favorite, modified swear word. He was officially passed the concerned stage, becoming deeply entrenched in the terrified stage. His mother never called him Casey unless she was trying to soften him up for something. "Begin what?"

Adelina Jones sighed again, and then turned to face him completely. Her arms were still folded somewhat defensively across her chest, and she met his eyes calmly.

He waited.

"Casey," she said again, her voice a quiet rasp. "Son. I need to tell you something, and I need you to stay calm." She took a deep breath. "I was at the hospital last week. I uh...fainted, while I was shopping."

Casey frowned. "You sick or something?"

His mother smiled wryly at him and Casey mentally smacked himself. Yeah, 'cause healthy people faint and get hospital stays. Idiot!

"Or something." She uncrossed her arms, and reached out, taking one of Casey's larger hands. "They did an x-ray."

Which would mean...Casey shook his head. " Did you hurt yourself when you fainted? Break anything?"

Adeline let out a raspy chuckle. "Oh Arnold...Yes, it's the thing for broken bones but also checks for other things. Things much nastier then broken bones."

"Ma, I may not be the brightest bulb in the socket, but I ain't a complete idiot. What did the doctors find?" Casey was almost surprised to realize how calm he was.

His mother looked him square in the face and nodded once, as though steeling herself. "They found an...abnormality in my chest x-ray."

"What does that mean?"

"Casey," she said quietly, gripping his hand tightly. " It means I have only a short time left to do all the things I ever wanted to do, and thought I had time to."

Casey abruptly went numb.


"Yes dear," she said thickly. "I'm dying."




The elevator doors slid open with a near-silent hiss, and April walked into the turtle's lair, her knapsack slung over one shoulder, the other hand raised in greeting. "Hi guys!"

"Yo, April!" Michaelangelo flew by overhead on his flying skateboard, spun around and came back. April gasped and dropped her bag, hands flying to protect her head. The humming noise that heralded the 'chuck-loving turtle's arrival died away as Mikey powered down. She uncovered her eyes to see him standing less then a foot away, peering quizzically at her.

"Yes, Mikey?"

"Call me crazy, but don't most dates last longer then, oh I don't know, an hour?"

"And what would you know about dates?" Raphael asked, looking up from his weight set. He switched arms and continued with his curls.

Mikey pouted. "I know lots! Like in Justice Force issue 99, Battling Bernice finally went on a date with Stainless Steve Steel, and they had dinner, a movie, and then a battle on the way back from the theater! They were gone all night!"

Another voice chimed in. "Mikey has a point. April was supposed to meet Casey at six o'clock. The fact that it is 6:35 and she's here and not out, would indicate that the date never took place for some reason." Donatello looked up from his workbench. "Which would tell me that--"

"April got dumped!" Mikey's brown eyes widened in shock.

"I did not get dumped," April protested. "O'Neil women never get dumped." She smiled ruefully. "But apparently we do get temporarily blown off in favor of other women."

"Say what?" Raphael's hands clenched around the barbell's he held. "You mean that lunkhead stood you up to see some other broad? Bro or no, I'll kill 'em!"

Mikey leaned in conspiratorially. "And how would Madam prefer his head be served? On a pike? A platter?" He waggled his eye ridges. "Or would you like him brought back alive so you can do the honors yourself?"

"Mikey!" Half-giggling, half-groaning, she whapped the ninja on the shoulder, ignoring his mild protest of pain. "I do not need avenging. It's sweet of you guys to offer though, even if it is unnecessary."

"So what happened then?" Donatello came to join them, wiping his hands on a ragged towel he kept tucked in his belt. April smiled at the show of concern from her adopted family members.

"I have been 'temporarily replaced' for the evening. Casey's mom called – she wanted to talk to him in person about something." April leaned down and picked up the bag she'd dropped when Mikey had buzzed by her head. "Casey seemed a little distracted. I hope everything's all right."

"Do you have any idea what's going on?" Leonardo asked. He had been practicing his kata in the middle of the room, and now he came over, sheathing his swords with a metallic whisper of sword sliding against the worn leather. Raph tossed him a towel and Leo inclined his head in thanks. "Did he say anything else?"

"Nothing," April sighed. "That's one thing I've never been able to get him to open up on – his family. It's like they don't exist or something."

"Well, until Casey's mom showed up at the farmhouse, I just assumed his family members were...well, deceased.." Leonardo shrugged. He looked at Raph. "Does Casey have any pictures or anything in his apartment?"

"Nope." Raphael chewed idly on a toothpick he'd procured seemingly from thin air. "No pics, no albums, no letters, nothing that I've ever noticed. He doesn't have many personal things, outside 'a his weights and clothes."

"No momentos? Keepsakes?" Leo tried again. "Something that shows his history? Interests?"

"Like what?" Mikey questioned, in confusion. "All he does is fight and train. Kinda like you, Leo."

"I do more than that," Leonardo shot back. "I read. I watch TV with you. I play chess with Donnie. I work out with Raph."

"That counts as training, Leo," Mikey pointed out with a grin.

Leonardo glared at him. "Whatever. The point is, there's more to me than just ninjitsu, just like there's more to you guys as well. The same thing applies to Casey."

"Okay then," Donatello said, folding his arms. "What does Casey like, besides sports?"

There was dead silence, broken only by the sound of Mikey attempting to make cricket noises, followed immediately by a smack and a pained 'Owww.'

Donatello sighed and tried to start them off. "Well, motorcycles – I know he can fix them up. He's about on par with Raph in that department." He nudged his red-banded brother.

Raph grinned wolfishly as he came up with something. "He has a nice collection of, heh, special magazines."

Mikey whistled. April glared. "You do know you are too young to be looking at those so-called, special magazines, right?"

Raphael held up his hands defensively. "I never opened them. I swear!" He winked. "But the covers are really...educational."

April's face was starting to resemble a thundercloud's. Donatello tried to steer the conversation back on track. "Anything else?"

Another silence ensued.

April blinked. "You mean we've all known each other for almost two years, and we don't know anything about each other except the superficial?"

Donnie frowned. "Well, you both know our history, and you've seen our stuff. No secrets here. April, we know a bit about your family. The story about your uncle, your family shop. I know something about your education considering who you used to work for – when I was researching Baxter Stockman and his mousers, well, let's just say he had a very strict and highly detailed list of requirements for the perfect job applicants. The fact that you were his personal assistant told me a lot."

April grinned, a bit embarrassed. "It wasn't that specialized."

"I beg to differ." The purple-banded turtle winked at her.

Leo shook his head, still frowning. "But what do we know about Casey? Besides what we've said?"

"His family's store burnt down when he was a kid," offered Raphael.

"He likes hockey," Donatello added.

"His mother is a very scary lady," Mikey said, nodding his head, remembering what he saw of her the year before at the farmhouse. "I mean, man, now we know where Casey gets his workout vibe from."

There was a third pause, as everyone racked their brain's trying to think of something to add to the list.

"That's all," April said eventually, joining Leo in a frown. "That's kinda...sad."

Leonardo silently agreed. Casey was an annoyance, but he was still one of them. A part of their family. He deserved more consideration then that. A quick look around showed a similar look on everyone's face.

"Well, there's nothing we can do about it tonight," Raphael shrugged.

Mikey nodded.

"We can talk to him tomorrow. Find out all his nasty little secrets. But right now..." he paused, and rubbed his hands together with a mischievous look. "...now, we have to help April get over her first dumping!" He grinned at the redhead, draping an arm over her shoulders.

April squawked and smacked him again.

"I was NOT dumped!" she insisted. " I was just--"

"Blown over for another woman, yeah, yeah." Mikey led her over to the sofa and plopped himself down, pulling her to sit next to him. "According to my extensive comic research, as your friends and unofficial brothers, we are supposed to sit and watch sappy movies and think of all the ways we can dismember the 'dumper' on behalf of the 'dumpee'." He pointed at his arm, flexing the muscle teasingly. "I believe I am also supposed to offer you a shoulder to cry on. Go ahead. Soak it in tears. Just please don't get snot on my bandanna – we have tissues here somewhere."

April couldn't help but giggle, and she obligingly laid her head down on Mikey's shoulder, grinning at them. "You guys are too much."

Donatello was watching with a calculating smile too. "I think we're missing something, Mikey. I seem to recall that in situations like these, mass amounts of ice cream – particularly Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough and Extreme Caramel Ripple – are supposed to be ingested as soon as possible, to counteract the heartache."

Mikey's head snapped up. "Really?"

April snorted and poked him in the plastron. "Hey, I'm supposed to get the ice cream. Why do you?"

Mikey looked to be at a loss...for all of two seconds. "Because I'm the supportive one," he declared. "Your pain is my pain, ergo, your cure is my cure." He smacked his lips. "And Donnie bought a new bottle of caramel fudge sauce that would be perfect to add on! Donnie, whaddayou think?"

"I think I'm a bit concerned that you used the word 'ergo' in a sentence." Snickering, he turned and headed for the kitchen.

Raph and Leo exchanged looks and then grinned. "Hey, we wanna be supportive too!" Raphael joked, bouncing on to the couch on April's other side, clumsily patting her shoulder, and then shouted in the direction of the kitchen. "We're sufferin' on her behalf too! Bring enough bowls!"

April howled into Mike's shoulder, shoulders quaking with laughter.

Donnie came back out to the living room. Two, economy-sized tubs of ice-cream balanced on top of each other on one hand, and a stack of bowls and spoons were piled up on the other. He set them all down on the coffee table, and tossed the dishes to his brothers. Leonardo raised an eye ridge at the extra bowl.


"That would be mine," Splinter said calmly, appearing behind Leonardo, who jumped slightly at his Master's sudden appearance.


"I would never leave my adopted daughter in such turmoil," he said, smiling at them all. "As a family, we must all support her during this period of..."

"Her being dumped!" Mikey finished cheerfully.

"And the ice cream is an additional benefit," April added, wiping tears of laughter from her cheeks.

Splinter coughed.

"Er, yes." He handed his bowl to Donatello. "A serving of the Caramel Ripple please, my son."

Donatello nodded and got to work scooping out ice cream for all. Mikey picked up April's knapsack and began rummaging through it, ignoring April's mild slaps on his hands as she tried to take it back.

"Did you bring the sappy movies?"

The redhead rolled her eyes. "Please – like I'd bring romantic movies to THIS lair. I'd be barred from your DVD player for life."

Raphael nodded. "True."

"Here." April finally wrestled her bag away from the orange-banded menace, and pulled out a box set, tossing it at Raphael. Raph looked at the cover, his eyes widening.

"Lethal Weapon! Cool!" He jumped over the table to the DVD player.

"But you're not sticking to the whole being dumped routine," Mikey protested. "Crying, ice cream, man-threats and sappy movies. Won't we like, warp you, if we aren't careful of your girlie needs?"

"I have NOT been dumped! And my 'girlie needs' include ice cream, action movies that won't get me banned from the lair, and having my family with me." She smiled at him. "That last one I need all the time, by the way, not just when I've been dumped – not that I have been."


"Besides, the scene of Mel Gibson's naked behind in the first movie is enough for me." She winked. "I'd rather see that then some sappy chick-flick that would have all of you providing unneeded commentary and additional sound track noises, like gagging, and farting whenever Prince Charming sits down."

"We only did that once," Mikey protested.

"YOU did that once," Raphael returned to the couch. He reached behind April's back and delivered a whap to Mikey's head. "Now be quiet – the movie's starting."

April accepted her bowl of ice cream from Donnie and looked around her, taking in the sight of her new-found family rallying around her – even though I have not been dumped! – and smiled a bit sadly. One was missing.

She pushed the little, niggling thought of Casey and his mother to the side for the moment, deciding that first thing in the morning, she would call Casey and get the whole story.




Casey stepped back out into the morning sunshine, reaching up to shield his eyes. Of course, I forgot my sunglasses on top of everything else. He glanced back at the building – a part of him wanted to go back inside. But another, larger part of him wanted to run for the hills.

Or the Lair. That's an idea. Kinda.

One last glance at the hospital, and Casey turned, headed for the parking lot, tossing his keys absently in one hand.

'Come back around noon, dear,' his mother had said. It was just after nine. He had three hours to kill while his mother underwent some tests that had made Casey's head spin to listen to. He tapped the piece of paper in his pocket that had the names all written down – the doctor had tried explaining, but Casey kept getting upset, and confused, and finally, his mother had told him to go and get something for breakfast.

'Something that doesn't come from a drive-through clown's mouth' was how she put it. Casey let out a small laugh. His mother's concern for her son's eating habits notwithstanding, he knew true enough what had happened. All his time dealing with Master Splinter and the guys whenever he showed up had given him a good understanding of just how welcome he was in certain situations. He had been very kindly ejected from the hospital.

"Ah well," he muttered. "That place was giving me the creeps anyway." He ignored the uncomfortable thought that he would have to get used to it. Reaching into his pocket, he withdrew the change he'd found the night before as well as his keys, and wondered idly if MacD's still had their breakfast special running.

They did. Casey justified his choice by reminding himself he hadn't ordered it through the drive-through clown's head. He had taken a seat inside, like a civilized being. The food had been good, if a little greasy, and the coffee was hot and strong, just the way he liked it. The blast of caffeine seemed to perk his mind up somewhat, and he pulled out a brochure from his jacket pocket.

Small Cell Lung Cancer – Information You Should Know.

Casey shuddered, remembering what his mother had told him the night before...

What do you mean you're dying? Dyin' of what?

Cancer, Casey. Lung cancer, to be specific.

Can't they treat it or something? Like how they cut off the tumors on all those ER shows?

The doctors say it's been categorized as extensive. It's spread to both lungs, and they want to test my lymph nodes. It's just a matter of time before it hits my other organs. I have some more tests tomorrow, and there are some treatments available--

--So you're gonna be okay, right?

--...Casey...all they can do is give me time. And not much of it. If it's caught early enough, sometimes you can get almost five years.

...What did they give you?

...I've only had a few preliminary tests, kiddo--

--How long, Ma?

--...If I'm lucky, and I respond well to the treatments, I might have three months left.


-- Come here baby...I'm sorry I had to tell you like this...

Casey rubbed his temple, trying to ease the pressure he could feel building, and glared half-heartedly at the brochure, as though it were the reason he was feeling the way he was. Opening it up, he was greeted with a picture of a large mass clinging to a lung, with tendrils snaking off in all directions. It was specifically done that way to show readers how the disease tended to spread in the lungs. All Casey could think of was how his mother's lungs looked like that, and it made him want to retch.

His mother had looked at it, commenting that hers probably looked worse, considering how heavy a smoker she'd been before quitting roughly four years ago.

The brochure slipped out of his fingers, landing on the table, still spread open to the disturbing picture. Casey slammed back the rest of his coffee, glared at the pamphlet some more, and then scooped it up, stuffing it back in his pocket.

Back outside by his bike, he realized it was only nine-thirty. He also realized he hadn't called April the night before after his mom and he had finished talking. It had been so late, he hadn't wanted to wake her. He grabbed his Shell Cell, and was about to press the button when he stopped.

She'd probably ask what was so serious that his mother had ordered him to break off their date.

Should I tell her?

Casey straddled his bike, resting his forearms on the handles, staring at the small phone. Would she even care? It wasn't her mother--no, that was unfair. April cared about everyone, and she even made peace with his mom at the farmhouse the year before. April would care, and she'd probably wanna come over and...talk? Or something?

Casey wrinkled his nose. Come to think about it, he didn't have a clue what friends did in these situations. They'd only gone on a few casual dates, two of them strictly as friends, so there was no 'official girlfriend'-type reason for her to be there.

Besides, April was still busy organizing her new place. The store had been finished first, an amazing fact, since it had been done back during the time the city had been literally at war with itself. He didn't even wanna know how much April had to – heh – shell out, in terms of hazard pay.

The upstairs however, had taken a bit longer. The reward money April had received for turning in the stolen jewels during the whole 'Nano' fiasco had almost been gone, and so she'd had been having one room done at a time, supplementing her dwindling funds with the meager income she generated from the store. Her new place had been doing fairly well – after the end of the destruction caused by the warring gangster factions,and the following invasion, re-construction had gone on in most of the damaged areas, and local proprietors were always searching for rare and interesting antiques to put in their new places of business, to give it an older feel.

But that meant she was busy. If she wasn't upstairs cleaning and supervising the construction crew, she was running her shop and doing searches for new stock. On top of that, she had self-defense training with Splinter and Leonardo almost every night and then she refused to go home until the nightly patrol was finished, convinced that on the one night she left, THAT would be the night they'd come home battered and bruised and in need of medical care.

This was just one more thing on top of all the rest, and Casey decided to hold off on telling anyone. She'd know something was up soon enough as it was, considering the decision he and his mother had reached the night before. He took one last look at the little heart picture next to April's name on his phone, and then snapped it closed, slipping it into his jean pocket.

Only to curse as the theme from Star Wars rang out from his cell phone instead, and he pulled it out, flipping it open. "Yeah?"


Speak of the devil. "Uh, yo April. What's up?"

"Just calling to make sure everything's all right." Casey could hear her smile coming across in every word she spoke.

"Yeah, everything's cool."

"How's your mom? Is anything going on?"

Think of something, think of something!

"She uh, just wanted to do a little catching up. She was in town, on, uh, business. We don't see each other too often, so she wanted to see me while she was here." He swallowed hard. "You ain't mad at me, are ya?"

"Casey, it was your mother. Of course I'm not mad at you – I understand."

Casey exhaled. Thank God. "So what'd ya end up doing last night then?"

April giggled. Casey's knees went weak at the sound, and he was suddenly very glad he was on his bike instead of walking. "Oh, I visited the guys. 'M still here, actually."


"Yup. They were convinced that you dumped me, and so we had to have a consoling party, complete with ice cream, movies, and taking your name in vain."

Casey grinned. "Did Raph threaten to take my head off?"

"Uh-huh. Mikey was going to put it on a pike to stick in front of my store – something about serving as a warning to others? I smacked him with a pillow before he could explain in detail, and, well, it kind of exploded from there."

Casey chuckled. "Sounds like fun. In a sappy, non-skull-bustin' kinda way."

He could hear April's smile vanish. "It's too bad you couldn't have joined us. But you and your mother must have talked late into the night – I...I didn't want to intrude. But we can always do it again--"

"It's cool, April." Casey shrugged, even though he knew she couldn't see him on his regular cell phone. "You and the guys have that special, I dunno, closeness. Like brothers and sisters. Besides, you know Raph wouldn'ta goofed off like that if I was there. Worked out best for everyone."


"April, I mean it, it's cool." It really was. Casey didn't have any illusions – he had seen how protective the guys were with April the night he'd taken her along on his repair job at Coney Island. It was actually reassuring, knowing that the best fighters in New York considered the woman he...cared for, a sister. She couldn't possibly have better protection then that. "Look, I gotta go do some stuff. Can I call ya back later?"

"Of course," April responded eagerly. "Maybe we can meet up for lunch or something?"

Crud. "Would you have the guys hurt me if I asked for a rain-check?"

There was a slight pause. "That would depend on your reason."

Casey laughed nervously. "Ma's still in town...a meeting. I'm supposed to pick her up after I do a few things."

"I see." April sighed. "Okay Casey, you're off the hook for now." Her voice took on a teasing hint to it. "Just remember though, you owe me a date. One dinner-and-a-movie special. A fancy dinner. Maybe 'suit-and-tie' territory. I think two cancellations earns me that much, right?"

Casey swallowed. A suit and tie? In theory he had one stashed away somewhere, but it had been ages since he'd last seen it. "Ah...sure."

"Good." Her voice took on a hesitant tone. "You know, Casey, if something's up, we'd be glad to help you out."

"Nothing's up, April," Casey said automatically, and immediately felt like a heel for lying.

"Okay. But if something does come up, you'd better call. You got me?"

"I gotcha," he said softly. "Bye April."

"Bye Casey."


Casey slowly put the phone away and leaned back on his bike, closing his eyes. It was odd how even though he'd scrubbed off patrolling with the guys the night before, he was more tired then usual. Granted, he didn't get much sleep, his mother's news hitting him like a blow to the gut, making him feel sick and ache-y all night. He had almost been tempted to use the sleeping pills he kept for emergencies, but he hated the feeling he had when he woke up from a chemically-induced sleep. Casey Jones and drugs did not get along for a variety of reasons and not just the obvious.

Enough pity partying. Casey opened his eyes, squared his shoulders, and then started the engine. He had stuff to do before picking his mother up, and it sure as hell wasn't gonna get done by sitting in the parking lot of MacD's.

Tires squealing, he laid a strip of rubber down as he tore out of the lot, racing as though he could at least outrun his thoughts, even if he couldn't escape the fears in his head.




At exactly twelve o'clock – which was odd for him, come to think of it - Casey strode into the hospital, a small duffel bag over his shoulder, heading straight for the elevators. He punched in the floor for the Oncology ward, and ignored the faint strains of the elevator music that tried to compete with his MP3 player. Tried and FAILED. Denied! Take THAT, muzak!

He stepped off on the correct floor and headed for the small waiting room he'd dropped his mother off in that morning. A pleasant-faced nurse in pink scrubs was scribbling notes down on a chart, and he coughed, trying to get her attention.

Her head whipped up, annoyed by the distraction, but then her eyes widened, and her lips curled in a smile. Casey tried not to preen, but he wasn't unaware of how he came across to the female species. Even April had thought he was a hunk the first time she'd seen him. Until I opened my mouth, that is.

Wincing, Casey pushed that embarrassing memory aside, and smiled at the nurse. "Hi. I'm lookin' for Adelina Jones?"

The nurse smiled and batted her eyelashes at him. "Ah, you must be her son, Casey. She just finished her PET scan, and she's with Doctor O'Brian right now. I can let them know you're here?"

Pet scan? The only pets Casey knew of ate kibble or used litter boxes, so he was pretty sure that wasn't what she meant. "Finished what?"

"A PET scan – it's short for Positron Emission Tomography," the nurse trailed off as she took in the look of complete and utter lack of comprehension on Casey's face. "Tell you what – I'll tell the doctor and your mother that you're here, and then you can ask the doctor to explain everything. Does that sound okay?"

"Actually, I think he tried to tell me this morning, but, heh, I don't listen so good, 'specially the first time 'round. Thick skull and all that." Casey grinned sheepishly. "But yeah, I'll ask 'im again."

"Have a seat then, Mr Jones." The nurse picked up the phone, still flashing bright teeth at him. It reminded him of the scene in Jaws when the shark came straight out of the water, all white and pointy.

"It's Casey. Thanks."

A minute later, the nurse – Bianca, Casey saw on her name tag – led him down the hallway, chatting away at a hundred miles an hour. Casey had never been so thankful for the tolerance he'd learned in over two years of dealing with a particular, hyperactive, orange-banded mutant. He politely declined a coffee invitation by saying he was taken, before darting past her and closing the door behind him quickly. His mother looked up and grinned, pushing her glasses up on her nose.

"Still popular with the ladies, eh Arnold?"

"Sometimes, ma. Not so often though." Casey walked up to the large oak desk at the end of the room and shook Doctor O'Brien's hand. "Yo Doc."

"Hello Casey." Douglas O'Brien – Doug – greeted him warmly, and Casey relaxed a bit. Apparently the doc had forgiven him for the pestering and ranting he'd done earlier. "We've finished one of the tests already."

"Yeah, the nurse said something about a pet scan, but I don't think it was what I was thinking it was," Casey said awkwardly. His mother smiled dryly at his phrasing, and Casey brightened, knowing he was at least doing something right by cheering her up. "What is it?"

"Basically, it's just a picture we took of your mother's lungs, and chest, as well as several other organs. The picture is colored in varying intensities, which tells us about the chemical activity going on inside." The doctor folded his hands. "It's very good at showing us how far the cancer has spread."

"So how far has it spread then?" Casey asked worriedly.

"Well, we just did the test. It takes time to get the results back, and with PET scans, we need to be extra careful. Sometimes benign conditions – harmless ones – can register as cancer, which is why we have an expert diagnostician go over it."

Casey thought he understood. Sort of. Either way, he nodded his head, determined not to be kicked out again. His mother drummed her fingers on the chair rail.

"So what's next then," she asked, and Casey frowned at the tiredness in her voice. "Chemo? Radiation?"

"Eventually," the doctor allowed. "We still have a few more tests to perform. We've booked you for an MRI early tomorrow morning – around six o'clock, actually. We also need to schedule a procedure called a mediastinoscopy."

Both Jones's looked at him, confused.

"Again, basically, we make a small incision at the base of your neck, Adeline, and pass an instrument through to do a biopsy of your lymph nodes. We essentially pluck a small piece out, and stick it under a microscope. This will also help us determine how far the cancer has spread."

Casey was really starting to hate that word. He mentally added 'cancer' to his list of detested words and phrases, some of which included his own first name, 'Purple Dragons', 'Shredder', 'reporters' and 'sale at Macy's', the latter having been added after April had dragged him on a marathon shopping spree to refurnish her wardrobe.

"What's an MRI?" he belatedly thought to ask.

"It means Magnetic Resonance Imaging. We use radiowaves and high-powered magnets to produce internal images that can also show us the cancer spread." The doctor smiled reassuringly. "It's very safe, I promise you."

"When do we do all this?" Adeline asked, resigned.

"Most likely this evening. A mediastinoscopy procedure tonight combined with your early morning MRI, was one of the reasons I thought it best if you stay the night here at the hospital."

"What were the other reasons?" Casey wondered.

"Your mother has been complaining of fainting spells, right? Extreme chest pains, and--" The doctor flipped through Adeline's charts. "--at least one case of coughing up blood. I'd like to keep you here for observation, and run a few smaller tests, just to make sure there's nothing else that could be causing it."

Casey's eyes widened. "You mean she could have something else?"

"Highly unlikely," O'Brien said confidently. "Chest pains and coughing bloody sputum are common symptoms in small cell lung cancer. Same as your general tiredness. But I also have to consider your mother's age, and previous health record. It's not uncommon for older people to have conditions like angina, which are chest pains that are easily treatable with the right medication."

Casey frowned. "Ma's not that old." His mother was only forty-four, having given birth to Casey at the ripe old age of twenty.

"Enough Arnold," his mother said briskly. "It's just one night, and they're just tests. I may not like it, but if it has to be done, it has to be done."

Casey nodded, letting it go for the moment. "Well, I did what ya asked me." He handed her the duffel bag she'd requested. "I brung ya your toothbrush and toothpaste, your bag of hair stuff, some magazines, and one of your long sleeping tees."

"It's only for one night, you realize," O'Brien chuckled, an eyebrow raised at the full bag. Casey shrugged.

"Yeah, but even one night in those backless freakin' gowns is grounds for murder. They bunch up in places where bunching shouldn't be." He scowled at some of the more embarrassing memories of his childhood sports injuries.

"My boy knows me all to well," Adeline grinned wryly, accepting the bag without double checking. She trusted her son. "Can I go get settled in then, Doc?"

"Of course. I'll have Bianca take you to the ward – you've requested a private room, yes? – and then I'll stop by before your next test."

"Thanks, Doctor O'Brien," Adelina said, standing up, gripping the duffel bag handle with her left hand, leaving her right one free to shake his hand.

Casey got up as well, and copied her, shaking his hand firmly.

"Yeah. Thanks doc."

"My pleasure, Adelina, Casey. Remember, if and when you have anymore questions, you can always ask me, no matter how insignificant you think they are. If I'm not available, the nurses are there for you as well. All right?"

They nodded, and the doctor walked around his desk to the door, leaning out to summon Bianca who came running. She beamed at Casey, who flushed, and for a second, actually tried to hide behind his much-shorter mother, who snickered and moved away.

"Please come with me!" She chirped, and with a final wave at the doctor, they trailed after her down the hallway.

Casey found himself lost in thought as he followed the pink scrubs. The whole situation didn't seem real yet. A brief look at his mother's side profile showed her clenched jaw and the skin pulled tight around her strained eyes. Casey realized that the brief moment of levity she'd shown was probably an act put on for his sake. He swallowed, his throat clenching for just a second.

Bianca walked into a small room and gestured for them to come in. Casey's eyes traveled the room, taking in the large, button-operated bed with the white sheets, the small bedside chair with the plastic covering, and the TV up in the corner displaying static and snow. Blinking his eyes hard, he wandered over to the window, only half-listening as the nurse helped his mother settle in.

Outside, the sun was shining brightly, and it didn't make sense to him. People in movies always found out about loved ones dying at night, or during rainstorms. 'Mood-setters', Donnie called them. Looking out at the carefully tended lawns of the hospital, and listening to the sounds of the birds chirping in the distance, Casey could almost believe that this whole thing was a giant joke, except he felt absolutely no urge to laugh.

The nurse was showing his mother how to call the nurses station if she needed anything.

"But of course, you can walk around if you want, up until it's time for the tests," Bianca finished with smile. Adeline nodded. The nurse clapped her hands, inclining her head at them.

"Do you have any questions then?"

About to ask what time his mother's next test was, Casey was interrupted by his Shell Cell beeping. His mother frowned at him.

"Did you change your ring tone Casey? I thought it was set to Star Wars."

Casey waved at her, backing out of the room. "Uh no, but it kinda...alternates. Like random shuffling on my MP3 player, ya know? 'Scuze me ladies, I need to take this now."

Bianca frowned. "Sir, we actually request that cell phones be turned off in the hospital. We do have a phone here in the room if you'd like--"

Still moving, he shook his head. "No, that's okay. I'll go outside and take it there, and turn it off before I come back in. Okay? Okay."

Out in the hallway, he glanced up and down and saw nothing more then a janitor at the far end, working his way toward the staircase. He jogged to the end, mildly cursing whoever was calling him as the Shell Cell beeped again, urgently. Taking the stairs three at a time, Casey loped outside into the fresh air and sunshine he'd been brooding over upstairs, and flipped open the phone.

"Whaddaya want?" he barked.

On the tiny view-screen, Raphael raised an eye ridge and gave him a mild glare. "Hello to you too, Sunshine. Bad time?"

You could say that. "Nah, just...in the middle of somethin'. What's up?"

"What took you so long to answer your Cell?"

"I just said I was in the middle of something. Or did you want me to open the freakin' thing with my ma and a nu—friend standing right next to me?"

"Amp down there, bro. Anyway, in case you're interested, we're doing a special run tonight. Donnie was hackin' away at the Battle Shell satellite radio, and accidentally picked up a conversation between Purple Dragon members. Apparently they've got something planned for tonight. Ya in?"

YES, he wanted to shout, but what came out instead was, "I can't."

Raphael didn't look too impressed. "What, you ashamed of us or something now? Canceling last night, blowing off your date with April AND passing up lunch with her, and now you don't wanna run tonight?" His eyes narrowed. "What's up with you?"

"Look, I gotta lot of stuff to do." He snapped his fingers. "Oh yeah – I was gonna call you anyway. Tell the others I won't be around for a while."

"Running out on us?"

"Can it, green boy. I'm takin' my ma up to the farmhouse. She's gonna be staying there for the time-being, so that means no trips north for a while."

Raphael was silent for a second, staring at him through the screen as though he were looking for something in particular. Casey bit back an annoyed sigh.


"You okay there, Case?" Raphael asked gruffly, almost reluctantly. Casey blinked – and then grinned at his buddy.

"Why, you worried about me?"

The turtle snorted. "As if, you mask-wearing punk! It's just...it ain't like you to ditch on a Purple Dragon run."

Casey felt strangely calm for some reason. It wasn't like him. If it had been Raph, he would have been saying the exact same thing. He shook his head, and looked at his buddy on the tiny screen.

"Some things are more important," he said finally. Raph raised the other eye ridge this time.

"Such as?"

"Such as...other things. Look, my ma's waiting for me, and I gotta start packing some stuff to take up. Have fun bustin' skulls, okay?"

Raphael sighed, and seemed to let it go for the moment. "Sure Case, whatever. See ya later."

The screen went dark. Casey shut it and stuck it back in his track suit pocket. His feet turned back in the direction of the hospital, and he was about to go back in when an ambulance suddenly raced by, sirens wailing as it tore up the driveway to the emergency bay. White-coated doctors and nurses in a rainbow of colored scrubs swarmed out of the automatic doors like ants, milling around the ambulance as the paramedics opened the up the back.

A figure on the gurney, almost invisible beneath the the tubes criss-crossing his or her body, a yellow mask like the ones you saw in airplane demonstrations covering half of the face. People were shouting orders, and someone shouted "She collapsed about ten minutes ago--" and then they were inside the building, the heavy glass doors sliding shut with a whisper.

Casey was still standing there on the small walkway along the building, and all he could think of was how apparently his mother had been in a similar situation. She had collapsed, and someone had called for an ambulance. She had been raced into a building like this, and just like that, with doctors and paramedics and stupid yellow face-masks.

She hadn't called him. He had found out a week later.

Didn't she trust him?

He stood there for a minute, feeling tension build up behind his eyes again, and he automatically rubbed the bridge of his nose, trying to release some of the pressure. He had the feeling though, that it wouldn't be going away for some time.




End Chapter 1

End notes: Chapter 2 is complete (and nearly as long) and is being checked and double-checked by the wonderful One Small Monkey. Same goes for chapter 3. Chapter 4 is in the beginning stages, but it completely plotted out – I just have to fill it in, and have it beta'd.

Ever since deciding to write this fic, I have been doing extensive research on lung cancer, taking the information and trying to make it flow in the dialogue without me sounding preachy or trying to force-feed you tons of information. I've read cancer-victim stories to see how they handled it, taken things from my own family experiences (who are experts in denial in some tings ) and tried to keep it as real as possible. I've known people who have had tests scheduled at all hours of the day (and night!), and all the medical terms here are real words and real procedures. I hope I've succeeded in making this a plausible plot. I plan on posting a page of links to sites that I used for my research so anyone who wants more info can take a look.

Please keep in mind that while I have been researching as thoroughly as I can, some info continues to evade, such as detailed chemo sessions (what exactly goes on, time-wise, etc etc) and so I have to do a little creative licensing. But I'll try to keep it as close to real as I possibly can. If anyone can fill me in on details, please email me at stormy1x2 at yahoo dot ca.

C&C craved like Mikey craves pizza! I'm working very hard to make this the best, most thorough and most comprehensive fic I've ever done (heck, this is the first fic I've ever asked for help via a beta with) and I'd love to hear what you think of it.