Title: One Hand Clapping

Author: Stormy1x2 (travelingstorm)

Word Count for chapter 9: 6016

Rating: Overall 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. Chapter 9 - Casey hashes things out with his best friend, and his (hopefully) girlfriend.


Yes, it's been a while. I've been off playing in other fandoms, most notably being the Prince of Tennis. But I also just saw TMNT 4 in Shanghai last week, and it kick-started my TMNT engines again. This chapter is unbeta'd. Mild warning of mushiness (of the April/Casey variety) and language.




Someone was viciously pounding the side of his head with a sledgehammer, and when Casey got his hands on him, he was going to make the punk eat the head before ramming the shaft into the first orifice he saw.

"Owww..." The moan escaped him before he could suck it up, and Casey cracked open his eyes. Light overhead shone straight down on him and he let out another pained garble, slamming his lids shut. A rough chuckle sounded off nearby and through the hazy red of his closed lids, he could sense the light going dim. He tried again, opening his eyes to the merest of slits, and he saw a hazy, blurry figure lean over him. "...the Hell?"

"You got yourself cold-cocked by a Dragon runt," the blurry figure said, and Casey didn't need his normally perfect vision to know there was a smirk involved. He brought up his arm, still shaky, and planted his hand over his face, pressing his fingers into his temples, rubbing the palm into his cheekbone. After a minute, he slid his hand further back, lightly feeling his scalp, wincing as he came into contact with a rather sizable bump near the back, covered up by a swath of bandages. The blurry one - Raph, his dazed mind reminded him - lightly smacked his hand away. "Don't touch!"

"Ow! Fuck!" Casey glared at Raphael as the turtle slowly came into focus. "I'm already freaking dead, you idjit, no need to add to it!"

"You big pansy, I barely touched you." Raphael disappeared for a minute. Casey could hear him moving around his tiny kitchen, opening and closing cupboards, the fridge, running the water. Then he was back in the living room. Casey blinked. Yes, the living room. He recognized the feeling of the springs poking through his couch cushions. "Here. Don't say I never did nothin' for ya."

An ice pack was thrust against his head, and an open bottle of Tylenol dropped on his chest. Casey dumped out four and then accepted the water glass from his partner, downing the whole bunch in a shot. "Thanks."

"Yeah, yeah, stop it or I'll get all misty-eyed," Raphael dead-panned. "You wanna tell me what happened?"

Casey rolled his eyes. "'I got cold-cocked by a dragon runt'," he repeated, a bit snarkily, but he couldn't bring himself to care - his head ached. "You know what happened, nimrod."

"Asshole." But there was resigned amusement in Raphael's voice, and Casey smirked. "I mean, how'd they get the drop on you?"

"Not too sure." Holding on to the icepack, Casey shifted himself on the couch, aiming for a sitting-up position. Raph gripped one arm and hauled him up until his lower back rested against the armrest. "Thanks."


"Pushy." Casey resisted the urge to make a face at Raphael. That would be descending into Mikey territory, which was something they had agreed neither must ever do, if their friendship was to remain intact. "I went hunting for them. Found them robbing a place, and tried to take 'em out. There were a few more then I had bargained for."

"I saw." The affection was gone, replaced by anger. Raph stood next to the sofa, glaring down at him, arms folded. "Why didn't you call me? I would have come with you!"

Casey sighed, closing his eyes, and grimacing. "I needed to vent, bro. I really wasn't thinking of much other then finding something - or someone - to knock around."

"So you take on an entire baseball team of Dragons by yourself. Real smart move."

"If I say 'I'm sorry Dad', and promise to never do it again, will you get off my back?" Casey snapped, and then clamped his mouth shut in surprise. He must have been more on edge then he'd originally thought. Then he mentally smacked himself as he saw a flicker of hurt pass over Raph's face, so quick and fleeting it would be so easy to say he'd imagined it, but he knew his battle-brother too well to think that. "Ah, shit, Raph, ignore me. I'm pissy, and stressed, and my head is about to friggin' explode on me." Raphael rolled his eyes at him but Casey saw him relax fractionally, plopping his terrapin butt on the coffee table. Casey scowled at him. "I eat off that, you know."

"You have a kitchen table," Raph pointed out. "So what's the deal, Case? I know somethings up - hell, your mother knows about us, Leo knows she knows, you've been blowing us off for weeks, you ain't even been around, city-wise - I mean, what the Hell, Case?"

"Aww, you been worried about me?" Deflection hadn't worked with his mother, but there was always a chance it could work with Raphael.

"Yes, you shithead. I've been worried, April's been worried, everyone's been worried about your sorry ass. Too bad you don't seem to give a damn about anyone else!" Raphael's eyes were all but shooting lasers of death in his direction.

Deflection was obviously not the way to go. "Yeah, about mom knowing you guys..." Casey coughed. "She's still kinda set on meeting y'all."

Raph snorted. "Leo wants to interrogate her," he drawled. "Thinks she might be an enemy agent, gonna give away our secrets."

"My mother?" Casey blinked at the idea of his mother being a turncoat. His mother, who had been the person to beat a moral code into Casey so thoroughly that it had shaped his entire adult life into the vigilante-filled chaos it currently was. He didn't know whether to be offended on her behalf, or to burst out in hysterical laughter. "I think I should be feeling really pissed off at that, but since my brains are leaking out my ears, I'll let it pass."

"How generous of you." There was a flash of metal, and Casey watched, wide-eyed as the turtle began twirling his sai's, a threatening hint of promise lurking in his eyes, and echoed in his ready pose. Even perched on a coffee table edge, Raph managed to pull off the 'why yes, I can beat you three ways from Sunday' look without even trying. It really wasn't fair sometimes. "Talk. I ain't askin' again."

Casey sighed again, and let his eyes drift across the sparsely furnished apartment. Moonlight filtered through the windows, filling the room with an almost eerie blue glow. A look at the battered clock hanging by a coat hanger wire told him he'd been out only a few hours - he'd left the apartment around eight o'clock and it was nearly one in the morning. Raph had a habit of staying out until nearly sunrise, and no one would be expecting him home anytime soon. That meant Raphael had plenty of time to waste nagging Casey to talk. Damn.

"It's stuff to do with my family," he said quietly. "My other family," he corrected quickly, giving Raph a small grin. The turtle snorted, but a very faint smirk touched the edge of his beak and Casey knew without being told that Raph appreciated the little edit. "My mom called me out to talk about some stuff and I been trying to handle it ever since." He smiled again, briefly. "Part'a why I came back tonight was because I needed some of the pics April took of you guys. She gave me copies, and I wanna show 'em to Ma, get her really prepared to meet you guys."

Raph raised an eye ridge. "She really wants to meet us that badly?"

"You don't know my mother," Casey stated flatly. "If it involves the family, she wants in at the ground floor and don't you dare skip a level on the way up."

"She knows what we look like. She saw Leo and Master Splinter. She saw me on the Shell Cell."

"She saw glimpses." Casey shrugged. "Look, I just don't wanna have to revive her like we do every time someone sees you guys."

Raphael mock-glared, and kicked his foot out, hitting Casey in the leg. "Shut up. That only happens when people meet Splinter." He smirked. "I'm better looking, after all."

"You wish," Casey countered. "Anyway, I been dealing with her and - remember my cousin Sid? From last year's fun-fun-fun times at the farm?"

Raphael's eyes darkened. "Oh, I remember all right. What does that slime-ball want?"

Casey glared mildly at him. "To make up for being said slime-ball." He found it really weird that he had a strange urge to defend his cousin from Raphael, when not even a month ago he would have joined in on some name-calling. It was kinda funny how life worked itself out. "You guys, me and April made him see the light, so to speak."

Raph's other eye ridge lifted even higher then the first. "Say what?"

"Seriously man," Casey chuckled. "He had a change of heart, apologized big time to me and to Ma. Ma smacked him a good one and then welcomed him back into the family." The look on Sid's face was permanently etched into his memory - he didn't think he'd ever forget the look of complete and utter mystification on his cousin's face.

"And you trust him? Just like that?" Raphael gave him a look that Casey interpreted as 'you are fucking insane'.

"Yeah, like that." Casey focused his eyes - well, as much as he could without screaming - on his best friend. "He's still family, Raph. No matter what, you can't ignore that part."

It obviously struck a chord, because Raphael nodded after a minute. "So now what?"

"I'm gonna take the pictures to Ma. We're still working some stuff out. But don't be surprised if you guys get an invite up in the future."

"April's pissed at you."

"She should be." Casey knew that when the dam finally burst and he spilled his guts, Raph would have to take a number and get in line. April had first dibs on kicking his hind end for the way he'd been ignoring and excluding her from his life recently.

Raph chewed on that for a while and Casey let the icepack work its magic, relaxing and leaning his side against the back of the couch. After a few minutes of comfortable silence, Raphael broke it with a very casual, "So when are you gonna tell me what's really going on?"

Casey snapped his eyes open again, turning his head back to Raphael. "Huh?"

Raphael wasn't even looking at him. He had swiped one of Casey's cleaning cloths and was idly buffing the sheen on his sai's, holding them up to the light of the moon, inspecting them for near-invisible nicks. "You heard me."

Casey thought about blustering. He thought about bluffing his way through a lie and trying to convince Raph he wasn't hiding anything. Two seconds after those thoughts entered his head, he immediately abandoned them. Lying always left a sour taste in his mouth, and he was never very good at it anyway. Besides, a lie now would just hurt Raphael's feelings, odd as it was to realize that. Raph was the toughest bad ass Casey had ever known, but among those he trusted, he could be surprisingly vulnerable, and Casey took his friendship with the other very seriously. "Soon."

Raph was silent again, still wiping non-existent grime off the immaculate prongs of the sai. Casey waited patiently. Finally, the red-banded turtle tossed the cloth over his shoulder and shoved the sai's back through his belt, hooking the outer blades over the worn leather. "Fine. Soon." He nodded and held his hand out, a stern and solemn look on his face.

Casey recognized their symbol for a promise and immediately slapped him five before bringing his hand back up to meet Raph's in a warrior's grip, his hand grasping Raphael's forearm while the turtle did the same to him. "I promise."

"You better, dipstick." Raphael stood up. "I'm gonna do another sweep. You heading back to the farm tomorrow?"

"Yeah." Casey decided to give Raph another bit of honesty. "Ma and I got into an argument. A big one. I left before either one of us said something we'd regret."

Raph nodded. "Go back and apologize to your mother, lunkhead."

"Yes sir, dome-head sir!"

"Bite me!" With those cheerful final words, Raph punched Casey in the shoulder and then headed for the window, crouching on the ledge and then springing off it, disappearing into the darkness.

Casey closed his eyes again and contemplated having another handful of Tylenol. He reached out blindly, groping the coffee table for the bottle, and his hand brushed against the slick smoothness of his cell phone. He popped one eye open. The Tylenol sat next to it, and he grabbed both. Two painkillers later, he eyed the phone warily, before finally punching in a familiar number.

The line rang several times before a raspy voice answered. "H-hello?"



"You said you were gonna call me Casey," he joked weakly.

"Yeah." She paused for a second. "It's late, you know."

Casey bit his lip. "I...just wanted to say I'm sorry..."



"...me too, Casey. I'm so sorry, kiddo."

Her voice had cracked a bit on the last word. He heard it. Casey felt a big chunk of his headache magically disappear.

"When are you coming back?" She asked quietly.

He smiled, even though she couldn't see it. "I'll see you at lunch-time, Ma."

His headache was gone.




"Casey Jones! You open up this instant!"

Casey's eyes shot open at the sound of two very familiar fists striking his flimsy wooden front door, and he sat bolt upright on the couch. Fresh pain, a reminder of his night-time adventures, raked through his brain and made him swear. Loudly. In two languages even. Squeezing his eyes shut again, he grabbed the Tylenol bottle and added four more to his painkiller average of the day, chasing it down with the now-warm water still in the glass.

"I'm comin', I'm comin'," he moaned painfully, rolling to his feet and lurching towards the door. He opened it before the owner of said-fists could bang on it again, and looked down at a very beautiful redhead whose rolling eyes promised a great deal more pain for him if he didn't get out of the way. "Mornin' babe."

April cocked her head, and then punched him in the stomach, making him double over. "Don't call me that."

Casey nodded, wheezing, and with one hand still wrapped around his stomach, he swept her in with the other. "Oh, yeah. Forgot about that."

Closing the door, Casey turned to greet her properly, and suddenly found his arms full of concerned girlfriend. Well, of the friend-who-is-a-girl variety, he corrected. She squeezed him tightly, and then stepped back, searching his face. "Are you all right?" She asked. "Raph stopped by the shop this morning and told me what happened last night."

That lousy fink! Casey made a mental note to beat the mighty midget up later, and craned his neck to look at the clock. Barely past seven in the morning. "What were you doing up so early?" April's store usually opened around nine.

"Inventory. Searches. Work." April poked him in the chest. "What's the big idea of taking on ten Dragons by yourself? And what have you been up to lately? We never see you anymore!"

"First of all, it was nine Dragons. Raph's a liar." Casey led her over to the couch and they sat down. "And I didn't plan on taking on that many - it kinda surprised me too, when they all piled out of the truck."

"You should have called," she said sternly. The coolness was leaving her eyes though, he was glad to see. "Raph would have gone with you in a heartbeat."

"I know, babe, I know." She gave him a warning look. "Uh, sorry."

April leaned back against the couch, folding her arms and just looking at him, a tad reproachfully. Casey felt his stomach twist. She was obviously angry at him, and Raph had said she'd been worried, and now she was here - Casey gulped. Yep. He was in trouble.

April cleared her throat, breaking into his train of thought. "I thought we were a team," she said softly.

Casey blinked in surprise. That was something he hadn't seen coming. "We are!" He protested. He hesitated though. "Wait - you mean you, me and the guys, right?"

She glared at him.

"Right, that's what you meant. I knew that." Casey backpedaled quickly. "And we are. A team, I mean. Why wouldn't we be?"

"Because you haven't been a part of it for about two weeks or so," she told him, watching him carefully.

Casey sighed and slumped over, resting his face in his hands for a second, letting his hair fall in front of him. After a minute, he scrubbed the heels of his hands into his eyes, grinding away the accumulating tension as best he could, and then raked his hair back, sitting back up straight before falling against the couch, letting his legs slide out. "I know."

She moved a bit closer to him, sitting sideways on the sofa, one long leg folded gracefully beneath her. "Why won't you tell us what's going on?" She looked him in the eye as she spoke, and Casey felt his heart break a little at her next words. "Why won't you tell me?"


"I thought you trusted us! Me! If you're in trouble Casey, let us help you!" She was leaning forward now, and Casey had nowhere to go, trapped by vivid green eyes that were - ah, hell - brimming with unshed tears. "What's going on?"

Casey reached for her hands and cupped them within his own, rubbing his thumbs over the smooth softness of her skin. "Ah, babe, you know I never wanted to hurt you," he said quietly, meeting her gaze steadily, apologetically.

She stiffened a bit, and he watched fondly as she turned away, trying to roughly brush away any hint of upset. "You didn't hurt me."

She tried to tug her hands away, but Casey tightened his grip just enough to prevent her from escaping. "Yeah, I did." His own gaze dropped this time. "I been hiding stuff from you for a long time, instead of telling you what's going on." He reached out with one finger, sliding beneath her bowed head and lifting up that saucy chin he loved. One part of many he found he was starting to become more than slightly infatuated with, he thought ruefully. "Forgive me?"

She sniffled. "You're a jerk," she told him, leaning forward until her forehead pressed against his. "A selfish, egotistical jerk."

"I know."

"I forgive you."

"I know."

Something seemed to sweep through the room, a warmth that pressed against them, went through them and Casey found he couldn't look away from her face, those impish green eyes softened by emotion, softly parted lips that seemed an invitation to him, and he gladly took them up on their offer, leaning in and sealing their mouths together.

They'd kissed before. Magical, wonderful little kisses that curled Casey's toes and made his heart race. But this was different. This was more. They'd had plenty of arguments and had always felt the pull between them, the surge of electricity that sparked every time they vied for the dominant spot in their tumultuously growing relationship. The excitement and thrill of battling, and then surrendering to a little bit of the passion that swept through them both. But it had never gone past the surface, had never been something one couldn't potentially take back, or say it was more than just a joke.

This was softer. Gentler. Deeper. Casey let go of her hands and raised one, cupping the curve of her jaw and giving into the emotion building within him, impulsively offering every aspect of himself to her, and – shockingly enough - receiving her willingness in return. All of a sudden, this wasn't about lust anymore, and for a split second, Casey knew that it wasn't just him feeling something different. There was an undercurrent of something else, of something they'd always shied away from before.


They broke apart, gasping for air, eyes shining. April swallowed hard, looking at him, a hint of shock in her eyes and in the tone of her voice. "Casy...what...?"

"Shh..." he whispered, pressing a finger to her lips. "I know. Me too."

April nodded, a bit dazedly, which would have done wonders for his pride had his knees not been reduced to the consistency of Jello. "We need to talk," she said, after a minute.

Casey was still reeling over the revelations in that kiss, but he shook his head briefly, clearing it. "Yeah."


Not even for a second, did he think of trying a lie on her. He owed her the truth, something he should have given her long before this particular moment in time. Casey nodded, taking a deep breath. "I've been up at the farmhouse. You know that. Ma and I been working through some things - well," he corrected himself. "Mostly she's been working through some stuff. I'm trying to be there for her, you know - like supporting her and stuff."

April nodded, concern darkening her face. "Is she all right?"

Casey sighed again, feeling the tension he'd just gotten rid of, making a triumphant return, settling on his shoulders. He breathed deeply, giving in to the reality of his secret no longer being his. "No, she's not." He looked up, feeling the familiar wave of despair and fear roiling inside him.

April sat back, studying him thoughtfully. Something must have shown on his face because her eyes widened and a look of horror came over hers. "Casey, is she-"

The knot in his chest that seemed to grow every time he thought about what was happening, tried to expand throughout his lungs, cutting off his air. "She's dying," Casey choked out, and all the control, all the calmness he'd worked on, disappeared. Like when he first admitted his mother's impending demise to Sid, he felt the pain and misery and fear well out from behind the wall he'd tried so hard to build, flooding through him without pause. "April, my mom's dying."

He couldn't stop the sobs that suddenly erupted from him, the pain gushing forth until he gasped, unable to breathe, and then April was there, wrapping slender arms of steel around him, anchoring him and holding him together while he broke apart. He shivered, feeling the cold try to break through the earlier warmth he'd felt, and April's arms only tightened, trying to keep the chill at bay. He clung to her, huge clumsy hands pawing at her shirt, gripping her shoulders hard enough he was sure to leave bruises, but she never let go, and dimly, over the sounds of his own tears, he could hear her murmuring quietly, nonsense whispers to soothe and comfort.

She leaned back against the cushions, bringing him with her, coaxing him to lay his head against her chest. His ear pressed against her heartbeat, a solid, reassuring sound that he could focus on, and he could barely feel the touch of her lips against the top of his head. Something warm was falling, he though hazily. A wet warmth, not his, and as he drifted off into a doze, exhausted by his breakdown, he realized that April was crying too.




He was running a little later then he had planned, but Casey wouldn't change his current schedule for anything in the world. He hummed along with the radio as he turned down the gravel road that eventually led to the farmhouse, still somewhat amazed at how light he felt.

After waking up, still cradled in her arms, Casey and April had talked for over an hour. April had been properly horrified over what he and his mother had been going through alone - "Sid doesn't count!" - and after hugging him and promising to be there for him, she'd promptly turned the tables on him with a good hard smack upside the head. On his already existing bruise to boot! It had been enough to make him see little yellow stars swimming around his head while she told him off but GOOD for leaving her out of everything. Casey had the feeling she'd let him off easy though. Injured and vulnerable from a crying jag - though he'd deny it in a heartbeat if anyone asked - she had probably felt too much pity for him to really hash things out the way they would have. But there was a glint in her eyes, one that made him shiver and not in a good way. They would have a much more in-depth conversation, aka a fight. Casey pouted. It probably wouldn't be a fun one that would end in playful kisses either. Well. Not at first.

As for the details about Sid, well, Casey really wasn't expecting a warm response from April so soon. Sid had been responsible for that whole mess the year before, making her already injured reptilian brothers fight when they barely had the strength to walk, and the fact that he'd been Casey's cousin had made her doubly angry. Family didn't attack family. April had been furious with Sid not only for the turtle's sakes, but on Casey's behalf as well. Temporary truces - like when they'd dug up grandpa's treasure box - aside, April was still operating on old memories, and so he didn't take her attack on him personally. She would have to see Sid's turnaround for herself.

And she would, Casey promised. After his mom's next chemo appointment, April was going to come back to the farmhouse for that much-needed talk, and so she could visit Addie herself. He liked the thought of his two girls - could he call April his now, after that kiss they shared? Part of him thought so, the other part of him insisted that until they talked, nothing had officially changed- getting along.

He beeped the horn as he pulled into the driveway, sliding his car next to his mother's blue Volvo. Gripping his bag in one hand, he opened the car door and stepped out. As he did so, the front door opened, and his mother stepped out onto the porch.

Casey stopped and looked up the stairs at his mother. All the words they'd thrown at each other before he'd left came rushing back. Even with the apologies they'd given on the phone, it still felt unsettled to him. Things like 'I'm sorry' were always easier to say when you weren't looking the other person right in the eyes.

Speaking of which, his mother's eyes were glued on him. Even from the distance of about fifteen feet, he could easily see the red rimmed lids, a silent testimony to what she'd been going through while he'd been gone. One hand was partially lifted, reaching out to him unconsciously; the other still clung to the open-front door, a white knuckled grip that dug into the old, splintering wood. "Casey?"

Casey came back to himself at the sound his name coming from her, and he smiled, easily, readily, lifting his own arms up to greet her. "Hey, Ma. I'm home."




April's mind was a million miles away. She leaned against the counter, one hand cupping her jaw, the other hand gripping her elbow, bracing herself as she stared vacantly out the storefront window. Technically, she should have closed the store almost an hour ago, but she'd shown up late as a result of the little side trip she'd made that morning, and she'd felt responsible enough to make up for it.

It was kind of strange. After being hit with the news of the reason behind Casey's seemingly self-imposed isolation, the last thing she'd felt like was smiling. But business at the store had been brisk that day which always made her happy, and as well as turning a decent profit from in-house sales, she'd also been hired to search out some rare artifacts for a couple of eager collector's. Once their credit cards had cleared, she'd been more than willing to take on the hunt. It would give her something to do later. She could use a distraction.

She still couldn't believe what she'd been told. Of all the things Casey's mother could have been in town for, cancer treatment had not been something she'd considered. Part of her was angry. Casey should have trusted her, should have trusted them. If he hadn't been caught by Raphael the night before and subsequently injured, he'd still be hiding it all away.

She sighed and drummed her fingers on the counter, and then braced herself with both hands, pushing up. Making her way to the front door, she flipped the sign to 'closed' and then locked it securely, pressing the buttons for the security panels to lower into place. After counting her money and recording it, she'd call Leo and cancel her training for the night. She had a lot of things to think about, a lot of anger to work through so that she could be a pillar of support for her...


That was the other thing nagging at her all day. The kiss they'd shared that morning had been more symbolic, more emotional, more...more, then any other one they'd shared. For a brief moment, it was like she could feel all of him through that gentle link they shared, his desperation, his stress, his despair; she'd felt so protective, so seized by urgency to give him what he needed to shore himself up. And when he'd confessed the source of his troubles...all she could do was hold on, weather the storm and do what it took to keep her normally strong friend from breaking into a thousand pieces.

Something had changed between them, in that moment, and April was a little afraid to find out exactly what it was. But another part of her really, really wanted to make the discovery, to see if it meant to him what it had meant to her. She touched her lips gently, remembering the gentleness of that touch, and a shiver went through her.

Oh yes, part of her really wanted to know.

Her Shell Cell went off, and she blinked, waking up from her dreamlike state. Retrieving it from her pocket, she flipped it open. "Hey, Leo."

"Hi, April. Just wondering what's happening tonight." Leo looked at her questioningly through the monitor. His keen eyes never missed a trick, she knew all to well, and sure enough, his brows furrowed slightly. "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine, Leo," she said, smiling at his concern for her. "I was just locking up and was about to call you. I'm gonna take a rain check on tonight, if that's okay."

"Sure, if you want." He frowned. "Are you sure you're okay?"

April held back a sigh. Even though Casey had finally told her the details of what was going on, he'd asked her to keep it to herself for the time being. He said it was because he wanted time to prepare his mother for meeting the guys, but April couldn't see what that had to do with being told about his mother's illness. She suspected that more discussion about the whole thing, especially after already having two - as he put it - 'bawling sessions' already, would do him in. April babying him, he could handle, but she suspected any sympathy from the guys would make him have another breakdown, and he wasn't ready to deal with that yet.

April was no psychologist, but she did take some of the required courses in University, and she suspected years of handling everything by himself had made him resistant to asking for help when it came down to really serious things. Sure, Casey asked Raph to come along on Dragon runs, but that was because two skull-busters were better - and more fun - than one. And Casey would be the first to help the guy against the bad guys, because that was what they did - kick butt together, and kick it well. But illnesses, death - these things were harder to handle. No one in life was really equipped to deal with someone in the family receiving a shock like Casey had, and his 'programming' seemed to be telling him to 'handle it yourself' because he didn't really know any other way to handle it.

April had every intention of making one Arnold Casey Jones fully aware that keeping out the people who cared about you was NOT the proper way to handle such things. But there was a time and place for that, and she didn't have the heart that morning to rake him over the coals, not after the heart-wrenching display he'd finally allowed himself to have in front of her. That spoke volumes about Casey's trust in her, and for the time being, she'd respect that.

"Just a long and busy day," she said. "I've got two 'hunts' to go on - I foresee a long date with my computer tonight. One guy wanted some old Chinese pottery for his new building. And a Mr Lee said if I found a few rare back issues for him, I'd get a really nice bonus. Cute little old guy, seemed really nice - I don't want to let him down, or let that bonus get away."

Leo nodded. "Understood. Will you be coming tomorrow?"

"Be prepared to eat my fists," she vowed, and they both signed off laughing.

April tucked the Shell-Cell away and stood there silently for a moment. Her hand reached down under the counter, and she pulled out a small, framed photo that had been sitting there, ever since she'd had the store rebuilt. It was a shot of her and Casey, in the middle of an argument. They were both leaning into one another, obviously shouting at the top of their lungs. April had one finger poking his chest, and Casey's arms were thrown to the sides as though making a point she could no longer remember. To a random passerby, it probably wouldn't seem like a very good photo to capture what one normally wanted to see in a relationship.

But April knew better. There was a faint hint of a smile on her face, her lip quirking just enough that she could see herself trying not to laugh. And Casey's mouth was open in a seemingly angry yell - but his eyes were warm, almost amused. April smiled, as she always did when she saw that picture. It really was them. Loud, and brash, and in-your-face, never backing down - but if anyone ever tried to come between them...

April's smiled faded a bit. At least, that was what they were. And now, she didn't know if that was what they were still going to be, or if they were finally going to take that much-needed step to progress past the yelling and blustering. Then she shook herself briskly.

She trusted Casey. She knew he cared for her, and she for him. It would work out. And she - and the guys, if she had anything to say about it - would be there for Casey, if the worst (although, from what Casey had said, 'when' was probably more accurate than 'if') should happen.

In the meantime, she had a search to do. With a firm nod, April turned off the lights and went up the stairs to begin it.




Notes: In the last two previous chapters I made a timing error. In my original, plotted-out time-line, Callie and Sid left after breakfast. Then, when I was writing everything out, I made Callie show up in the afternoon, but at the beginning of chapter 8, I had her and Sid leaving 'just after breakfast'. I was following the time-line I had plotted out and forgot to take into account muse-derived creativity that resulted in a slightly different chapter from what I had originally planned. Sorry for any confusion.

If you happen to spot any continuity errors, please let me know. I try to keep track of everything, but sometimes I veer away from my original thoughts and then forget to make the necessary changes in the outline I'm following. :) Bad Stormy, no biscuit.

Big thank you's to everyone still reading this fic. This chapter was shorter than I planned, but hopefully the next one will make up for it.

Reviews always appreciated.