Author's Note - Okay. This is not the ending I think most people expect. It's not the happy ending you might hope for. Nothing like it. It would be easy to write that, skim over the issues I raised and make it seem like everything's happy ever after, but I do try for a realism when I write. When something happens, that something has consequences.
The consequences of child abuse aren't pretty. Not for anyone involved.
So, that's your warning. This is the end of this story, but as I said there is a sequel already formed in my head, and hopefully it'll get written. Even I don't want to leave things like this.
Thanks again to everyone for coming on this ride with me.
"Master Yoshi! Yoshi!"
Yoshi's eyes opened as Don burst into the room. He sat up, blinking into the light that came through from the hallway. "Don? What's wrong?"
A million scenarios instantly came and went. Someone dead. Someone hurt. Someone gone. A million worries, different for each child; that unexpected consequence of finding himself a parent.
"It's Raf and Leo! It's bad!"
Yoshi was out of bed in a flash, and following Don down the hallway.
He had thought to ease the boys' transition into one large family in one new house by splitting them up. Leo and Mike together, since they were used to sharing a room. And Raf and Don across the hall. But ease didn't seem to be a factor in this transition. Not in any way.
Maybe the place was too small. It was all he could afford with four boys to take care of. Bigger than most of them were used to, but crowded all the same.
Maybe Raf and Leo had never been intended to get along. Things had always been tense between them. Leo's ease at including Raf in their family had always been phrased as a good thing for Don and Mike. Never for him.
Whatever it was, it was harder and harder to keep them from fighting. Harder to keep those fights from elevating.
Don was pale and scared, and Mike stood out in the hall, staring with sick eyes into his and Leo's room.
Yoshi moved past them and into the small bedroom. "What is…"
Pure shock stopped him.
Rafael had Leonardo pushed on the bed and was sprawled on top of him. His hand was beneath Leo, clumsily groping, and Leo's pajamas were tugged off his hip on one side.
Yoshi flew to the bed, grabbing Rafael and hauling him bodily off Leonardo. "What do you think you're doing?"
Rafael fought him instantly, jerking and shoving in unthinking panic. "Get off! Let go let go let go!" He wriggled free and took off, running out of the room and into his own, slamming the door hard.
Yoshi forgot him for the moment, moving to the bed and crouching. "Leonardo?"
Leo's face was white. He scrambled to get his pajamas straight, tears threatening in his eyes. His voice was a thin ramble. "He said he was gonna show me how it felt. He said he was gonna hurt me."
Yoshi's hand came out, wiping at tears from his normally strong, placid son. "Are you alright?"
Leo drew in a breath, and for a moment seemed to gather himself. But when he spoke, the words burst out and his face crumbled. "I hate him! I hate him and he keeps doing things and you never stop him! I don't want him here anymore!"
Yoshi's spine went stiff. "Do you mean to tell me he's done this before?"
Leo shuddered, but shook his head. "Not this but he's always angry. He won't leave me alone."
"Has he threatened this? Made suggestion…?"
Leo hesitated. "No."
Yoshi drew in a breath, looking behind him at his other two boys, wide-eyed and silent in the hall looking in. "Mike? Please come here."
Mike came in slowly, and Yoshi frowned to see that haunted, pale look on his face that Mike got after nightmares about his past.
Yoshi was going to ask him to sit with his brother, but Mike didn't have to be asked. Once he was in the room he went right to the bed and crawled up beside Leo.
Shaking, Leo curled away from Yoshi into Mike.
Mike put his arms around his brother.
Yoshi lay a hand on Leo's arm. "I'll be back shortly. Stay with Mike."
Leo nodded but didn't look at him.
Yoshi moved to the door, resting a hand lightly on Don's shoulder as he passed him. He opened Raf and Don's door and peered inside. "Rafael."
Yoshi shut the door and moved further in. He could barely see the lump on Raf's bed, under covers against the wall. He reached behind him and turned the light on with a sigh. "Rafael, come out of there."
"Why? So I can pack my stuff and get kicked out?"
Yoshi sat on the bed, shoulders slumped.
It was too much for him. He grew into being a parent by raising Leonardo, a boy who could probably have raised himself. Even after years working with children he had no idea how to resolve these problems.
Rafael needed more help than he could give. That much was clearer every day. Removing him from his abusers had done nothing to calm his anger. It seemed to make it worse in a lot of ways.
For that, Yoshi was to blame. A haphazard plan, his sons following him. Exposing Rafael, even in rescue, to staring eyes.
Rafael seemed caught. Stuck between feeling rescued and feeling betrayed. Between being glad he was away from the orphanage and furious that he was stuck in a house with four people who had seen him humiliated with his abuser.
And Yoshi knew he was to blame. It was one of many reasons why he couldn't easily give up on Rafael.
He reached out and pulled at the cover, revealing Raf's tousled hair and tear-stained face. "I said come out of there," he repeated, firm.
Raf shoved the covers off and sat up, pushed into the corner.
"Rafael, what have I told you about being my son?"
Raf hesitated. He spoke quietly. "You said you wouldn't let anyone hurt me again."
Yoshi nodded. "Nobody hurts my sons. Not even my other sons."
Raf's head dropped. His shoulders shook.
"What you were doing in there…Rafael, you know how bad that was."
"I would never," Yoshi continued, low and steady, "give up on you. I will never send you from me, Rafael. But I will not tolerate my sons living in fear of abuse, even from you."
Rafael was quiet.
Yoshi studied the top of his bent head. He was out of his depth, that much was certain. He was stuck trying to find ways to save Rafael from self-destruction, but he couldn't seem to do that without his other sons being hurt.
He needed advice. He needed help, but he had no idea whom to call. He might have tried Melinda Prentiss, but she wouldn't have spoken with him - he had demanded, when suing for custody of Raf and seeing to it that Kellaran was prosecuted fully for his years of abuse, that Prentiss also be fired.
She was well-meaning, perhaps, but she wasn't fit for the job required of her. She was too burned out, too hardened to the cries of children. He had demanded she leave, and she had quit before his claims were fully investigated.
But that left him without an ally, even a bitter and careless one.
It was just him and his boys. And he wasn't sure that would be enough.
Yoshi drew in a breath and released it. "Do you wish to grow up to become like Kelleran?"
Raf jolted as if shocked. "What? No! I would never be like him!"
"Why? He attacks helpless children."
Raf's eyes went to the closed doorway that pointed right to Leo and Mike's room.
Yoshi regarded his profile.
Raf looked away, his eyes dropping. "Everyone attacks someone. Why should I always be the victim?"
"That's a very limited view of things, Rafael."
"You think so?" Raf laughed, harsh and too old for an eleven-year-old. "You think Kelleran was the only one who did something?"
Yoshi hesitated. "You've told me your foster father once--"
"Oh, not him. Adults don't count. Adults always hurt."
Yoshi winced. Too much in Raf was hurt, Too much was soured, and it might be that there was no…
He sat up suddenly, struck. "If you're not talking about adults who are you talking about?"
"Come on. I lived in a place with a hundred other kids. Some of them were older and a lot of them were bigger, and…everyone knew they could do whatever they wanted to me and it would always be my fault. Everyone knew it." He drew in a breath and released it. "After a while they called me Psycho, 'cause I just started jumping people before they had a chance to come after me. And it wasn't…not everyone, but a few…"
Yoshi dropped his eyes, considering that new information. Perhaps he shouldn't have been surprised. Perhaps this orphanage had been too much like a prison, with all the horrors and depravities prison had to offer.
It was hard for him to assume that about children, though. Hard for him to assume evil of anyone.
It seemed to be much easier for Raf to take for granted the bad in everyone.
Raf looked at Yoshi. "We're all living together now. I know the rest of them…they all like each other and everything, but things change. Leo already acts like he's in charge, and…and it's always that kind of…of kid who likes to hurt people to prove he's the boss."
"Leonardo strikes you as malevolent in that way?"
"Doesn't matter what Leo strikes me as. He'll come after me."
Yoshi rubbed his temple. "And rather than give him a chance to prove himself different you decided you would attack him first. You decided to show him you were in charge by…what, Rafael?"
Raf looked away instantly.
Yoshi didn't tiptoe around it. "You wanted to rape him."
"What you were doing in there, what would it have led to?"
"I…I don't know. I just…he said…"
Yoshi spoke softly. "You told me after I first met you that you wouldn't ever hit something that can't hit back. Leonardo regards you as a brother. It goes against his code of honor to strike a brother. He would never hurt you."
Raf's face collapsed. Fresh tears went down his cheeks, unstopped.
Yoshi didn't reach out to him. "He can't hit back, Rafael."
"I'm sorry!" The words were a soft wail. Raf's hands covered his face. "He made me angry, and I couldn't…I couldn't stop from…"
Anger. It all came back to anger with Rafael. Anger was a fierce opponent to face, Yoshi knew. He wasn't sure Raf had the will to defeat an enemy like that.
"How could Leonardo ever make you angry enough to do what you were doing?"
Raf looked up, but after a moment looked away.
He wouldn't say, Yoshi knew. In Raf's mind that was like tattling. In the hierarchy of unforgivable faults, tattling on other children topped Raf's list, though apparently attacking them wasn't even in the top ten.
Yoshi sighed. "I'm going to find you a counselor."
The instant terror on Raf's face made Yoshi soften. He lay his hand on the boy's shoulder. "We will do it together. I understand you're scared of the idea." Kelleran still held a special place in Yoshi's mind, a dark place that actually scared Yoshi because of what he was capable of doing in reaction. Bad enough for a man to commit that sort of deed, but a counselor of children…
"I will let you make decisions about it. If you would be more comfortable with a woman, we will find a woman. If you want me to be there, I'm sure it can be arranged. But we can't go on like this."
Raf sniffled, terror firm in his eyes.
Yoshi sighed. "I can't simply threaten you with what I would do if this happens again. I can't let it happen again. Do you understand that?"
"If you wish to be my son, I must be allowed to be your father. You must listen to me, and you have to trust me."
Raf's mouth tightened and he looked away.
Yoshi knew he couldn't expect too much at once. He had broken Raf's trust already, and though he had done it to save the boy it was still an obstacle they both had to overcome. For Raf, trusting adults would never come easily.
Yoshi sighed. "Come with me."
Rafael stared up at him from his corner. "What? Where?"
Yoshi held out a hand. "Come. We will not leave things like this tonight."
Raf uncurled himself, slow and stiff. He followed Yoshi to the hallway as if they were going back to the orphanage, or some other place of horror.
Mike and Leo sat on Leo's bed where Yoshi had left them. Leo looked calmer, and was talking to a still-pale Mike quietly.
But the words stopped when Yoshi appeared, and the two boys looked past him at Raf.
Don, standing by the door, went to Raf. "You okay?"
Mike spoke fast, his small voice outraged. "Is he okay? Who cares if he's--"
"Michael." Yoshi spoke firmly. "Enough."
Mike didn't listen. "He hurt Leo! He's as bad as that doctor!"
Raf winced, his eyes dropping.
"He's as bad as…as…"
"I'm sorry," Raf said to the floor.
Mike glared at him. "That's what they always say, isn't it? That's what my foster dad used to say to me, every time!"
"Leave him alone!" Don stood beside Raf, uncharacteristically angry. "Leo was being mean to him and you know it!"
Yoshi blinked. Raf never said why he was so angry.
His eyes went to Leo.
Leo was already looking up at him, as if expecting the question.
Don looked between them, his hands fists. "Tell him what you said, Leo!"
Leonardo might have kept his mouth shut, but he had never been the type of boy to evade accepting responsibility for his own actions. He spoke, soft but steady. "I said…I told him maybe he wanted that man to…to fuck him, just so he could brag about knowing what sex was like."
Yoshi's breath caught in his chest.
Leo swallowed. "I was mad, and Raf was being a jerk, and…"
Yoshi moved to the bed, a hand on Raf's shoulder to bring him with him.
Mike glared at Raf, but Leo just watched him, wide-eyed.
Raf's eyes went to Mike, defensive. "You remember David? The night janitor? He said that same thing to me once. That was just the start."
Mike's throat worked. His eyes dropped.
Yoshi crouched between them. "Leonardo, you know you spoke hurtful and untrue words."
Leo nodded. "I'm sorry."
Raf lifted his head, looking at Leo in shock at the apology.
He had been expecting, Yoshi assumed, hatred. Anger like Mike was radiating, or contempt. It was high time Rafael started learning what being in a real family, in Yoshi's family, was like.
Yoshi's eyes went to Raf. "You realize that no words are ever enough to justify an attack on your brothers. Not with fists, and absolutely not the way you attacked tonight."
Raf's eyes stayed locked on Leo. He held his breath and nodded. The words came up, slow and rasping like air from a tire. "I'm sorry." Like a dam bursting, more words followed quickly. "I couldn't even stop myself and I know it's no excuse, and I know I'm as bad as Kelleran, but I don't want to be. I won't hurt you, Leo. I promise. I won't hurt you again."
Leo looked back at him, almost impassive. "Shouldn't make promises you don't know you can keep."
"Rafael, tell Leonardo how we're going to fix this."
Raf swallowed. "Yoshi says I'm going to a counselor so nobody has to be scared of me anymore."
Leo studied Raf. He frowned, but looked away without argument. "Fine."
Yoshi saw too much there - the remnants of anger. The echoes of the words Leo spoke earlier: that he hated Rafael at times and wanted him gone. "Is there more Rafael can do?"
Leo blinked, looking back at first Yoshi, then Raf.
Raf met his gaze, almost eager. "I will. Anything. I can...you can have..." He stopped, painful realization that he had nothing to give showing on his face. He opened his mouth, then shut it, then stuck his chin up and spoke. "You can take my sai from me."
Leonardo's eyes widened in surprise.
Yoshi felt surprise of his own. He knew those weapons and Raf's growing skill with them were incredibly important to Raf. Then again, he also knew that Leonardo, dedicated to his craft and fiercely protective about his swords, would appreciate that offer more than anything else Raf could have said.
Sure enough, Leo managed a small smile. "That's okay."
There would be nothing easy about this family, Yoshi reflected as he dropped to sit down beside Leo on the bed.
They had good days. A lot of them. Days when all four of them were like partners in crime, when they trained together and played afterwards and Yoshi believed it might all work out.
Days like this, though, he had no idea. And the uncertainty scared him.
He gestured for Raf, and slowly Raf climbed onto the bed on Yoshi's other side.
"I'm sorry, Leo," Raf said again, barely louder than a whisper. "I'm sorry, Mikey."
Leo nodded. Mike didn't answer.
Yoshi looked out at his fourth son. "Don?"
Don moved up, sitting beside Raf as Mike was still hovering over Leo on the other side.
Four turtles from a jar, broken in a sewer. Yoshi took the time now and then to be amazed by it all. The years had gone so fast, and time had damaged each of them in their own ways.
Fate made them what they were. Fate brought them back together. Yoshi placed a lot of trust in fate.
And it was almost impossible to believe in fate without also believing in hope. Frail, easily broken but rarely dying, hope was as strong a concept as fate. And it was all he had to trust his children to, as they tried to salvage what they had become and make from it a family.
He drew in a breath, his boys gathered around him. And as a beginning, a way to soothe the wounds he couldn't yet heal, he started to tell them a story, though he didn't know how he would end it.
"In Japan, many years ago, a rat lived as pet to a noble, honorable man…"