Author Note: And here it is - the epilogue of FDRF. Thanks to everyone for reading, especially those who took a moment to review. Special thanks go to the gals on the TT site for helping me out with some medical information, as well as to Lioness-Goddess for her fabulous earlier beta and Pi for help in that area too. I'm hoping to be back soon with another chapter fic, so I'll see ya then!
Splinter glanced up at the Northampton skyline. It was another beautiful day, the sun warm, not a cloud in the sky. There were those who thought a day set aside for remembrances of the dead should be overcast and dull, possibly raining, as if nature itself mourned the loss. But the events of the past month had taught Splinter that nature, like Death, was indifferent to the sufferings and hopes of an individual, their triumphs and their sorrows. Their intent was to remember and to thank those individuals who during their lives had brought some sunshine with them. Perhaps the weather would aid them in recalling that their friends were missed because of that sunshine and to think of that rather than the sorrow that they were no longer able to.
Raphael approached Splinter, his demeanour unusually sombre. "The others are waiting. You sure you wanna do this?"
"Although I wish it was not necessary, it is what I want to do." Splinter gripped his walking stick and set off walking toward the woods, Raph keeping pace with him. The other turtles were waiting at the edge of the woods, their faces identical masks of solemnity and sadness, the tails of their bandanas stirring slightly in the breeze.
There was a pause as they stood in a line, then Leonardo took the unspoken cue and began to speak.
"We've lost a lot of people whom we were proud to call our friends. Angel, April, Casey – they all made our lives better and for that, we'll never forget them. I just wish we could mourn them properly, separately, as they deserve. But we can't. All we can do is to remember them and thank them."
He paused, staring at the ground and struggling to keep his composure. A moment later, he felt the weight of Raph's hand on his shoulder and gave him a grateful look before continuing.
"And it's even harder to mourn them when we feel one loss more than theirs… it's just… it's not fair everything that happened, it had to end that way."
Amen to that thought Raphael, struggling against bitter anger. This was not the time. Instead he looked past Leo to where there brother stood, more accurately, the beautifully decorated container hugged tightly against his plastron.
Leo glanced up, eyes filled with worry. "Mikey, that was too close. He should be dead!"
Mikey backed away in a hurry. "Don't come near me - if he's cheated death, then I'm the next on the..."
Another rumble from the tunnels drew their attention as in the distance, more debris fell loose. The tremors loosened another piece of the ceiling of the lair, which plummeted to ground, landing at an angle on the still upright bo. Giving in to the strain, the bo snapped, half still jammed in the mess on the floor.
The top of the bo flipped across the lair, the splintered end where it had broken off lethally sharp and the trajectory deadly accurate. It punched through the side of Mikey's neck, momentum carrying it through the muscle and sinew until the obstacle halted it before it could emerge from the other side, although the skin there bulged out from the invader. Mikey's eyes widened and his mouth fell open as he registered the pain - but there was barely time for that and the light was dying from his eyes even as his body fell forward. He landed on his knees and fell to the side, making no attempt to use his hands to brace himself. The side of his head struck the floor with a loud smack, the force driving the end of the bo finally through the opposite side of his neck with a wet, tearing sound.
Leo would have dropped Donnie's head if the other turtle hadn't been making a feeble attempt to rest on his elbows. Instead, he scrambled to his feet and raced over to where Mike was lying, his hands hesitating for a brief second as he wondered if his attempts to help would injure Mikey further – then he decided there was little that would hurt him further and took his brothers hands in his own, kneeling low in front of him so Mikey could see he wasn't alone.
Raph's voice was hoarse, but filled with anguish and without looking, Leo knew that he was making his way over, no near drowning keeping Raphael away. But there wasn't going to be time.
Mikey's eyes slipped closed, then opened again, blood spilling over his lips as they moved, trying to speak although there was no way he would be able to make any sound.
Leo leant closer, trying to read the words. Mikey gasped out another glut of blood and tried again. And this time Leo realised what he was saying.
Then his eyes closed and without ceremony, Mikey died.
Leo turned and looked up at Raph, stood behind him, resting his hands on his knees. Donnie was standing behind Raphael, bruises already flowering on his neck, his eyes on the floor. And beside them, Splinter was looking grave, his eyes on Mikey's still form.
Leonardo closed his eyes and shook his head.
Donatello kept hold of the container that Mikey's ashes were in while Leo lapsed into silence, trying to find the right words to say. By unspoken agreement, it had been decided that Mikey's remains should not be kept in the sewers with them, but scattered above ground. Mikey had loved life and it seemed more appropriate to say their goodbyes where there was plenty of it.
Splinter had been the one who dealt with Mikey's body afterwards, shooing the three survivors away and leaving Leo to deal with their injuries while he prepared Mike for what came next. It had always seemed that Splinter had been able to make peace with Death that day, although he had aged in behaviour and appearance without Mike's presence. But the turtles needed more.
"Mikey saved us," Leo suddenly announced, his words coming out in bursts like machine gun fire. "He made us leave the stadium even though we didn't believe him. He tried to do something to save our friends and he put himself in danger to save us again – if it wasn't for what Mikey did, we'd all be dead now."
"The last thing Mikey said… he said end of list. He was trying to tell me – to reassure us, even though he was dying – trying to tell me that he was the last person on the list. That we were safe because he was dead. And I would rather have Mike back than my own safety, but I know it gave him some peace. To know that we were safe and that his dying was proof of that… because he couldn't go until we were dead or safe…"
Leo broke off again and Raph gave him a worried look, wondering if Fearless Leader was going to be able to do this.
Leo cleared his throat and then continued. "What Mikey did for us – he gave us a gift. He gave us a future. And it's up to us to make the most of what he gave us and to make the most of that future, just like he would – if he were with us."
There were a few moments of silence, then Donnie stepped forward with the container, not wanting the moment to end because what he held in his hands was the last physical trace of his brother and as soon as he let it go, there would be nothing left of Michelangelo left at all. But Splinter was reaching out to take the container and after a moment of hesitation that was a fraction of a moment too long to go unnoticed, Donnie handed the container open.
Splinter took the box, inclining his head at Don slightly in a gesture of both understanding and comfort, before opening the cover. As he did so, he remembered some of the times they had spent as a family in the farmhouse owned by Casey Jones. A place unknown to the Foot and the Purple Dragons, a place of sanctuary. The scene of Casey asking for his help to win the heart of April, a place where his fun-loving son could run around in the great outdoors like the normal teenager he never complained that he wasn't. Without Casey as owner of the property, it was unlikely that they would be returning under such circumstances again. Their world had become a safer place without their enemies, but a sadder one too now that their family was smaller.
So thinking, he tipped the box and let Mikey's ashes fall. The breeze caught them, dispersing the dark cloud into the air and breaking them up, hitting their skin or the ground and crumbling there, or being carried further into the air. Within seconds, there was no sign that they had done anything.
Splinter replaced the lid on the box. Silence reigned as the four mused on their own thoughts.
After a while, Splinter raised his head and made his excuses, returning to the farmhouse. As someone given to both insight and tact, he realised there were some experiences that he had not shared with his four sons and that a discreet withdrawal might be in order.
Splinter's absence made no difference at first, none of the turtles willing to break the silence of the moment, ruin the solemnity through some clumsy statement that could never explain how they felt.
Donnie raised his head to look into the sky, noting the few clouds and slight breeze, the warm sun and the faint sounds of nature and a distant light aircraft giving the background. "Mikey would have liked this."
"Mikey would have taken in a mouthful of ashes the moment Splinter dropped them," said Raph and immediately wished he hadn't. The observation had just escaped without thought.
But Leo's mouth curled at the corners. "Yeah, just like Mikey."
"It just wasn't like him to notice anything as mundane as what was happening around him," said Don, smiling a little himself. "There was always something much better going on in his own thoughts."
"He got real carried away with them too," added Raph.
"It's hard not to catch his enthusiasm…" Leo began with a grin and then his happy expression wilted a little and the silence they had previously been in returned.
"I miss him," said Raph simply.
Donnie nodded sombrely. "Me too. I miss all of them. I – I don't know where we're supposed to go from here."
"We go forward," said Leo determinedly. "We do what Mikey would have done; remember our loved ones and never forgetting that we're still alive – and that they would want us to treasure that."
He thought the others would argue with him, or maybe say it was impossible, or just not bother to reply. But Raph was nodding his head, agreeing with every word.
"We keep it together," said Raph, holding out his hand, palm down. "For Mikey."
"For Mikey," agreed Donnie, putting his hand atop Raph's.
"For Mikey," finished Leo, joining them. For a moment he looked at the differing shades of green that made the physical form of their pact. It seemed wrong somehow without Mikey's distinctive colourings among them.
They dropped their hands and a change went through the atmosphere. It was time to leave the past behind and see what the future held. The mourning period was over.
Donatello opened his mouth to speak, thought better of it and shut up. Raph looked at him irritably. "You've been doing that for days Don. If there's something on your mind, spit it out."
Don shook his head. "I was just thinking. Mike worked out that the deaths came in the order he saw them in – even Karai knew something was going on and all she heard was Mikey shouting about the accident beforehand and did some research. I was just wondering about her research, why out of the others who had a premonition of disaster like Mikey's, none of them could work it out when they could."
"We didn't believe it either," Leo pointed out. "Karai wasn't as close to it as we were and Mikey – well, he knew what he knew, he didn't have the luxury of choosing to believe or not. And we're more used to seeing the unbelievable than most humans are. Perhaps they realised, but didn't know the near-death experience would take them off the list. There are a lot of things that could have happened to them Don and all we can do is second guess."
"Maybe there were some others who worked out the order and we just don't know about 'em," added Raph. "Not much ya can tell from old newspapers and statistics."
"I guess so," said Donnie, about to add something else when the noise from the light aircraft over head suddenly drowned out his words. "Hey, what the…?"
The three turtles looked up, shading their eyes against the sunlight. The aircraft, large enough to hold maybe two people, was directly over head, flying surprisingly low considering the trees and the houses nearby.
As they watched, the engine stopped. There was no warning – the sound was suddenly gone. And the plane was plummeting toward them.
Leonardo took a step backward, his mind suddenly transported to the night the balloon had crashed down onto the stadium, the same night so many people had died and they had lived thanks to Mikey's premonition. Like the night that he had lived because of Mikey's foreknowledge that he was being targeted by some force they couldn't comprehend.
He would never know if Mikey would have seen this coming.
The plane was small enough to see minimum casualties in the surrounding area, large enough so it was unlikely they had time to outrun it. There was nowhere to go.
Donnie had been right. There was no solution, no way to escape their fate. Mikey's death had merely sent the circle going around again.
Starting with Leo.
With less than three seconds gone since the plane began its fall, the structure gave in to some internal issue and the cabin burst into flames. Leo imagined he could hear the pilot scream, but knew it had to be in his head.
Raphael, standing a foot or so behind him, Donnie a couple of metres further on. Both of them slated to die too. Splinter back at the house, having never been at the stadium, never in danger unless they were around for some kind of celestial target practice.
There would be no rest. Only fear, only constant vigilance, until they were taken – if there were any way out of this. It didn't look like it. The heat from the flaming ball that the plane was rapidly becoming made his skin flushed even from the distance. Not enough distance for escape.
No escape. Death was coming for them.
Swords drawn, Leo stepped forward to greet it.