When Raphael Hamato was seven, he had a bird named Jay; utilizing a power he knew nothing about and never saw as virtue, he patiently bandaged, fed, and nurtured it back to health. After a month if perched in the cup o his mutant hands and sat quite happily upon his small shoulder or the curve of his carapace, accepting tiny chunks of bread and steamed rice from his fingers. He could splay the animal's wings and examine the feathers with interest, watch him flap and make small flights through tunnels that lasted a dozen feet at a time, and observe the way the air flowed over and under each plume, study the jerky movements of Jay's little head and the way it watched with its beady black eyes, confused in the deep subterranean underground. After some time, however, Jay stopped attempting to catch worms and insects from its surroundings and came to rely on the bits of carbohydrate fed to it by it's caretaker; and it was at this that Splinter decided the time had come to let the bird go.

He knew his temperamental son well, felt anxiety at the reaction he could show at the removal of his one friend, and approached the situation with the delicate sense of the slinking rat feeling out a dangerous alley. He sat his son down with him while conducting dinner preparations, when it was Raphael's turn to assist with the night's meal; while Leonardo sat watching his brothers collecting items for a new invention outside the lair, Splinter handed Raphael some freshly dried teas and set him to work grinding while water began boiling over the fire.

"My son. You know where birds come from, do you not?"

The bird in question sat perched on his child's carapace at the moment; Raphael glanced at it and back to his father, nodding mutely, as though he did not quite understand the efficacy of such a question.

"How has your pet's flying been?"

Raphael looked at him with wide, clear eyes, and spoke, utterly surprising his father with that sometimes wise seven-year-old voice.

"He doesn't. Gotta let him go tomorrow before he forgets."

Splinter blinked, taken very much aback. "No fight, my son? You do not wish to keep you pet with you? You shall not miss him?"

Raphael appeared confused. "Doesn't matter. He's supposed to fly. Can't fly in the sewer."

Splinter reached out, and clasped his son's other shoulder, while Jay cocked his feathery head curiously. "Raphael… it is acceptable to miss your pet. It is acceptable to mourn that you must be separated because he belongs to the world above us, and we here. This bird is your friend."

Raphael's eyes remained wide and sensible. "I like him. He's a bird. Supposed to fly. He doesn't belong here with us."

Splinter looked hard at his son, gazed deeply for some manifest trace of the child that he knew lay locked behind that backward pragmatism.

"And you, my son? You have no thoughts of not belonging here, in the darkness? You do not wish to fly yourself?"

Raphael frowned, troubled—he was not an imaginative child, and sometimes grew annoyed by the fantasticality of others, because he could not understand it—these things were worthless endeavors to him, circular conversations, pointless pursuits that only resulted in pain, the yearning for the unattainable known to a poor existence and, for him, to be avoided. For now, in any case. He had not yet a taste of the above world—he had not the taste of wanting, nor did his brothers—not fully. They rested on that cusp of envy and desire, and Splinter, wise though he was, could not beat it back. He wanted to see light in his sons' eyes, and hope, and the desire to be more; but not at the price of their innocence and happiness.

"Master Splinter," Raphael said, with his strong little voice, "I'm a turtle. Turtles aren't birds. Turtles don't fly."

It was one of many truths Splinter should have been happy to see instilled in his son, for it would save his young life… instead, it only filled the old rat with an indescribably feeling of heartbreak and loss.

A whisper from childhood, round and dark like a shadowed sun—a ball of feathers trapped inside a miniscule pipe into which only a child's hands may reach.

"What is it?"

"It's a bug!"

"It's not an insect, Mikey—it's avian."

"A bee? A bee's a bug."

"Maybe it's a bird, Mikey."

"I think Raphi's right."

"Yeah, Leo—it's called a pigeon."

Leonardo grabbed a stick; both Mikey and Don were already poking implements into the pipe, while Raphael hung back, wide-eyed. Mikey looked back at him.

"Raphi, better run—it might still be a bug!"

Donnie hit him with his stick. "It's not a bug, told you fifty billion times!"

Raphael wandered closer, looking at the stick in Leo's hands.

"So it's not a bug?"

Leo shrugged. "Dunno—Donnie's head's in the way."

Mikey giggled. "Haha, Donnie's a fathead!"

Raphael pushed past him, to reach his small hands in the pipe towards the trembling animal. Barely a second later he drew back.

"Got me."

Mikey came forward. "Whatcha doin' with it?"

Raphael reached back in, and at last wrestled the little struggling creature out.

"Got somethin' broken. Donnie, fix?" He held the creature out like a broken toy.

Donnie backed away. "No way! Master Splinter says they have sickness and stuff. Put it down, Raphi!"

Leonardo frowned, stepped forward, and finally spoke up. "He can keep it 'till I say, okay, Donnie? Let's go ask Master Splinter, Raphi." And without further ado, he grabbed his younger brother's arm, and away they went as a troupe, a disgruntled Donnie trailing in the back.

They were a troupe again, trailing along a pipe, four turtles and a bird following an old rat like so many ducklings, a line of the lost, chipping along at a happy pace below and unknown to the rushing denizens just above them. They passed grilles, the sound of clum-clacking high-heeled feet, the heavy rushing steps of business men, the whir of skateboard wheels, the heady rush of cars, the smell of ozone, motor oil, diesel fuel, and hot dogs, tickling hungry stomachs. Leonardo hung back, and walked beside Raphael, gazing at him for a long few minutes before deciding to speak.

"Raphi—Naze ga nakanaide irunda ka?" (Why aren't you crying?)

Raph pretended not to understand him. Leo persisted, as he was wont to do, repeating himself.

"We're letting the bird go. Aren't you sad? Why no tears, huh?"

Raphael looked down at Jay and then at his brother. "Why should I be sad? He's gonna fly again. That's what I wanted."

Leo made a frustrated expression. "Stop acting stupid—you know what I mean! Don't you want to keep him with you?"

Raphael frowned. "He doesn't belong here. It's a sewer. Birds don't live in sewers, Leo. Why're you acting stupid?"

Leo's whisper was hoarse. "It doesn't make sense. You should at least be sad—you cry about everything, and now you have a good excuse, and nothing. I don't get it."

"You hate it when I cry—aren't you happy that I'm not?" Raph asked with a bite but rather logically. "You wanna see me cry or something?"

Leo was silent, and they walked on in angry quietude. One could nearly hear Mikey and Donnie exchange a glance from behind them.

Leo supposed he expected fireworks when they finally set this bird, who had been a member of their household—ate from their hands and slept in the crook of Raphael's neck—free. He expected Raphael to utterly and completely break down. He expected Mikey to shed a tear, a speech from Master Splinter, for Donnie to look away theatrically.

But this is the way of life. It is without true order and chronology—it does not sweep up from exposition, climax into an apex of pleasure, and slide down again into resolution. There are no deathbed confessions, and no goodbyes where one truly believes that they will never meet again. This is the stuff of narration, of life as it should be. Leonardo read books with missing pages; he searched for dogmatic truth, for honor, for ideals, for the sheets that would give resolution, completion, to the fleeting mirage of images, the broken slideshow, of his conscious life.

Conscious life.

Consciousness began for Leo that day, as his brother strode forward, and opened his hands towards a square of light, and the bird, for several moments, went absolutely nowhere. It sat as though confused, unaware that this was its moment, the call to stage, its cue to life, and yet it sat in the hands of a tiny mutant—at home. After a moment, Jay hopped up on the grille, curiously, and Raphael watched it, expressionless.

Anticlimactic at best. But delayed reaction set in, and Leo watched this scene as though outside his body—at once, Jay took flight, and Raphael, after a moment blinking, took off running to see him as he went, and the family followed behind, slowly.

A few grilles down Raphael stopped, bathed in the late afternoon glow, shadows flitting over him—the silhouettes of pigeons against a great star in an alien sky. Raphael jumped, and caught the bars, as close as possible to the world above—and it was a moment before Splinter admonished him. Leonardo and Michelangelo's minds both had a permanent snapshot, burned into their brains, their most vulnerable, most ordinary, and somehow, only then, most amazing brother.

Flitting shadows, the impression, bright as a flash on film, deep blacks and whites—deepening the shadows, the spider web tendrils at the corner of sight, creeping upon one like poison, and that square, imperceptible, unattainable—

Raphael, gazing into the sun, light reflecting amber into his eyes, where reflected birds in everlasting flight.


A truck passed over.

It was gone.


Author's Notes::Cries::… Well, that's the end of Walking the Line: Salvation. I'm a little emotional right now. In any case… if there're any of you out there who have been sticking with this whole monster of a fic… now's the time to say something. Please, please, PLEASE, whether you think you have something intelligent to say or not, please say SOMETHING after you're done reading this. I have put a lot of effort into this fic and trying always to update in timely fashions, UCLA sessions notwithstanding, and it has come in at over a hundred thousand words. So. Please tell me what you thought other than "wow" or "hi," lol. WTL Damnation will, however, continue a bit longer.

Thanks to everyone for reading and special thanks go to: Kytyngurl2 for her constant assistance, Tori Angeli for always whipping me into shape, Winny for her cheerleading and ideas, and especially Airy and Tri for reviews, fanart, love, and translations. I'll be back. I have lots left in the larder.