Disclaimer –Well, this chapter concludes my Tale With a Cat Attached. No epilogue to follow. And, as you've probably figured, it's not so much about a cat as it's what he brings together. As before…um, yeah, don't own 'em, that means the turtles and Karai. I still own Sudan, though, at least in print. :0)
Chapter 16 – Convergence
The horse grazed contentedly, occasionally raising his head to gaze at the warriors dueling a hundred feet away. Currently, they were in-between maneuvers, weapons drawn, staring each other down. They stood there, several feet apart, inhaling, exhaling, their breaths even and controlled. It was a bold testament to their conditioning, as well as a statement to their stamina and training. As each assessed the other, their eyes locked and their expressions challenged the next move.
Suddenly, as if responding to a silent cue, they leapt forward simultaneously, weapons drawn. Swords sliced through the air like twin whispers, the flurry of lightening quick strikes created a metallic sound of chaffing steel, and pierced the silence. Then, the warriors fell away again to reposition themselves, to assess the other's next move.
The horse, however, could care less. He snorted in annoyance to the disturbance and swished his long, black tail. He swallowed his cud and then Sudan dropped his head down to rip yet another mouthful of grass from the turf. He chewed thoughtfully, giving one more withering glance to the pair of warriors. Finally, he shook his head and turned away to wander the yard as far as his tether would allow, grazing as he went.
Suddenly, one combatant leapt back to avoid their opponent's surprise move, a roundhouse kick that barely missed its target. "Hey, that's cheating!" they complained.
The other crowed, "HA! Can't take the heat, stay out of the kitchen, Marie!"
"I will show you heat, Leonardo!"
Marie lunged for him, her weapon arced horizontally, her mouth a tight line of concentration. However, before her weapon could bite into his, Leonardo executed a forward flip, sailing clean over the woman and her ninjaken. He landed lightly behind her and pivoted, and then watched as she slipped on the grass in her attempt to correct herself. She quickly recovered, though, before going to ground, and then bristled when she saw him smile at her. Now, she stood there, glaring at him, quite annoyed. His smile widened further and then, suddenly, she growled and rushed Leonardo again.
Leo accepted her challenge and, once more, the convergence of metal against metal sang out.
Like two seasoned dancers, the pair executed maneuvers learned long ago in their youth. One ascended their weapon with a lateral swipe, while the other countered vertically, sharply foreshortening the first weapon's upswing before it could meet its mark. With only their swords giving voice to their kata, neither warrior grunted nor called out, but performed each move in silence, the way that they were taught.
Not too far away and leaning against the exterior wall of the house and his arms folded casually in front of him, Don watched with an amused grin. He stood next to the porch swing where Mike sat. Raphael bookended their youngest brother on the other side of the swing, one eye-ridge raised as he scowled towards the lawn. "So, odds on, Leo wins," he challenged.
"Nope, Karai. Um…I mean, Marie." Don quickly looked down at Mike and swallowed, concerned. When his youngest brother glanced up at him, Mike's face changed from vacant to something more…threatening. Hastily Donatello re-worded his statement, "Marie will win," and then he smiled wide, cheering his voice a bit, "Isn't that right, Mikey? Don't you think Marie will win?"
When he heard the second name, Mike's unsettled expression dissipated quickly, replaced with his normally blank look. He gave a small nod and went back to watching the fight on the front lawn.
"It's still…too weird, Don. Can't believe that Kar…um, I mean Marie lives next door to us, even her place is miles away." Raph sighed and leaned against the backrest of the swing, "Never thought…anything like this could happen."
"Yeah, I know, but…"
"I mean, really, Don…it's just too bizarre," Raphael shook his head, "I'm still not…comfortable with her livin' so close t'us, either."
"Raph, we've been over this a dozen times."
Raphael regarded his brother, his expression hard, his voice grating, "Don, what if Karai's just waiting for one of us…" and then he found himself interrupted by a sharp intake of air from Donatello. Raph squeezed his eyes shut and moaned, "Oops".
Mike turned to look at him this time. As before, his expression darkened, an angry scowl growing quickly on his face. When Mike tensed beside him, Raph cleared his throat and augmented his query, "What if Marie's…playing us for fools."
Suddenly, Michelangelo mumbled softly, distantly, "One can only be fooled if he's foolish," and his vacant expression returned once more. With one hand resting along the back of a sleeping Klunk, who nested in his lap, Mike whispered hauntingly, "Someone told me that once. I think…I think…I think I remember who it was. It was…a rat." He giggled abruptly, apparently amused with the thought, "A rat? Yeah, a talking rat!" Suddenly, Mike began to sing, his tenor voice clear and pitch perfect, "If I could talk to the animals, just think of it, conversing with a chimp in chimpanzee…"
Suddenly, the sound of clashing swords announced that the activity on the lawn had become more intense and so Mike quickly forgot what it was he was singing, in order to watch the altercation.
"Yeah, Mikey, couldn't have said it better m'self," Raphael chuckled.
The three turtles then sat in silence for a moment as those practicing on the lawn continued their sparring match. A few minutes later, Mike pointed, his voice almost childlike, "Raphie, who's that again?"
Raphael let out a longsuffering sigh and patted Mike's knee, "That's Leonardo, Mikey, our brother; and the woman is our…friend, a neighbor." His chest tightened, though. It seemed that Mike was slowly forgetting things, important things such as…Leo. Next week it could be Don, or even me, Raph thought ruefully.
"April?" Mike looked hopefully over at his big brother with large expectant eyes, the left side of his face oddly misshapen from his stroke, "April plays with swords, now?"
Although gladdened that Mike still remembered their old friend, Don smiled sadly, "No, not April, Mikey. The woman's name is…Marie."
A long pregnant pause followed as the two brothers waited for Mike to understand. Finally, he asked, "Is she…safe? I remember someone who was a…a monster…is she a monster?" His voice deepened threateningly, "I don't like monsters."
"Yes, she's…safe, Mikey. Marie is safe. She's not a… monster."
"But, you said…Karai," Mike scowled and his voice hardened around the name, just as bothered by it when he said it as when Don or Raph did.
As Don raised an anxious eye ridge, Raph replied hurriedly, "I made a mistake, Mikey. I was only thinking about Karai and forgot to say Marie's name."
"Don't think about Karai, Raphie," the warning tone in Mike's voice told everyone what he thought about her, "Karai's dead, Leo killed her. We don't think about the dead, especially a dead Karai. But…" and then his voice turned childlike and he moaned, "Splinter's dead, though, isn't he?"
Raph gave a sad nod and Mike added wistfully, "I think about him…sometimes. Why is that?" Mike looked up at Don, "Donnie, you know everything. Why is that? Why can't I stop thinking about Splinter? Isn't he the rat, the one who talks to animals?"
Don smiled a little, "You think about Splinter, Mikey, because…he was our father."
A huge, uneven grin nearly swallowed Michelangelo's face, then, "But how can a rat be our father, Donnie. We're turtles. And I thought you were smart." He shook his head and laughed, "Don, sometimes you're funny."
"Yeah, I guess I am," Don said sadly.
However, the battle in the yard once again distracted Mike and he turned away to watch the two on the lawn. He startled a little when Marie made a quick, sweeping motion with her weapon, the flat of her sword smacking Leo along his carapace, and surprising her opponent. Leonardo yelled an insult at the woman and Mike laughed, thoroughly amused. Don and Raphael joined in, too, and then their youngest sibling remarked glibly, "I didn't like that lady at first," and then his voice lowered a bit, "I wanted to cut her up into little pieces and bake her in a pie and eat her for dinner." He then growled, "I thought she was…the monster."
Raphael swallowed deeply and gave a sad shake of his head, remembering well how violent Mike had become when Marie first visited them. Although he hadn't blamed his baby brother for his reaction, Raph was just as surprised as Leo and Don were with how quickly he reacted. Even though Mike's affliction had affected his memory, it seemed that he hadn't forgotten everything about being ninja.
And Raph couldn't rightly say he was thrilled with Leo's insistence to make amends with the woman, either. Considering she represented those who had killed Splinter and then made the next year after that pure hell for the Hamato clan, Raphael didn't care one iota about Karai's change of heart.
"Leo, she could'a joined the Salvation Army and spout Bible scripture, and I would still see her as lethal and unpredictable. What in shell are you trying t'do to us?"
All Raphael could think of at the time was what had happened to Mike that fateful night, two decades ago, when they lost their sensei. It was bad enough to lose their father, but Mike holding their master as the rat bled out, feeling his life ebb away, seemed to be the catalyst to the youngest member of the clan's eventual dementia. It didn't happen right away, of course, their new vendetta against the Foot keeping all four far too busy. Yet, it was after the last battle, the battle that had virtually destroyed the Foot, when Mike had his stroke, his grief and the stress of escalating their fight against their dreaded enemy far too great for the normally happy-go-lucky turtle. One stroke led to another and gradually, his mind crumbled. Now, he had only rare occurrences of mental clarity, and usually even then it lacked his well-known sense of humor. Losing Mike in the way that they did had changed Raphael, too. He was less impetuous and more in need of peace and quiet than ever before. Yet, truth of the matter was, all of them had changed, in one way or the other.
Nevertheless, despite his position on the matter, Raphael was intrigued with this 'new and improved' Karai. Yet, it still took quite a bit of pleading from Don and Leo to get him to meet with her, especially at her place. When he finally agreed, Raphael had only one condition.
"I won't see her, Leo, not unless I can bring my sai with me. I refuse to meet with this – kunoichi b-tch – unless I'm armed!"
"Fine, if that's what it'll take, but you won't need it, I promise."
Raph grinned, spinning his sai, almost anticipating and looking forward to a confrontation, "And if you're wrong, Leo, you do Mikey's bed sheets…for a whole month!"
Leo agreed, offering his famous grin that Raphael hated the most. It said he had won.
Nevertheless, while Don watched over Mikey, Leo led Raph through the forest to Karai's property. After talking with and listening to the woman tell her story, Raphael finally allowed her a measure of grace. Given what Saki had done to her in her youth, he understood why she had been so loyal to him and the Foot…and… now, why she wasn't.
Still, he wasn't one-hundred percent convinced, "If she so much as raises a hand inappropriately, I'll off her, Leo, no hesitation!" Raphael insisted on arming himself, too, whenever he would visit, but after several twice-weekly sojourns to Marie's farm and not once having to worry, despite anticipating some form of betrayal, he finally saw what Leo had tried to tell him. Marie had indeed changed.
Still, Raph had to complain, if only in jest, "And I was so certain I'd get a break from cleanin' up after Mike, Leo."
"Hey, if you're feeling overwhelmed, Raph, I'll do next week for ya."
"Naw, that's okay, He's my responsibility. 'Sides, Mikey hates anyone else doin' it."
It was after several weeks of entertaining her neighbors when Karai finally made her first visit to their farm. Michelangelo was initially unimpressed with her. His stroke-induced dementia kept him sedate and quiet. As it was, with the changes she had made to her face, Karai was for all practical reasons a virtual stranger to him, and so Mike treated her as if she wasn't even there. Before introducing her to him, though, they allowed him to adjust to her visit, treating her as one would a guest, offering her iced tea, and chatting for a while. Mike never looked her way, he seemed drawn into himself the entire time.
Then, when Leo decided to tell Mike who she really was, before he could explain Karai's transformation and what had happened to her, Michelangelo went ballistic.
Moving quicker than he had in years and catching everyone completely by surprise, Mike grabbed Raphael's partially filled beer bottle from the coffee table, taking it by its neck, and then slamming it to the floor. It broke near the bottom, spilling the brew, and created a jagged implement. With all the ferociousness of a rabid animal, Michelangelo then suddenly lunged at Karai, the sharp end of the near-shattered bottle aimed for her throat.
Before she could react, Karai found herself swarmed by his brothers as they moved in front of her to intervene. Leo pushed her away from their demented brother and forced her to the floor of the living room. Then, as Don tried to snatch the bottle from Mike, the jagged edge raked across his arm. Bleeding profusely, Don worried that the bottle had caught an artery, but it was just a flesh wound. He still had to bow out, though, and so Karai took him outside and away from Mike's line of sight. While the other two tried to disarm their enraged brother, Karai and Don went around the house, slipping quietly into kitchen to attend the cut.
In the living room, however, Mike continued to struggle against his brothers, screaming obscenities about Karai, and re-living that night when his father died. It took several minutes to calm him, but when he finally did, Raph had to carry his brother upstairs to his room, the demented turtle crying all the way. In the end, they had to sedate him.
It was a long while before they had Marie over again. Leo knew that, given enough time, Mike's dementia would reassert itself, and would forget who she was. Fortunately, he forgot things quite easily. It was then when they began using the name she had adopted for herself and, so long as they used it, Mike accepted her.
As Raphael sat there next to his brother and thought back to how Mike had reacted towards Karai, he couldn't decide if he wanted Mike recovered or be fully succumbed to his dementia. An' all this time I thought I was the hot head in the family.
And the little sparring sessions that Leo insisted on having with their old enemy seemed to test the waters of fate where Mike was concerned, too. Although it had only been a couple of weeks since Leo first invited her over to workout with him, it was beginning to develop into a very bad idea. How much longer can Mike sit here and not recognize her? Change or no change, certainly he can see who she is by the way she fights, Raph mused worriedly. Maybe those two should do their dueling elsewhere rather than here at the farm. Then again, Raphael still had his doubts about her and so he wanted to be witness to it, just in case he was right about Karai. Leo's getting soft in the head; maybe he's going nuts like Mike.
As Mike sat there on the porch swing, he suddenly asked, effectively distracting Raph from his silent musings, "Didn't Marie have - another name?" A low growl rumbled from his throat, "What was it again?"
"Mike, don't worry about it," Raph hushed quickly and gave his brother's knee another pat, "She's just Marie," he sighed, looking up at Don, shaking his head. He caught his brother's eye and as Don glanced his way, Raph mouthed, "Don't like this," and indicated his head towards the two on the lawn.
Don walked around to the other side of the swing, where Raphael sat, and stooped down to whisper into his ear, "No more letting Mike watch them practice, okay?"
"Yep, couldn't agree more!"
"What'd you agree?" Mike asked innocently.
"Um, that Leo's getting his butt kicked!" Raph said quickly.
Mike snorted and barked a laugh, one edged with an all too-familiar lilt, like the way he used to laugh, before the stroke. Then he went silent again.
Suddenly, Klunk stood up from his resting spot and stretched, meowing, and Mikey's face erupted into a smile, "Hey, Klunkie, you hungry?"
As if in answer, the cat meowed a second time, then jumped off his lap, and trotted inside the house through the opened front door.
As Mike tried to stand up, Raphael gently wrapped an arm around his brother's shoulders, to keep him seated. Mike would probably end up feeding the cat pizza for dinner rather than dry food and fill his bowl with Raph's beer instead of water. "I filled his dish a while ago, Mikey," Raph assured, "he'll be fine."
Mike sighed, "Okay, Raphie, if you say so," and then he went back to observing Leo and Marie. After a few minutes of watching them, Mike asked, "Is Leo fighting or are they just having fun?"
"Fun, Mikey, they're just having fun." Don replied softly and Raph squeezed his little brother's shoulder again.
"I like having fun," the youngest turtle smiled lopsidedly, "I want to stab her over and over and…"
"Anyway," Raph interrupted softly, pulling Mike into him and quelling his brother's disturbing words. He looked up at Don, whispering, "Don't think this is a good idea, Donnie. I don't care how much she's changed, physically or otherwise. There's always that chance…"
"Raph, with all the times she's visited these past two months," Don replied, his own voice softened, "don't you think that something would have happened by now?"
Raph finally sighed, "Well, yeah, I guess. But it's still – dangerous…if not of her, then because of – our brother here." He rubbed Mike's head and then continued to watch as the two on the lawn as they practiced, with Mike next to him, silent now, his face as impassive as before, his loquacious moment gone, overwhelmed by his dementia. His eyes had a vacant expression, as if he was…somewhere else entirely.
Once more, the ringing of clashing weapons sounded, drawing everyone's attention to the two fighters again. The pair was now having a war of words as they threw insults at each other, while two members of the 'audience' grinned in amusement.
"That's the poorest excuse of a tsuki."
"Hey, whatever works, Leonardo. Besides, you were cheating and that forced me to improvise."
"I did not cheat!" Leo insisted as he deflected Marie's sword as it came at him.
"Did too!" she grounded her teeth and pressed the issue, forcing Leonardo to take a step back by executing two swift replies with her ninjaken.
Leo pivoted away, though, and effectively avoided her weapon, "All's fair in love and war," he declared, grinning, and successfully parlayed another series of strikes by his opponent as she continued her assault.
"Who said it's either?" Marie snorted, then grinned victoriously when she forced him back three steps. So far, she was winning, and then Leo would have to pay up.
Suddenly, Leo moved to his right and executed a flourish with his ninjaken, and Marie tried to follow suit, to match his direction, deflecting his weapon. Abruptly, he changed directions, dodging left.
Unfortunately, she hadn't anticipated his changeup and by the time she realized her mistake, it had effectively left her wide open.
And, Leo took advantage of it, too!
Before she could react, Marie found her legs swept out from under her, forcing her to the grass with a muffled 'thump', with Leo's weapon at her throat almost immediately.
"I win!" he declared.
"Only because you tripped me!" Marie tried to kick Leo's legs out from under him as well, but he jumped clear of her attempt.
Landing nearby, "Unless I'm mistaken," he laughed, "it's called ninjitsu. Which means, anything goes." He looked down at her, his smile still plastered on his face, and then went over to offer a hand to the woman.
Brushing it away, Marie snapped, "I don't need help getting up." When she tried to right herself, though, a sharp pain ripped up her backside, "Ouch!"
"You okay?" Concerned, Leo stooped down next to her and slipped an arm behind Marie's shoulders for support.
"I said," the woman snarled irritably, shrugging from his offer, "I can get up on my…" and then she grimaced, "Ow…"
Next thing she knew, Karai was in Leonardo's arms as he lifted her up off the ground. "You're hurt," he declared, concerned, and then looked down at where Marie had just lain a moment earlier. He shrugged, smiling wryly, "Or, you landed on a rock."
The woman followed his gaze and noticed the stone, right where she had been, before Leo picked her up. When she turned back around to him again, Marie found her face uncomfortably close to his. Suddenly, she was squirming out of Leonardo's embrace, "Put me down…NOW!" She gave a worried glance towards his family on the porch and hissed under her breath, "or you'll give your brothers something to gossip about."
Leo smiled and released the woman, standing Marie in front of him, "Now, why would I do that?" he smirked.
Scowling, she chided, "You need a hobby, you know that?"
"I thought I had one…"
"Sparring with me is not a hobby, Leonardo."
"No, I guess it's not…but it certainly is…my pleasure!" Leo smiled wide and bowed.
"I thought so," and he laughed.
"Hey, lovebirds," Raph called out, "you done for the day, cuz we're hungry."
"Raphael, you had better watch your mouth!" Marie offered a withering glare at the turtle, "we're just…friends."
Raph chuckled, "Yeah, like Romeo and Juliet!" and then flinched to the right when a ninjaken flew towards him. Fortunately, in that same moment, Klunk hopped onto Mike's lap, distracting him from Marie's reaction, otherwise it would have been anyone's guess with how the afflicted turtle would have responded.
Nevertheless, Raph still sat there, stunned – and quite relieved, too. The ninjaken had missed him – deliberately, of course - and was now lodged into the wood siding of the house just inches to his left. As it wobbled up and down from the impact, Raph eyed the sword, and then looked over at Marie, who stood there on the lawn, an impish smile on her face. "Okay, okay," he implored, hands up in surrender, "You win," and then Raphael urged Mike up from the swing. "Your 'just' friend." He then pulled his brother up from the swing, effectively dumping a confused Klunk to the floor, "Com'on, bro, let's go inside and get some grub."
"I like food, Raphie, not worms."
Raph rolled his eyes, "Okay, food it is, Mikey," and then Mike obeyed as he moved towards the door. As Raph herded his brother inside the house, he mouthed to Don, "See, still dangerous!"
"Hey, so's your mouth, so do as the lady says and watch it!"
"I'll watch it, all right, but you watch m'back, 'kay?"
"I'd rather watch her, she's prettier."
"Should I be jealous?"
Raph laughed, "You wish!"
Don bopped him in the arm and the two laughed, and then followed Mike and his brother into the house.
Leo watched them leave and then turned and grinned at Marie, "And, because I won, it's your turn to cook!"
"I thought it was your turn."
"I said I would cook if you won – but you didn't, so you get to cook."
Marie huffed, "But, you cheated, we weren't supposed to use kicks or anything like that. We were practicing kendo."
"You're just a sore loser," and before Marie could counter Leo's comment, he added, "Ninja should be ready for anything and you, my dear, are – out of shape!" He laughed and then turned, quickly sprinting for the house.
"Hey," Marie complained, chasing after him, "I am NOT out of shape, you cheated!"
"You still have to make dinner!" he called back cheerily.
"Fine, then," she smiled evilly, "It's…mac 'n cheese tonight," and Marie chuckled at Leo's groan, knowing how much Leo hated it.
As the two made it to the porch in tandem, Sudan looked up from where his owner had tethered him. Ears pricked forward, he called out with a long sustained whinny, as if reminding Marie that he, too, was hungry, but she ducked inside the house anyway and disappeared. When she didn't come back out, the stallion snorted unhappily. He stared a while longer, but when nothing but an empty porch stared back he dropped his head to the ground again to graze. He wandered as far as his lead would let him and then, suddenly, Sudan found a new mound of clover! He nickered happily, quickly ripping the multi-leaved weed from its roots, and chewed as if he'd found a stash of carrots. Soon he forgot about Marie, Leo, and the others, his mind and his nose more interested in searching for more of his favorite snack, and for the moment…content.
X x x x x x x
A/N – For those who need to know, tsuki is the name applied to a throat thrust or hit. In the case of Leo and Marie (Karai), she feigned the attempt…for obvious reasons.
Anyway, there it is, my take on what would happen if…Karai truly discovered how evil The Shredder had been and what would she have done about it. Now, I know that some readers might say that, right or wrong, Karai would have remained loyal to Saki and the Foot clan, the dictates and precepts of her heritage stronger than her moral core. Yet, we all know how skewed the Shredder's precepts were, as well as his moral core, so, yeah, it asks the question. In any event, taking this perspective twenty or thirty years into the future might give us a different Karai, a different Leo, or Don, or Raph. Certainly, it gave us a different Mikey – poor guy. I might actually explore how he came to be so…afflicted, too. But, for now, this story is finis.
And a big thanks for reading and for all who reviewed, a big hug from me. Given the light inclusion of the turtles, your encouragements kept me a'writin'. :0)