AN: Yet another one shot, brought to you by the oddity that is my brain. I don't consider it to be my best work, but since I wrote it on a small, crowded boat… in choppy waters… with a fish hook firmly imbedded in my thigh… it was the best I could do. :)
I hope you enjoy, gentle readers.
The beam of light that cut through the darkness wobbled dangerously as Casey's shoulder impacted the side of the sloping concrete wall. He let out a heartfelt groan that echoed strangely through the stinking drainage tunnel, and he nearly dropped the flashlight as his fingers spasmed in sympathy. Something chitenous and multi-legged scurried over his boot, and it was a true testament to his exhaustion that he didn't even try to kick it away.
A moment passed as Casey took a breather, his scraped and bruised shoulder pressed firmly against the dank, mold-streaked wall. It was this kind of blatant disregard for cleanliness that would have sent Donatello into a fit of doctoral wrath, which was just about the only thing the human would openly admit to fearing. But now not even the thought of the swarm of bacteria setting up shop in his shoulder was enough to make him move. The south side entrance to the lair was only a couple of yards away, visible even to the watery illumination of his flashlight, and Casey regarded it with the same trepidation one might usually reserve for a rabid alligator.
He had a good reason for his anxiety. The second he stepped over that threshold, Splinter was going to kill him.
He had made claims like that before, but this time he was certain it wasn't an exaggeration. He was going to walk into the lair and be beaten to death by a pissed off rat with a terrycloth robe and an oak cane. Ordinarily he would protest such an undignified end, but right now he couldn't bring himself to object much. It was all his fault, after all.
He grimaced at the memory of his own voice, only a few hours ago, suggesting that they go for a ride on their respective, newly-refitted motorcycles. And when their typical lawbreaking, ball-busting play attracted the attention of a van full of Purple Dragons, Casey had been the one to encourage pursuit, his blood singing with the prospect of a not-so-friendly game of tag.
...And now Raph was gone, and Splinter was going to kill him.
Turning off his flashlight with an air of resignation, he clipped it to his belt and pushed himself away from the wall, staggering forward blindly. He had walked this path a thousand times before, and his treacherous feet took him surely over to the lever hidden behind a latticework of pipes that surrounded the entryway. The door slid smoothly to the side with a sound like a tired snake, flooding the tunnel with light. Casey's shoulders slumped, and he stepped through with all the enthusiasm of a death row inmate facing the gas chamber.
It was quiet and blessedly warm inside, and the air was faintly perfumed with the aroma of sugar cookies. Probably Mikey's doing.
The sheer normalcy of it all was enough to tighten Casey's throat like a garrote, and he had to put a hand on the table by the doorway to stop his suddenly weak knees from giving out on him. This action rattled the table, causing a wax-marred candlestick to topple over. It hit the scarred wooden surface with a clatter that sounded unnaturally loud in the stillness of the lair.
Despite the unusual quiet, apparently someone was still there, for Casey heard a door open and the muted padding of running feet. An instant later Don appeared, his bo held lightly in his grip, his face fixed in an expression that promised a severe headache for any uninvited guests. The look changed to one of surprise, however, as he took in the sight of the human half-collapsed by the doorway, apparently remaining conscious by effort of will alone.
The turtle propped his bo against the wall and hastily went over to him, grabbing the man's arm and looping it about his shoulders. "Geeze, Case," he said. "You look like you lost a fight with a wood chipper."
Casey stared at the green face only a few inches from his own and felt his heart drop down to his boots. How could he tell his friends that his recklessness had cost them a brother? How could he tell them how sorry he was, without it sounding hollow?
He swallowed hard and said hesitantly, "Donnie, I-"
The mere act of speaking reopened the split on the inside of his cheek, and he nearly pulled Don over when he started coughing from the blood that trickled down his throat. Don's eyes narrowed, and he half carried the red-faced man over to the couch. He set him down gently and raised a warning hand when Casey tried to speak again.
"Sit. Stay. Don't talk," he said sternly.
Casey had been treated by Don often enough for that tone of voice to command instant obedience. As Don disappeared into the kitchen, Casey hacked one more time and spit a mouthful of bloodied saliva into his palm, which he absently wiped off on the calf of his still damp jeans. God, he felt like crap.
Don reappeared a moment later, with a glass of water in one hand and a battered first-aid kit in the other. He pressed the glass into Casey's shaking hands and told him to drink it slowly, before dropping to one knee in front of his patient and setting the kit down on the floor. He began rifling through it as Casey used both hands to lift the glass to his lips. The water tasted better than anything he had ever had before, and it took effort not to down it in a single huge gulp.
Once Don had pulled several items from the kit and laid them on the couch in a neat row, he reached out and carefully peeled the remains of Casey's shirt away from his shoulder. The cloth was surprisingly damp, and it brought with it a nose-wrinkling aroma that was hard to forget.
"What did you do, go for a swim in the Hudson?" Don grumbled. Casey hissed out a curse as the turtle swabbed antiseptic over the wound, which turned out to be a nasty case of road rash that started at the top of his shoulder and curved like a shark's tooth down to his bicep.
"Almost," Casey rasped, his throat still feeling raw. "Donnie, something's happened-"
"That was a rhetorical question," Don said patiently, as if speaking to a slightly dim-witted child. "Now stop talking until you rehydrate."
Casey suppressed a growl and sipped dutifully at the water, secretly grateful for the reprieve. What he was about to say would shatter Don's world, and anything that put off the inevitable for a little while longer was a gift.
One last strip of surgical tape secured the bandage to Casey's shoulder, and then Don ran his hands carefully through the human's stringy hair, checking for hidden head injuries. He found none, but long experience had taught him caution, and so he pulled out a small penlight and peeled back Casey's right eyelid. Casey's vision filmed over with protective tears as Don shined the light critically into his eye, before moving on to the other.
The headache that pounded in his temples had almost evolved into a full-blown migraine by the time Don clicked off the light with a grunt of satisfaction. Casey set the empty glass on the floor and ground the heels of his hands into his eyes, attempting to force out the spots that marred his vision.
"Well, your pupils are dilating nicely, so it doesn't look like you have a concussion," Don said. "That's good."
Taking this as his cue, Casey lifted his head and fixed the turtle with a regretful expression. It was truth time, and it was gonna suck. "Donnie…"
"Your shoulder will hurt for a while," he continued obliviously, double-checking the bandage, "but as long as you go to the hospital in the morning for an antibiotic shot, it probably won't fall off."
"Although I don't know how you managed to get road rash on just your shoulder. That must have been one hell of a fancy skid-"
"Raph's dead, Donnie!"
That shut him up. Don's eyes widened and he said, "What are you talking about? Raph's not-"
But once Casey had begun his confession, he wasn't about to let a little thing like denial stop him. "We were chasing a pack of Purple Dragon scum tonight, and we managed to corner them on the Willis Avenue Bridge. We were kicking some major ass, and most of them were down for the count, but… but then there was an explosion. The van's gas tank blew, and I guess there was something explosive stored in the back, 'cause the concussion was powerful enough to knock me over the side. Raph was right next to me, so it must have done the same thing to him. It was a damn miracle that I wasn't knocked out when I hit the water, but I was still swept pretty far downriver before I was able to get myself to shore."
"Listen to me-"
"I looked everywhere for him!" he shouted, his voice thick with anguish and guilt. "I spent hours combing that side of the river, and I even jumped in again and tried diving for him." Casey buried his fingers in his hair and gripped clumps of the filthy curls, tugging hard in a fit of self-hatred. "Didn't do any good, though. The current must have carried him away."
"Casey Jones, you idiot, he's-"
"He's dead," the downcast human growled, sounding angry and resigned. "He's dead, and it's all my fault."
"And just where the hell have you been, jackass?"
That voice was as familiar as his own name, and Casey's head snapped up so fast his neck vertebrae popped. "Raph?"
"Who else would it be?" Raphael grumped, walking towards them as quickly as his bandaged knee would allow. He came to a halt a few feet away and stabbed an angry finger at Casey, who was watching him with a stunned-bunny expression. "Don't ever do that to me again. I thought the Dragons had kidnapped your idiot ass!"
"That's what I've been trying to tell you, Case," Don said, sounding both exasperated and amused. "Raph got knocked out by the blast, but he didn't get tossed over the side like you. He came home a few hours ago and told us what happened. Leo and Mikey are out looking for you even as we-"
Once again, he was interrupted, for Casey chose that moment to launch himself off the couch like a bottle rocket. Raph had just enough time to think that moving might be a good idea, before he was bowled over by 176 pounds of muscle-bound, filthy human. There was a confused moment as the two rolled away from the couch in a tangle of flailing limbs and wheezing curses, before the scene swam into focus with Casey's right arm wrapped around Raph's neck in a gesture that was half hug and half headlock.
Even as Raph drew up his leg to kick the man in a place best left a mystery, Casey shifted his grip into a more definite hold and gave him a hard noogie across his bald pate. "If you ever freak me out like that again," he growled, "I'll kill you myself."
"Me freak you out?" Raph protested, reaching up and grabbing Casey's wrist, stopping the abuse to his skull. "You're the one who disappeared on me the whole damn night, and then came back smelling like dead fish!"
"So what?" Casey said with a grunt of effort, fighting to break the turtle's iron grip. "Like it's any worse than your usual stench."
And then they were off again, tussling in a violent expression of relief and male bonding. Don shook his head at this gratuitous display of testosterone and began calmly gathering up the remaining medical supplies. As he was closing the lid to the kit, he became aware of the barest whisper of movement behind him, noticeable to his trained senses even over the duo's cursing and clatter. He nodded respectfully to Master Splinter, who returned the gesture before focusing his attention on the source of the unholy racket.
The aged rat blinked in mild bemusement. "Tell me, Donatello, why is your brother attempting to strangle Mister Jones with his own arm?"
Don was about to answer when a wild war-whoop suddenly cut through the din, quickly followed by a muffled thump and an outraged yell. Casey had apparently escaped the chokehold and was now attempting to bludgeon Raph to death with a couch cushion.
The brainy turtle shook his head with an air of longsuffering. "It must be a macho thing."
AN (again): I just wanted to give a quick shout-out to those wonderful people who reviewed my 'Quietus' fic. To The Peanut Gallery, Sewer Slider, Reinbeauchaser, Winnychan and Rainne - ennaiR... Thank you all so much! (Huggles)