Drowning in Life
Eleven months after Victoria had met Splinter, Raphael watched her from the shadows, seeing how she was falling asleep upon the couch, her head upon Splinter's knee. They had been watching V for Vendetta, a movie that Raphael took personal interest in. Donatello loved it for the intellectual tricks it brought you for, and Michelangelo liked it for Natalie Portman. Leonardo didn't like it, oddly enough. He saw it once, and never watched it again. Whenever it was put on, he was suddenly out of the room, claiming to need practice or other such excuse.
Nobody knew why Splinter liked it.
Seeing his other two brothers engrossed in the movie, just at the point where V was setting his dominoes in place, the second eldest of the four brothers walked down to stand behind Splinter, watching not the movie, but the young woman's sleeping face. He blinked, realizing that his father was watching him, and he shifted somewhat uncomfortably. But Splinter spoke quietly. "Could you help Tori to her room, my son? It has been too long of a day for her."
Nodding once, he moved nervously to the other side of the couch, carefully shifting his arms beneath the sleeping young woman and picking her up. Cradling her against the shell upon his chest, he looked up to see Donny's gaze upon him. Mikey was still staring at Natalie on the screen. Biting the inside of his lip, Raphael ducked his head a little, silently promising not to drop her, hit her head against doorframes, or anything of the sort. Donny also stood, whispering, "I'll get the doors."
On the way out of the room, Raphael whispered, "Thanks."
"No problem . . . but . . . tell me something . . ."
"Was Mikey right in saying that you felt that she fits in with us?"
Nodding, Raphael whispered, "Yeah."
"He almost said something else, but then got all quiet and happy-looking. Should I ask?" Quickening his pace, he walked to Tori's door, opening it.
"No." Raphael whispered. "That's somethin' he somehow weaseled outta me, an' he gets the privilege of knowin' what it is for a while."
"Will you tell me eventually?"
Pausing right in front of his brother, Raphael grinned widely. "No."
Donny grinned back, shaking his head and walking away. He and Raph got along oddly well. His eldest brother had a great mind when he chose to use it, and they could talk to each other on deep matters without getting lost. Usually, those conversations took many days, and with many interruptions within them, thanks to two other brothers who just didn't quit.
Closing the door almost completely with his foot, Raphael walked to her bed, setting Tori down carefully. She shifted as he pulled the comforter around her, tucking it up under her chin. Stroking a tendril of golden hair out of her face, he leaned closer haltingly, then sighed and rested his hand against her cheek softly, pressing his forehead to hers. One end of his red mask slipped to brush against one half-curled hand, causing it to clench slightly in reflex. With another deep breath, this one softer, Raphael kneeled, resting his chin upon his left arm, which had been resting parallel to the edge of her bed. His right curled loosely around his left, shielding the lower half of his face from Tori's view, had she opened her eyes.
"Raph! What are you doing?"
Bristling, Raphael didn't look over his shoulder. "Go away, Leo."
"You get out of her room, first!"
"Go away, Leo, or you'll wake 'er up."
The door swung open, illuminating her face. She flinched away from the light, and Raphael shifted to keep his shadow over her eyes. Leonardo hissed again, "Out of her room."
"Leo!" Michelangelo called quietly. "What is your problem?"
Leonardo jerked his chin in Raphael's direction. "He snuck into her room!"
"Uh, Leon, dude, Splinter just asked him to bring her in after she fell asleep on the couch."
Michelangelo walked over to peer into the room. "Aw, she's cute when she's sleeping."
"Mikey, she ain't completely settled. Close th' door," Raph repeated, turning his head just enough to see the doorway from the corner of his eye. "Please."
"Why don't you do it, Raph?" Leonardo sneered, the unquenchable, undescribable anger welling up within him again.
Raphael curled a lip, but began to rise. Some things had to be ended quickly, and this was one of them. Sure, he'd close the door, but he'd stay inside the bedroom. His bandana slipped against Tori's hand again, and she grabbed at it loosely in her sleep. Pausing immediately, Raphael looked down at her. Donatello had arrived at the door as well, and his whisper was reverent. "Hey, Raph, keep her settled. April's here, and she just told me and Splinter that Tori's been running herself ragged with the wedding plans."
"Leonardo!" Splinter's strong voice echoed gently through the halls. Being a master in almost all arts, their father and sensei knew just how to pitch his voice so as not to rouse a sleeping individual while summoning a fully awake one.
Whirling, Leonardo stormed off, leaving Michelangelo and Donatello to sag in relief behind his back. Mikey closed the door almost completely before the purple-banded brother of his could reach at it. Raph's voice was very subdued. "Thank you."
Donny paused, knowing that he risked Raphael's temper as he asked, "Was Splinter right, do you think? Is Tori . . . you know . . . softening you?"
Sighing, Raphael gently maneuvered his way out of her grasp to look out through the crack in the door. "Bro, only when it comes t' her. You make fun of it, I'll shove my sai so far up y'r--"
"Raph, dude, chill!" Mikey laughed, holding his three-fingered hands up. "It's all right, man. 'Sides. We didn't mention that April brought Leo's date down with her."
"NO! NO!! I ABSOLUTELY REFUSE TO HOST ANOTHER PERSON DOWN HERE!!!"
Raphael sniggered. "How long d'ya think--"
"DEAL WITH IT! I'M STAYIN'!!!"
The trio blinked, and then heard the sleepy chuckle from within the room. "Kayleigh's here. Awesome."
Raphael turned to look at Tori, then waved his brothers off. Wisely, they didn't make any teasing noises or kissing sounds. Donatello figured that he was too mature and above all that childish nonsense, and Michelangelo knew that he would have his shell forcibly removed and handed back to him if he dared to torment Raphael about it.
Walking back to her bedside, Raphael knelt and whispered, "Sleep, okay? Ya need it."
She curled closer to his head, her hand reaching out to gently brush fingertips along his own hand. He didn't move it, causing her to smile gently, then draw in a deep breath. "Will you stay?"
"Yeah . . ."
"Mikey, get away from there!"
"Donny, dude, my man, would you just look?"
"And risk getting killed? No, thanks."
Splinter walked up and rested his hand upon Michelangelo's arm, effectively moving him away from the door. He poked his whiskered snout into the room, then smiled at the sight. Raphael had fallen asleep kneeling at Tori's bedside, one arm cradling her head, the other resting over her hand. His head was almost resting against hers, his bandana neatly rolled and set at the head of the bed. The old master smiled. "Donatello, look."
Leaning cautiously over Splinter, the third-eldest just stared. His voice was a quiet whisper. "Wow."
"Come, sons. He shall have his training later in the day against the little bird. Michelangelo, go bring Leonardo to the dojo, then go back for Kayleigh. She shall be taking Raphael's place today in unarmed sparring."
"Is she that good?" Donatello asked as Michelangelo jogged off.
Closing the door, Splinter grinned, shaking his head. "She is a total and complete novice, and has never had an hour of training in martial arts in her life. Leonardo shall be teaching her."
". . . he's gonna have a stroke."
Laughing heartily, knowing that it was just what Leonardo needed training in the most, Splinter just lead the way into the training room. He waited patiently as Leonardo lead his youngest brother in, and then just as he turned to say something to him, blinked in confusion at the shell he saw walking back into the main compound. "Uh . . ."
"All weapons on the racks," Splinter commanded, having taken Michelangelo's when he had brought Leonardo in. He placed the nunchaku upon their rack, leaping nimbly to stand upon his wooden crate briefly before kneeling, closing his eyes to meditate. He knew exactly when Kayleigh had entered the room. Opening his eyes, not giving Leonardo a moment to dispute, he barked, "Donatello, Michelangelo, no holds barred. Tori will patch you up once she awakes, and I do not plan upon waking her." At their looks of concern to one another, he aimed his formidable gaze to Leonardo. "Kayleigh is a complete novice. You shall be beginning her training today. Begin."
Tori awoke three hours later to see Raphael watching her. Smiling, she stretched, then blinked at him again. "You took your bandana off."
"It's uncomfortable to sleep in," he replied softly, stiff from sleeping in a half-sitting position all night. He had no idea what to do in this situation. "We missed training this morning."
"Aw, crap. Splinter's gonna kill us . . ." Sitting up, her hair a tangled golden mess, Victoria yawned and rubbed at her pixielike face. "Do you know what they had covered this morning?"
"Sat here watchin' you sleep. Got a problem with that?"
Laughing, Tori shook her head, standing and walking to grab a change from the bag she had left down in this room in case she had fallen asleep in their lair. They were clothes that she could move around in easily, and with ease and grace, she walked behind a screen to change. "Why would I have a problem with you keeping vigil over me? It's sweet."
Not having anything to say to that, Raphael didn't speak, waiting until she was out before standing and picking his band up, tying it around his head with swift, sure movements. Leaving first, he walked right into Donny, who grabbed his arm with wide honey-colored eyes, whispering, "Don't. Annoy. Kayleigh."
Raphael blinked, firmly pulling his arm away from his younger brother. "Why?"
"Get back here!" the new voice called out.
Leonardo entered the hallway, every movement angry. He looked dead on at Raphael, then saw Tori looking out of the doorway. He pointed at her, then pushed her into her room very gently. Raphael followed, and Leonardo closed the door. "Look. I'm sorry about how I've behaved these last two months. Master Splinter just told me the reasons why you're down here. I didn't know, and--"
"I know," she said, cutting him off with a smile. "It was a blow to both your pride and honor, and I didn't think about that when I met you guys for the first time. All I wanted was to get you out of there before you could have been hurt any worse. That's all."
Leonardo sighed and nodded. "Yeah. I knew that, too."
"I am sorry for pulling that on you."
"I'm more sorry for my behavior these last two months."
Raphael interrupted. "Don't get inta this kinda conversation over who's more sorry than who. I'll kick both'a ya up to th' surface an' back if ya do."
Tori nodded, turning to look at Leonardo again. "About today, though. You're worried about what to do with Kayleigh."
"She . . . just . . . hell, woman, help me with her." Cradling his head in his hands, Leonardo sighed.
Tori punched his shoulder lightly, causing him to look up at her in slight shock. "I'll never listen to you unless it's imperative, Leonardo. But if you want me to be your sister, then I can do that for you."
"Please," he whispered, truly repentant.
"What did Kayleigh want from you?"
"To watch that damn movie . . ."
"V for Vendetta. Why don'tcha like it?" Raphael asked, still leaning against the door.
Sighing mightily, Leo looked at his elder brother, his dark brown eyes a mix of odd emotions, none of which seemed to mesh well with each other. "You really want to know? Because the hero of the movie reminds me of you. And I didn't want to ever admit that you could possibly be a hero."
"Because dat was your job, huh, Leo?" Raphael bristled, fists clenching. "Because my temper's too bad, is that it? You--"
Tori grabbed Raphael's arm, dragging him away from the door to open it and shove him through in his shock. "Training. You and me. C'mon, boy, before morning's done."
"Don't tell me what to do, woman!"
"You'll listen to me if you know what's good for you! Let's go, Raph!"
"You . . . you annoy me!"
"I know. It's my job. Come on."
Donatello watched after them, then looked at Leonardo. "So. You apologized. You know, it's not as hard as you make it out to be."
"What, admitting that I'm wrong?"
Shaking his head, Donny began walking away, his hazel eyes warm. "No . . . letting her in. I've got to go and talk with April and see about trying to worm out who my own date is going to be. Later."
As Donatello rounded the corner, Leo heard him say, "Leo? Yeah, he's right down the hallway."
Half-whimpering, he stood to face the temper and wrath of a woman scorned.
"You-" Punch. "-Said-" Parry, open-palmed swipe. "-That you'd-" Grunt . . . ow. "-Always take-" Kick, jump back to breathe. "It easy on me!"
"You pulled me away from a fight!" Raphael yelled back, bleeding from his lip, bruising from where her kicks had connected with him. Girl knew how to use those damningly wonderfully porcelain long legs of hers. He spat, raising his hands up into guard again.
Likewise, Victoria was also bruising, bleeding from her nose, and shaking from exhaustion, keeping her left leg away from Raphael. He had swept her off her feet, aiming at that leg, and it wasn't feeling quite right anymore. She looked far more worse than any of her previous fights, both on the street and down in their lair. "You left me no choice. I don't want you and him fighting right now."
"So ya walk all over me!"
"I didn't say that! I just don't want either of you hurt right now!"
"Really? So now you're buddy-buddy wit' Leo? So it was all a farce before?"
Without warning, Victoria's left knee buckled beneath her, and with a yelp of pain she went down. As a result of that, her breath was shaking, shuddering in and out of her lungs. The pain wasn't as bad as it had been before, but it would limit all her movements severely, if she was able to get back up before Raph got to her. But Raphael, instinctually knowing that something was wrong, walked over and knelt before her, eyes filled with concern, not an ounce of his guard up. He knew when someone was faking it, and when it was real. "Ya okay?"
"No . . . old injury. I'm sorry I pulled you away from a fight, but we don't need the two of you cutting each other up a month before April's wedding." She winced, trying to hide the tears of pain as her knee truly began to throb, as well as from the sudden and unexpected resurgence of her old injury. She thought that it had been taken care of years ago, and the knowledge that it was still weak frightened her.
"Yeah, well . . . don' do it again." Picking her up, he saw Splinter watching from the shadows, standing as still as a statue. With a sigh, he tucked her head beneath his chin as he made it to a bench and set her down, resting upon one knee as he did so. "Look, Tori . . . he and I need to beat th' snot outta each other from time to time. It keeps us sane."
"I-I know. You're both young males. It's like a dominance thing."
"Young? I'm twenty-one. That ain't young no more." Applying an ice-pack, he propped her ankle upon his upbent knee, pulling her shoe and sock off to press upon the sole of her left foot carefully. Donatello knew reflexology, and when something in his body felt out of whack, Raph went to him for help. He knew he would never be turned away, knew that Don would put everything aside to help his brothers. So naturally, he had picked up what had helped deal with the pain.
She groaned, sitting back and resting her head against the wall. Smiling, knowing that he had figured out something that she loved, he continued talking. "I mean, how old are you, s' that ya can call me a kid?"
"Almost twenty-three . . . Mmmm, that feels good."
He grinned wider, continuing to rub firmly at her foot. Sometimes his thumbs massaged, sometimes they pressed in hard, but it always, always, felt good. "Yeap. 'S why I'm doin' it. You can't say no."
". . . you're right. I hate you."
"No, you really don't."
"If you do my other foot, I'll be in your debt."
"What makes ya think dat you had a choice in th' matter? 'Sides, you can't run."
"Must you always be right?"
The four turtles were hiding in the loft of April's apartment, looking down at the small assembly of young women down there. Casey joined them, sighing. "Do you know how much this just . . ."
"Dude, do you see the one with the black hair?" Michelangelo interrupted, not wanting to hear anything other than confirmation of the cuties down below. He then sighed theatrically, peeking over the half-wall that went around the perimeter of the loft. "Wooow, what a babe."
"That's Miranda. She's Italian, and she's from Boston's North End. Great pasta cook and a good, solid person. She's your date, Mikey," Victoria filled in, crouching with them. She was supposed to be out on a date with Casey's best man, to get used to the guy before being asked to stand around all day with him. And that had been true; she and Raphael had been out on the roof alone for a while, talking over a few small and harmless pranks that they'd be pulling on the almost-wedded couple, just for the heck of it. And they had snuggled in the slightly-chilly air, leaning against each other for warmth.
Raph was sitting behind her, watching her quietly. His mind was still wandering back to when he had seen her in the shower, no matter how many times he wished that he could block it out. Those visions always came to haunt him at the times he really didn't need their pleasant distractions. So he memorized the spun-gold hair that she sported, how it curled almost into ringlets, and was barely held back in the loose ponytail holder that was resting at the base of her slender neck. She was slender everywhere . . .
Augh . . . he was never going to stop thinking about that night.
"So who's the redhead?" Donatello asked, having peeked around the banister and ducking back.
"Your date, obviously. Courtnae. She's from Canada, somewhere. I can never remember. But she's sweet, once you look past the lewd humor she sports. Kind, but also can bite with her words."
"So like Leo's swords . . . beautiful but deadly."
"About like that, yeah."
"I have the feeling that April and Master Splinter set it up like this on purpose," Leonardo said quietly, still discontented with his date.
"Not quite. Raph and I were a complete coincidence. But gets better," Tori said, smirking. "Both April and Casey came to Splinter first to see how you, Don and Mike would fit together with those three even before I knew that there were going to be more people in this wedding." She stood, walking down the stairs to greet her friends.
They looked at her in shock, and the one identified as Courtnae pointed a black-painted fingernail in the maid of honor's direction. "Hey, hot stuff. Why aren't you out on your date?"
"There and back. He's upstairs."
"Okay, that's just kinky. You got it on in the upstairs bedroom while we were down here? You are one twisted chick. Betcha it was in th' master bedroom, too. 'Course, that's only a guess. I don't know the lay of this new apartment."
Before Tori could laugh at the common joke that she and Courtnae shared, Casey's voice came from the upstairs landing. "Raph, dude, don't do it . . . Calm down, man, she's just kiddi-- Nonono!!"
The groom-to-be came scrambling down the stairs two seconds before Raphael leapt over the banister, landing in a crouch to glare at the redhead. "Look, ya little freak, I don't care who da 'ell you think ya are, but you do not insult April an' Casey's hospitality like that. And if I catch ya talkin' 'bout Tori like she's some kinda tramp again, I'll personally whip ya ass."
Leonardo's exasperated groan echoed through the sudden silence. Looking from one person to the next, Casey clapped his hands, rubbing them together. "Ooookay. This is uncomfortable . . . Wine coolers, anyone?" He made a bee-line to the fridge.
Kayleigh looked up at the solid half-wall that ran around the loft. "Leo, you comin' down, too?"
That snapped Miranda back into the present, and she did so with a shriek, which caused Mikey to tumble halfway down the stairs with shock. Raph looked ready to kill the women, which caused Tori to grab his arm and tug at him to sit at the kitchen table. Leonardo stalked down the stairs, looking to kill his brother when his own action caused Kayleigh to grab his arm and spin him towards the couch, getting him to at least stay over there, if not sit down. Donatello walked down the stairs laughing, picking Mikey up and shaking his head. He was the one calm one in the entire room.
Seeing the tension upon everyone's face, Michelangelo took a sniff, then asked, "Is the pasta stickin' to the bottom of the pan? 'Cause I smell good pasta burning."
"OhmyGod!" Miranda ran around Casey, who tossed a beer to Raph and handed a wine coolers to Tori and April. Pausing at the stove, Miranda looked over her shoulder at the orange-banded turtle, seeing him lean against the wall, not taking one step closer to her until she was comfortable with the turtles. Biting her lip, Miranda whispered in the silence, "Thank you."
"Dudette, burnt pasta is seriously bad mojo. It's almost worse than burnt pizza. By the way, can you make that? Pizza?"
"Any self-respecting Italian knows how to make at least bagel pizzas. Don't taunt me."
Courtnae snorted in amusement, then looked at Casey. "So these are your ushers, huh?"
"Yeah," came the tentative reply as he sipped at his drink, a touch shaken at how things had gone down.
"Donatello . . . the one who is currently touching the computer I told him not to touch!"
Raising his head up, the techie held up a box. "I'm installing your spare harddrive. You don't have the nerve to do so yourself, and April's too busy. I figured that while I'm here--"
"Which was meant to meet the ladies, and not play with my equipment!"
"You could barely run this thing, even with April telling you how to use it."
"Hey. Are you insulting my manly intuition?
"You want me to answer that? Because you know that I'll win."
"Guys, not in front of the girls," April said with a sigh. She watched as Courtnae walked over to watch Donny's hands as he pulled the computer apart methodically. "Okay, so I was going to break it to you guys normally, but I guess that Raph had other plans."
"I--" Raphael started, but was cut off by Victoria's words. "He wasn't quite given much of a warning. I said that she had a lewd sense of humor. I didn't tell him how bad it got."
"And I was about to say that you still have it bad, and that you need to be laid," Courtnae replied in an off-hand manner, grinning around her shoulder at her golden-haired friend. "And I'm still going to insist to put color in your hair."
"Not until after the wedding. I don't want the dresses to clash with anything else," April replied, cutting into the conversation. "So no screwing around with hair color. I've enough to worry about right now."
"Like how the first night's gonna be," Miranda said from the kitchen, giggling.
At Casey's blush, Raph finally unwound himself enough to crack a grin. "Hey, if I can make da ladies swoon, well . . ."
"Problem is that it's not love that they's swooning with!"
"Shut it, Mikey!"
"Guys, not now," Tori warned, laughing. At sharing a glance with bride-to-be, the two young women relaxed. Even if Miranda wasn't allowing Michelangelo any closer than the other side of the room, and even if Leonardo and Kayleigh wanted to kill each other on occasion . . . Courtnae and Donatello seemed to be hitting it off well, talking about how the newest Microsoft Windows version was ill-designed and what programs were best for what purposes. And as soon as Mikey and Leo started up an argument over what show should be watched and why, as men often do, April secretly watched Tori and Raph, seeing how the two were able to watch the ensuing chaos with eyes that saw so much deeper than the surface.
Much later that night, just before Casey went into his own room, the two were sitting upon their roof, alone, watching the moon through the clouds. The man kissed his woman's cheek, resting his chin upon her shoulder from behind. "What are you thinking?"
April took some time in answering. "Raphael and I have always been close. He's done everything he could to look out for me in his own way." Licking her lips, thinking upon how to finish the thought, she settled upon, "I'm glad that his crush for me dimmed in comparison of his respect for you."
"I was worried about that," Casey admitted. "So you think that Tori's gonna . . . y'know?"
"Yeah. She has it in her to love him back."