SHE IS: Sister
Two of Four.
I ain't headin' back to the lair now.
Not in the state I'm in, that's for damn sure.
I can already see the look of disapproval creasing Leo's face, the flare of worry on Donnie's, the twisted mirth on Mikey's. The patient disapproval and concern on Splinter's.
So instead I crouch on a roof ledge, a thousand feet in the air above the humming streets below, clutching my arm and wincing. I'm leaning against a gargoyle, an intractable stone guardian of the night, swearing under my breath.
Oh I'd fixed him. Don't you worry. Creep ain't gonna been hurtin' anyone else for a long while. But not before he'd got a good shot in on me.
I think the blood was beginning to still and though a fiery pain still flared in my shoulder, it was bearable.
Bullet wound. Just surface. But it shouldn't even be that.
I should never have let that happen. He should never have got the opportunity.
Lousy. Clumsy. Careless. Sloppy.
My rage propels me forward then. I leap from this roof downwards, land against the slope of the one below, dart forward and somersault in the air, landing heavily several feet ahead, on the flat roof of an apartment block. I keep runnin', gritting my teeth against the pain and snarling, trying to outrace my anger. Power lines keep me going, then clotheslines, canvas awnings, steel ledges, concrete hard and rough beneath the soles of my feet and the palms of my hands, bent knees and thick muscle absorbing the shock of landings, the power of my upper body hurtling me through the air, balanced by the strength in my lower. I attack the night like a battering ram, splitting it in two, so that it leaps either side of me, scorched by my fury.
Finally, heavily, I stop, panting and chest heaving. My efforts have stressed the wound and it's bleeding freely again. I curse, loudly this time, and drop to my knees, punching the hard cement of the roof I'm on. Hard enough to split my knuckles open and I shake my wrist violently so droplets of blood go splattering out into the dark.
I clench my jaw and hiss, wanting something to smash. Wanting that goon back, wishing I'd hurt him more. Wishing I'd – killed him?
I slump over, still breathing heavily and place my palms on the roof. Slowly, slowly, my breath calms and I get hold of myself. My vision clears, it's no longer so mottled with red. The roaring in my ears subsides and I take one long breath in then let it out in a heavy gush. The night air is cool and still about me, drying the sweat on my body.
I sit up and look about me and almost laugh to see where my rage has brought me.
I drop down onto the firescape, to the second floor windows. It's only a small building this one. Two storeys, not counting the basement. The first is occupied by an antique store, the second by its owner. Our friend.
She's in her kitchen, making herself a cup of something hot and jumps a little when I poke my head in the window.
"Hey." I mutter, dropping onto the linoleum and she gasps and smiles.
"Raphael! Hey! What are you doing here?" She comes forward to give me a hug and I grudgingly allow it, turning my wounded shoulder away from her. Crazy girl. I can never quite figure how she's always so damn happy to see us.
When we first met April, I went out of my way to avoid her. I just didn't see the point in fawning all over her like the others did. Could only bring trouble, I figured. I mean, who was she anyway? How did we know we could trust her? We didn't.
So anytime she was over, I made myself scarce. I went to her place only if the others insisted and then I sat in a corner and scowled the whole time. I thought we were being idiots and outright told Leo so and there was an argument about that.
"All these years of hidin', runnin' scared of anyone topside, just to have that all brought apart by a freakin' woman?" I'd sneered at him and he'd shot me a long-suffering look, tinged with just enough venom to get me really going. "Great impartiality there, O Fearless One."
"You don't have to join us, Raph." He told me coldly. But I had to keep an eye on her. The others were too blinded by her smile and hair and that way she had to keep hitchin' up her slacks and – and – newness to notice if she got dangerous. I'd sit, arms folded, glaring at her and grunting at any conversation she directed my way.
Hell, yeah, I'll admit it – I was pretty fuckin' rude to her.
"Want a hot chocolate?" She asks me, turning back to her mug and dropping a marshmallow in. Her hair is pulled up on her head and she's wrapped in a terry-cloth robe and fuzzy slippers, looking so freakin' comfortable and homey it twists my stomach.
"I'd rather a beer." My voice is short, but it's not with her. I'm still pissed off at the night. She doesn't take it on, I guess she's used to it by now, the way the others are. Just moves silently to the fridge and opens it.
"A-ha, you're in luck. Casey left some here the other night." She hands me a can and I take it with my right hand, still keeping my left side turned from her. I'm not used to using the right and it takes me a second of fumbling to pop it open, which only serves to get my temper flaring again and I growl and kick at her kitchen cabinets in frustration.
She raises her brows at me, alarmed now.
"What is it, Raph? What happened?"
"Nothin'", I grumbled. "Leave it."
"Come and sit down." She patted the space next to her at the table but I just turn further away, glaring out the window.
"I'd rather stand."
Finally, she was too curious, and got up and moved over to me, grabbing hold of both my forearms and turning me towards her. If it had been any of my brothers, they'd have been sucker-punched for the effort. But this was April. So I let her, though I didn't like it.
"What's going on – " she began then gasped as she caught sight of my shoulder. "Raphael! What happened to your arm! You're hurt!"
"Just a flesh wound," I mumbled, waving her off. "Leave it alone, it's fine."
"It's bleeding all over the place!"
"Looks worse than it is." I should just go. I could get out the window quicker than she could stop me. Not that she could stop me.
Of course she didn't deserve it. The way I treated her. I knew it, too, and it just made me madder cos I couldn't seem to stop. She'd never interrupt me if I was training or working out – which I usually was. But when I stopped she'd come over to me – to "chat". Try and talk to me and me – I was just hostile. Short. One word replies and grunts. Hey, I never claimed to be a good conversationalist. That's Mikey's domain. And besides, I couldn't figure out what the hell she wanted. Why the hell she'd want to talk to me. What was in it for her.
I was a damn stupid kid.
She's pushed me into a chair, her big green eyes all wide and worried. "Don't you move!" she threatens me as she rushes to the bathroom and my eyes flit to the open window. Just go. I don't need this hysterical female crap. A lot of fuss over nothing. My arm is throbbing, it's a little uncomfortable, but I've had worse. Far, far worse.
She comes back with the first aid kit, scrubs her hands in the sink.
"Shit, April, you don't need to worry about this," I try to resist, twisting my shoulder away as she comes at me with a damp cloth. "Just leave it the fuck alone, okay?" I grumble, but she persists, moving to clean the wound. I grasp her wrist in one hand and hold her firmly and maybe a little too hard. "Leave it." I snap, narrowing my eyes at her. She stares back at me, calm and firm and I have to lower my eyes, dropping them to the gold and blue table cloth, reddy-orange spots dotting it in several places. Pizza sauce.
"Raphael, I am not letting you move until I have cleaned this mess up, so you can just forget about trying to bully me. You got that, buster?" Her voice is stern and completely without fear and, ashamed, I release my grip. But still I let my displeasure be known with a heavy sigh as she begins to wipe away the blood, gently and carefully sponging it up.
One day, a month or so after we'd all met, we happened to be alone together in the Lair. I'd been out with Casey the night before and had wagged off the morning run claiming sickness. April had evidently come over while the others were out and decided to wait. I emerged from my bedroom, yawning and rubbing my eyes only to see her there, below, reading one of Leo's books and curled up on the sofa. She didn't look up until I'd leapt down, landing with a thump on the ground below. She'd smiled at me.
"Hey! Thought there wasn't anyone here."
I'd grunted again and got a soda and some cold pizza from the fridge as she started chattering away at me. Sheesh. Women. How they could manage to talk so much about nothin' amazed me. Or at least, how this one did.
I didn't really know any other women.
She was going on and on about how her new business running her dad's old antique store was doing well but costing her a lot in – "overheads" – whatever they were, and she was hoping the advertising would pay off, but she'd cleared out a lot of the old stock from the storage rooms and had put aside quite a few pieces she thought we could use. Her hands punctuated the words she spoke, flitting through the air like little white birds, and her hair was loose, tumbling all over her shoulders. Usually it was pulled back. I hadn't realised it was so long. She had to keep flicking her head to get it off her face and whenever she did the light caught her green eyes and made them sparkle, her long white neck stretching. I'd come to sit on the armchair beside her and suddenly found I couldn't quite stop staring at her, pizza forgotten and abandoned on the coffee table in front of me.
April exhaled in relief as she finished cleaning me up. "It is really just a scratch," she said and I shifted, edgily in my chair.
"Told you so." I muttered and she made a noise at me.
"But it could've been worse," she' admonished and I shrugged. "I'm glad you came by. Knowing you, you'd of just gone home and hidden it away from everyone."
"What's wrong with that?" I snapped and regretted it. She didn't deserve that.
She disinfected the wound and I clenched my jaw to keep from hissing.
"Well, what if it had been worse?" She pointed out sensibly and I looked away, staring ahead at the big bright magnets dotting her fridge, blob creatures or something.
"Well. It wasn't." My voice is low and growly but there's no fight in it. She puts plaster across the wound, taping it down firmly. I take a swig of beer and it's cold and bitter in my mouth, taking my mind off the ache.
"May I ask what caused it?" She's not probing, just curious, sitting back beside me and cupping her hot chocolate between both hands, staring at me with gentle eyes, one lock of red hair falling across her eyes. My gaze flickers onto it, the gold highlights in it picked up by the overhead light. I decide to tell.
"April…" my voice was hoarse in the quiet of the lair and she'd stopped talking and looked at me, brows raised inquisitively.
I'd swallowed around my suddenly dry throat, feeling strange and unreal. It wasn't unusual for me to be overcome by a desire to do something – to act on that desire – to be propelled forward by impulse. It's just usually that desire was sparked off by anger. Not like that. I never could help myself when it hit me. And it hit me then. There was no stopping what I was about to say – it went hurtling through me even as my heartbeat had risen to a deafening thud and my gut plunged.
"Could I – touch your hair?"
"Oh Raph," she sighed, her expression falling, stricken. I couldn't look at her so I looked back down at the stained tablecloth, scraping my fingertips over it roughly. I braced myself and waited for the inevitable lecture to come, the lecture I could've got from Leo or Splinter. But she said nothing and in the silence that followed the hum of her refrigerator rose up. We sat there quietly in the bright yellow of her tiny kitchen and my temper suddenly fled me, released in one weary exhale. She got up and opened the fridge, got herself a beer and popped it taking a long, hard swig before sitting back down beside me.
I continued scratching at those sauce stains, the ache in my arm subsiding to a dull numbness. Then I blurted:
"They don't get it, you know, but I just can't let those scumbags keep gettin' away with it! It ain't right! Somebody's gotta do somethin' – and it seems like it's gotta be me! Who else will? So it's a risk – big deal – I'd rather take a bullet in the arm than let some poor girl get – well, she didn't, did she, because I was there. I was there. And I kicked the living snot outta that creep." My voice rose in the quiet kitchen and my head snapped up and I could feel my eyes blazing. "And I'm glad – I'm glad –and I'd do it again!"
I was heaving again, jaw clenched, challenging her to say something. To disagree. To argue. She stared back at me steadily, her brows just slightly creased, mouth in a straight, soft line, chin propped up in one hand.
Then she leaned across and covered my hand with hers. It was soft and warm against my split knuckles.
I'd sat beside her on the sofa, breathing constricted and short. She was smiling at me, lips pressed shut, gentle, eyes soft. She hadn't said no. She hadn't asked me why. Just smiled and said that sure, sure I could.
So I'd moved from the armchair, dragging each foot behind me, like I was in a trance, and sat beside her.
Then I'd hesitated, suddenly unsure, unable to deal with the crescent of intense feeling that was consuming me. I hadn't really got this close to her and really looked at her. Let myself notice her. She was so beautiful, so small and tiny. I could crush her, easily, snap her in two. It wouldn't even be an effort. Yet she let me sit beside her on the sagging old sofa without a trace of fear.
And my hand had floated out and I'd just barely noticed my fingertips were trembling and I'd felt ashamed and furious, hesitating again just momentarily before they plunged into her hair.
It was so soft. I hadn't expected that. I'd thought it might be more – more wiry – like Splinter's. But it wasn't. It was soft and cool and coiled over my fingers. She didn't move. Just kept on sitting there with that gentle little smile creasing her lovely face and waited patiently as I pawed her. It wasn't just one shade, that hair. It was shot through with strands of gold and darker, burnished orange, brighter red. As I moved it the light from the nearby lamp shimmered in its depth, constantly drawing my eye to dazzling new locks, each one unique in the way it shone beneath the light. I'd edged even closer and breathed in, drawing in the scent of it – fresh and clean, crisp in the dank and musty underground cavern. Sunny. It was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen, that hair.
Suddenly, I'd known why I'd been avoiding her.
And I think she knew too.
I've fallen silent, gripping the beer can in my free hand. I stare ahead, through the kitchen door to her lounge room. There's a movie on pause on the television, a bowl of cold popcorn sitting on the coffee table. She doesn't say anything, just squeezes my hand gently. I lift the can to my mouth and down the rest of the beer in one big gulp.
"I better go." I mutter and push my chair back, get up, pulling my hand away from hers.
"You're welcome to stay." She says and I know she means it. "I could do with the company."
"Nah." There's a part of me that wants to. But I won't. "I've taken up enough of your time. You should have a few hours to yourself, April." I manage a grin and she smiles back at me, eyes sparkling.
"I'm not even sure how to be alone anymore!" She laughs cheerily. "But Splinter is probably waiting for you."
"Yeah." I crush the can in my fist, drop it in the bin beneath the sink and pause at the counter, looking back at her. She stands there, wrapped up in that pink robe, hair all messy and in her eyes. The plaster stretches across my flesh as I lift the blinds and I feel suddenly unburdened, warm and calmed. I want to put my arms around her but I don't dare.
She does it for me, her arms sliding below mine, along my sides, her cheek momentarily on my shoulder. I put one hand on her back, my other still holding up the blinds. Her hair smells as fresh and clean as I remember.
She steps back and I slip up onto the counter, slide out the window onto the fire escape below. Smells like rain. The moon is half full and the sky is cloudy, clouds a dark blot against it. I turn back to her. She's standing there, arms folded, watching me go with just the slightest twinge of worry on her mouth.
"Uh – April – " I begin, fumbling with the words, the way I always do when they're hard.
"I won't tell the others." She interrupts, a conspiratorial grin snaking across her face.
I pause. Look down at the steel grating below me.
"Thanks." Then I'm gone, moving swiftly upwards before she can respond to that one, tiny, clumsy and grossly inadequate word.
I wonder if she knows how much I'm thanking her for.
Many deep thanks to the wonderful Deirdre, for the hair-touching element. Inspired by her marvellous story, "Kill It", and used with her permission.