I have no shame in admitting this; I cried during this chapter. Take that, Ms. Rowling! Or Mrs., if she's married.
An author's note from the last chapter: A.J.'s supposed to be seventeen, not eighteen.
And finally, the Disclaimer: Don't own the Turtles, Master Splinter, or anything of that sort, nor do I own the movie White Christmas, though it has rapidly become one of my favorite Christmas movies."One of the greatest tragedies ever seen is beginning to turn around," the reporter was saying when the boys returned to the lair to find Master Splinter on the couch in front of the television, staring intently at the screen, a cup of tea in his lap and his walking stick leaning against the arm. The reporter was standing live on the scene, and they could see lights flashing red and blue, and firemen carrying victims milling around in the background.
"Boys," said Master Splinter as they sat down to watch the rest of the report.
"A section of portables that were believed by officials to be office buildings has actually been a dungeon for at least twelve women, all between the ages of fifteen and sixty," the reporter was saying. "The women are reported to be victims of the operation known as 'The Orphan Train,' and are in very bad physical condition, some of them being so weak they are unable to walk. The bodies of two unconscious have been found inside, though their identities are not yet known. Authorities are conducting an immediate, on-sight investigation while victims are being driven to hospitals for necessary care. We'll keep you posted as more details become available."
The on-scene report ended, and Splinter switched off the TV.
"Well?" he asked, standing up and his sons bowed.
They told him everything from beginning to end, only leaving out the part about Raf killing one of the four men. He said nothing, but listened patiently until they were finished, and took the gun from Leo's hand when he held it up.
"It's hard to believe A.J. would do such a thing," he said quietly, looking at it.
"She had her reasons," said Leo. "At least that's what she said."
The old rat drew in a breath, then let it out slowly.
"Very well," he said finally. "But she is safe?" They all nodded. "Good. Well done, boys." He turned and went into the room where they kept all the things they had collected from their past, and as he did so, Raf seized the opportunity to run and get the duffel bag he had stashed outside of the lair, well hidden from his brothers' sight. There was something in there that he wouldn't be needing anymore.
Master Splinter placed the empty pistol on a shelf, standing back to admire everything that his sons had been through, the gun yet another adventure, another chapter in their lives. Though he may not have approved of what A.J. had done, it had been her choice, and she would have to face whatever consequences that lay in store for her.
"You got room for one more?"
Raphael's voice broke his thoughts. He turned and saw him holding a motorcycle helmet with headlamps fixed onto the sides.
"By all means," he said, and his son placed the helmet on the shelf next to the gun.
"Think it's time to put the Nightwatcher up once and for all," he said. "Master, there's somethin' I gotta explain to you…"
The case of the Orphan Train was shot heard around America. Nothing of this scale of horror and obscenity had been seen since Jack the Ripper. There was hardly anyone you passed by on the street who wasn't talking about it, and nearly every newspaper and magazine had it in their headlines.
So it came as no great surprise when the court case was aired on national television. Down in their lair, all four brothers and their father stayed up well into the daylight hours, watching with baited breath as the lawyers, witnesses, and suspects spoke their pieces. The two men they had found alive in the Orphan Train's HQ, were being charged with the rape and torture of eighteen women, the murder of five of them, and the attempted murder of one of them: the only one who survived before the police bust.
A.J. was cool and stern-faced as she sat in the witness stand and gave her testimony, identifying the men on trial as the ones who had raped, beaten and shot her. She told her story in a calm, quiet fashion, never once raising her voice, something the defendants' lawyer ripped into her for, saying that she couldn't possibly be telling the truth because she was far too collected for someone who'd been through a traumatic experience. As he told the jury this, she simply looked at him and asked if he had gotten a degree in psychology instead of law.
"Ooh, burn baby!" yelled Mikey as she said this, and Leo made a mental note to give her a little extra thanks for that one. Not that he really could blame the lawyer, he was only doing his job, but he had an inkling that if he'd been the one to rescue A.J. that rainy night and witness for himself the wounds she'd suffered, he wouldn't be so keen to jump all over her.
Ten of the dozen women rescued were able to give testimony, but the other two had died in the hospital only a few hours after they were rescued: fifteen and sixteen year old sisters who were just too weak to survive the horrors that had been committed against them. The doctors had done everything they could to save them, but they were so far gone that it was too late. Other witnesses included some of the police officers and firemen who were present at the scene, doctors with DNA test results, and some of the family members of those who had been killed. The lawyer supporting those of the Orphan Train did the best he could, the best anyone could do in his situation, but the evidence was overwhelming, and the two were found guilty of all the charges set against them, landing them with two jail cells on Death Row.
The only thing that remained a mystery was the deaths of the other two men. A.J. had explained to the police what had happened, sticking to her story about the mysterious warriors in black, but she warned them that it would probably be unwise to release this information to the general public, and that this whole thing would be a big enough operation as it was, so there was really no need to involve anything more. The men were dead and their attackers preferred to remain anonymous, so they should just leave it at that.
In the end, A.J. and the surviving victims of the Orphan Train came up with a story that said that the two men who were alive were responsible for the crimes against them, and the other two were never mentioned at all.
For everyone who had been affected by the Orphan Train: the families of those who had died and those who had survived, the women themselves, and the turtles, the sentencing of the criminals was a collective sigh of relief and a unanimous cheer. At long last, after much heart and headache, tears and nightmares, the whole ordeal was finally over. Good had triumphed once again, and the bad guys had gotten what they deserved. The whole thing had taken nearly a month to finally resolve, the decision being reached the first week of December.
That night, A.J. came over to celebrate their victory, a tub of vanilla ice cream in one hand and a bottle of root beer in the other, her camera hanging from a chord on her wrist. Almost as soon as Leo entered the room with her, she was off her feet again as Mikey hugged her so hard she thought he would crush her. By the time the other two brothers had gotten through with her, her ribs were aching and her breasts were sore from being smushed so hard so many times.
But when she felt an arm slide gently around her waist from behind and turn her around, her heart nearly melted, and her pains were immediately forgotten. She stared into Leo's chocolate eyes, warmth washing over her in waves, happy for nothing better than to be with her hero again. During her involvement with the courts, she had been so busy that she hadn't had time to come over and see any of them, what with school in the morning, work in the afternoons, and working with the lawyers and other witnesses every free moment she had. She also had to deal with her father yelling in her face every chance he got. He had not wanted her to testify in court, claiming that it was not good for her, and that it was more trouble than it was worth.
"They'll never get convicted anyway: you're wasting your time," he had said, but by now, she didn't care what he thought, nor did she feel she had any reason to obey him.
Now it was over. The villains were on Death Row, and she was free. Bone-weary, but free. Now it was a time to party with her best friends in all the world, the ones whose supporting voices over the phone had been all she hung on to for the past month, unable to see them because of her hectic schedule. She had missed them all, but she had missed her Leo the most. Now that she was actually here, in his arms, looking up at his kind face, it was all she could do to keep from fainting right then and there.
""Mikey, Raf, come on," Donny said. His voice sounded far away even though he was right next to her, taking the ice cream, soda and her camera from her hands. "I think these two need a moment."
She would have rather had a year, or maybe forever, but if a moment was all they were allowed, then they would have to make the most of it. She put her arms around his neck, no words, no questions, no explanations as he leaned forward. Not too slow, not to fast, and she didn't have to wait long as she closed her eyes and let him kiss her. His tongue swirled through the corners of her mouth with an ease as though he'd done it all his life, and she wondered if she would either die or explode with happiness. Lip-locked, she felt him bend her backwards like she were a princess in a fairy tale, one of his legs between hers, his arms holding her tight in promise that she wouldn't fall. Wrapped up in each other, neither one of them realized that Donny had taken a picture with her camera, the first one of the evening. Looking at it later, they saw it really was a good picture, with them standing at the top of the staircase in each other's arms, and it would become their favorite.
"AAAAWWWW!!!" his three brothers chorused, applauding, and the lovebirds broke away, needing to breathe.
"I love you," Leo whispered.
"I love you too," she whispered back, giving him a quick peck before he pulled her upright and, hand in hand, they raced down the stairs to get their hands on a root beer float.
Much later that evening, after the sugar hype had died way down, Leo and A.J. were curled up in the same armchair, watching White Christmas on the television. Mikey was stretched out on the couch, snoring, while Donny was asleep in his chair as well. Master Splinter sat cross-legged on a chair he had taken from the kitchen table and Raf was sitting on the floor, staring at the TV but not interested in the movie, his mind elsewhere. At a commercial break, Leo stood up as he put A.J. out of his lap and back by herself in the chair.
"Hang on, sweetheart. I'm going to the restroom. I'll be back."
"Okay," she said. Raf saw his brother leave, and seized his chance. He had enough of Bing Crosby's crooning anyway.
After heeding the call of nature, Leo washed his hands, dried them, and nearly bumped into Raf as he opened the door and headed back to the living room.
"Sorry Raf," he said.
"'S fine," his brother said. "Can I calk to you for a sec?"
"Sure," Leo answered, gesturing him into his room, which was next door. "What's up?"
"I know this ain't a great time," he began. "With A.J. bein' over an' stuff."
"No, no. It's never a bad time when one of my brothers wants to talk to me about something."
"Yeah, well. It won't take long."
Leo leaned against his door, folding his arms over his chest.
"What is it?"
"There's something I gotta say to you, bro. It ain't gonna be easy for me, but I gotta do it. I got us into a really big mess, and now I gotta fix it. I gotta come clean, with Master Splinter, with A.J., and now with you."
"A.J.? What have you done to A.J.?"
"I'll tell ya in a minute. First, I gotta say that I'm sorry for what I did to you. For bein' stubborn and not respectin' you, as a leader and as a brother. I was really stupid, and I blamed you for everythin', but it was really my fault. I was the one bein' stuck-up and foolish, and I didn't even realize it. I thought I was doin' somethin' good by becomin' the Nightwatcher, but I wasn't. Maybe it was good for the city, but not for our family. And I'm sorry I thought you only cared about yourself. You proved me wrong when you asked me to take care of A.J. the night I almost killed you. And I'm sorry for that, too."
Leo couldn't believe his ears. Raphael, his proud, hotheaded brother was apologizing? To him? Admitting that he was wrong, and that Leo was right? It was something he had hoped would happen for a long time, but it still threw him for a loop when it actually happened. For a moment, he just stared in surprise, then he shook his head. Raf had been honorable enough to say he was sorry, and it would be about as dishonorable of Leo if he didn't forgive him.
"It's…" he paused, thinking of what to say. "It's all right, Raf. I forgive you, and I'm sorry I wasn't patient with you. I know I can be overbearing sometimes, but I just want the best for you."
"I know. That's what A.J. said, but I didn't want to believe her."
"You talked to A.J?"
"Yeah, one night on her roof. She'd figured out I was the Nightwatcher, and boy, did she let me have it."
Leo smiled, trying to picture his petite little A.J. screaming her head off at his brother, who had to be at least twice her size.
"She told me what an idiot I was bein', and she made me feel like I was three inches tall."
"I can't see her doing that."
"That's 'cause you never pissed her off. I mean, really pissed her off. Like, mad enough to make her yell."
That was true. He had seen her shoot a man and not shed a tear, but for some reason, he couldn't see her raising her voice above a level, conversational tone, and certainly not in anger.
"Anyway, I brought her up because there's somethin' I need to tell you, and it would be really great if you didn't tell Mikey and Donny about this. I'll never hear the end of it."
"My lips are sealed," he said. He'd decide later if it was really worth keeping from his brothers.
"Well, I liked A.J. too. I shouldn't say it like that, 'cause I still do. But she doesn't like me, not like that anyway, and that really hurt me, especially when she ended up likin' you. It was one more reason to hate you, but I know now that it was her choice, and that it wasn't your fault. But I blamed you anyway, and I shouldn't have."
It had been hard apologizing to A.J., and even harder to tell Master Splinter that he had some blood on his hands, but this was the hardest apology he'd ever had to make. He was amazed he'd gotten the words out to begin with, but even more amazed when he realized that he was kneeling down before his brother, proving that there was meaning to his words, and that he was being truthful.
But to Leo, it may as well have been the Apocalypse. He was confused that his brother would admit this, joyous that he had done so, and slightly amused that they had been silently battling for the same girl and he hadn't even realized it.
"Does A.J. know?"
"Yeah, I told her. I'm sorry, bro."
He hung his head, not sure if he was going to get a tongue-lashing that he'd been in love with his brother's girl, or if he was going to do something else.
In fact, Leo did the latter. Bending over, he helped his brother to his feet.
"I forgive you for that too, unless you were fooling around with her behind my back."
"I never! Even I got more sense than that!"
"Well in that case, you have my forgiveness."
He stepped back, holding his arms out.
"Are you still too far away to hug your brother?"
To answer him, Raf took a step forward, closing the distance between them, and enveloped Leo in a tight embrace. His head on his shoulder, he couldn't believe there were tears in his eyes. To be a family again: if he had know how great a feeling that was, he would have done it sooner. There was no satisfaction in working alone; he needed his brothers by his side, as one, all together.
"I love you, Raf."
"I love ya too, bro."
They let go, and with their arms around each other's shoulders, they headed back into the living room where their family awaited them, their feet as light as their hearts.
And that's the end. And it's brotherly love, not slash, people!!
Yeah, I know a real court case would take much longer to resolve, but for the sake of the story, let's just say it takes a month, okay?
Thanks again for reading, and I hope this gave everyone the warm and fuzzies. Again, if you have anything you would like me to address, please post it in a review and I'll get to it next week. Love to all, and the sequel shall be around soon!