Author Note: One shot! I'll have a new chapter of FDRF up as soon as possible - in the meantime, enjoy!
I owe a huge debt of gratitude to BelleOfTheSea, who beta-read this, pointed out my spelling errors and where I didn't make sense. Thanks honey!
Numb. That's the only word for the way I feel right now. The sparse, seemingly long-abandoned building that we currently call home is quiet at last, Raphael's violent fury abated, Leonardo long since left to do goodness knows what – brood or mourn most likely – and Michelangelo resting. I should go and see Michelangelo, thank him for at least trying, but to face him would make everything real, cut through the numbness and bring it all home.
The rebel base is quiet. I have a terrible feeling that won't be the case for much longer.
If the Foot were to attack now, they could stomp the rebellion flat. We're in no position to fight and no position to move bases right now. I just have to hope that they can't track the guys back here. And I'm beginning to wonder. Maybe the Foot doesn't have to pick us off. There's a storm coming from within and if the Foot leave us to it, maybe there won't be a rebellion left to fight. Just a few individuals who won't give in, but can't work together either.
I let my hands take over, my mind carefully not thinking about the task at hand – or why I have to do it. It would be a risk to remain here much longer, but my own things, the mementos I can't bear to leave behind, are already kept in a pack that I can easily grab should I have to flee in a hurry, along with supplies of food and medicine and weapons. There aren't many keepsakes – pictures mostly, of my parents and my family. I could never part with those, because I never know when I'll have to part with them.
But I can't take everything from the room that up until a few hours ago, was shared by myself and Casey. And I can't let my emotions force me to take everything, now that I'll never be sharing a room with Casey again.
He too had a bag all packed should he have to make a rapid exit from this place. A golf bag, true to form. But there's a pocket inside, where he kept those things he couldn't stand to be without, those reminders of the way life used to be. I pull them out with cold fingers, going through the things that were important to him. Pictures of him and his parents, before his father was killed. A few of him and I together, times that weren't always so happy. Some of the guys, with or without us, him and Raph in tough-guy poses, the hockey mask pushed up so I can see the sparkling of his eyes. Trinkets that belonged to people now gone. That presumably, he's now with.
And a folded piece of paper that I don't recall having ever seen before. A letter of some kind. For a moment I hesitate – it's none of my business after all. And then I remember that it doesn't matter anymore, that Arnold Casey Jones will never mind again about having his privacy invaded. The thought's there intellectually, but it hasn't hit me emotionally yet. I feel – hollow. Like this is all a dream, something that's happening to someone else.
The letter is addressed to me.
For a moment I stand reading. And then I resist the urge to throw the damn thing across the rom, crumple it up and deny the words it speaks to me. Written in Casey's trademark scrawl, but far less tidy than his usual communications. And I know this was never intended for me to read.
Things fall apart.
It's all I can think as I fight the urge to get rid of the note, get rid of it, just throw it away and pretend I never found it. That I never caused him so much pain.
Everything has been leading to now. From the moment I suspected my employer, Baxter Stockman, of something shady, everything has been leading up to this moment, me standing alone in this room while the world crumbles and I wait for my family to fall. As I know they will.
Back when the world was sane, I met those I call my family. Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael – Donatello. Master Splinter. Casey Jones. Splinter was a father figure to me, wise, protective. Casey Jones was most annoying man, but something about him intrigued me. He was such an alpha male, overbearing but well-intentioned, incredibly annoying but man, he was hot. The four turtles were like brothers to me. Younger than I, but with a maturity that belied their years. Well, most of the time. They had their moments, as all teenagers do. They could be silly, goofy, hyper, immature – but never less than lovable, even as I was being irritated by Mikey's dumb jokes, or Raph's casual sexism, or that time that I caught Leo doing an impression of me (he could imitate the voice of practically anyone).
I can't pinpoint the moment all that began to change, but I can think of the time frame. The turtles discovered the Foot clan and their leader, the Shredder. They thought that Splinter had destroyed him, until he came back and burned down my home trying to get to the turtles. We went to Casey's farmhouse, another building that no longer remains, time for Leonardo to recover from his injuries. Another showdown with the Shredder, another time we thought him finished. And Splinter vanished during the battle.
The turtles tracked down Splinter and infiltrated the building to get to him. Casey and I waited outside… and waited… and waited. Finally, something happened. The army and the National Guard showed up, trying to get through the armour of the building. It was a loud, confused mess – but the turtles eventually did get out, bringing Splinter with them.
Donnie told me later on what had happened in the building. The Shredder had shown up – again – looking for his enemies, an alien race called the Utroms. They were trying to get back to their own planet using a transmat device. But the Shredder's interference had caused the transmat to be destroyed and the Utroms were taken into custody by the authorities, anxious to interrogate this alien race that had apparently lived among us for hundreds of years. The Shredder had made good his escape, taking with him an scientist trapped in the body of a robot that the turtles had found when they were inadvertently transported from the planet.
It was the beginning of a nightmare, for us and the whole human race. And the time when things began to change for our family as a whole – and for me and Donatello in particular.
Donnie was so intense after the whole thing. Now I wonder if he was the only one of us who foresaw what would happen later on, what the capture of the Utroms and the Fugitoid would lead to. Overnight, he seemed to age, ceasing to hang out so much with his brothers and instead focusing on his gadgets and inventions. Occasionally he would lighten up a little, but mostly he was focused.
All of us sensed something was amiss after the Utroms were discovered, but no one could have known what would happen next – not even Donatello. Shredder struck a deal with the Federation troops, exchanging the Fugitoid for arms. He enslaved the United States within a year. The rest of the world stood against him, but before long it was clear that no one would be able to stop him. Not the worlds armies, not the Utroms – and not a ragtag group of mutants and rebels.
We saw what was going down, fought against it where ever we could, but we failed. For every small victory, there were ten major losses. The rebels were outnumbered, out gunned. And the Shredder wanted the turtles dead.
It was Karai who led the attack on the lair. To this day, I have no idea how she knew how to find us. I was there, living there since my home was destroyed. Casey was not. But since we had met, we had been growing closer by degrees. He seemed less of a jerk and I could read the frank interest in his eyes when he turned to me. If I could read Casey like a book, it was a cardboard one with large letters.
Or so I thought, until I found the note in his golf bag.
Donnie on the other hand – Donnie was like a complicated thesis with lots of long words. He was young, sure, but he was an adult in ways that Casey still was not. And that body – he was muscular from long years of work outs, smart from his time studying everything he thought even slightly interesting, kind and shy just because of his personality. But he got less shy with me as time went on, as we shared the same space more, He seemed grateful to have someone there he could share his interests with.
And so help me, I noticed him too. The way his muscles rippled at the slightest movement. The way he could attain a total stillness during meditation. His concentration. His strength, of character as well as body. His compassion. The way he looked at me sometimes.
And we were at war. Shredder was rampaging across the country and we were trying to stop him. Donnie and I spent many nights alone together, trying to see a flaw in his plans. But there were never any.
And the attack on the lair…
So sudden. One moment we were all there, hanging out. Mikey in front of the TV, Raph and Leo sparring, Splinter drinking tea, Don and I in front of the computer. The next, the Foot had overrun the lair.
The fight was more than I could take in. Leo and Raph led the charge, Mikey close behind. Only Donnie held back slightly, waited near the back of the lair…
To protect me, I realised with a jolt.
There were many injuries that night. The worst was Leonardo. He lost his sight to a flash grenade – Donnie might have told him to turn away from had he been near them. But he was near me, looking after me, trusting his brothers could cope.
We split up. Splinter's orders. Raph took Leo away one way, Fearless Leader unable to see what was happening. Mikey pulled Splinter in another direction, getting him as far away from the fighting as possible.
Donatello took me with him.
I was terrified. Chased from the lair, split from everyone except Don, not knowing how they were. I wanted to ask what the damn plan was, where we were going – but every time I looked at Don, he put a finger over his mouth. Silence. Our only chance.
We escaped. Not that simple, but good enough. We holed up in an abandoned place far away from the lair. I was afraid. That they could follow us, what the future held, that the world was going to hell.
There was no light. We were in pitch black. I guess to Donnie, it made no difference. He was a ninja. And I was just a scientist who didn't know why she was here.
I didn't realise there were tears drying on my cheeks until then. "Don, I…"
He lit a candle, startling the hell out of me. "In all that, you found time to find light?"
"It was nearby and I thought we might need it." That's Don, always prepared.
I reached my arms for him, scared and afraid. "Don…"
"They're all alive," he told me, putting his arms around me protectively. But the look on his face was grim. "I'd know otherwise."
He was so much more together than I was. I was supposed to be older than him, but he was the one who had it all together. I admired him so much. I liked him, my bro…
No. More than that.
It was so not the time.
I sat beside him, resting my head against his shoulder. "Don… What will we do?"
"Do?" The question seemed to startle him. "I don't know. Find the others and then think of something."
I looked at Donnie, who seemed no longer like my brother, but someone I could rely on, someone I wanted to put my trust in. His face as he looked back at me was so weary – I didn't want him to wear that look forever. He was as scared as I was, that much I could fathom. But he handled it so much better.
That was when I accepted it. Donnie had grown up and I was in the throes of a crush at the worst possible time. He saved my life so many times though, how can you call someone like that a kid?
And I was scared. Leo, Raph and Mikey were all missing. Not to mention Splinter. Afraid and tired and….
Who am I kidding? I wanted Donnie, more than as a friend, little brother figure.
I put my arms around him, like a woman drowning, and he reciprocated, his arm brushing past my breast. Not in a sexual way, but the way I felt right then – I needed him to be more to me than a friend.
I caught his hand and moved it so it was against my breast, at the same time leaning in and planting a gentle kiss against his mouth. Just enough so he knew that he could back off if he wanted to.
Instead he leant forward and caught my mouth with all the desperation and fervour I felt right then. The only way we could block out what had happened. The only way we could forget.
It was the first night we spent together. Trying to forget that the rest of our family could be dead, Don's reassurances that they were fine assurance enough. His hands over my body, his mouth on mine, my clothes shed and cast aside. The way I screamed his name that night when it was just the two of us.
He left me to sleep the next day and found Raph and Mike. Raph told them that Leo was blind, that he still saw nothing. And Splinter was furious, Mikey reported.
We were the core of the rebellion. Four turtles, one rat, one man, one woman. Casey found us and we continued our cautious courtship from there.
And Donnie and I continued what we had begun whenever we had the chance.
That night, the last night, we were together, we were supposed to be working on computer systems while everyone else went out on patrol. Even Leo. He found a way to compensate for the sense he was missing.
"Donnie…" I rubbed my hand against his thigh. "Will things ever be normal again?"
"What's normal?" He sounded uncharacteristically bitter and my hand paused. "If normal is Shredder taking over the world, then things are normal already. If normal is you falling for a guy with five fingers on each hand, then you're halfway there. If normal is you and me being together – then things will never be normal."
"April, you're beautiful and talented and if the world were back to normal, you'd be nowhere near me."
"Trust me April." He caught my hand in his. "If things weren't so – fucked up, you and Casey would be the couple and I'd watch from the sidelines. I love you – you know that. And this whole deal is such a mess…."
"You want the others to know?" I demanded. "Because I'd tell them right now. It doesn't matter what you are or what I am. Donnie, I…"
He cut me off with a kiss and we spent the rest of the night buried beneath the blankets, such as they were. He touched me as if he could never get enough, tasted me like a drowning man finding his last taste of oxygen and I hung on to him as if he were the only person who could save me, the only one I wanted to be with…
The next morning he was gone. None of us have seen him since.
He told the others he was going to scavenge for parts and it might even have been true. Thinking about it logically, I know Donnie enough to know that he would never leave us for long. Back off, certainly. Take time out to think about things. But he would never go incommunicado and he would never stay away this long. That would be running away, the act of a coward. And Don was not a coward.
But sometimes… sometimes I wonder if it's all my fault. If he got tired of the secrets, the hiding, the uncertainty of what we had. If he left the lair that morning because of me – and he stays away for the same reason.
We looked, goodness knows we did. We searched high and low for any trace of him, any sign at all. But none of us have seen him from that day. No sign if he's alive or dead. No indication where he might have gone. Nothing.
The world didn't stop turning when he left. The war continued, we kept on fighting against the Shredder. But our family is fundamentally changed without him.
And the not knowing what happened is the worst part. In some ways, what happened to Casey is better... because at least we know. I can grieve for him, we all can. With Donnie it's like being in limbo. I don't know whether to hold out hope or let him go.
Suddenly it hits me – really hits me. Casey is gone forever. No hope of him ever coming back. And before he died, I hurt him in the worst way possible. And I don't have the chance to explain or apologise, nothing I can do to make things right.
I look down at the letter again, the words seeming to blur as my eyes well up with tears. Casey wrote this. Write it one night when he was angry, judging by the pressure the words are written with, the overkill with underlining and capitals.
He knew. Knew all about Donnie and me, how we were having a secret relationship. And although there's no mention of how he found out, it seems that it couldn't have been too long before he penned the letter. The hurt pours off the page, almost tangible.
I caused him all that pain.
And he never said a word to me. Never mentioned it out loud, didn't even hint.
Maybe because some things are larger than our own personal tragedies. Fighting the Shredder always took top priority, not our own lives – it still does. We can't even afford to grieve Casey properly, because we should be running again. And he deserves at least that.
Or perhaps because he couldn't bring himself to talk about it. And after a while, the problem just – went away, didn't it? And it was Casey who always believed that Donnie would come home some day...
It's suddenly hard to breath. Casey isn't coming home and the chances of Donnie ever returning suddenly seem like the pathetic pipe dream of the desperate. I swallow, trying to get rid of the lump that seems to be blocking my throat, but it makes no difference at all. My hands start shaking, coupled with my teary eyes, making reading the letter again impossible. But I think the words will be burned into my mind forever.
At that moment, there's a tentative knock at the door. I shove the letter into the bag at my feet, swiping at my eyes as Splinter enters the room. He says something, probably something wise and comforting, but I can't hear the words. He might as well be speaking in Japanese for all the sense I can make of them.
And as I look into his much-loved face, I have a sudden terrible feeling. That maybe Don's vanishing and Casey's deaths were just the beginning. That this nightmare world I've found myself living in might not ever be right again.
That sometime soon, something else is going to go terribly wrong. And keep going wronger. And nothing at all can ever be right again.