This will most likely be my last Raphael/Amber centric story for awhile. I'd like to focus on the other Turtles, see if I can do them justice. I'd also like to do more fics on the core-family, especially as that would give me the opportunity to explore Raphael's lighter side. The one that we see when he interacts with his brothers, a side I've sorely neglected. And it's a wonderful side and one much beloved by me, though you wouldn't know it from what I've done thus far!
So this story is to get some semblance of resolution between these two. Hopefully it will satisfy anyone who's enjoyed the series thus far.
My many thanks to the fabulous Deirdre for her beta-read on this fic. Hers were some of the first stories I read upon rejoining the TMNT fandom this year, and I love them and it honours me that she's willing to put the time in!'
It had been two weeks since she'd last seen Raphael. She'd left him on the rooftop when he'd returned from freeing the Thai girls and hadn't seen him since.
Not that she cared.
Amber woke slowly from a dream in which she and Raphael had been at the library, going through the Encyclopaedia of the Human Body. Her childhood cat, Mindy, had been there, dancing on two hind legs in the background as fireworks burst outside the window. Raphael had pointed very seriously to an illustration of a hip joint and said that he'd always wanted to buy one of those. She rubbed her bleary eyes and laughed a little at the dream. Her dreams were frequently disjointed and nonsensical, and she never bothered trying to interpret them.
She woke in a small, dark room, lit only by a square in one wall revealing a patch of slate blue – the sky outside the window was slowly darkening. Gingerly, she rolled herself onto her stomach and carefully pushed herself up, her head protesting the movement. It was quiet in the building and cool in the bare room, and her limbs were heavy with weariness – she wanted nothing so much as to roll back over and sleep some more. But it was evening, and time to work.
J-J had told Amber about the squat. J-J was actually two people – Joey and Jim – but they were always together so she just called them J-J. They'd rigged the building with electricity and then gone about telling a few trusted associates about the space. The last winter had been hard on Amber, so she figured she might as well hole up there for a while. She had chosen a small studio in the crumbling tenement; one whose walls were covered from ceiling to floor in riotous, colourful graffiti. She'd chosen a room near the top floor, figuring it'd be easier for Raphael to visit. But that was before she got pissed off at him.
Amber sat on the lumpy mattress pushed up against one wall and yawned, stretching her arms above her head before pushing her matted hair out of her face. A few long strands were caught in her mouth and her cheek was sticky with drool. There was a wet patch on the pillow as well, and she swiped at it before turning to the small stool nearby and the equipment that rested there.
"Fucking freak, anyway," she muttered to herself as she readied the shot. "Why I would want to touch that thing?"
Their falling out had come at a good time, really. Couldn't have come at a better time. Things had just been getting way too complicated – she'd been struggling with the sorts of feelings she hadn't been bothered by for years, and it had been making her feel ill.
So long as Raphael was in the suit, was Nightwatcher, things were easy. She could allow her thoughts to wander down more intimate pathways.
But out of it was another story. It meant confronting the very realness of what he was – most emphatically not human. Not even a mammal. As different from her as could be.
It had made her feel queasy at first, remembering mornings when she'd passed out at Eva's before she knew what he was, imagining his fingertips dancing over her skin, pulling her tight against his chest. And all that time she'd never known…
…there was beauty to Raphael, of course. There was beauty to all of them – his "father" and his other brothers – simply in the sheer impossibility of what they were and how perfect it was. She'd always associated the word 'mutant' with deformity, with freakish growths, torturous and mangled, experiments gone wrong.
But they were – well, perfect. She wasn't sure she entirely believed his story of this "ooze" they'd apparently all been exposed to as infants. It just didn't ring true. She wondered occasionally if in actuality they were some sort of alien species who'd become stranded here. That seemed more probable to her – made more sense in light of their advanced intellects and ability to talk, not to mention their physical prowess and dexterity. Real earth turtles would surely mutate with extra claws growing out of their heads or another shell sprouting or something like that. Nothing quite so… miraculous.
But it wasn't the sort of beauty one "got into".
Amber had winched the belt as tight as she could around her upper arm, but her veins refused to pop up. She tapped the scar tissue and skin around her inner elbow with delicate fingertips, sighing with frustration. "Come on, come on," she hissed. Still nothing. Disgusted, she loosened the belt and bent one leg at the knee, focusing on the spaces between her toes instead. It took a couple of minutes, but she was successful.
The perfectly sharp point of the needle entered and a moment later chemical bliss flooded her body. She sighed, this time with contentment.
She hadn't wanted to be near him for a while, not when she remembered how she had once thought about them fucking. And she'd acknowledged her hypocrisy and seen his disappointment at her initial reaction, so she'd lied and pretended she was okay with it all.
But she wasn't.
And the problem was, she still wanted him. Just because he was some sort of freak turtle didn't make him any less the man who had saved her life twice, who fought with passion to protect the wretched people of her neighbourhood, and who believed so absolutely in right and wrong. It was difficult, not to be into someone like that.
The Nightwatcher suit meant she could pretend that underneath it, he was human. But out of it – touching him, having him touch her – it was twisted.
And even more perversely, there was something in that very fact that appealed to her. That was sort of exciting.
Half an hour after the shot, she was feeling focused and calm. Already she'd begun collecting books – bought, found, stolen and borrowed – and they were beginning to stack up against the walls. She was reading a trashy crime thriller at the moment, something light and stupid that required little to no real concentration. With a cup of scalding hot instant coffee sweetened with a lot of sugar, she settled down on the mattress to read until it was time to go to work.
The squat was a pretty good idea. Apart from books, she had only a mattress, a CD player she'd exchanged for a blowjob from a fencer, a stool and a cardboard box to keep some clothes in. She didn't bother with food except for coffee and instant noodles, so all she needed was a kettle. And now that she had her own bathroom, she didn't need to take any more showers at Thistleways.
She continued to keep the rest of her stuff in her downtown locker, but it also gave her a place to shoot up other than Eva's – some place entirely private.
And, she'd originally thought, it would make spending time with Raphael that much easier. No risk of exposure for him here. Well, not so much, anyway.
Amber sighed again, irritated at the thought of him. It would seem now that it was all out of her hands. For several months he had not left it so long between checking up on her – and certainly they had never parted on such a sour note. So, she supposed he'd removed herself from her life. Which was just as well, because all this drama and tension and desire and confusion was inconvenient and distracting and uncomfortable. It was altogether best that it was this way.
Her book hit the opposite wall, knocking a piece of plaster from the centre of an elaborately coloured rose. It slid to the floor, and she didn't care at all. It was stupid to keep thinking about him, because nothing was going to change, and there was nothing she could – or wanted to – do about it.
Raphael watched Amber leave the building she was squatting in, her ever present cigarette glowing in the early evening dimness. Although he had not approached her for a couple of weeks, he couldn't bring himself to stop watching her – yet. The note things had been left on the last time he'd seen her had perturbed him. So he stayed away. And soon, soon he would stop watching, as well. It made it too hard to keep track of her and keep his distance at the same time.
He felt foolish, and that made him mad.
It had been stupid and naive of him to think – well, what had he thought, anyway? He'd let his damn guard down, though, that was for sure, and he was cursing himself for it now.
Amber crossed over 86 and East, her eyes blank and focused on the cracked pavement. She was so thin, so shapeless that she was barely recognisable as female. Too tiny to be mistaken for a boy, but she was not childlike, either. She reminded him more of some of the alien creatures he and his brothers had seen, otherworldly and bizarre, her gaunt face and too-big eyes sunken deep into her cheeks. Her long red hair was the only thing that really identified her gender; she seemed to be beyond sex and beyond femininity.
She was grotesque and yet…
Well, it's not like he could talk, could he?
He tensed at those thoughts, sucking a breath in through gritted teeth, reminded again of his stupidity. Worthy of Mikey, for Chrissakes. He'd always known. Of all of them, he'd been the first to have the best grip on the reality of it, of the inevitability. Sentenced to watching and wanting and being denied. Even if there were – friends – the obstacles were too great to overcome. Like the whole issue of species.
It made him feel very bitter.
Of course, the irony in this situation was that this wasn't the reason behind his falling out with Amber. No, that had to do with conflicting opinions – freaking political beliefs, of all things. But on the other hand, it had provided him with an easy out.
He watched her round the corner, and then turned and started off across the rooftops. He wouldn't be Nightwatcher just yet tonight. First, he wanted to cross train. Recently, the training in the lair had slackened off severely. The three brothers would dutifully carry out their two hour morning session with Splinter and usually put in a couple more in the afternoon, but as much as Donatello tried to feign the sort of dedication and discipline Leonardo had maintained effortlessly, it was patently obvious he'd much rather be tinkering with his toys. Lately he had started begging off from the task, citing his need to work more shifts. Raphael suspected it was really to rid himself of the training duties, but then, he didn't keep the books. Donnie did.
Michelangelo, on the other hand, rarely sat still. He was more than happy to be active, so long as it wasn't training. It was routine and the idea of 'work' that bothered Mikey rather than strenuous physical activity, which he wholeheartedly loved. Position it as 'fun' and Mikey would be all over it. He was a natural athlete, and it never bothered him to go skateboarding or leaping about rooftops. And with Donatello's increasingly passive attitude towards maintaining additional skills and fitness, Mikey did the bare minimum training and spent the rest of the time how he chose – in-between getting beat up at kid's birthday parties.
Being the Nightwatcher was like training for Raphael – incredibly risky and uncontrolled training, but training nonetheless. And he continued to put in the extra work in the dojo, weightlifting and perfecting his weapon and hand-to-hand combat skills. Of all of them, he was keeping on top of things physically, pushing himself and improving. See, now if he'd been in charge while Leo was away, no way Don and Mike would be slacking off. But seeing as how it was all on Don's shoulders, Raphael couldn't be bothered with trying to get them motivated. He'd just do his own damn thing. And no way was he going to humiliate himself in some grovelling crawl of a job like Don and Mikey.
An easy out. After all, why keep on sitting around, wondering and waiting to see what would happen, when probably nothing would. He had no experience in this. He'd become aware of the attraction he'd started to feel for her – but even though she'd kissed him – and almost had again just a couple of weeks ago – he wasn't entirely certain if it was reciprocated. How could it be?
And so he'd just wind up making a fool of himself if he kept on hanging around. No way.
Maybe it was just habit that drew him to her – that she was the only female he'd spent so much time with, on such an intimate level. Maybe staying away from her would take care of that. She sure wasn't like any of his fantasies, and no mistake. Not that his first choice would even necessarily be human – given the option – but then, he didn't have the option, and they were kinda what he was used to, and they certainly had plenty of redeeming features. They looked good and smelt nice and were usually really soft. Plus they had nice voices. And pretty smiles.
Amber looked awful and reeked of booze and nicotine. She was bony underneath her papery skin, and her voice rasped from years of smoking.
But she did have a great smile. When she smiled, he almost got a glimpse of how she might look if she gained twenty pounds and got off the gear. Still no Scarlet Johanssen, but… well, maybe a bit cute. And her hair was amazing. Hair was weird altogether, but it did catch the light in nice ways.
So maybe he was just into Amber because she was the only chance he might ever have. Was.
And all these thoughts are fucking pointless, he thought furiously to himself, pushing his moving body a little harder. In the end, even Amber wasn't a chance. There was no chance, not for him.
He'd almost made a true idiot out of himself. Better altogether that things ended this way.
His calloused feet pounded the cement, the wind whipped at his face, and he steadily controlled his breath as his heart rate accelerated. He knew he was making better time than even a couple of nights previous. Training was paying off.
The night got off to a brisk start, but then slowed down. It was a Thursday, which could sometimes affect business. People went out for the first part of the night, but then went home, having decent jobs to get to in the morning, and wanting to rev themselves up for the weekend. It didn't bother Amber – she had enough to get what she needed, and a small stash back in the squat, anyway.
She danced for the runners, young boys of twelve and thirteen, and they smiled and clapped her on, not afraid to drop their cool in the face of her exhibition.
"I don't need no makeup, I got – real scars, I got – hair on my chest - boom boom boom boom - I look good without a shirt!" she sang, kicking up her heels and starting off down the pavement. She'd go to Eva's and pick some stuff up now. Why not. Maybe she would even make it an early night, go home and finish her book.
She cracked her knuckles and tossed her hair back, elbowing her way past a bickering couple, and ignored a wild-eyed, grey-haired woman who asked her where the free accommodation was. Her shouts of "you do know, you can't tell me you pay a hundred dollars a week in rent and have enough to live on, so shut up, you just don't want to tell me where you live!" followed Amber down the street until she turned the corner.
She took a short cut, crossing over a few alleyways and trotting down residential streets that were darker than their commercial counterparts, and quieter as well. She nodded to a stoop crowded with smoking kids and did not look up when the screech of tyres broke the night on the road near her. Someone drinking too much, usual story.
She barely had time to register the words "Get her!" before several sets of hands were laid roughly upon her, and she reacted after a shocked delay just long enough for their grips to harden. She kicked her body up, flailing her legs out and screaming. The kids nearby disappeared into their house, slamming the door shut behind them. She continued to struggle, but couldn't break the hold the three men had on her as they dragged her bodily to the waiting van, threw her in the back of it and leapt in afterwards. The tyres screeched again as the driver peeled off, barely giving them time to shut the doors.
It all took less than ten seconds. When they were gone the only evidence that Amber had ever walked down the street was the cigarette that she'd dropped when they grabbed her, steadily burning away on the pavement.
As Nightwatcher, Raphael preferred to keep a reasonably low profile. Apart from picking Amber up on her beat and doing a couple of regular circuits, he didn't interact much with anyone. But there were a few restaurants he'd helped out that told him he had a lifelong free food supply and one 24-hour convenience store that was happy for him to take necessities as they became necessary. At first, he'd balked at the thought – these people worked hard for their income and it felt too much like taking advantage – but after Donatello had sniped at him one too many times for not contributing to the family's needs, a hefty combination of guilt and aggravation had led him to take them up on it on a semi-regular basis.
The only thing was that he had no way of explaining how he got it – he couldn't tell them about the Nightwatcher gig and he sure wasn't making any money – so he was stocking the pantries in stealth or bringing home food that Casey had provided. He only had to worry then about the inevitable thank yous that would eventually be directed Casey's way, but he'd figure that out when it came to it.
It was nearing two a.m and Raphael was thinking it was time to call it a night. Things had seemed quiet on the streets that evening, which he knew he should be pleased about, but which, conversely, frustrated him. Well, if he got home this early, Mikey might still be up and they could watch a movie together or something…
He pulled up outside the convenience store, its windows blazing with yellow neon. Inside, he could see the two Naidu brothers arguing with each other cheerfully about some such thing or another, and he grinned as he fixed the kickstand in place and strode towards the entrance.
They both hailed him as he walked in, past the stands crammed with crackers, instant noodles, tinned goods and toiletries. Like everyone else, at first they'd been terrified of him, even knowing that he was the one who'd stopped the hold up on their store. It was the helmet. Well, it was meant to be imposing, but it often wound up scaring the wrong people, too. Even as he grinned back at their effusive greeting, he knew they couldn't see it. He looked blank and expressionless to them, as he did to any criminal he nabbed. But over time and exchanged pleasantries, they'd grown to realise it was only the scum that incurred his wrath – and that really he was 'a true gentlemen, sir, yes and a very nice chap as well!' as Rahji said once, throwing in an extra few chocolate bars, despite his protestations.
"Nightwatcher, you honour us once more by coming into our store!" Rahji said now, and he held up a huge gloved hand to wave it off.
"Don't start that, Raj, you're the one doing me a favour!"
And the two brothers started up a chorus of denials. He chuckled and moved along the aisles, picking up the things he'd noticed they needed and a few extras as well. Some more toothpaste – he suspected Mikey ate it, it disappeared so fast – a couple of boxes of cereal (all sugar and wheat; Leonardo would completely disapprove. They were really for Mikey, since Raphael's main meals were all protein based and Donnie – Donnie ate whatever was easiest and within reach).
"Oh, Nightwatcher!" Rahji's voice sung out to him as he turned around one aisle and down another. "There was a message left here for you earlier this evening."
He froze. What? A message – for him? Here? But – who – who the hell - ?
Rahji heard the new note in Raphael's voice, and the wide smile disappeared from his face. "A message – here it is –" he held out a folded piece of paper. " –some young fellow brought it in and asked me to hold it until you next came in. Lucky you come in tonight, huh?" He tried to smile again, but he was clearly perturbed by Raphael's tense body language, his stillness at the end of the aisle.
Raphael stayed still a moment longer, struck with the tingling feeling something was very wrong. Then he moved, quickly, towards the two brothers and snatched the folded paper from Rahji's hands, who flinched.
He fumbled with the paper, a grubby white piece that was strangely bulky, and unfolded it hastily to find a message there in block letters:
NIGHTWATCHER. WE HAVE YOUR WHORE. IF YOU'D LIKE HER BACK ALIVE COME TO 56 AT 188-200 WEST 83RD AVENUE. WE'RE WAITING.
And wrapped up in the message was the thing that had given it bulk; a long, straight lock of red hair.