"Well, this is fun. This is just the way I wanted to spend the day after Christmas."

"Raphael," Splinter said warningly. "We must do what we can to provide for this family. Your brothers are each out on their own missions to make sure that we are well-stocked for the new year in terms of technology and other essentials. It is our job to find food, and so we will do what we must in order to-"

"Easy on the lecture, Master Splinter," Raphael interrupted. "I know why we gotta do what we do, so I ain't complainin' about that. It's dressin' up like a couple 'a cloaked fantasy characters that bug me. Can't we just wait until Casey 'n April get back from their vacation and ask them to get us some grub?"

Adjusting the hood around his head, Splinter responded, "Donatello has received word of a possible blizzard over the weekend, which may force our friends to extend their vacation. We cannot rely upon their kindness forever."

"How about almost forever?" Raphael asked with a smirk, poking his head around the corner to ensure their solitude. "I can deal with almost forever."


"Yeah, yeah, I know," the turtle remarked, covering even more of his face with his red scarf as he and his sensei continued on their way. "Gotta be proud 'n self-sufficient. That's why we're foragin' for food at the local bodega before hittin' up the homeless shelters."

"You are more than welcome to venture into a brightly-lit Stop 'n Shop and see how you fare," Splinter told him wryly. Raphael let out a single laugh, knowing his teacher to be right. It was a fact of life that he's learned to live with.

Splinter suddenly stopped, tilting his head as though listening to something. Raphael did the same. Though they were on a fairly empty street in Brooklyn, a sound carried over from amidst the nearby warehouses and loading docks. Try as he might, Raphael couldn't figure out what he was hearing. It sounded like a girl's voice, but he couldn't make out any words.

Splinter grabbed his arm, pulling him behind one of the warehouses. "This way," he said hurriedly. "Quickly, my son! She is in danger!"

"Who is?" Raphael asked, following after Splinter. "From what? How do you know?"

"A young girl," Splinter answered. "Hardly more than a child. Her cries were in Japanese, and what I could make out leads me to believe that there is something truly frightening threatening her and someone close to her."

"Say no more," Raphael said, hurrying in front of Splinter. As he withdrew his sai, he growled, "I'll go teach this thing a lesson it ain't ever gonna forget!" Hardly hearing Splinter's calls to be careful, Raphael leapt around the empty building, emerging behind the Metropolitan Bridge.

He stopped suddenly, trying to assess what it was he saw before him. Or rather, what he almost saw before him. Two young girls were floating about fifteen feet above the water, seemingly ensnared by what appeared to Raphael as a vague, shimmery outline. "What the shell is this?" Raphael barked out. "Attack 'a the Giant Jellyfish?"

"Raphael!" The turtle looked back to see Splinter catching up to him, gaping at the scene before them. "I have seen creatures such as this before. We must destroy it before those children's souls are eaten."

"Souls? Eaten?" Raphael looked back at the captive girls, wanting to do something but not knowing what. "O… Okay, I'm with ya on the savin' 'em, Splinter. But… where do I hit? I don't see nuthin' but a blob 'a… somethin' holdin' 'em up."

"You cannot….?" Splinter began, but then looked back towards the water determinedly. "Of course. Your spirit sense is possibly among the lowest of your brothers. Come, I shall…. Wait, what is this?"

Utterly confused, Raphael clenched his sai and slowly approached the water, trying to figure out what was going on. The girl with the lighter hair seemed to be unconscious, while the darker-haired one was looking up and screaming something. While her cries had been in desperation before, they now seemed more hopeful. He tried to see whatever it was she saw, but all he could make out was another wavering outline jumping into the fray.

"I cannot believe…." Splinter murmured from behind him. "How long has it been since I have seen a shinigami?"

"A shini-whati?!" Raphael asked. He was startled when the two girls started to fall into the water. Alarmed, he ran towards them to help them out, ignoring Splinter's calls to stay back. If there was an invisible battle going on in front of him, he definitely wasn't going to let a couple of little girls get caught in the crossfire.

He dove into the cold, murky water, wishing he had thought to take his heavy winter apparel off before jumping in. Hoping that not thinking about it would stave off the pneumonia, he quickly found the limp figure of the unconscious girl. Swimming towards her, he took her in his arms and looked for her friend. When he couldn't find her, he surfaced, intending to leave the first girl on land as he searched for her companion.

Raphael was shocked to see the raven-haired girl floating a couple of inches above the concrete, as though clinging to an unseen being. As he swam towards her, she caught sight of him and pointed at him, screaming something in Japanese. It sounded almost as though she kept repeating that she had an "itchy knee." Stupid language barrier, Raphael thought as he got closer. I could do without the invisible people floatin' around on top 'a all this-

He stopped, seeming to suddenly become aware of a powerful presence in the vicinity. The dark-haired girl was set on the ground, and Raphael could almost see something shoot up towards the sky. Keeping his eye on the thing that he could almost see, Raphael cried out, "Whoa, waitaminute," just before submerging his head in an effort to dodge whatever was coming for him.

This time, he stayed underneath the water until he was right by the bridge. Coughing in the cold, he stuck his head out and looked around. He could hear Splinter's voice, but couldn't figure out what he was saying. This is gonna be one 'a them days, he thought when he suddenly felt something strong grasp his shoulder.

The girl was suddenly pulled out of his grip, and Raphael quickly moved to get her back. By the time he realized that he was playing a cruel game of tug-of-war with an invisible opponent, he had already lost. He threw a fist at the unseen foe, but cried out when he felt a hand clamp down on it and push him back with so much force that he crashed against the concrete support beam of the bridge.

"Chottomatte!" Splinter cried out, suddenly appearing on the low bridge and reaching a hand down towards Raphael. "This can all be explained, I promise you! Raphael, take my hand. Shinigami, return that child to the surface and go back to your world. You surely have more pressing matters to deal with than the likes of us."

"Itchy knee," the dark-haired girl said as she slowly stepped in besides Splinter. "It's okay." Judging by her thick accent, Raphael could tell that she wasn't exactly a local.

"Ichi-nii, eh?" Splinter remarked, looking at her kindly. "Am I to understand that this is your brother, then? You must be proud to be related to a death god."

"To a what?!" Raphael sputtered, scrambling for land. Wiping the excess water from his face, he glared at the girl suspiciously. "Death god? Somebody wanna explain to me what the heck is goin' on here?"

"I'll tell you what's going on," an unfamiliar voice suddenly spoke up. Raphael turned to see a tall, lanky boy with bright orange hair edging out of the warehouse, holding what looked like some kind of stuffed animal. "You just interrupted a casual hollow slaying by the great substitute shinigami, Kurosaki Ichigo! If not for his superior skill, you surely would have muddled it up! I knew, I just knew that coming here was a huge mistake! The people of this country don't understand what's sacred anymore. It's a sad, sad thing when- urk!"

Raphael raised an eye ridge when it seemed as though someone grabbed hold of the crazy kid's spiky hair and was dragging him away. He tried to talk to the dark-haired girl, but he saw that she was occupied with looking after her friend, who had been laid besides him. Looking up at Splinter, Raphael begged, "Sensei, level with me: what's goin' on around here?"

"Sensei," asked the brunette. She looked at the rat and the turtle inquiringly. "We try to get peace and quiet over the holidays and end up running into a giant, talking turtle and his rat-sensei. Between that and the evil spirit that almost had us for lunch, and I'd say that New York's not too different from Karakura."

Slowly, the girl with the short light brown hair began to stir. "Yuzu," whispered her friend as she gave her her coat to keep her warm. "Yuzu, daijoubu desuka?" Yuzu opened her eyes and began to look around. When she caught sight of the wet turtle besides her, she screamed and scrambled away, almost falling back into the water and taking the other girl with her. "No, no, Yuzu, it's okay. Okay. They're not bad spirits. I don't think they're even spirits at all." Looking back at Raphael and Splinter, she asked, "Are you?"

"No," Splinter answered, taking off his dry cloak and offering it to Raphael. "But I am afraid that he may turn into an icicle if we do not find refuge from the cold."

"I'm okay," Raphael said, his teeth chattering as he began removing his wet clothes. "I'm more concerned with figurin' out what's goin' on. Who are you two, and who was that guy with the dyed hair back there? And why were ya floatin' 'n screamin' behind the Metro Bridge?"

"It's not dyed," said a voice behind him. Getting to his knees, Raphael looked back and saw the orange-haired guy coming back out of the warehouse, brushing himself off as though just escaping a harrowing encounter. Though it was definitely the same person, his voice was different and his demeanor was noticeably changed. He still carried the stuffed animal in his left hand, though he treated it with significantly less regard.

Raising his brown eyes to meet Raphael's, he said, "I'm Kurosaki Ichigo. Or Ichigo Kurosaki, as you'd say in America. I'm a part-time death god. Those are my little sisters, Yuzu and Karin." Raising the hand with the stuffed animal, he absently added, "And this is Kon."

The stuffed animal actually waved its arm as it said, "Pleased to meet you!" Raphael's eyes widened, but he said nothing. After all, if he can believe in mutant ninja turtles and entertain the idea of "part-time death gods"—whatever that meant—then a sentient stuffed lion shouldn't be too much to swallow. What bothered him was that this "Kon" spoke with the same voice that had come out of Ichigo's mouth only moments ago.

"That's probably more information than you need, though," Ichigo continued, seeming to need some time to pick out the proper words. Speaking in English appeared to annoy him, despite the fact that he seemed to have a decent grasp on the language. "As far as you're concerned, we're just a family of tourists from Karakura Town, and that's the way it's going to stay. Oi Karin, Yuzu. Let's go."

As the girls picked themselves up (with Yuzu giving both embarrassed and reluctant bows to Raphael and Splinter), Ichigo turned and was already headed back towards Metropolitan Avenue. "Hey!" Raphael cried out, staggering to his feet. Though Splinter put a hand on his arm, Raphael ignored it and stumbled after the boy and his sisters. "Hey, waitaminute! You can't just-" He interrupted himself with a sharp coughing fit.

Ichigo glanced back at the two mutants as Splinter wrapped his cloak around Raphael, who suddenly seemed the worse for wear. Cold-blooded, the shinigami realized. Whatever he is, he's definitely more reptilian than human. After that dip in the water, his immune system is likely to kick his ass.

"Ichi-nii?" Ichigo looked down to see that Yuzu had stopped and was looking back at the two strange creatures that they were leaving behind. Karin had also noticed that the thing that saved her sister was quickly falling ill.

After another bout of coughing, Raphael wiped the tears from his eyes and looked up, expecting to see the strange family walking away in the distance. He was surprised to see that they were still just a few yards away. The one called Yuzu was speaking excitedly up towards Ichigo, who was looking at Raphael with a rather irritated expression. "What?" Raphael asked him. "What's she sayin'?"

With a sigh, Ichigo turned to face Raphael. "She said you look like crap," he told the turtle bluntly. Surprised, Raphael was about to start an argument when Ichigo added, "And she also said that some green tea and a warm blanket would probably do the both of you some good. We just happen to have plenty of those where we're staying, which is three blocks up that way. The question is, can you make it those three blocks, or am I going to have to carry you?"

Raphael gave Ichigo a confused look. Though the words were thrown about carelessly, the sincerity behind them was clear. A teenaged death god who offered tea and blankets to cold mutants? Just what exactly is going on here? "It does not appear as though Kurosaki-san is giving us much of a choice in saying 'yes' or 'no,'" Splinter observed.

With Splinter helping Raphael, the two of them began following after the Kurosaki siblings.