Author's Note: Thanks so much for tuning in once again! Special thanks to Winnychan for her suggestions, even if it did take me FOREVER to properly revise this thing. This topic is right up her alley, so if you like this chapter, I'd urge you even harder to read Winny's stuff, which you are sure to become as addicted to as I am. And even though I said this would probably be the last Interlude, I just can't bring myself to hit the "Complete" button, when there are still so many possibilities with these two! So who knows, there may be more to come. ;)
"Hey, Earth to Raph!"
Raphael looked up with a start. "Huh? Oh, sorry," he responded, clearing his throat self-consciously. "My turn again?"
"Yup, your turn again," April said with a sigh, "Just like it's been the last three times you spaced out. Listen, if you don't like Rummy 500, we can play a different game. I have board games, or—"
"No, no, it ain't that," the turtle answered quickly. "The game's fine—I guess I'm just, um, havin' a little trouble focusing," he lied. It wasn't his focus that was the problem—it just wasn't the game he was focusing on.
"Well sure, I understand," April responded with a mischievous gleam in her eyes. "It does take quite a bit of concentration, but after a while you can see a very subtle pattern emerging here. I'm not sure I've gotten a full handle on it yet, but from what I can tell so far it goes something like this: I discard, and then it's your turn. You discard, and then it's my turn."
Raph made a mental grab for one of his standard sarcastic comebacks, but he came up blank. Shit. The night just kept getting better and better. "Thanks, I think I got that," he grumbled instead, but based on how April's smile widened, she hadn't missed her small victory. Ignoring her satisfied grin, Raphael proceeded to examine his cards carefully, determined to show her up with a brilliant play that would send him rocketing into the lead!
Or at least into respectability.
He rearranged the cards in his hand and examined them with growing dread, realizing he had nothing to play. He switched to desperately scanning the many arrays of sets and runs that April had spread out in front of her, hoping to be able to play something, anything off of them—but it was no use. He didn't have a damn thing. Just as he was about to discard in defeat, April spoke up.
"So, are you going to draw a card anytime soon?"
He looked up at her, slightly puzzled for a moment, then groaned inwardly as he realized he was supposed to begin the turn by drawing a new card.
"You didn't forget, did you? Lose focus again?"
Thinking fast, he answered, "No, I uh… was, ya know, just gettin' things organized first." He switched a couple of cards around, as if he hadn't been quite ready to draw yet, before pulling a new card off of the deck. Please let it be something I can play…
But before he'd even really looked at it, a slight movement made him glance up to see April massaging a kink out of her shoulder, tilting her head to the side and slowly rubbing the offending muscle as her eyes closed in relief…and just like that his mouth went dry and his cards were forgotten. When she opened her eyes again, he looked hurriedly back down at his cards, unimaginably grateful to see that he was still holding them at all. Then he discarded one of them at random.
Her eyes followed his hand to the discard pile. "Ooh, rummy!" she declared triumphantly, and pounced on his card to add it to her own points.
Raphael blinked and glanced down at his hand again, then closed his eyes. Fuck. He hadn't even checked that new card. April refrained from gloating—at least verbally—but she made no effort to hide her smug smile.
Miraculously on his next turn, Raph actually drew something he could use, and he laid down some point cards.
April gave a low whistle. "Whoa, Raph, that's… fifteen points, huh? Keep this up and you might even fight your way back into positive numbers!"
He glared at her, all the while thinking, C'mon! Just one measly comeback! Even one a' Mikey's would be fine at this point! But instead he found himself distracted by the way her mouth turned up at one corner when she was trying not to smile, and that reminded him of how good her lips felt on his skin, warm and moist and… it was no use. "Your turn, smartass," he managed lamely.
April smiled. "Just as soon as you discard…"
Goddamn it! He slapped a card down with just a bit more force than was necessary and looked away. When he glanced back again she was stretching forward to draw a new card, almost feline in her movements, and he found himself mentally urging her to lean just a bit more so he could get a better view below the neckline of her shirt…
Just as her fingers touched the deck her eyes slid up to meet his, catching him staring, and he looked away abruptly.
"Raphael? Is everything okay?" she inquired as she sat back slowly.
"Yea—I mean no; it uh, feels a bit… stuffy in here. Mind if I open the window?"
April's eyebrows went up. "Open the window? It's not even 60 degrees out there!"
"I know, but I could use the fresh air." He got up and cracked the window in the kitchen, and returned to sit on the floor. He sat there for a few moments, and then realized April was staring at him expectantly.
She sighed. "Your turn again."
"Right…" He quickly played his turn, and a few more passed in rapid succession. The brisk air seeping in from the cracked window brought the temperature in the room down considerably, though, and soon April was rubbing her arms against the chill.
"Is that enough fresh air for now?" she wondered with a shiver. "I'm starting to get goose bumps."
"Oh, sorry," he said, and began to rise with the intention of closing the window. "I'll just…" but his voice trailed off as his eyes passed over her—and fell to rest at a point decidedly lower than her face. Chilly indeed.
"Forget it, I'll do it," she said, rolling her eyes as she stood up and went into the kitchen.
Raph tried very hard not to stare too obviously as she walked away—seriously, he tried. Yeah. But, but, why the hell did she have to walk like that, with her hips doing that… swaying thing? And the worst part was, she wasn't even trying! Even dressed as she was in a casual T-shirt and loose-fitting pajama bottoms he couldn't keep his eyes off her. In fact that kind of made it worse, because he had to watch more closely to catch even the slightest hint of her figure underneath.
She's gonna turn around any second and catch ya staring again…better look away, he warned himself, but it seemed he was powerless to force his gaze elsewhere. Fortunately she didn't turn around—in fact, she appeared completely oblivious to him as she spied some dishes sitting beside the sink in a drying rack and began putting them away. Raph decided to take his next turn while she was dealing with the dishes (and if there was any confusion over whose turn it was when she returned, he would be happy to set her straight), but before he could draw a card April stretched to reach the upper cabinet, and he caught a pale glimpse of skin below the hem of her shirt. Raphael held his breath as he waited for a recurrence, and the next time she reached he could just make out the slender track of her spine leading down to the small of her back. He knew too well what it would feel like if he were to touch her there—the velvet warmth of her skin, the way his hands practically encircled her waist, the taut plain of her belly as he traveled upward …
He swallowed hard, and shifted to find a position more… accommodating to his suddenly throbbing tail. He was simultaneously disappointed and relieved when she was finished putting the cups away (was it just him, or had she taken her sweet time about it?) But then she moved on to the pots and pans, which, as it turned out, was just as entrancing—the pots were kept in a cabinet below, and even those aforementioned loose pajama pants couldn't hide her curves when she was bending over like that.
Raphael wasn't consciously aware of deciding to move—all he knew was that one moment he was sitting on the floor, and the next he was standing behind her. He touched her, and she turned to him with a gasp of surprise, but then his hands were on her, and he was feeling the softness of the skin that moments ago he'd been daydreaming about. She responded with an enthusiasm that matched his own, pressing herself to him, her body burning in his arms as his mouth found her neck. Oh god, she felt good, and he couldn't get enough, couldn't—
"Raph? Raphael! Did you hear me?"
The turtle started, and blinked in surprise to find himself still seated on the floor in the living area. He was even more surprised to see April staring down at him with a bemused expression. He shook his head sharply to clear it. "What… uh, what'd you say?"
She looked at him like he'd grown a second head, or like he was a freaky mutant turtle or something. "I asked you if you'd like a drink or anything. While I'm up."
"Oh, right." He cleared his throat. "I mean um, thanks, but I'm fine."
"I'm not so sure you are," she replied slowly as she studied him. "Look, Raph," she said with a sigh, "I think I know what this is about."
His heart lurched—but before he could think of how to answer, she went on.
"Did you think I wouldn't notice anything? I mean, one would think you've never been around a girl before! You can barely manage to string four words together tonight! I thought you could handle this—after all, you've seen me naked enough by now. But obviously, it's just too much distraction." She sighed again. "In the interests of moving this game along, how about I just go put a bra on, okay? Would that make you more comfortable?"
"Put on a… NO!" he blurted out. "I mean," he continued in a less panicked voice, "I'm, uh, perfectly comfortable with things the, uh, the way they are. More than comfortable! In fact, I'm at the highest level of comfort regarding the wearing of, um, undergarments. So, you don't need to like, change or anything. I mean, if you're comfortable that way."
She looked at him pointedly. "Well if that's not the problem, then what is it?"
Shit. He'd been planning to tell her—really! He just… hadn't been able to figure out how to bring it up! And of course the longer he waited, the more difficult it became. Even now, all he could manage was to sit there with his mouth opening and closing wordlessly. His "problem" was definitely outside the realm of anything humans had to deal with, and even though she'd assured him time and time again that she didn't care that he wasn't human, he worried that this just might be different. It was so…so… animal. What if she was offended, or, or repulsed?
Finally, realizing that saying nothing was worse than saying the wrong thing, he said what seemed like the safest thing at the moment. He had learned something in the time they'd been together.
"It's just that… you're so beautiful I can't help it." Before the words were finished, he knew how lame it sounded, and one look at her face told him she wasn't buying it.
"Very sweet, I'm sure," she said in an amused tone. "But try again."
"Know what?" he said irritably as he threw his cards down and stood up. "Forget it. I'm never gonna catch up anyway, an' we got training early, so I think I'll just head out." He moved towards the fire escape window, mentally cursing himself even as he did so. That's it, put it off again—like it's gonna be any easier to tomorrow, you goddamn coward. But it was easier, so much easier, to push it all aside. So much easier to be the one doing the leaving.
But before he could slip out April came to him, and he froze at her touch, closing his eyes and repressing a shudder as her fingertips grazed lightly down his arm. She leaned in close, sliding one arm over his shoulder from behind and touching her cheek to the side of his face. Then she whispered breathily, "That's too bad… because there's just something about these spring nights, don't you think?"
He stood rooted by shock for a split second, and then he wheeled around, appraising her suspiciously. What he saw on her face made him gape at her in shock. "You know!"
"Why, whatever do you mean?" she asked, fluttering her eyes innocently.
"You… how… I don't believe you! Here I was gettin' myself all worked up cuz I didn't know how ta tell you, and you… you already knew!" Then his eyes went wide as he realized the implications of this. "An' all that stuff back there in the kitchen… you were doin' that on purpose!"
She gave up the act and began laughing, almost doubling over with mirth. "I couldn't help it!" she managed amidst her laughter. "You… you should've seen yourself, trying so hard to act normal even though you were practically drooling!"
He was still too stunned to even be angry. "But how, I mean…"
"Oh puh-lease!" she gasped out between bouts of laughter. "I've known you guys since you were fifteen! You think I wouldn't have picked up on it after being ogled by the four of you every spring?" She was doubled over now, tears forming in her eyes. "I mean, a-all of you were pretty amusing, especially when you were younger, but I think Leo was always the funniest—h-he tried so hard, but he couldn't help it… and when I caught him staring, he'd say…" She could barely get the words out, she was laughing so hard. "He'd say something like, 'is that a new shirt?' or 'did you get your hair cut?' And I didn't want to embarrass him, so I'd always say 'yes'! I swear, Leo probably still thinks I buy a whole new wardrobe every year to go with my spring makeover!" At this she couldn't hold herself up anymore, and she sank to the floor clutching her ribs and trying to breathe as she laughed helplessly.
Raphael was quiet for a moment, watching her fit of laughter. "Yeah… I guess it must have seemed pretty funny to you… glad we could provide some entertainment," he said flatly, and turned back to the window.
"No, wait, Raph!" she said, her laughter ceasing abruptly. She approached and rested her hand lightly on his shoulder.
He stopped, but remained facing the window. "No, I get it—it's all a big joke to you," he said, shrugging her hand off. "I don't laugh at all your weird mammal quirks, but whatever. You stay here and have yerself a laugh—I'll go back home an' try not to ogle anyone too much along the way."
"I'm sorry! You're right, I didn't mean to… I mean, you were obviously having a hard time bringing it up, and I really just wanted to get it out in the open! I'm sorry—I admit I may have gotten a little carried away. Look," she said, sliding an arm around his shoulder once again. "I didn't mean it in a derogatory way—I understand, it's perfectly natural. You're a turtle, and turtles have a mating season—it's nothing to be ashamed of."
Raphael relaxed a little.
"And you're absolutely right—you have a lot more things to put up with from me. I mean, at least your hormones are on an annual cycle instead of a monthly one," she said. "Please, don't go." When he didn't answer, she tucked her head down next to the hollow of his shoulder, her hair brushing along his neck. She inhaled, and sighed against his skin with a sound like wind through prairie grass. "Please?" she coaxed.
He turned to face her again, but surprised her by taking firm hold of her shoulders and holding her away from him. He looked at her, his expression very serious, and April remained quiet as his eyes scanned over hers for a long moment. "That ain't gonna work, April," he said quietly.
She flushed slightly at his words, and began to look downright ashamed, but before she could respond Raph said, "What I mean is, that ain't gonna work for… at least another couple a' weeks. Would ya mind puttin' a little more effort into it for a while longer yet?" He grinned at her then, and April let out a breath, looking adorably relieved.
"So you're not really mad, then?" she asked.
In response he simply pulled her to him and kissed her like he'd been longing to do all night. "Naw, guess not," he answered finally, still holding her firmly against him. God, she felt good—and now that he wasn't trying so hard to fight it, to try and act "normal", he was finding it much easier to relax and be himself. It really was only early spring, after all—he'd just been so worried about her reaction, it had made everything worse. Now, his overwhelming relief that she already knew, and was okay with it, drowned out any real desire to punish her for her prank.
"I was a bit irritated, I guess," he continued, "but I gotta start learnin' to let things go." He paused for dramatic effect before adding, "I mean, you're my best prospect right now, and I ain't doin' myself any favors if I get mad at ya for every little thing…"
She pulled back a little and arched an eyebrow. "'Best prospect,' huh? Right this second, I'd say your best prospect is that piñata I brought you guys from Mexico."
Raphael crinkled his face in disgust. "You kiddin'? I ain't goin' near that thing. Last I saw, it was in Mikey's room."
April's face went blank for a moment, and then she shook her head with a look of utter repulsion on her face. "Ugh," she shuddered. "I'm really regretting I mentioned it."
Then she looked at him, and they both laughed. He pulled her in for another kiss, unable to stop himself from testing the texture of that skin he'd been fantasizing about earlier, and when the kiss ended she sighed and relaxed against him.
"I really do feel bad, though," she said after a moment. "Let's… what do you say we just do this over? We can sit down and talk, and you can make fun of me this time."
Raph chuffed a little at that last remark—as if he needed permission to make fun of her… But after that last kiss, and the effort he was currently putting into keeping his hands from wandering too freely, Raph wasn't exactly in the mood for a long discussion. "S'alright. Really I jus' wanted to bring it up cuz it might seem like I have a bit of a…one-track mind for a while, and uh… I'll prob'ly be a bit more… a lot more persistent, an' I don't want you to feel—"
"It's okay, Raph," she cut in, pulling back again to look at his face. "I know how to say 'no'. I just haven't wanted to yet."
He studied her for a moment, then nodded. "There's um… somethin' else, too," he said, keeping his voice carefully neutral.
"What is it?" she asked attentively, probably trying to make up for her previous mishandling of the situation.
He released her from his embrace and cleared his throat. "Well… see… at the height of the, um, season… if we…when we, well… you know…" Sure, he was comfortable doing these things, but talking about it was another matter.
Though she looked slightly amused by the way he talked around it, she nodded in understanding, encouraging him to continue.
"Right," Raph said. "Well, the thing is, the usual… recovery period… don't exactly apply anymore."
And there it was—the expression he'd been waiting for as her brain caught up with the meaning of his words. "Sorry… what?" she asked dumbly.
He suppressed a grin with a mighty effort before replying casually, "Yeah, the down-time is a bit, ah, shorter."
"Shorter?" she repeated dazedly. "How much shorter?"
"Well, that kinda depends. It'll get shorter over the next couple weeks until it becomes, well… completely unnecessary for a while, actually."
"Completely… completely unnecessary?" she repeated a bit weakly. "You, you can't be serious..." Face frozen, eyes wide, she looked to be having trouble processing this bit of information. But as Raphael watched, her mouth tightened and her forehead wrinkled thoughtfully. Then she looked back up at him, a slight half-smile forming as she shook her head slowly. "Nice try, Raph. You almost had me there, but I'm not that gullible."
She seemed so sure of her conclusion that he was trying to trick her, and so proud of herself for not falling for it, that he almost regretted having to wipe that that cute little smirk off her face.
In answer, he simply folded his arms across his chest and met her eyes, his mouth curving in a sly smile of his own.
Her expression faltered for a moment as she stared back, but she quickly regained her poise. "Nope, it's just not possible," she said confidently.
Raphael's smile widened into a cocky grin. "Guess you would know, all the turtles you been with before an' everything," he countered.
April's smile fled for good at that, and her eyes grew wide again. "You're really… you're not making this up?"
Raph continued to grin as he met her eyes unfalteringly. "Hey listen, you c'n think what you want—ain't like I gotta convince you right now or anything…plenty of time for that." And just because he couldn't resist, he allowed his eyes to slide slowly downward over her entire body before returning his gaze to her face.
April's lack of reaction to that was good indicator of how well she was handling this new bit of information. Her mouth opened and closed once, soundlessly, before she finally managed to stutter, "Well then h-how long do you—I mean, um, when do you… stop?"
He shrugged. "When the skin's raw." It was an exaggeration, of course.
Well, sort of.
Okay, not really.
At this point he really thought if April's eyes got any bigger, they'd roll right onto the floor. God he was enjoying this. Raphael couldn't hold it in anymore—he laughed. It wasn't often he could put her completely at a loss for words, and he decided that her expression completely, without a doubt made up for all of his previous discomfort and then some. "Oh, are we playing a new game now? Okay, I think I got this one," he said, poking a thoughtful finger on his chin. "You're a fish, right? Or… a mouse that just saw a cat?"
At this she closed her mouth and made an effort to compose herself, apparently going for "righteous indignation" by the way she crossed her arms in front of her and stood up tall, but it only made Raph laugh harder.
Eyes narrowing, she waited silently for him to recover himself, and the longer he laughed, the more her eyes flashed until they were practically shooting sparks.
"Funny. Real funny," she said. "But I have a better game—how about we play 'Guess Who's Going Home Sexually Frustrated Tonight'? You get three guesses, and the first two don't count."
Oops, that didn't sound good. Raph knew if ever there was a time to utilize his ninja speed, this was it. He darted forward, entrapping her with his arms and kissing her soundly before she had time to react.
When he pulled back she sputtered a little and braced her arms against him, trying to push away, but he held her firmly. Damn, she was cute when she was mad.
"Raph!" she squawked. "Let me go, you can't mmph-,"
He cut off her words with another kiss, longer this time even though she was still resistant, and his hand moved to cradle the back of her head. His own senses were spinning by the time he pulled away again, lost in the feel of her, the intoxicating scent of her, and it took April a few seconds to find her own voice.
"I—you…what could POSSIBLY give you the idea that kissing me is a good idea right now?" she protested, sounding both angry and more than a little flustered.
He studied her then, taking in the flushed cheeks, the flashing eyes, the overwhelming, irresistible vibrancy of her—and he gently brushed some hair out of her face. "It's just that, you're so beautiful, I can't help it," he whispered gruffly.
April just stared back at him, and for a moment he thought she was going to burst into tears… but at last she flung her arms around his neck and kissed him, and Raphael scooped her up as her body went liquid in his arms.
Now this is more like it, Raphael thought, and even through a growing haze of desire, he couldn't help but bask in the slow-forming realization that this spring wasn't going to be the frustrating, uncomfortable, and often humiliating affair it usually was. No. In fact, as he carried April to the bedroom, he was certain this was going to be the best spring EVER.