Big thanks again to Pi and Tri for helping me out with this chapter! It's very appreciated, guys! :)
Thanks also to everyone who is reading and enjoying this... I couldn't do it without you!
He wasn't as strong as he thought he was.
Raph groaned under his breath as he struggled to get back onto his feet from his sitting position, leaning heavily against the withered old tree in the center of his exhibit as he did so.
Feeling only slightly light-headed, he slowly made his his way back to his enclosure. As funny as the humans had been acting lately, he really had no further interest in watching them today. He was hungry... and tired too.
Of course, lately he had been nothing but tired, and he was only slightly distressed to find that he no longer really cared. This was his plan, and he was sticking to it. No matter what.
He still had enough energy to keep the humans from coming near him, that was what was important. He hadn't forgotten his hatred... and the ones responsible for this. And if they dared get near him...
Well, then, he wouldn't go down without a fight. That was for damn sure.
Not even now.
Entering his cave, Raph barely paid attention to the figments around him. Out of the corner of his eye he thought saw Donnie, trying to shake off Mikey's questions and attention as he struggled to finish a book. And there was Leo, sitting in the corner and watching them all with that pensive and contemplative look he had often assumed prior to making his decision to stand by his brothers.
Raph didn't even bother turning to see them better anymore, he knew they weren't there.
Instead, he was starting to dread the day when they wouldn't disappear. When the weakness in his body and heart would catch up with him and overwhelm him completely. It was just a matter of time... one day he would wake up unable to move, unable to breathe.
And his brothers would be there, with him, one last time.
...And what was worse was that he'd probably -welcome- that final oblivion. It was better than this purgatory of knowing what he could have and not having it. It was better than knowing what joy was... and suffering too. It was better than those dark days when he hated his brothers almost as much as the humans. For having been there. For being exactly what he needed.
Raph shook his head quickly, trying to clear out these cloudy thoughts before they settled into that familiar fog. Distantly, he noted that Donnie's ghost had disappeared mid-complaint, and with him Mikey and Leo.
Good. He wasn't sure how much more of this he could take before he had to punch something.
He could feel that familiar disgust creeping up on him again. It had been... a long time... since he had seen his family, yes. And a shorter amount of time then that since he had last accepted the human's food. He hadn't been hungry. He had been tired of them drugging him.
Deep down, Raph knew what was really happening... what had happened the first day he pushed his food bucket away from him and upended it by the door to his habitat. And he hated himself for it.
He was supposed to be better than this.
Every day that strange crowd of humans near the viewing area grew, noted Raph as he relaxed on the ground at the highest part of his exhibit-- the area where he could see just about everything around him.
He was almost starting to get curious.
Over the years Raphael had gotten used to the types who came to visit him. Large crowds of bored looking young humans, lead by equally uninterested adult ones. Small families, the children carrying balloons and eating what Raph now knew was 'junk food' while the parents read out loud from the plaque in the center of the viewing area... and were ignored. Older male humans, who shouted jeers at him in hopes of getting him to do something for their amusement. Pairs of humans, male and female, who barely looked at him as they performed their ridiculous mating rituals.
These new humans were nothing like those things.
They didn't look bored... but they didn't seem to look like they were having fun either. In fact, from what he could see of their faces, they looked pretty pissed off. Almost as much as Raph was when his thoughts took him down those old burning pathways.
They stood in a tight group, together but somehow separate, half of them holding strange things in his hands. From what he could make of them, they looked like wooden sticks-- that sent a chill down Raph's spine-- with large pieces of paper attached to them. On this paper human-writing was scrawled.
Raph, of course, had no clue what these papers said. And he really didn't care either.
These new humans were noisy too, constantly yelling something or other out loud and all at once. The group was large enough now that while he could certainly -hear- them, he couldn't make out what they were saying. Not with them talking all at once. Whatever it was, it seemed to annoy and somehow upset the other zoo visitors, the types Raph was used to.
With this group came more security. He could see five of them now from where he was sitting. Most of them were just outside of his fence, but before the moat. Though one was standing near the crowd, looking irritated and wary.
Sighing, Raph shifted in place, moving his attention away from the humans. He was getting almost as bad as Leo, he noted, the ache distant now underneath the exhaustion and that growing feeling of despair.
None of this mattered-- unless one of the security personnel were stupid enough to step within the fence. Then, exhausted or no, Raph would take action.
It was as Raph carefully stood-- fully intending to find something to distract him even though there wasn't anything to do-- that something in the periphery of his vision caught his notice. Something out in the crowds-- near the group of humans but not quite where the other, normal, humans were clustered.
A brief flash of black, then red. A nagging feeling of familiarity.
But when Raph turned to look, there was nothing there.