Raphael didn't pause as he walked past the living room door, what was the point? If he opened the door the playfully high pitched whimpers and yelps would stop, and they would all turn to look at him as if to say, oh, why are you here?
His dad would stop play fighting with Raphael's siblings and they would blame him for spoiling the fun. The memory that he tried so hard to force away filtered into his mind, it made him cringe with humiliation. He was five, and his dad was playing with his sibling cubs in the living room, Raphael ran in and jumped into the fighting, as he did so he's dad jumped back, he stopped playing. Dario and Constantino growled at Raphael, while Luciana whined for their dad to come and play again, the cubs nudged at him to move out of the room, his dad wasn't looking at the time, he had moved to the other end of the living room. Raphael slipped out the door and up to his uncle Mike and Leo who were in the game room, they always welcomed him in, when Raphael came downstairs a little bit later, they were all playing again. Raphael had cried bucket loads that same night, wondering why his father didn't want to play with him?
Now at the age of thirteen, Raphael knew exactly why, it didn't take a lot of working out when you were the only human in the litter and the only one his father refused to touch. He might not be the worlds biggest brainiac, but he was pretty sure he got that one right.
Raphael sighed as he moved towards the kitchen for something to eat and wondered vaguely where his mother was, probably laying down. After dropping the first litter of six, of which he was the eldest, then another of eight, she once again pregnant with only one cub or baby. Damned if he knew why they had been born panther's when they produced like bunnies but, oh well …
Studying the contents of the fridge, Raphael froze when he heard a whimpering noise, a human whimpering noise. Spinning around looking for the source of it, Raphael tracked it under the kitchen sink, kneeling beside it he opened the cupboard door and jumped when he found Arcangelo there.
"What the hell are you doing down there?" Raphael asked, amused by his little brother. Arc, as was his nickname, was Raphael's favourite brother, he felt a kinship with him that he lacked with his other siblings, he knew it was because they were the only humans in their litters. Even though Arc was only eight and Raphael was thirteen, they hadn't shared rooms with their litter who was the same age, they had shoved into a room together. Something which Raphael felt was akin to ethnic cleansing. Like two lepers they had been pushed together, so Raphael had to endure staring at his little brother's eight year old fixations such as, rock growing and Pokemon paraphernalia. And their mother had repeatedly told Raphael off for playing music with 'adult content' in it or pinning posters up of scantily clad women in bathing suits.
"What's the big deal? Uncle Romeo could write the book on swearing and cursing and I'm just giving Arc a heads up on what's best to look at on a chick."
That was always the same argument from Raphael's side anyway. Despite their age gap and different interests, Raphael loved Arc in a way he loved no one else and he knew Arc loved him as much in return.
"Ah, nothin'," Arc muttered rubbing his face furiously, trying to man up and wipe away his tears. Raph ruffled Arc's hair and gave him a sympathetic look.
"Who was it this time?"
"Francesca and Nico," Arc whispered back, he pushed himself out of his hiding place and stood up, barely reaching his brother's shoulder. Raph sighed and put his arm around Arc's shoulders.
"You know you just got to learn to let it go," Raph muttered and he felt his own throat tighten when Arc leant his curly head, the same brown as their mother's on Raph's scrawny chest. Raph knew that he tended to favour his father's looks rather then his mother, when he was younger he had loved this, wanted to live up to his father's reputation because he looked so much like him. As years went on and Raph realised how much his father seemed to disdain him and Arc, he wished fervently that he had taken after his mother's side.
"Raph, its not fair!" Arc said, his voice straining to keep steady while he fought off tears.
"I know its not, Arc, but it's the way it is. Dad hates us 'cause we ain't like him, we're human. We just got to shut up and get on with it. Let him keep his family of panthers. The fuckers!"
Raph saw Arc's eyes widen at the curse and quickly look around for their mother before laughing, Raph laughed quietly too and then even harder when Arc repeated the swear word in a whisper.
"I just wanted to play, you know," Arc said sadly, looking down at his scuffed sneakers, Raph felt for his brother, he'd hardened himself to the hurt early on, Arc had too much heart and love for his family to do the same. This time Arc made no attempt to hide his tears and Raph hugged him tightly. They suddenly pulled apart when they heard voices coming towards the kitchen door. Arc looked panic stricken, he would cry in front of Raphael, but he couldn't bear the shame if their father or uncle's caught him crying like a weak little baby.
Raphael caught his brother in a head lock and they commenced a silent but worthy fight that left them both sweaty and red in the face.
"Hey, what you two doing?"
Raph looked up and saw his father, Dante Pontis standing in the doorway, beside him was their second cousin Angel, whom Raph liked a lot and behind those two were the twins. Mike and Leo. Raph and Arc sprang apart as if they had been caught doing something naughty, but when their eyes connected Arc's were full of gratitude at Raph's causing a diversion long enough for the tears to dry.
Raph shrugged and went back to the fridge while Arc took the counter at a run so he could hoist himself up on there.
"Raphael, where's your mother?"
Raph looked up at his father's voice and again shrugged, he'd long ago ceased understanding the necessity of communicating with his father in words, since he never seemed to listen to them. Besides Raph got a severe and twisted satisfaction out of anything that could annoy his father, he almost heard Dante's jaw crack.
"Why were you two fighting?" Raph looked up to see Dante looking at Arc, who was the more likely out of them to break under pressure, Arc looked past his dad's shoulder to Raph who mouthed: Fuckers.
Arc burst out into a fit of giggles and Raph ducked back into the fridge, shaking with silent laughter.
"Move human, some of us need to actually eat food, not make eyes at it!"
Raph felt his uncle Leo shove him out the way and Raph stumbled bumping into his father, before Dante could help him steady, Raph jumped back like him like he was carrying something contagious.
"Yeah well, it would be better if you just made eyes at it," Raph said hastily to Leo, avoiding his father's quizzical gaze. Leo stilled in the fridge and looked through his widely spread legs to glare at him.
"Nothing," Raph said casually, throwing a wicked grin at Arc, "just that, you know, your kinda, large now."
Leo straightened and turned around with half a turkey sandwich in his hand. "What's that supposed to mean?"
Angel and Mike hid their grins behind their hands, while Raph gave one of his nonchalant shrugs that he was good at.
"Just a good thing were's mate with the chick on top, huh?"
Mike choked as he tried to hold in a laugh and Leo looked indignant, Raph readied himself for the game that was about to commence. Since they all thought Raph and Arc to weak to physically fight with, Raph took his frustration out by unleashing his unholy talent of sarcasm on them. It as always meant with affection, Raph particularly liked it when either Mike or Leo would go away and come back an hour later with their riposte.
"Don't get feisty with me, boy. I'm in the mood for kicking human ass today!"
Mike and Arc, who were the most common spectators of their 'Cussing' matches, made low 'ooh' noises. Raph held out his arms in a come-and-get-me-if-you-think-your-hard-enough sign.
"Bring it on, dough boy!"
"Shut up! Before I start chase you don't the street with a flame thrower!"
"Only thing you dumb panther's can chase is your tail, man!"
"Human over here thinks he's so slick," Leo said to Mike who was leaning next to Arc on the counter, both laughing at Leo's defeat. "They only run their mouths because nothing else works right."
Leo pointedly dropped his eyes to Raph's crotch, the 'ohh's' commenced again joined by Angel, Raph completely forgot his father was in the room.
"So say the guy that ain't had any for … what is it now? Two, three years? The only time you get anywhere near some pretty gal's draws is when your sitting on her lap and she think you're her house kitty."
Mike held his side while he laughed and Angel was hanging on to the cupboard while he hid his face in the boxes of cereal. Leo looked like he was thinking hard for something to say, while throwing dirty looks at Mike who was supposed to be on his team.
"I'm gonna kick your scrawny ass -"
Raph scoffed. "That's if you can catch me, fat cat! Tell me, can panthers your size still climb trees? I bet you got more stretch marks then all the women in the maternity ward put together!"
Arc jumped off the table and ran to the toilet while Mike was smacking the table with his fist.
"Oh, I love this kid!" Mike wheezed, his eyes streaming, then he looked over and pointed at Leo. "You are a disgrace, how did I ever come out being your twin, I have no idea! The kid got you good."
"Not if I go panther on his ass," Leo grumbled with a good-natured smile that belied his tone, he winked at Raph.
"Yeah, yeah," Raph said cockily, "that's after I roll you down the street."
"That's enough," Dante said and Raph looked away. Jeez, why did his dad always have to ruin everything? Arc came back panting and cursed when he met a silent room.
"Damn it to Hades, I missed it! Who won?"
"Who do you think?" Raph said, throwing Leo a taunting look and sweeping a mock bow to Arc, who whooped joyously.
"Don't say damn," Angel muttered distractedly and Arc took no notice.
"Mike, Leo," both uncles looked up at Dante, "you got somewhere to be?"
They nodded and Leo walked backwards to the door, punching his fist into his palm, he pointed at Raph who grinned.
"When I get back tonight, kid, Your dead!"
"Yeah, of old age waiting for you to get some new material!"
Leo huffed a laugh and exchanged an almost proud look with Mike as the both disappeared, unable to resist it Raph shouted out before they got to the door.
"Hey Uncle Mike?"
"Tell Leo to walk sideways until we get the doorframes widened!"
Arc bent over in a fit of innocent child giggles, Raph laughed to until he spotted his father watching him, then silence fell. Shit!
"Come on, Arc," Raph said, steadfastly avoiding his father's gaze, it always made him nervous, "we got shi - err, I mean, stuff to do."
Arc nodded and they both left the kitchen without another word.
Dante smiled as he stared at Pandora sorting through a large cardboard box, the box looked bigger then his beautiful mate and she was likely to fall in it if she leant over any further.
"Was that Raphael and Leo going at it again?"
Dante's smile widened, he'd never been able to sneak up on her, she always aware of his presence, which was something that pleased him deeply.
"Again? They do that often? First time I ever see Leo lost for words," Dante laughed and shook his head whilst moving further into the room. Pandora turned as he did and her distended belly was seen in full, reminding him that another one of his offspring were on the way, Dante placed his hand over her stomach.
"How you feeling today, mate of mine?" Dante nuzzled her ear and Pandora laughed, she loved it when Dante got sweet like this.
"We're good," she said, placing her own hand over his, "she was a little fidgety this morning but now … she's calm."
"That's my girl. Do we know if she's cub or human yet?"
"I'm not getting any feelings either way," she gestured to the boxes, "that's why I'm sorting through the old baby grows of Raphael's and Arc's. Just in case."
"She can't wear them, they're boys' clothes."
"Some of the plain ones will do until I go shopping for new ones. By the way -" Dante stilled, whenever she said 'by the way' it was always followed with a lecture, Dante smiled winningly. "I need you to send Angel up to see me."
Dante waited for her to turn her attention back to the boxes before letting out a silent breath of relief.
"Hmm, I think something's troubling Arc …" Dante waited a beat, when she didn't continue he cleared his throat, Pandora fixed her questioning lavender eyes on him.
"What's wrong with him?"
"I don't know. That's why I need to get Angel to hound on Raphael for me."
"Why Raph -"
"Because if Angel hounds on Raphael to hound on Arc then he comes back and tells me. I like to know what's going on with my boys."
Pandora muttered all this rather distractedly whilst fluttering about the room, with Dante trailing after her with a perplexed frown on his face. Pandora paused to lean up and peck Dante on the jaw before carrying on with her work, Dante was still frowning.
"I don't get it; why not just go straight to the source. Surely Arc will tell you?"
Immediately he knew he'd touched a nerve in his mate, a tic started in her cheek as if she were clenching her teeth, her brows knitted.
"No, Raphael is the only one he will talk to."
Dante's mouth made an O and he waited until the brewing storm cloud cleared off of his mate's face, which was while she was staring at Raph's old baby clothes, before he spoke again.
"Okay, I'm getting this now. But what I don't get is why Angel has got to do all the hounding?"
The irritation flew straight back into Pandora's face and she threw the clothes back into the box with a slap, she turned with her hands on her hips.
"Because," she began in an exasperated tone as if this was all common knowledge around the house. "Arc will only talk to Raphael and Raphael won't tell me what's going on even if I asked, but for some reason if Angel asks he is some how able to wheedle snippets of information out of him which in turn helps me in knowing what's wrong with one of my youngest."
Having said this all on one breath Pandora inhaled and then pierced Dante with an annoyed glare.
Dante shook his head and tried to look innocent, Pandora turned back to her work muttering sourly under her breath. It hurt her that her two human son's were the only ones that she couldn't put the 'mum' stare on and get them to break, that they were part of the family yet seemed so secluded from the rest of them. Perhaps it had been a bad idea to put them in the same room together, what else could have happened but them growing closer and putting a wedge between them and the rest of the family, at dinner it was like that sat on a different island only allowing a few people near. She was never one of those people, neither was Dante, it was only Mike, Leo and Angel; she always wondered why.
Dante didn't seem to realise just how segregated their two human sons were from the family, it worried her so much, as a mother it was her duty to worry whether they were hurting or afraid of something, but they never came to her. Never. Her pregnancy hormones flared when she picked up Raphael's baby suit, she caught a whiff of his scent and her eyes welled up. At once Dante's arms surrounded her.
"What's wrong, Gataki?"
"Oh, nothing," she sniffed and tried to wave him away but he just gathered her close to his chest, she held on gratefully. "Its just me being stupid. I just .. Oh, Dante! I just want to know my boys are okay."
Dante laughed as if she were silly. "Of course they're ok, Pandora. They are healthy and fed and have a bed to sleep in. What could possibly be wrong with them?"
"People can have all that and still be unhappy, Dante. I know those two are troubled, I just don't know why and its killing me. That they could be dealing with something horrible and too afraid to tell me what."
Dante flashed himself into the bar area where Mike and Leo were prepping for the opening that night. Dante's club the Inferno, all pun intended, was set up in the eighties as a Limani for all were's seeking shelter, however the heavy rock club also pulled in a ripe crowd of humans too. And due to Dante being a shrewd businessman and he usually used glamour on the minds of the humans in the bar when they left so they thought they had been to the best club in the world, business was thriving, which helped when he had a family of fifteen to feed. No wait, make that sixteen, Dante corrected himself as he counted his two brothers Mike and Leo.
Dante watched the twins sparring with each other from either ends of the bar, neither came up with imaginative or witty insults as Raphael. On that thought his mind wandered back to Pandora, he was sure she was over-reacting about Arc and Raphael but just to put her mind at rest while she was in such a volatile state he would get Angel to hound on the boys. Whilst pretended to peruse the books Dante waited until Mike and Leo worked their way round the bar to his end, with Leo was closest to him.
"If I needed to get Raphael to spill his guts to me on something," he began as casually as he could, "who would be the best guy to go to?"
Leo looked up surprised then answered as if it was the most obvious thing in the world, which in turn irritated Dante. "Well, him and Arc are close as brothers can get … but they don't spill on each other. So, its Angel. Duh!"
"Do that again and I'll skin you. Why Angel?"
Mike came over to listen and when Leo just shrugged still stinging over the skinning threat, the hide of their brother that had betrayed them to Diamons was currently hanging on the wall, Mike spoke instead.
"'Cause Angel is sneaky about stuff like that. He pokes you a little, then retreats, then pokes a little more until you slip out something he can work on and then - Bam! You end up spilling guts and everything else on him. Why Raph done something?"
"No," Dante shook his head and fell into a brooding silence, something was niggling at him, something he didn't feel quite right with. All afternoon he kept repeating the scenario in the kitchen. The way Raphael had shrugged when Dante had asked him a question, the way he and Arc looked at each other like they had a private code. The way they laughed and sparred with their uncles and then laughed with each other. And most of all, the way Raphael had jumped back as if he were on hot coals, when they had bumped into each other, the way his eyes skittered away from Dante's. Then everything Pandora had told him … he didn't want to admit it but - he was pretty miffed that Angel knew more about his sons then he did, he guessed it would be fair to say that, well, he was kind of jealous.
"Where's Angel, Mikey?" Dante said after a while, Mike was about to shrug when the rich, dulcet, laid back tones of their cousin came through the door.
"Someone saying my name?"
"Why? Did you forget it?" Leo commented and high-fived Mike, Dante watched Angel who was as smooth and cool as a brother could get, his voice full of deep power, full of soul flowed like velvet over you. He spared Leo a droll glance before turning his attention to Dante.
"You need me, cuz?"
"Yeah, Pandora wants you to pick Raphael for what's wrong with Arc."
Angel, who was wearing a stylish pair of shades, took them off to reveal a pair of green eyes edged with amber, he exhaled skeptically.
"I told her, the kid won't spill. Neither of them are saying shit to me lately, every time I corner them they're all -" Angel clenched his fists and tensed his arms up to his chest, Dante raised an eyebrow. "I don't know, edgy, tense. Tight-lipped and nervous shall we say."
"What about getting one of the boys to talk to them, Constantino or Dario?"
Angel raised an eyebrow at him then flicked his gaze at Mike and Leo who seemed determined all of a sudden to make the bar shine by the way they polished it, resolutely keeping their heads and eyes averted.
"What?" Dante demanded and watched Angel, with graceful precision, fold up his shades and deposit them in his top pocket, then hitch his trousers up and sit on the bar stool opposite Dante.
"That wouldn't be a good idea, cuz."
"Want to tell me why?"
Angel hesitated for a moment. "Dante, man, Raph and Arc they are human -"
"Yeah, they're human, so the fuck what?" Dante growled angrily, still not understanding where this was going, Mike and Leo made quickly for the door but Dante banged his fist on the bar. They both became statues and Leo risked a glance over his shoulder to see Dante pointing at them. "Get your asses back here and sit!"
They followed his orders in double time. Dante turned back to Angel who had an amused smirk on his face while watching the twins, when their eyes connected again the smirk faded and his handsome face that was like that of his namesake turned serious.
"You're a good father, Dante, you're a good provider for your young, but -"
"You don't understand your kids - your human kids, that is - and because of that you've ignored them to the point where they only have each other."
"What's this bullshit!"
Angel sat back and shrugged, he made to get up but Dane put a hand on his arm, Angel looked down at the hand and Dante let go with a sigh. Seeing the misery in his face and because he loved his cousin, Angel sat again.
"What are you saying, Angelos? That Raphael and Arc don't feel like family, is that it? Your saying that -"
"Yeah, Dante man, that's what I'm saying," Angel exhaled and run a hand through his hair, feeling more awkward then ever. He never thought the day would come when Dante would be forced to see how being the only Arcadians in a family of Katagaria, caused Raph and Arc so much damage. "How many times have you ever seen Raph and Arc play with the cubs? How many times have you play fought with them? How many times have you seen them speak to their siblings?"
Dante felt his throat tighten and his heart pick up a few beats.
"Their mothers human -"
"Damn it, Dante!" Angel could not keep his temper, the floodgates had been opened and there was no way to stop it. How many times had he had to watch while his nephews had slipped from the room when fun and family games had been going on because they knew they would not be apart of it. He knew Dante didn't mean it, that he didn't know but sometimes, ignorance wasn't a good enough excuse.
He'd had to watch Raph had become Arc's substitute father, all the while Raph shut himself down, closed himself off in a place where only Arc could stay.
"Pandora is Arcadian but what you feel for her is different to how you feel to you kids. How you treat your human kids is not the way you treat your human wife! And how you treat your human kids is not the way you treat your cubs!"
Breathing heavily Angel got up to pace, constantly running agitated hands through his short black curls.
"Doesn't it surprise you that instead of his father or his mother, Arc took his first steps towards Raphael? And instead of 'Papa' his first word was his brother's name? Do you know that Raphael could play the violin like a pro since he was three and that when he was twelve he couldn't sleep all the way through the night for a year? Did you know Arc likes -"
"Angel enough!" Leo and Mike shouted at the same time, one staring at him with anger while the other looked at Dante in horror. Dante drew his head from out of his hands and his face as deadly pale, his mouth set in a grim line. Angel scrubbed his hands over his face feeling like shit.
"Shit, Dante, I shouldn't have -"
"Shut up, Angelos," Dante said dejectedly, "you were right."
Dante walked towards the door that led through to the part of the house where the Were's claiming sanctuary in the Limani stayed, through there he would go towards the house where his family lived. His family, he scoffed bitterly, what a joke that was! As he got to the door, Dante stopped with his hand braced against the frame and looked over his shoulder.
Leo and Mike looked identical as they watched him with an expression of shock and sympathy, Angel just looked terribly sad.
"I hope you never know," Dante said gravely, "what its like to realise that you've hurt your children."
Arcangelo paused the screen as he played on his Xbox, and turned from where he sat cross-legged in front of the T.V screen, to look at his brother.
"You are so not going to believe what I'm looking at, my bro."
Arc frowned and Raphael spun on his swivel computer chair with a big grin on his face.
Raph still continued to grin. "For Artemis sake, Raph, tell me or let me get back to the game!"
"I just hacked into the Dark-Hunter website!"
Arc spat out the coke he had taken a sip of and scrambled to his feet to look over his brother's shoulder, Raph span round on the chair again to face the PC monitor.
"Holy shit!" Arc copied his brother's favourite phrase.
"Yeah, I know. And look how many there are, Jesus, how am I supposed to find Acheron?"
"Who the hell or what the hell?"
"From the rumours, its more like what the hell? But it says he's no longer a dark-hunter, how the hell am I supposed to find him now?"
"Why's he so special?"
"I heard mom talking about him once, he's some big all-powerful guru guy."
"And you want to find him because …"
Raph gave his brother a irritated glance, "because he might be able to tell me what's wrong with me," he muttered quietly, Arc clapped his brother on the shoulder, in a show of comfort.
"Raph, man, why don't you tell dad or someone? Or Angel?"
"No!" Raph snapped, then sighed and softened his voice. "No, I don't want dad knowing. And Angel would tell him, he'll hate me more if he finds out I'm a freak of nature."
"Your not a freak, man -"
"Yes, I am! Have you ever heard of someone who hasn't gone through puberty being able to change their forms? … No, I didn't think so!"
Arc shrugged and went to sit back at the T.V, Raph watched him suspiciously.
"You better not tell anyone about this, Arc!"
"Oh, so now I'm a snitch!" Arc looked mortally wounded by the implication and Raph nodded approvingly. They sat in silence for a few minutes before Arc looked over at Raph who was staring out the window.
"Is it gonna happen tonight?"
"Full moon, isn't it?"
"Then it will happen," Raph muttered ominously and Arc couldn't help wincing.
"Does it still hurt?"
Raph refused to answer but continued to flick through the pages on the site, there was no information that could help him find Acheron what so ever. Raph raised his head and stared off into the dusk and thought about the moon rising, he didn't answer Arc because he didn't want his brother to worry but in truth, the transformation had been rough on him and his wounds still hurt like hell. It was, Raph concluded, because the process was so fucking unnatural.
"You still cool with covering for me?" Raph asked turning his eyes on his little brother who was watching him owlishly, his large lavender eyes knew entirely too much, and they were … so sad.
"Always." Arc saw his brothers throat work and Raph nodded, turning to watch the sky again. Raph was everything Arc wanted to be, he was so calm about shit, never really got rattled even with all the freaky stuff that had been going on since last month. Although they weren't allowed, Raph had taken Arc to a human movie theatre to see 'Oceans Eleven' a year or so ago. It had been amazing, the fucking bomb!
Arc had watched in fascination when the George Clooney and Brad Pitt guys ripping off the hot-shot casino owner, Arc had commented on the fact that if he had to pull off a heist like that he'd be edgy.
"More like sweating bullets and shittin' bricks!" Raph had laughed, then agreed that he would be the same.
No, Arc had thought, you wouldn't. Raph was cool and smooth. A crisis wasn't a crisis to him until there was absolutely no way out of it, and even then, he handled it like someone had just commented on how bad the weather was, so they would miss going to their favourite park to play ball.
Arc often wondered how he had come to be like that, seeing as most of the family were hot heads, Angel might seem all relaxed but he was as gung-ho for a fight as the next panther.
Not Raph. Not my brother.
Studying his profile in the dying light, Arc deduced that it was likely to come from all the years Raph had kept inside the pain of being an outsider. Suffering silently when his father refused to tussle with him like he did Dario or Lorenzo or the rest of their Katagaria siblings.
And since last month when under the pull of the full moon when even full grown, powerful weres like their mother and father change, and Raph had gone through his own transformation, Arc had placed his brother on an even higher pedestal.
"So where you gonna go?" Arc said to bring his brother out of his thoughts, that were causing his face to grow dark, Raph whipped his head round and then shrugged.
"I'm thinking I'll just go to and find somewhere to sleep until it fades and come back before dawn. You know where to leave my clothes, right?"
Arc gave him a 'duh' stare and Raph smiled, no way would Arc let him down, but still he had a right to be a bit nervous. Before his thoughts could completely suck him back in, Arc spoke again, something which Raph was grateful for because when left to them all he could think of was the coming night.
"You think anyone will notice your gone? Dad, maybe?"
Raph gave a snort of laughter, he was genuinely amused by the thought of his father noticing their absence. Poor Arc, always had hope in his voice when he talked of his father, better the kid learn now that they didn't mean jack to the old man then later when it would be harder to get over. It was a bitter humour, but amusement all the same.
"Get a grip on reality. He'd notice more if I was there. The only one you got to worry about is mom," Raph thought for a moment, "and Angel. But dad? No way, he would not notice."
"What wouldn't I notice?"
Raph felt his stomach drop away then come back again smacking his heart up into his throat, as casually as he could Raph flicked the screen on to a 'Metallica' fan site and turned on his chair. He risked a quick look at Arc, who had blanched and was staring at his father in horror, both were completely silent as they stared up at the tall, dark haired panther that Raph looked so much like.
"Hmm?" Dante sauntered into the room and Raph saw Arc start to shake a little. Damn it, stay cool! "Raphael, I'm talking to you. What wouldn't I notice?"
Raph felt himself start to shake when his father pierced him with that dark, predators gaze, he was finding it hard to swallow all of a sudden. Arc was staring stalwartly at his Xbox controls, Raph just hoped his breathing didn't start to go irregular, that was a sure sign of trouble for his brother. Raph chanced a quick glance at his father who was still watching the pair of them, he was closer now, further in the room then before. To use a complete cliché, the air was so thick Raph felt he'd have to saw through it with a knife, and the silence in the room? Well, now he understood when people said it was deafening.
The room reeked of fear, Dante thought, under the smell of youthful sweat and the smell of the fabric softener their mother used, it was there. Both boys were casting looks at each other, Dante noticed, then at him, Arc would look up at him his face etched with fear and his eyes, so clear like his mothers, were full of hope and yearning. His youngest human son had a beautiful face, with eyelashes that would make a girl envious, he was like all the human boys that Dante had ever seen in advertisements on T.V. Grass stains on his knees, shoe laces untied, hair untidy and a cap pulled low so his lavender eyes were cast in shade.
Dante shifted his gaze to Raphael and he felt his stomach clench. Could Angel be right? Had he ignored his son so long he had forgotten what he looked like, what he really looked like? Was this in fact the first time in a long time he had really studied his son's face, perused and scrutinised the features that were almost an identical but youthful replica of his own. The thought made his chest ache, what was even worse was unlike Arc, Raphael stared back into Dante's face, he met his eyes where his brother would not and what Dante saw there made him grow cold. Raphael's boyish face was set in stone, his face unreadable all except for his dark eyes, that were cold when they looked upon their father. There was no malice or threat in them, just a cold questioning of his presence.
Dante took more in, in those few minutes, standing there watching his sons then he had in all their years alive. He noticed that Arc wore baggy jeans and a simple sweater that his mother had bought him, where as Raph had grown into his own style, favouring long, black, combat type shorts with a black t-shirt with a rock emblem on it. On his wrist he wore a sweat band that had some slogan written over it, both wore the same type of sneakers, dirty and scuffed with laces undone.
The fear in the air thickened over the time Dante stood there staring at them, silently contemplating how he could put right all he had done wrong. He had to start somewhere, Raph slowly turned his back on him and Arc got up and sat on the bed, consciously or unconsciously Dante wasn't sure but the result was that he was nearer his brother. Raph rolled his chair back and it blocked the path and view of Arc, again Dante wasn't sure whether it was intentional or not but the act, all the same, was protective.
"Why aren't you two downstairs?" Dante asked, his throat feeling rather tight, with his back still facing him, Raph shrugged.
"Arc, your mom's worried about you, why don't you go see her?"
Arc's eyes, if it were possible, went even wider.
"Me?" His voice was high and sounded very young, Dante's heart clenched, why were his children so afraid of him? Dante spied a picture of a car up on the wall, he supposed it was on Raphael's side of the room, though it was a big room and their stuff seemed to be scattered higgledy piggledy.
"Yeah … You like Mercedes Benz, Raphael?"
"Who doesn't?" came the indifferent answer, Dante ground his teeth.
"Did you know your cousin Gabriel has a Lamborghini?" Raphael did not answer but Arc did.
"Raph says they're got cool engines, but they are for people without real style."
Raphael's shoulders visibly tensed but Arc kept speaking and Dante listened, charmed for once by the sound of his young's voice. Never appreciating what it was like to hear them speak, all the cubs had yet to go through puberty so they spoke panther, Dante had never truly listened to the sound of Arc's human voice, never realising its beauty in its innocent child chatter.
"Yeah, he says they're showy but got no real class, and besides as a panther, Gabriel should give a shit about the emissions."
Arc ended that rather decisively, it was obvious that Raphael's opinion to him was like Gods law, Dante was pretty sure that Arc didn't know what the hell he meant by emissions or what they did to the planet.
"Did Raphael say that too?" Dante couldn't help asking and Arc's eyes suddenly grew wary and his body language cautious as though he wasn't sure whether he were in trouble or not. Raphael spun round in his chair immediately, sensing his brother's discomfort.
"I thought I told you to find an alternate word for shit?" Raphael said, his voice rather deep and mature for his age, it gave Dante another twinge to see the elder boy reprimanding him, the way he knew he should.
"Yeah, well, we won't tell mom, so its fine," Dante said, making both boys stare, "just don't make a habit out of it."
Arc beamed and Raphael scowled darkly, Dante was taken off guard by how much displeasure there was in that frown … cars, they were talking about cars.
"So what's your car preference then, Raphael?"
"He likes Aston Martin Vanquish-S. He says you know a guys got style when they have the sense to buy a car like that, they don't need the help of the Lamborghini name to help you pull some skirt. Right?"
Arc looked expectantly at Raphael, who flushed, he wanted desperately to shut his brothers trap but the boy was on a roll, Raph doubted he had ever spoken so much to their father in one sitting.
Dante tried to fight back a laugh at the last comment, it made him both happy and sad to realise that Arc worshipped the ground his brother walked on, hung on his every word. Most kids did that with their fathers.
"You like Astons too?"
"Hell no!" Arc cried enthusiastically, "I want a Harley!"
"A bike man?"
"Yeah, they are so cool!"
"I'm a Mercedes man myself, but still I got a weakness for a hummer."
Raphael met his eyes then but they were still unmoved, Dante had no clue what to do.
"Are you guys coming downstairs, everyone's in the T.V room?"
Arc and Raph looked at each other, even Arc's brilliant smile dimmed under the sudden suspicion in his eyes.
"No thanks," Raphael said coldly and turned to his PC again, Arc deliberately looked over his brother's shoulder and turned his back on Dante. He slipped out of the room and closed the door silently, but he didn't move, he listened intently at their door. A minute passed, then -
"He's gone." That was Arc's voice, a little uneven.
"Shit! What the hell was he on?" Raphael sounding equally shaken but relieved.
"Drugs I think."
A snort of laughter.
"You were awfully chatty," Raphael's voice was accusatory and sarcastic, there was a sound like Arc was ruffling with something.
"I got nervous when it was all quiet."
"Shut up! What do you think he wanted anyway?"
"No idea." A pause then Raphael spoke again and it was softer, kinder, "you can go downstairs if you want, Arc. You don't have to stay here with me."
"No way," Arc protested immediately, then muttered, "besides its like you said, I mean, what's the point, right? None of them care if we're not there. And I hate it when they all turn and stare when we walk in, you know, when -"
"I know." Raphael assured him quickly as his voice began to quiver, Dante's chest was aching so badly he had to rub it, but it made no difference, it was so painful.
"I just -" Arc's little boy voice got younger and younger, as it strained against a lump in his throat that made his little voice crack. "I hate being human, Raph. I can't help being like this, you know? I just think if I'd been born animal, would it be different? Do you think that?"
There was a long pause, a noise of someone moving, the springs of the bed creaking, Raphael was no doubt sitting beside his brother now, Dante wanted to know, did he have his arm round Arc, was he staring at the wall, was Arc's head on his shoulder?
"No, I don't think that. I love being human, why the fuck should I change for them!"
There was so much bitterness in Raphael's voice that it gave away his lie and Dante couldn't bear to hear another word, he flashed himself to his and Pandora's bedroom, it was empty, it was there that Dante realised his cheeks were wet.
Pandora leant against the door jamb and watched Dante. Her mate was so beautiful with his silky black hair falling down his back, pulled away from his face by a leather thong, his hands were steepled under his chin like he were praying. The light evening turned rapidly from a dusky violet to a deep purple blue, speckled with white stars, the picture he posed before her was dramatic and breathtaking.
"Why didn't you tell me?"
Pandora knew Dante was aware of her presence, she had made no attempt to hide her scent from him or sneak up on him. He flicked his dark, turbulent eyes to her and in them she saw devastation, pain wrought her heart, there were no tears, no raised voice. Just pure sadness and that, for Pandora, was harder to face then anything else.
"You're a good father, Dante -" She began, but Dante hissed furiously, his fists clenched in their sheets.
"Don't dare lie to me! Don't try and coddle me, Pandora! I don't deserve it!" He raked his hands through his hair and breathed deeply, undaunted by his anger, only deeply miserable, Pandora moved to his side. He kept his head bowed but leant against her so he could lay his cheek against her full stomach, she run her hands through his hair.
"I've been so cruel to them-"
"Stop it!" Pandora snapped, "I won't have you doing this to yourself! You were never cruel, Dante, or unkind to them. You just didn't understand them -"
"That's not an excuse!"
"No," she relented, "its not. But its your only reason. And as much as you would blame yourself, I deserve the bigger portion of it. You were ignorant to your mistakes, I saw them but didn't do enough. I thought that if they had me it would be enough, instead of making you aware of how the boys felt, making you feel guilty for not noticing them. Perhaps then you would notice them too much and what would become of the cubs? I'm the one to blame here. I should have said something long ago."
"What can I do now, Pandora? They hate me."
"No, they fear you." Dante winced as the brutal truth sliced him through, "They fear that you'll reject them, that you'll think them weak for being human. So many things will have gone through their minds. They aren't comfortable in your presence and it'll take time. Just try and be their friend, then they'll see you as their father."
Dante pulled Pandora into his lap, seeking her comfort, he nuzzled her and she gave a small purr. Sighing disconsolately, Dante thought of the conversation he had heard between the boys when he had listen through their door, the loyalty they had for each other, the love, he knew it would be easier to reach the pair through Arc but he did not want to damage the bond they had with each other. It was a trust between them, built out of feeling like they had no one else; he said so to Pandora.
"Your not out to drive a wedge between them, love. Just get to know them, let them know that being human doesn't matter, that as their father you love them, have always loved them and will continue to, no matter what."
"Your right, of course you are. But it'll take time, the heart is a hard thing to heal."
"True enough, but they have strong hearts, they'll find a way to heal, if you give them a reason to. Just don't deepen the wounds."
Dante knew without asking that Pandora meant Raphael, the boy had been left for thirteen years of his short life to brew on his bitterness and pain, the isolation and hurt had welded a streak of pride, independence and defiance in him that ran through his core like iron. It was plain to see that Arc was the only one Raphael loved enough to bend that iron will for, his brother was the key to salvaging their relationship that Dante had left to decay.
Arc's heart was being forced up into his throat like acid bile, he shook as he rehearsed the lies he was meant to tell.
"Keep it calm, play it cool."
He repeated Raphael's words to himself as he walked down the hallway, the T.V was on loud in the room, he'd have to pass through it to go to the kitchen; Arc winced. He hated walking through the room when they were all in there, it was the most uncomfortable feeling in the world. Everyone would be yipping and chatting happily and he would open the door and they would stop, like they were controlled by a remote and had been put abruptly on mute, the silence made it hard for Arc to breathe.
Raphael hadn't been forced to go through the change yet, it would be soon but he was up in his room fighting it. It was Arc's job to make an appearance and if anyone asked where he was just to say that he was chilling to music in his room and Arc wanted to watch something else on T.V. Raph had assured him that only mom would ask but since she was always so busy keeping watch on all their brothers and sisters, she'd take their word for it, and dad thank God, would be at the club. Arc didn't know what to think about his dad turning up in their room today, he'd liked it at first but then as Raph said, he must have wanted something, Arc couldn't figure out what but he wasn't prepared to let his guard down.
Keep it calm, play it cool.
Arc turned the handle and pushed the door open, as he expected the noise level in the room dropped and Arc felt everything from his collar upwards flush a deep crimson. His heart beating a tattoo against his ribs, Arc hopped over the bodies of his brothers and sisters sprawled on the rug, keeping his eyes averted from everything but the floor.
"Hey kid, where you going?"
Arc froze and spun to meet his father's friendly eyes. Another time, Arc would have felt a thrill of pleasure rush through him to see his fathers eyes dancing with happiness to see him, to speak solely to him in the room full of his siblings, at that moment however Arc was petrified.
"Kitchen," Arc cleared his throat when he merely mouthed the words and said it again a little more firmly.
"You hungry, honey?" Pandora lifted her head from Dante's shoulder and sent a smile towards Arc, Arc felt his shoulders untense a little, he didn't mind answering his mother.
"A little, I'm just getting some shi - err - snacks, for me and Ralph - I mean, Raph."
"He's not using you for slave labour, is he?"
"Come on, mom, that was one time … Besides, he grabs crap."
Pandora smiled sweetly. "You want me to fix it for you?" She inched forward to the edge of the couch but Arc fearing he would be kept in the room longer then necessary, hastily had her sitting again.
"Mom, its fine, you sit and I'll do my own food."
Dante laid his hand gently on Pandora's stomach to keep her sat and the baby or cub inside her booted his palm, he smiled then looked up at Arc.
"Come here, Arc." The kid went pale and looked as if he'd rather do anything else in the world, he gave the ceiling a pleading look before edging closer. Dante waited for him to get into arms reach and snaked his arm out fast and caught Arc's wrist, Arc's gasp was loud enough to have Dario, Dimitri and Luciana throwing dirty looks over their shoulders at those making the noise over the T.V.
"I'm not going to hurt you, Arcangelo," Dante said gravely and he led Arc's hand to Pandora's stomach, "feel your sister."
Arc felt much better when his hand connected with his mother, whom he was used to being touched by on a regular basis. Pandora pulled Arc closer, and without thinking about it, he moved round so that he was on his mothers side, farthest from Dante and laid his cheek and ear against the stomach.
"Hey, mom, she's talking to me!" Arc said, casting his playful eyes up to his mother, he saw his older brothers roll their eyes but Rosaria, who was the youngest of the second litter scrambled up immediately and walked over. She climbed agilely up the couch arm with her claws and pranced easily into their father's lap, he caught her and passed her over so she could paw her mother's tummy.
"What's she saying?" Pandora said, winking at him and both looked at Rosaria, whom he had always thought was really cute.
"She's saying she wants to meet her sister named Rosie," Arc said in mock surprise, Rosaria made an excited yipping noise and Pandora laughed, Rosaria pawed Arc's face for him to play along again.
"She says she'll tell you later, Rosie," he murmured, standing up he hop-scotched through the bodies on the floor and into the kitchen.
Dante followed Arc without him knowing, the boy made sandwiches for two, with enough butter on the bread to make Dante wince, crisps, cans of coke, he watched the tray pile up. It was a feast meant on lasting them the night, so they wouldn't have to come down again, Dante sighed, this needed to stop. Arc stilled suddenly in the process of pouring milk on a bowl on cornflakes, he looked over his shoulder.
"Hi," Dante said, with an easy smile. Arc blinked in surprise and murmured a rather unsure 'hey, dad,' back.
"Why don't you and your brother come and sit with the rest of us?"
It took a moment for him to realise he was holding his breath waiting for Arc's response, he was almost bouncing on the balls of his feet.
"Erm, no that's okay, we, ah, he is listening to music and chillin', like. And there's a show on T.V that I want to watch so .."
"You can watch it down here Arc."
"No one else will want to -"
"Who cares?" Dante gave a shrug and the smell of panic filled the air, damn it! What the hell did he do wrong now?
"No, erm, dad, that's ok. I might be down later."
"Tough, I want you and your brother down here, in that room now. Now go get Raphael."
"Raph, don't feel well!" Arc blurted out, his palms beginning to sweat, Dante smelt the lie and it set fire to his temper. Arc saw the fire blaze behind his father's eyes and the grim set to his mouth, he looked so angry Arc almost prayed to pass out so he wouldn't have to be victim to that stare again. Stepping back Arc raised his arm to his face, the gesture of fear and protection, the slick fear pumping off his son was putrid and Dante felt disgusted with himself, before he could say anything comforting, Arc moved his elbow and the bowl of soggy cereal crashed to the floor, rivers of white liquid ran through the grating in between the tiles. A buzzing silence fell in both rooms, and Pandora was on her feet moving towards them.
"What's going on?"
Dante sighed and turned towards her, out the corner of his eye a blur streaked past him, he called after Arc as the boy raced across the room at a sprint, accidentally stepping on his brother's tail in the process. Nico roared and turned instinctively swiping his claws, they slashed through Arc's calf and the kid cried out in pain, Dante moved like lightening into the room to pull Nico away from his younger brother. Dante admitted even though Nico was his son, the cub liked to fight and was all to easy about using his claws and teeth on his siblings, it was why Tommaso was currently sitting with a bandaged paw and ear.
Dante looked up and cursed, a bloody hand print was left on the white, wooden door that Arc had escaped through, dark blood splattered the carpet. Dante turned on Nico.
"Get to your room and stay there, I'll deal with you later!" he growled at his son, the rest of his cubs remained quiet, Tommaso watching with delight as Nico got yet another telling off. Nico started to argue with his father but Dante let out a ferocious roar that sent him scurrying for the door with his tail between his legs, some of the girls sniffled and whined.
Pandora was already going after Arc when Dante pulled her back, "I'll go," he growled and stalked off up the dark halfway. Had he not known where his sons room was it wouldn't have been a problem, the smell of blood was rife in the air. Pushing the door open gently Dante peered inside, "Arc?"
The window to their room was wide open with the night breeze fluttering the white, gauzy curtain, the bathroom door was ajar. A portion of yellow light illuminating the dark bedroom, Dante moved towards it, he peered through the gap before entering. Arc was alone, sitting on the lip of the tub with his legs in it, the cold water on full blast while he hissed through his bared teeth as he tried to bathe blood from his wounds. He let out a curse that was too crude to come from such a young boys mouth and manfully sucked back the tears of pain, Dante pushed the door open and walked in, in too much pain to be truly scared, Arc ignored him.
"Let me see how bad it is?" Dante said, gently angling him around to get a closer look, his youthful flesh was torn badly but not too deep, Dante went to touch it.
"No! Don't touch it!" Arc squeaked and tried to drag the throbbing leg from Dante's reach.
"I have to see what I got to heal."
"And since when does seeing involve touching. Don't touch, just look!"
"Don't be such a baby!"
"Oh yeah because you'd know what its like to have your leg torn open!"
"I do actually." Arc paused in surprise then changed tactics, still pushing Dante's reaching hands away, he didn't seem to realise he was touching his father without flinching.
"Yeah, well, I'm only eight so I'm allowed to be a baby when I've just been given a leg amputation!"
"That's a big word for an eight year old .."
"Your not funny."
Dante grinned at Arc's mutinous face and then healed his leg, Arc poked his pale but whole calf gingerly.
"Thanks," Arc murmured and Dante shut off the water with his powers, before Arc could move, Dante plucked him from the tub and carried him into the next room.
"Look I didn't lose the leg, you can put me down."
Dante grinned as Arc tried to save some of his pride, he made out to shrug and then drop him, Arc cried out and hung on to Dante's shoulders, the cry turned into a full down in the gut laugh and Dante grinned widely. Something warm tickled his stomach, this was his son. He laid Arc on the bed and sat down beside him, Dante shifted a bit on the bed and decided to get comfortable, he stretched out beside Arc who looked amazed but happy all the same. They lay in companionable silence for a while until Dante asked as casually as he could.
"Where's Raphael, Arc?"
Dante heard Arc mutter 'shit' under his breath and shift uneasily, Dante turned to properly see his son's worried face.
"Where's your brother?"
Raphael was terrified. Terror of finding yourself in a vulnerable condition and completely devoid of all help is something that cannot adequately be described in words, its one of the most intense and overwhelming feelings a person can have. Even with his sleek black fur Raph shivered, he'd not banked on it being so cold when he had left home for the night to wait out his transition. Raph tried not to think about why this might be happening to him, it would drive him mad if he did, he'd resolved at some point to just ignore it. Like girls who had the dreaded period every month, though he hated that analogy, he would just lock himself away for the one night under the full moon and he'd be ok. That was the plan anyway.
Raphael concealed himself in the mouth of a sewage pipe, jutting out behind thick bush and undergrowth, the smell was horrendous but it was cover for the night. He wouldn't sleep tonight, he couldn't, not with the fear of someone finding him and not just his family either. But the humans too. Say someone spotted him asleep and called animal control, Raph shuddered when he thought of the leash they used to restrain rabid dogs. Then he'd father would come looking for him and stare at him through the bars like he was defected, Raph felt his stomach lurch with a the kind of fear that made you feel physically sick.
Gods, he wished Arc was here.
Arc didn't sleep at all that night, it was nine o clock in the morning and he could hear some of his family waking, movement in the other rooms and he shut his eyes tighter. He's mother, father and uncles had grilled him relentlessly but he'd not said a word, just clamped his jaw shut and stared at the floor. He could tell his dad was pissed and was likely not to speak to him again, Arc sighed, and they seemed to be getting on so well too. Turning in bed to stare at the wall and trying to ignore his rumbling stomach, another punishment was no food until he talked, that was below the belt as far as Arc was concerned. A rattling noise had him glancing over his shoulder and his jaw dropped, Raphael was climbing through the window looking tired and drawn but grinning all the same. Arc's legs tangled in the blankets as he scrambled out of bed, he fell and sprawled across the floor, Raph laughed.
"Holy shit! Man, things went down in here last night, Raph!"
Raph's grin faded at the dread in Arc's voice and the sick feeling that he'd lost when he had turned back to human that morning and travelled home, returned with a frightening rush.
"What are you talking about?" he said calmly while his heart pounded, then dropped when Arc told him everything that had happened the previous night. He raked a shaky hand through his hair, what the fuck was he going to do?
"Why the fuck did dad follow you?" Raph wondered aloud, "I mean, he pretends not to see us most of the time anyway, what's the deal?"
"He came to see if I was alright," Arc muttered quietly, his eyes not meeting Raph's, Raph grew very still and narrowed his eyes on his brother.
"Why wouldn't you be?"
Arc screwed up his face as if it pained him to tell Raph, he leant back from his brother as if bracing himself for an explosion.
"Nico kind of tore my leg open when I stepped on his tail …"
"It was an accident, dad took care of it!" Arc tried quickly to calm his brother but it was too late, a red haze had formed in Raph's mind. He grabbed Arc and pulled up his trouser legs to inspect the flesh, Arc winced when Raph cursed as he saw the scars. Raph saw three wide, white claw marks spanning the calf of Arc's right leg, his father was powerful enough to heal wounds but the scars stayed. Raph let out a fetid curse, he'd been away from his brother one night and this had happened, it had been inevitable that as the only humans they would meet some resistance from their animal brothers and sisters. Raph had always expected them to come after him though, never his brother, take out the strongest, it disgusted him that Nico would do something like that to his brother. It wasn't a bruise or a mere cut or graze, Arc's flesh had been laid open, he'd lost blood, it had torn through his jeans and slashed his unmarked skin.
Raph stood up and marched to the door picking up the broken chair leg that they had been too lazy to throw out.
"Please Raph, don't!" Arc cried out tugging on his arm, "Raph, dad will kill us!"
"Arc, you can't let this go, he needs to learn he can't do this to you and not pay the price. Nico's had too long believing he can act the way he likes."
"It was an accident!"
"Was it?" Raph shook Arc, the kid looked petrified and Raph hated that, "he could have stopped himself from swiping at you, he's my age, he's not a young cub anymore. He knew you didn't mean it yet he tried to mangle you. And don't tell me that he didn't have to be held back 'cause I know different!"
Raph left Arc shaking with fear by the door while he walked down the hall to the room where his Katagaria brothers slept, pushing open the door briskly and moving into the room that his male litter mates: Nico, Dario and Constantino lay awake but unmoving. Had his parents not split him from his litter mates when he was a baby he would have slept in this room, his brothers would have included him in their play and games, they would not all look up in surprise as they did now when he stalked over to their beds.
Although he was human Raph could understand panther and had no problem discerning what his brother meant when Dario growled.
What the fuck do you want?
His other brother Constantino gave him a hello that was said with an awkwardness of strangers, Raph ignored them both and walked over to Nico who was lounging back on his bed, he flicked open a lazy eye.
Your problem is?
"You!" Raph snarled, before abandoning the chair leg and slugging him in the head, Nico immediately retaliated with his teeth and claws, Constantino and Dario circled the fight, snarling and growling in appreciation.
Perhaps it was through mere rage that he became stronger and more ferocious, Raph could not say for sure but for every bite he took to his flesh he left one on Nico, his fingernails took on the sharpness of claws and tore through fur and flesh. He made noises that equalled that of a full male panther in a frenzy, Nico and him broke apart, his brother's eyes were wide with shock and pain, he'd not expected to meet his match in a human. Raph laughed at the blood that ran down Nico's slashed chest and back leg, he wiped his own wound above his eyes on the back of his hand and licked it off.
"Fight me, panther!" Raph cried, laughing madly holding his arms out, Dario and Constantino backed up warily. Nico growled and launched himself at Raph again who caught his about the neck and they took each other down, Nico thought he could fight but Raph played a lot dirtier, he bit and slashed and punched and gouged at Nico's body until the panther made noises of pain as much as those for anger.
The sudden explosion at the door, which practically took the wood off its hinges, of Dante, Gabriel and Pandora bursting in to the room did nothing to discourage the fighters, if anything the upping of volume spurred them on to new heights of ferocity and viciousness.
Raphael felt strong arms link under him and he was hauled into the air, he turned like a rabid dog on them, cursing, growling and flailing his arms, he did all he could to dislodge the person's grip on him. A sudden blindness seized him that made him cry out and throw his hands over his eyes, then he felt dizzy, looking up Raph found himself in the kitchen, he had been flashed there. His anger returning tenfold he spun round to face Gabriel.
The grown panther said nothing but arched a half amused, half pissed off eyebrow, which wasn't an easy feat. Raphael could see that his cousin had no intention of moving from the door and since he couldn't flash himself anywhere, he was stuck; he began to pace. Gabriel was struck by just how much of the panther was in the human boy, his body and movements were synchronized, graceful and precise. He looked lethal, he looked like his father.
"What the fuck is wrong with you, kid?" Gabriel asked a little awed.
"What the fuck is wrong with you!" Raphael shot back, his boyish frame pulsating pent up rage that was darker then any child should have to experience.
"Watch your mouth, you little shit!" Gabriel growled, his eyes snapping fire.
"You watch your's!"
Raph turned at the deep, commanding voice and sneered at his father, he watched his father's eyes do as Gabriel's had.
Dante kept his gaze fixed completely on Raphael, the way you did when sizing up any dangerous predator, he moved forward slowly not wanting to hurt his son should Raphael run at him.
"Raphael, calm down."
He tensed when Raphael's gaze scanned the room, he hoped the boy didn't try and do anything stupid like take him on, Pandora would never forgive him should he fight with his son and Dante knew he would not forgive himself.
"Tell me what's wrong, son?"
Raphael let out a sardonic laugh, "so now I'm son? What happened to you just minding your own business, dad!" It was said sarcastically, full of spite and no affection.
"You were always my son, Raphael."
"Bullshit," he growled and began pacing again, "I'll tell you what I was, shall I? What I am? I'm the one you hate!"
"That's not true -"
"I'm human and I'm of your blood and you hate that! Your ashamed of it! And you hate Arc! You couldn't get us completely out the way so you pretended we weren't there, that we weren't real -"
"Raphael, your wrong -"
"You didn't give a shit when Arc was younger and he nearly ate chocolate that someone had left in the club. It poisoned him, and he was sick for days! You were meant to be watching us but you were pissed at me. I was only nine!"
Dante was shocked by the fury in his little boy, his voice layered with that of the beast he kept inside, Dante wasn't sure how it was happening but Raphael's eyes kept flickering darker and Dante could see glimpses of fang.
"Raphael, I never meant -"
"Never meant to what? You've ignored my brother all his life when he would have been thrilled for just a word from you! A look! But you never had time for the humans you spawned!" He hissed the last word at Dante, before he shouted. "We didn't ask to be different!"
"Then you let that piece of shit in there rip my brother's leg open -"
"Your right," Dante muttered quietly and Raphael stopped his rant, his chest heaving, Dante wondered if the boy knew he was crying. His every tear was like a knife to Dante's heart, his words salt on vicious wounds.
"I've hurt your brother. And I've hurt you."
"You haven't hurt me," Raphael spat venomously. "I don't give a shit about you."
"Then why are you so angry?"
"Because Arc deserves better than you!"
"Yes, he does. Don't you think you deserve better too?"
Raphael let out a feral roar that had both Gabriel and Dante turning white, Arcadians as young as Raphael weren't supposed to make noises like that. It sounded like a mature male panther.
"I don't want you! I don't need you -"
"So why all the antics? Wasn't it all to get my attention?" Dante shot back, poking at the sore wounds, to hopefully heal the root of the problem.
"You think that was to make you notice?" Raphael laughed bitterly, "get real, Dante! I wanted revenge for what you let your son do to my brother! And if you weren't all of a sudden having a crisis of conscience and trying to play daddy, you wouldn't even fucking notice!"
Pandora appeared next to Dante and Raphael threw up his hands in aggravation, Pandora stepped forward but Dante hauled her back, again Raphael laughed but this time it was choked with tears.
"I won't hurt you, mom, in case you haven't noticed I'm not an animal, am I dad?"
"I know you wouldn't hurt your mother, I just want this to be between me and you. Where were you last night?"
"Sniffing coke and shagging, like most humans my age," Raphael answered flippantly and Dante growled, Raphael just laughed and before he could stop it Dante's hand flew up, it didn't connect to the side of Raphael's face but the boy flinched. Dante's throat worked but he steeled himself.
"Not so brave now."
The look Raphael gave him could slice someone in two without spilling a drop blood, "why you looking for a rumble, Dante?"
"Why do you hate me so much?"
Dante looked over his shoulder at Arc, who had pushed past Gabriel into the room, Dante felt his throat tighten and when he looked back at Raphael he wanted nothing more then to pull his son into his arms. Raph's face drained of anger when he looked at his brother, he looked older and incredibly weary for a boy of thirteen.
"Arc, go back into your room," Pandora said firmly, Arc paid no attention to her and kept his eyes fixed on his brother, Raphael didn't meet his eyes.
"Come on, Raph, man. Lets go."
Dante heard Arc's voice break, he saw him hold out his hand for his brother, Raph ran a hand over his face and pulled it away shocked at the wet there.
"Go upstairs, Arc," Raphael ordered quietly, leaning slowly against the sink like an invalid.
"Not without you."
"Don't be stupid, Raphael!" Pandora snapped firmly, her eyes were shiny with tears of fear, she knew in her heart her boy would leave. "Go upstairs with your brother!"
Raphael didn't move, he stared at the floor and let out a shaky breath, Arc began to cry and he rushed to his brother. Dante tried to pull him back but Arc sank his teeth into Dante's hand and threw his arms around his brother's waist, sobbing hysterically into Raphael's t-shirt.
"What about me? Take me with you! I'm coming to! Please don't leave me here, what's going to happen to me if you go?"
Dante heart was shattering. Over the last few days a fracture had been made there that only got deeper and deeper and wider and wider, when seeing his two sons cling to each other the way they did.
What's going to happen to me if you go? Arc relied on Raphael, trusted him with his life and care in a way his parents would never know, they had never earned that trust, and if they had, they had thrown it away. Dante felt choked, knowing he had caused this was tearing him apart.
Raphael leant his head down and buried his face in Arc's hair, he tried to talk but his throat was so tight it was painful.
"Its okay, Arc -"
"No, its not! Please, don't leave Raph, please!"
Dante stepped forward and was about to place a hand on Raphael's shoulder when his head flew up, Raphael felt deeply buried instincts flare to life, protective and aggressive they told him to shove Arc behind him. He did so and hissed at Dante, who was just staring at him in shock and horror.
"Raphael .." He said slowly and Raph put his hands up and felt his face, holy shit!
His face was taking on the feel of a panthers muzzle, he had fangs, his eyes sight was keener, the full moon was over! What was happening to him?
With a yowling cry Raphael transformed completely and streaked out of the door and out the house, Dante shot after him but was behind Arc who was running out the door in his pajamas, calling for Raph to wait for him. The panther in Raphael refused to be caught and ran full pelt into the distance, not looking back.
"Oh my God, Dante! What's happened to him?" Pandora whispered hysterically next to him and Dante could do nothing but shake his head, he looked down at Arc. He was on his knees crying. What a mess this was, he thought wearily and bent to pick Arc up in his arms. As he did so, Arc let out a human hiss and got to his feet, he confronted Dante with a dark and mutinous face, Dante felt Angel, Gabriel, Mick and Leo stand behind him and join the conspicuous crowd they made on the street. Arc's watery, puffy red eyes swept over them, including them all in the glare, he gave a small hiccup and stomped back to the house.
"I can't cope with this," Pandora gave a sob and pressed her fingers to her temples, "this is all my fault!"
Frightened for the baby and his wife, Dante drew her into his arms, he looked over her shoulder to Mike and Leo who were both looking sad and confused.
"Grab Arc and get him in the kitchen, I need to talk to him."
They nodded and left immediately to search up the kid, when Dante coaxed Pandora into walking they moved back into the house with Gabriel and Angel trailing behind them.
"Go upstairs and sleep, baby," Dante said to Pandora, she gave him a angry stare like her son had and went to walk into the kitchen, but Dante stopped her.
"I need to do this, Pandora," Dante muttered, he looked so dejected and tired that Pandora felt her heart soften, "I need to make things right."
She nodded and stood back, leaning against Angel, who put his arms around her. When Dante opened the kitchen door, Mike and Leo were standing like two guards on either side of a furious Arc, who they had propped up on the counter, he jerked his head and they left. The door locked, closing Arc and Dante in with each other, the silence was oppressive, broken only by Arc's jerky breathing that was distorted with hiccups. Dante moved to stand directly in front of him, so close that Arc had to part his knees or get them squashed, Arc could feel Dante's intense stare on him but he refused to meet it.
"Arcangelo? Look at me."
"No." Dante smiled sadly at the petulant tone and ran a loving hand over his son's hair, Arc's delayed reaction was to jerk his head back.
"I need you to tell me where Raphael is, Arc?"
"Like you care!"
"Why would I ask if I didn't care?"
Arc paused for a moment, he was not possessed of the venomous anger that had Raphael spitting and cursing him with insults and accusations. His anger was one that came from hurt, and from having the one you loved hurt, and Arc loved Raphael.
"I don't know," Arc said finally with a one shoulder shrug that was purely a Raphael gesture, Dante got on his knees so he was looking up into his son's face.
"I'll tell you why I care for you. Because I love you, because you're my son and nothing in the world could make me stop loving you."
Arc didn't move, he just averted his eyes and let out a shaky sigh, Dante held on to his son's knees and laid his forehead against one.
"I haven't shown you, have I? You don't believe I love you, do you?"
Arc shook his head and Dante's heart crumbled.
"Tell me what's in your heart, Arcangelo? Tell me what hurts you the most, what I have done that hurts, down to the smallest thing. And I will do all in my power to fix it."
Arc lifted his gaze then, it was full of hope, it was shadowed by doubt. He took a deep, calming breath.
"You hate me because I'm Arcadian," Arc began, swiping his cuff under his nose with a pathetic little sniffling noise, Dante's felt his throat tighten, he bit his lip to keep it steady. "You never notice me when I'm around, I walk into the living room and you'll be fooling around with Dario and Lorenzo and when I would play, you would just stop and leave the room." Arc gave a nonchalant shrug that didn't have the desired effect when a tear slipped from his eye. "You took me and Raph away from our litters and put us together to keep us away from the rest of them because we're human. You didn't want to talk to us or sit with us … so in the end I stopped trying."
Arc knuckled a tear away from his eye and blew out a shaky breath, his eyes shooting around the room, looking at anything but at his father. If had chanced a look he might have seen Dante's eyes filled with tears.
"You think I hate you?" Dante managed, and cleared his throat, he stood up and before Arc could pull away he wrapped his arms around him and hoisted him off the counter, cradling him to his broad chest and letting his legs swing, Dante buried his face in Arc's shoulder, branding the scent of his child into his soul. "How could I hate what I would die to keep safe?"
Arc wasn't sure what to do or to say so he just let his father hold him, putting his arms around that broad neck and feeling the long black hair. When Dante pulled back Arc was shocked to see him crying, Dante smiled at him and kissed Arc's forehead, he sat him on the counter again and braced his arms either side of him.
"Why didn't you ever tell me this before, Arc?"
Arc shrugged, a little embarrassed. "I felt stupid, and then Raph told me not to bother because it didn't matter to you anyway."
"How could I know you needed something, or wanted something from me, if you didn't tell me?"
Arc shifted slightly and Dante felt his heart drop. "When?"
"Long time ago. I tried to show you some stupid boat thing, it was nothing - you were busy. So Raph helped me with it and put it up on the shelf in our room -" Arc smiled then, brightly. "He calls it the wall of fame."
"You love Raphael a lot, don't you?"
Arc nodded seriously. "He's a cool deal for a big brother, I mean he fusses over me more like a sister."
Dante laughed and then so did Arc, his eyes turned brighter. "Yeah, you should have seen him when I was sick, he totally freaked out. Made me sleep in his bed and he slept on the floor, but he wouldn't go to sleep until I did. He's a big Nancy about things like that .."
Arc trailed off, the memory bringing back the acute pain of wanting to go with his brother. Dante was experiencing a similar pain, the vision of one son coddling the other because they didn't think their father would care enough to know.
Dante hung his head, "how could I have made such a mess?" He asked of no one in particular and unexpectedly felt the soothing sensation of Arc's hesitant little hand on his head, a gentle pat that felt more like a thump. Dante looked up and gave Arc a quirky smile.
"I really messed up, eh kid?"
"Guess so, dad."
"Can we be friends, Arc?"
Arc smiled shyly and dropped his gaze, Dante hugged him again, he pulled back and held out his hand, Arc shook in with enthusiasm.
"I'm sorry, Arc."
He meant it sincerely and Arc gave that shrug again.
"Its okay, dad." Dante sighed, it wasn't, not by a long shot, but he would put every breath he had in him into making it right again. He wanted his sons and daughters to grow up into mature panthers and look back on their childhood and think, damn, best days of my life. How he'd wrecked that for these two little boys. With his blindness he had effectively poisoned the next generation, how could Katagaria and Arcadians ever hope to overcome their troubles when Dante hadn't even been able to do it within his own family. Dante looked at the hand in his, so much smaller, with bitten nails and long fingers, marked with ink and dirt, he laughed, it was the only other option he had if he didn't want to break down in front of his child. Arc was swinging his legs and still shaking his father's hand, his smile was happier then Dante had ever seen it in his presence.
"Now Arcangelo," Dante's voice deepened with authority, it was time he became a parent to all of his young, not just those with paws and fur. "Where's your brother gone?"
Dante didn't have to ask him, he could just track Raphael to wherever he was hiding, but a part of him wanted Arc to tell him the truth, trust him enough to do so. Arc shook his head and said sincerely.
"I don't know, dad."
"I swear, this is only the second time and it never happens during the day -" Arc realised what he let slip and clamped his hands over his mouth, his eyes tormented.
"Its okay, Arc," Dante immediately soothed, "you haven't betrayed him. This is for his own good, in case he gets hurt, okay, buddy? Now tell me everything."
Gnawing his lip Arc refused to look at Dante as he spoke.
"Last month we -" Arc's eyes shifted and he flushed guiltily.
"Go on, I promise I won't be mad."
"We climbed out the window and went to this place, it's a half-pipe. We .. Went there when it was closed up and started fooling around on it."
Arc paused and Dante vaguely wondered what a half-pipe was, he tapped Arc's knee to get him to continue. "Well, Raph was in the middle of doing this really neat trick on his BMX and … he just went all weird. His body started to shake and freak out and he fell, like fifty feet -"
Dante raised a doubtful eyebrow and Arc flushed again. "Okay, maybe it wasn't like that high, but he fell and the bike fell on top of him and I climbed down from the table and when I got to him," Arc sucked his breath in for dramatic affect. "He was a panther."
Dante's head reeled, he opened his mouth once, closed it, did it again then shook his head.
"What - err - how. What do you mean he was panther?"
"He changed into a panther. Under the full moon, yeah, it was real freaky! We waited it out until dawn then he turned back and Raph was too ill to walk when he changed back into himself. But he had some money on him and we caught a cab home and climbed through the window again."
"Why didn't you tell me this?" Dante demanded, Arc winced. "Arc, I'm not mad, I worried for your brother!"
"Sorry," Arc muttered and picked at his pajama pants, Dante sighed and kissed Arc's head.
"Go on and see your mother, I'll go and find Raphael."
"Let me come -"
"C'mon, he's not going to listen to you. I want to go, he'll come back for me, I know he will!"
Dante closed his eyes those words hurt him deeply.
"Arc, I need to do this, okay. If I don't fix this mess between me and Raphael, its going be like this forever. You know what I mean?"
Arc opened his mouth to argue then closed it and nodded, Dante picked off the counter and set him on the floor, with a hand on his shoulder he walked him out to where Pandora was waiting anxiously with Angel.
"Hey you," she sniffed when she saw Arc, Arc shifted from one foot to the other, not sure what to do.
Pandora just walked over to him and pulled him into her arms,, smothering him with kisses. Arc didn't protest but just stood still and manhood dictated he wince a little. Angel met Dante's eyes.
"You going out for Raphael?"
"Yeah. Hopefully I can sort this out, make it right," Thinking of Raphael, he wasn't so sure.
"Now that you want to, you will. Just listen to him, Dante, he may act like he's old but he's still only thirteen."
"I know that."
Angel's eyes bored into his, he nodded, "good."
It felt like he had been sitting there for hours with the pain, but in fact it had only been one, very long hour. He'd run until he was exhausted back to the broken underwater sewage pipe that thrust out of the ground, somewhere his caution had slipped and as he had leapt through the trash that surrounded the area, his paw had been caught in rusty wire. He hadn't noticed it until it had tightened around his paw as he run and yanked him to a halt, it lacerated his skin and when Raphael had tried to gnaw it off he'd cut his mouth, and rubbed his neck up against something sharp. The pain coupled with novices powers caused him to transform back into a human, it was easier to get the wire off then, but no less painful, it had mangled his hand pretty bad, his mouth was slashed over both lips in a shallow gnash and his neck was red and raw. Hurt and embarrassed that someone would see him in the nude he raced into the pipe and hid, and let the events of that morning wash over him, the memories made his bruises throb even worse. He admitted he looked pretty beat up, with the wire cut, the transformation the night before, that he always resisted hard enough to give him bruises, and what Nico had inflicted he wasn't looking so hot. Raphael smiled grimly, Nico had gotten the surprise of his life, never would he make the mistake of hurting Arc again, not while Raphael was around.
His stomach plummeted at the thought, they knew his secret now, they knew him for the freak he was. How could he possibly go back now? The urge to cry was overwhelming but Raph refused to yield, he stopped the trembling of his lips and blinked rapidly, he would not cry, ever!
Raph wanted to groan aloud, but instead he just pulled his knees up to his chest and wrapped his arms around them, his forehead on his knees. It was the only gesture of weariness he would allow himself at hearing his father's voice. Why couldn't he be left alone? Why couldn't it go back to the way it was before, when they ignored each other? It would be so much easier to meet his eyes, it would be so much easier to cope with then having his dad care for all of five minutes then abandon him to his own fate once more.
Dane stopped outside the pipe, it was small, too small for him to walk comfortably into it, his long shadow fell over Raphael's hunched up body, he moved slightly to let the light in, when it did he gasped. Raphael's body was black, blue and red. Bruises, some old and yellowing, others purplish and ripening covered his ribs and what he could see of his chest, the inch of skin that Dante could see of Raphael's neck was rubbed raw and deep lesions marred wounds round his hand and shoulder. Dante got on his hands and knees in human form and crawled closer, Raphael didn't look up, nor did he move or show any sign of awareness when Dante touched him gently on his tousled black hair.
"You not looking so good there, boy," Dante said gently, Raphael drew his head up and arched a brow at Dante. Never in his life had Dante ever felt so clueless, he was so unsure, he sighed. When all else failed, the truth was probably the only way to make things right. "Raphael, why didn't you say something about your changes? If not me, then Angel, Mike, Leo?"
Raphael shrugged and then winced, his body hurt all over.
"What about your mother?"
"Didn't want to worry her," Raphael muttered, his voice was croaky and muffled as he tried to speak without disturbing the cut on his mouth.
"If you'd told us, we could have helped you. Could have made the change easier."
"I didn't want it at all!" Raphael snapped and hissed when his lip split, he sucked in the blood. "I didn't want to go through the stupid change! I didn't want anyone to know!"
"Its nothing to be ashamed of," Dante said soothingly and Raphael choked out a cynical laugh.
"No it wouldn't be, would it? Because your happy now I'm transforming into a panther. Who knows? You might be able to pass me off as a Katagaria, then you all your dreams come true."
"Raphael, I didn't mean it like that -"
"That's probably why you're here," Raphael mused to himself. "I'm one of the family now, because I walk on all fours now and have a tail, eh?"
"For God sake, Raphael!" Dante snapped and Raphael jumped but didn't move away, he became still as if waiting to be hit. "I fucked up, I know that! I fucked up real bad! But you don't even want to give me a chance to make this right with you! A part of me thinks you actually like being on the outside with your brother!"
"Well, you would think that," Raphael muttered tonelessly and Dante let out an aggravated breath, Raphael was determined to push at him until he gave up, Dante wasn't used to losing and he had lived longer, he could match the will of his son any day, without breaking a sweat.
"I don't hate you, Raphael, and I'm not ashamed of you," Dante sighed wearily, Raphael did not move but stared at the slimy curve of the pipe, Dante continued speaking his voice echoing slightly. "I never have been ashamed of you. I don't care that your human while I'm an animal. When - when you were born I was so frightened to hold you. I'd never held a human baby before and you terrified me, but your mother put you in my arms while I lay on the bed and I remember smiling at you, because you looked so much like me. I was so happy when you were born."
"Then you realised I wouldn't stay a cute baby forever and it all changed. Sorry if I don't sympathise with your plight," Raphael snarled, the image of his father holding him flashed through his mind.
"No. It wasn't that. You grew older and taller, you liked to follow me everywhere. I was there when you walked and it was amazing when you first started to speak. I'd never been around a human child before, didn't know you spoke so soon, but there was no shutting you up. Then Mike and Leo started to learn you to swear," Dante glanced sideways at Raphael and thought he saw his lips twitch. "It was usually you, Bella and Dario always playing together, did you know that?" Raphael stayed quiet, how the fuck was he supposed to know that? "But you such a small boy and when we used to play fight I was so afraid of hurting you. I was frightened of breaking your bones and giving you bruises. Everything about you scared me, Raphael, because I loved you so much. You had been fighting with Dario in your room and came out with bite marks up your back. I couldn't take the thought that I might lose you because we were so rough, it was then that I decided to put you in with Arc."
Dante ran a hand through his hair, suddenly replaying all the mistakes he'd made in his mind.
"We thought that you would need to be together. The only humans in a family of Katagaria we thought you were bound to need each others company. I realise now that I didn't protect you, I just locked you up, I didn't think you would -"
Dante trailed off, rubbing a hand over his mouth when his throat grew tight, Raphael rolled his head on his neck and looked over at his father. His chest was aching terribly and his throat was burning from trying to force the lump away.
"I -" Raphael began then stopped, Dante looked up.
Raphael gave a shrug. "I remember when you put us together. Me and Arc, I mean. I didn't understand why you moved me out of the room and no one else, I thought I'd done something -" he inhaled deeply in effort to keep his voice steady. "Done something wrong, I thought you and mom were mad at me. I was kinda scared because I was, like, used to Dario's smell in my room and all I could smell was Arc. I guess, I thought he'd been bad too, he was still in a crib where he was so young. And he woke up during the night and started to cry; I guess you didn't hear him, I don't know. But no one came. I got scared that something would happen to him, so I picked him out of his crib and put him in my bed. I thought because no one came when he cried, we were being punished, so I didn't call out, I just stayed there."
Raphael cleared his throat then shrugged nonchalantly. "I don't know, that's just a memory that came back to me."
Dante nodded. "Then I made it worse, didn't I?"
Raphael looked up sharply, his intelligent eyes flashing. "I left you together so much, for so long, trying to 'protect' you, that you believed I hated you. Until you started to pull away. I was so blind I didn't see that you were angry at me, I didn't see that we weren't talking like we used to and that you weren't following me around anymore. And then I looked up one day and found that I didn't really know you, that I hadn't really seen your face for a long while, that it surprised me when I heard your voice."
Raphael picked at the blood drying around his hand cut, he didn't say anything, couldn't say anything. He wanted to go back to hating his father, he wanted to be able to say something flippant and nasty, but he hadn't the heart for it, he hadn't the heart for any of it anymore.
"I know you must hate me, Raphael, but I love you. And I'll do anything to make you believe that, to make you believe that there was never one minute when I ever didn't love you. Your just going to have to live with that."
Raphael didn't want to cry but he couldn't stop a small tear escaping, Dante smiled sadly and moved nearer to him, Raphael buried his face in his knees.
"Look up, come on, look up," Dante said, his hand on Raphael's thick black hair, Raphael shook his head, he didn't want his father to see him crying. It was awkward in the confines of the pipe but Dante managed to pull Raphael against his chest, the boy didn't resist but he kept his face covered, it didn't slow his tears, if anything they flowed faster.
Raphael could not remember when his father had last held him like this, he supposed he must have when he had been a little boy but they were memories long since forgotten. Even though the contact made Raph's wounds throb he did not make a noise of distress, he would cherish this while it lasted. When the pain became too much Raphael pulled back, he raised his eyes then and saw Dante's face was streaked with tears.
"I think we should take you home and clear you up," Dante said, rubbing Raph's hair, Raph laughed and sniffed. "Your mother will kill me if we stay out here any longer."
For lack of a better word, Raph smiled shyly, "shit."
"Hey," Dante reprimanded without any real heat, "find an alternate word for shit."
"You say it."
"I'm bigger and uglier then you, I can."
Raph snorted, "no arguing that."
Dante gave a short laugh, raising a smart ass like Raphael did a panther proud. Dante clothed Raphael and flashed them home, they appeared in the kitchen.
Arc's eyes widened as they appeared and he let out a whoop of joy and ran for Raph, Raph caught him in his arms before he did too much damage.
Pandora shot across the room and grabbed Raph around the neck, squashing him to her.
"Don't ever do that again!"
"Sorry mom," Raph said quietly, feeling very hot in the face with everyone looking at him, even Dario and the gang had come to see what was happening.
"Oh my god, look at him!" Pandora sniffled, checking Raphael's wounds Dante used his powers to heal the cuts and bruises and immediately Raph's shoulders relaxed. He and Raph obviously hadn't got to the stage where Raph would volunteer information, such as when he was hurt but it was only the beginning.
It was a month or so later and Dante, who had been trying to take it slow when it came to Raphael and Arc, was becoming edgy. When he went too long without seeing them or talking to them he had a panic attack thinking that the strife that had been caused was all for nothing and they would slide back into their old roles, well he would be damned if he let that happen again. He paused outside their room and heard Raphael howling with laughter, he smiled, it was a joy to hear him laugh, he knocked and walked in.
He's eyes went immediately to Arc who stood in the middle of the room covered from head to toe in green gunge, next to him equally as covered, was Rosaria. Raphael lay on the bed pointing at them and holding his stomach. Rosaria gave a distressed cry and ran from the room calling her mother, Arc turned around holding his arms out at his side.
"What's going on here?"
Raph calmed down and sat up when he noticed his father, his smiled dimmed a little but didn't completely leave his face, they were still working it out. Raphael had learnt to be on his own, he was finding it hard to be around or share with anyone that wasn't Arc.
"Sherman Klump here blew up his lab!" Raph said and Arc spat out a mouthful of green stuff, Dante laughed.
"Your mother is going to be pissed," he said, toeing a evil looking glob of green jelly, Arc paled and muttered something about going for a bath. Dante faced Raphael when they were alone.
"You coming ?" Raphael looked up and quirked a brow.
"Downstairs. No point staying in here on your own," he watched Raph's face grow serious and resisted the urge to sigh, still water really does run deep. "Besides Mike and Leo scratched the paint work on Gabriel's car. Should get down there early and get a front row seat."
Raphael grinned wickedly. "Now that is entertainment at its best!"
He walked towards Dante and was about to move out into the hallway when, Dante caught him in a hug. When they broke apart Raphael's face was very red and he looked embarrassed, Dante laughed.
"Hey, I'm your father, I'm allowed to do things that embarrass you. Just wait 'til you get a girlfriend."
He winked at Raph who muttered something about leaving home and Dante laughed, they sparred with each other all the down to the living room, where that sat side by side and took bets on who was going to win the fight. Arc joined them, free of gunk and slime, he talked with Tommaso, while Lorenzo and Luciana wrestled and Bella shot between Angel's legs. Suddenly Pandora flashed into the middle of the room her face alight.
"I've just found out!" she shouted, her hand on her stomach, "your little sisters human!"
Dante watched Arc and Raphael look at each other in shock before they both muttered, "holy shit!"