Title: What's In a Name
Synopsis: Michelangelo Hamato wasn't always Michelangelo Hamato. Before he was adopted, he was called something else, and something else before that. But he doesn't talk about that. Ever. AU—details inside.
A/N: This story takes place right after the events of the second live action film, Secret of the Ooze (if you haven't seen it, there's a link to that and the first movie in my profile—must-sees, the both of 'em). However, in this little universe, Michelangelo's story is a tad different. Namely, the turtles' youngest brother is a human (I know, but bear with me), and his past is interwoven with Splinter's and the boys' in ways even he doesn't know. So this is sort of two stories in one. Michelangelo's origin story and what's happening now. Keep in mind that these characters are based off the movies, not so much the cartoon (though it's an awesome show). So if the characters seem a tad different than they do in the cartoon, that would be why. Either that, or the writing's not that good. Heh. Not gonna lie; that's possible. But I'll let you make that call.
Also note that this is set in present day. Just 'cause I can.
Disclaimer: From this point on I will only answer to the name of Peter Laird. Oh, wait, no, isn't that the guy who really does have a hand in this stuff? My mistake. I'm just the obsessed fan. Oh, yeah. I own nothing that already exists.
"I'm gonna kill you!"
"You'll never take me alive!"
"Wasn't plannin' on it! Now hold still, ya little monkey!"
"You wish. Gotta catch me, Raphie boy!"
This was followed of course by a growl and a smattering of giggles and taunts. They're starting early today, Leonardo inwardly groaned, keeping his eyes firmly shut on principle. He wasn't a late riser by nature, so it stood to reason that the one day he felt like sleeping in, his little brothers would decide to greet the new day with shouts and…crash! Uh-oh. Whatever that was sounded important. Abandoning his principles, Leo opened his eyes so he could roll them, half annoyed, half curious. He tossed his blanket aside and rolled out of bed, tugging open the sliding doors of the old subway car that had recently become his bedroom. There was a dazed-looking Michelangelo picking himself up off the concrete floor, surrounded by what was left of that antique baby carriage someone had left behind decades ago. "Dude, how long has that been there?" Raphael was right on his tail.
Leo saw the moment realization dawned on Mikey's face of his imminent danger. Too late. The red-banded turtle tackled the boy, rolling through the debris in a mass of swirling green and orange until Raphael ended up on top, effectively pinning the smaller ninja. Leo grinned. Mikey always prided himself on his speed--anyone with a mouth like his should be able to run fast--so when one of his brothers managed to catch him--it was just kind of fun.
"Gotcha." Raphael gave his menacing smile—made Mikey squirm.
"Ah, Raph," Mikey said nervously, "I think we should talk about this. See, bro, I just kinda thought you could use a little color, a little personality, if you know what I…" Raph cut him off with a growl and probably tightened his grip a little because Mikey made that little squeak sound he does. "No? Well, heh, personally, I think you've never looked better…eep!" Before Raph could do any permanent damage to his orange-loving brother, Leonardo suddenly and silently leapt forward, planting a shoulder into his red-bandanaed brother and sending the turtle flying. There was a rather dramatic crash. Leo stood over Mikey from behind as the blue-eyed trouble-magnet grinned up at him upside down. "Morning, Leo."
"Michelangelo," Leo nodded and cut to the chase. "Your fault or his?"
"See my surprise?"
"Well, actually, you don't look all that…"
And by then, Raph was up, and Mikey let out a little squeak before kicking his legs out and gracefully vaulting to his feet in time to dodge the oncoming attack. It was then that Leo got a full view of his hotheaded brother. Raph's plastron was covered in little colorful sketches. Little rainbows and daisies and…was that a puppy? Leo couldn't help it--not that he tried--he burst into laughter. Raph's head shot around to glare at his older brother.
"Not funny, Leo."
"A little funny, Raph," Leo snickered.
"You could be next."
"Doubt it. But I'll help you catch him."
Mikey jumped up onto the table and did a back flip to land on top of one of the subway cars. He sent Leo a big theatrical look of betrayal. "Wha…? Say it ain't so, Leo!"
As his two older brothers started for him, Mikey did an acrobatic leap off the top of the car, landing behind Raph. Then he ran screaming like a little girl. "Dooooonnnnnyyyyyyyy!"
Just as he reached Donatello's car, the door unexpectedly slid open. Unable to slow his momentum, Michelangelo plowed straight into the tired-eyed turtle, knocking them both backward. "Oomph!"
The unsuspecting and totally innocent Donny found himself suddenly tangled up in human arms and legs. "Mikey! What the…?"
And at that point, red- and blue-banded turtles jumped into the fray, and suddenly, it was a big, confusing game of king-of-the-shifting, kicking, laughing, hollering hill.
Four heads popped up at the stern Japanese voice. Leo cleared his throat, venturing to be the first to speak. "Uh, Master Splinter. Good morning." He tried a smile.
The large rat leveled a look at them, then his eyes swept back and pointedly scanned the lair—more specifically, their warpath. One of their tables that had been stacked with dishes and other odds and ends was up-ended, its contents scattered, some broken. Then there was that antique baby carriage that had come with the place—pretty much destroyed by one of Mikey's clumsier moments. And a wooden chair was now missing a leg. When had that happened? "Would any of you like to speak to this?"
There was a three-fingered hand at the back of Mikey's neck. He probably hadn't even known whose hand it was until it squeezed. "Yeeeahh! My fault! My fault. Ow." He looked at his master. "Oh. Heh. This was my fault, Master Splinter." Trying to pry the fingers off, he sent a quick glare at Raph who returned it with a smug smile. "Yes. Sorry. I'll…um…work on…that. Then. Ahem."
"You will mend and straighten everything you have broken or upset."
"What?" Mikey seemed shocked at the unfairness of that, apparently forgetting he was supposed to be going for contrite. "By myself? What about Raph? He's the one who practically assaulted me to death!" The hand at Mikey's neck suddenly whapped him on the back of the head. "Ow!"
"And why did he do that my son?" Splinter asked.
"We, ah, have different tastes in art, and he's way over-sensitive about it."
Leo smothered a laugh behind his hand.
"He freakin' graffitied all over my shell!"
"Enough! Raphael will not be assisting you in cleaning up our home."
Raphael sent Mikey a superior look. "Hm." Mikey rolled his eyes.
"He will be too busy doing his flips."
Mikey was suddenly triumphant. "Hah!"
"What?" Raphael saw the look on his master's face and wisely grumbled the rest to himself.
"Leonardo, you will help Michelangelo."
Leo gave a sheepish shrug and a nod. He probably deserved that.
"Hey, I was an innocent bystander…"
"It is your day to prepare breakfast, is it not?"
"Oh." Donny blinked. The tech-savvy turtle was definitely more of a night owl than a morning person. His mind, though remarkable, tended to have trouble processing anything before ten a.m. and at least two cups of coffee. "Yeah, it is. I should probably get on that."
"That you should," Splinter nodded. "As should the rest of you begin your assigned tasks." With that, the master turned. Leo knew he wasn't imagining the slight smile on the ninja master's face, or the quietly mumbled, "Kids," with that fond exasperation the four brothers knew so well.
Leo stood, pulling Mikey up next to him and propelling his little brother out of the car ahead of him. He glanced back to see Donny sitting up next to Raph examining the latter's plastron. "Is that a…fairy?"
He grinned as he heard Raph's groan. He walked over and grabbed one end of the table, and he and Michelangelo flipped it right-side-up. "What were you thinking, exactly?" he asked with a grin.
Mikey raised his eyebrows, quirking his lips. "Raph needed a little more color in his world?"
"Uh-huh. Those markers really washable?" At this point he was pretty sure the kid's life depended on it.
Mikey's eyes widened, and he cringed. "Man, I hope so."
That evening, April O'Neil came down their ladder, Ray's Pizza boxes in hand. She set them on the nearby table and grinned at Mikey and Raph playing a video game on the couch. Donny had managed to set up an entertainment system in the couple of weeks they'd had to break in the new lair. Michelangelo's feet were hanging over the back of the old couch as he played the game upside-down. Raph was right-side-up and looked like he was trying to keep from swearing.
"April!" Mikey treated her to a big grin.
"Yo, April. How's it goin'?" Raph shot her a quick glance, but was obviously caught up in the game. "Would you quit cuttin' me off?"
"We like to call that skill."
"And could you quit saying 'we'? It's bad enough I gotta put up with one of you."
"We can't do that."
Raph gripped the controller harder.
April jostled Mikey's foot. "Aren't you going to get a headache playing upside down like that?"
"Only if headaches are a symptom of victory, babe."
Raph snorted. "Don't you hafta have a brain to have a headache?"
"Har-de-har." Mike glanced at his brother. "Big talk for a guy in second place. Boo freaking yah."
Raph simply pulled his leg up and covered Mikey's eyes with his foot, causing much writhing and very loud protests. April giggled and turned to see Donatello coming out of his room, wiping greasy hands on a rag. "Hey, Don."
"April! You're early."
She wrinkled her nose. "Bad early?"
"Like there's such a thing where you're involved. Pull up a chair. Except not that one over there. My brothers went a little WWF this morning. That chair is one of the casualties. Though somebody was supposed to fix it." The last was directed toward the couch.
"I'm a ninja, not a miracle worker!" Mikey called back in a less-than-stellar Bones imitation.
Donny rolled his eyes. "Cute, Mikey."
"That's why they say I'm the real McCoy."
The purple-banded turtle groaned and said to April, "I'm going to stop now. He'll just keep going if I don't stop."
April chuckled, pulling a chair out from the table and turning it around to straddle it. She brushed a strand of red-brown hair out of her eyes. "So. Where are Leo and Splinter?"
"They should be back any time. I think they made a trip back to the old lair to grab some stuff. Now that the Shredder's really gone, we don't have a whole lot to worry about down here. I mean, we're still careful, but it's not like we're seeing Foot ninja around every corner. The paranoia level's definitely down. Well, you know. As down as it ever is for us." He smiled.
She nodded and leaned forward, resting her chin on her crossed arms as she looked at him. "Must be a load off all your minds. Him gone, you guys finally having your answers about where you came from."
"It is," he said sincerely. "It really is." He smiled softly at something only he knew, glancing over at his brothers. Mikey suddenly squealed as Raph caugh him in a headlock, trying to get him to take back some something he'd said. "Raph, if you break him, you gotta fix him," Don called.
"Thought that was your job, egghead."
"Donny's a miracle worker, not a doctor!" Mikey declared, giggling.
Donny shook his head, grinning. April watched Raph nudge the teen up and the two went back to their game, this time both right side up, Mikey's short dark hair sticking up in odd spikes. The young human started running a commentary that annoyed his terrapin brother to no end. April suddenly frowned. "Donny?"
"Yeah?" His brown eyes met her green ones.
"Can I ask you something?"
"Oh. Mikey colored those on while Raph was asleep." She gave him a clueless look. "The cutsie pictures on Raph's chest? And yes, that one on the right side is a mermaid."
"Wait. What cutsie pictures?"
The turtle paused. "Huh. Maybe Raph did manage to wash it all off. Lucky Mike. Probably why he's still alive."
April shook her head. There was a story just begging to be told. "O-kay. Remind me to ask about that later."
"Right. What did you want to ask about at the moment?"
April pressed her lips together and then asked, "What about Mikey?"
He tilted his head and repeated the question. "What about Mikey?"
"I mean, all this with the Shredder, and then about your origins and the ooze and the Foot and Dr. Perry, and I've never really asked. What about him?"
Donny blinked at her across the table. "Well, now you've asked twice, and I'm still not sure what you want to know about him."
"He's your brother."
"And all I've ever heard from him is 'I'm adopted.'"
"Uh, yeah," he said slowly with a silent Duh. Donatello either really didn't know where she was going with this or was pretending not to.
"So now we know where you come from. Where did he come from? I mean, it's not like he got washed down a storm drain and landed in a puddle of ooze. So how then? How'd you end up with him?"
"Oh." Don frowned. "Yeah. No…no ooze for him." He sent a look over to his little brother. Michelangelo was obliviously absorbed in competition with Raph. "He, ah, he actually came along a little later than the rest of us."
"How much later?"
"He was around eight at the time. We were about ten."
April's eyes widened slightly. "So what happened?"
Donny shrugged. He seemed…not so much uncomfortable as…unsure. This only increased the curious reporter in her. "I found him."
"You…found him." He nodded. "Where?"
April was having a bit of a time wrapping her mind around this one. "Wait. You found an eight-year-old child down in the sewers and…what? Decided to keep him?"
"Pretty much." Apparently he sensed that wouldn't be enough to satisfy her. "He needed us. We needed him. That's how it happened."
"Well, what about his life before? His parents? His family? He was eight years old. He must've had a life apart from all this. What happened to him?" April sensed she was treading on roads rarely traveled by this family. But she felt like she needed to know.
Donny looked reflective. "Nobody ever came looking for him. No missing child reports. And he never talked about it. Wouldn't even give us his name. What's that tell you?" He didn't wait for an answer. "It doesn't really matter anyway. He's ours now—one of us. Whatever happened before can't change that."
April paused, mind racing to process this new information. For an eight-year-old child, especially Mikey, to refuse to say word one about his past... Don hadn't said much, but the little he had said started painting its own bleak image, and April's imagination began to fill in missing pieces of its own accord--which she didn't like at all. In the news business, the saying went, "A picture's worth a thousand words." In this case, it seemed more like those few words were worth a thousand pictures. She smiled softly at the turtle sitting across from her. "You're right. It can't."
He nodded and bit his lip. "Hey, and don't ask Mikey about it, okay? I mean, not that I think that you'd…well, I think it'd just be better if you didn't, okay?"
"Okay," she said quietly. Don was obviously ready to move on from the subject. It was plain he didn't really like the idea of discussing his little brother's past without his little brother. "You're a good brother, Donny. Mike's a pretty lucky kid."
"Donny, something's wrong with the N64. I mean besides the duct tape and the fact that it's from, like, 1996."
"He's just sayin' that 'cause I kicked his butt. Who's Mario Kart champ now, punk?"
"Dude. Last time I try to win with Bowser. Geeze. But seriously, Donny, it's kinda glitching up. Can you come look at it?"
Donny shot her a smirk that was somehow sweet as he stood up. "Obviously I remind him of that fact daily."
A couple hours later, the group had already eaten and sat around the living room. Michelangelo had decided it would be a brilliant idea to play charades; so he was currently up in front of the group doing the robot and then jumping up and down pointing to things. Donny had no idea what he was doing. So far nobody else did either. Casey Jones had shown up—about twenty minutes late, to no one's surprise—and he currently sat on the couch, his arm around April.
"Uh, 'Mr. Roboto'?"
Mikey shook his head, his face screaming Come on!
"Mm, it's gotta be a movie, not a song," April said.
"Uh, I, Robot!"
Still not it. But April patted Casey's arm, apparently thinking it was a good attempt. The two had been getting along pretty well lately. Casey had figured out he should never call April babe or tutz or hotcakes or even princess. And April had figured out she'd have to cut Casey some slack when he acted like an idiot. Ah, compromise. The cornerstone of romance. Donny grinned to himself.
Watching Mikey, though, the tech-savvy turtle found his mind wandering, even despite all the noise going on around him. He kept going back to that conversation he'd had with April. Almost without his consent, his mind drifted back to the past, to the little eight-year-old kid he'd stumbled upon way back when. Seemed like a lifetime ago. Really, he counted it as a lifetime ago. The loud, annoying, funny, confident young man standing before him now could hardly be the lost child he'd found then. But it is, isn't it, little human? he thought in the quietest part of his mind.
Eight Years Earlier
"How much longer…were you wanting us to…keep this up, Master Splinter?" Donatello panted as he exhaled to bend his arms yet again. The brothers were in a triangle, each in a push-up position, except their legs were up in the air, feet pressed against the others' so that made sort of a turtle teepee. The lack of stability made it much harder than a regular pushup, and they all had to do each pushup together as one. This would make for…number twenty five. The ten-year-old turtle's arms were starting to shake.
"Eh, come on, Donny," Raphael said. "You're not gettin' tired yet, are you?" Despite his words, the red-banded turtle was starting to sound drained as well.
Their master watched them with a steady gaze. "Remember. You must train yourselves to be able to fight past those voices which name a task impossible. A strong mind is essential to a strong body."
"Yes, Sensei," Leonardo answered as they continued, jaw set and eyes bright with concentration and effort. "Come on, guys. We can do this. Keep it up."
Donny sent a look to Raph in time to catch his older brother rolling his eyes. "Thanks for the pep talk, Leo. Makes all the difference." Donny smirked the slightest bit. Though he was a peacemaker by nature, he sometimes secretly agreed with Raph on that point: sometimes Leo was just a little too gung ho.
"Just trying to stay positive," Leo grumbled.
"We know," Donny put in quickly before Raph could say something…Raphish—which would no doubt lead to some spur-of-the-moment, unauthorized "sparring" which would land them doing flips till New Year's. "That's why we love you." He heard both his brothers snort before they settled back into their rhythm, the exertion making more words seem like too much of an effort.
"It is enough," Splinter said a short time later, dark reflective eyes flickering with the pride all three of his sons knew how to spot. The three young turtles stood before him sweaty and exhausted and content. "Your skills improve daily, my sons. You do much to make me proud. Now," he gave a slight smile, "I believe there are other things with which you three wish to occupy yourselves, yes?"
The turtles looked at each other and grinned. Free time. Finally. "Yes, Master."
Their sensei waved them away, eyes still smiling. "Practice is over. Go on."
The three bowed and then scattered, Raph letting out a whoop before darting off to grab some weights and settling down in front of the TV for his favorite show. Leo stayed on the floor to run through a few katas. Donny, for his part, grabbed a skateboard, thanked his father, and took off into the tunnels.
Donny loved the feeling he got flying through the tunnels, especially after practice. Feeling the normally still air rush by, drying the sweat on his body, cooling him, making him feel free and alive. He zoomed along, using the walls to practice his half-pipe skills where he could, his analytical mind keeping track of every bend and turn in the tunnels. Donatello had a gift for being able to map things out in his head, a talent that really came in handy for a turtle who spent a lot of his time exploring the tunnels of the New York sewer system.
For some reason, the young terrapin was feeling especially adventurous on this day. He went left where he'd usually go right, right where he'd usually go left, and rode further than he'd ever gone before. The tech-savvy turtle was totally in the zone.
But suddenly, Donny's sharp ears picked up an echo of footsteps in the next tunnel. Alarmed, he skidded to a stop. Uh-oh. He could almost hear Master Splinter's voice in his head urging him back to the lair. But Donny couldn't help being curious. He was kind of a scientist, after all. Solving problems and mysteries and stuff was his way. Hey, I am a ninja, he thought. I'll just do this the invisible way. Besides, whoever this is, they're on turtle turf.
So Donny set his board aside in the shadows and tip-toed forward to see who (or what) had invaded his home. The young turtle peeked around the corner, staying to the shadows. His eyes widened, and he had to cover his mouth to keep from gasping. Instead of the sinister escaped con or axe-murderer or vicious monster his ten-year-old mind expected—or the average human plumber his more logical side thought he'd find—he found something quite different. There was a little boy stumbling along the tunnel.
Donny watched with wide eyes, fascinated. He'd never been so close to a human before. Hmm. What are you doing down here? The kid was younger than he was, and thin. Short dark hair, almost black, was sticking up every which way on his head. His face was mostly hidden in shadow. As Donny continued to watch, his gaping mouth gradually closed into a concerned frown. The boy's hand never left the wall—in fact, it looked like he was using it to hold himself up. He was limping, his other arm wrapped protectively around his rib cage. And his breathing—it sounded…wrong. Too short and shallow. Donny knew what it was. This little human was in pain.
The turtle continued to watch the young stranger, wondering what he should do. What could he do? He wasn't supposed to have any contact with humans, and besides, even if he did try to help the poor kid, he'd probably just wind up scaring him. But as he watched, the little boy stopped and stumbled forward a bit before catching himself and pausing again. Then Donny watched in horror as the little kid let out a tiny whimper before slumping forward. He hit the concrete with barely a sound. He didn't move.
Donny's heart was pounding. Was the little guy…? He looked back down the tunnel he'd come from. Shook his head. He knew before the thought was even formed that he couldn't just leave the poor creature here. Looking both ways, wary of any more humans, he cautiously stepped from the shadows and approached the prone form. He at lest had to check the young stranger's vitals. As he knelt by the small, still body, he couldn't help thinking, This is so insane. He gently turned the boy over.
Donny bit his lip as he took in the black eyes and cut lip. The little human hadn't just gotten hurt. Someone had hurt him. The young turtle had dealt with countless such injuries sparring with his brothers, but never all at once. The turtles never aimed to hurt each other. Donny looked at the boy's hands. The first two knuckles on both hands were scraped and bruised. "You fought back pretty hard, didn't you, little human," he whispered. He checked the unconscious boy's pulse, relieved to find it strong. He felt arms and legs for broken bones, finding none, though he was no doctor. Feeling along the boy's scalp, he found a large, raised lump at the back of his skull. "This would do it, huh?" he said to the unconscious child. Then he remembered the way the boy had had his arm glued to his side.
Carefully, Donny tugged up the orange fabric of a dirty, long-sleeved t-shirt. He nearly cried out. The little boy's torso was riddled with bruising, old and new. The colors wove all about his chest and ribs and wound around to the back. It was horrifying. Donny had to take several deep breaths as stinging tears burned his eyes. "Oh, little human," he breathed. "Who did this to you?" Predictably there was no response. Donny sighed, looking at the child's face. He remembered all of Splinter's warnings about getting involved with humans. He respected them. But it was hard to imagine this beaten, vulnerable kid as dangerous. And Donny couldn't help the compassion and protectiveness that flared up as he looked at the human boy. He made up his mind. "Well, listen," he said, determined. "They're not going to do it to you again, okay? I'm gonna make sure of it."
With that, Donny picked up his new burden as gently as he could. The little boy let out a small whimper, but didn't wake. "Shh. Easy. Easy." The little guy wasn't very heavy; certainly, Donny thought, not as heavy as he should've been. But it was a long way home. Don wondered briefly if he could maybe use his skateboard to push the boy back home. He dismissed the idea. The board was too short, and he didn't want to risk jostling the kid around too much. He'd just have to carry him. He could make it. He looked down the tunnel, the map in his head telling him just how far it was. He set his jaw. "I can make it."
Six heads swiveled around at the accented voice from the Japanese rat.
"Yes! That's it!" Mikey cried, arms raised up in the air in victory. "Master Splinter, you got it! How'd you know that?"
"Process of elimination, my son," Splinter answered, eyes sparkling. "I believe Casey Jones has named every other film ever created."
Casey tried to look offended while everybody laughed at the rat's often unexpected sense of humor. "Hey, who remembers that movie, anyway, right?" Mikey threw a plastic cup at him. "Geeze."
"Okay, you go, Master Splinter. You're up," Leo said from his spot on the floor leaning back against the armchair Raph was sitting in.
"Totally, Sensei! Go for it!" Mikey said, settling down against the couch next to Don's legs.
The ninja master somewhat reluctantly stood. He pressed his palms together before opening them.
"'s a book," Raph called.
"Aw, crap, it's a book," Mikey echoed.
Donny finally plodded into the lair carrying his unconscious charge. His brothers and Master Splinter were nowhere in sight, which he thought was just as well. He was shaking slightly with muscle fatigue, and he was soaked with sweat. But he'd made it. He'd done it.
He slowly lowered his fragile cargo to the old, worn couch, sinking to his knees in front of it. He let out a deep breath and grinned. "See? I told you we'd make it." He laughed a little. "And you thought it was impossible."
"Donatello?" The sharp voice behind him made Donny jump, and he spun around.
Splinter stepped further into the room. "Donatello," the ninja master actually sounded...shocked—something Donny had never heard from him before. "What have you done, my son?"
"This little human," Donny quickly tried to explain. "He's hurt. Maybe bad. I need to…"
"Then it is for his own kind to heal him. Those who love him will be looking for him. We must take him back…"
"It was his own kind who hurt him!" Donny refused to sound repentant. "I have to help him. Please."
Splinter blinked. Then he shook his head. "It is too dangerous, my son."
"This one's not dangerous." Donny wasn't exactly sure how he knew that, but he was certain. "Please Master Splinter, help me. I'll take him somewhere else if I have to, but I can't take him back to whoever did this to him. That would be too dangerous. Look at him! He's just a little kid."
His master was silent for what felt like ages. Then he asked quietly, "What has happened to him?"
Donny frowned. "I don't know the details. But all these bruises tell their own story. Come see." He lifted the little human's shirt once again, hearing his master's quiet sound of despair from behind him.
Donny's eyes ghosted over the injuries he'd already mapped out in his head. "Please, Father," he begged quietly. "Please help me help him."
Splinter stood up straighter, looking Donny in the eye. "The medical supplies. Get them."
Donny flashed a grateful smile and stood despite protests from his abused leg muscles. "Thank you, Master." With that, he ran off to fetch the first aid kit.
"The Ask a Ninja: Ninja Handbook?"
"Hah!" Mikey shot up from the floor, grinning.
Leo shook his head. "You've gotta be kidding me. Are you serious, Master Splinter?"
"I found the title intriguing. Then I read the book."
"Wished that I had not," Splinter said straight-faced.
Mikey shook his head. "Come on, you know it's hilarious. And that's right, ladies and gentlemen. For the record, I guessed the book."
"Oh, brother. Mikey, you're up again."
It was late. Donny wasn't sure what time it was, but he knew it was late. Raph and Leo had gone to bed awhile ago after the initial shock of having a human being in their lair had worn off. Leo had mostly been amazed, coupled with that natural wariness—paranoia, Donny thought stubbornly—of his. And Raph…it was kind of hard to tell with Raph. He was kind of mad. But not just mad. In fact, he almost seemed annoyed, but then, sometimes that's just how Raph was.
Donny felt his eyelids getting heavier as he kept up his vigil by the side of the turtles' new guest. The lights in the lair had been turned down, and the room was pretty dark. Donny was so tired. He sat back in his chair and closed his eyes for a minute. Just for a minute…
"Please, don't. I won't…I'll do it right. Please."
Donny's eyes snapped open at the soft murmurs. It took a second for him to remember exactly where he was and what he was doing there. The words came from the young stranger. It was the first time Donny had ever heard his voice. He leaned forward. "You awake, little human?"
The little boy sucked in a sharp breath, and Donny saw him flinch away. "No, don't! Please. I'm sorry!"
"I'll take that as a no." Donny reached out as the boy appeared to get more upset. He shook the boy's shoulder gently, aware of the many bruises. "Hey, come on. You're almost there. It's okay. Wake up."
The boy vaulted up with a short, soft cry. He was breathing hard and shaking, his head turning every which way, trying to figure out where he was, eyes unused to the darkness.
"Hey. Easy. Easy. You're okay."
The kid flinched away from Donny's voice, backing up to the furthest end of the couch. "Where am I?" he asked quietly. Donny could tell the poor kid was scared out of his mind, but he was impressed by the way the little boy was able to keep his voice under control. He'd expected tears from a child this young.
"Underground. In the sewers. I found you right before you passed out. I was kind of wandering what you were doing down here. When I saw you were hurt, I brought you to my home. You've got nothing to worry about here. I promise."
"Who are you?" The voice was quiet, hesitant, like he half-expected to be punished for asking or told to shut up.
Donny smiled, even though he knew the kid couldn't see him. "My name's Donatello. You can call me Donny, though." He put as much reassurance as he could into the words. "How about you? You got a name?"
The little guy was quiet for a long moment before shaking his head. "I, um…I can't remember."
"You can't remember your name?"
"Uh-uh," he insisted in that voice that never rose above a whisper. "I got…um…when you can't remember…?"
"Yeah. See? Forgot what it was called." The boy fidgeted anxiously, straining his eyes to see in the darkness.
Donny frowned. "Do you know where you're from?"
"No." This answer came immediately, almost panicked. "No. I don't…don't know. Sorry. I'll just…I'll leave. Sorry." He moved to stand up, apparently set on leaving despite the fact he couldn't see, but Donny caught his arm.
"Hold it." The little boy flinched and ducked his head in anticipation of the expected blow. And Donny knew. This kid didn't have some kind of amnesia. His memory was fine. The little guy was just smart. Smart and scared. He knew if he didn't give his name or where he was from, he couldn't get sent back to…whoever it was he was running from. "Take it easy, little human," Donny soothed. "I don't think moving around's a real good idea for you right now."
"What do you want?" the boy whispered.
"I just want to help you. I'm not going to hurt you. I promise."
The boy took a deep breath, muscles tightening as he worked up the courage to say, "I don't believe you."
Donny blinked. "Why not?"
"I just don't."
"Don't trust people, huh?" He could relate. Not trusting people was kind of a rule where he came from.
"No. 'Specially people I can't see."
The kid really seemed to be expecting a fight, which made Donny sad. "Well, then you're kind of in luck."
"Umm…Well, I'm not exactly your average…person." Boy, was that an understatement.
The kid sat back with the wide eyes of a very bright, very imaginative little boy. "You called me 'little human.' You home's in the…sewer?" he squinted at Donny in the darkness. "How…How 'not average' are you?"
Donny reached a three-fingered hand toward the side table lamp. "Okay. I'm going to turn on the light. Just…don't wig out. I won't hurt you or anything."
The boy nodded quietly.
"Okay." He flicked the switch. Click. Then he looked back to see the little boy staring at him with huge, unblinking eyes, his shoulders pulled up to his ears as his breath caught in the back of his throat.
"Whoa," he whispered. Donny tried on a smile. The boy's tense shoulders lowered just slightly as he blinked giant blue eyes. "You're a alien, aren't you?" he said in wonder.
"Ah, no." Don quickly shot that down.
"I don't really believe in monsters. So no. I'm a…turtle, actually."
The kid nodded slowly, mouth hanging open. To Donny's relief, he seemed way more stunned than frightened. "So is this…is this like what happens when people flush their pets down the toilet?"
Donny couldn't help it. He laughed. He thought he saw the ghost of a smile touch the little boy's lips, but it was gone before the turtle could be sure. "Not usually. So yeah. Here I am. In all my…reptilian glory, I guess. So now that you can actually see me, and you're not, you know, screaming or anything, I kind of feel like I should introduce myself again. I'm Donny." He held out a large hand. The boy looked at it nervously for a moment as though considering it might be a trap. He either decided to risk it or saw no point in trying to resist, because he slowly reached out and placed his smaller hand in Donny's.
"Good to meet you, Donny," he said shyly.
"Nice to meet you…uh. Think you can give me a name yet?" Donny really hoped he would. He couldn't deny that he was thrilled his new human friend seemed to be taking this so well—probably way better than most adults would, Donny guessed. But then, a kid's mind would probably be way more open to this kind of thing. Thank goodness for cartoons, he thought wryly.
The boy dropped his gaze, uncomfortably pulling his hand from Donny's grasp. "I told you. I got amnesia," he said, sticking to his original story. "Remember?" He winced.
Donny held in a sigh and summoned a smile. "That's right. Sorry."
"Me, too." The little stranger looked off for a moment. Then his eyes were back on Donny. "Were you always a turtle?"
"Mm-hm, of course. All my life."
"How old are you?"
"Is that in…people years?"
Donny grinned. "Yeah, in people years. What about you? How old are you?"
"I don't know. Probably older than that, though, if I had to guess."
"Uh-huh." Donny didn't believe that for a minute. The little guy looked seven. Maybe eight.
"Are there more like you?"
"I have two brothers who live here with me. And our father is a rat."
"A rat?" The kid's eyes widened in awed curiosity as he tried to figure out how that was possible. "What's your mom?"
"We're adopted," Donny assured him, smothering a grin. "You can meet the guys in the morning." The boy looked a little nervous at the idea. "Hey, don't worry about it. I bet they can't wait to meet you. My brothers have never met a real human before."
"Oh. Well, I never met a real bunch of giant talking turtles before."
"You sure?" Donny couldn't resist. "I thought you couldn't remember anything."
The boy barely batted an eye. "Just 'cause I got amnesia doesn't mean I'm stupid." He started to cross his arms before realizing that was a lousy idea. "'Sides, I don't care what kinda bump on the head I get. I think I'd still remember you."
Donny grinned. The boy ducked his head, and Donny was sure he caught a tiny shy smile. When the kid's eyes weren't so full of fear, they sort of sparkled with humor and mischief. Donny liked this spirited young human. "Back at you, little human," he chuckled. "Back at you."
Donny looked up as April shouted right next to him, "Donatello!" He jumped. Then he realized she wasn't talking to him. She was shouting to Mikey, who'd been bouncing around pretending to fix things and rubbing his chin a lot like he was deep in thought. "It's Donny, right?"
"Right-o! Go April!" Mikey held out a hand and pulled the woman to her feet for her turn, and then he flopped down on the couch between Don and Casey. He looked at his brother. "Pretty good, huh? Like looking in a mirror."
"You'll notice I'm not the one who guessed that was supposed to be me."
Mikey grinned. "Yeah, 'cause you were busy spacing out, which is how April knew it was you. Whatcha thinking about, brainiac? Or do I not wanna know?"
Donny smiled at his little brother, seeing how easy the kid could smile, how he met Donny's eyes without a trace of fear. "Big, important things."
"Ah. So me, huh?" Mikey nodded with a fake superior look of self-importance.
Don rolled his eyes, letting his voice come out sarcastic. "What else?"
"…that many citizens have reported increased gang activity along the city's south side. Police have made comments assuring they're doing everything they can, and they believe these incidents of violence are isolated from the recent scare. However, many suspect a turf war between two rival gangs that police claim do not exist."
"Yeah, I saw most of the fight. Well, what I could see of it. These guys weren't messing around, either. There were bodies there last night that weren't there this morning. Apparently they got their own clean-up crew. And it wasn't just guns. I swear some of 'em had…swords."
"No one has yet been able to identify with any kind of certainty exactly who these gangmembers are, but..."
Raphael watched the glowing screen, volume turned so low he could just barely hear the words. The news lady wasn't as pretty as April, but her story had immediately grabbed the turtle's attention. His hands moved automatically to the place where his sai would've been had he been wearing his belt. What's goin' on now?
He looked up as a bare-footed, sleep-rumpled Mikey made his way around the sofa. The light from the screen reflected off shiny blue eyes as the teen sank down next to Raph, elbows resting on knees.
"Fine. What's on?" Mikey asked like it wasn't one in the morning.
Raph watched his little brother. "Nothin' good."
The image on the TV cut to a dark, shaky home-video shot of a street battle. It was all noise and chaos as there was gunfire and whoever was holding the camera was running for his life, but they could just make out the blurred lines of black uniforms and the glint of steel. Raph shook his head, voice coming out in a low growl. "The Foot."
Mikey nodded once, eyes glued to the screen. "Not just them. Look who they're fighting."
Raph leaned forward, shook his head. "I can't…"
Mike pointed. "That guy right there's not Foot. He's a member of the Proud Tide."
"The Proud Tide?" Raph looked where his brother was pointing, and sure enough, caught a flash of red—the armband that showed an image of a coat of arms with two pistols crossed in the center—the signature of the gang. They'd clashed with these guys before, always from the shadows. It was a pretty tight organization, but it didn't have the numbers or the reach of the Foot. "Oh, you gotta be kiddin' me. Since when is there bad blood between the Foot and the Proud Tide?"
"Since pretty much always. They're just usually not so public about it."
"How do you know that?"
Mikey glanced at him. "Word on the street, bro. Gotta keep your ear to the ground and all that. Basic ninja stuff."
"Whatever. Feel like goin' topside? See if we can't get a little look-see?"
"If I don't are you gonna go all Lone Ranger on me?"
"Absolutely." Mikey just sent him a look he must've borrowed from Leo. "Look, I just wanna get an eye for the city. Get a little recon going. We'll stick to the rooftops. Run around some. It'll be fun." Honestly, he hoped Mike would come along. A) The kid had a habit of making things interesting—when he wasn't being annoying, and B) It was Raph's night, and he wouldn't feel right about leaving Mikey alone. Stupid guilt trips.
Mikey sighed. "Fine. Just let me get my stuff, kemosabe." The kid was wearing the Three Stooges lounge pants April had bought him. Not exactly conducive to his health considering the crisp NYC night air.
Raph clicked off the tube and crept to his own room to grab his weapons and mask. Something weird was going on in his town. As he and Mikey stole up the ladder and into the never-quiet New York City night, Raph thought he felt something tug at his gut. As he raced Mikey across the rooftops, it took him a few minutes to figure out what it was. He had a bad feeling about this. Weird. That was definitely more of a Leo thing—the paranoia. But he slowed to a stop. Mikey noticed and ran back to him. The kid was wearing jeans and a light jacket zipped against the chilly air. His dull orange ninja hood was pulled over his head, showing only the strip of skin around those smiley blue eyes.
"What? Change your mind already? Or are you having a little trouble keeping up?" Those dang, irritating smiley blue eyes. "Told you you shouldn't've had that sixth slice of pizza." He knocked on Raph's stomach. "That built-in girdle of yours can only hold so much." He raised his eyebrows and waited a beat.
Raph couldn't help but respond to the playful challenge glinting in those eyes, and he took off after the speedy young ninja. As he ran and flipped and swung and jumped, he told himself he was being kind of an idiot. But still, he couldn't quite shake the feeling that was balling itself up in his stomach. Something wasn't right. So he did what made sense: he ignored it.
A/N: And so it begins, huh? This is probably going to be my least actiony chapter of all. Sorry. Had to be done to start explaining the backstory. If you like, check back in for Act II in a couple days. Much more action in there, methinks. Hope you enjoyed. Bless ya.