Donatello had just enough time to stuff Raphael into his belt when his eyes registered a wall of blackness engulfing the already-dim tunnel.
Clearly, the Foot had deemed reinforcements necessary after their last battle. Despite the fact that he was about to engage in a fight for his life, Donatello indulged in a small feeling of pride. True, their enemies had held the upper hand for a moment before Master Splinter stepped in last time, but the mutant family always seemed to pull through against overwhelming odds. Not typically a promoter of unnecessary violence, Donatello still liked to be reminded that they could take care of themselves. Or protect those who aren't really able to do it on their own, he thought, glancing at the small turtle nestled against his plastron.
Although Raphael couldn't read Donatello's mind, his own was smoldering with outrage over the fact that his brothers were risking life and limb for his sake while he could offer nothing at all. It was bad enough when he'd been trapped in the Lair while his brothers staved off the attack at the perimeter. Now, he had to witness everything from a front row seat, which went against every powerful protective instinct he had. It was enough to tear him apart.
The brief time for reflection passed as bitter enemies surged toward one another and adrenaline took over.
Mikey spared a glance at Leonardo and found that he was signaling for the younger turtle to cut off the advance on the left side of the tunnel. Donatello was flanking the right, and Leo had run straight to the middle of the fray. Unnoticed by all, Master Splinter was scurrying along the tunnel ceiling, a small turtle clinging to his kimono for dear life. In the confusion, Raphael had been stealthily slipped from Donatello's belt. He would not be taken without a considerable effort, lest their behavior arouse suspicion.
The rat dropped into a ready stance at the back of the Foot ranks, and before they knew what had hit them, dozens of soldiers were being tossed about like rag dolls.
Suddenly the brothers' leader was locked blade-to-blade with Karai, his teeth bared in a vicious snarl.
"Give him up, Leonardo," the normally soft-voiced woman shouted over the din. "He can do nothing for you. Is he worth the loss of your sentient family? I'm not sure I would live with myself if my decisions came to that end."
"I'm not sure you should live with yourself as it is, after renouncing all your honor," he retorted as he blocked a low swing from her tanto.
"I suppose I will have to just make it up to the world by ridding it of you instead."
Grunts of exertion, cries of pain and the thuds of falling bodies were magnified as they echoed through the sewer tunnel. The cacophony aided the turtles and their master as they attempted to create the sensation that they were everywhere, and to keep their enemies guessing while their quarry was passed around.
Mikey launched himself into a group of Foot ninja, sticking his tongue out as he concentrated on sending them scattering with his whirling nunchaku. He had created a path for Donatello, who planted his bo into the cleared space and launched himself to the other side of the enemies' ranks without hesitation. Just as the group around Michelangelo was recovering and preparing to attack him as one, Splinter appeared in front of his youngest son, eyes gleaming as he beckoned them closer.
Raphael was wishing more than anything else in the world that he could take a few good swings with a weapon at all the expressionless bug-eyed heads. But, such as it was, his time for action had come.
Leonardo locked eyes with Donatello over the sea of black ninja separating them. Donatello, who once again had Raphael in his belt, nodded in understanding. He dropped and rolled away from the soldiers that were confronting him, to create some distance so that he could use his bo.
But more importantly, so that he could slip Raphael safely onto the tunnel floor without drawing attention.
Although it went against every last fiber of his being, Raphael took a deep breath to prepare himself, then did what any normal turtle would do under the current circumstances. He took off, as fast as his genetic code and stubby limbs would allow, in the opposite direction from the battle.
As the turtles had hoped, the ninja in charge of tracking Raphael had hung back from the fight. He had positioned himself around a corner several meters away. Fifteen other ninja accompanied him, just in case one of the hated mutant turtles had headed their way. While the soldiers were expendable as far as the Shredder was concerned, the tracking mechanism was deemed worthy of the extra protection.
The ninja holding the device was wishing in vain that Chaplin had added some sort of video game feature on it for these less engaging moments. Suddenly, he noticed the tiny blip of otherworldly essence, or whatever the red-headed scientist had called it, slowly but steadily getting closer. He nudged one of his companions.
"Check it out, little turtle coming this way. Guess he couldn't hack the fighting anymore. Get that thing open, and I'll grab him." They waited impatiently until they just barely made out the glint of the tiny carapace rounding the corner.
Not the least bit taken by surprise, Raphael mewled in artificial alarm as he was scooped up and stuffed immediately into a small wire cage, barely bigger than his body.
He smirked inwardly, resorting to a sort of bitter humor to help keep himself calm while in this predicament. Heh, looks like these bozos learn from some of their mistakes, anyway. Too bad I don't want to escape this time.
Well, maybe don't want wasn't exactly the right phrasing. No ulterior motive could overshadow the fact that he absolutely despised being put in a cage.
The next thing he knew, he was being carried off down the side tunnel, out of sight and away from his family. His captors had electronically signaled to Karai that he was in their hands, and were now heading for a designated meeting point.
With one sweeping hand motion from Karai, the Foot ninja that had been engaged in a vicious battle with the three remaining turtles and their sensei ceased abruptly. They turned, shot off in the direction of their companions, and disappeared into the shadows.
Karai spared one last haughty glance at Leonardo, as if to ensure him that there would be another time.
The turtles made a half-hearted effort in chase, sprinting down the tunnel past the corner for just a moment, but pulled up short when it was clear their targets had gained a substantial enough lead. All three teenagers stood for a moment to catch their breaths, greedily pulling in oxygen. Their intentions had indeed been carried out. Raphael was now with an unsuspecting Karai, and his brothers had fought with great effort. There had been no need to pretend during the battle; so numerous had their enemies been. Now, they only had to wait, and pray that their homing device remained intact until that night.
Master Splinter approached silently and stared into the blackness of the distant tunnels, his brows knitted ever so slightly with concern.
Michelangelo frowned, sadness in his blue eyes as he stood up straight, dusting off his hands. Bye for now, Raphie. Don't worry, bro – we'll see you again real soon, ok? Relinquishing Raphael had probably been the hardest on him. He had felt an inexplicable closeness to his tiny brother ever since he'd discovered him less than eight hours ago.
Leo and Donnie, however, were each letting their own brands of guilt fester. Allowing their brother to fall into the hands of the enemy did not sit well with any of them.
The small family was once again less one, only no longer did they live in blissful ignorance about it. The three turtles and the rat gathered close, and clapped their arms around each others' shoulders for reassurance. Their enemies were no longer after them for the time being, yet none of them would be getting much rest until they were once again whole.
Sunrise was already well under way. Very soon, the score of black-clad ninja tearing along the rooftops would be visible to those going about their weekend routines. Very soon, if he had not already, a young man would awaken and discover a missing pet while he was pouring his coffee.
Karai could only hope they were not too late. She silently thanked the gods that it was Saturday, so that they still had a chance of restoring Raphael unnoticed.
Karai brought the cage up to her face and stared right into Raphael's eyes. He glared back, unblinking. "Bite through that, why don't you," she hissed.
Suddenly she moved the cage so that her prisoner's head was near her lips. "I know you can understand me, Raphael," she whispered so that none around her could hear. "Everyone else may deny it, but I know you're in there. When we extract what we need from you and the Shredder has no more use for you, I'm going to make you suffer for the trouble you have caused me. Before I'm through with you, Raphael, you're going to wish more than anything in the world that you could open your mouth and beg me to let you die."
Despite his bristling exterior and his burning desire to rake the smug look from Karai's face with his claws, Raphael felt a small twinge of fear from her words. For what could he do to stop her, by himself?
Oh, there was a time and a place in which he could have fought back, and succeeded, he knew. While watching his brothers take down scores of ninja fighters with their own weapons, while watching them exercise great skill as martial artists, observing their fierce dedication to teamwork, he remembered. He could almost feel the weight of the sai, expertly spinning in his flexible humanoid fingers, the extension of his muscular arm as he would set one free with deadly accuracy. But he had nothing of the sort at his disposal in this dreadful existence. It was all up to his brothers now.
Oh, boy. Guys, I sure hope you can come through for me. God, I hate to admit this, but I can't get outta this alone. Whatever I did to isolate myself before, it has to be the biggest mistake I've ever made. I need you – please, don't give up on me now.
Right at that moment, he missed his brothers more than anything in the world.
Late that morning, four exhausted mutant ninjas stumbled through the main door of their Lair. They cleaned themselves up and went in turn to Donatello's makeshift infirmary to have various wounds and strained muscles tended. Then, one by one, they collapsed in their own beds.
Leonardo was initially unwilling to sleep. Afraid to let his guard down after the Foot had been so close to his home, he set up a vigil on the couch in the main room. Master Splinter came in and gently placed a gnarled hand on Leo's shoulder, reminding him that Donatello's early warning system had already proven itself, and that they all needed their rest for that evening.
"My son, I will spend some time now meditating on the matters at hand. Perhaps I will even be able to contact your brother's spirit, for it is strong, even in this world that is not his own. At any rate, the process will rejuvenate me. It will do us much good if you will try to sleep, and rejuvenate yourself as well."
"Hai, Sensei, you are right." Reluctantly the blue-banded turtle made his way into his bedroom. Despite his misgivings, fatigue took over and he was asleep the moment his head hit the pillow.
By the time Raphael landed in the sand and got his bearings, the Foot ninja who'd roughly deposited him into the aquarium was gone, the picture window clicking shut.
I gotta admit, that was pretty swift. For a buncha' morons, they do a half-decent job with that ninja disappearing act.
Raphael hadn't thought about it before in all the excitement of his initial capture, but if the knowledge about this top-secret species wipeout juice was so precious, why didn't the professor install some kind of alarm system in his apartment? It was, after all, the Big Apple. Though he supposed it was the young man's father that had reasons for such concern; really the son didn't know what he was about to get into yet.
Heh, wait 'til my bros lay it out for ya.
Raphael was kept from further thoughts of his brothers by the unexpected sounds of a shuffling motion. Delilah's form appeared from around the sunning rock in the aquarium as she crawled over until she was inches away from her roommate. She momentarily stopped and stared at him.
What's that look for, lady? Ya miss me? Well, maybe I went off to find someone a little more… y'know, conversational.
The female turtle moved further forward until her head was up against Raphael's carapace, off-center as though he were not the object of her attention, but was rather blocking her path. He shook his head, half-smiling at Delilah's antics, when he suddenly felt a searing pain course through his body, head to tail. This sensation continued unrelenting as new waves of fiery pain moved up his limbs from his toes.
Delilah scooted back, alarmed as her newly-returned companion began thrashing wildly around, making small wailing sounds of great distress.
Pain. Indescribable pain, wracking his entire body in bursts. At its peak, it was the only thing around which he could wrap his mind. When it settled, he began to register other sensations. Cold, wet all around. Cold, dry air flowing into his lungs. He could see nothing but a blur. He could hear only silence. He could not move his arms or legs, nor could he lift his head. He could panic, and did so readily. Struggling, unable to move, to escape the torturous waves of pain. Someone was there, someone… he could sense their malicious intent behind his suffering, he could…
Hyperventilating, Raphael came to himself and realized with exasperation that he'd managed to flail right onto his shell. Lifting his head, he watched as Delilah came closer, waving her beak around the upper part of his plastron, as if to smell him.
"Well, good morning, you two! I'm sorry, did I interrupt something?" The smiling young man approached the glass cage, padding silently in his bedroom slippers. Raphael hadn't heard him get up.
Oh, Geez. This is freakin' mortifying. Sorry, bud, but I got way too much other serious stuff goin' on to even think about girls. 'Sides, she ain't exactly my type.
Raphael was lifted and replaced on his feet. The young professor shuffled into the kitchen and began making coffee. Soon, its sweet aroma filled the apartment and followed the human over to the couch, where he clicked on the morning news.
Raphael could almost have welcomed the familiar, relatively comfortable morning routines. However, his thoughts were only of his brothers and of the disturbing episodes that he had now endured twice. His attention was grabbed momentarily by the current story on the television.
"still no new leads on the organization behind the mysterious theft at Innovolutions Labs two weeks ago. Authorities are reporting that…"
Before he could catch any more, the young man clicked off the television.
Why does he keep doing that, right in the middle? These New Yorkers, I tell ya. No patience.
Talking to the turtles, but more to himself, the professor headed to the kitchen to prepare some breakfast. "That reminds me, I've gotta call Dad. Make sure he's still good to come over tonight so we can talk about that pesticide. He's worried sick, though I'm not sure what we can do now."
As his "owner" ducked his head into the refrigerator, Raphael nodded once, in satisfaction.
So, this is it. It all comes down to tonight.
He clambered slowly up to the warming rock and settled down, one of his rare moments in which he behaved as an ordinary turtle. Instincts were instincts to some degree, and besides, he'd need the energy later. Things were about to get interesting again very soon.
Bring it on.
Hours later they sat, perched on the fire escape, staring through a picture window to a small glass aquarium. The cage contained two turtles. One was nosing through a pile of greens in the far corner, and the other was standing on the edge nearest to the observers in the window. The second turtle had raised one of his arms and was making what appeared to be a waving motion.
Mikey returned the greeting with a mounting excitement. "Yep, that's our Raphie all right!"
Donatello's tracking device had worked like a charm.
Leonardo's jaw was set, his face stone-like. He wasted no time in studying the window and ledge. When he spoke, his tone invited no humor. "Do you think this place is rigged? Donnie?"
Splinter rested his hand gently on Leonardo's arm and interjected. "No, my son. Raphael has told me that since the break-in, his professor's father has become quite paranoid about his knowledge and those who might try to steal it. The Shredder felt that any traditional methods of extracting information, such as electronic surveillance equipment, would be detected. I believe we are safe to enter."
He looked like he wanted to go on, but stopped. However, his face was no mystery to his youngest son.
Mikey was always one to speak his mind. "Master Splinter, what is it? You look like something's really eating you right about now." The orange-bandeezd turtle leaned in to regard his sensei more closely.
Splinter tilted his head at Mikey, slightly amused. "Eating me? I don't know about that, but there is something weighing heavily on my mind, something about Raphael."
He now had the complete attention of all three turtles, but shook his head in response to their inquisitive stares.
"Now is not the time, my eager young ninjas. Let us rejoin your brother and make the young professor's acquaintance, before his father arrives."
The three boys looked surprised over this last statement.
"My sons, I was able to reach Raphael's spirit while he was sleeping earlier today. It has told me a great many things, about how he came to be here, about the lack of security at the apartment, and about the young man meeting with his father tonight. I even had a glimpse of what is happening to Raphael in his own world, something I think even he doesn't realize, and it is most disturbing."
He paused, noting the alarmed expressions on the three turtles' faces. "I see the questions burning in your eyes, but what I have learned from Raphael gives us all the more reason for urgency. I will explain all in time."
At a nod from Leonardo, the three turtles silently pushed the window up, and the family slid one by one into the living room.
Michelangelo was the first to rush over to Raphael on the rock and was just about to pick him up, when the professor suddenly materialized in the doorframe from his hallway, a cup of coffee in hand.
Everyone froze. For a few lengthy seconds, not a sound could be heard except for the ticking of the mantle clock. It seemed that no one even breathed.
The professor's skin turned a particularly pale shade as his eyes darted rapidly back and forth over each mutant turtle. He had just enough time to lay his coffee on a sofa table, before collapsing into a non-responsive heap on the ground.
Mikey looked at each of his brothers in turn, grinning from ear to ear.
"I think that went well, don't you?"
A/N: So there you have Chapter 8. I have only this to say about the next chapter: Watch out ,it's going to be a ride! Thanks to all of you; it's a lot of fun to write for you and I really appreciate all the encouragement.