Michelangelo wondered if anyone knew he was missing yet.
Huddled in the corner of the little room, as far into the shadows as he could manage, he must have been a pathetic sight for the gangsters crowding him. He couldn't look at them for long. Seeing their smug faces sent chills up and down his body and cold sweat coursing over his skin.
"Just you wait, little freak. We'll do ya like we did your friend."
Michelangelo's dry tongue touched his parched lips, trying in vain to wet them. His throat was full of sand, or he would have spoken in false bravado. Yeah, and remember what happened to the guys who did that?
But that hadn't changed what had happened to Raph, over eight months ago, and it didn't change what they were still going through.
"You goin' out?"
Mike glanced over his shoulder, over which was slung a canvas sack, to see Raphael was turned away from the television and peering at him over the back of the couch. "Yeah, just to get groceries."
"Since when d'you volunteer ta do work around here?" Before Mike could answer, Raph gave a sharp laugh. "Right. Master Splinter finally got sick a' you singin 'Man of Constant Sorrows' while doin' the dishes."
"It got me outta the lair, didn't it?" Mike replied with a broad grin.
"Yeah, I'm sure that was your intention. Get outta here, freak show." Raph turned back to the television. Mike started for the door. "You want me ta come with ya?" Raph asked him suddenly.
Mike looked over his shoulder again. Raph was watching him and obviously trying not to look as nervous as he was. It had been this way for the past six months; Raph didn't like one of his brothers going out alone. He didn't really like going out alone himself anymore, even if he did so anyway to prove he could do it. No matter how many times his brothers went out alone, though, Raph was on pins and needles until they returned safely. He had gone from having no interest in training to being nearly obsessed with it, pausing only to eat, sleep, and lose himself in a movie for a few hours a day. Mike knew it wasn't just to have something to do.
Despite his certainty that Raph's fears were mostly needless, Mike found those fears to be somewhat contagious. It would make them both feel better, he knew, if Raph came. But Mike needed to go alone for the same reason Raph did—to prove he didn't need to cower at home or beneath his brothers' watchful eyes. Raph wasn't the only one scarred, or scared, by what had happened. "Nah, I'll be fine. It's just a quick, boring trip. Been on this route a billion times."
Raph nodded slowly and turned back to the television. Mike wondered if his brother's look of disappointment was brought on less by having to sit at home and wait again and more by being denied the chance to run into an enemy this time and prove to himself and everyone else that there was no longer any need to be afraid.
After gleaning the Internet for any information he could have missed about the complications of rape, Donatello had become increasingly worried about something he'd never considered before. He'd looked up every article and hacked into every medical record for Jezimar Moura and James Fraley, and what he'd found had reassured him. No sexually transmitted diseases to pass on to rape victims. That was very, very good. Now he was looking up information about Robert Cole, known among the Purple Dragons as House. What he'd found so far was incredibly disturbing, but not alarming. House had run a website hosted on a free server. It contained amateur pornography taken of various women arranged in terrifying displays of bondage, torture, and asphyxiation. Oddly, no pictures showed House using the girls himself. Some had the girls with other men, other women, or sex toys, but never House himself. How could he have convinced the girls to go for this? Or...had they agreed to it at all? The looks on their faces weren't all feigned, to Don's eyes.
The newest picture was of a pink-haired girl with gigantic dark eyes. She could have come straight from an anime or manga—an illusion probably created deliberately with fake eyelashes and other makeup tricks. Her legs were twisted painfully apart with her feet tucked behind her head, and her hips looked like they might have been dislocated. Then there were other things...Don quickly clicked the "Back" button, stomach burning.
Disgusted, he left the website. This was far too much for him. He was increasingly glad that House had died. He hadn't heard or found anything redeemable about him. Idly, he wondered what had happened to the girl in that last picture. Had she had medical attention? Was she seeing a therapist for it? Did anyone even care, or did they think she'd been asking for it?
The next thing he found was a transcript of a news report. He scanned it quickly, trying not to think about the girl. He failed, and had to scan the report again. ...Found with the word "RAPIST" slashed into his forehead. While nothing has been confirmed as to whether or not Cole was in fact a rapist, post-mortem tests revealed that he was--
Don's heart choked him. He stared at the screen, hardly believing what he saw. His lips parted, and through the tumor in his throat he shrieked, "LEO, GET IN HERE!"
He couldn't have left well enough alone. Mike was probably fine. No need to be running along the route he usually took to and from the grocery store, hoping to run into him and make sure nothing had happened. He could never leave well enough alone. He always had to follow his brothers when they went out, spying like some...well, like Leo.
He snapped out of his thoughts when he saw a solitary figure on the street below him, highlighted in gold from the street lights. It had the familiar bulge of a shell in the back of its oversized black hoodie, with the hood drawn up over an unseen beanie to hide as many alien features as possible. It walked briskly to the beat of a song it was quietly singing, its hands stuffed into the pockets of the hoodie. Raph gave a half-smile, then smothered it by gritting his teeth in frustration. Mike was making too much noise. Did he want to be caught? He followed silently, watching in his peripheral vision the zebra-stripes of headlights on pavement from a nearby street. All it took was for one of those vehicles to turn down an alley to see an inhuman shape. Not like we've never dealt with that before, he tried to assure himself. Mike can handle himself.
But this sort of thing killed Raph every time one of his brothers went out. He had the feeling that Leo could tell when Raphael was following, but said nothing, knowing Raph was doing it as much for his own sake as for Leo's. Don he could never read, but he was pretty sure Mike was oblivious to him. Which scared him more than anything.
An abandoned and normal-looking van was parked on one side of the alley. It was whitewashed and looked like it had been rescued from the 1960's. Just behind it was the back door of a brick building, slightly ajar with no light leaking from behind it. Mike was about to pass it. Raph tensed, then forced himself to unwind. There's no one in there. You're being stupid. His heart pounded hot blood in his head, teeth grinding and fists tightening. Until Mike passed safely, he wouldn't be convinced. Crouching on the edge of the rooftop, he prepared to leap down at the first sign of trouble.
Mike passed the door and came alongside the van, jamming on an air-guitar and giving a spin.
Raph let out his breath.
The headlights of the van came on at the same instant as the wheels began to spin and the door was flung open.
Raph opened his mouth to warn his brother.
A dark shadow ducked from the van, flung an arm around Mike's neck, covered his mouth with a swatch of dark fabric, and yanked him inside as his knees gave.
The van took off like a rocket before the door even closed.
"MIKE!" shouted Raph.
Raph could see his brother collapse entirely inside the van just as the door closed. He leapt from the rooftop, breaking his fall by catching a windowsill just before hitting the ground and spinning around. The van was turning a corner, exposing on its previously-unseen side a fraction of an utterly, horribly familiar symbol.
They know what happened to me.
They have my brother.
By the time Raph sprinted around the corner, the van was nowhere in sight. He stood in the shadow of a building, knees buckling as he shook, then jolted off at a run after the van he could not see.
A body found in a New York City alley has been identified as that of Robert Leon Cole. The cause of death, according to Chief of Police Bill Damron, was "almost undoubtedly murder." An autopsy revealed a massive wound from a long, edged weapon. The body was found with the word "RAPIST" slashed into the forehead. While nothing has been confirmed as to whether or not Coleman was in fact a rapist, post-mortem tests revealed that he was HIV-positive.
There was no world, only the words.
HIV-positive. House. Raph's House.
Leo's mouth went dry.
"We need to get more of a story from Raph about what happened that night. We have to know--"
It didn't matter. He would die anyway.
"You said they raped him with an object?"
Leo cleared his parched throat as he grew aware that Don's words required an answer. "Yeah. Flashlight. And...and one of them peed on him, but it wasn't House. It was...one of the other ones." He hoped he didn't sound as distant as he felt, staring at those words until they burned into his corneas. HIV-positive. Oh god, oh god.
Leo's blood was running cold, and he barely remembered to breathe. "Huh?"
A crimson wave, overcoming his vision, stinging his eyes, the resistance and give of severed muscle and bone, sword lancing through heart, warm flood of salt and metal, everywhere. A look of shock, realized underestimation, or perhaps overestimation, frozen on a dying man's face. Leo lifted his hands to his own face, and he could feel it, the sticky slime of congealing
"What?" Don looked alarmed. "Did Raph...did he come in contact with House's blood, or do you know?"
"Not Raph," whispered Leo. "Me."
Author's Notes: Many thanks go to Kameterra, who has agreed to beta this entire fic.