Mirage Universe. Read in the voice of Nolan North

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I've been staring in the mirror for the past half hour and the face in front of me ain't getting any prettier. Least the cut above my eye is done. It itched too much, made me nervous. I dunno, I just never liked taking shots close to the eyes. Freaks me out.

Leo's out in another part of the city, so I'm kinda glad about that. Those…whatever they were spent enough time trying to rip me a new hole, I don't feel like going a couple of extra rounds with good ol' fearless leader. Which is why I ain't heading home till I'm done here.

"Damn…"

Knew there was a reason some asshole coined the "Don't pick it" phrase. Bleeding's started up again. The cut towards my right eye is one nasty little bugger. Scrabbling around the sink ain't turned up anything useful, nothing that'll slow it down. I do not want to put anything near my eye without knowing what it is. Looks like I might actually have to start looking for the medical supplies. Figures Don'd be up in Northampton when I need a guy I can actually trust with a scalpel.

"Damn…"

Great, now I'm blinking too much. I don't even wanna blink. Stupid cut. Stupid freaks. Yeah, yeah, I know, look who's talking. But I got this going for me, I ain't got claws. Or can put my fist through a couple feet worth of concrete.

"Damn it, April…"

Where the hell is that medicine cabinet? I mean c'mon, would it be that hard to go outta your way to make it clear to a bleeding mutant where he can get his hands on some bandages? And pills, leg's starting to cramp where that big one tried to pulverize it. Till I pulverised the front of his skull and drove it through his brain matter. If he had any brains for that matter…

Can't believe I just laughed at that. Don't tell me I'm coming off an adrenaline high here. Shaking hands do not a good way to administer anti depressants make. Jesus, I didn't even laugh at that, I giggled. Damn it…

Probably should have guessed I was running on more than ninja training when I managed to make it all the way across Harlem bleeding like an elephant in season. Probably scared outta my damn mind, but no way I'm brining that up to Splinter, let alone Leo. 'Specially not Mike.

"Damn it…"

Didn't have to go out alone tonight, but oh, look at the big scary rebel. To be fair though, it's not exactly like I saw those things coming. You hear one cry in New York, you heard 'em all. Should probably learn to differentiate. Especially down in the Bowery. But crimes like that, y'know? Every goddamn where, and I'm the only one who cares. Ah that's not fair, Leo and the guys go outta there way to help people as much as I do, but sometimes…

Well, that's just it, it's about helping people. Putting the bad guy away is only half the battle. It ain't a matter of honour, it's doing the right thing. Like back during the gang war, when the Foot was tearing itself apart…we were all in a very bad place. All of us.

"Heh…"

And I called us the neighbourhood watch. I don't think Leo ever really got it. Well he did in the end, trying to figure out if it was actually worth having anything to do with the surface right before Karai attacked us. Crazy bitch. But we weren't out there on the streets because it was the right thing to do. We were out there…just because. Y'know? And if we're doing that, we're not doing it right. We should be out there because it's the right thing to do. Period.

Like stopping giant scaly clawed things from eating old ladies. And taking shots that feel like you're bones could be hiring out as balloon animals at kids parties 'cause they're about half way done. Arms starting to go, feels like I'm gripping the basin too hard with hands that are too light. Now both legs are cramping up, which is worrying because Godzilla's little brother only got one of 'em. Standing here ain't doing anything for my sides either, which were better off numb than pulling off this flaring act they're trying out now that the shocks wearing off. Or setting in. Least I'm not throwing up. Mouths too dry to. Throats lumpy, probably still tender from where that other one tried to squeeze up last nights stomach acid.

Finally found the medicine cabinet. Pretty good selection if you know what to look for. Couple years hanging around the likes of us, and April's already a master of deception. Or mistress. Whatever. Everything I need is mixed in with what you'd expect on a well stocked average American family medicine cabinet. Band aids probably aren't gonna cut it, this mini black hole over my eye is gonna need a couple of stitches. That's gonna be fun. So much for sneaking it past Splinter. Or maybe I won't have to. Head feels like all grey matter just up and dissolved inside. Taste like battery acid on my tongue. Another blink and I realize I'm filthy. God knows what kinda crap I rolled in trying to hold that third freak down. This is gonna do wonders for all these open wounds of mine. God, look at all this crap. What is that, dirt? Right. What else could it be? Should've stayed in the lair. Ah who am I kidding…

Soaps right there, but no way in hell am I putting anything reeking of lemon near stuff that's oozing enough pain as it is. Crap, even for having to slog through the sewers to get home I'm a mess. And we live in the water drainage systems, not the sewer system itself, so yeah I do have hygiene standards. Well, we haven't lived in the sewer system since we were five or so.

Huh. Wonder how I ever kept going back then. Not that I was angry or anything. I was always this screwed up, I just got more pissed as time went by, and when I ask how I got by I don't mean I spent long nights staring at the frigging wall. Okay I did because we didn't have TV until Splinter found the old sewer den with it's running (but not hot) water and decent enough electrical system. I was just so much more stupid back then. I'm not confusing innocence and stupidity, Shadow's innocent, I was just less aware. Kinda a blessing and a curse sort of deal. There's too much crap I would have been better off knowing back then and too much I'd rather forget. The kind of stuff that makes ya just that little extra bit of jaded. It's there when Leo gets pissed enough to let the armour crack, just that tiny little piece of bitterness. About as big as a spider's nut sack but still there. And it shouldn't be.

The hell was I doing running off I trying to take the Elite on my own, let alone the Shredder? Shouda hung back. Could've been there with Leo. Shouldn't have left him to take Saki on alone. All the shit that came after that, and the guy's only got one set of shoulders…

He don't need that, none of them do. Only I get to feel like that. Like this.

The old rat always said my temper'd do me in. Figures. Five mutant outcasts on the entire planet (Six if you wanna get technical and go with Leatherhead because of the whole Utrom goo thing) and one of them ends up being freakier than the rest.

Crap, I really am filthy. April picked out this white fluffy carpet thing for the bathroom (at least I hope it was April) and I've trodden about three foot shaped piles of shit into it. Flecked with red. Bleeding and filthy. Haven't been this messed up since…

Since Saki burnt down the old store. April's store. Beat Leo to near death and flung him through the window first. Just to let us know.

I've found you.

What the hell were we thinking staying there? Jesus, so stupid. Should have gone back to the lair. Could've held out there, the store was no place to fight. In the tunnels we could've held out, could've made a stand. Together. Even together we probably couldn't have stopped 'em tearing the place up, but nobody deserves to have that kind of shit happen to them. To see their home taken away. Especially not April. Hell, we even cost her her first job, back with that little psycho Stockman and his whole mouser fetish. We saved her life and I haven't regretted a single second I spent knowing her, but look what we cost her. A normal life. We're not ever gonna be a normal family, but even without the whole mutant turtle and a rat thing we never will be. Because of me. Back then we brought this shit right onto Aprils doorstep, and a couple of years later I bring it right back.

It's then that I lift up my fingers and come face to face with the little hand shaped pool

ketchuped to the sides of the basin. So much…probably means I left a trail of this shit all over the rooftops leading right here.

"Aw damn it…"

Shouldn't have come here. Normal people don't need this.

Then the door opens.

"Uncle Raph?"

Oh crap…

"Hey Shad."

I try and smile. Big mistake. A slight popping feeling under my chin, and I know I'm bleeding again. Right out from under my head and running down my neck. Gotta give the little spud credit though, she dosen't go pale or anything. Then again I got no idea how to react at all even if she had.

"Shadow?"

Footsteps, neat and big. April and Casey. This ain't gonna end well.

"Uh…hi guys."

April gets there first. Figures. I don't think I'll ever get used to those eyes going wide. They shouldn't have to. Normal people shouldn't be afraid for sewer mutants. The clunking stops as Casey comes up short. Eyes are getting bad now, can't be sure if he just mouthed the word "Jesus" or not. Would've had an exclamation mark on the end, cept there are ladies present. One's his daughter, the other could just kick his ass.

"Goddamn it."

April on the other hand…

"Look at you!"

"I did. Been staring in that mirror you got over the medicine cabinet while I was looking for the Tea Tree."

She starts wrapping the wounds. Applying just a little extra pressure. Don't know if that's meant to be payback or motherly instinct, but I ain't getting the benefit from either, even though I know from back alley experience with ugly little beauties like these I'm gonna need something tight to keep my guts from falling out. Then she stops after the most serious stuff and starts undoing my belt.

"Uh…just what in the hell're you doing?"

Giggle in the corner. Way to go Uncle Raph. She dosen't look up, focusing on my left elbow pad, which has got an underside caked with dead skin from where the three mutant stooges tried to rip it open, but from the force behind the yank that peels it off I don't think she appreciated her adopted daughter (or whatever the technical term for whatever Shadow is to April) learning that kinda stuff from watching this little side show act. Then again, she's got Casey for a dad. Surprised if she won't be chewing out the guys that do R rated movie dialogue by the time she's twelve.

"I am undressing you so you can get in the bath."

Oh no way in holy hell…

"April, there's no water in it."

"Casey. Bath. Now."

Damn, she's quick. Must've added an extra note or two above the ultra sonic range to her voice box, because Dogius Ignoramius is suddenly filling up the tub. The sound of water hitting floor dosen't do much for the jackhammer under water feeling at the top of my skull. Neither does the following:

"Yes April."

My eyes narrow from something other than pain for the first time in however long it took me to get here and stare into that stupid mirror medicine thing.

"Judas."

Her fingers snap in front of my eyes so fast I think what's left of my bones went out with the sonic boom.

"Raphael, Tub. Tub, Raphael. Raphael, get in the tub."

Spine included. But if there's anything anybody knows about me, it's that I don't go down without a fight. Usually I take something off the other guy.

"You gonna give me a little privacy here, or do I just show you where to shove the money?"

She hustles the other two out of the room, leaving me staring at the street stained freak rippling in the water. Ugly bastard. Wounds tingle at the rise in temperature. Been a while since I've actually been anywhere near hot water. Not that I don't like the stuff, I just don't bathe recreationally. I take a shower to clean up or wash off work out sweat, that's just what it's for. Temperature don't really come into it. Not that I ain't one to take advantage of it. Ditching the rest of my gear feels like peeling off glued on skin. I dip a toe in, not sure if that wince is from the heat or the feeling of water on bruises.

Steam rises off me as I slosh in. Decent enough fit even with my shell. Not too tight. Warm. Snug even. Eyes have stopped blinking but it feels like there's a pair of hands trying to pull my eyelids down. Super strong hands.

...

A creak. Water hit's the walls around me as I shoot upright.

"Hey! Easy!"

Casey. Just Casey.

The hell…

"Hey! I'm naked here!"

"Nothing I haven't seen before."

"Asshole."

"Hey, don't give me that. Just making sure you don't drown or nothing. Besides, you officially owe me a shirt." He holds it up with a tug on the front. Covered by a damp patch the size of a heart. My sai once made a blood stain that big when I threw it through this one Foot ninja's heart.

"Out for twenty minutes and you're still as delicate as a rhino through the face."

Twenty…? Damn it. Tonight ain't ninja night. Splinter would never have allowed that to happen. Leo neither. Damn it. Can't feel my wounds anymore, but even with that much blood loss grabbing a nap in the bathroom is never gonna be a good idea. Might as well hang a shooting gallery sign over the door and draw up a line in magic marker so someone could get a knife near my throat. Hell, with the old turtle luck, Complete Carnage is gonna show up. And turn out to be the tub I'm sitting in.

"I'm clean. I'm gonna take off."

"Not yet. Not with that leg."

He flashes me a smile like on one of those plastic stinking action figures Mike keeps around. Then he plomps himself right down on the can right next to me. My eyes go wide at the sound of jeans on porcelain.

"The hell do you think you're doin'?"

"Gonna need someone to help you out of there. And besides…" The grin twitches an extra length or two. "…even you're not crazy enough to go flying around New York without a pair of pants. Or pads. Whatever you jump around in."

Looking around I realize that apart from the street crap I dragged in through the window with me, the floor is totally bare.

"Where the hell is my gear?"

"You were out and it was just stinking up the place. Besides," My eyes still ain't that great, but I think there's a tinge of red a shade lighter than my bandanna on his face. ",April dosen't like weapons in the house."

"Oh."

Least he ain't unzipped. He picks up a bottle of something and turns it over in his hands for a while. The look on his face makes it look like he'd stay there forever if that's how long I had to stay in here. And maybe there's just a little something behind that. He didn't want me here, in his house, with his family. Hell, why would he? But he's gonna wait for me. However long it does take. No questions asked. Just gonna sit there and keep the world off my ass for a while.

Hating myself for it, I decide to take something outta that, make the effort worth it. I settle back down, breath coming in deep as twinging and steaming slam up my body. Waters a little cooler than I remember. Luke warm, tinged with grey.

"What the hell happened to you?"

Knew that was coming. Dosen't feel like it was a couple of hours ago. Feels like a million years and a few seconds all at once.

"Was running around by the Bowery. There was a scream, there always is. Figured it was just a mugging, somethin'…normal, y'know? Anyway I get there and there are these...things. Monsters. Like apes but scaly. All over. Strong little buggers. Hell, I say little, but they were huge. Not quite Leatherhead or Triceratons sized, but big enough. Ugly to. We fought like maniacs, me to stay alive and them just…because, I guess."

I pause. They must have seen the blood on my sais. They're probably wondering how much of it is mine.

"But they didn't get her."

That's enough for Casey. He goes back to the bottle.

After a while I hook my toe around the plug, yank and shake it off. As the water struggles around my body I notice brief little flashes of green skin, like stars being pulled screaming down a black hole. What is this, shedding season? Do turtles shed? There was probably a million dollars worth of freaky science fiction junk to be found on my skin and I just flushed it down the sewer. There's probably something ironic in that, but I can't be bothered to think about it. As I watch a scientist's fortune vanish down the drain feeling floods back into my muscles, letting me stand up wounds and all. I grope for a towel, eyes doing that lame ass blinking thing. Casey places a hand on my shoulder as he hands me one, but I shrug him off. Maybe a little too aggressively, but the hell with that. Leg feels like wet mashed up hamburger meat, but I can still stand. I wrap the towel around my waist like a belt. Ain't leather, but it'll do. Hand stops twanging as I run it across my eyes, following Casey out into the living room.

"Still hitting the roof tops?"

"'S me ain't it?"

He sits down, sofa creaking under him. He ain't no light weight, there's a reason a guy with no other training than Hard knocks Home School can take down trained ninja mercs by the battalion, but he's heading towards thirty and April does make some pretty mean lasagna.

"Figured one of you guys would be up here. You left the window open."

Damn. Some ninja. I slip up again, let it show in my eyes. He catches that.

"Hey, we all have off days."

If I didn't have almost no blood left in my right arm right now, my fist would be upside that smirk.

"It's just after 8.00."

"Little early for you, huh?"

He's got a point. Then again, I ain't one for keeping regular hours. Never will be. Regular. Normal. Never. Ever.

"Yeah, well I got places to go. Where's my stuff?"

I shouldn't have come here.

"What's the rush?"

"I got places to go."

"At 8:00?"

"You use to keep a similar schedule."

"Yeah, well I got a family now. So do you, what's your excuse?"

I let that one go. He dosen't, and I can barley stand as it is without that look on his face. I shouldn't have come here.

"I was planning on heading back to the lair after a while, but I still gotta do a quick run through Hell's Kitchen. It could use it."

"Actually, we were figuring maybe you could…"

"Casey. Don't."

"Raph…"

"Don't man, just don't. Okay?"

Get out. Just grab your mask and get out.

"Where's my gear?"

His eyes roll as he reaches under the sofa. My sai sparkle in the warm living room light. She cleaned 'em. She actually cleaned 'em. God, I love that woman. My nostrils are still a little tender, but they pick up a scent that can only come from an O'Neil kitchen as I strap on my pads and fasten my belt. Smells like…coffee.

"Daddy?"

We both turn and see her in the living room doorway.

"Is uncle Raph staying?"

I'll say this for Casey Jones, he ain't never gonna be one to speak for another guy. He stands there, looking at me, looking at her, looking at me again. I hold the gaze for a while. Then go back to my gear. I come to the mask. It's never felt heavier.

"No Shadow."

I pull it down, right where it belongs. Between them and me.

"No, I'm not. I gotta go."

"But it's lasagna night!"

The half dog whining sound reaches a pitch that breaks something behind my plastron. She walks up to me, totally unafraid. One of the few. She reaches out and takes my hand in hers. I could break it in half and she actually reaches out and takes it.

"You gonna stay?"

My head shoots up to Casey. The look on his face tells me I just lost the battle.

"Hey, it's lasagna night."

A tug at my hand. Shadow.

"You stay."

Maybe I ain't normal.

But at least I got a place to start.