II: A Mark

BY Willowfly

A/N: Here's the second installment of my SAINW oneshot set… which actually turned out to be a beast of a two-shot, based on length. Both sections are told from Mikey's POV. Hopefully my perception isn't too far off. I've always thought my grasp on his character was a little shaky, and attempting to tell this story from his eyes was especially challenging. Feel free to give me concrit where it's due. But also, I'll have to remind you to prepare yourself for some major OOC moments as the characters begin their downfall.

Notice: This fic is rated M for adult content.

Parody of an angel
Miles above the sea
I hear the voice of reason
Screaming after me
"You've flown far too high boy, now you're too close to the sun,
Soon your makeshift wings will come undone"

But how will I know limits from lies if I never try?

There's no promise of safety with these secondhand wings
But I'm willing to find out what impossible means.
I'll climb through the heavens on feathers and dreams
'Cause the melting point of wax means nothing to me.
Nothing to me.

~Thrice, The Melting Point of Wax

Part I: Secondhand Wings

For the gazillionth time in like, forever, I can't sleep. Yeah, I used to be able to sleep through anything- subway trains, nuclear explosions, Raph's snoring... Just ask Leo about all the times he's tried to wake me up for practice. Man, he always knew the rudest most totally evil ways of dragging me out of bed. Sometimes he'd even make Raph do his dirty work for him. And let me tell you, getting sat on first thing in the morning is no picnic, especially when it's Raph's fat butt squeezing the air out of your lungs.

But now I think the night just makes my brain go all sorts of crazy places. It's not even close to quiet with the copters flying overhead or all people sleeping in the rows metal bunks. So totally doesn't help with those search lights catching the holes in the ceiling when I'm half asleep. Put it all together and I get a load of crazy dreams that I'm stuck in a horror movie. I hate waking up with the urge to make everyone hats out of tin foil.

I could probably blame all this craziness on not playing enough video games. Yeah, they all told me it would melt my brain in the end, but guess what? I think my brain is melting without it. I need constant stimulation! I mean, come on. I haven't even seen a comic book since the ships landed. Way back then, that stuff was all I could think about. Without them it just kinda leaves my mind with stuff I don't want to think about.

We couldn't go back to the Lair after the first night. Leo said it was way too dangerous. So that's five freaking years of no Justice Force, Spider-man, Superman, Batman- you name it. And let me tell you, I had my freak out, but I didn't die from TV-starvation like I always thought I would. I came pretty close, but I pulled through. I still miss it, though. I miss having someplace to go in my head when I close my eyes. It was nice having heroes to look up to, places to go when you just want to be somewhere else. My dreams used to look a lot like comic books back then- lots of color and cheesy one liners and saving the day.

But sometimes things don't turn out the way you want them to, no matter how good your lines are.

Now that I think of it…maybe comics and TV isn't what I miss the most from the good ole' days. I think I miss the sun. It's so weird when you think about it. I mean, it's just the sun, right? Yeah, I didn't get much of it when I was a kid, or even when I was older, but remembering back to my favorite times before all of this, the sun was the best. I remember when me and my bros would hang out under the sewer grates in the summer, or all those days spent at the farmhouse just living out in the open with the sun getting you warm all over. Somehow the sunny days were even enough to make Raph crack a few jokes, or get Leo smiling for no reason.

It makes me think about those questions Don would always ask in times like these, about stuff that could never happen. He'd ask me what I'd do if I could be human, then look at me like he was totally serious, the same way he looks when reads the dictionary or whatever. I would always say the same thing, too. I'd go to California or someplace where it's sunny all the time so I could just lay there and be warm for the rest of my life. It'd be a place with a beach and oceans and tons of babes in hot bikinis going "Oh Michelangelo, what a hunk!"

Actually I kinda think my brain's just to play Baywatch reruns. But come on, Pamela Anderson? Now that's the stuff of dreams.

I know I miss color a lot too. There hasn't been much since the labor camps started. Whatever that giant can opener has those people building probably has something to do with a) mass destruction, b) a fate worse than death, c) global warming, or d) all of the above. I guess everybody was right about pollution kicking the world's butt ten ways to Sunday and turning it into something from Fallout 3. Captain Planet would be shitting puppies. I just know it. But I bet no one ever thought all this mess would be because the tin man's ugly third cousin has weird fetishes for building robots that look like the Zords from Power Rangers.

I turn over on my side and sigh, scrub my hand over my face a few times. I really do feel like shit. Even my back ache has a back ache from sleeping on this stupid cot all the freakin' time. Still I'm wide awake drumming my fingers on my plastron until I get bored of it and find something else equally obnoxious to do. I can't help moving around. I guess all of this 'live in hiding or perish' stuff really gets to me. I get all twitchy when I have to stand still, even when my head feels like it's made of concrete. I think most of the night's gone anyways, so I don't feel like putting in the effort to make myself sleep. I know I'm tired, but I just can't turn my brain off. I wish I could flick it off like a switch and everything would go quiet for a while. It doesn't work, though. I tried it, and all it got me was a really nasty headache.

I sit up in bed and open my eyes wide, trying to see in the dark by the gray light coming through like flashlight beams from the little cracks in the ceiling. My new thing's rubbing the side of my face with one hand, which turns into drumming my fingers on my leg instead.

I have to admit the old library basement we use for a hideout kinda sucks, but it's big enough to hold everyone we've grabbed off the streets and it's hard to see from the air. A lot of people got killed after those ships landed, even more got sent to labor camps. Now it's kind of quiet, but this place'll be hopping as soon as the sun comes up. We've got some pretty serious stuff planned out for tomorrow. Maybe that's what's driving me nuts tonight.

Actually, it's kinda scaring the crap out of me.

Come to think of it, maybe I do miss sleep. I pretend I don't really need it, but at least when I used to sleep I could dream about happy stuff like all those nights I stayed up late watching cheesy late night horror movies with Raph. I used to scream and dump popcorn all over him at the 'scary parts' just to see that look on his face. He gets all puffed up and angry, but I see that little smile long before he loses it. Can't fight it. Sure, he'll swear and groan and smack me upside the head but I know he's trying so hard to be angry because he really just wants to laugh. Now that's what I call a Kodak moment. Wish I had a camera. I'd frame it and hang it on the wall.

But I guess those days are gone. I haven't even seen a working TV in five years. The only things with power are those crazy Zords and helicopters that patrol the streets. I can see their search lights catching the holes in the ceiling, but I think we're pretty safe for now- or at least that's what I keep telling myself. We've been hiding here for two years without a problem, so we should be all right.

Okay…I don't like where this's going. I try to stop it before it can smack me over the head. Think of Raph, idiot. Think of when you drew that smiley face on his shell in permanent marker. But my eyes are getting all hot. I squeeze them shut and let two tears fall out, but I wipe them away fast. I hope no one heard me gasp like I was drowning, but no one's moving in the bunks.

The second it hits me I want to scream. I want to slam my face into the pillow over and over and scream. Man, it's not fair. It's been five freaking years, but I still hate it. Shouldn't I be used to it by now? No. I still hate all of this. I hate all of this ugliness all the freaking time. I hate hearing about all the horrible things that go on in those labor camps, or about all those stories of people who tried to fight back, but didn't make it in the end.

I just want a happy ending so bad, like Silver Sentry swoops in and saves the day. But it's not gonna happen like that. It's not. That's why me and my bros have to do this. That's why we have to be the resistance. We have to be the heroes this time—not the kind who wear the snazzy capes and fly around the city, but the real grown-up kind of heroes with guns that kill because they have to. We have to be those people. We have to fix this.

I keep telling everyone we have to do something about this mess. We have to stop hiding and fight back before we let the Shredder win. But to a lot of people, the Shredder already won. Leo's even too afraid to let us even think about going outside. I have no idea what they're so scared for. Eventually they're going to find us like all the other people, and they're gonna kill us just like everyone else who tried to resist. Hiding is just stupid when we could do so much good fighting this.

Everyone thinks I'm dreaming, but Raph believes me. He's not the only one, either. I guess people tend to listen to you when you've got hope.

Today I got a report from this kid, Sparky, who said he and his mom just escaped from the West Side compounds. They'd sent him to base about an hour after he made it, still wearing that ugly gray uniform with holes in the knees. He said they killed his dad. He was only thirteen, but they still tattooed those numbers on the back of his neck.

He came in all bloody and torn up from crawling under the barbed wire, saying he just barely got away from a bunch of Foot Police snooping around not too far from here. Raph, April and me were there, and we did let Casey and Don know, but nobody wants to tell Leo. The guy's already worried himself sick more times than I can remember. Sometimes his headaches get so bad he has to go to his bunk and sleep it off for the rest of the day.

I hate seeing him like that. He walks around half-dead with circles under his eyes. But he worries too much. I guess that's one thing that'll never change. Raph says he's driving himself crazy, but I think Leo's too strong for that. If I don't believe that, no one else will.

I just wish he wasn't so scared to fight.

I fidget around, kicking my blanket off and chucking it on the floor. It smells like motor oil and it's kinda making me sick. The floor's cold under my feet but isn't enough to wake me up. I just…wish I could wake up. I wish I could see color again, see light, feel the sun, be something other than scared all the time, think about things other than the stuff I hate. I never used to feel like this. We used to be strong. We used to be together. We used to know what the heck we were doing once upon a time. I think losing that's what changed everything.

I guess now all we have is hope.

I breathe a sigh and press the heels of my hands into my eyes. The fireworks that explode in the dark remind me of the things I can't forget. When everything's gray and scary and full of blood, when everyone else can see the bad stuff and let it go, I can't forget. I just don't want to.

My skin feels like its crawling. I shiver at a draft coming in through a crack in the concrete wall. It's like bees… everywhere…bees on my legs, on my arms, under my shell, crawling up the back of my neck like one of those poking little itches that pop up in the hardest places to reach. I know what'll make it stop. I know what can make me feel better. Enrique told me this would happen if I tried to stop. He's tried it before. I knew I shouldn't have started, but I just get tired of trying so hard all the time.

I'm losing it, I know I am. I used to laugh a whole lot more. I used to smile for no reason. And even though I still do, it doesn't feel the same. I used to never let even one serious thought get stuck in my head for more than a second before my brain turned into something funny. Now I have people calling me a Freedom Fighter. I have people calling me their savior. It's kinda cool, sure, but I know I'm no Turtle Titan. I gave up on that a long time ago.

Instead I spend weeks hunched over maps, drawing out everything I can remember from my walks outside the barbed wire gates and concrete factories. I spent days underground planning out this raid with Raph and Casey, hours figuring out the best ways to storm that labor camp from ten different directions.

From what we have now, it's gonna be messy. People are going to die. There's no cape and glory in this one—just two thousand men, women, and children with numbers tattooed on the backs of their necks.

Life isn't like the comic books. I learned that a long time ago.

Tomorrow we'll play hero, but I know nobody's really gonna win. There's no saving the day at the end of this issue. It's a battle, but we're miles away from winning the war.

Finally I get the guts to get up and get out of here. I'm obviously not gonna sleep tonight, so I might as well do something other than driving myself crazy. A quick sweep over the rows of bunks and I feel safe enough to slip out into the next room. More brick and concrete make up the halls that connect the rest of the base. It's a lot like the sewers, if you think about it- this crazy maze with a bunch of dark corners that make your imagination play tricks on you. But this place never really felt like home. It's too depressing. There's too much blood and horrible things that helped build these walls. But I don't wanna think about that.

I take a left turn, then a right, finally reach the metal door and punch in the combination that'll turn off Don's alarms and Raph's crazy booby traps. I hold my breath when the lock clicks and push open the rusty door. It's so loud in the quiet, groaning on the hinges, but the air…I can feel the outside for the first time in weeks. That's enough to keep me going, just push it open a little wider, fill my lungs with more until they feel like they're gonna explode.

I just can't breathe in enough. It's almost enough to make my brain stop thinking it's on fire, almost enough to keep my hands from shaking, but it's not. It's not.

The door closes behind me and I don't even pay attention to the noise, just climb up the rusty ladder and get closer to the sky, closer to the air. Deep breath, close my eyes when I reach the street level. It's amazing, all this space. I can even see the moon tonight. The night's cold and my breath floats out like a cloud. I puff out a few times just to watch it, put my hand out to the breeze, palm up, fingers stretched. I want to feel this. If I die tomorrow, I want to remember what it's like.

Actually, the air kinda smells like burned rubber and car exhaust. When I breathe in too much I choke on it. It's really freaking nasty and burns the back of my throat, but it still feels awesome somehow. Guess I should've been expecting that. Oh well.

Before I know it the pain's back and the bees are doing the moonwalk under my skin. I hug myself against the cold, turn and head for the park. It's a long walk, but it'll be worth it. It'll be so worth it.

My walk turns into a jog when I'm about halfway there. If I said I wasn't totally creeped out by the shadows all over the place, I'd be lying. Every noise makes me want to scream like a little girl and run all the way back to my nice, safe, horribly uncomfortable bed. It's taking eons to get through this maze of dead woods the pollution turned the park. The dry grass crunches under my feet and the dead trees groan like rusty door hinges. I hug myself closer and push myself into a run, trying not to think about all the things that could be hiding behind those tree trunks and thorn bushes.

I just have to get there. I have to. It's worth the risk. It's worth it.

I could almost cry when I see the place—a little crooked shack in a clearing near the middle of the woods. I knew she'd be here tonight. She has too many people to supply to, too much information to buy, too many supplies, food, weapons to trade. I know she'll want something this time. I just don't know how much I can give.

My heart's already pounding in my chest when I reach up and knock on the door. I can't even hold still while I wait for an answer. I'm shifting from one foot to another, watching my breath blow out like smoke in the cold. It's too much to take in…all the bees buzzing in my veins, all the stuff that's creeping in my head.

There's a warm light coming from the inside when she opens the door. It lights up her face at weird angles and spills on the ground in a puddle. But even with the shadows she's still pretty. She has more scars than I can count, and she's skinny as a stick, but that could never change her. She's like Raph—one of those immovable people. I can feel every bone in her arms when she hugs me around my neck, hanging on like she can't stand by herself. Her earrings brush up against my face when she pushes her head against my shoulder.

I really wasn't expecting that one. She must be pretty far gone already.

"Hey, it's my homeboy!" she smiles, her big brown eyes are darker than I've ever seen them, and really, really close to my face.

"Ahh…hey Angel!" I grin. Yeah, I'm gonna roll with this. I mean, her boobs are pressed up against my plastron, so why not? Dreaming about Pamela Anderson can only get a turtle so far. Plus you gotta admit, I'm pretty irresistible. Gotta give the ladies what they want, and I'm a generous guy.

The shadows splashing up against the walls move across the room by the candlelight. I can see them looking at me, her clients. I recognize a few from the barracks, but some of them make me a little nervous. A flash of something silver catches the light when she moves away. She's pushing a knife back into her pocket. "Wasn't expecting you."

"You weren't gonna use that on moi, your most favorite turtle ever, were you?" I laugh, only half-faking being scared silly when I take a step away. Part of me is sad she let go, the other part is freaking horrified she's got sharp, pointy objects that close to my face when she's tweaking enough to hug me. "'Cause I seriously can't sacrifice these looks when I already got one brother doing a really good impression of a cyclops. I have to be there for balance, yanno?" Cue award winning smile. God, my jokes suck when I'm running on empty. But I think she's too high to notice.

"Yeah, yeah. No sweat. I wasn't gonna cut you up. Just gotta be careful is all."

When she moves to let me in, I cross my arms over my chest and study all the faces of people, watching me, leaned against the walls. Yeah… the fact that I don't know some of them makes me really nervous. I didn't even notice I was drumming my fingers on my arm until she takes my hand away.

"You're lookin' bad, bro. You need a fix."

I still can't help being nervous. I guess living so close to Leo all the time makes me think some really crazy stuff. I wouldn't believe him if I didn't know some of it really could come true. I swallow hard, try to ignore his voice inside my head. But I can't ignore the bees. They make me want to tear my skin off.

I really wanted to say 'Yes! Yes! Oh god, yes!' I know every part of me wanted it. But somehow, it churned around in my brain and came out like this: "No, I just came to say hi! Hi everybody! I'll be leaving now," I laugh with a wave. They all just stare at me like I've lost all my marbles. I think I actually fooled myself into believing it too. And now I'm heading for the door. But something stops me, like a wall or some kind of crazy force field that lights a fire in my stomach and says 'you didn't come all the way over here for nothing.'

I have no idea what the heck I want. An escape…I guess. I think I'd do just about anything just for an out. That's the scary part.

"Awe, come on. I even got some new stuff for you to try. Loosen up! It'll be fun!" She laughs, still way too close to my face. She's flailing around like a crazy person when she talks, this huge smile on her face.

Then I realize: that could be me. I've done it a million times, why stop now? What do I have to lose? I deserve it after everything we've been through. Just two hours of happiness. That's all I'll ever need.

I turn around and grin. My heart's already going crazy in my chest. I can't wait for the bees to just leave me alone. I wanna feel like that. I wanna smile and laugh for real and forget this ugly mess. Maybe tomorrow'll be the last day I live. Might as well make the most of it. I put my arm around her shoulders and laugh. "Okay, you convinced me. Let's do it thing! Par-tay!"

"Fuck yeah!" She says, probably louder than she should've, bouncing around like her shoes have springs.

"But…what if I don't have anything?"

Her face goes dark for a sec and she stops bouncing, just stares with those big, bloodshot eyes. "What do you mean?"

"I mean…I don't have anything to pay you."

"Not cool man."

The bees are at it again, just stinging every inch of me. My stomach's on fire so bad I could cry. She starts to turn away from me and I almost scare myself how fast I grab her shoulder. "No. No, you can't. I need…I need it Angel. Please."

She tries to shrug my hand off, but I'm holding on too hard. "You got nothing, you get nothing. It's just how it goes."

I feel a little sting of anger in my gut. It's like she's betraying me. After all these years, after all the times we saved her butt from being Dragon chow, saved her…

"What about your brother? Ryan?"

There's a spark in her eye when she looks at me. "What about him? He died in the labor camps a long time ago."

"We saved him once, in the Volpehart building. You owe me big."

I almost wince at the guilt that pretty much stabbed me in the face for guilt-tripping her over her dead brother. It isn't what we do. We're thankless…we're…

I can't believe I've stooped this low. But the second I get that high, none of this will matter. I have to keep telling myself that. So I smile at her, still not letting go of her shoulder.

She squirms a little and says "He's dead now. What does it matter?"

"He would've been dead a whole lot longer if we didn't save is butt once upon a time!"

She only smiles a little, and I don't exactly know why. It's enough to make me let go, at least. "You really want this, huh?"

"Please?" For the tenth time tonight, I'm on the verge of tears.

Her smile cracks bigger and I can feel like I could kiss her the second she brushes me off and says "Eh, then don't worry about it. This one's on the house. Just don't be expecting me to do this again," she giggles, grabbing my hand and dragging me farther in the room. I let her pull me along until we find a place to sit on an old stained couch patched up with duct tape. "You can try out my new stuff. 'Sposed to be stronger," she says. The room smells like chemicals and cigarettes. It's so hard to see through all the smoke, the haze makes the faces blur and my eyes water. But I recognize Enrique and give him a nod, crash on the couch next to him and sigh. I still feel like shit for playing that card on Angel, but at least I'm in now. It's so good to see a familiar face, especially since this's probably gonna be the best night I've had all week, which is kinda sad when you think about it.

"Hey turtle-man, what you doin' here? Thought you'd be preparin' or something," he teases, putting out his fist. I do the same, smiling.

"That's exactly why I'm here, dude. I couldn't stop thinking about it. I keep thinking 'what if I'm gonna die' or something."

"Yeah, I hear that," he nods, staring off into space somewhere near the door. I can see how dark his eyes are.

"You high?" I ask, mostly just teasing.

He turns to look at me. I don't think he's gotten used to me yet, but people these days have bigger fish to fry. I think that's the best thing that's come out of all of this. No more hiding from humans (except the evil ones). As soon as they figure out you're on their side, they pretty much don't care who you are. So I get to talk to whoever I want. That makes me a pretty popular guy. But like I said, I'm pretty irresistible.

"Eh, coming down from it. I'm here watchin' her, mostly," he says slowly, pointing to Angel who's still bouncing around, digging up her lighter. "She said she wanted to get fucked up good before tomorrow."

I watch Angel come walking toward me, crashing on the couch with a bounce, drawing one leg up under her. She's got the pipe and lighter in her hands. "Yeah, I guess that's what I'm doing. So are you gonna watch my back too, lover boy?" I grin before I feel Angel yanking on my bandana tails. I have to grab the side of it to keep it on my face. "Hey!"

"'Hey' yourself, freak," she sneers, "we gonna do this or you two just gonna blab all night?"

"Yeah, let's do this."

The glass pipe is cool on my lips, and I can already feel the rush before she even starts the lighter. The powder inside, it's like a miracle cure for all bad stuff everywhere. She strikes the flame and it flashes across her face. Her eyes're so bright they're like stars. She brings the flame across to warm the glass, making the smoke twist up inside. I draw it in, holding it like I learned to.

It's like unclogging a drain. The second I breathe it in, all the bad stuff just comes wooshing out. The smoke sits there, getting tangled up like clouds. It feels so awesome I can't even explain it. I can't wait to take another draw before the first one gets a chance to leave.

The taste I've gotten used to. It's like taking all those chemicals you clean your bathroom with and using them as mouthwash. But hey, a guy's gotta do what he's gotta do. I know it'll be totally worth it.

It doesn't take long for it to disappear, and I'm on to the next round, but once it's gone, it'll be enough. Guess I'm just lucky I can hold out a week or two in between. Not like I don't think about it all the time. I just…I've seen her "regulars," and that's a place I would never want to be. But this is different. I'm controlling this.

So what if these little adventures are getting closer together? Twice in one week really isn't all that bad. It doesn't mean anything, anyways. I can handle it just fine, thanks.

looking up at the ceiling I'm just sitting there like a heap of oatmeal with too much milk, feeling the bees turn to tingly all over. It's like when you play your music too loud. It feels like your heart just beats with it. Everything melts and it's all I can think about, that swimming Jell-O feeling spreading like butter all over. It's the best thing in the history of the world ever. After everything that's gone bad, this feeling's all I got left. The bees fly away and I'm warm all over, just smiling like an idiot because I finally found the off switch.

I bury my head into the back of the couch and just laugh. I don't know what I'm laughing at, but my face and fingertips're numb. Somehow that's really funny. It's just me now, floating along the dust and smoke in the air. They're burning up everything I used to know like phone books. There's a song I should remember but I can't remember the words. But I'm floating by the ceiling so I can't see the ugliness. I can't feel the pain. I can't see Leo's face with dark circles.

Then I remember the kid. I remember the holes in his knees, blood from the barbed wire. But it's almost good to be angry. It feels so good to be pissed. "You know what I really hate?" I blurt out, jumping up and accidentally smacking Enrique on the way over. I'm not so sure anybody's listening. Nobody's looking at me. I mean, why would anyone listen to some random green dude on a high? "Foot Police. They think they're all that, but they're nothing. At all. They beat up thirteen-year-olds and their moms because they like it. They think it's fun…like piñatas," I fume. I guess I'm talking to Enrique, even though the guy's just kind of staring in my general direction. So I wave my hand in front of his face. "Are you paying attention?!"

Enrique doesn't look too happy, he just grumbles like a sour puss and pushes my hand away. Angel's there though. She's still looking like she's paying attention. "You're listening, right Angel? You get me? Foot Police…they suck!"

"Yeah, they suck balls!" She yells, but she's still smiling like it's the best day of her life. "Those fuckers just walk around picking on people who ain't bothering them."

"Yeah, see what I mean? She's paying attention!" I blurt out again, bouncing up and down because I feel like it. I feel like the freaking Flash! I feel like I could run out the door and sprint from here to Japan in two point five seconds. "They gotta learn to pick on people their own size. Yeah. But instead, they pick on kids! And their moms!"

Angel's got the same fire in her eyes I saw before. I remember it like it was two seconds ago. Because I'm pretty sure it was two seconds ago.

"Yeah, I got this awesome idea. Total genius," I grin, grabbing my nunchaku. "Let's go Foot hunting. What do we have to lose, right? Less people to take out tomorrow, right?"

"Yeah! Show them what we're made of," she grins swaying a little in the blur that I can still see- which isn't much. I'm heading out the door with my nunchaku in my hand the second she agrees. I bet I could run so fast I'll teleport. Even the Flash can't do that!

okayay, I really have no idea what I'm doing. I think I'm just stumbling out into the dark with a death wish. It's dark and it's cold. I can see my breath and I keep thinking how awesome it would be to breathe fire. I could make s'mores. "Here Footie Footie Footie," I call, twirling my nunchuck in a way I know isn't right. But the world's spinning like a tilt-a-whirl right now. It's hard to see straight or even think straight. Yeah, I'm totally gone, but whatever. Might as well make the most out of the moment, right?


Angel's next to me all ready for the fight and stuff, but it's really, really quiet and I'm waiting for some Footies to jump out of those really crazy shadows before we get a chance to make ourselves look any stupider than we already do. I know that's got to be Enrique looking at us in the doorway, shaking his head like he's all that. But it's his own fault he's not as high as we are. We get to have all the fun. Yeah. Screw Enrique, that spoilsport.

"Shh you have to be quiet!" I whisper… but it totally doesn't come out like a whisper, and Angel's giggling like crazy. I grab her arm and yank her in some direction.

Doesn't take us long to start stumbling out deeper into the woods, still laughing like maniacs. I keep talking to Angel, but I don't think she's paying attention to me, so I keep asking her if she is. I can't believe I can see all the colors. The moon looks awesome and it feels like little earthquakes every time I take a step.

Damn drugs. Damn eyesight going all blurry on me. Stupid ground for wobbling around like it is. Even my fingers are numb while the nunchucks are spinning, but I laugh out loud at all of that. "Stupid Footies. I know you don't want to mess with me an' my buddy Angel over here. We got mad skills and stuff. Yeah, be scared."

But I want a fight. I'm thinking of Sparky and his dad and labor camps and torn up knees and all the stupid shit I've spent the last two weeks thinking about, all the nights I couldn't sleep because it never wants to leave me alone. It's all stupid and I wish everyone can see how stupid they are like a big, giant mirror. They'd all laugh at themselves, I know it. They're too serious all the time and I know they just want to laugh.

The world's titling around me, but I feel like I could do anything. I'm invincible, like Superman! I'm the Man of Steel and nothing can bring me down. Yeah, I'm gonna teach those Footies a lesson with my heat vision.

"Here Footie, Footie, Footies!"

My hands are getting tired by the time I see a little light. I have no idea what it is, but I think it's Foot Police. Crouching behind a thorn bush, I put my finger to my lips and say to Angel "Shhh, be vawy quiet." Ha! Elmer Fudd. "I'm going Foot hunting."

That makes her laugh just a little and that brings the flashlight beam over to where we're hiding. Guess it wasn't all that great of a hiding place after all. So I pop up with this big smile and go "Boo!" Since our cover's blown, we might as well just roll with it. "Hey! Footie freaks, welcome to hurtie town!"

I grab Angel by the shoulder and we stumble through the brush, twigs scraping up against our legs. The flashlight's coming closer. They're shining it in our faces and that only makes me madder, dudes.

"More druggies," one of them snarls. I just blink into his light. I think it's burning my retinas but it's so bright I don't turn away. "Filth isn't even good enough for the camps."

"What should we do with them this time?" says the other one. "Can't send the dogs after 'em. I think that one's a girl."

I'm still twirling my nunchaku when I hear them approaching. The grass is crunching under their feet.

"You got something against girls, Brosco?" The first cop laughs.

"Nah, it's just… what the hell is that? Some kind of alien?"

The second one's real close now. I can smell his cigarette. It burns like a little star when he takes a drag between his fingers. "Not like any Utrom I've ever seen. What is it doing?"

"Uh… you guys never seen a mutant turtle before? We're way better than Utroms," I grin into the light.

"Is that so?" The one man laughs to the other.

"Yeah, and you people really suck. I know what you do."

They stop laughing, shine the light in my face again when one of them takes a step closer and growls "Oh yeah, and what do we do?"

I glare into the light, and I growl. Yeah, Raph would be proud. "You hurt little boys. You rape little kids for fun in those camps. I've heard the stories. Everyone has, you sickos!" I can't stop myself. I spit in their faces and they both start yelling. Then everything's a blur.

Before I can think we're in this crazy fight. Someone pulls a gun and starts shooting. But the blood's pumping so loud in my head I can barely hear it echoing off the trees. I think they were just trying to scare us before, but once the lights aren't blinding me, I see one of them aiming at Angel. Before he can fire I crush his hand with my nunchaku. He yelps like a hurt dog and goes down.

These two goons really suck at fighting. I guess that's lucky for me since I can't even walk in a straight line. I kick one of the dudes in the knee and he tries hitting me on the back with… whatever he's carrying. "Good thing I got a shell!" I yell, whirling around to stick my tongue out at him, stumbling backwards a little in the meantime.

When the dude lunges at me again, Enrique tackles him right on his butt, swinging that knife of his around real fast. I have no idea where he came from, but I don't get a chance to ask. He slits the guy's throat.

Doesn't take long but I smack the other guy upside the head a few times and he stops moving. I think Enrique did most of the work, though. I can't even remember who did what, but this one guy is bleeding pretty bad. I kneel down and watch the blood, put my fingers in it, listen to his breath go quiet.

But I'm staring, watching the moon catch the puddle getting bigger in the grass. I hug myself and just watch his eyes. His mouth opens and closes like a fish. It's weird, listening to my heart pound in my head while his goes out like a candle.

Watching that man die, I almost feel like I'm not any better than him. I just can't figure out what I want to do when everything goes quiet- celebrate, or cry like a baby. But I don't, just watch more blood trickle out.

"What'd we do?" I ask slowly, like I can't get my tongue to work. I can't stop my voice from shaking.

My eyes get real wide when Enrique grabs my shoulder, dragging me up close enough to feel his spit on my face. He's swinging that knife around in the small space between us, and all I can do is hold my breath and watch it flash. "What the fuck, man! You wanna get us killed? I ain't gonna die tonight, freak. Not because of you. And you ain't getting my girlfriend killed neither!"

I just stand there and flap my mouth open and closed like the bleeding man. His fingers are digging hard into my shoulder. My brain's telling me it hurts, but I can't concentrate. I can't think of a way to answer him either, no matter how hard I try. I just stare into his eyes when he shoves me hard, makes me fall on the ground next to the dead man, and spits on me. He grabs Angel's arm and drags her back into the woods.

Then they leave me alone, flat on my ass next to two dead bodies. My heart's racing in my chest and I can't catch my breath no matter how hard I try. I just sit there, alone in the abandoned park, gulping air and watching the clouds with my sweat turning cold. I can't remember the way back home.

But home doesn't exist anymore. We lost it. We lost it all.

I hug my knees up to my chest and bury my face. The tears are hot against the cold air, but I'm shivering, trembling off the last legs of the high with my heart pounding in my ears. My blood still feels electric, but it's not a good feeling anymore.

I just want to go home. I want to come down before I have a heart attack. I want my brothers. I want the sun and TV and video games and pizza. I miss Klunk. I miss it when my brothers were happy, way back in the day when nothing could beat us and superheroes could save the day.

But they can't. They can't.

Ugh, I don't feel so good. That new stuff Angel said she gave me makes me feel like my stomach's pumped full of kerosene. In a second I get that watery feeling in my mouth and just lean over and spew all over the ground.


The voice makes me jump and I snap my head up to the shadow coming out of the trees. I'm almost ready for it to swoop in and kill me now. Just end it and that'll be it. Maybe the afterlife'll be better than this. But I know that voice, that sound- swords sliding into their sheathes.

"Oh god." Is all I can manage, trying to scrape myself off the ground.

He comes over and kneels by where I'm sitting, rests his hand on my shoulder. I try to move away. He can't see me like this, see all this sad stuff I've been trying so hard to hide. He worries enough…I can't…

I look at him for a second in what little light the moon gives, wiping some snot and tears off on my arm. I can't let my voice shake. I can't be sad. Not now. No, not now.


He doesn't say anything, just watches me shake.

"W-were you followin' me?"

He nods, takes in a sharp breath when he peels his eyes from mine, looks around in the dark. But I can't stop looking. I feel like I'm seeing a ghost. I haven't seen my brother topside in almost a year. Why he has to be here now… why he has to see this…it's so unfair.

"Mikey," he whispers, real close to my face. I can feel his warm breath against my cheek. "Why would you do this to yourself?"

His looks so sad, and that only makes me cry harder. I know I'm a failure. He'll never look at me the same way again. But I can't run away, no matter how much I want to, because… I think I want him here.

I bury my face in my arms, try not to cry, try to be strong like him. But he doesn't say anything. It's just silence, the wind blowing through the dead grass, the groaning of the old trees, and me. Me and my big brother, waiting for something I don't think I can give him.

It almost hurts to look at him, but I do it, just one eye peeking out from over my arm. My face is wet and the wind turns it so cold. "I guess…don't want…to be alone."

He comes and sits closer to me, our shoulders touching, but I'm not looking at him again. I can't. "You know that isn't true. You're never alone."

Now that just makes me mad. I can't help it. I just hate it when they use that voice on me, like I don't know anything that's going on just because everyone calls me little brother. I snap my head up and glare at him through the tears, my voice thick with them. "How could you even say that? All Raph does is brood, Don buries himself in his workshop, and you're never there! Never!"

I watch his face change into something that makes my stomach sink, but he doesn't say anything. I wipe my eyes with the palms of my hands and sniff. "Do you… really hate us that much…for doing this?"

He turns his eyes away, lets out a breath that makes his shoulders fall. "Is that why you do this? You think I hate you?"

"I don't know!" I sob, feeling his hand slip across my shoulder until it's a half-hug. I don't even think I deserve that. "I screwed up. I'm sorry, Leo! I'm sorry!"

"Shh, stay quiet," he reminds me in a whisper close to my ear. I try to take a deep breath, but it's more like gulping air. "Mikey...I could never hate you—any of you. You're my brothers and I love you all, but not only for that reason."

I don't say anything, just shut my eyes tight and rest my head against his. For a while, we just sit there and breathe.

"I should be sorry, not you," he whispers. "I should be a better leader for all of you. I shouldn't let you do this alone just because…"

"You're scared."

He swallows hard for a second, and I pull away to watch him. But he's staring off to somewhere else. I wonder what the dark looks like to him. Something's telling me I really don't want to know. "Yeah…I'm scared. But I shouldn't be."

"It's okay to be scared, Leo," I half-laugh. I wish he could see me roll my eyes at him. "The world's scary. Heck, I'm scared all the time."

All he says is "It's different." But I'm not really sure how. He still doesn't look at me. I wish he would, because I have no idea what to say. It's kind of an awkward silence before he just decides to stand up and offer me a hand, saying "We need to head back. Come on." I take it, and start following him back through the woods on wobbly legs. We don't talk the whole way back.

When we get to the door, he stops and waits for me to climb down the ladder first. But I wait for a second, look at him in the moonlight, those dark circles and lines that I know really shouldn't be on a twenty-six-year-old's face. I catch his eyes for a second and guilt hits me hard in the stomach. I wonder how many more lines I gave him tonight. He just looks… so sad, and part of it's because of me.

"I really am sorry, Leo. I'm really, really sorry." I sound so pathetic, but at least I'm not crying anymore.

"You shouldn't apologize to me," he says coldly, staring off into space like he still can't find the nerve to look me in the eye. "You have thousands of people relying on you tomorrow. What would happen if you got yourself killed tonight?"

"You…know about that?"

"I know about a lot of things, little brother."

I don't know how to respond to that. Instead I look at my hands, wringing them for something else to do.

"You can't let them down."

I finally meet his eyes again. It's enough to make me shiver. "You won't tell anybody about this, will you?"

He shakes his head, his lips still pressed into that same old frown. "No. That's your decision to make, not mine."

"Thanks, Leo."

Silently, he nods before gesturing back down the ladder. "Now come on. It isn't safe here."

Climbing down that ladder, I know what I have to do. All this stuff I dream about…I can't just close my eyes and pretend it's all gonna get better overnight. Because it won't. I know it won't. So many people lost their hope after the Shredder landed, and I'm one of the few people that can keep it for them, save it for another day. I might have let my family down tonight, but I know I won't let them down again. I can't. I won't.