Author Note: This is sort of a redemption story both for me and the character in question. Hope you enjoy! Also, this is set in the 2k3 universe. Italics are flashbacks.
Dedicated to candelight who has been waiting a very, very long time to read this. I hope it is well worth the wait.
Disclaimer: I do not own TMNT. Sad but true...
The young ones looked eagerly up at my arrival. My arrival always meant one thing. Food. The thing that would take away the pain gnawing at their stomachs. The thing that would restore strengths to their limbs and protect them from hidden enemies of sickness and cold. I placed the bits of food I had found before them. With winter upon us, I found it was harder and harder to find food. I could not stay long outside before cold sent me back in. Food was harder to find. With illness more likely to strike, I found myself throwing back food I deemed unfit that I wouldn't have thrown back before. I listened to their cries of the pain and felt them shiver from the cold. I didn't know how much longer we could last.
I glared at my hands in frustration as if they held the cause to my problems. The young ones were dying. I was dying. I had lived an easy life before this change, this mutation. I, accustomed to my meals being brought to me, could barely manage to get food for myself now. A sheltered roof over my head I could barely obtain. I could barely scavenge for myself beforehand after my master was slain let alone scavenge now. Now my new body drew unnecessary attention to making scavenging ever more difficult. I could not scavenge during the day now due to my change. I also had four more mouths to feed beside my own. I cursed my pitying heart. I had only made the young ones suffer taking them in. Should I kil- No. It would not be mercy only murder. I would not be able to kill them anymore than I would be able to kill myself. Even now I remember fondly how one that I had dubbed Leader had shyly called out my name during one of my contemplative walks. They often followed me and much to my surprise Leader had paused in his stride and called me by name. Already their dexterity allowed them to walk upright and now they would speak to me and amongst themselves. Although not often due to my reluctance to speak except in telling them stories of my past to hide away hunger and pain of memory. The young ones had tasted life and I fully intended for them to live the life they had receive. I would do everything in my power to keep them alive. What could I do though? How could I save them? Looking out across this cursed city I wished for a solution. Anything!
Below my position concealed in the shadow of a large window I saw a teenager roughly bump into a middle aged man. The man glared at the teen rubbing his shoulder. The teenager put on a smile that dripped of mock sincerity. "Sorry Mister. I didn't see you there." The man shook his head muttering darkly about the rudeness of youth these days as he continued on his way. The teenager walked in the opposite thumbing through the man's wallet, a sly smile on his face.
I would do anything to keep them alive.
I stood before the store that planned to steal from. I had decided already that I would not take money. It would bring unnecessary attention to myself and I was unfamiliar with the currency here. I only needed to take what was required to survive. Nothing more. No one would get hurt. It would be very quick and hopefully no one would give much afterthought to my presence.
I had almost decided to just try harder at scavenging. Increase my scavenging areas and take longer hours searching. Stealing was not an honorable thing to do, and I shuddered to think what my Master would think of this behavior. I rationalized that it only was what I needed to survive. I would not get consumed and take from others more than I needed. I would not have others sacrifice for my gain. I only would steal from shops blessed with good fortune. They had so much, and I had so little.
Still, a faint memory had nearly stopped me. My memories of my life before my change are so faded. This memory was particularly faded with age and I was surprised that I had remembered it. Rats have no need for human emotions or interactions and so my former self often tossed aside events that it did not deem worthy to its survival. Love eventually sharpened my memory to the proceedings of my family, but beforehand it was simply not the case.
I remembered munching away happily on a bit of food as Tang Shen absently stroked the fur on my head. She was listening even more absently to Mashimi bragging about his days before the Ancient One took him in.
"We begged, we stole. Every since the beginning fate seemed to want to do us in, but we survived and we showed Fate a thing or two." Mashimi said giving off a sly half-smile.
"Did you get caught?" Tang Shen asked worry feinting across her face.
Mashimi brushed off the question with a snort. "Those fools never knew what happened. We were long gone before they realized what happened." Mashimi laughed at his joke. Yoshi grumbled his disapprove from his place at the kitchen door. Mashimi rose an eyebrow at Yoshi. "If my memory serves me right when your stomach prompted you, you were a pretty good pickpocket with those quick hands of yours."
"I regret what I have done. It is not honorable to cause others to sacrifice needlessly."
"We were starving."
"We are not starving now. Let us not linger on the past. What is done, is done. We can not undo what has happened. The Ancient One has graciously taken us in. Let us not spoil his household with poisonous talk." Yoshi stood up and left the room leaving Tang Shen to smile at his wake and Mashimi to glare.
Now standing in front of the shop that I would steal from I could not help but to feel like I was making excuses just as Mashimi had done. I had promised though that I would save the young ones. I whispered a plea of forgiveness and stepped to the shop knowing the plea would not be enough.
As I returned to my burrow with ill begotten treasures, I could not help but think a single thought over and over in my mind. New Yorkers were terribly protective over their possessions. I had thought that with my training and small form it would be relatively easy to take a few cans of food and maybe a couple of blankets to keep warm. I was not as prepared as I hoped to be. Putting it bluntly, my first try at stealing had been a disaster. Perhaps this was Fates way of telling me that I needed to stop and stop now. I knew though with one look of the young ones overjoyed faces that had so long shown only sorrow I would not be stopping. I smiled despite myself as the young ones peered into the bag filled with food and gave cries of delight. After I had opened the cans of fruit and soup, the young ones began to feast with much gusto. I noticed that the one I had named Smile for his habit of smiling despite the difficult times we had been facing had a huge smile stretching taking up his face. The cold soup he was drinking spilled from the corners of his mouth but he kept on smiling true to his namesake. Curious, the olive-skinned one, was gazing at the fruit can he had just finished with, well, curiosity. I chuckled at the awestruck look on his face and wondered what kind of treasure Curious saw in that piece of metal. A small hand tugged at my disguise. Dark Green, named for my incapability to come up with anything to describe such a child, offered me a half-filled can of pineapple. He looked down and shuffled his feet as he put the can into my hands. I was surprised although pleasantly of Dark Green's behavior. Dark Green had a habit of teasing and subjecting his comrades to mild torment. I had thought Dark Green to be a bully with his habits and his larger size, but I was happy to be proven wrong.
I smiled down at the embarrassed child. "It is alright, little one. I will eat later." I put the can of pineapple back into his hands. Dark Green shrugged making me speculate where he had learned such a gesture. Surely not from me... He turned and went to offered the can to Leader. Unfortunately Dark Green shoved the can towards Leader's face accidentally spilling pineapple and pineapple juice all over Leader. Leader sputtered in surprise as Dark Green froze in horror. Dark Green then took off running in the opposite direction. Leader wiped the pineapple the from his face, glared at Dark Green retreating silhouette, and then kneeled to pat Smile on the shoulder. My embarrassment at the store seemed to be only a sour taste in my mouth now.
I entered the store trying to be casual thinking that I belonged here. If I thought it, then it would be so. I noticed the clerk glancing at me suspiciously. My stained and tattered coat and hat that covered every inch of my form did nothing to help my appearance as a trustworthy citizen. I needed to be fast. I nodded to the clerk who narrowed his eyes, his hand twitching for a button by the cashier box. I disappeared into the aisle with foreign foods. While it would be nice to taste good food again, it was impractical with the lack of kitchen supplies that I had. I walked into the next aisle. Frozen foods were out of the question. Fresh fruit and vegetable would rot quickly. Sweets and chips made me shudder at Smile's energy burst. Canned goods would suit us best. They stored for a long time and they contained the nutrients we needed. Unfortunately they were hard to carry and took up a lot of room. I only could take a few hidden among the folds of my coat. I grabbed a portable can opener. I didn't want to hurry back only to find I could not open the cans of food.
"Stinkin' beggar! You people keep on getting more and more desperate! I hope you plan to pay for that!" The frowning clerk had found me. I didn't waste any time, I took off running. The clerk reached out and I stupidly froze. His reach and strides were longer than mine, if only I had more of distance! The clerk fell on his face at my feet. My poor coat was falling apart with the weight of the cans and one had rolled out tripping the clerk.. Cans were falling out now hitting the clerk in the head, giving more time to run. I could not go out the front door. I saw the only other exit, emergency exit. It certainly was an emergency. I could not let that man see me. It would put the young ones in danger. I ran to the door only to find it locked. Who locks a door for emergencies?! I was about to kick down the door in my haste. A tugging at my stomach prompted me to step aside instead. The poor clerk barreled past me, crashing into the door. Alarms began blaring on top of all the noise. I could hear sirens in the distance and to add to this mess, the sprinkler system began to drench everything. I ran dropping cans behind me.
It was funny how these young ones could get rid of that bad memory. What amazing children they were. I shook my head to clear the thought. I sounded like some doting father! I could not get attach to these children. I did not want to feel the pain of lose again. I could help them, yes but I did not trust myself beyond that.
I heard Leader murmur and saw him out of the corner of my eye leaning down over Smile. Smile was curled up into the fetal position clutching his stomach, his face scrunched up in pain. It was such a change from the smiling face I had seen only minutes ago that I froze in place. I heard sounds of retching that brought me out of my moment of shock. Dark Green had stopped running and started throwing up the food he had just eaten. I closed my eyes cursing myself. So much food had been too much for their stomachs accustomed to little food. I should have given them food bit by bit not thrown the food at them! I heard Curious moan and I turned to him sway back and forth. Smile had started to dry heave while Leader looked on scared. Leader winced and a hand clutched his own stomach. The other hand never left Smile's shoulder. I whispered to more to myself than anyone else. "I am sorry, little ones. Truly sorry. I will try better. I will not fail." In the back of my mind, a voice asked me how could it get better.
Much to my disgust, it became very easy to steal afterwards. I would enter during closing hours with the coming darkness and the shopkeeper's attention on closing to my advantage. It became almost second nature to fill the duffel I had found to its limits and steal away into the shadows. No longer did I cringe when I dashed away with my ill acquired bounty. No longer did I feel a wave of guilt seeing the young ones gorge on the now plentiful food. They had no suspicions about the sudden abundant food. Why would they? They trusted me completely and often taken to following me on my walks around the underground tunnels like duckling following their mother. Curious once asked through gestures and my name where the food had come from, but it was only curiosity. I only had to smile and tell him that fate had smiled down on us and all questions vanished. No longer did I feel the rumbling of their stomachs when they slept by my side at night. No longer did they throw up from eating too much food. Their bodies were adjusting becoming stronger, more lively, more able to combat illness and cold. No longer did they cry at night for food. No longer did they suffer. No longer did I feel shame or desperation. No longer.
I stepped into my store of choice for today as night fell. The lights blinked and the whole store was run down and small. The products were shiny brightly in their labels and that was all that I was concerned about. I had found more respectable clothes then my tattered long coat. I did not get glances nor did I attract any attention at all. I just was a movement out of the corner of their eye. I was not anything worth investigating. No one else was in the store at the moment and I counted my blessing for that. It would make my job easier. The cashier was reading a book and only glanced up for a few seconds at the sound of the bell at the door. I journeyed back to the canned food aisle knowing already what I needed. I began to pull the duffel from underneath my coat when I heard commotion up front. I peeked around the aisle and saw two men approach the cashier. They did not have masks but from the way that they walked and the minute motions to their pockets, they had weapons. The cashier stood up quickly dropping the book to the floor. One man pulled out a gun smoothly from his pocket while the other hastily pulled out a switch blade.
"The money. Cashier register. Now." The man with the gun motioned with the hands holding the gun. The knife man pulled off a backpack and placed it on the counter. The cashier very slowly began pulling the money out of the register and placed it in the bag. He glanced up at me and motioned with his head to hide further in the aisle. The gun man spun around but I already was pressing my back up against the food. "Someone else here?"
"No. No one. People don't like shopping late at night for some reason." I shook my head at the cashier's foolish bravery. Sarcasm would not help him now.
"Marks. Go check it out. I don't trust our friend here." I heard the gun man say to the knife man. I heard 'Marks' shuffle towards my aisle. I could hear the hesitation in his step. 'Marks' was afraid and fear could be a powerful enemy. I silently made my way to the end of the aisle and ducked underneath. I counted my blessings again. The aisle was a shelf opening to the next. Moving aside some products lent me access to the next aisle. I found myself moving to the back of the store. There was a reason why Gun Man and 'Marks' did not wear masks. They did not plan for any witnesses including the cashier. I needed to help the cashier, but the commotion would give me the perfect chance to take an abundance of food. I would not need to leave my burrow for weeks. If I just turned a blind eye...
"What do you mean there's no money in the safe? I'm callin' your bluff." A gun shot shook the store and I heard a gasp. 'Marks' ran back to Gun Man.
"Skids! What are you doin'?!"
"Getting out of here that's what. No, don't leave the money, you idiot! Come on!" The door bell jingled cheerfully as the two criminals ran from the shop.
I ran to the cashier's side not caring if anyone saw me. Cashier lay staring towards the aisle he saw me last. A look of shock and horror crossed his face. He was dead and judging by the bullet wound he had died instantly. I bitterly clenched my hands into fists. I had killed him. I had pulled that trigger just as much as that gun man had. I know I could have done something. The way 'Marks' walked told of his incompatibility. I could have easily taken him down. 'Skids' fired first and asked later. It would have been easy to take him down as well. I could have except my thoughts had gotten in the way. I had placed a few cans of food over this man's life. I was the monster that matched my form.
I watched from my position a block downward as the policeman walked slowly up the crumbling apartment steps and knocked on a faded red door. This must be where the Cashier's family lives. A part of my mind asked why I was here. It would do me no good. I could not move though. There was nowhere else I could go. A mother with a young infant on her hip answered the door, gray-blond strands of hair waywardly fluttering free of a ponytail. The strands framed a weary face, one who had seen hardship and was letting it gradually wear away at her like water eroding rock. The mother was looking over her shoulder talking to someone behind her as she opened the door. She turned and froze in the doorway at the sight of the young policeman. The women began to tremble at the policeman's solemn face shaking her head slowly and then frantically back and forth. I saw the policeman take a breath and watch his lips give his tragic message, one the women had already known perhaps before the man had knocked on her door. Her husband had a dangerous job. How many nights did she worry about him? Fretting away the night knowing the danger but having no choice. It fed the family. What other choice did they have?
A little girl joined her mother at the doorstep tugging at the hem of the mother's sleeve. The little girl's face, etched with concern, looked up at her mother her lips moving to ask her mother what was happening. The mother kneeled to her daughter's height, and I watched her silent message she gave to her daughter. The young girl stepped forward wrapping her arms around her now sobbing mother. An older boy stepped from the shadow of the home with a face lost for words looking to his mother to his sister to the police officer outside. He glared at the officer for the message he brought as if the officer had murder his father and not I. The mother squeezed the daughter and her infant son tightly to her causing the infant to cry in discomfort. The policeman awkwardly shifted back and forth on the doorstep unsure of what to do or what to say. He turned to leave before quickly turning back again and told the women if there was anything they could do to help, she would only need to call. The woman quickly stood and even more quickly wiped away tears nodding and thanking the officer for his time. This woman was quite brave and kind thanking the messenger of death. The policeman hesitated for a few seconds before stretching forth a hand patting the woman's shoulder awkwardly. He then swiftly turned and left the family alone to mourn between the faded red doorframe.
The little daughter her face pressed into her mother's washed out jeans, the infant son now calm who would never know of his father and the deadly job that he led to feed his family, the older son glaring even more fiercely at the policeman's clumsy attempt to comfort his mother, and the mother with silent tears lining the world-worn face. What would they do now that their patriarch was taken from them? What would they do now that I had taken their guardian and counselor from them? I looked sorrowfully at the family wishing to tell them how very sorry that I was that I had let my appalling habit get away from me.
The family had collapsed the mother wrapping her arms tenderly again around her daughter and young son. The older son in turn held his trembling mother protectively his face now a face of stone, a mask designed to protect his family as much as his arms could. The family would at least have this strong young man. I impulsively took a few steps forward to apologize to the grieving family. I stopped myself shaking myself mentally at my almost horrendous mistake. No one must see me, no one even now. I looked up again towards the family. My eyes met cold blue eyes as the boy looked up at the stir of movement. His arms seemed to tighten slightly, his face turning a even more unyielding stone. A sense of recollection ran through me at the young man's emotionless face. The stone mask seemed so familiar, so much like the Leader at home. Leader who had watched on devotedly through the time of hunger and still looked on even now the silent, stone mask covering his own afflictions. Leader would look after the other little ones but he would not be able to protect them from hunger or neglect. I bowed to the young man before vanishing out of sight. I had been away so long, I hoped that I had not been away for too long. I needed to set things right.
I hesitated at the hole leading to the burrow I shared with the four little ones. I shook away any upsetting thoughts lingering in the back of my mind. They drifted back quickly despite my efforts to dislodge them.
How could I, the murderous thieving hypocrite, take care of these souls? I had almost destroyed one family, how could I raise this one? I had been struggling before I fell into bad habits, would it be so easy now to fall into those habits again with the mouths to feed and care for? How could-
I firmly pushed all my doubts to the back corner of my mind. I stepped forward into the burrow not letting my misgivings and qualms to let me shy away from this responsible I was taking. My boldness shocked me and the sense of memory again bringing me back to the Dark Green and his confidence and brashness shown in the gleam in his eye and his fixed stance. I almost chuckled despite the severity of the situation. I already was learning from them. I needed this. I needed them just as much as they needed me. I heard the scampering of feet and suddenly felt four little bodies pressing themselves to me. Surprised I looked down. I had thought they would shun themselves away from me. Still, they knew nothing of what I had done. I kneeled down to their height and started to wipe away the tears falling down their cheeks. Smile determinedly attached himself to my right arm and no amount of coaxing could get him to remove himself from it. I finally settled for holding Smile to the arm he had taken. Not to be outdone or receive anything less, Dark Green demanded the other arm, his arms reaching up to me. I obliged, picking him up glad that the sobs had abruptly turned into demands. I looked down for the other two to see Curious looking shyly up at me his arms twitching from his attempts to avoid asking for an arm I didn't have. I sighed good naturally and sat down with my two new appendages not letting go. Curious curling down into my lap exhaling noisily with relief. I smiled down at Curious as he instantly fell asleep. I looked up to Leader standing a little ways away. I invited him to join us with a jerk of my head. The stone mask was up again, but I could see cracks where emotion seeped through. I kept my gaze on Leader's mask for a few minutes, and he took a step forward. Then another step and finally he ran to me. He tripped over Curious as he threw his arms around my neck. Curious mumbled his complaint and shifted to make more room for Leader. Leader looked me in the eye and whispered "'ome?"
I smiled back to Leader and whispered back "Yes, my son. Home."
Author Note: I'm considering doing a series of oneshots like Desperation, but I am not sure. I have a few notes scribbled down, but I do not think I'll write anything of it if no one wants to read it. I'm trying to find a writing style that fits so if you want more stories like Desperation please let me know. And please review!