Synopsis: The spiritual journey with Mei Chang ended, with the Brothers witnessing what was supposed to be a quiet, normal trip for Splinter and Yoshi that turned into a possible tragedy. They weren't able to see what happened after the bus crash; Mei Chang disappeared, but they were left with another powerful reason to strengthen their family ties.
With delicate hands touching his shoulders, April kissed Casey's forehead, smiling at his drowsy expression. His eyes glossed over, he gave her his signature hammy grin, spelling out the signs of a day gone in his favor. She flapped the bed spread over his chest, letting the cool air brush his chin.
"Tough dreams," she grinned back at him, remembering how his face always scrunched if someone said 'sweet dreams'. She was positive his dreams were him roaming the streets in search of damsels in distress or heads to crush. Those were 'sweet' to him, and it tickled her all the time.
He responded with a slow nod and a garbled babble, a definite sign it was time for her to leave. She stood in peace for a moment, peering about the room and down at their slumbering daughter on the foldout bed. Two hours ago, April tried giving Shadow to Irma for the day, but enough protesting shrills sent the baby back to her daddy's arms. April gave up and said goodbye to Irma, who left pouting a little, looking forward to Shadow's playtime with Josh.
Snuggling beside Shadow, April didn't even get comfortable before she felt the cold breeze and light sipping through the window. There stood four bulky forms, peering into her face with equally troubling and fierce eyes. "Holy shit," she whistled, "you guys haven't done that in ages! Close the window, please. It's already cold enough in here."
Who she assumed to be Donatello gently swished the window shut, and Mike's familiar sweet voice mumbled an apology. She sat up, cautiously looking back to see if two baby eyes were staring back at her. "Visiting hours haven't begun, you know."
"Yeah, that's why we sneaked through the window," Raph scoffed. "Lamebrain over here snoozing, I see. Hey-" he patted Casey's feet, "wake up. Housekeeping."
"Raph, stop that. They just gave him medicine," she waved her hand, hoping it would get him to stop. He popped Casey's feet one good time and threw his hands back in his coat.
Leonardo thumped his elbow against Raph's arm. "We're sorry, April. Raph really wanted to see him."
"Where have you been?" She glared at a sheepish Raph, already feeling her heat in the room.
"I'm here now. That's all that matters."
"Yeah, I guess so," she said and felt a stir beside her. Oh great. Then, a string of unintelligible words spewed from Casey's direction. She sighed. Lost battle.
"Hey, champ. You really showed those wenches who's boss," Raph stepped to Casey's bedside. He chuckled looking at Casey's vacant expression. "You're man enough to get out of this place soon. Stop being a wuss. I have battle scars, too."
"Try getting your fingers lopped off," Don dryly commented from the corner, taking his seat in a chair.
"Ah, big baby. I got knifed too." Raph tapped Casey's shoulder. He responded with a goofy grin.
"Waph, you'll wa—" Casey muttered, "—Swadow." One cue, the baby whimpered and, upon seeing the bulky strange men suddenly in the room, she cried.
"Now, now," April scooped her in her arms. "It's just the Uncles."
Leonardo walked passed Raph and flicked on the light. Mike kneeled down in front of Shadow and caressed her hands. "It's me, Uncle Mike. How are ya?" Shadow calmed, leaning her head into her mother's neck and nibbling on her own finger. While Mike playfully swung her free arm back and forth, April and Don crossed looks, smiled at the other, and Don turned away.
Mike sparked a smile at Shadow. "Uncle Raphie's sorry for scaring you and smelling like one of your diapers."
Everybody but Raph was amused, scattering light chuckles around the room. Casey held up his bandaged hand like a trophy to show. Raph shared in the moment and gave a fist bump against Casey's hand. "That's my champ. Ain't nobody gonna keep you down."
"You stink," Casey said clear enough for everyone to understand.
Raph nodded. "Yeah, yeah. It's been a long week. Isn't it time for your sponge bath too, sweetheart?"
Shadow opened her arms and reached for Mike to hold her. April stood to her feet and rubbed Casey's arm from her side of the bed. "Casey said he wants to go fishing and buy Shadow a pink princess—" she stumbled through tired words, "princess pole. I think he's confused it's still winter and not spring."
"I'll go fishing with them," Leonardo quietly said, walking to the foot of the bed. "It'll be fun. I haven't done it in a long time."
Mike and Shadow played with her toes on the cot. "Make sure the fishies don't bite your toes," he cooed, and she giggled over his fingers grabbing her legs. "Those snapping turtles are rough. Watch out!"
The precious cries from her daughter warranted more friendly reactions from the room. April was exhausted, barely keeping her eyes open, but the joy of seeing her family together fought against the need for privacy. Casey dozing off again, she watched Raph stare at his vital signs, giving it his okay after everything looked fine on the monitors and looking back at his brothers halfheartedly. She wondered why in the world had he disappeared; had someone been in danger and needed rescuing? It was the only reason she could think of why he would vanish. Or….
"Are you seeing someone, Raph?" Never feeling restricted when confronting the brothers, April threw a sideways glance in his direction without blinking. Raph was speechless, and his face sizzled from the embarrassment.
"You could say that," Don quipped, leaning on his left elbow and grinning like a mad cat. "He set a building on fire for one."
April went ballistic, in a silent form of jaw dropping and eyes like clouds. She almost fell on Casey.
"He did not," Mike chimed, rubbing Shadow's bedhead. "Not really."
"Leo?" April squeaked, hoping to get some confirmation or retaliation against Raph's judgment. "Did he?"
Leonardo sighed, glaring at Don out of the corner of his eye. "No, April. No."
"I heard about a building on fire down on 8th. Was that you?" she fired her finger at the perpetrator. "Oh god, I hope that wasn't you."
"Yeah, I mean, no, but it's a—"
"Was anybody killed?"
"Sort of." Raph peered at his feet.
She reached over and covered Shadow's ear. "What, you mean, like a torso, half a leg, or a head then? What do you mean by 'sort of'?"
"Dammit, I'm tired!" Raph paid back her glare; she shrunk in her seat. "I've had everyone crawling up my shell. I'm outta here." He marched to the window and vanished into the wind. Leonardo apologized on his behalf and dashed after him. By the time April could form a word, Mike kissed Shadow's head and handed her back to her mother. Don was right behind Mike, brazing a sympathetic look.
"Meet me down in the lobby," he said and leaving behind the sound of his boots cracking the sill. The silence wasn't long kept as a nurse strolled into the room and quickly gave a check over Casey, whispering a salutation and clearing before, again, she could utter a word. Shadow dozed off, and April set her on the cot, pulling a blanket over the child. She closed the window and waited for the heat to spread in the room. This time, the quiet haunted her, and a tear slipped out of her eye before she caught it.
"You should go back and apologize," Mike whipped at Raph, who led the group through the back way of the hospital. No answer followed. "She didn't do anything to you. Why do you have to push away the people that love you?"
Raph barked over his shoulder. "Like you didn't, Mister Pot? Shut up at me."
"Guys, wait until we get home." Leonardo stood between the two, watching for people coming from the street. "It's not a good time right now."
Mike's scarf fell into his mouth and he shoved it down. "I guess you're one of those people who think depression is all in the head. I needed space, and you kept invading it."
The last one in line, Don poked at Mike's back. "It technically is all in your head."
"I mean like I fake it."
"I know what you mean. I was just throwing in a little humor—"
"He has it, too," Mike tightened the scarf around his neck. "We all probably have it. We just deal with it in different ways." He tucked the cloth over his beak and didn't snap back when Raph snorted.
Don stopped walking and raised his voice as his brothers kept going. "I'll catch up later." Leonardo and Mike hung back.
"Are you sure?" Leonardo's breath cut the air.
"I want to pick up a coffee and, uh, a muffin." He nodded, "I'll be fine. See you soon." He turned, not waiting for a response and retraced his footsteps to the hospital.
Truth be told, his appetite was nonexistent. He could go for coffee, but the taste for it already soured his tongue. He wanted to see April; he meant to compliment her new hair color and how her cheeks were rosy, up to the point before Raph talked out of his ass. Being on good terms with her again was all he wanted to ask. His head was clearer; ironic that a trip back to the past helped with it, and no longer did he feel jealous or frustrated. For years, he wondered if it was a crush or puppy love, but no. He respected and loved her for being the bravest woman he ever met and taking in four adolescent, wandering boys who happened to be a little left from the center.
He passed a man and woman smoking on the sidewalk, blowing their hot breath into the thin air, and giving him a wild look as he stepped through the automatic doors. A family of humans was in front of him and stepped through the metal detector without a hitch, nodding at the two security guards before the second pair of doors closed. The guards grew taller on their planted feet and walked closer to Don, their hard eyes brushing over his baggy, unkempt clothes and intentions anything less than cautious and alert. They patted him down, and he bit his lower lip, feeling the blood rushing to his face the more their hands moved. Pathetic but typical, he knew. They gave permission for him to enter, but not without glaring more holes in his head. He ignored them and left the stupidity at their desk.
April's red hair made it easy to spot her. She stood in front of a vending machine in the break room, deciding over the meager selection of salt and sweet chips, crackers, and candy bars.
"Morning again," Don kept his voice low. She bent to pick up her food dropping out of the box and turned her head. She glowed, and he smiled. "I'm sorry about Raph, and I shouldn't have left you."
April broke open the bag, tearing into the food with a bear grip. "It bothered me a little. Raph doesn't seem to care who he hurts, huh? I mean, it was there when he was younger, but he fought against it. Now he's just—"
"He does care, but he's too busy setting things on fire and chasing ghosts. He also has the weirdest taste in women."
She chuckled and offered him the bag; he declined, holding up his hand. "Hey, he used to crush on me. Am I weird?"
"You were awkward at first," his smile brightened as he took a short glance out the large bay of windows, "but you warmed up. He scares people, even if he doesn't mean to, so I understand."
"Sorry. I'm so ravenous." She leaned her head back and finished the last of the crumbs.
He peered back at her. "Is that all you had for breakfast?"
"I'm broke until Friday," she said, wiping her hands against her legs and slapping off loose bits on her coat. "Chips filled me up."
Don patted his back pocket, feeling for his wallet and remembered he had a twenty. It was intended for his savings fund. "I've got a few dollars. Let's go."
"No, you already have a tough time—"
"Don't sweat it, really. Wouldn't you like some ham and bacon? Barbeque chips and stale coffee won't cut it. I feel like a muffin."
She acted bashful, standing in line with him in the cafeteria and putting very few items on her plate. When she wasn't looking, he added several pieces of bacon and three biscuits. She didn't notice until they were at the register.
"Where did this stuff come from? Did you put this on my plate?"
"The Breakfast Fairy says you need to eat," he heard the human cashier ring up their orders; he pulled out the money and concealed it so April wouldn't notice the now empty wallet. "Thank you," he whispered to the cashier who kept a straight face and waited for the next customer.
"She was friendly," April snapped, following him down a small flight of stairs and letting him choose a quaint table on the far back wall. "Thank you, Don. I should take some of this to Irma when she comes back."
"Eat," he ordered and picked off the flakes on his muffin.
That she did, and she ate faster as the time passed. How long had she been surviving on vending machine nutrition, and why hadn't he been there for her? His appetite disappeared again as he laid his half-eaten blueberry muffin on the tray. There was no need to be shy around his friend anymore. She was the best person to talk to, and apologize for his ugly behavior.
A flake sprinkled on the table. "We were trained to be warriors, battling ghastly creatures and humans off their rockers. We were prepared for that. Splinter taught us with a sharp stick and soft tongue. Could he have taught us about this life? I don't think so."
He could tell she was confused yet sympathy beamed from her eyes. It was the one time she didn't have a warm or cheeky response. The rest of the flakes found themselves bundled in a napkin as he continued, "I don't blame our Father, that's not what I'm trying to get at. I think all the time. It drives me a little bonkers. I hope you will forgive me for not knowing how to be a good friend. I don't blame anything on you either. Life moved too fast for me to catch up. I know Mike has his fair share of problems and he didn't handle this situation well. Leo seems adjusted, if a little brick and Raph actually did better than I expected, for a short time anyways. But I've come to the conclusion that I was the last one to accept this world and adapt. I was okay as long as the others were around and I had goals and direction. When Leo and I hunted for those girls, I felt the most comfortable I had in months. I miss it, April, and I miss you."
She chewed half of the bacon in her hands, placed it back on her tray, and rested her elbows on the table. "I miss you too. I miss all of you. I feel like we're distant relatives now, like you've moved away but you haven't."
"I feel a big change on the horizon. It's been slowly growing and now I think it's a calm before the storm. Promise me you'll stay safe."
"Okay, Donny, I promise, but," one of her elbows slipped off the table as concern grew, "do you know more than you're telling me?"
He laid the muffin on her tray, scooting the nibbled bacon beside the egg yolk. "I don't know any more than you do. Just keep Casey and Shadow safe. This family has already seen enough damage."
Instead of pressing the issue, she lifted from her seat, walked around the table, and embraced Don in a hold worth a tale. He was rigid at first but adapted, the way he should handle all of his problems.
She patted him on the shell and kissed the top of his head. "Your safety is important to me, too. Go home to your father and brothers. They need you."
He returned her somber expression for a moment and then needed to break away. She finished her meal, gave him another bear hug, and walked with him to the lobby. They knew he needed to get home, and it was a tender affair saying goodbye as he walked through the double doors, back into new footprints in the snow. He carried on their conversation in his head, analyzing every word he said and if what he said was what he meant. Had his words come straight from his gut? Was it exactly what he wanted to say to her?
He waited for the green signal to walk across one of the few streets he needed to find a discreet manhole. The journey took longer than he expected, but he whipped around corners and left shops and heavy traffic behind him, their noises a small toss against buildings shrouded from view. Before he exercised every muscle in his arm to lift a cover napping under shadow, a small figure across the fence caught his attention. He squinted as the figure approached the fence, and before it touched the chain, he saw the person looking down at him with tired but graceful blue eyes.
"How are you, Mei Chang?" he asked, lifting to his feet and walking closer to the fence. "I didn't know if I would see you again."
She sighed, "You can only push your body so far."
"How about I invite you to our home and you can rest there? All of us scattering and being distant is slowing things down. I'm not sure what's going on, but I see you and you see me. We're here, and not in some hazardous dream scape."
Her hands slid down the fence and she nodded, "I am near my goal, and I cannot stop. We will have time to visit each other in the future. I wanted to see you and your brothers again before Mei Chi made her next move."
"Good luck catching me and my brothers together these days."
They fell quiet as Mei stared into Don, and it made him a little nervous. He said, "I hope you find what you're looking for. I would be lying if I said I wasn't worried about her next move. That could mean one of my brothers, or all of us."
"She strikes like a soft storm on the beach. She breathes and waits."
He didn't mean to chuckle at the statement. "Like a whirlpool instead of a hurricane?"
"More like the moon and its tides."
"Is the moon full now?"
"It is getting there."
He peered over her dirty face and wondered how she would solve this problem being in such a fragile state. If only she would follow him home and get some food, rest. She looked pitiful and sad, not at all the strong woman when they first met. He wasn't sure if he was the one to help her.
He had been looking behind him for roamers, and when he turned back to Mei, she was walking back up the alley. It was best to let her go. The manhole cover wasn't going to open itself; he peered around a final time and shunted it over his head, jumping into the darkness.
Preview of the next chapter:
Emyrs handed Red his jacket. "Don't forget me."
"Hell no!" Red scooped her in his frail arms and latched them around her shell. "I'm finding you when I get older. You better live in the same house or I won't be able to find you. I'm not good with directions."
"Red?" Shannon crossed her arms.
"Yes?" He mumbled into Emyrs' clothes.
"Which flavor soap do you want? Cherry or vanilla? I have green tea, but that tastes awful."
He pouted and looked to Emyrs for a rescue. "I guess I'll take vanilla," he warbled.