Author's Note: Sorry again for the long delay! Life is hectic for the foreseeable future, (this is FUPB, First Update Post-Baby) so I can't promise I'll be any swifter with updates, but I can promise I won't abandon this story. Thanks for reading!


Before

"Yo, Earth to Raph! Let's go, man, dudes are gonna get away!"

I blinked and shook my head, disoriented and drenched in an icy curtain of sweat that made me shiver in spite of the balmy night. My heart pounded in my chest, so loud that I swear ta god anyone standing next to me would a' heard it.

"RAPH!" Casey called over his shoulder. "C'mon, man! What the hell's wrong with ya?"

I stood rooted to the spot, feeling weak and dry-mouthed. I didn't answer—couldn't answer. Hell, could barely breathe. What the fuck was going on here?

Casey slowed when he saw I wasn't following, and as he got a better look at me, he halted and turned to face me, and his eyes squinted. "Hey, you okay? Look like you've seen a ghost or somethin'."

I'm looking at one right now.

He was dead; I knew he was dead—I could still see his eyes staring sightlessly as I cradled his broken body in my arms, my mouth moving constantly, though at the time I was unaware of what I was saying. Jesus god no don't you fucking die you bastard, don't you fucking leave me, just breathe, okay? Just BREATHE!

He was DEAD! …So how the hell was he standing here in front of me? My mind scrambled wildly, trying to make sense of it. Then I looked down at my arms, turning my hands over to study both sides.

No blood.

Could it have been just a, a nightmare? A seizure, or a weird hallucinogenic episode, something Donny could give me a perfectly reasonable explanation for? Maybe I just imagined the whole horrifying thing…

Maybe.

Or maybe this was a hallucination, a product of my traumatized mind. Maybe I was still sitting on the floor in April's apartment, staring and drooling like a lobotomized mental patient while my mind took a leave of absence from a reality I didn't wanna deal with. The whole thing had been so real—the baby crying, that cold look in her eyes…

I shuddered again and shook my head, trying to clear of it the memory.

Casey had taken a couple of steps closer to me. "Raph?" he said tentatively, his forehead furrowed in concern.

"I'm okay," I croaked, then I cleared my throat, and willed the beating of my heart to slow. "I just, uh… I just had kind of an… epiphany."

If Casey looked confused before, he was completely lost now. "A what?"

Breathe, in and out. "I was just, uh, thinkin' we should, uh, come up with a plan. Yannow. Before we just jump into this."

"A plan? I thought the plan was to open up a can of whoop-ass on these guys."

Well he had me there; that was usually the extent of our planning. Thinking fast, I said, "Yeah, but I think I know where they're headed." I beckoned him closer and crouched down, withdrawing a sai. I used to point to begin sketching out a diagram in the gravel of the rooftop, and Casey let out a resigned breath and came to stand over me.

"Okay, but make it quick," he said.

I drew a couple more lines and an arrow, and then I straightened. Casey glanced down at my masterpiece, and then up, watching me expectantly.

By now my heart had slowed considerably, but I was still freezing cold, inside and out. Still, I knew what I had to do. "Right. Here's the plan," I said. And with no outward warning, I punched him in the jaw. In the instant before I connected, he understood, and his eyes widened, but it was too late—

Casey Jones didn't go down easy, but when he did, he went down hard.

I'm sure Leo could tell you the name of the pressure point I hit, just above the angle of the human jaw, but I didn't fucking care what it was called. All I cared about was that when you hit it just right, the person was out cold—an' I'd spent many a fine night fine tuning my skill, learning just the right force and placement to knock someone out on the first shot.

I still didn't know which "reality" was the real one, but I desperately wanted it to be the one in which my friend was still alive. And goddamn it, whether this was real or not, no matter what happened, I was gonna make sure he stayed alive.

"The plan is this," I continued, more composed now that I knew he wasn't goin' anywhere. "You're sittin' this one out, Buddy."

Casey was gonna be pissed that I'd hit him, and April was gonna be pissed when he came home lookin' like he'd been in a brawl, but I didn't give a fuck. Better bruised than in a body bag. I rolled him over and checked his pulse, just to be sure. Strong, steady, but out cold, and likely to stay that way for a little while at least. Just to be sure, though, I withdrew a length of cord from my pouch, and twisted it around his ankles. He'd be able to get out of it, but not until it was too late to catch up with me. Then I put the pizza box under his head, leaned a cold-ish bottle of beer against his jaw, and took off in the direction of the would-be muggers.

Only in my book, they weren't just small-time thieves… they were murderers. As I closed in on them, leaping across rooftops, all of my recent fear and anxiety was channeled into something darker. This was something I knew how to deal with.