LAST RITES: Part Two of the Closed Doors and Open Windows series (I suggest you read Closed Doors and Open Windows first -- it's here on FF.Net) Thank you to everyone who gave "Closed Doors and Open Windows" such a wonderful reception. Many of you asked for me to continue the idea. Well,you asked for more; you got it!


As usual I own nothing. Theoretically the guys (Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird -- may their drawing hands ever be steady!!) who own the characters herein could take me to court and sue me; they would get ::checks pockets:: one paper clip, three gum wrappers and a year-old tootsie roll mini. The song used for this fic is "The Last Song" by Elton John; lyrics generously provided by the TMNT Soundtrack Project (http://www.angelfire.com/va2/tmnt/index.html) It's an awesome site!! Go check it out!! (end of free publicity)

A quick note to JOCELYN MAGUS, AZURE TURTLE and SAILOR VEGETA (if any of ya'll are reading): The three of you were the only ones to review CDAOW before I made an important change to the story, and I thought I'd better let you know about it. In the version you read, April and Casey's daughter was named Alexandra. I originally wanted to give her an artist's name, but couldn't think of one to save my life. Well, about three hours after I uploaded Closed Doors and Open Windows, I was hit by a sudden bolt of inspiration -- and I suddenly thought, "Well, Duh!! Name the kid Monet!" So I went back, changed the name, and uploaded the edited version later that night. So, the upshot of this rather long note is this: The child formerly known as Alexandra is now named Monet! 'Kay?(Sorry for any confusion this may have caused! Monet doesn't really figure in this fic, but she'll be important in later ones.)

As always, please read and review!

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Closed Doors and Open Windows: Last Rites
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Once, years ago, Casey Jones had called it "The farm that time forgot."

So far, time hadn't remembered it. The same high, dead grasses rattled against each other in the roadside breezes, the same ramshackle barn overlooked the same faded yard, and the same ancient screen door still kept a tenuous hold on the house. Only a few tiny changes indicated the passage of long years -- new chains on the porch swing, a repaired fence in the front yard, a basketball hoop nailed to the barn door. Tiny changes, barely noticeable unless you knew what to look for. But they were tokens -- reminders of the decade that had passed since the farm had last looked on the visitors it now welcomed back . . . .



******
Updrafts: Michaelangelo
******

Michaelangelo sat on the edge of the hayloft, watching the sun make its slow journey downward. Every so often he'd pluck a tuft of ancient, dusty straw from the pile he was sitting on and send it drifting to the ground, following the slow, twisting descent with a kind of detatched sorrow. Funny . . . things always got lighter and slower as they grew older -- even daylight.


** Yesterday you came to lift me up
** As light as straw and brittle as a bird
** Today I weigh less than a shadow on the wall
** Just one more whisper of a voice unheard


Mikey remembered being a child, a very young child; young enough and light enough that Splinter could still lift him without much effort. He remembered holding his short, chubby arms out to his sensei, waiting to be lifted up onto the rat's shoulders -- and how solid it felt to be there, towering above his brothers, with Splinter's whiskers brushing against his knee. Splinter had always laughed as he swung Mikey upward.

"Look at how big my Michaelangelo is getting!!"

Yeah. Big enough that in the end the roles had reversed, and Mikey had been the one lifting his sensei up. With the passing of time the old rat had grown gray and fragile -- as fragile as one of his teacups. For the past three years Splinter had had to be lifted and carried gingerly from his chair to his bed -- and, somewhere along the line, Mikey had made it his duty to see that Splinter was moved properly. He'd go slowly, careful that no sudden move would jar Splinter's arthritic back; with the bent, tattered whiskers brushing his shoulder and the ragged breathing close to his chest. Just as the sensei had once carried him, Mikey had made it his duty to carry Splinter.

Even up to the moment he'd carried him -- wrapped carefully and lovingly in the best quilt they owned -- to the pyre they'd built in the farm's back pasture. That had been this morning; but Mikey still felt the fragile, precious weight in his arms. Drawing his knees up to his chest, he wondered if he always would.

He let his mind wander back over the years, to the day he'd first realized that Splinter could no longer lift him.


*** ***

"What is wrong, Michaelangelo?" Splinter's black eyes shone with concern.

Mikey hastily wiped his face with the back of his eight-year-old hand. "Nothing, sensei." He sniffed.

"Michaelangelo . . ." Splinter's whiskers twitched. "A ninja who decieves himself and those close to him . . . "

"Becomes his own worst enemy." Mike finished dutifully. Then he sighed. "It's just that . . . your back hurts sometimes now, and I'm getting too big for you. And," his voice grew small, "You can't carry me anymore."

Splinter nodded. Then, wordlessly, he knelt down and enveloped his smallest son in a hug. "Yes, my son. It is true that I can no longer carry you." The hug tightened. "But my heart shall always be strong enough to lift yours."


*** ***

Mikey brushed at his tears. "What about now, Master Splinter?" He asked quietly. "Now who's going to lift my heart?" Another tuft of straw fluttered to its doom -- but then a sudden warm updraft caught it and sailed it up and out over the barnyard.

Suddenly fascinated, Mike grabbed another scrap of straw and dropped it experimentally. The same current scooped up that bit, too. A second and third try produced the same results, and as Mikey prepared his fourth test he though suddenly of something Splinter had said to him, only a few weeks earlier.

He'd just finished settling Splinter into his chair, making sure his father was warm enough and comfortable, when the rat suddenly sat up -- a lot straighter than usual.

"Michaelangelo." He'd smiled then, a tired smile full of years. "My youngest . . . my trickster."

"Sensei?" He'd been concerned . . . sometimes Splinter's mind would wander for hours, touching on one subject or another with no real coherence. Mikey was always a little afraid that this time, Splinter wouldn't come back.

But the old rat had just leaned back in the chair and beckoned him closer. "Listen to me, Michaelangelo. These things must be said." Splinter's voice was hoarse, punctuated by long silences as he caught his breath. His dark eyes shone with a strange intensity. "Your youth, your laughter, your ability to see the world with innocent eyes . . . these are your gifts. Do not lose them, Michaelangelo . . . for when all else has failed you, these gifts will lift your spirit, and give strength -- both to you, and to your brothers. Remember this . . . when I am gone. No matter what else may happen . . . do not lose your joy." Splinter lay his thin, brittle hand on Michaelangelo's. "Be well, my son."

Mike had nodded, placed his free hand on top of Splinter's -- and filed the words away in the back of his mind.

Until now. As yet another tuft of straw wafted out on the updraft, Mikey turned his eyes Eastward -- to the pale, lovely disk of the rising moon.

"Okay." He said quietly. "Okay, sensai. I've got the message."

The sun died and the moon rose; one bit of straw hit the ground fast, another sailed for a while on a current of air. People were born and stumbled through life towards death, traveling on currents of laughter and tears.

*And sometimes,* Mike decided as he rose, *sometimes you get lucky, just when things seem worst."

Sometimes, if you were lucky, you hit an updraft.

Mikey glanced towards the house, and he sighed softly. He wasn't the only one in mourning. And Splinter hadn't just given him words of comfort -- he'd given Mikey a duty.

Mikey had hit his updraft. Now, it was time to *be* an updraft -- for his brothers . . . .

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*** Continued in Chapter Two ***