Hello everyone! Before we get started here I'd love to thank pyro524, CaptainAlex2014, cheezy3, Just Call Me J, ssj2luke, and aireagle92 for reviewing the last chapter. I always love reading reviews! Also thanks to everyone who put this story on their faves and/or alerts, I'm glad you are enjoying this story as well!

I'd like to remind everyone that I have posted a new Ninja Turtles story entitled Safe Haven. I'm really hoping to have that story be more plot driven with less fluffiness than this story (but trust me, there WILL be fluff :3). So, if your interested, check it out! (Though warning, it seems highly likely I'll have to bump the story to an M rating... mainly because I'm rather paranoid given the very possible content of the story).

Also, thanks so very much to Kagayaku Hoshi-chan for correcting my Japanese in an earlier rendition of this chapter! It is a huge help!

Now, without further ado, I present the next installment of A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words!


The Next Day; Lair…

"It's good to be home!" Mikey called with a smile as he unceremoniously dropped the bags he was carrying onto the floor right in front of the entrance before bounding towards the television set-up to tell his video games just how much he missed them when he was gone.

Splinter sighed while directing his gaze towards the obstruction in the walking path of everyone else. "Michelangelo…"

Hearing his name, said turtle whipped his head around. He had the decency to look sheepish while standing up. "Sorry Master Splinter…" he muttered while walking over to pick up the discarded bags before taking them to his room.

Shaking her head, Ava smiled as she walked into the lair followed by the other three turtles. "Thanks again for letting me stay here while April and Dad are gone. I honestly didn't want to stay in that apartment by myself."

"Don't mention it," Leonardo replied with a small smile. "We always enjoy having you over."

"Still, I really appreciate it." Turning in the direction of her room, the delicate brunette walked down the path that overlooked the living area below. At the entrance to Mikey's room, she poked her head inside. "You want any help cooking tonight?"

Glancing over his shoulder, Mikey smiled. "Yeah, that would be great. After all, we're having a feast tonight."

Ava nodded. Since Leonardo was leaving tomorrow morning, it was decided that tonight's training session would be cancelled to allow the brothers some time to hang out together before the eldest left on his training mission. Such a send-off deserved a feast to accompany it.

"Okay, I'll put my stuff away and meet you in the kitchen."

Making his way to the exit of his room, Mikey nodded. "Sounds like a plan," he ruffled the brunette's hair. "Be warned, this will be a true test of you capabilities in the kitchen. You ready for the greatest battle of your life?"

Smiling, Ava nodded her head firmly. "Bring it on."


After Dinner; Living Area…

With all stomachs full and the dirty dishes taken care of, the six inhabitants of the lair situated themselves upon the seats around the television. The screens remained off however as everyone wished to use these moments to spend time with one another rather than engrossed in some fictional tale. Family was what this evening was about.

"That was delicious you two," Leonardo said with a satisfied smile. "I know I'll definitely miss the food here, that's for sure."

"Well you won't have to really miss it for a while yet," Ava added.

Mikey nodded in agreement, "We put together some non-perishables for you to take with you tomorrow."

"Thank you, that's very thoughtful."

Upon getting a nudge from Donatello, Ava smiled. "Oh! I almost forgot!"

Leo raised an eye ridge. "Dare I ask?"

"You'll see," she responded while standing on her feet. She held up a finger. "I'll be right back." Making her way out of the room, she glided up the stairs and into her room. Moments later she emerged with a few packages wrapped in deep blue paper. Once she made it back to Leo, she placed the packages on the makeshift coffee table that was before him.

"What's all this?" Leo questioned with a raise of an eye ridge.

Once Ava reclaimed her spot beside him, Raphael wrapped an arm around her and smiled at his older brother. "Well we couldn't let ya leave without givin' ya some stuff."

Leo reverently picked up one of the packages. "You really didn't have to…"

"Oh yes we did Nii-chan," Ava responded quickly. She gestured towards the package her brother was holding. "Go on, open it."

"Yeah, come on Fearless, don't make us wait all night," Raph added with a smirk.

"Okay, okay," Leo responded with a shake of his head as he began to unwrap the package. Once the paper had been discarded of, what was left was a small box of candles in a variety of calming scents. He picked one up and sniffed at it, smiling as the scent of sandalwood washed over him.

"We figured you'd want some candles for when you meditate an' stuff," Mikey said with a small smile. "There's even a lighter in there ya know, just in case."

Placing the candle back in the box, Leonardo smiled. "Thank you."

"Don't thank us just yet," Donnie added while gesturing towards the other packages. "There's still more."

Putting the candles down on the table, the blue-clad turtle picked up the next package. Upon opening this one he saw that it contained stationary, envelopes, and all the other necessary materials to write letters. He glanced up, "Is this a hint?"

Mikey and Ava nodded enthusiastically.

"You bet your shell it is," the turtle said.

Ava nodded again, "Yeah, I expect to see some letters in the mail mister."

Leo smiled, "Okay, okay, I got it. I promise I'll write whenever I have the chance."

The delicate brunette's smile only grew wider. "Good," she gestured towards the box with the stationary, "and don't worry, I made sure to put out address in there."

"Thank you, Imōto." He responded while setting aside the stationary before reaching for another package. Opening it revealed some paperback novels. Picking one up he saw that it was a novel about communing with nature and the search in learning more about oneself through living in such surroundings. There were also a couple fiction novels that he had been wanting to read for some time now.

Raphael gestured towards the books, "Figured ya'd want somethin' ta do on the plane."

Placing the books to the side, he nodded softly before smiling in gratitude. "Thank you again, I look forward to reading them." Turning, he then reached for one of the last two packages still resting on the table. The one he picked up was certainly the largest of all of them, though not extremely so. Ripping away the wrapping paper revealed a box that contained a dark brown cloak. He lifted it out of the box and examined it. The material it was made out of was lightweight but still durable.

"We thought you'd want something disguise-ish that was also lightweight since you're going to Central America." Ava said while gesturing towards the cloak. "It has a hood and some pockets on the inside."

Feeling the material again, Leonardo smiled at the piece. "I can already tell I'll be getting some use out of this, thank you everyone."

Mikey gestured towards the box again, "There's still something in there bro."

"Oh?" the blue-clad turtle questioned while looking into the box. Sure enough there was something else in there. Taking it out, his brown gaze examined the item but he found himself unable to figure out what it was. "Um…" he muttered, confused.

"It's a bag you can use to wash that cloak," Donnie supplied. "Just put it in there with some water and soap. Better than washing it in a river, that's for sure."

Leo nodded and examined the gift again. "That is really inventive," he mused aloud. "I honestly did not think about that at all. Thank you."

Putting this gift aside, he then reached forward and picked up the last gift sitting on the table. Inside this box there was a small photo album. Looking at the photos inside, Leo found many photos of him and his family. He smiled at the gift while taking a few moments to look at the first few photos in the album. While most of them were rather recent as Avariella was present in them, others were a few years older, dating all the way back to when he was fifteen. Moving his gaze back towards his family, the eldest turtle smiled once again in gratitude. "I promise to treasure this the entire time I'm away."

"We're glad you like it," Donnie responded with a smile before gesturing towards the delicate brunette. "It was actually Ava's idea."

Leo smiled at his sister. "I should have guessed our photographer came up with this."

Ava felt her cheeks warm slightly. "I honestly thought it was a no-brainer making sure you had pictures of us."

"Well I think it is an amazing idea either way," Leo responded while he gently closed the album, keeping the tome on his lap. "Again, thank you for these gifts everyone. I really appreciate it. I'll miss all of you while I'm gone."

"We'll miss you too bro," Mikey responded with a sad smile.

Reaching out, Ava grabbed one of Raphael's hands and gently squeezed it. "Yeah, we'll miss you."

Leo nodded somberly. "Just think: I'll be back home before you know it." He gestured towards Ava, "You would have graduated and will be worrying about starting college when I get home."

"Yeah…" she replied softly. "It still feels like forever though…"

Everyone nodded in agreement.

Silence quickly fell over the room and for several moments no one dared to break it. Even though Leonardo was leaving the next day, no one wanted to voice or even think about the idea of the eldest being gone for an entire year. It still did not seem real enough for them at the moment. So, it was as if they thought if they simply kept silent, they might be able to stave off the coming dawn and the coming departures. They could pretend in this silence that tomorrow would be just like any other day of their lives… they would get up, train, eat, and go about their normal daily activities. Sadly, in their heart of hearts, they all knew this was not the case. Tomorrow would not be just like any other day… it would be starkly different. Still… for now, they were content in this silence and the ignorance it allowed them all to live in…

That silence lasted until Mikey cleared his throat, quickly gaining the attention of everyone in the room. He offered everyone a large smile. "Come on, there's no use being all sad now. This is a celebrations dudes! So let's celebrate!" he quickly looked to his oldest brother. "So whadda say Leo? Whatcha wanna do?"


Early Morning…

Quietly, so as to not disturb anyone, Leonardo slipped out of his room, already clad in his trench coat and hat with his knapsack upon his shoulders. Under the cover of darkness, he took on last glance of the place that had been his home for the past few years. While he and his family hadn't lived her for a very long time in the grand scheme of things, so much had already changed about this place. He could still remember fondly the train cars that used to fill up most of the space that had been removed a couple years ago due to age. Oh how he was going to miss living here alongside his brothers, always being able to ask Master Splinter for advice on the things that troubled him… Those were things he would not be able to have once he left and the thought made his heart ache.

While he knew fully well the reasons behind Master Splinter wanting to send him away for training… to have the chance to just simply be as himself, without his brothers to have the opportunity to better hone his strengths and improve upon his weakness so he can return to the team a far more capable leader than he was at present. It still did not lessen the desire he had to simply stay though he knew he would not. That was why he was leaving now, under the cover of the last hours of night before dawn rose once more. He knew that if he had to say his final farewells moments before actually leaving he would not be able to keep himself held together… He could not allow that to happen. He had to be strong for all of them. While he knew his family would be hurt that he left so suddenly whilst they were sleeping, he knew that in the long-run this was for the best. He knew that his family would forgive him of this action he was taken… they would understand.

Closing his eyes, Leonardo took a deep, centering breath in an attempt to better mentally prepare himself for the journey he was about to undergo.

However, once his brown eyes opened he found himself rooted to the spot at which he stood by a pair of deep blue eyes.

Without thinking, Avariella quickly flung herself against her brother and wrapped her arms around him in a tight embrace. Like the brunette, without thinking, Leonardo returned the embrace briefly before pulling away, his hands resting on his sister's shoulders.

He bent his knees so he was now eye-level with her. "What are you still doing up?"

Ava bit her lower lip. "I… I couldn't sleep…"

"Why not?"

Blue eyes quickly darted to the floor as she wrapped her arms around herself. "Because I knew you'd leave before everyone else woke up…"

Leonardo blinked. "How did you…?"

Ava shrugged. "I don't know… I just knew." She bit harder on her lower lip, willing the tears that blurred her vision to stay back. Without asking, she knew that this was why he was leaving now but she wanted to say a proper farewell… Inwardly she chided herself as a few tears slipped down her cheeks. She hastily wiped them away. "I'm sorry…"

Placing a hand under her chin, Leo lifted her head gently. "Don't say sorry," he pulled her into another embrace. "I'm sorry for leaving like this…"

"It's fine…" she muttered softly in response. "I understand why…" she sniffled.

"Can you promise to do something for me?" Leo questioned quietly, letting the delicate brunette pull away.

Again, she wiped away the tears that had managed to escape her ducts. "Anything, what is it?"

"Could you…" he glanced over his shoulder at the rooms in which his brothers and father were currently sleeping, "could you take care of them while I'm gone?"

Without hesitation, Ava nodded. "Of course I will," she forced herself to smile despite the tears still clouding her vision. "Just as long as you take care of yourself okay? Promise?"

"I promise," he replied with a soft smile, "and thank you." Dropping his arms away from Ava's shoulders, he sighed. "I should get going…"

"I know…" Reaching forward, she grabbed one of Leo's hands in two of hers and smiled. "Sayōnara Nii-chan, stay safe and write us. I'll miss you…"

Leo smiled, "Sayōnara, I'll be back before you know it."

"So you've said," Ava responded with a small shake of her head as she dropped Leo's hand, letting her own fall at her sides. "Safe travels."

Nodding in response, Leonardo waved one last farewell before opening the lair's exit. Within mere seconds the wall closed behind him, leaving Avariella standing at the entrance alone… already deeply missing her older brother…


A Few Hours Later…

When Ava emerged from her room, the shift in the lair's atmosphere from the day before was evident very quickly. Upon reaching the living area she saw that everyone, aside from Master Splinter, had taken up residence upon one of the seats surrounding the television. The only sound in the lair was that coming from the television, the brothers just simply sat and started at the screen. They were seemingly only half-paying attention to the program. As she got closer to the gathering, three sets of eyes quickly landed upon her.

"Leo's gone…" Mikey muttered softly.

Ava lowered her head and nodded softly. "Oh…" She didn't have the heart to tell them that she had spoken with the eldest turtle just before he left that morning. Instead she quickly made her way towards Raphael and took the empty spot on the couch next to him, eager to be in his embrace.

No one said anything for quite some time. They all just sat before the television, staring idly at the screen. At points during the day they would venture off to be alone… Donatello would go to his lab or Raphael would go to the dojo to his good ol' punching bag… but eventually they would always find their way back towards one another. It was as if they had this sudden urge to make sure that none of their other brothers would up and disappear as suddenly as Leonardo had. Avariella also found herself succumbing to this same urge, not able to stand being alone for extended periods of time. She especially found herself being more drawn to Raphael than ever before, partly just to be around him and also partly to ensure that he was handling this as well as he could.

From the few times she peeked into Master Splinter's room, the delicate brunette could tell that he was also taking Leonardo's absence hard. He spent a large part of the day in his room, meditating or looking at some of the pictures he had in his room. For a brief moment, she wondered when Master Splinter was going to tell the turtles that they were no longer permitted to go on their patrols anymore… but the thought quickly passed the moment Raphael wrapped his arms around her from behind and buried his face into her hair.

That evening though, the thought hit her full force when she noticed that the turtles all appeared to be getting ready to leave on that night's patrol. Hanging back, she bit on her lower lip slightly. When Splinter emerged from his room, his gaze quickly registered the same thing that Ava had noticed. The delicate brunette swore she saw the wizened rat take a calming breath as he made his way over towards his sons, his walking stick tapping against the concrete ground below his feet. Once he stood only a few feet away from the three turtles he cleared his throat, quickly gaining their attention.

"My sons, I wish to speak with you." He paused for a moment as his gaze traveled over each of them to ensure that they were listening to him. "While your brother is off bettering himself, I want the three of you to do the same thing while you remain here. So when Leonardo returns you will all have more to bring to the team." Again, he took a calming breath as if in anticipation for the reaction he was sure to receive. "And so this means that until your brother returns, you are not to go out on your nightly patrols of the city."

Hearing this, the looks of relief on Michelangelo's and Donatello's faces were quickly obvious.

"Yes sensei," they both responded together calmly.

Raphael on the other hand…

"What!?" he snapped. "What do ya mean we can't go out an' patrol!?"

"I mean, Raphael, exactly that. Until Leonardo returns the team is incomplete and thus it is not a wise decision to be patrolling in such a state."

Raphael growled under his breath. "Ya can't be serious Sensei!" He made a large gesture upwards, "Wha' about those up there!? Wha' are they supposed ta do!? Huh!?"

To his credit, Splinter kept a calm expression. He was fully expecting such a reaction from his hot-headed son. "The citizens of this city will be able to rely upon their police force, as they always have before."

"The cops can't do shit! Don't ya rememba' wha' was goin' on before we started doin' wha' we've been doin'? There were a bunch of shitheads goin' out rasin' hell!" Raphael clenched his hands into fists. "What in the fuck were the cops doin' then!? Fuckin' sittin' on their asses!"

"Raphael," Splinter said firmly as his tail swished behind him in agitation. "Watch your language." He had always hated the foul mouth his son had; it seemed as if he always found himself reprimanding him for his language. "You have your orders and I expect you to follow them."

"Crime don't take no breaks and I can't either!" he spat back before turning on his heel, his sights set on the lair's exit.

Splinter walked after his son. "Raphael! You are not to leave the lair!" Seeing that his son was making no move to halt, he narrowed his gaze. Thumping his cane on the floor he raised his voice in a way that Ava never expected to hear from the elderly rat before her. "Raphael! Come back here!"

At the door, the red-clad turtle shook his head. "You can't keep me here ya know!" For a brief moment his gaze flitted back towards the delicate brunette, who watched the entire scene play out before her so silently that he completely forgot she was there. His gaze locked with hers for a fraction of a second before he saw those clear blue eyes move away from him and towards the ground. He felt his entire body go tense.

He needed to leave… Needed to clear his head…

Without saying another word, he swiftly exited the lair. Ignoring his father's stern orders to turn around and come back until the sound only registered as a faint whisper in his ears.


Once it seemed obvious that Raphael was not coming back, Splinter heaved a long-suffering sigh at the second-eldest. While he was expecting a bad reaction from his hot-tempered son, he was not expecting him to so blatantly go against his orders and leave the lair. He turned around to head back to his room, knowing that when his son returned he would have to make sure to deal with his unacceptable outburst and complete disregard for his explicit orders. Something other than a designated number of flips was needed to suffice.

As the wizened rat tapped out of the room, the two remaining turtles both glanced over at Avariella. Her gaze had moved from the floor to the door which Raphael had retreated through. She bit down on her lower lip and crossed her arms over her chest. The two turtles walked over, one standing on either side of her.

"You okay?" Mikey questioned.

Glancing over at him, the delicate brunette nodded. "Yeah… I was kind of expecting that to happen after all." She looked back at the now-closed entryway. "He'll be okay… right?"

Donatello nodded, "I have no doubt about it."

"Yeah," Mikey added, "he just needs ta blow off some steam is all." He wrapped an arm around his sister and gently pulled her back towards the televisions. "Come on; let's take another crack at Army of Two."

"Actually… I was kind of curious about that game you and Carrie have been playing…" she glanced up, curiosity only thinly hiding the worry in her gaze. "How about we play that instead?"

"Okay, that sound good," he replied with a smile before glancing at his brother. "You wanna join us?"

Donatello simply shook his head in response. "No thanks, I'll just watch."

"I'll go get my laptop…" Ava said quietly before making her way towards her room. Once she was no longer within earshot, the two turtles shared a look.

Mikey sighed. "Why the hell did Raph have to run off like that?" He shook his head in disbelief. "I mean, besides the fact that Splinter is gonna be beyond pissed with him when he gets home, didn't he think 'bout Ava worrying about him?"

"Who knows…?" Donnie responded with a shrug. "Though I'm sure Ava can understand that's just what he does sometimes. It's not as if he's never just up and left when she's been around."

"True… but still…" sighing again, the orange-clad turtle stood up and walked over to where he had last left his laptop. "I wonder what Sensei's gonna do when Raph gets back." He added in an attempt to slightly change the topic.

"Oh… Maybe he'll have him clean the lair top to bottom or something. Like that time when he snuck out of the lair at one when we were eight."

Remembering the event, Mikey's mood lifted slightly as he chuckled. "Oh yeah… I remember that…" sniggering softly to himself, the turtle plopped himself onto the couch, placing his laptop upon his thighs before bringing the piece of machinery to life. "Oh boy was he pissed…"

"Who? Splinter or Raph?"

"Both of 'em," he replied with another grin. "Though Raphie was steaming for weeks."

"Who was steaming?" Ava questioned as she reemerged into the living area, laptop in hand. She quickly grabbed a place on the ground in front of the couch, placing her laptop on the makeshift coffee table that sat before her. Soon the screen lit up, signaling that it was about ready to turn on.

Mikey shook his head. "Oh, it's nothin' chicka." He gestured towards their laptops, "So… are you ready to have your mind blown?"


Later…

"Wait… he really just stormed out? Goodness…"

Mikey nodded, "Yeah, he kinda lost it."

"Is Ava okay?" Carrie asked softly.

"Yeah, she actually just decided to turn in about an hour ago."

"Well that's good… Master Splinter better give him a stern consequence for his actions." She sighed and Mikey could just picture her shaking her head and rolling her eyes in unison. "That sorta disrespect ain't cool. I don't care if you don't agree, that isn't the way to respond."

Mikey chuckled, "Well look who's acting all mature."

"Hey, no need to be surprised!" she quickly retorted. "They kinda beat that inta you in Catholic school buddy."

"Oh? Worried some nun's gonna slap you with a ruler?"

"Hardy-har mister…" She sighed again, though from her tone Mikey could sense that she was smiling. "They didn't literally beat it into us. It was just always expected was all." She paused for a moment. "Well now I don't feel as bad about possibly getting him into trouble… seems like it flocks to him…"

"Yeah… it kinda does…" Mikey responded with a small shake of his head. "And no feeling bad about that got it?"

"But wasn't Splinter cross? I mean… I assumed he would be…"

"Oh, he was kinda mad don't get me wrong, but I think he kinda understood why Raph did what he did. So don't worry about it."

"I make no promises whatsoever," she responded. "Still… I'm super sorry about that… I can't explain why I was being so mean…"

"Like I said: no worries. Like I said, Master Splinter seemed ta understand. I don't think he wanted Ava keeping our secret to mess up you guy's relationship. Sides, what's done is done. No use thinkin' about it anymore."

Carrie sighed in resignation. "Yeah… I guess you're right." For a few moments she fell silent, save for the occasional sound of her popping her lips. "Oh!" She exclaimed suddenly, "I almost forgot something!"

Mikey tilted his head to the side, despite knowing that Carrie couldn't possibly see him. "Oh? Well please, don't keep me in suspense." He chuckled softly.

"Well if you would just give me a second I'll tell you…" she sighed. "Goodness Angelo, do ya have any patience?"

A soft giggle sounded in his ears, making the orange-clad turtle smile in response. "Nope, none whatsoever. Now spill. What didja almost forget?"

"Good to know… but first, you do know that it's a certain someone's birthday soon right?"

"Oh really? Just whose might it be?"

There was a pause at the other end. "… You better be joking or I swear…"

"Sorry, Luna but yeah, I know who yer talking about."

"Good, because I want this year to be extra special since she didn't celebrate it at all last year… and it turns out that I'll be able to be in the city then."

Mikey blinked. "Really?"

"Yep, my sister is heading down there with some of her friends… to see the sights and all that… and she said I could tag along on the ride there."

A large grin spread over his face. "That's awesome!"

"But you can't tell Ava!" Carrie added hurriedly. "I want it to be a surprise ya got that!?"

"Aye captain," he responded with a chuckle. "So, when are ya getting here?"

"It looks like we're gonna be in town a couple days before… since the drive is going to be six hours long…" she groaned in displeasure. "But it'll so be worth it. Oh! I still haven't gotten to my question! Did you guys make any plans for her birthday yet? I'd hate to interrupt something…"

"Nothing real fancy as far as I know…" Mikey shrugged. "I think we were planning on dinner, cake, and presents… and whatever else the birthday girl wanted to do. So you could just swing by the apartment." He smiled, "I'm sure she'd love to see you again."

"I'm really looking forward to it as well. One more question…"

"Yes?"

"Have you all decided what you were getting her?"

Another smile pulled at the corners of the orange-clad turtle's mouth. "Well… we were thinking of…"


Even Later…

Slipping through the entrance into the lair, amber eyes quickly scanned the space as they normally did whenever he would come home late. A part of him expected to see Leonardo walk to the bottom of the stairs with crossed arms as he gave his younger brother one of his looks that clearly told the red-clad turtle that he was about to get a lecture. Instead, he was met with an empty room and Raphael found himself strangely disappointed that he was not going to be getting one of those lectures that normally drove him up walls. Not even Master Splinter sat in the lair's living area to speak with him… Most likely he was going to get an earful the next morning.

Sighing, the red-clad turtle trudged towards his room. He closed his door with a soft click before stripping himself of his pads and weapons. Just as he reached up to undo his mask he heard someone moving in his bed. Startled, he quickly snapped to attention as a figure sat up.

"Raphie? 'S that you?"

Blinking, it took a few seconds for him to register that it was Ava who was sitting on his bed, sleepily rubbing at her eyes. "Yeah babe, it's me." He sat on the edge of his bed, his amber eyes both curious and confused. "Wha'cha doin' 'ere?"

Pushing her hair back, the delicate brunette yawned. "You didn't come home… an' I couldn't sleep…" Sliding towards her turtle, she rested her head on his shoulder before yawning again. "So I came 'ere ta wait fer ya…" her eyes fluttered closed though she was still awake. "You okay?" she asked quietly.

Raph nodded before wrapping an arm around his girl. "Yeah, 'm fine. Sorry fer worryin' ya…"

"It's fine…" she replied before opening her eyes slightly, glancing up at him through her eyelashes. She yawned again. "Jus' as long as yer okay…" her eyes fluttered closed again.

A small smile pulled at the corners of Raphael's large mouth. "Come on, ya need to get some rest."

The only response he received was the sound of Ava's even breathing as sleep captured her once more. Gently, as to not wake her again, Raphael positioned the delicate brunette so instead of leaning against him she now laid upon his bed curled on her side, a soft smile on her face. After pulling the covers up over her, the red-clad turtle sat on the edge of the bed, just watching her. The relaxed look on her face as she slept brought another smile to the turtle's face. It would never matter how long the two of them were together, he still could not manage to wrap his head around the idea that, out of all the other guys in the world, she chose to be with him. While he knew that he would never come to understand just why a young woman like her… as gentle, caring, and perfect as she was… would give the time of day to someone like him… someone who could barely control his own temper, who could easily give the delicate woman before him a fright… someone who couldn't possibly give her anything close to a normal life… the life she more than deserved to have.

However, while he did not know why on earth someone as wonderful as Ava had decided to be with someone like him, the turtle knew without a shadow of a doubt that he would not make her regret it once. He would do everything he could to keep her as happy as possible and above all else, keep her safe from anything or anyone who would dare to even think of hurting her.

The simple thought of such a thing happening had the red-clad turtle growling slightly. There was no way in hell he would allow something like that to happen to her. No way. He didn't care what Master Splinter told them, he couldn't just sit on his ass, twiddling his shell while some thugs were out there doing who knows what to the innocent citizens of New York City. It wasn't in his nature to just sit on the sidelines, waiting for someone else to take action and change things. No, he had to take action. He would do what the cops couldn't do themselves. That was just who he was… a fighter.

Stirring at his side had Raphael's amber gaze quickly moving back to the sleeping girl beside him. He reached forward and gently, as he only was with her, pushed some of her hair away from her face. Yes, he would make this city safe for her. So she will never have to be scared just to walk down the street. If for nothing else, he would do it solely for her and her well-being. She deserved nothing less in his eyes.

Not the forces of Heaven or Hell could keep him from the task.

Looking back at his girl, Raphael smiled.

"I promise Ella, I'll always protect ya. Always."


The Next Day…

As decreed by Splinter that morning, in response to Raphael's blatant disobedience of direct orders, the red-clad turtle was tasked with cleaning the entirety of the lair, save for bedrooms and most of Donatello's laboratory, until it passed the wizened rat's examination. In addition, he was to attend additional training sessions, both meditation and sparring, until he was able to better control his temper-fueled reactions. As if to put the cherry on top of the sundae that was his punishment, the red-clad turtle had his weapons taken from him and was barred from ever stepping foot out of the lair until he was notified otherwise.

Expectantly, the turtle in question was not taking the ruling well…

Following the actions of both Michelangelo and Donatello, Avariella had decided to give Raphael some space as he underwent his task. Mikey even went as far as to accompany Ava back to her apartment that day, quickly making himself at home in their living room. As far as Ava knew, it seemed as if Donatello had taken this time to hole himself up in his lab to pour all his free time into the development of one of his many in-progress inventions.

So, as Ava found herself with some free time of her own, she decided to use said time to go through with a small surprise for April and Casey when they returned from their honeymoon in a couple weeks: cleaning the whole entirety of the apartment. The delicate brunette decided that she would first start with her bedroom, working her way around from there. While not a messy person by any means, Avariella did think that her room could benefit from some better organization…

It was this precise train of thought that led her to her current position of sitting on the floor beside her end stand, riffling through all the odds and ends that even after so many months of living with Casey and April that had still not managed to get unpacked. Thankfully, the contents of the box answered many of her questions about items that she thought she had lost, never to see again.

Reaching into the bottom of the box, she lifted out of it a shoe box and instantly smiled upon remembering that was the box she kept many photos from Vermont alongside various other mementos from her time in her old life. She placed the shoe box on her bed and moved to sit atop the mattress before lifting the lid. The first thing she reached for was a piece of white, folded paper. Most likely it was an old note from Carrie… she had quite a habit of trying to hold conversations in one way or another during class time, with such notes being one of the more primitive methods she used. However, once her fingers lightly brushed the folded up paper she found herself slightly drawing her fingers away from it. The feel of the parchment was not the same as the sheets of paper she was handed during class… it was heavier and thicker.

Swallowing past a lump that had formed suddenly in her throat, Ava steeled herself before forcing herself to grab the piece of paper. Unfolding it had the hairs on the back of her neck standing on end as she gazed upon it… How could she have forgotten she had this?

The hand not grasping the paper formed a tight fist against her comforter as her blue eyes gazed upon the image… the same image that had caused her blood to run cold the night she found it… the night her grandmother was murdered.It was a snake eating its own tail, forming a perfect circle, and inside that circle was a single ominous eye that seemed to be starring right at her…

For what felt like forever to the delicate brunette, she stared the image down as if that piece of paper could give her the answers she desired… All she knew for certain was this image was tied to whoever had done such a horrible thing… that whoever had done this was bluntly admitting what they had done, as if they were confident that she could do nothing about it.

How foolish she felt! Ignoring this for so long! Here in her grasp she had a very real connection with the fiend who was cold enough to kill a defenseless old woman and she had done nothing with the information! Nothing!

Closing her eyes, Ava took a few deep breaths to calm her racing mind. Such thoughts, while there was merit to them, would do her no good now. What was done was done, there was no way she could change those actions. However, she could do something about it now despite that whatever trail they would have left behind would have gone cold by now. The thought did not cause her more stress however, since even those that were sent to scour the entirety of her late grandmother's apartment in search for some clues were unable to find anything of use anywhere… she highly doubted that she would have been able to find something that trained professionals could not find.

However, she did have something they didn't have… Glancing at the paper that she held in her grasp again, guilt flooded through her. She had no right to keep such a thing from the authorities… and to what end? To catch the culprit herself? She grimaced, good lot of help that did anything… Still, while she felt guilty for keeping some probable evidence from those who were supposed to help her bring justice to her grandmother's untimely demise, she could not ignore that nagging thought, no matter how small it might have been, that this was something that very much concerned her… though she found herself unable to explain why she thought that…

Looking at the paper again, she rubbed at it from both sides. She quizzically raised an eyebrow. The paper seemed to be too thick. Feeling at the edges of the paper, she realized that it was folded over like a card. Dumbfounded that she did not notice this before, she carefully unfolded the paper, turning the watching eye away from herself. On the inside of the card was a single sentence… Reading it, Ava visibly paled.

We are always watching, Avariella.