Raph and the Runaways
A high pitched scream shook Raph out of his reverie and the words "Leave me alone!" shouted in a youthful voice brought him to his feet. This middle class neighborhood was usually fairly quiet but something had drawn him here tonight, some sixth sense, and now he was about to find out why.
Sounds of mocking laughter followed another girlish squeal and Raph moved across the rooftops, his keen hearing focused on the commotion. Now he was following several sets of running feet, their tattoo across pavement loud to his trained hearing.
Drawing closer to the activity, Raph could smell the mixture of fear and anticipation; the scent of prey and predators intermingling in a heady aroma.
"We told you not to come here," a male voice sang out, its mocking tone intended to engender fright.
"We told you what would happen," another male voice joined the chorus.
Multiple voices broke into laughter and then the girl screamed.
"Let me go!" she urged in a breathless voice, tinged with panic.
"Our neighborhood, our rules," one of the males said; his voice dropping to a guttural tone. "You work here, you pay rent. It's time to pay up, little girl."
The sounds of struggles and low snickering led Raph to a spot above a dark alley, where he could see four young men dragging their hapless victim deeper into the gloom. As she pulled and kicked, her head went back and the moon reflected in the whites of her eyes, wide with fright.
Raph took a deep breath; this scene was one he hated above all others. Alone, without either Leo or Casey to stop him from becoming a berserker and killing all of them, he spent just a moment in calming himself.
As one of the men tried to kiss the girl, she swung a fist at his jaw and he answered the feeble punch by slapping her. She was a little thing and no match for these street thugs.
With a low growl, Raph leaped down from his perch, landing right behind the man who was holding the girl.
The first blow, a heavy fist to the back of the neck, dropped the man to the pavement like a sandbag. As the girl stumbled backwards, her own momentum carrying her out of his now unconscious clutches, the remaining three spun towards the attacker.
Raph didn't even have to draw his sai. A punch to the temple, a side handed chop just above the collar bone, and a good hard left that smashed both a nose and a few teeth was all it took. When all four lay in a heap on the ground around his feet, Raph looked up, expecting to find that the girl was long gone.
Instead, she stood there staring at him, having moved not one inch. Narrowing his eyes, Raph crossed his arms over his plastron and stared back. What he saw was a girl who was probably thirteen or fourteen, most likely a runaway. She had short brown hair with some reddish highlights, dark eyes, and a slim figure.
He could imagine what she saw. In his mind he could almost hear what she was thinking; giant frog, lizard, turtle?
When the impasse was broken, it was by the girl herself. She simply said, "Thank you."
"You're welcome," Raph returned. After a second, wherein neither of them moved, Raph asked, "Are you a runaway?"
Her face scrunched up in a defiant look. "Yeah, what of it?"
"Ain't nothing ta me," Raph said mildly. "Ya' might wanna be more careful of the local gangs is all. They get ta be territorial."
"I'm finding that out," she said ruefully. "What's your name?"
"Raph," he told her. "Ya' got some place ta stay?"
"My brother Preston and I stay at the crisis center," she answered. "My name's Cassidy."
"Okay, how 'bout we get ya' back over there before ya' run into any more of these guys?" Raph asked.
"I was supposed to meet Pres," Cassidy said. "I can't leave without him; he'll wonder what happened to me."
"Where were ya' supposed ta meet?" Raph asked.
For the first time since he'd had encountered her, Cassidy seemed to hesitate in answering him. Raph wasn't sure of the reason behind her reticence, but he tried to reassure her.
"Look, I ain't in a position ta interfere in your life," Raph said. "All I do is try ta keep as much bad stuff from going down as I can and then I mind my own business. The only reason I asked is 'cause I wanna walk ya' ta wherever ya' were ta meet your brother. Once you're safe, I'm out of your life."
"Can you walk around like that?" Cassidy asked, finally referencing his odd appearance.
"Yeah, people don't see me if I don't want 'em ta," Raph said with a wolfish grin.
Cassidy seemed to take that at face value. A groan from one of the men at Raph's feet made the decision for her.
"Let's go then," Cassidy said quickly. "There's a little French bistro three blocks over; it has a partially enclosed outdoor patio. We were gonna meet there."
Raph eyed the girl's dirty clothes, greasy hair, and smudged face but didn't say anything. He had already spent too much time on this rescue mission and needed to get back home.
"Start walking," Raph said. "I'll be with ya' the whole time."
Cassidy nodded and left the alley. A quick backward glance showed her that no one else was on the sidewalk, but she rather suspected that her rescuer wasn't going to actually 'walk' with her.
She covered the long three blocks rather quickly; worried that others from the gang who had attacked her would be out. Cassidy was also concerned that her brother might already be at their rendezvous and fretting over her absence.
Raph trailed Cassidy from the rooftops, his eyes on both her and the surrounding neighborhood. Why so many runaways chose to come to the big apple was beyond him; the place was dangerous as hell for the uninitiated and uninformed. Her accent had a touch of the Midwest to it; she and her brother would have been better off elsewhere.
When Cassidy reached the bistro, she stepped into the mouth of an alley between it and the next building, standing in the shadows. Raph glanced around and didn't see anyone who looked like he might be her brother. Since he didn't want to just leave her, he jumped down and crept up next to her.
"Where's your brother?" Raph asked softly.
Cassidy jerked, startled by his silent approach. She'd never experienced anyone who could appear and disappear with so much stealth.
"He'll be here," she assured Raph, the corners of her mouth pulling up into a tentative smile.
She hoped the gesture would get him to leave, but he appeared determined to wait until Preston put in an appearance. With a sigh, Cassidy edged around the corner and stood near the short fence that separated the bistro's patio from the street. Several tables were occupied by diners, none of whom paid the slightest attention to the young girl.
Remaining in the shadows, Raph slid in behind her. If she was supposed to meet her brother here, it seemed odd to him that she didn't walk through the gate and take a seat at a table. They probably had no intention of eating here; Raph guessed that money was something the pair found scarce.
"Hey," Raph whispered and when she turned to look at him, he pushed a twenty-dollar bill into her hand. "It ain't much, but it'll buy a couple of sandwiches."
"Oh, I couldn't," Cassidy started to protest.
"Don't argue or people will start looking over here," Raph said, closing her fist around the money.
"I . . . ." Whatever Cassidy began to say was interrupted by the sound of a loud whistle, starting high and then dropping in pitch.
As soon as it sounded, Cassidy grabbed the kerchief that was around her neck and pulled it up over her mouth and nose. Raph moved to grab her, his only thought to yank her out of harm's way.
A large white cloud billowed up from inside the patio enclosure, covering its occupants. Raph's eyes widened as the smoke swept out over he and the girl. A cloying, sweet smell invaded his lungs before he thought to hold his breath and in the next second he was unconscious.
Cassidy caught his head as he went down and followed him to the pavement, gently releasing him once he was prone. Jumping to her feet, she leapt over the railing and snatched up a chair, which she swiftly pushed under the door handle that led into the bistro proper.
A light breeze swirled in through the one open side of the patio and grabbed at the smoke, pulling it out to dissipate in the air. When Cassidy spun around, she saw her brother strolling through the now unconscious customers, his deft fingers relieving them of their valuables.
"You gonna help me or just stand there?" Preston asked.
Her twin was only a bit taller than Cassidy and nearly as slight. His grin was disarming as he moved from person to person, whistling a tune as he robbed them.
Cassidy took a deep breath and pulled a tablecloth from the closest table. Grabbing purses as she went, she tossed them into the makeshift bag and then twisted the ends together, tying it off so that it would be easier to carry.
"How long?" Cassidy asked.
"Maybe another six or seven minutes," Preston said. "I'm getting good at making these pellets, don't you agree? Where were you?"
"That gang that threatened us saw me standing here," Cassidy said. "They chased me and pulled me into an alley. That guy creamed all of them."
She waved towards Raph's unconscious form and Preston finally noticed him.
"Holy shit!" he said, climbing over the rail and squatting next to the huge mutant.
From habit, his fingers started to delve into Raph's belt. Cassidy tossed her tablecloth bag over the rail and followed it quickly.
"No, no, not him," Cassidy yelped, catching Preston's arm.
"Why not?" Preston asked, looking at the strange creature.
"Just don't, okay? He helped me; he saved my life," Cass said.
Preston reached out and pulled a sai from Raph's belt. "Damn Cass, we could get a pretty penny for these."
"I said no," Cass told him firmly.
Preston shrugged and replaced the sai. "Whatever. Let's go before they start waking up."
"We can't leave him out here," Cass said. "Humans don't know about him and they'll hurt him. Help me carry him to the alley."
Preston rolled his eyes. "Shit Cass, you got a crush on this thing?"
"Shut up and pretend you're a decent person for five minutes," Cass hissed at him, taking Raph's wrists into her small hands.
Preston laughed at her and jumped up. He grabbed Raph's legs and between them they managed to slide him on his carapace into the alley, rolling him behind some dumpsters.
Grunting, Preston straightened his back and stretched a kink out of it, staring at his sister, who was breathing heavily from the exertion.
"We could be famous and rich off of him," Preston said, pointing down at the unconscious turtle. "We'd be the first to prove that there's alien life on Earth."
"He's not alien, you goof," Cass said. "He's a poor mutated person and we aren't ever going to be desperate enough to try to profit from someone else's defects. Promise me that, Pres."
"It's okay to steal but not to promote a sideshow?" Preston teased. "You have strange morals sis, but I love you. Come on before your new pal wakes up. We gotta scram."
Cass nodded but before she followed her brother, she knelt down and placed a gentle kiss to Raph's forehead.
"Thanks big guy," Cass said. "Maybe someday I can return the favor."
Two minutes later Raph started to wake up, groaning at the bitter taste in his mouth and the rolling in his stomach. Sitting up, he wasn't surprised to discover he'd been moved and that Cassidy was gone.
Gone but not forgotten. This was his city after all and he had a feeling it wasn't the last he'd see of her.