April lay sprawled across the bench in the center of the Lair, holding up her textbook at arm's length as she critically read the chapter assigned for that night's homework. Her eyes narrowed at something on the page. "Well that just seems stupid."
"Don't say that about Raph. He can't help it," Mikey quipped absently from where he sat on the floor, leaning against the bench below April. His fingers were a flurry of motion as he played Temple Dash on his T-Phone, his gaze locked on the screen with a look of intense concentration that she rarely ever saw from him. …Especially from him, come to think of it.
"Funny, but not what I meant." April smirked, resting the book on her stomach and reaching down to rub Mikey's head. She vacantly watched him play his game for a moment until a wicked grin twisted her face. Just as his avatar neared a ledge, she reached out and deftly tweaked Mikey's mask across his eyes, shouting dramatically, "Look out!"
Mikey's body jerked out of its tense hunch in surprise. "Hey!" One hand urgently flying to his face, he blindly fumbled with his mask, sliding the eyeholes back in place just in time to see the little figure on the screen plummet to his gruesome death. "Apriiiiilllll!" He turned his head, leveling her with a melodramatic pout and accusing in exaggerated horror, "How could you? The little temple dude was so young."
Though her eyes danced with laughter, April feigned a repentant frown, ducking her head and shrugging helplessly as a betraying smile tugged at the corners of her mouth.
Mikey narrowed his eyes, an evil grin taking shape on his own face. "So that's how it's gonna be, huh?" Setting the T-Phone down, he rolled to his knees and twisted to face her, lifting his hands and waggling his fingers menacingly. "Don't worry, little temple dude; I'll avenge your death: Dr. Ticklestein-style!" Without further prelude he bunched his legs and pounced.
April shrieked with laughter and scrambled to crawl away, but she was too late. A hand seized her wrist—the grip firm but exceedingly gentle—and jerked her back into an immobilizing bear hug. Two large, green hands crossed over her chest and jabbed up into her armpits, tickling her mercilessly as she bucked and giggled until she was convinced her sides would split were they not held together by his crushing hug. Mikey's own laughter bubbled in her ear as he caught her infectious giggles, and eventually the two found themselves chuckling breathlessly as they limply leaned against each other.
Closing his eyes and draping his arms over the back of the bench in satisfaction, Mikey pointed at the air matter-of-factly and announced, "The little temple dude has been avenged!"
Snorting, April lightly elbowed him in the side, earning another chuckle from the turtle, and leaned forward to scoop up her textbook from where it had fallen on the floor. "Goober."
She busied herself dusting off the scuffed cover and felt Mikey peer over her shoulder as his voice chirped curiously, "So what were you reading?"
"Just some stuff for our cultural studies unit," she supplied, licking her thumb and trying to clean some of the smudges off. It was a loan, after all.
"Cultural studies?" Mikey frowned, already losing interest as his gaze wandered longingly toward the T-Phone waiting for him on the ground. "Like those germ culture things in Donny's lab that he's been geeking over all the time?"
"No," she corrected, her voice humming with a hint of laughter, "Not those cultures. Human cultures."
Mikey's gaze returned to her, piqued but clearly confused. April's brow puckered as she continued simply, "Culture. You know: all the different ways people in the world live?" Still no response. "…From behaviors to beliefs and everything in between?"
Mikey pursed his mouth and scrunched up his face, venturing slowly, "Well, yeah, everyone knows that everyone's different from everyone else, April. …So you call that culture?" He grinned, pointing at her text. "I guess they'd need a whole other book just to explain Raph's culture, huh?"
April snickered, waving her hand. "No, no, no… I mean, yes, everyone's unique, and yes, Raph's a special kind of unique, but groups of people will still share common things that are different from other groups, and those differences make that group a culture."
It was clear that Mikey was trying his best to process this information, and to no immediate avail at that. "Okay, yeah! …I'm lost. What group is what now? I thought humans were all kinda the same altogether? Like…" Glancing up at the ceiling thoughtfully, he listed the similarities while ticking them off on his fingers. "You guys love your pizza, wear clothes because not everyone is awesome enough to have shells, and drive places because your legs aren't as good as wheels." He looked to her for approval. "Right?"
April was certain her face would break if she smiled any harder. "Right… but not always. You know Japanese stuff? How it's pretty different from New York stuff? The clothes, the food… even the language is totally different from English, yeah?"
Mikey's blue eyes flashed in recognition as he considered this and nodded vigorously.
"Well… That's culture."
Smiling, April drew the book to her chest as she flopped back against the bench, nestling against her brother's side. In place of further explanation that would probably just bore Mikey, she began flipping through the pages that displayed various pictures of different peoples of the world, ranging from indigenous tribesmen dressed in their colorful ceremonial garments to ethnic minorities vending on the streets of populated cities. She knew words wouldn't hold his interest as much as the pictures would. Sure enough, several pages in Mikey was pressing up against her back, reaching over her shoulder to animatedly point at different photos and bombard her with questions as his eyes widened in wonder.
"Hey!" he exclaimed when she had turned the page. He leaned forward and tapped on a picture of the ruins of a temple. "That looks a lot like Temple Dash!"
April smiled as she graciously bore the weight he threw against her shoulder without a complaint, explaining patiently, "Yup. That's a Mayan temple. The remains of one, at least." She leveled him with an amused look over her shoulder. "Where do you think they get inspiration for games like that, anyway? They definitely don't make it all up, that's for sure."
Mikey's eyes suddenly widened at that last remark, and she quickly supplemented, "But there aren't temple spirit creatures that chase you. That they did make up. Otherwise I think anthropologists would have their work cut out for them poking around those ruins."
Profound relief washed over Mikey's face as he derived assurance from the earnestness in her expression, and April resisted the urge to laugh at his almost comical sincerity. Of course, before meeting the guys she would have dismissed such fantastical notions like spirit monsters as fiction, but considering their collective experiences, it made sense that Mikey would believe it. Heck, even she wasn't above believing it now.
As they flipped through the rest of the book together, April couldn't help but wonder if Mikey even knew just how big the world was. Judging by his reactions to each new image, his view of the world from the diminutive summit of the sewers was as dark and narrow as the tunnels themselves.
Before she could resurface from her thoughts, Mikey had already stolen the book from April's hands, his eyes seeming to dance to the same beat as the African tribal warriors on the page. Hungrily studying the picture, he breathed, "Now those dudes look like they know how to bust a move." Wistfully turning the page, he asked, eyes never leaving the book, "April?"
"Hm?" April hummed, enjoying the pictures with him, but not as much as she was enjoying his enthusiasm.
"Do you think I'll ever get to meet…" he swept his hand vaguely over the page, "…other cultures?"
April regarded him from the side with a pensive gaze, and in her heart she decided that if the opportunity ever was within her power, Mikey would see the world, meet people, and make the kinds of friends that he deserved. Someday. "I don't see why not."