Chapter Three: Under a Crescent Moon
Theresa breathed in deep, inhaling the chill night air and wincing as it burned her lungs. It was late, but sleep eluded her. Raphael was in their bed, gone to dreams and snoring. She'd been there for a bit as well, glad to be getting a full nights rest after a long day of driving to and from the city (a client had started trial that morning and it had run hours later than it should have), and coming home to help Raphael paint the living room. Then they'd cooked chili together, sitting at the table with Splinter and laughing at each other's various paint stains. Then it was off to the guest bathroom for its second coat of paint while the large rat sipped tea and watched them cross-legged from the hall, smiling at their almost childish banter. After, Theresa had helped Splinter to his room, kissing his furry cheek before she left him. Then she had slept, hooked in Raphael's arms, his face buried in her shoulder as he too drifted off, the aches in her back and the worries of the day drifting away.
But she'd awoken- the tendrils of sleep she had tried desperately to cling to snapping away like a dry twig to its tree. She'd lain there, staring at the ceiling, counting backwards and then forwards from fifty, then doing it again from two hundred. Nothing happened, except perhaps she had become even more awake than before. Restless, she'd slipped out of bed, donning a thick robe and slippers, knowing that the notion of sleep was fruitless at this point.
And she knew why.
Michelangelo, though he'd hide it for as long as he could, needed help. He was getting better- that was certainly true. He seemed calmer, more put together. But he was not whole, and not healed. She could see him trying to pull himself up, trying to put himself back together, but it seemed that he was falling short. He smoked continuously, his fingers drumming with nerves that at times seemed stretched so thin he'd tear apart right before her eyes. He'd smile and joke and laugh, and most of the time it was genuine. But to Theresa, it seemed like he battled to make it happen. That the laughter did not come easy, and the banter did not ring true.
And she wanted to help. Wanted to reach out a hand and help to pull him up. But…
"I love you. I'll be here, as a friend and a brother. … But I love you."
His words drifted to her as if carried on the cold winter air, and Theresa flinched at them. He had spoken them to her on the night of her rescue from Ethan Shempski- her deranged stalker-turned-abductor. Mikey had been more than a brother, more than a friend to her during that night and that horrible crisis. He'd saved her. He had walked through the fires of hell as if the flames had been nothing but a lick of smoke, and he'd pulled her out- vanquishing demons along the way. And Theresa had loved him that night- for that one instant. Loved him for what he was, what he could be and what he stood for. When he had held her in his arms, surrounded by shards of broken glass and glaring down at her captor, a crumpled and unmoving heap on the floor, she had loved him.
She had loved him for a moment, it may be true. But the moment was gone as quickly as it had come, and Raphael held her whole heart, filled it to the point where she wasn't sure how anyone could hold so much love for someone. And Michelangelo was her brother, for nothing stirred at the thought of him.
So as much as Theresa wanted to return the favor, to save Mikey or repay him in some way for all he'd done for her- she was afraid to do so. Afraid to hurt him more than he was already hurting, to drive a knife deeper than it had already gone- through skin and flesh and bone. He was healing, but he was not whole, and Theresa had realized in these last months that she could not help the situation. That she could do nothing but watch as Michelangelo tried to gather all the pieces of his broken life and try to make them fit.
And since everything was fitting so well for her, falling into place with such ease, Theresa felt guilty. She had the abiding love for Raphael that was returned to her in tenfold, a rewarding career, steadfast friendships and a home that had captured her heart the moment she'd stepped foot in it. It felt so wrong to be so happy when someone she cared about was in such pain.
There was movement behind her, and Theresa knew it was purposeful- Raphael could and had, on many occasions, snuck up on her without a mere sound. The afghan draped over her shoulders, strong hands squeezing them before Raphael took a seat next to her. They sat there in silence for a while, looking out into the night from their wrap-around porch. The snow was deep and pure, and it perched on the thick woods surrounding their home in a picturesque way. Somewhere in the distance, a screech owl called out, making Theresa smile.
Raphael looked at her, thoughtful. "Before I met you," he began, "I didn't think I'd even be able ta' live in a place like this. The city… I loved it. It seemed like I'd never sleep without the sound of traffic and people."
Raphael took her hand and held it. "But I know you, Theresa. You ain't a city boy like me. So you ain't out here cause of that."
Theresa looked at him and gave a slight shake of her head. "No… not because of that," she replied.
He said it without question, but Theresa nodded anyway.
"I'm worried about him Raph. I know you and Splinter are too. And Leo… And even Don. And… and I feel like no one, not you or me or anybody, can help him."
Raphael sighed, pulled her closer. "You worry too much. Mikey… he's gonna figure it all out. And we can't push him or prod him. He's got his own place now, to help him settle his issues all out. An' worryin' around about him and fussin' over him will only make it worse."
Theresa nodded. "I know. I just… I hate not being able to help. …He did so much for me."
A silence stretched between them, though not uncomfortable.
"Seeing you, it hurts Mike," Raphael finally said, and Theresa felt tears swim in her eyes.
"I know," she whispered.
"He loves you babe. Or- he thinks he does. And I know you ain't stupid. Hell, he probably told you. And I don't wanna know if he did or not. But… you gotta let him be."
Theresa nodded, not trusting herself to speak. She should have known that Raph had already figured out how Michelangelo felt. He was sharp and observant- more so than most gave him credit for. And she loved him for it. Loved him for all his strengths and faults.
"I love you," she said, gripping his hand tightly.
Raphael held her closer and kissed the top of her head. "I love you too babe."
And they sat here like that, surrounded in the light of the snow and the moon, each taking comfort in the others presence, for a good and long while.
"Where's your mom, little dude?"
Michelangelo had eased close to the young boy, who was now peering intensely at the shelves of cough medicine that lined the aisle. He was small and thin- like a boy who'd done more than his fair share of running and playing with the enthusiasm only young boys had. His skin was just as dark as his mothers, black as coffee with curly hair that matched. He whipped his head towards Mike, brown eyes wide, startled by the voice that had taken him by surprise.
Julius had been too busy trying to decide which type of cold medicine his mother might like to pay much attention to his surroundings. And now next to him was a large hulking man, his tan coat long and roomy and his jeans baggy and frayed. His blue scarf and wide brimmed hat covered most of his face, so that Julius could not tell much of anything about him. The boy sized the large man up, taking a step back, wondering if he should yell as his mother had told him to do when confronted by a stranger.
Michelangelo sighed. "I'm not gonna do anything to you kid. I'm just thinkin' your mom might be worried about you. We could have a clerk page her…?"
Julius just looked at him, still not sure how to react. He was saved the trouble, however, when his mother came rushing down the aisle.
Julius flinched. She sounded worried and out of breath, and more than a little angry. She passed the Mike without so much as a glance toward him, taking her sons arm in a firm grip. "Julius Carter Fairchild, what were you thinking?!"
Julius looked at the man in the aisle, who had stared to back away slowly, then to his mother. "I dunno… I just… I just wanted to get you medicine."
His mother's brows knit, her lip pursed. "Medicine?"
Julius nodded. "Because you're sick," then he added, as an afterthought, "Because I got you sick, mama."
The man in the scarf laughed a little, and Penny seemed to notice him then.
"Sorry," Mikey said, pulling his hat down more. "I saw him and thought maybe he'd gotten away from you. I was going to have a clerk page you, but you seem to have found him now." The man gave a short wave to Julius. "Stay close little man."
Julius had opened his mouth to inform the man that he was not little, but his mother spoke before he had the chance.
"Thanks very much… I, uh, I think I've seen you in here before?"
Mikey nodded, taking another step back. "Probably," he responded. "I usually shop late."
She was pretty, with dark skin, almond shaped brown eyes and black shoulder length hair that had been straightened and curled at the ends. There was an awkward moment of silence between them before Michelangelo coughed and shuffled his feet.
"I'm Penny," She held out her hand, taking a step forward.
Michelangelo blanched. Who did this? Who introduced themselves to strangers like this? Weren't they in New York City? Things like this never happened. He was lucky to get a grunt of an apology if someone bumped his shoulder on the crowded sidewalks, and here this woman was introducing herself?
"Oh… Uh, I'm Mike," he replied, and so caught off guard was he that before he could really think about what he was doing he took her hand and shook it.
It was in that moment that Michelangelo remembered that he'd slipped off his mittens and stuffed them into his coat pockets. He drew his hand away quickly, barely holding the woman's for a moment. Her face was a little cautious, but she hadn't seemed to notice. The boy, however, was looking at Mikey's hands, his eyes narrowed in thought.
Michelangelo coughed again. "Well, maybe I'll see you around," he said, and quickly he picked up the shopping basket he'd set by his feet and retreated. As he put distance between them, he could hear the boy saying to his mother, "Mom… he had green hands."
Michelangelo grimaced, and when he was out of sight he shoved his mittens back on. He finished his shopping in a rush then, blindly grabbing microwave meals and a six pack of Harp lager. He was glad to be the only one in the checkout line when he got there; placing his minimal amount of items on the belt and requesting two packs of Marlboro's form the clerk. He was hoping against hope he could leave without incident, but fate seemed to be playing against him on this night. He heard the steps behind him, the voice of a young child humming some nameless tune, and he knew the pair had also made their way to the checkout. He glanced behind him, noticing the very full cart in comparison to his partially filled basket and sighing over it. He didn't know what half the things in her cart were, let alone know how to prepare them. The boy, whose mother had called him Julius, gave Mikey a wave, and Mikey nodded back, refusing to lift his hands even though they were now covered. The woman was pulling out coupons, but she paused and smiled at him, and Michelangelo decided she was too friendly for her own good.
"Mom," the boy was saying as Michelangelo handed over bills that had been hard earned, "are we carrying all this again?"
""We'll be alright baby," she replied, and Michelangelo looked at the boy in time to see him twist his face in disappointment.
"We have a car," he complained, and his mother tutted at him. "We're only a block away. We'll be fine Julius."
The boy moaned, and Mikey caught himself before he chuckled. He took his bags, already beating one of the packs of cigarettes on his palm as he exited the store. He stopped to light up, and had only made it ten feet before guilt forced him to stop in his tracks.
"Damn it. Damn it to hell."
He stood there under the moon and street lights, inhaling deeply and tugging his hat low, grimacing and muttering all the while. It took a little over ten minutes for the woman and her small son to exit the grocery store, and Michelangelo stamped out his second cigarette and, waiting a moment to see that they were walking in the same direction as he was, he approached them.
The woman, a red winter ski cap now pulled on her head, stopped dead as she saw him nearing. Michelangelo, his two plastic bags hanging from his wrist and the six pack tucked under his arm, raised his gloved hands in a show of harmlessness.
"Hey," he began, "Penny, right?"
The woman nodded, loaded with groceries but awkwardly trying to place herself in front of her son.
"Here, I'll help you carry those."
She immediately was taking a step back, nearly treading on the boys toes in the process.
"No, I'm fine really-"
"Listen," Michelangelo interrupted. "I'm not a weirdo or anything. I just… I heard you say your place was only a block away. I live two blocks away and I'm gonna pass it anyway. I'd feel like an ass if I just let you carry all that and didn't help." Then, realizing that he'd cursed, he amended, "I'm mean jerk. I'd feel like a jerk."
The woman looked less weary now, her eyes narrowed in thought, trying in vain to see his face past his thick scarf and low hat. From behind her Julius looked at him as well. "Come on mom, this is heavy!" And though she had only had him carrying a loaf of bread he hefted is as though it were a twenty pound bag of dog food. Penny rolled her eyes and then looked again at Michelangelo.
"I have mace and a pocket knife," she told him. "Try anything and it'll be the last thing you do."
Mikey nodded, holding back a smile even though he knew she couldn't see it. "I'll walk in front of you. I'll give them back to you at the front of the building; I won't walk up with you."
She hesitated for a beat longer, but Mikey thought the weight of the groceries must have swayed her decision, because she finally nodded, handing him bag after bag that she'd strategically placed over each of her wrists. He took most of it, even when she'd said she could handle the rest, leaving her with only three bags of what looked like fruits and vegetables, and a gallon of milk. Then he snagged the lone loaf of bread from the boy, who sighed in relief and jumped in small circles with enthusiasm. Then they turned, Mikey taking the lead, cursing inwardly once more and hoping without much confidence that his appearance would go unnoticed to the woman and her overly observant son And he thought cynically, knowing he was making a colossal mistake, "Damn my bleeding heart."
AN: Thanks to Frey Reh, I literally was not paying attention to that. I need to go fix it. :(
And thank you for all the reviews and kind encouragements! I'll try to be more regular with updates, but no promises. I'm the worst at keeping up on these things. Now, make me a happy woman and tell me what you think!