In the Genes
Chapter Two: Old Wounds
A little girl was crying, Raphael could hear her somewhere in the darkness. He ran through the winding sewer tunnels, but never seemed to get any closer. The crying was coming from everywhere, needing his help, causing his heart to beat faster. Then finally, she appeared up ahead. A hunched figure with a sprout of brown pigtails, the only thing illuminated in the pitch. Raphael walked up to her, hand reached out to the sobbing child to give aid.
Then the girl turned, morphing as she moved, sprouting bulges and strange tendril- like limbs. Eyes black and soulless, she snapped at him with razor-edged teeth. Then the form grew; bigger, darker, heavier. Burning eyes full of hate pinned Raphael in place and the mouth opened into an impossibly wide maw. Raphael could not force his body to react, neither to fight nor to run, as the beast's jaws clamped down on his flesh. He felt the pain as his body tore to pieces, and the monster swallowed him chunk by chunk.
Raphael gave a startled cry as he sat up, blanket pooled in his lap. The large, orange cat that had been napping on his plastron trilled in surprise and skittered off to Michelangelo's room. Raphael glanced around his surroundings to see he was safe at home, set to bed on the couch in front of their multi-screen entertainment system, which was playing History channel at low decibels at the time.
"Oh hey, you're awake."
There was a human girl standing before him with brown hair and thick glasses. She had a bucket in her hands. For a moment, Raphael flashed back to his nightmare before recalling he had previously met this girl. It was before he had been out and... Raphael felt a little queasy.
"Sensei, Raph's awake," Irma hollered to all the lair in general. She knelt next to the couch, wringing out a cool rag and placing it on his bare face. All his gear had been removed and his skin was slick with sweat. "You've had a very high fever for the past two days. You should lay back and rest."
Raphael was already feeling woozy from sitting up so fast. He eased himself back down, a little grouchy when the girl moved to help him. His muscles were stiff, tiny pin pricks of pain pulled at his flesh every time he moved. He was suddenly reminded of the damage he took and Raphael quickly inspected himself.
When his flesh had been ripped, the turtle was extremely lucky most of it had stayed hanging on. There were a few tiny divots missing, but the greater chunks ripped from his leg and arm were pressed back to their rightful locations with stitches. Due to the fastidiousness of the stitching space, Raphael knew it was none other than Donatello's work.
Both wounds were left exposed, allowing them to drain of puss and fluids while his fever broke. Irma pressed another cloth to Raphael's weeping arm wound before inspecting the swollen flesh above his knee.
"You've been takin' care of me all this time?" Raphael asked, his tone soft with realization.
"Of course I have," Irma chirped back. "How could I pass this up? I've learned so much about your biochemistry in the past two days."
It was then Raphael noticed all the notebooks scattered around the floor, full of charts and data. The turtle frowned, suddenly feeling like a grade school science project.
"Raphael," a calm, sage voice spoke before he could offer a retort. "I am relieved to see you are awake, my son. We have been worried about you."
Though laying down, he still shrugged it off when Splinter felt his forehead for any remains of the fever that had raged through him the days before. "Eh, I'm fine, Sensei. You know I don't go down for long." He finally noticed the IV needle taped to the back of his hand and picked it out, throwing it to the floor in distaste.
"You have lost much blood," Splinter counseled. "You will stay in bed for the next few days until you regain your strength, I insist on it."
Raphael hummed a disapproving sound under his breath and a glass of water was thrust in his face.
"Glad to see you're doing better," Leonardo said above the proffered drink. He tried to feel his brother's temperature like Splinter had, but Raphael immediately slapped the hand away. Instead, Raphael snatched the glass and gulped it down, suddenly realizing how parched his was.
"Another," Raphael said, thrusting out the now empty glass.
Leonardo took it wordlessly and, with a small smile, went back to the kitchen for a refill. His brother was going to be just fine.
At this time, Donatello and Michelangelo wandered in to check on the patient.
"Dude, welcome back to the land of the living," the orange clad turtle greeted. "We heard all about you tangling with Turtlezilla!"
"Yeah, he almost kept a piece of me as a souvenir," Raphael quipped. "What do you know about it?"
"Casey covered the basics," Michelangelo said. "Giant talking turtle. Likes to eat people. Almost ate you. You screamed like a little girl and he saved your shell."
"Did he mention its nasty breath?"
"Yes, he told us that, too. In detail," Donatello put in as he knelt to inspect his swollen leg. Raphael had a sinking feeling that Dr. Don was going to prescribe some shots soon enough.
Klunk had stalked back into the room by now, curious what his family was up to. He jumped on Donatello's back, perching on the rim of his shell to see what was going on.
"Klunk, no. Uncle Donny's working." Michelangelo reached to retrieve his cat. Under the family's care, the orange feline had now tripled in weight and size since he had been brought home as a kitten. Picking him up now was no light task.
Especially when he didn't want to be removed. The claws came out, scraping over Donatello's shell before catching on his purple mask tails and yanking his head back.
"Bad Klunk, let go," Michelangelo said as he tried to untangle the cat's claws.
"That damn cat is so nosy," Raphael grouched. "He needs to mind his own business."
"He just likes being with the family." Michelangelo hugged Klunk while the cat's tail twitched in irritation.
Leonardo appeared with another glass of water and Raphael chugged it down.
"So did Casey tell you this giant turtle had a metal shell?"
Donatello was intrigued. "Metal? Are you sure?"
"Hey, I know what metal on metal sounds like. The shell looked fake, you know? It had spikes on it, like-"
"Like Bowser!" Michelangelo piped in.
"Like it was man-made."
"So this was possibly a creature mutated deliberately with a specific purpose in mind," Donatello surmised.
Raphael could only shrug to that. "Your guess is as good as mine, Donnie."
"We cleaned up the scene of yours and Casey's DNA before the police got there," Leonardo said in a soft tone. "We've been hunting for that other turtle ever since. No sign of it yet."
"You should wait until I go with you," Raphael informed him. "This thing is huge, Leo. You'll need all the help you can get." He had said that half out of concern for this brothers, but also because he wanted to be there to return blood for blood personally. Raphael needed to face down those eyes again. He would not let them continually haunt his nightmares.
"You rest first, Raphael," Splinter said sternly. There was no room for compromise.
"You'll probably need to put in some physical therapy, too, for those torn muscles," Donatello added. "It's going to be a rough road until you'll be back to full speed."
"Oh! I'll do it! I'll help!" Irma offered, raising her hand as if she were in grade school.
Raphael withered. "Oh no, Sensei, not her. Please."
The wizened rat looked around. "Anyone else wish to help Raphael while he recovers?"
The room was silent.
Raphael glared at his brothers. "All of you can go straight to hell."
Irma became Raphael's self-appointed nurse and physical therapist. Everyone knew he was not happy about it at all and the brothers were secretly taking bets on when he would finally explode on his caregiver. But the turtle's temper was no match for this human girl.
She had such a tiny form; so helpless and breakable. Raphael would feel his irritation start to grow and it would immediately dissipate when she knelt next to him, asking how he was feeling with that hopeful smile. His eyes always immediately focused on her shoulders. It was like a hanger wearing a shirt. How could he stay mad at someone he could snap like a twig? Plus, she did cook for him and she wasn't too bad at it either. Raphael also had a hard time staying angry at anyone who fed him.
Since school hadn't started yet, she showed up faithfully to check Raphael's temperature, clean his wounds, and replace the bandages. She loved every minute of it, piles of data from her experience always spread around on the floor. Soon her lap top joined her on her daily excursions underground, full of information spread sheets. Donatello had assisted her in filling in the gaps of information, but also made her promise what was gathered in the lair, stayed in the lair. Irma seemed quite alright with that as well.
When the guys were home, Michelangelo spent the most time with his bedridden brother, reading him stories from his comic books or insisting the three of them play video games. Donatello and Leonardo would sometimes join in, rotating out the odd man since there was only four controllers.
Splinter watched them as he passed from the kitchen to his room. This girl Irma seemed to fit right in with his boys. Yes, she had a very odd personality, quite unlike Ms. O'Neal in so many ways. But his sons seemed perfectly comfortable with her. Perhaps it wasn't just because they were now used to human company, but because she was one of the very few beings they knew that was their own age.
Everyone else, even April and Casey, were adults. Splinter's boys, his children, had been forced to live in the world of grown ups for a long time. It probably did them good to be immature with someone their own age now and then.
When Raphael was healed enough for physical therapy, Irma was right there with him. Dressed in bright yellow sweats that looked as though they had never been worn before, she attacked the training room with single minded determination.
"Make sure he does not push himself too hard on the first day," Splinter said as he momentarily poked his head in.
"Okay, Sensei," Irma sang back.
She had taken to referring to Splinter as "Sensei" since the day she had spent at an unconscious Raphael's side with the old rat. The two had carefully monitored his condition while Splinter told her the story of their origins. Certain things, such as the shredder and all alien life related to him, were omitted. Irma had listened with wide eyes, hand always testing Raphael's temperature, as Splinter regaled her with the tail of his master Yoshi's life and how he, a pet rat, found himself in the sewer alone with four baby turtles.
Ever since then, Irma used the title of Sensei. It wasn't so much a title of respect like it was for the brothers, more a term of endearment. Irma adored Splinter and was always bringing him gifts to garnish his favor. The old rat didn't seem to mind in the least.
"Are you sure that's where you want to start?" Irma asked as Raphael headed straight to his punching bag. "Sensei said to take it easy. You don't want to rip your stitches?"
"Look, I've been trainin' my whole life, okay?" Raphael shot back. "I know what my body can handle. Now you can help me or you can get outta here. It's your choice."
He was hoping for the latter, but Irma put on a serious face. "Fine, I'll stay. But I'm going to be watching you." She pointed two fingers to her eyes and then two fingers to the turtle. "You start overdoing it and I'm narking to Sensei."
Raphael grumbled something in acquiesce and Irma stepped up to the punching bag, holding it in place.
He gave her a dubious look. "You sure you wanna do that, small fry? You probably couldn't even make 90 pounds soaking wet. I could easily send you flying across the room."
The tiny girl seemed even more determined as she held the punching bag and planted her feet. "I can do it."
"Alright..." For a moment, Raphael was tempted to hit it as hard as he could just to watch her sail across the practice mats. But then he decided maybe he shouldn't be a total dick since she was helping him and all. Still, he decided he'd give her a pretty good first punch just to shake her up, so she would understand what she was dealing with.
Raphael jabbed at the bag. Pain ripped through his arm and the connection was a mere fraction of the force he had expected.
"I think we should try something a little lower key," Irma suggested as she watched him rub his wound with a growl. "You got your flesh nearly torn from your body. Just sewing it back in place isn't going to magically fix it."
The surly turtle was still growling, but he knew she was right. He had been bruised, scraped, even stabbed. But he had never had the muscle practically ripped from his bones before. He couldn't count on his mutant genetics to heal this overnight.
Irma put Raphael to work, sitting at a bench and lifting weights so small even April would have snorted in derision. But it burned to push himself. He could feel every stitch pulling at his flesh as his arm moved and soon the turtle was sweating with pain and exertion.
Irma took her job seriously. When she thought Raphael had pushed too far, she made him rest. She would constantly check the bandages, make him alternate between the arm and injured leg in his exercises.
Raphael didn't want to admit it, but training with her wasn't so bad. It was better than having Splinter constantly eying him with a master's judgment. Or Leonardo watching with vague disapproval for being attacked in the first place. The human girl judged him not, she was only interested in his recovery. When he hurt, she hurt for him. When he improved, she shared in his triumph.
During one such session, Leonardo came in to practice at the opposite side of the room. He switched on the battered TV in the corner so he could listen to the evening news while he did his warm up stretches.
"Another mutilated body was found early this morning," the news anchorman said in a somber tone. "This brings the count up to three since the remains of the first victim was found over a week ago. What was first thought to be the random acts of a large, escaped animal, now officials are considering the possibility that these are purposeful attacks by one or more human beings."
By then, Raphael had paused in his weights to listen.
"Each of the victims was a Caucasian male in his mid thirties. Clean cut, brown hair, brown eyes. The FBI has recently been brought onto the case to catch the killer now known as the New York Slasher. Authorities urge all civilians to not go out alone and to stay indoors whenever possible until this serial killer is caught."
"FBI, huh?" Raphael muttered as he went back to his weights. "They're sure going to find a surprise when they catch that guy." He jabbed a finger in the middle of Irma's forehead. "You need to stop coming here by yourself. It's not safe out there for a little twig like you."
"Pffft, I'm fine." she insisted. "I live in a great part of town. Besides, I don't fit the profile. I only have rapists to worry about. That's why I've got my pepper spray."
Raphael was going to inform her that wasn't a sure way to protect oneself when the ring of a shell cell interrupted him. Donatello was standing in the doorway, listening to the newscast as well when his phone went off.
"Oh April, hey!" he greeted when he answered. "How was family time?"
Leonardo perked up at the sound of the name. He hoped he could get in for a quick greeting before Michelangelo caught wind of it and took the phone for himself. Raphael hoped he would be ignored. By now Casey and probably told her about the attack. April would just fuss over him like he was a child.
"Hey Don," April's voice replied over the phone. It sounded uncharacteristically shaky. "I'm so sorry. I have someone here who-"
The phone was taken away from her and a deep, male voice came on the line.
The voice was horribly familiar. It sent a shiver of both fear and rage down the turtle's spine.
"Bishop," Donatello hissed, gaining the attention of his two brothers. "Don't you dare hurt her or I'll-"
"The lovely Ms. O'Neal will not be harmed, I assure you," Bishop cut him off. "I merely wish to speak to you and your brothers and this is the fastest way to get your attention."
"Well you have it. Let her go and tell me what you want."
By now, Leonardo was right next to his purple clad brother, trying to listen in with his fists clenched.
"No, not like this. I want to see the four of you face to face."
"It's a trap," Leonardo announced. "We can't trust him."
"You have no choice," Bishop said, obviously having heard him. "Ms. O'Neal will be waiting for you. You will get her back when you come to meet me." He gave Donatello the address of a building top and then promptly hung up. The turtle immediately tried to call back, but the line was cut.
"Bastard," Raphael spat, now standing with his brothers. "What's that slime ball got up his sleeve now?"
"Bishop won't hurt her," Leonardo said with confidence. "He doesn't attack civilians."
"Yeah, it's us he doesn't mind chopping up and experimenting on," Raphael shot back.
"Who's Bishop?" Irma asked in a quiet voice.
"You don't need to know, small fry," Raphael told her. "Stay out of it."
"You're not going, either," Leonardo informed him, "not in your condition."
"What? That's bullshit, Leo! I'm fine."
"You wouldn't even last five minutes in a sparring session with me. You're not fine. You still need to heal. Splinter will agree with me."
Raphael knew he was right on all counts, even though he still didn't agree. With a cry of frustration at his own weakness, he threw one of the weights across the room with his good arm and then stormed out.
As promised, Bishop was on the indicated rooftop that night. Surprisingly, he was only escorted with only four other armed agents. No helicopters, no hidden surprises. The turtles checked every alley and shadow for a larger ambush, but found nothing. April was in clear view, sitting on a crate and looking extremely put out, but unharmed.
With no choice but to reveal themselves, the three turtles appeared on the rooftop. Bishop's resulting grin was maddening.
"There you are," he said smugly. "I knew you would come. So predictable. So easy to find when one knows how to ferret you out."
"We're here, give April back to us," Leonardo demanded, blades in hand.
"In a moment, first business." Bishop adjusted his glasses, looking as cool as a cucumber. "I'm sure you are aware of the latest string of questionable murders in this city. They've gained my interest. I've had witnesses say they've seen a strange animal prowling around. Some have described it with a large shell, like a giant turtle."
"We don't have anything to do with that," Leonardo insisted.
"Really. Because it certainly wouldn't be the first time one of your brothers mutated out of control and put people in danger."
Donatello growled and moved forward. That was still a sore spot for him. It was a sore spot for all of them. Leonardo put out an arm to keep him back. Bishop wouldn't harm any of his family again if he could help it.
"And that was your fault, not ours. We were trying to clean up your mess."
At that point, Bishop did frown, reminded of his own folly. Leonardo felt slightly vindicated.
"Then why do I only see three of you?" Bishop insisted. "If you are innocent, where's Raphael?"
"Raphael's right here," came a deep, sarcastic voice. Another form appeared over the lip of the roof. The red clad turtle tried to hide his fatigue, but he was covered with a sheen of sweat and breathing deeply.
Leonardo gave his brother a death glare, but Raphael ignored it.
Bishop was intrigued. He moved a few steps forward, only to be blocked by Leonardo's blade. He allowed himself to be held at bay as he looked over the turtle's bandages. "It seems like you've run into your own trouble down there. Was it a giant turtle-like creature that did that to you, Raphael?"
"You can suck on my shell, Bishop, it ain't your business," Raphael barked. He hated it when the agent made a point of using their names, like he knew them so well.
The federal agent stood in silent ponderance for a moment, then he seemed satisfied. "I appreciate your time. Ms. O'Neal may go." Then he turned on his heel. He and his escorts opened the door to the stairwell and were gone.
April jumped to her feet the second she felt she was safe and ran over to them. Donatello instantly inspected her personally for any injury while she insisted she was completely fine.
"See bro?" Raphael said as he approached Leonardo. "Aren't you glad I came? If I hadn't showed up, Bishop would probably be hunting for our lair right now, thinking it was me who attacked those people. At least now he's hunting for some other mutant and off our tails."
Leonardo continued to frown. That still didn't make him happy.
When they returned to the lair, Casey was already there. It was clear he found out what had happened to his girlfriend by the yelling and the sounds of wood splintering before they even reached the door. When they entered, the group was treated to the scene of Casey raising the last of their chairs over his head, pieces of its unfortunate companions were strewn about his feet.
Irma was swooning in the background at such a feat of masculine strength.
Casey paused in the middle of his tirade when he saw them enter. "Babe! It's you!" The chair was thrown anyway, breaking a leg as Casey ran over to the redhead. "April, you okay?"
"I'm fine, Casey, I'm fine," she insisted as he also tried to check her for injuries. "Nothing happened, really. No one got hurt."
"I'm sorry I wasn't there, babe." Casey suddenly clenched his fists. "The next time I see that scumbag, I'm going to kill him!"
April peered around his broad shoulders when she noticed an unfamiliar face in the room. "Um, hello. I don't believe we've met."
Irma was standing next to a forlorn Splinter who was still mourning his kitchen set. She looked from Casey to April. Then to Casey's hand on her hip. She frowned at the redhead. "Yeah, I gotta go home now." And she turned on her heel and left.
"That's Irma," Michelangelo grinned. "She's weird, you'll like her."
April looked at Casey who just gave her a wide-eyed expression and shook his head.
Michelangelo, never one to waist an opportunity, eagerly ran after the teenage girl as she left, offering to take her home once more.
"Mikey!" Kala greeted and she slid open the window. "What a nice surprise. Feels like I haven't seen you in a while."
"Yeah, been a little busy," he said as he climbed inside. It had been over a week since they had seen each other last. "Family stuff."
Kala perked up a little at the briefest hint of his personal life. Her eyes wandered over him as if there was something written on his skin that would tell her what he had been up to."Nothing bad, I hope."
Michelangelo knew she was fishing for information. It was so hard not to tell her about Raphael's injuries, how it had scared him when his brother's bleeding body had been dragged home. But this was what he promised himself. It was what he believed would keep her safe and keep her special to only him.
"Nope, nothing bad," he lied.
Kala made no move to hide her disappointment when he did not expound on that.
Michelangelo watched her, silently frowning. This night had dug up old wounds for his family. Donatello's mutation had been one of the most frightening things they had encountered. It wasn't just worry for his brother's well-being, a new fear had been planted in all of them.
Donatello's mutation had been completely accidental. One tiny scratch, one insignificant modicum of a foreign substance was introduced into his body and his entire system had gone haywire. It was terrifying to realize their mutations weren't as stable as they thought.
What if something else got into their bodies? What if they weren't done mutating?Was he a horrible person for keeping this information from her? Should he tell her that one day he may not be the Michelangelo she knew? Maybe they had always been monsters, they just didn't know it yet.
"You okay, Mikey?" Kala wondered as she watched his troubled expression. "Is there something you want to tell me?"
Michelangelo quickly pasted on his usual grin. "Nah, I was just worried about you, living out here alone. You've picked up some bad habits since you took that night job. The city isn't safe after dark."
"You mean because of the New York Slasher?" she asked with a certain sort of morbid glee. She pantomimed slicing at the turtle with a big knife. "You think he's going to drag me into an alley and cut me up? Didn't you see the news? I'm not his type. He likes dudes, old ones."
Michelangelo frowned at her. At home, he had always been the goof off, the family clown. But there was something about Kala's devil may care attitude that always brought out the serious side in him. What would his family say if they saw him now?
"I'm serious, Kala. I don't want anything to happen to you. I just want you to be careful, okay?" If only she knew what he knew. If she ever came face to face with that thing that tore up his brother, Michelangelo didn't know how he would stand it.
"Aww..." she crooned as if he were a puppy. "You are so cute. C'mere." She trundled toward him, arms out for a hug.
Michelangelo brushed her away in annoyance. "Don't make fun of me just because I want you to be safe," he pouted. Then he paused as he noticed something. "Hey, you're dressed really nice. Are you going out?"
"Yup, I got a hot date." She wiggled her eyebrows at him. "My boyfriend's coming to pick me up."
"Boyfriend?" Michelangelo squawked. This was news to him.
"Well, we've only gone out twice now. Nothing's official yet but..." She crossed her fingers hopefully.
The turtle was about to let her have a whole string of protests about this when there was a knock at the door.
"Oh shit, that's him!" she hissed, glancing at the clock. "I lost track of the time. You need to go."
Michelangelo didn't budge. "Who is this guy? Do you even know him that well?"
She grinned. "What? Are you afraid he might be the slasher?"
"I highly doubt that," he said in a flat voice.
"Well good then, get your shell out of here. I've got to go!"
He was hustled out the window and, as it closed in his face, Michelangelo couldn't help but feel a little betrayed.
One would think it would be impossible for a monster-sized turtle to hide in New York, but it wasn't. His silhouette, his form, was so far out of the imagination from the people of this city, if he sat perfectly still, he never registered to them. The grayness, grit and garbage helped him blend. And amidst the piss and the pigeons, the dumpsters and the abandoned cars, he went unnoticed.
Two children walked right next to the alley where he was squatting, a mere five feet away. He watched their brightly colored backpacks bounce, but felt no need to pursue. The reptile in him could sit unmoving for hours. If he found a small ray of sunlight or a heated vent, he would be content all day. It was nice to sit in silence, to listen to the unfamiliar sounds of the city. To smell new smells, to see new things. To be free for the first time in his life. Free from the walls and the testing. Free from that voice.
He hated the Voice. It grated on his every fiber when he heard it. It carried power over him, written into every cell of his DNA; when the voice spoke, he had to obey. It was like hooks into his bones, in his brain; his body would move and he would be helpless to resist. But out here, away from that voice, he could choose to do as he wished and it was glorious.
A figure strode by his hiding place and his head snapped around. The form was too familiar. All so horribly familiar. And he found himself filled with anger as he thought of the man; the man with that Voice. How he hated that man, how he wished he could rip him to shreds. How he dreamed of hearing that voice screaming in agony when while he bathed in that man's blood.
With a growl, he moved his heavy body into the street. There he was, a man striding with purpose down the sidewalk. He glanced at his watch, brown overcoat billowing behind him. He was the same body type, same hair color. Replace that brown coat with a white one and that human looked just like...
A growl started deep in his chest, mouth curling up to expose large teeth. He saw not the human for who he was, but as the man he hated. The man with the Voice. The one he wasn't ever allowed to touch, the one he could not kill. So he would kill this man instead and it would sate his anger once again for a time.
The man glanced back when he felt the earth rumble behind him and he heard an inhuman snarl. He turned in horror to see a monster that should only exist in pure fiction before the heavy claws came down, mouth descending on his broken spine. Then he saw no more.