I knocked lightly on the door before cracking it open. The room was dark. A candle on the bedside table cast eerie shadows over the walls... and the bed where the two of them lay. She was covered by a pile of blankets, but he was on top of them. Her body temperature was still dangerously low, I knew. Multiple space heaters had turned Raphael's room into a furnace. But he hadn't left her side in the four hours since she'd laid down to rest. The transfusion had gone well. Luckily, April had been able to donate. It saved us the time and trouble of having to find someone else.
Kat was on her back and Raph was beside her with his back to me, his arm resting on top of the blankets and holding her close. He turned as I entered the room, and I shut the door behind me. "I... wanted to talk to you," I stammered. "Both of you."
He propped his head up on his elbow and I walked to the foot of the bed so that he wouldn't have to turn so much to see me. "Is she awake?" I asked.
Raph glanced down at her and brushed her hair away from her face. "On and off," he answered quietly. "I don't think she's really come fully out of it yet."
"Donny said it would take a while," I reminded him.
"Yeah," he sighed. "I know." He glanced up. "How's your arm?"
"Okay," I answered. "I still feel kind of weak."
He nodded and looked down again. I took a deep breath as he ran his hand over her still body. "You slept with her. While we were gone."
It wasn't an accusation. It was more of a question. And he didn't deny it. He said nothing. I breathed deep. "When I was chained up," I started, "I had a lot of time to think. And I know you too well to think you weren't sleeping with her."
"No, Leo," he sighed. "You're wrong."
I stared at him for a moment. "You didn't?"
I let that sink in for a minute. "But you're in love with her."
He watched me for a moment before looking back down at Katarina. "I talked to Madonna while I was there. She told me. About Kiara." He tensed noticeably, but I decided to pretend like I hadn't seen it. "And then, it really bothered me. I was really worried about you. I mean, it was like my worst fears come true. But all I could really do was hang from those chains and hope that maybe, somehow, you'd... I don't know... listen to me for once? But I know you didn't, and I guess I knew it then."
A hardened look crossed his face as he stared up at me. No, Raph, come on, I pleaded silently. Please don't fight with me. Just let me get this all out. He said nothing. Kat moaned softly and his attention fell to her. "Anyway, my point is..." I continued, not giving him a chance to protest. "I realize that for all my begging and pleading and fighting with you for all these years, it's no credit of mine that you're still alive. And when I realized that, I had to think about who was responsible."
He ran his fingers lightly over the side of her face and I sighed. "I know who she is," I mumbled. Raph placed a protecting arm around her. "And I know what she did. But I also know why she did it. And when all is said and done, she chose to be disowned by her family rather than to betraying you. And she laid her life on the line for us." I hesitated for a moment, considering my words. "That's love," I finally whispered.
Katarina breathed slow, amazingly still under the blankets. The room was silent. Sweat dripped from my forehead at the incredible heat. I let the silence continue for a moment before I took a deep breath. "I know this probably doesn't mean anything to you but, for what it's worth..." I caught his eye. The cold, hard look was gone. "You two have my blessing."
He stared at me for a moment, saying nothing. He almost looked like he was shocked. Then he glanced down at Katarina. He avoided my gaze for several seconds and I looked toward the door. "I should go," I mumbled. "She needs to rest." He said nothing and I headed for the exit.
Glancing over my shoulder, I saw him kiss her lightly. Satisfied that she was in good hands, I walked out of the room and left the two of them alone.
God, it was hot. Was I dead? I opened my eyes slowly and felt a dull pain across my chest. I was alive. I felt pretty good, actually, all things considering. I wondered how long I'd been asleep. I knew it was a long time, because I distinctly remembered at least a dozen times, waking up in pain. But I wasn't in much pain right now. I wondered if I was on morphine, or something like it. No, I felt fully alert. And that was something I hadn't felt in... forever. I didn't know how long.
The clock next to the bed read 9:00. Was that a.m. or p.m.? I wasn't sure. I felt warmth from the body next to me and turned my face to him. He was asleep, sweat dripping down his face. I smiled. In the hours I had slipped in and out of consciousness, not once did I find myself alone. He was always there, at my side. I ran my fingers down his hard chest, wondering if he could feel the touch. I didn't want to disturb him, but I wanted to be closer to him. And I wanted it to cool off in here!
I kicked off the blankets, realizing that I was half-naked. I remembered waking up a few times in a warm bath, Raphael at my side, whispering something about my body temperature. I looked down at the dressings on my chest. The wound was long, all the way across my chest. I was surprised it didn't hurt more. Raphael stirred next to me, and his arm slid across my stomach. His hand came to rest lightly on my hip. I glanced at his closed eyes and moved slowly and carefully to rest my head under his chin. I closed my eyes. It was hot, but I was comfortable resting in his embrace. "How do you feel?" he whispered.
I jumped, startled. I hadn't realized he was awake. He laughed quietly and nuzzled his face in my hair. "Better," I answered as my heartbeat returned to normal. "A lot better. Hot as hell, though."
I felt his fingers rub back and forth over my skin. "I'm sorry I woke you," I breathed. "I didn't mean to."
"No, it's alright," he assured me.
"Can you make it any cooler in here?"
He pulled away from me and stood to his feet. There were seven space heaters in the room, and he flicked them off one by one. "God, no wonder it's so hot!"
"Mmm," he acknowledged. "I'll be right back."
He left, leaving the door open. The heat swept out of the room and I laid back. I didn't care that I had kicked the covers onto the floor. At the moment, I didn't care much about anything. I heard talking in another room, and identified the voices. Mike and Donny. I wondered where Leo was.
Raph returned a moment later, and laughed to himself. "Sorry," he mumbled, closing the door.
"S'okay," I assured him. "It let some of the heat out. Felt good."
He set up the fan he'd brought back with him, and returned to the bed. It creaked as he laid next to me. I felt a cool, damp cloth on the side of my face and smiled. "How's that feel?" he questioned.
"Great," I whispered back.
He wiped away the thin layer of sweat on my neck and I turned my head. I considered everything that had happened in the past... what? Hours? Days? I had no concept of time. "How long...?" I stammered.
"You've been in and out for six days."
"Six days," I repeated as he ran the cloth down my arm.
Six days, he was by my side. "Thank you," I whispered.
I felt him kiss my forehead. "I love you," he told me, still moving the cooling rag over my body.
He left the cloth resting on my stomach and his hand found the side of my face. His thumb rubbed back and forth gently over my cheek. He smiled and I sighed as I looked away. "I was so wrong, Raphael," I mumbled, the guilt hitting me like a ton of bricks. "And I'm so sorry."
He pulled my head to him gently and I buried my face in his neck. "I forgive you," he whispered back.
"How could you forgive me?" I questioned. "I can't even forgive myself."
He nuzzled me gently and I melted into him, pressing my lips to his neck. "I forgive you," he assured me. "We all do."
"Speak for yourself," I sighed.
"I can speak for my brothers," he corrected. "I know them. And I know that they can see repentance just as clearly as I can."
I closed my eyes and breathed against his skin. "Repentance," I repeated softly. There was a moment of silence as I considered the word. It seemed rather hypocritical of him. "Raphael?"
"I think you should talk to Leo."
He was quiet for a moment. "About what?"
"Tell him... what you told me. About when Splinter died. And tell him that you're sorry."
He caught his breath, and I knew the concept was not new to him. He'd considered it before. He just hadn't done it yet. "He'll forgive you," I assured him.
He was still and silent. I didn't move. Finally, he spoke. "I know," he whispered. "And I guess that's what bothers me."
"Why?" I questioned. "You're not any less deserving of his forgiveness than I am."
"I can't change overnight, Kat."
"I don't think he'd expect you to."
There was a long silence. I sighed, feeling his hands run over my body. "And when you talk to him, I want you to tell him something. About Madonna."
I closed my eyes, considering the words before I spoke. "I want you to let him know that she really did love him. Just in case he doesn't know that."
He was silent for a moment. "Seems like that would just make it worse," he mumbled. "That he'll never see her again."
"Maybe for the moment. But it won't make him bitter, like the betrayal would."
"She did betray him, Kat. And to the best of my knowledge, she was never sorry for that."
I pulled away from him and our eyes locked. "Let me tell you something about Madonna. And you be careful about sharing this with Leonardo. She was thirteen when my father decided that he wanted her. And when she refused him, he drugged her and he raped her." He stared at me with a confused look on his face. "And he manipulated her into telling her father about it, like she had wanted it. Her father gave his consent, and really, his command, that the two of them should be married."
Raph's eyes widened. He hadn't been expecting that. I couldn't say that I blamed him. "She was married to him?"
I nodded. "Is that so hard to believe?"
He glanced away. "Well, uh, no, I guess not. I just... never thought of him as ever being married. Doesn't seem to fit his... MO."
"It was a one-way commitment," I sighed. "The only reason he did it was to make sure she wouldn't turn on him. And it worked. When her father died, his dying words to her were that she should respect her husband."
I looked away. "She was always so enamored with the concept of honor. And she believed that by respecting her father, she was protecting his honor, and her own. It was sick, twisted. But she got sucked into it." My eyes met his again. The shock had died down. "And she got sucked into the relationship with Leo, too. She didn't want to love him. And she was totally unprepared when she found out that he loved her."
I sighed, remembering her anguish as she weighed her love against her responsibilities. "She told me about it," I choked, "and how shocked she'd been. She never meant for it to happen. Because she knew she could never be with him. And the sin that really bothered her was not the adultery itself, but the fact that she could never tell Leo about it. That she felt like she was using him."
He sighed. "That's sad," he concluded.
"But he needs to know that she did what she did to fulfill her father's last request. She had no respect for Shredder, but she did honor her father's dying wish. It wasn't an easy decision for her to make. She loved your brother, Raph."
He looked away. I settled next to him again, feeling the cool breeze from the fan sweep over my exposed body. I thought about all the things I wanted to say, but remained silent. His arm slipped under my head and I rested peacefully in his arms. My thoughts drifted back to my father.
"Is he dead?" I asked.
Raphael was quiet for a moment. "I don't know. I assume so, but Leo won't say for sure."
I sighed and let my mind wander. "You know what bothers me the most about this whole thing?" I mumbled, deciding to be perfectly honest.
"It's that he was right."
I paused and considered the words. They weren't said with any bitterness or anger. It was a simple fact that I had accepted. "'Bout what?"
"My whole life, my father told me that the fact that I was a woman made me weak. That my emotions would get in the way of anything important I tried to do."
"That has nothing to do with your sex," he mumbled.
"Yeah, it does," I sighed. "And it really..."
"Then how do you explain Madonna?" he interrupted.
I fell silent. I couldn't explain Madonna. He shifted, propping himself up on his elbow as he looked down on me. "She didn't let her emotions get in the way of what she had to do," he continued. "And he killed her for it."
That was only half true. She still felt all the things he said she would, even if she didn't give in to them. And it was those feelings that he had killed her for. But I didn't want to argue with Raphael. He ran his fingers over the side of my face. "And tell me, Kat," he whispered. "What emotions was he talking about? Is love one of them? Because in that case, I'm not any stronger than you are."
I smiled up at him and raised my hand to his neck, lost in his eyes. Love. He loved me, like no one else ever had. I felt contentment spread over me as I looked up at him. I could spend the rest of my life like this and die happy. "Raphael," I whispered his name.
We stared at each other for a long, quiet moment before he finally leaned down and captured my lips. I felt heat surge through me. I remembered just how close to death I had come. More than once, in fact. This time with him seemed so much more precious now. I'd never thought I would feel this again. God, it felt so good!
"Let him think he's stronger than us," he breathed, his lips still brushing mine. "And know that he could never be as strong alone..." Another kiss. A soft moan escaped from somewhere deep inside of me. "...as we can be together."
His hand rested against the side of my neck, massaging gently as he kissed the side of my mouth. "When you feel better," he whispered. "I want you to do something for me."
"I want you to marry me."
I stared at him, dumbfounded. "I don't just want one night with you, Kat," he explained. "Not a month, or a year. I want you forever."
I couldn't speak. He brushed his thumb over my cheek. The look in his eyes was serious, searching me. "Forever, Kiara."
Hearing him use my real name emphasized the seriousness of the words. Forever. I smiled at the thought. "You're proposing to me?" I stammered.
"Yes," he answered, seriously.
I was thrown totally off guard, and I felt my eyes get wide. He studied me carefully for a moment and, in the silence that followed, looked down at my body beneath him. He ran his hand down my arm and took my hand. "I can't give you a house or a car or normal children," he whispered. "And I can't take you to a church, with a priest and a party of witnesses. Hell, I can't even take you out to dinner. But I..." He hesitated and glanced away for a moment. "When I thought I might lose you..." His eyes met mine again. "Kat, I don't ever want to lose you. So I'm asking you, seriously." He swallowed hard, as if he were choking on the words. "Marry me. Let God and his angels be witnesses. And I'll treat you better than any man you'll ever meet."
I caught my breath. My god, he was serious. I felt tears sting my eyes as I drank in his words. Forever. A million thoughts flooded my mind. How long had I known him? And yet it felt like I'd always known him. He knew me better than anyone ever had. I loved him. And what was love for, if not to lead to a lifetime partnership?
I stared up at his deep, boundless eyes. I didn't deserve him. I didn't even come close to deserving him. He was so... what? Innocent? That, he wasn't. And I knew him well enough to have discovered that he didn't claim to be good, or pure. The most he could do was admit that he was a jackass. Not unlike the way I felt, right now. But I loved him, regardless.
Forgiving. That was the word. Regardless of what he'd done in his life, the people he'd hurt, those who'd hurt him, he wasn't as hardened as I'd first thought. There was so much more that nobody saw. That he wouldn't let anyone see. But he'd opened his heart, and his mind, to me. And I'd hurt him, too. I didn't deserve him. I didn't deserve to be in his arms. I didn't deserve forever.
I felt hot tears streaming from my eyes. He didn't move. He didn't breathe. He was watching me, waiting for my answer. How could he love me that much? How could he ask for my life, and my problems? He could have my body, he could even have my heart, and he could walk away at any time. But he didn't want that. He wanted forever.
Forever. The word rang in my ears, over and over. To wake up every morning in his arms. To fall asleep every night in his bed. To live my entire life and never love anyone else. Only him. God, I wanted that. I wanted that more than anything.
"Yes," I whispered, catching my breath on the word. I closed my eyes. "Yes. Forever."
I heard him sigh, and surrendered my life to him. He took it gently from my hands... and he kissed me.
I couldn't tell what he was thinking, as he knelt by her grave. He touched the dirt gently, as if he could touch her through it. The stillness in the clearing was uninterrupted by my presence. If he knew I was there, he chose to say nothing.
He had spent the past few days here. After Kat was home and being cared for, he had asked April to drive him here, to bury her. I'd only seen him once since then. April drove him back to the city, when she had to go to work. Then he disappeared again. When he didn't come home for two days, I knew where he would be. After a few more days, and after Kat was out of bed, we all went for a long drive. I couldn't explain how I knew he'd be here, any more than I could explain how he'd gotten here. But I knew. And I wasn't surprised.
He bowed his head, resting his hand on the earth. He looked broken, and I thought I had never seen him so... sad. Perhaps he had been, when Splinter died. I wouldn't know. I was numb through those days, and oblivious to the world around me. Which was why I had come here.
I stepped out into the clearing, the stealth skills implementing themselves without my assistance. He didn't look up, and I hesitated. I didn't want to startle him, and I wasn't entirely sure if I was welcome.
My presence met his in the middle of the gap between us. Our spirits mingled for a moment, acquainting with each other. It's okay, he assured. You can come closer.
I approached slowly and stood behind him. The fresh dirt rose above the rest of the ground. His head was bowed, his eyes downcast. He didn't say word. The silence was not to be broken. It was sacred, and I could feel that. For once, I respected it. I had to respect it. His pain was evident, and I didn't want to add to it.
I sat down next to him, crossing my legs in front of me. His eyes were closed, and I saw fresh tears on his cheeks. I looked away, out of respect for him. He wouldn't want me to see him cry. The strong leader, the one we were supposed to look up to... and he was broken before me. I didn't feel right about witnessing his weakness. But at the same time, I didn't want to leave him alone here.
I looked down at the grave that he and my other brothers had dug, while I watched over Kat. I hadn't known Madonna. I'd only seen her once. I bit back the painful remorse for my actions that night. Just one more thing I had to be sorry for.
I heard a dove somewhere nearby. It cooed gently, it's sound carried on the morning breeze. Leo didn't move. He was so still, he could be mistaken for a statue. I swallowed hard and cut my eyes back to the ground. "I'm sorry," I whispered.
There was a moment of stillness. "It's not your fault," he finally answered.
"No, Leo, I mean..." I looked up at him again. "I'm sorry."
He hesitated for a moment, then glanced up. His eyes met mine and I thought of all the things I had to say to him. "I'm sorry for the way I treated Splinter. And for the way I've treated you since he died." I looked away. These words were hard to say. "And I'm sorry about Madonna. And the way I acted. I..." I choked. I wasn't good at this. I'd never apologized like this before. "I had no right," I finally finished, cutting my gaze back to him.
He studied me carefully for a moment, his face emotionless. Finally, he forced a smile and I felt his hand rest on mine. "S'okay, Raph," he assured me. The pain in his voice cut my heart and the smile fell from his face. His eyes fell again, and his hand pulled away.
I took a deep breath. "Kat wanted me to tell you," I started, feeling my stomach tie in knots. "Just in case you didn't know... She wanted me to tell you that Madonna..." I paused. I still wasn't sure I should say this. I hoped it wouldn't make it worse for him. "Madonna loved you."
He didn't respond, so I continued. "She told me... some things." I shook my head as I considered telling him everything. I wasn't that stupid. That would hurt him. "Just trust me, Leo," I mumbled. "She did what she did because she really felt she had to. But she loved you."
He swallowed hard and turned his face away. "I know," he whispered.
It was quiet for a moment. I considered leaving, but decided against it. When he wanted me to leave, he'd tell me. Until then, I wanted to offer him as much support as possible.
"She told me once," he whispered, "That she would die to prevent herself from coming to dishonor." He paused. "But she believed that she would die upholding what she believed in."
"And she did," I assured him.
He hung his head, and said nothing. I didn't know what he was feeling, but I could guess. I'd been through heartbreak before, and I remembered the loneliness that came along with it. Lectures about how I never should've fallen in love didn't help, and I knew that was all I could get from my brothers. So I'd fought my battles alone. But I wouldn't put Leo through that. I was done with vengeance. It hadn't given me any relief, only more problems.
There was a long silence. He buried his fingers in the dirt and I heart him catch his breath, choking back tears. "Raph?" he whispered.
"Yeah?" I answered, concerned.
"How do you do it?"
"You fall in love, get hurt, stay bitter for a while, then you fall in love again." He glanced up and caught my eye. There were tears clouding his vision, and he blinked them away. "You've been doing it for years. And I don't understand how when... I've never felt pain like this."
For the first time in all the years I could remember, I saw how weak he could really be. Through every trial we had faced, he had always been the one to pull us together. He'd directed our steps, even when it pissed me off, and stayed strong through everything. He was strong against the pressures and tragedies of life, and against me. But this pain had broken him. Instinctively, I wanted to protect him. I wanted to fight his demons, like he had fought mine for so many years. To step out in front and take the brunt of the attack. But I didn't know how.
"Even when Splinter died," he continued, "there was a... resolve to it. A peace. There was nothing left unsaid between..."
My own harsh memories sprang to mind. There was so much I'd left unsaid when Splinter died. Leo must have sensed my uneasiness, because he stopped that thought from escaping his lips. He closed his eyes and sighed deeply. "I still don't fully understand... what she died for," he mumbled. "I don't know... what she believed in. She turned her back on me, but I still believe... I have to believe that she died for a reason. For..."
"Love?" I offered.
He hung his head. "It's foolish, isn't it? Even I know it's stupid for me to feel this way."
"No," I assured him, placing a hand on his shoulder. "It's not."
He opened his eyes and glanced up at me. "She did love you, Leo. I believe that. And yes, I believe she died for that love, knowing full well what she was dying for. I'm just sorry she didn't tell you."
He said nothing and I stood up. I walked a few steps, then remembered something else I still had to say. "And Leo." I stopped and turned to face him again. He looked up. "When you said that earlier, about your blessing on me and Kat not meaning anything. I just want you to know that you were wrong." He shot me a questioning glance. "That means a lot to me." We stared at each other. "And if you need anything, if there's anything I can do, just let me know."
I didn't wait for a response. I turned and walked away, passing by the indistinctly marked grave where my father rested. I paused and waited for the pain and anger, but was surprised to find that it did not come. A familiar presence nearby made me turn, and I saw Mike approach behind me. For a moment, I wondered how long he had been there. Then I realized, I really didn't care.
Standing next to me, he didn't say a word. I thought that was odd, but I was grateful. The two of us stared down at the earth, and I felt his arm circle my shoulders. "Come on, bro," he finally mumbled. "Pizza, beer, and a movie. Whaddaya say?"
I smiled to myself. "You don't like beer," I reminded him.
"The invitation was for you, dude, not me," Mike grinned.
I cast a glance over my shoulder at where I'd left Leo, but he was gone. He'd want to be alone. I wasn't about to go looking for him. "April called in sick to work so we can stay here the night," Mike informed me. "She says she knows of a place about ten miles away where we can get..."
As I left the miniature graveyard, listening to the playful ramblings from my brother, I thought I heard a familiar voice on the wind...
I love you all... my sons.