Chapter 13 – The Hard Choice

Donatello sat on the edge of his bed, leaning against the wall near the foot of the mattress. He'd been there all night after he'd patched himself up and wrapped his shoulder. He hadn't dislocated it, but the pain was enough that he'd been worried he had. From the way he could move it, though, he knew that wasn't the case. Based on his limited range of movement and the type of pain he was experiencing, he was sure a tendon had torn. The fall from the window had jostled him, but struggling while tied to that metal chair had made it worse. There was nothing much he could do about it other than wrap it, secure his arm and take a few anti-inflammatory pills.

Unable to sleep, his mind pondered and raced while his heart searched for some shred of hope; some possibility to grasp ahold of; to hang on to; to draw courage from. But time and again as the long hours of the night wore on, he came up with nothing. Only the raw aching feeling in his heart that matched the low throbbing ache of his body between his legs. His head rested against the rough surface of the bricks and he sighed. With weary, blood-shot eyes, he stared ahead; looking at nothing; feeling empty and carved out. There was no logic to stand on. No reasoning that could offer cold comfort; but comfort nonetheless. Nothing made sense. He was adrift on a sea of malaise and regret.

Had he only known it would have turned out like this . . . he shook his head. What? Would he have seriously reconsidered his feelings for her? Probably not. He picked at the end of the sling cradling his arm. How could he have ever guessed that April was capable of such cruelty? It made no sense. He sat up and rubbed his sore neck with his free hand and sniffled. Hours ago he'd run out of tears to cry. His eyes burned and ached. But now the question was . . . how. How would they move on from this?

He sat quietly and contemplated the question. He thought of the past year. Her hesitation, her confusing signals, her whispered promises only to leave him cold time and time again. And yet, he never questioned it. Like the lovesick fool he was, he looked past it to the hopeful thought that somewhere in the future he would be holding her; giving her everything he had; all of his love; all of him. But the longer he waited, the further that dream seemed to be pushed back; until now it was so distant, it was non-existent. Don pushed his mouth into a tight line.

No, the question wasn't how. The real question was why should they? It was obvious that she didn't respect him. Hadn't she hurt him enough? The moment he lost his composure she treated him like he was trash. The worst part was how dirty he had felt all night long. As if his desire for her was a filthy thing. And her abuse was somehow his fault. Maybe that's how she saw it after all. A lump formed in his throat as his deepest fear took root and held fast. She'd told him when he confronted her about the visions the Mistress revealed to her that she didn't think it was disgusting or revolting to think of him in that way. And yet, all along, she said one thing, but her actions spoke volumes of something different.

He shifted where he sat and grimaced. She really hurt me, he thought sadly and his anger grew. Is this how humans dealt with relationships? When they were angry with each other and romantically involved, did they hurt one another so coldly? He swallowed dryly. Well, he didn't deserve this. Any of it. He stared forward into his room. He came to a decision. The next time he saw her he would tell her that. He sat a little straighter. It was over. He was done. He wouldn't be treated so poorly. Things were going to change between them. He nodded to himself firmly. The next time they talked, in no uncertain terms, he would tell her that if she still wanted to be with him . . . that things would . . . have to be different. For one thing, she would have to explain to him exactly how she felt about him and why she didn't want to do anything more than kiss. He was sure that once he firmly, but gently, demanded the truth . . . they could work something out. He would understand how to be better for her and help her see that it wasn't his fault . . . what he looked like on the outside. She would understand. He was sure.

Then he would make her apologize for hurting him. An idea struck him. Yes. And she'd have to do something for him to make up for it. He blinked and looked around blearily with sleepy eyes trying to come up with a suitable thing she could do. He set his cheek on his knuckles, elbow propped on one knee; heavy exhaustion weighed on him. He yawned. She would have to do something to make up for this. It would have to be something special. Something just for him. His tired mind reached, straining to imagine something good.

Maybe make him his favorite pie . . .?

The sound of the side entrance opening caught his attention, pulling him from his rambling thoughts. Frowning, he glanced at the clock. It wasn't too early, but no one would use that way unless they were sneaking back in from being out all night and he knew Michelangelo told him that Raphael had come home last night. Could Raph have gone back out while he was attending to his wounds in the bathroom? Not likely.

With Leo and Master Splinter recovering, it fell to him and Raph to keep guard over the lair. Standing on wavering legs, he grabbed his bo and headed out of his room.

As Casey gazed around the expanse of his friend's home, he was amazed at how comfy it all seemed. In the dimly light space, he made out a large television set, a punching bag hanging in one corner, a low coffee table with empty pizza boxes laid out, surrounded by some chairs and a couch. The worn in furniture had a homey feeling instead of a discarded one. The board games and comic books strewn about near the couch was an added touch that Casey smiled at. Across the way, a night light still shone in the brightly painted kitchen. This was much better than that run-down motel room.

He skipped down the steps and tossed his plastic bag of belongings into one corner where an old full-sized pin-ball machine sat. He ducked his head and pulled the strap of his golf bag over his shoulder and head and carefully leaned it next to the plastic bag. Glancing around, he wondered where Raph was and how he was going to ask about staying for a while.

He hoped that the hot jogger went on her merry way, but also cursed himself for not asking for her number. He twisted around. Part of him wanted to run back out there and see if she was still around. But at that shocked expression on her face when he slipped in here, she probably thought he was some kind of maniac living in the sewers.

He sighed as his shoulders slumped. Typical Jones luck. Just when things were looking up. Fortunately for him, his dad had been passed out when Casey made it to his apartment. He'd checked the old man's pulse just to make sure he was alright and before he left that morning, he'd turned him onto his side so that if he vomited, he wouldn't choke to death while Casey was gone. He'd left a scrawled note on the kitchen table, explaining that he'd be gone for a few weeks, but highly doubted his father would read it and even if he did, he probably wouldn't even care.

As he twisted back around, he jumped as a long wooden rod came out of nowhere aimed at his head. He hollered and dropped. The staff swung, missing his face by inches. He scrambled backwards on his butt as a lanky turtle wearing a purple mask with one arm in a sling glowered down at him. One of Raph's brothers he'd heard so much about.

The questions were fired at him aggressively, "Who are you? What are you doing here? How did you get in here?"

Casey continued scrambling back, one hand up in a peaceful gesture. "Hey, Hey now! I-I'm a friend of your brother's."

The mutant did not look convinced. In fact, he looked like he was ready to crack his skull in two. Casey ducked as the turtle lifted his arm back. Casey rolled to the right just as it came down. He rose up on one knee, hands out.

"Fuck man! I come in peace!"

Donatello stalked two steps forward. He twirled the bo around his head with one hand and swung again. This one clipped his shoulder and Casey barked out a shout of pain. He turned and rolled into a somersault to put some distance between him and his attacker. His face darted about. He really didn't want to fight this guy. Based on the green skin and shell, he was Raph's brother for sure. But he wasn't going to stand around and be a punching bag either. Casey gave up trying to convince the enraged mutant. Instead he opted for going simple. He started to holler for Raphael.

"RAPH! Raph! You here, Buddy!? Raphael!"

Donatello's face dropped into a frown as the stranger started screaming out his brother's name. His steps faltered. The grip on his staff went slack. How did he know Raphael's name?

"Oh my gosh!"

April's voice behind him had him snapping around. Their eyes met.


Oh god. He blanched to a light green as his stomach clenched and the bile burned the back of his throat. His eyes were circles of fright punctuated by the deep circles left from a night of no rest. His heart tripped as his mouth went dry. What was she doing here? The hurt and the questions surfaced in a rush of tangled emotions. The painful thoughts of the night before crammed into his mind, crowding out any further thoughts or worry over the intruder to the lair. How could you do that to me? Why did you hurt me? Don't you know I love you? April, I love you. How could you hurt me that way? It was my first time with a girl. They jammed into the back of his throat where they stuck and a choked sound was the only thing that escaped.

He knew it would be awkward to see her again, to say the least. But he didn't expect the debilitating pain to render him speechless and weak in the knees; the deep humiliation to rise up suddenly and drag his stomach to the floor. And in a million years, he would have never guessed she'd dare show up here the very next day. Once again, he underestimated her coldness.

His panicked mind scattered and blanked. He turned around to flee as his heart sped up. His mouth opened and closed wordlessly. His head shook back and forth. No. He couldn't handle this. No way. It was too much to bear. Too much. He wasn't ready. His knees turned to jelly as all the strength fled from his legs and his stomach turned to ice. His rubbery legs knocked into each other as he pitched to one side; feet stumbling; tripping; he slammed into the armrest of the loveseat and fell in a clumsy heap to the floor. Dropping his bo, he scrambled to stand, keeping his eyes off her as they darted around for a path of escape.

"Donnie, what's the matter with you?"

He heard her voice but blocked out the words. Couldn't handle even trying to process what she was saying to him. He couldn't breathe. He couldn't think. He just had to . . . had to go. Now!

Raphael emerged just in time. "What the hell is going on out here?" He stopped in his tracks as his red-rimmed eyes fell on Casey. His expression turned to one of shock. "Casey . . . what're you . . ."

"Raph!" Casey pointed at him, one hand on his throbbing shoulder where Donnie had connected with his bo. "Him!" he said to Donatello as he raced past him, oblivious and with the only intent of getting out of the room as fast as possible. "That's the one I know," Casey finished feebly to Donatello's retreating shell. He turned back to Raphael.

"Oh man, buddy, am I happy to see you! Hey, uh, you mind tellin' the rest of your family to back off."

He jabbed a thumb in the direction of where Leonardo and Master Splinter stood staring just outside Leonardo's room, mouths open at the intruder. Leonardo was being propped up by Master Splinter. One arm was wrapped around his middle. He held a sword in his other hand, body tensed and ready to attack.

"Erm, Relax everyone. I know this bonehead."

Raph leaped down the stairs and stepped over to Casey. He grabbed him roughly by the arm and spoke from between clenched teeth, "What're you doin' here?"

Casey glanced back at Leonardo and Master Splinter with eyes wide. "Th-That you're dad you were telling me about?"

Raph shot a panicked glance in his older brother's direction. He let out a sigh of relief as he realized his brother didn't catch what Casey had just said. In fact, Leonardo seemed out of it and Master Splinter didn't look too good either. Just more things to pile on to the growing pile of stress that was burning a hole through his stomach. Taking advantage of his family's apparent distraction, he yanked Casey's arm towards the exit. He was sure he would catch hell later for telling a stranger where they lived. That and then he'd be forced to explain his extra-curricular activities that he engaged in with the fellow vigilante. He took a steadying breath. One shit-storm at a time. He had to get Casey out of here.

"Let's talk outside," Raph growled and pulled him through the turnstiles.

April walked across the room towards Master Splinter as she caught the last sight of Donnie disappearing into his lab. She didn't understand the strange response he had to her arrival. But brushed it away. She'd talk to him after she saw to Master Splinter and Leonardo. And Raphael apparently was friends with the dark haired guy she met in the tunnel. How . . . interesting, she thought with a fleeting smile. That new and exciting information was tucked away to explore at a later time.

Turning back to Splinter, she noticed the bandages on his head and the battered shape that Leonardo was in. An unsettling thought hit her. Donatello had said something about Master Splinter having several episodes yesterday morning. Could his injuries be related to them? Had he fought physically with Leonardo? The thought was nearly too horrible to even consider.

She approached the two of them as Leonardo turned back to his room without greeting her or even acknowledging her presence. He was clearly distracted by something. He muttered something she couldn't catch under his breath to Splinter and the old rat nodded. He lifted a claw and stroked his son's face before dropping it away. The tender exchange left an oddly foreboding feeling in the pit of her stomach.

"Master Splinter," she started and gave him a gentle hug as he turned away from Leonardo. The turtle entered his room and quietly closed the door behind him. April did a double take but focused on Master Splinter. "Are you . . . are you feeling better?" she asked, eyeing the bandages wrapped around his head. He seemed calm and more like himself than she'd seen in so long, it was almost uncanny.

"Yes. I am . . . myself once again."

April blinked, hardly daring to believe it. But he seemed so coherent. This was the clearest he'd been in so long. Her heart leaped with joy as tears sprang into her eyes. She pressed her forefinger into her lips. How could this miracle have happened?

"That –" she swallowed. "That's so good to hear. I'm so happy. How? I mean, you weren't . . . I mean to say . . ." she fumbled not wanting to be disrespectful but wanting to know how the transformation had occurred. She decided to leave it up to Donatello to explain to her. No doubt he knew what had happened to heal his father so dramatically. "What happened here?" she asked softly as she indicated his head.

Splinter's eyes turned glassy and bright. He clutched at his robe near his heart as if suddenly feeling pain. "A misunderstanding . . . an altercation." He gave Leonardo's bedroom door a sidelong glance, fleeting but April caught it. Her worst fears seemed to be confirmed. Her heart sank for both of them and what it must be putting them through. "It is nothing to concern yourself with. Nothing important." He paused, leaving April only worried more. If they had fought, and it seemed they certainly did, then the emotional strain must be crushing them both. If only there was some way she could ease their pain. But April could think of nothing that she could do. And the guilt of her upcoming conversation with Donatello only made her stomach twist and sink further down.

Splinter spoke gently, pulling her away from her thoughts, "Please, allow me to make us both some tea. It will help us be calm." His voice wavered and a bolt of irrational fear lanced through her. He seemed fearful of something. And she knew it revolved around Leonardo. Something was wrong. Her body went rigid as her face shot to his door.

"I need to talk to Leonardo first."

Splinter's head snapped up. "I am not sure he is up for company at this moment."

She bit her lip, not looking at him, she said, "It's okay. I won't be long. I need to talk to Donnie, anyway." Before he could protest, she slipped into Leonardo's room. Determined to find out what was going on.

She found him sitting on the edge of his bed. An ornate sword at his side, his hand was wrapped loosely around the hilt; the blade partially propped on one thigh. His other arm was braced on the top of his opposite thigh, palm up. His face shot up and their eyes met. He looked as if she'd just caught him in the act of doing something wrong. Eyes wide and he swept them away quickly. It looked suspiciously as if he were about to harm himself. Her breath froze in her suddenly tight throat.

April leaned heavily against the door, hands behind her back and they stared at each other; speechless. Her eyes dropped and roved over to the mattress he sat upon. His bed was stained with what looked like blood. Her stomach sank as she considered the implications. Was . . . Was Leonardo cutting himself? Just the thought made her feel weak and sick to her stomach. He promised that if things became too heavy that he'd tell his brothers what happened. She knew he was under incredible stress with Master Splinter's illness, but she just couldn't believe that he'd resort to something as hopeless as this.

She moved to step forward but found the strength in her legs gone, instead, she fell to her knees and crept to kneel before him. He shifted and slid the sword's blade away so that it wouldn't cut her. She took his clammy hand in both of hers. She gazed up at him and reluctantly, he turned his face to meet her gaze. She stared into his lost and deeply saddened eyes. There was a hint of fright there that unnerved her. He only looked this way once before. A year ago when he'd come through her window on that snowy evening; trembling and weary, shaken and scared out of his mind. The night he told her what happened to him.

Summoning her courage, she choked, "Leo. Talk to me."

Outside the entrance to the lair, Casey stood, hands in his pockets as Raph paced back and forth in front of him agitated. He glanced over his shoulder back to Raph's home and realized with a start that the pretty red-head seemed to know them, too. He filed that away in the back of his mind as a perfect conversation starter to use to break the ice with her the next time he had the chance to talk to her. Of all the people to run into in the sewers . . . another friend of his green buddy's. He shook his head, bemused at the wondrous coincidence of it all. Raph's infuriated tirade cut through his happy thoughts.

"I don't know what the hell you were thinkin' coming here. I told you that this place was supposed to be secret. Do you even know what that word means?"

"Uh, yeah. I do. But after you trashed our hide-out, I . . . didn't have much choice. My dad's on one of his benders and . . . c'mon Raph. What was I supposed to do? I didn't want to sleep under that bridge again. Remember all the roaches?" He shivered. "Christ, there were a lot."

Raph looked at him blankly. Then guilt twisted his face and he dropped his eyes away. He rubbed the back of his neck. Casey was practically homeless because of his rampage. Because, yet again, he couldn't control himself. He really was disgusting. An animal, he thought with a sharp twist in his heart.

"Oh . . ." was all he could manage.

"Yeah, I know. And I got to be on the receivin' end of it with Keesha. It wasn't pleasant, let me tell you. That woman's a beast." He rubbed his ribs, still sore from that encounter. He stared in a glazed way in the distance and suppressed a shudder as he remembered having to endure her rough groping yet again. It wouldn't have been so bad if she wasn't fifteen years older than him – or so freaking rough with those pointy nails. His eyes refocused on Raph.

He said softly, "She said you were screaming bloody murder and that she could hear you all the way across the lot. You're lucky she didn't get her uncle up there."

Raph only stared at the ground between them, saying nothing. The expression on his face was one of embarrassment and shame. Casey felt bad for him. But that sympathy vanished as he recalled another detail of his encounter with LaKeesha. He snapped his fingers, Raph looked up.

"Oh yeah. Her and her uncle . . . they want three hundred for the damage."

Raph's face fell. He suddenly looked like he was about to be sick. "Three . . . Oh, shit. I-I . . . I'm really sorry, Casey. I . . . lost it back there. Wasn't thinkin' that you'd get the short end of it."

"No kiddin'. I could tell not a lot of plannin' went into your little tantrum. So, that place is blown. So much for our heal-up spot." Casey eyed him. He pressed his lips together then leaned in, "What the hell happened anyway?" Casey looked around and said in a lowered voice, "You didn't . . . uh, you didn't do nothin', did you?"

Raph blinked uncomprehendingly at his friend. He frowned and shook his head slightly.

Casey licked his lips and bobbed his head once. He held up his hands as if to aid his explanation. "I mean, you didn't," he shrugged, clearly uncomfortable, "you know . . . hurt her or nothin' . . ." He narrowed his eyes, "Did you?" His face crushed into a slightly sympathetic but at the same time slightly disgusted face as Raph's eyes widened in horror. He shoved Casey back so hard that the man stumbled and fell to the ground with a grunt. He groaned and rubbed his aching ribs.

"Ow, dammit, Raph. My ribs," he cursed under his breath with a hiss of pain.

"What the fuck is that supposed to mean? And what's with that look?"

Raph started to pace furiously again. This was perfect. Just what he needed on top of everything else. Just when he didn't think his wretched life could get any more pathetic. The one friend he had in the world - the only friend he had in the world thought he was a monster. His fists clenched and unclenched.

"Hurt her? Did I hurt her? What the fuck? You think I'd do something like that to a . . . a defenseless . . ." he shook his head, swearing under his breath. Then he stopped abruptly. He narrowed his flashing green eyes as he glared down at Casey. "You too?" he asked, voice dripping in betrayal.

Casey climbed back to his feet, dusting himself off. "Me too, what?"

"You guys are all the same, you know that?" he spat. Raphael's eyes glittered in the dark tunnel. He huffed through his nose. He put his hands on his hips and looked away, unable to meet Casey's eyes. "I thought . . . I thought you were my friend."

"Hey, hey! C'mon. It ain't like that." Casey reached out to Raphael but the turtle shrugged his shoulder away and roughly pushed past him, going back inside.

"Back off," he growled.

"Raph. Raphael. I am your friend. Hey," Casey tagged along behind him. "Look, I just wanted to know what happened back there. You got a temper, you know? I didn't know what to think."

Through gritted teeth, Raph said over his shoulder, "Yeah right. I'm an animal, right?" He shook his head in disgust.

Casey stopped; straightened. "What?" he asked completely confused.

The entrance door slammed in his face.

"Dammit. Raph. Raph, my stuff's in there."

Muttering, he tried the handle and found it unlocked. His eyebrows rose. He slipped inside, making sure to give his clearly pissed off friend plenty of space. He slunk around the edge of the room and eased himself onto a chair, keeping one eye on Raph the entire time. He sank deeper into the chair hoping that no one would notice that he was still there. Maybe if he kept a low profile he could stay while his dad was on his bender. Raphael didn't exactly tell him to leave, after all.

"Mikey!" Raph barked. "You make breakfast yet?"

He needed something to eat. He felt hollowed out and empty and the roiling in his stomach was only making things more difficult. The last twenty four hours of his life had been nothing but a roller coaster of panic, frustration, fury and pain. He wanted grease in the form of bacon and sausages and he wanted it now. He stomped over to the empty, deserted kitchen. Deserted except for Master Splinter making a pot of tea. He staggered to a stop.

"Uh, hey, Sensei," he blinked as Splinter turned around and nodded deeply once in his direction. Raphael blinked again, not believing his eyes, fighting the urge to rub them and look again. Master Splinter seemed . . . better. His head was wrapped up for some reason, but his eyes were bright and clear. He seemed like . . . himself. Finally some good news. "How ya feelin'?" Raph ventured, still in shock at finding him in here as if nothing was ever wrong with him.

"I am feeling much better this morning, Raphael." There was a timber to his voice that seemed unsteady; weak. Raphael chalked it up to him being up and on his feet so much after being sick for so long.

Raphael rubbed the back of his head. This seemed almost too good to be true. Was his father really in the kitchen making a pot of tea or was he hallucinating from being so hungry and not sleeping all night?

He turned towards Michelangelo's bedroom, he needed to fetch his brother if only to get someone else in here to make sure he wasn't actually hallucinating after all. Master Splinter stopped him, "We need to discuss the sudden appearance of your friend, Raphael."

"Oh . . . yeah. Uh, he's . . . he's good, Master Splinter. He's a good guy. Just needs a little help. Needs a place to crash for a little bit."

Splinter's eyes dropped. He hmm'd but said nothing else. He turned back to fetch a mug. Was Raphael imaging things, or did his father's hand tremble as he reached for the mug?

"It is good to be there when a friend is in need. Though I would have preferred our home to have been kept secret."

"Uh . . . right. Sorry about that, Master Splinter." Raphael fidgeted where he stood. He decided to change the subject. "Um, how about I get Mikey to make us some breakfast, huh? You haven't eaten with us at the table in a long time." He could not hide the fragile excitement in his voice. This was a dream come true. He'd need to ask Donnie how the heck this happened. Maybe his genius brother had come up with a cure or some other scientific miracle solution.

Splinter nodded and said over his shoulder with a sigh in his voice, "Yes. That would be nice." Raphael saw Master Splinter's shoulders slump and his head lowered. He spoke to the tea pot in front of him. "There is something of great importance I need to discuss with you and . . . your younger brothers." That strange wavering hitch was there again. Raph frowned.

"Uh, okay," Raph said, confused at his father's suddenly grim tone. Nearly missing the fact that Splinter withheld Leonardo from that statement, but brushing it off; thinking they'd done something to get into trouble over and Mr. Perfect was, as usual, somehow exempt.

The television in the living room flicked to life. Raph glared over his shoulder as Casey burrowed deeper into the chair; the remote poked out, aimed for the television set.

"And you and I will discuss the situation with your friend, later."

He grumbled under his breath. Of course they would. Just when he thought he was doing somethin' good. He just couldn't win no matter what he did. He spun on his heel. The anger and frustration boiling up once again just beneath the surface.

"Hey, Mikey!" Shaking his head he marched over to his younger brother's door and rapped on the wood with his knuckles. "Get your lazy ass out here. You were on breakfast duty this week! Get out here and make Master Splinter something ta eat! He's hungry and so am I." He waited a moment. "Don't make me repeat myself."

He tapped his foot as he waited for some response. From beneath the crack of the door, Raph could see light coming through so he knew the little shit was awake. Probably hiding in there slacking off and readin' one of those stupid comics he liked so much. He waited a little longer for his brother to say something. Raph was not in the mood right now to play games. He was tired, and hungry and pissed. He shook his head and cracked his knuckles, grinning without mirth.

"Alright, ya had yer chance. I'm comin' in ta get ya."

He pushed open the door and stumbled inside from shock as a blazing light blinded him. A blast of powerful wind pushed against him as he braced his legs firmly and planted his feet into the floor.

"Mikey?! Mikey!" he screamed.

Review! Pretty, pretty please!

I haven't forgotten about Deborah - she just isn't the main focal point here. XD