'Just take all of your pain

Just put it on me

So that you can breathe –' Arcade Fire, Awful Sound

Chapter 32 – Epilogue

A day went by, and another; they bled into each other and soon she didn't know how, but nearly a week had gone by. April stood by the entrance, counting the minutes; measuring the hours against her building anxiety; watching and waiting for his return. Preparing the words she would tell him, rehearsing them over and over in her mind, rolling them around, practicing different combinations and phrases; determined to make him understand. Things could not go on this way. She could not survive like this. Orbiting him and mapping out the patterns of his existence but never coming too close to that bright center that was his heart out of fear that he would immolate her. She would burn for him and gladly. He had to know this. He had to see that his fire was the only thing powerful enough to weld the broken pieces inside of her back together.

She'd been weak. She'd been wrong. She'd been blinded by half-truths spoken out of supposed consideration for her well-being. Little suspecting that it was a jealous fear that motivated her father and his; or at least, a failing to understand. What they had was consuming, yes. But they thrived in that obliteration; in that blind joy. And now having been so close to him and his family again, she could not return to the hollow existence; she could not go back to the darkness that waited for her above ground.

And she knew that he could not continue becoming this being so devoid of warmth, so removed; isolated from his own emotions. Whether his brothers and father saw it or not, she would not rest until she at least tried to rescue him from the fate that lay ahead. Of emptiness and love forsaken; a shell without a spirit; a mind without the passion of motivation and drive. The cold calculation of a life separated from the chaos and joy of emotions like love and happiness.

The call was made to Casey. She would have liked to do it face to face, but that was impossible. Casey had left the city on a construction job with an uncle. It had to be over the phone. The break up was a long time in coming and he was not only surprisingly graceful, but he insisted there was no hard feelings and that he'd always be there for her, if she needed him. There was a slight suspicion about a certain woman by the name of Gabrielle that Casey worked as a secretary at his uncle's construction and roofing company. A name that crossed his phone on more than one occasion. A woman with a husky voice that called occasionally for him at her place. But the suspicion felt more like relief than anything else. In truth, she hoped that maybe he'd found someone in the time he spent being pushed aside while she immersed herself in her many manic obsessions; the temporary distractions meant to keep her from what was unhealthy. To keep her from what made up her core.

She realized, having come back here, having gone through this nightmare with his little brother that life was too large an entity to fortify with caution and care. Too wild to tame with fragile anxiety and brittle worry. The terror and evils crept along the sidelines and would not submit to weak pleading and feints. April saw that even the most guarded could fall. Even the most protected could be stolen away and broken. It brought a fright into her heart, foreign and strange, but it gripped her with an intensity that left her breathless. It would not relent. She needed to seize her life back from those that had chased it from her. She needed to pounce and retake what was hers, to choke every drop of precious essence from it before her time was up. Before some lurking monstrosity took its turn with him.

April closed her eyes, felt the fatigue warring with her determination. When she opened them again, she watched Michelangelo cross into the kitchen with quiet care to sit at the table. He'd slept through the first two days back. Waking once to use the bathroom, moving half-asleep between the rooms, then back to sleep. Since he'd woken he'd been subdued and quiet. No sign of the earlier anger that suffused his character for all these weeks. The air around him seemed vacant and heavy. When she got too close to him it felt like drowning. As though there were a deep puncture in the center of him that created an invisible vortex, dragging down and devouring all the energy within the space around him. Master Splinter did not seem to be affected. If he felt it, and she was sure he did, he pointedly ignored the power of it. As though his will were greater than anything causing his son harm. That his presence would conquer it, eventually. Obscure it, erase it with time. Even now, he moved around Mikey and set to making him and his brothers' dinner with a calm countenance and confident movements.

Raph came in and gave his shoulder a squeeze before assisting Master Splinter. Like Master Splinter, Raph was not afraid of the seeping hole that made up the center of his brother's spirit. Unlike their father, though, Raph's face betrayed the fact that he could feel it. Every time he came close to Mikey, he had a pinched look around his eyes. But it was his own stubborn determination to protect his little brother that triumphed over any discomfort time and again. For he was ever at his side, tending to him.

Mikey no longer fought about his brother doting on him. He seemed to appreciate the efforts his family was taking to help him recover. But the sadness, the quiet encroaching depression lingered. Festering.

Not for the first time she saw so clearly how precariously he balanced between despair and healing. Between sliding into depression and surfacing. He had a long way to go and his healing was only just beginning. And not for the first time, April knew that it could have been Don. That is was really only a matter of time before it would be. Any of them. Each of them. Eventually, with the life they lived . . . it was inevitable. That some dark force would erupt into their sheltered lives and render them helpless and broken. They were up against everything. They had few resources to fall back on besides each other.

April felt her hands tighten into fists. She couldn't let another day go by without telling him. Even if he rejected her. At least he'd know. He'd know that someone loved him. Loved him more than anything else in all the world. And like Casey, she would make sure that he understood that no matter what, he could count on her. She would always be someone he or any of his brothers could turn to for help. She would deal with her feelings in her own way, in her own time, but she would not forsake them in the meantime. Friends stood by each other.

As the days continued to pass without sign, her lonely vigil was ghosted at times by a worried Leonardo recovering from his wounds. She'd look at him and catch him glancing at his phone and sigh with a shake of his head. They hadn't heard from Don since the night they'd left the house. Michelangelo had gotten a text later that night with a simple phrase of: It's done. Rest + recover. Will be home soon. Need a day or two. Despite Master Splinter's confidence that Donatello would be home soon, worry ate at him. It burrowed creases in his forehead. He was lost in his last conversation with his younger brother. Eyes distant and full of serious contemplation. If she wasn't so caught up in her own concerns, she would have been a better supportive figure for him. Instead, they remained. Separate but tied by their unspoken fears, anxieties and doubt.

She scratched at her arm and was surprised to see raised welts there. Leo broke from his quiet reverie and took notice. He moved in close to her. With gentle care, he took her wrist and turned her arm back from where she tried to hide the evidence of her worry. He made a soft sound.

"April," he said.

She laughed nervously. "I break out when I'm worried about something."

He searched her eyes. When she glanced again towards the door and fixed her gaze on it as she had for the past hour, Leo released her arm and said, "Why don't you go home." Her face snapped around and she opened her mouth, but Leo went on, "Just for a bit. Take a shower, take a nap. I'll call you when he gets home."

She had to admit, a shower sounded like heaven. She nodded, "Okay, Leo. Just -"

He gave her a soft smile, keeping his eyes on her, full of a lingering sadness that spoke of understanding what it was like to love and lose someone. "As soon as he gets back, you'll know."

She moved towards the exit, pausing as he added, "And if you, uh, if he happens to contact you first . . . could you . . ."

She shook her head and rubbed at her arm. A smile full of hurt crossed her face. "Sure, Leo. Only . . . you know he hasn't called me for years. I doubt he'll start now."

He dropped his eyes as he ducked his head, realizing he'd hurt her with his careless comment. He'd been so tired since Malcolm stabbed his wounded shoulder and they'd left that awful house. It had been only a few days, but between worrying about Mikey readjusting to life after all this mess and fretting over Donatello's continued disappearance, he'd gotten no sleep. Despite the weariness that seemed to live in his bones and heart. The ache in his shoulder and chest didn't help things, either. He'd browsed Donatello's medicine cabinet, but was honestly overwhelmed by the intimidating little plastic tubes filled with strange pills. He was never one to self-medicate and even when Don would administer to him, he was wary and often only took half the amount of what was given. If he were truthful, he'd admit that it scared him, a little. These unknown medicines and odd little pills. He would not touch any of it without Don's counsel. He wanted Donatello home. Only then would he be able to rest.

But that was only partially true, for the other thing that kept him awake was less easily amended. Now that the nightmare with Michelangelo was really over, he felt the weight of his grief more sharply. It was a constant pressure. A consistent feeling of forcing himself to inhale and exhale, as though his lungs had forgotten to work of their own accord. It haunted the quiet moments between the seconds that counted out his lonely existence. When he blinked he saw her eyes flash and his heart would quicken. Should he close his eyes as sleep finally pulled at him, it was only to awaken minutes later, shaken and gasping, looking into his empty hands for her presence, knowing she was just there; the scent of her lingering; the sound of her murmuring ghosting his inner ear. But she was gone. And the reality of this fact remained bitter and unrelenting.

He focused on April's face, her expression one of patient waiting. A wall of regret hit him, then and he needed to tell April something. It became important that she knew this.

April thought he'd say nothing more, moved to leave, but he made a soft sound and she paused.

"I was never against it."

He glanced over his shoulder to where Splinter was settling himself down next to Mikey. As if checking to make sure his father was out of ear shot. Raph was saying something to Mikey that they couldn't hear. A smile broke over his face, but it was fleeting. Still. It was like the sun peeking through the thunder-gray clouds, even for just a glimpse, that golden light remained a powerful sign of hope. But when Leonardo turned back to her his expression only held sodden regret.

Though she didn't know to what he referred, she felt something bracing within her heart and mind. But bracing against what? April held her breath, feeling her heart pounding uncomfortably against her ribs with this sudden whispered profession.

He fidgeted. "Donatello knew how I felt. That I was supportive."

April blinked once, hard. She willed herself to stay perfectly still. She knew she needed to hear what he was confessing. No matter how it may affect her.

In an undertone he added, "When it was easy to be so." He made a disgruntled noise through his nose. "I've been a coward when it comes to . . . things of this nature. Maybe if I had . . . then she . . . if I hadn't . . ." he struggled, throat working, emotion clouding his eyes. He looked up but only held her gaze for a moment to retrain his thoughts. He ran his tongue along his bottom lip.

"I should have said something, then. I should have defended you and . . . him. I'm . . . so sorry, April."

She felt her eyes burning as she shook her head. "It's okay," she said, a little breathlessly, a little too quickly, automatically trying to wipe away heat of anger flaring within her chest.

If they had had an ally. Someone to speak up for them. Then maybe, it would not have come to this. Everything could have been different. They could have been happy. The thought crippled her. She clutched at the front of her shirt. Forced herself to breathe calmly. To ignore the spinning of the room and the violent need to punch him in the face. To scream.

"I think he, uh," he ducked his head again and closed his eyes, looking a little pale. Looking all the world like a child full of shame. He brought his hand up to cover the thick bandage at his shoulder. Keeping his head lowered, he said, "I think he hates me because I, um, didn't stick up for his feelings, uh, a-against Master Splinter."

He fell quiet, blinking his watering eyes and looking everywhere but at her. April had no idea what to say. Waves of conflicting emotions swept through her. Mostly she wanted to punch him. To scream at him. But then the anger ebbed and she felt a heavy sadness sweep through her body. She stepped towards him on wobbling legs and placed one hand against his cheek.

"You're wrong. He doesn't hate you," she promised, wanting to add, it's me he despises. After all, I'm the one who should have fought for what we had.

He leaned into her palm, blinked slowly, relishing the gentle contact, the forgiveness between the spoken words. But he pulled away, stepped back and glanced again towards his father, ultimately rejecting her offering. She did not try to convince him.

"I would if I were him. And I do."

She frowned, tilted her head.

Leo clarified, "Hate myself for not being a better friend . . . and brother."

But mostly, for not allowing myself to love because of duty and some hollow notion of honor. For allowing the frustration and the unfairness that was my life hinder me helping my brother and my closest friend, he thought, unable to voice this. It hurt too much. It did no good. Now it was too late. It would only prove his cowardice.

"I'm glad you told me," she managed in a tight voice. Then, "I should go." Maybe one day she could tell him she forgave him for his silence. Right now, she could only focus on what she needed to do to repair what she had broken between herself and the love of her life.

The apartment was dark as she stepped through the door, tossing her keys on top of the desk near the entryway. Leonardo's confession had left her shaken and uneasy. It only revealed how fucked up all of it had been. At the time, it seemed as though it were she and Don against the entire world. It left room to doubt. To fear that maybe their fathers were right. That something was wrong with the relationship. If only he'd have said something. No wonder Don kept to himself so much, even from his own brothers. He must have felt more betrayed by Leo than even her. Most likely he resented Leo, maybe even hated him as Leonardo feared. He said that Donatello knew he supported the situation. They must have talked.

Dammit, Leo.

She blew out a breath. Shook out her fingertips. No. It didn't matter. She had to focus on the next step. She kicked off her shoes and then reached up to flick the light switch.


She froze. Eyes wide in the darkness, searching until she caught the outline of him. There. Barely highlighted from the lights of the neighborhood street lamps through the kitchen window behind him, he stood; leaning against the corner of the wall that separated her living-room from the hall beyond. Looming over her despite the space that separated them. An oppressive feeling came to her, it blotted out the initial pang of joy at seeing him there. Her heart felt too large, filling in the empty space inside, choking her. And she found she was afraid.

"Donatello?" she managed and wondered why she was whispering.

He shifted. "Yes."

It wasn't a question. But there was a lingering hesitance that made her hold her breath. She gathered what courage she could find between her fluttering heart and her trembling legs and moved forward. Somehow crossing the space between them. He did not move. Only watched her. Some internal light firing his bright eyes that made them two pools in the surrounding darkness. A thought struck her.

"Are you hurt?"

He laughed at that and it startled her. She made out the white of his teeth. His canine glinting as he turned his head to one side, shaking it.

"I would need that question to be more specific," he said and straightened up.

"What? What are you . . ."

His hands snapped out from where they'd been buried in the pockets of his lab coat. He gripped her arms and pushed her backwards. She gasped as her feet shuffled back and back until she was once more in front of her entranceway. Then he shoved her against the door. She yelped and strained to move her face to one side. Through his punishing hold, she felt him shaking and that alone calmed her initial burst of fright. She inhaled through her nose and composed herself. Her body relaxed even as he held her roughly against the door. April turned to look him in the eye. His face was close to hers, uncomfortably so, but she held onto her resolve. Staring into his eyes; wild and flashing. A bitter smell hit her. One that made her gut churn and her gorge rise. It smelled like blood.

"What are you doing?" she asked and was proud of the evenness of it.

She ignored the way her body felt dipped in icy water. She would not be afraid of him. If he was trying to frighten or intimidate her, he would have to do far more than this. If he was angry with her for what she'd said earlier, about loving him still, then they'd have to face that together and work it out. No matter what, she would not back down until she knew he understood that she was never going to get over him. That he was everything to her. Only then would she accept his anger; even his refusal. Her heart pinched and it stole her breath. She swallowed.

But in looking into his eyes, in the strangeness of this behavior, she felt there was more here than what was just between them. The smell. The rough feel of his hands, coated in something dried and dark. She pulled her mind from the realization that stood front and center of her rational thought. His hands were covered in dried blood. Something had happened.

Behind this violent outburst was something raw and churning. It was heated like lust, but uglier; something rotting behind the garden roses; something bleeding into the gold. Behind his eyes – the pleading child; the howling animal; injured and lost. It was an awful sound that only her heart could hear.

"Donatello. Talk to me."

His face split into a grin and it was savage. She could only think how magnificent he was. And the waves of her heart beat reverberated through her like thunder on the expansive plain that was her soul.

"That's exactly what I intend to do, Ms. O'Neil." He was speaking through gritted teeth. She had never seen him in such a state. Could not place what this was. Anger? Madness? What had happened in that house? A chill went through her. He added, "But I think we should go downstairs. There's something you need to see."

She blinked at that. The shop? She had inherited her aunt's second hand shop and had run it sporadically through the years. Currently it was not in use. But if he wanted to go down there, for whatever reason, to speak to her, perhaps because it was more or less neutral territory, then she would obey the odd order. She made an attempt at a shrug. Her throat worked.

She forced out, "Okay. If that's what you want. Let's go."

He backed up and released her arms. Her eyes flickered over the ends of his sleeves, they too, were darkened by the stain. Her gaze shot to his face. Nearly too quick to catch, a glimmer of panic flitted through his eyes. The moment of indecision passed, fleeting as it was. He turned to pull open the door, forcing her to shuffle out of the way or be crushed between the wall and it and marched through the opening. Muttering.

They descended into darkness. The stairs creaked beneath their weight. The only sound disturbing the quiet of the stifled air of the unused shop. The shapes of items hidden beneath tarps covered in dust loomed throughout the room like ghosts caught in the process of gathering for some malicious plotting. She brushed the unsettling thought from her mind. She moved to the base of the stairs to reach up to pull the chain for the bulb overhead. He grabbed her arm.

"Not yet."

She exhaled and forced her hands into the back pockets of her jeans as he released her and stepped back. His face darted around until he spotted what he searched for. He stilled.

"Now will you talk to me? What is going on?"

"I wanted to see you. After . . . To see what you thought of . . . No, I'm getting ahead of myself. I wanted to see you. Alone. So I waited here."

"Why didn't you come home? You knew where to find me."

"You know why. I needed to talk to you about what you said. I needed some privacy. Something sorely lacking in that hole."

"Leo is worried. Maybe call him and . . ."

That was the wrong thing to say. He huffed and laughed darkly. "Let him stew." He crossed his arms and she frowned as he paced, noticing the hem of his lab coat was tattered and dark. Covered in something. That's when she caught the smell again. A brittle tang. Fright hit her.

"Don, what happened? Are you hurt?"

He laughed again and she stiffened. Her temper flared. She'd had enough.

"Stop that. Right now. Stop this act." She approached him. Heart in her throat. "Whatever game this is that you're playing. It's over."

"You like that, don't you?" he sneered.

She blinked. Stunned by both his expression and his harsh words. This was not like the composed, calm man that she'd seen working quietly in the lair the last few weeks. There was a bright glint to his eyes. A manic gleam.

"Being the one to end things."

His words speared her. She choked, "Don, that's not fair."

He was smiling, but it faltered then. He dropped his arms. His face fell into a serious expression. "Maybe not. But it's my turn, now."

A renewed sense of fear hit her. Her voice softened and she crept closer. She reached out to him. "Don, please. Let's go upstairs and sit down. You need to wash up. Th-There's some things I need to tell you."

He stepped back. "Oh? But you've said it, remember? You blurted it before I left. You had to make things harder on me than it already was going to be. But that's what you're good at, isn't it?" The manic flare came back into his eyes and he lurched forward. He grabbed her arms and gave her a short shake. "Making my life a complicated mess. A series of miseries piling on top of one another. Torturing me."

She shook her head. "I never meant . . . to hurt you."

"But you did! When you came into my room, when you stood there, when I fell to my knees and you told me it had been fun! Like I was a game to you. To use. To discard when you were finished with me. Like everything . . . everything we said to each other was only . . . lies." His voice rose and trembled. "Lies!" he shouted in her face and shook her.

"You were everything to me. You were . . ." He dropped his head low and shook it.

She trembled and felt the hot tears coursing down her cheeks. She could only take in what he was saying, his words stealing away her protests. His fingers tightened their hold. She squeaked in pain.

When he spoke again, his voice was low, "Then after all this time. When we're going through a nightmare, you come back, you show up and corner me. While I was weak. Like a predator scenting my frailty. You had the nerve to announce that you still love me? HA! Ha-ha . . ." the chuckling died off. "What am I . . . What should I . . . what could I do?"

He picked up his face and it was a mask of anguish. "Because it was too late! Don't you see? I had made up my mind, April. I was going to rid myself of this."

He released her and she stumbled back, hitting into a stool and knocking it over. It crashed into the counter, sending several miniature vases to shatter against the concrete floor. He gripped his coat and pulled it off his shoulders, then slammed his hands into his chest and clutched at where his heart would be.

"I'm a monster now. I was one before, only on the outside. I thought it would be enough. To have a heart, a good heart, for you to know and love. I thought that would be enough to stand in the way of everything else. But I was wrong. You threw me aside as soon as you were questioned. As soon as they fed you enough to doubt, you made your decision. So, I made one of my own. I decided to be what you thought of me. What your father knew I was all along. What my own father knew."

"Donatello," she moaned.

"I should not be loved. I could not be loved."

She was shaking her head, standing before him. Her hands balled into fists. "No. No, Donatello. I won't stand here and listen to this garbage from you. You know better. You remember like I do. What we said . . . the promises."

"Promises you broke!" he shouted and pointed at her. "You said you'd always love me," he accused. "You said you loved my heart. That nothing would come between us! Th-that you'd protect me."

"I do love you!" she spat and lurched forward, reaching for him, but he backed away, hands up protectively.

"I was wrong to let them control me. But I was just a kid. Yes, okay, I was weak. I couldn't stand up to my father. I believed the crap they fed me. I turned my back on the only good thing in my life. And for what?!" She slapped her thighs. "All I did was hurt you. And me." His face shot up. "I've run from this truth all this time, Don. I've been hiding and trying to outrun it, to distract myself from it. But I can't. Not anymore. Not after this. What you and your family's been through. After seeing you almost lose Mikey. I know that I would die without you. Because I love you, Donatello. Nothing will change that. Nothing will ever change that."

"I don't believe you."

His words made her mouth snap shut. She clenched her jaw and fought the urge to pummel him into understanding.

With a grim look he turned to look again at whatever it was in the shop he wanted her to see. When he tilted his head back to her there was a sly expression on his face that she didn't like. Uneasiness slid through her. He raised his arm and pointed. She followed the line of his indication to a large form in the center of the room. A container not covered with a tarp. In the dust on the floor, she saw where he'd dragged it in. Her pulse flickered as her heart galloped. It was a large plastic bin.

"When you see what I've done. You'll know there's no way you can still love me."

She turned slowly towards the box. One step followed another. He floated behind her like a wraith. The air she sucked in iced the back of her throat and her head was pounding. Her knees gave out and she dropped suddenly, unable to support herself and knelt next to the plastic bin. The cover was sealed and it bulged, as though something had warped it.

"I did this to be free. Free from the hurt that remained. After all these years it would not abate. I tried so many ways to get rid of it. But it wouldn't stop hurting. There was an inkling when we rescued Michelangelo. There was a plan as Leonardo started to search with my strict instructions to call me as soon as he closed in on our prey. And I was at peace with my decision. I accepted it was the only way to be rid of myself. To know that after this . . . I would be empty. Then you said . . . but it was too late."

She rested her hands atop the cover. It was oddly warm. And though it was only an illusion, she thought she felt the cover rise and fall like an animal breathing. A dying thing. She closed her eyes and swallowed. She made up her mind. With deliberate motions she unlatched the sides. First the left. Then the right with some difficulty. A scent of something acrid hit her. Burnt, chemical. Unnatural and raw. Fear slipped slick fingers along the back of her neck and spine. Her stomach rolled. She heard him turn away, making a strangled sound, making her pause. She cocked her head to see him leaning against the counter.

"Do it! Get it over with!" he shouted. In a swift move he knocked everything off to one side with a roar. He followed the items as they crashed to the floor. He crumpled and she was on him.

"I don't care," she whispered fervently into the side of his face. "I don't care what you've done."

"No," he moaned and clutched at his head.

"Listen to me! It doesn't matter! I don't care!"

He turned his face to her and clutched at her shoulders. "No, April. I'm a monster. Like they always knew. I'm capable of horrible things."

She bit her bottom lip and shook her head in defiance. "I don't care," she repeated, meaning every word. "It changes nothing. Nothing."

He laughed in her face and threw his head back. "You don't get it. You have to see what I've done."

"I don't care," she repeated firmly.

"April, I tortured a defenseless man. Let me be perfectly clear, so you understand. I cut pieces from his body and then disemboweled him while he was still alive. I pulled his entrails out . . . and made sure he was still alive while I slowly dismembered him, then I . . ."

He went on describing the horrors he'd committed in the name of vengeance. In the name of exchanging his heart for some shred of peace from the agony she had left him with. She closed her eyes. Knowing what he was saying was true. Wishing it wasn't. Knowing always, that he had this darkness buried deep within him. This cold fury. She knew him better than his family and while this may shock and horrify them, she had long ago recognized it and accepted this side of him. Just as she understood that this was all her fault. Pushing him to the brink, until he fell over into that pit that dwelled within the deepest most hidden parts of his soul.

But she would pull him out. She would not let him fall further into this abyss. She would not allow this self-destruction. She would not let the monster that hurt Mikey steal Donatello away from her or his family as well. They needed him. If they were going to get through this, it would have to be together. That man had done enough to this family. It had to end.


He did not. He went on about the blood, about the sounds the man made. About the sickening joy he felt in dishing out revenge against the beast who forced him to amputate his brother's tail. What he did in kind to the man. He pushed her back towards the bin.

"You have to look to understand."


"Look at what I've done!"

He groped at her, shoving her face towards it. No longer speaking in coherent sentences, howling about being a monster. She fumbled and fought him, knocking against the bin and hearing the sickening sloshing sound from within along with the subtle thud of something larger bumping against the inside. She twisted to come up and managed to get between his arms. They struggled until she brought her mouth up, pressed it to his. He froze, then sobbed into the kiss. Trying to pull away from her now the roles reversed and she gripped his lab coat and held fast as he shuffled on his hands and knees with her beneath him. He fell to one side and she climbed on top of him, brushing the sides of his face with her fingers, stroking the sides of his head as he shook it back and forth but finally submitting to her and kissing her back. Deeply. With a ravaging hunger. Heat bloomed through her as she felt his body's sharp response as his hips bucked. His tongue plundered her mouth. Running his fingers through her hair, gripping the back of her head and pulling her roughly to the side to roll on top of her; he kissed her passionately. Jostling into the bin with its hideous contents, sliding it slightly away.

He raised his head, panting; eyes searching hers. "B-but," he said breathlessly, "What I've done . . . You can't still . . . I'm a monster."

"And I'm the woman who loves you."

His mouth hung open and his frown deepened, his head shook slightly from side to side. She reached up and gently, pulled him down, down into her arms until he resisted no longer; until his body shook and he cried into her as she covered him in all her love; pulling him out of the darkness; recovering him; protecting him. For now on. Always.

The computer screen stared back at him. He sat hunched over the keyboard. After some hesitation, he began typing. After a few minutes, he paused. He sat back and then leaned forward. He typed some more, frowning and gritting his teeth as he did. He slumped in his seat. He raised his hand. His fingertip hovered over the enter button.

His stomach clenched and his heart fluttered. He'd been ghosting through several 'survivor' websites that April had written down for him to take a look at when he felt up for it. He was about to introduce himself on one that focused on male abuse and rape cases. It was only one of a few that he'd found. He'd spent two weeks reading survivor stories, going from feeling angry, to sickened, to giddy light-headedness. All at once it was a relief and a terrible feeling to know that he wasn't alone. That others had experienced what he'd gone through, or at least, very similarly to what he'd been put through. It seemed too real and he wondered how much was and how much was made up.

Though it had been nearly a year since they rid the world of the horror that was Malcolm, Mikey had not had the courage to talk to anyone about what had happened. He and his family moved forward and did their best to put it all behind them. Mikey tried hard not to let the nightmares and the flashbacks interrupt the pretending. He put on a brave front, as much as he could manage. But he spent most days drifting in and out of a smothering, hidden depression. Forced to seem somewhat normal so that his family wouldn't worry about him, because, hell, what could they do about it?

Leo and Raph weren't fooled. Master Splinter merely went on, probably determined to put as much time between what happened and their lives as he could. It made sense, in a way, Mikey realized. Sure, he had to move forward to get past it. Like anything else. For his family, he had to get it together already.

But he found it was becoming harder and harder to do things that he thought would have become easier at this point. Stupid things. Stepping into the bathtub to take a shower was near impossible. He'd been sponging himself down instead of having a proper shower for the past three months. He'd step into the shower room and simply freeze up. He decided he didn't like how the water felt against his skin. The rag and bucket worked fine to clean him anyway. He moved forward and adjusted. No more showers. Fine.

Just looking at the wall of weapons in the dojo caused him to start shivering in fright. He'd clench his fists and excused himself from training to run into his room where he could ride out the hyperventilating in private. His chest would pinch and he would feel his chucks going into his body. The only thing to make it stop would be to hold his teddy bear and bite the top of its stuffed head until it passed and he calmed down. He was still such a baby. But it helped him move forward. Like his father would want. So, he tried his best not to see the wall when he went in and trained. Raph's heavy bag in his room was his favorite spot in the lair aside from his own room because of it. Raph would say nothing, only keep one eye trained on him as he read his motorcycle magazine.

The weirdest thing was that certain colors set him off. Gray. Gray was bad. Malcolm's eyes were gray, so he guessed that made sense. But he found yellow made him uneasy and that made no sense to him at all. And then the smells. Why the scent of cooked pork suddenly turned his stomach to a point of vomiting, he had no idea. But he did his best to adjust. He laughed and when he did, he was loud and made sure everyone heard it. He watched horror movies by the truckload. The gorier the better. And if that surprised his brothers, no one said anything. He'd been changed, despite not wanting it to be true. It was there. But not like he'd have thought. He could sit in front of the television and watch the goriest slasher flicks without a blink of his eye, but then a commercial would come on with a smiling woman being embraced by a boyfriend or kittens wrestling and he'd burst out crying and have to leave the room.

Things were supposed to get better. If he stumbled forward, wasn't that right? Wasn't that what Master Splinter was showing him?

Donatello came back and checked on him, examined his nubby excuse for a tail and he burst out crying again until Don had to hold him up. Every time he stepped into the lab he burst into uncontrollable sobbing. He was sure he was scaring the crap out of Don. Though his brother would only sit on the floor next to him, or hold him, without a word. And it was his silence that Mikey was grateful for. Because he told no one about these break downs. It gave Mikey a slight sense of control. For that he was grateful.

But one day, about three months ago, he must have been standing a little too long on the train tracks, lost in the light coming down the tunnel, riveted to the spot, oblivious to Raphael's screams; until his brother plowed into him, knocking him off the tracks as the train thundered by, missing his brother's feet by an inch and not much more. Raph had beaten him, losing his mind in terror at nearly seeing his brother torn to bits by the speeding train. He'd thrown him against the bricks, pressing his forearm into Mikey's throat.

"What are you trying ta do!? Get yourself killed!? After everything ya been through?! Ya just gonna give up!?"

"I-I'm sorry!" Mikey had moaned.

"You fuckin' nutcase! You fuckin' asshole! You know what that would do ta us?! You selfish bastard?! Huh!? Only thinkin' of yourself?!"

"No . . . I'm . . . S-Stop!" He thrashed and Raph slammed him once more. He shrieked, "Malcolm, stop!"

Raph jumped. He let Mikey go and fell backwards, horrified. Mikey slumped to the ground, covering his head, shuddering and moaning piteously.

"Mikey, I – I . . . oh god, oh fuck. I'm sorry."

He crawled over to his brother and tried to hold him.

"Don't touch me!"

Raphael sat back on his heels. Miserable and helpless, listening to his brother's anguished wailing until his face was wet with his own tears. Finally the sobbing faded and fell to soft, broken gasps. They walked home in oppressive silence. Later that night, April had given him the list of websites to look at.

Mikey reread what he'd typed. A general description of how old he was and how he'd been kidnapped and abused in the most over-reaching terms. He wasn't ready to go into any sort of detail. Not yet. He was tempted to erase it all. He fidgeted, but then, swearing under his breath he hit the enter button.

"Here goes nothing."

The next day, when he checked his messages, he saw there were more than a dozen replies. He opened the page and began to read the words of support and offerings of understanding and comfort. He couldn't believe it. All these people that wanted to help him. That didn't even know him, but offered so much kindness. He was overwhelmed.

He started to cry.

He jumped when he felt Leonardo's hand gently rest on his shoulder an hour later. "Hey," he said softly as he crouched next to Mikey.

"Oh," Mikey wiped at his face and chuckled. "I'm . . . okay. I just . . . got, uh, you know. I'm okay."

"I know. I just wanted to tell you how proud of you we are. I know it hasn't been easy. But you've been really brave."

Mikey chuckled. "I don't feel brave."

"Well, you usually can't see it until you're a bit removed. But trust me." He glanced at the computer screen then back at his youngest brother, staring at him with wide, hopeful eyes. "You're the bravest person I've ever known."

"The strongest, too," Raph said from behind Leonardo. Mikey ducked his head and fidgeted. Using his toes, he spun the computer chair around to face his brothers.

"I wouldn't have had the mental strength to go through what you did and come out of it in one piece. You're amazing, little brother," Donatello added as he stepped into the room behind Raphael.

Mikey closed his eyes.

He felt the small kiss placed upon the top of his head and he opened his eyes to see Master Splinter standing over him.

"You are an incredible example to your brothers. One of strength and bravery, intelligence and compassion. I am so very proud of you, my son. My bright, loving child. We are all better for having you in our lives."

He felt choked with emotion, but he managed out a whisper, "Th-Thank you."

As his brothers embraced him in a giant group hug, fresh tears spilled down his cheeks. For a second, he felt embarrassed at the display. But he cracked his eyes open to see them all teary-eyed with some streaks down their cheeks. His brave, smart, strong brothers all reduced to crying babies over him. He started to giggle until he broke into a laugh that was as real as the love filling the room, filling his heart. Making him whole.

A/N: What can I even say - this story has been one of the most incredible experiences of my life. The reviews, I mean, wow. I've never had so many people respond like this to one of my stories. It makes me incredibly proud. Extremely humbled. I cannot even start to express my gratitude to the people who take a moment to leave me a review, who've reached out to talk with me in pm's, who've followed and favorited this epic . . . novel of a fanfiction, lol. I love hearing from you. I really do.

Thank you for being there for me. You make me want to write better. You push me forward when I doubt myself. You make me feel like this is all worth something to someone.

I will now be working on Tender Trap III - Sins of the Fathers, oh what I have planned, heh heh hee, as well as Lost in the Gloaming and my newest DonxApril love story, Love's Causality. Be sure to check them out.

Until then,

I'll see you in another story.