'Love is clockworks . . . and cold steel -
Fingers too numb to feel . . .
Squeeze the handle . . . blow out the candle
Love is blindness.' –Love is Blindness, U2
The low flickering light from the plastic lighter was enough to just see his way as Donatello crept along the narrow passageway behind the garage of the lair. That he'd set up a separate room to 'study' when even the sanctity of his lab was not isolated enough, when even the whispers of his brothers became too intrusive, was not a surprise. So when Raphael watched, unseen, from the back of the couch as his brother slid from his room and headed towards the garage he was not worried. He was unconcerned. And yet . . . something in his brother's posture pricked his interest and in the center of his gut he felt uneasy. And oddly enough . . . afraid. Though of what or why he didn't know. He shivered and frowned.
It had been nearly a month since they lost her. A little less than that when Donatello had returned to them. Filthy and shaken, with untended wounds swollen and darkened to ugly blues and yellows, but otherwise seemingly fine. His eyes were bright and clear. Raph remembered how Leonardo had addressed the disturbing fact that Donatello had run off with April's . . . body and no one had seen or heard from him for almost a week. They had been worried. For him. For his physical and mental well-being.
With haunted eyes, Donatello explained that he had, in fact, taken her body to her aunt's apartment across town. With her father mutated and having no other family in the vicinity, he felt that was the logical thing to do. That way her family could make the proper arrangements. Leonardo had nodded while he and Mikey stayed to one side, shifting their feet with uncomfortable awkwardness at the vulnerable and raw expression on their brother's face. Even when Leonardo had pulled him into an embrace, his returning affection was stiff and mechanic. Cold.
The days following, Donatello was withdrawn and distracted. He missed most meals and Leonardo, with Splinter's approval, had allowed him to miss his regular practice and sparring sessions with the others. Donatello needed time to heal. His solitude was where he sought refuge from the pain. And he sought it often. No one thought it was odd, considering the circumstances.
But now . . . Raphael sat up in the darkness. The uneasiness was growing in the pit of his stomach and was slowly evolving into an icy dread. He stood up and with silent grace, followed his brother. The garage was still and shadowed, but Raphael heard the steady, diminishing footfalls of his brother. Dismissing his earlier thoughts that maybe Don couldn't sleep and had decided to work on the vehicles, Raphael's face crushed into a deep frown as he realized Don was actually heading for his "quiet room".
"What is he doing in there in the middle of the night?" he wondered aloud in a breathy voice. The lair couldn't get much more silent. It was the dead of night. He crossed his arms over his chest and stood thinking, rooted to the spot. Debating whether or not he should just leave him alone.
Donatello moved through the passageway until he came to the door to his private study room. No one bothered him in here. It had become his favorite place. His place for getting away from his family's carefully disguised worry and poorly hidden fears over his state of mind. His place of peace. His place of secrets. He tapped once on the door with a knuckle and listened as he shut the lighter off. At first there was nothing, but he wanted to give her a moment before just barging in on her. A gentlemen never intrudes on his lady's privacy. After a brief pause, he pushed the door inward and stepped inside.
With a gasp, he dashed around the room. She had fallen from the cot again.
"Oh no, oh no. Are you okay? What happened?" He brushed the loose strands of greasy red hair from her forehead and placed several frantic kisses along the expanse of her clammy brow. "Nothing's broken, right? Y-You're not hurt, are you?"
After debating for several more minutes, he decided he'd just go and check on his brother. Just to make sure the egghead was alright. Raphael was careful not to make a sound as he moved along in the darkness. Whatever his brother was doing in the middle of the night, he wasn't sure he wanted to be discovered sneaking around following him. The narrow passageway opened up into a small alcove. Raphael straightened as he glanced around the dirty bricks. He muffled a soft cough as dust filled his lungs with each breath he took. Before him stood a flimsy wooden door that had been installed for added privacy and Raphael could see the shadows flickering from beneath the crack between the floor and the bottom of the door. Don was inside.
He moved closer and tilted his head to one side; listening. He could just hear his brother's voice. He sounded winded or out of breath. At first, he thought Donatello was maybe speaking to himself; muttering like he sometimes did. But there came a second sound, a soft moan that had Raphael's face crushing into a baffled frown. Was . . . was that Don? He pulled slightly away from the door and stared at it. Then again he moved his face closer; listening harder. Listening with every fiber of his being.
"Shh, no, uhn" came Donatello's breathless, muffled voice. "Please. It's alright. Uhhn, it's alright, ohh."
The soft moan came again along with more softly spoken murmuring and what sounded like heavy breathing. What the hell? If Raph didn't know better, he'd think Donatello was in there with someone. The moan sounded like it came from a second person. A woman. Raphael's skin broke out in goose-pimples. It couldn't be. He strained to listen harder.
"Shhh, don't cry. Uh, oh. Ohho, d-don't c-cry, unh! April. AH! April!"
His body became encased in icy terror. Though feeling immobilized, he inched forward and with one hand, fingers splayed, he pressed against the cool surface, pushing it open. It made no sound as it slowly swung inwards. He stood staring; his mind refusing to see what he saw.
They had gone at Donatello's insistence. Despite her proclamation of never wanting to see them again, he was determined to talk to her. After much debate, Donatello's persistence and stubbornness had won over their concern. If only they had known they were being followed. Things may have never escalated. They wouldn't have lost her. Their family wouldn't have been destroyed. She had finally just come up onto the roof to talk, swearing that they had five minutes only, when life as they knew it shattered into a million broken fragments.
The Foot soldiers swarmed over the roof top, blocking out all sight of the sky at one point, coming in thick uniform lines. Karai, a smirk distorting her otherwise exotically exquisite features, led the way. As the turtles fought, one became aware that they were not necessarily the intended target.
"Leo! Leo, watch your girlfriend!" Raph hollered from between gritted teeth just as several men jumped him from behind as he struggled against two soldier in front of him. Their twin sais locked, trapping his hands. He went down in a tangled mass of swinging fists and pained groans and grunts.
Leonardo didn't have time to twist his head. A fist knocked his face to the left. His mouth filled with blood. A boot knocked him to the right where he immediately blocked another's staff with his swords. The soldiers he fought were wielding a variety of weapons. Each more skilled than the last. And all of them were coming at him in a storm of violence. He ducked and blocked another blow, only dimly aware that Raphael had shouted something to him from somewhere off to the right.
Michelangelo was doing his best fending off what seemed to be a never ending stream of black-clad men. They rained down on him even as he sent pairs flying backwards with chaotic precision and manic accuracy with his nun-chucks.
It was Donatello that cleared his corner of the rooftop first. It was Donatello that saw Karai advance upon April. It was Donatello that saw the kunoichi spin and land her heel into the center of April's chest; sending her reeling backwards until the backs of her legs struck the low parapet of her apartment roof. Her face registered the shocked, almost hurt look, aimed at Karai as her arms pin-wheeled. And then, like a nightmare come true, Donatello saw her vanish over the side. Without a sound. Without even a gasp. So quick, if he had blinked, he would have missed it.
And just as quickly, even as his mind shrieked in denial of what his eyes had witnessed, he jammed the end of his bo into the ground and vaulted over the approaching men, dropped and rolled and lurched to his feet to the spot that only seconds before his love had teetered. He leaped over the edge without a second thought for his destination or his safety. He only wanted to catch her before she hit the ground. Knowing full well in his logical mind, the odds were not even a million to one that he'd be able to do so. She had hit the ground before he ever made it to the side. Still he followed her deadly trajectory.
It was Michelangelo who screamed for him to stop. The shout of fright followed him down, down, down. Even as his shell struck the fire escape, even as he tumbled head over heels, the scream followed him down. As he plummeted closer and closer to the crumpled, twisted, bloody form below that he knew - no it wasn't true - that he knew - how can that be her - that he knew - it isn't happening - that he knew - he has to fix this - that he knew . . . was April's broken, lifeless body. And still he heard the screaming as he fell. And still he thought it was his brother's agonized howl, never once considering the source could be his own vocal cords.
Though Mikey had screamed for his brother to stop, his voice had caught and stopped once his brother disappeared over the edge. The soldiers were easing back. Raph was down and Leonardo was defending him against the last of the stragglers. But they were easing back. Their intentions on the sudden attack on the roof of April's apartment still unclear to the oldest of the brothers. Remaining so as they vanished just as quickly as they had appeared. Karai's laughter echoing throughout the night as a lingering insult.
Mikey dashed to the edge of the building. With jerking, frantic motions, he jumped over and down to the metal railing of the fire escape; clambering over and dropping down the last fifteen feet into a clumsy somersault. His multiple wounds leaving long smears of crimson against the black, gravelly alley floor. He came up onto rubbery legs. Crossing the few yards that separated him and Donatello, he could advance no further. His knees gave out as he crumbled just behind his brother's hunched over shell.
Donatello had his back to him. He was shuddering and making a soft repeating, groaning noise. A grating, hoarse sound that Mikey had never heard any of them make before. It was the empty sound of complete loss. Mikey didn't need to see that he cradled April's body to his chest. His eyes dropped. Donatello knelt in a sea of red. So much. Too much. Mikey's stomach lurched. He gagged and pressed his swollen knuckle to his bruised lips.
She was gone. It was impossible. But April was gone. Biting back a sob, he suddenly realized just what this would do to his brother. The pain he felt in that moment must be nothing compared to what Donatello must be going through. He reached out with a trembling hand to comfort his brother. But Donatello, sensing this motion, jumped to his feet. Mikey's mouth hung open with a thousand words of sorrow and comfort dancing along his tongue. But before he could utter a single syllable, Donatello was racing down the alley. Mikey sat in stunned shock as Donnie disappeared with April into the hazy darkness. Mikey would later tell the others of the frightening peal of rage and pain that Donatello had howled as he ran.
Donatello turned his head. His face was flushed; cheeks pink. His mouth hung open in comical surprise. His face went from shocked to furious in a flash. He shifted and rolled to the side of the small cot and dragged the white cotton blanket over the girl that was a moment ago beneath him. He stood protectively in front of the plastic covered cot where she lay. Blocking most the view of her body from his brother.
But he had seen. Her arm, the side of her face, her ribcage. He had seen enough. Enough to last several years of nightmares. He had glimpsed what Donatello had done when he ran off. With her. With her body. The edges of his vision blackened as his stomach rolled.
"Raph! What are you – Get out of here!" Donatello snarled and swiped his arm from left to right. His chest was still heaving from his earlier exertion; flesh glistening in a fine sheen of sweat.
The quick peek of her condition was bad enough, but the smell struck him and undid him. Rank and putrid, it clouted his already reeling senses. The buckets lining the floor were filled with fluids, some black, some red, some thinner than others. But they reeked of decay and rotting things. They smelled of death and entrails.
Raphael, finding the strength in his legs gone, stumbled to the side. His shoulder slammed into the boxy cabinet that now supported his weight. A myriad of metal utensils and medical implements, cloaked in ruddy clumps of tissue and caked blood, clinked together and scattered to the floor in a rain of shining silver and brittle rust flakes. His heart was hammering as his eyes rolled and he gagged once, then again as the bile rose too fast, too thick, to choke back. He fell to his knees and retched. The contents of his stomach spilled over the floor, further contaminating all the scalpels and bits of tubes, the needles and wire cutters, and the plastic vials that littered the floor before him.
"Get out of here!" Donatello screamed again; his voice hysterical. "Leave us alone!"
Raphael's mind raced as it processed what his eyes had seen. His stomach lurched and his body shuddered, but there was nothing more to purge. Spit dangling from his lower lip, he panted as his mind pieced it together. The metal gleaming in the low light, the plate where her exposed skull should have been, the swollen, blackened flesh lining the metal. The bits of red hair that still clung to the limp flesh near where her ear should have been. The jagged bits of silver that stretched the flesh between her breasts to a point that it was nearly transparent. The thin shoulders that were more skeletal than flesh. Fingers that gripped his brother's rounded shoulders in desperate, silent pleas. But pleading for what, he couldn't fathom.
A giggle burst from Raphael's mouth and he was shocked by it. He braced the back of one trembling hand hard against his mouth. He didn't want to laugh. There was nothing funny about this. Nothing at all. Donatello had said he'd taken her body. Just as Mikey had seen. But he had not gone to her aunt's as he said he did. No. Clever. Clever boy. He had done something much worse. Something unforgivable. The word abomination, floated through his mind at that point and he wasn't sure if his mind meant his brother or that thing on the bed. Raph turned his wavering gaze from the cot to his brother and stared at him in stark disbelief. Don had turned their friend's death into some macabre mockery. A sick thought struck him. He was . . . he was just . . . with her . . . He choked. How many nights had this gone on? His stomach lurched and roiled and he gagged violently but nothing more came up.
Raphael raised an eye, panting, struggling for composure. He lifted a quivering, clammy hand and pointed at his brother. He tried to speak, but his voice was a croak. He closed his watering eyes tightly, blinked furiously a few times to clear his vision then tried to speak again. His usually strong voice, booming with confidence and masculine fire was a small thing, wavering and shrill with terror and disbelief.
"Is . . . Is th-that wh-who . . . what . . . what have you done?" His voice rose, but was still shrill in his own ears, hysterical and uneven, "What have you done to her?! Donnie, for the love of god! Sh-She was dead! What the hell have you done!?" Raphael balled his hands into shaking fists and slammed them into the floor.
Tears were now streaming down Donatello's flushed face. He shook his head slowly back and forth as he stood before Raphael shaking from head to toe. He opened his mouth but before he could speak, a hand on his shoulder made him jump and snap his mouth closed. He twisted half-way around.
"N-No, please. He doesn't understand. No. It's alright. No, don't t-try and speak. Shh. You can't get up now, not r-right after we . . . remember? You'll only break again . . ."
She lifted her hands to his face; pressing on his mouth with her cold fingertips until he fell quiet.
Raphael heard a soft wheeze that may have been her shushing him. The kind of terror that was fresh and slimy crawled over his skin as he watched his brother shift slightly to give her room to maneuver to stand. Donatello held out his arms to steady her as a pair of feet stretched down, pale toes, almost blue in tone, brushed the floor. The ends of each toe was discolored to a dark bluish black. As her feet braced her weight, her slender ankles wobbled at an odd angle as if the bones within were not aligned correctly. From the gashes in the white flesh of her ankles and shins, Raphael could see metal and wiring where tendons should have been. There was a creaking sound followed by the shrill cry of metal scraping metal as she moved to kneel before Raphael. He recoiled back with a strangled yelp, pressing his hands to his ears. This wasn't happening! It couldn't be real!
April, or what was left of her, knelt before him. Her head tilted to one side, precariously as if it might roll right off if not for the brace keeping it in place. Her once bright blue eyes now cloudy and gray, streaked with broken blood vessels, searched over his face, looking for something; whether it was recognition or simply trying to understand what she was seeing, he didn't know. Her lips were nearly white and cracked. In between the cracks, the flesh within was a dull pink. A wide brace rested along the tops of her shoulders across her collarbone with a thinner metal leg attached to a metal band that went around her jawline, keeping her head upright. The brace was attached with bolts driven through her skin, into her mostly exposed collar bone. The flesh was puckered and bruised; yellow, green and black in places. All over her pale, tissue-thin skin, Raphael could make out the careful tiny stitches where his brother had repaired to the best of his skill the rips and tears from her fall. The fall that ended her life. The fall that ended his brother's sanity.
Frowning, she reached out to his face. Her left hand's fingers were mostly made of steel and copper gears. Raphael jumped and lurched back. The musky scent of his brother wafted over the rank stench of decay. He shivered violently and made a choked sound of repulsion through his nose. His shell slammed against the cabinet. More utensil and medical tools rained down over his head. His heels dug into the floor as he tried to get further away.
"Don't tell the others," his brother's voice broke through his terror and panic. "You've got to promise me, Raph. You've got to understand. I-I fixed her." Raphael's eyes snapped to his brother who was wearing a manic, elated expression on his face. He nodded then shook his head. "I-It wasn't easy. But I replaced s-several of her organs with pumps and . . . and maintained her body's natural temperature to keep rigor mortis from setting in . . . the fluids were tricky . . ." he rambled on and on and Raphael felt something cold and unnatural on his leg. Her other hand, thick and rubbery feeling, cold and clammy, was braced on his thigh as she leaned towards him. His eyes went wide as her face came closer.
Donatello continued, ". . . I never even got to say I was sorry. F-For her father. I never got to explain," he went on in a pleading voice. "I never got to say goodbye. I couldn't just accept fate. I-I mean, what is fate, anyway? Can you really sit there and tell me we have to accept what some arbitrary mythological imagined force doles out to us when we have the power of science at our command?" He huffed in derision. "I-I had to fix her, Raph. Sh-She was so broken. Sh-She . . . Raph!"
His face had once again snapped from staring at the monstrosity that was once a friend close enough to be considered family to his insane brother standing just behind her.
"I didn't have a chance to tell her I . . . l-loved her. But now! Now everything is fine!" He chuckled and Raphael could hear the fear and the despair lacing every strand of the frail sound. His brother had lost it. Had lost it the moment she fell. But he couldn't focus on his brother's madness at the moment. April was getting closer. He focused on April's white-blue lips as they parted.
"R-R-R . . ." she strained and her face twisted with effort.
Tears built and spilled down Raphael's face as he watched her struggle to say his name.
"R-R-R . . ."
"You can't tell the others, Raph. They won't understand. Th-They won't. I love her, Raph. And sh-she loves me. You understand. It doesn't matter that she fell. I fixed her. I couldn't let fate keep us apart. I love her. Our love . . . it's boundless! You understand, right, Raph? . . . Raph?"
"He-He-Hel . . . p." Something like oily tears were streaking down her flaccid, quivering cheeks. It left long lines of gray marring the white.
Crying out from between his grinding teeth, Raphael suddenly thought he understood something. No, he was sure. Heart hammering, he clenched and unclenched his jaw. He knew what she was trying to ask of him. Let me be strong enough, he silently prayed. Raphael reached behind him. His numb fingers flailed at the floor, scattering the medical supplies until he found what he was looking for. His fingers fumbled and then desperately wrapped around the handle of the scalpel. Tears blinded him as he gasped and tried to steady himself.
"I love her, Raph. N-Nothing was going to keep us apart. Th-That's real love. And I'll keep her safe. For now on, no more top side for April. No way. She's going to stay here with me. Where it's safe. Right here. Underground. With me. Forever. Where it's safe. I'll protect her."
"R-R-R . . . affff . . . he-hel-he . . ."
He roared as he struck out. The flesh sliced cleanly, like cutting through synthetic material, like thin rubber, as his fist shot out and he struck sure and true. Across the side of her throat, slicing through the jugular. Then into her chest repeatedly as she fell backwards; jerking; her body bucking in spasms as his fist shot up and down again and again. Over and over. He felt the blade strike metal. He felt it cut through bone.
His mind screamed at the level of depravity that his brother had sunk to. Taking it out on the monstrosity laying beneath him. It was her fault! All her fault! If she'd only listened before. If she had given his brother a chance to talk before that fateful night a month ago. Before this nightmare happened. He felt his mind careen to a dark corner, a ledge in the very edge of his sanity. If he were to step forward he could be free. Free from this horrible truth. Free from the burden of having to explain what he had witnessed, what their brother, their beloved brother had done to their friend and had been doing to her. But instead of taking that leap into blissful madness, he pulled away. He pulled away and struck out with everything inside him; bitter and raging.
But he could still hear her straining to say his name. Still straining to plead for his help. Despite his groaning screams of disgust and horror and regret and revulsion. He heard her. Even as Donatello fell on him, shouting and shrieking like a rabid animal and struggling to hold back his attacking arm, even as he struck down into her body; each blow making it jump a little less every time; he heard her trying to speak.
Until finally, her arms fell away, her head lulled to one side, blank eyes rolled up and back, the black, thin fluids like a mix of oil and blood leaking all over the floor all over his legs and shaking fist. Only then did he stop in his attack. There was a fraction of a second where no one moved. Then Donatello shoved him roughly off her and he fell to the side; rolling onto his shell; panting from terror and exertion. His mind a roaring blank of white noise.
He raised his spinning head and watched his brother. His poor lost brother, as he fumbled at her ragged, pieced-together body; screaming and crying in nonsensical, wordless, animal sounds as he lifted one arm then the other as he tried desperately to wrap them around his neck and shoulders.
Raphael dropped his head to the cool floor. With blinking eyes, tears pouring from the corners, he gazed at her lips. Lips that once teased and laughed; that sang and gave him a peck on the cheek on his mutation day; now pale and blue; speckled with the black substance that might have once been crimson blood. He watched, wondering if he were imagining it, but knowing that he was not; as she mouthed the words: thank you.
Merely a final exhale from a body long dead, nothing more, yet he heard the infinite gratitude and boundless relief. He closed his eyes as exhaustion weighed his body down. But also he felt some grim satisfaction. For he had rescued April O'Neil one last time, from the most unlikely of places: from the very arms of the one who could not bear to let her go softly into that dark night.