Lair of the Stealth Bunnies
Michaelangelo swung off of the fire escape and landed softly in the snowbank underneath it. _That’s the problem with winter,_ he thought ironically. _It’s not the cold, or the wet, or even the ice. It’s the fact that we’re green and we show up too damn well against the white snow._ He peeked around the corner out into the street, then scurried across when he was sure that there was no one out there close enough to see him. He ducked into the next alley, jumped to catch the lower rung of that fire escape, and pulled himself up. He noiselessly climbed up the ladder and vaulted onto the roof.
And got swacked right between the eyes with a snowball.
He caught his balance before he could slip off the edge, spluttering, and shook his head, wiping the snow off of his face. He heard the harsh laugh and turned towards it, using the ties of his face mask to clear the snow from his eyes.
Raphael was crouched lightly on the skylight. “You’re slipping up, pal,” he sneered. “I saw you from five blocks away. All I had to do was sit here and wait for you to come to me.”
Another snowball came flying from behind Raphael. He dodged it, but the next one caught him at the base of the neck, snow slipping down under his shell. He tripped off the skylight, howling at the cold, and fell into the snow that the wind had piled up behind it.
“And all _I_ had to do,” Donatello laughed, “was sneak up behind _you_! I saw _you_ from _seven_ blocks away. You were so cocky about catching Mike, you never heard me coming!”
“I hear you now!” Raphael snarled, scooping up more snow. Donatello stuck his tongue out at him and dove out of the way.
Leonardo shook his head wearily. “We’re supposed to be practicing,” he reminded them. “Now, stop playing around and --”
The other three turtles glanced at each other, then looked at him, eyes gleaming. Leonardo backed up a wary step. “Aw, come on, you guys, don’t...”
Six large fists dove for snow. Leonardo turned and ran, leaping from one rooftop to another, ducking the sudden barrage of snowballs. “There has _got_ to be an easer way to get them to practice,” he panted.
Splinter tucked the blanket around him a little more tightly, then pulled the mug of tea towards him, the steam from it warming his hands. He held his feet out over the register, the warm air billowing the blanket slightly. _Perhaps..._ he reflected, _it is just as well that we moved from the sewers._ He had not liked the idea of imposing on April (not to mention the antics of the turtles). He would have just as soon remained as independent from the humans as possible. _But I am growing old, and the cold damp of the sewers bothered me more each year. Here, I have the warmth to ease the ache in my bones. And it is a much harsher winter than ever._ He huddled into the recliner that Donatello had found for him, until only his nose poked out and the glittering of his eyes showed. _I am glad that Leonardo has taken over leadership. I would not look forward to giving lessons on a night like this._ He sipped at the tea, delicately wiping the drops from his whiskers. He had always been a nocturnal animal, but the idea of staying home and in the comfort of his chair was more and more tempting each time the winter wind blew. Tonight, however, the wind was still and the moon bright, reflecting off the crisp snow. He enoyed such nights... from behind a window. It was quiet, with the turtles out and April asleep. So very quiet. Even the noises of the streets had ended long ago.
The door downstairs crashed open, and loud voices rang out. “Damn it, be _careful_!” Raphael shouted.
“We’ll have to wake him up anyway,” Michaelangelo said.
“But we didn’t have to wake April as well.” Leonardo sounded disapproving.
“I wasn’t talking about the noise,” Raphael’s voice rose. “I’m talking about _me_! Put me down!”
“And you’re going to climb the stairs yourself?” Donatello asked. His lighter step started up the stairs. “I’ll get Master Splinter.”
Splinter sighed and stood up, wrapping the blanket around him tightly. He found his walking stick and began to limp towards the doorway. April met him in the hall, belting her robe. She raised her voice loud enough to carry down the stairs. “I know you ninja like the night better,” she said sarcastically, “but some of us do try to use the time to sleep.”
There was a moment of silence. “Sorry, April,” Michaelangelo called up sheepishly.
“This is all your fault, Mike!” Raphael snarled.
“Mine? MIne?!” Michaelangelo cried. “It’s not my fault it’s the middle of winter and you can’t tell ice from --”
“Put a sock in it, both of you.” Leonardo sounded tired and worried at the same time. “Mike, put him in that chair, and...” The rest of what he said was drowned out by Donatello’s steps on the upper landing. The turtle slung his bo staff across his shoulders. “Uh... we seem to have a slight problem, Mster Splinter,” he said, glancing downstairs.
“I gathered from the noise,” Splinter said, his point emphasized by his soft tone. “What happened?”
“Well... umm... you see... we were practising... and...”
Splinter reached out and brushed snow off Donatello’s shoulder with his walking stick. “You mean you were having a snowball fight. I know you too well, my son. Put four bored turtles together with snow, and it inevitably adds up to a snowball fight.”
Donatello chuckled. “Yeah, but dodging snowballs is rather like dodging shuriken, yes, Master? It’s just a little more fun!”
Splinter looked disapproving, but Donatello could sense his sensei’s amusement. “Yes... and then what happened, my son?”
“Tell him and you’re dead, Don!” Raphael shrilled.
“Raph slipped on some black ice.” He grinned. “He didn’t duck fast enough.”
Raphael spluttered. “I’ll get you for that, Don. Just wait!”
“Not for a while, you won’t,” Donatello called down. “He broke his leg, Master Splinter.”
It took them a while to get Raphael up the stairs. The short-tempered turtle always got even shorter-tempered when he was hurt, and this time he felt humiliated as well. He snorted that he didn’t need any help, his leg wasn’t that bad, and that he’d come up later one his own. Michaelangelo stepped back and challenged him to get up and walk four steps. “That’s all. Four steps!”
Raphael glared at him. “Later.”
“So you can fall downstairs and break y our other leg?”
“It’s not broken!”
“Then walk on it!”
Leonardo finally lost his temper as well and ordered Michaelangelo to carry his brother up the stairs on his back. By that time, Donatello had turned the lights on, and April had retrieved the ever-present first aid kit. She had often wondered what the druggist thought when she came in every few weeks to get more rolls of bandages and bottles of peroxide. Michaelangelo eased the fuming Raphael into Splinter’s recliner, then carefully brought out the foot-rest and gently placed Raphael’s leg on it. Sprinter removed the make-shift splints that had been formed from Raphael’s sai and belt, and nodded thoughtfully.
“How’s it look?” Raphael asked.
Raphael spat out a curse. He drummed his fingers against the arm of the recliner. “how long?”
Splinter brought out slats of wood and more rolls of cloth and bandages. “Several weeks, I think. The first two with as little movement as possible.”
Raphael cursed again. “C’mon, Master, it can’t be that bad.”
Splinter studied his student for a long moment, the quickly jerked Raphael’s let, setting the bone in place. Raphael threw back his head and howled, lower lip clenched between his teeth. “You did that on purpose!” he choked out.
“Of course,” Splinter said smoothly. “Do you want the bone to heal crookedly?” He positioned the slats of wood and nodded at Michaelangelo to hold the leg up while he wrapped the strips of cloth around it. “Two weeks bed rest. You ignore that, and it will take even longer to heal. Personally, I don’t want to hear your complaints any longer than absolutely necessary. I get little enough peace as it is.” His gentle touch belied his rough tone. “I had thought I had taught you better than this. Apparently, you were not paying attention, neither to your lessons or to where you were walking this evening.”
Raphael glared at Michaelangelo. “This is all your fault!”
“And just who threw that first snowball?” he answered hotly.
April handed Raphael a few painkillers and a glass of water. He looked at the water in disgust. “Isn’t there any beer left?”
“Yes, but not for you when you’re on medication.”
He growled under his breath.
“Or would you rather hurt?”
He swiped the tablets from her and swallowed them dry. Donatello came back with the set of crutches they had used the time Michaelangelo had sprained his ankle. “Good thing we kept these around.”
“I don’t need those!” Raphael struggled out of the chair, bonked his leg against the footrest, and went a slightly paler shade of green. He spun around on his good heel and snatched the crutches from Donatello. Carefully holding his leg up, he thumped out into the hallway and towards his room. The door slammed shut, and they heard more thumps as he made his way to his bed, the creaking of bed springs, then a crash as he obviously flung the crutches across the room.
“Wonder how he’s going to get them back?” Donatello mused.
Splinter shook his head wearily and limped into the kitchen to pour another cup of tea. “I do not look forward to the next few weeks.”
The next day, April kept noticing feathers floating down outside past the large storefront window. Not floating down one at a time, but in sudden flurries. After the seventh or eighth time in an hour, she caught up her coat and stepped outside, glancing up.
She didn’t have long to wait. A pigeon landed on the fire escape outside an open window. Suddenly, it squawked and flew away as a cloud of feathers drifted down.
She sighed, went back in, and put up the “Back in Five Minutes” sign. She trotted up the flights of stairs and tapped on Raphael’s door.
There was a muffled grunt. She edged the door open and peered around it.
Raphael was laying on his stomach on the bed, occasionally peeking out the window. He was fitting a small beebee into a make-shift slingshot, made from rubberbands and pencils. He drew the rubberband back and fired. There was another squawk. Raphael chucked evilly and used the base of the slingshot to draw a check mark on the windowsill next to a line of previous marks.
“What are you doing?” April asked, not sure if she really wanted to know.
“Aw, there’s too many of them in this city anyway.”
“That doesn’t mean you have to _torture_ them. Why are you doing this?’
His head dropped onto the pillow. “I’m BORED!!” he shouted, pounding his fists into the mattress.
“Read a book,” she suggested.
He rolled over to stare at her in disgust.
The look didn’t change.
Donatello looked in. “You want me to bring in the small television?”
Raphael sighed deeply and shrugged. “There’s only reruns, anyway. “ He rolled over and picked up the slingshot and another beebee. He glanced out the window, then suddenly ducked, aimed, and shot. _Squawk_ Chuckle.
April and Donatello looked at each other and shrugged. “And this is only the first day,” he groaned.
“Hey, dude!” Casey Jones banged Raphael’s door open. “Heard you got careless and broke a flipper.”
“Stuff it, gackface.”
Casey shook his head. “Man, are ninja supposed to be that clumsy? Couldn’t even duck a lousy snowball.”
“I’m gonna kill Mike! No, I’m gonna break _his_ leg and let him die of boredom.”
Michaelangelo popped in. “Wouldn’t work. _I_ don’t mind reading or watching TV.”
Raphael snatched up a book and flung it at his brother. “Both legs,” he shrieked. “Several times!”
Michaelangelo laughed and ducked out again. The book rebounded off the wall in the hallway, knowing the wall hanging off-center. Leonardo walked by and automatically straightened it without looking up from his own book.
“Pipe down, will you?” Donatello shouted. “Master Splinter’s trying to sleep.”
“Not anymore,” Splinter snapped as he went through the hall on his way to the kitchen.
“Sorry, master,” four voices quipped at the same time.
Leonardo shook his head wearily. I hate it when Raph’s out of it.” He brightened. “Maybe Casey can think of something for him to do.”
_Squawk_. A flurry of feathers drifted past the window, and two voices laughed wickedly.
_Thump._ _Thumpthump._ _Thump._ _Ker-whump._ _Thump._ _Thumpthump._
Donatello looked up from the VCR he was repairing. “Now, what’s he up to?”
Leonardo tried to hide behind his book. “I checked the last time. It’s your turn.”
Donatello glanced over at Raphael’s door, but didn’t get up. “At least the two weeks are almost up.”
“Yeah, but then we’ve got to deal with him having run of the place. It’ll be even harder keeping him in until that leg finishes healing.”
_Thumpthumpthump_. The sound of something being dragged. Maniacal chuckling.
After a few quiet moments, Donatello looked up again. “He’s stopped.”
Leonardo tossed his book up in the air. “That’s what’s worrying me. Come on.”
The downstairs door crashed open. They heard April suddenly giggle, then choke it off. “Mike, how’d you -- nevermind. just go dry off before you catch your death of a cold.”
There was the sound of pounding feet as Michaelangelo came charging up the stairs and into the room. His clothes were drenched and the packages he was carrying were soaked through and puddled on the floor when he stopped to glare at them. “That’s it! I’m barring his window shut, and we’re putting the bureau back in front of his door! Or maybe I should just tap him with my nunchuckus. Keep him knocked out until his leg’s better. Or keep him tied up? Naw... he’d probably hurt himself worse trying to get free, be in bed longer, and I won’t be able to stand much more of this!” He had said all of this in one breath, his voice rising until he ended in a shriek.
Donatello got up and slowly walked around Michaelangelo, surveying him from all angles. Then, he reached out and picked off the remains of a red water balloon from Michaelangelo’s hat and wordlessly handed it to him.
“Thanks,” Michaelangelo said, his voice dripping sarcasm.
Splinter looked in and saw the remains of the packages. “Raphael, that was my newspaper and tea!”
“Sorry, Master. But I’m --”
“BORED. WE KNOW!” they all shouted back in unison.
“Stupid leg,” they heard him grumble. The bed springs creaked as he threw himself back on his bed.
Splinter signed. “Michaelangelo, go dry off. Donatello, would you go get another...”
“Newspaper. Right away, Master.” Donatello closed up the VCR and carried it into Raphael’s room. “Look,” he said. “The VCR’s done. I’ll hook it up to the portable TV. Here are some tapes April rented this morning. Try not to aggravate Master Splinter any more than you already have., You know he’ll only get his revenge when you’re healed.”
“What tapes did she get?”
Donatello juggled the VCR to check the labels. “A couple of Godzilla movies, something called _Monster Squad_, and _Alligator_. See if you can recognize any familiar sights in that one. April says she’ll take these back tomorrow and get more if you’ll only stop beaning those pigeons. It makes her nervous. She’s seen _The Birds_ too many times.”
Raphael shrugged. “Aw, I stopped doing those a couple of days ago. Ran out of beebees.”
“But not water balloons?”
He grinned. “Those were left over from last summer.”
Donatello rolled his eyes and went about hooking up the VCR. “I’ve gotta go get another newspaper.” He tossed the remote control on the bed. “I’ll get you some popcorn and other munchies. Catch you later.”
“Mmmph. Now, what else is in that trunk?” He hopped over to the footlocker, and his head disappeared behind the lid. “Ah ha! So that’s where that went!”
Donatello left before he could find out what it was. He was sure he didn’t want to know. He stopped at the coat rack long enough to catch up his scarf, hat, and coat and wrapped himself in them as he thudded down the stairs. “Hi, April,” he said, his voice rather muffled from the scarf. “Bye, April.”
She was sitting on the counter, scrubbing dust off some new knickknack from a box of them on the floor. “I know it’s not raining out, but Mike...”
Donatello stopped, one hand on the door. “Raphael dive-bombed him with a water balloon.”
Did I even need to ask?”
“I’ve got to go out and get another paper.”
“Hopefully the tapes will keep him busy.”
“From the way he was gloating? Not likely. Be back in a bit.”
He laughed. “I’m going the _other_ way. _I’m_ not dense enough to walk under Raph’s window when he’s hurt.”
“I heard that, Don!” Michaelangelo shouted down. Donatello laughed again and ducked out.
It was snowing slightly. He liked snow and whistled softly from behind the scarf as he walked down the few blocks to the nearest news stand. Winter was the one time of year he could pile on enough clothes so that the green didn’t show through much. Donatello would really rather spend a day researching in the library rather than a night bouncing around after the occasional mugger or other night creep, and libraries and museums closed in the evenings. But during the cold weather, he’d often disappear for hours during the day, coming back with a pile of photocopies form magazines, how-to books, and technical journals. During the rest of the year, he had to rely on what he could get in through subscriptions and his own imagination.
He paid for the newspaper, then went another two blocks to the small grocery/deli they used during emergency munchie runs. He picked up a few bags of popcorn and chips, being careful to stay away from anything with an overabundance of sugar. Raphael was hyper enough already. He did snag some sugarfree fruit drink mix (after all, Raphael didn’t _have_ to know it was sugarfree, now did he?) and lugged it all up to the counter to pay for it. He stood, tapping his fingers on the counter, until he decided to go ahead and take the extra time and enjoy reading the paper over a mug of hot chocolate. After all, Splinter would get the paper the minute it got into the apartment, then Raphael would have next dibs, being the suffering invalid, then it was up for grabs for the rest of the suffering-because-of-the-invalid. Chances were, he wouldn’t get another chance for the paper until later that evening.
So he curled up in a back booth with the steaming hot chocolate (complete with marshmallow -- the waitress had commented on how cold he looked, bundled up like that, and that her own son wouldn’t drink hot chocolate without a marshmallow, and he looked about the same age as her son, who, hopefully, was in where it was warm, as well Donatello should be. He didn’t mind the mothering. He liked marshmallows, too.) and a couple of filled doughnuts. He pulled the scarf down form his face, pulled the hat further down over his eyes, and sighed happily. Yes, there were worse seasons than winter.
A small article on page ten snapped him out of his tranquillity so fast that he bit too hard into the second doughnut and had to do a quick mop-up before he could turn his attention back to the article. The headline had caught his eye first -- Martial Arts Musician Robs Store -- more from curiosity about the musician part than anything else, but he tensed more and more as he read until he caught up the rest of the newspaper and Raphael’s munchies. He remembered to pull the scarf up over his face again, and to leave a slightly larger tip than usual (after all, it had been a very good marshmallow) before he drained the last of the chocolate and hurried out. He kept up the brisk walk to the Second Time Around store, then banged through the door and past April up the stairs. He nearly ran into Michaelangelo as the other turtle stormed out of the kitchen, automatically apologized, and took two more steps before doing a doubletake and turning around again.
Michaelangelo’s face was dripping with purple paint.
Donatello nodded thoughtfully. “It was a paint-ball gun, wasn’t it?”
Michaelangelo snarled and stalked into the bathroom with a bottle of Boraxo soap.
“Is it permanent?” Donatello called after him.
“Damn well better _not_ be!”
“Well, hey -- I was pink for a week before _that_ stuff wore off, remember?”
“I wasn’t clumsy enough to fall into a tub of the stuff. I was sniped by my own brother!”
“When you’re done, get out here. This is important.”
“What is it, Don?” Leonardo looked out into the hall, glancing at the splash of water and spluttering noises coming out of the bathroom.
“Today’s newspaper.” Donatello shrugged out of his coat and tossed it in the general direction of the coat rack. April sighed softly as she came in behind him, picked it up, and hung it properly. “Take a look at this, Master Splinter.” He took the paper over to his sensei.
“Right there.” Donatello pointed over Splinter’s shoulder. “Under the blueberry stain.” Leonardo came and leaned over his sensei’s other shoulder.
“It’s not coming off!” Michaelangelo wailed and came in. “What is it?” he asked quickly as he caught on to the tense silence.
“A martial artist has been pulling off several robberies in small twenty-four hour stores,” Splinter said softly. “Apparently, he’s very good and very quick. Like Donatello, he uses a bo. He is so wrapped up in cloths and cloak that no one has been able to get an accurate description of him, other than that he is rather short. At this last robbery, however, two policemen were in the back of the store getting coffee. The thief was so quick that he threw two shuriken before the police could draw their own weapons. Both policemen were wounded, one critically. However, the thief dropped a bamboo flute in his hurry to escape. According to this, police are refusing to comment on whether or not any helpful fingerprints were on the flute.”
“A Foot?” April mused. “But you said Shredder was dead.”
“Not Shredder. And not a Foot. Not using a bo. The prefer bladed weapons,” Leonardo said tightly. “Master, it can’t be Pic. He’s dead. We saw it happen.”
Splinter started to answer, then focused his gaze at the doorway.
Raphael was standing there, balancing on one crutch. “What about Pic?” he asked in a dangerously toneless voice.
Michaelangelo stepped forward, one hand out towards his brother. “Nothing, Raph. Nothing at all. Donatello got some popcorn. Why don’t we watch one of those tapes --”
Raphael threw Michaelangelo’s hand off his arm viciously. “What about Pic?” he repeated.
Leonardo took the newspaper from Splinter, folded it to the article and gave it to Raphael. “This doesn’t mean it’s him, Raph,” he said intensely as Raphael read the article. “We all saw that bullet hit him. This could be anyone, anyone at all.”
Raphael looked up at him, eyes smoldering. He crushed the paper between his hands, twisting it until it ripped, then flung the pieces away from him. He turned and went back into his room. The door slammed hard enough to rattle the windows.
“What is this?” April asked softly. She had always been a bit afraid of Raphael, and that was one of the worst expressions of barely-controlled rage that she had ever seen on him. She was backed against the wall on the opposite side of the room from the doorway.
“Tell her,” Michaelangelo said shortly. “But excuse me if I don’t stay. I don’t feel up to this particular flashback.” He left, scrubbing his face with a washcloth.
“Poor Mike,” Donatello said softly. “It’s almost as hard on him as it is on Raph.”
“No,” Leonardo said. “It’s much harder on Raph.” He held out a comforting hand to April, drawing her out of the corner she was huddled in. “You do deserve an explanation. It’s not that we deliberately kept it from you. It’s just that we didn’t want to relive it through the telling.” He fell silent for a moment, the muscles in his jaws working. “You see,” he said after a long pause, “there were five turtles in that bowl, not just four.”
“Picasso fell further away from us,” Donatello said softly. “He landed on the concrete instead of the soft pile of leaves that we fell on. It... cracked his shell pretty badly. Splinter didn’t even think he’d live long. He also didn’t get covered with as much of the goo as we did. He grew to be smaller than Splinter, and he wasn’t as strong as the rest of us.”
“The rest was my fault,” Splinter said, resting his head in his hands. “I was not as perceptive as I should have been. I should have seen what was going wrong.”
“No, Master!” “It wasn’t your fault!” Both turtles ran to comfort their master, but Splinter just shook his head and continued the story.
“I encouraged Picasso to become adept with the bo, as it could also support his weight if need be. I always knew that he was the weakest one, the one who would get hurt... or killed... before the others. Even more encouragement went into the use of shuriken, in a hope that perhaps he needn’t even get into the tick of the battle. But he always sensed my despair that he would not live through a true battle, and it... warped him.”
“You think Raph’s temper is bad, you should have seen Pic’s.” Donatello rested his hand on Splinter’s shoulder. “In a way, Raph was to Pic like Mike is to Raph now -- a stabilizer., He wasn’t nearly as bitter or hot-tempered back then. He was always defending Pic, in words and in fighting. But Pic was drifting off, spending days away from us. Days that grew into weeks. I think we all knew what was happening, even Raph, but he wouldn’t admit it, of course. Pic was trying so hard to prove that he could get along without us. We’re pretty sure he started robbing news stands and small stores then. Nothing really big. Just enough to prove to himself. One time, he simply didn’t return. After a few weeks, Raph couldn’t stand waiting and went out after him.” He shrugged. “We followed.”
“Raph searched for days,” Leonardo went on. “I think he knew we were there, but just on a peripheral. His entire concentration was on finding Pic. After about a week, we happened to be near a store when Pic hit it. It was a larger store then he usually robbed. We all saw the police. Raph screamed his name and began to run towards him. Mike did a flying tackle and managed to catch one of Raph’s legs until the rest of us caught his arms. Just as the police shot our brother.”
He was quiet for a long moment. “Although by that time, he wasn’t one of us. There wasn’t anything that we stood for still in him. He was like most of the other nightlife in this city -- trying to fight to stay alive and really fighting nothing but himself and anyone who was trying to help. We saw the bullet hit, we saw the blood spray, and we dragged Raph back into the shadows, then to the sewers. There was nothing else we could have done without being discovered and probably shot as well. And something inside Raph cracked that night. He’ll never be the same. Mike tries... but he’s terrified that someday Raph might do something to get himself killed, just like Pic.”
The two of them were huddled around Splinter, trying to draw comfort from their sensei, their father.
“Do you remember that time,” Donatello said suddenly, “when you had that tape of flute music playing? And Raph came in, took the tape out, broke it in two, and walked out again without a word? Picasso played flute. It was his retreat, like mine is machines, Leo’s is books, and Mike’s is cooking. We’re not really sure what Raph has as a retreat, unless it was Pic.”
April suddenly came over and wrapped the two turtles in a hug, then reached out and took Splinter’s hand.
Out in the hallway, Mike raised his head from where it had been resting on his knees and scrubbed viciously at his eyes. He stood up and went into Raphael’s room.
He was sitting on his bed, staring out the window. “Why couldn’t he stay dead, Mike?” he asked, his voice hoarse. “Why now?”
“We don’t know it is him, Raph. Leo is right. It could be anybody.”
But Raphael refused to answer, and Mike went over to sit on the bed next to him and put his arm around him. Whether or not Picasso was still alive made little difference at this point. The memories were alive again, and there wasn’t anything he could do but hold his brother and try to offer what comfort Raphael would accept. And so he did, long after it had grown dark and Raphael had finally fallen asleep.
The sun was warm. He liked being above ground. The sewers were always too claustrophobic, too damp, but up here, it was cool and dry. A light breeze brushed up against his face, bringing the smell of the sea even closer. The training session was over, and Splinter had let them all come up to the surface afterwards, to the beach, deserted for the night. Minds were young and needed new places to see, he had said in his soft and wife voice, looking sad, as always. Leo said once that Master Splinter knew that a day would come when they had seen what was near too many times, and that he was dreading the time the brothers would start exploring on their own. Dreading, but knowing it would come. Don had nodded thoughtfully, as if that had agreed with something he had also thought about often, but the others had laughed, covering the discomfort they all felt, and bounced off to find something new to do.
His brothers were all here now, all four of them. Leo and Don were sitting in the sand a little ways away, discussing something. Don would occasionally sketch something in the sand and point at it. Leo would shrug, think for a few moments, then suggest something else. Mike was splashing in the waves, inventing a type of body surfing that had him riding the waves shell-first. And Pic was sitting on the grassy bank, playing his flute.
He was laying in the sand himself, listening to the murmur of the waves, the mumbles of his brothers’ voices, and the lull of the flute. The stars were clearer and brighter here than they were in the city, and as he watched, one of them winked and streaked across the midnight-black of the never-ending background of infinity.
Life was good.
He heard the sifting of sand as Mike came up. He shook the water off his body and plopped down. He started to say something, when the flute suddenly broke off, and they all looked up quickly.
Pic was running towards them. He heard the gunfire, and Pic lurched forward, falling in a spray of his own blood. He screamed, then, as Pic could not, and sank to his knees, burying his face in his hands.
He felt, rather than heard, Mike stand up and walk away. He forced himself to look up, as Mike knelt down next to Pic’s body.
Pic moved and looked up. The expression of wonder and playfulness was gone, twisted into bitterness and rage. He saw Pic’s knife flash towards Mike, and he tried to scream, to warn his brother, and couldn’t speak, couldn’t move. The knife flashed --
-- and Raphael bolted upright in his bed, screaming. The darkness was suffocating around him, and he thought, for a moment, that it hadn’t been a dream, and that when the moon came from behind the clouds, he’d see Mike’s body...
But it _had_ been a dream, and he choked off the screams as quickly as he could, burying his face in the blankets.
He hadn’t been quick enough. Footsteps pounded, and the door burst open, flooding his room with light. Frantic voices, thick with worry, the sound of drawn weapons behind resheathed, then Master Splinter’s soft voice telling them to go back to their rooms. He knew that Michaelangelo was the last one out, pausing behind the others, until Splinter sent him away as well, and the door closed, cutting off the blinding light.
He listened to the surrounding silence. He could never tell if Splinter was there or not, never being able to hear his sensei’s breathing or feel his presence., He waited for a long time, until he was fairly certain that he was alone, and slowly looked up.
Splinter was sitting on the bed beside him, his eyes glittering in the near-dark. He held out a steaming mug. “Drink this, my son,” he said gently.
Raphael suddenly wanted to cling to Splinter, crying out the confusion and hurt of the nightmare. Wanted to, but didn’t, as he had not done in the past, and as he probably would never do. But he did take the mug, smirking slightly. “I should have at least been able to smell that.” His voice cracked harshly, and he shook his head in frustration. Instead of speaking more, he sipped at the tea. He never liked tea, but they had all learned that there was no way of avoiding Splinter’s herbs and teas when he was determined to give them. And, as it always did, the heat of the liquid relaxed his tense muscles, and sleep began to peek around the corners of his mind.
“The dreams are back again,” he said, unnecessarily. Splinter knew, and probably had known they would come.
“You bear many burdens upon yourself,” Splinter said. “Memories can only haunt you if you let them. Release these memories, and the dreams will cease.”
“It’s not that easy, Master,” Raphael said bitterly, his fist clenching around the corner of the blanket again.
Splinter reached out and eased the blanket from Raphael’s fingers, smoothing out the wrinkles in the fabric. “It’s is only as difficult as you make it, my son. It is as easy as you allow it to be.”
Raphael stared angrily into the empty mug. Splinter finally sighed and took it from him. He pulled the blankets up , and Raphael laid back down. Splinter tucked the blankets up around him, as he had always done, and his paw rested briefly on Raphael’s forehead. “Sleep, my son.”
He had always thought those words were some spell, some bit of magic that his sensei wove. As always before, he was suddenly too tired to stay awake any longer, and too tired to care. His mind swirled for a few moments longer, then ebbed back into a blessedly dreamless sleep.
Splinter watched as Raphael’s face relaxed, then stood and silently left the room. Michaelangelo was sitting outside on the floor in the hall, and he looked up anxiously, studying his master’s face.
Splinter slowly shook his head, and Michaelangelo’s shoulders slumped. Splinter touched Michaelangelo’s forehead as he had Raphael’s. “Go back to bed, Michaelangelo.” The turtle nodded and made his way back to his own room, yawning. Splinter watched until the light flicked off, then went to rinse the mug out and leave it on the counter by the sink. Then, he went back to his chair and blanket, and sat by the window, watching the endless stars against the midnight-black of infinity.
The splint had come off that morning. “Turtles,” as April had said several times before, “heal inhumanly fast.” He had immediately began to ease full weight down on the weak leg. Splinter had sighed with an “it’s your funeral” type expression, but simply gathered up the bandages. He had looked one more time at Raphael wiggling his toes suspiciously, sighed again, and padded out of the room. Raphael hated being injured or sick, and so Raphael simply was not going to be injured or sick any longer than he absolutely had to be.
Michaelangelo found him on the roof that night, stretching out. He watched his brother for a few moments, tilting his hat back a bit. The hat shadowed his face well, but there were still a few traces of purple paint visible.
“If you aren’t careful, the leg muscles will spasm,” he finally said. “It’s been two weeks without exercise.”
“I know what I’m doing,” Raphael growled, then gritted his teeth against the pain as the muscles immediately cramped. He stayed in the same stretch, and eventually, the muscles gave and relaxed. He exhaled softly. “See?”
“Don’t give me that,” Michaelangelo said fondly. “I saw your jaw clench.
Raphael snorted, then stood and limped over to the edge of the roof and sat down, feet dangling over the edge. The weather had actually warmed enough that the snow had melted, and the breeze toyed with the ties of his face mask. He blew them out of his eyes. Michaelangelo came over and sat next to him.
His brothers had been quiet lately, going out on their nightly rounds and coming back without the usual banter and jokes. For once, he hadn’t gone at them, hounding them for reasons, for news, for anything. Instead, he left them alone, and they hadn’t mentioned anything. April continued bringing in new video tapes, Donatello supplied munchies, Leonardo nagged at him to stay in bed, and Michaelangelo would pop in, make faces at him, and pop out again before he could grab anything to throw. But they had stopped bringing him the newspaper and telling him about what they had seen while running exercises, and he didn’t ask.
He was afraid of what they’d tell him.
He should tease Michealangelo about that ridiculous purple stuff.
He heard a door close downstairs and automatically identified it as Splinter’s room, which was right under them. Voices drifted out of the open window.
“I saw this one,” April was saying softly. “If it wasn’t for the size difference, I would swear it was one of you.”
Raphael went cold, His legs stopped swinging, but he didn’t give any other indication that he had heard. Michaelangelo caught his breath and touched his shoulder gently, intending to take him downstairs where he couldn’t hear any more. Raphael knocked the hand away, not looking at his brother.
“There’s been one almost every night.” Leonardo’s voice. “I don’t know how much longer we can keep it from him. I’m not even sure we should be.”
“He has to heal,” April protested.
“Indeed...” Sprinter said thoughtfully. “I had hoped that we were wrong and that the subject would never come up again, but...” There was the sound of the window sliding shut, and the voices went inaudible.
He closed his eyes, aching inside. It was true. Pic was alive.
“We didn’t know for sure,” Michaelangelo said in an agonized voice. “We didn’t want to upset you any more than you already were. We thought we could find out otherwise and ease your mind....” His voice trailed off as Raphael didn’t answer.
He wanted to be angry at them, wanted to shout at Michaelangelo, to see some of his hurt reflected on his brother’s face. But he couldn’t feel anything, except numbness.
And he knew that Michaelangelo was hurting, anyway. Hurting at seeing Raphael hurting, and hurting because Picasso had been his brother, too. But not hurting as much as he was. He had been the closest to Picasso, he had worked with Picasso past their lessons, he had seen Picasso’s frustration and anger at his smaller and weaker body. If only he had done something sooner, if he had found Picasso just a few minutes earlier that night.
Then, once again, he saw Picasso’s face from his dream, the twisted anger and hate glinting form his eyes to the knife and back again, Michaelangelo’s bewildered and unbelieving expression...
He snarled and swung back to the roof, stalking past Michaelangelo. He let the roof door slam loudly behind him, passed Splinter’s room, and knew from their expressions and sudden silence that they realized he had overheard them. He stopped long enough in the living room to snatch the paper away from a startled Donatello. Donatello started to protest loudly, then caught sight of Michaelangelo in the doorway. He closed his eyes sadly and shook his head. Raphael limped back out to the hall and slammed the door to his room just as loudly behind him.
By the time they reached his room, he had gone out the window and had already disappeared into the city night.
“We’ve got to go after him!” Donatello cried. “He’s hurt, his reflexes are down -- he’s a prime target for a Foot! He can’t even outrun a cop at this point!”
Michaelangelo groaned miserably. “I shouldn’t have left him alone. I knew he’d do something like this. I just didn’t think he’d be so quick.”
“Blaming ourselves won’t change the situation and will only make us feel worse.” Leonardo was always sensible. “Don, you’ve been pinpointing the stores Pic’s been hitting. Any ideas where he’ll try next?” The three turtles and April had spent the last few days scouting out the stores Picasso -- for there was little doubt now that it was him -- had already robbed. April had been lucky and had been just outside a small store as Picasso had run out.
Donatello threw up his hands. “I don’t know! I could try comparing our list to city maps and see what stores he _hasn’t_ gotten yet, but that’ll take time. Why is Pic doing this?” The last was said in a burst of frustration.
“He’s still trying to prove himself to us,” Michealangelo said dully. He suddenly stood up and strode for the door. “I’m going to look for Raph. He’s out there somewhere, and I simply don’t trust Pic.”
There was silence. It was out and said for the first time. Not trusting one of the family was alien and difficult to admit. But they realized that once it had been said, it was easier to feel.
“The three of you,” Splinter said in his soft voice, “go and look. April and I will stay here and look over your maps, Donatello.”
The turtles ran for the stairs, anxious to actually _do_ something, rather than sit around trying to decide what to do.
“Be cautious, my sons,” Splinter said under his breath. “The night had already swallowed one of you. Let it not take another.”
“Where do we look?” Michaelangelo felt helpless. “There’s a whole city out there.”
“You’re letting your anxiety cloud your thinking, Mike,” Leonardo said. “We split up and circle the area where most of Pic’s targets are. He probably started with a specific and is spiraling outward. We’ll start with an abstract and spiral inwards. Hopefully, we’ll all meet up with each other somewhere inside. Raph’s probably doing that as well. We do tend to think a bit alike in strategy.”
Donatello stopped walking. “Following that logic, so would Pic.” The others turned to look at him. “We were all trained at the same time by the same sensei.”
“A trap?” Leonardo rubbed his forehead. “I never really though about one of us... about Pic getting revenge on _us_. _We_ didn’t shoot him.”
“Pic was always a bit twisted,” Michaelangelo said slowly. “And more stubborn than we are. If he somehow thought that we wronged him, he could easily obsess on that thought. He was the quickest to take offense.”
“But at one of _us_...?” Leonardo insisted, then looked away from Michaelangelo’s steady gaze. “You’re right. We have to keep that possibility in mind. He may be luring us.”
“In that case, he’s already succeeded. We’ve got to find Raph.”
“Should we get Casey?” Donatello wondered. “One more person to search wouldn’t hurt.”
“No,” Leonardo said firmly. “Just us. This is family.” He jogged the few paces to catch up to Michaelangelo.
Raphael crouched up on the rooftop overlooking a 7-11. _Wonder how much longer ‘til they catch up to me? I’m sure Mike has dragged them all out by now._ His leg ached, but he pushed the pain back into the far corners of his mind. _If I can fight wounded, I can ignore it now. I am ninja._
He didn’t know why he was waiting above this specific store. _Gut instinct, I s’pose._ Actually, it stood as much a chance as any of the other stores in this area. He moved slightly so that the pillar behind him sheltered him more from the wind and light snow that had started a short while ago.
A heavily wrapped kid turned the block and went into the 7-11. Raphael sighed impatiently, then saw the three shadows that had to be his brothers lightly scale down a building across the street and into the alley. He tapped a finger silently on a sai and wondered if he should go to them. He was just about to, when a shout came from the store.
His mind went on instant replay. A kid, not very tall, shrouded in many layers of warmth... he spat a curse. That had been no kid. He jumped forward, intending to swing off the roof and onto the fire escape, but his leg had stiffened from the cold and gave way under him. He slipped, his jaw coming down hard on a rung of the ladder. He frantically caught at the metal. He more of less slid down to the next ramp, scrambled to his feet, and lunged to the railing.
His shout died before he could even draw breath. Picasso had come out of the store, the cloths swirling around him, hiding his limp. Michaelangelo saw him first and darted out of the alley, the others following.
Picasso’s hand flew out, and if Raphael hadn’t been so well trained, he would have missed the glint from the shuriken. He shouted then, and Michaelangelo instinctively brought up his nunchukus, but a second too late. The shuriken buried itself into his arm. Michaelangelo cried out and dropped the ‘chuks. Donatello and Leonardo dodged past him, bo and katanas raised to protect their brother. Picasso laughed, and Raphael saw the glint of more shuriken in his hand.
“Pic, no!” he cried, and Picasso whirled around. His teeth flashed whitely as he grinned up at Raphael and raised his bo in a salute. Then he turned, threw the handful of shuriken and ran. Leonardo pushed Michaelangelo out of the way and rolled over him. Donatello flipped over backwards, twirling his bo. Two shuriken bit into the wood of the staff, and another _tinged_ off of Leonardo’s shell. Donatello pulled one of the shuriken out of his bo and flung it after Picasso’s fleeing form, but it missed. The smaller turtle laughed and dove into the sewer culvert at the corner.
Raphael didn’t remember climbing down the rest of the fire escape. Leonardo was helping Michaelangelo up while Donatello stood guard, bo raised. Raphael skidded to a stop in front of them. “Mike... God, no!”
“It’s all right, Raph,” Michaelangelo said slowly and calmly. “It’s not as bad as it looks.”
“The hell it isn’t!” he cried. Blood covered Michaelangelo’s arm and dripped onto the pavement. “Damn!” His voice cracked. “I should have realized! I should have been able to warn you!”
“Stop it, Raph. I just didn’t dodge quick enough,” Michaelangelo said in the same tone. Leonardo realized that the wounded turtle was holding back his pain in an effort to keep Raphael from going berserk, but it was taking an incredible amount of strength.
“We’ve got to get him home,” he said quickly. “It’s going to need at least some stitches --”
Sirens and lights flashed as police cars turned onto the street. The turtles whirled, caught for an instant in the red and blue lights.
“Rooftop!” Leonardo shouted. He and Raphael caught Michaelangelo up between them, and they ran for the alley, Donatello bringing up the rear. Leonardo scrambled up the fire escape first and helped Michaelangelo as Raphael boosted him up. The other two followed quickly, and they crossed over several rooftops before dropping back to street level. Donatello lifted the manhole cover, and they all slipped down into the sewers.
“Yes...” Splinter bandaged Michaelangelo’s arm. “A bad wound, but there will be no permanent damage. Providing, of course, you let those stitches heal.”
“Yes, Master.” Michaelangelo gingerly flexed his fingers, then made a fist. “Stop hovering, Raph. I told you it’s all right.”
“It’s not all right! If I had shouted sooner,” Raphael agonized.
Michaelangelo reached out and caught Raphael’s hand with his good arm. “Raph, the arm I forgive you for.” He grinned impishly. “The purple paint pellet, on the other hand...”
Raphael wrenched away. “NO! It _is_ my fault. I should have killed Pic when I had the chance!” He caught his breath as they all realized what he had said. He shook his head wildly. “We were never meant to be five! We were meant to be four,” he cried, then spun and ran blindly out the door. Leonardo and Donatello both dashed for the stairs, but they heard the store door slam shut, the chimes jangling in protest.
Michaelangelo sand back into the chair, his eyes closed in despair.
Raphael ran through the sewers as fast as his leg would allow him. _It’s my fault. I should have come here first. I knew where he’d be. I was trying to deny it to the last. I didn’t want him to be alive. And now, Mike’s hurt because of me. My best friend. I’m so sorry, Mike. It’s my fault..._ It ran through his mind over and over, tuneless phrasing, until he realized that there was a melody accompanying it, and he jerked to a stop.
The flute music continued for another few beats, then stopped. “Come in, Raphael,” a soft voice said.
Raphael shrank back into the darkness. The voice laughed smoothly. “You might as well. I know you’re there. I was wondering when you’d come. To be truthful, I am surprised it took you this long.”
He stepped out into the cul-de-sac. “I was hoping we had been wrong,” he said hoarsely.
“Yes...” Picasso drew out the word slowly in a hiss, a twisted imitation of Splinter. There was a brief flare of light as a match was struck, and Picasso lit the candle in front of him.
Raphael took a step backward, catching his breath in spite of himself.
Picasso had never looked normal. A long jagged crack ran down across the chest plate of his shell and disappeared behind him. Raphael knew that the same crack continued along the back of his shell, widening to almost a finger-width. One leg had never completely formed in the mutation and was positioned further back in the shell, making it slightly shorter than the other one. but his face and chest plate had never been torn into slashing scars the way it was now. Over his fight shoulder, the edge of his shell was splintered and a long furrow ran the length of his arm -- the trace of the bullet. The candlelight flashed in twin point in his dark eyes and glittered off his teeth as his face split into a smile.
“A bit even more... different, am I not, my bother?” His voice was still as smooth and melodious as it had always been. A musician’s voice, pitched to soothe and comfort. It was frightening, hearing it coming from that expression.
Raphael wet his lips. “How’d... How did you ...?”
Picasso fingered the splintered edge of his shell, and regarded his arm thoughtfully, turning it so the light shone more clearly on it. “The bullet plowed through here.” He ran his finger lightly down the deep furrow. “The other scars,” and he passed his hand over his face and down his chest plate. “Another bullet ricocheted off the pavement. It sent fragments...” He smiled again and shrugged, dropping his hands back to his lap, caressing the bamboo flute. He looked back up at Raphael, cocking his head slightly. “Why didn’t you come help me, Raph?” His voice was pitched to bewildering tones; his face wasn’t.
“I... I tried... but the police... the others...”
“Ah...” Picasso nodded wisely. “Yes, Leonardo would hold you back, wouldn’t he? The leader to the last. ‘Never let the humans discover you. Strike hard and fade away into the night.,’” He twisted his arm around again. “Ever try to sew stitches into your own flesh? No, you’ve always had the others to help you. There was a manhole cover near where I fell. Didn’t you notice that?”
Raphael shook his head, his eyes never leaving Picasso’s. “I... I don’t remember.”
“I know you well enough, my brother. You were battle-enraged. You wouldn’t have noticed, and if you did, you wouldn’t remember now. But the others should have. It would have been easy for them to help me into the sewers, or at least to come back underground to see if I had made it. ‘Stick together,’ the master said. ‘Teamwork.’ But my brothers didn’t remember that when it was most important, did they?” He set the flute aside and leaned forward. “How long until they forget that when you’re concerned? You’re their weakest link, now, with your blind temper. How long until Leonardo tires of calling you down? How long until Michaelangelo tires of baby-sitting you?”
“Stop it,” Raphael growled.
“And will you now lose that temper at me, Raph? And kill me? As you might kill one of them someday? Kill Mike, losing your control while sparring? Or will your anger get him killed in some battle, as it could have a few hours ago? I know that this has been a constant worry to you. Is it not so to the others?”
Raphael clenched his fists, fighting an explosion of conflicting emotions. “No. They’re my --”
“Brothers? Were they not mine as well?”
“You... you were stealing. You were --”
“Your brother, Raph. Remember how we would sneak away from the lessons, you and I? Remember how we used to watch the people walk by over our heads and laugh at them? Remember how we used to explore together? We were always a team, you and I, weren’t we? We understood each other. We were different from the other three. Splinter knew it. I knew it. You knew it. And they knew it.” He sat back, the candlelight shadowing his face again. He picked up his flute. “Remember how you’d listen while I played? For hours, you’d be completely entranced, wouldn’t you?” He watched Raphael for a few more seconds, then lifted his flute to his lips and began to play.
Half a mile away, Michaelangelo heard the echoing strains of the flute. He followed the sounds through the sewers, hissing softly when he slipped and used his wounded arm to catch himself. He held his arm to his chest protectively. “Raph, be careful,” he whispered, then hurried as fast and as quietly as he could. He turned the corner and saw the waverings of candlelight. He edged as closely to the wall as he could, keeping his shadow from spilling into the cul-de-sac. Raphael looked frozen a few feet away from him, his eyes locked into Picasso’s as the smaller turtle played something that Michaelangelo had always heard him playing to Raphael. He started to reach out to Raphael. He could almost reach him. If he could just touch him and let Raphael know he was there, that he wasn’t alone against this ghost of his memories.
Raphael stepped away from the tunnel mouth and into the cul-de-sac towards Picasso. Michaelangelo shrank into the darkness again, hissing under his breath.
Picasso’s eyes suddenly darkened and focused at the tunnel mouth. Michaelangelo froze. Then, Raphael took another step forward, drawing Picasso’s attention back. He kept playing, and Raphael took the last few steps and sank down to sit before Picasso. “Pic... it hurt so much when you died.”
Picasso lowered the flute again and reached out to gather Raphael in his arms. “Yes, my brother. I know.” He looked up again at the tunnel mouth, and Michaelangelo felt Picasso’s eyes meet his. “I know exactly how much it hurts.”
“No,” whispered Michaelangelo. Picasso’s knife flashed towards the unprotected back of Raphael’s neck. Michaelangelo leaped forward, drawing breath to shout, and knowing he couldn’t either attack Picasso or get Raphael out of the way in time.
But the agonized scream didn’t come from Michaelangelo, but from Raphael. Blindly, Raphael thrust one of his sai up. The point entered into the soft tissue under Picasso’s chin and kept going through to the brain. Raphael shoved the turtle’s body away roughly and flung himself backwards, wildly pounding his fists against the concrete beneath him.
“We... were never... meant to be... five,” he gasped out between the sobs. Michaelangelo caught his fists before they could hit the ground again.
“It’s all right, Raph. Easy. Everything’s gonna be all right, Raph,” he said over and over again, until Raphael’s sobs finally quieted.
“I killed him,” he said hoarsely.
“No,” Michaelangelo said firmly. “This wasn’t Pic. The Pic we knew died long, long ago, before tonight, even before that robbery years ago. One day, he was just gone, and what was left in his body was not Picasso. Pic died then, with memories of nothing but clear, star-filled nights, warm laughter, and our family. You have to believe that, Raph. We need you too much -- we love you too much, to lose you, too.”
Raphael let out a long shuddering breath and went limp in Michaelangelo’s arms. “I want to go home, Mike.”
Michaelangelo smiled gently. “I wanted to hear you say that.” He helped his brother to his feet and, arms around each other’s shoulders, walked out of the cul-de-sac, without a backwards glance at the body huddled in the shadows behind them.
“Don’t you ever wash your face? It’s purple!”