Title : Twenties Mutant Ninja Turtles


Rating : R


Author : Hannurdock


Summary : The Turtles have been granted honorary citizenship for saving the city so many times. Now heading towards their thirties, the Turtles start questioning their lives, sexuality and where they are heading generally.



Chapter 1 : Leonardo (Prologue)

My name is Leonardo. I want to update all our fans on our current situation. Too many comics and shows concentrate on our teenage years, but they came and went a long time ago.

I am 26 years of age and live in New York with my three brothers. We have an apartment - next door to our old friend's April and Casey.

April and Casey Jones married two years ago, after an often turbulent but loving on and off relationship. We all knew it was on the cards - and even though Raph was jealous, we all celebrated with them.

Raph always had a 'thing' for April. He'd been interested in her since he was 15, and had always held a torch. April and Casey marrying must have hurt him like hell, but he didn't say much and drank a lot at the reception.

Raph does drink a lot. He likes tequilla or dark rum - not mixed but straight over ice. Raph was always the darkest one out of us, rebellious and unsure about himself. He still prowls the city at night, although now he finishes his shift at the local bar - drinking till he feels numb and then staggers home. His ninja skills are suffering as a result of his excessive drinking, but there is little I can do to help him. He's not just angry. He's lonely. The one girl he liked married someone else. As I said, it's gotta hurt.

During the day, Raph is fit for nothing. He sleeps till the early evening and then heads out for another evening of prowling and drinking. Sometimes he causes bar fights. I know its harder for Raph being different than for us. He's always felt the separation more intensely.

Anyway, enough of Raph for now. Worrying over Raph is what I do most of the time now.

Did you ever see Short Circuit 2? The part where the robot get's his own citizenship? That happened to us when we turned 22. All four of us stood with our hand raised saying our oath's, and celebrated with our faces in the papers and on the news. New York's Hero's.

We'd wiped out The Foot, and Shredder. We'd sustained great losses, and our sensai had been killed in battle. When we won, it was a shallow victory without Master Splinter. In our early twenties we were recognised as full citizens and given a New York apartment right next to April and Casey.

That was when we all started questioning our lives and where we were heading. We had no real qualifications, except for our Ninja skills. Raph tumbled into vigilante life and drink. He never earned a cent, and the rest of us had to earn a living somehow. We had the apartment to maintain and upkeep, and we wanted to go out and socialise with other New Yorkers. We didn't have to hide anymore, we were like everyone else.

Except that we were giant green turtles. Drunken people always liked to make fun of us because we're different, and it was the cruel jibes that tipped Raph over the edge.

Remember that in many ways we still felt like teenagers. Master Splinter's death had hit each one of us - it was brutal and sudden and we were unprepared for it. We had never lived topside, never been in the company of normal people - and suddenly we were the centre of attention. We opened restaurants and gave speeches. We were in the limelight.

Of course the merchandise followed almost immediately. Everyone wanted to cash in on our new celebrity status. Little figures sold in markets and shops. Comics detailing our adventures sold mainstream and worldwide. The stories were often very liberal and exaggerated somewhat, but they captured our teen spirit during those tumultous years.

The comics always stopped shy of us turning twenty. I always wondered why. Maybe we had lost direction in our twenties, and failed to excite budding writers and artists.

Without Master Splinter, everything seemed hollow and unreal. We were living day to day in a void.

When the hubbub of our celebrity died away, we then started looking for work. Mikey was the first to get a job - and we were all ribbing him that he'd definitely be the last. He surprised us all, especially Raph. He works for the NYPD, his skills coming in very handy.

Donny was always very technically minded and joined an IT course. He left after a year and set up his own website - a shopping based site that he branded around our Ninja Turtle image. Its doing very well, his website. He's had to expand, and take on staff to keep up with the demand for his services.

I didn't even think of getting a career. My ninja skills were always at the forefront of every decision I made. I opened a dojo and trained youngsters in self defence. I trained hard every day, and I am the only ninja turtle left in a true sense. I maintained my ninja skills throughout the demorilisation, the others lost their Master status almost overnight. Ninjutsu wasn't the main focus anymore. The focus was living a normal life, or as normal a life as we could live. Our lives and jobs suddenly took preference.

Our twenties was our wake up call. It took us into real life, and we soon found most of our ninja skills redundant.

We didn't even think of the possibility that we might need them again in the future. We were too immersed in bills and careers and life.

Something else had happened to us. We discovered sex. We had always been very closeted and had moved into our early twenties in complete innocence. We had minor relationships, but they were brief and innocent. Each minor fling resulted in a kiss and nothing more. We were still males, and under our armour lay male genitalia, but we were lost in our roles as ninja warriors - sex didn't even enter our minds.

When our celebrity status happened, everyone wanted to know us. Some wanted more than others. The idea of sex with one of us was a real turn on for a lot of women. Mikey was the first to experiment, and he tried both ways - with men and women. I don't think he has a preference for either sex, he just likes having fun and exploring.

Donny likes men. He likes the feel and texture of a man better than a woman. He has had several short flings, but nothing serious. He's not bothered about a relationship as he has too much to think about with building his online empire.

Raph and me, we like women. I like the soft sensuous skin of a woman, and the curvy figure of a female body. I've only ever had one girlfriend, and that lasted about a year. Raph hasn't been with anyone. He never lost that torch he carries for April. I can't talk to him about it. He never talks, just goes out nightly to "do his thing."

That's where we are right now. This is where our new story begins. We are dominated by our new lives, but as a wise man once said "It does not matter how slowly you go so long as you do not stop."


Chapter Two : Michelangelo (Prologue)

Hey dudes? Remember me? The one with the orange bandana and the nunchuks as weapons. I sold more action figures than the others combined. Cool, eh?

I'm now 26, and have tried a few things since leaving the sewers. I tried doing my own comic books, but I couldn't get the knack. I've always loved comics, but you have to be an artist. I'm not.

Instead, I joined the NYPD. Being at the forefront of law enforcement was ideal for me - after all, I am a Ninja Turtle. I was trained to deal with dangerous situations, so I applied my skills in the right direction.

Excellent. I love my job so much.

Its like when we used to take down the bad guys, but now its legal for me to do it. I even say all the spiel before arresting someone - you know "You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to speak to an attorney, and to have an attorney present during any questioning. If you cannot afford a lawyer, one will be provided for you at government expense." My work buds think I'm mad doing it every time, but I enjoy it. Makes me think I'm on an episode of Cops.

Beside my job, I have a real cool social life. I go out after work and hit the bars - not the same ones Raph goes to, but mainly my working crowd are there and I like to join in.

After drinks, I always tempt my fellow cop buds to one of the local pizza places - nothing changes there. Still love my pizza. Can't get enough of it. I eat it breakfast, noon and night if I can, although Donny does try and get me to eat other things too. Although a steamed piece of salmon with broccoli really doesn't have the same appeal as a cheese-dripping slice of pizza.

Donny is a health nut. He works out at the gym. He also runs an online business which is totally funding our lifestyles. Donny's business is big news. Been in the newspapers and everything. Ninja Turtle dominates shopping websites. Go Donny!

Once a week I really like to go clubbing. I'm a natural mover, and I love talking to (and taking home, much to my Leo's disgust) various conquests. Anyone can be in my sights as long as they fit what I fancy - usually a darker haired guy or gal with long legs. I love long legs. Legs make the person as far as I'm concerned. I'm totally cruising, and I love it.

I'm not innocent, as Leo calls it. I'm now a Turtle of the World, lapping up the good times and at the centre of the storm. Everyone knows who I am, and I can take home who I like. Ideal, dudes.

Of course it's more difficult for a Ninja Turtle to have sex. Our armour breastplate needs to be removed to gain access to our sexy bits.

First time I had sex was when I was twenty-two. I was drunk and out clubbing. A girl came up to me and asked me if I'd ever been with anyone before, being what I was. I said no. She said, we can't have that and took me to her apartment.

She rocked me all night. We had to work out how to do it - a ninja turtle is a bulky thing, and its hard to maneouvre with a shell on your back. Once I found my technique I was loving it, and when I had my first ever orgasm - it was the best thing I'd ever felt.

It didn't take me long to experience it again. The next weekend at Starlight Club, a drunken guy tried it on. I thought, why not? I'm young, free and single. Might as well experiment. It was totally different than the girl, but just as good. Again, the key was figuring out my technique, and then I was flying high again.

So most weekends became the same - clubbing, cruising and taking someone home or being taken to theirs.

What happened to my ninja skills? I developed bedroom skills to rival any ninja skill. I was a Master between the sheets, and have found sex much more rewarding than martial arts. I mean, the climax alone is worth the effort. All you get in training is sore muscles.

That's my life at the moment. It is a hell of a ride, and I'm loving every minute.


Chapter Three : Raphael (Fatal Mistakes)

I'm sitting in Pav's Bar, just metres from the apartment block where I live. Drinking heavily. Chatting with Dave, the barman.

I just had to forceably remove a thug who tried to make trouble for my favourite barman. Bad news when Raphael is around. For the thug, anyway.

Nursing a neat double of rum over ice I am relaxing and enjoying the feeling of drunkeness that's settled over me. It takes more to finish me off these days. I've had plenty of practice.

I began drinking as soon as I was legally old enough. Dave always open's late for me, I'm one of his regular customers. He even has a radio on the bar beside me, catching the police broadcasts.

Its illegal. Mikey hates the thing. He hates that I listen to him during working hours, but I can't help myself. Old habits die hard.

Plus, Mikey worries me. Being on the force without us as his backup. I always worry I'll be too late to get to him if something bad happens and he needs me.

I don't think I'd be much help at the moment if he did truly need me. Too drunk to co-ordinate my limbs. I wonder how I've got into this state. Again. Night after night, its always the same.

Evacuating the brawler from Dave's bar was tricky enough. Especially as I was seeing double.

I order another rum. Dave looks concerned as he pours it dutifully from the half empty bottle.

"Wanna slow down there, Raph?"

I force a smile, and clink the bottle with my glass. "Just celebrating, Dave."

"You're always celebrating." Dave sidles closer and leans towards me. I hate proximity, but I allow it - he only cares. "You know, Raph. Ever since I've known you you've been taking out the garbage. Whatever or whoever they are, if they cause trouble then you are first on the scene. Its great, really it is. But I've noticed you lagging. You aren't as focused as you used to be."

I smile at Dave, more of a grimace. Hell, its the best I can do. "I know, Dave. I'm not stupid. I can see what this stuff is doing to me." I look at the rum, splashing inside the glass invitingly. "I don't see the point anymore. I can still handle the street trash, that's never been an issue. Drunk or sober. I'm just feeling lost. Without a cause. On my own."

Dave nods and brings out a rag to clean the bar. He always keeps his hands busy. "You should talk to your brothers about all this, Raph. They care a lot about you. They can see where you're heading."

I shake my head. "Where am I heading, Dave?"

Dave stops cleaning the bar and looks seriously at me. "Nowhere good, Raph. Nowhere good."

I throw some money across the counter and stand up to leave. Down the rest of the rum, bang the glass down and stagger out the door.

Its nearly 3am and the night is dark. The world is only slightly spinning, so I count myself lucky. I got away lightly tonight.

I hear gunfire coming from my right, and turn around hastily. I'm not so deft on my feet at the moment, but I quickly get a grip - scanning the night for the source of the shots. There were two distinct shots, and I see them now. Two thugs chasing a young woman. What the hell is she doing at this time of night out in a dangerous street like this?

As she runs toward me, panic in her eyes, I see her clothes for the first time and my earlier question is answered. She's a prostitute.

I watch as she runs by, the breeze created by her movements brushing my face as she whips past me. She's breathless, scared. Panicking.

She's also been shot. I can see a trickle of blood on her arm. That was a lucky shot, barely catching her - instensifying her fear.

As the two thugs come charging towards me, they are bellowing at the top of their lungs. "Get out the way!"

As if.

At the last moment, I barrel into them as they try to dodge past me. The escaping girl disappears around a corner and barely looks back.

The two men are cursing as they try to untangle themselves from me. I'm not going to make it easy for them, let them kill her. I force my elbow into the nearest thug's face and he howls in pain and rolls away, holding his face in his hands.

The other thug looks at me, cocks his head. He knows who I am. I see recognition flit across his face. Then anger. He kicks my plastron. Hard. I sweep his legs, hearing him fall with a dull thud. He's hit his head on the way down. Out cold.

This is definitely easier than I thought it would be. I stagger to my feet, grinning as I realise I am sober. Nothing like a tussle to bring out the inner warrior.

It only dawns on me that I've made a mistake when I hear Dave shouting a warning at me. I make the mistake of turning to look at Dave - he's running at full speed toward me - then I look behind me.

The thug I elbowed has regained his footing and has a loaded gun pointed at me. I freeze. One move, and I'm riddled with bullets.

Everything goes into slow motion. The gun is turning towards Dave. I run forward trying to dislodge the weapon before Dave is shot. The weapon firing as a scuffle breaks out between me and the thug. The thug running off at full speed, dropping the gun in terror.

Dave reaches me. He's panting and can barely stand. He isn't shot, which is good.

"Raph? I'll get help. Just hold on." Dave fishes into his pocket for a mobile phone.

Only then does it register. At first I felt nothing. Not even a twinge.

Now there is a burning sensation in my shoulder, and my hand reaches up to assess the damage. My once green hand comes away bloody.

"I'm okay, Dave." I reassure him, even as I'm falling to my knees. Last thing I want to do is cause a fuss.

The burning intensifies, and I feel the warm trickle of blood forming a stream down my body, pooling onto the ground beneath me.

I barely register Dave on the phone, talking hurriedly to someone at the other end, panic in his voice. He walks towards me and clamps a clean cloth over the wound. I gasp. Its like someone has put a burning blade over the wound, and he's holding on for dear life.

"Okay. I'm okay." Does my voice really sound that weak? I've slumped to the ground, and Dave is still talking on the mobile with his right hand, and has clamped the cloth with his left hand firmly over my wound.

I can hear sirens. See flashing lights. A car stops close by and I see a flash of green. Has to be Mikey.

It never occurred to me that Mikey might have given Dave his own number in case something like this should happen.

Hurried voices. Mikey's voice among them. There's more than two. I feel myself lifted onto a gurney and into a waiting ambulance.

I feel embarrased. I hate causing a fuss. Would much rather die in a gutter than all this be happening.

Someone is explaining my anatomy to the paramedics. Surely not Mikey. What does Mikey know about anatomy? It must be Mikey, because they are removing my breast plate and rolling me onto my stomach. My injured shoulder is being medicated somehow, I'm too out of it now to even know what they are doing to me. Just get on with it.

Mikey's voice. So distant. Reassuring me.

A dark cloud is all around me, muting most of the noise. I'm not unconscious, but I can vaguely hear the alarm in everyone's voices. I feel cold, and try to express this. I'm being moved from the ambulance to a hospital - I smell disinfectant and that strange hospital smell that makes me want to gag - I want out. I want home. I want bed.

A mask is put over my face. Didn't they do that first, usually? Mikey's voice again.

The mask brings complete darkness with it, and I realise they've put me under. That's the last conscious thought I have before total oblivion.


Chapter Four : Donatello (The Phone Call)

I'm too busy to answer the phone.

I've been working through the night, trying to stay one step ahead of a hacker from the Middle East trying to corrupt my website.  I've located the guy's IP and email, and I'm sending a rather nasty virus his way.

My office is four blocks from my home in an apartment block with my three brothers. It's decorated in light green with dark feature walls - and a blazing 'Mutant Turtle Market' logo that lights up when we have important investors coming round.

Image is everything. A business that looks to be thriving gives investor's a buzz and they are more willing to cough up extra cash. Not that I need the cash much anymore - but I still need support from the major investors. Networking is as important as funds at the end of the day.

My mobile has been ringing incessantly. I should answer it. Something is important enough to merit a call in the early hours of the morning. It's almost dawn and I feel unsettled. I have this strange twisting feeling in my gut that something is terribly wrong. In truth, I think I'm afraid to answer the phone.

Finally, I pick up my phone and scroll down the messages received. I see they are all from Mikey. At least that means Mikey is all right. I do harbour worries of him being killed on duty. It's not as if he needs to work - my business can look after all of us. Problem us, the others are proud and need a purpose. Leo has his dojo. Mikey has the force. Raph has his vigilantism.

I scroll down to the first message and in an instant it flashes up on the screen.

I can feel myself rising to my feet before I truly register what the message says. Even the hacker seems unimportant as I race out the door and down the block. Hailing a taxi, I ask them to take me to the local hospital.

Nothing comes before my brothers. Especially when one of them is hurt and needs my help.

I'm nervously biting the skin on my broad fingers when we arrive at the hospital's main entrance. I fling a couple of bills at the driver and take off. Reception is quiet, and I stammer out my brothers name and ask his condition.

I'm panicking. They can see it. Their calm professionalism and sincerity eases me, and they lead me to a family room. I can see Leonardo pacing inside, his face distorted with worry. Mikey is sat on the sofa, staring at the ground. They both turn to look at me as I enter the room.

"Raph?" I utter the word in a soft voice, and I look at them expectantly.

Leonardo breathes a sigh and Mikey tries to calm himself down. He's trying not to cry, but I can see that resisting tears is hard work. I feel that way myself, I feel sure that Raph's been killed. My heart is hammering in my chest, and my legs feel strangely numb.

I think savagely of the vengeance I will inflict on those responsible, if Mikey condones it or not. There is no way these people will be arrested. I'll see to that.

By the way Leo is staring at me, he's having the exact same thoughts.

"He's alive. He's lost a lot of blood though. Shot wound to his right shoulder. It wasn't clean, it didn't go straight through. "Mikey stops for a moment. His years in NYPD have given him a sense of responsibility and a professionalism I admire. He's just as torn as the rest of us, wanting vengeance. I can see how angry he is.

I can also see the blood on his hands. He hasn't washed them yet, and they are stained red.

"Mikey? I know more about our anatomy than the doctors here." I pull myself together. My input might be the difference between life and death. "I need to see Raph. Is he in surgery?"

Unlike most citizens, my broad knowledge of biology and science (especially of the mutant turtle kind) allows me access to areas that other people are forbidden. On the rare occasions one of my brothers is brought in for surgery - whether minor or major - I'm usually in the operating room and consulting with the surgeon. This is especially important because our biology is different to human beings.

I get scrubbed and suited. Having me in the operating theatre is not generally known, because of health and safety reasons. However, the surgeons know the extent of knowledge I possess in a subject they have little experience of.

During our earlier years, I was more than just the tech guy who can put anything together. I was also the medic, treating my brothers after fights and explaining the importance of wound cleaning.
I knew all of the common practices of the hospital, and that Raph would be in good hands. However, I needed to be in there with him, talking to the surgeons.

I step into the operating theatre with my scrubs concealing the shell on my back. I must look like a hunchback, but I'm not bothered.

"Don. I heard you were here." The surgeon in charge is Mickey Slowe, someone I trust with my life. If ever I were wounded in battle, I'd want him working on me. "I need your input here."

"How's he doing?" I turn to face the Vital Signs Monitor, a cumbersome machine that tells me everything I need to know about Raphael's condition. His heart rate is strong, and I can tell he's not going under without a fight.

"He'll live. The bullet glanced off a bone and has caused some damage internally. His major organs are unaffected. He was lucky. This time."

"Need some help?" I ask. Let's face it, I know more about our mutant bodies than Mickey does.

"I got it, Don. It's simple. Internal stitches in place already. The bullet is out, I'm just closing him up."

I pass three nurses and another doctor as I move over to the table. They have a special table for Mutant Turtles, with a hole for the shell to pass through. It allows them to work on our bodies without hinderance.

Raphael's hand has fallen out from under the sheet, so I put it back under. The shoulder wound doesn't look that bad now its being sown up. I can imagine how it would have panicked Mikey at first, the sight of all that blood. I watch carefully, adding a comment here and there, keeping an eye on Raph's vitals.

The operation has taken three and a half hours overall. I only wish I'd answered the phone earlier. I watch, protectively, as Raphael is wheeled into Recovery. He looks pale, his face drawn, and I sit beside him for a while as I watch his heart rise and fall. He looks vulnerable without his breast plate, and I take his hand in my own.

"Want to tell me what happened, Raph?" I say lightly, hoping my voice will stir something within. "Maybe I should just guess. You were fighting or brawling and someone pulled a gun on you. Or maybe you were targeted. Someone with a hate on for us."

Raphael is breathing steadily, his heartbeat strong.

"Could have been a million different scenarios. You might have intervened if someone needed help. That's something you'd do, even if you were drunk and couldn't fight. I do know about the drinking. Granted, you leave it until after your vigilante exploits, but I know what you do in the early hours. I wish I could help, but you never confide in anyone. Not even me."

My voice is cracking a little. Raphael used to be so strong.

I think of the two events that changed him. My memories drift away to a difficult time in our lives. The death of Master Splinter ....


Chapter Five : Donatello (The Downfall of Raphael)


We had just turned twenty-one when it happened. Shredder had discovered our secret lair in the sewers, and had attacked us with an army of Foot Ninja.

Shredder had been the cause of our Master's demise. We had seen it happen first hand. Splinter had been cornered and beaten by the Foot. Shredder only stepped in at the last moment to finish him off, coward that he was. The Foot had beaten us by their sheer masses. We were held prisoner, watching the life drain from our aged Master, and then Shredder turned to finish us off too.

Only Raphael and Leonardo had an unspoken plan of action ready to implement. While Shredder was distracted killing Splinter, Leonardo had turned suddenly and grabbed a katana from the sheathe of the nearest ninja. Bringing the blade down on the ninjas holding him they were both surprised and doomed. Raphael rolled forward and attacked Mikey's assailants, barrelling into them and taking at least six ninja down with him.

Energised by this new development, Mikey and I quickly followed our brothers examples. We knew we were outnumbered, but we were going to take as many ninja down with us as we could. Leonardo was locked in battle with Shredder over the body of our sensai, and the rest of us formed a line to protect him from the Foot.

We knew he'd beat Shredder. He'd done it before.

This time it was to the death. A fight Leo was going to finish for good. The only thing we could do was fight the Foot, and as we became more determined after watching the fate of our Master, we drove the hoardes backward and away from the main fight.

We didn't have our customary weapons, as they'd been taken from us earlier. We took weapons from the ninja we had killed, mainly katana, and drove them back with sweeping arc's. Although these weren't our first choice in weapon, we were still well trained in the blade and had the advantage of working well together. The Foot seemed confused and almost frightened by our new resolve. Any teamwork they had established quickly dissolved as they tried to flee, realising the fight was now to the death - and they were likely to die on the battlefield unless they retreated.

Raphael was angrier than I had ever seen him. His blade killed many that day, and soon he had what he wanted - sai daggers stolen from a fallen foe. His kills became more personal, more bloody. He used everything Splinter had ever taught him and more, drawing from a dark place inside his mind. His eyes were almost evil in the darkness, and I shudder now thinking about that side of him.

Mikey was focused and quiet. His usual quips were gone with Splinter's life, and he fought with the blade quickly and neatly - disarming his adversaries and cutting them to ribbons. He had no words for once, no comebacks, no laughs. He was just ninja, working cleanly and efficiently.

I was angry and felt cold towards my adversaries. Whatever compassion I might have had died inside me the moment Splinter was killed. I was ruthless and killed quickly. I didn't let them linger. I did have access to a bo staff at one point in the battle, but the sword felt cleaner. Cut more deeply.

Mikey also kept to the sword, tucking a pair of nunchuks into his belt as a reserve weapon. Like me, he wanted to slice and cut, to destroy those who had destroyed us in murdering our sensai.

Before that day, we had really no idea what killing involved. We weren't murderers. We fought and tied up the bad guys, we didn't mete out final justice. The moments after Splinter was killed, something changed drastically within all four of us. We were executioners. We brought death.

The Foot were either dead or retreated, and we turned to watch the ongoing battle between Leo and Shredder. It was an even match, but we could see that Leo had an advantage. Shredder had been observing us during our battle and seen our cold resolve. He realised that Leo wasn't merely going to render him unconscious. He was going to kill Shredder, and Shredder was feeling something he had rarely felt before.

Fear.

It was fear that was the Shredder's downfall. His movements became frantic, and he started to make mistakes. The katana he held kept slipping in his sweaty grip. Leo capitalised on this, and drove him back, forcing him to his knees. The sword slipped from the Shredder's grasp and he tried to speak, tried to perhaps beg for mercy.

Leo didn't waste a second. The katana sliced cleanly through his neck and the Shredder's head dropped onto the floor with a slight thud.  It was finally over. The Shredder was dead.

Leo slumped suddenly, his arms weakening and the katana dropping from his grasp. He made a slight sound, like a strangled gasp, and then sank to the ground. His bandana was soaked with tears.

I'd never seen Leo cry before. Not once. Even when things were bad, when Raph had almost died when we were fifteen, I'd never seen him cry.

Two bodies lay before him. The Shredder. Splinter.

Splinter, our sensai was dead. Lifeless. A furry corpse that held no more wisdom. No more guidance. We were on our own.

Shredder was dead. Dead from Leonardo's own hand. Dead from Leonardo's cold fury.

It was all too much for Leo to take in.

Gradually, we all moved forward. Leo was inconsolable as I reached him, pushing me away with his hand. I knocked his hand to one side and gave him a hug, possibly the only hug we've ever shared. I was a little unsure of what to do, so I just grabbed him and wrapped him up in my arms.

Raphael was speechless. He kept shaking his head, as if the entire thing confused him. As if he couldn't quite believe that Splinter was dead. Mikey was quiet too, just staring at me and Leo. His eyes wide, but his mind sharp and focused. I could see he was still in battle mode, ready to attack at a moment's notice. Of all of us, Mikey was the only one still prepared if the Foot returned to continue their fight.

"They won't come back." Leo had stopped sobbing, and was pushing me away with his hand. He wiped his eyes and got to his feet. "They wouldn't dare."

"Splinter?" It was only then that I realised how torn Raphael was. He was still trying to absorb the facts - that Splinter was gone. He was shaking his head and muttering to himself. He was angry and I could feel the rage brewing inside him. He turned and punched a wall, and I heard the crack of bone as he broke his hand.

He turned and walked away, muttering to himself.

Leonardo carefully picked up the broken body of Splinter. He held the furry body close, and made his way out of our den. We followed him silently, watching as he made his way to the surface. We went to April and Casey's apartment and they let us in; watching us with disbelief as Leo sank onto his knees with Splinter in his arms. He held Splinter for a long time, brushing his fur and talking softly to him.

Mikey had begun to tremble violently. He excused himself and locked himself away in the bathroom. I sank down on the sofa, watching Leo as he stroked and talked to our sensai.

It was over.

We had no idea where Raphael had gone. Mikey was in the bathroom, and hadn't come out yet. Leo was focused on the furry body in his arms. I was thinking of all the times Splinter had advised us, fought with us, given us a father's love. All that gone. Snuffed out by Shredder.

"Who did this?" April was cowering in Casey's arms at the back of the room. "<i>Who did this?</i>"

"Shredder." Leo spat the word out, his fist clenching. "Don't worry, we took care of it."

"I take it, Shredder is no longer drawing breath?" Casey asked, his body taut with anger. If we had said Shredder was alive, there was no doubt he would have gone off into the night alone to find our adversary himself.

"Shredder's dead." I confirmed, curling up on the couch. "It's over. Everything."

Leo looked sharply at me. "No, Don. Its not over. There is still Foot out there. Without Shredder they will take a new leader from the surviving clan and launch another assault. It's just a matter of time."

"What do we do?" I asked in a small voice.

"We carry on fighting. We draw them out and kill them all." Leo allowed Splinter's body to slide to the floor. He kissed the top of Splinter's head. "However long it takes."

I left the room in a haze, unable to think clearly. Knocking on the bathroom door, I called out to Mikey. "I need to use the bathroom, bro. You okay in there?"

No answer. I tried the door handle. It was locked.

"Mikey? Open the door or I'll kick it down."

I heard movement inside - of the lock being removed and the door opened slightly. Mikey's face appeared, and he looked awful. He looked paler than death, and had a resigned and broken expression on his face. "Be quick, Don. I need to come back in."

Mikey left the bathroom, and walked into April and Casey's bedroom. He sank onto the bed and closed his eyes, his arm shielding his face.

I walked over to the bed and sat beside him. Mikey looked up as he felt my weight on the bed, his eyes sore and red. "Thought you needed the bathroom." He turned away from me and lay with his shell facing me.

There were no words of comfort I could say. Splinter was gone. Mikey was shattered. So I just sat beside him, my hand reaching out to touch his shoulder. Usually, he would shrug me off but this time he allowed the contact. I rubbed his sore muscles, bruised from battle.

"I'm scared, Don."

"I know. Me too."

We buried Splinter. In the months that followed, we drove the Foot out of New York City for good. We were recognised for saving the city. We were granted honorary citizenship. All of this was wonderful, but we were empty inside. I wished Splinter could have seen us, seen all the amazing things we achieved after his death.

Raphael was quiet, subdued. The loss of Splinter had hit him hard, but he didn't talk about it. He couldn't bring himself to talk about it.

The second event that had led Raphael down the dark path of alcohol abuse had been the marriage of April to Casey. We were twenty-four when they tied the knot, and Raphael had been very quiet during the ceremony. He had been quiet during the reception, propping himself against the bar and ordering drink after drink until he could barely stand up. We took him home, rolled him into bed and turned off the light. He slept for two days solidly, barely touching the food we brought to him. On the third day, he went out and didn't return for three weeks. To this day we don't know what he was doing during those three weeks. When he returned he was distant and cold, a shell of his former self.

The drinking followed. Raphael had shut down. Given up.

The fact that Raph has been hurt is no big surprise to any of us. The extent of the damage is all we care about. We need to rally round and get Raph back on his feet, without the crutch, without his drinking.

It's going to be a long battle ahead.

But we'll face it together. As a team.


Chapter 6 : Leonardo (Keeping Watch)

Mikey and I weren't leaving anytime soon. Donny knew this, but when he returned to the Family Room, he still insisted we get some rest and leave the hospital for a few hours.

Mikey was sat by my side on the sofa. Donny perched on a chair at the back of the room facing the window.

"Raph? How is he doing?"

"He'll live. We're lucky he's still alive." Don was thinking deeply, his voice had that faraway sound to it.

"I know." I turned to Mikey and watched the reaction to the news - Raphael was going to live. Mikey nodded grimly and walked away. No doubt to inform his work colleagues and get some investigation underway.

"You okay, Leo?" Donny asked as I watched Mikey leave the room.

"This isn't the first time. I'm just worried that next time, well, it'll all turn out a lot worse." My thoughts travel back to the first time Raphael was badly hurt. He had ended up being thrown through a skylight in April's apartment by the notorious Foot Clan. He was almost dead then, barely had a pulse. Although I had little time to concentrate on Raphael's injuries, in the heat of battle, the thought that we might lose him weighed heavily on all of us.

Raph's temper has always gotten him into trouble. He has been in trouble numerous times. Not only is he quick to jump into a situation without thinking, he also has a habit of sacrificing himself for others. Although I admire the selfless heroic attitude, it often grates on me.

"Your website. It was attacked. Everything okay now?" I asked Donatello, eager for a change in conversation.

Donny smiles at me, his face lightening for a moment. It hurts him to think about Raphael, and I'm trying to get him to think about something else. Give him respite, if only for a moment.

"Its not a problem. I called my employees and asked them to go in early. To be honest, I think they're dying to show me what they can do. I always handle things myself, and this has given them the opportunity to show me what they're made of."

I can't help but smile. Donatello's little army of workers have been trying to show him their worth for a long time now.

Mikey came and went during the next day. Donatello and I remained with Raphael, taking turns to sit and talk to him. He was still unconscious but he was stronger, recovering rapidly, his eyes fluttering with the effort of trying to regain consciousness.

April and Casey also visited Raphael. They were concerned, but there was little they could do to help him. Casey was angry and frustrated, pacing the room and balling his fists. April remained quiet, stroking Raphael's face gently.

Throughout the day, I remained at the hospital. I called off my ninjutsu classes in the early evening and stayed either in the Family Room or at Raphael's side.

By the early evening I was dozing, my head falling onto the crisp white sheet of Raphael's bed when I felt a hand on my head. A light patting sensation.

My eyes flew open. I looked straight at him, at his smile and ended up smiling myself. He was wide awake and looked quite healthy besides the bandage on his shoulder.

"Leo. What the hell are you doing here? Haven't you got a dojo to run?"

"It can wait. Do you remember what happened to you?" I asked.

"I got shot. I remember clearly. Damn drunken fool, I am." Raphael seemed to be struggling with something. He closed his eyes and sighed deeply.

"It's okay now, Raph. Try and relax. Don't think too much." I pressed my finger to his temple, rubbing the sore knot of muscles and eliciting a groan of appreciation.

"I need to get a grip on myself. I'm sorry for putting you through this - all of you."

"It doesn't matter now. We'll talk when you recover. For now, just rest and get well."

Raphael didn't want to stay in the hospital. He was arguing with the doctors and Donny, and finally they let him go to get some peace. At least that meant he was feeling like himself again.

He seemed lost back at the apartment, and the shakes had started to set in. He fought his demons and stayed away from the alcohol. April and Casey came over bearing a hamper of goodies for our fallen warrior. Inside was a bottle of white wine and Raphael casually fished out the bottle and handed it back to April. "I'm not gonna be needing this stuff anymore."

April and Casey traded a surprised look, then smiled at each other. "I was hoping that would be the case. Casey and I will drink it together tonight." April replied, her voice cracking a little with emotion.

----

Over the weeks that followed Raphael remained strong and didn't touch a drop of alcohol.

"I'm not going out until I get this under control." Raphael swore, watching the television with a glazed expression. He was clearly fighting the biggest battle of his life and I was powerless to help him because he wanted no help from anyone.

Twice I tried to talk about getting some outside help. Twice he refused bluntly and angrily, insisting he was doing it alone. I tried to get him to talk about his demons, but he refused to open up - staring blankly at walls whenever I tried to initiate conversation.

Mikey had better luck with getting Raph to talk. The investigation was a conversational point, and Mikey was quick to let Raph know how they were progressing - the two thugs that had been waving the guns had been found a few blocks from the scene where Raphael had been shot. They had tried to rob a convenience store, and the owner had a shotgun concealed under the cash register. He had held them at bay until the cops had arrived and hauled them away. There was little information about the prostitute that Raphael had saved, and everyone assumed she got away.

Raphael wasn't pleased that there was no information regarding the young woman. The thugs had been on a high, rampaging across four blocks before they were apprehended.

After a month of sobriety, Raphael's head had cleared and the shakes had stopped. He began prowling the red light districts, searching for the face of the woman he had saved without any success. He remembered details about her - the medium length brown tangled hair being whipped across her face as she ran, the green eyes that wildly locked onto his for a few seconds. Her oval and petite face, and her lithe figure. The clothes she had worn were edgy and promiscious, promising more. From the knee high boots to the cleavage accentuating top - she had been a blur as she ran past Raphael - yet her face was imprinted on his mind.

Donny and Mikey joined the hunt, using their own skills and access to information to help Raphael with his quest.

Mikey had a sketch artist talk to Raphael and together they created a portrait of the woman from his memories. Raph was very pleased with the result, and Mikey took the picture into work - trying to get any information he could. Donny searched through social networking sites, accessing back doors and searching whole databases. They didn't have a name, but he had physical features and a location to work with - the right software could narrow down the results.

Nothing worked. Raphael became discouraged. After three months of searching, he finally let his brunette mystery go and concentrated on sparring. His training was rough and uncomfortable, as his anger towards himself intensified. The anger at the addiction he had been through, at being shot, at not being able to find the brunette - all this ate away at him. He savagely trained at my dojo, away from the impressionable youngsters I taught. Bruised and battered, he made his way back to the apartment and slumped into his bed.

I wondered how long he would be able to maintain this new regime. Nursing bruised muscles and torn ligaments, he was once again at the mercy of an addiction. This time the substance he craved wasn't alcohol, but intense exercise - burning with a rage I would never understand.

One day, Mikey came to see me at the dojo. He called me over excitedly, his face glowing with happiness.

"Leo, I found her." Mikey grinned. "The 'prostitute' Raph saved. I found her."



Chapter 7 : Michelangelo (Her Identity)

"How?" Leo asks, sitting on a workout mat and crossing his legs. I sit opposite him, too excited to bother about grabbing a training mat and grin at him.

"You want the whole story or just an overview?" I'm still grinning and Leo is starting to smile too. I have an infectious smile.

"Go on. Tell me everything." Leo closes his eyes and waits. I think about drawing it out a little, adding to the tension, but this is [i]Leonardo[/i]. He's the most patient dude I've ever met. He could sit for hours waiting and not say a word.

"Okay. Here it is ...."


*****


I was in my office last night trying to get some paperwork done. [i]Dude[/i], you would not believe the amount of red tape I have to cut through. Apart from doing my job, I'd also been trying to find the girl Raphael saved.

Raphael didn't given me much to go on. He'd been trying to find her for a while without any luck. He'd done a sketch of her, but to me it looked like [i]Angelina Jolie[/i] so counted the sketch out and concentrated on what I knew about the events that night.

Knowing Raph the way I do, I had my suspicians about the whole prostitution deal. Raph is very old fashioned, and a girl out clubbing [i]could[/i] look like a prostitute to him.  Especially with what the girls wear at clubs. I have first hand experience of knowing just how near-naked these girls can get.

The thugs who attacked her had probably picked her out of a line. She might have been waiting to go into one of the nearest clubs when it had happened. She'd been unlucky to be picked out, or lucky Raph had stumbled out of the bar at the time he did, depending on how you see it.

I approached Donny with this information and he started scanning social networks for information. Chances are, as soon as this girl got home, she'd be online and writing to her friend list about the weird night she'd had.

Donny found nothing. It was another blow, and Raph wasn't happy at all.

On my weekends, I started to go to the nearest clubs to the crime scene. I talked to the bouncers and to everyone I could, trying to get [i]any[/i] information at all. It didn't seem to be working, but I was getting the message around. People were constantly talking about the giant green turtle asking questions about a mystery brunette.

So here I was last night, paperwork in piles all around me and no further to the truth. I was done for the night, [i]I'd had enough[/i], and there was another club to explore less than a block from the crime scene.

I walked there, payed to get in and ordered a drink at the bar. I was still chatting to everyone I could about the mysterious brunette, but no-one knew who she was.  I think I must have been at the club only three hours when I was ready to leave, discouraged.

I had all but given up when a young woman approached me and shyly smiled at me. I thought I was getting hit on, until I realised she was after something else. She guided me to a table, we sat and tried to talk above the roaring music.

Getting no-where, I gestured for her to leave the club with me. Outside would be quieter. She seemed reluctant to do this, perhaps even frightened.  A group of her friends shook their heads as I took her hand and led her out the club.

"It's okay. I'm a cop. I couldn't hear anything in there." I reassured her.

She was definitely afraid to be out of the club. Her eyes were wide and wary. "I'm sorry. I'm still scared after I got attacked that night. It was Raphael who saved me, right?"

I looked at the girl. She was a brunette with green eyes, but she really looked nothing like the sketch.  She also looked [i]nothing[/i] like a prostitute - just a girl on a night out with her friends.

"What's your name? We've been trying to find you for a while to make sure you were okay." I looked up to find a gaggle of her friends waiting at the club door protectively. I showed them my badge, but they still hovered.

"Mary Farsby. I was just on a night out when those thugs began to chase me. If it hadn't been for Raphael ...." She shuddered and shook her head.

"Its ok. Why didn't you come forward?" I asked her.

"I was too scared. I heard that Raphael had been shot, and I felt responsible. He'd only been trying to help me and he could have died.  I felt awful." Mary shivered a little. It was cold in the street, and although I didn't feel the cold much this tiny waif of a girl probably felt it a lot more than I did.

"Look, I won't keep you for long. You can get back to your friends in the club. I was wondering if I could ask a favour."

"Sure, anything."

"Would you come over tomorrow night and talk to Raph? He's been worried about you, and seeing you alive and well would help. I'll pick you up so you won't have to get to the apartment alone, but I'll need your address."

Mary nodded and reached into her handbag. She pulled out a small pink notebook and jotted her details down. She ripped out the page and passed the paper to me. "I'll be there."

"I'll pick you up at 6.30pm tomorrow. Thanks, Mary."

I watched as she returned to the club and her friends, then went back to the office. I typed in her details and checked the address she had given me. Everything matched.

I must have fallen asleep on those paper piles, because the next thing I know its, like, today. I came straight to you, Leo.

[hr]

"She's coming round tonight?" Leo asks, his face turning a pale green. "And you're telling me this now??"

"She's just coming round to talk to Raph that's all." I say, turning a little pale myself.

We don't get many visitors apart from April and Casey. Our apartment can be a little messy at times, and maybe a little advanced warning would have been useful.

"We'd better get the apartment ready." Leo says, reading my mind. "Mikey, phone Donny and have him meet us there. Raph should still be at home. We'd better clean up and get some groceries in, just in case she wants some food while she's in our home."

"She didn't mention food." I'm scratching my head, wondering why Leo is making this into such a big deal. "Why do we need to get groceries in?"

"I'm going to be the perfect host, Mikey." Leo is pacing, his mind focused on the new plan. "Best of all, Raph isn't going to know anything until she arrives."

Keeping Raph out of the loop? [i]Count me in![/i] I can't wait to see him open the door and find his mystery brunette waiting on the welcome mat.



Chapter 8 : Raphael (Mary Farsby)

The guys have been acting weird all day.

It began with Leo coming home early from his dojo with Mike in tow. Both of them looked flustered but wouldn't tell me what was wrong. Then Donny appeared as if from nowhere and he started to [i]clean the flat[/i]!

Donny isn't the homely type, but here he was - mop in hand - dancing round the flat like a turtle possessed.  When I asked him what the special occasion was, he just smiled knowingly at me and then carried on without saying a word.

Mike and Leo disappeared for hours. I was beginning to think of contacting missing persons when they arrived home with lots of shopping bags. Neither one would let me look inside, and they cornered themselves off in the kitchen and barricaded the door.

I was getting a little paranoid by now. There was obviously [i]something[/i] going on, but I was out of the loop. Deliberately. They were [i]keeping something from me![/i]

I checked the date. It isn't my birthday, so what the shell is going on here? I knew it wasn't something bad because of the smiles on their faces, but I hate surprises.

I was getting nowhere with figuring out what was going on so I turned on the television and watched the news.

Then, about half an hour later, Mikey tried to sneak out of the flat without me seeing him. I caught him tiptoeing towards the door, and had it out with him there and then. Mikey looked uncomfortable as I grilled him, but just as I was getting somewhere, Leo emerged from the kitchen and sat me down. He told me it would all make sense soon, but I was getting angry with his evasive tactics.

When I looked over to where Mikey had been standing, the sneaky turtle had escaped. Leo had been a diversion so Mikey could make a run for it.

I decided to sit it out and watch some tv, ignore the frantic clean up mission going on all around me, and see what was on the news.

That's where I am now. Sitting here and watching the news. Trying not to eavesdrop on the guys as they whisper to each other and share goofy grins.

Then, just as things can't get any weirder, the doorbell rings. I practically jump out of my shell, and watch to see if any of my brothers goes to the door. When I am satisfied that they will not open it, I head over and pull the door open with a grumpy, "What d'ya want?"

I fall quiet.

She is standing there.

The same girl I took the bullet for.

Standing there awkwardly, she smiles a little, and holds out her hand. "I think I owe you a well earned thank you for the rescue. Thanks, Raphael."

My voice has gone, and my eyes must be as wide as saucers. Leo invites her in, and she warily moves into the flat, around my static form, and sits on the sofa.

"Mary." Mikey comes out of the kitchen and sits down next to her. "Thanks for coming. Raph's a little overwhelmed right now. He can't speak when he's shocked."

Smacking Mikey over the head gives me a sense of balance and normality. I sit on Mary's free side, and I find my hands shaking a little. "I've been trying to find you."

Mary blushes and looks down at the floor. "I know. I'm sorry for making you worry."

"Were you ... working nights?" I have no sense of etiquette and the fire that lights Mary's features suddenly has me freezing in horror. I have really offended the girl.

"I don't ... work nights, Raph. "I'm a secretary for a legal firm. I was on a night out with friends. I like, well, used to like clubbing."

"Raph's not very good with people. He often offends them." Mikey grins, smoothly relaxing the room's tension with his quirky way. Thank God for Mikey being here!

"I'm sorry. Mike's right. I'm a bit of an ass." I try to keep the blush from my face, but it's very apparant that I'm uncomfortable.

We all sit down to eat together. Leo and Mikey have prepared something really nice - a pasta dish with smoked salmon. Donny leads the conversation with his view on the legal system which keeps the conversation flowing smoothly. At least I have three brothers who are not socially inept, and that keeps the limelight nicely off my blushing face.

Is talking to women really this hard? I'd never had a problem talking to April, and I really liked her. Still do. I never felt awkward with April or felt out of my depth, but here with this girl, I really don't have a clue what to do or what to say.

I'm so glad she's alive and well. Thriving in fact. If she has a problem with being out late, I'm only too happy to escort her to clubs and collect her when she leaves. I let her know this, and then fall into the shadows again as my brothers keep up the happy banter.

when she leaves, its Mikey who escorts her home. I shake her hand awkwardly, begging her not to thank me anymore, and wait until she leaves.

Then I sigh and sit down on the sofa.

That was hard.

"Dude, you are a total virgin." Mikey laughs, sliding down next to me. "I guess she wasn't the one to pop your cherry. You barely said a word to her all night."

"Leave him alone, Mike." Leo chides sternly. "He's just not used to being around ... women."

My hackles are rising. I feel threatened by my inexperience - I'm waiting for the teasing to really kick in. Mikey, however, falls silent. He broods for a moment, then he winks at me and sprints off to his diary. "Mikey. What are you up to?"

"Ever tried speed dating, Raph?" Mikey comes back with a small slip of paper. "I'm going. Want to come along?"

The last thing I want is another complication in my life. I'm fine with being single. "Drop it, Mike."

"But ..."

"I said, drop it, Mike!" I get to my feet, and head to my room. I'm pissed now, and glad I'm conveying a threatening message to the others. Don and Leo step out of my way, but before I can reach my room I feel Leo's hand on my shoulder.

I pause, not looking at Leo, waiting for him to let me go.

"April's not going to realise what she's been missing all these years and fall into your arms, Raph. It's time to let her go."

My shoulders tense and I pull myself free from Leo's hand. "I let April go a long time ago, Leo. That chapter is closed."

Trudging off to my room, I lock the door and let myself flop heavily onto the bed.

I've let April go. She was never mine to start with. I had no choice.

Suddenly, I feel tears prick my eyes.

Why do I always have to lie to everyone, especially myself.



Chapter 9 : Donatello (Letting Go)

It has been three weeks since Mary Farsby visited us.

Raph didn't contact her again, and maybe that was for the best. She wasn't really his type, and he struggled to make conversation with her.

I discovered the identity of my mystery hacker. Some sixteen year old internet wizard who got into heaps of trouble when I sent the cops his way.

Leo has asked Raph to help him teach in the dojo. I think that's a wonderful idea. Raph needs focus, and Leo can give him exactly that.

He's a little unsure around the women students and his uncertainty around them is making them swoon over him. I guess women like shy guys.  He's been asked out for a date twice but hasn't accepted any requests.

It's annoying that Raph is holding back from finding someone to love. I decided to have a chat with him, and see if I could help him overcome his crippling shyness with women.

I'm not really the best one to advise Raph on his dating strategies with ladies, my interests run in a completely different direction, but he desperately needs someone to help him conquer his fear.

Leo is busy at the dojo, with his mentoring and tuition. Mike is busy out on the streets. I'm busy too, but I'm very efficient at organising my time effectively.

I caught Raph one evening as he was attempting to make dinner. Leo and Mike were both out for the evening, checking out a bar for informants, and generally just having a good time and a few drinks. They don't really need an excuse to hit the bar these days, but both like to be useful and Leo would have never been tempted out if Mike hadn't pulled the big guns and told him there was a possibility he'd need his brother watching his back.

Leo was a sucker for responsibility and agreed to accompany Mike to the bar. He didn't intend to drink, but Mike would pass that hurdle when he came to it. Leo was a funny drunk. He would lose all co-ordination and become relatively helpless for the duration of his insobriety. Mike loved it, and would encourage Leo to drink past his limits.

I didn't encourage that. Mike could still be so immature sometimes. The idea of Leo crashing over a bar stool and landing flat on his shell wasn't something I had an interest in observing.

Raph was trying to make spaghetti bolognaise. He had left the sauce simmering too long and without stirring it. The red mess had congealed and didn't look very appetising at all. He had also failed to cook the spaghetti right, and the whole thing had clumped together like a humungous pasta blob.

At least he was trying.

In the aftermath of the bullet wound, Leo had given Raph a severe lecture on family responsibility and personal care. Some of the points made seemed to have stuck with my hotheaded brother and now he was trying hard to redeem himself with the rest of us.


Chapter 10 : Leonardo (Epilogue)

Raphael's day came an unexpected winter morning. He had popped out for a mid-morning snack when he arrived back with a huge smile.

"So, what's up?" I asked as he blushed deeply and walked away without telling us anything.

The four of us had spent the last evening immersed in the Die Hard films, even Donny had participated in our action marathon.

Since we almost lost Raph, we had developed a stronger bond and had been spending much more time with each other. Even Raph was spending a lot of time within the family folds, and was more relaxed than he had ever been before.

"Nothin', Fearless. Just went for a bite to eat." Raph mumbled and disappeared into the kitchen.

Donny looked over at me and fought to keep the smile from his beak.

I wandered into the kitchen and found Raph pouring some cereal into a bowl. "So, you went out for something to eat ... and now you're having cereal."

Raph paused as he chomped his way hungrily through the cereal. "Well, I got side-tracked. I was gonna go to the Breakfast Bar over on tenth."

"And ... ?" I was hanging off every word.

"Mugging. I intervened." Raph confirmed, tucking into more cereal.

"So, you came back straight away?" I looked at Raph incredulously. It was unlikely that anything could stop him from visiting the Breakfast Bar.

"Well, I had a coffee with the vic first." Raph explained looking thoroughly uncomfortable.

My interest was peaked. "Coffee? Was the vic a woman, Raph?"

Raph blushed and turned away. "Maybe ..."

I smiled at his reaction.

This could only mean one thing ...

"Are you going to see her again?" I prompted. Raph watched me warily, chewing on cereal and looking slightly put upon.

"Can you quit it, Leo? Nothin' happened." Raph turned away, his shell facing me.

"I think it'd be nice if you met a girl, Raph. All these years pining for April has just left you bitter." Donny was standing in the door frame looking at his older brother with a hint of admiration. With Raph's inexperience, none of us had expected him to meet someone so soon.

"I think it'd be nice if you guys shut up." Raph snarled, stalking out of the kitchen towards his bedroom.

That was the last we saw from Raphael that day. He snuck out later and disappeared for the night, probably to patrol.

The days turned to weeks, and we forgot Raph's mystery girl. The dojo had seen a sudden increase in business, and I was working flat out all hours trying to take on new students. I have certain standards, and had decided to delegate teaching roles to my most advanced students. This gave me the opportunity to focus on the most talented of the new students, giving them the attention they needed to advance quickly.

There were twelve students that I was personally focused on training. The majority were young men, but there were a couple of female students who were excelling beyond my expectations. I was proud of their progress, and often went for drinks with them after workouts. I hadn't seen much of my brothers for some time, although we passed and exchanged pleasantries all the time.

Donny had been expanding his business at a terrifying rate. I think his talk with Raph had made him realise how lonely he felt generally, and he had concentrated on his work to forget his troubles. I hoped that one day, Donny would meet a good man.

Meanwhile, I was getting closer to one student in particular. Her name was Jenny, and she had shown aptitude for Ninjutsu that few possessed. Training her was a pleasure and I began to realise my feelings for her had changed from mentor and friend to romantic. She had never shown any interest in me at all in a romantic sense, so I closed off my emotions and continued to train her as normal.

Mikey had been dating generally, as usual. He was happy in the company of many others, not just one significant other. For Mikey, I don't believe that will ever change.

Three weeks on and the 'vic' Raph had saved from a mugging was snuggled beside him on the sofa, watching the Death Wish film series on the box. His arm was lightly draped around her shoulders, and he seemed completely relaxed and content. We had decided not to pry him for any further information on his new love interest as he was uncomfortable speaking about anything of a romantic nature.

Donny had been internet dating and had a string of first dates. He hadn't expected much and had been pleasantly surprised when he met a gym fanatic and personal trainer called John. They had just shared their first night together, and I bumped into them as I prepared myself for the day ahead. Donny seemed a little embarrassed, but John was beaming with joy.

I smiled as I headed over to the dojo and began an intense workout for my most advanced students. We ploughed through the exercises and then immersed ourselves in meditation for half an hour.

By the end, most of the students had disappeared off to the changing rooms, but Jenny remained loitering around the dojo, looking uncomfortable.

I was sitting, cross-legged on the meditation mat, trying to find inner peace. "Everything okay, Jenny?"

"Fine, thanks," came the reply.

I allowed myself to drift into the astral plane and felt my spirit soar as my body became warm and fuzzy from the lack of spiritual presence.

It was, with great shock, when I felt lips press themselves suddenly against my beak. Fighting back to mental awareness, I opened my eyes in shock and looked at the retreating figure with a slight smile.

I wasn't always right about the intentions of others. For, at that moment, I knew Jenny had feelings for me.

She had disappeared into the changing room with the agility of a panther and I closed my eyes again, my soul singing with expectation.

Our lives may have been static for a long time, but now they were full of hope.



- THE END -