I am ready to scream. At the top of my lungs. And not stop until I am so hoarse that I have no choice. I can’t take anymore. I went into the dojo to find peace in the familiar motion of my katas. Not to have my every move nitpicked.
“Where are you going? I’m just trying to help. You want to improve, don’t you?”
I halt my furious stomp out of the dojo to turn and glare at Leo as he stares at me in innocent confusion.
Of all the ways I’d envisioned my homecoming after accepting my true parentage, this was not it. When Donatello had finally, after several brutal encounters to obtain blood samples from me, managed to synthesize a cure as unique as my mutagen, I finally let them take me back, no longer terrified that I might turn on them at any moment. How naïve.
Although, I still have momentary flashbacks to my serpent time, my turning on him has nothing to do with my mutation and everything to do with him driving me insane. Why had I thought this was going to work?
Because of Leo, that’s why. He’d always fascinated me. Granted the turtle thing was a trip, but for some reason that didn’t throw me as much as his crazy sense of honor and responsibility.
My inability to square that with my mental image of the nightmare enemies who had murdered my mother, kept me coming back. In my pursuit, I had even stopped noticing that he was an anthropomorphic turtle-person. He was just Leo. After being mutated into a snake, it seemed to matter even less. I’d thought that we were…that we would be…now that we were living together…but no.
After discovering that I was Miwa, he’d gone hardcore into big brother mode. In the past few weeks, he’d made it unquestionably clear that I was his long lost sister and nothing more. Well that’s just great for him, but it doesn’t exactly clear up any of my confusion.
I’ve always wondered what having siblings might be like, but this is ridiculous. Leo is so completely overbearing and protective that I spend most of my time with him restraining myself from punching him in the face. No wonder he drives his brothers crazy.
And then there are my other brothers. Raphael just avoids me with a mixture of aggression and mistrust. He won’t dare make a move against me, but I can feel him waiting for me to screw this up, again. Michelangelo latched on to me like a friendly puppy, offering me food and his favorite toys and games until I cringed every time I hear him call out “Sis.”
And the father I longed to know is still as distant to me as the one I walked away from. Being blood relatives does not change the fact that we are strangers trying to forcibly create a relationship that we both know will take time and effort.
But we don’t want to do it slowly. He wants his daughter back and I want a father and we want it now and that just makes all of our interactions strained and awkward as we pretend things are already as they should be. They aren’t. He is still someone I barely know and hope that I can learn to love someday.
At least Donatello has given me the space that I need. Not that he’s chosen to do so for my sake. Ever since April decided to explore the romantic side of her relationship with that hockey vigilante friend of Raph’s, he’s locked himself in his lab, working, only leaving to eat or use the restroom. That was nearly a month ago and might be part of the reason everyone has remained so focused on me. It is easier than trying to deal with their brother’s broken love life.
Why can’t he just call me Karai? I’ve already had so much upheaval. Is it so much to ask to keep one small familiar part of myself?
“I’m done training for now.”
“Well Mikey’s making some lunch, maybe you could…”
“I’m not hungry.”
Before he can continue smothering me with the wrong kind of affection, I turn on my heel and flee to the one place I know he won’t follow, Donatello’s lab. Slamming the door shut behind me, I sigh in blessed relief at the silence. Silence? Isn’t it usually a series of annoying mechanical sounds? I open her eyes and see Donatello, geared up for welding and hovering over the metal skeleton of some creation, staring at me in undisguised disbelief.
“I just need to be away from them for a little while. Do you mind if I hide here?” He just shrugs, and pulls the mask back over his face, choosing to ignore me. Thank God.
Although after standing there awkwardly for several minutes I realize that as much as I want to get away from everyone, I have no desire to be trapped with my own circular thoughts either. I have enough of that during my sleepless nights. And so I begin to wander, really looking at the lab for the first time.
There are some familiar things: lights, computers, televisions, VCRs, audio speakers, DVD players, toasters, CD players, microwaves ovens, MP3 players, video game consoles, all in varying states of disrepair. But the bulk of the lab consists of things that I can’t begin to guess at, Frankenstein-like chimeras of technology that must serve some purpose or they wouldn’t be here.
Looking at an old hand held video game system with egg beater antennae, I faintly recall it being some kind of device for tracking mutagen from my days…before. How can he take discarded trash and turn it into something that would make NASA drool?
It suddenly occurs to me that the only reason this place is in such a livable condition is because of him. There is no way that any of the many communities of homeless people living under New York City have it remotely so good. And then he is in front of me snatching away a piece of a computer chip that I hadn’t even realized I’d picked up.
“I said you could stay…just don’t touch anything.”
I raise an eyebrow at him as he grumpily returns to his patched up, wheeled, office chair to write in a tattered old notebook, feeling more like my old self than I have in a while, whether or not that is a good thing.
“Life down here would really suck without you.”
He freezes and turns back towards me, incredulous.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
Apparently, I have established a reputation for insincere mockery. That’s on me.
“Exactly what I said. I didn’t think about it until just now, but everyone would have probably died a long time ago without you. This is an abandoned subway station in the sewers. There’s not supposed to be running water or electricity or heat or AC or even kitchen appliances. Does anyone realize how much you contribute to their quality of life?”
I’ve clearly thrown him as he’s now shifting uncomfortably in his chair and avoiding my eyes.
“We all contribute in our own ways. It doesn’t need to be acknowledged.”
That would be a no. Well, if he wants to play it humble that’s his call, but I won’t ever forget that by repurposing garbage, he turned an abandoned hovel in the sewers into one of the more enviable living spaces available in New York. It demands respect. Despite my many other shortcomings, I know how to give respect once it’s earned. Feeling more comfortable in the lab now, I approach and take a look at his current project.
“So what are you working on now?” He looks at me with a mixture of suspicion and curiosity, before finally giving in and answering.
At first, his voice seems kind of rusty and he struggles to put his thoughts into words. I suddenly realize that he probably hasn’t really spoken to anyone since he locked himself in here. But he clearly loves his work and enjoys talking about it as his voice gains strength and confidence.
For having earned my respect, I give him my full attention and work to understand everything he says and yet, to my surprise, I find what he’s saying actually interesting. More than interesting. Fascinating. I’d never before consider the miraculous intricacies by which the marvels of the modern world function. All my problems fade into the background as I lose myself in these new discoveries and I am more grateful than I’ve ever been for choosing to flee in here.
Unasked, I hand just the tool he needs while sitting on the stool beside him as he works, letting my mind boggle yet again at the fact that he’s building an actual plasma cannon for the Shellraiser. Out of scrap, salvaged from a junk heap no less.
My life has improved dramatically since I started seeking refuge in Donnie’s lab months ago. The distance it put between myself and my brothers made it possible to finally be civil towards them during meals and actually spend some quality time with each of them, generally videogames with Mikey, Space Heroes with Leo and sparring with Raph.
This was also made possible by setting some boundaries between them and myself. They now know when I’m welcoming company and when they need to back off. The ever present tension that followed me around when I first arrived has completely dissipated.
The time I spent in here also gave me a chance to think and put things in perspective. I believe I’m finally able to think of Leo as the brother he so desperately wishes to be, although there is still a phantom ache at times.
And I actually made things right with my father. No more pretending. I laid bare all of my fears and concerns and admitted that I had no idea who he was. But I wanted to know him. Ever since we have set time aside each week during which I talk about my childhood, such as it was, and he tells me stories of my mother and his own life, either from before when he was human or later while raising my brothers.
I can feel a true bond forming between us and it warms me from the inside out. So this is what it is like to be unconditionally loved and cherished. I never knew. Love was always something precarious, on the verge of being lost with any given mistake. A ghost I spent my whole life chasing with no hope of actually catching it.
I can’t help but feel some regret on what I missed out on when the Shredder stole me, but after everything he made me do to my family I suppose I should be grateful for this much. It is still foreign to me that love is something freely given, that I don’t have to earn. Maybe someday I will be able to accept that as the natural state of things.
My thoughts drift back to Donnie as I help him exchange one tool for another, knowing exactly what he needs. During my time with him, I’ve learned so much. I’d never really paid much mind to the scientists working under the Shredder. They were always so weak and terrified, shuffling through their tasks as they awaited the next blow.
But Donnie isn’t weak. Granted he has been neglecting his training a bit, although I’m helping to ease him back into it, but he is still a versatile and capable warrior. And he loves his work, motivated solely by this seemingly limitless flow of ideas that demand to find physical form. His enthusiasm is contagious.
I was always so focused on my training, that I had no idea how unbalanced my life was until he opened me up to a world of other possible interests. He’s helped make me whole in so many ways.
He pokes his tongue through that gap in his teeth and I can’t help but smile. He isn’t even aware that he does it. It’s, dare I say it, cute. I look past his expression of concentration to his shell.
I don’t know if it’s true of normal turtles, but a least as far as my family is concerned, the patterns on their shells are as unique as fingerprints. And I have Donnie’s memorized. It always reminds me of those paintings by impressionist masters that are on display in museums. There’s a mesmerizing beauty to it that is easy to appreciate while I wait for him to need another piece of equipment.
My eyes continue to rove as I recall my first impressions of him. I can’t believe I ever called him scrawny. What a shallow observation. He is taller and leaner than his brothers, but still impressively powerful as every muscle is still toned and solid. I should have described him as lithe.
Having had greater chance to observe, I think it makes him a more elegant fighter, which is advantageous as ninjutsu requires a great deal of finesse to perform properly. Taken all together, he is beautiful.
The moment the thought enters my head I freeze. No. Not again. I just got over Leo. What is wrong with me? Do I have some kind of turtle fetish? No, I would have fallen for them in any form. It’s who they are. First Leo. Now Donnie. Why do I choose men who can’t possibly return these feelings? And now I’ve gone and screwed up the best part of my new life.
He looks up expectantly as, in my epiphany, I’ve failed to hand over the next tool and his brow knits in confusion at whatever expression must be plastered across my face. I can’t deal with this now. I need time to pull myself together if I’m to have any chance of acting normal. So naturally I do the least normal thing possible. To his astonishment, I flee.
I tear out of the lab at top speed, past my startled brothers out of the lair and into the tunnels, not caring where I’m going as long as I’m putting distance between us. I run and run until I collapse shaking in an abandoned and structurally unsound subway tunnel.
My long black hair falls in my face as I collapse against the wall breathing heavily from a mix of hard sprinting and crushing emotion. The tie must have fallen out. I usually keep it pulled back since allowing it to grow out.
As my breathing normalizes, I slide down the wall and bury my head in my knees. What am I going to do? What will I say? How can I explain my actions? How can I go back to my life and pretend I’m not dying?
I’m not sure how long I’m sitting there, but inevitably I hear someone approaching.
“Karai?” Donnie’s the only one who still calls me that, at my request. He’s good at listening to people when they want to be heard.
“Are the others coming?” I’m proud of how even my voice sounds. It definitely does not reflect the turmoil inside.
“No. I told them that you didn’t have you’re T-Phone, so Leo had us split up to search. That’s when I tracked you.”
He came for me alone?
“If I’ve done or said something…” Oh God, he thinks this is his fault. I can’t allow that, no matter what it costs me.
Shaking, I lift my head and meet his gaze knowing that my pain and desire are still clearly visible in my countenance. His eyes widen and his jaw drops. Now I need to salvage what I can of this relationship.
“I don’t need pity. And I can control it or I will be able to. Things can continue as they have. I promise.” As I speak, I can see the emotional walls I hadn’t even noticed he’d constructed since April’s decision crack and begin to crumble, replacing his shock with wonder.
I realize that despite my bold words, I’m crying and hate how vulnerable and weak that makes me look. At least I stopped wearing makeup or it would be a runny mess by now. Through my blur of tears, I realize that he’s kneeling in front of me.
“Things can’t continue as they have.” His voice is thick with emotion. Before I can question what that means, he leans in pressing his mouth to mine, once again opening my sheltered existence to a world full of possibilities. I am finally home.
Note: I don’t foresee continuing this plot line. A comment by another author presented the challenge in my mind and then I couldn’t set it down. Although I suppose Micherai or Karangelo would also be tricky to make work too, I should probably quite while I’m ahead. On the upside, I did get to practice writing in the first person, so that got me out of my comfort zone. I always feel a bit confined using that point of view and tend to avoid it. Also, I have a lot of trouble picking a tense and sticking with it while writing first person. I’ll give this a few editing read throughs before posting, but if there are still shifts between past and present, I apologize for the inconsistency.