Normally, I have several trains of thought running simultaneously, not because I’m trying to think about many things at once, but because I can’t seem to rein my mind in. So when I say that I lost track of everything but this moment, it really means something.
I have absolutely no idea how long I’ve been here or how long I’ll remain. And it doesn’t matter. There is no past or future. Only now and this kiss. I feel as though I’ve waited my whole life for it and yet somehow it’s completely unexpected. And then my phone rings and the moment is broken.
With a sigh, I lean back. I’m not exactly sure what I’m expecting when I open my eyes. My insecurities still haunt me after April, but more than that I don’t want the agonized, broken expression to still be there. It astounds me that I can now think April’s name without crippling pain. Another gift from Karai. One of many that I didn’t realize I was receiving as she subtly saved me from myself.
Mustering my courage, I open my eyes and she’s looking up at me with that mischievous smile I’ve come to know so well. I’m not sure at what point I started looking forward seeing it, but I’m truly relieved it’s there now. I don’t ever want to see her hurting that badly again. And I will find a way to make it up to her. If I hadn’t been so dense, she would have never had to suffer. Everyone tells me I’m brilliant, but it doesn’t feel true if I can be so oblivious to what is right in front of me.
“Gonna answer that?” Right. My phone is still ringing. I have no idea how long we would have remained in this abandoned tunnel, lost in that first kiss, if not for the interruption. Part of me insists that we would have stayed indefinitely while a more rational voice points out mundane concerns like the need for water, food, sleep, calls of nature and air. I’m sure that I’m grinning like an idiot as I answer my phone.
“What took you so long to answer? I was starting to panic.”
“Sorry Leo. I was distracted.” Karai doubles over with laughter, but somehow manages to remain silent. Honestly, I’m having trouble keeping from bursting out laughing myself. Only the knowledge of how Leo would take that reaction to his concern helps me keep it contained.
“Distracted? We’re supposed to be looking for our sister. No one’s found her. I think we need to change our search pattern.”
“Hold up. It’s ok Leo. I found her and she’s fine. We’re heading back now.”
“We’ll see you back at the lair.”
I hang up. It’s probably wrong and I can apologize later, but I really want to savor this time with her. Especially as she wraps her arms around me and I can smell her hair. It’s not the scent of anything manufactured by companies trying to chemically reproduce the experience of nature. It is something uniquely her and by far better than anything else.
“Are they going to freak out?” Oh absolutely. But I keep that thought to myself.
“We’ll work it out. I promise.” I can feel her nod against me before she pulls away with an expression of fierce determination.
“I’ll tell father when we get back.” I feel the first ripples of unease as my mind enumerates all of Sensei’s possible reactions, but that train of thought is derailed as she smiles again.
“We’ll work it out. I promise.”
Unsurprisingly, my brothers have beaten us home. Not that we were in any hurry. Although I know perfectly well that gravity is functioning the same as it always has, I feel as though I am floating. Leo and Raph’s eyes grow wide as their attention zeroes in on Karai’s hand intertwined with mine. Mikey, as usual, remains clueless.
“You’re ok sis!” I see her brace herself as he scoops her up in a hug. “Great job D!”
“Air!” Karai gasps and Mikey releases her.
“Sorry sis.” She just shakes her head as she sucks in a few large gulps of oxygen.
“No I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have worried you.”
“Nah. It’s cool.”
Then she straightens her spine and sets her jaw. “I’m going to go talk to father.” I nod, knowing we’ve already agreed to it but can’t seem to suppress the sense of trepidation her announcement awakens. Then she unexpectedly kisses me on the cheek, causing my face to burn hot before she disappears towards Sensei’s room.
If possible, Raph and Leo’s eyes are even wider and now Mikey has joined them, finally catching what he had missed before. For what is probably the first time ever, my little brother is completely at a loss for words and I take a moment to relish the experience. It may never happen again. Then his shock melts into awe and joy and I find myself nearly tackled by an exuberant Mikey hug.
“This is awesome! I’m so happy for you guys!”
“I’m going to make you a celebratory dinner!”
“That’s not really necess…”
“No peeking. I want it to be a surprise. Be in the kitchen at six.”
“Mikey…” But he was already off towards the kitchen and there was no stopping him. Oh well. I might as well resign myself to what is likely going to be a very awkward meal. I hope he’s not feeling too experimental. We don’t all have an iron stomach.
By the time I turn back towards my other brothers, they are gone. Uh oh. That can’t be a good thing. Well Raph is the easier of the two to find. I just have to follow the sound of angry punching.
As expected, when I round the corner of the dojo, he’s on the other side of couch, destroying the training dummy. Not that this is an unusual occurrence or anything, but it concerns me that this is his reaction to finding out about me and Karai. I can’t figure out why he would even care. I approach cautiously, not sure how to address this development.
“Now’s not a good time Donnie.”
“If this is about me, I’d rather get it over with now then endure weeks of tense brooding.” That was definitely the wrong thing to say. He freezes, and then slowly turns his head to glare at me.
“Not everything is about you Donnie.”
I put my hands up in a gesture of peace. “Fine. Fine. So we’re ok then?”
“No we’re not ok. Are you insane? What is wrong with you? You just finally started getting over that whole mess with April. And what’s the first thing you do? Jump headlong into another disaster.”
At first I’m shocked, but by the end of his sentence, I’ve moved on to blind fury.
“Excuse me?” My tone has a cold hard edge to it and sounds completely unfamiliar to me, my own voice or not. Raph hears it too as he’s clearly taken aback.
“The situations are completely different. My…affection for April was unrequited. What Karai and I have is mutual and she realized it before I did. And we both know what it is to be hurt, so we’ll be careful with each other.”
“How can you be so sure? She’s still kind of a mess after everything that happened. And she was raised differently. What if she’s just getting back at Leo?”
He stills as my fist comes flying towards him, but I maintain enough composure to redirect it at the last minute, tearing the training dummy’s head free of its metal hook. That’s fine. I can fix it later. Better the training dummy than my brother. There are a few moments of awkward silence as I struggle for self-control over my anger. To his credit, he has enough sense to wait without further outbursts or interruptions.
“Give me some credit. I know you don’t think I have a lot of sense when it comes to these situations after April, but I knew how things stood with that. I always knew. But every part of it was beyond my control. I know how things stand with Karai too and it is real. Why are you so opposed to this?”
“Because we’re not meant for it.” His voice is so quiet and unlike him, I almost don’t catch it. “We’re too different and they can’t ever see us that way. Not really.”
My anger evaporates in an instant as I realize that he was right at the start. This isn’t about me at all. It’s about him.
Whereas I always needed to believe in the possibility that someone out there could see beyond the differences, he needed to believe there was never any chance. It’s how he protected himself and made peace with it. And I was shattering that conviction.
Maybe it was safer to believe that, to make the loneliness more bearable, but letting go of hope would condemn him to that fate. I didn’t want that for him and wouldn’t allow him do that to himself, even if he was afraid. Raphael afraid? What a strange thought. He might tease Leo about being fearless, but I always thought that word described him better. That or reckless.
“We’re not as different as you think.”
“It’s worth it. I promise you it is. Just…try to have some faith.”
He doesn’t agree but he’s not arguing either.
“Think about it.”
He nods stiffly and I understand that’s the best I’m likely to get out of him. As I leave him to consider things, I wonder where Leo might have gone. Normally it would be the dojo, but since Karai went that way to see Sensei, I doubt that’s where I’ll find him. And then I detect a hint of homemade incense. The kind Sensei makes to aid with meditation. I follow the trail to Leo’s room.
Leo’s disappearance has me the most unnerved. For the longest time we were all each other had, aside from Sensei of course. As much as we often drive each other insane, we’re too close to tolerate being apart for too long.
We’ve been that way for as long as I can remember, with my recent break down over April being greatest stretch of isolation from them in my entire life. I was drowning without them and didn’t even realize it until Karai slowly and carefully coaxed me back to my family.
The thought that Leo, my big brother and my leader, my solid foundation, might not forgive me for this, is devastating. I can’t even imagine life with that bond broken. Trembling, I enter without knocking, unusual for me.
Leo is sitting crossed-legged on a mat on the floor, trying to focus. His eyes barely open as I barge in, but enough to acknowledge my presence.
Now that I’m standing in front of him, I’m at a loss for words. Somehow I need to fix this and I have no idea where to begin. Starting to panic a bit, I lean back against the wall and slide to the floor. Burying my head in my arms, I say the first thing I that comes to mind, completely unfiltered.
“I’m so sorry Leo. Please don’t hate me.”
The silence stretches out for what seems like an eternity before he plops down beside me in a very un-ninja-like manner.
“I don’t hate you Donnie. I could never hate you. No matter how much we fight or drive each other crazy, you don’t ever need to question that. We’re family, unconditionally.”
I nod and feel like I can finally breathe again. “I’m still sorry. It wasn’t…I never intended to hurt you. I wouldn’t. It’s just…”
“It’s ok Donnie.”
I stare at him in disbelief and he just sighs as he considers how he wants to word his response.
“It’s not like that between me and Miwa. Not anymore. It hasn’t been for a long time.”
“Because she’s our sister?” I suddenly wonder if my affection for her is in some way aberrant.
He chuckles dryly. “Because she’s my sister. Somehow, I doubt that’s what she is to you.”
I flush and look away. “But how…?”
“I always had faith that she could be better than she was. That there was a good person within her trying to escape the dark web of lies that was her existence. Throughout everything, I never lost that. Not for an instant.
“But it was a long and brutal road bringing her home. There’s only so much a heart can break before it starts healing wrong, so I needed to change. I could forgive my sister so much more than I could a potential lover. Unconditional remember? So I focused everything on bringing Sensei’s daughter, my sister, home. It was hard and took a lot of time and effort to change the way I saw her, but I did it.
“I’m not upset with you at all. In fact I’m happy for you. You’ve been good for each other these past months. I’m glad. I just…when I realized that you were together and that it didn’t hurt, that I was ok with it, more than ok with it, it just felt like an era of my life was over. I just needed some time to let go of a part of my childhood, that’s all.”
I sigh in relief. “Thanks Leo.”
He gives me a wry grin. “We don’t always end up with the first girl to smile at us.”
Despite the misery of the past several months, I return his grin, knowing how true that is. “No. We don’t.”
I’m back in my lab, sitting at my desk. Of their own accord, my hands are repairing a motion sensor for the lair’s security system as I try to process the day’s events. It’s been kind of overwhelming, but I’m content.
The motion sensor goes flying across the room as I yelp and flail widely, suddenly aware that Sensei is beside me. I really wish he wouldn’t do that.
“I have been talking with Miwa.”
I gulp. I totally forgot that I was dreading this inevitable conversation.
“I understand that you two are now romantically involved?”
Anxious, I grab the first thing off my desk that’s in reach, a screwdriver as it turns out, and begin twirling it in my fingers to redirect some of my excess nervous energy.
“Hai Sensei. Is that ok?” I finally risk meeting his eyes. They are as calm and caring as they always have been and I realize that I’m not in trouble.
He strokes his beard thoughtfully before answering. “You both have been going through a difficult time recently and have taken admirable care of each other. I have no qualms about entrusting my daughter’s heart to you, for my son, you have grown into an honorable and compassionate young man.”
I sag back into my chair in relief.
“That said, if you ever hurt her, the consequences will be dire indeed.”
At his stern tone, I straighten up and nod. “Hai Sensei. Of course.”
His brief, harsh demeanor fades and he smiles. “After all, I told her the same thing.”