I knew something was going to happen. I could sense it. That's why I made Leonardo promise me he would take care of Mona.
I told myself I was being paranoid. I told myself that I wouldn't help anybody by being paranoid. But despite the fact that I had pushed my fears aside, my suspicions were confirmed as Leo was captured.
After I got him back, the feeling faded for a few moments. But it didn't take long before it was back. I got Leo to the Shell Raiser and all was going well, until the damn thing broke down and we had to walk back to the lair.
I told Donnie over a week ago that that engine didn't sound too hot, but did he listen to me? No! Of course he didn't.
We were okay for a couple minutes and then, what happens? We're being followed. Of course we were.
I didn't know who the shell was following us, but I knew that whoever they were they needed a serious a beat down.
Turns out she was some kind of mad scientist, and not the good kind, either. She was out to get my brothers and me. And she had some kind vendetta against Mona Lisa. I was surprised, though I really shouldn't have been with all the crazy stuff that happens in our lives on a daily basis. Considering that we went to that lab and this scientist was the one who followed us, I shouldn't have been surprised. This was the woman who hurt Mona in that lab. That meant she wasn't going to bother with the niceties. She was going to get straight down the nitty gritty.
And then Leo just had to open his big, fat mouth!
The second he did, my gut clenched. I knew exactly what that creepy scientist chick was doing. I crouched, ready to spring into action.
I know my brothers. Leonardo probably doesn't even realize how good I am at predicting his movements. I knew he wouldn't let those words go unanswered, and the second his muscles tensed the way they always do when he's about to charge, I leaped forward, shoving him to the side.
But even I didn't realize that it was gonna hurt quite that much. Everything went black and since then…nothing.
I've been thinking a lot about what Slash said. Yep, that's right! I, Michelangelo, might be the master of the whole 'empty mind' technique, but I can think sometimes!
See, I get where Slash is coming from, and I know that he's only looking out for Raph, but he's got this thing all wrong! Yes, Leo and Mona have gotten really close. Yes, she leans more on him than she does on me and Donnie. Yes, they do get a little bit touchy-feely sometimes...but Mona Lisa loves Raphael. I mean she loves Leo, don't get me wrong, but she loves him like the rest of us do: like a bro.
With her and Raph it is so much more...you get what I'm saying.
Honestly, Leo is just going through the motions, comforting her as best he can. As soon as Raph wakes up, she'll be all his, you can count on that.
I mean, I can't blame Slash for thinking what he did. After all, he was just being a little overprotective. Even after everything that happened, he and Raph still have a really special bond. They watch out for each other. And just like Raph is still protective of Slash, the same thing goes the other way 'round. I get that.
But Slash has never seen Mona with Raph. He doesn't know the difference between the way those two interact and the way she and Leo, er, you know what I mean. Still…I guess I should talk to Leo.
"Hey! Leo! Can I talk to you for a second bro?" Michelangelo asked from behind me as Slash and Leatherhead were leading Mona to the kitchen.
Mona stopped and turned to face us, her soft, fawn- colored eyes glinting worriedly in the dim lighting. I smiled reassuringly. "You go ahead, Mona. Mikey and I will catch up." She nodded and bounded off after Slash and Leatherhead as they continued down the hall.
I sent my younger sibling a curious glance. "What's up Mikey? Everything okay?" I didn't bother hiding my concern. Mikey's ability to perceive even the slightest of emotional cues is renowned in our family.
He frowned. Honest-to-goodness frowned. Okay. Now I was worried. "…Mikey?"
"I gotta talk to ya, bro." He said slowly, doing little push-ups with his fingers like the interrogators in all those cop-show re-runs he watches. "And you're not gonna like what I have to ask."
I suddenly began to feel very nervous. I'd never seen Mikey act this serious about anything, and its kind of scaring me. Man, if I could figure out a way to bring this Mikey out into the battlefield, all our enemies would run away screaming.
Before I could speak, Mikey held a hand up and went on. "I need you to understand that's its Raph's interests I'm protecting here. You get that, right?"
My orange-masked brother's baby-blue eyes skewered me with an intense stare and when I finally nodded I felt very much like a bobble-head. My eyes were wide with shock and surprise at my youngest sibling, of all people, talking to me this way. I was so flabbergasted that I almost didn't catch what he said next.
"Tell me about your intentions regarding Mona Lisa!"
I blinked multiple times and my eye-ridges furrowed. My mouth opened and closed a couple of times until I finally managed to let out a very puny-sounding: "Huh?"
Mikey crossed his arms over his plastron and frowned again, suddenly reminding me of our hotheaded sibling. My mind slowly began to piece together my little brother's words through the haze of surprise: Protection…Mikey's protecting Raph? But…why? What from?
I thought briefly about Mikey's question before I answered. "Well—I…she needs someone Michelangelo! She was already scarred enough by what those researchers did to her, and then with Raph gone she needed someone! And I'm going to be there for her little brother. She's family. She deserves all the love and protection we can give her right now. Raphael is hurt and Mona Lisa is hurting! My intention is to help her through this as best I can! Right now I'm her protector, her Guardian!"
Michelangelo didn't seem to pleased by my final statement. The rough, alien attitude washed away and he looked a lot more Mikey-ish. But he was still upset. Really upset. I stepped towards him and put a hand on his shoulder, and soon his anger had returned full force. He shoved my hand away, looking me squarely in the eyes.
"You can't replace Raph!" He yelled, making me take a step back.
It took a couple moments for what he said to really soak in. And as soon as it did, I swear my eyes grew to the size of saucers. I shot forward and cupped his youthful, freckled face, forcing him to look at me in the eyes. My stance was hard, my muscles rigid, and my tone was absolutely rock hard. "No one will ever replace Raph." I stated with absolute conviction before tugging my orange-masked sibling into a tight hug. He returned it, but pulled away sooner than I would have liked, which could only mean one thing: something else was bothering him. I put hand on his shoulder. "We're all worried about Raph, Mikey. But he'll be okay. You know that hothead just as well as we do. He'll fight with everything he's got to get back to us."
Mikey smiled a little and I could already feel balance returning to the universe, but he surprised me when he spoke. "I know he will. That's not what's bothering me."
One of my eye-ridges shot up and I gestured him to go on. He looked a little nervous. "I didn't really get to what I was trying to say. Leo, you and Mona…" If it were possible, my eye-ridge would have gone up even further. Something about the way Mikey said that sounded strained. "You two have been getting really close lately."
I nodded, motioning him once again to continue.
Michelangelo shifted nervously. "I just want to make sure that there's nothing changing between you two. I mean, I know you're really good friends and all that, but I want to make sure that you two aren't becoming—you know…"
I gave him a really blank stare. I had no idea where my little brother was going with this.
Mikey sighed and rolled his eyes. "I want to make sure you're not becoming something more. Because Raph deserves better than that. From you and Mona. There. I said it." He crossed his arms over his plastron and stared at me as though gauging my reaction.
I was positively floored. Mikey?! What?! When?! Wha—why?! My face suddenly felt very hot as I was flooded with embarrassment. "WHY would you even—" my voice died in my throat and I sputtered a few more times, much to the amusement of my younger brother. Finally, I managed to pull some thoughts together, but the second I opened my mouth, they didn't quite come out as planned. "You-you-you-you think I'm—WHAT?!"
Michelangelo chuckled mirthfully. And soon, he was hugging an extremely distraught older sibling. He rubbed my head affectionately as a wide smile spread all the way across his face. "I knew you wouldn't do anything like that bro. I just had to make sure you didn't get yourself into that kind of situation by not really thinking about it. I mean…you two have been acting real touchy-feely lately."
He patted my carapace softly. "You sound like a motorboat, bro. Give it a few seconds."
I did. And while I did, I thought about the way Mona and I have been acting. We have started depending on each other for physical reassurance. I guess I didn't notice how affectionate our little displays might have seemed to my brothers and the Mighty Mutanimals. Mona needed it, well, we both did, but I hadn't really stopped to think about where these actions could have taken us.
I mean, I have to admit, over the past week or so, Mona and I have gotten a lot closer, and we were already close, so that's really saying something. I—well—I knew that she was sweet and stubborn, but I had never really known firsthand how incredibly complex she is until recently. There's so much to her, so many different things that mold her into who she is as an individual. And I'd be a liar if I said I didn't find that attractive. What can I say? That 'mysterious' factor is a big turn on for me.
So are confidence and stubbornness. I admit that I enjoy griping, and or, wrestling with Mona over things, because she puts up a good fight. And when it comes to attractiveness, well, she is beautiful. Very beautiful. Hm. I have to admit, if things had turned out differently, in all honesty, I might have been interested in Mona Lisa in that way.
But I would never take her away from Raphael. Never. I've seen the way he looks at her. The way he smiles at her. The way she laughs with him…they're perfect for each other.
That's the way it is and the way it will be once again as soon as Raph wakes up.
Besides, there's someone else that I…My cheeks are turning red and I shake my head from side to side…er, never mind!
I turned to Michelangelo. "Thanks Mikey."
He looked a little confused.
I elaborated. "For letting me know. I-I didn't even realize that my attempts to reassure Mona might have seemed a little forward to you guys."
Mikey blew if off easily. "Don't sweat it bro. Like I said, I never doubted ya, bro. I just doubted whether or not you realized the way things were looking."
"Well, I didn't. Realize, that is."
Mikey just laughed and threw an arm over my shoulders as we finally began to walk down the hall the Mutanimal's kitchen. "I know bro! That's why I'm the smart one!" He preened with a smile.
I stared incredulously at him for a moment, opening my mouth to say something, but I stopped myself and settled for an eye-roll. Oh, to shell with it. I'll never be able to convince him otherwise.
Leatherhead began sifting through the food that we had in the old, beat-up fridge as we took a seat off to side where we wouldn't be in his way. She glanced up at me and there were a few moments of awkward silence. A soft movement caught my eye and I realized that her tail was twitching. I followed her gaze to the door that we had just come through. She seemed worried.
I grunted and she looked at me. "Those four have been through mass alien invasions and come out virtually unscathed. I doubt that a little talk between oldest and youngest is anything to be concerned about."
She nodded vaguely and turned her attention away from the door, scanning the room slowly. Finally, her gaze settled back on me. She turned so that it would be easier for me to read her body language. My eyes narrowed as I carefully did my best to decipher what she was trying to ask.
What was he like?
I raised an eyebrow questioningly. Who?
The fiery passion that flashed in her eyes was answer enough.
I sighed. "What do you mean?"
When he was smaller. What was he like? She asked, her eyes lit with innocent curiosity.
I frowned a little and looked away. "I don't remember."
Mona glared and thumped her tail pointedly. Yes you do.
"He found me when he was six. I don't know what he was like before that."
But then? Her soft brown gaze dug deep into my soul and I sighed, pulling my eyes down and away.
"He was…sensitive. The things his brothers said, whether they were serious, or simply teasing, resonated deep inside of him and he was hurting. He needed a friend. That's where I came in…" I paused, closing my eyes tightly as small tears gathered in my eyes.
"Hey little guy. What are you doing down here? You look hungry. C'mon, I'll take you back to my place and you can eat something. Hey…your shell is kinda spiky! I'm gonna call you Spike!"
"I can still remember the fear in his eyes that night when Master Splinter called him in to join his brothers in the dojo…"
"What am I gonna do, Spike? What if Master Splinter says I can't keep ya? What if he makes me put you back? You're my friend and you need me! I can't just throw you back in the sewers!"
"Master Splinter definitely wasn't enthusiastic when he saw me…"
"Can I keep him Sensei? Please?!"
"No, Raphael, you must put him back."
"But Father, he needs me!"
"And the last thing you need is a pet!"
I smiled as I told Mona about that day all those years ago, all the little details suddenly resurfacing. "The second those big, green eyes began to water, Splinter's resolve was slowly started to crack. But again, he refused and Raphael was devastated."
"You don't understand me! Nobody understands me but Spike! He's my best friend, Father, you can't throw him back in the sewers!…Please."
"I think it was that final please that actually made Splinter reconsider. Raphael was on his knees, cradling me in his arms, staring up at Master Splinter with the most desperate look I've ever seen him display. So Splinter finally said yes. And I became Raphael's best friend. He told me everything. I became an emotional outlet, a person with whom he could express his most suppressed emotions. As a result, most of our bonding moments were times when he was under heavy emotional stress, but we had plenty of good times." I finally pulled off of memory lane and turned to the lizard mutant beside me, who stared back with eager and curious eyes.
Mona motioned me to go on and I laughed, wondering what I should tell her next.
I shrugged my shoulders. "What do you want to hear about?"
She smiled at me and motioned yet again for me to go on.
I thought for a few seconds before smiling slightly. "Well…I don't know…I guess…the winter after the four of them turned eight…"
"ACHOO! A-CHOO! Ugh…How ya feelin' buddy?"
"Raphael had been sick for almost a week and he was finally starting to get better. The rest of the family had gone out to scavenging. Splinter had left Raphael strict instructions to stay in bed and rest."
"Hey Spike, sure is boring being stuck in bed. Let's go get something to eat."
"I gave him my best glare as he carried me to the kitchen and wiped his beak with the back of his hand. I remember he sighed and pouted."
"Don't give me that look, Spike. You gotta eat, buddy."
"When we got to the kitchen he pulled a leaf from the fridge and offered it to me. I took it and crawled back to his hand, trying to step onto it. He just laughed."
"What? You want to go back to the room so soon? But I haven't even gotten to lay out a prank for Mikey yet!"
"I remember staring blankly at him until he finally sighed and lifted me up. I felt much more at ease when we were back in his room and he was tucked in the covers. He let me sit on top of blankets over his plastron as I ate my leaf."
"Yur the best friend ever, Spike. Thanks for watching out for me, little guy."
My voice caught in my throat. "He fell asleep, so I curled up on his chest and did the same." I finished quickly.
In fact, Raphael had offered me his finger, the way he always did. And I'd laid my foot over it softly, the way I always did. And he patted my head gently as he yawned.
"Thanks for understanding, Spike. I'm glad you're my friend."
He'd murmured as he drifted into rest. I finished my leaf, keeping my eyes glued to my friend's young, frail, and slightly feverish face. I was far more worried about him than I was about taking care of myself. I wonder if he realized that…
The sound of someone clearing their throat made me look up. At some point during the story, Leonardo and Michelangelo must have walked into the room because they were both staring at me with gentle, understanding eyes.
"When was that?" Leonardo asked.
I focused on a small spot on the ground as I answered, "The winter after you turned eight." I expected him to say something, but instead he just nodded vaguely, seemingly deep in thought.
Finally, he moved over and plopped down in front of Mona myself. His strong, blue gaze fixed on me as he commanded forcefully. "Tell me more."
I frowned. "I won't tell you anything that Raphael wouldn't want you to know."
"I understand that. But we need to know what we can. We—I need to understand."
I threw a hard glare at him and he returned it.
When Leonardo spoke again his voice was quiet and earnest. "I want to understand. Tell me more."
"There isn't much more I can tell you. But I will tell you this: when the four of you were seven-and-a-half…"
"C'mon Leo! I wanna play something other than 'Run from the Monster'!"
"Raph, it's Mikey's turn to choose, and he wants to play 'Run from the Monster'."
"Fine. But you have to be the monster!"
"Aw, but Raphie that's no fun!" Michelangelo had objected.
"Well, why do I always have to be the monster?!"
Donatello piped up, "Because, logically, you make the best monster."
"You don't even know what that word means! And I don't wanna!" Raphael yelled.
Leo put his hands on his hips. "Fine! If you're going to be a baby then go do something else while we play!"
"Fine! I will!" Raph yelled.
"He took me to his room after that. I sat on the bed and watched as he paced up and down the room. You may not have realized it, but he was deeply hurt by your actions. He's always been a lot more sensitive than he lets on. Finally, after a few minutes of pacing he sat on the bed and looked down at me."
"Spike, why do I always have to be the monster? And it's not just in 'Run from the Monster', either. They always make me the bad guy. Why is it always me?"
"There were tears in his eyes."
"M-Mikey said that it's no fun unless I'm the monster. A-and Donnie said that logi-ka, lodge-cally, I am the best monster. D-Do you—Do you think they think…I'm a monster?"
I paused in my tale and glanced at Leonardo, who looked crushed. I frowned a little at the guilt in Leo and Mikey's eyes. And I did my best to reassure them. "Don't be too hard on yourselves. He didn't dwell on it for long."
That night. I added to myself, but I quickly turned away from those darker thoughts and grinned at Leo. "Do you remember what you did next?"
The eldest turtle canted his head and blinked blankly. My smile grew even wider and I resumed the story. "There was a loud knock at the door."
"Raph? Are you in there?"
"Go away, Leo!"
"Not until you open the door!"
"I watched him get up, go to the door, and open it. I couldn't really see you, Leonardo, but I could hear you well enough."
"What do you want?"
"I want you to come and play."
"Oh yeah? Well, I'm not going to be your monster, Leo! And I'm not a big baby!"
"I'm sorry Raph. Please? Mikey and Donnie went off to play some search-and-something-or-other game. We can play something you like."
"Wait, so, its just you?"
"And you want to play…with me?"
"Well, yeah. Why wouldn't I? I like playing with you."
I couldn't help but smile as I recalled the look of absolute excitement on Raphael's face as he ran back into the room to pick me up before rushing back to Leonardo's side. "His eyes lit up with joy and excitement, Leonardo. You made him so happy that day."
"I just asked him to play with me. Why was that such a big deal?" The eldest asked softly.
I sighed. "Splinter intensified your training when you turned seven. The four of you spent a lot more time in the dojo practicing. And you spent even more time there than the others. You didn't play with them as often as you used to and Raphael had missed you. He was afraid that the three of you saw him as a monster. But then you, the brother he missed the most, came to him and told him that you liked to play with him. It may not seem like a big deal to you or anybody else. But it meant the world to Raphael." I paused and gave that a few minutes to sink in before I added, "I think you'd be surprised by how much importance Raphael attaches to all those little moments. All those tiny little gestures of affection that seem almost menial to you, sometimes Raphael needs those more than anything else."
"I—I never realized…"
"I know." I rumbled softly. I caught Mona's eyes and perceived a somewhat sad stare on her face. Can't have that. I cleared my throat a little and moved on.
"I watched for hours as the two of you ran around the lair screaming at the top of your lungs, playing Raphael's favorite games. You bickered constantly, and when you couldn't come to a conclusion, you'd just wrestle for dominance and whack each other around a little. Raphael's laughter rang through the lair. Finally, when all your energy was gone and you were almost completely spent the two of you dropped down in front of the television and drew pictures of your day with stubby red, blue and green crayons."
"Look, Leo! I drew us running through the lair! And look! This one is us wrestling! And this one is me winning!"
"Hey! That didn't happen! I won!"
"No you didn't!"
"Yes I did!"
"Oh, I give up! You're impossible! Here, look! This one is you and me playing!"
"It was a drawing of the two of you sitting in front of the television—" I was cut off.
"—With me hugging Raph." Leo finished and nodded. "I remember drawing it. Go on."
I shook my head gravely. "No. I can't tell you anything else. I've probably already told you more than Raphael would want you to know."
Leonardo didn't look pleased. "How will that help me underst—"
This time I cut Leo off. "He still has it, you know."
The blue-masked turtle raised a confused eye-ridge. "Huh?"
"The picture your drew. Raphael still has it." I elaborated softly, watching Leo's eyes double in size. "He keeps it hidden, but he always knows exactly where it is. He used to look at it after every fight with you because it reminded him of how much you used to love him."
Dark blue eyes narrowed as the turtle leader glared heatedly at me. "He's my brother. Without him…I'm nothing. It doesn't matter how much we fight. I love my brother. There is no 'used to'."
"I wish I could say that Raphael realized that." I said softly. My words were genuine. I knew that Leonardo's words were true, but I knew that deep inside of Raphael lay massive seas of doubt. Like I said, that hothead is a lot softer than he lets on.
Leo looked stricken. He jumped to his feet and swayed a little. "I—I—I can't believe…" Searing blue eyes burned a hole through my very soul as he stared at me. "Tell me what I have to do."
I gawked a little at his words, not sure I understood correctly.
He surged forward. "Tell me what I have to do to quell his doubts! How do I prove myself to him?"
"Raphael knows you love him, Leonardo. If he took that hit for you as you claim then he knows. It is only in those most difficult moments, when he is left only with himself for solace, that he begins to wonder. Cynicism is in his nature. Doubt is something he has in copious amounts." I frowned. "Also, don't forget that this is how he felt in the past. I have no idea how much of this still applies. And I know that he has matured a lot since I was mutated."
Michelangelo nodded in agreement as he pulled Leonardo into a tentative hug. "Yeah, Leo. Besides, Mona Lisa already helped quell Raph's anger issues. Maybe being with her left Raph with fewer doubts. But I'll tell you this, big bro, if Raph doesn't realize how much we love him, he is damn well going to find out as soon as he returns to consciousness. Because we're going to take care of him and get him back on his feet!"
I smiled. "That goes for all of us." I said encouragingly, patting Leonardo on the shoulder.
I hear their words of comfort, but I simply can't acknowledge them. Raphael is hurt. Badly hurt. He could have died, though it sounds like he's made it through the worst of it. But just the thought that there was a chance he could have died never truly knowing that I care about him, that terrifies me.
A world without Raphael...would be a living nightmare.
I have to see Raphael. I just have to see him! How much longer will I have to endure this torture of waiting and not knowing?! I have to see him! I just have to!
I whirl around and my breath hitched as I see Donatello standing in the doorway with a grim look on his face.
The next words out of his mouth left me filled with both dread and anticipation:
"You can see him now."