Karai strode boldly into the Shredder’s throne room, hit with an overwhelming wave of deja vu. The sense of familiarity and habit was so strong that it nearly disoriented her. How could she still feel that way after everything that had happened?
Beside her bopped Michelangelo enthusiastically, clearly not nearly as comfortable as she was with going in through the front door. Catching him in her peripheral vision, she felt a pang of intense guilt, but stamped it down before it could deter her from her purpose. He was the only choice. Everyone else would have tried to stop her.
Not only had he accepted her assurance that this needed to happen. He’d willingly agreed to accompany her. His trust in her had been so absolute that he’d even handed over his nunchaku, shruiken and smoke bombs at her request with only a hint of hesitation, and that had seemed to stem more from his attachment to the weapons their father had given him rather than any thought that complying would end badly for him.
He didn’t believe that she would put him in any real danger. The poor, trusting fool. She wished it didn’t have to be him, but even Leo’s faith in her had limits, especially after the last time she’d done something this stupid. No, only Michelangelo would do and she would just have to fight the instinctive desire to protect him from harm that he seemed to instill in the people around him.
The Footbots parted like a curtain as she approached the Shredder, waiting on his throne. Taking a deep breath as the building seemed to close in on her like a suffocating coffin, she knelt before him, feeling a blend of muscle memory and visceral repulsion at the accustomed habit.
She laid out Michelangelo’s equipment at the Shredder’s feet and three Footbots darted in to catch the turtle in holds she doubted even Leo could break, assuming he would ever find himself in such a position in the first place.
Despite her determination to keep her eyes fixed on the floor, she couldn’t help but flick a brief glance Michelangelo’s way and immediately regretted it. His eyes widened at the capture, though he still wasn’t panicking as he should, and was clearly trying to hide how much the joint locks hurt. Cringing internally, she snapped her eyes back down to the floor, trying to block out his wide, blue eyes full of unearned and unwisely given trust.
The Shredder rose to his feet. “Karai.”
“I have returned father.” The words tasted bitter and vile on her tongue, but she forced them out all the same. After her true father had used his healing hands mantra to drive the brain-control worm from her mind and restore her sentience, she’d never thought such words would pass her lips again. How wrong she was.
“And you are ready to return to me daughter, loyal and obedient?”
Her well-schooled features hid her internal flinch at the question.
“Yes. As proof of my loyalty I have brought you one of the turtles. I can assure you that they will come for him and when they do you will be able to trade his life for Hamato Yoshi’s. Your revenge will be complete.”
“Uh…Kara…urk.” She willed herself not to react as the Footbots cut Michelangelo’s protest short. It looked like there was only so much that could be rationalized even by him. But even now he didn’t sound as though he felt betrayed, although he had been. She had done this and now she would have to live with it.
“Well done Karai. I am proud of you daughter.”
She took another breath, hoping her voice sounded even as she spoke. “May I have my cure now father?”
When the Shredder had let it be known that he’d found a retromutagen for her unique mutation, her family had reacted with skepticism. Donatello had refused to believe that the Shredder could do what he couldn’t. The rest acknowledged it as possible, but assured her that it was a trap. Michelangelo was the only one who didn’t question that she needed to do this. That she couldn’t allow this opportunity to pass. No matter the cost.
The Shredder’s voice rumbled deep above her. “Soon my daughter. When Hamato Yoshi lies dead and your mother is avenged, I will return you to your true form.”
That was to be expected. Bringing Michelangelo was only the first step in proving her loyalty. The Shredder was too cynical to not suspect treachery.
One more deep breath and she pushed herself to her feet, looking up to face him as she did so. This was about as close as he ever let anyone get. Even her. After all that had happened, especially her. But it was close enough.
Her hand darted out towards his throat, as the pressure loaded device on her wrist launched the kogatana into her hand. Normally this strike would have been doomed from the start, but being mutated into a serpent had gifted her with lightning reflexes.
Even so, he blocked the attack. But it didn’t matter. She’d planned for this eventuality. That it cut into his palm as he deflected blade was what she needed. After all she’d laced the kogatana with the most potent venom that she could produce.
His still functional eye widened in shock as he could already feel the effects. She saw him tense to cut her down, but it was too late. The paralyzing effects set in and he dropped, convulsing hard enough that she was sure she heard teeth cracking as his head jerked with each spasm, while she stared down pitilessly at him.
“Did you really think that I care about being human again?” The fury in his good eye told her that he was still aware for the moment. She leaned in with a wicked smirk. “Now my mother is avenged.”
Then another bout of violent seizures struck and he stilled, finally dead. She would have preferred his end have been more protracted and painful, but couldn’t risk it with such a dangerous enemy.
A clang to her right caused her to whip around, drawing her tanto. She froze when she saw Raphael standing protectively over his little brother, yanking his sais out of the heads of the Footbots he’d disabled as he glared at her with unadulterated hatred. Had he been here the whole time?
Michelangelo’s eyes flicked between her and something at the door. Looking past the now frozen Footbots, little more than useless dolls with no one to command them, she saw the shocked and disbelieving expressions of Donatello, Leonardo and her father. They had seen and heard everything. They knew what she’d done. And now they were looking at her as though seeing her for the first time with poorly disguised horror. This was the cost.
Karai jerked awake, covered in a sheen of sweat, fighting to get her panicked breathing under control. A glance towards the clock told her it was three in the morning. She’d relived her nightmare memory every night for the past month with no reprieve.
Her life since that night had been miserable, despite rather ironically being cured of her mutation a few weeks ago, thanks to Michelangelo playing around in Donatello’s lab. That he couldn’t explain or repeat the miracle he’d inadvertently created and doused her with while fleeing his brilliant brother’s wrath for ‘destroying’ another precious batch of retromutagen, frustrated Donatello to no end.
While it was a relief to no longer salivate every time she was in her father’s presence consolation was small comfort in the grand scheme of things. Although her father still loved her as he always had and always would, just as he somehow still loved his ‘brother’ despite everything he had done, she still saw the disappointment in his eyes every time he looked at her. Disappointment that she had chosen her surrogate father’s path over his own.
Never mind that her mother’s murder was avenged or that his family was now safe from an unrelenting lunatic. No what was important was that she had not behaved to his exacting standards. Each time she thought about it, her teeth ground in frustration. This world was a dark and brutal place and had no room for pretty ideals. After all he’d suffered, he should understand better than anyone that she’d done what needed doing.
And then there was Leonardo, so distant it chilled her. Not physically so. If anything he hovered, lest she go off and do something crazy again. But where there had once been a connection, easy and natural between them, now there remained only a polite wall of courtesy.
After everything that they’d overcome together, this was the one thing that broken them. Whether it was the patricide or the endangerment of his most trusting and vulnerable brother, or both, that he couldn’t reconcile, she was pretty sure that she’d lost him forever and it left a hollow bitterness within her that felt like it was slowly devouring her from the inside out.
Raphael hadn’t been inclined to trust her before and after the stunt she’d pulled, probably never would now, making it clear in every glance that was merely tolerated. Unwelcome. At least when he was around. He’d been out more and more with Casey, particularly since the boy no longer came to the lair.
She’d wondered why until walking in on April and Donatello in the lab, giving her a much more compelling reason than boring safety lectures to adhere to the admonition against eating off the lab table. Given April’s choice, she wasn’t overly surprised at Casey’s avoidance or Donatello’s utter distraction.
Not that she’d want to spend much time around the brilliant turtle even if he’d had any awareness of what was going on in his family. The ever present cloud of bliss surrounding him only served to highlight her own misery, so she had no problem leaving him to the world that consisted only of himself and April.
This hadn’t been her home before and now she feared it never would be. She was out of place, with no one to seek comfort from. Even though it was the middle of the night, she was too agitated to return to sleep. So she slipped out of bed and drifted towards the dojo, hoping some meditation would help restore the sense of balance in her life, though it hadn’t helped so far.
Entering silently, she paused at the sound of quiet snuffling from the other side of the dojo tree. Sneaking closer, her heart clenched as she realized it was Michelangelo, arms wrapped around his knees, which he’d tucked into his chest. His forehead rested on his arms as large tear drops rolled down his freckled checks and dripped off the tip of his beak. His body shook with the effort of stifling his sobs.
For a moment she flashed back to her nightmare and once again she was standing before the shocked, accusatory stares of her family in the Shredder’s throne room, unable to move or speak. And then someone took her hand, breaking her paralysis. She looked over to see Michelangelo beside her, managing a weak smile.
“Onee-chan, I want to go home.” Just like that he’d forgiven her, with no trace of grudge or resentment for what she’d done to him.
As she now reflected on the past month, since she’d killed the Shredder, she realized that he’d been by her the whole time. Inviting her to each meal and wheedling out information on her favorite foods so that he could make them. Welcoming her to family movie nights or video game competitions. Distracting Raphael’s ire away or lightening Leonardo’s icy exterior.
He’d been the only light in her dismal existence since that night, somehow illuminating the darkness that threatened to swallow her. It was wrong for him to be so sad. So hurt. Unsure of how to rectify this evil, but knowing she couldn’t ignore it, she stepped forward, crouching beside him and laying a gentle hand on his shell.
His head snapped up at her touch and for an instant he was stunned to find that himself not alone. Almost immediately, he tried to wipe away the tears soaking into his orange mask and pasted a false smile on his face.
“Oh, hey! I didn’t know you were up.”
She frowned at his strained features. He’d been lifting the weight of guilt and accusation from crushing her this past month. He shouldn’t be obligated to feign happiness for her benefit. For once she could shoulder some of his burden.
He looked away and hugged his knees tighter. “Wrong? I’m all good. Why would you think something’s wrong?” He tried to force another smile in her direction.
She reached out caught one of the tear drops, lingering on his cheek, on the tip of her finger, holding it between them. Seeing it, he swallowed hard.
“I’m hear and I’ll listen if you want to talk about it.”
Not a natural stoic, his expression crumbled back into sorrow and he gave in to the heaving sobs, still trying muffle the sound. The brief time she’d spent in his company provided some insight to what he might need. Pulling his shaking form into her, she enfolded him in her arms, unable to offer anything else and hoping it would be enough.
He readily wrapped his arms around her waist and buried his face in her shoulder, soaking her black, thermal pajama shirt as he cried himself dry. Once empty of tears, he sighed and just lay in her embrace as she traced her hands in comforting circles on his shell.
Just when she thought she’d never find out what had clouded over his perpetual sun, he spoke, his voice rough from crying. “She’s not coming back.”
Puzzled, Karai craned her neck to get a look at him but, cheek resting on her shoulder, his face was turned away from her, hiding his expression.
The time traveling girl? She recalled Leonardo mentioning his brother’s crush on her. Karai couldn’t help the spike of resentment that burst up within her, but to her surprise, it was not directed at Michelangelo for being enamored of this girl, but at Renet for squandering the gift of his affection. If she’d had any sense, she would have found a way to return to him.
Oblivious to Karai’s thoughts, Mikey took a breath and elaborated. “She’s never coming back. I’m never going to see her again. I’m alone.”
Before Karai could contradict him, he stiffened as he realized what he’d blurted out and yanked out of the hug, flailing his arms as if to ward off his own words.
“I didn’t mean alone. I’m not. I mean I’ve got my family and friends and it’s awesome and enough and…” He trailed off, looking like he wanted to cry again.
She understood. For the first time in forever, she could see clearly. Reaching out, she cupped his cheek. “It’s not enough, because this is a different type of alone.”
He breathed out a sigh of relief at the validation of his feelings, but still looked forlorn. Not liking the loss of his warmth after he’d pulled away, she leaned in, balancing on her knees as she slid the hand on his cheek around the back of his neck and used the other to cradle his head to her chest. He yielded to her without a hint of resistance. Yes. This felt right.
“I promise that no matter what, you will never have to be alone again. I’m here. Unconditionally.”
The word came out as a whispered sigh and she chuckled. “And you should probably stop calling me that.”
He lifted his head, confused blue eyes meeting hers. She just smiled. “I don’t want to be your big sister.”
Before he could react to that statement, potentially missing her meaning, she cemented her point by cupping his cheeks and drawing his lips to hers. For a moment, he sat stock still and stunned, before melting into the kiss and returning it with his classic willingness and enthusiasm. When they finally parted for air, he was grinning, all trace of sorrow erased, and she could feel her own answering smile.
“I promise we’ll never have to feel alone again.”
If possible, his grin brightened at her words and he encased her in his arms. With a sigh, she leaned back against the dojo tree, still holding him tightly to her comparatively small frame. As long as she had him, she could face anything.
His breathing evened as he drifted off to dreamland in her arms. Her smiled widened as she realized she wouldn’t have any more trouble sleeping. Curling into him at the base of the dojo tree, she succumbed to her first peaceful slumber in over a month.