They drove past city limits a good half hour ago.
This far into the country there’s no light pollution to sponge away any of the dark, and when the headlights go out, it’s like pitch outside the windows.
Casey tucks the keys into his pocket, and twists to reach over the middle console and rummage in the back seat. Raph stares at him.
They’re in the middle of nowhere, for no immediately apparent reason, parked on a gravel road outside some derelict Colonial-style house that’s probably been empty for years, and Casey still hasn’t said why.
And now he has a baseball bat.
“Found the sucker,” he says with vicious triumph, then digs a flashlight of the glove compartment. “Alright, let’s do this.”
“Case, what the hell,” Raph barks, nonetheless piling out of the station wagon with him. Neither of them have anywhere to be in the morning so he’s not as pissed as he could be, but Raph has never done well with secrets or surprises. “What are we doin’ out here?”
But Casey is already striding away, with purpose, up the drive toward the creepy house looming at them from the dark.
Raph allows himself a moment of wordless frustration, and another to desperately miss Donatello and the way he could talk sense into Casey better than any of the rest of them could, then follows.
Casey is very obviously casing the place, prowling up and down the front and peering into the dirty first story windows. What business he thinks he has here is still a mystery, and Raph isn’t amused.
“Are you seriously going to break in?” he says dryly. “This is private property, even if it’s probably condemned. We could get arrested for this.”
“Like I give a shit,” Casey says, oddly sharp, and busts out the little window pane in the front door. The noise is remarkably loud in the quiet of the country night, and Raph cusses under his breath and doubles his pace to join his boyfriend by the door.
“What the fuck, Jones? I was kidding!”
Casey ignores him, reaching through the broken pane and grappling for the knob on the opposite side of the door. It finally gives with a grating turn, and the door sighs open on tired hinges.
“Couldn’t get hold of Mike today,” he says, shouldering his way inside. He turns the flashlight on and sweeps the beam through the foyer. There’s an inch of dust on every surface, and generous curtains of thick cobweb that makes Raph’s skin crawl. “And that’d be fine, I guess, but Leo and Woods can’t get hold of him, either.”
It feels like Raph has swallowed ice. It isn’t like Mikey to go radio silent. Raph looks around at the dusty picture frames and covered furniture with a sense of creeping understanding.
It does seem like the kind of place Mikey would haunt, with his gadgets and nonsense expertise and his brother’s glasses perched on the end of his nose, looking for ghosts.
It was kind of charming when he was little – the quirky baby brother, talking to people who weren’t there. Mikey always had a weird way of finding trouble, of coming home with scrapes and bruises no one could account for. It got less cute as he got older, and traded bruises for sprains.
And when Don died, it got bad, and never really got right again.
“But why do you think he’s here?” Raph mutters, following the path of the flashlight as they head down the hall into the kitchen.
“‘Cause someone texted me this address from Don’s phone,” Casey says shortly, and suddenly, his dogged fixation to get here makes a whole lot of sense. “Didn’t answer when I shot a reply back, askin’ who the fuck this was and why the fuck they had this phone. So I figured, might as well show up. Could be that Mike needs me, or – “
“Could be that someone needs their teeth kicked in.” Raph’s hands are curled into fists that hurt at the idea of some bastard sending texts in Don’s name, taking advantage of misguided Mikey, hurting April. “Got it.”
But a sharp crack and a cry have them hurtling through the opposite kitchen door a moment later. Casey throws open a heavy door to what might have been a drawing room or a sitting room or some rich person shit, and Raph shoves past him a moment later, his heart a painful lump in his throat, because that’s Mikey.
Mikey, curled into a pathetic ball in some filthy house on a moth-eaten rug, and he flinches from Raph’s hands when Raph tries to tug him up, wide eyes searching blindly for a familiar face.
“Fuck, fuck, Mikey, it’s me,” he says, panicked. “Case, get over here with the light. Kid, look at me.”
Casey was only a step or two behind him in the first place, and kneels with a soft curse. This time, when Raph reaches for him, Mikey leans into his hands with a breath of relief that works its way out of him like a sob.
His dusky face is ashen under that impossible mop of curls, and he’s bruised from his temple to his jawline, and he’s trembling as if from cold. Raph hugs him, hard, and keeps him there for a long minute.
“No one could find you,” Casey says sharply, without preamble, “not even Leo. Mike, what the hell are you doing out here?”
“Dunno,” comes the hoarse reply, and Raph tightens his grip on the kid reflexively, because nothing and no one should ever make Mikey this scared. “I dunno, I – last I remember, I was at home, getting ready for – “
He flounders, and Casey prompts him, a little more gently, “Woods says you were supposed to be at his house yesterday, for movie night. You never showed.”
“Y- yesterday?” Mikey’s face goes pale. “What – time is it?”
“It’s like two in the morning,” Raph says incredulously. “You’re sayin’ you don’t remember comin’ out here?”
“No! Did you see my Jeep outside? Did I drive?”
Casey and Raph share a quick look. There’s no way they could have missed his Jeep on the lonely stretch of country road, and short of taking one hell of an expensive cab ride out here for grins and giggles, there’s no other way he could have come, save walking.
Raph’s thoughts take a nervous turn. He can’t help thinking what hallucinations and blackouts and talking to things that aren’t there might mean.
Casey, on the other hand, is thinking along different lines. His grip on the iron bat tightening, he says, “Do you think it’s – something?”
Mikey flicks a startled look at him. His eyes don’t dart back to Raph’s face, but only by what looks like sheer willpower. Raph has no clue what the hell is going on here, and a whole host of fresh worries to lose sleep over, but for now he stands and brings Mikey up with him, keeping an arm around the smaller man’s shoulders.
“Home,” he says decisively, with a narrow glare at Casey. “We can talk about whatever the hell your ‘something’ is later.”
Casey’s flashlight goes out. Mikey jumps when the room is plunged into darkness, and Raph grits his teeth – it’s been years but maybe he’ll always get angry for this kid’s sake, maybe he’ll always get defensive when Mikey gets scared, even if it’s over something senseless, like a light bulb burning out.
“Just the light, kid, it’s okay,” he mutters, gruff, but even Casey is pressing in a little closer, and the atmosphere is thick with tension.
“Oh,” Mikey says suddenly, softly, “oh, no.”
Casey lifts the bat, absurdly, like there’s something in the darkness to fight. The room is much colder than it was when they arrived and it’s becoming something of a struggle to breathe, as though the air is thinning. The back of Raph’s neck prickles and he has to stomp down the urge to look over his shoulder. He wouldn’t be able to see anything anyway, not without a light.
“Let’s go,” he says firmly. “We can find our way out.”
The door slams shut so forcefully that the room shakes beneath their feet.
Dread drips into Raph’s heart like melting ice, and Mikey says in a very small voice, “I don’t think it wants you to leave.”
Here’s the thing: Raph isn’t an idiot.
It isn’t the wind or a weird power surge when Casey is knocked to the far side of the room, thrown against a wall hard enough that he drops the bat.
It isn’t all in Mikey’s head when something grabs him by a fistful of his dark hair and tries to yank him away.
And it it sure as shit isn’t Raph’s imagination, or some weird dream he’s cooked up after a long night and too many horror movies, because he takes a vicious scratch down the length of his face and it works much better than a pinch on the arm.
This is real.
Which means -- well. It means a lot of things.
First and foremost, it means that Raph’s a fucking asshole.
Mikey’s eyes are wide, locked on a point in front of them a good two feet above their heads. When he speaks, his voice is small and scared.
“All my gear’s in the Jeep,” is what he says, “I don’t have -- I don’t have anything. We need to -- Raph, you need to get out of here. Take Casey and -- “
And maybe that says all that needs saying, right there. That Mikey could look at Raph and see someone who might be convinced to leave him behind.
“I’m not goin’ anywhere without you,” he grits out, ironclad and irremediable. “Start thinking of a new plan, buddy.”
He tightens his grip on the kid to make matters clear, and thinks of all those times Mikey came home on a limp, came home torn up and bruised, all on his own out there in a world Raph never believed existed.
Not on his own, an unkind voice in the back of Raph’s mind is quick to point out. He’s had Leonardo, and Woodrow. Closer to him now than Raph is, believing and supportive and helpful in all the difficult areas of his life his honorary siblings abandoned him in, and damn if that thought doesn’t sting.
Mikey looks up at him. Looks right at him, the way he avoids doing as much as he can these days.
There’s life and color coming back to him with every second, amber eyes fierce where they peek through the dark curls tossed into his face. There’s no time to get into it now -- no time to unpack the skeletons shoved into the crowded closet their little clan shares -- but that look promises a Talk later.
Raph’s looking forward to it, if it means they’ll have a later.
One of the windows shatters, effectively snapping Mikey’s eyes back to whatever looming threat is in front of them. He studies it, gaze flickering here and there, that awful fear pushed back to make room for something wild and reckless and brave.
Raph recognizes that look from their shared childhood; remembers the way Donnie would groan and Casey would laugh and April would look upon them with fond exasperation as Raph followed his honorary little brother headlong into fun and trouble.
It seems like a lifetime ago. Maybe he still remembers how to do that.
“Casey, you still alive?” Mikey mutters without moving, and the dark cursing from somewhere behind them answers that neatly enough. “I need you to make a call. There’s no way we’re getting out of here without help.”
Something snatches a chair away from the wall and throws it past them with a vengeance. Raph ducks closer to Mikey and just barely avoids getting clipped by it, wincing at the sound it makes when it splinters against a wall somewhere in the dark behind them.
Raph only has a moment to worry about Casey before his boyfriend steps into place behind them. He’s moving on a limp, but he doesn’t look as terrified of their situation as he rightly should be.
“Who am I callin’?” he asks, sotto voce.
“Leo,” Mikey says promptly, and then twists out from under Raph’s hands.
Moving quickly, the kid snatches a kerosene lamp off the table beside them, spins on his heel, and -- as far as Raph can tell -- throws it directly into the face of whatever has been staring them down. It smashes against the carpet with a heady thud and the delicate tinkle of breaking glass, and Mikey says, “This might suck.”
Raph knows him well enough to experience a moment of real fear at the declaration. “Wait, what are you -- “
And then he gets it, because Mikey flips open a zippo lighter -- Raph’s lighter, that he must have lifted off his person sometime in the last handful of minutes, the little sticky-fingered thief -- and tosses it into the puddle of oil.
It ignites in a sudden brilliant rush, a billow of light and heat that fills the room like a pillar. Behind the dull roar of fire, Raph can hear an angry shriek, like a violent wind tearing through the room. Mikey backpedals quickly, hands raised to his face, and Casey snags him by the hood of his jacket with his free hand and yanks him back.
“You’re insane!” Casey yells, and coming from him of all people it’s a pretty bold claim. He was holding his phone to his ear a moment ago but now he’s scrambling to shove it in his pocket. “Now we’re stuck in here with a ghost and the house is on fire!”
The fire starts to spread immediately, eating into the carpet underfoot with hungry glee, and Mikey is already looking around for something else to throw into chaos.
“It can’t stand the light,” he says, managing to make it sound like lighting the room they’re trapped in on fire was the only reasonable course of action available to him . Mikey’s eyes land on something heavy sitting in the middle of the dusty table, a decorative antique piece that’s probably worth more than Raph’s car, and he lunges over to grab it in both hands. “This is the first floor, right?”
“Yeah, why -- “
One broken window later, Raph knows why. The fresh air feeds the fire, and it gets bigger and hotter behind them, and Mikey starts coughing when heavy smoke goes billowing past them out the window.
“Fuckin’ incredible,” Casey is grousing, using the bat to knock out the rest of the glass. “Out, out, let’s get the fuck out of here, let’s go!”
They clamber through together, the heat of a small inferno at their backs, and Raph tumbles into the cool grass with his heart in his throat. He and Jones have done some crazy shit in their lives -- adrenaline junkies, Donnie used to call them both fondly -- but this is next level crazy.
Mikey is already scrambling to his feet. He reaches back to tug Raph up, too, and says, “Hurry up, we gotta get off the property. Where’s your car? Please, please tell me you didn’t take an Uber here.”
“Out front,” Casey rasps, hooking an arm under Raph’s elbow and heaving him upright. His hand lingers for a moment, tight and desperate, and then he lets go to shove Raph a step ahead of him. He still has that bat in his opposite hand, raised and ready.
The three of them round the corner of the house at a dead sprint, and Raph has a moment to wish they’d parked in the drive instead of out on the shoulder of the road when the front door of the house slams open and all the windows on the first level blow out in a cacophony of shattering glass.
Mikey yelps and nearly trips, but between Casey and Raph he doesn’t go down. They half-carry each other the rest of the way to the car, and then Casey’s in the driver’s seat with the key in the ignition, and Raph just barely manages an inward thank god.
“Casey,” Mikey gasps from the backseat, “your phone?”
“Fuck,” Casey says, pausing to dig it out of his pocket again. He never hung up and the call is still active -- there’s a frantic voice on the other end, and Raph can only imagine what they’ve been hearing. “Here, someone take -- “
Something slams against the side of the car with enough force that it rocks over onto two wheels for a perilous few seconds. Casey’s phone goes flying and lands with a mad clatter on the dashboard, its bright screen mirrored against the windshield. The back doors both get ripped open, and a second later Mikey’s half-dragged out of the car.
“Mikey!” Raph throws himself over the back of the seat to grab Mikey’s arm, snarling at the empty darkness outside. “Let him go!”
For a split second, Raph sees it. A dark figure that skirts past the headlights, too tall to be human, featureless and faceless with long, tapered fingers and a gaping jaw. It’s there and gone again so quickly it could have been a trick of the night.
If it’s trying to spook Raph into loosing his grip it has no idea who it’s messing with. He grits his teeth and digs in his heels, because goddammit, this kid is his family, and he’s not letting go without the fight of his fucking life.
Casey twists abruptly, reaching up to punch the interior lights on manually. The instant the lights come on, the opposite pull goes slack and Raph yanks Mikey the rest of the way inside. They sit there, breathing heavily, huddled as close to the middle of the car as they can. The back doors hang open in the black nighttime void like an invitation.
“What now?” Casey whispers. "The engine won't start."
"It wants me," Mikey says hoarsely. "Just leave me here, okay, go get help."
And then the forgotten phone goes haywire.
It’s vibrating hard, screen flickering wildly, and white noise fills the car -- pours out of the speakers at the same time the radio surges to sudden life, dial wagging madly through half a dozen stations. The dash comes alive with an abrupt flick, the open door warning starts up with a bright chime, and the interior lights and headlights shine brighter until they’re stark white and hard to see through -- like a power surge, building and building and building.
“Power,” Raph says abruptly. “Casey, power! Try the ignition again!”
He does, shoving the key into the starter and twisting viciously. The engine turns over and he shifts into reverse and stomps on the gas. They go peeling backwards with a violent jerk, the tires blowing smoke and spitting gravel, and Raph snatches Mikey back when he makes a move to lean out and close one of the doors.
When they reach the highway, it takes a heart-stopping three seconds for Casey to shift out of reverse, but nothing stops them from gliding onto the smooth blacktop into the warm orange glow of a streetlight, and they head back to the city at thirty over the speed limit.
All of them are tense -- Casey’s eyes keeping flickering back to the rearview, and Mikey is turned around in the backseat to look out the rear window. They finally got the doors closed, but the interior lights are still on, because none of them feel safe in the dark. It’s nearly ten minutes before anyone speaks.
“Holy fucking shit, ” is what Casey goes with. Raph can really only agree with him there.
“Hey,” Mikey starts, and then doesn’t seem to know where to go from there.
Casey and Raph trade looks. Raph turns around to look at the kid. He’s a mess, eyes red-rimmed from the smoke, dusky skin scraped and bruised. If he’s been missing for as long as they think he has, he’s probably hungry and exhausted on top of everything else, but adrenaline’s left him shaky and wired.
Under Raph’s scrutiny, he wilts a little.
“Sorry,” he says. “That could’ve been… really bad. I’m sorry.”
“It ain’t your fault,” Casey tells him shortly. “That thing snatched you somehow, remember? And you didn’t ask us to come out and get you, we did that on our own. I don’t wanna hear anymore sorrys.”
Something that tries to be a smile tugs at one corner of Mikey’s mouth but gives up halfway through. “Um,” he says uncertainly, like he’s testing the waters between them, “can I ask -- “
The phone ringing cuts him off. Raph reaches over to pick it up off the dash carefully, and hisses when it’s hot against his fingers. He swipes to answer the call and doesn’t get a chance to so much as say hello before a familiar voice is demanding, “Mikey?”
Mikey leans up on the middle console with big, hopeful eyes. Raph passes him the phone.
“Leo,” he says, sounding painfully, exhaustively relieved. “It’s me. I’m okay, I promise -- I’ll explain everything when I get home. Yeah, I’ll meet you guys there. About ten more minutes, okay?" He laughs softly, and if it sounds a little wet and rough around the edges, Raph isn't going to call him on it. "No, it's fine, he's with me. It got a little rough over here and he came through to lend a hand." In the driver's seat, Casey mouths 'a little rough' with an incredulous look on his face. "I didn't know he could, either. We should probably stop assuming we know everything, huh? Yeah. You, too, buddy. See you soon."
He passes the phone back with a soft, "Thanks. They were worried."
Raph nods. He watches Mikey sit back and lean a bit to the side, like knocking shoulders with someone who isn't there. Feels the burn of the overheated phone against his palm, and thinks of the light and noise that came exploding out of it when they needed help. He knows that malevolent force they left behind is what killed the engine, somehow, the same way it killed the lights inside the house -- and it stands to reason that an equal, opposite force would be enough to undo it.
'He came through to lend a hand,' huh? Raph blinks through a telling burn in his eyes and turns around to face out the windshield again. The city looms ahead, bright and neon in the gray sky of pre-dawn. At the end of this road, Mikey's got a place full of people waiting for him to come home, and Raph doesn't have a doubt left in the world about who one of those people is.
'Cause Mikey may be a lot better at telling lies than he used to be, but he can't disguise the way he sounds when he's talking about someone he loves. And he never loved anyone quite like Donatello.