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See Your Face In Golden Rays

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'I really need to buy some milk'

 

Were Mikey Hamato's thoughts as he walked across the hallways of Roosevelt High School. It was lunch break and while he could easily be at the school cafeteria, swallowing down Sloppy Joes, he found himself wandering idly next to the green lockers.

 

Today was a hard day, and especially after Ms. Campbell had announced the upcoming math test for Tuesday, Mikey knew there was no way he would have a relaxing and interesting weekend. It wasn't that Ms. Campbell was the kind of teacher that loved to assign a lot of material for their tests; no, it was just that math wasn't really Mikey's strongest class. Maybe he could ask Donnie for some help.

 

Donatello or Donnie was Mikey's brother, a twin as matter of fact. They were both fifteen years old, although Donnie was older, by only two minutes.

 

Mikey loved Donnie. He really did. But sometimes, it was sort of hard having Donnie as a brother. Donatello was a genius. He was probably the smartest boy in the whole school; most of the teachers adored him and was also the president of the "Young Inventors of New York" club at school, along with Irma Langinstein. Irma and Donnie had been best friends since, practically forever, so it was no wonder they had started their own sciency club together, although lots of students had joined them, too; the look on Donnie's face when he had seen that more than twenty people had completed application forms was the look Mikey always wanted to see on his brother's face.

 

But, Donnie being… well, Donnie, Mikey felt he had a lot of expectations to fulfill. Everyone expected them to be the same, and while they basically looked like each other, like a lot, save for the eyes, both with dark brown hair, glasses, freckles splattered across their faces and lanky figures (Mikey was still beyond excited he was actually a bit taller than Raph), they weren't. Mikey wasn't as smart as Donnie and sometimes did feel sad that Donnie was often dubbed as 'the smart twin'.

 

Still, though, Mikey was glad he had someone to count on when it came to math; he knew Donnie would try to help him as much as possible.

 

Mikey's thoughts were interrupted as his eyes scanned one of the many posters on the hallway walls and he smiled. "FOOTBALL MATCH NEXT WEEK" Mikey may wasn't the biggest fan of football, but he never missed a game, mainly because of Raph.

 

If someone were to guess, he probably would never realize Raph was Mikey and Donnie's older brother. And no one would blame them either, since Raph was actually their half-brother; or 'brother from another mother' as Casey liked to joke.

 

Dad had been married two times, one back in Japan. Everyone knew how much Yoshi loved the country; he was happily married, but unfortunately, a little bit after Raphael's birth, his wife, Shen, died. Raph still blames himself for it, although Leo continues to tell him it wasn't his fault at all.

 

After that, Yoshi decided to travel to New York, a place he knew his wife wanted to see and explore herself. And while he thought he would never find love again, his reflections were thrown away when he met Leo and Raph's pediatrician, Dr. Hazel McIntyre. Mom, Mikey thought, a sad smile creeping up on his lips.

 

Kind, sweet, Hazel had already been married and divorced, mostly because she was surprised to discover that her ex-husband's entire life did not revolve around her. Thankfully for her, she could depend on Yoshi.

 

Mikey would do anything to have his mother back, although he doesn't remember her well; but he knew he should probably feel happy and grateful that he and Donnie were able to spend eight years with her, much to Raph and Leo's dismay.

 

Even though, Mikey is sure Leonardo and Raphael felt him and Donnie's mother as theirs too, Mikey was certain of it.

 

Raph was literally the jock stereotype incarnate. He's short but big, strong, and built like a tank compared to most other guys his age, pretty much like Dad was at his age, and still is.

 

Really though, Raph, was easily able to get on the starting roster for the varsity football team as a linebacker and already had the capability to completely take down guys who were a couple grade levels above him, during the first year of high school. Even a few of the students and teachers were actually suspicious if Raphael was cheating and using performance enhancers since he was just this solid block of muscle, even though there was no way Raph would that. He may was extremely competitive, but he was always fair; he was actually pissed about it and if it weren't for Casey, Mikey was sure Raph would have killed the coach. Okay, not kill, maybe maim, a little bit.

 

But, then everyone on the conference athletics board got a look at dad and realized that maybe it was just genetics that made Raph who he was. Still, Mikey loved Raph no matter what and he knew his hotheaded brother was always up for a friendly game of football with him.

 

'Maybe that will cheer me up today' Mikey was for a bit excited until he noticed the date on a calendar on the wall; Friday.

 

At Fridays, Raph was working at 'Flovers', a flower shop a little bit down the street from their home. Some people may were surprised to see Raph working there, but that was just because they didn't know the whole story.

 

A year ago, Raph and his numskull of a friend, Casey Jones, were invited to the 'considered to be the most important event of the year' party of Buffy Shellhammer. Only cool people were supposed to be invited, and while Raph, Casey and even Leo were there, Mikey and Donnie weren't that lucky to get an invitation.

 

Donnie, though had said, "Shallow men believe in luck. Strong men believe in cause and effect, little brother."

 

Mikey assumed he was right; besides, he wasn't the one being called 'the genius'.

 

Either way, during the party, Casey and Raph had found a way to make a simple and innocent game of darts way more interesting. Raphael had bet that if he won, he would make Casey come to his home and clean his room; and everyone knew how messy Raph's room was.

 

Casey, though, had something else in his mind.

 

That year, Casey's mother had married April O'Neil's father. Both single parents and a little bit of prompting from both Casey and April, were all their parents needed to realize that they actually had much more in common than just going to the Parents and Teachers Association.

 

Casey's mother, a spirit of nature, after the wedding, had decided to open a flower shop. She was a firm believer in the 'every flower is a soul blossoming in nature' view, as Mikey had seen at the poster outside, on the window of the shop many times. Unfortunately, they weren't people crowding out of the shop to get a part-time job and she and Casey couldn't do all the work alone. They needed another employer.

 

So, after Raph's pathetic loss at darts, he was apparently engaged to work there. Although, Mikey was aware that this wasn't necessarily true, since no one could force Raph to do anything; deep down, Mikey knew that Raph enjoyed working at the shop, along with the flowers and Casey's company.

 

Mikey tried to compress his chuckle as the thought of Raph in his flowery uniform filled his mind, when his eyes fell on yet, another poster. "Are single-sex schools better for students?"

 

'No,' Mikey thought in a rush, although he knew the answer wasn't up to him, but the debate team, part of which was his eldest brother, Leonardo.

 

Leo may was a seventeen- year- old boy, yet he wasn't an amazingly social person; he enjoyed and craved solitude and usually was fond of staying away from arguments. (except when it came to Raph) But, since a debate was literally an argument with rules, which showed great initiative and leadership on the college application and Leo basically ate, drank and breathed rules and regulations, it wasn't a surprise that he was the best at it.

 

'Not completely the best,' Mikey said to himself as he turned his head to a tall woman with black and blonde hair with an angled bob and long ear-tails; her eyes were covered in black shadow, several black earrings on her ears and her amber eyes shined as she was leaning on her locker;

 

Oruku Karai.

 

From what Mikey had heard, Karai was quite a rebellious teenager. Yet, that didn't stop her from being on the debate team. She didn't have many friends, just like Leo, with the exception of a gothic-looking girl named Shinigami. Rumors said they had bonded over fighting for the same shade of a lipstick. But that were just rumors; they couldn't be trusted enough; Mikey knew that himself from first hand.

 

And while he did not know her as much as Leo did, he knew her father.

 

Back when Yoshi was looking for both a job and bigger apartment since his second wife was pregnant, he had found out an abandoned two-storey building and that was when the idea had hit him; a dojo. And while Yoshi's past in Japan was, for reasons no one knew, pretty much a secret, it wasn't a lie that he knew how to fight.

 

Apparently, though, another dojo existed in New York, whose owner was Karai's father. The two dojos had developed some kind of a vendetta over the years, but Mikey did not know the exact reasons why.

 

But, just like how a vendetta had been developed between the two dojos, another vendetta had been developed between Leo and Karai. Both of them were dying to be the best and hated each other's guts, or so most of the students thought. Karai and Leo were excellent masters at fooling people.

 

While they acted like the biggest rivals at school, they actually worked outside together.

 

Leo loved to work next to his father at the dojo and was probably the only one of the four brothers that respected the martial arts that much. Donnie was not a huge fan, although he still tried to keep fit; Raphael, being on the school football team, he did most of his training at school, even though he still came to the dojo to blow off some steam or do some light sparring with Casey; and Mikey, well he had a knack for it, as Dad had said, not in those exact words, but he wasn't really interested in it.

 

But Yoshi had tried to encourage his eldest son to socialize more and finally had convinced him to take a job, like his youngest brother, Raph, had at the time, at the closest animal shelter, only to find out that Karai worked there too. Apparently, she had a soft spot for animals. She and Leo worked there over a year now and Mikey was certain Leo was having a good time, if his babbling every time he returned home from work was any indication.

 

Mikey had heard from one of those babblings that Leo would not immediately return home after school today, since he and Karai would help some turtles that had got hurt, or something like that; honestly, he hadn't paid much attention to him.

 

Mikey reached to his locker and started shuffling his books in quickly, thinking he perhaps had some time to grab something to eat, until he heard a familiar voice and felt a pat on his shoulder, "Hey, little man!"

 

He giggled and shook his head; as it seemed, his brothers were always able to boost his mood, "Hi to you too, big guy," that was a thing he and Donnie still told to each other after all these years. When they had first got born and they didn't have their names picked yet, their mother would call them like that to tell them apart. Dad said it was because Donnie had a big head when he was a baby and Raph had laughed and said "probably cause of your huge brain" and for a second, Mikey wished he was the one with the big head. Only for a second. "How are you?"

 

"Oh, I am great, Irma and I were just talking about how microelectronics can be used to help people with chronic ailments and I-," Mikey didn't want to stop listening but his mind flew off as he realized with widened eyes that all of his brothers had more interesting lives than him. He was the energetic and outgoing one; where was his interesting life? What would he remember from this year?

 

"So, I thought that- hey, are you okay?" Donnie asked with a frown of concern that Mikey was more used to seeing on Leo, the biggest worrywart in the family; Mikey must have been very spaced out.

 

"Yeah, I'm fine, I mean I-," he responded, pushing his glasses back up; man, why they always fell? And they were foggy too? I cleaned those minutes ago, he thought with annoyance when he realized he had been spacing out again, "I just-Ms. Campbell told us there's a math test next week and I thought maybe, you know…"

 

He didn't manage to complete his sentence when Donnie interrupted him with a huge smile, "Way ahead of you, Mikey. I just ran into April and she told me about it. So, I've already organized a study session for us three this weekend."

 

Mikey made an approving sound. He had forgotten that April would probably tell Donnie about it, since she was in Ms. Campbell's class. April was a really good student, but more into English or History; stuff like that. It made sense, since she was on the school newspaper. She had moved close here a bit of a year ago, when her father married Casey's mom, but she had to change schools. Thankfully, she quickly became best friends with Irma, who may never had any close females friends until now, that she has both April and Renet, but she pretty much knew everyone around the school. That's how April met Donnie.

 

April's father was a scientist, so Mikey was surprised she had asked Donnie's help.

 

"Thanks, D, you're the best!" Mikey yelled, probably louder than he should have, since a lot of people around the hallway turned their heads to look at him. Mikey could have sworn she saw Karai with an amused, yet actual genuine smirk on her face.

 

Checking his clock, Mikey realized he had few minutes before the bell rang, so he did his usual 'hug-attack' to Donnie and ran towards the vending machine to eat something, ignoring Don's muttered sigh.

 

"You forgot your locker open…," Donnie rolled his eyes in amusement as he closed Mikey's locker.

 


 

 

 

Mikey sighed happily as he went out of the mini-market, hours later after he had finished school.

 

"Got the milk"

 

He thought as he went through his usual route for the coffee shop. It was owned by his best friend's, Woody O'Connor's, parents.

 

Woody had been a part of the student exchange program and Mikey had been assigned to show him around, two years ago. The teacher had told Mikey that she thought he was the best for it, being a ball of energy and golden rays of sunshine.

 

And Mikey had to admit that it was a blast.

 

Woody was a great guy and they had a lot of fun together. The time he was here, Mikey had sworn to himself that he would make sure Woody had a lot of fun here in New York. And, of course, that included pranks on Mikey's brothers, races to the school class rooms, skateboarding lesson, watching fireworks and much more.

 

Mikey had to admit that he had started to like, like really like Woody. But that didn't matter since Woody didn't like him that way; he had told him himself. And Mikey would rather stay friends with Woody than lose him completely. Sure, things were a bit awkward at first, after the confession, but their friendship was stronger than they thought.

 

It was so strong that Woody had convinced his parents to actually move to New York from Ireland and Mikey was ecstatic about it.

 

The doorbell rang as Mikey pushed the door of the coffee shop and left his bag with the milk on the counter. "Anyone here?" he asked and it didn't take long to hear a muffled reply coming from the kitchen.

 

"Yes, Michelangelo, wait a minute!" and before even a minute could pass, a short woman with red hair, cut in some short of a pixie cut, came out of the kitchen, rubbing her hands on her apron and broke into a smile as she saw Mikey.

 

"Hello, Miss O'Connor, is Woody here?" he greeted politely. When he was younger, Mikey was a very blunt and direct kid, filled with childish excitement and while that was cute, it often made things awkward. Both Yoshi and Leo wanted him to be more respectful to his elder ones, as they had said, while Raph had been shaking his head with amused disappointment. But, Mikey really looked up to Dad and Leo, and figured out that they were probably correct.

 

"Oh, I am afraid no. I believe he has gone to Murakami's; it has been his favorite place since you showed it to him," she giggled loudly and added, "And how many times have I told you to call me Kassidy, Michelangelo?"

 

"As many times as I have told you to call me Mikey," he responded with a satisfied grin as Miss O'Connor tousled Mikey's brown curls with her hand and said, "I have to check on the brownies in the oven, would you like to try one when they're done?"

 

Mikey shook his head, answering a simple 'no, thank you', surprising himself that he actually flat out rejected free food and was about to leave when something on a table caught his eye.

 

It was a small, black notebook and Mikey wouldn't even have noticed it if it weren't for the awesome sauce stickers that covered the front. He took it carefully in his hands and turned his head, trying to look for its owner. But, there were no customers in the shop.

 

Mikey had always been a curious person. So, it wasn't surprising that he opened the notebook, gently grasping the pages, until he found letters written.

 

"A to-do list to make this year memorable," Mikey read to himself and titled his head, eyes narrowing in confusion and surprise at the same time.

 

"1. Have some quality time with my family

 

  1. Smile more

 

  1. Help the world

 

  1. Do something scary

 

  1. Act more mature

 

  1. Help the people that always help me

 

  1. Admit my feelings

 

  1. Take my life into my own hands

 

  1. Be proud of me

 

  1. Make a new friend"

 

Mikey scanned the words cautiously with wide eyes and raised brows as he made his way out of the coffee shop, heading to Murakami's.

 

'Huh'

Chapter Text

"So, let me get this straight, Mike…"

Murakami's was filled with customers, the time being four o'clock, but Mikey wasn't noticing anyone because of his excitement. He had spent three whole minutes not touching his pizza gyōza, just so he could tell Woody about his day.

Mikey knew Murakami-san since birth considering that Yoshi had quickly befriended the elderly blind man once he had arrived in New York. Murakami was a skillful Japanese noodle chef, who ran this noodle shop. His restaurant operated through a Japanese-inspired process, something that had pleasantly surprised Yoshi, with customers putting their orders through a token machine and giving Murakami the token with their corresponding order - even though he was blind, he was able to feel the token's engraving and determine what the customer wanted.

He knew Mikey's family very well and even had created and added to his menu a whole dish for them; pizza gyōza, that often offered to the brothers and their friends for free, like today. It was a type of Japanese-style dumpling that was stuffed with pizza ingredients; Pizza was Hazel's, Mikey's mom, favorite food.

Mikey was trying to remember what was the saying Dad had told him that Mom always said about pizza, until Woody interrupted his thoughts again,

"-there's a huge math test coming up and you're interested in a book?" Woody's words were full of confusion and a little bit of sarcasm. Mikey took a sip from his water and put it down, so he could look at Woody with hurt eyes.

"A notebook," Mikey corrected, ignoring Woody's rolled eyes as he added, trembling his lower lip, "and you're sounding like it's a bad thing," and Woody looked at him with disbelief.

"Maybe because it is!" Woody crinkled his nose as he threw his hands in the air, "Seriously, Mike, it's just paper pages, what's so great about 'em anyway?"

Mikey sighed deeply and pressed his lips together. Woody was right; there was nothing special about a forgotten notebook. So, why was Mikey that excited? Maybe it was because it was something new and fresh and interesting!

"I don't know why Woody but-," he pushed his glasses back up boringly with his elbow while Woody creased his brow, "I need your help, like, now."

"I will yea," Woody gave Mikey a half-smile and Mikey pursed his lips.

Since Mikey had met Woody, he had been acquainted with some of the typical Irish phrases that did nothing more than just confuse him to no end. He knew this expression, though, and was aware that it meant something along the lines "I definitely won't,"; it was just an easier way of saying it. Woody had told Mikey that back in Ireland, people were big into sarcasm, and if you got flustered by it, you shouldn't worry. You wouldn't be the first and certainly not the last.

Mikey had to admit that sometimes he would get flustered by Woody's cynicism, but if learning some sarcastic expressions from his friend was all Mikey needed to annoy Raphael, he was in.

Raph would press his lips together, narrow his eyes and make exasperated sighs, before he would be annoyed enough to chase Mikey around the apartment, until Leo would put his foot down with a "Raph, stop it; be nice!" that Mikey would often (always) paraphrase, "Yeah, Raphie, beee niiicee…"

Mikey chuckled at the memory and turned his head to his friend, "C'mon Wood, we can meet later at the park and talk about it."

Woody rested a hand on his chin and answered, " 'kay, but my ma has already been givin' out to me 'cause I left the immersion on, so if she starts complainin', I'll blame you," he pointed out the last word with a crooked smile, as he put his hand on the table.

"Yeah, well Kassidy likes me anyway," Mikey laughed meanly as Woody shook his head and got up.

"Don't call my ma that," Woody exclaimed desperately and added smoothly, "There's no better feeling in the world than a warm pizza box on your lap, am I right?"

"Wha?" Mikey asked, till a bell rang into him and before he could ask how Woody even remembered the words his mom used to say, he responded, smiling, at the same time, "Whenever we come 'ere, you always think about your ma."

He parted his lips when Woody added, maintaining eye contact with Mikey, "I always listen when you talk about her," and Mikey remembered for a moment how much he loved Woo-

"I gotta go, talk to you later," he heard Woody say in a rush before exiting the noodle shop and leaving Mikey alone at the table.

Mikey didn't have the time to think about his feelings when he felt a buzz inside his pocket and took his phone in his hand, unlocking swiftly the screen.

One unread message from: Snowflake Leo

Mikey chuckled at the nickname.

It was back when Mikey and Donnie had found out how their mother used to call them when they were little. Yoshi didn't speak a lot about his wives, so every time he would share even the smallest detail, the brothers couldn't help but feel grateful.

But, Mikey had realized that while he and Donnie had their funny nicknames, neither Leo nor Raph had any. And Mikey didn't want them to feel left out. That was when he had started the 'Naming-Business' operation, to find the perfect fitting names for both Leo and Raph; Besides, he was Dr. Namestein.

For Raph, Mikey thought he had the perfect name. When Raphael was a toddler, everyone could agree that he was one cranky kid. That information, plus Raph's favorite character on the Looney Tunes Show had given Mikey an idea for Raph's nickname; 'Cranky Petunia'

It even made more sense now that Raphael was working at the flower shop; Mikey was certain his hotheaded brother rolled his eyes every time he saw the flowering plant. But, Michelangelo didn't actually use the nickname a lot, only a few times when he wanted to get a rise out of Raph or when Casey was around.

But, for Leo, Mikey was stuck.

Leo's 'pod-person-' mechanical way of behavior, combined with his pure virtue had given Raphael the chance to joke, often referring Leo as the all mighty Fearless Leader, Lame-o-nardo, and Mother-hen of the group, knowing how much it annoyed him. But that was the last thing Mikey wanted to do. The nicknames were supposed to be a fun game and if the name he would pick made Leo huffy, Mikey would be extremely sad and disappointed. He hated seeing any of his brothers like that.

So, he was officially stuck, until…

It was the day all the family had gone to the football conference, so everyone could take a look at Yoshi and realize that Raphael wasn't using any performance enhancers after all. After the realization and while the some of the coaches had convinced most of the athletes' relatives to stay for a drink (and food), Raph's coach, "Old Hob", had turned to Leo and said, "I'd have never guessed you were Hamato's brother," something Raph had answered with a simple, "Yeah, he's a little special snowflake," and Mikey hadn't understood if he meant it because Leo didn't look like them, or because he was really pale.

But that didn't matter; Mikey knew why Raph's coach had said that.

Really, the two older brothers didn't look like Donnie and Mikey, who were pretty much carbon copies, except for the eyes; At least, though, someone could see some similarities between them and Raph. The three brothers had all got dark brown hair and darken skin, traits they had inherited from their father.

Leo, on the other hand, was a completely different case. While he shared few similar traits with his father and three brothers, like the distinctly Japanese features, the shape of his face, his nose and jawline, his jet black hair, blue eyes and not so much different from them, yet distinctly fairer skin made him stand out.

He had taken after his mother, Shen

Leonardo sometimes would feel kind of weirded out he was sort of an outcast, like at the conference, but Yoshi would always try to console him, telling him he kept the memory of her alive. That would always make Leo smile.

And just like that, Mikey had started calling Leo 'snowflake'; he had even asked Leo, privately and personally, away from their brothers, if he was annoyed with the nickname. Mikey had heard the same nickname used in a bad kind of way and had wondered sincerely why. But, he was pleased to see Leo give him a sheepish smile and rolled eyes as he tousled his curls, saying, "Do not worry, little brother"

Mikey really loved Leo.

He quickly pressed the box on his phone and rolled his eyes at his brother's message,

"Done with Karai. I'll be home soon, love you"

Mikey texted a simple 'M2' reply to him with a smiley face and grabbed his bag with the milk, getting ready to get up, when a familiar voice interrupted him, "Hi Mikey!"

Mikey turned his head to meet a pair of brown, happy eyes on a heart-shaped face, framed with blonde curls and an excited smile full with bright, pink lipstick that revealed a tooth gap, Renet.

Mikey didn't know Renet that much, but from what he had heard about her, he had decided that he liked her. She was fifteen years old, like him and her parents owned a crazy interesting antique shop, called "Second Time Around". Mikey knew this because both Donnie and Irma would buy lots of weird stuff from there for their even weirder inventions.

Renet was said to be a very gentle and kind person, yet sometimes naïve and oblivious; she trusted people way too easily, or so Donnie had said. But, Donatello had also added with a toothy grin that Renet had Irma by her side to take care of her, so she'd be okay. And it was true; every time Mikey saw Renet, Irma was somewhere there too.

They were such close friends, Mikey thought with a smile. Renet did deserve a true friend after all the things that had happened before.

So, Mikey was surprised to see her here at Murakami's all alone. "Hey Renet, where's Irma?" he asked with a curious expression. Mikey had always been a snoop.

"Ah, she told me to meet her here for a noodle –physics study date," Renet said, blushing lightly behind the curls that covered her cheeks, and after a moment added, "I saw you sitting here and thought of saying a 'hi'. What are you doing all alone?"

"I was about to go, actually," Mikey responded with a smile as he got up from the table, "you know-school and all."

"Yeah, I get it," Renet giggled, stretching her arms out, "I've been so exhausted these days," she yawned. After a moment of silence she said: "Buuut, there's an action figure at the store with your name on it."

Mikey's eyes widened as he did a pump fist in the air, "YES!" Mikey's collection was always open for more and Renet had been kind enough more than a few times, to give him stuff from her parents' shop.

Renet smiled lightly as she said jokingly, "Now go home, I don't want to deal with the three over-protective brothers of yours, just cause I stalled you."

Mikey laughed as he hugged her, "I'll see you soon, bye!" and got out of Murakami's only to bump into a girl with as she was ready to go inside.

Mikey stared down at the black-haired woman with gray glasses and blue and green highlights to match her eyes; Irma

Irma had a gothic sense of style, and aside from her dark or purple, occasionally laced clothing and flannels, she wore dark makeup and painted her nails black as well. She also had multiple streaks in her hair that change color periodically.

Back when she was fourteen, Mikey remembered Irma with pink and blonde streaks in her black hair, before going blue-green for the rest of the year. Not only that, but she also had two piercings, one in her left eyebrow and one on her nose. 'No' was the only thing Leo had said when Mikey had begged for a pierced ear, while Raph had winked at him, "We'll see Mikey…"

"OOH—H-hey Irma, sorry," Mikey stammered, giving Irma his hand, so she could get up from the spot he pushed her down. Honestly, this happened a lot of times. Mikey's lanky and big figure, combined with his klutziness always managed to create accidents.

"Happy to see too, you goof," Irma accepted Mikey's hand and got up, smiling, "How are you?" she asked, patting Mikey's hair.

Mikey knew Irma very, very well and was familiar with her ongoing gossiping. He was sure that if he stayed a little longer with Irma, she'd go on and on about whatever things she could think of first, and that would be bad for both Mikey and Renet, who was waiting for her inside.

"Well," Mikey started, "I'd love to talk, but Renet's waiting for you inside," and before Mikey could finish his sentence, Irma had been running in the shop, waving Mikey with her hand.

Mikey sighed deeply, checking his clock and decided that he had some time before he had to return home. So, he started walking absent-mindedly, yet deep in thought.

Whoever had written that list wanted to make this year memorable, exactly what Mikey wanted himself.

And now, that person probably had no idea where their notebook was and Mikey couldn't help himself but feel guilty. But, this whole situation seemed like déjà vu to him.

Last year, both of Mikey's older brothers had got jobs. Mikey hadn't seen it as something exciting; they had to work after school, they got tired and how did they manage to do their homework? Mikey had no idea. But, he finally realized what was so amazing about it when Raph came home with a leather jacket.

Yoshi had rubbed his eyes several times and looked beyond surprised to see his second oldest son holding such expensive clothing, if the receipt in the bag was any indication, but Raph had been all smugness and raised brows when he had answered his father, "I got it with my own money"

That was when Mikey had understood that part-time jobs meant getting paid and getting paid meant money! And while Mikey wasn't dying to have lots of money, some extra cash could always be helpful to him. So, when he had seen that a handwritten label was asking for an assistant at a grocery store, he had snatched the opportunity, like an eagle grabbing a bunny with his claws.

One day, a guy, probably one or two years older than Mikey then, had lost his grocery list at the pavement, outside the store and Mikey had done anything possible to find the guy, only to hear a dull reply when he returned it to him, "Since you had it, you could at least buy the stuff," the man had said, massaging his temples.

He didn't work there anymore; not because of the rude comment of the Afro-Brazilian man, but since Mikey and the store owner had some 'creative differences'.

But that wasn't the point. Mikey remembered the guy's last words before he had taken aggressively the list out of Mikey's hand, "Since you had it, you could at least buy the stuff" and his mouth twisted in a realization smile.

His phone buzzed and a simple 'Meet me at the park to talk' from Woody had his feet running towards the direction.

Since he had the notebook either way, maybe he could try and follow some steps of the list, right?

Chapter Text

"-and cause someone told you, you should have got his messages-"

"-uh, they're called groceries here-"

"Same thing-you decided to actually do this lad's list?"

Mikey had arrived at the park and was sitting with Woody at the swings. It was getting kind of dark, the time being almost six o'clock, so the park was pretty much empty, except the two boys and three or four pigeons, probably, there and there.

Mikey had given Woody his insights, while swallowing down the carbon milk, before he was too late to realize it. Now, how would he make the amazingly great recipe he had planned for tomorrow?

Saturdays were the days Mikey cooked, whether it was dinner or lunch. Mikey didn't want to brag or anything, but next to his brothers, he was probably the best cooker.

Ever since he was a toddler, he'd climb on his father's shoulders, try to take a peek at what he was making. Yoshi was happy that at least one of his sons was eager enough to help him with dinner, so he wouldn't miss the opportunity to teach Mikey a few basic kitchen skills, although Michelangelo had advanced a lot quicker than he expected.

He had told Mikey that he had got his talent from his mother, that was both a mastered doctor at the office and the kitchen and Mikey had laughed at the joke, even though he didn't think it was pretty funny, just to see his father smile as well.

And it wasn't that his brothers couldn't cook at all, besides, there were days during the week they cooked as well, but they would make very simple stuff; Michelangelo was grateful about it. He was worried that if Leo, Raph, and Donnie tried anything more complicated, the apartment would get on fire and Mikey wasn't sure they had enough fire extinguishers for the mess they'd cause.

Either way, it looked like the 'Spinach & Roasted Red Pepper Crustless Quiche' recipe would have to wait for another day; And Raph had been so excited!

Mikey decided to push his thoughts aside and focus on what was important at the moment; making Woody understand. "Yeah!" Mikey exclaimed, twisting the swing's chain with his finger. "I mean, it's some kind of a sign, right?"

"I don't think I am following you, Mike…," Woody shrugged, tilting his head and rubbing his foot on the ground; his white sneakers had been covered in dirt and Mikey wondered for a second how Miss O'Connor would react when she saw them.

Actually, how Miss O'Connor had even let Woody go out, since he had said she had been complaining? Woody didn't like to push his mother's buttons, so Mikey was surprised Woody would have provoked her, just so he could see him.

"What is the point of finding this list, if it isn't meant to, you know, do it?" Mikey asked, lifting his head from the ground. He looked at Woody with pleading eyes, "I am sure it's some form of Karma or something like that."

"I don't think that's how Karma w-"

"I'll ask Leo about it!"

Leonardo was the spiritual one.

"And that's not the point!"

"Then, what is it?"

"We're fifteen, Wood and it's early November," Mikey pressed his lips with a slight frown as he tangled his ankles.

"Actually I'm fifteen and a ha-"

"Listen to me!"

What was today? 'Interrupt Mikey whenever you get a chance' day? Mikey was just trying to make Woody understand; he just couldn't explain his thoughts, he was never good at putting his feelings into words, unlike his twin brother, Donatello, who pretty much could write an entire novel about something, although he wouldn't flat out express his feelings.

Woody had silenced down and Mikey saw this as an opportunity and his hand left the chain of the swing, just so he could grasp Woody's.

Perhaps he couldn't exactly say it like he wanted to, but he would try to use more actions than words. They mattered, too, right?

"I just want to make a difference, do something interesting, make this year memorable, get it?" he said gently as his thumb caressed Woody's back of his hand.

"I think so…"

Finally, he though, he was getting somewhere!

"This gal right here wants the same thing and has a plan! A plan, Woody," Mikey pointed out the 'plan' word by using it twice, as he pushed some dirt on the ground with the front of his shoe. "And I just-I can't explain it but you get it, right?"

He always does, he always does, he always does, Mikey said to himself inside his head till the mantra pushed away his worries.

There was a moment of silence that looked like hours to Mikey, even though it probably was less than three minutes, until Woody decided to drop the taciturnity with a genuine smile,

"So…. What's the first thing on the list?"

Mikey's eyes shined. "Really?"

"Yeah really, silly," Woody playfully punched Mikey's arm, jerking his hand from Mikey's grip and added after a moment with a sigh, "But, ugh, you should find whose book this is too."

"Ah, ah, ah, notebook," Mikey corrected jokingly, trying not to show his disappointment that Woody had moved his hand, "and… you are right-,"

"As always"

"And so modest…"

"Mike…," Woody titled his head and was maybe about ready to say something else, before Mikey put a finger on his lips.

"I will. Pinky promise," Mikey said with a steady voice and felt it on his finger when Woody sighed.

"Atta, that's my boy," Woody smiled, pushing Mikey's finger away and straightening his back, "Now hand me the book,"

"Notebook!" Mikey exclaimed loudly enough that his voice scared the pigeons, "It's important to be accurate!"

"Sorry, Donatello…"

Mikey's eyes widened. It was true; Donnie used that expression a seriously big amount of times, so big that even Woody, who didn't interact with Donatello that much, actually knew it.

But if Mikey had realized something, after having three older brothers, was that your siblings really do start to rub off on you.

Michelangelo would often find himself saying typical lines that were most common in Leonardo's, Raphael's or Donatello's dictionaries, and even mimic their body languages as well.

And it wasn't only them either. Mikey would sometimes pick up Woody's usual traits or even Irma's, since he knew her, basically since ever. Mikey had guessed at first that he was the only one doing this, but after seeing more than once Karai scratching the back of her head, before running her fingers through her hair, just like Leo did, many, many times, he realized that maybe he wasn't alone.

Spending that much time with people really did that.

"Ha…ha…ha… very funny," Mikey faked a laugh while shaking his head, "Here," he said, tossing the notebook he had in his hoodie to Woody. The air was sort of starting to get stronger and the pages of the notebook turned as Mikey put his hands in his hoodie's pockets.

"Are you cold?"

Mikey was about to respond with a sappy line like 'not when you're here to warm me up' but his mind thankfully decided to reject the option and go with a simple "Nah," although that wasn't true; Mikey was kind of freezing, but he didn't want to worry Woody, so he thought of getting his attention off him by saying, "Check these cool stickers! Stars and moons!"

"Crescent moons to be accurate," Woody said with an awe expression and Mikey smiled.

"Excuse meDonatello…"

Woody took his eyes of the front of the notebook. "I had it coming," he said with a wink and Mikey nod his head in agreement.

Michelangelo watched Woody staring at the stickers and fondle them and a smirk formed on his lips. He knew that would get Wood's attention.

Woody was a cool, care-free, and up for anything kind of guy, very chill and didn't get really excited with stuff, except one thing; Astronomy.

Woody had told Mikey how it had all started when he was back in Ireland. His school had an excursion at the 'Armagh Planetarium' and Woody had been in love with first sight. His mother had claimed it was a hobby of him to watch the starts, but he had said to Mikey that it was more than just looking at the sky with a telescope while he was having a picnic.

Woody loved astronomy. He had said to Mikey that it wasn't his hobby, it was his passion. He thought it was beautiful, getting the telescope out and admiring stars, galaxies and nebula, while learning about them.

He and Mikey would often stargaze sometimes, even though Woody preferred to call it 'observing the sky', but Mikey didn't mind, as long as Woody leaned his head on Mikey's shoulder, pointing at different things and explaining to Mikey what they were.

There had been a time when Mikey had come home with grass on his back and Yoshi had asked curiously what on Earth had happened. Mikey had explained to both him and his brothers what had been going on and was glad to see Donnie get excited that Mikey was hanging out with someone that was into 'science'.

'Fascinating,' Donatello had said with a breath as Mikey's smile threatened to split his face in half.

'You sure know how to pick 'em,' Raph had joked, poking playfully Mikey's side, ignoring Mikey's shocked expression and his attempts to push him away.

'Shut up, it's not like that,' Mikey had tried to defend himself while Raph had been snorting and Leo had been nudging him with his elbow and a smile. Yoshi had chuckled, not lifting his eyes from the papers on the dining table.

And while Mikey may had been meaning it, when he had said that, back then, he knew that it wasn't true anymore, because, it had turned out to be exactly like tha-

"And there's only the list written?"

Mikey had got lost in his own thoughts and hadn't realized that Woody was looking at him with wide eyes and a soft expression.

"Yep, nothing else," Mikey bit the inside out his mouth, "Must have been a new notebook or something…"

"And you're just gonna what? Follow the steps like it's a recipe or something?" the way Woody said it, it sounded a little bit ridiculous, but Mikey was all confidence and firm pose as he said with a wink, "That's the plan!"

"Have some quality time with my family?" Woody asked as he looked on the first thing on the list.

"Uh-huh," Mikey said excitedly, "I mean, what's better than some family time?"

And before Woody could even answer, Mikey's phone had started beeping and Mikey reached his phone in his pocket as he gritted through his teeth.

"Who's it?" Woody asked with a confused expression.

Mikey opened the phone and gasped as he looked on the lighted screen. "Eleven unanswered phone calls from Leo, Don and Dad and a text message from Raph to 'drag my ass at home.' Oh geez…"

"Why didn't you answer them?"

"I didn't hear a buzz, I didn't feel a buzz, there wasn't A BUZZ!" Mikey shouted nervously as he got up from the swing.

"Mike, wait-"

"THERE WASN'T A BUZZ!" Mikey said loudly, grabbing quickly the notebook from Woody's hands.

"I have to go, I'll text you," and before Woody had the chance to say goodbye, Mikey had disappeared.

Operation 'Have some quality time with my family' (and try not to get killed for not answering the phone) is a go!

Chapter Text

Mikey was late.

He was walking as quickly as he could, his feet sore and the hair on his face blocking the view of his glasses. The wind had started becoming kind of strong and the sun had pretty much come down; it was probably eight o'clock or something.

'A little bit more,' Mikey thought, practically dragging his feet to the pavement. A little bit more and he would be home, ready to put his big-mind master plan into action; Family Time (and obviously, explain himself to the four bundles of overprotection he calls family.)

Everyone knew how much overprotective his brothers were, and rather not provoke them or anything. Even Renet had said so herself, "I don't want to deal with the three over-protective brothers of yours, just cause I stalled you."

So, everybody assumed they spent a lot of time together, Leo, Raph, and Don hogging him, observing his every move.

And while the second part was sort of true; Mikey was sure Leo had told Donnie to put a GPS on Mikey's glasses to know wherever he is, the first part really wasn't. They didn't spend that much time together.

And don't get Mikey wrong, he knew he had a loving little family, which just didn't have some quality time together. Mikey wished it was different. He wanted them to be closer, really bonded, and not whenever Mikey had missed curfew. When had Mikey actually spent some good quality time with his brothers? Some real, fun time? Heck, they didn't even have dinner together.

Whoever's turn was, he would cook, make the food and then just leave it to the table and everyone would go separate ways; It was mostly because everybody came at home different hours. Donnie would the food in the attic or 'rockin' science lab' as he would often, really more than often, call it and eat there, studying the science of sciency stuff..? Mikey did not know for sure.

Raph wouldn't even eat at home; He usually grabbed something with Casey and would hang out alone and eat it. Dad, well, Mikey rarely saw him eat these weeks and he tried not to let that bother him. Leo would eat alone in the kitchen with Mikey, until one of them felt too awkward and went up in their room.

Why his family couldn't do some normal family stuff?

Mikey just wanted them to spend more time together. People did not last; Mikey knew that. Those moments were precious and they wouldn't last long either. Mikey should live them now. Mrs. Sally Pride had taught him that. It was this that he remembered the most of her, now that she was in the hospital, his optimistic, courageous and enterprising neighbor.

Either way, Mikey wanted them to eat all together, even had something planned for tomorrow (but, yeah, unfortunately, no Spinach & Roasted Red Pepper Crustless Quiche) but he knew this had to happen today; he would make sure of it.

His steps had kind of slowed down once Mikey saw the lightened label a few steps across; Hamato Dojo.

The building was pretty big; The down area, the dojo, full with kind and warm carpets and shiny lights and candles that smelled like cinnamon and hugs, had open, large spaces, where Yoshi and Leo taught and some more closed spaces, such as Yoshi's office or the storage room.

Mikey pushed the door to get in as the bell rang and his nostrils were filled with different kinds of scented candles. He walked around but didn't catch a glance of Leo or Dad. Nobody was here and the door was still open? And then, they called Mikey careless and scatty.

He walked pushed the rooms until he approached the stairs, next to the storage room and started walking upstairs. Upstairs was their apartment; Yoshi had thought of having their home just above the dojo and while back then, Hazel, hadn't been that supportive of the idea, she had, eventually, given in.

Once Mikey reached the last pair of stairs, his eyes scanned the living room; a big 'L' shaped couch with some bean bags there and there, a glassy table with a TV and a red carpet under them, walls full with picture frames, a hallway leading to the rooms and a door leading to the kitchen, a wooden dining table and a very, very mad Leonardo.

"Michelangelo!" Leo said fervently as he got up from the chair he was sitting, his blue eyes shining.

"That's what many call me," Mikey joked lightly with a sheepish smile, although he knew this was the last time to joke. Leo had that firm look on his face and his eyes were frozen.

"Mikey, where were you? Why weren't you answering your phone?" Leonardo exclaimed almost in a hushed tone, squinting his eyes and Mikey was certain his brother was angry, and even looked a bit… scared? Mikey pushed these thoughts away; Leo never got scared.

He knew that when Leonardo got mad, there wouldn't be explosions or shouting matches like Raphael tend to do, or even Donnie sometimes. No, when Leo was angry, he got quiet, not even daring to raise his voice.

"I didn't hear it," Mikey admitted honestly and decided to go to his usual route of babbling, as he rubbed his chin, "I think it's broken-I'll tell Donnie to take a-"

"Mikey!" Yep, Leo was having none of it. "Where were you?" Leo's tone of his voice was almost pleading.

"At the park," he responded, taking off his hoodie, since the hot apartment had warmed him up. "With Woody," he made sure to add, pleased when Leo lowered down his shoulders, looking relieved.

Leo really trusted Woody, all of his brothers did. Mikey knew that if he mentioned his friend, Leonardo would probably feel reassured. "Are you mad?" The answer was a big, obvious yes, yet Michelangelo knew his brother would not say that.

"No," Bingo! "J-Just, don't worry us like that again, okay?" Leo stammered, rubbing his temples. This was a very known trait of Leo; whenever he got worried, he'd stutter and then proceed to circle his temples with his fingers. Raph would usually make fun of it.

"I am sorry." Mikey thought Leo deserved to hear it.

"Ah, it-it's fine." It really wasn't. Maybe that's why they couldn't be a normal family, because Mikey apparently ruined every little thing. Well, that was about to change. "Still, I am sorry," Mikey said, taking carefully the notebook from his hoodie's pocket and placing it onto the wooden table as he fell smoothly on a chair with a sigh.

Leo sighed as well and sat back down on his chair, his eyes focused on some papers. Mikey scooted a bit closer, fixing his glasses, just so he could see what his big brother was working on.

"Are single-sex schools better for students?

Each option has its own pros and cons, and researchers have conducted several studies, such as Harvard's Women and Men in the Classroom: Inequality and Its Remedies that remain inconclusive as to whether either is superior. The decision ultimately resides with the student's and parents' preferences..."

Mikey yawned as he read, trying to understand the letters, since Leonardo's calligraphy was making it hard. The debate theme seemed pretty hard; Mikey made a mental note to ask Leo about it later (! quality time!) Leonardo was looking firmly on the paper, twirling his pen, but didn't seem to actually continue the writing process.

Leo seemed stressed and tired, so Michelangelo decided to chirp in.

"So, where is everybody?" Mikey asked and was happy to see Leo lifting his head up and looking at him with a soft expression.

"Uh, Father is running some errands in town, he'll come back in a bit, Donnie's taking a shower and Raph is in his room."

Mikey's eyes widened. "Wait…all of you are home?" the surprise in his voice was obvious. They rarely were home, all of them, at the same time.

"Well, yes, I guess," Leo titled his head, writing 'Pros' on his paper and underlining the word. Mikey pushed his glasses back up as the idea came flouring in his head, "That's great!"

Leonardo hummed and bit his lip as Mikey poked him, "It's your turn to cook tonight, right?"

"Yeah, I am making ramen!" Leonardo smiled and Mikey sighed an "Of course…." That must have been the only thing Leo knew to cook. Michelangelo grabbed the small, black notebook and took the pen out of Leo's grip.

"Just start the cooking-we're all eating together tonight!" Mikey got up from his chair as he saw Leo furrowing his brow, "Huh? How come?"

"Just because! Now, c'mon, go to the kitchen," he practically had to drag Leo from his chair, "I'll go put my pajamas and then I'll come to check you; you'd better be prepared!" Mikey threw Leo a cheeky grin.

"Yeah, yeah…"

Michelangelo was turning to the hallway to go to his room, when he heard Leo's muffled voice, "But, hey Mikey, don't bother Raph, well, a lot," Leo scratched the back of his head before running his fingers through his hair, "he's kind of in a bad mood."

Uh-oh…

"What? Why?"

"W-well," Leo straightened his back as he rubbed the back of his neck, "I d-don't know… J-just don't-okay?"

Leo was stammering again and that meant only one thing; He was lying. Leonardo-Mother-Hen always knew what was up with anybody. He was a mind reader, and yet, an awful liar, at least when it came to his relatives.

"Oookayy…," Mikey rolled his eyes as he went to the hallway while Leo disappeared into the kitchen.


 

Mikey ran across the hallway, careful not to stumble on the thousands of pairs of shoes Raphael had left around. How many shoes did this boy own? He passed next to the bathroom door, chuckling at Donnie's off-key singing, "Every little thing I do- Never seems enough for you-You don't wanna lose it again- But I'm not like them- Baby, when you finally- Get to love somebody - Guess what -It's gonna be me"

Mikey hated to discourage people, it wasn't in his nature to do that, but even he had to admit that Donatello did not make a good singer. He continued to chuckle, imagining Donnie giving an all-night bubble concert with his loofa, as he reached his and Raph's room.

He felt relieved once he realized that thankfully, the door was not locked and opened it lightly, making sure to duck a little bit to protect his head. Height really sucked, "Raaphh…"

Mikey and Raph's room was warm and wooden, desk filled with cool action figures and superhero posters on the walls, at least on Mikey's side. Raph's side was full of trophies (what a surprise) and photos of them (what a softie) and sketches. The ceiling had glowing, vibrating green stars that matched Raph's eyes, thanks to Michelangelo's irrational phobia of the dark.

Raph was lying on the bed, a football on his hand that he threw repeatedly across the wall-trampoline, then back again.

When Mikey had been six or seven, dad had got him the coolest thing he wanted for his birthday; a trampoline. Unfortunately, an accident had somehow occurred and the fiery red trampoline had been found stuck on the wall.

Mikey's bed creaked as he sat down, taking his shoes off. He sighed once, he sighed twice, and once he figured out the poor sighs wouldn't catch Raph's attention, he bounced on the bed slightly, deciding to go with a different tactic. He got up and fell smoothly on his desk chair, leaving the black notebook next to his 'Captain Dash Coolstar' action figure.

"Raph…," Mikey chirped in, leaning forward. No reply. "Raph -Raph? Raphie?"

"Oh, look who decided to show up!" Raph mused, not taking his eyes off the trampoline as he continued his routine. Mikey tapped his fingers on his desk and allowed himself to half-smile. "Were you worried?"

Raph snorted and crinkled his nose, as the football missed the trampoline and fell on the floor, "Nah, I knew you'd be back at some point… probably."

Mikey sighed- was it the third time? - and bit the inside of his mouth. Thick silence stretched across the room like overly sweet honey and Mikey decided he had to break it. "Eh, I don't think I can make the quiche tomorrow," he said, darting his eyes.

"S'fine," Raph pressed his lips into a thin line.

Mikey ran his fingers through his hair. How on earth was he supposed to have some quality time with his family, when he couldn't even talk properly to them? Not that Raph was someone you could easily chat with, but he at least had to try somehow.

Whatever thing was bothering Raph, that apparently Leo knew about, yet he didn't say a thing, had put Raph in a very, very bad mood, worse than his usual bad mood, Mikey thought and swore he could see the veins on Raph's neck throb.

Taking a deep breath, Mikey decided he had to take action. If Raph was in a better mood later, then maybe they'd all have a great dinner together like a normal family.

"So… Whatcha doin'?" he probed, resting his feet on his desk, careful not to throw on the floor his precious action figures that he had, oh, so gracefully and with effort, place.

"Isn't it obvious?" Raph mumbled as he stood up to get his football and tossed Mikey's school bag out of the way to Mikey's side.

"Um, yeah." Mikey grabbed his bag and opened it to take an orange paper notebook.

"Well, good!" Raph snapped as he fell on the bed and got back to his football-trampoline routine.

Someone wasn't being cooperative… At least Michelangelo tried to make some efforts. Mikey sighed as he opened the notebook, or as he called it 'the reminder'.

Mikey was always a forgetful child and that didn't go well with all the classes he had at school. That was when Donnie had advised him to have a notebook like this one, so he would write down all the projects his teachers assigned him. And it had worked!

Mikey found the page he had dog-eared and looked at his notes. He tried to ignore the capital "! TUESDAY MATHS TEST!" and took a look at his other projects, a power point for biology and an essay for Monday.

"Good…," he sighed, getting his biology book to search for some information about biodiversity to underline with his highlighter, when he remembered something, "Uh, why you're home? Wouldn't you be working at 'Flovers' to-"

"Left early," Raphael had answered before Mikey could even finish his questions and Mikey lifted his eyes from the book to look at Raph.

"Why?"

"Cause I didn't feel like it today, okay?" Raph said through his teeth, clenched his jaw.

" 'kay…," Mikey said quietly as he returned his eyes to the book's page, yet not his focus. Mikey was trying to connect the dots when a loud ringtone went off in the room.

"Who's calling?" Mikey titled his head to Raph with narrowing eyes.

"Case."

"Aren't you gonna answer him?"

When Michelangelo waited and didn't get an answer, his eyes glowed with the manic gleam someone would recognize from his childhood. Mikey talked with Raph less than he did with the others, even though they practically lived in the same room, but every now and again, he would remember to wonder if everything was really alright with the tough lug. He never let anything out, never let anyone in. What the heck had happened with Casey?

"Ah, did you two get in a fight?" Mikey asked, trying to look innocent and blatantly failing.

"None of your business!" Raph bellowed, pointing a finger at Mikey, brows furrowed. The sound continued for a minute until it stopped and Raph sighed. Mikey then, decided it was time to stop joke around and actually sit and talk with his brother.

He just wanted to have some family time, with, well, his family! And that couldn't happen with a broody Raphael.

"It is my business, Raph!" Mikey snapped, more loudly than he wanted, loudly enough to make Raph stare at him with wide eyes. "Did you tell Leo?"

"Leo doesn't need to know everything!" Okay, maybe this question wasn't exactly the best thing to ask. "Why do you care?" Raph said, almost sounding more tired than mad.

"Because we're brothers!" Mikey responded in a lighter note, giving Raph a small smile. "That's what we do; we care about each other!" he lifted his head, chest out, standing tall. Raph made a 'pfft' sound that Mikey took as acceptance and continued.

"Now, are you gonna tell Dr. Feelinstein what's going on?" Michelangelo asked, hunching his shoulders.

"Not when you call yourself that..," Raph raised one of his eyebrows, giving Mikey an amused look and Mikey smirked.

"Raaph, come one; don't be a cranky petunia…"

"Mikeyyy…"

"Hah, sorry," Mikey rolled his eyes and closed his biology book, using the highlighter as a bookmark. "So why did you and Casey fight?" Mikey crossed his arms.

"Cause…," Raph started, covering his face with his hands, "I thought we were on the same page and apparently, we weren't." he ended with a sigh.

"You and Casey?"

Those two were inseparable. Nothing could tear them apart. Their friendship was the kind of friendship Mikey dreamed to have with someone. Raph knew Casey for so long. How could a simple fight break them apart? What kind of fight could break them apart? Mikey knew he probably wasn't getting an answer.

"Yes," Raph answered and Mikey's eyes widened. Raph would usually answer an indifferent 'yeah', but an actual, serious 'yes'? Some major bueno stuff was going on. Mikey looked at Raph with confused eyes, waiting for him to continue. "I just thought he had... I-I don't know!" Raph stuttered and got up, sitting on the bed.

"Hmm...," Mikey stood up from his chair and kneeled down to find a drawer with some empty space to put his new, mysterious black notebook. "I have to check on Leo," he said, getting back up and chuckled, "We don't want him to burn the kitchen again."

"Uh-huh," Raph closed his eyes for a bit and opened them when Mikey spoke up again, "But, hey, Raph,"

Mikey rubbed his neck. He'd been there. He may had never had fights with his friends, but he knew how it felt to almost lose a friend; he had almost lost Woody when his stupid feelings had got in the way, and still did. He didn't know what had happened with Raph and Casey, but he was certain it wasn't enough to ruin what they had.

"-you two might not be on the same page, yet, but you're in the same book, at least, you know?" Mikey looked at him with pleading eyes, "just wait till Casey reaches your chapter; don't close the book so fast, dude" he smiled, standing at the doorway, "You two are best buds, you'll figure it out."

There was a moment of silence until Raph's gloomy face broke into a grin, "Since when did you become so smart?"

"Same time I became taller than you, Raphie-boy," Mikey said jokingly, crossing his arms, happy to see Raph snapping a friendly, far away from mean, "Now you're pushing it…," and then laughing. It felt like a hot bath after a cold weather; it felt good.

Mikey loved his brothers.

But before Mikey could say anything else, Raph's phone went off again, and Mikey looked at him with a tight-lipped smile, "Are you gonna answer that?"

"And say what?"

"I dunno," Mikey shrugged his shoulders, "Just be yourself. Say something nice."

"Which one? I can't do both."

Mikey laughed out loud like a hyena and made a turn to leave when he heard Raph, "And hey, Mikey?"

"Yep?" Mikey turned his head to look at him.

" 'Course I was worried, knucklehead!" Raph got up from the bed and Mikey plastered a huge 'Knew it!' grin on his lips. He finally closed the door and made sure to leave only when he heard Raph's muffled, "Hey, Case,"

Chapter Text

Mikey sighed happily as he took his ear from the wooden door, pushing back his glasses and wiping his forehead.

He leaned down and started picking up Raph's shoes. Might as well do something productive. Raph was truly one lazy kind of guy.

Lazy enough to not admit his feelings, Mikey thought with a cheeky glance and couldn't help himself but think the black notebook on his desk. He wondered for a second if that mysterious notebook did belong to Raph, but only for a second, as an amused expression split up his face.

Nah.

Mikey got up and admired his work, looking at the organized shoes on the self. Leo would be proud of him.

He darted his eyes back to his and Raph's room and hoped that his hotheaded brother would be fine and go out of his hermit hole for dinner. And as he tried to push the highly optimistic hope in his brain and soul, Mikey moved to the bathroom, ready to negotiate with his twin, workaholic brother.

He arrived at the bathroom, only to find it empty and completely messed up. Towels hanging everywhere, along with half-full lavender shampoo bottles and a crooked pair of plum-colored glasses.

Mikey would have probably named the glasses purple, but he knew better than that. Back when Donnie was thirteen, maybe, one of his, then, biggest experiments had accidentally completely destroyed his glasses. It wasn't that Donatello didn't have another pair hidden somewhere, the dude was always prepared, but that pair was old and metallic and ridiculous and Mikey, as a four-eyed kind of guy, could absolutely understand Donnie's despair when he wore them.

But that hadn't lasted for long, when Irma had come home three days later with a pair of the coolest rocking glasses Mikey had ever seen. Donnie had widened his eyes with surprise and happiness as Irma had smirked to him, "Use them with wisdom, big guy," and had almost jokingly beaten the crap out of Mikey when he had dared to use the color 'purple' to describe them, "It's called plum, strawberry cheeks…"

Mikey snatched the glasses with a smile, and moved to the door that led to Leo's and Donnie's room.

"Knock, knock," he sang, pretending to knock and opened the door when he heard the long-suffering 'come in'.

Mikey was greeted with towel-dressed Donnie holding another towel, probably for his hair, if Mikey had to guess, squinting his eyes, as he threw his hands in the air, "Finally, you're home!"

Mikey looked around the small room.

He always loved Leo and Donnie's room. While the room he shared with Raph was all wooden and almost looked like the whole space was diagonal, the room of their other brothers had a calm shade of mint, covering the walls, Donnie's bed, desk, bookshelves and closet taking up the whole space of the room.

At the corner of the room, a swirly ladder was leading to the attic, or for now, Leo's room.

Their apartment had two attics, one in this bedroom and one in the end of the hallway. Donnie had already taken up the ending hallway attic for an experimental lab.

"As long as you don't explode the place," Dad had said.

There had been a big fight on what was the other attic going to be, but in the end, Leo had decided back when he was twelve to move in, finally got bored of his bunk bed with Donnie. Mikey didn't really went up in there, hadn't gone up there since he was nine, maybe ten, even though he was always curious to see what was going on there now.

"Geez, guys," Mikey gushed, giving Donnie his glasses and sitting on his desk chair.

"Noo, 'geez guys', we-"

"Yeah, worried, blah, blah, I know," Mikey grabbed a book from Donatello's desk, to shake it for an indication of exaggeration, only to leave it back down when he read the title; Advanced Mathematics. Ugh… "I've heard it a bazillion times!"

"Wonder why…," Donnie sighed as he put on his glasses. He folded his towel in half, leaving it on the pillow of the bed and took his deodorant.

"Oh, you're feeling particularly sassy today," Mikey sniggered as he looked at the picture frames on Donnie's desk.

"It must be my new glasses prescription," he saw from the corner of his eye Donnie giving him the look and Mikey rolled his eyes.

"You think that disapproving glare works on me after all the times I've seen it, dude?" Mikey turned his eyes back on the frames, snickering when he saw the photo of this year's Halloween and he rubbed his thumb on the frame.

This year, at the usual Halloween party the school organized, Mikey thought everyone had amazingly rocking costumes. Donnie and April had dressed as Mario and Luigi and Mikey remembered how Raph had folded himself in half, trying to compress his laughter. Raphael hadn't had any costume himself, since he thought it was pretty stupid and childish, but Mikey didn't care, as he had enjoyed dressing up as a Donut, along with Woody.

Irma and Renet had chosen something like a Sushi Chef and Nigiri and Mikey had thought it was, at least adorable. The party had been absolutely amazing, cool music, fantastic decoration, and an actually very-well organized prank the seniors had pulled on them. Mikey had been so surprised to see that even his older brother had participated to the prank. "Karai said I basically had to do it or I'd regret it for a lifetime," was all his brother had to say with a toothy grin.

"And hey, don't have any plans for tomorrow, you know we have to study!" Donnie's annoying voice interrupted his voice and Mikey looked at him with pleading eyes. God, he really had to study. He screamed internally.

He rejected the idea to suggest Donnie take his place at the math test, a usual twin trick, since they all remembered what had happened that last time and accepted his fate with an exasperated sigh, "Yeah, I don't-ooh… wait," he stopped talking when he realized what exactly Donnie had told him.

"What?" he snapped.

"Renet has something cool for me at the store and-,"

"Don't worry, I'll tell Irma to grab it," Donnie said, "she's gonna drop by tomorrow, anyway, okay?"

"Fiiine," Mikey pressed his lips in a thin line, "I hate how you're always right."

"It's my best and most annoying trait," the boy flashed a gap-toothed grin like he was naively trying out for a toothpaste commercial.

Mikey chuckled and got up from Donnie's chair, when he heard something falling down and bend to grab it.

The car keys.

When Leo had become sixteen, for his birthday Dad had got him something to accompany his new driver's license, a car! (even though, now he had to share it with Raph; still, Leo was in charge of the keys) It was a black Prius, new and clean, with a spare, tools, blankets, pillows, clothes, extra sunglasses, extra chargers, and maps that Leo made sure to exist in the car, in case of an emergency.

Mikey giggled and was glad the usual 'no fast food, riders pay for gas, driver picks the music' rules didn't apply when Raph was driving the car. He placed the car keys on the desk again, almost tempted to leave them up in Leo's room and his eyes turned to Donnie.

"Coming for dinner?"

"No, I'll eat here," Donnie said, motioning with his one hand at the computer on his desk, as he searched in his drawer for some clothes, Mikey guessed, "I have to do a research on the pattern of prime numbers-,"

"Come on, D!" Mikey insisted, a confident smile covering his face, "Everyone's here dude. That happens like once every fifty years. You have to come. You can do primary numbers later…," he widened his eyes and waited for Donatello's answer.

"Mikey, it's prime numbers," Donnie said, and from the look on his face, Mikey realized he was going to start babbling in four, three, two… "They are considered the 'building blocks' of mathematics, because every number is either a prime or can be built by multiplying primes together. Their properties have baffled number theorists for centuries, but mathematicians have usually felt safe working on the assumption they could treat primes as if they occur randomly and-"

"Yeah, yeah, very fascinating," Mikey had to somehow chirp in to show that he was listening.

"Um, the adjective fascinating is non-gradable, so it may not require a qualifier. Consider removing-,"

"Got it, got it," he sighed, tapping his toes, "You can do that afterward, it's only like, eight o'clock, pleasee?" Mikey used 'the eyes', which he knew his brothers couldn't resist, rolling his tongue in his mouth, and casually stepped back and watched his work unfold before his eyes.

"Mikey, no…"

Gotcha, he thought.

"Mikey yes," Mikey nodded devilishly.

"Okay," Donnie said, pressing his lips in surrender, a little smile forming as he gave in, and Mikey had already decorated his victory I-get-what-I-want smile on his face as he approached the door, "But can I get dressed first?"

"Suure!" he smiled, opening the door and made a turn to leave, "I am just gonna- Dad!" he said, as his eyes fell on the tall figure that proudly stood before him and gulped.

"Michelangelo, you decided to join us, my son?" Mikey couldn't exactly make out his dad's tone. Whether it was sarcasm or slight irritation, or maybe both, he had to adopt his best 'sorry eyes' and try to explain. Taking a deep breath, chin up and chest out, he gave his father a sheepish, yet not far from confident smile, "Sorry, dad, I just lost track of time."

Yoshi titled his head, hands behind his back, the eyes above his black circles widened. "Did you not hear your cellphone?" he reflected.

Mikey covered his face with his hands and slumped his shoulders. This day was getting worse. It wasn't enough that he had the math test nagging him slightly in the back of his mind, he was also late, terribly late.

He felt horrible.

Now, he understood that maybe it wasn't his brothers' fault they never had dinner together. No, it was his fault. He never paid attention to what was happening around him, maybe the others didn't as well, but they, they had a path in their lives that they followed and he- he had missed so many opportunities by not looking around him for a second.

That would change.

From now and on, he would make sure to look at the others, really look. But, for now, he ought to make this dinner happen and it would definitely not happen if his father was mad at him.

He looked up to his father's unreadable expression and let out a sigh, "No, I don't know why," he said, rubbing his socks onto the carpet. "But, it's Friday, right? No school tomorrow. I had just gone to Murakami's and then at the park with Woody. Okay?"

Yoshi rubbed his chin with one hand and then put it in the pocket of his robe, looking at Mikey with kind eyes, "Perhaps you were okay."

Mikey's face broke into a huge smile. "Yep, totally, do not worry!"

Goal #1 Father not mad- Check

He ran his hand through his curls, feeling awkward about the thick silence that had covered the hallway. While his father wasn't mad, that didn't mean he would come for dinner. Mikey forced his eyes on his dad and took his face in, for all the wrinkles and black circles and tired angles.

Was his father eating, at all?

He would come for dinner and eat now, Mikey thought proudly. Mikey had promised he would take a second to see what was going on his family's lives, and if that meant saving his father for possible starvation, he would take it.

Mikey inhaled deeply and gave his father a smile, as he proceeded to babble his complete nonsense, until his father would agree, "Oh Murakami-san says hi! He has really missed you, you know? He said you haven't come to eat to him for months, and you do know how Murakami-san is with those kinds of stuff. You're gonna come for dinner, right? Everyone is home, literally everyone, I mean, when does that happen? You have to, if you don't, you're gonna-,"

His father rolled his eyes, nose crinkling and hunched his shoulders in relinquishment, "Okay, of course, I'll come, Michelangelo."

Mikey felt triumphed and made a turn to leave, when he remembered something and his eyes sparkled, "Aaaand… ," he drooled on, until he caught his father's attention and continued when he felt a pair of brown eyes on his back, and turned, "since yesterday, you were working till late, I burned your soap opera!"

Mikey pushed his glasses back and was relieved to see his father with a surprised and kind expression, "My son… thank you."

"I have to check on Leo to see how the food's going, we'll tell you to come when it's ready. You may proceed to your room," Mikey said playfully and was happy to see his father chuckle a little as he made his way into his bedroom.

"I appreciate it, Michelangelo."

Chapter Text

Mikey let out a breath he didn't know he was holding and went for the kitchen with happy steps. He arrived at the dining table and was full of surprised happiness to see from the corner of his eye in the kitchen, Leo above the pot with a wooden, big spoon and Raph, of all people, next to him, with a genuine smile and raised brows.

His plan had worked!

Raph looked actually happy, joking with Leo with nudges and playful glances, his broody mood lost. Mikey felt that his phone call with Casey had worked out pretty good. He couldn't help himself but smile as he got in the kitchen.

The smell of food reached his nose and he made a pleased sound.

"Hey guys!" he said, as he put his elbow on Raph's shoulder, giving him a cheeky glance and Raph snorted out a laugh.

"Hey, little man."

From the stove, Leo gave him a curious look as he stirred the pot with the spoon, his wrist a little bit red. "Weren't you going to put your pajamas on?"

"Say a hello first," Mikey joked as he rolled his eyes.

"Hello," Leo deadpanned. "Weren't you going to put your pajamas on?" he repeated his question again with a knowing look and Mikey felt Raph hunching his shoulder, letting out a 'pfft' sound.

Mikey bit his lip. He knew he had forgotten something. Well, no reason to whine about it now. He could take a bath and put on his pajamas later. It wasn't like he had gym class today to be all sweaty.

"I will," he groaned and sat on a chair at the kitchen table. "What are you doin'?" he asked.

"Helping Leo, who almost sEt US ON FIRE!" Raph cried, sitting on the table, literally, on the table and Leo widened his eyes, before getting back to his normal expression.

Mikey looked again at Leo's red wrist, realizing it was probably a burn.

"But I didn't," he said with a wink, knocking Raph with the wooden spoon to get him off the table and Mikey chuckled. It was nice to see his brothers getting along.

"Leo-," Raph rolled his eyes and Leo immediately turned, throwing his hands in the air.

"It was an accident," he exclaimed.

"Accidents don't just happen by accident," Mikey chimed in, trying to get in the conversation and was weirded out to see his brothers giving him amused looks. He played his words in his mind again and tried to resist the desire to slap his face with his hands as the realization hit him.

"You know what I mean."

Raph punched playfully his shoulder as he gave Leo a kitchen towel, probably to clean the moist around the counter.

"So, you're just helping him, where are the other six?" Mikey asked, rolling his tongue in his mouth as he got ready to fire out his incredibly imaginative joke.

"What other six?" Raph narrowed his eyes.

"I mean," he started, rubbing his feet on the floor, "does Snow White know you're here?"

The room burst into laughter.

"Are you calling me a dwarf?!" Raph asked, obviously irritated and Mikey threw his head back, "Yep!"

He always enjoyed getting his hothead brother annoyed. It was the few times that he actually felt that he was doing something right. As long as he didn't take it too far. He knew his brother's limits.

"Leo!" Raph shouted, and Mikey laughed even harder at the childish tone of Raph's voice that made him sound like he was a toddler.

"Don't 'Leo' me," Leo said, inhaling to shake off the laughter from his body and Raph pouted.

The laughter withdrew, and as much as Raphael wanted to show that he was angry, there was that playful gleam in his eyes that made Mikey understand he wasn't that mad. He looked in his eyes and Raph looked back.

"You seem in a good mood, though," he said, smiling. "Everything worked out?" he asked knowingly.

"Y-yeah, um, it did," Raph said, rubbing the back of his neck, the silent 'thank you' floating lightly in his tone.

"What?" Leonardo asked, even though his smile showed that he definitely knew what was up and Mikey shook his head.

Dang it, mother-hen Leo.

"Nothing, mind your ramen before you create an explosion," Raph gave him a dismissive hand and Mikey titled his head, wondering how Raphael couldn't understand Leo's obvious lying.

"You know," he said, shaking off the liquid from the spoon as he lowered the temperature, "you're not pleasant when you're like this, Raph."

"I'm always like this."

"My point exactly," Leonardo sighed and Mikey had to again resist the urge to slap his face with his hand.

"How long are you gonna be mad at me?" Raph drooled on, raising his eyebrow and Leo pressed his lips into a thin line. "Ten minutes."

Mikey snorted, before his brow furrowed in curiosity. "Speaking of minutes, how come you came home so early?"

"The shelter was closed."

Ah, Mikey thought, but Leo's strange look made him realize that wasn't the whole truth and an evil smile was formed on his face. He cleared his throat, starting his babbling nonsense for one more time again this day. "But then, how you didn't come home immediately? And you texted me you were done with Karai-,"

"Well, yeah," Leo started taking plates out of the cupboard, wincing as his voice cracked, "Karai and I hung out to get some tea-"

"Oooohhh…," Raph gave Mikey a nudge with his elbow, "you were having fun with your girlfriend…"

Leo glanced to the side at his brother with a 'not in the mood' type of expression as he looked back at the plates, cleaning them with a towel and said, trying to sound like the mature one in this situation, "She's not-,"

"Not as in taking it slow? Or not as in you don't have the guts to tell some chick that you want to get serious? And here, I thought you were braver than that, older brother." Raph persisted with a snide smirk.

Mikey didn't know what was really going on with his brother and the gothic girl.

They were friends, for sure, even though they fought pretty much all the time, as Mikey had taken a look at the very heated debates they had in Mrs. Baker's class. But, except that, Mikey had no idea what else was going on.

Not that he hadn't tried to learn.

More than one time, Mikey had tried to find out more by snooping Leo's phone to check his texts with Karai. And after all the time he had used to find out Leo's password (which was 'Space Heroes' by the way, how he hadn't thought of that in the first place), he had felt like disappointment had slapped him on the face when he realized that Leo and Karai texted in… Japanese.

Mikey had no idea what the letters and words meant and all his hard work had come to nothing.

Maybe he had to have taken Dad's suggestion back at thirteen and had chosen Japanese for his second language at school. Well, too late now, he guessed.

"Hah, look who's talking…," Leo gave Raph a look and Raphael crossed his arms, eyes wide.

"What? Shutting up?" Leonardo made a proud face, as he started getting the forks and spoons out of the drawer.

"Yeah...," Raph sighed.

Mikey shook his head in amusement as he stood back up, going back to his room to change with a happy expression on his face.

Things were going well.


After freshening up, hot water soothing some of his worries, he went back to the kitchen to help set the table as Leo started serving the ramen. Once everyone was seated, they started eating and licking plates like hungry animals (mostly Raphael) or not eating that much, kind of staring the plate (mostly Yoshi). Mikey wished his dad would eat more.

Sure, Leo wasn't the best cook, but not eating wasn't a good. What was troubling their minds?

He tried to get in the conversation, forcing himself to listen to what his brothers were talking and not just staring their lips moving in awkwardness. He realized that Donnie and Raph were the ones doing most of the talking (no surprise there), as Leo remained mainly silent, only butting in the discussion a few times and Dad hadn't talked, literally at all, since the dinner had begun.

Talk about awkward.

"- and then, as we were studying the fish mold, Irma-," Donnie was talking, trembling with anticipation, until Raph interrupted him with a mouth full of annoyance and ramen.

"Why would you study mold?" he spatted out the words, before cleaning his mouth with a napkin.

"Were you even listening to me, Raph? Ah, also, it isn't nice to talk with your mouth full."

"I don't listen to your rants about your nerd club. Ah, also, you're a dork. "

"Raphael, show some respect!" Yoshi spoke for the first time since the dinner had started, his voice steady and firm.

"Hai," Raph sighed out, taking another spoon of ramen, and then looked at Donnie with a smirk "really, though, Don-boi, you should really do something between you and Irma."

"You know it's not like that," Donnie rolled his eyes, taking a sip of his water and Mikey lowered his head down.

Maybe it wasn't like that, but it could have definitely been like that. Mikey knew that for sure.

Raph (and Leo and Dad) may not knew, but Donnie had actually tried to create something between him and Irma. Not that Irma hadn't been cooperative back then.

Mikey had known from the second Donnie had walked into the apartment that he and Irma had kissed.

Maybe he wasn't a mind-reader like Leo and Dad, but if someone knew Donnie better than anyone, that was his twin. Don and Irma had known each other forever and trusted each other more than anyone and a lot of people actually just had that thought and kind of weird hope in the back of their minds that Irma and Donatello would date eventually.

And Donnie had admitted to Mikey that there was a time where both he and Irma had thought about it. When people usually tease some others about being a couple, at some point, the idea starts to get into your own head, too.

They were twelve and curious. But, really, logically on the outside, it seemed like something that could have worked.

They were best friends and they always got along really well, so why shouldn't they try to see if they had those kinds of feelings for each other?

Mikey had thought that Donnie had come home, finally with a girlfriend. But when, except from the blush on his face, he saw a little bit of disappointment, he realized that hadn't happened. As Donnie had said, once they kissed… there was nothing. It wasn't mentally scarring and horrible or anything, but both of them had the mutual feeling that their chemistry wasn't supposed to be like that.

"You sure about it?" Mikey had asked back then and Donnie had given him a small smile and had shrugged his shoulders.

"Let's just say both of us might as well have been kissing a wall and that we both pledged that the only way we would ever even consider it is if we were the last man and woman on earth and the human race depended on us seeing each other that way… and maybe not even then. Irma sees me like her second brother and I see her as like my only sister and that's it."

It wasn't meant to be. The chemistry just wasn't there. And Mikey had respected their decision, even if he had been kind of disappointed back then.

Mikey stopped his train of thought and smiled to himself as he snorted out a laugh, trying to inject humor into the situation as he was still processing everything.

"If you say so," Raph snorted.

"So, does fish mold really stink?" Mikey asked, trying to get the conversation off of Donnie, glad to see Donnie's eyes giving him a slight 'thank you'.

"Well, yeah-,"

"Can we not talk about fish mold while we're eating?" Leo spoke up, licking his lips.

"I would appreciate that, as well," Dad's quiet tone was, amused or angry? Mikey couldn't tell exactly.

"Ohkayyy…," he drooled on, "So, how's your debate team going?" Mikey asked, remembering the mental note he had written on his mind to ask Leo.

"Good…"

"Hard theme this week?"

"Absolutely. And since I didn't get to do the work at the shelter today, I have to go on Thursday. But hey, at least, we are doing something really interesting!" Mikey couldn't help but smile at the look of anticipation that his eldest brother had put on, an ample grin on his face, his blue eyes shimmering with excitement.

What a dork.

Leo rarely acted like the teen he was. Mikey always cherished the moments his brother would let down his mature façade and the juvenile look would cover his face. So, he probed, playing along with his anticipation, "What is it?"

Leonardo inhaled deeply getting ready for the big reveal, "We are going to help turtles hatch eggs!"

"Wow." Mikey definitely didn't expect that. Not that he wasn't a fan of turtles, he just hadn't really seen them from up close, laying eggs or not.

"But, I don't know if we are able for this thing," he continued on, "We could really use another set of hands-," And that was when the idea struck Mikey. If he was a cartoon, a lighting bulb would have definitely appeared above his head.

His list! He certainly remembered a 'Help the world' step on his list. That would be an awesome sauce way to check it off. And then, he'd have two things out of his list. (if the family quality time worked out well) "I'll do it!" he exclaimed.

"Really?"

"Yeah," Mikey straightened his back, giving Leo a confident smile.

"But, it sounds stupid," Raph said with a full mouth.

"Sorry for trying to help the world…," Leonardo rolled his eyes and Mikey raised his eyebrow because of Leo's words. It was like he had read his mind.

Or maybe the mysterious notebook was Leo's, Mikey's subconscious echoed in his head, but Mikey answered himself with an amused quick, 'There's no way.'

"Well, brothers don't let brothers do stupid stuff alone," Mikey retorted, giving Raph a toothy grin and then looked to Yoshi, "What do you say, dad?"

"I think it would be a good way to get your mind out of your school worries," he said with the faintest of smiles, his expression otherwise unreadable.

"Cool! Okay?" Mikey said, as his mouth spread into a grin, looking at Leo with pleading eyes.

"Okay," he gave in and Mikey made a fist pump in the air, "I'll tell Alopex, and if she agrees, then-,"

"Great!" Mikey sang, wiping himself with his flowery-decorated napkin. It had been a present from Casey's mom.

Last year, on Thanksgiving, all the Hamatos had celebrated the holiday (and the one week off school, duh,) along with Casey's family, that included, of course, his mom, April, and her dad. It had been a blast. Mikey loved it when people got together to celebrate and have fun.

He wondered for a second what would they do for this Thanksgiving, that was coming up in sixteen days (not that Mikey was counting or anything). Mikey hoped he would have the chance to cook something. (and was excited to get the week off school, duh, again).

There was a short pause of barely a few seconds, but to Mikey, it felt like an entire period of Geometry.

"So, um, Leo," Donnie said and Mikey smiled, happy to see his brother trying to talk with his family, (and that's why he's my twin) "have you thought about what you want to study in college? I mean, senior year has started already and-,"

Ah, yes. College. It was only like number one-hundred on the long list of things that should worry him right now. He had enough on his mind already.

"Uh...," Leo said drily, apparently not looking forward to a discussion on that exact matter, but he never got to finish his sentence as Yoshi interrupted him and Mikey looked at him with wide eyes as he said firmly,

"Leonardo doesn't need to go to college, Donatello. He has a business already set up here."

"Yeah," The obviously, irritated groan had tumbled out of Leo's mouth before he could stop himself, and Mikey saw his father giving Leo a measured look, the food on both of their plates forgotten.

What had the heck just happened?

Leonardo and Yoshi rarely fought, or argued, almost never. Right? So, what was that tense moment back there?

Mikey was lost for some minutes and didn't realize that the discussion had moved on, until he heard the annoying tone in Raph's voice as he spoke.

"Like, just because Shini has problems with her family, that doesn't mean she can stick gum to my HAIR and then Beckman doesn't even say a thing-," Raph was complaining.

"Mr. Stockman. He's our teacher; I think you should pronounce his surname correctly," Donnie said, as a matter of fact, chest out.

"See this?" Raph motioned to his face. "That's my 'I don't care' face," he said and took another full spoon.

"That's your normal face," Donatello retorted, only to have Raph give him a crooked smirk, "Hughh…," he made out a barely human noise.

"Can't I just shoot him?" Donnie leaned to Mikey, whispering, trying to bit back a groan.

"Not in public," Mikey whispered back playfully, in an almost sing-song voice, hiding well, hopefully, the awkward shift he felt between all of them, ramen sitting like a rock in his stomach.

The dinner continued more quietly, chewing, the only noise echoing in the kitchen and Mikey bit the inside of his mouth as he looked at Yoshi's unreadable expression, Donnie's rolled eyes, Raph's crinkled nose, and Leo's pressed lips, thinking about how much of a disaster this dinner had become.

The first thing on the list and he had already screwed up, hadn't he?


Hours later, almost twelve o'clock, Dad had gone in his room and so had Raphael. Mikey had finished writing his essay for Monday at the dining table, since apparently, the light from his desk lamp back in his room was bothering Raph because he was trying to get some sleep. (and cause the light attracted insects but anyway…)

Mikey closed his books and left them on the table. Either way, he would have to study tomorrow here. He made a long-suffering sigh and started going to his room, leaving Leo alone to watch TV in the living room, not wanting to bother him.

Everyone knew you shouldn't bother Leonardo while he was watching 'Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone' for the millionth time. Dork.

He was about to open the door of his room, until he heard noise in the attic in the hallway.

I guess somebody isn't sleeping and is working in his lab…

"Donnie?" he called, slipping into his lab.

"Yes?" Donatello appeared with a tired yet excited expression, dressed in his pajamas, yet different kinds of mechanical stuff were in his hands and on the metallic table.

Mikey looked around at the space, which looked like almost some kind of freakishly futuristic place, and was that smoke?

"Hey, want to see what I'm working on right now?" Donatello asked, and Mikey looked at him with surprise.

"What is it?" he asked curiously, yet happy his brother trusted him with his invention.

"Just come with me," Don kept glancing back and smiling as he took out a carrying case and set it on the table. He sat Mikey down on a stool next to the large and wide table, as he smiled and said, "Just hold still."

Mikey gave Donnie a weary look. Not that he didn't completely trust his twin, but as he just felt him stick something to the back of his neck with short wires coming off it, he had no idea what's going on.

"Nothing's going to electrocute me, is it?" he asked jokingly, just making sure Donatello wasn't using him for some neurological experiment like he was some rat he had found in the sewers.

He gave Mikey a knowing look before letting out a short laugh as he replied, "Mike, c'mon. When have I ever steered you wrong with my inventions?" Michelangelo crossed his arms and gave him a knowing look as he raised an eyebrow.

"Okay, don't answer that." Donatello immediately defended, pointing a finger at him and they both laughed, before Donnie shushed him.

"Shh. It's late."

"But seriously what is this?" Mikey asked after he stopped laughing.

Donnie lifted a finger as if to motion for him to wait as he lifted something out. "I give you the Automated Reinforcement Mediary or A.R.M," he said as he pulled out this crazy looking device that Mikey now saw resembled a metallic arm.

"A.R.M as in arm?" he asked for clarification with an amused smirk as he studied it.

"Yep, just see how it works. Just let me set up the interface here," he said and then flipped a switch on this small box.

"Okay, now, just look at the A.R.M and I want you to think about curling your fingers like you were making a fist. Got it?" he instructed with a voice of a teacher who was dealing with an impatient student.

Mikey gave him a weird look and he just kept urging him to do it. "Okay… fine..," he gave in, doing what he said.

He stared at the arm and thought about what he said and…

No way.

Mikey watched as the fingers on the robotic arm curled inward as smoothly as the real thing. Holy chalupa!

"D, this is incredible! How…" he whispered in shock, breathlessly, completely amazed.

"April and I came up with the idea," he started, a proudly sheepish smile covering his face, "You see, we used this new fiber optic, wireless neural interface sensor at the inventing club the other day, which is able to pick up signals in the neurons of the brainstem and transfer those signals to the motor units in the arm."

Mikey bit his lip and Donnie gave him a small smile.

"In other words," he said after a minute with an ear to ear grin, tilting his head, as if he was thinking about something, "someone born without or who lost an arm in an accident can now be equipped with an A.R.M and have their style of living virtually unaltered. Fascinating, right?" he gave Mikey a toothy grin, looking totally proud of his work.

Michelangelo just smiled at him. He had known Donnie for 15 years, and yet, he still never ceased to amaze him with his mind. "Donnie, this is fascinating. Have you any idea how many people you could help? This deserves, like, I dunno, an Oscar!"

Donnie smiled brightly at his brother's comment, "Nobel prize, I hope you mean."

"Yes, that!"

"I have to go to sleep, but promise me you will go to bed too?" Mikey said after a minute.

Donatello tapped his heart and gave Mikey a cheeky smile, "I promise, do not worry."

Mikey made the way to leave when he heard his brother's quieter than before voice, "Mikey?"

Mikey turned and looked into his brown eyes, as his twin said, "Thank you… for the dinner. For urging me to eat with all of you. We don't do that very often and… it was nice," he licked his lips, "I really enjoyed it. And the other did too. You know how those two are with feelings. It feels good to have some family time every now and then."

Mikey gave Donnie a grateful smile, before going to his room, as his eyes widened, and he finally felt sure to check off the number one on his list.

He fell on his bed with a silent flop, careful not to wake up the Yeti named Raphael. He was in a need of a good few hours of sleep before he could function properly and see anyone and a 'Have sweet dreams' text from Woody sent him to sleep with a smile spread on his face.

Chapter Text

Mikey could tell it was morning both by the light through the window and the low discomfort in his bladder. Groggily, he kicked off the bundle of sheets tangled around his legs and swung his legs over the side of the bed and felt around for his glasses on his nightstand, since he had learned a hard, literally hard lesson when he was twelve and decided to make the best decision ever and tried to walk to the bathroom without his glasses on, in the dark, when he got up from the bed.

As anyone could guess, it didn't end really well since Mikey's vision is not exactly great without his glasses, plus his genetic clumsiness, and he ended up tripping (thanks a lot, Raph's shoes) and falling face first into a wall and broke his nose.

It was before he had a more, stylish frame for his glasses and he hated wearing them because he thought they were completely hideous.

And trust him, they definitely were.

Then, on top of that, he had gone to school and some of the other kids were laughing at him for being the boy with his nose covered in tap and the fact he wore the dorkiest and probably most hideous glasses ever to begin with, also didn't help him much out.

Thankfully, he had three brothers to help him with any kind of bullying problems. Perks of being the youngest per se.

Thank God, Dad had got him a new pair of glasses for his birthday that year.

But, he learned his lesson and now, never gets up and walk anywhere without them on, at least by himself.

He was certain that any person with glasses, and that included his twin brother and Irma (April was a traitor for having contacts) could relate to that.

He scooted for the bathroom through the hallway, noticing that all the room doors were wide open, and a wave of distress slapped him in the face when he found the door was locked from the inside.

"Who's in there?" he cried, knocking on the wooden surface.

"Me, get lost!" said Raph's voice, the annoying tone obvious in his words.

Mikey shook his head, pushing his glasses back on, and let out a sigh.

It was Saturday and he knew very well what that meant. Math. Who was that unfortunate soul that had created that subject which kept torturing students and students all over the world through the years?

He was probably someone very bored that had decided to develop a whole new level of difficulty just to keep himself busy, Mikey thought with rolled eyes, walking towards the living room.

Though, without those hardships of life, his routine would be truly boring. What would he do all day if he hadn't something like Math to fight for?

Whoa, it was too early in the morning for him to have philosophical and rhetorical questions in his mind.

He arrived at the living room, turning his head to see Donnie sitting at the wooden dining table with a cup of coffee in his hand. Or was it a whole coffee decanter? Mikey widened his eyes, mouthing hanging open. He could easily guess who wasn't going to sleep again this night.

He swallowed hard. Maybe he also needed a cup of coffee. How was he going to get through a day full of Math and a cheery April? The house owned one of the best coffee makers in all America, probably the whole world, entirely purchased for Donatello. Behmor Brazen Plus, almost 200$. They ought to use it. It wouldn't hurt to drink a bit himself, right? Besides, he had done it again.

Heading towards the lanky figure of Donnie, he put on one of his best plastic smiles, straightening up his pajama top, "Morning!"

"Good morning," soft brown eyes looked up to him, "it's ten o'clock and you're up? I am pleasantly surprised," Donnie said jokingly, taking a sip of his coffee.

"And I am pleasantly sleepy," Mikey deadpanned and Donnie snorted, fixing some papers he had laid on the table that Mikey could guess were probably geometry problems, if the oh, so gracious shapes were any indication.

Donnie, though, looked in a good mood, so Mikey bit his lip as the question on his tongue made an appearance along with pleading eyes, "Can I get some of your coffee? Pretty please?"

"Coffee? For you?" Mikey felt the sentence wasn't a question, but a flat-out negative answer already. So, he wasn't surprised to hear the following statement, "I don't know Mikey," Donnie said, narrowing his eyes.

"So I can be ready for our study session with April at twelve…," Mikey said, running a hand through his hair and giving Donnie a promising smile he knew his brother wouldn't be able to resist. "I can't get the answers with a sleepy head," he said with his best defensive voice, crossing his arms.

"Fine," Donatello finally gave in and Mikey tried not to go over the roof.

Who was a deceptive ninja?

"But just a little bit," he said warningly, "And eat some croissants too!" he added with his best 'mama-Don-Don' voice and Mikey couldn't resist the urge to roll his eyes.

"Bien sûr Donnieeh!" he yelled in a sing-song tone with his tremendously great French accent, heading to the kitchen.

Those French lessons at school were finally really paying off.

He got to the kitchen with happy steps and almost jumped, not expecting his father to be here, sitting at the table, sipping his cup of tea and looking stone-faced as he was reading what looked like his usual paperwork.

Mikey reached for a cupboard, getting ready to make his coffee, still sending some careful looks to his father. He looked… Mikey did not know how to describe the look on his face.

A somewhat expression between a tired teacher who was sick of his students' shit but was paid to listen to them and a koala bear munching bamboo sticks? Yeah, something like that.

Mikey proceed with his task to make some long black coffee. 'Lots of water and then espresso', he remembered from his coffee lectures with Woody. Having a friend whose mother owned a coffee shop really made you the ultimate coffee master.

"Coffeelord~", he thought as he giggled pretty soundly and was surprised to see his father hum lightly. Giving the coffee maker one last look to make sure everything was going okay, he walked up to the table in slow but sure strides and sat down with him and asked, trying to work his way to a topic, "What are you looking at, dad?"

"Just the bookings for the payments from the students. Everything seems paid so far," he answered matter of factly, the same look from before on his face.

Mikey, noticing the emptiness in his father's cup, poured another a cup of tea from the kettle resting on the hot pad in front of them as he said casually, really trying to open a conversation "That's good, right? It's nice to know things are still going smoothly with the dojo."

Yes, he had already checked off the 'family time' from the list and was steadily going for the next goal. But that didn't mean he was going to stop trying. His father looked beyond tense yesterday and even more today and he hoped he could get some answers.

But Yoshi just nodded a little as he just agreed, still reading the spreadsheet, "Yes, it is." and caused Mikey to sigh.

He got up, giving up on his father's matter. For now, at least. He got to the coffee maker and saw there was still some time before his coffee was ready.

He looked over to see if his dad was still in the same place when he looked at something on the counter table that caught his interest. It was the local sports section. Usually, he never read anything in the paper because he didn't really care about sports or anything like that, but he saw an article about something he actually did like. Well, not completely, but it was still relevant to the Hamato family.

It was a section dedicated to the martial arts trials that began two weeks ago and ended yesterday. Mikey read through the articles just to see what the results were. He had always been a snoop.

He kept skimming through when he got to the largest of the three articles. It still didn't have a picture like the other two, but Mikey didn't need one, since A) the title was in very large bold print and B) he already knew the name either way:


Oruku Sweeps Competition with a Hat Trick

Last week in an intensely competitive bout, Oruku dojo's Karai Oruku, 17, defeats Lee dojo's Scarlett Robinson, 17, to achieve her third consecutive championship title, making it a hat-trick, in the female bracket of the New York Junior Martial Arts Trials. After her victory, Oruku said she hopes to have someone carry her streak into the adult bracket since she won't be competing for next year…


Mikey took his finally ready cup of coffee, widening his eyes as he read the last part of the article. How come Karai wasn't going to compete? Well, he was going to ask Leo later, but; Karai? Not competing? What kind of parallel universe was that?

Probably the same where he was drinking coffee, he thought with a snort and went out of the kitchen, carefully leaving the newspaper on the table, not wanting to bother his dad.

"Hey-Raph!" Mikey crinkled his nose as he was greeted with the sight of his second oldest brother next to Donnie, hair all wet and a towel wrapped around his waist, as he held a croissant in his hand.

"Done with your shower finally?" Mikey asked as he got a chair to sit next to his twin, taking a sip of his coffee, cursing lightly under his breath, as the warmth of the coffee fogged his glasses.

"I need to be fresh!" Raph said, mouthful, rubbing his hand on the towel.

"To be fresh so you can go back to your hermit hole again?" Mikey gave Raphael a joking look, but the question deep down was genuinely honest.

"Do you want that Geometry book on your head?" He threatened him, but Mikey could recognize the tenderness in his tone and answered with turning lips.

"More like in my brain. Leo? Still asleep?

"It's Saturday," Donnie said beside him, and Mikey furrowed his brow. "He has the nine, eleven, twelve and one classes at the dojo," he continued until it finally came to Mikey.

"Right! Yes!" he exclaimed, more to himself than the others. "How could I forget that?"

"It's the coffee." Raph said without missing a beat, motioning with his head at the cup of coffee in Mikey's hand.

"Neh!"

"Neh!"

"April says she'll be here, in like, half an hour," Donnie said after a minute, checking his phone on the table and turned his head to Mikey, looking at him with a very, very excited look. "We are going to have so much fun with Math!"

"Yeah, you're just living the dream!" Raph sneered.

"Speaking of dreams," Mikey started with a big smile, "I had the weirdest dream last night. It was insane, dudes. I had brown hair."

"You have brown hair."

"No, this was browner. Much browner. Like using all the brown that was left. I'm not talking about brown. I'm talking about brown."

Mikey looked around the confused stares of his brothers, till Raph with spoke close-lipped smile that made Mike snort, "And that's why you should be banned from drinking coffee."

As Raph left, probably crawling in the pit their room was, not standing the light of day. Mikey looked at the papers and books on the table.

It was such a beautiful day and the last thing he wanted to do was to spend it trying to solve impossible problems.

'They are not impossible', Donnie would say, or Raph, or Leo, or Irma, or April, or anyone, but they just didn't understand it. They wouldn't understand, ever.

He just couldn't solve them. Did he know why? No. He guessed it was probably because of his stupidity, but that wasn't something he wanted to say out loud. No matter how much he'd try, in the end, he would end up with a nice, curving, red F and an urge to crawl under his puffy blanket and stay there for the rest of the week, or month.

He couldn't possibly understand how it made sense to everyone but him. To him, they looked like Arabic and sounded like Russian. What was the point of trying for the millionth time, if he would again disappoint himself, his family and teacher?

He groaned internally and nudged Donnie with his elbow. He turned with a curious expression on his face.

"Do we really have to do Math?" he asked, not even daring to leave a single tear pass through his eyes, but Donnie answered immediately, not even looking up this time from his books on the table, "Yes, except if you have any other trick to pass that test."

Mikey snorted and wiped his thankfully still dry eyes, just to be sure, behind his glasses. His brother could really lift his spirits up no matter what.

"What if we-?"

"Nah, won't work," Donnie murmured with a hint of humor in his voice and Mikey couldn't help but grin.

"Well, how about-,"

"We'd be dead by noon."

"Okay, but-,"

"And where would we get the puppy?"

"Well, Leo works at an animal shelter and will YOU FREAKING STOP READING MY MIND?" Mikey shouted, exaggerating just to add to the dramatic element in the situation and was glad to see his brother chuckle.

"I know you well, little brother," Donnie rested a hand on Mikey's arm with gentle eyes and a silent 'do not worry' floating around them. So, Mikey didn't. Wouldn't worry a bit.


Oh, lord, did he want to worry.

April had arrived earlier, fiery red hair and big eyes, looking so soft in her purple sweater and matching socks, as Mikey had seen after she had taken off her black boots.

She had been holding the yummiest cinnamon pretzels, but before Mikey could get one, or two, or- okay, definitely more than five- Donnie had immediately sat them on the couch holding a bunch of papers and a smile that Mikey could swear almost looked evil-scientisty as he had started babbling.

"Okay, let's start. Find the dimensions of the rectangle that has a length 3 meters more than its width and a perimeter equal in value to its area."

"Hmm..." April hummed and shared a worrying look with Mikey.

"God, this is going to take a while…," the last couldn't help but exclaim as he took a pen in his grip. And white-out. Lots of it.

"Μη είναι βασιλικήν ατραπόν επί γεωμετρίαν," Donnie said proudly, chest out, looking smug in front April and Mikey's confused as hell faces.

"Wha?"

"It's an Ancient Greek saying. It means there's no easy way to learn Geometry," he said as a matter of fact, and Mikey guessed that it was a Greek man that had created that suffering subject after all.

"Math genius and a philosopher?" April asked, waggling her eyebrows as she nudged him.

"I am full of surprises," Donnie gave her the most stupidly (in love) smile Mikey had ever seen and wondered to himself when he had jumped into a sappy, romantic comedy. Not that there was anything wrong with them, as far as Mikey was concerned.

"Can we stay at Geometry for now?"

"Absolutely," Donatello declared with strong, unblinking, focused eye contact, "Lucky for you, I have twenty problems for each of you."

"Yay!" April's voice cracked and Mikey winced.

"Lucky us!"

No point being pessimistic. He was going to do this.

He could do this.


He could not do this.

"Well?" Mikey asked nervously, as Donnie checked his last problem.

"It's…. wrong," Donnie looked up to his eyes with a sympathetic expression, like he was looking at an idiot.

Idiot. Idiot. Idiot.

"Ughh...," he grumbled, burying his face in his hands. "Again?" He could not face his brother's expression. He worked, and he worked, and he worked, and in the end, he still was as much of a failure as before. His brothers were talented and everything he ought to be, and he-he could make a sandwich. And that was it.

Hell, his twin brother was a freaking genius everyone admired, yet Mikey was none of it. Why wasn't he? Why was the world so cruel and ruthless? Were all those harsh things happening to him because of some mistake his past lives had made? Or was it Karma? Or was he truly just that stupid?

And again, why wasn't he smart like Donnie?

And no, he wasn't being jealous or anything. Just wondering. Yeah. Just that.

"Hey, it's totally fine," April soothed, patting his hair like he was some sort of a pet cat or something.

"Yeah," Donnie agreed, "you have, like, a 73%! That's a C. That's passing!"

That made Mikey turn his head back up, to meet Donnie with a genuine, surprised smile.

"For reals?" he asked, his smile spreading and taking up his whole face and Donatello nodded in an 'indeed' British like motion. "Yep!"

"See?" April rocked him from behind, but Mikey was too lost to answer anything as his mouth hung open.

YES!

He had worked and he had succeeded and that deserved his biggest celebrations. Félicitations, Madame Aurélie would have said to him and Mikey, this time wouldn't have made fun of her all American-French pageant accent.

"Woohoo!" he yelled, head tilted back.

"Buuuut!"

"Boohoo…" He knew there was a trap!

"Because I know you can do better, tomorrow, I want us to study the problems you got wrong, okay?" Donnie gushed with the ultimate brotherly affection and Mikey stared at the pile of papers, messed up on the glass table.

"Eeeh…"

"It makes sense, Mikey," April played with his curls, a curling lip formed on her face, and Mikey tried to send her a 'You're not helping' message.

If only April could read minds.

"You had some mistakes," Donnie said, as it was the obvious, which it was, but that didn't stop Mikey from taking his best pleading look as he sniggered.

"Let's not call them mistakes…"

"Yeah, let's just call them happy, little accidents."

Mikey, and well, both Donnie and April turned their heads to see a dressed-up, all in black Raphael watching them with raised brows.

"Binge watching Bob Ross again, Raphie?" Mikey teased and Raph rolled warmly his eyes, as he searched the front drawer for his keys, probably.

"Ha.. ha.. ha.."

Raphael may was laughing but Mikey had really seen him one time or another check some drawing videos online, which made sense because Raph's sketches were off the charts!

"Happy to see you Raph," April smiled teasingly, raising her brow as Raph just snorted as he snatched the colorful keys that always made Mikey aww. "Me too, Ape."

To anybody else, the keys possibly seemed like something not worth their attention, but they had its sentimental value. At least for Raph, Mikey hoped so, always a total sap.

It had been back when Leo and Raph had had that one big fight that had made their house a minefield, wrecked and cracked.

Raph had been hanging out with some gang, the Purple Dragons, and Mikey did not know the exact details, because obviously nobody told him shit, but one night, when their father was abroad to liquidate some cases back in Japan, Raph had returned home with a black eye and a sour expression, along with a small purple dragon tattooed on his arm. Mikey wished he had been able to eavesdrop earlier to hear the full conversation, but Donnie had got him out of the way.

Thankfully, he was able to listen to the start that showed crystal clear that things were going to become nasty.

"I can take care of myself!" Raph had spitted, poison green eyes, in his most defensive voice, but Leo's tone was awfully cold.

"But you won't, will you?" His frustration had turned into something ugly and overwhelming, "because, ever since, you rush into things without even a care whether or not you live or die. But some of us, no matter if they're here or not," and Mikey just knew Leo was referring to their mother, which was just a low blow"they-we do care, Raphael!"

Father had returned the next morning and hell had been raised. For the next days, things were so direfully quiet, like the pitch black of a swamp. But, the light finally came in, (although Mikey never realized when they had made up either way or how Dad was not mad anymore) when Leo had given Raphael that colorful pair of keys with the 'Jigou Jitoku 自業自得' graved on them, that probably was some sort of symbolism for freedom and liberty to do something, or so Mikey had understood with his poor logic and with an apologizing smile, Leo had said something along the lines, "You're important, too."

And while Mikey hadn't understood, Raph seemed to have.

"You're leaving?" Donnie nagged with the same Momanardo worriedness in his voice and Raphael threw him a wink as he got a cinnamon pretzel, that, oh my god, Mikey had forgotten to try, goddammit!

"Yeah, I got some work to do, Don-boi."

"Did you at least do your homework all that time you were in your room?"

"Nope."

"You disappoint me," Donnie pressed lips together into a thin line as April let a hand on his shoulder.

"Don't expect me to lose any sleep over it," Raph said, walking briskly and making firm, precise movements towards the stand and took his-

"Aahh…," Mikey awed, "you're wearing your leather jacket?"

"Yeah…" Raph was all smugness and raised brows, as he ran a hand on the leather jacket possessively, before wearing it.

"It's so perfect!" Mikey exclaimed with shining eyes.

All of his brothers had amazing things they had worked hard for, like Raph's jacket, or Donnie's whole crazy scientific lab equipment or Leo's 'so-hard-to-find' authentic Japanese books.

"Nothing's perfect..."

"Yeah, alright, just because you're bitter, that doesn't mean you get to deflate my happiness," Mikey pushed his glasses up, looking at Raph with trembling lips.

"Deflate?" Donnie popped up and Mikey had forgotten for a bit he was there and turned his head to look at him tying April's sciency- club wristband as he chortled, "You're not a balloon."

"You're bitter too!"

Donnie let out an exasperated sigh as he stared at Raph with a disappointed expression, "It wouldn't kill you to say something nice, y'know."

"I know but why risk it?" Raph snickered as he shrugged his shoulders, but was met with a couch pillow on his face and a laughing April. Mikey loved the relationship those two had, both stubborn and maybe, sometimes, a bit aggressive, although April could be more comprehensive at least.

"Just be careful!" Donnie shouted as Raph made his way down the stairs.

"Yeah, yeah…"

"And be home for lunch!"

"Okayyy..," he drooled on.

"And say hi to Casey!"

"Heard that April!"

"Well, isn't he always pleasant?" April pushed the ginger bags out her forehead with rolling eyes and Donnie gave her a playful nudge.

"Ha," Mikey gave her a tiny shove when an idea came flouring on his mind and he got up from the sofa, "Now that we get to have our break…"

"What?"

"You'll see…," Mikey said running to the kitchen and returning almost immediately, in lighting speed. Flash who?

"Okay, April, time to educate you on something from where we're from. Well… sort of, it's really popular in Tokyo. This is Leo's favorite soda of all time. Legit Japanese Lemon-lime soda." Mikey explained with a grin and tossed her one.

He saw her looking at the bottle and everything that was written on it in Japanese.

Leo loved this kind of soda. The fridge was filled with them, an amount so big that Mikey thought it could keep a massive group of people hydrated during some sort of lock-out or earthquake or something.

Leo and Karai would take two bottles and go up to Leo's room, listening to punk rock Japanese music, which was Leo's repressed feeling and unsatisfied desire from his childhood emo years, (that no one ever talked about, never, shush), talking about nothing and everything.

Mikey honestly was surprised each time he saw Karai leaving their apartment as he could not understand how she had even got in, in the first place. (also, how father even let Leo have girls alone in his room? What kind of unfair eldest privilege was that? Well, that was what Raph had said anyway…) Talk about some mad kunoichi stealth skills. Why again wasn't she competing next year?

"Never heard of it. Where did you get this? Smuggle it past customs at the airport?" April taunted with a smirk and Donnie gave her a matching look as Mikey put his hands up slightly and replied, "Good guess… but no. I actually think Leo found it in along with Karai at this specialty shop a couple blocks away. Trust me, you haven't lived unless you've tried it."

He said and motioned for April to crack open that one bottle. Of course only one, Leo would kill him and have Karai burry him if he learned he had taken more than one.

April managed to get it off and commented as she placed a hand on Donnie's knee, "Eh, are you sure?"

"Hey, never turn soda down, if it's offered," Mikey said, sitting between Donnie and April to keep them away from any PG-13 fun, "It's impolite and that's how wars start."

April snorted. "I doubt it."

"Aaapriiil," Mikey drooled on, bottom lip jutting out and quivering.

"He's not gonna let it go easily," Donnie smiled knowingly and Mikey gave him a fist bump.

"Hey don't diss it unless you try it," he said back with a smirk.

"Well, cheers, I guess?" April said with a sigh, hesitantly taking a sip.

"Good?" Mikey asked with a knowing grin and would die to have something to record April's voice just to show Leo how he spread the Japanese tradition. "Not too bad."

And before Mikey could have his triumphant speech, a raspy voice called, "Hello, anyone here?"

Mikey looked at the familiar figure that had her cold palms pressed against her warm and tired thighs as she peered over the stairs before fully getting into the apartment.

"Irma?" Donnie asked in obviously, faked disbelief since Mikey remembered very well Donnie saying him that Irma was going to pass by today. Weekends were always the visit days. Did everyone else not have a life at their home and decide to come to Mikey's house? Or did they just want to get away from their home?

But why would they want to do that?

"No, I'm her twin sister, yes Irma," Mikey guessed she wanted to sigh in thwarted expectation but breathed out a raspy and heavy breath.

"How are you?" April got up to give Irma a tight hug that she returned almost immediately despite the sweatiness her body had. She sat on one of the bean bags, pushing her sticky dyed hair out of her face, before giving Donnie a short but tender pat on the back.

"Been better… Hey D!" she gave them one of her usual Irma-smiles, if that could count as an adjective, Mikey mused, as she inhaled another fresh lungful.

"Hey to you too. Been better?"

"What do you have?" April wondered, poking lightly Irma's arm and she made out a snort, tilting her head back. "Women problems."

"Ah. Is that time?" Donnie asked knowingly with the ultimate knowledge of a male Homo sapiens, not noticing April rolled eyes behind her ginger bangs.

"Yeah, time for you to shut up," Irma joked as she fixed the laces on her sneakers and Mikey widened his eyes in disbelief.

How women were able to bleed for days without dying was beyond him. That's why he thought girls must were some kind of superheroes cyborgs with holy crazy abilities and superpowers.

"Mike, here's your action figure," she tossed him something that Mikey was obviously able to catch thanks to his cat-skilled reflexes, "Renet says it's free!" she added with much faked enthusiasm that Mikey playfully hated with a burning passion, as she shook her hands in a 'jazz' motion.

"Crongnard the Barbarian?" he exclaimed as he looked down at his hands. There was no way! That thing was unbelievably hard to find. At least in an action figure. He obviously had the comics, and DVDs and some released singles of the theme song in CDs but an action figure? That was completely missing from his collection.

By the Power of Lobnarr, Renet was his new favorite person on his list. But not in the first place though. His family owned that title.

"Mikey the Nerd?" Irma rolled her eyes so hard that to Mikey it looked like it hurt, as she took one of the cinnamon pretzels on the glassy table that, GOD Mikey still hadn't tried?

"Irmaa…," Mikey moaned in his most childish and juvenile tone that Irma awfully mimicked, "Sorryy…"

"Why you're all sweaty?" Donnie gave Irma a disgusting look as he tried to push all the sticky, sweaty dyed hair from Irma's neck and Mikey shivered.

"Jogging." Irma motioned to her sneakers, before taking off her glasses to wipe them on her, oh god, very light, jacket, (how was she still alive and not cold and frozen? Yep, definitely a cyborg.) that by the way, were SO COOL and flashy that Mikey thought they were brighter than his future.

"Since when?" April snorted and tried to cover up her mouth but Irma was already giving her a look that seemed amused, disappointed and offended at the same time. Mikey had no idea how Irma was able to pull off these kinds of expressions. Maybe because of Renet's drama classes?

"Y'know, the key to business is to mind your own."

"She got you there," Donatello pushed his glasses up and April punched him playfully on the arm before Irma looked around the living room and asked, "You're here all alone?"

To Mikey that sounded like a cringy creepy question from a thriller teen movie and he laughed at his stupid thought as Donnie looked at him with amused confusion and started to explain, "Yes, Raph is out doing God knows what, Dad went grocery shopping and Leo is-"

"Yeah, I was greeted with Sensei Leo teaching downstairs," Irma titled her head as she was thinking of something, "I've really missed that dork. He looks kind of stressed though. Anyway," she let a dismissive hand in the air, getting her most kindly-laced voice as she was from a Broadway Musical, "it's a lovely day. So, what have you three musketeers been doing inside?"

"Studying for a Geometry test…," Mikey couldn't help but groan, not wanting to even think of Math again for the rest of the day, but Irma flashed him an ample grin, full of anticipation as she grabbed his cheeks, that were now red with embarrassment by the way April and Donnie were laughing at Irma's acts. "Now, that's not a happy face! Let's fix it! I have good news!"

"You wrote your own essay for once?"

Donnie scoffed at April's words, "She said good news, not a miracle."

"I don't get how a science genius like you cannot write a simple essay," Mikey voiced out loud his honest thoughts but didn't expect to see Irma hang her head down.

But then, she looked up again with a smile so plastic, and let out a fake, wrecked, broken sound that probably hoped to resemble a laugh but it made Mikey's heart sting beneath the hard layers of his warm pajamas and wonder from where all this sudden sadness had come from. "Must have something to do with all that jewelry and make-up on my face, as my dad would comment."

"Hey, Irma-," Donnie gave her a sympathetic smile, but Irma pushed lightly his hand that was going steadily for her shoulder and licked her lips, swallowing soundly and letting out a raspy breath. "Don't."

April's face was unreadable to Mikey as she reached to grasp for Irma's hand that she pulled away and used to touch her eyebrow piercing for a bit, before locating it softly on her thigh, giving them the biggest 'confident-but-truly-not' smile.

But then again, everything that was going on right now was unreadable to Mikey. He could feel the emptiness in Irma's voice as she continued to talk for a completely new, not-related matter, words full of faked interest and gracefully hidden pain.

"Anyway, so O'Neil, how is that step-brother of yours?"

"The news?" April asked softly, pushing one puff of her hair, behind her ear.

"I'll tell you guys later. So?"

"Casey? Well-,"

But Mikey didn't listen as he took, finally, a cinnamon pretzel, pushing his glasses back up again and thinking if the reason Irma seemed to be always at their home was her father. Even with all the hardships Mikey had and complained about his family, he would never say such thing. Wouldn't even think of it.

And here, he thought he was the one needed some family time.

And as he remembered the next step on his list, forcing himself at the same time to look at Irma's eyes that shined with sad anger, he thought,

'How people could smile more at situations like this?'

Now, that was a problem he wouldn't be able to solve easily.

Chapter Text

"Noble gases," the teacher announced with, surprisingly, very much true enthusiasm as she moved her hands.

"The noble gases consist of group 18, sometimes referred to as group O, of the periodic table of elements. The noble gases have very low boiling and melting points and are all gases at room temperature. They are also very nonreactive as they already have a full valence shell with 8 electrons. Therefore, the noble gases have little tendency to lose or gain electrons-,"

Was Mikey listening to what Miss Abigail was saying? Absolutely not. But he had just taken the most freaking hard math test, so yes, he was excused.

He had worked so hard this weekend and he certainly did not do well today.

He didn't know what had happened. Each problem was such a mess and Mikey had left most of them half and unsolved, hoping for points from his poor process of thought.

Dammit, he was not going to cry for a stupid test; other topic, other topic-

Raph's shampoo issue today, (Well, Raph, if you were gonna get honey shampoo, you should kind of expect it to have honey?) Irma's amazingly good news (Who cared if the school got new lab equipment anyway-

He felt a rushed pat on his right shoulder and turned to see Martin looking at him almost dreamily, motioning his head to some girl in the front row, which Mikey actually did not recognize. "Girls are so hot."

He rolled his eyes at Martin much-flatted statement and glanced at the window; it was such a sunny, lazy and golden day and he was-

"Guys are hot too, man."

He resisted slapping his face with his hand. He really wasn't in the mood to observe Martin's hormones blasting up.

"Why is everyone so hot?"

"I dunno, global warming or something?" Even in his own ears, Mikey sounded so indifferent. He was even able to hear Martin swallow hard and felt the guilt make place in his heart.

He was always there to listen to his friends, even if it was some stupid thing. But, now he was acting like an ass and a shitty math test was not an excuse for it.

"My, if only I could fix my computer-," he heard Miss Abigail sigh and realized he was spacing out of the lesson.

Doing great Mikey today, doing great.

"I bet I could fix it with just a hairpin and a piece of duct tape," Martin next to him mumbled jokingly, mostly to himself actually, but Mikey still felt bad for before, being a bitchy and ansgty friend, so he tried to lighten up the mood.

"Watching a lot of MacGyver reruns lately?" he said, as if it was the most ridiculous thing he had ever heard.

"Oh, shut it!" Martin interjected, hazarding a grin.

Mission accomplished, he thought with a toothy smile, and almost forced his eyes and ears to pay attention to the lesson.

"The periodic table of elements is useful in determining the charges on simple monoatomic ions," Miss Abigail was going on and on, eyes bright and Mikey thought he had never seen a teacher before explaining that excitedly their lesson.

"For main-group elements, those categorized in groups 1, 2, and 13-18, form ions they lose the same number of electrons as the corresponding group number to which they fall under. For example, K atoms, group 1, lose one electron to become K+ and Mg at-"

Aaaand he stopped paying attention, again.

Mikey yawned, looking outside of the window, as a warm smell of food reached his nose and reminded him of something. Tests, grades, school and crap aside, he was still damn excited. Because-

Thanksgiving.

Oh my, how much he wanted all of his family to celebrate together-family as in their closed and loved ones-like they did every year. He loved traditions, little things they always did and he was familiar with.

The wooden table decorated with the strings of their hearts, hot food and soft drinks soothing all their worried and filling them up with overwhelming feelings, Dad getting out of his room to help Mikey with the delicious dishes , Donnie and April tangling their fingers beneath the table, hoping no one will notice, Raph and Casey snickering, watching cheesy spooky movie marathons, Leo sneaking up a container of goods to share with Karai in the middle of the cold night, picture frames of their mothers lightening up-

Yes. Mikey loved holidays. They warmed his heart.

The bell rang into his ears soundly, waking him up from his daydreaming and Mikey tried to get his books and stand up along with the other bunch of students, but Miss Abigail hit her hand on the desk, eyes sharp.

"Excuse me, the bell doesn't dismiss you, I dismiss you-and I don't want to hear groaning," she added exactly when all the students moaned desperately.

"So, for next time-please Martin, don't hum with your friend, I'm speaking, show some respect-I want all of you to study pages 13-16 very, very well and exercises on pages 16-17, hear me? 16-17. I won't listen to any excuses when I have repeated myself again and again. Have I made myself clear?"

Mikey nodded immediately; he hated being scolded.

"Good," a full smile spread on her face, "now class is dismissed."

Mikey literally jumped out of the chair and tried to rush out of the classroom, because, well, he had a free period next hour and it matched with Woody's free period, and he really wanted to see him as soon as he could.

But Miss Abigail wasn't apparently letting him.

"Oh, Michelangelo, could I have a word with you?"

He sort of dragged his feet to the desk, pushing his eyeglasses back up, and his eyes met up with the teacher's kind stare behind her own pinky glasses.

"Eh, hi Miss Abigail," he even made a waving-hand like motion awkwardly and immediately regretted it, "I-I am not in trouble, aren't I?"

"Oh, no absolutely not, do not worry Michelangelo," her smile was fond behind her long blond hair. "I was hoping if you could pass this note to Mrs. Baker actually. I believe she's having her debate team meeting in classroom G4, if I am correct."

She gave Mikey a small, glittery paper note that Mikey snatched and curled his lips up.

"Yes, yes, of course, I have a free period next anyway."

"Good," she sent him an… understanding smile and before Mikey could question it, he saw her turn her gaze to the bundle of students across the room and stop mid-sentence, "I appre- Martin, please! Remove your hand from the wall plug; you can electrocute yourself outside my classroom!" She looked at him again. "As I was saying, I greatly appreciated it."

"No problem Miss Abigail!" He beamed and finally, made a way to go, but-

"Also, Michelangelo-,"

"Yes?" He used every inch of his body not to sound irritated. God, why was he so easily frustrated today?

"I have been noticing you are distracted these days." She started and Mikey's heart sank. "Please, try to pay more attention. I have my mind on a short pop quiz on Chemistry after Thanksgiving week and I desire you do your absolute best. I could offer you some advice and tips if you're having difficulty, just say the word and I will be there, okay?" Her tone was almost pleading and just showed how much she didn't know him, because at least the whole world knew how much he hated that tone.

But he was raised with manners. He could not deny such a suggestion, from a person that wasn't close to him, yet, they still cared. So, he felt awful when he hesitated.

"Eeeh…,"

"Michelangelo, you are never strong enough that you don't need help," her smile was warm and supportive, and kind and waiting and a small bit of Mikey's heart told him it wasn't just the 'good manners' talking when he replied, smiling himself unknowingly.

"I'll think about it. Really. But, still, I-um, thank you. A lot." Inside him, though, he still wasn't sure. He wasn't about to become a burden or start spacing out in class.

"That's good. You are very welcome, Michelangelo, no need to mention it."

Did he deserve this kind of gentle behavior from others?

"Bye guys," he waved as he got out of the cold door and he made sure to smile at each one of his classmates' 'bye's' and 'see you's'.

Mikey walked out, understanding dawning in his face, chased by a worried look. He waffled, looking down at his feet and squeezing the piece of paper in his hand.

Taking a hell of an exam, a teacher reprimanding him (Mikey did not care if she had done it cause she cared about him or not, it was still a reprimand), dragging his feet to the other side of the school, through clamps of students he was seeing now in front of him, just to give a small note? Just a normal day, right?

And as he moved towards the vending machine, Chris Bradford's waggling 'C'mon, Shini, haven't you heard of the expression 'smile'?' and Shinigami's short-cut 'Haven't you heard of the expression 'get the hell away from me'?' confirmed his thoughts; yep, just a normal day.

He moaned once he realized the snacks in his hand were veggie burgers (had he punched in the wrong code?) and shook his head, cramping to the debate team class.


Mikey opened the door quickly and clumsily, but felt embarrassment color his cheeks once he realized the lesson wasn't over yet.

Learn to knock sometime, will ya?

Mrs. Baker was sitting cold-stone faced on her chair, her posture proud and straight, and looked taller, way taller than the 4′ 7″ she was.

However, no one seemed to really notice him as something going on in the middle of the classroom had drawn their attention and managed to drawn Mikey's too, as he widened his eyes.

"-and that's why America should have joined the League of Nations," Karai had her arms crossed as she shook her head to move the hair out of her eyes. Before she could speak again, a scoff was sounded, a very much knowing scoff to Mikey, and he turned his gaze to see his brother saying with squinting eyes.

"And I say the United States should not have joined the League of Nations as they did because it would have drastically altered today's 21st-century technological society," Leo snarled, yet actually quietly.

At least for now.

"Oh really?" she said drily, with a half-smile and shrugged her shoulders in a mocking way, "So you're saying that by the US taking no responsibility to stop the beginning events of World War II or not helping to create world peace was not an entirely ignorant, poor, and stupid choice?" Mikey blinked. US? World War II? He thought the debate was about single-sex schools.

"If it wasn't for the events of World War II, then an even greater war could have resulted later on because of the League of Nation's ineffectiveness when it came to enforcement of the law. Not to mention that the events of the war also lead to some of the greatest scientific breakthroughs in the history of mankind," Leo refuted.

"Oh, c'mon, you're only saying that about World War II because it gave Einstein his 15 seconds of fame for helping to create a stupid bomb that also killed thousands of innocent Japanese citizens," Karai said, narrowing her eyes at him and Mikey pressed his lips into a thin line as he squeezed the note in his hand.

Everyone knew you shouldn't question Leo's Japanese background; even if he had spent barely one year as a newborn there. That didn't matter in Leo's case.

"They only dropped those bombs because Japan refused to surrender and attacked Pearl Harbor when the United States wasn't even part of the war yet," Leo spat, getting closer to her and Mikey was ready to scream for Mrs. Baker to do something.

Those two were going eat themselves alive!

"Yeah, that was a fair exchange, bombing two places in exchange for one, huh? Face it, Leo, what you just said is completely ludicrous and according to your logic, you are basically giving me the gist that because you won't see my side of this subject I should just drop a bomb on you?" Karai sneered and was in Leo's face, while he looked on the edge and started, "Karai, you are so-"

Yet, thankfully, the shouting match stopped.

"Enough!" Mrs. Baker could have wrecked the walls with her voice. How could such a small woman have that much anger and power inside her?

He never had her as a teacher, but she seemed, well, not nice, but, at least fair and severe. Most of the other teachers were pretty much afraid of her, except Miss Abigail. Mikey had no idea how a teacher like Miss Abigail could hang out with a teacher like Mrs. Baker, but they seem to make it work well, if the times he had seen them laughing in the teacher's lounge was any indication.

They would drink their coffees with side marshmallows, talking about trips in Europe and annoying students. Mikey was 110% certain the note was some sort of hotel suggestion in Greece or Italy they'd go together on Thanksgiving, since Mrs. Baker's husband-

Well.

"I asked for a debate on the subject of whether the United States should or should not have joined the League of Nations, not a verbal assault. Please take your seats, Mr. Hamato… Miss Oroku." Mrs. Baker continued, absolutely serious, and Leo and Karai were still giving each other death glares from across the room as they returned to their seats.

Mikey furrowed his brow. Now Leo and Karai had had a fight and he was trying to prepare himself to deal with a moody Leo back home.

And he thought Raphael was stubborn.

"Well, that was interesting. I'll give you both A's for historical accuracy, but please, try to dial it down to be more civil in the future. Class is, finally, dismissed, so-Michelangelo?" Mrs. Baker inquired as she looked around the room.

Mikey looked up from where he was and felt all the eyes on him. He saw with the corner of his eye Leo raising his brow as he was grabbing his books, his face sort of twisted and Mikey forced an awkwardly angled smile to Mrs. Baker.

He lifted up the small piece of paper, without speaking and Mrs. Baker beckoned him close with her finger and rolled eyes, almost with a faint joking expression and Mikey felt the corners of his mouth turn up. Maybe, he could realize why Miss Abigail liked her that much.

And as Mikey made his way to Mrs. Baker messy desk, the look on Leo's face to him, behind a grin-slanted Karai walking briskly, only told him one thing.

"I'll see you outside."

Well, hey, at least he had the nonspeaking communication with his eldest brother mastered.


"-And, while Alopex did say yes, that doesn't mean you should get all excited. We're talking about an important matter here-the animal shelter needs care and I don't want you to-"

He didn't understand why Leo was frustrated. He couldn't truly be that worried about Mikey going, one, one time to the animal shelter. He'd be careful! And he wanted to be there so, so much. He swore. And it was just a part-time job for Leo, either way, what was the big deal?

Maybe because he hadn't say hello when he had got in the class? Leo was always lapping up good manners. Was he afraid he was going to tell their family that their eldest son and brother had got angry over a stupid debate?

His brother cleared his throat as Karai was nudging him with her elbow. Leo opened his mouth to speak just in time for Karai to put her fingers on his lips and slip the gum she had on her thumb inside Leo's mouth..?

Um, gross?!

"Oh, no, c'mere," she threaded their fingers easily, pulling him slightly, "I'm not letting you murder Mikey with your implausible worries today," Karai snorted, with a slight, close-lipped smile, "I'd rather not see in the news tomorrow morning that you couldn't have tea with me because you killed your brother." She said dryly, jokingly and Leo actually chuckled himself, making Mikey's brow furrow.

He thought Leo was mad. He thought he and Karai had fought pretty nastily back there. Hell, he saw it with his own eyes! And he had been kind of lecturing him in the middle of the hallway for nothing. So, how come now-

Screw it, he did not understand adult interactions.

Karai was laughing by the time she finally dragged Leo away, and Mikey could only stand there, funnily gaping as Leo, red-faced, yet still chuckling, let himself be pulled along with one last wave and a mouthed 'i love you' to him that actually made Mikey feel at ease, more relaxed.

When was the last time he had seen his brother that happy?


 

Mikey finally spotted Woody on the floor, under the school board, doing something on his notebook next to a filled, probably with food by Miss O'Co- err- Kassidy, aluminum foil ."Wood! Hi! Veggie burger for you." He announced with a cheeky smile.

He ignored Woody's very confused smile as the veggie burger made an appearance on his lap. "Hey Mike, what's up?" he asked with a turning smirk as he grabbed the burger and Mikey pushed his glasses back up.

"Okay, fine, all fine." He didn't want to bore Woody with his stupid math issues and for a second, he thought Woody would press further, if his disapproving face was any indication.

Instead, though, in Mikey's pleasant surprise, Woody stood up and let the thing to be forgotten as he opened his palm and showed a... brownie to Mikey.

"Want a brownie?" His question almost sounded too juvenile and open and soft, and Mikey bit his lip.

"Ah.."

"You'll have a brownie." Woody nodded his head, mostly to himself.

"Nah, thanks, dude, I'm fine," he said with a dismissive hand-waving

"Ah, go way outta that, of course, ye will," Woody gushed and before Mikey could say a thing, Woody had already filled his mouth with a delicious miracle.

"Hmm, it's super good!" he mumbled.

"Ma's old recipe never fails, Mikester," Woody sniggered, with raised brows and a wide and easy grin. "How went your math test?" He added after a moment and Mikey realized he hadn't forgotten about it and sighed.

"Oh, um, good, I mean-I hope so."

"Do not worry," he reassured with parted lips and tiny shoves that made Mikey blush lightly.

"Am not!" He pushed his glasses back up. "How about you? Did you finish that art project that is due this week?"

"Well-," he gave Mikey a toothy grin.

"Woody!"

"C'mon Mike, it's just some drawing-it's pretty pointless," Woody smiled cheekily, gathering all his school stuff from the floor, and looked ready to follow Mikey with no hesitation, and would have if Mikey hadn't said what he had said.

"It's also pointless to count freckles but I know you have, like, seventeen on your cheeks."

He meant it to be teasing, joking, maybe just a bit flirtatious, if he was being honest with himself, but he caught his eyes as he said it and his voice came out much warmer, much sweeter than he'd intended.

He could already see him sort of flinch, see the trace of discomfort on his soft features as he rubbed his hand on the back of his neck.

Mikey's face was warmed and not by the sun through the window or the overcrowding of the hallway, but by that very familiar feeling that twisted his stomach into pleasant knots.

His friend had been clear from the start; he didn't like him that way. He had said so himself. Yet, there was Mikey, looking at Woody, his blue eyes exploring his face, as if he was waiting for what he longed, what he daydreamt to happen.

But, Woody finally just laughed nervously, a sound so awkward, clearing his throat as he said, "Whataya say? Library and coffee?"

"Always." He smiled gratefully.

Woody took his hand to tug him along and didn't let go again once Mikey's moving. He threaded their fingers together and Mikey for a bit, for a small moment, hated him for making him feel this way, hated himself for thinking Woody was doing that on purpose, knowing what it did to him.

Still, he followed, his knowing smile creeping up to the corners of his mouth, without wasting time to figure out if his face was, again, damn, warm-embarrassed or warm-pleased, because, honestly, it was probably a combination of both.


By the time Mikey reached his last class, he felt like a lifeless mushroom.

He walked in with heavy steps, finding his seat, He wanted to play stoic, put on an unmoved façade, had always wanted not to change so damn easily his mood, but he couldn't help but smile when he saw April's freckled face beside him.

"April, hi! Veggie burger?" he pressed, eyes bright and glittery.

"Um, no? I'm fine. How are y-," April's angled smile was interrupted by Mrs. Campbell's sharp stare as she slammed her big purse on her desk and took out one of her many pills, that by now Mikey wasn't sure if they were simple aspirins or very ineffective sedatives if her hard voice as she spoke was any indication.

"Hello, hello, enough, enough with the blabbering," she mused coldly and the whole class fell silent.

Not unexpected.

"Now I know you must all be excited about our Physics lesson, but, as I promised, I corrected some math tests of yours-aw, shoosh yammering." She lifted her finger, motioning to April's side and that was enough for Mikey to break into a cold sweat.

"O'Neil, can you pass those around, my head hurts so much it will burst I swear," Mrs. Campbell looked like she was ready to meet her desk with her face but Mikey wasn't noticing a thing, his stomach clenched as the tests were being passed around, the red marks on them teasing him.

"Yes, of course, Mrs. Campbell!" April had breathed, red-faced.

He couldn't look, see the hopeless faces of students and the disappointment in their eyes or the cocky ones bragging for an A again.

He couldn't breathe, a rock at his chest, as he heard shocked noises behind him, in front of him.

He felt a pat on his shoulder and lifted his head to see April smiling compassionately to him, her face so open, yet empty, beating her lip and leaving the paper on his desk.

Mikey didn't know whether he'd puke, or faint, or both.

He looked down.

The curving letter made his eyes burn. Squeezing them shut hard, he turned away, trying to breathe, trying to breathe-

It was a D.

Chapter Text

A crack.

There was a crack in the ceiling.

Mikey was lying in bed, staring fixedly at the crack in the ceiling.

The rain outside was pouring and Mikey could hear it, he even swore he could feel the cold pooling his veins, despite the heavy layers of his duckie-blankie, a hand-me-downer from Leo.

The light dim of his night-stand lamp was almost comforting, in a way, yet still pretty damn scary as it drew his backpack's shadow. He felt that familiar dread settle on his shoulders like a heavy coat.

He didn't wanna go to school.

He couldn't even explain it. How would he explain it? Just say he got a bad grade? He already knew the answer.

"It's okay."

"You tried."

"It doesn't matter."

Only when, oh, it did. It did matter. To him.

He lifted a shaking hand to his eyes, pressing back the tears that were trying to sneak out. There was no time for this.

He tried to keep them in, think of the good memories he stored in his mind to help him whenever he needed a smile.

When Donnie had met for the very first time a scientist that he admired, when Raph had got braces for, like, four months, and hell had been raised, when Leo had been describing his first kiss to them, and all were laughing and grinning like idiots.

He wished he could right now.

Mikey heard a sound, other than the insistent rain outside, a sound that made him jump.

He stood up sitting on the bed, pressing his blanket on his face and breathing hard, blocking out every other distraction so he could listen to the muffled voices behind his room door.

"What do you mean he's not going out?" Donnie was asking, not being able to wrap his mind around the sentence and Mikey held his breath.

"I mean that he has clambered himself under a blanket like an IDIOT!" To anyone who didn't know him, it would sound like fury in Raph's tone. "I haven't even seen him! Yesterday he didn't eat, he didn't speak, he didn't say a word, dammit!" Raphael yelled and Mikey thought he heard something break.

"What?" Leo sounded completely baffled.

"He's not coming to school." Raph said without missing a bit, without bothering to form his sentence into a question and Mikey's shoulders slumped.

Donnie's choked "oh god" was interrupted by Leo's rant as he breathed soundly. "He can't just miss a whole day-Father will be so angry-"

"Yes god!" Raph cried as he knocked on the door hard and Mikey swallowed, "Get yourself out of there Mikey!" He coughed in a weird way. "Where's Dad anyway, Fearless? I don't see him caring about what's goin' on."

"Raphael! This is not the time!" Leo said sharply and Mikey could imagine him squinting his eyes at Raph's pose.

"Well, when's going to be the time you're just gonna man up and face-"

"Raph!" Donnie's voice startled both Mikey and Raph, who fell silent. "Leo's right. Let's focus on Mikey now-Mikey, Mikey, please come out."

Mikey bit his blanket.

His glasses were foggy.

"Damn, why is he like this?"

God, he was exaggerating. That was it. He was making a big deal out of it. Or maybe out of everything.

"April told me he got a D on his math test," Donnie didn't sound as desperately tired as Mikey thought he would, more like… worried and it made Mikey's heart swell.

"Hell!" Yes, Raph definitely broke something that time.

"Did you talk to him? Did you tell him it's okay?" Leo snapped and Mikey flinched at the choice of words, because, heck, he expected it before he heard it.

"Hadn't the chance!" Donnie squeaked, his voice higher and Mikey swallowed again, rubbing his feet together.

"He's been in there forever, Leo! You'd think Raph would talk to him, but-"

"Oh, now you're gonna blame me?" Raph bellowed.

Oh god, he wasn't ready to listen to their blame game. He was making their brothers fight.

"I told you, he's not talking."

For a moment, he couldn't hear a thing and Mikey let out a breath that got stuck in his throat when Raphael slammed the door.

"Mike, open up now or I'll tear this door apart, I swear!"

"Easy! Raph!" Leo demanded with such dismay, "Mikey, I know it sounds like we're mad but we're not. I promise you-we promise you. We're just worried. Please." He said with real fondness.

"Let him," Raph's grouchy voice bumped in, "We're not gonna plead him all day, it's hopeless. We're out of here-c'mon!" He said and it was vicious, but, again, it would sound angry to anyone who didn't know him.

Mikey heard bundles of footsteps and flopped on his pillow. His eyes were drying and it was making them cool and damp and itchy, an itch he couldn't scratch.

"Just come out when you're ready, Mikey," Donnie said, as soft as a human voice could go before a whisper and Mikey's heart tugged beneath his large shirt and blanket.

"-and we'll talk about it, okay? It's all okay-and-and- if it's not, we're going to fix it. There's nothing wrong with letting people who love you help you, you know?"

The words caught in his throat, a painful lump he could hardly breathe past.

He closed his eyes shut and turned his face in the pillow. He needed a good nap.


The next moment he opened his eyes, Mikey was sweaty.

He pushed the blanket on the bottom of the bed and sighed quietly.

He didn't go to school.

His heart was beating as he reached for his phone, pushing his glasses back up.

10:30.

And thirteen unread messages.

He unlocked the screen with his thumb and made his way to his text box, only to close it as soon as he opened it. He didn't want to read them.

Mikey pressed a hand to his stomach as it growled. He ran to the kitchen with careful steps that turned into loud ones, once he realized that Dad was not in the apartment.

Did he even know Mikey had stayed home?

He sat on the table, telling apart the orange smarties from the rest in the bowl and looking around the room walls that were painted yellow.

Some years ago they were light grey, but a midnight baking mess that had ended up in an explosion and flour all over the… all over everywhere had forced Splinter to have the walls painted.

Mikey snickered as he remembered Dad's face full of eye gums from sleep, looking at them covered from head to toe with whatever ingredients and Leo's toothy grin as he had responded smoothly to Splinter's unspoken question. "Father, hello. How are you this fine evening?"

Dad hadn't been mad. Okay, just a bit angry but not disappointed or something like that.

Maybe he wouldn't be now, if Mikey explained things to him.

He didn't like beating around the bush. He wasn't going to be one of those angsty teenagers that didn't speak to their families and were always broody and moody.

With a handful of orange smarties and his fuzzy slippers, he reached the top of the stairs, looking down the dojo and walked each step.


Once he had fully arrived the bottom of the stairs, the smell of scented candles reached his nostrils. Mikey exhaled deeply and smiled around the place, the traditional decorations and the warm feelings that melted inside him.

Despite not even being the slightest keen on martial arts, Mikey loved to come down here.

This was where they spent so much of their childhood.

Dad was always nicer when they hung out here. He did not know why exactly.

Maybe it was because it reminded him of the past or perhaps because the dojo was full of picture frames of their mothers, even more than those at home.

Mikey didn't mind that a bit.

He broke a smile when he saw that particular photo of his mother in front of the snow.

"Your mother was always a kind person, but she would kick my butt during snowball war every now and then," Splinter had said to him, at one of those rare moments he decided to share a loving memory from the past, like a fleeting star.

"Mikey?"

The strained voice surprised Mikey who turned his head to meet a wrinkled face with grey hair and a fond smile, and a rag in his hand.

Mr. Gennosuke.

"O-Oh-Oh, um, hi, Mr. Gen," Mikey spluttered, running a hand through his hair and Mr. Gen gave him a warm smile.

Mr. Gen had been Splinter's right hand in business and his friend, along with Mr. Murakami for years.

And it wasn't only because he was also Japanese.

Mr. Gen was a kind man, hard-working and had helped them, all of them, so many times that they couldn't be counted in fingers.

He had faced his hardships as well, but Mikey admired the fact that whatever difficulty he had to cope with wasn't affecting him.

"Mike, it's been a while," he said fondly. "I feel like I'm working here all day and yet, I never get to see you." Mr. Gen smiled, meaning it. He patted Mikey's hair with his hand and laughed, "Have you got taller?"

Mikey went bright red, grinning, a tentative, crooked thing and giggled, "I-I hope not. I don't need any more of Raph's complaints."

"He is still that short, Michelangelo?"

"Oh, well, y' know, Raph didn't hit puberty; he just kinda shook its hand."

Mr. Gen shook his head in amused disappointment.

"How are you, Mikey? How come you're not at school?"

"Oh, um," Mikey stammered, "rain and all and just-I need some time to-to-I needed to relax." He said lamely and Mr. Gen lifted his hands in a defensive like motion.

"I understand, Michelangelo, you don't need to explain yourself to me. I'm asking from interest and interest only."

Mikey smiled gratefully, the smell of candles and rain making him feel better than before.

Or perhaps it was something else.

"Thanks, Mr. G. How are you doing? And how's uh… Usagi?" he blurted and immediately regretted it, cursing under his breath softly his forward nature.

But the man's smile was full and fond, for all that he raised his hands in a mocking shrug and said, "I-I believe he's alright. He's still adjusting, after years. But, if he's okay, so am I."

Mikey's shoulders slumped with sudden understanding, mouth twisted and brow furrowed.

He remembered when Mr. Gen was a happy man, when Usagi was still here and when Mr. Gen and his wife, to say so, didn't fight during every car ride.

At least that was what Usagi had said.

Usagi would tell them every now and then, just a passing comment mostly, but they knew better.

The last day he came, he looked exhausted. Court proceedings and all, he had said and asked what full custody meant. What it meant for him.

They all got the answer when Usagi left the next day. Of course, they missed him, but Leo missed him more. And Mikey didn't blame him, if those stolen glances, touches and kisses at the dojo storage room were any indication.

Leo still called him, Mikey was sure, but he was also certain his eldest brother had moved on. Painfully and without Mikey realizing so, but still he had.

"It still feels weird, right? But I-I mean- it's not new," he started helplessly but Mr. Gen held his hands up.

There was very tightly controlled panic in his bright eyes, but his voice was measured as he looked down at his rag. "The future is scary, Michelangelo. But you can't just keep running back to the past because it's familiar." He looked up again and added with a ghost of fondness, "Give Usagi's greetings to Leonardo. I am sure he'll be pleased to hear from him.

Mikey beamed at him, the thudding of his heart from the events of the morning almost nonexistent. "He will, he will! Thanks again, Mr. Gen."

"Promise we'll talk again? It was nice to see you." Mr. Gen cooed at Mikey and he could only guess how lonely he felt.

Well, he didn't know probably that the people around him were truly friends.

"I do." Mikey nodded and felt confident to talk to his Dad.

With a last wave, he moved towards the shadow of his dad in his office room.


Mikey knocked at his dad's door and before he could even enter, Splinter's voice was heard.

"Michelangelo?"

"Eh, Dad, hi. I was just-"

"I know, my son," Splinter said hoarsely, looking up from his paperwork. "Your brothers have informed me about your… situation. They seemed very worried."

"Yeah?" Mikey's voice cracked as he played with the stress ball on his father's desk.

"Indeed."

Mikey sighed.

"I just, I," he started stiffly, "I sorta acted like a baby. So not cool, I know. But I guess, I'm just disappointed -in me, I mean. I failed…," he hesitated, "Sensei… and now, I don't know what to do."

Splinter stood up, his proud pose and turned his head to the rainy window.

Mikey flinched.

"Sometimes, life is like a dark tunnel, Michelangelo. You can't see the light in the end."

"You can say that again," Mikey snorted with a hint of humor, but his eyes widened suddenly as with parted lips, he saw the clouds outside give their place to the sun.

Splinter turned to him. "But, if you keep moving, you will come to a better place. Move forward, my son. I know you are rather upset, but you will see there's no need in rotting or-"

"Running back to the past?" Mikey smiled shyly, recalling his talk with Mr. Gen.

"Yes." Splinter sounded surprised, eyes bright and sharp. "Exactly."

After a small moment, Mikey spoke up again, "So, you say I have to go to school today?"

"I'm afraid yes," Splinter guffawed. "Get prepared and go before you miss another hour."

Mikey sniggered glumly and Splinter's eyes softened with comprehension.

And before Mikey could realize what was going on, Splinter slowly pulled him into an embrace that Mikey reluctantly, then fiercely returned and hummed.

In a whisper, he told him plainly, with quivering lips, "I missed you, dad." It was so easy to say it because it had been the truth for so long.

Splinter grabbed his shoulders, meeting his eyes. "And I'm sorry for making you feel -all of you feel, like I was not here."

Mikey felt his eyes water and crinkled his nose.

"I am here," his father reassured and pressed his lips, looking away.

"And I want the best for each one of you."

Chapter Text

Mikey entered the school with difficulty, pushing, or trying to push, more accurately, the door, before some kid was kind enough to hold the door for him. He made his way through the bunches of students, with his hands full, until he found himself in front of the main announcement board.

He carefully left all of his creative thingies on the floor and scanned with his eyes curiously the posters on the board.

"Poetry Event", "Ice Hockey Try-Outs", "Wanted Alien Theories Club"…?

Well, his missing notebook poster wouldn't take up that much space.

He unrolled the poster smoothly and stapled it on the board. Mikey took a step back to admire his work.

A missing notebook for a title, a poor, rushed photo of it, taken with his phone just today and a number, so the person whose this notebook belonged to could contact him.

Perfect.

Mikey grabbed his bag from the floor and started moving towards his locker.

He wasn't giving up on the list or something.

But, he had to put his things in order. It wasn't right to have something that didn't belong to him. It wasn't honorable.

He'd tried to find the owner of this notebook while still following the things on it.

It sounded like a good plan.

Besides, he was already preparing for the "Help the world" step with working along with Leo and Karai tomorrow.

He shuffled his textbooks quickly in his locker, sighing.

It was warm. He felt warm.

After the morning, he didn't know how else to feel. It was too confusing.

But he felt as if all the stuff had got in a line. For now.

And that was good.

Mikey bit his lip, pushing his glasses back up. He tried to close his eyes to breathe, but wasn't able since a very concerned voice reached his ears.

"Mikey?"

He turned his face only to meet his brother's worried look as he patted his hair and leaned his shoulder on the lockers.

Mikey cleared his throat. "Oh, um, hi… Don…," he started stiffly.

Donnie shook his head in what Mikey could guess was unbelievable disappointment before he started his rant with wide eyes.

"Hey, we've been looking for you, like, everywhere. I didn't know if you'd come. I mean, us, April, Woody, we texted you, we called and-"

"I know," Mikey bumped in, not being able to stand still and silent any longer. "I needed some time to think… stuff." He added for his own benefit, half-lying, and hitched up an apologizing smile.

"Ah," Donnie hesitated, fingers tugging the purple straps of his backpack on his back. "So, you're good."

"Better." Mikey corrected.

With the way Donnie looked on the floor, Mikey thought it was - it was over, but when Donnie looked up again, his eyes said otherwise.

His gaze was drilling in Mikey's eyes, as he let out a breath. "Look, Mikey, I don't know what you heard this morning and God knows I'll repeat it again and again if I have to, but we were worried and we wanted to help, all of us-"

Perhaps predictably, Mikey backpedaled fiercely at his brother's pleading tone, "That's not what I remember. I heard you," he said and was thankful his voice didn't break.

"Well, if you heard, you know we-" Donnie started fervently, but probably decided against it, and continued with a face palm, "Ugh, Mikey, come on. Is this really worth arguing?"

Yes.

"No." Mikey muttered.

"We just wanted to help," Donnie said desperately and Mikey's heart was in his throat.

"I know, I know, I'm just – I'm acting like a brat, don't mind me," Mikey murmured messily.

"Donnie punched his shoulder. "Welcome to puberty 101, little man." After a moment, he added, "And hey, we do mind you. That's our job."

"Yeah?" Mikey offered him a cheeky smile that Donnie immediately mimicked, without thinking.

"Heck yeah."

There was a moment of understanding silence before Mikey decided to break it. "Um, where're the guys?" He rubbed the back of his head, looking around.

"Raph's in the cafeteria swallowing down meat subs-"

Oh god, you know it's serious when Raphael is noshing in the school cafeteria.

"- and Leo's taking care of some issues with the principal about some stuff, I didn't understand, but he looked," Donnie looked like he didn't know which word to choose, "…troubled."

"Jeez," Mikey blurted with genuine frustration, "if he keeps stressing like that, he's gonna give himself a stomach ulcer."

"At least his acid reflux will have a friend," Donnie offered with a ghost of his usual humor, but that wasn't relieving Mikey in the slightest.

What was Leo doing to himself?

"Peachy," he mumbled. "Remind me to make him something nice at home," he said quietly.

Donnie leaned his head in front with a smile. "Good call."

Mikey took advantage of Donnie's at ease pose to do him his usual 'hug-attack' and made his way to go. "Awesome, see y-"

But, apparently, Donnie wasn't letting him.

"Wait-"

"I gotta-"

"Donnieeh-"

"About the math test-" Donnie started and Mikey couldn't help but stop in his tracks and turn his head to his brother. "Oh."

"I just – You see, Mrs. Campbell is a strict teacher – April got a C too – it's not your fault and I'm – well, I could help, with math. A few lessons wouldn't hurt," Donnie explained lamely and as calmly as discussing the weather.

"A few lessons wouldn't hurt," Mikey repeated.

"I'm glad you agree-"

"-but, um, not… with you," he hedged, looking over his shoulder and back at Donnie.

Mikey wanted the earth to shatter beneath his feet and him to disappear as he watched Donnie's face sink and his breathing falter.

"Ah," Donnie said and Mikey abruptly wanted to give his brother another, tighter hug. "I see."

But did he?

He fidgeted with his fingers and glanced at a cute pair making out against the wall, not wanting to look at his brother while he would explain himself to him.

Explain what?

Donnie helped him study almost since ever. It was basically routine. A link of a long-life chain. And if he broke that link, the chain would be broken, too.

But it should happen.

Dad had said that he wanted the best for each one of them. Who knew what was best for him, except Mikey himself? Splinter wouldn't be always there to help him.

He knew what he was doing. He knew what he felt and what he should do. He just couldn't – he couldn't explain it – all of it – to Donnie. To his brother.

Still, he wished he understood as he continued observing idly the young couple and said carefully, "Not that I don't trust you with this, but I want to do this all over again more… freshly. I dunno how to sa – how to explain it-"

Donnie grasped his chin, forcing him to look at him and said with firm fondness, "You don't need to." His harsh tone was gone as suddenly as it had appeared and Donnie's fingers left his chin. With trembling eyes, he said rather quickly, "I mean, I get it. S'fine."

Mikey hesitated. He wasn't sure if he truly did get it. "Sure?"

"Yes, I told you." The words weren't by themselves noteworthy.

But Mikey moved his hands to Donnie's face, curling his brother's lips with his fingers in order for Donatello to smile.

Donnie watched his curious fingers, before breaking into a smile, a wide grin, uncontrollably, and Mikey did his 'happy' dance inside his mind.

"Great," he said, mostly to himself. "Now all I need is to find someone to-"

"Renet."

"Renet?" Mikey inquired at his brother's very abstract statement with raised brows.

"Renet." Donnie said again, more surely, his eyes lightened, and Mikey wondered when the light bulb would appear over his brother's head. "She knows math?"

"Are you kidding me?" Donnie replied with rolled eyes. "Doesn't like them, but she's still freaking amazing. Her mother is a mathematician, you know…," he trailed off.

"Wha – for real's?" He called breathlessly. That was certainly something entirely new. "I thought – didn't she work at McDonald's?"

"Yes. She's, well – teacher jobs are tricky," Donnie said stupidly, his face angled.

Mikey, realizing the hesitation, closed his gaping excited mouth.

"The key to business is to mind your own." His mouth formed a thin line.

"Right," Mikey swallowed. "You're right, I'm sorry."

"Don't," Donnie waved off. "If you want to talk to Renet, I think she's at the magenta stairs, you still have, like, fifteen minutes till the next bell."

The magenta stairs.

Honestly, it wasn't something that special. An unwanted floor between two blocked of stairs, a constructive mistake.

But, at some point of a school year, it was possible Mikey wasn't even born then, a few seniors had adopted that space, painted magenta and added a couple of tall, club-like chairs, and tables, and a small fridge with soft drinks or something like that.

Mostly seniors hung out there, but Irma, being the social butterfly she was, she'd patronize there, as well.

And wherever was Irma, was Renet, too.

"Gotcha." Mikey gave Donnie a finger gun.

He gave him a toothy smile, readjusting his backpack, already moving, with a shaking head, "I have to make sure Raph dragged his ass out of the cafeteria and Leo hopefully ate – I'll see you-"

"Hey-" Mikey called and Donnie turned, "-we're cool, right?" he asked with a shaky voice.

That got him a raised eyebrow, an expression so familiar that his entire world rocked just a little bit.

Heart racing. The sky was still gray, with a promise of rain as Mikey hoped with his entire being to actually be okay with him, with his brother – he was gonna make this work, he'd promised it silently to his father, more silently, but more powerfully to himself, he-

"Frosty," Donnie said, softer, like he's recounting a well-known fact, like it was the obvious, like it shouldn't even be questioned and Mikey wondered with tight fondness how it even occurred him to question it.


Mikey ran across the hallway with happy steps, towards the magenta stairs. He looked at the clock on the wall and figured out Donnie was right, he had some time until his next period, or probably his first period, since he hadn't shown up at his first classes. Which reminded him, darn, he had to borrow some notes.

He arrived at the place and felt tiny in front of the giant seniors; which was perhaps kind of silly since he was taller than most of them.

Still, he felt the need to seem and appear comfortable as he was dashing in the gaggle. So, he plastered his best smile, walking up to a couple of girls he knew from his PE class, "Ladies," he greeted with a mocking bow.

The girls replied in unison with matching giggled as they clutched their Mountain Dews, "Mikester."

"Where's she…," he just kept looking around, passing through the crowds, when he spotted Renet in a corner eating gummy bears.

Almost immediately, he started jumping and yelling, not caring how many people turned their heads and stared, "Renet! Renet! Hi!"

Discretion was never his forte.

"Hi, Mikey! How are you?" Renet waved excitedly when Mikey stood in front of her. But, before he got the chance to answer, a dark-haired woman stopped by Renet's stool with a cheeky grin and a cool drink and Renet tipped her head back with a smile.

"Oh, I'm sorry, we don't speak to the girl we know since kindergarten? 'kay…," Irma joked with a mocking shrug and Mikey felt his lips curl.

"Oh, always whiny, aren't we?" he teased.

"Mmm… fucking brat-"

"Hey," Renet chirped with a knowing look and Irma raised her hands up, shaking her drink.

"Joking."

Mikey glanced at Irma.

He loved his goth-looking friend with all of his heart, but he knew how much of a gossiping meddler she was. Somehow, he had to… gently… get her the hell out of here.

So, he leaned with a frown and curious eyes, as he whispered, "Um, don't you have to be with Donnie? Your sciency-club meeting?"

"What?" Irma asked in disbelief.

Almost there…

He grinned immensely as he watched Irma's eyes get wide, but tried to return to a straight face.

"Shit," Irma cursed silently, grabbed her bag from the floor. "I gotta get going, your brother's gonna kill me."

Renet grasped her arm. "Ey, but you promised we'd fool with the seniors with the gummy bears." She shook the packet for emphasis. "I didn't buy them for nothing," she added, baggily.

How could you prank the seniors with gummy bears? And where could Mikey sign a petition to join that gummy bear prank group?

Irma ignored her. "Lateeer…"

Renet narrowed her eyes and Mikey was impressed by her acting performance as she pointed a finger, "I'll fight you for this."

Irma turned her head and Mikey guessed, no, he was sure it was just to raise her brow at Renet as a smirk tugged her lips. "Baby," Renet paused at her tone of voice, "I could bench press you," she stressed each word and Renet deadpanned before she giggled.

"I wouldn't mind that a bit."

Mikey laughed under his breath, as Irma left, tossing some poor students down at the process, while waving at them, or mostly at Renet probably.

Their friendship was adorable.

Mikey turned his head to Renet with a big smile. Renet was the kind of person who you could talk to forwardly about anything. He could go straight to what he wanted.

"Anyway, Renet, I wanted to talk to you for-" he blurted before she cut him off with a bright grin and glittery eyes.

Uh-oh.

He braced himself as Renet started cheerfully, "No way! Don't tell me you decided to get into the drama class? Fi – nal – ly! We've been begging you for ages!"

"N'um, Ren-"

"We're just putting up the greatest musical this semester and boy, do we have the perfect killing role for you! Get this, it's like your normal Hallmark movie, but with tons of murders and a super male sole that would fit you just-"

"I'm not going into drama class, Renet!" Mikey exclaimed loudly, perhaps a bit too loudly; if Renet's wide eyes were any indication.

"Ow," she frowned. "Okay, forget what I said. What's up?" Her expression was the same, but there was renewed interest behind her cheerfulness.

" I kinda heard you're like a genius at math, and I was wondering maybe you could, I dunno, tutor me or something?" he asked with fidgeting thumbs.

"Well." Renet colored so easily at the praise, flushed and fluttered and buried her face behind her fingers in a way to appear pensive. Whenever the rest of the whole world learned how to gracefully accept a kind word, Renet clearly missed those life lessons.

"What?" Mikey smiled knowingly.

"Nothing," her voice raised, "I just, didn't expect that… I guess?"

He suddenly felt a wave of worry pass through him, as he guessed something might be off with Renet and her, apparently, mathematician mother.

"Oh, shoot, did I say anything du-"

"No, no, no," Renet confirmed. "- just – I haven't tutor someone before, I'm not sure I know how – you really wanna-," her eyes dipped bashfully away.

"Hell yeah." Mikey reassured with a grin.

"Then, sure. Sure! Of course!" She jumped lightly, past hesitation gone and Mikey felt something squirming in his stomach.

"Yay!"

"But-"

Oh, he knew it was too good to be true. "No buts…"

"- you will audition for our new play -" she said firmly.

"Wha-"

"No what's and no's. It's final."

"Pfft…"

"Yes?" She pressed with a smirk.

"..Yes." He nodded and Renet clapped proudly. "You're gonna save our whole program."

Mikey shook his head. "And you're gonna save my sorry-ass."

"Oh?" Renet inquired with a small smile. "Sorry-asses? I guess the deal's big. Better start soon then. This weekend, Riverside Park, you bring the math, I bring the snacks?" She packed her stuff, and by stuff meant her bright pink notebooks and fluffy – Legally Blonde style – pencils and looked at him expectedly.

Mikey breathed.

It was comfortable, warm and languid. Renet's big eyes, the students around joking and nudging, Donnie's raised brows and comforting smile from before-

It was okay. Better than okay. He was okay. Better than okay.

He had worked things out, by himself. Yes, he was the okaiest he had ever been.

Mikey swallowed thickly. "You know it."

He moved quickly through the seniors, the bell would ring at any second – but he felt someone pull his hoodie and was forced to stop. "Hey, hey, hey-"

He gave a grin at the funny looking figure in front of him.

"-Donnie and I didn't have a meeting today…" Oh, Irma looked pissed and Mikey was loving it!

"Really?" He left a laugh tugging his lips and bit it. "Whoops, my fault."

Irma had that childish gleam in her eyes that Mikey remembered from their shared summer years as she snapped sharply, but far away from being mean, "Mikey, I'm gonna-"

"Dang it," he said as a loud sound filled his ears. "- the bell! Gotta go, see you!"

And Mikey was smiling brightly as he ran, jokingly looking afraid behind Irma's voice. He had missed these moments.


"Mikey!" Irma spat friendly. "Ugh, he's such a tease!"

"Reminds me of someone…"

Irma smothered a smile at the look on Renet's face, leaning into the arm she wrapped around her waist, easily, probably because of her petite size.

Irma's expression turned coy. "Don't you have a class to go to?"

Renet looked all too pleased with herself, shooting a triumphant smirk at her, even as Irma surged forward to wrap her up in her arms. "I make exceptions for cute girls."


Mikey found Woody under the second-floor announcement board, as usual, his school stuff scattered across the floor – Mikey thought he could he spot a few color pencils next to his coffee and his heart lurched at his friend's, usually hidden, childish naivety.

The softness on his face, the focus in his eyes, a jutting lip; they made a peaceful picture. Mikey almost felt bad for bothering him.

He dropped his bag on the floor beside his friend, then sank next to it, "Woody?"

Woody turned his head in disbelief, probably surprised with wide eyes and a gaping mouth as he pressed Mikey into a warm yet, unfortunately, too quickly – for Mikey at least, hug.

"Mike!" he exclaimed, parting his lips, "Dude, what's the craic?" he asked thickly, pushing his textbooks away from his lap. "I've sent you, like, so many texts. I was waiting to see you first period, but-"

"Yeah," Mikey scooted close enough that their knees were touching, rubbing his face, "um, stuff happened."

Woody was looking at him with narrowing eyes and Mikey hated himself for lying to him. " 'kay," Woody sighed eventually, "just your brothers were here and I was wondering where the heck-"

"Yeah, I know," Mikey said quickly, a bit too quickly, as he felt Woody's fingertips graze his knuckles before taking his notepad again apprehensively.

He watched with sweet eyes as Woody was drawing faintly with his pencil, then with a surprised gaze as he ripped the paper with force.

"Hey-"

Woody's eyes met his as he rose his head up and Mikey's cheeks reddened slightly at the small distance their heads were at – He could feel their noses almost touching and Mikey's gaze lingered for a short, hopefully, moment, on Woody's lips and immediately looked back up.

If he had noticed-

"- about the bike ride we were gonna have tomorrow-"

"What?" Mikey asked and winced at the urgent toe his voice had. "We're not gonna-"

"Well," Woody pursed his lips and Mikey couldn't understand what the puzzled expression on his face exactly meant, "Leo told me you're going to the animal shelter-"

Mikey probably had a regrettable expression on his face if Woody's immediate response to his look was any indication. "It's cool, we'll find another time. What's the deal with the shelter?"

But, it wasn't cool; Mikey could recognize the hurt tone in his voice. Want to make your crush fall deeply in love with you? Cancel all your plans with him. Really works.

He should write a book. How to make your love interest friend zone you in ten steps.

Mikey bit his lip. He wondered what other thing Woody had said with his eldest brother, or if he had talked with his other brothers, too. He loved his brothers. But he could remember their colorful conversations with Woody.

"Y' know, Woody, Mikey talks about you all the time," Leo would say with rolled eyes and a dreamy smile before Raph would snort through his nose, snidely, "Yeah, Wood, he whispers your name each night in his sleep…" and Mikey's whole face would go red, all the way to the tips of his ears, just like he was right now, trying to explain things to Woody.

"Eh," Mikey swallowed hard. "Oh, remember the list?"

"The one on that book?"

"Notebook – and yes. W – well," he stammered. Woody's nose twisted and crinkled in confusion and expectation – and –and cuteness (!) as he leaned forwards to look at Mikey.

"- it's a thing on it," Mikey said and forced his eyes to stay away from Woody's nose.

"Ah," Woody titled his head with a tight-lipped smile and turned his page at his notepad, "you're really following it, huh?"

"Yup."

"But, you know you have to find whose this list is-"

"I'm glad you think so," Mikey stated, chest out at Woody's bewilderment. "You're just gonna be so proud!" he practically purred. "I put on an announcement on the board for a 'missing notebook'. With a photo too!"

"Woah," Woody's smirk looked like a proud one, or a fond one and Mikey bit the inside of his mouth, "who are you responsible boy and what did you do to my Mike?"

Mikey tried not to linger over the 'my' in front of his name. "C'mon, dude, aren't you starving? Let's go grab some burgers."

But before he could stand up, Woody grabbed his arm and forced him to sit back next to him, even closer than before. "I wish," Woody shook his head. He motioned to the papers on his lap, "I have to get that art project done. I dunno what to even do."

"Theme?"

" 'Favorite thing'. Because they couldn't be any vaguer." Woody remarked with a frustrated frown.

"Dude. Stars. Sky. The picture's basically being drawn itself." God, did he knew his friend better that he knew himself?

Woody started twirling his pencil on the paper. "I - I don't know how to draw sta-"

"Hey, here," Mikey brushed Woody's hand, grasping it and easing his fingers through his so he could control the pencil in his – their hands. "I'll help you."

"Um, thanks," Woody cracked a smile, looking at him.

His hand, soft and strong, closed around Mikey's and Mikey gulped at the sudden, heated look Woody was giving him. "No… problem."

"Could you maybe help me draw, like, a sun, too? Like the one on your favorite headband?"

Mikey's heart jumped a bit and he managed a short nod. "Eh, yeah. Y – yeah, 'course." He met his eyes again and gave him a wide smile. "That's a good idea."

Woody replied to him with a sly grin, "I have a dandy muse."

Oh boy, he knew, he always knew.

He let out a warm, awkward laugh and felt Woody's hot breath on his neck as he laughed, as well. "Did you just call me 'dandy' ?"

"It's a compliment, just take it and don't question!"

Mikey leaned into him, felt him rest his cheek on the top of his head, and thought that was his favorite thing in the world. "Oh, I'm taking it." He was taking it to his heart.


Mikey thought he could take the screen and crash it with his bare hands. Instead, he decided for a mean growl against it. "Ugh."

The last period was already over, his brothers were probably waiting for him to come and join them; the old 'apologetic walk at home' trick, per se. Yet, he was stuck in the computer room, with no teacher, trying to make this stupid thing work. "What the-"

The teacher didn't seem to come anytime soon; Mikey would probably lock the class – but, he wasn't leaving until he got that thing done. He could do this.

The computer made a weird – beeping – like – sound and Mikey threw his hands in the air. "Are you joking me? This is freaking impossible!"

He started pushing any button he could find, trying to close the windows that had been opened – by themselves only, but the computer almost throbbed, then stopped working entirely and the screen went black.

"No, no, no, no, gah! What am I gonna do with you!" he groaned tiredly, literally hitting his head on the desk, before a familiar voice interrupted his technological lament.

"You always talk to your computer?"

Mikey turned his head at the figure standing proudly in front of him and got up, a snarky grin on his face. "Only when the refrigerator is mad at me."

"You haven't changed a bit, right, Michelangelo?"

"Jason! Dude!" Mikey threw his arms around him. "What are you doing here?"

Jason Langinstein.

You know how in the stereotype teenage movies there is that girl protagonist's older, cooler brother, who has lots of piercing, paints his nails black, is in a band, has bleached hair and edgy pets?

That was exactly Jason Langinstein.

He didn't see him as much as he saw Irma, but sometimes, he would drop by their house, saying hello to Donnie, sending playful winks to Leo just to make him flustered for all of his brothers to see, playing video games with Mikey and teaching him 'how to live', as he would say.

But, he got along with Raph the best and the most; probably 'cause they were like same age iron bears, hard like steel from the outside, but soft like fluffy stuffed toys in the inside. Well, that didn't stop them from making mean jokes to each other.

Mikey observed Jason's 'Savage Bliss' shirt under his leather jacket, and snorted slightly, recalling Raph's cruel jokes.

" 'Savage Bliss'?" Raph had been snickering, "sounds like a cheap condom brand to me," he had joked with glistening eyes, stamping his feet, before Leo had nudged him, looking mortified at Raph's scandalizing, to him, at least, comment, "RaphaelPlease!"

"Waiting for that numbskull of a sister," Jason rolled his eyes, running a hand through his hair that Mikey could not imagine was some time ago black as Irma's.

"When was the last time I saw you?" Mikey had started packing all his stuff, having given up already on the computer mess.

"Last summer?" Jason offered with a smirk, "with the 'Neil Catrick Harris' missing cat case? We were looking for the cat so we could win the skateboard prize, didn't find it, you cried," he added the last part jokingly, dryly, rolling his tongue.

Mikey deadpanned. "You didn't have to remind me the last part."

He remembered that week. Poor Neil Catrick Harris, was never found. Poor Miss Sally Pride, never helped her. And know she was-

Well.

But Mikey knew Jason didn't want to find the cat necessarily because of the prize, but because he just generally loved all animals. He had a pet leopard gecko, Lars that he adored dearly.

Jason looked his phone for a minute and then, met Mikey's eyes again with a creased brow, "Irma told me she's, at the magenta stairs? What even. Could you maybe-"

He waved off with a toothy grin, already grabbing his backpack, "Don't even need to ask. I'm done with this anyway." He barely glanced at the computer and gave it a mean stare. "For now. And I wouldn't want you to get lost," he teased.

"How nice of you," Jason said, shrugging one shoulder and started walking as Mikey was trying to catch up.

Before he had reached him, Jason, slowly, and deliberately, turned his back to him, tossing him a cheeky glance behind him.

They were walking together, Jason looking around with wide eyes, before he spoke up, "Your brothers?"

"Prob'ly waiting for me outside."

"They still accompany you from and to school?" he mocked.

Mikey pouted. "Nah, today's just a special day. You never come to see Irma, too," he added, just to see Jason fumble with his words and perhaps out of curiosity as well.

But Jason was all tight and controlled voice as he answered, sounding like he had rehearsed that sentence a million times. "I have my reasons. I – well. I 'd rather she didn't come home alone today – or come home period."

"Oh. I-"

"Anyways," Jason brushed everything off with a confident smile and shifting eyes, "where are we heading?"

Mikey had so many questions. He wanted to ask what was going on at their home, what was going on with their parents, why Jason didn't go to the same school as Mikey and his sister-

But he knew better. So, he caught Jason's eyes with a wide and easy grin, as he bowed down before him, "Follow me, good sir," he said with waggling eyebrows and Jason half-smiled with a raised brow.

He kept moving till he heard Jason's fond comment as he let a hand on his shoulder, making him stop in his tracks.

"Hah, you should smile more. Looks good on you."

Chapter Text

Mikey hated waiting.

He was impatient since he was a child, and basically, everyone and their mothers knew it and didn't keep him waiting. Except when:

A) They actually had something important and couldn't deal with whatever thing was in his mind

And

B) They wanted to get a rise out of him.

Which was probably what was happening right now. Mikey was lying in bed, shoes and school bags scattered across the floor, as he had spread his legs on the top of the bed. "Don't put your feet on the pillow," half the people he knew would say to him. He hadn't changed his clothes yet, but he felt comfortable in his jeans and hoodie.

He had his phone in his hand, scanning the printed letters in his message box with eager eyes. His last text, 'and then what?' was simply waiting in their conversation. It had been five whole minutes, and Woody still hadn't answered.

Okay, his thoughts probably sounded like a lovesick schoolgirl from a middle-school cliché movie, but he didn't exactly care.

School.

He was so glad it was over, at least for a week. Normally, schools would close on Friday, but the teachers had been understanding and left them to leave a day earlier. Of course, with a ton of homework, but Mikey had kindly pressed that thing in the back of his mind; he would deal with this very, very later. Besides, Renet had promised she would help him with anything close to math, and Donnie was more than okay with it.

So, it was all good.

His phone vibrated and Mikey jumped in surprise, trying to unlock his phone with fidgeting fingers, as an easy grin was taking over his face.

'i accidentally spilled hydrochloric acid on him so he really had to use the emergency shower'

He chuckled under his breath, shaking his head in amused disappointment. He could just imagine Woody's voice while he'd say this sentence to him. Could imagine his soft smirk, the gleam in his eyes, his freckles dancing on his face and inviting his own spots of his face to a slow dance he could not deny-

Woah.

He was getting way too far. He looked at the screen of his phone and almost immediately started typing his reply, without wondering if he'd seem desperate.

'dude! That's gold!'

He sent his text with a smile, leaving his phone on his nightstand and grabbing his bag from the floor, stretching with difficulty as he didn't want to get up from his comfy bed. He was just checking over and tidying up his school stuff, careful with the papers of Thanksgiving recipes he had printed with the help of April and the school librarian, when his cell moved and Mikey had to hold his breath as he read his friend's reply.

'omg, if i knew he looked that good shirtless and wet i would have spilled it on him much earlier'

Oh.

Oh.

That wasn't something he expected.

He'd be lying if he said he didn't wish his best friend in the entire world to be not-so-straight. Obviously, that would perhaps mean that Woody had rejected him, not cause he didn't like guys, but cause he didn't like him. But, it would also mean he had hopes. He hated himself for being that stuck-up on this, hated that his feelings always found a way to get in the way.

For a short moment, he didn't know what to answer. He tried to play it cool and keep it casual, texting a simple,

'oh?
didn't know you were into guys'
 and closed his eyes as well as his phone. He rubbed his hand on his face. He didn't have to wait long, as Woody's reply came surprisingly fast, or maybe not that surprisingly.

Mikey swore he could feel Woody's heartbeat through the text and next to his ear as he gazed his message with blurry and heavy eyes.

'i dunno. I'm not pretty sure.'

Mikey felt his stomach clench. He knew how that felt. He had been there before, was still there, technically. Because he still didn't know himself, too, and he was okay with it. He had spoken with his father, awkwardly and worryingly, a few years ago, with his brothers, too and had found out he wasn't the only one with these feelings, that might as well were more than just a simple phase.

He was grateful with every bit of his heart that his family was on his side, and felt like a brat at the same time that he didn't feel all alright.

So, he offered his phone screen a crooked and tentative smile, as if he was hoping it'd be transferred to Woody, and sent him what Mikey would want to hear.

'that's cool too. want to talk about it?'

'really not. you'll be the first to know for sure tho, promise.'

He'd be the first. He. Mikey's lips trembled as his heart swell. He was ready to curl himself in a ball and roll in happiness on the floor, when a voice laced with amusement startled him.

"Mikey?"

Mikey turned his eyes to an upside down Donnie looking at him with raised brows and an upturning mouth. Why was he upside down? Or - wait, he was upside down. So, Donnie was… downside up…?

"Oh – haha – " Mikey burst in laughter, as he was trying to turn himself in the process, "Hi Donnie, what do you wa – oh, god," he stopped mid-sentence as realization dawned in his face when he observed his brother more carefully, especially the very large item he had in his hands, "do not tell me-"

Donnie tossed him an apologetic grin. "Well-"

But Mikey was already shaking his head. "Laundry? Laundry? No, no, no," he declared, sitting on the bed while Donnie put the bowl next to his bed, "don't just leave it he – hereDonnie!"

"Mikey, please - !" Donnie pleaded, unfazed.

He pressed his lips into a thin line, eyes narrowed. He wasn't about to get stuck with chores he didn't want and didn't even have to do. "Why should I do the laundry?" he asked with the tone of a whiny child. "It's not even my turn today, it's yours!"

Donnie frowned falsely with a hand on his heart as Mikey pointed a mean look and an even meaner finger. "I know, I know, but I really can't do it right now, I'll go to April's and I need your help. It's not like you're busy or something," he added snidely with a raising eyebrow, leaning with his shoulder on the door.

"Hey!" Mikey replied, a little defensive. "I'm busy. Can't you see?" He lifted his phone and motioned with his hand to Donnie who looked as deadpanned as Raph when he got told he was tall.

"Texting? Woah, you're right, truly busy there Mikey," he moved his hands with a dramatic effect and wide eyes.

The ridiculous sight of his brother made Mikey sputtered a "You're stupid", through a laugh and Donnie's shoulders hunched up by his ears.

"Love you too, man. Promise me you're gonna do the laundry at exactly five o'clock?"

"Why 'exactly'?"

"Because we need to be precise."

"Of course, my fault for asking." He titled his head. "The two other lords are not accepting such civilian chores like laundry?" he asked, smiling easily.

Donnie gave him a dismissive hand and rolled eyes. "Oh, give them a break."

"Not home yet?" He wondered, unsurprisingly. It wouldn't be the first time his brothers would be outside.

Donnie laughed shamefully. "Leo's up in his room, I knocked, he didn't answer and there's no way I'm getting in on my own after the last time."

And Mikey couldn't help but snort. He remembered the last time Donnie went up in Leo's room uninvited quickly and had got out just as quickly. When asked, his brother had flushed and said a rushed out, "He was naked and I'm scarred for a lifetime."

"Y'know Leo and his cleaning rituals. Raph?"

Donnie crinkled his nose. "God knows."

"Dad won't like the sound of that," Mikey said teasingly.

"Which reminds me, I have to ask him for going to April's house," Donnie rolled his sleeves up, and made his way to leave, pushing the laundry with his foot more closely to him, "We have to do homework."

Mikey, who was certain that his genius of a brother had probably either plan out a program for his Thanksgiving week homework or had already finished it, rolled his tongue in his mouth."Or do each other?" He said, voice low.

"I heard that Michelangelo!" he exclaimed.

"That's why I said it!"

"Five o'clock!" Donnie turned his face to him, arms crossed, and an expression of seriousness. Mikey readjusted his glasses, chest out and proud eyes, as he saluted his brother, all smugness.

"I know my duties, sir!" he grinned.

It teased a laugh out of Donnie, who gave in with good grace and leaned down to kiss Mikey on his forehead with all the softness he had. Mikey loved his brothers wholeheartedly.

He beamed at him, catching his phone, while Donnie left his room, with eager fingers. If he would never be able to stand next to Woody as a partner, he would stand as a column, as a brother, just as supportive as his.


16:40 at the digital clock, and Mikey was kneeling on the bathroom floor, sunk in millions of clothes. They were like, five people in this house and their laundry looked like another dozen teenagers lived along with them. He pushed his glasses back up, as he tried to untangle spare socks from dirty sheets.

"Each guy has that one sock," Irma would say with tiny shoves and waggling eyebrows, while Donnie would pull his then, long hair, to cover his face, "You're absolutely disgusting."

And while it took Mikey one year, a research on the Internet and a striking meeting in the middle of the night with Mother Nature to understand, he still shivered with these kinds of innuendoes.

As he was giving all of his attention to a particular knot between two sleeves, a gruff knock on the bathroom door was sounded in the small space, and Mikey didn't even need to turn his head to understand the person whose that knock belonged to.

"Raph?" he said automatically, not looking up, as he bit his lip, almost daring to rip the cloth apart.

"Hey, kid," Raph muffled, and Mikey couldn't exactly recognize the tone of his voice. He sounded strange, well, stranger than usual. He still worked the knot, as he was, smoothly as ever, trying to guess what was going on.

"Where have you been?"

"Robbing a bank." Raph blurted plainly.

Mikey snorted as the knot finally disappeared. "Without me?" He joked, as he turned his head to show his brother his raised brows and lips, but was forced to leave his words to die on his tongue, "Really dude, where were – oh god, Raph, what happened? Are you hurt?"

He rushed to Raph and got his hands on his swollen eye and bloody lips. What on freaking earth? His body trembled with what he could only guess was protective instinct and Mikey steadily realized how his brothers felt deep inside, how scary it was to care and worry so much. He understood every single moment they yelled at him with full genuine concern and cursed himself for being such a little shit.

Raph narrowed his eyes, pushing Mikey's hands away with tentative moves. "Don't ask stupid questions," he muttered not quite as annoyed as he could like Mikey to believe, as a way of saying 'I'm always fine', but he wouldn't always be. As if sensing his thoughts, Raph started with wide eyes, "Relax, Mike-"

"Relax?" Mikey demanded loudly and closed for a moment his eyes, not bearing the sight of his brother. "Look at you!" he screamed quietly in Raph's face with a shaky voice. He was trying to keep his breaths in check, had taken a course about emergency panic attacks in school, but it wasn't working and for once, he didn't even know why he was like this right now, when Raph had been like this before again and again. "I need to get the first aid kit, I have-" he darted his eyes around, starting to move.

Raph grabbed his arm with one hand, and in a short moment the other one, keeping him steady. "You don't need to," he looked Mikey straight in the eye. "Casey patched me up," he added, like that meant it was all okay and Mikey's eyes furrowed.

"And Casey knows medical help?" He went on, heated and fierce. Too loud.

"And you know medical help?" his brother retorted and Mikey realized with wide eyes why he was so bothered.

He wanted to help the world, but it seemed impossible. Impossible when he couldn't even help the world around him, his friends, Woody, his brothers, Raph. He was useless. That was it. Raph stared at him, and Mikey slowly took the towel he had wet barely a few seconds ago and pressed it to his face.

"C'mon," he snapped. "How did that happen?"

"I…I fell." Raph hedged and Mikey didn't believe him in the slightest. But, he'd been in Raph's position more than once, and he knew that accusations were the last thing Raph needed and wanted to hear right now.

"Fell?" he echoed his brother's words.

"Yes?" Raph offered, standing in that slow, smooth way that made him look tall – which was the only thing his brother wasn't. He was looking at Mikey with heavy eyes – or knowing, or expectant, like he was waiting that he would believe him, or at least pretend.

Mikey sighed deeply. He wasn't going to show that he was gullible, but he wasn't about to make his brother feel the way Mikey himself didn't want to feel. "You're hurt so I'll take the lame excuse."

Raph smiled. "Nerd. Need help?"

"With that?"

"With that." Raph motioned to the clothes on the floor and Mikey was suddenly startled. "You look like you're sinking in these clothes."

He gave the clock a look and – God, 16:51, he needed to get going. He kneeled on the floor and explained quickly, "I'm just trying to separate the colorful from the white ones. Last time you ended up with pink underwear," he added with teasing eyes.

"Ah, yes, pfft. I still have that thing buried in my drawers," Raph grumbled, as though he was not enjoying every second of this, too. He was supposed to be bothered, but he was never good at acting. Mikey knew that first hand, ever since they were children and he would play innocent as if he hadn't just broken a neighboring window.

"But why?" he exclaimed jokingly, "You'd look so cute in pink panties."

"You an' Case both," Raph let out a snort through his nose, and kept chuckling as he placed some clothes in the washing machine. Looking at him laughing made Mikey want to laugh, too and he did, while not being even sure what the joke was in the first place.

After a short moment, filled with silence and separating clothes, Raph spoke up again, "Um, Mikey?"

"Yup?"

"Sorry."

"Sorry?" Mikey had to look up and see Raph's pained expression. His fingers twitched as he opened the drawer to get the lavender detergent. "For what?" he pressed, swallowing hard.

"For the whole thing, y'know, yesterday," Raph said, too loud to be a whisper but too quiet to be normal, almost cutting him off. His green eyes cut into him, and Mikey abruptly felt cold. He opened his mouth to speak, but Raph held a hand up. "You seem better, but we didn't talk a lot and we shoulda since it's my fault."

"What? Raph? Are you kidding me?" he asked in Raph's face. Was this why he was hurt? Had he got involved in some fight because he felt shitty and guilty? Mikey knew he couldn't ask this since he wouldn't get an answer either way and even if he did, if it was what he expected, he'd never forgive himself. He mentally thanked Casey, too.

Mikey couldn't look at him, eyes dipping away and landing on his knees. For a long moment, no one spoke, and Mikey's heart was beating too fast, too hard, so loud he was sure Raph could hear it in the stark silence of the bathroom, if his tone when he started talking was any indication.

"I said some stuff but I didn't mean it, I swear. I never mean it. I dunno why I say stuff like that, I don't mean 'em, never and then, I hurt you, Leo, everyone," by the time Raph had started lamenting, Mikey had looked at him, really looked at him, taking in his bruised face and bruised words and bruised expression.

"Really, just ignore me. Don't even listen to a word I say, it's always stupid," Mikey tried to swallow the sudden lump in his throat, his hand reached up the nape of Raph's neck to bury itself in his hair, scrunching pleasantly. "I'm stupid."

"You're not stupid, dude," he reassured in his brother's hair. He adjusted himself, until he was hugging him properly and tightly, and squeezed him with all the energy he had to provide.

"I should comfort you, not you me," Raph said through a watery laugh, muffled against his shoulder.

"We comfort each other – it's a win win. It's what brothers do."

Raph nodded, a faint smile ghosting his lips. "Okay, okay, enough with the mushy stuff, I have a reputation to keep," he kissed the top of his head. It lingered a little, like he was trying to transmit something he didn't know how to say out loud. But his grin was playful and familiar when he got up and added, "I'm going to Leo."

"Like this?" Mikey inquired with a snarky laugh. "He could kill you," he insisted, not quite teasing. "Or worse, he could give you a lecture on responsibility again," Raph grinned and Mikey couldn't help grinning right back.

"I don't think he's in that good of a mood," he continued. Mikey hadn't seen Leo almost at all today, and even if yesterday, when they had their 'sorry-walk-at-home', he looked just fine, Mikey wasn't sure. Leo didn't seem mad at him, though. And that was good. "And if you make him worse, I'll be stuck with the aftermath," he added the last part jokingly, but still laced with intensity, just enough to sound and appear funny.

Raph barked a laugh. "You wanted to work with Lame-o-nardo and Miss Straitjacket."

"Raphiee…" he said again, aiming for exasperation and sounding nothing but fond even to his own ears.

"Don't worry; I know how to deal with Fearless, trust me on this," Raph winked at him, "Besides, he deserves an apology too," he added not irritatingly and Mikey couldn't help but wonder if Leo was, to say it gently, pissed, because of Raph and Raph knew that.

He didn't hesitate, though. "You're the best, you know that?"

"I've been told. Hey - !"

"Yeah?" Mikey took a look at the clock that said exactly five o'clock, and finally closed the washing machine's door, turning the right levers. He waited, kneeled on the floor, as Raph cleared his throat, looking around.

His eyes set on his, as he asked what he could not say out loud, mere moments ago, his voice oddly thick and fond, making Mikey's insides pool with warmth. "You forgive me?"

But, he was already shaking his head, feeling just like Donnie when Mikey asked stupid, obvious questions, and soothed Raph with a twitched mouth that turned into a wide and messy grin. "I can't believe you even ask."


Mikey turned his head to Leo, smoothly jumping away from a rock on the pavement. "And what are we gonna do? What animals do you have in the shelter? Dangerous? Snakes? Rabbits? Monkeys? Bats?"

Leo broke into a huge smile, a million-dollar smile, and shook his head. "It's an animal shelter, Mikey, not a zoo. We have simple animals. Cats, dogs, turtles, okay snakes too, but there are not dangerous," he pointed the last word with a hint of faked terror, and Mikey laughed loudly, so loudly some people passing by gave him weird looks.

Mikey's lips twitched, looking at Leo worryingly, but Leo seemed like he didn't even care, tossing him a helpless grin.

Leo looked so much better, his whole face glowing and his eyes glazed with what Mikey could describe as only ultimate happiness. He barely was like this, anymore.

Mikey couldn't remember when it had started. He remembered the years when Leo was always smiling, talking with them with playful nudges and glances and how steadily and gradually all these things had disappeared.

So, he tried to cherish and worship those small moments that reminded him of the past. He missed those easy days and still wondered why they weren't like this before.

But, Mikey couldn't blame Leo. He knew he had a lot to deal with and decided each time he was wondering, to stay quiet.

Leo was still smiling, playing with the sleeve of the green shirt he had for work and Mikey was making a mental note to his mind to thank Raph. His conversation with Leo had seemed to go well. They had figured things out. They always did.

"How are not snakes dangerous?" Mikey giggled and Leo deadpanned.

"Karai is a snake charmer," he said as a matter-of-factly, with the way Donnie talked like when he spoke about something that was true, yet alarming and Mikey snorted at the familiarity of the tone.

"I dunno if I should be relieved or concerned by this."

"You're telling me. You'll see, it'll be fun," Leo added with haughty importance.

Mikey thought of all the childhood moments he had heard that from Leo's mouth, and teased, "I thought your kind of fun equals boredom."

He waved a hand sharply, at Mikey's way, walking a little bit faster. "Oh, you listen to Raph's comments. It is fun. Hard work, but still fun!"

Mikey winced at the part 'hard work'. "How long we'll stay?"

Leo gave him the look. "We haven't even started yet. Already tired?"

"I have to do my homework!" Mikey defended with a serious pose, chest out that began to sink by the time Leo had started laughing. "Yeah, yeah, you laugh, but who's gonna make Thanksgiving dinner, huh? I have the preparations to do," he added, and maybe his tone had come out more complainingly than he'd like, if Leo's scrunched face was any indication.

"Are you sure you wanna take over all of it?" Leo started, torn somewhere between fondness and worry, "we don't want to push you or make you feel you have to-"

Mikey understood his brother's tone immediately and knew how to answer. "No worries, bro. I'm really excited about it," he responded with a promising smile, his face beaming as Leo's shoulders fell with relief.

They always said he had a gift of realizing people's feelings, moods, and thoughts, and could adapt his way of talking and moving according to each scenario. Donnie would say he could pretty much win every argument with just his big blue eyes.

And while Mikey wanted to take pride in that, and would, every now and then, he still knew it wasn't all that true. Because if he really had a gift, he would be able to realize why Leo was always tired, why Raph was always broody, why Donnie was always nervous – he could be a good brother.

But, then again, he couldn't even realize his own feelings. He couldn't explain himself. And then, he expected he could understand Leo. Why was he like this?

He pushed his thoughts away. It wasn't the time.

"April will come to help me too, a bit," he said, when he was sure his voice wouldn't break. Coward. "I think a lot of people are coming, right?"

Leo looked for a moment lost, but managed to give him a perhaps forced sideways grin. Mikey admired Leo's acting skills. "Well, it is the Hamato family dinner, how could someone turn us down?"

Worries aside, for now, Mikey decided to be all excited again, because, duh, no school and double duh, Thanksgiving dinner!

He didn't actually remember how it had all started, but from being just them around a table, eating whatever Splinter had the courage to make, Thanksgiving week was his bad days, it had developed to a huge party. And Mikey wasn't complaining at all.

Everybody would come. The O'Neils, which included both April and her father, but Casey and his mother as well, now, would stay with them until late at night. April always helped Mikey to make his delicious plates, once he had started taking over the cooking department. Casey usually was somewhere there, snickering with Raph at some silly movies on TV.

Even Splinter had fun, something that made Mikey's cheeks hurt from smiling, talking with Mr. O'Neil and… Mrs. O'Neil (? Or was it still Mrs. Jones?), exchanging recipes with Woody's mother, (last year Woody was sick and hadn't come, but this year – !oh, only the thought of it made Mikey's heart flutter).

April had told him with excited freckles that Irma and Renet would pay a visit, too, which hadn't bothered Mikey at all, since it meant more friends, more food, and more fun!

He yearned for that day to come, knowing how much it meant to each member of their loving family. Raph actually smiled, Donnie wasn't in his lab that often, they were able to take care of their father in their way, and Leo – well, maybe he didn't have that much fun during the celebration, but Mikey could easily recall the number of times Leo grabbed his jacket from the coat rack, his keys and a Tupperware of California rolls, seaweed salad, and shrimp chips and met a special someone in the cold of the night, under the stars.

Having that in mind, Mikey asked what he wanted for ages, with as much casualness as he could, rolling his tongue in his mouth. "Karai will come?"

Leo almost stumbled on the pavement, and gazed at Mikey with momentarily unfocused eyes. He rubbed the back of his neck, careful not run into the poles they were coming across. Finally, he stammered with darting eyes. "I – I don't think so."

"Hmm, I'll try to convince her. I'll talk to her," Mikey said boldly, all proudness and smugness, and, he must have looked pretty ridiculous, since Leo burst into laughter, covering his mouth, as if he was watching the 'Trooooooll in the dungeon!' scene from the Sorcerer's Stone.

He rolled his eyes coyly. "Easy there, Mr. Persuasion."


This is it!" Leo said gleefully, after a few minutes, and with that, the door in front of them was swinging open and Mikey walked in with happy steps and stopped on his tracks to take in all that he was seeing.

It looked awesome! Mikey had kind of imagined it like a pet store, the pictures glued on the windows outside had a lot of similarities, but it wasn't actually anything like this. It was so big, decorated with pretty carpets, that Mikey guessed were absorbent, funny games, which he shouldn't probably touch, because it was for the animals, and stone-build spaces there and there that were now empty.

Mikey grinned around the place and took off his hoodie, let it on the counter of a pretty spacey kitchen that was in the corner of the room. He turned his head and found Leo looking at him expectantly, with those big blue eyes that were just like his mother – Leo's mother. He tried to play it a little bit too excited and allowed himself to gasp.

"Wow," he said like the word was a holy invocation and kept walking around the place with steelbright eyes.

"You like it?" Leo's smile was full and warm and surprised, as if he was a tad unsure about his decision to let Mikey come here or embarrassed by where he worked – Mikey wasn't sure. But he pushed away his oldest brother's surprise with a cheeky smile.

"It's really big," he nodded at no one at particular and then, stared at Leo with pleading eyes, " but where's the animal kingdom?" he exclaimed in a childish tone that suited him very well actually, as far as anyone was concerned, and Leo leaned on the floor to tie his shoe laces.

"Most of them are in the back," he explained from where he was kneeling and Mikey hummed understandingly, pressing a playful elbow on his brother's bent over back to pretend he was resting upon it. He heard Leo snort, and felt the noise pass through Leo's back as he shook off his resting arm with his shoulder.

Mikey loved to mess like this with his brothers, especially Raph. And if what Donnie had told him years ago about his upcoming growth spurt was true, he could not wait to be taller than Leo. He breathed through his nose, and a smell reached his nostrils. "It smells kinda crappy, though, dude," he commented, wrinkling his nose and before Leo could answer, a loud bang startled the both of them

"That's because it's literally crap," a husky voice, laced with amusement was heard and Mikey whipped his head to see a tall figure standing before them, with a big tank in front her feet.

Karai, Mikey mused and Leo echoed his thoughts almost immediately, getting up from the floor, as he cried, "Karai!" She smirked, looking at Leo, and that gave Mikey the chance to observe his new-found partner in the job.

She was just really tall. Mikey wasn't even joking, the woman could probably touch the ceiling with her hand. Okay, maybe that was a bit exaggerating, but still. She wore a similar green shirt to Leo's and he felt suddenly a rush of uncertainty, standing with his orange sweater. Her make-up was too dark for an afternoon part-time job, but her multiple earrings looked nice. Mikey thought momentarily that perhaps Karai and Irma would hang out well together. They'd get along, discussing about piercings and hair dies-gone-wrong.

He must have been staring for a while, because Karai pursed her lips in a weird way and waved a hand in front of his face, brows raised, "Hi, Mikey," she said, very softly and Mikey pressed his lips into a line. He really didn't talk with Karai.

She was kind of a mystery at school, never really hanging out with anyone and Mikey couldn't remember the last actual interaction they've had together. The only thing that came to his mind was the prom the board had organized for the whole school when Mikey was pretty much thirteen; he had taught Karai how to dance.

"Hi… Karai," he winced at his awkward greeting and the way his hand moved, but Karai shook it off as nothing, sending him a small smile of understanding, before taking the towel she had on her shoulder and throwing it right in Leo's face.

"You're late," she half-scolded, half-teased, and Leo deadpanned, taking the towel from his face and folding in on the counter. He beckoned Mikey to come closer and took his hands in his, applying what Mikey guessed was sanitizer.. maybe?

"You're early," he retorted, the edges of his lips curling, as he dried his hands and played with Mikey's hair. "Eager much?" Leo added, and Mikey laughed because his tone was so much like Raph's when he joked. He almost forgot how similar they were.

Leo giggled to him with a sheepish smile and Mikey turned his head right in time to see Karai roll her eyes hard at the view of them laughing. "As if!" she said with the voice of an offended cinema star and Mikey huffed a laugh. He'd like it here. "Now, c'mon, let's get down to business," she added after a moment and he slumped his shoulders. Or maybe not.

"We're gonna wash the baby turtles?" Leo asked, motioning to the tank in front of Karai's feet and Mikey couldn't read Karai's face as a snarky smile was spread on it. She walked towards them, and put a hand around Mikey's shoulders – she was pretty taller than him. He jumped in surprise and Karai eyed him with a gleam that reminded Mikey of Raph when he had some pretty sinful intentions.

He smiled devilishly and Karai answered with an equally mishevious grin, turning her head to Leo who was looking at them strangely, torn between fondness and curiosity.

"No," Karai finally replied, rolling her tongue, "we're gonna wash the baby turtles," she clarified and before Leo could protest, she pressed a finger on his lips, with an 'Ah, ah, ah' look in her eyes, "you're gonna wash Klunk."

"Klunk?" Mikey wondered out loud but no one paid attention to him.

"Wha – Wouldn't you wash her?" Leo's face was so priceless that Mikey wanted to take a picture of it and hang it on his wall of 'Gobsmacked Siblings'. Well, if he had one. Still, he believed his thought was funny and guessed Karai would agree, if the way she sighed overdramatically was any indication.

"I can't, she's too aggressive. Oh, c'mon, you know how to handle her, you're so good at it," Karai practically purred and Mikey had to bite back a laugh, as she moved her hand that was wrapped around him and came closer to Leo.

Leo gave in with an amused smile that Mikey always loved wholeheartedly, because that was the way his fights with them usually ended, a few years ago, at least, and hold up his hands, "If you insist-"

"Yes!" Karai shouted triumphantly at Leo, who looked around at some shelves close there and grabbed in his arm a handful of different stuff to wash… Klunk? – Or Mikey guessed so. He turned his head to them and made a move to speak, but Karai preempted him, gently hitting his behind with the previously hanging towel.

Leo rolled his eyes so hard that it looked to Mikey that it hurt, before mouthing a 'Good Luck' to him and leaving in the back of the room.

"That's my boy!" Karai called.

Mikey played with his thumbs, already awkward. He thought it was fun at first, to make Leo frustrated, but now he was gone, and he had to stay with Karai. He swallowed hard. It was just nerves; they weren't going to be here forever.

They stayed in silence, Mikey sighing and Karai fumbling with the towel in her hands, before he decided to break the silence

"What's a klunk?" he asked with genuine curiosity and Karai blinked, her expression shifting into one of surprise.

"Klunk. She's a dog. Well, a huge dog," she said, brushing sweaty fringe out of her eyes. "We found her in a dumpster. Can you believe the nerve of some people?" she added more seriously, and her eyes looked firm. Pretty scary. Mikey understood then two things:

1. It was better not to make Karai angry and maintain a friendly relationship with her or the butt-hitting-Batman-vs-Catwoman or whatever relationship she and Leo had (wow, he really had to snoop around and find out more about that)

2. And if she did get angry and all scary, then you'd better be at her side of the fight.

Mikey decided to play it more casually and said indirectly, "You, like, save animals and take care of them until someone adopts them?" When Karai nodded questioningly, Mikey smiled, and added conversationally, "That's so... it's pretty heroic."

"Something like that," Karai told him, something like satisfaction in her eyes. "Coming?"

He grinned proudly and jumped furiously. "Hell yeah!"


And that's how the shelter works!" Karai announced after possibly twenty-five minutes, eyes bright as she looked at Mikey.

Mikey took the soap in his hands and continued with his work. While it was pretty amazing to wash small baby turtles that made cute noises, Karai was right; it did become boring after a while. A distraction during it was pretty much needed. But not the kind of dull work-related distraction Karai had in her mind.

"Did you press a button or anything and start talking without even breathing?" he snorted, wrinkling his nose with faked disgust. He admired people like Karai who were so cool and super smart. That was very uncommonly epic. "What are you, a vet?" he added jokingly, tilting his head.

"Hah, that wouldn't be bad," Karai gave him a tiny smirk and threw him finger guns, before placing her hand back in the water. "I just know business. My father showed me all the tricks of running a business," she said and Mikey couldn't exactly understand the tone of her voice.

He was going to ask, because, come on, he's always been a snoop, but Karai really seemed to not be up for any conversation like that, so Mikey abandoned the plan. He knew when he had to step back, he thought and jerked his hands when he felt small pinches on them.

He looked down in the water with an amused-'Mom-like' expression and the turtles chirped in reply. Okay, they were extremely adorable. "Oh my God, they're super cute! And bity too," he tossed them a sideways grin and lifted his head back up when Karai laughed.

She leaned in and pushed Mikey's glasses up with her free hand, since Mikey's both hands were occupied, and he smiled gratefully. "It's cause you're a stranger – they'll warm up to you," she explained and the turtles seemed to agree, if their cheeps were any indication.

Mikey couldn't help but awe. "Ah, I feel like a proud mama hen whose baby chicks have learned to fly!" he said with all that bright, eager joy of a child with something exciting to share.

"Eh?" Karai said at that point, eyebrows lifting to meet her hairline.

He'd scratched the back of his head awkwardly, but since his hands were busy, he thought a clumsy shrug had the same effect, "Sorry, I make bad jokes when I'm nervous."

Struggling to keep a straight face, Karai said, "So, you're always nervous?" and Mikey immediately felt offended. He straightened his back a bit, chest out and took a haughty pose.

"Hey!" he declared proudly in the middle of the room, with the kind of voice Leo or Donnie made when they wanted to pass a message or sound overly sure, "You can't doubt me. I'm the King of Pranks!"

"Then we should organize a prank together sometime," Karai winked at him, taking a bit more of the soap in her hands, "I'm pretty good myself."

Mikey nodded perhaps too excitedly, because, yes, Karai was a prank legend and any operation with her would be freaking amazing and an honor. He knew how good Karai was – she was responsible for the most wicked pranks in school and the best; she didn't even get caught. Never. Leo had once mentioned that Karai had been in detention for possibly four times only, despite all of her malicious actions just because she was apparently really slick.

"I know," he shouted, thrumming with energy and regretted it almost immediately because he didn't want to appear as a creepy stalker that had knowledge of every of her activities, "you're very famous at school – for pretty much everything," he continued more loosely and cringed at the obviously awful casual tone he tried to adopt.

But Karai seemed completely unfazed and almost honored, by saying mockingly, "Well, everybody does know me." So, Mikey felt okay to continue his mini fagirling, since he always was the kind of person who believed that people had to hear their positive traits.

"Yeah, you're so cool!" he exclaimed with big eyes, "and like, successful at school! Those things barely go together."

Karai sputtered, through a laugh and Mikey's shoulders hunched up by his ears. He realized that he hadn't actually seen Karai laugh like that ever – except today. Which, kind of made sense, since, again, he really just didn't talk to her. He wondered just how many amazing friends he had lost by not talking at them at school.

"Successful," she repeated, shaking with laughter, "Well, if you judge success by the number of enemies you make, then yes, I'm very successful at school," Karai said, but she was grinning. It sort of reminded Mikey the way Raph talked to them about the latest but not last fight he had got into.

Leo would usually scold him for saying so, but then, right away, he'd nudge him with an elbow and a playful smile. Hmm, Mikey understood why Leo and Karai were such good friends.

"Why do you say that?" His question was mild, easy to answer, and when Karai raised an eyebrow to him, he asserted with certain eyes, all smugness, "think you're very nice."

"If you ask around, you'll discover that's unlikely," Karai said sharp, before Mikey had a chance to feel one way or another. There was a hint of acceptance mixed with humor in her voice and Mikey sensed the need to speak.

"They're just scared of you," he said quickly, biting his lip and with the way Karai snuffled amusingly, it would be an awesome way to end the conversation, but of course Mikey would mess up and – "y'know, Saki's daughter and all," he said, before he realized he was going to speak. She looked up at him, and he felt small and stupid.

The turtle tank was suddenly the most interesting thing in the world as he stared down at it. It was pretty amazing how he knew what he said was wrong, when he didn't even know what wasexactly wrong. He had come here to have fun during his Thanksgiving break, erase the 'Help the world' part from the list, and the only thing he had managed to do was to blurt things he knew they hit a nerve.

He didn't even want to learn what bugged Karai so much about her father, which was very against his prowl and snoop-like attitude.

"Right," she said, cool and neutral, and Mikey would be surprised with the tone of it, if it didn't match the way Raph said stuff and played indifferent and cool, when he really wasn't. Karai got up for a minute and moved to the kitchen, leaving Mikey washing the baby turtles alone.


Klunk moved clumsily and without coordination in the tub, filled with lather and soap bubbles, wiggling her tail and stamping her huge feet, yapping when a particular sudden move she made had Leonardo covered with suds on his arms.

"Wash the dog she said," he grumbled, in a mocking voice, scrubbing Klunk, who kept woofing in no particular direction. Leo got closer to Klunk, holding her tight, careful not to throw down the tub and continued to nag, "We'll take care of the turtles she said," he muttered and Klunk barked approvingly in reply.

"Thank you for understanding, Klunk!" Leo exclaimed throwing his hands in the air. But once his hands left her, Klunk started jumping stubbornly and furiously, rocking Leo in the process, "Ugh, no, no, Klunk, please sit down, down, down! I said down, Klunk-" Klunk hopped harder in the tub, the movement tossing soap bubbles around the floor, next to the animals in their cages.

And sending Leonardo's face right in the tub.

"Brrrahh," he groaned with a soapy mouth and all the animals cheered in their own way, with discordant sounds.


"But why not?" Mikey asked with pleading eyes, unfazed by the noises in the back of the shelter, his lip jutting out and Karai sighed, getting another bar of soap. She was even calmer than before, Mikey's slip-up all forgotten.

He guessed it was because washing, like, a million of turtles, was very soothing – they had already finished with the first pack of turtles that now swam cleanly in the ridiculously pretty aquarium and were washing the next one. Or more accurately – Mikey washing it.

Not that Karai was doing nothing; she had fixed the aquarium, bring a heck of a lot of animals in the front of the shelter – and Mikey realized that they kept the big ones in the back, because the room now was full of different kinds of birds, bunnies, and other tiny animals – and had promised them grilled cheese sandwiches that were being now cooked in the toaster.

With her that relaxed, it was obvious that Mikey was going to start the operation 'Convince Karai to come for Thanksgiving', of course, more carefully this time. He had tried to mention it implicitly, but Karai had figured out his tricks and scowled at him to blunt. So, he was. Yet, the answer was still a big hell of a no.

It's sort of quiet at first, the only sound really filling the room the rumbling, throaty purr of the cat Karai has laid next to her cross-legged knees. She's a bit sad, it's better to have company, Karai had said as a way of explanation when the cat had appeared in her hands and in front of Mikey's face.

Finally, she braved a glance up at him and almost whispered, "Cause, Mikey, I can't leave my father all by himself. S'not right. No matter how much of an asshole he is," she added unapologetically, with an approving pet between the orange tabby's ears.

Mikey pressed his lips into a thin line and understood that apparently, Karai had the gumption to talk about her father when it was her that was doing the talking. Well, it made sense. He nodded, although he wasn't sure if it was the guilty feeling that prevented Karai as much as it was the 'not-allowed' feeling.

Still, he had some other tricks in his sleeves. Leo probably hadn't called him Mr. Persuasion for nothing. "Eh, yeah, but, can't he stay with your mom or something?" he said, looking up at Karai with guileless eyes. She paused completely and Mikey furrowed his brows. What?

She hedged, "My mother's not here," her sigh sent a familiar, tight feeling in Mikey's stomach, which was now twisted. Karai's expression was exactly scrunched the way Mikey's and his brothers' faces were when somebody mentioned their mothers.

His voice was oddly thick, "Oh – OH, I'm so sorry, Karai-"

"Don't mention it," Karai said with a sharp wave of her free hand, as her other one worked in the tank. Why hadn't Leo told Mikey Karai's mother was – what was she?

"Is she… dead?" he asked, slowly, trying the word out loud for the first time, because he didn't use this word almost at all – not even for his own mother, whom he didn't know if it could be applied to. Then his gaze moved, trailing up, until he was looking Karai in the eye.

His voice was hoarse and his heart was beating a nervous tattoo in his chest, so fast he thought he could faint. It was so weird that he couldn't deal with issues like this, even if he faced them himself – or perhaps that was why he couldn't.

The mixed emotions were obviously apparent on his face, because Karai's approach was slow and careful, for him, but for her, too. "No. She – she left."

"I'm really sorry, Karai. Really," Mikey said miserably, but Karai replied promptly.

"You don't have to. I have forgiven her for leaving me a long time ago," Then, a little quieter, she added, "I'll never forgive her for leaving me with him, though." She looked startled, and then hurt, and then she didn't look anything at all. Her expression went as closed and faraway as Mikey's father's when he talked about his past wives.

He knew the last thing he wanted was to have a broody almost eighteen-year-old Karai to work with, and knew that was the last thing she wanted as well. So, he changed the subject, lightly touching Karai's hand in the water of the tank.

Trying to push his own thoughts away, too, since he did not want to think about his mother right now, he squinted his eyes behind his glasses, taking a look at Karai's nails, which he had noticed before as well. They had a somehow emo-punk design with black and pink nail polish and blue glitter and Mikey just had to comment on them, because, woah, they were awesome sauce and even touched Renet's nail art pinterest perfection. "Nice nails! They're very cool!"

"Yeah, huh?" Karai said, looking her fingers in the water with a big self-satisfied smile. Those same fingers caught another baby turtle to wash, and Mikey mimicked her, remembering to get back to work too. After a minute, she added, with measured daring, "I could paint yours sometime, if you want."

Mikey blinked, perplexed. It wasn't that what Karai said was a problem, heck, he'd love to have his nails painted. But, he still felt weird. Nobody had ever suggested something like that to him, and he wasn't sure how some people were going to react if he showed up with painted nails. The school was open, technically, but not that much. He hadn't felt that fact himself, but he had observed it from a corner.

Mikey remembered how sad Leo was when he had come home after school, face downhearted and Raph had bugged him to no end till he'd found out about the small gang of kids in school that bullied Leo about Usagi. Needless to say that Raph and Karai had dealt with these kids in their own, specialdebaucherous way. Leo had never figured out a thing.

He knew that he was safe. Still, he wasn't certain how to reply. "You're good at make-up stuff, right?" he said by way of answer, and Karai laughed, splashing some water on his jeans with the manner her hand moved to catch a baby turtle.

Karai shook her head, looking as though she had no idea where Mikey's silly question could have sprung from. "Very. I have a huge collection."

Mikey went silent for a minute, when a huge smile, his gossiper-like smile, spread on his face. "Rumors say you and Shinigami fought for the same color of a lipstick," he mentioned as if he was discussing the weather and Karai snorted and rolled her eyes at him.

"Well, suffice to say I don't like liars who steal lipstick when you're not looking and then pass out when you slap them a bit on the back of the head," she half-smiled, saying dubiously and snorted another laugh through her nose at Mikey's widened eyes.

"Woah, feisty," he tossed her a simper, "I thought you and Shinigami are friends."

"Oh, yes, we are. She's… jolly," her lips curled just a bit and Mikey grinned. He knew Karai didn't have that many friends and her joking-like attitude was because she was fond of her few ones. "She loves animals, wanna help the world and all," she continued, "she always comes here to pet the cats when she's sad. We have new matching tattoos each week-end."

"Does Leo come to your tattoo week-ends?" He asked immediately when he heard the last part, without even taking a minute to think about it.

"Leo? Goodie-two-shoes Leo?" Karai retorted, even rolling her eyes, her lips turning upwards.

"Hmm," Mikey hummed in a 'duh' tone, "that's what I thought-"

"Of course he comes!" she said cheerfully, and her mouth tugged into an involuntary grin that made Mikey burst into laughter, so hard that the vibrations rolled through his hands in the water and perturbed the baby turtles, which started chirping and biting again.

"What? Does he have tattoos?" he sputtered, "Cause I'm not sure Dad would approve that."

"Who knows? I don't kiss and tell. Maybe…"

Mikey caught his breath. Beside him, Karai huffed, but when he sneaked a glance at her, she didn't look annoyed. She just looked still amused, and shook her head once she discovered Mikey's stare, furrowed her eyebrows at the question in Mikey's eyes. "What?"

He just narrowed his eyes. "Where?"

Karai grinned, a little shy, mostly pleased, and that was about it when she said, eyes glittering, "Now I don't want to be inappropriate."

There was a beat, the frank skepticism on Mikey's face fading into puzzlement, and Karai obviously couldn't help grinning when it finally clicked and Mikey exclaimed flagrantly, "EEH! Holy chalupa! He hadn't said a thing!"

"Hahaha, I'd kick his ass if he did," Karai said with a sideways look at him, getting more soap in her hands, and Mikey suddenly felt bad about her manicure. It was going to be ruined with so much water and soap.

"You said Klunk's aggressive but so are you," he teased.

"You're talking to the ultimate martial arts champion, I ought to be aggressive," Karai said plainly, and flexed the arm she had in the water playfully, apparently just to show her pretty astonishing muscle, which, okay, was superb and left Mikey gaping. She was so terrifically strong. He shrugged slightly, suddenly uncomfortable in his lanky skin.

Karai furrowed her brows, as if sensing his posture, and Mikey bit his lip. He wasn't about to spill out all his insecurities above a tank filled with baby turtles, but maybe he could use this as another way to ask a question that had been drilling his mind.

"Now that you mention it," he glanced down, scrubbing lightly some soft shells, and grinned – yep, he was a genius – "how come you're not competing next year?"

"What?"

"You're not competing," he repeated and proceed to explain himself in front of Karai's narrowed eyes, "I read the newspaper. You're the best there. You can step all the girls and give half the guy competitors a run for their money. Why stop?" He looked at her over the top of his glasses.

Karai leaned in forward, her hands in the water pausing. "Cause I – I'm not interested in – in that, anymore," she shifted her eyes and Mikey's shoulders slumped. What the heck?

If there was something that Karai was known for, that was her success at each martial arts championship. Martial arts trials, martial arts variety tournaments – she always killed each one with grace while also looking completely badass. Mikey hadn't ever seen her compete or something, but the articles almost every newspaper had about Karai's skill were a pretty evident indication.

There were some from their dojo that competed and they did get a high rank, placing second or third, but Karai was steady in being on top. Dad had tried to get Leo to compete in these tournaments for some time as well, but Leo had waved it off. He wasn't into 'tournament-y, bragging rights and medal' kinds of stuff. Maybe that was what Karai had realized too?

But after all the hard work she had done? Karai loved to spar, but she was not satisfied with just that and was so bent on why she couldn't compete with the boys and… well, there had been some years ago a hell of a big discussion about that.

But, there wasn't much it could be done but keep asking the committee to allow her – and girls in general – into the boys' division and well, they continued to say no. That was, though, until Leo, with Dad's help, too, stepped in and he made it practically his mission to get Karai in the boys' division and finally got the board to crack.

And once Karai had got into the boys' bracket, she worked her butt off to be able to dismantle every member of the boys' division, all too easily just like when she did in the girls' division, to show to everyone on the committee that they were wrong, all while taking straight As at school too.

It just meant a lot to Karai, who just didn't get why the trials weren't co-ed, to just treat everyone as an equal competitor. She was the reason girls were kicking butts and taking names! And now, she'd let all that fly away?

"But?" he finally said, "so many competitions, awards and medals, so much work, so many students you teach and they look up to you and-" he trailed off, searching any kind of expression with his eyes.

There was a brief pause, and Mikey worried for a moment that the point he was trying to make had been lost on her, but then Karai was breathing out slowly and saying, "I don't teach. At the dojo."

"Why not? Shouldn't the students learn from, well, a champion?" Mikey said with feeling and a ridiculous expression, trying to look too disgusted with the world at large to articulate himself properly.

He guessed his acting was proved effective, because Karai chuckled lightly and fondly under her breath, before sighing and shrugging her shoulders in an 'oh-what-can-you-do' manner. "That… that's not the policy of our dojo."

She got up from her kneeled position and stretched, walking to the counter to, apparently, grab the towel and clean her hands. Were they done? He still had a few adorably cute baby turtles to wash.

He tilted his head back to look at her, still frowning deeply. The Karai who went against all policies to prove her skill, that Karai couldn't change the policy of well, her, technically, dojo? "You can come to our dojo anytime you want. Leo could really use another set of hands," he decided to say.

Karai didn't seem to believe him. "I'm pretty sure I'm not a welcomed person at the Hamato household," her snort caused Mikey to frown even more deeply. Oh, how sad did she sound? Did she really believe they didn't want her? Okay, well, maybe they hadn't shown her much fondness – all of them had, one point or another, look down on her and gave her mean looks, worried about her being around Leo – But. But, they've had their moments with her.

Whether it was Raph and her bonding over beating the shit out of bullies, Mikey giving instruction to her to do the 'The Monkey Flip', or Karai trying to teach Donnie the ways of flirting, they had tried to warm up to her. Keyword; try. Maybe they should have tried more. Leo would want that for sure.

"If you meet all of them better, they'll like you!" he said as a way of promise, in the end.

"I don't want their liking," Karai mumbled, not quite looking at him, and Mikey washed reeeaally good the last turtles, before turning his head to her and giving her a self-pleased grin.

"You didn't want mine, but you earned it without even trying. I get why Leo likes you. You're good," he pointed out the last word with an even huger smile and Karai groaned and shoved half-heartedly at Mikey's arm.

"Don't insult me," she snapped friendlily and offered him a hand up, which Mikey gladly accepted and pulled just so he could reach her ear and whispered jokingly, "Goood…"

Karai pushed him playfully away and caught the tank from the floor to leave it on the counter and brought the other aquarium. "Help me open this to put them in," she said and Mikey jumped from the chair he had found to sit on, excited to help. Awww, they're so precious!

" 'kay!" he laughed brightly, and starch out his arms to hold as many of them as he could all at once. Once it was all done, Karai gave him a proud thumbs up and he held out his chest. Had he just helped the world? He thought so.

As he was waiting for Karai to speak and say something, his hands, clutching anxiously in the front of his pockets, forgetting why they were there and slip to his sides, Leo, all of a sudden, walked in the room.

"Hello, how is my favorite person in the world?" he announced loudly, arching a brow and stepped aside grandly, inviting Mikey inside his embrace with the sweep of his arm. He ducked comfortably next to him.

"Oh, Leo,"Karai said suddenly, startling the both of them, and fluttered her eyes impishly, "you're making me blush." Her smile was coy and Mikey snorted against Leo's body.

"I was talking to Mikey," he deadpanned. "How are you? Having fun?" he asked, turning his head to Mikey, always concerned first and amused second.

"Yeah, you were right! It is great!" Mikey said decisively with a grin.

"Told you!"

"You finished washing Klunk?" she asked with real interest, rubbing the wet counter with the towel.

"Yes, I just want to rub her with the fancy lotion."

"On the table."

"Got it!" Leo grabbed the bottle, before crinkling his nose with disgust, "What smells like this?"

"It's the crap, Leo," Karai pointed out dryly.

Leo shook his head. "No, it's – I think something's burning," he said slowly, and the smell reached Mikey's nose as well; Leo was right, something must have been burning. He tried to find the source, but quitted his plans when Karai cleared her throat.

She leaned on the counter, eyes glazing, and whispered semi-seductively, "Must be my desire for you."

Leo grumbled and rolled his eyes, turning his head to Mikey with an expression that Mikey guessed was a mix of 'I'm so sorry' and 'She's just joking', but his face was flushed and he tried to smother it behind his hand when Mikey started chuckling.

Karai glanced at them as well, as her shoulders started shaking, and when Leo looked at both of them, betrayed, offended and mortified at the same time, Mikey threw up his arms in defeat, laughing loudly and Leo grunted.

Then, his eyes got wide. "Karai, the toaster's on fire!"

"Oh gods!" she exclaimed, turning and moving immediately to the kitchen where the toaster wasn't really on fire, but smoke was floating in the air. Mikey deadpanned at Leo's face and his exaggerating words.

He just shrugged and made his way to go back in the room, and Mikey laughed a little when Leo ruffled his hair on his way past, before leaving.

Oh, Mikey was really getting used to happy-go-lucky Leo.

As Leo went in the back of the shelter, Mikey hoped into the kitchen by jumping from the counter, "You really don't know how to cook?" he commented as he saw Karai scouring the toaster from the burned-out tailings.

"Can't cook to save my life," she managed, and looked too tired to flush self-consciously, but she did rub a hand through her messy hair, and the action was so much like Leo that Mikey had to try really and bite back a laugh.

"That makes it two of you," Mikey said, voice low, because it was really true; Leo just couldn't cook. Every time he was allowed to use the kitchen, his brothers shivered with the thought of losing their apartment in flames. Not that Donnie and Raph were better; but it was just really satisfying to pick on Mr. Perfect Leonardo for something. Leo, who was so proficient and potent, never unbosoming himself.

That was why most of them didn't know about his more personal life. They could learn, though, through Mikey's innocent or not-so-innocent curiosity. "You and Leo are often like this?"

"When you say 'like this'?" Karai asked, not even lifting her head from the toaster and sounding almost uncertain with where this was going – or maybe was she that good of an actor?

"Like, not completely hating each other's guts?" The way he spoke must have been strange or something like that, because Karai lifted her head and looked at him, something warm and light dawning on her face.

"Alopex," she started, through a lopsided smile, "the manager, says the only reason the shelter is popular is because people enjoy petting and adopting animals while watching our relentless flirting with each other, but it's not what it sounds like," she finished, her answer so indirect it made Mikey puff, but then, Karai winked at him knowingly and a snarky grin adorned her lips.

Aha! Eureka! "Yeah, alright," Mikey said mildly, purely for the sake of Karai's deeply offended squawk. At least she was eager to give him some answers, or a part of them, instead of Leo, who kept everything inside. When was the volcano going to erupt?

"Okay, so they're a little burned," Karai admitted, raising the black sandwiches in front of their faces, and smiled toothily, "that doesn't make them not edible, right?"

And then Mikey couldn't help laughing at her, and the sandwiches, which only made Karai's smile larger. "I don't know if I want my stomach to become a fireplace," he teased and her indignant expression was definitely getting into the 'Gobsmacked Siblings' wall; Huh, so Karai was his sister now?

"Please - !" Karai's aggrieved shriek was interrupted by another shriek, a different kind of one.

"Karai! Mikey! Guys!"

Leo's face as he greeted them by getting rapidly into the room and kitchen, was so pale and ghastly, the way Mikey had only seen it a small number of times – when Raph had come home dreadfully hurt, when Leo had had that harsh argument with Dad that had changed almost everything, when Leo and Karai had fought in the middle of the hallway when they were younger, a fight so bone-crushing Leo-

"What?" Karai's eyes were broad as she raised an arm, as if she wanted to reach and grab him and Mikey felt the same need.

"What? Leo?" he asked as well, more forcefully and something painful inside him wrapped unforgiving fingers around his heart and squeezed as Leo's eyes started to get unfocused on them, shifting around quickly just like his Adam's apple and – oh, no, was his brother going to faint, just no-

Leo's stare finally concentrated on them and he spoke quietly, as if his throat was closing. "Klunk," he choked, "Klunk's gone."

Chapter Text

Mikey had grown accustomed to his family's morning rituals by now.

It was too morning – very early, the temperature was hot in the middle of the hallway and he couldn't exactly place why. Perhaps it was the central heating their Dad had turned on before going downstairs to open the dojo – another indicator of just how early it was.

Or maybe it was Raph's puffy sighs next to his neck that were managing to warm him up and comfort him after everything. Shit had really gone down and Mikey – he was at loss.

He found it strange how he had acquired to be in that position. Outside a closed door, on the floor carpets and pressed between his two brothers, with the sun barely out on the sky and Leo barely okay on Donnie's bed.

Just weeks ago it was the opposite. He was the one inside the room, adamant to stay beneath his blankets and come up when he longed for breath, and his brothers were outside, fighting to get him to open the door and fighting with each other.

The change and situation of the moment right now felt uneasy in his throat, but he pushed the feeling away swallowing hard, not caring how it nestled in his stomach uncomfortably. He wondered for a minute if Leo was eavesdropping like he had – but then again, that would mean that they actually talked.

And that Leo was actually awake.

Mikey tried to hold his breath, closing his eyes, tuning out the clicking noises Donnie's mouth made and the puffs of air that escaped Raph's nose. His eyes shut just for the shortest of moments, before opening up almost immediately – hating what they saw in darkness.

Leo's pained expression, eyes wide and body trembling, mouth curling in a perfect O of shame, blame, and guilt and flying out short-cut curses that Mikey was surprised to see Leo even knew.

His mouth was forming a similar frown of guilty confusion – confusion of why he had done nothing to help and confusion of why his eldest brother acted like this. But that was Leo always, anyway. Taking the blame before anyone had a say and holding it no matter how painful it became.

Mikey still thought Leo really took after their father.

He should have helped. He should have helped his brother realize it wasn't his fault the back door was unlocked and Klunk had gotten out, so, so quietly. It would have been true. But he didn't. He couldn't look at his eyes. And Mikey thought he could help the world. How could he when he couldn't help his own brother?

Donnie had said he shouldn't have helped; it wasn't his place or his responsibility. And he had tried to believe it. The statement had been said firmly and laced with tired exasperation.

Exactly how Donnie spoke up now, breaking the silence that had been stretched across the hallway, eyes moving away from his shoes and turning to their faces slowly.

These eyes didn't stay on Mikey's face for too long and much preferred to lock gazes with Raph's. "Can you stop sighing like this?" Donnie demanded. "You're interrupting my train of thought."

Mikey winced at the way Raph's veins throbbed on his neck, bracing himself for the shouting match to begin. It was almost as if Donatello was begging Raphael to start shouting at him with the way his voice dripped sarcasm. But, he got it. He understood things better when people yell, rather than giving him his space.

The shout never came, though. Instead, Raph chose to reply in the same tone, yet still with more frustration than Donnie – and more tiredness. "Sure thing Don, does my breathing bother you too?"

"That's not what I meant," Donnie said, but it wasn't something he had to explain. The silence fell again and Mikey hated it even more than before. He shrugged Raph's head clumsily off his shoulder and moved his hands to his knees. It was enough Leo wasn't okay.

He could not handle his brothers being at odds again. And for no reason. Well, there was a reason possibly, just one they were not telling him. And that irked him even more. He tried to cover his indignation with a forced smile, glancing towards his twin.

"What are you thinking?" he asked hoarsely.

Donnie shook his head in a way that could only be translated as 'forget it', but still answered, voice cracking in what Mikey guessed was guilt as well, "That we should get up and go."

His eyes went round, mouth Sahara dry at the tone of his voice. It was different from the tone Mikey had heard just yesterday, when Donnie and Raph were barging into the shelter after he had called them, eyes glazed with concern and worry at the sight of their brother pale and faint.

Was Donnie forgetting the dedication he had shown? That couldn't be. "But?" he tried to defend, voice limping and breaking, too. His twin was looking at him with expectant eyes, waiting to finish his sentence, until Mikey finally started to continue with forced calm, "I thought we were stayi –"

The sentence, however, was short-lived, as Raph interrupted him with sharp eyes that gazed him faintly in agreement, before setting on Donnie.

"Hell yeah we're staying," Raph said simply, voice holding strong confidence, which was able to break Donnie's logical insensitivity – or maybe the exact opposite of it – in seconds. "I'm not leaving till he wakes up," he added, just to confirm his commitment and Mikey slumped his shoulders.

Raphael was the one that had helped Leo got up from the position he was sitting and dragged him to the car with soft murmurs to him, and glances that were torn between acceptance and an 'I-told-you-so' mood towards Donatello. These were glances he wasn't able to understand.

Donnie had been, though, then ducking his head with a sigh – but, now. He held his ground, head up, yet voice so low that Mikey wondered for a minute if he had actually heard him.

"With his Zoloft and the sedatives he took?" he retorted behind his glasses. There was an odd note in his voice, something different in the way he was looking at Raph—like Raph was suddenly, somehow, a few inches taller. In the end, though, he still added bluntly, "He's probably waking up tomorrow."

"Does it look like I care?"

Raph's shriek of frustration buzzed in Mikey's body and rattled him. For a short moment, he couldn't help but muse at how Raph's tone could enter his body so easily and vibrate him, but he realized it was just his phone that was buzzing in his pocket. And then, he felt stupid.

"Raph, come on!" Donnie exclaimed breathless, as Mikey reached for his phone. He found himself staring at the screen, his eyes glued to the name that had sent him a text, Woody, and he wondered if it was apathetic to open it in a time like this.

Despite the worry, he pressed the message with a swift of his thumb, and then almost immediately stopped looking at the phone as a cry was sounded in the hallway, which Mikey took a while to identify.

"I don't understand!" Raphael cried, hands in fists with white knuckles grabbing the carpet below them, "I can't understand – him – I just can't." The admission matched Mikey's thoughts so ironically thoughtlessly that his free hand fell far too easily on Raph's shoulder.

Donnie just nodded, biting his lip. "I know," he said, and yet, it sounded like he knew nothing. And if Donnie didn't know, well.

"He can't blame himself for everything," Raph went on, truly pissed off at Leo, and Mikey's head spanned at how effortlessly his brother could change a stand when it came to Leonardo.

From teasing him with playful nudges, which had put Leo in a rather good mood yesterday, body shivering when he had seen him in the shelter, to being so furious to him now – it made Mikey want to stop looking his brother's mouth move and turn his gaze from Raph's swollen eyes to the screen of his phone again.

"He can't blame himself whenever crap hits the fan. Why is he like this?"

"Where am I supposed to know? Why is it me that I always have to know, huh?"

The screen greeted him with a positive glow which showcased Mikey's last text to Woody 'will you come?' and his friend (unfortunately) answer. It made him giddy and excited, so different from the emotions he was feeling the last hours, and maybe that was why Mikey loved Woody. He was different than anything he knew.

And that was why he needed him with him to the dinner. And it because it would be a hell of a lot of fun. Maybe. Because, while it was no secret that Mikey had invited Woody to their Thanksgiving dinner, he didn't even know if one would even happen.

Not with everyone like this. Mikey guessed his brothers didn't even have it on their mind. And perhaps he shouldn't either, because Woody's reply was sharp and short, like a slap on his left cheek – the left, because it was the one where he had the least freckles.

'my throat's sore, i dunno.'

Mikey felt his shoulders shag, the letters lighting up his eyes and teasing him. He doesn't want to come and he's just making excuses, 'cause he doesn't like you, the little bundle of insecurities inside him whispered and Mikey pushed it away. Because, while Woody had said he didn't like him or boys years ago, nothing stopped him from changing his mind and view.

Besides, Woody seemed to like boys now, right? So, what stopped him from liking Mikey, too, the way Mikey wanted? The thought raced his mind and he wanted to slap himself. He shouldn't expect anything from Woody. He was his friend. A friend that had no place in his mind while his own eldest brother had had a panic attack.

It was probably the first time Mikey had thought clearly the term in his head, and it made the regular lump of guilt that seemed to settle in his throat very often these last few hours, very difficult to swallow.

That wasn't how he should help. He breathed hard through his nose, feeling as if he had lost a bit of the conversation that was passing back and forth between his brothers and wanting to chirp in the discussion, so the lump could disappear for a while.

When Donnie addressed him, though, he thought he should think before he wished.

"Mikey? Mikey? Mikey!" It seemed like he was calling him for a while now, and Mikey shook his head.

"Yeah, yeah, sorry. I'm here," he said, stumbling between words, as a way of saying sorry for spacing out. He was still unsure where his brothers' conversation had gone to, so he kept his mouth shut, wincing. The winces transformed all too easily to thankful sighs, as Raph tousled his hair with fond fingers

"You'd better," he warned. "One messed up brother is enough," he added, but his tone was so much different than before, tender, protective and affectionate – almost the same as Raph's soft murmurs to Leo when they were driving back home. It reassured him, showed that the last thing his older brother was mad to was Leonardo and that was enough for Mikey to melt in the touch.

Donnie leaned his head on his shoulder and Mikey held him close as much as he could. It wasn't very hard.

It was gratefully silent for a few moments, a solacing silence that Mikey was familiar with and didn't hate that much. When Donnie lifted his head and spoke up, it was soft and Mikey interpreted it into an invisible blanket around him.

"What happened there?"

The question made Mikey pause for a minute – firstly, to consider what exactly Donnie was asking and secondly, once he figured that out, to consider how he should answer. It wasn't as if he hadn't tried to explain to them what happened.

He wasn't sure what more Donnie was asking from him. He sounded like Mikey wasn't telling them the entire situation, which was anything but wrong, because Mikey had told all that he had seen – and all that he had figured out.

The air between was tense in a pleasant way that was being followed by his brothers' sweet eyes, and it really shouldn't make Mikey feel anxious, but it did anyway.

But, he answered either way, among stammering words. "I – I don't know - I mean – nothing really happened, just – you know, Leo got really," he was floundering. His chest hurt, "Leo-ish when Klunk disappeared. He – he was the one that took care of her. At that moment."

"So?" Raph said drily, his fingers still patting Mikey's brown curls, "It's a dog. I didn't know Leo was that sentimental about it."

Her, Mikey thought, not it, like it's a freaking cookie.

"That's – I don't think that's the problem, Raph," Donnie cut in, not unkindly, and Mikey squinted his eyes at him. Klunk was the reason Leo had got so upset. How was that now not the problem?

"You said it before," he continued and Mikey found himself focusing harder on his words, trying to make sense of them. He didn't want to seem stupid. "He just thinks it's his fault. You know how Leo takes it. Always. And now, it's like, he's proving him right, too," His twin concluded, no hesitation, not the slightest measure of doubt.

But just because he was so concentrated on his words, he picked up what threw him off. "Huh?" What did Donnie mean? Who proved who right? He barely managed to keep in what escaped his mouth, wide-eyed and wondering. Donnie looked motionless and expressionless, but at least Raph was in the same position as Mikey.

The eyes he tossed towards Donnie were narrowing and confused. "Who?"

Donatello cocked an eyebrow, muttering as a matter-of-factly, "You know who."

"Uh…" Raph seemed at loss, expression puzzled that was easily in sync with Mikey's, but instead of twisting even more in confusion like him, Raphael's face shifted in brightness, as if everything clicked all of a sudden, and a soft noise left his mouth, "Oh. Well, shit."

It seemed as if Raph and Donnie comprehended each other perfectly – comprehended what was going on – and it bothered Mikey so much. It was not fair! The untold compromise that was being passed between the two brothers just with glances was building a hot feeling of injustice in Mikey's stomach.

They were brothers. Half-brothers but brothers nonetheless, and he – he wanted to help. He wanted to know. He felt like a little toddler who threw a tantrum just because his parents weren't telling him from were babies came. But that was the thing. He wasn't a toddler.

"Okay, okay," he nodded his head too intensely, ignoring the shots of agitation that flashed across his brothers' faces. He tried to get up from the floor but Raph had him sinking down in seconds, wrapping his hands around him, "if you're not gonna tell me a thing – ugh!"

"Chill, squirt," he said soft, but not fragile, slender hands firm around him, as he gave him a smile and Mikey couldn't help but blink.

And he blinked again, when Donnie reached to squeeze his shoulder, smiling as well. "We're not keeping things from you, Mikey," he explained and it immediately sounded like a lie, making Mikey frown.

"And if we do," he clarified, probably just because of his expression, "it's because it's not important. Not as important as you," he added in the end with a soft simper, and perhaps it was the right thing to say, since Raph's solid expression relented into a shining grin, and Mikey couldn't help himself but grinning back.

He looked at them and thought, if they were smiling – if he was smiling, it was all okay. It had to be. He believed in that and in them. The smiles glued to their faces for far too long, till their cheeks ached and hurt, but in a good, promising way.

And it was in that same promising way that Donnie spoke again, mellow eyes, yet an assembled face that matched his expression when he would ooze haughty knowledge, "The one thing you need to know, is to give Leo some time. And space. The same goes for you, Raph," he added with an arching eyebrow.

Looking at him, Raph could only shake his head. "I just want him to talk to me." The way his brothers said it made Mikey's eyebrows knit in conflicting understanding. He knew what his brother was talking about. Leo always held his problems to himself, not letting anyone take a peek.

He could understand Raphael's ire, but thinking how his brother also was partly the same – never letting anyone in and anything out – he thought it was sort of hypocritical of him. But he knew that was not what Raph wanted to hear – or should hear now, for that matter. So, Mikey went for a playful shove instead.

"Wow, that's a first," he commented with elbow nudges.

"Shut up," Raph said, but he was smiling. Mikey smiled broadly and triumphantly, too. "I do mean it," he continued, eyes more focused on Donnie but hands still around Mikey like a shield, "But he won't talk to me."

The pleading tone that laced Raph's voice went straight into Mikey's heart and pierced a nicely shaped hole that burned harder when Donnie replied to him with a keen look. "And that doesn't tell you something? Like, that he doesn't want to talk to you?"

He expected the words to be sharp and defiant, but they held a defeating hint, as if Donnie was saying that Leo didn't want to talk to him, rather than to Raph. But maybe Mikey had misunderstood.

That only riled Raph up even more, and he shouted quietly, hands thrown up in the air, "Oh, but when it comes to Karai –"

And then, Mikey was talking before he could even realize it, all too defending, "Karai was helping him!"

"Okay, Mikey, we know," Donnie said, surprised. He paused for a minute, an unreadable spark in his eyes, and then added with a small smirk, "Raph's just being a drama queen."

Raph groaned.

But it was true. Not the Raph thing being a drama queen – although that was true as well, just not what mattered exactly right now, but the fact that Karai did help Leo.

When Leo was a mess at the shelter, trembling with aftershocks and the self-doubt that always managed to cripple secretely inside of him and radiate outside so hard that it hit Mikey like a wall of moldy, making him freeze, it was Karai who was there. For him.

She held Leo tightly in her arms as he was sinking on the floor, eyes glinting concern and with the easy and almost needy way Leo fell into her shielding embrace, it looked like at Mikey that they had comforted each other like this many times in the past.

And that just made his stomach clench in unforgiving angles.

Karai had tossed him a gaze of flinching guilt while holding Leo, as if she felt bad he was seeing all of this and it was that look that had encouraged Mikey to rush to the floor and join their hug.

And maybe he should have been troubled with the uncertain manner her fingers shook, but her expression was all too sure, sure when Leo's breath had been balanced, sure when she had been printing Klunk's missing posters all while making tea for his brother.

Oh, yes, she was helping so much. And the fact that it didn't even seem like her nature made Mikey like her even more.

"Since when you're girlfriends with Miss Crazy?" Raph asked him, breaking his thoughts in two, the way he always asked him all the hard questions, and Mikey shoved his shoulder amiably.

"She's cool, bro!" he exclaimed and meant it. Sure, he had actually met Karai and got to know her for a little while, but he liked her, he believed her and above all, he trusted her. It was too early for that, but Mikey had a hunch. Karai was rad and he had a good feeling about her.

At Raph's disbelieving stare, he resisted hard the urge to deadpan. His face managed a bright look, which had Donnie snorting when he spoke, "For reals! You'd get along," he drooled on. He could imagine Karai and Raph being friends – lifting weights together, cursing each other with colorful, creative names out of love, mocking Leo's Batman voice – yes, they'd be great friends.

If only they weren't both so stubbornly headstrong.

His brother was still looking at him skeptically, and it made him frown. Okay, maybe Raph wasn't the biggest fan of Karai, but he couldn't deny all the stuff Karai had done for Leo. Good ones. There had been times Leonardo had been hurt, years ago, sure, but Mikey knew that the ones you loved – these were the ones you could – and did hurt the most.

And with the way Raph's eyes glazed with intensity whenever he fought and argued with them – his family – before regretting it, well, Mikey thought he should have known by now as well. It wouldn't hurt if he tried to convince him things he should have accepted already.

"And… I think – I think she cares about Leo. Really," he pointed out, since it seemed like something he should say.

"Of course," Donnie said promptly and sweetly, as if it was and should be the most obvious thing, but Mikey recognized the tone of his voice – it was torn between uncertainty and a hint of fairy tale-like waver, the same he used when he answered to Mikey's childish question 'But they really had a happily ever after?' back when he told him stories to sleep.

He still smiled, though at his brother's reassuring face. Raph just leveled an unswayed look at him.

"…Yeah?" His voice was too small and it made Mikey want to nod at him very quickly. So he did, fidgeting with his fingers.

"I think they are," he started and then stopped. Together? In love? He wasn't sure what exactly his eldest brother and Karai were. Perhaps when Leo woke up and was better, he could pry some answers – Michelangelo-style. For now, he settled on some teasing, eyes gleaming.

He aimed for a more light-hearted ambiance and dumbfound siblings when he continued, smirking, "well, maybe – they're a thing. Y'know. Or something." Yet, he was met with deadpanned expressions that scrunched easily into amusement.

Raph bit his lip, glancing to a smiling Donnie for a moment, and then turning back to Mikey. He pressed a strong hand on his chest, mouth gaping. "Noo… What gave it away?" he asked blandly, arching an eyebrow, "Was the way they looked in each other's eyes? Or the way they shoved their tongues in each other's throats?"

Donnie choked theatrically, still smiling. "Ew, gross! Good one!" he added, snickering and held up a hand that Raph high-fived undoubtedly, laughing snidely.

"I have my moments."

At his brothers' laughs, Mikey grinned. He knew he could help the tension leave the atmosphere that was floating in the middle of the hallway, until something lighted up in his mind and the grin was squashed.

"Wait, wait," Mikey rambled, taken aback and somewhat betrayed, "wait – you knew? I'm –"

Did Leo not trust him at all? Apparently, he was telling everyone everything, except to him. He knew private life was something he shouldn't butt in, but it still hurt. The treachery hoped furiously in him with hard jumps, but it must have been reflected on his eyes, because Donnie cut him off.

"We don't know something, Mikey," he said, in a confiding manner. "We're just making assumptions here. If Leo hasn't told us, then he's not sure, too. Or, he doesn't want us to know. But, they might have something going on," he titled his head, as if memories of lovey-dovey Leo and Karai were next to him, "It's complicated."

The edge in his twin's voice made Mikey frown but nod understandingly. School was full of relationships that fell under the wide umbrella of 'it's complicated' and darn if Leo hadn't always found himself in them.

"Complicated?" he parroted. "Sounds like the Usagi thing all over again."

Complicated didn't even start to cover Leo's relationship with Usagi, though. Well, they were just thirteen back then, so calling it a relationship seemed way too childish (at Least that was what Leo had been saying), but feelings had been there. And that was enough for Mikey.

He wasn't sure how Usagi had upgraded from the new dojo's instructor's cocky yet sweet son to a boy Leonardo sparred with playfully with fists – and awkwardly with lips.

His eldest brother had mocked Usagi at first, for being charmingly arrogant with an overly confident smirk. A smirk Leo usually wanted to smack off, yet actually found himself wanting to kiss.

And Usagi was a great guy after all, really. It wasn't his fault his parents had distanced themselves so much – and managed to distance Usagi, as well, far away from them. Mikey wondered when Usagi's mother would realize what was good for his son and bring him back.

Usagi had meant so much for Leo, though, and he had been crushed, crying at them and confessing things they, well, already knew. They stood by him – because they loved Leo and actually liked Usagi a lot (probably the reason Leo hated it that they didn't like Karai).

And Mikey, because Leo made him feel better about crushing on Captain Ryan.

But, still. The word complicated described each of Leo's relationship with so accuracy Mikey didn't know if he should laugh or meet his hand with his face.

"Uh-huh," Raph agreed, with a slight scowl that turned into a smirk as his eyes set on Mikey, "Might? C'mon, it's as obvious as Mikey's crush on Woody."

Needless to say, he went beat red all the way to the tips of his ears. "Hey! Raph, dude! Not cool."

"You knucklehead, relax, I'm just joking," Raph rested a hand on Mikey's curly hair, ruffling it lightly, still grinning and if Donnie was a cartoon, there would be rainbows shooting from his eyes and songbirds settling on his shoulders.

As Raph fist-bumped with Donnie all while pressing him between them, Mikey raised a brow. "But you agree."

"What?"

"That she cares, bro!" he exulted.

Raph narrowed his eyes, realizing the set trap. He must have noticed Mikey's suddenly warning demeanor, because his annoyance turned to concern. "If she cared, she would call him – she would – she would check up on things. She wouldn't abandon –"

The words made his stomach churn, and needles of burgeoning panic pricked at his suddenly thumping heart. He pursed his lips reluctantly. "Abandon is the last thing she did." From what he had gathered, Karai's mom leaving was like abandonment to her – not just a disappearance like his mother. And nobody does things to others that hit close to home.

Okay, she hadn't called. But he was certain why that happened. "Karai's like you, Raph, she can't grasp… big feelings," he said, holding his hand up over his chest, emphasizing his point, "Andshe's busy," he added. "She has to make more posters for Klunk."

"Excuses," Raph drawled acridly.

"She'll definitely call. Till she does so, we're here – for him. Right?" Mikey shrugged, a forlorn expression on his face.

"Always," Donnie insisted, childishly earnest. Raph smiled despite himself.

"You're both nerds. But yeah," he admitted in his own, soft way.

"Ya short softie," Mikey awed and that got him a shining smile, and the quick press of a hug in return, before Raph got up, straightening himself.

"Wha – where are you going?" he asked in bewilderment.

Raph furrowed his brows, half-confused and half-amused, trailing off. "We have to do shopping for Thanksgiving, remember, chef?"

Holy chalupa, how had that slipped his mind? And how were his brothers still on board with it during the current situation? The knowing upturns of their lips curled Mikey's mouth into a grin. Thanksgiving dinner meant food and food meant shopping!

Particularly early shopping, because it was a tradition his mother had created, and because it was practical for plenty of reasons. The early bird gets the worm, Mon would say through a smile, lecturing-like, bumping fists with an always morning enthusiast Leonardo.

He hadn't printed two dozens of recipes with April at the school library for nothing. He had already started the preparations in the kitchen, which is why it probably looked like a battle field, but he still had transferred the ingredients he needed cautiously on a special paper and was still worried – about forgetting something, about fucking up. Being the one in charge made him anxious.

The dinner was a big deal for them. Not just because of the fact that it was fun – but because of what it meant. How it had started slowly and with every quick addition showed them that the holes deaths had created could be filled in a way.

They were thankful for their friends, their family – enough to celebrate it every year.

He had to make sure that it would come out perfectly, between good food, the good dinnerware – and the good them.

Hopefully.

"Oh, I like the sound of that!"Mikey told him, folding his hands excitedly, eyes sparkling liveliness, "Totally forgot about it!" he reached for his pockets, taking out his enormous Thanksgiving shopping list, which turned out to be more than just one, "I have a list… uh, lists," he smiled toothily.

"Oh my," Donnie breathed, sounding surprised in an unpleasant way. "I doubt your piggy bank savings can cover this."

Mikey grinned, pleased. "That is why Raph's taking Dad's credit card." His twin's round eyes got larger with the way Mikey's grin widened.

Raph just brightened. "That's my brother." Of course. Always count on Raphael to congratulate you when you have malefic intentions. Probably the number one reason Mikey should have to encourage Raph to hang out with Karai – his, perhaps, eldest brother's future girlfriend… or oh my GodMikey's sister-in-law?

Did anyone notice him squealing from cuteness? He hoped not.

"Do I need to state the obvious here?"

"Don't be stupid, Donnie," Mikey said dramatically, "We've already asked Dad for it. You know how much he loves Thanksgiving. It's his favorite holiday," he added and the soft smile of Donnie's face wasn't unnoticeable.

Dad really loved Thanksgiving. Mikey wasn't exactly sure why.

Maybe it was because, even before everything had gone to hell, Mom would stay up late to prepare the turkey and her homemade biscuits, pinching his cheeks, pushing her glasses and Donnie and Mikey's back up, sneaking cookie dough to her little ninjas (a.k.a Leo and Raph) – laughing loudly when Dad would snake an arm around her to tease her with a nuzzle and a kiss.

Or maybe, because all of these memories were being gradually replaced, no, improved with new ones, these recent years. The new didn't hurt Dad. Not when his heart couldn't possibly break, since it wasn't even whole, to begin with. Right?

He didn't blame him at all for wiping the picture frames of their mothers every year. Perhaps not this year, yet. But that was why the dinner should go well.

That – Mikey was sure of.

"Yup, Don, don't be stupid," Raph repeated Mikey's words with a matching, mocking inflection, before turning to him, "Grab your jacket and I'm waiting for you in the car. We have to get there fast to get the best."

"Why so eager?"

"We have to make it great – for Leo," he said, whatever nonchalance he was aiming for going down in flames when his voice wavered in affection. Mikey tossed a look at the shut door of his brothers' room and his heart tightened.

"Leo rarely has fun in Thanksgiving dinners." Donnie pointed out, smiling mischievously.

"Exactly. Let's go," he said with a bit of bite, jokingly. He was not angry and Mikey knew that, but just the playful edge of his command seemed to put him back in balance. His weirdly enthusiastic balance, that's it.

He cheered up. "'Awesome Dinner Operation' is a go?" He said at once, too loud in the quiet hall.

"It's a go," his brother confirmed through a smile, and then trotted away.

Mikey was left staring the place his brother was standing before, now empty, and his clothes clung to his body, full of sweat. "Leo's going to be fine, right?" he asked Donnie in a rush, not even realizing the words leaving his mouth.

He couldn't quite help the doubt lacing his question, something naked and desperate at the back of his throat. Is Leo going to be fine?

Is everything going to be fine?

Donnie stood up, as well, and gripped his hands without hesitation. "Of course, Mikey, we've got it. We've got him," he said, and at that moment, Mikey believed it immediately, because his twin did. And Donatello only believed in truth.

Chapter Text

The car ride had been bump-less – in every possible way. Straight road, straight eyes, straight emotions; Mikey liked straight.

Well, if that didn't sound so highly ironic.

Raph had let him sit in the front seat, (with a seatbelt, duh), pick the music (Lady Gaga, double duh) and had even let him snoop around the car, laughing genuinely when Mikey claimed to find suspicious clues to embarrass Leo. It was mostly his car after all.

The conspiratorial hint gleaming in Raph's eyes had Mikey chuckling too, till they both had doubled themselves in laughter in the awkwardly soothing haven of the car.

Mikey was always proud to say that he knew how to improve someone's mood extremely efficiently, but maybe his brothers, especially Raph, had acquired that gift as well.

And that was why Mikey was jumping excitedly in the huge supermarket now, and because it was basically his natural habitat here, the absence of lots of customers making it easier, hoping with the really full cart rolling on his hands.

He bounced, bopping his head to the beat of the music playing, tapping fingers and sing-songing.

O-h-h-h-h-h-h-h-h-h-h!
Friendtopia!
A dystopia around our friendship
Friendtopia!
Our manifesto is fun
Zig-a-zow!

Raph's eyes appeared all of a sudden from where Mikey had persuaded him to kneel down, declaring himself too tall for reaching that low shelves, and his cheeks reddened pleasantly familiar at the amused eye roll his brother gave him.

"Here you go, kid," Raph tossed him gracefully the box and Mikey caught it immediately with cat-like reflexes, examining it cautiously.

"Yes, thanks!" he exclaimed brightly once the package had satisfied him, "That's perfect for my awesome sausage, apple, and cranberry stuffing. Check cubed white bread off the list and let's move on," he added with a smile, giving his brother the list – or the second list, to be more accurately.

Jeez, they were going really well – and getting along blithely, too.

"Got it," Raph said, by way of agreement. His voice was quiet and careful. His eyes darted to the list, then around the shelves. Finally, they set on him, his voice oddly excited. "Anything else from this aisle?"

"Um," Mikey pursed his lips, looking at the list Raphael had given him back. The cart was already too full and it seemed like they had very few things left to buy – and nothing else from this aisle for that matter. His menu was advanced; he wasn't an amateur. So, maybe they should move onto the next one. But, an idea struck him all of a sudden, and his eyes got glittery, "I don't – Oh! Grab that canned soup!"

The tower of canned soups that was nicely placed and displayed on the shelf was unkindly ruined by Raph's muscular hand that took two cans and threw them in the cart. Mikey was alarmed for a minute with the speed and force the soups fell between all the ingredients (the last thing he wanted was to pay destroyed canned soup), but thankfully, they landed safely.

Phew, he let out a breath and besides him, Raph gave a sharp, amused chuckle, patting his hair – or trying to, since height wasn't really helping. The teasing gleam in Mikey's eyes was noticeable and Raph shoved him half-heartedly, already walking briskly ahead.

Mikey followed him promptly, moving the cart in his hand like he was driving a helicopter, and once he reached him, his brother tossed him a look full of mirth. "Hmm, I thought you said canned foods are the sins of the kitchen," he hummed way overdramatically, eyes theatrically round and scared, as if demons were in front of them.

And it worked, because Mikey laughed at his scrunched face (and with the way Raphael was smirking, yes, that was his goal all along – such a big softie), giggling loudly since he wasn't worried about bothering any customer. There were few people in the large supermarket, and Mikey guessed that was one of the perks of going early.

Less noise, less cart-knocking, more space and more good quality stuff. Yup, his mother always knew best.

"Duh, they are," his tone was too joking, and Mikey was worried that it perhaps was over reactive, but Raph tipped his head back and laughed, either way. Mikey answered him with one of his own chuckles, giving him a low poke with his shoulder.

Raph's amused confusion, though, was still present in his bright, green eyes, so Mikey perked up with a smile, turning swiftly the cart to the next aisle, and added bluntly and proudly of his idea and good memory, "I'm taking them for Dad."

"What do you mean?" Raph furrowed his brows in a manner Mikey found himself unable to read and explain it. It made his own eyebrows raise and meet the curls of his hair. He chewed his lip, titling his head at his brother.

"Dad always tries to make soup for us when we're sad. He always did. He would listen to us, give advice, and then make crappy soup, don't you remember?" Mikey said without missing a beat. His eyes were silvery and unflinching, staring Raph's expressionless face. He'd squint them at him, but he'd feel a lot like Leo if he did.

Despite his foggy mind, he could remember and see the pictures of the past in his mind clearly.

When a guy at school had teased him about being the boy with no mom, when he had seen himself in the mirror for the first time with glasses and cried about how ugly he looked, when Woody had rejected him and he had sunk himself in ice cream –

(– when Leo had gotten his first panic attack, when Raph had had the hardest surgery of his life, when Donnie had swum in the ocean of insomnia for weeks – )

His father had been there, watery soup in his hands and warm eyes as he tucked him to bed and joined him, murmuring soft words of fondness and wise tales from Japan that miraculously, always seemed to fit with the situation he had found himself into.

"Believe me, Michelangelo, you are not the first and you will not be the last," he always said with a kind gaze, just to show him that he wasn't alone.

And with the way he always ruffled his curly hair, he knew he wasn't alone.

"I…I do," Raph stammered, his voice pitched into something lower, something soft and Mikey just could not understand the reason of the sudden guilty longing and grief that traced out his face. He was older than him – he should remember, right?

But, it looked like the problem was that he did, in fact, remember. And Mikey couldn't realize why that was a problem. Raphael was still shifting his eyes around, looking half-uncertain and half-broody, so Mikey decided to rock him out of his sullen cocoon with a playful nudge.

"Well, once we get home, Dad will have already talked to Leo and will be waiting for us to bring the canned soups," he said quickly before he could help himself, not stopping between breaths, "I'm sure," he added, not knowing what exactly he was sure about – but not feeling sure about anything either way.

Raph's frown showed that he believed his certainty, or at least pretend to. He gritted his teeth and managed only a gruff, "So sure?" accompanied with wistfully rolled eyes. It wasn't a mocking tone, like when Mikey was getting another answer of Trivial Pursuit wrong – no. It was an uneased, in disarray, almost protective one.

And it scared the hell out of Mikey.

He still nodded, voice firm, "Positive. Yeah…" He knew his father. Sure, these years had been hard, but they wouldn't change – they couldn't change them – change the Hamato Yoshi. He'd seen the short, familiar glances between his brothers, the way their voices lowered and became warily unsteady when they talked about their father. But, those were his brothers, always.

Always seeing what he couldn't and most of the time, being mistaken. Mikey wasn't trusting, but he wasn't overly suspicious – he couldn't understand his brothers sometimes. But he didn't have to, because he still knew them, and he knew his father. And that was how his brothers should think, too.

Mikey smiled deeply; he couldn't wait to see Raph's face when they were going to return home and see Leo awake and glowing, Dad having his arms wrapped around him like a shield. And if he didn't – Mikey didn't even consider it. His father had let him down before, but now, he wasn't going to. He was certain of it.

Mikey shoved his thoughts away, pushing his glasses back up, and turned to Raph with the hugest smile he could manage, "Hey, take the tea Leo likes, too."

"Which one?" he asked conversationally, as if the previous discussion hadn't even occurred, one eyebrow arched in question.

Mikey twisted his lips sheepishly. "He likes jasmine, but I think Donnie says jasmine doesn't mix well with pills." Why his brother wasn't normal like the rest of them and Mikey always had to run through bazillion types of tea? When had his brother acquired that kind of habit, anyway?

But he knew that was foolish to ask. He remembered exactly when Leo had taken up tea as one of his favorite things to drink.

Mikey was never a big fun of tea; it left him uninterested and with a strangely disgusting taste in tongue and throat.

But his mother adored it. She'd always have pots of hot tea in the cold of winter mornings – for her and their father.

She loved jasmine; it was her favorite one. She could always be found clutching a cup of jasmine tea and slowly sipping it. The brothers had started calling it the 'Hazel-tea', despite really not liking it.

Well, that didn't last long.

When Leo had been young and had acquired his first New York cold, pediatrician Hazel – barely two years after her wedding with Yoshi and her birth to Donnie and Mikey – had stayed up with him all night, all five nights, trays of angel pasta hair and jasmine tea cups coming and going as she changed his cold packs and said silly jokes so Leo could laugh and open his mouth to the spoonful coming to feed him.

Mikey had very blurry moments of it – he was besides, only two years old – but Raph and Dad had told him enough stories.

He knew it was the first time Leo had decided he loved tea.

And the first time he had considered Hazel, Mikey's mother, as a mother – as his own mother, too.

"Maybe, oolong?" he suggested with a toothy grin, ignoring Raph's furrowed brows. He definitely remembered Leo having mentioned oolong tea – whether it was classified into the 'Tea Leo Likes' category or the 'Tea Leo Absolutely Despises' category – he wasn't sure. Whatever, he was going to take the risk.

Raph was looking very spaced-out – Mikey guessed it was because of the conversation before, but he eventually just shook his head in a somewhat accepting manner, sighing. "I'll take the oolong one," he said noncommittally, reaching for the packaging on his tip-toes.

The sight of his dearest older brother, full of muscle and sheer masculinity, moving with the grace of a very skilled (short) ballerina just to grab some tea, had Mikey chuckling like an imbecile in the middle of the empty hallway.

Besides, Raphael had attended some classes in ballet. Yes, the big tough lug knew how to ballet; Mikey giggled at the memory.

It had been the coach's Old Hob's idea, so Raph could improve his football skills; ballet helped! Raph had been a little ashamed to admit the fact to them, even more, embarrassed to admit to his football team – his pack.

What he expected was snide comments and jokes – what he didn't expect was his brothers and teammates coming to cheer for him at every one of his only four ballet recitals.

With the way the members of his football team screamed each time he appeared on stage – Mikey thought this was what really meant team.

His brother's glare at him was threatening enough for Mikey to stop giggling and barely lifting his arm to catch the tea package himself. He threw it into the filled cart and turned to Raph with a self-satisfied smile covering his face.

Raph rolled his eyes, the little smirk playing on his lips inevitable, and Mikey almost jumped, swinging the cart with full force. "Okie-dokie," he sang in his best-sharpened valley girl voice, hoping with his legs on the bar the low part of the cart had so he could ride it.

Sure, people could call him a lanky, flabby mess of klutz, but no one could deny his flexibility and speed; it was part of the reason Dad really wanted to include him into his martial arts training.

Oh well, after Karate Kid 3, martial arts were starting to become overrated either way, so Mikey didn't even feel a shred of guilt for denying his father's all too kind proposal. Besides, both Raph and Don didn't join as well.

It was something Mikey only thought a couple of times, but he guessed Leo wasn't really keen on the idea, too. He probably just wanted to make Dad happy and Mikey, of all people, understood that very clearly and perfectly.

Not that Leo had turned out to be complaining; he always tried to play the responsible façade of the older brother, but everyone knew deep down he was a bit of a thrill seeker. It wasn't a secret, more like, the other side of the obvious.

Just as obvious as Raph being a pushover, Mikey thought with a playful grin, as Raph quirked him up an eyebrow.

Raphael took a hold of the cart, grabbing the sides with force, so he could literally push Mikey around, who had settled on it, like a king in a carriage. Mikey let out a chuckle, feeling the power his brother was putting and decided to order him around. "Let's go to the vegetables!" he declared to his lowlife servant.

Raph grunted. "Woo-hoo, fun."

Mikey jumped from the cart, having detected a very delicate stem of bags with raisins hanging from a spinning rack. "Raphiee," he deadpanned, drooling on the nickname. "Don't be such a cranky petunia. Vegetables are waiting for us," he moved the bags of raisins teasingly right into his face, before grabbing the cart to make a move for aisle 6.

Dammit, was it creepy that he had memorized the exact place of each ingredient he needed? No, perhaps just a little bit weird, he mused decisively.

"I'm coming, I'm coming," Raph told him impatiently from behind, except instead of sounding bored stiff or uninterested or anything sane like that, he sounded positively excited. Mikey grinned as he followed him. Yeah, definitely a softie.

Mikey moved the cart, looking around the colorful hallways of the supermarket.

The glow of the cold seemed like stars and it pooled Mikey's stomach – it reminded him of Woody.

My, how much he wanted Woody to come to their dinner. He wanted them to hang out in the kitchen with delicious smells of his even more delicious foods, eat till their bellies got full and satisfied and then, they could huddle on the comfy sofa, hands, and knees brushing while the TV played corny romantic comedies.

And Mikey's whole body would be warm and oversensitive as Woody would lean on his shoulder, his hair tickling him pleasantly in all the right places.

And maybe, Woody would realize the warmth of his body, turn his head – so close that their noses would be bumping – and hold his breath as he'd lean down to close the gap between their lips with the simplest of ways.

Dammit, what was he thinking?

'Where was aisle 6?' Mikey decided to ask himself silently, so he could escape his thoughts, cheeks flushed. And here he thought he knew his way in the enormous supermarket. Shit, he wasn't a detective. He should ask April for his journalism-like stealth skills.

Sure, he knew her, for like, what, two years? But she was a great friend. Not the kind of long-time childhood friend Irma and Casey were – nor the kind of friend you got introduced to through a rough sequence of bullying like Renet. April was the kind of friend you suddenly met and yet, it seemed like something clicked and you were a perfect fit. (or the kind of friend you met and immediately fell heads over heels in love with, in Donnie's case.)

Yup, she was family.

Besides, she was practically best friends with Irma, a total soul mate with Renet, who was also a newbie in the school, and step-siblings with Casey, so not being part of the family seemed like an unbelievable concept.

Sometimes Mikey just forgot that his father, his brothers and he weren't ever alone.

The speakers in the supermarket were suddenly turned on, gruff yet gentle voice coming out of them, making Mikey wanting to double himself in laughter, 'Please watch your steps, the floor is wet. I'd feel terrible if you tripped and wrecked your face. Not you sir, your face is a disaster. No one would notice.'

Excluding the understandable laughter, the comment of the utterly brilliant and funny guy behind the speakers, that Mikey wanted to adopt immediately, was comprehensible. The floor was indeed slippery. Worse accidents had happened with mashed potatoes on the floor of the school cafeteria. (Crap, had he bought the POTATOES? A look in the cart and the huge sack sitting had him relieved thankfully).

But, yeah, accidents happened. And with the way Raphael was watching the steps besides him, holding the cart, yet not quite rolling it, concentration written painfully on his forehead as he was trying to take a dump-

"Hahaha, and you call me a klutz," Mikey laughed meanly, nudging Raph with an elbow when the floor didn't seem so wet anymore, "I'm pretty sure he means you."

Rolled eyes of affection made an appearance as Raphael grumbled. "Do you want your face in a turkey?" But, there was a smile tugging at the side of Raph's mouth. It made the whole of him look less wan and kind of… more like a caring miniature of Dad.

It often slipped his mind – the resemblance between his brother and their father. But in moments like this, when Raphael held that smirk on his lips and blinked his eyes with so much trusting sureness that it was being transferred to Mikey with waves-

That was how Mikey knew his father would console his eldest brother.

"Jeez," Mikey said, rocking on his heels gleefully as Raph laughed thickly, "I'm joking," he shook his head but the movement made his eyes catch a glimpse of something Mikey could only articulate as freaking awesome-looking and he stopped on his tracks and mid-sentence, "it's not like – Omigod! Look at these!"

He simply ran like a lunatic, with Raphael following him from behind with booming steps that practically screamed confusion. Mikey arrived on the stand, eyes so wide they were ready to pop out of his face, as he ran his hands through the pretty fabrics, smiling broadly.

Raph didn't share his same level of excitement, unfortunately.

He tossed him a deadpanned gaze. "Scarfs?" he asked succinctly and Mikey couldn't resist the urge to let out a gasp of blasphemy.

"Harry Potter scaaaaaarfs!" Mikey sang.

Harry Potter was perhaps the reason they still talked to each other, Mikey thought as he wrapped a scarf around his neck carefully. 'Hufflepuffs go beyond and above the call of friendship,' it said and he smiled.

When Mom had disappeared, the blank was big, an enormous hole of burning sadness that floated above them and stung in the most painful ways.

They didn't sleep, just stayed motionless in front of the TV, staring without blinking at whatever glowed on it.

And when that happened to be a massive marathon of Harry Potter movies – they found themselves being the hugest fans.

The movie DVDs appeared in their TV set, the books on the shelves kindly placed there by a pained Yoshi who wanted to help – and all of these kept them company in the middle of the nights – when their father was awake and crying and they were being haunted by nightmares.

Besides, Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter was freaking hot and Mikey's sexual awakening, as far as he was concerned and that was just a bonus. Mikey still thought Harry could totally have ended up with Ron.

"Oh, well, that is heteronormative romance for you," Donatello had mumbled with mockingly rolled eyes when he had voiced his thought.

"Harry Potter," Raph snorted a laugh through his nose, "yeah, I'm familiar," he added causally, which basically meant he owned every book, movie and collective item, like the big nerd he was. Raphael always forgot they were related.

"They're so cool, Raph!" he exclaimed exuberantly.

Raph rolled his eyes. "Cool as ice. Pfft, why am I in a family of geeks?" he sneered sarcastically to himself, but Mikey happened to be acquainted with his brother for over fifteen years. He sent him a knowing look.

Raph held his gaze for a minute, which must have been a record for his big blue irresistible eyes, but still sighed, rolling again his eyes hard. He looked at him, lip curling slightly. "Take the Hufflepuff ones, they're neat," he mumbled and Mikey crowed a laughter of victory – which was short-lived as he immediately changed into a defensive stance.

Well, as defensive as he could be against Raphael, the school's crazy strong LB.

"We've been over this, Raphie-boy," he blurted out with rolled eyes, "I'm not a Hufflepuff."

They had all googled and entered Pottermore – more than once, obviously taking all the tests along the way.

Mikey had completed the test twice, once finishing as a Hufflepuff and once as a Ravenclaw.

His brothers had been adamant that he was a loyal and honest Hufflepuff, but sincerely, he just really wanted to be a Ravenclaw – to be the smart one.

Raphael had been a courageous and brave Gryffindor, Leonardo had been iffy but had eventually accepted his fate as an ambitious and cunning Slytherin (cunning his ass; Leo was still a dork) and Donatello had put up the poster of the eagle in his futuristic lab, bragging about being an intelligent and creative Ravenclaw.

Mikey wanted that, too – they were twins, they should be the same – he just wanted to be smart for once for a change.

Donnie was always the smart twin.

Raph shot him unconvinced eyes, voice laced with pure enjoyment. "Says the guy who'd make friendship bracelets on his first day at Hogwarts," he said dryly with barely concealed fondness in his tone.

"Geek alert!" Mikey announced jokingly to mainly no one as he started gathering the scarfs in his hands – Leo would appreciate a gift, right? Man, he was a genius. "It's never too early to make memories! You're just a grumpy Gryffindor," he scoffed in the end, just to clarify.

Raph huffed out a short, unamused laugh, mumbling something under his breath that Mikey caught as 'little shit', but his gaze was one of exasperated fondness. Mikey surely was thinking of answering him with something, but he was interrupted abruptly.

"I have to agree with this," a voice drawled defiantly all of a sudden, and had both brothers perking up their heads towards its owner. Mikey barely shot a glance, but the bleached hair and knowing eyes couldn't belong to someone else.

Jason.

"J –Jason!" he sputtered and Jason attacked him with a short hug that nearly crushed his ribs. Where had that sudden power come from? Well, maybe he shouldn't all too surprised as he felt Jason's muscular arms around him under his leather jacket.

Didn't Leo and Raph have the same leather jacket they shared? Mikey just shook his head as he saw Jason fist bumping with his brother and doing their secret handshake that Mikey could never learn how to do so. Man, he was super jealous. He had to create his own crazy cool handshake– cooler than this.

"Man, where were you?" Raph asked with real concern, it wasn't as if he had seen Jason these days like Mikey had had, slapping his back with his strong palm and Mikey cringed – yikes, his brother should really learn how not to ruin every bone at everything he touched.

Jason seemed unfazed, though, grinning broadly – very suspiciously broadly, as far as Mikey was concerned, but he wasn't going to meddle in his business – see, he was becoming a mature man, he mused inside his mind, but Jason tousled his hair very effectively, which had him realize he was almost his height (damn, Irma did come from a family of tall ones) and Mikey just giggled in surrender.

"I was busy," he shrugged easily, biting his lip, before motioning to his own non-wheels cart, "Just came to buy a few stuff. Why, miss me?" he added, smirking and Mikey thought he could feel Raph rolling his eyes next to him.

"You wish," he scoffed.

"Oh," Jason waved his hand dismissively in front of his face, and man, did you have to have the guts to do this, and then smiled an Irma-grin, turning up the corners of his lips. "You care deep inside."

Raph shook his head insistently, turning to Mikey. "How do I uninstall a heart?"

Jason snapped his fingers at him, before Mikey could remark his awesome sarcastic comment. "You can't."

"Jason," Raph conceded, and maybe he was trying to sound long-suffering but it didn't come across as anything other than gentle – a tone Raph mostly used for his brothers. So, when he was offering it to someone else; the guy truly deserved it.

And Jason did.

Jason was definitely taking advantage of Raph's big heart, as he inquired with amusedly arched eyebrows. "Yes, Pookie Bear?"

"Lay off."

"You're so cute when you're angry," he said with a smile, and was treated to Raph's pouting face, before his brother's expression twisted into something joyful.

Before they started nudging and shoving each other in the hallway (right in front of the Harry Potter scarfs, too!), which seemed very familiarly certain with the way their playful grins matched, Mikey thought, he should prevent it. So, he cracked his hugest smile, turning to Jason.

"We came to buy some things, too!" he exclaimed loudly and brightened. People always told him his face could light up like a little, portable sun.

Jason tossed a look at their cart and his lips turned upwards. "Some?" He was barely keeping his chuckles of laughter in check and Mikey thought that if Raph didn't wear his 'don't make fun of my brother until I tell you to do so' look, Jason would be downright wheezing.

"They're not all for us. There is some stuff for the breadline."

Their father had come from a poor family, raised in the dirt and between four walls – it had been hard. Of course, they had been some good times, but mostly hard ones.

Mikey couldn't imagine his proud father with crumpled rags as clothes, playing in the muddy puddles of rain in Japan and trying to defend himself in front of mean boys who pushed him around.

He guessed that was why Dad had decided to learn how to fight; of course, ninjutsu had to be his first choice – obviously.

To support his first wife, then to fly to New York City and open his own dojo, he had found money, eventually – Mikey didn't know how exactly, but he didn't care much – his father deserved a good, money-filled life, after his childhood years.

But he did not forget his hardships – that was why Mikey and his family found themselves often at the breadline, helping the ones in need.

Helping and giving – it filled Mikey's heart with proud warmth. Always.

Jason eyed him quietly for a moment, looking at him almost too thoroughly, but his shoulders fell in dubious entertainment. "I hope you're not planning to smuggle them under Harry Potter scarfs," he smirked, playing with the Hufflepuff scarf he had around his neck before carding a hand through Mikey's hair.

"We have a lot of money!" Mikey blurted out, and immediately regretted it, his cheeks heated. Jeez, why was he such an idiot? And did he have to stumble over words like this? "I mean – I –"

"Oh boy." Mikey was pretty sure Raph had just met his face with his open palm.

Jason didn't seem to mind, they were friends for too long to be offended by these kinds of things apparently. He laughed lightly, amused, and said, "I know, Mike."

Mikey didn't like to sugarcoat it, but – he knew they had money.

"I want to give you everything I never had," his father had smiled and hugged them. He missed those comfortingly sincere hugs of his.

Mikey was grateful for what they had; he had seen people in the worst situations. Sometimes he felt that he was acting like a brat, always complaining – while there were people that didn't even have a place to live and his life had been created in luxury.

"Told you, you look ridiculous in that," Raph said to stomp over the awkward silence, even though they both knew he hadn't and definitely didn't plan to do so either way. Mikey favored him with a smile anyway.

"You didn't," he corrected playfully, "And I look incredible," he added, flaunting around like the diva he was and he couldn't quite stifle the snort of amusement at Raph's and Jason's equally rolled eyes.

Raph grinned at him. "Incredibly ridiculous."

Jason just snorted. "Incredibly handsome," he said gravelly, nodding approvingly with the slightest wiggle of his eyebrows, and Mikey grinned. Jason was like, a master of fashion sense, so Mikey really appreciated the comment; not that he needed it, though. He already knew he looked fantastic with his Hufflepuff scarf – and the rest of them that were sitting patiently in the cart.

Raph spared him a narrowing look – perplexed and bowled over at the same, for reasons Mikey couldn't understand, and Jason responded him with a similar unreadable gaze, as if some invisible conversation was passing between them.

Shit, he damn right hated it when he couldn't understand.

Jason took his eyes off of them, looking everywhere but them, rolling his cart away and himself, too and Mikey found himself and his brother following him without a question around the aisle.

"So," he cleared his throat uncomfortably, glancing at them, "Irma told me about your Thanksgiving dinner." A sulky ambiance clouded over Jason's face for a minute, replaced by a hardening look, but Mikey (as well as Raph) ignored it, because he was pretty excited to notice.

Irma would casually pay a short visit at them during their Thanksgiving dinner, just passing to say a simple hello and not staying over as much as everyone wanted. Mikey knew Irma's family was strict – which was why he was that excited about Irma actually coming over this year.

Now add Jason to that amazing equation? (he almost puked, the word 'equation' just teasing him to vomit) – yup, he was sure he was going to die by excitement.

"Tell me you're coming!" Raph exclaimed, breathless.

"Yeah, yeah!" Mikey yelped plainly, before shoving his brother at the direction of the little thing he had spotted on a shelf, "Raph, gimme the maple syrup!"

"I'm gonna!" he complained.

"Well," Jason tilted his head, sighing mockingly thoughtfully, "I have heard some pretty good comments about your cooking." It was a hopeful, leading statement. Raph, again, gave him a look Mikey was sure no one would be foolish enough to call friendly, but he pressed the confusion away.

Instead, he forced his voice to remain naively whimsical when he replied, "I'm insanely good in the kitchen."

Jason deadpanned. "And not very modest."

Raph snorted, punching playfully his shoulder and all Mikey could do was to hold up his hands in haughtiness, "Well, it's hard to be modest when you're as good as I am."

Jason laughed, eyes twinkling. "I admit you have me hooked," he told him cheerfully, his arm drifting over and ending up draped across Mikey's shoulders. Mikey squirmed funnily or pleasantly– wait, what – and his mouth fell into a crooked smile. He liked the touchy attitude, but this kind of physical contact never made him nervous unless it was Woody touching-

He chuckled awkwardly, giving himself a slap in his mind. Had he forgotten what friendly touches were? Oh, now that wasn't the kind of friend he was. Jason was trying to befriend him more closely and here he was, being a stupid hormone monster of a teenager.

"Come and I swear I'll leave a bit from all – just for you," he said with his friendliest and lightest voice, the way it was when he teased his brothers over house chores, as Jason's lips formed a smile and Raph's eyes went wide with expectance.

"Oh, tempting. Maybe I'll drop by – just for you," he agreed amicably and Mikey activated a victorious dance in his mind. It was such a small thing to look forward to, but, whatever, it felt okay. And the chummy nudge he gave him before rolling his cart away and waving at them felt even more okay. "I have to go. See you guys around."

Mikey jumped from excitement, shaking his head accordingly to the beat of the supermarket music again. Zig-a-zow! Zig-a-zow! Zig-a-zow! Zig-a-zow! The dinner didn't just seem to be going good – it seemed freaking great! Hell yeah, they deserved it. Awesome Dinner Operation was almost successfully finished.

And Leo, after his upcoming talk with their father, comforts with his brothers and that kind of a dinner – yes, he'd be better. And Mikey loved to see his brothers better. Donnie was right, it was all going to be just fine – and he was right, too. He knew he should be certain.

His brother should trust him a lot more often, Mikey mused before turning his head over Raph, who had discovered a sign and was already moving to aisle 6. He broke into a grin, all the enthusiasm bubbling inside of him – and eventually escaping with an eager rant.

"See?" he bounced on his feet, swinging his arms around, "The dinner is going to be a success. Truly awe-some! So many will come, I have so much work to do!" he was babbling, holding the list in his hand. He was being flooded with ideas, pouring out of his mind in waves.

He swore he could almost smell the scent of his kitchen; grilled turkey, savory turkey gravy, sausage, apple, and cranberry stuffing, sweet potato casserole and roasted garlic mashed potatoes (potatoes were great!), roasted root vegetables with apple juice, shredded Brussels sprouts, spicy cranberry chutney, fresh herb dinner rolls, roasted butternut squash soup, green bean casserole with onion rings, Raph's absolute favorite, and pumpkin cheesecake in a gingersnap crust, pilgrim pumpkin pie and chocolate-bourbon pecan pie for dessert-

Oh, Jesus.

He and April had really created an expert menu that right now seemed kind of – well, impossible? A feeling of anxiety overcame him, flowing sharply. Did he even have time for all of this? This was his first Thanksgiving dinner as in charge and he didn't want to mess up. Hell, they hadn't even finished their shopping, yet.

He tried to calm himself down, though. Sure, his knowledge was always lacking in a lot of departments; but kitchen and cooking weren't one of them. He was actually good at cooking, for reals. He couldn't let his only, (possibly stupid and unnecessary) talent be a source of stress and pressure for him.

"But," he continued confidently, gazing towards his brother, whose mouth was unreasonably twitching, "I have everything organized," he was declaring and rambling again, chest out and proud to appear foolproof.

"The recipes, the preparation, I'm pretty sure even my horoscope is talking about success, it's going to be so amazing and I'm not even alone, 'cause with April's help and Dad's secret turkey technique, all's gonna be – what?" he demanded as Raph's mouth had progressed from twitching to chuckling uncontrollably, "Why are you laughing? Raphie! "

Raph bit his lip, moving his steps faster. "I'm not laughing," he said, voice cracking and most definitely laughing. He grabbed the cart he was rolling and stopped it on his tracks, making Mikey realized they had arrived at the vegetable aisle.

"Yes, you do!" Mikey exclaimed with a whine, before taking a look around and rolling his eyes. He turned his face to Raph again, forcing his mouth in a disapproving faking scowl, "Is it because of the cucumbers, again? 'Cause I'm still telling you they don't look like –"

"No!" he insisted, arching his eyebrows, "But, they do and you know it," he said in amused and sheepish tone and before Mikey could protest, Raph was already shaking his head, hesitating, "It's just – you know Jason was like, hitting on you, right?"

What?

Mikey felt his stomach drop, furrowed brows covering the top of his glasses. His brother's tone was casual, but his expression was shrewder than his words. He felt his face heating up involuntarily. He searched his brother's face to see if there was any hint of mockery or teasing, but he only found a truthful gaze.

He blinked. Went still, to give that question time to settle and permeate and then he lashed, cheeks puffy with angry confusion and unpleasant awkwardness, "WhatNo, dude! Are you nuts?"

His loud tone didn't seem to faze Raph at all as he continued to stroll around the counters of vegetables. His expression remained neutral and friendly, but his eyes caught Mikey's pointedly. "Um, he did, Mikey."

His eyes were motionless and Mikey found himself shaking his head rather too fiercely, the concept pretty much unbelievable to grasp. He knew Jason for years; there was no way. Definitely no way. He certainly remembers Donnie rehearsing a lecture about a Western-something effect shit that said people who lived close during the first few years of their lives became desensitized to attraction.

He wasn't sure where this applied – maybe it was a spectrum? Donnie always said everything is a spectrum; man, why did he never pay attention to literally anything?

He was spacing out and brought himself back to reality with another intense shake of his head. "Wha – What – No, Raph, come on!" Mikey concluded his point lamely with a laugh, but Raph wasn't having it. He simply hardened his look on him, sighing.

"Whatever," he glowered, "I'm just saying. Look around a bit. And trust me; I know more stuff than you," he spat, probably trying to sound all brotherly-like, but his tone had a hint of a know-it-all and it made Mikey pressed his lips into a thin, firm line.

"Yeah, 'cause you're so much older than me," he sneered sardonically. "What do you know?" he inquired crossly, pushing the cart on his wheels. He was right, after all; what did his brother even know? He was just being stupidly mean and Mikey bit the inside of his cheek, "You never had a girlfriend – or a – a boyfriend. You're wrong, bro, what do you know about flirting? This is called friendship. Besides, even if you were right, I –"

I don't even care.

I don't mind.

I like someone else.

I like  Woody .

Raph cut him off severely, not able to fight the frown that folded his mouth deeply at the corners. "All right, okay, Mikey," he groaned. "I get the point. Just," he shut his eyes, while Mikey was trying to detect his tone of voice, "don't stay hung up on things that won't happen – and try to move on. I know, trust me." He stood, waiting, fists at his sides as if he was bracing himself for a blow.

And Mikey would have let his anger get the best of him – because what did Raph know about him and Woody? He had no idea at all and shouldn't have said anything to begin with, but his brother's tone was awfully gentle, laced with understanding and empathy Raphael had no reason to have, right?

He flushed, his thoughts of Woody from before making his stomach shift in painfully guilty angles, yet decided to let the anger and the sudden prick of bashful remorse wash over him; like a river over a stone.

He shot a quick look on his list and turned to his brother's face, forcing a smile on his lips. "Take four onions, will you?" he couldn't conceal the firmness from his tone and he absolutely hated it – he wasn't Raph, being angry and oversensitive about simple comments. He was Mikey for fuck's sake, and that meant no outbursts of anger.

"Sure, Mikey," he snapped in something that approached his previous tone, but Mikey saw a fleeting smirk. Raph nodded firmly once to him, eyes shapeless, and planted a kiss on his forehead before reaching for a paper bag.

The next smile that appeared on Mikey's lips wasn't forced.


The car ride back home was awkward, the car full of shopping bags and Mikey thought he was losing himself in them.

Raphael was for once quiet. But Mikey enjoyed the silence – he wasn't in the mood to talk. His stomach was still swirling from the previous conversations and his head was throbbing. He was glad he wasn't the one on the wheel, because there was no way he could handle it.

But with the way Raph was gripping it hard – he didn't look better either.

His stomach continued to pound, a clenching feeling in it tugging him, as if it was trying to warn him about something.

Mikey ignored it during the whole ride.

And he ignored it as he bounced the steps of the ladder till he reached the opening where their nonexistent door was probably supposed to be.

"Hey-yo!" Mikey smiled, spotting Donnie sitting idly on the couch. His twin looked away from the television and meeting his eyes, he returned the smile with comically round eyes behind his glasses.

"Finally!" He exclaimed with a disapproving downturn of lips that Mikey mimicked almost immediately jokingly, "I thought you just went grocery shopping, what took you so long?"

"Well –"

"Grocery shopping?" Raph bellowed from behind, still walking up the stairs. He grunted, holding the bazillion bags of shopping in his hands with forced effort as he shook his head, "More like death shopping."

Donnie chuckled. "Need a hand?"

"Please!"

Pfft, since when was Raph begging, Mikey laughed as he watched his brother help the throbbing veined Yeti named Raphael. He was already feeling better. He whirled with happy stairs next to his brothers and grabbed a few bags as well.

Rolling his eyes, he stuck his tongue out to Raph,"Oh, c'mon, Raphie, don't be such a fopdoodle."

Raph furrowed his brows, obviously surprised to see him joking with him as if the words about Woody haven't been uttered before. Well, he guessed his brother didn't know him that well. He never held a grudge.

Donnie moved some of the bags on the glassy table in the middle of the living room as he snorted through his nose soundly, "He went through Leo's creative curse book in the car again?" he asked, glancing towards Raph.

"Yup, damn the day Karai bought that thing," Raph nodded, trying to force that frown on his mouth, but he caught Mikey's suspicious stare promptly and smirked, eyeing him knowingly and then snickering. "She is a scobberlotcher."

Mikey burst into laughter, grabbing Donnie's shoulder for support. He pointed an accusing finger at his older brother, "Hah, I knew you liked them – and her!"

Raph glared at him, still smirking. "Yeah, whatever."

The bags were scattered on the floor as Donnie kneeled down to probably categorize them in an alphabetic order, Mikey thought and smiled proudly. That twin brother of his. "Because bonding over swear words is so nice and eloquent," he grinned and Mikey waved a dismissive hand at him.

"Don't be a snoutband, Donnie," he warned with a simper. Man, these outdated curses were really the new best thing; he totally had to introduce them to Woody, they'd be laughing their butts off for days. Donnie stood up and bumped his arm with one fist, smiling brightly.

Raph fell on the sofa with a big flop and Donnie followed him, before grabbing a spoonful of the soup he had on the table. Mikey's eyes brightened up. Yes, he knew it! Dad had done it again, hell yeah. He turned to his brothers, grinning. "How's everybody?" he asked, drooling, and quirked up an eyebrow in knowledge.

Raph seemed alerted, unusually stiff and still, but Donnie only shrugged. "Not something new, I guess," his forehead wrinkled in lines of confusion and unrelenting fondness, "Leo is still in his room sleeping, but he was awake for a bit. And father is in the kitchen, so –"

Mikey blinked in twin matched confusion, a nervous laughter creeping up on the edges of his throat. "Hold up," he stopped his brother's babbling with a perplexed breath, "Didn't Dad talk with Leo, or something?"

Donnie held his gaze for the slightest of moments, eyes squinted and Mikey swallowed hard at the expression his brother wore. His mind swam in waters of eternity while he couldn't think, as Donnie's mouth fell open.

"…Why..uh, should he?" he hesitated and Mikey's heart sank.

No, no, no, no, no, the mantra inside his head sang, clouding the betrayed corners of his head.

He tried to blink his eyes a few times, and they felt as heavy as the weight that gloomed in his stomach.

He was so sure! He was certain his father… he was going to act fatherly – the way he should be. The glances he threw between forgotten plates of soup and concerned brothers were blurry and he couldn't figure out why.

He knew his father – he knew him and his father knew them and cared! No, there had to be some mistake.

The gazes of his brothers are they shared a mingled look of faint disappointment told him otherwise.

How could he be that stupid? They were so right again, always right and it made his eyebrows knit thickly, pressing the vein on his forehead. He had to talk – to talk to his father. Why didn't his brothers talk to him? Why hadn't they talked about this? Why – Where was his father? He had to see him. Where was he and why wasn't he here? Here!

He let out a sound that didn't even come close to a human – animalistic and stomped away, couldn't bear to see the sight of his brothers looking at him like a little kid as he made his way to the kitchen too fiercely.

He heard grumbles and mumbles behind and his breath stuck annoyingly in the middle of his throat, glasses too hefty for his face.

These were his brothers – when a problem appeared, always facing it with whispers from behind turned backs and closed doors.

His stomach twisted. He was sick of it.


"Dammit," Raphael muttered under his breath, a cushion already thrown viciously to the floor. "He can't just –! He can't. He shouldn't."

Donatello pinched the bridge of his nose. "I think," he started and then hedged, "Maybe… it's okay. It's good. He should," he finished, locking eyes with him, the raw bravery of their youngest brother flashing in their eyes. Donatello smiled solemnly and reached for him.

The touch on Raphael's shoulder was unexpected and soft, as soft as the faint wuthering of the air before a storm.

He gripped harder, hope of being strong and shielded enough for their storm pounding in his chest.


Mikey could feel his breath getting more and more hitched as he swirled towards the kitchen.

And there was his father, sitting always stoic and sharp-faced, between cups of tea and work papers. He looked like a statue, still, unmoved – insensitive.

The word sent prickles of crippling anger to the nape of his neck and he shivered, clearing his throat in a painful manner.

His father lifted his eyes hastily, the almost-always-there frown adorning his mouth. "Michelangelo?"

His tone was a mix of concern and indifference, so similar with the way Raph had spoken before about Woody – Woody. He breathed curtly through his nose, his father's expression, Woody's name and all of these unfamiliarly complex feelings battling in his stomach playing havoc with his system – it was intense.

He felt disorientated, felt like he was sweating everywhere.

If this was how Leo felt during one of his panic attacks – Mikey wanted to wrap his arms around him and never let go.

Exactly how his father should do. His gaze was set on him, drawing goose bumps he could feel on every inch of his body.

His father's face was slacked and Mikey felt his eyes widening. He opened his mouth but only a broken breath that was more of a frightfully betrayed gasp broke free. "What is going on with you? What are you doing? I cannot believe you! This isn't you!"

He was looking at him with confusion, brows furrowed and tilting his head in a slow motion. His mouth frowned once again and Mikey hated it, he hated it, hated it, hated it.

"What do you mean, my –?"

He could only shake his head, the lump in his throat daring to come out of him and break him.

"No, it's not you!" he screamed into his face and saw his father's expression rumpling like a piece of paper. "You always were there for us. Now, what changed? And don't tell me nothing, because I know things are different. I can feel it, all of us!" he took a ragged breath and his voice trembled.

"Do you feel it? Do you even feel?" he asked, face hot in fury and for a moment, he imagined talking to his friend, to Woody – asking him if he feels anything – and the blood ran violently through his veins.

He took a breath, his fingers tightening in fists. He couldn't understand if these yells were meant for Woody or his father. He didn't know for who they should be meant – but he couldn't hold the lump in his throat any longer.

"Leo," he wanted to shout, but he felt the need to lower his voice when his brother's name came on his tongue, smooth and eerily calm – exactly like he was during a fight.

Just like he should be every time in his life – and not locked in a room and sleeping only because of some pills that wore him down better than they could.

"Leo," he said again, louder this time, "is up in his room alone and sad, Dad, sad and usually, you'd be there too. You always were. But you're not even trying here. Why?" he demanded ferociously. His father's body went cold as the words struck him. It was as if time had slowed down and he waited for his dad to speak. To say anything. He only stayed silent.

He never stayed silent! Not during a fight – Mikey had seen him barging into shouting matches with his brothers more than once. Where was that now?

"What is going on? What is going on with you? If you want the best for us, then why are you like this? This isn't the best!" he shouted, his voice booming through the room and making even himself flinch and cower.

He watched in disbelief as his father remained unmoved, only hanging his head down and sighing. "My son –"

Shaking his head stubbornly, he jutted his chin out, bottom lip trembling. Mikey's heart felt like it was being slowly snipped with scissors – the kind of scissors his mother used when she cut their hair herself with cautiously pretty fingers.

He closed his eyes briefly; they burned, lowering the rising red tide filling him. He felt like Raphael.

"You've missed so much! Doesn't that bother you at all? And – and I've missed much – I've missed you. I miss you," he admitted bluntly, wearing a guarded face like it wasn't a truth that dug nails into Mikey's heart. "We do. I know mother is gone, but you can't act like you're dead too."

This was some heavy stuff; kids weren't supposed to say these kinds of things about their parents. But that was the thing; he wasn't a kid anymore, no matter how faintly forbidden the discussion felt ringing in his ears.

And there it was – a shadow of grief and surprise, too big and much too old to have any place on his father's proud face. Mikey's eyes fell down on the floor, mouth twisted in pain, almost guiltily. Almost, because his eyes flashed once again, and he said very quietly, "Please."

His father tossed his eyes on the paper work in front of him, but his throat twitched uncomfortably; he was listening.

"I thought," he started and stopped himself. He couldn't put it into words – explain why it was bothering him so much, explain all of these feelings that were so unrecognizable and were making him want to throw up.

He sighed brokenly.

"I don't know what I thought. I don't know what I thought! I don't want it to be this way anymore, I don't want it to be this!" he burst out, voice desperate, on edge. His hands fisted the bottom of his sweater, eyes wet, but his jaw clenching in fury.

"I don't know – I don't know what your problem is, but you know what? It doesn't matter." His stomach turned and he tasted bile in the back of his throat. Things were spiraling out of his control so easily – he would never make fun of Raph's bad temper tantrums again.

Father's face was still and expressionless.

His teeth clattered together loudly in his ears. "'Cause we're your sons and deserve some answers. And some actions. What are you going to do now? How important are we to you?" he slowed his speech to make him hear every syllable.

What he expected was an answer. Something – a look, a touch or a glance – anything. For a moment, he swore he saw his father open his mouth, words hanging on his mouth – but that disappeared as quickly as the sight of him, as he stood up and left the room of the kitchen with steps laced with intensity.

"Fine," Mikey spat to no one.

He screamed out his trifecta of confusion, annoyance and tiring rage to the ceiling above, before moving to the sink to splash some water to his face.

The whole being of him was still buzzing, and he stammered, but the words found their way out of him in the emptiness.

"Mom would be disappointed," he whispered fervently, throat burning with shame, unable to place the reasons of his statement through his trembling hands, and while nobody was in the room to hear him, he felt like it should be said either way.

Chapter Text

Mikey was really bad at this.

And he was bad at a lot of things, sure – like Trigonometry, seeing without his glasses, talking to cute boys or playing baseball – but none of these things were serious and none of them hurt him like this.

Because Mikey felt all kinds of hurt from his talk last night with his father and he couldn't bring himself to say so, because, again – he was just really bad at this.

Part of him was feeling weightless, flowing in relief after having released all of the bottled up emotions that were trapped inside of him and bringing him pain – Donnie always said nobody should ever keep his feelings inside. Hypocritical of him, Mikey thought.

But the other part of him, that was hurt and guilty – because his spite was directed in the wrong place, at the wrong moment, and perhaps his all too bottled up feelings were very confusing for him to understand – and while there was that deep, low, undeniable beat in his stomach, telling him that his father deserved to hear that, Mikey knew it wasn't the right time for him to hear it.

It just wasn't.

Mikey felt the coolness drying the swollen parts of his not-well-slept eyes, and closed the fridge door with a frustrated swift of his hand.

What have I done? I wish I could run, he mused in his head, thoughts scrambled from having raced in his mind, again and again, yesterday night as he was staring at his room's ceiling.

Raph had slept on the couch. Maybe he was upset, too, with him. Donnie and him hadn't mentioned anything, only trading knowing looks, but Mikey was certain his little outburst had been heard by them.

But they hadn't said anything – so possibly Mikey, except for breaking his father's already broken heart – he had also made his brothers angry. Maybe they didn't want Mikey saying stuff like this to their father, or maybe they had wanted to say them themselves or –

There were a lot of maybe's, but one thing was for sure.

Mikey had to fix this. – No, fixing stuff was Donnie's department. He just had to help. He needed to help. He wanted to help, so much.

He could understand his father's reasons; Mikey thought warmly, no more feeling betrayed by him – not sleeping the night really made you see things more clearly.

And with a blinking glance to the corner of the kitchen counter where his mother's picture frame was standing brightly and tall – the understanding of his father in Mikey's heart was twisting easily into a bundle of true empathy.

He couldn't go back and undo this. So, he just had to stay and face his mistakes – or whatever it was supposed to be called.

But how? Mikey shut his eyes closed for a minute, dreaming of the sleep he hadn't gotten, cramped in the kitchen with his pajamas and thrown supermarket shopping bags all around.

I couldn't help it, I was having troubles, was a justification, not an apology.

When you apologize, the focus should be on the person you hurt, Miss Abigail would say, with Mrs. Baker's supporting hand on her shoulder, when Martin and Timothy would fight and their punches would go a bit harder than they intended to.

Yes. That was what his father needed. He was sorry. He had done something that was hurtful to him and even if he was having a bad time, he didn't deserve to hear that – but he deserved to hear an apology.

Not right now, because Mikey knew his father and six in the morning – wow, Mikey was really up early – was his 'taking-care-of-the-dojo' time. So he would wait.

Feeling pleased with himself, finally, something satisfied and good nestling in his stomach, Mikey knelt down and starting tidying up the shopping bags.

He hadn't forgotten of his dinner operation – his plan to make his big brother happy, truly happy. For someone who hated the sea, Leonardo looked like he was on a boat during his life, waves, and ripples facing – and Mikey knew he needed something solid.

He – they had to be that solid thing for Leo. Leo had been solid for them his whole life and now, his brothers would repay him. It was a thing only brothers could do.

The statement was filling him with useful pride, and Mikey felt a lot more pleased and satisfied with himself, even than before.

And that was how he found himself busy into work, all ingredients carefully placed around the kitchen and him following religiously the colorful cooking diagram – because diagrams were serious and Mikey was indeed very serious about this– for his Thanksgiving dinner, which April had outlined on the cover of the usual piece if school newspaper she often gave them.

Her articles were always so fun and vibrant and April-like (the reason Donnie enjoyed them that much) and her newest, "If Love Is So Painful, Then Why Do We Keep Craving It?" article was decorated with April's messy handwritten cooking plan and a cute, protective 'take it easy, Mikey' message on the bottom.

It was like Mikey had overprotective siblings everywhere.

Mikey started the routine, stress flowing out of his system once he got himself into something familiar – cooking: Making dinner rolls, proofing for twenty minutes, then freezing and once firm, transferring them to plastic freezer bags.

Simultaneously, he continued, making pastry for the pies, chilling dough, then rolling out and lining nine-inch pie shells, freezing until firm and he was just wrapping the frozen dough and pan with plastic wrap and store in the freezer, when a soft knock on the kitchen door and an even more soft voice reached his ears, making him smile involuntarily.

"Good morning," Leo said in that low, morning-like voice that made Mikey remember of the old days where he would have stayed up late to watch Space Heroes or talk with Usagi and Mr. Gen about martial arts tournaments. It almost brought a happy grin on his face – almost, though, because Leo's eyes looked too light blue and very tired.

Mikey slumped his shoulders, and the hint of compassion must have been noticeable on the frown gracing his mouth, because his brother pressed his lips when he greeted him, "Leo, hey!"

He straightened himself, running a hand through his messy, black hair and Mikey found himself mimicking his actions. "Hi, buddy," his cheeks were pale when he reached the table and dragged a chair to sit wobbly, before obviously closing the freezer's door, because of course, Mikey had forgotten to.

In his defense, he was worried about a very pale and colored like a pill brother of his.

"What are you doing up this early?" Leo asked, taking a glance at the mess of the kitchen and the clock standing on the wall like a reminder of both of their sleepless nights, probably. But there was a small light flashing in the cool blue of his eyes, one that Mikey recognized as mother hen worry, and he barely resisted the urge to groan.

Leo had had a panic attack, and yet, he was here, worrying for other people. Stupid, selfless Leo.

Mikey smiled nonetheless, and responded brightly, with a bit of a dry tone, "Oh, I'm just fixing some stuff around here, and," he stopped himself, a knowing smirk creeping up on his lips, "before you say I'm overdoing myself, I'll have to inform you that I actually do not."

There was an enthusiastically firmness in his tone and it coaxed a smile back to Leo's pale face, as he nodded and agreed, a ghost of amusement in his eyes as he shook his head.

Mikey jumped triumphantly in the back of his head, feeling equal parts of happy and proud for many, incomprehensible reasons – and concerned, too, as he watched the color of Leo's skin brightening in the light of the morning through the window, yet not the color of his eyes back to normal.

He furrowed his brows, looking Leo pointedly in his eyes. "What are you doing up?" he asked sarcastically and was surprised to see Leo's face crumbling into something so un-Leo, to say. He didn't like it at all. It reminded him of the very un-Leo yet Leo-ish moments he had witnessed, like that dreading panic attack, which would be taped in his mind, for practically – forever.

So he added, joking teasingly, leaning his arms carefully on the kitchen sink, "I thought you'd be sleeping for, like, days," and despite his mocking tone, full of the brotherly affection Leo genetically could not basically deny or turn down, his brother shrugged his shoulders like they were hurting.

"Come on, Mikey," he scoffed and sighed in that impatiently patient manner he had adopted all these years in which he had changed, "I couldn't stay in bed all day long. I've already been – I'm fine," he said, but his eyes were telling otherwise.

It made Mikey's heart thud uncomfortably behind the many layers of his pajamas, and he narrowed his eyes at the sight of his brother.

It was almost as if he looked apologetic; that was what Mikey could detect in his eyes, at least. They looked lively, in a way – so weird. It was like Leo had never slept at all, like he had just had a very important meeting conversation and other responsible stuff that made Leo look so, well, responsibly hurting all the time.

He had seen his mother's eyes, blue and frightened behind curly black hair and dark shin sprinkled with freckles – and he had done nothing.

He had let her leave. And while there was perhaps nothing to do about it back then, when he was already eight years old, barefoot in many ways, he could do something now for his brother.

You owe them, the small mean and successfully ignored voice in the one part of his mind was singing.

They need you, the louder, more insistent and more usefully encouraging voice rang in the other part of his mind, and Mikey let it, reaching his brother just about like a guardian approaching a scary and scared animal.

That was always the worst combination, Mikey mused, rubbing a comforting hand on his brother's shoulder, and when Leo looked up, open, wide and full, Mikey caught his heart in his throat.

Perhaps that was why their father could never articulate a word to them.

"Oh-kay," he rolled his tongue in his mouth, testing, "I'm just saying, tryna look out – for you," he concluded lamely and simply, trying Leo's defenses and poking them till they fell down like walls in front of his truthful, baby blue eyes of his.

And thankfully – because Mikey really didn't know how to continue – the walls broke and the stoic, wide face of his brother twisted into an expression of scrunching annoyance.

Mikey expected a snap or something loudly irritated, but he forgot that was Leo he was talking to, and not Raphael – so it caught him by surprise as Leo's mouth opened and his voice was nothing but soft.

"About that, Mikey," he started, staring right into Mikey's eyes with so much sincerity it made his body burn, "I'm sorry."

It was a simple word, but the tone of it as it made its way out of Leo in the most honest of ways urged Mikey to dig deep inside and think what exactly his brother was sorry for.

Because with the look on his face, it looked like it was everything.

His throat itched as Leo continued, biting his lip and speaking with rehearsed, careful way that sometimes made Mikey chuckle – but now it scared him, because it seemed as if the fine, practiced tone was there because Leo had thought of it again and again and now was trying to cover any emotion he could show.

And that wasn't good.

Leo couldn't hide the emotion of selfish sadness lacing the corners of his eyes from him, though. "I'm sorry if I scared you or upset you guys, I really didn't mean it. I didn't want this and I don't know what happened. I mean, I know. I just – I don't know why. And I'm really just trying to – but I can't do something if my good isn't good enough and –"

He glanced at the floor and Mikey followed his gaze for no reason, toes curling painfully in his slippers when Leo found his voice again and said, small and timidly, as if the words were something shameful to utter, "I don't want to be a burden for you. Not when I'm supposed to be everything but that."

Leo lifted his head, crinkling his nose bashfully and Mikey felt his blood boil in him. Certainly, the feeling should have reached his face, because Leo was now squinting at him, blue eyes narrowed and lip jutting out as his pale skin drew a picture of a surely certified brother.

Mikey looked at him, wondering who could see what he was seeing right now and think of burden, and his mouth hardened as if he had said a curse word. And swear words for him were like the special Japanese plates in the back of the cupboard – only for the most serious moments.

"Burden?" he echoed his brother's word slowly, voice cracking. "Is this a new word for fa-mi-ly?" he retorted rather firmly and the lump in his throat jumped when he saw Leo wincing at his tone.

He knelt down a bit, so he could be face to face with his sitted brother and pointed a finger of his chest. "You didn't upset us, dude. You got us worried. And before you ask sorry for this, too, you shouldn't be. We're brothers, we're supposed to worry. And all of us do," he added truthfully for finishing, voice getting warmer in the end as he watched Leo's face turning from miserably tired pain to something lovely and soft smiling.

It made Mikey smile proudly back, a broad grin settling on his face, enough to brighten up the both of them.

Leo's small smile broke to allow a weak, croaking a laugh out of him as he caught Mikey's eyes. "I'm such a mess," he rubbed the back of his head with a wounded expression, saying with deliberate enunciation, like would change Mikey's perspective of the 'gold-prized, one of a kind brother Leo' to hear it.

He shook his head and got up from his knees, smirking while rolling his eyes. He managed to reach April's newspaper on the table and turn it to Leo's face, accusingly. "Hey, be careful!" he scolded playfully, "That's my big bro you're talking about."

Leo snickered, and then stayed silent, pausing so he could get up from the chair cautiously, and Mikey almost got worried about brother's actions, hoping he wasn't feeling dizzy.

And Leo's eyes were indeed a tad unfocused and strangely shrinking – had he even gotten his pills? Mikey's thoughts raced and his heart matched the beat – but they finally set on him, and when they did so, they were warm and kind, blue like the darkness of the sea, bright like the sky and they had Mikey hooked.

Leo smiled, gently and peacefully, so unfamiliarly familiar it rattled Mikey to the bones, as much as his brother's next, quiet words. "You're the best brother, you know that?"

"Yeah?" Mikey questioned insecurely and so immediately it surprised even himself, but Leo's face only softened more.

"Yeah," he confirmed, a little embarrassed to be the cause of such a ruckus and the bundle of nerves that was Michelangelo, but not broken.

No surprises there, Mikey mused amusingly, nodding to his brother. It would take a lot more to break a strong Leonardo Hamato.

He smiled back, and tilted his head, finding himself easily in the common, so nostalgic smiles and eyes of his older brother as he teased, "And your favorite one?"

Leo deadpanned. "Now you're just fishing. But yeah," he muffled a laugh behind his hand, looking both apologetic and amused, and sincere and Mikey almost awed at the warmth of his tone, already opening his arms widely.

He wiggled and his glasses fell on the start of his nose uncomfortably as he motioned his hands, and announced light-heartedly and with a messy grin, using Leo's all too silly, brotherly affectionate nicknames, "Woo-hoo, give a hug to the Hoop Master, you goofball."

He barely saw Leo blinking behind his awfully adjusted glasses, but his brother took a step in front, pushing kindly his glasses back up with one finger so he could take a good, actually visible glance on his face and when he did, Mikey's open arms fell slightly loose, face slackening.

Because Leo didn't look happy, or sad, or any petty feeling – he looked like Leo, like that Leo all these years back and the sudden memory in front of his eyes made them widening and Mikey's mouth curling up.

He really looked like that – old Leo, the always responsible brother, but never pressured, sci-fi dork, emo kid yet the most enormous adrenaline junkie Mikey had ever met, practicing katas down the dojo because it made him happy, not someone else, nudging playfully with his brothers and having fun, joining them in mockery and laughter – or sadness and pain, instead of staying away like he was getting used to doing these last years –

– talking with Irma about facial toners, punk music and exfoliating scrubs, chuckling with Jason and Casey when Raph did something stupidly funny, kissing awkwardly with Usagi between rolled up tatami carpets or playing thumb wars with Karai under the tables during school time when he thought no one was watching – still hurt, but holding strong when Mikey's mom was gone.

Strong because that was Leo – and Jesus, Mikey was wishing in his head devotedly that his brother would stay again like that forever; strong because of the past – and because of them.

Leo moved so quickly Mikey didn't have the time to encourage his thoughts to dare to leave his mouth, wrapping those strong hands around him and pressing him in the tightest hug in the entire universe. "I still can't believe you dubbed yourself that," he murmured in his curly hair.

Mikey allowed his eyes to close, so easy in his brother's embrace, whispering a half-hearted, "Because it's true?" and sinking in Leo's arms, relishing the shape of him and the memories crawling back again like a much-welcomed, tingly snake.

And with the way Leo held him tighter, like his strength was slipping away from him and he needed to hold him, Mikey couldn't help but open one eye, glancing towards the corner of his mother's dusty picture frame.

Sometimes, Mikey, like last night, forgot that his mother couldn't be as much disappointed in them as they were in her. Because between those two, aching edges of daring to grief and mourn for a loss you weren't sure was death and wanting to hope for the fairytale-like ending, there was that pit of pure and raging disappointment.

His mother had left. She had abandoned them and had ruined everything just when everything was actually going so well.

She had disappeared with no excuse – perhaps there was some excuse that he wasn't being told – and left so many things scattered.

And they hadn't been able to pick them all up, yet.

Better late than never, Mikey thought, bubbling up to the courage to pick one scattered thing at a time; this time his over-pressured brother, who had always been a Titan, next to their father, holding up the sky for the eternity of their family.

For such an accomplishment, his brother was forgiven.

For perhaps having such an accomplishment over his head for so long, his father was forgiven.

For being able to even have managed such an accomplishment, Mikey's mother would never be completely forgiven.

For that and for many other things, too, which made Mikey feel bitter.

Oh, well. She wasn't going to have the chance to get his full and sincerely long hugs – those were reserved for his family, his father, his brothers, his friends and now; only for Leo.

"Donnie and I kicked your butts. B-team is the best team," he declared with a haughty expression once Leo finally released his arms from around him and ruffled his hair playfully.

It sent Mikey all kinds of warmth, which was surprising, since it should be impossible for him to feel even warmer between fuzzy pajamas and the heater buzzing comfortingly since the night before.

But all of his brothers always managed things that were impossible.

"Basketball is not your thing, dude," Mikey pursed his lips into a mocking frown and added gleefully, "Only the tall ones got it."

It was back when they played all summer together, trying to have fun through sticky and sweaty times – and Casey's shattered backyard was the perfect place for them to declare their unofficial basketball championships.

Mikey and Donnie always won, long limbs and longer grins as Casey's mom brought them juice boxes, paper towels to clean their sweat and grilled cheese sandwiches as their trophies.

It was when Father was still freshly sad, and there was no possible way to look at his twin son's faces and not be slapped with a crisp hand of the reeking past – and Casey's mom – Aunt Trudy, she had said – who knew them all so well like the pots of flowers in her yard, had no problem supporting them, whether it was with warm words or warm smiles.

For Mikey, Casey and his mother had always been as good as family.

Leo didn't seem to remember that little detail, or maybe he didn't want to show Mikey he did, his head caught up in the happy times as the dazed smile appeared on his mouth and he snorted soundly, "Can't argue there."

"Nah, I'm wrong," Mikey waved his hand sharply, "We're all the best team," he said decisively, and the colorfully happy ambiance that clouded over Leo's content face – even his eyes smiling – was the kind of mood Mikey always wanted to see adorning his eldest brother's features.

Leonardo could have been a child with them for a little longer – before so many things had fallen on him like they were a dysfunctional house of cards and he had the job to collect them back. Maybe they could have grown up together, giddy and wild and careless and passionate and never, not for one moment, uptight and worried.

But, as Mikey looked his brother's face – Leo smiling truly and genuinely, eyes wide with expectancy, acceptance, and permission all at once – he thought that it wasn't very late for that to change.

He smiled gradually back. Perhaps Leo didn't have the chance to be a child with time, but he had the need to do so now. And that was enough for Mikey.

"You're good, bro. You're doing good," he finally said, softly, and with the way Leo's smile broke into a grin all the way up to his ears, it seemed like it was something he had wanted to hear for a while.

His brother's grin fell slightly as he looked briefly at the rack of hand towels that were hanging on the kitchen wall and he spotted his phone. He grabbed it and messed around with it for a while, before a sigh left him that forced Mikey's eyebrows to furrow.

"What's up?"

Leo sighed another time, hunkering lowly. It made Mikey look taller than his brother, even though they were the same height, despite the two years difference. He pushed his chest out, in a try to appear even taller – because he knew that his lankily adorable height was just as irresistible as his big, blue eyes.

Fair enough, Leo huffed, answering to his puppy eyes with a roll of his. "Karai hasn't called me," he said quickly, and before Mikey could wander on the fact in the privacy of his head, Leo continued, encouraged, "I think – maybe I pushed her away or something. You know, with all that."

He fidgeted with his fingers, looking away from Mikey's eyes and shrugging his shoulders weirdly, as if he felt bad to admit such a thing.

And, in Mikey's opinion, he definitely should! Karai was Leo's, like, very badass angel or something – which was really cool, because Mikey, Donnie, and Raph didn't always have the chance to hover around Leo during school time, and Mikey was pretty sure by now that they didn't have to anyway, since the scary, gothic Oroku Karai was ready to break the neck of anyone that would dare to lay a threatening hand on his eldest brother.

For that, Mikey trusted Karai wholeheartedly, and that wasn't a word that he used very lightly.

He deadpanned at his brother's unsure stare. "Dude. I think it will take a lot more to make Karai push herself away from you. You know that," he said sincerely, watching something finally flicker through Leo's tired eyes like a tiny, hopeful fish.

Mikey couldn't resist rolling his eyes at that. It was as if Leo had erased the fact that even with all the messy things that had come up like a tornado, Karai had never even made a move to leave from him.

"And give her a break, she's put up missing posters for Klunk all over Manhattan," he added mirthfully, because he thought it was something Leo would like to hear, taking April's newspaper from where he had left it so he could look at the dinner plan and hide his smile behind it as Leo's breath hitched.

"…Really? She has?"

Mikey fixed him a disbelieving look, raising an eyebrow. "Uh-huh." And then, as a concerned expression ghosted over his brother's face, he continued, voice lowering, "We'll find Klunk. I'm sure of it," he said and the 'it wasn't your fault' part was left unsaid.

But, Leo seemed to have understood it all too well, because he smiled, fondly and softly, muttering a quick yet sincere, "I'm sure, too," before his face split into a wide grin, "Come here, again."

Mikey blinked, perturbed under his brother's kind stare, but Leo gestured silently, and he realized exactly what was coming. So, he lifted his arms and strung them around Leo's neck when his oldest brother crushed him in the second hug for this morning and Mikey embraced the warmth for another time.

Besides, his brother was way overdue for a hug.

He clung back, clutching Leo's pajama, half convinced he was dreaming it or it was a memory from the good past, but he was brought to reality when the arms around him got a little tighter, too.

"Ah, another hug?" he fluttered his eyes sardonically when the hug was over, "Man, what's going on? This is why Karai doesn't call you, because you're a total sap."

Leo shook his head, amusement in his voice. "I've been told, I've been told."

Mikey paced around the kitchen with happy steps – he could get used to this Leo; he could make sure to have this Leo in his life forever – as his brother was continuing to snorting to himself and took a seat.

He edged himself through the shelves, looking for a certain dinnerware April was mentioning in her diagram and, but once he spotted the oolong on one shelf, he perked up, smiling. "Wanna have some tea?"

"Is this even a question?"

He grinned, settling his kettle, tea pockets and hot water on the counter as he got into work and spoke indifferently, without filtering his words, "I'm glad you're better."

He stilled, wondering how the words could affect Leo in mean ways – he wasn't trying to say that Leo wasn't better before – but, perhaps he shouldn't have overthought it, because Leo seemed to understand. His brothers always did.

He nodded in that slow, agreeable way, and while his face was unreadable, the smile couldn't be covered from his voice. "And I'm glad you're glad. Still. Thank you," he said.

And Mikey's heart sunk into the softest mattress of love.

"Don't even mention it, Leo. We're here," he said instead, eyes glinting when Leo's mouth twitched into a smile, "And don't start hoping on Donnie's and Raph's beds to thank them too, 'cause you really don't have to. And 'cause it's seven in the morning and they'll pummel you."

Leo smirked. "It's a little too late for that."

"Of course," he groaned.

"And no, they did not in fact, pummel me," his brother retorted in that giddy way he did when he talked about them and the glad warmth in Mikey's chest expanded like a holiday balloon.

"You're lucky," he taunted, setting the mug on the table and filling it with hot tea, which smelled like wood and thickly with roasted aromas of flu medicine to him, "They have a soft spot for self-blaming idiots."

"Maybe," he replied enigmatically.

And Mikey narrowed his eyes at that, putting the kettle down slowly. Sure, Leo didn't seem a lot happy when he got in the kitchen – but his brother's features were sweet despite the tensed knots in his neck and shoulders and the faintness in his eyes, relenting when Mikey spoke and sharpening when he spoke, because he honestly wanted to have that conversation with him.

Mikey couldn't help but feel curious – and parts happy too, obviously – at what had inspired his brother's languid change.

Possibly, the so unusual hops of Leo in their beds and his discussion with both Raph and Donnie had been able to wash out his panic attack aftershocks like a breeze mingling delicious food smells through the windy November air.

Certainly, he kind of hoped Leo had discovered the Hufflepuff scarf Mikey had wrapped on the ladder that led to his room.

'Present,' he had written on an orange sticky note, which had been left on Leo's wooden, horizontal door next to his poster, with Mikey expecting and, very much knowing, his brother would figure out from who it had come.

And with him sort of staring for a long time the poster on his door, since Donnie had slept in the lab, again anyway, taking in the bright colors of the flags and swords on it, as well as the short, curvy and not very closeted slogan on the top, 'While You Were Being Heterosexual, I Studied The Blade.'

Leo, in many terms, terms of responsibility and of the past, terms of sexuality, terms of brothers and family and kept promises, had always been so brave.

Always family, he finally crammed his thoughts and turned to glance at his brother with a sideways grin, "That's why you're in a good mood!"

"Maybe. Or it's because I love you."

That was practically the same thing, Mikey wanted to scream in full tenderness, but he was too busy making choking noises of affection as his brother chuckled. "Aww, we love your worrywart butt too!"

Leo continued to chuckle, but his shoulders sagged lightly, seeming relieved and Mikey mentally slapped his face at the sight. Silly Leo. He should know they loved him. Mikey himself didn't even have to hear it to know it.

"Come on," he waved the affection and took a sip from his teacup that Mikey knew it was to hide the grateful upward curl of his lips.

But, of course, oolong wasn't part of Leo's 'favorite tea' category and his eldest brother spit the sip he had just taken, stuttering. "This tea is nothing more than hot leaf juice."

"Isn't that all what tea is?"

It won a small laugh from Leonardo, before the sound that escaped his mouth turned into a gasp, and Mikey smiled smugly.

"How could a member of my own family even say something like that?" He exclaimed and didn't even bat an eye as he smacked Mikey's hand that was reaching April's newspaper. Damn those brother senses.

"Relax with the preparations, we have plenty of time. You know that, right?" The nod of nonchalant agreement he got from Mikey must have been sufficient, because Leo didn't waver his voice, same soothing tone.

"Don't overwork yourself. It's all gonna work out. We trust you; we just don't want you to burn out. And besides," he grinned, "you've seen too much Food Network not to be trusted."

"There's never such thing as too much Food Network, dude!" he exulted brightly and then, to defend himself in an amusing yet right amount of serious tone, "And I was just gonna check the notes for the pumpkin cheesecake in a gingersnap crust, the pilgrim pumpkin pie and definitely the chocolate-bourbon pecan pie, because you do know Casey wants that pecan pie and is prettyfocused on fishing it all by himself."

Leo rolled his eyes. "He's really got to stop making stupid bets with Raph. It's not like he's getting on the Wall of Fame for that."

Mikey brightened. "Ohhh, Wall of Fame for food? Leo, what kind of amazing genius are you?"

His brother didn't blink at his rambling, only cocking up an eyebrow, and Mikey couldn't help himself but sighing, puffy and overdramatically.

"Fiiine, okay, maybe you're right. I do have a study meeting at the park later."

Leo caught his eyes in a rush, the eyebrow staying in the same raised position as he smiled at nothing in particular. "Really?"

"What didja think?" Mikey threw his hands, motioning to himself, "I am a boy of learning, mister," he flaunted jokingly, and noticing Leo's suspicious gleam in his eyes, which Mikey guessed was because of his vague answering skills or because Leo thought he wouldn't be invested in school stuff after the last traumatic math experience, he snorted long-sufferingly.

"But I'll try to keep calm in the kitchen for now. I do need your help, though," he added with a wink, watching his eldest brother twisting his lips into an amused smirk.

"With the dinner? Michelangelo. Do you want me to burn the kitchen down? That would be a shame to your beautifully planned Thanksgiving dinner."

Mikey snorted a bit, but he was grinning ear to ear, because he liked the trust and admiration in Leo's tone so much, he could have started hugging him right then and there.

Instead, he shrugged his shoulders funnily, sticking out his tongue. "Oh, please, you're not even reliable to make toast," he teased, "I have something other for you. Well if you can, because I don't know if you can drive, or if Donnie will let you drive, but – here."

He ripped the top of the newspaper, where the red letters and the familiar address were standing out like stars on the New York sky. Leonardo took the piece of paper, chewed his lip a little and then, he smiled. "The turkey, huh? Sure, I can buy it, Father said I could drive if I wanted to anyway."

Wait, what?

But Leo didn't seem to notice his face breaking into confusion, as he laughed, "Is there a reason we always have to take the turkey from all over across the city?"

Mikey stilled, both of Leo's sentences hanging around his head like persistent clouds. "Mom always did that," he said, quietly and felt bad, because Leo's enthusiasm disappeared and his color drained.

He nodded slowly, making Mikey feel waves of regret splashing on his face. He offered him a grin, full of doubt, not even able to perform his puppy stare, which always worked efficiently on Leo, ask anybody, because his eyes felt heavy, but was more than surprised to see his brother's face melting into a ruefully wide smile that could mean hundreds of things.

"Yes, Mikey, you are very right," he said and it was so full of fond tenderness and affection and so much more stuff Leo managed to slip in his heart with his warm gaze.

Mikey beamed at him, and didn't even understand why.

Leo got up and cleared his throat, glancing at him, "So, I'm going to take shower and get dressed and then I'll go. I hope they are open at 7:30," he chuckled under his breath, moving around Mikey like an octopus so he could reach the fridge, take a bottle of water in his hand and swallow a sip.

"And I'll pass from Karai. I have to thank her, too," he said, playing with the bottle in his hand, making Mikey pipe up cheerfully with the anticipation of a child.

"Yeah?"

– And curiosity, too, if he were being honest, because Leo rarely went to Karai's house, for reasons quite obvious yet sincerely unknown, since Mikey knew he wasn't going to take an answer, even in he asked. And with the way his mind was playing memories of Karai's father in front of him twistedly – yikes, he didn't even want to ask anymore.

But, if Leo was willing to go – whoop. It appeared that Leo was all too brightly voluntary, just to see Karai and that meant a lot of things; some to smile to – and some to blackmail with.

Mikey grinned like the Cheshire cat as Leo smiled to himself, sighing. "Yeah," and then, with gleamed eyes that had Mikey suspicious, he added drawling, "She always goes above and beyond the call of friendship for me."

He got my gift?!

"You got my present!" he gasped excitedly, giving his brother a contagious smile he couldn't help but return right away. "But, of course, she does! She always did. Although, dude," he paused, drumming his fingers on the table as Leo looked at him weirdly, "I think it's more than the call of friendship, right?"

He resisted the urge to wink suggestively, because this morning with Leo had been like a solacing grip to his heart, one he didn't know he could live without now that he had experienced it again and the last thing he wanted was to bring up a touchy subject and give the doors in his wide ocean blue eyes any excuse to close.

But, instead of Leo scrunching his face in that bothered manner he did when Raph would ever tease him about these kinds of things, his eldest brother blinked rapidly, and then smiled, humming.

"You are very smart, do you know that?" he asked, his voice oddly warm as the faintest of blushes made its way onto his cheeks.

Mikey smirked. "I've been told, I've been told," he sang gleefully, paraphrasing Leo's words from before just to see his brother's smile deepening broadly. "That's right! That's the happy smile I like to see."

Hesitantly, Leo made a way to leave before he stopped, turning his head so he could meet Mikey's eyes in earnest. He left the water bottle on the wooden table, arms falling loose as he bit his lip and asked, voice cracking, "A last one?"

"You got it, bro," Mikey said and met Leo's stubbornly beating heart with his chest as they hugged and held each other in the kitchen, waiting till both of their hearts ceased to pound.

"I'm still sorry," Leo muttered, muffled in his hair and it made Mikey's eyes burn. He certainly did not need to hear it, but damn, the apology felt like a warm bath after a cold night.

It felt good.

He hoped his sorry-speech to their father would make him feel the same good Mikey felt now, as he broke the hug with a satisfied sigh, pouring all of his love and feelings into it.

He met his eyes. "You're still a dork," he replied warmly, for the sake of watching his brother's face break into a smile that made him look his age.

Leo took a step back tentatively, close enough to put a soft hand on Mikey's shoulder, gripping him as blue eyes shifted around the kitchen before settling kindly on his face, searching.

"I'm proud of you. So proud and I – I really look up to you, Mikey," he finally said, voice low, and it felt like a sudden earthquake had flowed all over his body insistently.

"Mmm," he hummed, moments later, in the empty kitchen, playing with April's kitchen in fidgeting fingers.

He took in the noises the paper made on his hands, sounds of the shower water hissing, as he tossed a glance towards his mother's picture frame.

Her eyes glowed, livid and wide, and left Mikey struggling for breath as he swallowed hard around the lump in his throat. He puffed his cheeks, emotions swirling in his head like a fancy cocktail, yet the only thing he managed to say was, "That could have been you."


The rest of the day passed as smoothly as Mikey could have expected.

With Father staying adamantly downstairs at the dojo, he cornered himself in the protective cocoon of his fluffy desk chair, fiddling with notebooks and assignments he had no mood whatsoever to finish.

But the plate of leftover pineapple pizza that had been left on his nightstand by Donatello was decorating his textbooks with the most delicious smell and that was enough of motive for him.

Raph had laughed hard when he had seen him, taking a bite from his apple in his hand and his jacket from the red mattress of his bed, as he had muttered to himself, "Dork."

But Mikey had detected the hint of affection in his tone all too easily – and had attributed the fact to the delightfully happy aura that was wrapped around Leo's finally awake body.

Almost happy, Mikey mused with the furrowest of brows, thinking back to the moment he had run into Leonardo at the hallway after his purchase of the turkey and his chit-chat visit with Karai, and had seen him clutching his hair with fidgeting fingers, an anxious expression written all over his face.

Women troubles, Mikey had guessed. Now that was something he would probably never understand.

Just as he was finishing his English homework, his phone had buzzed happily, Renet's reminding message of their study meeting lighting up the screen and his face.

He leaned down, making up a backpack with all of the basics, as he sang, "Goin' to the park, goin' to park!"; his Chemistry book and highlighters, pencils and pens, Miss Abigail's handwritten advice and not spare notepad, his phone, and gummy bears! – because Renet loved them as much as much as Irma loved borrowing and wearing Donnie's purple flannel shirts.

He was cleaning his glasses messily on the hem of his funky sweater when the gruff knock on the door was heard and he rolled his eyes involuntarily.

"Wow, Raph, knocking? What's up with that?" he asked dryly as he adjusted his glasses back to his face, but once they were on and Mikey turned his head to the door, the sight of the person waiting made every word on his tongue die heavily in an instant. "Did you – Dad."

His father's wrinkles adorned strangely the remorseful smile that was tugging on his mouth and it was enough for Mikey to break into a cold sweat, freckles melting away from his face and burning holes when they reached his heart as he sighed ponderously with gentle eyes.

"Hi, Michelangelo."

Chapter Text

It was impossibly quiet.

Mikey felt the uncomfortable knot tightening around his stomach as he swallowed hard, meeting his father's eyes.

He stood in the doorway, ever so tall, clean clothes and tidy hair, which were such a contrast with the messiness of his eyes. He waited calmly, till Mikey nodded slowly, before entering in the room, taking a cozy place on his bed – and leaving a plate of juicy tomatoes and a sandwich on his desk.

Mikey's heart skipped a beat and he blinked hard, something heavy and heated just behind his eyes.

His father mimicked the motion, eyes glowing as he raised his hand and patted to the place next to him, beckoning Mikey with a silently rueful gaze.

Mikey found himself next to his father's prose too quickly, and embraced the warmth his body provided. It reminded him of the times Father had had him folded between crackly chairs in the police station, waiting until an officer would finally decide his mother's case wasn't worth a shot, not anymore.

The memory flooded Mikey's mind in low waves and made him feel as if he were underwater, his breath stuck somewhere between his nose. He cleared his throat and forced his mouth to speak, words coming out like lifeless watercolors.

"What are you doing here? Don't you have classes today?"

He flinched as he watched his father's eyes widening, features relenting beneath the wrinkles of his skin. Such a coward, he thought and hunkered slightly. This wasn't what he wanted to say.

His father smiled nonetheless, a small thing, just an upturn of the lip, as he sighed. "I did. But we closed the dojo early. A lot of students have already started their holidays. And many miss Leonardo," he added quietly, after a moment, tone slightly deeper, but his expression was otherwise unreadable.

"Oh, I see." Mikey allowed himself to smile, despite the ugly tension hanging creakingly in every corner of the room. For someone who had lost interest in martial arts between all of these years of simultaneously losing himself gradually, Leo had certainly inspired so many young children.

His father returned the smile, but it didn't feel sincere to Mikey – it looked like a plastered picture, something fake among the pained realness that was his father's face.

It sent unforgiving thumps in Mikey's heart and it made him wish religiously he could thumb those deep, black circles under his father's eyes away and the torn and tired skin, peeling off his face like stickers.

Thoughts raced his head as he turned his head sharply, not bearing the sight of his father – he couldn't say what he wanted if he looked at him. It closed his throat and made him wonder if the exhausted, swirling lines on his father's face were a depiction of the way Mikey's heart clenched.

He held a breath and released it slowly; speaking before he could realize it and wincing at the manner his voice trembled when he found himself interrupting his father's steady tone.

"Listen, Michelangelo, I –"

"Look – Sorry," he shook his head insistently and forced himself to keep his gaze fixed at the floor. When his father didn't speak, his heart soared with courage, lifting to pound in his ears, as if to block any other sound.

"See, I'm even interrupting you here, I obviously don't know what I'm doing," he started again, every word burning on his skin as he dug his socked feet on the wooden floor. "I shouldn't have said all that," he said firmly and whipped his head hard to lock gazes with an unreadably quiet father – so he could show him he meant it, truly.

"It really wasn't right to approach it like this and I didn't mean it like that. I was angry, for other reasons, and I shouldn't have lashed out to you. So not cool."

"I am sorry," he finally said, ears ringing and the tremor of mixed quilt, anger and relief flowed across his body and shook him, making him want to sink himself in his father's embrace almost immediately.

But Father was all too busy, tilting his head, his Adam's apple bobbing furiously as his eyes were hooded. He breathed through his sharp nose, the iron in the softness of his tone sawing any crack Mikey's words had drilled in his heart.

"You know, Michelangelo, when we are angry, that is when we speak the truth. It isn't petulance. Real anger originates from sincerity. And sorrow. I am not blind to what you and your brothers see and feel."

The words were careful, as if they were being picked by a fanciful art collector and had Mikey's fingers fidgeting against his sheets as his mouth watered. "I'm… I'm not sure I'm following," he hesitated.

The room was languid, dipping in a brightly sudden light as his father offered him the faintest of smiles.

"What I am trying to say is that – you were right Michelangelo," he said stiffly, causing the lump in Mikey's throat to rise uncomfortably, "I'm acting very selfishly."

Mikey breathed and stared at him behind fuzzy glazes and blurry eyes that dared to spill tears on his cheeks. He squeezed them hard, blocking the heart hammering in his chest as he tried to pull himself together. "No, dad," he choked and his throat itched with the way his father's steady voice finally wavered.

"Yes," he closed his eyes shut tight, "I've been trying to stay so caught up on my work because, I wanted to stay away. But I forgot you, my sons, I forgot you," he repeated, voice slow and heavy – such a rare sound – the way it only turned a handful of times, when he was honestly ashamed.

Prickling needles pinched the nape of Mikey's neck as his father's eyes stayed stably on his face, searching for a look – as if Mikey had the power to shatter him with only a simple stare.

His stomach churned at the thought and the way his face softened, freckles edging to make room, came easier than he expected. Father replied in kind, with a mellow glance of his own.

His eyes shone, words rumbling out of swollen lips like a discreditable curse and Mikey sensed the desperation in his voice with a shifting pang of realization in his stomach. "I'm still hurt. When your mother disappeared, I couldn't manage the courage to cry. I was empty. I wasn't ready for this again, still, I am not," he admitted, voice deepening once again and matching with the darkened expression on his face.

He looked lost for a minute, breaking their eye contact with a soft grunt – as if he was looking at something terribly ugly and when he turned his head again, Mikey was greeted with the wide pools of his father's brown eyes, now red with something flickering in them like drops of rainfall.

"But you and your brothers, you made me feel again. You made me feel alive. I had forgotten about that. But, yesterday, I felt again," he uttered, eyes brightening. His face was so gentle, the way it had always been behind his sore and hard skin, and he touched Mikey's shoulder with a hand that wasn't built to touch anybody any way but kindly.

His heart pounded in a faster rhythm, the building rate pumping his blood and Mikey perceived the feel as nothing else than infuriated guilt.

"Yeah, after me yelling at you," he gruffed, a gloomy grimace scratching his face, "I didn't mean for it to happen like that."

"I think… I needed to be yelled at. I had to wake up. I miss your mothers very, very much," his face was so creased with pain that Mikey wanted to hug him and cry with him until all those lines in his face went away.

"And I thought that, if I kept my distance, you – you would r – remain here," his voice trembled like a lonely leaf through the wind, reaching his ears and blazing them hotly, "and I wouldn't transfer you my sadness. And that would be the best. But, I guess this had the opposite result."

"A bit," he said, swallowing his emotions thickly and just wryly enough that his father returned his half-smile with a slightly guilty one of his own, piercing him right through, and that was all he had time to say, because his father was already speaking again, the hand from his shoulder moving to cup his cheek, caressing it lightly.

"You were correct, my son," he breathed, his face so close and open that it fogged his glasses in ways that made him shiver inside his sweater, "It is all my fault and I shouldn't hide behind my finger. I shouldn't push you away for selfish reasons. That was very wrong of me."

"Very. I needed the cold splash of reality and it stung, but – my, is this how you felt?" he croaked, tone urgent and pleading, such an odd and damaged mask, Mikey mused, but the stare his father gave him destroyed every defending thought with a fist of actuality.

"My sons, please, forgive me. I will try more, I promise, please. I will make sure to be there for you," he mumbled fervently, but his face was open and endless – a clean, agonizingly raw expression that was no mask.

Because among all the hardships that had found an easy path and dipped in the open and distanced places his family had left between its members, Mikey had forgotten to take a look, a good look at his father and the manner he had moved on, storing and bowing over his own sorrow of being again, so, so lost, keeping himself tucking away and coldly still, so they could have something, a rock to hold on.

How many times had his brothers and him held on him too tight, taking their frustrations on because he was being so indifferent and aloof and distant, and just hadn't manage to look more closely and see the indifference twisting into the most undeniable rumple of pure pain?

All that pain, creeping up on him and pushing hard, like a water daring to spill, come out and wreck from the gates – and Father holding back everything, keeping himself more away than before and leaning on Leonardo, because he was the oldest, more than he should, since the pain was slowly catching up and he needed something to grab;

Whether it was unintentional loneliness or the reliable soul of his eldest brother, before it tumbled out and broke him apart in unforgiving pieces.

And Mikey was seeing it now, his father looking at him with eyes apologetic and wide and expectant, as he was waiting for a hard blow on his face, faint lawful chips on the edges of his far too old and beseechingly regretful expression – slightly broken, but not quite.

And perhaps his reasons didn't make his attitude okayof course not, but he looked as if he wanted to make things okay despite everything that had whirled them around like a bashful tornado and even if Mikey couldn't bring himself to forgive him, not too quickly and so easy like this, he wanted to help.

Pick up the pieces again and form his family like the puzzle of joy and strength that it deserved to be.

He slowly moved his hand on his cheek, where his father's hand was resting, squeezing it tight – squeezing the both of them tightly and the words were coming out of his mouth in a numb way that made him sound much wiser than he intended to.

"Then, I think you're on a good road, dad. And you don't have to miss them alone, y'know? We're together in this and we should stick together, right?"

With the way his father's eyes went hurtfully round, Mikey guessed he hadn't been prepared for this kind of reply. Well, the best outcomes came from the unexpected and the lump in his throat shrank lightly when he said slowly, in a tingly reassuring tone than managed to console himself, as well, "What do you want us to do?"

Father's mouth slacked ever so slightly, before hardening, a sharp, sure and low downturn of the lip. He lifted his hands from his face, hesitates a moment, and then took the plunge.

Mikey felt big arms winding around his waist and shoulders and his breath hitched, crippling tears swelling behind his eyes, as his father folded him against his broad chest, slowly, surely for a few seconds – that Mikey thought as an eternity.

The hug was quick – but the feeling and shape of the moment stayed by him and remained in every inch of his body and the rush that rolled over him was as strange as the stare of total frankness his father was wearing.

They were eye to eye now, chest to chest, their hands cradled together boldly in that space between their hearts. His father's expression was much nicer to look at when it was wide open like this, any trace of that muddy years that Mikey didn't know if he should rip apart like a much wanted yet faraway present wrapping or should keep to himself like a motherly painful memory – old, hurt and discarded somewhere behind him.

"Just stay here, all of you, just here," he pleaded, barely above a whisper, "Your lives are my life's best part."

And Mikey's blood was flaming, and he could feel that heat in his throat, behind his eyes, something between righteous anger and secondhand hurt, with nowhere to go.

Nowhere to go, but able to be shifted in the most longingly correct version of himself that Mikey yearned so much to give as much as he wanted to take.

"We're not leaving you," he shook his head, tone even and booming in his ears, "Never. We don't like to see you sad."

His father sighed, that irritatingly suffering sound, as if Mikey was saying something he couldn't possibly grasp. "You are so important to me, all of you," his voice was hard with so much sudden emotion and passion Mikey had missed so much to look and hear in his father.

His thoughts came to blank, slowing and ceasing, because his father had that look – the Hamato Yoshi look – which forced, not unkindly, the whole world to stop and listen every single time.

"Sometimes, I find myself looking at you as children, and keeping you away as to keep you safe. I am wrong. You are not children. You've grown so much. I saw that last night – to you," the word was pointed out with that sincere affection his father used to hold when he sang them lullabies – the kind of lullabies that warmed them more than the stupid blankets, the foggy sweaters and the lost hugs of his mother.

And would always would.

Mikey wished those warm feelings that were clenching his heart in the most delightful of ways at the sight of his proud father and eldest brother could camp in the center of his heart forever – and start a fire for his family to follow and warm up to, too.

"I can't stop you from growing up," he continued, face scrunching, "But I wouldn't – I shouldn't – miss it for the world. I do not like to see you sad, too," his brows unfurrowed slightly, something soft splashing on his face, "That is why I spoke to Leonardo earlier in the morning."

Eyes wide, Mikey smiled, loving the wetness around the corner of his eyes and hating the disbelief his voice allowed to slip in. "You… you did?"

Leo's bright demeanor, a powerfully happy ambiance surrounding him like his personal protector, his grins – except his suddenly ugly features that had appeared on his skin when he had seen him in the hallway – it made sense now.

"Of course," his father cooed, but the incredulity in Mikey's voice must have reached his face, because he tilted his head, eyes shrinking and nodded understandingly.

"The pain was unbearable and I've done mistakes, and most of them fell on him. I fell on him, so hard when he was so young. He ended up suffering more than me and –" he paused, stammering, in a simmering, slow-burning way that meant had been there for a while.

"– and I wouldn't have talked to him, if it weren't for you. Which would be a shame, because for me Leonardo is – he needed me, as much as I needed him. As much as you needed me. And –"

"And he looks a lot like mama Shen when he's sad," he blurted out before he could help himself, rolling the almost forgotten nickname his father had taught them in his tongue like a soft taffy and then added, unsure and worried, "Right?"

There was no prudent way to answer him, of course, and maybe Father knew that, simply smiling and nothing more, as they just sat in silence together, hands clasped comfortably between the space that had been stretched across them all these years – like a hopeful bridge.

Fair enough, he finally nodded, eyes sparkling, "Yes. Just like you look a lot like your mother when she always tried to talk some sense into me."

"She was a pretty smart lady. Very clever," Mikey replied jokingly, smiling even broadly to him, and to blow away any angrily tired expression from his father's wrinkles, he never let go of his hand, and his grip was so strong it almost hurt his own fingers.

Momentarily speechless, Father held on just as tight, knuckles clenching white, like there was a chance he could have fallen if he let go. "You too, my son. You too," he said, muffled but sincere, before slowly getting up and taking away his warmth – yet leaving Mikey in his own pool of tepidity and stringed feelings that he could only comprehend as beyond pure happiness.

His father smiled, and maybe Mikey could remember now that in that cursed day – Leo, in blanket too big for him and a cup of tea trembling in his hands, reaching down to ruffle his lengthy hair, Donnie with puffy, red eyes and a paly brown face, Raph's sick-sore voice hoarse and loud with worry – then, Father had smiled, too, said everything was going to be fine no matter what.

Because the Hamatos, except helping each other – they helped themselves, in many, unknown ways.

Mikey smiled back, too quickly, too large, cheeks aching and didn't feel anything else but gladness.

His father almost made a move to go, reached for the doorway, but stopped, blinking when he noticed the bag scattered. "Are you planning to go outside?"

Mikey's stomach did a sudden flip-flop, eyes shifting to look at the turtle clock on the wall and the hurt in his father's face – awh, he wanted him to stay here. "Yes, to the park with Renet. I have a test after school break and she's gonna help me."

His tone was cheerful and grudge-free; because how could he keep a grudge at the bundle of titanic protectiveness and stability he called family?

Family first and foremost and after these years – Father needed them next to him, he needed them close, he needed them together – and now.

And it was freshly new and almost magically familiar – all of this, his father's truthfully big smiles – and Mikey didn't want to ruin what he had just found out again, his mouth frowning slightly and hand ready to yank his phone and cancel the study meeting, because this was family now.

But, his father only hummed approvingly, the same, sincerely happy gleam in his eyes, "That's good. You need the fun," and that meant family even more. "But don't stay out too late," he added mirthfully, "because –"

Mikey had to bit his mouth from groaning in fondly exasperation. "– you don't want me to be out in the dark, I know," he parroted with rolled eyes that stilled when his father huffed a laugh.

"No. You need to return quickly, because we have to organize our plans and recipes for the dinner. Better start early."

"You're gonna help in the kitchen?" Mikey breathed a joyful gasp that had his father chuckling lightly, in the manner he would do when his mother would do silly things, and replying in the way that everything was always being explained to Mikey wholeheartedly.

"I thought that was obvious enough."

And yeah, it was. "It is your favorite holiday."

His father smiled, tiringly and perhaps a bit downhearted, but mostly wistfully pleased and not angry. "It is her favorite holiday," he said, in a hopeful, present tense, and the beaming smile that appeared on Mikey's face threatened to split his face in half.

"Thanks, Dad, so much."

"No, thank you. Have fun at your study meeting," his grin was something really special, and when he rolled his eyes as Mikey replied gleefully, "I will. Well, as much fun as you can have with Chemistry." –

He looked like a funnily comforting mix of low versions of Leo, Raph and Donnie altogether, a living grinning statue so much like the photo of him Mikey knew was standing on the dining room carefully and longingly – he looked right and there it made Mikey feel right for what seemed a long time.

And finally, one of Mikey's unknowingly insistent problems fell apart like a rainy downpour and what other problems were there were for a moment pleasantly covered by a bright rainbow.

Amused, Father shook his head. "Eat your sandwich, Michelangelo," he commanded playfully before leaving slowly from the room and tugging hopefully away from any memory of his distant self in the past.

Heart in his throat, Mikey fumbled around the drawers to find the over-sized jacket he had been gracefully lent by Woody and picked up the bag from his floor, heading to the bathroom to throw some water to his face – because he wanted the dry tears and woefully fake betrayal washed out of his face immediately – and to put some of Raph's musky deodorant.

The jacket smelled like Woody a heck of a lot – coffee, pizza, and mamaí essence – and Mikey wasn't going to risk the fact Renet sniffing him and smiling knowingly.

Spraying himself, he took a look at the mirror, his smile reflecting and bubbling proudly every good thing he was sensing – and ignored a sudden clench at his stomach that was quietly warning him of a bad feeling.


"Let's go over this one more time, got it?" Renet asked gently, with a toothy smile full of bright lipstick and despite the insecurities and frustrations creeping up on Mikey's mind, he couldn't help but smile back, a knee-jerk reaction.

It had been just a few hours of Chemistry on the old swings at Riverside Park, but to Mikey, it had felt like years of torture. He couldn't quite find himself understanding any concept of studying and that left him disappointed and angry at himself.

Donnie was a genius, big brains, and even bigger ideas, with colleges and universities waiting in the corner, science clubs and advanced placement classes – Leo, too, a bit overshadowed by Donatello's smartness, yet still an honor student and hopefully valedictorian of his class – Raph, perhaps not so smart, but with football scholarships lurking around him like hawks –

All of his brothers were so great, and here he was, unable to balance equations. If only he could somehow have Donnie's intelligence delivered to him like a magical twin spell. But, it didn't work like that, unfortunately.

Renet was definitely making his situation appear better, though, with confident smiles and cute chuckles that Mikey had found himself really appreciating.

She was so cool – and he had never seen or was lucky to have such a happy person around. Sure, he had been acquainted with her perky attitude during his visits at her grandparents' antique shop or at the fundraisers Leo used to take part in.

It seemed impossibly easy for her, gliding into this sunshine-like demeanor, which even put Mikey's golden rays into shame.

"Yes, definitely," he finally answered and ignored Renet's grin to focus on the part of his brain where all the information was messily tucked in, "So… a chemical equation is a written symbolic representation of a chemical reaction. The reactant chemicals are given on the left-hand side and the product chemicals on the right-hand side. The two are connected with an arrow leading from the left to the right, symbolizing the reaction."

She nodded proudly, grinning, and clapped her chubby hands in the most childish manner. "Nailed it! You totally got the theory of the lesson. Now, we only need to practice the equations and it's done. Let's just see how you did with the exercises."

Mikey puffed his cheeks at that, eyes rolling almost painfully in the back of his head as Renet motioned to the notepad on his lap. "I'm not really sure," he said, so abruptly she jerked her head up from the gummy bears lying on her skirt, and gave him a disapproving look.

"Why not?" she said firmly, holding that same, sharp gaze Mikey remembered from her mother, "Haven't I told you not to bring yourself down? You just write down your given equation, then the number of atoms per each element that you have on each side of the equation and of course, you always leave hydrogen and oxygen for last."

Mikey tuned out her explanation, letting his ears draw it in without filtering, since his thoughts were occupied. Renet's family was like a broken necklace, the chain old and breaking with the slightest move.

And Mikey could not judge – or ask, for that matter, because he knew how awkwardly agonizing these kinds of questions could be. He had dealt with a big share of them – teachers and students asking about his mom and shaking their heads sympathetically, the expression of pity on their faces always hated by Mikey.

That didn't mean, though, he couldn't wonder by himself, in the privacy of his own head silently.

Because he was aware of how bad a family situation could be. And the kind of consequences it could bring to the point of being almost self-destructing.

Maybe, when he was younger, despite of the heavy events he had found himself being drawn at – or perhaps because of it – he couldn't exactly see it and pinpoint it with a downhearted sigh.

And now, here he was, in a state that differed from the common state of obliviousness and ignorable bliss he was told he wore – a state of empathetic and truly disgusting understanding – and honestly, he didn't know what was worse.

What he knew though, was the next time he saw Renet's mom, dark circles, platinum hair and worn out jeans, he would give her a solacing, big old hug.

Because that kind of strong woman, who had gone against all the odds they had set up for her, standing up and shaping up her own independence – her own self – from scratch on shaky legs with tearing apart any relations with her husband's and family's manipulatively abusing bullshit all while holding a bundle of her hope that was her daughter deserved the utmost respect – and a hell of a lot of hugs, surely.

He shook his head, breaking from his thoughts and stared pointedly so Renet could think he was listening. "I did all these things. But it just seems wrong. I don't get why it is like this."

"You can't ask why, Mikey, it doesn't go that way," she snorted a bit, and when Mikey took a swing, feeling the cold run through him, and pushed his borrowed jacket's sleeves to his palms, she added teasingly, "That's like asking why Saturn has rings."

Cheeks heated, he huffed a laugh. He bet Woody would have a pretty answer for it – or one of his sneakily cute comments to say. He shivered lightly, hunkering in the jacket and sniffing the still lingering smell.

"Because God liked it, so he put a ring on it?" he offered, smiling.

The swing set creaked as Renet shook with laughter, eyes sparkling like the rainbow earrings she had behind her blond hair. "I doubt Saturn is a single lady." And then, in a more serious tone, she deadpanned. "Hand me the paper before you can figure out any other way to change the subject; nice going by the way."

"Okay, okay," Mikey gave in, fingers fidgeting as he tossed the notepad with the ugly chemical equations on her hands. She had to balance it between the swing that still creaked and the gummy bears in her lap – and Mikey felt bad for thinking a minute that she looked like a cutely, tiny whale.

Because that was kind of mean and he knew for Renet, weight was a sore subject.

He furrowed his brows slightly behind his glasses as he watched her chewing her lip and breathed a half-hearted "What do you think?" before he sighed.

She didn't say something, looking almost thoroughly on his work on the paper – perhaps she couldn't make out his bad writing – and crinkled her nose in the same way his father did when he was focusing on a hard task or was teaching a particularly difficult kata.

His father.

It would be an understatement to say that Mikey wasn't utterly happy with the way his father's behavior had shifted into that longingly familiar thing that he, and his brothers certainly, adored and made them feel warm in half a second.

He had seen them before he left for the park, adjusting his glasses slightly so he could take a look at the sight, which looked like a perfectly drawn picture from some memory faraway in the past and out of his grip – yet, there it was, in front of his eyes, like a hopefully burning reminder.

Dad had been sitting in the middle of the sofa, chuckling at some bookish thing that was placed on his legs, and Donnie and Raph had been beside him, shoulders touching as they had chatted quietly, and their smiles had not been unnoticeable.

Leo maybe looked a bit uneasy – but he hadn't stayed adamant, laughing softly when the bunch had made a much needed, unadulterated and good space for him to dip into.

Because he looked like he really was in need for that. And perhaps, just a tiny part of Mikey's heart needed it, too, but he had still waved cheerfully at their smiles, replying with a genuinely happy one of his own.

"Mikey," Renet started beside him and he braced himself for the shattering blow, "they're correct!"

Mikey nodded sadly. "I thought so – Wait… really?" His eyes widened brightly as the words of her friend echoed back like the best kind of pep-talk and his chest bubbled in pride.

"Yes, you oaf! Great job, Mikey!"

He couldn't help but smile at the praise, cheeks hurting from grinning, though, he hedged. "But, doesn't it look… I dunno, wrong?" he asked and winced, as Renet tilted her head.

She took a look at the notepad, inspecting it with jutted phuschia lips, as if she were a humanization of Pink Panther and her frown eased into a smile, understanding, and perhaps a bit, impressed. "Oh, I see why you think that. Check this out. You can use halves. When you are balancing the equation, you may need to multiply by 1.5 or 2.5 for example, right?"

"Yeah."

"Well," she tapped the pencil on the notebook thoughtfully, "in the end, you can just multiply the whole equation by 2, and amazingly, the halves will disappear and the equation will be balanced!"

Her expression was beyond than excited and Mikey had to bite back a laugh, because honestly, who looked so enthusiastic for Math? "Oh, really?" he taunted in a dry tone and Renet's ongoing oblivious gleefulness was adorably naïve.

"Yup, just try it right here!" she nodded towards a few equations messily written out of the notepad's line and after a little bit of work and with his pencil and rubber, and once he had created a result that looked satisfied to his eyes, Mikey turned to Renet's expectant smile.

"Like this?" he asked tentatively, pushing the notepad on her, and with the way her smile grew and widened into a grin, the pleased feeling in Mikey's eyes moved easily to the corners of his heart.

"Yes, exactly! See? The A will come before you even realize it," she drummed her feet on the dirt of the park and shouted, not caring how many teens' eyes turned to look at them in sheer confusion.

Mikey found himself wearing an amused expression himself and Renet matched him as she stated, eyes gleaming, "Man, Miss Abigail will be so ecstatic. I think we don't even need another lesson. For Chemistry, at least. You only have to look over our notes and you're good to go."

She grabbed Mikey's hand from the chain where it was, filling it with a handful of orange gummy bears, which were of course his favorite, and smiled deeply as she threw three green ones in her mouth.

"Here, take the gummy bears. We earned them," she said, and despite the muffled mouthfulness of her voice, Mikey certainly felt like he had earned them.

He sprinkled them in his mouth like a prized candy, and hummed agreeably. "Well, three hours were more than enough. Gah, these are too tasty. This kind of deliciousness should be freaking illegal," he said with feeling.

Renet agreed with an audible swallow of hers and then turned her eyes at him, tossing him a playfully no-nonsense look. "But you know the deal, right?"

"UghRen," Mikey said with joking distaste, holding his hands in an attempt to surrender with a swiftly promise, "I will audition for the play first thing when March starts."

Renet smiled broadly, to the tip of her ears, and gasped. "Yay! This is great!"

"Just razzle dazzle…"

"Razzle dazzle? Woah, you already have the theater kid in you."

The playful sigh that escaped Mikey's mouth was just inevitable as the short nudge he shoved to Renet's side. "C'mon. You're a very good teacher, though."

She giggled loudly, the sound managing to lower any other noises the kids, teens and tired moms and babysitters were making. "Only as good as the student," she remarked light-heartedly and it made Mikey's corners of his lips curl up.

Renet had this amazing ability to make people feel better about themselves and while it teased out happy feelings from Mikey, in some ways, it made him frown, because Renet didn't have someone for her to make her feel better.

"Still, I mean it," he responded firmly, tone even and as serious as he could be with gummy bears leftovers in his teeth. When she rolled her eyes hard, brows wiggling, he insisted.

"You're like, better than Donnie," he said and immediately winced at the choice of words, no matter how honestly they felt to him. "Okay, that sounded just wrong, I meant –"

But thankfully, Renet rolled with it just as easily as she rolled with everything, eyebrows raising. "No, I know what you mean," she nodded her head understandingly and Mikey's mouth twitched as she continued.

"I've got Donnie in my math class. And while he is just brilliant, he's not the kind of teacher for everybody. He sometimes thinks that people think like him, so he doesn't explain stuff that seem too obvious to him."

"That's not bad, just impractical, y'know?" she explained casually, as if she was talking about the weather and he had to wonder if it was the drama classes that allowed her to dip so easily behind the facts.

And because, in all sincerity, she had clarified it better than he could ever. No one could deny the absolute brilliance that was his twin brother – and of course, his desire to help – but with this kind of great intelligence, came along a great lack of the way average people's brains, like Mikey's, worked.

Renet seemed to understand that, and she cracked a smile when Mikey's mouth turned upwards. Maybe Donnie couldn't have helped him with his studies, but he surely had pointed a great person to do so – and that meant the world to Mikey.

"That does sound like Donnie," he rolled his eyes affectionately, "I had forgotten you were in Advanced Mathematics. Now that makes so much more sense, you're a genius, too."

"And here, I thought you just joined the class to be closer Irma," he added mockingly, just to see Renet chuckle between the gummy bears and the cheers in the park's playground.

"That too," she responded, enigmatically and warmly, cheeks pink as they lifted up so she could smile widely, "Math is just a bonus," she added, the excited bubble of her tone making the statement a blasphemy in Mikey's ears.

"Said no soul in its right mind, ever! Like no one gets in a class just to hang out with the Irma Langinstein. The woman scares the teachers," he dragged each word in a whisper, even pretending to wiggle and shiver in fear inside his sweater and jacket as he grabbed the chains of the swings and leaned closer.

But that was Irma in general – calling out every teacher's bullshit with a piercing smile and pushing till she got the non-reversal wide eyed reaction she was hoping for.

Mikey wished he had that kind of ability. Irma just oozed confidence and it radiated in every inch of her highlighted locks of hair.

"Alright," Renet snorted a laugh through her nose, but her voice was steady, as if she was ready to walk even through hell to prove Irma's innocence – now that was true friendly devotion, "that happened one time, one time."

"Admit it: she's your community service project."

"Sadly, I get no points for befriending Irma Langinstein. Just a lifetime of painful stories to tell our – my children someday," she said, smothering a smile behind her hand, as she took the last handful of gummy bears and threw the plastic, tiny bag on the ground.

Guiltily, Mikey picked it up with frilly fingers, tucking it in his jean's pockets and was surprised to see, when he looked around his surroundings, that very few people were left hanging around the park. "Hey, what time is it?"

"It's only six," Renet said, taking a quick glance at her watch, which was decorated in almost every shade and color palette of pink. "But we're done. So, do you wanna head back or –"

Mikey answered with a hand jerk of his swing, pushing the dirt of the ground to float in the windy air. "Swing through the wind!" he exclaimed among coughs – because he really wanted to swing and laugh and hang out freely, before he returned home.

The ambiance of his apartment would be so suffocatingly pleasant that he thought he would cry in relief on the spot, in the middle of the cozy living room.

"Swing through the wind it is, then. Wooh!" Renet exulted just as ruthlessly, before she gritted her teeth, breathing a shaky sigh, "It's chilly."

Mikey momentarily looked over to her side, and had to bite his lips before the mother-hen senses he had inherited from Leo could kick in, because – holy chalupa, Renet was wearing a light shirt and that floosy skirt like it was freaking spring.

He deepened his mouth into a disapproving scowl, patting his thick sweater under the sweet-smelling jacket. "Not if you have a sweater. It's sweater weather. I'm telling you, you have to wear an ugly sweater to the dinner or we won't accept you," he said in the end, voice terribly playfully stern to match with dead seriousness of his narrowed eyes.

It was just another small, mindlessly comforting thing, all of them wearing sweaters during Thanksgiving – because the fabrics made them feel as warm as they longed for their mother's hugs to be and return.

Perhaps, this time, they didn't need any kind of solution to keep closely warm – this time, it almost felt as if they actually had each other – but, still, it was a tradition. An inheritance of the past they couldn't forget and maybe they shouldn't.

She shook her head in amusement. "I'll take one of my mom's," she reassured thoughtfully, a small ghost of a smile gracing her lips and Mikey perked up at that, eyes wide.

"She'll come too?" he asked, full of genuine excitement and hope, but Renet's small smile fell just as quickly as it had appeared, replaced by an unreadable frown.

"No. She has to work – she has a night shift at McDonald's. But, I'll come," she said and the careful tone of it sent funnily agonizing pangs in Mikey's heart.

It was laced with sadness and that soft, wishful thinking Mikey recognized all too familiarly easily – but Renet's eyes had a happily bright glow, and for a moment, Mikey realized that the Thanksgiving dinner they always planned was as important to his friends as it was to his family and him.

He smiled. "Oh, okay. That's cool. But, I'll see her in the breadline at the civic center at the soup kitchen, right?"

"Definitely," Renet promised and her voice was warmer as she played with the last gummy bears in her fingers, "Want one?"

"Shoot me!" Mikey shouted and cheered triumphantly in his head as the toss of the gummy bears landed successfully on his tongue and he swallowed proudly, "Yes!"

Renet gave a thumbs up, chuckling slightly and Mikey took a breath so he could compress his laughter down – but his nostrils were filled by the heavenly amazing smell that adorned Woody's jacket.

The spicy, familiar essence made a waterfall of emotions run through his body and settle on his face as a rush of heat reddened his cheeks. He huffed annoyingly, hated the way he could be so putty in the grip of his hormonal urges.

He liked it more when his attraction to Woody was based on the romantic side of things – and not based on the dreamingly bashful, physical aspects, such as the way Woody smelled, the manner his fingertips raised goose bumps when they made soft contact with his body or how his muscled gingerly silhouette appeared every time he closed his eyes.

Mikey tightened the grip on the swing's chains, warmth spreading in his lower stomach as he sighed irritatingly, and Renet paused her silently mouthed singing so she could whip her head and give him a puzzled look.

He would not get a freaking boner when his friend looked at him, he thought and grunted, almost rolling his eyes – almost, because an idea suddenly swirled through his mind and he paused, smiling lightly and furrowing his brows.

"Hey, Renet," he started casually, trying to appear as indifferent as he could, "you played Sandy in Grease at school, right?" he asked in a mysteriously calm way and he barely lost his posture with Renet's surprised laugh – keep your guard up, every ninjutsu instructor that taught at their dojo would say.

"I rocked this role," she corrected with a proud grin, chest out and it made Mikey feel bad for a moment – not having a hobby of an extracurricular activity and club himself to deal with, because it sounded like real fun – and not even showing up at Renet's school plays.

Yatzee. That was indeed a bummer – at least Mikey knew Irma was there, clapping at Renet's school choirs and cheering with excited yells and good-natured criticism at her drama class rehearsals.

He was pretty sure that was how Irma had caught Renet's attention, sneaking in the school auditorium when Renet sewed costumes, bringing her lacey tops for adjustments, till Renet would warm up to her, with fondly exasperated eyes, because honestly – how many times could someone accidentally rip a seam?

"What that has to do with anything?" she inquired with a confused gaze and Mikey bit his lip, shifting his eyes.

"Nothing, just… I mean – so you know relationship stuff?" Hard wind blew them over the swings as Renet's laugh sang, making him feel small in the cold of the gradually darkening evening.

"Musicals are nothing like actual relationships," she snorted something glinting in his eyes and Mikey felt disappointed, idea scattering around his mind.

"Ah, okay."

"No, no," she moved a little so she could sit up a bit straighter on the swing, "wait, why do you ask? You have relationship troubles?"

Renet's small grin was snide and snarkily knowing and Mikey responded with nervously rolled eyes and a red blaze that adorned his brown skin. "Renet," he muttered eloquently, as if the name a firmly stubborn word, face on fire as he scrambled to put words together.

"I'm not kidding, c'mon," she nudges him with a friendly elbow, smiling, "spill the juicy stuff," she rubbed her hands conspiratorially and Mikey saw the exaggerated reaction on her face before he even felt the deadpanned expression reaching his features.

There were no juicy things – and as he saw it, he probably would manage the courage to even ask Woody out when they were worn out old and one of them was dying – let alone do anything beyond that.

"Okay," she crooned once Mikey's expression relented into that quirky frown that always found a way on his mouth whenever he thought about the hopeless side of his crush on Woody – crushes were awful.

"You don't need to tell me. I don't know about relationships. Not a clue. Logical since my parents – well. So, I can't help here. That doesn't mean you have to let it go, you can have some advice. From your brothers…?" she suggested with an offered, uncertain smile that widened into a grin when Mikey groaned loudly, and not unkindly.

Between Leo and Karai's messed up bond, Donnie's perhaps yes, perhaps not unrequited crush on April and Raph's lying self-declared bachelor life, he wasn't sure he wanted his brothers' advice on that subject – or their relentless teasing that would intensify for that matter.

"They aren't in relationships," he said instead, and added unsurely, "I think. Even if they are, I – I don't wanna talk to them," he hedged and felt all kinds of bad creeping up on him as he said so – because sometimes, his family's advice could be really freaking cool – and yet, he could be a really freaking jerk about it.

Despite him being one huge of a brat, Renet didn't comment on it – maybe she knew how much he truly cared about his little family and his insolent actions were because he was ungratefully stupid – or he hoped so.

She stood up from her swing, twisting her shows against the ground and fixing her spotty skirt, which Mikey deep down really thought he recognized as his own gift, and then she turned her eyes at him, smirking. "Then I guess you'll have to find someone less related to you and more experienced," she put in, earnest and sweet.

Mikey got up, too – and he smiled for every genuine hint of kindness on Renet's face. "I think you're right. You're super cool," he said, and he really meant it.

Renet had been the coolest so far – so deep in her own sickly tragedy and bad road bumps she had fallen on, yet shining like nothing had happened at all, ever (on, and how jealous Mikey was of that!) He was pretty sure he could say he had upgraded from friend to best friend.

Man, he was beginning to getting an army of those. He surely hoped he deserved that – April, Karai, Jason, Renet, Woody – these kinds of newly awesome developed friendships.

And then Renet grinned brightly, brows cocking up and eyes having that manic gleam as she declared, "Race you to the ice cream shop?" and Mikey was certain the best friend category had been promoted to an honorary sister title almost immediately.

He grinned back, wickedly. "You want to test the master of running – hey, HEY, don't start without me!"

Renet had started already, short legs propelling into a run Mikey could not possibly ignore and on reflex, he felt his own body jump and stretching as he tried to catch up to her, schoolbag unzipped and messily wrapped on his shoulders.

The air was getting colder and Mikey shivered with every lungful, his heart pounding in his chest. The sky had dove in the sky and the smell and promise of rain were insistent around the clouds when he and Renet finally reached the cutely small and cozy ice cream shop, both out of breath.

"It's… a – a tie," Renet panted hard, clutching her tote bag, but still smiled, "Darn it, I was so close."

"Nah," Mikey waved his hand through a lopsided grin, and was proud to see he had caught his breath quickly, despite the thin shed of sweat that was making his sweater cling uncomfortably.

She pressed her lips into a thin line, speaking with the same whining manner Raph would do so when Mikey would mock him and stuck out his tongue to him. "Yes, the skirt is a liability."

He couldn't resist, rolling his eyes, eyeing the skirt with a knowing look, "It's a great one, though."

Renet returned the roll of his eyes with a swiftly affectionate one of her own.

"It's your gift," she pointed out, in that sweet, sincere way that girls had, blushing but refusing to be embarrassed as she twisted a turn just to see her skirt flowing around.

Mikey put his glasses back up, looking as a very serious fashion designer and then, stared firmly. "Exactly. That's why it's awesome."

Renet giggled disputably, looking through her tote bag and tossed him a simper as he winked at the side of the full ice cream shop," Gonna buy a cone, wanna treat you? I can pass through the queue easily, I know the girl."

And before Mikey even had the chance to deny, all crooked smiles and apologetic gestures, Renet's blond curls draped over her baleful eyes and she managed to say, "I won't accept no for an answer. It's for your great work, because it really was great work – and that is it."

Twisting her lips funnily, she added, "Don't make me call your brothers and tell them you passed the whole afternoon with forking gummy bears."

Mikey's heart swelled with that weirdly strange, clenching feeling it always did when his friends treated his brothers like a holy extension of himself – because, yeah, they so deserved it – and maybe, he deserved the ice cream cone, too. He did have, no matter what, a forking sweet tooth.

He chuckled under his breath, both emotions and Renet's ridiculously made-up swears – because there was no way you could catch Renet curse, ever – making him hold his hands up playfully. "Okay, okay, I surrender."

She nodded, something torn between pride and love glinting in her brown eyes, and the gap in her teeth as she exclaimed blithely, "Excellent," reminded Mikey of Donnie, making the grin tugging his mouth almost inevitable.

Renet smiled back, it seemed like such as easy reflex, and she went through her tote bag, simple cents appearing in her hand poorly, and Mikey tried really hard not to wince, but failed, because the pang of guilt boomed across his stomach.

Kind, sweet Renet, theater kid, prom committee member, in such an awfully bad economic of a household, and here she was, offering to pay for him, a money laid-back guy, as a treat. He made a move to slip in and say something, but Renet's eyes were sharp when he met them, tangy and knowing.

"Michelangelo," she said, and in that tone, he realized that this was no offer – it was a certainty.

Perhaps Mikey wasn't aware of the issues of poverty that both students and even his father had gone through – but he knew how sucky was when people showed knowing pity for unknowing matters, he knew that well – so he puffed his cheeks, freckles stretching as he gave in animatedly.

"Good," was all she said as she budged her way through the full line, which protested about the chubby girl coming through. He sort of wished he was able to give a stinkeye to all of them, but was thankful to see the teen employee on the counter – Angela, was it? Angel? He couldn't see the label clearly – threw them threatening glances with the grace of a ninja.

Huh. She looked cool. Mikey moved a bit away from the crowded shop, standing in a place more peacefully alone on the pavement. He zipped the schoolbag he had forgotten, before checking his buzzing phone and grinning at the texts he found waiting for him.

Best Big Guy:

We are currently watching Disney movies and darn it if Tarzan isn't an animated version of you. Be home soon. You're missing out.

Cranky Petunia:

have i told u how much i love u lately?

Snowflake Leo:

Still proud of you. Just be careful.

Dad:

I will thaw the turkey out of the refrigerator for us.

Woody:

i saw the cutest painting and it reminded me of you.

And Mikey felt the pull in his heart at each message, eyes glowing – and he was overly worried and having warningly bad feelings. How silly he was.

Woody texting him, his brothers and father bonding after these rough years and waiting for Mikey kindly to watch childish films, because the ambiance was just too pure; yeah, things had never been better.

And of course, they got even better – with freaking ice cream! – as Mikey jumped in surprise when Renet grabbed his shoulder and turned him around, poking his cheeks. "Hello, hoodie-dudie," she joked with twinkled eyes as she draped the hoodie of the jacket on his head with one hand, before passing him his cone. "Horseradish ice cream?"

He felt the slightest of drops on his face and realized it was drizzling. He really hoped it would stay like that – or, he hoped Renet had an umbrella in that huge bag of hers, at least.

Still, he smiled at her, despite the raindrops, and gaped at the cone in his hand – and oh God, he was eating ice cream in November, that was so cool and so wrong that Mikey almost felt like Raph. "You remember?"

"Duh," Renet said with an overdramatic flip of her hair, licking her ice cream, as if to know what Mikey's favorite flavor had been was as basic knowledge as subtraction. "Since the beach party after my Bat Mitzvah," she added unapologetically, all smirking and raising eyebrows and that flashed memories in front of Mikey's eyes with sudden lights.

"I hadn't eaten that much," he said and when Renet's smile sunk into deadpan Mikey was all too familiar with, he had no choice but to surrender. "Okay, maybe a little bit."

"A bit? You ate a lot. Buckets of it."

Mikey remembered easily Renet's Bat Mitzvah – for many reasons. Maybe it was the fact that the after party took place at a beach – a beautiful, golden sandy beach, with a sun and a sea and all kinds of funny cheers teenagers did when they hang out at the coast, past afternoon, or the fact that he had actually seen Renet's aunt from her father's side, smiling and paying for everything with a soft sigh, and despite the mean glances she'd thrown at her mom, she did have tousled Renet's curls when she'd passed around.

Or, perhaps, it was the fact that it had been such a wonderful day to spend with his twin brother and friends, lying on the pebbles, eating ridiculously big amounts of ice cream and venting about the miseries of new-found high school under the beach stars –

Or, it was the fact that Woody's arm had been draped over his shoulders like a warm blanket, and the way his breath had hitched uncomfortably when he had pressed an even warmer kiss on his cheek, short and almost unnoticeable.

"Your aunt is the goddess of pastry making," he told her instead, trying to hide the rosy shade of his cheeks behind his hoodie, but she nodded solemnly, just gruffing.

"Yeah," she snorted, and it was glum, a footprint of a tangy frown on Renet's mouth and Mikey with fond eyes, guessed Renet's aunt had indeed cut her contact with a sharp knife.

Renet motioned to his hand, something like temporary sullenness hiding in her eyes as she advised, "It's running, lick it," and Mikey collected the ice cream that was melting on his thumb with a swift of his tongue without a second thought – because he knew when he was supposed to be quiet.


"You're ready to go?" Renet cried from a bench, when Mikey finally got out of the automatically open doors of the minimarket. He fished around with the bag he was holding and the raindrops that fell insistently on his forehead and glasses, as he offered Renet a hand.

She accepted it with a shy smile and got up, pink umbrella in hand as they both ducked under it and started walking with clumsy nudges.

"All good. Man, I can't believe I forgot the herbs. The herbs?"

This side of the city truly looked beautiful under the rain, smelled like fresh flowers and watering leaves, the houses around dressed in watercolors and pretty stars that reflected themselves easily against the rain – and Mikey couldn't help but stare around and just look – because he really did have to admire.

His phone had buzzed, his father's message – We do not have herbs – having him walking quickly to the closest and thankfully open grocery store (thank you, Mr. Takeshi!) to buy some and his eldest brother's responsive text – I hope you're coming home soon – making him crushed with his well-placed concern.

Leo wouldn't be Leo if he didn't worry like an overly bearing grandma.

"Are they so important?" Renet asked, tucked in his side to avoid the small rain puddles on the pavement.

"Is it cold in Minnesota?" When she didn't respond, leveling him with a weird gaze, he continued, "That means yes, they are indeed, important. This mini-market is my life savior in the kitchen. And Murakami's."

The words had won a small chuckle out of Renet that was already steadily transforming in an honest laugh, as she shoved Mikey with a loving elbow and grinned. "I wholeheartedly agree on that."

Mikey saluted him, eyes going blind at the labels that suddenly circled them, and squinted. Oroku Dojo, the signs said with a huge amount of plastic brightness that made Mikey want to puke right then and there, on the pavement and with the rain above him that sprayed.

Was spraying, he discovered, as Renet closed her umbrella cautiously, allowing Mikey to see the glittery stars that hung above his head.

"Where were we?" Renet's question snapped him out of his gazing and he smiled when he met her kind stare, grinned when her words echoed back in his ears, with the promise of a challenge.

"Oh, right!" he pointed a finger, "Best Elimination Catchphrases. What do you got?" he drawled knowingly, making them both laugh sincerely in the slowly dying rain prickles of the streets – and loudly, because almost no one was around to hear them.

Renet played along, giggling under her hand as she tossed her hair and adopted a serious tone of a voice, yet her eyes were wincing when she offered, "You've been evicted from the Big Brother house?"

"I was gone for twenty minutes and that's all? My disappointment is planted right here in my heart," Mikey tapped his chest with a playful hand, chuckling when Renet rolled her eyes.

"Hey, hey," she teased with a body language that screamed game, "you can't doubt my reality TV fangirl."

He picked up the signs easily, leaning carefully closer to Renet, as good as he could, because they were still walking, and whispered, "You up for a quickie, then?"

And in the deep corners of his mind, he knew the kind of made-up games he created when he was bored and his homework was sitting like a rock on his desk were pretty silly – his old recess buddies had said so, after a few rounds with him before sighing long-sufferingly

– but just like how his brothers had assured him that his imagination was something worth more than gold, with warm smiles and taunting elbows, just like that Renet huffed a breath and grinned.

Because apparently, she didn't really care about the ridiculousness of the game, or that it was already pretty late and they had to pick up a good speed so they could head home on time. She cared about Mikey, and that was why, with a sigh and a smile that felt a bit crooked, she gave in with raised cheeks and an expression that belonged to an emperor gracing her face.

"Mikey, the tribe has spoken," she declared, partially announcing the unofficial beginning of the game, and Mikey jumped on the opportunity, laughing as they made their way through the muddy prints with slow, drunk-like steps, eyes sparkling when the street lights managed to caught them every now and then.

"You must leave the chateau."

"You have been eliminated from the race."

"Please pack up your knives and go!"

"Give me your jacket and leave Hell's Kitchen!"

"You've been chopped!"

"Your work of art, didn't work for me."

"Your tour ends here. You did not get a rose!"

"Hey, that's a double, you cheater, get out! Your dessert just didn't measure up. Sashay away!"

"If you can't pull off the make-up, then you can't pull off the phrase, fella. And just so you know, you are no longer in the running to be America's Next Top Model."

"Auf Wiedersehen! Yeah, I said that. Cat got your tongue? Do you accept the defeat?"

"Sorry to burst your bubble, Michelangelo, but… you are the weakest link, goodbye!"

"Oh, that's like the oldest trick in the book!" Mikey complained decisively, through pouting lips as they stopped their sluggish parade of legs, so Renet could lean down and fix the heels of her shoes.

"Can't beat a classic one," she answered him from where she was kneeling, and when she stood up, the grin she was wearing was one of pure, evil mischief, "Does that mean I'm the winner?"

"For now," Mikey snickered with a steady voice, all of his brothers' competitiveness genes crawling on his skin like teasing bugs, "Cause next round your series of victories is over!"

Eyes wide, Renet stared in amusement. "Next round?"

"Uh-huh. Best – what?"

And whatever Mikey was planning to say drowned down on his mouth, leaving his throat sore and closed as he whipped his head in sudden distress.

His ears boomed again, with the same, whining sound of a bark and Mikey, sensing the direction of the noise, focused his eyes on that dark corner in a house's yard – where the bushes were big and oddly black under the moon, decorated with funky hoses and dustpans –

And an ugly, poor mop of enormous curls that looked almost too strongly like – the barks banged another time, muffled and desperate and his eyes sunk in wide, blurry pools.

It was Klunk. And Mikey felt an arrow pierce his heart as he let out an incomprehensible gasp of shock.

"What is it?" Next, to him, Renet's voice was so soft, uncertain and concerned and the tone it was laced with would be enough to bring Mikey to tears, if he wasn't so alarmed right now, breath stuck between his nose like it couldn't go out properly – it hurt.

"Oh my God. Oh my God," he hissed, biting his lips and squinting in the darkness towards the place that – yes, most definitely was Klunk, oh shit.

He saw Renet trying to stare at the same area, hands twisting nervously at her sides, and with his chest shuddering, he made an aborted movement, torn between rushing there and keeping his distance.

The ground felt shaky when he looked at it, his face red, because the dog – the dog that had made his brother's anxiety go skyrocket and painfully hurt him – the dog that was an innocent, pure animal, a clean soul, and heart that put people's coals of blood to shame and had done nothing wrong ever – was trapped there by – by a monster, the kind of heartless monster Mikey always dreaded to face in his life and –

He looked up again, following his friend's stare at the same damn corner of the garden and felt his blood run cold. He staggered to his feet at first, then fists tight, he started running hard and beside him, Renet's following panting breath hitched and churned.

Churned like his muscles and eyes were burning hotly contrast to the misty cold.

"Mikey! What – what is going on –!"

His whole being felt heavy when he finally reached his destination, taking in the royally marbled house with dark shapes graved around it, rough grass that seemed like it hadn't been trimmed in years, and Klunk's desperate eyes on the side, which almost penetrated his, being burnt into his conscience guiltily.

It was like something out of a horror film, sending cold chills through him that weren't just the cold.

Just the thought – the thought of leaving, the thought that someone would even do this – an action so disgustingly raw and inhuman - it made him tremble and jump the fence with no remorse whatsoever, helping Renet to hop in the process.

He slowly approached Klunk, hands up, because he couldn't scare her now – shouldn't – with frantic movements – not when he didn't know what even more scary things had been done here.

Once he kneeled, making room for Renet, she gasped fast and hard at the sight, fingers shaking as she pressed them first on her beating chest, then on Mikey's arm.

"What is – Jesus! Isn't this – it's…"

"Klunk. Klunk, Klunk," Mikey whispered like a mantra, as if it was a spell that could make everything okay right now. Renet's hand on his arm was the only thing keeping him upright, not tripping and collapsing and shattering, just like everything around them was doing.

"Mikey, wait up, are you sure it's –"

"I was the one that helped Karai put up the posters with her, I've seen her a million times!" he exclaimed, his hands now smothering carefully Klunk, sweeping away all the dirtiness – all sickening kinds of it, and his chest ached at the whining sounds she made in the total darkness, his heart practically folding over, hurting. "This is unbelievable, Klunk, you poor girl. Renet, help me here, please."

"Of course!" Renet chipped in, like an angel every time, clutching his arm hard and – and scarily dizzily, before dipping to tear Klunk's gag away and her barks boomed their ears like the world's most nauseating music, "Oh, this is awful, who would do that?"

Mikey nodded hard, because it was very, very real – what was happening, so oddly fearful and like a nightmare, that the anger in him sparked so easily, just like the simple fire of a cigarette behind the school's bathrooms, smoke lingering in lungs and making him cough.

And Mikey, he had always been slow to anger, wasn't like this – but when the world was so cruel and mean and unforgiving, how was he able to swallow the bad emotions that found a way to tumble out of him, all while tearing him apart and blinding him with the light of reality.

Why?

And the anger was here now, mixed with fear and worry and hundreds of other things that made the most fancifully harsh of cocktails – he could feel it in veins, flowing – like a creature with teeth, like a wave crashing upon the shore when the tide was high, circling him relentlessly, waiting till he was finally done being him.

This sort of anger, that was well-deserved and righteous always, but now so much bigger, even heavier and harder to contain in the cold of the night, because Klunk was important and a landmark in his brother's life, a pure and human soul in all the ways that truly mattered, in everything but genes and birth certificate, and this person inside that daunting house –

They had taken her and treated her like crap – and Mikey, with murky eyes and heavy limbs, would even dare to call this as bad, unfair and monstrously unforgiving as murder.

"Who? Who?" he bit out, tone icy, fumbling and fiddling around, because, oh, hell, Klunk wasn't getting up and with his heart in his throat, he took a sudden breath, too slow to be a gasp as, mingled with Klunk's yapping, Renet's quiet words filled his ears and flamed his eyelids.

"Mikey, I think – she's chained."

"Fuck," Mikey breathed, his throat so sore and painfully close that the feeling traveled in his eyes and made his vision blurry and hotly grim.

"Hey, hey, stay here – with me, we got this" Renet said, fervently and severely, in hollow voice beneath the barks, and he couldn't answer to her properly, not until her thumb and forefinger were an inch apart directly in front of his glassy eyes, forcing them to stay still and turn the wetness into just a dry itchiness.

"I'm okay, okay," he muttered, shoving Renet's hand away and turning back to Klunk and grabbing the chains with so much force his hands got inflamed and bloodshot. Nothing could be done, he couldn't do anything – and the barks were getting louder, his breath getting faster, his knees jerking as eyes shifted to find anything that could help them, but –

"Dammit, I can't –"

"Mikey?"

The whole world stopped spinning for a moment, stilling and feeling almost blank, as a familiar voice spoke up quietly in the dark of the yard, between their grunts and Klunk's barks, and when Mikey turned shakily to meet its direction, his eyes widened.

The figure stood on the doorway, just underneath the small light bulb that burned above and that was enough to draw its expression fairly well.

It – his friendoh he was an idiot! – just stood there, unmoved, despite the short hair flowing through the wind, hands wrapped around her body, and the tornado of sudden surprise, utter shame, and faint sprinkles of deniable fear in her eyelinered hidden eyes broke Mikey's face like a betrayed slap of a hand.

His heart dropped to his stomach. "What? Karai?!"