Chapter 1


Casey was used to running all her life. It became a familiar face during an alien apocalypse–turning tail and running like her life depended on it.

Because it did. It does.

Being the only person with, at this point, a decade of formal martial arts training and an extensive understanding of ninjutsu, it surprised no one that Casey turned out to be a natural scout. Her ability to quickly, and more importantly, quietly move through the outside world meant the difference between their survival and termination. She saw the outside more than anyone else on their team. Followed by Leo who refused to be left in the dust even with the responsibility of their world already creasing his brow deep enough to rival Raph’s chasm.

Still, as their resident medic, Leo was more useful in the caves, tending to the injured and ill, than scurrying across the wasteland that they once called home. After liberating a kraang camp, the medical bay–little more than a large cave branching off to the left of the entrance–was at full capacity. It probably wouldn’t empty anytime soon considering Casey’s current mission.

Casey surveyed her surroundings–desolate, bleak nothingness, hollowed-out buildings harboring phantom nightlife–as she darted through the empty city. Her mask’s HUD displayed no live biometrics nearby. She sighed, disengaging her mask despite the multiple Donnie alerts telling her not to. It felt uncomfortable shoving her hair back from its perch atop her head but sometimes Casey found it easier to perform reconnaissance without the distracting pop-ups.

This far from Metro Tower, there weren’t even kraangified humans to worry about striking down. Donnie sent her this way because he got energy readings indicative of a camp jailbreak. He mapped out the general radius of where any survivors would hide. Years of following the genius’ lead meant Casey trusted Donnie’s judgment. Still, that didn’t stop her from grumbling about the lack of activity.

Rotting corpses littered the mapped-out path Casey took. Families, lovers, children–all huddled together in their last moments. It was rare for Casey to find someone completely alone. Usually, one corpse lay not far from another. They died waiting.

Waiting for her to save them. To complete her duties as resident rescuer. To do a damned thing in this apocalypse.

Casey clenched her fists so tight her knuckles went white. She turned from the skyline, trying to shake the vision of all the dead she’s seen over the past eleven years. Raph always reminded her that the lives they did save mattered just as much. And it helped to think of the people she was able to liberate.

But she knew. They all did. No matter how hard they tried, how fast she ran, there was only so much their small team could do to save the vast amount of people under the kraang’s control.

A soft sound brought Casey out of her thoughts. Her mask immediately engaged, snapping onto her face as she braced herself for an attack. She turned this way and that but nothing came at her. Despite the lack of impending doom, Casey remained tense.

Then she heard it again–a whimper. Something so inconsequential that she almost wrote it off as her overactive imagination running on fumes after a three-day scouting mission. But there it was! Quiet sniffles muffled by something. Casey glanced at the alley below and noticed a dumpster turned over on its side. Down the fire escape, she went until her feet touched the ground.

She approached the dumpster, cautious in case it happened to be a kraangified child. Years of rescues taught her that they seemed to just wallow and cry until they perished, consumed by the alien flesh. A shiver ran down her spine at the thought. She hated seeing that more than anything. Something about kids being transformed into something they couldn’t even sustain felt like being stabbed in the heart.

Her brownie troop, all calling out for her. Where was she? They needed her.

The lid opened easily enough. No new grime encrusted its sides since people didn’t use outdoor trash bins anymore. Too exposed. Too risky. Plus, the smell of garbage usually caught the kraangified’s attention, bringing them to its source like bloodhounds.

Once open, though, the dumpster released the pungent odor of a rotting corpse. Casey thanked her paranoia for once since her mask, when engaged, minimized most scents due to its filtration system. She peered inside and saw a dead woman staring back at her, gaze unwavering. The woman seemed calm, almost like she made peace with her untimely demise. Her cheeks were gaunt, any visible skin stretched taut over her bones. Her eyes, sunken in their sockets, bore holes into Casey. She broke contact first and looked down at the woman’s midsection.

There in her hands, impossibly small and sickly pale, laid a baby, its hair ruffled up from resting against its mother’s chest. It didn’t seem to have much baby fat which was unsurprising. What with the state of the world and all. But its eyes, too big for an older kid, pointed to the fact that it couldn't be older than two years. That’s when Casey realized the other scent hanging in the air–shit.

Oh. Donnie owed her big time for this.

Casey had about as much knowledge about children as Dr. Delicate Touch knew about feelings. Which meant absolute jack shit. But, one thing she could surmise from what she knew about apocalyptic landscapes was that they would have company soon. There was no question that she could make it out of there before enemies arrived but what of the kid?

She glanced at the baby whose tiny fist clenched its mother’s shirt like a lifeline. Reaching out for it, the baby turned away. It made another noise, louder this time. First smell, now sound–the kid couldn’t help its case. Casey grabbed the baby from the woman’s hands, prying its fist open. It had a tough grip for a baby. It whined at her, kicking its tiny legs and smacking down its little fists onto her arm as she set it on the ground.

Casey looked around for something to clean the kid. Its mother’s clothes were out of the question. She could practically hear Leo shouting at her about the high bacteria content in unwashed clothes and the rate of infection. That also ruled out the cloth scraps covering the kid. That only left…

Oh, ho ho. Donnie owed her so much.

Trying not to think about it too hard–because if she did, she’d start cussing and more noise was the last thing they needed–Casey removed her sash. It wasn’t ideal. Hell, none of this was ideal. Children were hard to keep around in the apocalypse. Small and defenseless and weak–

Casey found her brownie troop, well-versed in combat enough to take on O’Neil, strewn about Fifth Avenue. Their weapons still clutched in white-knuckled grasps, eyes wide open. Watching.

She discarded the soiled sash and picked up the kid who still fought against her. Her HUD alerted her of enemies slowly making their way toward her location. More pop-ups appeared as she docked her weapon. Donnie’s voice kept saying it was a bad idea to put away her weapon when in pursuit. She dismissed his A.I. The kid kept hitting her chest but she just pressed it closer to her side, holding its bottom so it wouldn’t slip off, and ran.

Raph always waited for Casey whenever she went on missions. Call it devotion, call it stupidity, but he felt unsteady without her beside him. In recent years, she was the only one who got to see him laidback, at ease–or, as much calm as they were allowed in post-invasion New York City. Around his brothers and the other members of the resistance, Raph tried to keep up appearances. He knew they needed someone dependable to lead them. To keep them hidden, safe, alive.

So he was sterner than he was in his youth, quieter. Leo once joked that he seemed more like Dad than the rest of them. Raph didn’t know how to feel about it. They lost their father during the invasion and the mere mention of him, even years later, still reopened the wound he desperately kept bandaged up, away from view. Leo hadn’t mentioned the resemblance since then.

Before New York City fell, whenever Raph felt stir-crazy, he would run around until he was so out of breath he had to stop. But now he couldn’t go outside. For their safety, regular outside access was prohibited to anyone who wasn’t fast enough to outrun enemies. That left Casey and Leo free from the ban and Raph stuck inside unless a mission called for his muscle.

It wasn’t like he had anything else to do either. Helping out the injured was the most time-consuming option but his hands were too large to wield precision equipment necessary for surgery which meant he couldn’t help Leo in the medbay. Donnie assisted Leo during medical rushes anyway so Raph stuck to tending superficial wounds.

All that work ended the day before and left Raph bored. No one told him that aside from being absolutely devastating, the apocalypse would be boring. There was only so much to do inside a shallow cave system. After about ten laps around each room, someone usually told him he’d dig a path straight through the rocky floor.

He was considering asking Leo to show him a magic trick when he heard the familiar sounds of Casey cursing. A big smile wormed its way onto his face until he remembered his best friend only cursed upon returning home because they were in trouble. Raph readied his sai. He crept toward the entrance and leaped out, ready to cause hell.

Casey stared at him like he suddenly grew two heads, her arms stretched away from her body. They kept a kicking toddler from hitting her. She scowled at the poor baby, hissing out something that sounded like a curse.

“Case!” Raph exclaimed, cutting her off.

She gave him a look. One that read, “You have no idea what hell I just went through.”

Leo chose that moment to show up from the medbay, hands dripping in water. “Ugh, guys. Who moved the towels?” He looked at Casey and Raph, then the kid. “Huh.” He tilted his head. “What. Is that a baby?”

“No, Blue. It’s a fucking blimp–of course, it’s a baby!” Casey shouted.

The baby stopped moving at Casey’s tone. Their face scrunched up, turning red as fat tears rolled down their cheeks. Casey brought them to her hip so she could cover her ears as the baby started wailing.

“Make it stop!”

Raph rushed to her side, taking the baby away. “They’re not an ‘it’, Case.” He rocked the baby back and forth in his arms, pressing them against his plastron.

A combination of the gentle motion and Raph’s soft cooing forced the baby’s cries to trail off. They looked up at him, big eyes staring at him. They seemed so… small. Especially in Raph’s embrace. He brought a big hand to their face and wiped away their tears. Their fingers grasping his surprised him. They had a strong grip for a baby.

Leo joined him in looking at the baby. “Where’d you find the squirt?”

“Only thing alive I found on my mission,” Casey huffed. Her arms crossed over her chest. It drew Raph’s attention to her midsection where her sash was notably missing. “It was hiding in a dumpster with its mother. Probably waiting for help.”

“Waiting for her,” was left unsaid but Raph knew what she meant. He understood her better than anyone. Her insecurities, her faults.

Casey cried herself to sleep in his arms, begging for her troop to be spared.

Raph walked over to her and gave her the baby. He fixed her arms so she held them securely, cradling their head. With the gentle touches and possibly because they were tuckered from everything that happened, the baby began nodding off. They blinked slowly, head dipping forward so their face pressed against Casey’s collarbone. Raph nudged them so they were more comfortably arranged and smiled.

“You saved them, though. That’s good enough in my book,” he said.

You’re good. You did good.

Leo looked between them. His gaze left a prickly feeling on Raph’s skin but he ignored it. Casey didn’t bother looking up. Her gaze was fixed on the baby in her arms. Proof of what she accomplished. All the answer in this blight of a world that she did something worthwhile.

“Serviceable,” she said, sniffing.

It read, “You can’t touch me.” Unmistakably Casey Jones’ tone of complete indifference. Raph knew better. She was his best friend, after all.

I love you. I love you.

Art provided by Karday! Find them here and here.

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