Chapter 9

Rest Easy

Casey Jones never had soft hands. At least, Junior didn’t think so. She always gave him her hand to hold whenever he needed an anchor. During his first checkup, whenever he woke up from a nightmare–she was there to lend comfort. He found solace in tracing the lines of her palms, a curve here, two there. She had a patch of rough skin on her index finger–a callus from flipping weapons back and forth–that Junior would always touch.

“That’s what happens when you’re a great ninja like me,” she told him one night when he was young. He barely reached her knee but he knew he wanted to be just like her.

Now, he was seven and he didn’t know if he’d ever be as good as her. His family always said he was his mother’s kid–rambunctious, never keeping still. He watched her lead them down an abandoned sewer tunnel, her head held high despite the fact they were below ground in unfamiliar territory. Could he be that brave? A reliable face in the apocalypse?

The one time he tried to do something to protect his family–

Drip. Drip. Drip.

The sewer tunnels still had water in them despite no one using the sewage system for a little over a decade now. It was stagnant and it didn’t smell particularly good but no one else seemed to be bothered by it so Junior tried his best to ignore it.

There were three knuckles to a finger, two for the thumb. The wrist had eight bones. He dragged his thumb across her pulsepoint and tried to remember the names. Donnie had explained it to him once. He struggled to pull the information from the recesses of his mind.

Right, right, left, straight–

Casey seemed to know where they were going. Every so often she’d turn and whisper to April about something. Donnie was starting to wake up. His voice, deep from sleep, bounced against the walls. He reached over April’s shoulder to snatch his tech brace, sliding it back onto his forearm. The screen lit up his face, dimmed, then brightened again.


Beep. Beep.

Beep. Beep. Beep.

Junior kept his head down, pressing closer and closer to his mother’s side as they reached an abnormal section of the sewers. It seemed like a place where stormwater drained since it opened up wide above them. The walls were cracked, fallen debris blocking off several paths but there seemed to be evidence of people living here. Light filtered through grates, the sudden change hurting his eyes. He blinked once, then twice to make sure he was seeing correctly.

Floating about was Mikey like he hadn’t a care in the world. He had his arms out, hands ringed by orange light as he grunted with the force of moving a pile of rocks. He flung them to the other side of the pipe like they weighed next to nothing. When he turned around, the only indication that he was surprised by the others was a slight exhale that seemed to echo in the silence. Then he smiled, a wide grin wrinkled his cheeks, and he floated forward.

“You guys made it.” He spoke softly, unlike his normal boisterous personality, but his eyes still sparkled with mirth. He reached out for a hug and Junior found himself stumbling forward as a great need to embrace his uncle possessed him. Mikey swept him up into his arms easily and it felt like coming home. Junior tucked his face against his uncle’s neck, curling inward as Mikey continued. “I was worried when you called for a portal.” He shifted his nephew so he was tucked against his elbow.

“The kraang found us,” Casey answered. She didn’t bother whispering. Junior curled further into a ball. “Are you sure we’re safe here?”


Donnie hummed. Two soft taps came from behind as the softshell turtle finally slid off April’s back. “There should be enough asphalt, concrete, and dirt to block whatever it is they’re using to track us. For now,” he paused to yawn, “I wanna work on security.”

“Fine but the rest of you are going straight to bed,” Mikey ordered. “I’ve been clearing the rooms since I got here.”

“Where is here, exactly?” Casey asked, next to them.

“Surprised you don’t recognize it, Jones.” There was a grunt, then a slap and a yowl. “Ouch. Okay. Still not touchy-feely, I get it. This is our old lair.”

Junior peeked out to see Leo staring at the crumbling walls, his gaze filled with a sort of yearning not unlike his own. A desire to go home only to know it was simply impossible.

“I thought Shredder destroyed this place.”

Mikey laughed. The vibrations tickled Junior’s side. He leaned into the feeling, pressing his hand against his uncle’s plastron. “I teleported to the safest place I could. My mystic hands thought that was here, apparently. Now, go. Shoo! I know you three haven’t slept. Donnie’s the only one smart enough to listen to his body.” There was a cacophonous grumbling as Leo, Casey, and April were sent away by the second youngest person in the room. When they finally left, Mikey looked down at Junior, his gaze impossibly gentle. “What about you, little warrior?”

If he was being honest, Junior hadn’t slept well all week. His eyes stung and his head pounded from exhaustion. But he knew that if he tried to rest now–

Two yellow eyes, glowing like lanterns as a dangerously melodic hum filled the air.

“Can I stay out here?” he squeaked.

“Course,” Mikey answered immediately, though his gaze seemed to burn into the back of Junior’s head. “Wanna talk about it?”

And wasn’t that just the million dollar question? Did Junior want to talk about it? The grief and anger and defeat that festered inside him told him, No, he didn’t need to say anything. Another part of him, the part that wanted desperately to hold onto his family, told him that he simply needed to be their hope.

A quiet chirp brought Junior back to the conversation at hand. His uncle knocked their heads together gently, the wisps of his hair tickling Junior’s face. “It’s okay,” Mikey soothed. “If you’re not feeling well, that’s okay.”

Not feeling well was what they used to say when Junior was a toddler. When his heart couldn’t keep up with all he needed it to. When he couldn’t explain how he was feeling other than a quiet exhale and an even quieter, “Hurts.”

It made Junior feel small. He looked down at his hands. They’d been soft for as long as he could remember. Even the scrapes that roughed up his palms had healed, peeling away to reveal fresh skin. The pink skin mocked him–a reminder that he was different. That no one else was like him. He’d made peace with the fact that he shared no physical attributes with his aunt or uncles–hell, his father– He knew since he was young. Yet, it didn’t stop the horrible pit in his stomach at the reminder that even his mother looked nothing like him.

Then there was the scaly texture of Mikey’s fingers pressing against his forehead. “Dr. Feelings can’t help you, little warrior.” His uncle’s smile seemed to brighten the whole room. “Not unless you start talking.” Mikey offered his hand, palm up.

Pale green cracks went from his fingertips to his wrists. Junior found himself tracing them before he could think to hold back. They didn’t feel any different than the surrounding skin.

“I got these from saving Raph,” Mikey answered the question plaguing his nephew’s thoughts. “This happened way before you were in the picture.” He shifted his arm to show how the lines centered around the pulsepoint on his wrist. “Mystic powers require a balance of cosmic energy. For every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction,” he said, brow set in a firm line. Then he relaxed, smiling again. “That’s what Don’d say, anyway.” Mikey closed his eyes and it was suddenly so apparent to Junior how old his uncle was.

The box turtle was the youngest adult in their group. The wrinkles that creased his brow and chin, however, told a different story. They spoke of an undying worry that followed the mystic warrior for the past sixteen years. Perhaps even longer.

Together, they leaned against the wall, Mikey curling a protective arm around his nephew. “It was a rescue mission gone wrong,” he explained. “A labor camp the kraang rigged to blow. They wanted us gone. Barry and Raph were in there, in two wings of the building. Barry went to try dismantling the bomb. Raph went to rescue the humans.” His eyes grew misty as he stared at his hands. “Barry taught me everything he knew about mystic powers. Said I had a knack for it. But there was only so much I could do–can do. I had a choice to make.”

He hummed, rocking his nephew side to side. Junior looked up at Mikey. His gaze appeared distant, like he wasn’t fully in the present. “Between Barry and Dad?”

“Between my brother and my creator. My dad.” Mikey paused in his movements. “I already lost one.”

Junior’s heart pulsed, a sharp, visceral pain he knew his uncle must’ve felt. “You were gonna lose another?”

“Well,” Mikey hummed. “It’s a simple answer to a simple question. Raph was with at least a hundred people in need of rescue. You kill the one to save the many.”

“But…” The words stuck in Junior’s throat. He pushed onward. “But it hurt.”

At first, his uncle said nothing. The distant sounds that marked Donnie’s work in another room barely filled the silence. Then, when he finally spoke up, Mikey’s voice had a rasp to it. “Of course,” he whispered. “Of course, it hurt but I knew that if I did nothing, it would be worse. Because of my decision, a hundred people were saved. My brother got to live to see his kid.” Mikey cupped his nephew’s cheek, his smiling face filling Junior’s vision. “If there’s anything that this stupid apocalypse has taught me, it’s that you can’t go around regretting your decisions. It’ll eat you alive. You have to see what is on the horizon and keep moving forward. These,” he gestured to the marks on his hand, “are a reminder of the lives I saved, of the pride Barry must’ve felt teaching me to be a hero. I’ll carry that with me for the rest of my life.”

Junior stared at his hands. “Isn’t it heavy?” he asked quietly.

“Yes,” Mikey answered honestly. “But your family can help if you let them.”

Raph came to mind–Junior’s thoughts tended to drift there ever since–his face downturned, voice cracking as he reassured his son that he was going to save him. That moment seemed to replay in Junior’s head on repeat, his vision always fading away with the final words he told his father.

“I’m sorry.”

Why had he apologized then? Had he truly given up so quickly? His family didn’t raise a quitter. How come he’d been ready to die then? He should’ve fought harder, worked harder, tried with more urgency to convince his father to leave in the first place. Instead, he–

“I wish he was here,” Junior finally said, his throat tightening at the mere idea.

“That’s normal,” Mikey assured him, hugging him closer. “Loss makes us yearn for things. You miss his hugs, don’t you?”

“Is it that obvious?”

His uncle hummed. “Raph gives the best hugs. Big, strong arms, he has the perfect grip. It’s natural for you to want something that reminds you of him.”

But he wasn’t here.

Junior curled into a ball. He wished he was like his uncles–able to hide inside their shells. Mikey separated from the wall, his nephew still in his arms. Together, they floated along. Junior kept his face tucked away until Mikey poked him. He shook his head, burrowing further against his uncle’s plastron. He was surprised when Mikey set him down in what must have been the softest cot he’d ever felt. That wasn’t even the most surprising thing about the cot–it smelled just like Raph. Junior reached out to inspect the bedding and was met with something cold and hard. He sat up, curious.

A tall, green figure met his gaze. It was surrounded by balls of fluff shaped like animals Mikey had taught him about. Junior reached for its face. He shivered as his warm palm met the cool metal of the plate armor. The spikes, the red accents–it was Raph. Or, at least, a robot version of him. Junior knew it wasn’t his father. His dad would’ve felt him crawling on him, would’ve awakened instantly and scooped him up. This direct copy was one step removed from the Hamato Raphael.

It wasn’t real, he told himself. This wasn’t his father.

He crawled into the robot’s lap, the arms curved to rest on its knees. Junior shivered at the difference in temperature. He snatched a fluffball from the pile–a giant penguin about his height–and hugged it. He curled into a ball, pressing against an arm as he closed his eyes.

“Dad,” he spoke softly, “I’m gonna nap here with you, if you don’t mind.”

No response.

Not that Junior expected one.

The world filled out slowly around Junior. His eyelids peeled apart to stare at the metal in front of him. He had slept peacefully for the first time in weeks, a dreamless rest that he welcomed with open arms. Crawling off the robot, Junior stood and stretched, the penguin still in his grasp. He turned to stare at the armor made in his father’s image.

“You made a choice,” he whispered, “didn’t you?”

Raph stared back at him, face blank.

“Between you and me.” He hugged the penguin close to his chest. “It hurts,” he finally admitted aloud, his cheeks becoming wet. “But I’m happy.” His voice choked on the word, as if even his body couldn’t accept the idea. “I’m trying to be happy,” he immediately corrected, “for you. Because you wanted me to live and be with our family. Because you fought for me.” The penguin’s downy coat matted from his tears. “I won’t stop feeling sorry that you’re not here instead of me, that I lived and you didn’t, but I’m not going to regret your decision. Or mine.”

Junior turned toward the entrance of the room. It was a red curtain that surely didn’t keep any sounds outside from seeping in. He paused. Once he left this room, he didn’t think he could return. It wouldn’t be good to reopen the wound. He looked back at the robot. It seemed almost peaceful.

“I’m gonna take one of your friends,” he called out. “Hope you don’t mind. I love you, Dad.” There wouldn’t be a response, he made his peace with that. He didn’t need one. He knew his father loved him.

He walked through the unfamiliar halls, following the sounds of his family talking. They were easy to find. Their voices weren’t hushed at all and they seemed to ricochet in the empty rooms. He found them gathered around a table with a map on it. They seemed to be discussing something. From the deep crease in Leo’s forehead and the firm line of Donnie’s brow, it must’ve been serious. They trailed off the moment they noticed Junior standing at the entrance.

Mikey smiled. “Wanna join us, little warrior?”

Junior observed his family. They were like open books to him. Reading their body language was second nature to him. They wanted him there with them.

He took a step forward.

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