Rated: T for mild swearing, occasional violence, triggering for mentions of sexual assault.
When Raphael woke the next morning, he had a migraine the size of Jersey--no, bigger, actually. After fumbling around for a bottle of ibuprofen, he sat up and took the meds rather reluctantly, blinking in the dim light of his apartment. It was early morning, but he didn't have to go into work. Surprisingly enough, he had been able to secure a day off, one to sort through all the papers in the overflowing cardboard box leaned up against the opposite wall of his bedroom. He stared at it for a moment, briefly spacing out and thinking of all the work he still had to attempt to do with so little leads. Despite the fact that Morgan had gathered so much material, the files were pretty blank, save for a few helpful papers on suspects that had already been ruled out in other cases of mutant related incidents around Manhattan.
After crawling out of his sheets he picked up the box and shoved his way into his cramped kitchen. Discarding the lid by the sink, he pulled out an untouched file labelled "graffiti" and sat down on the couch, propping his feet up on the arm.
"Damn." He whispered, noting the amount of paperwork and sketches in the single manila folder. There were quite a few, all roughly containing the same sort of symbol, if not the exact same drawing of one, just with different backgrounds and notations scribbled around it.
The NYPD had appeared to sum it up to gang work according to what he could decode from their atrocious handwriting, and it made a lot of sense given the amount of symbols and the direct correlation with vandalism. He could easily recall the sheer amount of these symbols that hung around at Mikey's, but it would appear that the evolution of the symbol was what made the entire case so weird.
On multiple papers he saw something that sort of looked like the exclamation mark hand, but instead was a crudely 'sketched' hand with seven fingers that splayed out awkwardly like tentacles. There was no stencil work in the details, that was obvious enough, but as the photographs wore on, the more trademark figure he recognized became clear, quite literally. For a moment he wondered if maybe they had commissioned someone to make the stencil, but another report indicated that this sort of cross-checking had already been done across the general Manhattan area. Nobody had made the stencil, and online orders for a stencil like that were not able to be made without a walk-in.
They would've had to have made it themselves if they weren't so stupid to let the police find them by permanent business records.
He frowned and placed the photographs and post-it notes on his coffee table in a disorganized pile. He stared at the ceiling blankly, his mind reeling with theories that he couldn't anchor.
"They can't have done it without being seen at least once." He muttered and massaged his temple. "They only did a couple places, they're not smart enough to avoid being seen at least once. They weren't good at graffiti, they must have slipped up somewhere."
Although this was a pretty large assumption for him to make over what looked to be a highly trained New York gang, he still found himself looking back over the list of places affected, picking one off the top of the list, and tossing his jacket on lazily. It wasn't too early, so they were likely to be open by now, and even if they weren't, he could really go for breakfast.
A fifteen minute walk and a quick stop for his stereotypical "police bagel" found himself at the door of "Jay's Photography" a start-up studio that did photography for weddings and graduations and other special occasions. The advertisement on the window seemed to suggest that they were looking to do customizable portraits and the like. Considering the place had only been hit a little over a month ago, he had a great appreciation for what seemed to be a full recovery for them. Without knowing, he would've had no idea that they were the victim of a vandalism.
As he pushed the door open, a little bell jingled above the frame, alerting the clerk behind the counter. He was human, but after beginning to ask if Raph was there for an appointment or something-or-other, a short and stout squirrel with what looked like a beer belly pushed through the back door and gave one look at Raph before smiling and making broad and wide gestures for his desk clerk to stop.
"You're from the NYPD." The mutant spoke with a heavy blend of an accents that almost startled Raph, having expected something different, although he wasn't quite sure what. The squirrel gestured towards the badge hanging from the pocket of his jacket. Raph hadn't even noticed that he'd left it on from his last shift, and thus was now severely regretting it. "I heard Chief Daniels talk about his mutant cops, I didn't think he'd send one so late though. Is my case open again?"
Raph bit the inside of his cheek. "Well, Daniels didn't exactly send me. I'm here on personal business."
"Personal...business?" Jay asked, brow raising. "You want to purchase a portrait or something?"
"So you're here for...?"
"My brother's restaurant, sorta." He frowned, taking a small bite out of his bagel. Speaking through his food, "His whole place got destroyed. Graffiti everywhere. I wanted to ask a few questions about what happened here a month ago."
"Not as an officer?" Jay inquired, a small smile twitching at the corner of his lips. Not only had he caught onto Raph, but he was seemingly amused by it too.
Raph chuckled nervously. "I, uh...no?"
After a prolonged moment of tension, "No problem bud, in today's world we've gotta stick together. Come with me." Jay shrugged nonchalantly, waving his hand towards the studio door he'd come in through.
For how nervous the tough turtle was, he had hardly been expecting that kind of relaxed and open response that Jay gave him. There were various props scattered across the studio floor, some damaged and moved towards the corner, some shiny and seemingly freshly bought from a photography catalogue. Jay led him around various pieces of modern art towards the back wall where his desk and printer sat, although this printer sat right next to its decimated cousin in the trash. Jay chuckled sadly, gesturing towards the tragedy of a piece of equipment.
"The thing is, all those gun-wielding monsters smashed up a lot of my equipment. Tripods and lenses and shit. Why they left my PC, I'll never know." He plopped down in his desk chair and set his feet up on the edge of the desk. "What really bothered me was knowing how many were in here. Musta been like, ten or something."
"Ten? Wait, wait, guns?" Raph shook his head, utterly incredulous as he watched the mutant rip open a Twinkie from his desk drawer and nod as he chewed through his speech.
"They really didn't tell you did they?" Jay frowned. "I was here when the whole thing happened. Locked in the developing room. Some people still like that vintage feel, you know? I do those in that room over there and they pay like $50 extra for it."
He gestured towards a black door on the other side of the room which blended in perfectly with the rest of the environment. The knob to the developing room was incredibly small and as he approached and inspected it, he noticed that if he wanted to even try to use the knob, he could easily crush the metal in his oversized hands. There was a slot for a key lock, which he assumed Jay used from the other side, and after asking if he was allowed to open the door first, he checked the other end of the knob and found a rather secure system with more than one lock installed up the side, probably to keep an assistant from accidentally coming into the room and spoiling his developing work.
"Did you see anything?" Raph asked, shutting the door and looking the door up and down again.
"Nope. They didn't come for the developing room cause of the chemicals, you know. Boom!" He made a rather theatrical explosion movement with his hands and laughed boisterously, a couple crumbs flying off his bottom lip. "The door doesn't have a window, as you can see, cause the light ruins the photos. My security camera managed to catch some of it, but none of their faces. They were wearing those 'morph' suit things under some grey hoodies."
"You still have the footage?" Raph asked.
"You bet. NYPD told me to keep it just in case. Plus its a neat keepsake. Gotta tell your friends, you know?" Jay shrugged. He straightened his posture and struck the space bar on his keyboard, quickly typing in a rather long-winded password before lazily opening his security application.
After clicking on the icon and waiting several minutes for it to load, Jay scrolled through the last several days' security feeds before clicking on a date. Through the fuzzy camera feed, Raph could catch the figures in the dark lighting of the studio, only barely. The camera feed was exactly as he figured it was, utterly useless, but enough to determine that a few of the guys were actually holding guns and were doing exactly as had been reported in the paperwork. Their faces were indeed conveniently concealed, and they carried gym bags stuffed with extra equipment like sledgehammers, stencils, more spray paint, and items that he couldn't see quite clearly enough to discern from everything else.
"You gave them this footage, right?"
"Yeah." Jay said through a yawn. He crushed the Twinkie wrapper into the trashcan under his desk and he shrugged. "They said that it wasn't really helpful for the identities, but at least for what to be on alert for, I suppose."
"Thanks." Raph frowned, nodding at the footage and stepping away from the camera feed as Jay closed the application.
"So, any thoughts?" The mutant asked, smoothing back his ears and cracking his knuckles before pulling another Twinkie out of his drawer and ripping it open. Either Jay had quit smoking and needed a replacement, or this was his cigarette.
"Nah. Not really." Raph sighed. "But thanks, this was helpful."
"Anytime," He smiled. "And tell you what, those other businesses? They'd probably help you out too. Knowing what's been going on around here lately, the vibe is super off in the community, yeah? We've got to stay protected."
"Yeah, sure." Raph nodded.
Those words felt strange on his mouth, almost insincere.
Leaving the studio, Raph heard Jay's speech echo in his head, feeling a bit strange about them. He knew that Jay was right, but something still felt wrong. What was he not aware of? What were they not aware of? He knew that mutant directed violence was something that happened, but was it just worse than he had the pleasure of knowing? He didn't want to feel stupid, but maybe he just hadn't seen too many cases lately.
He pulled out his phone and texted Morgan, wondering if maybe she had a copy of the footage that Jay had, something that was clearer or more usable. It was doubtful that she would actually help again, and he knew that. His short and concise text gave the very clear impression that he knew he was being a bother, but he defied the social construct anyways.
Just as he sent Morgan his 'please help me again' text, he got an updated one from Mikey. Feeling his heart race at first, he panicked for his little brother, but the intense usage of smiley face and food emojis indicated nothing negative like the last long bout of messages he had been sending back and forth to his demoralized brother, even after reopening Little Ninja's.
Group Text to: You, Leo, Donnie, Mikey
I was thinking we could do Thanksgiving this month?! Leo could bring Karai, and then I make the food, and maybe Donnie sees if April and Casey can fly back in time?!
Raph was the first one to see it, and he couldn't help but at least crack a smile at the enthusiasm behind the emoji-laced message. He stuffed his phone back into his pocket, wondering for a moment about Karai, April, and Casey. Extra invites. Come to think of it, he'd barely talked to Karai at all the past few months, and April and Casey even less because of their work.
Staring up at the morning sky, he felt a mixed nostalgia beat away at his heart, making him all soft and mushy on the inside. It was awkward and vulnerable, and mixed with the strange emotions from his moments with Jay, he wasn't sure if he liked it. Forcing his stoic expression back onto his face, he felt heavy with a vibe he couldn't think to describe quite yet, and he wasn't looking forward to coming back into work.
"Well, Mikey wants to invite you guys for Thanksgiving."
"Thanksgiving? Have we ever even had a Thanksgiving together?" April asked mostly to herself, looking upwards as if their lost memories lay hidden in the ceiling fan of her apartment.
"Yeah, we did, right before you both left." Don smiled. "Casey burnt the turkey and the entire place smelled horrible until Christmas- when he burned the ham." He continued, listing the offenses off on his fingers as April rolled her eyes.
"That one, I remember." She laughed, running a hand over her cheek. "He tried, you have to give him credit for that. For someone who read all the instructions online and insisted on having no help, I'd say he did okay."
"It was black. I've never seen something cooked that black. Not even by Mikey." He laughed.
Maybe it was poking fun at Casey that made this entire conversation easier to bear, or the idea that April and Casey would be home for the holidays, but he was enjoying himself more than usual on their Skype chat. He'd slowed down with grading things and he was becoming more than acclimated with life on the university now. The weather was getting more frigid, and although this definitely proved to be the most challenging and least favorite point of the year for him, something in his heart felt light enough to keep the stress from bearing too heavily on his shoulders for now.
"No, but really. How are you Donnie? You seem better than you were a couple weeks ago." April sighed, brushing her outgrown bangs out of her face.
"I guess you could say that."
"I mean, I still have stuff to grade and there's still things to be stressed about, and-"
"Oh come on." She rolled her eyes teasingly. "It can't be that bad."
"Like talking in front of a camera is so hard." He shot back.
She crossed her arms in front of her chest, raising an eyebrow with her characteristically dead-faced stare. "That bad, huh?" She seemed understanding, or at the least she came across that way as she had caught on to the anxiety dripping off his words. He let out a deep sigh and leaned back in his seat, running his hand over his head.
"I mean, I'm not reporting on the intricacies of Venetian politics or anything but, you know." His eyes trailed up to the ceiling, locked on the dim light fixture there. "I've got stuff. Leo's got his head in the drain right now, I think that's most of it. I told you about that it's just...I think it's really putting a damper on things right now. We really don't know how to help him, you know."
"You did tell Splinter, right?"
"Oh yeah, yeah. Of course." He laughed through a pained sigh. "It's just a matter of actually getting Leo to talk about what's going on in there. I don't think even Splinter can get through to him. I don't know who can to be honest, I'm just worried that it's PTSD."
"What about Karai?"
There was an uncomfortably long pause between the two of them as he blinked, then rubbed his sweaty palms on his knees. "Ah. Well. I've not contacted her in months. I think the only people she ever really stays in the loop with are Leo and occasionally Raph.I wouldn't be surprised if she hasn't already talked to Leo about it."
April brushed her overgrown bangs out of her face, seeming frustrated. "I don't know, Don. I'd seriously keep an eye on him. You know how tense things are right now better than I do."
"I do, I do." He noted, eyes tracing over his phone, which lay on the arm of the couch. "Maybe I'll try talking to him about it. I don't know."
"It's worth at least the sit-down." She mused, then, after a moment of awkwardly pungent silence, she tried to switch the subject as smoothly as she could. "Anything else you'd like to talk about?"
"Mm. Nah, not really."
April's stare became more intense and her eyes narrowed. She leaned in a little towards the camera, intently staring into it like he were directly in front of her. She pressed her lips together, then let out a slow and thoughtful hum. Just as she was beginning to begin to make him incredibly uncomfortable, she leaned back and gave a sharp nod of her head, facial expression slowly morphing back to normal.
"It's more than that. There's additional stress. I can't tell from what cause you're not here, but you're lying to me."
Don blinked once. Twice. Then shook his head incredulously. "Wait, what?"
"You're lying to me."
"No I'm not! That's it! Honestly as soon as the paperwork gets done most of the struggle will be over for me."
"Oh, I'm sure." She laughed, then sharpened her focus again. "But that's not everything. What are you hiding?"
"Nothing, I swear on my shell April."
She went quiet again, seemingly deeper in thought now than she had been before. She scratched the side of her jaw, then rubbed the bridge of her nose. As uncomfortable as this was making him, he put up with it for her sake. She liked to test her psychic abilities from long distances, and this was one of the best ways for her to do it, but as far as he could tell, she was terrible at it if she wasn't in front of the person--or turtle--she wanted to read.
"Okay, fine. But if you're hiding something from me, I will find it when we come home."
"You're coming home?" He smiled, face brightening. She hadn't quite given him an answer before, but she liked to keep her visits home a surprise from them until she actually showed up at the airport. It was her way of either completely screwing with them, or something that she and Casey both liked doing to get back at years and years of "incidents" with Mikey popping out from around corners as the notorious Dr. Prankenstein.
"Well, yeah, we-" Her nose crinkled in frustration as she realized her slip-up. "Oh screw you, Donatello. I'm hanging up."
"Too late." He chirped. The small 'bloop' on the other end of the line as she left the call made him chuckle in triumph. Then, his phone. Pulling up the group chat felt weird considering how little he even entered it. The messages were still extensively poisoned by Mikey's overexcited usage of food related emojis.
Casey and April are coming. Plan for six for now.
Then, a glance at Leo's contact. There was something rather unnerving about the concept of trying to contact his brother after all this time. They had talked since the last incident, but it had been brief. Cold. He felt distant from his former leader in a way that he had never expected to feel as a teenager; in a way that the old Leo would never allow. A decaying Leo was so unlike him that it was scary.
How does one bring up mental illness without frustrating the sufferer? There was clearly a disturbance of some kind, but one he didn't and wouldn't ever have the training to name. He frowned, thumbs hovering over the keyboard, eyes staring blankly at Leo's contact name. He almost felt sick at the thought of phrasing it wrong. Not knowing what exactly was wrong made it all that much worse for him to try to deal with and get optimal results.
Hey, are you-
He hit the backspace and shook his head. No that wasn’t right.
Leo, I wanted to ask-
He grunted in frustration and laid his hand on his forehead, erasing the little he had typed up, that wasn’t much better.
Can we talk-
That still felt wrong. He was at a loss for what to say. It used to be so easy to talk to Leo, the easiest out of all his brothers. But he felt like he was approaching a landmine buried under rice paper. He let out a sigh, letting the phone fall to his side as he leaned back on his chair. Donnie glanced at the computer screen, where April’s face used to be and let out sad breath. He pulled up his cell and typed in his final attempt.
Hey Leo, if you need to talk about anything, don't feel afraid to talk to me. I've been worried lately. Just want to talk.
Was that sincere enough? Too sincere? His mind was so jumbled at the thought of his brother's undiagnosed struggles that he couldn't even seem to handle a simple text without feeling overwhelmed with anxiety. He sighed and locked his phone. Donnie laid down his phone, shut his laptop, and shut off the lights to the living room on his way to bed.
April and Casey were coming home. Finally, something to look forward to.