Raphael climbed into the back of the sleek white bowrider, the boat swaying against his weight and the slapping of the waves. Raph waited a moment to regain his balance before dropping the duffle bag he carried onto the tan leather bench, then sitting down beside it.
Arianna followed afterwards and tossed him one of the two orange life jackets she carried. Raph didn’t even bother trying to catch it as it landed at his feet. A brow quirked as he looked from the vest up to the girl.
“You’re kidding right?”
Arianna smirked as she slipped on her own. “It’s protocol, sorry. I’m not technically supposed to be driving the boat without Aunt Karai but Tod has made an exception so long as we wear the life jackets.”
Raph scoffed, resisting the urge to flip off the man that was staring at them through the dock houses windows. “We’re turtles. We don’t need life jackets.”
“Yes, but Tod doesn’t know that. So, for both of our sakes can you please just put up with the life jacket for the two minutes it takes us to get out of sight?”
“Or,” Raph smiled. “I could refuse and Tod takes away your privilege and I go home.”
“Or,” Arianna glared at him. “I could drug you again and make you put on your life jacket.” To emphasize her point, she pointed the muzzle of the gun out of the opening of her duffle bag.
Raph stayed silent for several minutes as he debated with himself whether or not it was worth it. Finally, he sighed and bent down to pick up the life jacket. Between the shell, the bulky clothing, and the vest, Raph found himself feeling incredibly claustrophobic. He had no idea how this thing was supposed to save people when the thing strangled you itself! This was going to be the longest two minutes of his life.
Arianna grinned and gave him a thumbs up before she moved to the front seat. A moment later the strong engine roared to life. Arianna turned around and started moving her mouth but Raph couldn’t hear any of the words overtop the purring of the boat. Raph was about to ask her to talk louder when the boat suddenly jolted forward and Raph was pinned back against the cushions.
Blistering cold air slammed mercilessly against Raph’s face, the wind howling in his ears, and mist splashing against the back of his head. He was restrained like that for what felt like an eternity before the boat finally slowed to a stop and Raph could breathe again.
Raph slowly sat up, his head felt light as he took in his surroundings. The dock was nowhere to be seen anymore and the beach was nothing but a streak of tan on the horizon. Raph could see the cities skyscrapers spiking up from the tan and dozens of people dotting the shore. Besides that though, they were completely engulfed in miles of blue. Not even a cloud in the sky to break it up.
Raph’s heart constricted a little at the sight. Blue was a beautiful color. So clean and refreshing. . . and the favorite color of the love of his life. Blue was a fitting color for Leo. He even smelled like the ocean. Sweet and salty.
Raph sighed and closed his eyes. He should have known he wouldn’t have been able to keep his thoughts away from Leo. He couldn’t before so why would he be able to now? He needed to relax and keep control of his emotions because this was just a temporary visit to see how Leo was doing. As soon as Arianna stops holding him at gun point, he was going back to New York. To the crummy, filthy city that was his home.
“I gather from your lack of response that you’re now comfortable in the vest?”
Raph blinked and looked up at Arianna who was now stripping off her life jacket. Realizing that his two minutes were up, Raph happily took of his vest as well and tossed it to the side, breathing in deeply. Arianna smirked and walked back over to the wheel. The boat accelerated again at a much more decent speed.
Raph decided they were far enough away from civilization for him to take off the hoodie. He used the hoodie to wipe away the foundation as best as he could before setting it aside. Raph slumped into the seat, crossing his arms over his chest, and relaxed as the wind blew across his body, creating goosebumps. He had never felt so free in years. Like a giant weight had been removed from his shoulders. The paranoia of someone coming to kill him no longer lingering around him. Now he truly understood why Leo would want to leave. Why anybody would want to leave. There was no reason to stay.
The next twenty minutes went by with Raph dozing and despite he wasn’t even asleep he could honestly say that was the best sleep he had in years. It didn’t last long enough though when he felt something kick his foot.
Raph grumbled tiredly and opened his eyes to see Arianna standing above him with her duffle bag hanging from one shoulder.
“Come on sleepy head. We’re here.”
Raph sighed and sat up. Once again, their surroundings have changed. It was indeed an island that they lived on. A rather small one in his opinion but functional enough he supposed. It was at least inconspicuous. Arianna had parked the boat beside a small doc that lead onto the golden sand. Palms and other trees and plants guarded the inland.
Slowly rising to his feet, Raph grabbed up the duffle bag and slung the hoodie over his other shoulder before following Arianna off the boat and down the dock.
“Where is everybody?” Raph asked.
“Farther inland. We like to stay as hidden as we can.” Arianna said as she walked off the dock and through the brush.
Raph hesitated, suddenly feeling a nervous churning in his stomach as it finally hit him. He was going to see Leo. After these twenty-three years of being separated by thousands of miles of ocean, he was finally going to get to see Leo again. He wondered what he would look like. Would he be taller? Larger? Would he have more scars? Wrinkles? Would he still be as nerdy and boyish as he was as a teen? Did he still like those same stupid sci-fi shows? What was it called? ‘Space Heroes’?
Raph wondered how Leo was going to react when he saw him. Would he be mad still? Happy? Would he tell him to get off his island? That he never wanted to see him again?
Raph started to feel a little queasy at the thought. He didn’t know how he would handle the rejection. To be told by the one that you loved that they no longer wanted you; and worse, because you were the cause of that rejection. Raph didn’t know how to handle that. It had already taken him years to get back on his feet after their last fight. Who knows how long it would take him this time.
“Are you chickening out?” Arianna’s voice brought Raph back to the present. The girl was peeking out from the wall of the biggest leaves Raph has ever seen, with concern on her face.
“I don’t need to bring out the tranq gun, do I?”
“Of course not.” Raph glared at her and continued passed her, into the foliage. He felt his feet leave the soft warmness of the sand and step into the cool dampness of the mud, grass, and moss. Shadows shrouded Raph from the sun and left him feeling sticky and sweaty as he forced his way through the thick leaves and branches that scratched his skin.
Hard at work, Raph almost didn’t hear Arianna behind him as she asked, “You scared of meeting Dad again?”
Raph scoffed indignantly, “M’not scared.”
Fear was for men of prey. And Raph had fought too many battles in his life to be scared of meeting one person. The word did not exist in his vocabulary.
. . . Oh, who was he kidding? He was downright terrified!
“It’s okay to be scared. I mean, Dad can be pretty scary sometimes. You should see him after I stayed out too late at night, now that’s scary.”
Raph turned around to pin the girl back with a glare. “I’m not scared.”
Arianna smirked. “If you insist.”
Raph growled and continued forward. “I couldn’t care less about the guy. If he wants tah go off and buy an island and raise an army, I’m sure as hell ain’t going to stop em.”
“Your accents showing.” Arianna chuckled.
“I don’t have an accent.” Raph said angrily. The words unintentionally coming out in a thick New York accent. Ignoring the fact that his brothers had repeatedly insisted that he did whenever he was feeling a strong emotion. He had hated whenever they figured out when he was lying because of the accent, so he kept on insisting he never had one, as if that would get rid of it. Now the habit just stuck.
“You do. It’s cute. I noticed it every time you got angry.” Arianna grinned.
Raph quirked an eyebrow. “Well, you got a Japanese accent.”
Arianna shrugged. “A little bit, but that’s what I get for being raised in Japan.”
Raph huffed irritably but didn’t respond. Arianna dropped the subject. They walked a little ways before Raph asked out of curiosity, “So, how did you guys managed to build an army without anyone knowing?”
“It wasn’t easy. Aunt Karai had to do most of the hard work because of Dad’s, um, peculiarities. Aunt Karai had dealt with any press and police officials that were curious about what was happening here. She had sent up a few foot soldiers to work on the inside of the police force. Then, she had gotten permission from the Japanese government to build on the island. It’s advertised as a private vacation camp so it doesn’t look suspicious when people come and go here.”
“They ended up building barracks some time later after they had recruited a number of people, deciding it was easier to keep quiet when the recruits lived here for most of the time. If they had families we usually sent them an official letter telling them they had been chosen by the government for a job. The recruits usually handled things from there on. They have visitation rights of course but normally on the weekends.” Arianna explained.
“How do you keep the tourists out then?”
“The advertisements don’t have an address.” Arianna winked at him. “We call it a mistake.”
“So, does any of the recruits know what Leo is?” Raph asked.
“A few. Only the ones that have been around for a while do. Aunt Karai is the only one that judges their loyalty. But the ones that do know, they had taken to it really well.”
“And what about the rest?”
“Dad has a foot uniform that he wears when he trains them. Everyone has their own uniform as well so no one questions it.”
Raph was about to ask another question when he got distracted by a rather large mosquito buzzing around his head. Raph growled and attempted to swat away the bug but the damn thing dodged smoothly and latched onto his arm. Instantly, he smacked it and flicked away the corpse. A moment later, he spotted two new mosquitos on his opposite arm.
“Fuck these damn bugs!” Raph snarled and repeated the same action on them. Already two welts began to form. It wouldn’t take them long to start itching. “What’s with all the mosquitos?”
Arianna chuckled amusingly as Raph began to flail his arms wildly when more attacked him. “We’re on an island in the middle of summer, Raph. What did you expect?”
Raph didn’t answer her. Too preoccupied with trying not to get eaten alive as a whole swarm began to form. It seemed as if when he killed one, two more would appear. Eventually, he became desperate and panicked and he quickly searched the area for a weapon. Spotting a good-sized stick, he picked it up and swung it through the vengeful swarm. Arianna’s laughing barely registered in his ears.
It took a while but Arianna finally took pity on the freaked-out turtle and dug through her duffle for the can of bug spray she kept on her. She was already aware of Raph’s fear of bugs and had decided to come prepared but she never expected this.
Arianna popped open the cap and stepped close to Raph, dodging the flying stick as she did so. She grabbed onto his wrist before he could strike again and sprayed the white mist at him right as he opened his mouth to yell at her. Raph began coughing.
“You weren’t supposed to open your mouth, dumbass!” Arianna huffed and dropped the can back into her bag.
“What the hell was that?” Raph wheezed.
“Your savior. You’re welcome by the way.”
Once the coughing passed Raph noticed that the swarms had left. “What is that stuff?”
“Bug spray. You’d do well to keep some on you while you’re here.” Arianna said.
Raph shrugged. “Not going to be here long enough to need it.”
Arianna snorted. “You’ve been here for an hour Raph and you’re already complaining. You’ll need it.”
The girl turned and continued on. Raph sighed and followed. That was the one good thing about New York. The city was too polluted and dry for bugs to survive anymore, what with the constant burning of buildings on a daily basis. Japan was beautiful but Raph didn’t think he could deal with the bug population.
“How much farther?” Raph asked anxiously.
“Not much. Maybe another five minutes or so.” Arianna answered.
Raph kept his complaints to himself. Was it ironic for a mutant turtle to hate the nature? While the area was gorgeous and the fresh air vitalizing, mother nature was a cruel bitch with her bipolar weather and bitey creatures. It’s as if mother nature was on her period yearly and the rest of them had to suffer for it.
As if mother nature herself wanted to smite him for his rude remarks, Raph was suddenly knocked onto the muddy ground by a heavy force. His arms forcibly pinned behind his shell, shooting pain from his wrists to his shoulders and back.
“Thought you could sneak up on her, did you? I will show you great pain for attempting to hurt my niece.” A familiar woman’s voice hissed in his ear.
Raph grunted when he felt something cold and sharp bite into his throat. He grinned cheekily at the woman. “I never took you as the kinky type Karai.”
“Raphael?” Karai said with alarm. Removing the knife from his throat.
Raph gasped for air, his fingers feeling for the wound on his throat. It was a shallow cut but she did make it bleed a lot. Slowly, Raph rolled onto his shell and smiled crookedly at the aged woman. “The one and only.”
Other than some grey in her roots and laugh lines around her mouth and eyes, Raph still recognized the woman as the one that he hated from his memories. He noticed she had grown her hair out into a shoulder length bob and her exotic makeup she used to wear was now replaced with dirt and sweat. Actually, she looked more attractive now in his opinion.
“How did you not recognize the shell?” Raph asked as he slowly got up. His body now aching.
Karai smirked. “Who says I didn’t?”
“Aunt Karai! Hey!” Arianna suddenly burst through the brush with a grin a mile wide. She rushed straight into Karai’s arms, the two women hugging tightly. Once they separated, Arianna looked to Raph, a brow quirking at his appearance. Raph tried to brush off some of the mud that clung to his skin but he gave up quickly when he only ended up smearing it.
“I see you’ve already met Raph.” Arianna said with a sheepish smile. Karai did not return it.
“So, this was the important mission you were telling me about?” She gestured angrily to Raph.
Arianna shrugged awkwardly. “I didn’t know who else to bring.”
Karai groaned and pinched the space between her eyes. “Anyone might’ve been better then him. Your father is going to be so pissed with you.”
“I’ll deal with dad later. How was he when he found out I had left?”
“He wasn’t mad. Just frustrated with you. He doesn’t know where you went or how long you’d be gone and you never called. He was worrying sick.”
Arianna rolled her eyes. “He does that anyway.”
Karai chuckled and shook her head. “What am I going to do with you?”
“Not that I don’t like overhearing you girls talk about me but, do you mind? I don’t like standing here any longer then I have to.” Raph finally interjected, feeling awkward pretending that he wasn’t there while they deliberately conversed about him. Both women’s eyes turned to him and they smiled.
“Right this way, Raphael.” Karai waved him on and they began moving again. “I take it Arianna has told you everything that has been going on here?”
Raph shrugged. “Pretty much.”
Karai smirked. “Didn’t leave much for the rest of us to talk about.”
Raph snorted. “Oh, I’m sure there is plenty left to talk about.”
“I gather most of those questions are for Leo to answer?”
“Some of them, yeah.” Raph muttered, staring at the ground as he walked. The conversation soon turned away from Raph and onto other topics. Raph didn’t participate as the two women caught up with whatever had happened these past couple of days that Arianna was away. Raph listened in and out as they fought through the trees till finally, they arrived at a what looked to be a military camp built in the center of a huge clearing.
Raph stopped at the edge of the jungle, mouth wide in awe. There were four rows of maybe ten domed barracks and an extra six at the end, all painted in dark green. In large coordinated groups, foot soldiers jogged through the area.
Raph counted approximately fourteen-foot soldiers that stood guard outside of the clearings perimeter. Four on their side and four opposite of them. Three stood to the sides of the clearing.
Raph felt a nudge against his side. Arianna leaned up and whispered. “I suggest you put back on your hoodie. While a good portion of these men know about us, there are still a few that don’t.”
Raph nodded and slipped back on the hoodie as Arianna pulled up the hood of hers.
“I can’t believe Leo built all of this.” Raph said, still in shock.
Arianna smiled smugly. “Watch out. Don’t want a fly to get in your mouth.”
Raph glared at the girl who continued to look amused. Together, they walked over to the three nearest soldiers, Karai taking the lead. Raph noticed that each soldier was armed with unique weapons of their own and as they came closer, those weapons were instantly raised and pointed at them.
“Stand down, boys. Arianna has returned and she brought a friend.” Karai announced, patting the shoulder of the soldier on her left. The weapons were cautiously lowered but were not put away.
Arianna lifted her hoodie just enough so they could see her face. Smiling, she waved at them. “Hi guys. Miss me?”
Two of them waved back. The third grinned through his mask and said, “Hey Ari. How’s it hangin?”
Arianna shrugged to the third soldier. “Pretty good. I successfully kidnapped a person today.”
The two soldiers immediately looked at Raph while the third laughed. “That’s our girl!”
“Alright, alright. That’s enough. Time to get back to work boys.” Karai interjected and the three bowed respectfully and returned to their posts. She turned to Arianna next, “Do you wish to give Raphael the tour or shall I?”
Arianna waved Karai away. “No. I got him this far. Mine as well take him the rest of the way.”
Karai chuckled, “Okay then. I guess I will see you later, Raphael.”
Raph nodded. “Sure.” If he would be around by then, that is.
The two watched as the woman turned and left to go about her business before Arianna twined an arm around his and pulled him deeper into the camp. Raph could still feel the soldier’s eyes on his back, making him extremely paranoid. He felt suddenly vulnerable and naked as he realized he didn’t have his sais with him anymore. Heck, not even a small weapon with which to defend himself with.
“So, what’s with the military-esk barracks?” Raph asked, trying to distract himself from the unsettling feeling.
“Well, the barracks were the most efficient way to keep order of all our nine hundred and fifty-two soldiers. There are currently twenty-six barracks that house thirty-six soldiers in each, plus the extra eleven in one barrack and five in the others for our instructor’s. We have two barracks for rec rooms. Four cafeterias. One storage. A medical bay. Laundry. Four showers. And a partridge in a pair tree. Also, we have one barrack for Dad and I and one for Aunt Karai. And four new barracks currently being built.”
Raph’s eyes bugged at this news. “Nine hundred and fifty-two?”
Arianna sighed. “Yeah, sad isn’t it? We’re just short of forty-eight men till we reach a thousand which isn’t nearly enough to take on Shredder’s millions.”
Raph shook his head in disbelief. “How the hell do you train all of them?”
“We train them in groups in separate times of the day. There are seven instructors, including Dad and Aunt Karai, that each train three of the twenty-one groups that contain around forty-eight soldiers. Give or take a few extras. Two in the early morning, back to back. And one in the late afternoon. A couple of instructors like to wait until the evening for their seconds and/or third groups just because it tends to get crowded sometimes.”
“Dad and Aunt Karai have been training a few more soldiers for their Leader Ranks. If we can get more instructors, it could lighten the load of the schedule by a lot.” Arianna explained casually.
“Did you have to memorize all of that?” Raph asked, impressed.
Arianna shrugged. “Sometimes I help Aunt Karai with the inventory.” The two moved off the dirt road as forty-eight foot soldiers jogged passed them in an orderly group.
“I will admit, it feels weird walking among the foot soldiers.” Raph muttered. He still felt uncomfortable being there but he was slowly relaxing.
Arianna smiled, “Don’t worry. As long as you behave they won’t give you any trouble.”
Raph smirked. “Can’t guarantee that.”
“I don’t think you want nine-hundred and fifty-two men on you, Raph.”
“Bring em on.”
Arianna laughed and lead him down to the fifth row of barracks. Raph counted only two barracks while one barrack was fully built without the paint and the other three barracks were still in mid-build. Arianna spread her arms as they walked up to the first barrack in the row.
“Welcome to mi casa.” Arianna announced proudly. The building didn’t look any different from the rest other than the small sign next to the door that read Hamato Leonardo. Raph felt this odd sense of surrealism as he stood outside the door that separated him from Leo. He couldn’t believe he was here after so many years with an entire ocean between them. It felt like a dream and at any minute he was going to wake up back in New York, in his apartment, in his bed, alone.
Arianna’s words were muffled to Raph’s ears as she said, “Dad should be back from training by now.” She looked back at him and frowned.
“Hey, you okay?”
Raph swallowed thickly, his hands suddenly clammy. Slowly, he nodded. He jumped a little when he felt her small hand squeeze his bicep.
“It’s going to be fine. Just let me do all the talking, okay?” Arianna smiled gently. Raph took a deep breath and forced himself to relax. He nodded.
Arianna tugged out another set of keys from her pocket. Quickly flicking through them, she chose one and unlocked the door.
“Dad, I’m home.” Arianna said as she walked into the barrack. Raph slowly followed. Inside, the curved walls were painted an antiseptic white and the floors were a polished grey concrete. Surprisingly, the place didn't look like a typical barrack but rather a very ordinary family home. The room was rather narrow and not very spacious but it fit a small television set and a glass display case filled with weapons as well as a coffee table, chair, and a couch. And on that couch, laid wrapped in a passionate embrace with an unknown woman was the man himself, Leonardo Hamato.