Take A Breath, City

by zara hemla :: teenage mutant ninja turtles :: pg :: brothers.

dedication: for Jen and Kate, those fandom whores.



We're watching the moonlight bounce off the New York City skyline. It looks different this year, now that the Twin Towers are gone. We're older. We're wiser. We're both more and less adept. We still love pizza.

It's been awhile, hasn't it? You've been lookin elsewhere, at Batman or Superman or the Tick. 'Sokay. We've got each other, and we stick together. Still here, though. Even Splinter, though he's downstairs meditating. He's gettin grizzled around the edges, kind of grey, and his accent's gettin thicker, but he can still sense crime before it happens. And smell the pizza before we open the box.

Leo takes the last piece of the current pizza, whereupon a scuffle ensues between him and Mikey. Raph sighs and flips open his cell. "I'll order another one, guys? Okay? There must be a pizza place somewhere in this burg that stays open till midnight." You're probably wondering about Raph's temper. He's mellowed out some - - you could call him a peacekeeper now, in that he doesn't start the fights anymore.

"Yeah, but will they deliver to the top floor of an office building?" asks Mikey. "You know someone's gonna have to go down and get the pizza."

"And that would be you," says Raph, "cause you're the one that wants it."

"Aw, I don't want it that bad. I was just razzin' Leo some." Yeah, our slang is still a little outdated. Though Leo has moved from "Radical" to "Schweet" and I've moved from "Bossa Nova" to ... well, I just said that to annoy them.

Raph flips closed his phone with a muted "Dimwit," and says to Leo, "I haven't got all night here. I was gonna go out and catch the last showing of 'Signs.'"

Leo heaves himself up from his seat and swipes the last piece of cheese from his mouth. "Okay," he says. "Forms."

We all groan, but we get up, because we promised him that we would. I take my place between Mike and Raph, and we begin with the first form, the one we learned at Splinter's knee as soon as we could walk. I still remember his voice, deep and scratchy, coaching us and coaxing us and comforting us when we fell over. Step and step, and turn, and punch and step and kick and back and punch and kick and turn.

It's not like I have to think about it, so I watch my brothers instead as the moonlight drowns them in white. It's like we're dancing with each other and the city, like doing forms out here in the open is a promise to the city that yeah, we'll still fight for you.

We went down to Ground Zero. We went in broad daylight, and we pulled concrete from one pile and put it into another. We never found anything -- anyone. The exhausted firefighters patted us on the back and let us go down to the sewers at night without saying anything. But we still felt like failures. Raph cried more than once from frustration, lying at Splinter's feet, shell heaving. My brother always talks big, but his heart's like a jelly donut. Soft.

Ever since then it's like we've been working harder, savin little old ladies from purse-snatchers and petty criminals from knockin over the stop-n-shop. One year later, nothing has worked psychologically -- we still hurt -- but the city is marginally more crime-free. And everyone hurts. I don't fool myself that we're the only ones.

The forms flow from one to the other, getting more complex as we move along the circumference of the roof. Punch and kick and block and turn, step and turn and step and kick and block. Far off, a siren blares from east to west -- city ambience. I watch Raph's unconscious grace and envy it, not for the first time. He was born with the forms in his blood, I think. I have a computer for a brain, but his muscles respond in ways mine never would. If I stopped doing forms for a year, I'd forget them all. On my other side, Mikey hums the chorus of "La Vida Loca" as he whirls through the forms.

It's good to have family. You know? If I was the only radioactive mutant turtle in the world, I'd spend my life in a cave, huddled next to the radio, listening to the sounds of a world unreachable. Maybe I'd have gotten on the Internet, after it was invented, and pretended I was something -- someone -- else. But instead I have my brothers -- Leo gives me courage, Mike gives me a sense of humor, and Raph gives me strength. I give them, I guess, the smarts to come in out of the electrical storm. And Splinter is our soul.

Huh -- I'm gettin maudlin in my old age. We call ourselves just the Ninja Turtles now, cos we aren't teenagers, and "mutant" isn't the most complimentary thing to say. But you better believe we can still appear and disappear like smoke. Haven't forgotten that, even though Shredder is history and we don't have a lot of need for ninjitsu, what with Eastern revenge- seeking baddies being kind of scarce. But we still teach it to Danny, and to his two daughters. Always makes me laugh to see Leo with those little redheads climbing on him trying to be ninjas.

Finally we've reached the end of the roof and the end of the forms. They're supposed to keep you focussed, keep you concentrating on the pure high that is martial arts, but they're more of a catalyst for me. As I stop moving and lean over the edge of the roof to see the blueblack street below, all the outside thoughts stop. The city seeps into me instead -- streetlights flash on and off, cars drive by and stop and move on, stores close and bars open. Take a breath, city. Breathe.

"It still goes on, doesn't it?" says Mikey, leaning over next to me, squinting down into the darkness. I know what he means. It's been a year now, since a few thousand people had their lives stopped, and we haven't forgotten.

"Always goes on," I say. "It'll go on when we're dead."

"Yeah," says Raph, and I feel the weight of a heavy hand on my shoulder. "But it goes on better when we're around."

I feel a brilliant smile stretch my face, screwing with muscles that weren't made for it. "Damn right, bro."

"Turtle Power!" It's Leo, whimsical, walking the edge of the roof, then springing a handstand onto a pile of boxes.

Turtle power. Rat power. We made a promise to the city and we're keeping it the best we can. I turn and eye Raph. "You want company for the movie?"

"Sure," he grins. "I'll buy the popcorn."

"Ooh! Extra large?" Mikey sticks his hopeful face into the conversation. Raph heaves another sigh.

"Yeah. And Milk Duds too." That last is for Leo, who is sidling up alongside, looking innocent.

"Schweet!"

We don our trench coats and fedoras and clamber down the fire escape. Move into the glittering eye of New York. Hey city, how ya doin? Just fine, Donatello. Crowded. A little dirty. You? Doing great, city. Doing great.



The End.

--notes--

1. This story was written Sept. 2, 2002. It does not intend any disrespect towards the tragedy which befell us a year ago. It's on my mind, y'know?
2. Discerning readers may note that the end exchange is stolen from the Sandman comic -- John Constantine has the same dialogue with London.

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