Liar, liar, pants on fire…
Raph's own conscience taunted him as he sat in solitude at the breakfast table. He hadn't told Splinter the whole truth about his dream last night or the creature who had attacked him. Instead, he'd spun a tale of reliving the time Shredder had attacked them while they had been forced to live in April's apartment – seeing Leo's battered and barely conscious body being thrown through a window, fighting against The Foot Elite, retreating into the old cooler, trying not to panic while the building burned around them.
Splinter had believed every word that fell out of Raph's mouth. After patiently listening to his son speak for several minutes, the old rat had offered verbal comfort at length and a reminder that his door was always open should Raph need a confidant in the future. Hoping to avoid further conversation, Raph had feigned sleep following his father's speech. A soft hand had patted him on the shoulder and then he was left alone in the quiet darkness.
It was far from peaceful though. Just as Raph was drifting off for real, the gnarled face of his nighttime attacker had flashed in his mind, shocking him to full alertness with a loud gasp. His heart hammered wildly for several minutes while he tried to convince himself that the creature hadn't returned. Any hope for rest had disappeared entirely. He laid awake for over two hours, staring blankly at the wall, before he had decided that there was no point to staying in bed any longer. His feet had carried him to the kitchen where he brewed a pot of coffee. Mug in hand, Raph slouched into the nearest chair and sipped at the steaming beverage while his thoughts ran rampant.
Twice he got up to refill his cup.
…pants on fire…
Minute by minute, Raph's mood level dropped until he was scowling at the remnants of his coffee. The inability to sleep hadn't cancelled out his exhaustion. Despite the excess amount of caffeine flowing through his body his eyelids began to droop. He didn't fight it. Instead, he let his eyes close and lowered his head to his left arm that was resting on the table.
His dark green fingers were still clutching the handle of his cup when Leonardo found him sleeping some thirty minutes later.
Of all the people that could have been occupying the kitchen at this early of an hour, Leo certainly wasn't expecting it to be Raph. The sai-wielder was a notorious night owl who could easily sleep past noon if Splinter would ever let him. Understandably, Leo was concerned to see his brother passed out at the table and especially since it was only a few short hours ago that Leo had to pull a screaming Raph from the clutches of what had obviously been a hellish nightmare.
Stepping softly across the floor, Leo stopped at Raph's chair.
"…Raph…" he called softly. Placing a hand on his sibling's left shoulder, Leo leaned in close. "…Raphael…"
In hindsight, it had been a very unwise thing to do. Raph's eyes flew open at his brother's touch, unprepared to find a face mere inches from his own, leering at him in the semi-darkened kitchen. Yelping in fright, Raph jerked away with enough force that he teetered backwards in his chair for a brief second before he and the furniture crashed into the floor. His mug was knocked from his hand in the process and shattered on the stones right next to his head, creating a small puddle of cold coffee around the broken pieces.
"Raph!" Leo's expression was sheepish as he knelt beside the downed turtle. "Are you okay?"
"Get the fuck away from me!" Raph snarled and shoved Leo out of his personal space. Rolling to his right, he pushed himself up into a sitting position and glared at his brother. "Think yer being funny, asshole?!"
"I wasn't trying to scare you!" Leo insisted hurriedly. "I was just checking on you!"
The sai-wielder got to his feet, abandoning both his chair and his broken mug. "I don't need your goddamn fake concern!"
Raph's words stung. Leo continued to kneel on the floor, his mouth slightly agape, trying to formulate a response. After a few seconds, he also stood and cautiously approached his aggravated sibling.
"It's not fake, Raph," he insisted calmly. "Hearing you scream last night…it was the worst sound I've ever heard…I was imagining a scene far worse than the one I ran in on…and then you told us that it was because of a nightmare that you were on the floor and bleeding from a cut on your face? You've never reacted that badly to a nightmare before." Leo placed a comforting hand on Raph's right forearm. "Something's been bothering you for weeks. I can help you deal with it if you'd just-…"
"I ain't dealing with anything that'd make me want yer help," the hothead interrupted in a hiss. Eyes narrowing, he yanked his arm free and batted his big brother aside. "Now leave me the hell alone."
Raph stomped out of the kitchen, ignoring Leo's attempts to call him back. He wanted complete solitude and automatically headed for his bedroom. Halfway there, he came to an abrupt halt. A sudden dread had settled into his stomach and the very idea of returning to the place where his dreams tormented him sent a tremor of fear through his core.
Thinking fast, Raph altered his route and sped off for the garage. Once the door slammed shut, Raph made his way over to the old leather couch tucked into the far corner. He and Don had salvaged the thing months ago to create a hangout spot in the garage since they both liked to spend a healthy portion of their free time there. Now he had a renewed sense of appreciation for the beaten down furniture as he plopped heavily onto its battered cushions.
A throbbing pain had settled into his head. Grimacing, Raph tried to soothe it by rubbing a hand over his tired face. His forefinger grazed one of the bandages covering the cut on his cheek. The open skin stung dully as Raph traced its length and the sensation brought the image of the blonde-haired creature to his thoughts once more. Raph's stomach gave an unpleasant lurch and he hastily removed his hand from his face.
Raph wanted so badly to believe that the monster was not real. There had to be a reason – a genuine, logical, legitimate reason – for this endless onslaught of nightmares. Glancing around the garage, he spotted the laptop that Don kept handy sitting on the nearby workbench. Raph rose and retrieved it, powering it on as he settled back into the cushions.
Opening the web browser, he chewed his lip while he contemplated what to type into the search bar. His overlarge fingers pecked out the phrase "causes for nightmares" and hit Enter. Hundreds of results generated in a fraction of a second. For simplicity's sake, he clicked on the one at the top of the list.
It took him to a website that claimed to be a source of trustworthy health and medical information. Raph skimmed the first few paragraphs which provided a lengthy definition of nightmares complete with various examples. He stopped scrolling to read more carefully when his bloodshot eyes saw the question: What Causes Nightmares in Adults? The further down the page he went, the deeper his frown got.
Eating before bed increases metabolism, signaling the brain to be more active.
Maybe if he was Mikey. The doofus never seemed to stop eating, but Raph couldn't even recall the last time he'd indulged in a midnight snack.
Drugs that act on chemicals in the brain such as prescription antidepressants or narcotics have been linked to nightmares.
Strike two. Don practically had to force-feed any kind of medication. And he certainly wasn't some damn druggie. He'd seen the miserable wretches wandering the streets of the city either doped out of their minds or jonesing for a fix so bad that they were willing to do anything to get it. That kind of lifestyle had never appealed to him.
Withdrawal from medications, drugs, or alcohol may lead to nightmares.
No meds. No drugs. A few beers with Casey a couple times a month hardly made him an alcoholic. He couldn't possibly be experiencing any symptoms of withdrawal.
Sleep deprivation or sleep disorders including sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome (RLS).
Well, fuck, he wouldn't be sleep deprived if it weren't for these damn nightmares! Raph clicked on the links to sleep apnea and RLS, read the risk factors and symptoms for each disorder, and eliminated himself as a sufferer of either. Yawning wide and loud, he returned to the original web page.
Psychological triggers such as stress, anxiety, depression, or PTSD can lead to chronic, recurrent nightmares.
Of course. If there was nothing wrong with his body then there had to be something wrong with his head. Sure, being a mutant turtle hiding in the sewers by day and engaging in bloody battles by night wasn't a glamorous lifestyle, but it hadn't traumatized him into a constant state of stress, anxiety, or depression. At worst, it made him a moody fucking teenager and what the hell was abnormal about that?
The creak of the garage door pulled Raph's attention from the computer screen. Donatello stepped inside, glanced around, and turned towards the couch. Feeling a pang of annoyance, Raph quickly clicked on a bookmark that had nothing to do with self-diagnosing his sleep problems.
"Hey, Raph," the genius greeted as he took a seat beside his brother. "What are you doing?"
Raph shrugged his shoulders. "Just looking at parts for my bike. Ain't been having any luck finding what I need at the junkyard ta rebuild the engine so I thought I'd see how rich I'd hafta be ta afford 'em brand new."
"Sounds depressing," Donnie commented, leaning over to look at the motors that his fellow mechanic was admiring.
"It keeps me humble," Raph replied to which Don chuckled. Lifting his arms above his head in a stretch, he yawned again. "What're ya doing up here, brainiac?"
"Checking on you," Don stated. He knew Raph wouldn't appreciate him beating around the bush – the best tactic for interacting with his impatient, temperamental sibling was to be upfront. "How's that cut?"
The hothead eyed the scientist for a moment then scoffed in irritation. "Leo put ya up ta this, didn't he?"
"Nope," Done denied with a shake of his head. "I'm here by my own volition. In no way did the fact that you yelled at Leo and more or less told him where to stick it this morning influence my decision to seek you out and inquire about your welfare."
"Figures he'd go whining ta ya about our conversation in the kitchen."
"He didn't have to. I wouldn't be surprised if people on the surface heard the ruckus you guys were making."
"It's his fault," Raph grumbled. Closing the laptop, he moved it to the empty couch cushion on his left and folded his arms across his chest. "He shouldn't have woken me up the way he did."
"Why were you sleeping in the kitchen?" Don asked, trying to divert Raph from his animosity towards Leo. He had long ago accepted that one of the many hats he wore in the family was that of a mediator between his red and blue-masked brothers. It was damn exhausting at times, but Don had it down to an art. "The table can't be very comfortable."
"I got up ta eat breakfast and fell asleep at the table 'cause I was still tired. Sue me. It's not like we've never found ya passed out there."
"I take it you didn't sleep very well the rest of the night?"
Raph stared silently down at his knees, knowing where Don's questions were headed. He could tell Don the truth about his nightmare woes and the genius would probably think up a sound explanation and remedy in no time flat. Yet, something was making Raph hesitate.
"No," he finally admitted. "I dozed a bit, but I couldn't seem ta get comfortable."
Donnie nodded. "What about before your nightmare? Did you fall asleep right away when you went to bed or did you toss and turn?"
"Went out like a light," Raph said, his gaze still anchored on his kneepads. "Don't really remember rolling around… Subconsciously, he reached up to touch the scratch on his face again. "…or falling out of bed…"
"So, no idea how you got that cut, huh?" Don wondered, watching Raph stroke his cheek.
The hothead's hand froze. Here was a second chance to ease his troubles. A voice inside his head was screaming at him to tell Don about the strange monster that had clawed him. He could feel the confession forming on the tip of his tongue.
"Not a damn clue," he blurted, changing his tune at the last second. "Just turtle luck I guess."
Liar, liar, pants on fire.
Guilt and shame were twisting Raph's guts into a hard knot. He squirmed in his seat, uncomfortably aware of how hot and cramped the garage had suddenly grown. The idea of springing from the couch and sprinting out the door came to mind.
"How have you been sleeping in general lately?" Don continued. "Do you sleep through the night?"
"Nah, I ain't been having any trouble sleeping."
"Do you dream a lot?"
Raph shook his head fervently. "Last night was the first dream I'd had in a while."
"Raph…" Donnie began but cut off when his brother abruptly stood.
"We should probably head down ta training," the hothead suggested, staring straight ahead as he headed for the door.
"…I...uh…but training doesn't start for another fifteen minutes!" the genius protested after checking his watch.
"Yeah, well, ya know how Leo is," Raph replied hallway to the exit. "Early is on time and on time is late."
Don pursed his lips as he watched Raph disappear from view. A few things bothered him about his brother's behavior, first and foremost being that Raph had never once cared about pleasing Leo through displays of punctuality. Second, he had a nagging suspicion that Raph wasn't being entirely honest. Their relationship had always been candid plus Don knew that Raph confided more in him than Leo and Mikey combined so the hothead's evasiveness now and, Don suddenly recalled, the last time he had pried for information about Raph's nightmares was definitely concerning. Finally, Don had to wonder what kind of dream would be so horrible that Raph felt he had to keep it to himself.
Glancing left, Don spied the laptop his brother had been using. Raph might be trying to ignore the obvious problem he had, but Don could not. There was research to be done. Unfortunately, it would have to wait until the morning's training session was over. Rising from his seat with a sigh, he departed for the stairs.
Raph's stint in the dojo lasted only as long as practice. The moment it was over he darted off to the shower and locked the door to ensure his solitude. Normally, he would have prolonged his workout by a few sets with his weights or a few rounds with his punching bag, but the looks Leo, Don, and Master Splinter had been giving him throughout training clearly said that they had every intention of interrogating him further at the first possible chance.
He stood under the steaming hot blast for twenty minutes, devising a plan to successfully avoid all three of his curious family members. No matter what room he went to, he'd be backing himself into a corner. What he really wanted to do was leave the lair entirely – escape into the sewers and run until he was too tired to think or care about anything.
Then maybe he could get some peaceful sleep.
Shutting off the water, Raph snatched up a towel and dried himself. If he moved fast enough, he might have a chance at sneaking out. He dressed quickly, tying on his mask as he exited the bathroom. It was suspiciously quiet throughout the lair and Raph's eyes swept the vast space rapidly, wary for those who would try to stop him.
The main door loomed nearer and just when he thought his plan would succeed, Leo emerged from the kitchen and cleared his throat loudly.
Raph froze mid-step and swore under his breath. He could feel his brother's eyes boring into his shell like they were attempting to pin him in place. The wild streak of his personality was urging him to be rebellious, to make a break for the sewers, to prove that he could outrun the mighty alpha Leonardo.
"Raphael…" Leo called, his voice edged with warning. "…can we talk?"
The question spurred the hothead to action. Shooting a defiant glare over his shoulder at Leo, he marched through the exit and into the surrounding tunnel. His pace quickened as he left the light that was pouring out of the lair's open door. Taking a left at the first intersection, Raph broke into a run. He fully expected his big brother to come tearing after him, but he was not going to slow himself down by looking back.
Raph ran with a vague awareness of where he was going. Black mud caked his feet all the way up to his ankles. Grit and grime was flecked across his sweaty body. A stich had formed in his side and still he pressed on. If he was already in trouble for leaving, he might as well make the lecture and punishment worth it.
And the longer he stayed out, the longer he put off telling any more lies.
Several miles later, Raph couldn't ignore the screams of protest coming from his legs anymore. He collapsed against the tunnel wall and slid to the ground. Head hanging, he sucked in air through his mouth while his muscles spasmed painfully.
The sound of his panting faded gradually and was overpowered by the gurgle of water trickling down the middle of the sewer pipe. Raph twisted around and pressed his carapace to the mossy wall. Despite the ache in his body, he felt better – like he had left all of his stress behind at the lair. A huge sigh escaped him as his eyes flicked shut. He'd rest here for a few more minutes before heading back home.
Slumber fell upon him so hard and fast that he did not hear the slow approach of wet footsteps or sense the presence that came to a stop right beside him.
The new arrival's identity was concealed beneath a trailing black cloak. They stood motionless for a time, silently observing the mutant turtle sleeping on the floor. Raising their pale hands, they grabbed the edges of their hood and lowered it.
White-blonde hair cascaded like a waterfall down to the stranger's knees. It seemed to have a life of its own, pulsing in waves as it floated and swayed around a scarred face – a face that housed a pair of glittering black eyes. Mouth stretching into a tooth-baring grin, the creature of Raph's nightmares kneeled slowly at his side and leaned in until a mere inch of space separated them.
Its gaze wandered over the ninja's strong features, finally settling on the long scratch it had inflicted. With its right hand, it reached out and stroked his wound lovingly.
The cold touch roused Raph instantly and this time it wasn't his brother peering at him when he opened his eyes. His heart began to slam against his ribcage as panic descended upon him. A scream rose in his throat, but a finger pressed to his lips rendered him silent.
"It's pointless," the creature stated with a voice that was softly feminine, not the harsh rasp Raph had expected. "As long as I'm with you, no one can hear you scream."
Breathing hard, Raph tried to shove her away. His limbs were like lead though and refused to do his bidding. Her roiling hair spilled over his arms and shoulders, caressing his dark green skin and making him shudder. She giggled – a high-pitched and sinister sound that echoed throughout the tunnel. The finger lifted from Raph's mouth, reinstating his ability to speak.
"…wh-…what the hell a-are ya…?" he stammered in a hushed tone. "…what do ya want f-from me…?
"What I am is far too complex for you to comprehend…" she replied. "…though I am called Adai." Once again, her fingers ran the length of Raph's cut. He grimaced as fresh pain shot through his face. His reaction made her laugh a second time. "What I want is to feed on your fear, your misery…" She dug her nails into his cheek, drawing blood and earning a yelp from her victim. "…and your pain."
"Why?" Raph asked weakly, choking back a sob. "Why me?"
Adai's smile grew as a few scared tears leaked from the turtle's eyes. "Your body is strong…" She moved her bloodied nails to his forehead and grazed his brow. "…but your mind is vulnerable. It's full of thoughts and memories that are saturated with suffering and despair. I like it in there…you can sustain me for a long time…"
"…a-and then what?" Raph wondered watching as her hands moved down to his upper arms.
Giggling even louder, Adai shifted until her mouth was right next to his ear and whispered: "You die."
Her grip around his biceps suddenly tightened. Eyes screwing shut, Raph howled in pain, certain his arms were going to break under her crushing touch with her nails hooked into his skin. He felt his body lifted from the ground and hurled through the air. Raph braced for a hard landing.
It didn't come.
Raph's eyes opened to a view of the garage ceiling. He was stretched across the couch, a pillow under his head and a blanket tucked under his chin. Sitting up quickly, he looked around frantically only to discover that he was completely alone.
Something was dripping onto the blanket that had fallen into his lap. Raph glanced down and saw perfect crimson circles staining the light blue fabric. Automatically, he reached up and touched the side of his face. Blood was oozing from the cut there. The sai-wielder extended his hand to look at the red-liquid coating his fingers. In doing so, he caught a glimpse of the hand-shaped bruise encircling his arm.
With a quiet whimper, Raph leaned over the side of the couch and retched.
Note: Information on nightmares, their causes, and their treatments was provided by and