Silent. Calm. Still, like the forest.

Mikey crouched on the beam, his whitened eyes narrowed as he watched Foot soldiers move around below. Every distraction, every stray thought was pushed away as soon as it entered his mind. This was a mission more important than any they'd ever done, and no way was he screwing it up. Taking a deep, quiet breath, he ran Leo's words through his head again.

If nothing happens in twenty minutes, we're in. Any sign of trouble, send us a message and we retreat.

It had been almost twenty-five minutes now. Quick and quiet, Mikey began moving across the ceiling toward Shredder's main hall. It was a bit of a challenge keeping track of things across such a wide area, but he was quick enough. Besides, Sensei and his brothers didn't need anyone who could hold them up.

As he approached the room, the voices from inside became clear.

"… no reports of activity in the city."

Mikey's eyes narrowed at Tiger Claw's voice, but flew wide open at the next one.

"Good. See that the patrols remain vigilant."

What?! Shredder?! But… he was supposed to be in Japan!

"Of course, Master. But you need not have postponed your journey…"

"I will be the judge of that."

Mikey sat still, heart pounding, as he watched Shredder pace to the window and gaze out.

"I am certain Hamato Yoshi and his mutant students will move soon. They will come for Karai. They must not reach her before she returns to her senses."

Up in the rafters, Mikey clenched his teeth.

Before you shove more of those freaky worms in her brain, you mean!

Shredder stared out the window a while longer, then turned.

"Now, I must see my daughter."

Mikey almost fell from the beam as a rush of panic hit him. Catching himself just in time, he snatched his T-phone, but just as he was about to punch in a message his finger froze over the keys. Leo's voice suddenly echoed in his head again.

This is the best shot we have, so let's make it count.

Mikey couldn't ignore the sinking feeling in his gut. If they retreated now Shredder would make sure they never got a chance again, he knew it.

Master Splinter's face before they had separated suddenly appeared. Despite his urging for them to be safe, Mikey had seen the pleading in his eyes. If they came back only to tell him they'd failed…

With a deep breath, Mikey narrowed his eyes.

No. Not this time.

Heaving himself off the beam, the young ninja dropped into the room and landed neatly on the floor. Ignoring Tigerclaw's startled growl, he allowed a faint grin to cross his face.

"'Sup, dudes?"

Shredder gazed down at him, showing no emotion other than a slight widening of his eyes. He raised his hand, silencing the shouts from Tigerclaw and Fishface, then narrowed his eyes.

"So, I was correct. I suppose the others sent this one as a distraction."

Mikey snorted, making himself look amused.

"Shows how much you know. They don't even know I'm here. You want a fight? I'm here to oblige."

Shredder's eyes widened a little. For a minute Mikey thought he'd screwed up majorly, but then he heard a faint, cold chuckle.

"Your stupidity in thinking you can face me is almost amusing."

The sound of a blade clicking open drew Mikey's eyes to Fishface as the mutant stepped forward.

"Shall I take care of the freak, Master?"

Mikey reached for his chucks, but Shredder held up his hand again.

"No." His eyes took on a hateful gleam and his gauntlet blades emerged. "Any student of Hamato Yoshi will die by my hand."

Ignoring his pounding heart, Mikey whipped out his nunchucks. He was terrified, more than he'd probably ever been in his whole life, but he wouldn't show it. No way. If Shredder wanted to savor his fear, he'd have to drag it out kicking and screaming this time.

"Oh, yeah? Just come try it, Shred-head!"

"Come on, let's move!" Leo whispered. Behind him, Karai and his brothers moved swiftly and silently. He just managed to keep a wide smile from spreading across his face at the thought of how everything had gone so smooth. It was hard to believe, and it was almost over. He held up his hand as they reached the waste duct through which they had entered.

"Okay, let's call Mikey and get out of here."

He pulled out his Shell Phone and was just about to dial the number when a faint, all-too-familiar battle yell echoed across the walls.

The entire group froze, their faces blank. Karai's eyes widened, and a horrified whisper escaped Donnie.

"No, no, no…"

A faint creaking of leather was heard as Raph tightened his grip on his sais.

"What's that idiot…" he snarled. "We said no engagement!"

Leo felt cold horror creeping up his spine, but he pushed it back. He couldn't let himself be distracted by emotions now.

"Let's move, now!"

A hand grabbed his arm, making him turn to look at Karai.

"Wait! Every hall will be full of Foot soldiers, we'd never get there in time!"

Raph's eyes flashed like green fire as he stormed up to her.

"So what?! We just ditch him and hope he gets out in one piece?"

"Enough!" Leo hissed. He looked back at Karai, waiting.

"There's another way," she said. "A tunnel that runs through the building. Only Shredder and a few others know about it…"

Her words broke off in a startled gasp as Raph snatched her shoulder.

"And we're supposed to just trust you?! What do you think…"

"Raph!" Leo hauled him off, shoving him against the wall. "We're not doing this, understand? Not now!"

He stared at his brother with hard eyes, until the hothead grunted and looked toward the ground. Leo released his grip and turned back toward Karai.

"Alright, show us."

She nodded, then hurried back the way they'd come. The turtles followed, and soon they reached the dungeon where she had been. Leo saw Raph's jaw clench and was about to cut off any angry remarks when Karai hurried to a large vent on the wall.

"Here."

She ran her hand over the metal, her eyes narrowed in concentration, then pressed on one spot. There was a soft hissing sound, then the vent slid to the side to reveal a narrow corridor.

"This comes out right into the main hall," Karai said. "Come on, hurry!"

Leo nodded and gestured to the others to follow before plunging into the corridor behind her. The fast clanging of his brothers echoed behind him as he rushed after Karai, his jaw set and eyes narrowed. Once they got Mikey and got out of here, he would only keep Raph from killing him long enough to do it himself.

Eventually the sound of clashing metal came from up ahead, growing louder and louder as they hurried through the narrow space. Finally, a dim light appeared up ahead and another large vent came into view. Karai hurried up to it, and Leo's heart sank when she slammed a fist against it.

"Kuso!"

"What? What's wrong?"

Karai shoved against the door, grunting.

"The lock's been changed!"

A furious growl came from Raph, but then Donnie pushed forward and bent down to work the lock. Leo looked past him into the room below, and his heart dropped from his stomach to the floor. There, right in front of his eyes, was the very enemy they had taken such lengths to avoid. And facing him was the last person on earth that he wanted to see fighting the Shredder alone.

Mikey was whirling both nunchucks with unbelievable speed, matching each move Shredder made as they circled. When his face came into view, Leo's eyes widened. The expression on Mikey's face was dead serious, the blue of his eyes hidden beneath the white nictitating eyelids. He had never looked so focused, so determined. Leo heard Raph inhale sharply beside him, but couldn't look away from what was happening below.

Suddenly Shredder lunged forward. Mikey leaped, barely avoiding one of his blades as it sang over his head. Whirling in the air, he whipped his nunchucks forward and there was a loud clang as the chain wrapped around the blade. Snapping his arm to the side, he sent it whirling toward the floor. Shedder grunted as it embedded in the tiles, then barely pulled it out in time to block a blow aimed at his head. Weapons locked, the two opponents glared at each other, then Shredder shoved Mikey back.

"Persistent," he murmured as they began circling again. "It seems you are not as hopeless as everyone believes."

Despite the clear attempt to rattle him, Mikey only smirked.

"Full of surprises, dude."

Shredder's eyes narrowed.

"It hardly matters… you know you cannot win. Your rat master may do all he wishes, but there is nothing in you that can make a true warrior."

Leo clenched his teeth, his fists tightening, but the rush of anger turned into surprise when he heard Mikey chuckle.

"Man, you really are as dumb as you look."

Shredder froze. Mikey's back was to the vent, but Leo could picture the smirk on his face as he continued.

"You're not gonna get anywhere by tellin' me what I already know. Yeah, I'm not a real ninja, and I don't have what it takes to ever be one."

Leo stared in stunned disbelief, feeling as if he was rooted to the ground. Mikey didn't sound mad or even bitter… he just said it like it was a simple fact.

Like he really believes it.

A metallic ching echoed through the air, and the kusarigama blades leaped from Mikey's nunchucks. He began twirling them in wide arcs, sparks flying as the metal started to clang together.

"But that just means if someone needs to go down to take you out…"

The blades drew closer and closer together, sparks flying in a red shower, and Mikey shouted over the screeching grind of metal.

"It's gonna be me!"

With a fierce battle yell, he leaped and flung the spinning blades forward. Shredder barely managed to block, grunting as the screaming metal gouged deep scratches in his armor. Leo stared, so focused on the battle that he barely heard Raph's fist slam against the wall.

"Don, move!"

Donnie's voice was high and cracking like a little kid's.

"I'm trying, it's just…!"

The fist slammed again.

"Try harder!"

Leo ordered his voice not to break as he pried his eyes away from the battle below.

"Stop it! This isn't gonna do any good…"

Shredder's enraged shout snapped his attention back below. With a flash of sparks, his helmet clattered across the ground. Leo stared, hope flaring in his chest as one of Mikey's nunchuck chains snapped around Shredder's arms, then one of the kusarigama blades flashed toward his exposed head…

And halted centimeters from his face.

"I'm giving you one chance." Mikey's voice was cold and fierce. "Give up, now."

"What's he doing?" Raph hissed. Leo couldn't even answer, but he knew. Even though Mikey could be as fierce as any of them, he also had the biggest heart. No matter whose it was, he would never take a life unless he knew there was no other choice. Tense seconds that felt like hours passed, then a faint, bone-chilling chuckle drifted through the vent.

"Little fool… just as weak as ever."

A loud clanging sound rang through the room, then the chains holding the Shredder suddenly broke away in a shower of sparks. Mikey stumbled back, his startled look quickly hardening as he jumped and ducked, his every effort focused on avoiding the whirlwind of steel. A black cloud of dread filled Leo when he saw that the chains on both nunchucks were broken. Even the most skilled fighter couldn't hold his own for long against Shredder with a damaged weapon.

"Donatello!"

Don's trembling voice betrayed his own barely controlled panic.

"I'm almost there, just a little… got it!"

Tumblers clacked, and the door jerked open. Leo yanked out his weapons and charged through, just in time to see Shredder lunge forward. Another metallic clang split the air as Mikey blocked the gauntlet with his damaged weapons, stopping the blades bare centimeters from his chest.

Leo's split second of relief shattered as the second gauntlet flashed forward. A green blur shot past him, and Raph's desperate scream tore through the air.

"NO!"

There was the horrible sound of sharp metal plunging into flesh, a harsh grunt. The next thing that Leo saw was Mikey's stunned, uncomprehending face. Then he saw the blades driven into his left shoulder, their sharp tips emerging from the back.