Five years later
The shouting alone would have been enough to rouse the genius turtle, but Mei, Bruno, and Faith were never the types to half-do any job. They completed their mission by jumping on Donatello's bed and nudging his chest. He suppressed a grin and pretended to be asleep. Suddenly, he shot upwards and grabbed all three at once, rolling them around and twisting them up in the blankets as all four of them roared with laughter. "What! What do you want, you bunch of chuckleheads?"
"Today's the day!" Mei announced. "You're taking us to the United Nations for that speech!"
"Yes," Faith affirmed. "That booooring speech! But then, we get to see Auntie Valeria!"
"And if we're good, you said we could go to the movies afterward!" Bruno cheered.
"When you're good," Don said firmly. "Remember that people will be watching you. They always do when we're out in a crowd. Don't give them a reason to think that you don't belong up there."
"Will you make us pancakes?" Bruno requested. He didn't really care what anyone thought about him, and was unwilling to commit to behaving for that long. The sewers were fine by him anyway. "Can mine be turtle-shaped?"
Donatello stretched his back as he got out of bed. It had never fully recovered from its pregnancy-induced torture, but it was 95% better, and that was good enough for him. "Four orders of turtle pancakes coming right up."
The announcement was met with cheers.
Valeria fidgeted in her chair, trying to catch a glimpse of Donatello from across the crowded room. They'd kept in close touch over the years, despite their busy schedules, but it had been six months since she had seen him, and the children were growing so fast. The last time they'd met was in the sewers, but now Don and his kind were free to walk the streets like regular people. He had confessed to her that everyone was still getting used to it. He was an extremely protective father, and it was rare for him to take the kids out, but today was a special day.
Finally, she saw him sitting in a row with his brothers, the kids sandwiched between them. Valeria was struck by how well-behaved the children were. Mei was usually obedient, but Faith and Bruno could get pretty feisty. They were all sitting in their seats with their hands folded in their laps, staring straight ahead like perfect little angels. Don must have really put the fear of God into them!
When Bruno saw her, he pointed and waved enthusiastically, only to have Mei push his arm down and whisper something into his ear. Faith rolled her eyes so hard that Valeria was able to see it from across the room. When Mei was finished lecturing Bruno, she offered Valeria a brisk, adult-like nod. Valeria had to chuckle at how big their little personalities were. Don caught her eye, smiled, and shrugged.
A hush fell over the room as Bishop took the stage. He'd rehearsed this speech in front of Valeria earlier in the week, so she didn't feel the need to listen word-for-word. Bishop said all the right things - that aliens and mutants had been living peacefully amongst us for centuries now. He spoke about the industrious nature of the Utrom, and how seamlessly they had integrated themselves into this world. He mentioned the turtles' many heroic exploits and even described how integral Donatello had been to creating the Earth Defense System. Bishop outlined all of the accomplishments since Earth's non-human residents had come out of hiding this past year. He described his vision of the future, as earth learned to welcome visitors of all kind, and began to focus on intergalactic travel and alliances.
After the speeches were over, Valeria fought her way across the crowd to Donatello and his brothers.
"So that's how Bishop kicks off his political career," Leonardo was saying.
Valeria joined the conversation. "I still don't believe that Bishop is going to become one of Earth's greatest leaders."
Michelangelo winked. "You just wait and see."
Everyone greeted Valeria with hugs. They'd all gotten to know her through the years. She often stopped by during the holidays, or even just when she had vacation days to burn. The group made small talk for a few minutes.
Eventually, Raphael grabbed Bruno and put him on his shoulders. "Well, this shindig is way too formal for me. Besides, the kids and I need to get going if we want to be at the movie theater before the previews start."
"Oh, I'm tagging along," Michelangelo proclaimed. "They've been good for way too long, so they're bound to start acting up soon. You'll need reinforcements."
"How is putting me in charge of a fourth child going to help matters?" Raphael teased.
"I'll keep Uncle Mikey in line," Mei offered.
"You're not in charge of the grownups!" Faith barked. "You're not in charge of any of us, Miss Perfect! Jeez!"
Mei maintained her dignified demeanor and offered no response.
Bruno looked at Leonardo pleadingly. "Can you come to the movies with us, Papa Sensei? Maybe sit between me and the girls?"
Leonardo laughed. "When you put it that way, how could I refuse?" Leo looked to the other adult turtles. "We should let them run off some energy in the park before we coop them up again. Then, we can take them out to dinner after and have them home by bedtime. Maybe they could sleep over at the Lair tonight. Would that be okay by you, Don?"
Don's mouth hung open for a moment. His brothers hadn't previously mentioned anything about babysitting tonight. "Uh, sure," he stammered.
Leonardo slapped Don on the back and shoved him meaningfully towards Valeria.
Valeria watched the group leave. "Did I do something to offend someone?" she asked.
"I don't think so. I guess they just want us to have some time to catch up without the kids constantly vying for our attention." Don blushed a little and rubbed the back of his neck. "I might've expressed a little too much enthusiasm about getting to be able to see you in person."
"It's been a while," Valeria agreed. "I'm happy to have an excuse to hang out with you again too. Want to take a walk?"
Donatello readily agreed. Being in crowded, public, enclosed spaces still made him a little nervous sometimes. He preferred being outside. Once it was just the two of them, those old familiar butterflies made their appearance. All these years later, they still hadn't let up. Don wracked his brain for something interesting or charming to say.
"I've been keeping my eyes out for an apartment," Don told Val as they began to stroll. "We should be able to do better than the sewer, now that we can live out in the open."
"Just you and the kids, or everyone?" Valeria asked.
"Everyone. We're hoping to find a mutant-friendly building with multiple vacant apartments on the same floor," Don explained.
"With all the back-pay and reward money Bishop gave you, you ought to be able to buy your own building," Valeria commented.
"I am considering buying and renovating a penthouse, then breaking it down into a series of private suites," Don admitted. "Plenty of room for everyone, privacy when we need it, shared spaces for when we don't, and easy escape onto the rooftops."
"Sounds like the way to go," Valeria replied. "Let me know when you pick out a building. I'm looking for a place in the City too."
Don snapped his head around. "What?!"
Valeria grinned from ear to ear. "Now that the Earth Protection Force is working out of the United Nations, Bishop is transferring me here."
Without thinking about what he was doing, Don grabbed his friend by the waist, hoisted her into the air, and swung her around like he had seen in the movies. It was something that he did with his kids all the time, and it just felt so natural now. "What?! Why didn't you tell me?!"
Valeria laughed as Don effortlessly spun her. "I was waiting to tell you in person!"
Donatello realized what he had done and put her back on her feet. People were staring, not just because of his cheesy display, but also because non-humans were still not welcomed by everyone. Don put his head down, placed his hands in his pockets where they couldn't betray him again, and began walking more briskly. Valeria looked behind them, to where a rather large gentleman and his friend were glaring at them. "Oh, let them stare," Valeria hissed.
Don was shocked to feel Valeria's arm come around his elbow. He pulled his hand out of his pocket, and her fingers slid downwards, then entangled themselves with his own.
Don's eyes widened. Valeria was holding his hand! He squeezed, just to make sure that this was really happening. Sure enough, she squeezed back.
"I'm tired of dancing around this. It's been six years now, Don."
"Dancing around what?" a thoroughly confused Donatello wondered.
"Our feelings for each other," Valeria answered.
"You have feelings for me?" Don blathered. "How?"
"What do you mean 'how?'" Valeria giggled. "You're the sweetest, strongest, kindest, bravest, and most intelligent person that I know. How could I not?"
"Have you seen me?" Donatello quipped.
Valeria shrugged. "I like the way you look." Her smile turned to a frown. "Wait a minute. Was that your gentle way of blowing me off?"
Donatello gasped. "No! Of course not! I'm not blowing you off!"
Valeria put a hand over her heart. "Oh, thank goodness. I'm not used to taking the lead with these things, and for a minute there I thought that I was doing it for nothing."
"You're the best, Val," Donatello blurted. "I always just assumed that you knew how I felt about you. It's not like I hid it very well. I just… never suspected that you felt the same way about me."
"You were rather transparent, back in the beginning," Valeria chuckled. "And I'm afraid that you'll be disappointed to find that I don't taste like a mocha caramel latte."
Don ran a hand down his face. "I was really hoping that you'd forgotten about that by now," he said through his fingers.
Valeria bumped into his side. "How could I? But anyway, I was worried that you might have lost interest since then. You never really made a move."
Don looked her in the eyes for a moment as they continued to walk. "I know. For a long time, I really wanted to, but you lived so far away. I was busy with the kids and holed up in the sewer. I always assumed that you didn't reciprocate my feelings, but even if you did want to be with me, what sort of life could I have offered you?" Don paused, then added. "Plus, let's not forget that you had a few boyfriends along the way. Boyfriends you were more than happy to tell me about!"
"You and I were friends!" Valeria defended. "I told you everything. Why would I hide when I was dating?"
"It just seemed like you were trying to signal that you weren't interested in me like that," Don answered quietly. "Hearing about your dating life… it kind of hurt."
Valeria squeezed his hand. "At that point, I didn't think that you wanted a relationship with me. It never occurred to me that it would've hurt you. That's the last thing in the world that I ever wanted to do."
"So, if you suspected that I was happy staying as friends, what's changed that's provoking this conversation now?" Don asked.
"Geography, mostly," Valeria answered. "It feels we might finally have a chance to make this work now that we'll be in the same city. Plus, the kids are older. They don't need as much of your time these days. And, with you being able to walk freely now, they'll be able to have more people in their lives. It won't be as big of a deal, having me around."
"Now that I don't need to stay hidden, I guess that I could take you out on the town and try to show you a good time?" Don said hopefully.
"Maybe," Valeria flirted. "You'll never know if you don't ask!"
"I have to ask?!" Don blurted. He felt like that was exactly what he had just done.
"That's how it works," Valeria sang. "I'm doing all the heavy lifting here, and I said all of those nice things about you. You should at least be the one to ask!"
"I've never asked anyone out before," Don faltered. "I'm a 25-year-old father of three, and I've never even been on a date, or had my first kiss. Heck, this is my first time holding hands!"
Valeria looked at him expectantly, offering no help other than another tender squeeze. It was then that he realized it was all laid out before him. His kids considered Valeria an aunt. His brothers approved of her. His own feelings for her had only grown through the years, and now he knew that she was carrying a torch for him as well. Everything he wanted was his for the taking. All he had to do was ask.
Don stopped walking, took Valeria's other hand and looked deep into her sparkling brown eyes. He gulped and wondered how, after daydreaming about this moment for so long, he didn't have a speech rehearsed. But, he had to say something, so he did his best to give voice to what was in his heart.
"Valeria, from our very first meeting, I knew that you were special. You were so kind to me when everyone else saw me as a freak. You're kind to everyone, and you're so brave. Despite what happened to your parents, you're not afraid to put yourself right into the thick of things. And, with all the serious stuff going on around you, you always remember to have fun - to fight for that purple streak that makes you you, just as hard as you fight for the safety and security of this planet… I don't know what I'm doing, here, I know nothing about romance. All I know is how you make me feel, and how good the two of us are together."
Donatello paused for a moment and thought about how his own life had begun, how his children had come into being, and how maybe he was starting something just as important now. Life is really nothing but a series of little coincidences, so many of them completely beyond our control, but in the end it all adds up to something so much greater.
He cleared his throat. "But, while I might not know much about love, there's a lot of things that I've experienced that no one else has, and I've come to believe that there's some sort of purpose to life, that everything happens in its own time, and for a reason. I know enough about the future to know that it's always changing, that time is flowing like a river that might redirect its course at any moment. You can drive yourself crazy trying to figure out what's coming next, or where it all might lead, but, ultimately, all the best things that have ever happened to me have come about at unexpected times and in completely unexpected ways. You're someone that I absolutely never expected. But, something tells me that we were always meant to find one another, and maybe even to ride the river together from here on out."
Don ran out of words, he hoped that he had done that right.
Valeria's face was unreadable for a moment. Suddenly, she burst out laughing. She quickly put a hand over her mouth to staunch it, took a breath, and then released it. "That was really beautiful, Don. But, wow, it was a lot!"
Don leaned his forehead against hers. He couldn't help but chuckle too, as he realized that he had overdone it. "I wanted it to be special," he explained. "Like you said, we've been dancing around this for years."
"It was special," she whispered. She lifted her hands to rub his upper arms. "I'll never forget it, sweet turtle, but despite all of the craziness that we've been through together, things between us have always been nice and easy. How did you say all of those amazing things, and then forget the simplest part?"
Donatello tilted his head. "Which was what?"
Valeria was glowing with warmth and good humor. She had a way of doing that, and Donatello found it captivating. "Actually asking me out on a date!" she answered.
"Oh." Don chuckled. "Well then, taking everything that I just said into account, would you like to go out to dinner with me, Valeria?"
Valeria gave him a kiss on the cheek, perilously close to the corner of his mouth. Don closed his eyes and then opened them in wonder as she pulled back away. "I'd be delighted, Donatello," she answered.
The two strolled off into the vast and unknowable future, finally hand-in-hand. As a wise friend once said, some families are made in the most unusual ways.
Well, that's all she wrote. I'd like to take this final chance to thank everyone who has favorited, followed, and left a review. You guys are the best! I'd also like to thank those of you who have been silently reading along, as page-views have mattered to me as well. I never expected this story to garner much interest, so having you all along for the ride has meant a lot to me.
I had tinkered with writing a sequel to this story, but I doubt that it will ever see the light of day. Suffice to say, Donatello and Valeria go on to have a long and happy life together. Donatello does buy a building and makes the whole thing alien- and mutant-friendly. The turtles live on the upper floors. There are apartments below, and the street level houses a popular all-are-welcome pub that Raphael and Mikey run, and a dojo that Leo runs. It's the guys' way of integrating mutants and aliens into society. Valeria stays with EPF, and tasks herself with keeping an eye on Bishop to make sure that he doesn't do anything too crazy. Donnie and April go on to found O'Neil Tech, and spend their days dreaming up and building cool new inventions together.
So, happily ever after for everyone!