Author's Notes: This is the final chapter of this story. I would like to thank everyone who provided feedback as I excised this plot bunny: Reinbeauchaser, Sailor Vegeta, BubblyShell22, Lioness Goddess, Fallen Hikari, pacphys, Reluctant Dragon, and dear Sassy who has read all my ramblings.
The bell jangled, and I struggled with my nearly overwhelming desire to rip it out of the ceiling and stomp on it. Instead of moving to the aquariums, I stayed near the front windows and looked out at the quiet street. Behind me, Mark was preparing to leave. I thought about stopping him, and keeping him here to see if it made a difference, but then I would likely have two dead people instead of just one.
Outside, someone was walking down the sidewalk. The figure stopped, and turned towards me. I gasped aloud as a familiar face approached the window.
"Master," I whispered. He raised a hand and pressed it to the glass, fingers splayed out.
"My son," he called, his voice muffled by the barrier. Mark stepped out the door, and Master Splinter studied me with sad eyes.
I moved my hand to the glass, and slid my palm so that it covered his. "Please help me," I begged. His whiskers drooped.
"You have always had the heart of a warrior. I have never doubted it," Splinter said, sounding as though he was speaking underwater. "But your mind travels the paths of cool logic and rational thinking. I have admired this in you, but it is time to take a different road." I watched his dark, glittering eyes, trying to find the meaning in his words. "It is time to follow your heart, my son."
The front door banged open, and Splinter vanished from the window. I turned around, pulling out my bo and starting to fight while on autopilot. One of the men was already at the counter. I could not save Alex this time ...
My mind turned over my master's words, as I swept my opponent's legs out from under him. He fell back against a large tank, and it crashed to ground spraying glass in all directions. There was barely room to swing my staff in this space, and I had to be on the lookout for the guns.
"Hey, freak!" The shout drew my attention to the counter. One of the men -- the one who entered the store first each time -- held Alex before him. He offered me a grin of pure malice, and then wrapped his arm around her head. I knew what he was going to do. The sickening crack brought me into darkness yet again.
The doorknob was in my hand.
The bell rang.
Last time. It had to be the last time. I didn't hesitate or even look at the aquariums. I barely heard the script play out. I stepped over to the end of the counter, and waited, my head down. I could feel a growl growing inside – under my plastron. It seemed to vibrate through my body. I would not watch her die again.
Mark stepped out the door. I rounded the counter.
"Hey," Alex shouted, protesting. I shoved her back against the wall with a hand to her chest. Her head rocked against the poster, and she looked at me with genuine terror.
"Last time," I snarled. Her heart was beating wildly under my hand. "Get down on the floor."
Alex dropped down, trembling, and curled into a ball against the wall. I vaulted over the counter, and charged through the store. I shoved displays and aquariums out of the way. The small space rang with the crash and clatter of things breaking. I threw my shoulder against a high shelf filled with large bags of dog food. I grunted as I toppled it over onto a large aquarium. Glass glittered from every inch of floor. I flung the table of cat toys aside. It hit the counter with a violent crunch, and sparkling little balls tumbled over the edge to join the shards of glass.
Swinging my bo experimentally, I bared my teeth in a grim smile. Now I had room to fight. I held the weapon loosely in my right hand, and waited for the minutes to count down. The growl inside continued to grow, and as the door was flung open, it grew to a howl of fury. I attacked the first man before he had time to draw his gun. He dropped to the floor with a thud and the crunch of broken glass.
The others entered more cautiously. I stood back and waited for them to approach. They drew their guns from coat pockets. I held my ground until they had cleared the threshold, and then I swung at them in a feint. One of them fired, but I was already low and taking out the legs of the two closest to me. They fell to the floor, one of them screaming in pain as shards of glass cut his palms.
I turned, hearing the sound of the safety being clicked off on an automatic weapon. I stared down the gleaming black barrel at the man holding the weapon. His hands were shaking. I took one small, sliding step.
The sound of the gun going off in the small shop was enormous. Deafening. Alex's scream echoed just behind it. The store vanished into total darkness.
I opened my eyes to something new. I had to blink several times to believe that it was actually concrete above me, and no bell. Only the distant sound of rushing water greeted my ears.
A wide green face, blue mask, and worried eyes slid into view. Leo.
"Did I save her?" I asked. My voice was raspy and weak. I tried to clear it, but my mouth was so dry.
"It's okay," Leo answered, but not directly to my question. He slipped an arm under my shoulders and lifted me a little. He had a glass of water in his other hand, and I drank greedily. Some of the liquid spilled, and Leo set me back down to get a towel. He wiped off the water.
"Leo …," I started.
"Just rest, Donnie," Leo ordered. My eyelids were so heavy I couldn't force them to stay open. Real sleep swept over me, taking me under.
I woke again to find the concrete still above me. I was relieved anew to find it wasn't the pet store. I turned my head carefully – there was a dull ache inside my skull – and noted the desk against the far wall, the piles of computer parts, and the crowded bookshelves. I was home, and in my own room. The door opened, and Leo stepped in carrying a glass of water and a pill bottle.
He set the items on my bedside table, and dragged over a chair. He sat down next to the bed, and studied my face. "You okay?" He questioned.
I nodded, but that made my head throb. "Hurts, but I'll live." Leo smiled a little at that.
"It should hurt. You've been out for almost three days."
My eyes went round with awe. Three days. The pet store. Alex.
"Leo, the pet store? What happened?" I tried to sit up, and finally struggled into a leaning position against the pillows.
"Burned to the ground," Leo responded darkly. He shifted a pillow for me. "A shelf fell over on you. Bags of dog food, I think, but it was pretty heavy. Mike and I pulled you out." Leo handed me the glass of water. "Master Splinter thinks you have a concussion."
A concussion. I wanted to ask about Alex, but the words stuck in my throat. What if she was really dead?
"Alex?" I queried at last, my body tightened as though waiting for a blow. Leo replied with a blank look. "The girl who worked there," I clarified. Leo's face registered his understanding.
"She's fine," he stated. I searched his expression for more information. "Barely a scratch, Don," he continued when he saw that I was doubtful. Something inside me relaxed a little, but a minor tremble had picked up in my arms. "You don't remember?" Leo asked. I shook my head. "You shoved her out the door -- practically threw her at Raph. Just before the shelf fell on you." Leo regarded me closely, clearly perplexed.
I put my head in my hands. Safe. She was safe. "Where is she?"
"Don, she saw us ..." Leo was frowning. I could hear it.
"Where, Leo?" I looked up at my brother. I needed to know.
Leo sighed, and picked at his wrist guard. "She's at that chain bookstore now. Nine blocks west."
I stood outside, my hands jammed into my coat pockets, and looked at her through the pane of glass. Safe and sound, and with a little nametag on -- she was actually there. She had a book in her hand. I had seen her die so many times; it seemed strange to observe her walking around.
She looked up, somehow sensing someone watching. Her face lit up with recognition, and I stepped back hurriedly. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her heading for the front door. I ran around the corner, and into an alley.
There was a delivery truck parked there, and I stepped into the shadows beside it.
Footsteps rang on the sidewalk, and I saw her stride into view at the mouth of the alley. Real and solid and perfectly fine; I felt my breath hitch as she turned in my direction. I hugged the side of the truck, willing myself to invisibility.
Another woman appeared. Older, but with the same kind of nametag: she put a hand on Alex's shoulder, and tried to coax her back to the bookstore.
"I just wanted to thank him," Alex argued, still scanning the street. Turning away at last, she dropped something on the sidewalk. She gave in to the other woman's urging and headed back to the store. "He saved my life," Alex explained, reluctantly walking away.
I shifted out of the shadows and approached the dark rectangle on the sidewalk. I glanced over at the corner, but Alex was gone. I hunkered down and flipped over the book – Dante's 'Inferno'. I picked it up, and tucked it into my coat.
Author's Final Note: And, that's it. I know it's a little short, but I was running out of ways to kill her. I am working on something much, much longer, and when I've picked it to death, I'll post.
Edited: I found a word missing, and it bugged me so much I edited. Also, I saw a few questions in the reviews about Dante's 'Inferno'. For those who haven't read it, it is about the nine circles of Hell, so it isn't a pretty tale. The three lines at the beginning of this story, and the 'abandon all hope …' are inscribed on the gates of Hell in Dante's poem. If I can encourage someone to read classic literature, that would be pretty awesome.