And this is it! The end... sniffles. My thanks go out to everyone who reviewed - Reinbeauchaser, Jessiy Landroz, Lunar Ninja, Jaunt, Casey, Reluctant Dragon, Artykidd, The Burninator Named Trogdor and the two anonymous reviews also! I'm glad you liked the fic.
Dr Stephen Richard Hall was uneasy.
There had been reports all over the news about the Government facility where he used to work. According to the television, there had been a terrorist attack resulting in a major explosion and countless deaths. The Government had closed ranks rapidly, there was a lot of footage of hundreds of agents swarming over the area and the army, some distance shots of the burnt-out facility and not a lot else. The details were sketchy, although three different organisations had taken credit for the attack.
Steve Hall had been retired for almost six years, his wife had died two years before and his daughter lived in Boston working for a prestigious art museum. They had always respected the confidential nature of his work at the base, but he had often longed to tell them of the mutant turtles he had been instrumental in saving, how well they had done when exposed to a semi-normal upbringing – and the guilt over the one he had been unable to help. Had they still been at the base? Were they alive or dead? He still had contacts at the facility that he would be able to ask – but it had proved impossible to raise any of them by telephone, although he had left numerous messages asking them to get back to him. No doubt events had left them too busy for such mundaneness.
Or maybe they had been among the fatalities.
Listlessly, he turned off the television and decided to spend some time in the garden. Not that there was much he could do at the time of the year, but anything was better than sitting in front of the television and wondering. Instead he pulled on a coat and went outside, taking with him the cordless phone just in case someone got back to him.
His mind went back to the three turtles, how they might be faring. The hardest part of retiring had been leaving them behind and although he hadn't been sorry to say goodbye to that bastard Bishop, the turtles had been another matter. They had given him a card that Michelangelo had drawn to say goodbye, that he still kept.
He hoped they had lived through whatever had happened. The three he had saved and the one that he hadn't seen since Bishop took him away.
The phone rang.
Quickly, he grabbed it and pressed the receive button. "Dr Hall."
"Doctor, it's Donatello."
For a second, Hall wondered if he had heard right. "Donnie?"
"Yeah. Look, we're in kind of a bad situation. We need a place to lay low for a while. Can we come over?"
"Of course! Raphael and Mikey are with you?"
"Yeah. Computer says you live at 66 Brockman Terrace?"
"That's right. Don't worry, it's pretty secluded."
"We're heavily disguised," said Don, suppressing a chuckle. "Be there in a half hour or so. Are you alone?"
"Oh yeah. See you then."
The phone line disconnected and Hall slowly went back to the house – he was in pretty good shape but he was still nearing his seventies. The turtles were here? Why were they here? Admittedly he didn't live too far from the facility but they had never been able to leave it unsupervised before and he didn't believe they would have been allowed to. Which left some very worrying reasoning.
It was more like three quarters of an hour later that there was a knock at the door and he almost ran to answer it. When he opened the door, he gaped for a second and then started to grin. The three had grown several inches since he had seen them last and had tried to hide their strange appearance by wearing the oddest combination of clothes he'd ever seen. They all had on regulation black combats, T-shirts and boots, but Donatello had added a battered fedora and trench coat that looked like he stole them from a passing tramp, Mikey had decided on a scarf, sunglasses and a beanie hat and Raphael was stuck with the ugliest suit jacket Hall had ever seen combined with a stetson about four sizes too large for his head.
"What the hell are you boys wearing?"
"We're in disguise," said Mikey, pulling down his shades and giving a wink. "What do you think?"
"You look like you're out to mug someone. Get in the house before you get arrested."
Hall stood aside and let the three enter, glad it was a dark evening and he lived in a secluded neighbourhood. They had no idea how to be inconspicuous no matter how hard they were trying.
"Did you tell anyone we were coming?" asked Raph authoritatively.
"Not a soul," replied Hall. Raphael had always been the most aggressive of the three, the unofficial leader. Small wonder it would be him asking the question.
Now they were inside, he could see the signs that something had happened to them and not a very nice something by the looks. Donnie had a gash on the side of his head, Raph was sporting a selection of colourful bruises and all three were filthy. And they stank. Hall wrinkled his nose. "Um, do you boys want to take a shower? I'll rustle up something to eat."
"That would be great," said Don with a weary smile.
"And throw those clothes into the hamper, I'll put them in the machine. Assuming you don't want me just to burn them. I'll find some sweat pants or something to fit."
Taking charge, behaving like the father figure he had once been to them, was keeping his sense of unease at bay and making him feel useful. Questions could wait. The three turtles were a mess.
An hour later the four sat at the kitchen table, having demolished the quick meal, the turtles fortunately no longer smelling of sewers and fire. Hall listened incredulously as Donnie told the story of Lee turning into some kind of mutant, of the second creature they had chased. Don described it as being a turtle similar to themselves, theorising that it had been mutated shortly after they had, probably from a mutagen created from their own blood samples.
Hall knew differently.
"...And then when Raph met up with us, he said one of the agents in the car turned into a mutant too and that the agent had been in contact with Lee." Donatello gave Dr Hall a look that was both angry and infinitely tired. "And that there was a weird communication from the base right before that. It sounds like whatever changed Lee and this other creature infected them somehow. My theory is that when they changed into – whatever – they carried whatever it was in their system, like a virus. When we faced both creatures, they'd been injured. I think the blood got onto their hands and when they inflicted injury, they also passed on the mutation. I don't know how many people got hurt by the mutants, but it was a few. If they all changed like that..."
Hall was beginning to get a headache.
"It explains why the base had to go," added Raph. The car crash had left him covered in bruises but from what he had said, it had been a relatively minor thing and might just have saved his life from the creature the agent had become. "The explosion in the fuel store, that could be hidden easily enough or just passed off as an accident. But to get rid of still more creatures, that had to take some heavy artillery, maybe even nerve gas or grenades. No way Bishop could cover that up so easily. Wonder if he managed to keep any of them for test subjects before the other agencies swooped?"
"Knowing Bishop, he'll find a way," muttered Don.
Hall regarded them for a few moments, wondering if he should tell them about his suspicions. He could no longer get into serious trouble for disclosing information on the fourth turtle that had been found in the sewers that day. Surely they had a right to know.
But... what good would it do? To tell Raphael that there was a good chance he had killed his own brother? To let the three of them have the guilt that would come of knowing there had been four of them and one had suffered so the rest of them didn't have to? That it was pure chance that none of them had been the one to be hidden away for nineteen years having goodness knew what done to them?
Some secrets were better left unsaid.
He broke the silence by returning to mundaneness. "You'll stay here. One of you can have Sarah's old room," he said, referring to his daughter. "And there's a guest bedroom that the other two can share."
Raph glanced up sharply. "We can't stay here. Bishop knows of our connection and he might come looking for me. In know he's got his hands full right now, but he doesn't like loose ends. He thinks Mike and Don are dead, but I don't know if he thinks I am."
"You're in no condition to go anywhere tonight," Hall pointed out. "Stay tonight. I can get you some clothes and supplies in the morning and you can take my old Ford – I've been meaning to put it in the paper but I never get around to it. Good thing as it happens."
"We need to rest Raph," pointed out Mikey.
Raph nodded slowly. "But we can't stay any longer than that. Too dangerous."
"Thanks Dr Hall," added Don. "It's good of you to do this for us."
You don't know the half of it, thought Hall miserably, thinking again of the fourth turtle he had called Leonardo.
"Where will you go?" he said instead of voicing his guilt.
"California!" said Mikey excitedly.
Don shook his head. "Uh-uh. LA!"
Raph gave a rueful grin, his first of the evening. "We'll think of something."
"The three Muskaturtles!" announced Mikey. "One for all and all for one!"
Don palmed his face. "Mikey, you've never even read that book!"
"No, but I saw the film. Well, the cartoon."
Raph rolled his eyes, but let it go. Mikey's humour seemed forced, but after all they had been through they could all use some cheering up.
"Don't worry about us Doc," he said, more confidently than he felt. Where the hell could three giant mutant turtles hide after all? "As long as we stay one step ahead of Bishop, we'll be just fine."