Warnings: Implied sexual relations at end of chapter.

Chapter 9: Forgiveness

"Raph! Mikey! Leo! Get your shells out here," Don yelled. The bushes rustled a little. "I know you're in there, so you might as well."

One at a time three green heads popped up. They looked like little children who'd been caught trying to sneak cookies out of the cookie jar. April tried, unsuccessfully, to muster up some anger at them for spying.

As the three brothers ambled over, she felt Don take a step back from her. She reached for his hand and pulled him towards her—no way was she letting him ever think again, for one goddamn second, that she was ashamed of being with him. She leaned back against his plastron, and after a moment he tentatively wrapped his arms around her waist.

"You stay right where you are," she commanded him, to make the message crystal clear. "Like it or not, you're stuck with me, Hamato Donatello. So you better get used to it."

"Yes, ma'am," he replied meekly, with a hint of something else in his voice. Something smooth and rich and warm shimmered underneath his words. April hadn't heard this tone from him before and tried to place it.

Flirtation, she realized with mild shock. He was flirting.

But before she could shoot back a witty retort, Mike, Leo, and Raph had reached them. Forgetting that she was supposed to be irritated with them, April grinned. "What happened to Splinter's soup?" she asked dryly.

"What? Don didn't tell you?" Mikey's brow crinkled in faux-distress. "Splinter doesn't really dig soup all that much."

April playfully slugged him in the arm.

"Now then," Leo began in an official tone, ignoring the groans and eye rolls he received. "Seeing as we're all here together, why don't we go home and eat that dinner we were going to have in Casey and Shadow's honor?"

April smiled. "I'd like that."

Mike's stomach rumbled audibly, and he added, "I think my belly would like that too."

Everyone laughed and headed towards the cemetery entrance.

---

"C'mon, guys," Leo hissed through his teeth, grabbing both Mikey and Raph. He walked quickly and pulled the pair along with him. "The least we can do is give them a little privacy."

Mike glanced over his shoulder, to where Don and April followed at a more leisurely pace. "They're making googly eyes at each other," he told his brothers in a stage whisper.

"Hush, Mikey." Leo rolled his eyes.

Meanwhile, Raph yanked his arm out of Leo's grasp. "Didn't need that arm anyways," he snapped. "So, guys, just how much trouble do you think we're gonna be in when we get back? Considering how late it is and all."

Mike tapped his chin thoughtfully. "On a scale of one to ten?"

Leonardo sighed. His younger brothers could be so immature. But at least they were off the subject of April and Don. Thank the gods for small miracles.

"Yeah." Raph nodded his assent. "Scale of one to ten."

Mikey grinned. "Infinity cubed."

From behind them, they heard Don's voice call out, "Infinity can't be cubed, you know. Infinity's not a number, it's a status."

"Maybe you're just a status," retorted Mike petulantly. Raphael laughed, and even Leo cracked a smile.

---

As they walked away, April glanced over her shoulder at Casey's tombstone. Forgive me for loving him? she silently asked her dead husband. Lightning didn't immediately strike her dead, and she took it as—well, if not a blessing, then at least a good sign. Casey had liked Donatello, after all. They'd been friends. Not as close as Raph and Casey, but friends nonetheless. It wasn't as if she was going off with a Purple Dragon.

Turning back to Don, she whispered, "I almost feel like I'm cheating on him. How silly is that?"

Don nodded. "No, I understand. I kinda feel that way too." He gave her hand a squeeze and continued, "I'd like to think he'd be happy for us, though. I mean, if he was still alive, he wouldn't be happy, of course. He'd still be with you, and of course that'd be better. But since he's not, I mean—"

April silenced him with a kiss. As she pulled away, she had a sudden thought and asked quietly, "How long, by the way?"

"How long what?"

"How long have you, uh, loved me?"

"Oh." He looked up thoughtfully, and she followed his gaze. The sky was clear and sparkled with the light of a million faraway stars. "April, you know when we saved you from Stockman's mousers?"

She chuckled. "How could I ever forget? Actually, if I remember correctly, you took out the first one yourself, with your bo."

"Yeah. I can't believe you remember that, though." He shook his head in amazement and looked over at her. "It was dark in the sewer tunnel, and we couldn't really see you. But then you saw us. And promptly passed out."

Ashamed, she looked away. "I am so sorry about that."

"It's okay. Really," he said quickly. "Anyways, you'd fainted. So Mikey picked you up and carried you over to the rest of us. And then the light fell on you, and we could see your face."

She was confused when he didn't continue the story, so she prompted, "And?"

He shrugged. Then a small, shy smile flashed across his face as he concluded, "And that's how long I've loved you—since I saw your face for the first time."

---

When the entire motley crew came back happy but tired, Master Splinter was seated at the kitchen table. He observed the five young people quietly, sipping his tea. Leonardo glanced at a wall clock and winced when he saw how late it was. For a moment, everyone stood silent and awkward, awaiting whatever lecture or punishment fate should bestow on them.

But instead of punishment, Splinter only ordered everyone to bed. And instead of a lecture, he only mentioned mildly that Donatello in particular needed his rest.

As the four turtles shuffled off to the bathroom and bedrooms, including a very reluctant Don, April stayed in the kitchen with Splinter. He knew. She didn't know how, but Splinter knew.

"Tea?" the rat asked pleasantly, indicating a pot that remained on the stovetop.

No use delaying the inevitable. April sat at the counter. "Yes, please."

He poured the tea, with gnarled paws made leathery with age, and they drank in silence for a few minutes. Then Splinter set down his cup and pulled contemplatively on his chin fur.

"The old adages are true," he said at length.

"Which adages, Master?"

"I do not feel that I have lost a son but, rather, that I have gained a daughter." He smiled. "Though I must confess, I felt I had gained such from very early on in our acquaintanceship."

"Thank you," said April, at a loss for anything else to say. She took both teacups to the sink and washed them. Even though her back was to him, she could feel Splinter's eyes on her, watching her like a hawk. A very protective mother hawk.

Upon her return, he sighed and said, "Ours is not an easy life."

"I know." Though she appreciated Splinter's delicacy, she decided to cut to the chase. "And I know my life won't be easy, either, but my life never has been. Losing Casey and Shadow nearly destroyed me."

He nodded thoughtfully.

"But here's the thing, Master Splinter," she continued, resting her hand over his. "The only thing more difficult than being with him … would be not being with him."

He looked up and gave her hand a squeeze before letting go. "You must sleep," he told her sternly, "and it is quite late. It will not do for you to attempt to go home at this hour. Please, stay with us."

"I'd love to." She leaned over and kissed his cheek. "Thank you, Master Splinter."

"You are very welcome. Good-night, my child." The matter apparently settled to his satisfaction, Splinter took up his walking stick and slowly made his way to his bedroom.

Surprised, April remained sitting in the kitchen. She wasn't sure what to do. When she spent the night, usually Splinter or one of the turtles would escort her to the infirmary and make a bed for her. Then in a flash it hit her—tonight, Splinter didn't expect her to sleep in the infirmary. His leaving her alone in the kitchen was his tacit approval for her to sleep … where she chose.

She blushed furiously at the realization.

There was no denying where she wanted to sleep, though. And it sure as heck wasn't the infirmary.

---

Donatello lay in his bed, hands folded behind his head. Though to an outside observer he would appear comfortable, even casual, his heart pounded underneath his plastron. He kept very still and tried to hear what Splinter and April were talking about in the kitchen. No way could it be good for Splinter and April to be alone in there. But all he could hear was Mikey humming in the bathroom while brushing his teeth. Absentmindedly he wondered if this was what human males felt when bringing a girl home for the first time.

Suddenly a figure appeared silhouetted in the doorway to his bedroom. Don craned his head forward, hopeful.

"Donny?"

Darn. It was only Raph. "Yeah, Raph?"

Raph stepped into the room and approached the bed. "Just checkin' on ya," he explained. "You were out in the snow for a long time. You need yer bandages changed or anything?"

"Nah," said Don, touched by Raph's unexpected thoughtfulness. "They're fine."

"You sure?"

"Positive."

Raph nodded and turned to leave. He paused in the doorway, however, just as he had when he'd entered. "Don? Are we … are we okay?"

Don sat up. He smiled. "Yeah. We're okay."

"Good. Glad to hear it." Raph cocked his head, as if considering what to say next. "G'night, bro. Get some rest," he finished softly, then was gone.

Still smiling, Don laid back down. His head had barely hit the pillow, however, when another figure appeared in the doorway. The newcomer didn't bother with any greetings but walked straight over to Don's bed. Don's heart started racing again.

"Mind having some company?" Her tone was light but held a hint of nervousness.

He immediately moved over to make room. "Not at all," he whispered, throat suddenly tight and dry. "Not at all."

---

Raphael paused outside Leo's doorway, listening for snoring. He didn't hear any. But then again, that didn't mean his older brother wasn't asleep.

"Might as well come on in, Raph."

Raph hesitated—but Leonardo didn't sound angry or annoyed, just amused. Raph softly padded over to where Leo sat upright in bed, reading a book. He sat down next to him, on the edge of the bed.

"It's gonna be weird," Raph complained crankily.

Leo frowned. "What's going to be weird?"

"Y'know. Don and April."

"Oh." Leo set his book on the nightstand. After a moment of thought, he nodded. "Yeah, it will."

Raph sighed. "Throws off the whole family dynamics and whatnot."

"Kinda."

Raph paused. Then he turned to Leo and grinned. "But they look happy, don't they?" he asked, nudging his brother with an elbow.

Leo grinned back. "Yeah. They really do."

Then, when they heard a soft curse from behind, they both looked towards the door. Michelangelo stood holding a blanket, a pillow, and his stuffed teddy bear. Without a word he walked in, tossed his stuff on the floor, and began setting up a makeshift bed.

Clearing his throat, Leo said, "Mike?"

"Uh-huh?" Mikey laid down and pulled the blanket up around his shoulders.

Leo traded a puzzled look with Raph. "What are you doing in my room?" he asked, careful to keep his tone neutral.

"I'm trying to get some sleep. What's it look like?" Mike sounded irritated. His head popped up, and he scowled at his two eldest brothers. "Which I can't do in my own room, because I can hear them through the damn bedroom walls."

It took a second for what Mike was saying to sink in. When it did, both Leo and Raph burst into hearty, full-bodied laughter, while Mikey continued scowling at them. But then, after a beat, Mike cracked a grin and joined in the laughter.

---

Author's Notes: Again, many thanks to those who have read and reviewed. And thanks to those just reading for the first time, as well! I am quite honored that everyone has had such kind things to say, and I am so pleased this story has touched you. The TMNT characters are wonderfully rich, and I hope I've done them some bit of justice.

For those interested, my next major TMNT piece will be more action/adventure oriented, though still with lots of character exploration, and is tentatively titled "Enter the Black Ghost." A short blurb: "Splinter is dead, April is missing, and the Hamato clan is estranged. Will a mysterious stranger bring them together … or bring them to their demise?"