Author's Notes: I can't believe that years after I've gotten over my childhood TMNT obsession, I'd end up writing fic about the new series. All characters, places, and scenarios within belong to Kevin Eastman, Peter Laird, and Mirage Studios.

Inspired by the episode "The Gang's All Here" from the original cartoon. If you know what happens in this ep, then you know what happens here.

Beasts and Men
Chapter Six: The Journal
by Skyle

The mind is like a moon in the water, the body is like an image in the mirror.
—Yagyu Munenori, "The Book of Family Traditions—Book II: The Life-Giving Sword"

It was Mikey who'd started it.

That had been the ready-made excuse that sprang to Raphael's lips the moment he realized that his sensei was standing in front of the lair entrance and had a rather excellent view of the watery destruction their little fight had wrought. Before he could actually get the words out, however, he spotted April and Casey standing behind him, and tried his best to infuse the grin that broke out on his face with welcome rather than relief (because Splinter would be less likely to chew them out in front of guests). Then he saw that Angel had accompanied them, and his grin widened.

"Yo, Angel! Long time no see, kid!"

But Angel merely stared at him with an expression he didn't recall ever seeing on her face before. It kind of reminded him of the one girls got when they saw a toad with two heads, or their favorite boy band member. Which made no sense, since Angel wasn't the type to be freaked out by two-headed toads, or moon over boy bands.

He snuck a glance at Donatello and Michelangelo to see if they were as baffled as he was, but they were too busy shifting surreptitiously under the weight of their sensei's gaze. Mikey quickly tucked his Nerf water gun behind his back, as if doing so would exonerate him of all blame, and pasted on his best "I'm-too-cute-for-this-to-be-my-fault" smile. It was only moderately successful: April and Casey actually smiled back, but his sensei was immune as always.

"As you can see," Splinter told their guests dryly, "my sons may have temporarily lost their reptilian appearance, but their talent for avoiding chores has apparently remained intact."

Angel finally blinked—more to keep her eyes from drying out than anything else—and finally managed a throaty "whoa." For a moment Raphael was afraid that she was going to pull a Casey, but then she went on: "I guess you guys weren't kidding, then."

"Heck, I thought April was pullin' my leg when she told me 'bout it," Casey admitted with a shrug.

"It's still us, though," Raphael said, partly to mollify Angel—who, for some reason, had not run over for a hug or to grab their arms like she usually did. In fact, she hadn't moved from where she stood slightly behind Splinter.

His words seemed to snap on a switch inside her, however, and she straightened up immediately, arms folded. "I know that!" she retorted. "I was—I was just a little weirded out, that's all. Of course I knew it's you guys. I mean, duh, you got the same voices!"

Angel had come a long way from that wannabe Purple Dragon who had mistaken delinquency for independence, but she still had an edge to her. She wore all her studs and piercings and that hoodie with the torn-off sleeves, and every now and then her street-tough persona would surface, particularly when she felt nervous or threatened. Not that Raphael had the slightest idea why she was falling back on that now, seeing as no one was giving her a hard time and it was just him and his brothers here.

April cleared her throat in a way that was probably meant to be tactful. "Uh…guys," she said, and made a vague flicking up-and-down gesture.

Raphael glanced down at himself. So he was dripping. Big deal. What, did Angel have a phobia of water now or something? There were more than a few soap bubbles popping here on his shoulders and there was a trail of suds working down the pronounced ridges of his abdomen (a six-pack, according to those Bo-Flex ads—not that the expression made any sense), but at least he had underwear on—it wasn't like he was naked. Then again, Raphael could personally testify that guys in their skivvies wasn't exactly the prettiest sight in the world. Really, could he blame Angel for being grossed out?

"Fortunately, I have taken the liberty of acquiring some garments," Splinter said, glancing at Casey. The longhaired man looked befuddled for a moment, then remembered the cardboard box he was carrying in his arms. He stepped forward to allow Splinter to pull out a shirt. "I managed to appropriate a few clothes items from some donation boxes that were left outside the nearest shelter."

Raphael scowled at the shirt his sensei pressed into his hands. "It's pink," he said flatly.

"Then we shall call it fuschia," Splinter replied without batting an eye. "Since we have guests, it will not do to have any of you run about the lair half-clothed."

"But Master Splinter—"

"Well, perhaps then the next time you drop by Casey's apartment, you will not protest should he choose to wear nothing other than his undergarments."

The redhead blotted the visual from his mind before it had the chance to fully form and therefore traumatize, and snatched the shirt from his sensei's grip, as well as the pair of jeans in his other hand. "Point taken."

"Hey!" Casey protested from behind Splinter, somehow sensing he'd just been insulted.

"Donatello, Michelangelo." Splinter nodded at the two other teenagers as he withdrew a couple more articles of clothing from the box. "I must warn you that the selection is rather limited; I could not in good conscience take too much from people who might need these more than we do."

Donnie and Mikey exchanged reluctant looks, but didn't protest as they accepted a pair of rather questionable outfits: a button-up with canary-yellow pinstripes with tan shorts for Mikey, and a suspiciously fuzzy-looking crewneck with plaited slacks for Don.

"Ewww," was Mikey's succinct verdict. He stuck his tongue out in distaste. "Master Splinter."

"I am sorry, Michelangelo, but since I do not subscribe to Vogue—and do not even ask me how I even know that magazine, because I do not recall—you will make do with what is here. It took quite a while to find clean ones that looked like they were in your sizes." Splinter turned back toward their guests while the three teens proceeded to wriggle into their respective garments (without even bothering to dry themselves). "I must apologize; my sons were not expecting you to accompany me back to the lair. It appears that we should have called ahead first."

"Oh, no…really, it's fine," April reassured him, ushering both Casey and Angel toward the main chamber. Fortunately, the boys had been canny enough to ensure that their water gunplay had missed the electronics and about half the furniture, though the floor was littered with puddles and various surfaces glittered with strings of soap bubbles.

Splinter shot his sons a look that told them in no uncertain terms to look forward to a second round of housecleaning. As they grimaced guiltily, he asked, "Where is Leonardo?"

"He's in the dojo meditatin'. As usual," Raphael replied.

"I see. Please excuse me," the old rodent said to their guests before leaving to fetch his missing son.

April took the chair diagonal to the couch—the only seat in the room completely free of wet spots—while Casey made himself comfortable on its armrest. Angel sat herself down in the middle of the couch where it was driest, only to start a little as Raphael and Mikey plunked down on either side of her, completely unmindful of the squishy sounds of wet cushion. Donatello elected to remain standing across from the couch, glancing about for a place to put away his Waterminator 2000 (he'd been eleven when he'd named it) while Splinter wasn't looking.

"So, Angel, how've ya been?" Raphael drawled, pushing his wet bangs from his eyes. It really had been a while since they'd all seen her, though it seemed like her freshman year of high school had done her good; she actually looked like she'd grown a little taller now, and had dyed her hair a slightly darker shade of purple.

Angel had scarcely opened her mouth to reply when Mikey shook his wet head like a dog trying to dry itself, scattering droplets everywhere.

"Mikey!" Raphael growled.

The blond-haired teen grinned unrepentantly. "Always wanted to try that," he explained. He turned the brilliance of his grin on Angel and tilted forward, nearly smashing his nose into hers. "Angel! How've you been?"

Raphael snaked an arm behind the speechless girl in order to shove at his brother's face. "I already asked her that, doofus!"

Mikey pouted. "Oh, so I can't ask how people are now? What did you do, copyright that question or something?"

"I'm just sayin' you oughta get your own material—"

"Guys," Donnie intervened. "You're getting Angel wet."

His brothers looked down. They'd been leaning over Angel while they bickered, dripping water onto her jeans.

"Sorry 'bout that," Mikey said sheepishly, pulling back.

"Yeah, what he said," mumbled Raphael, withdrawing his arm.

Mikey looked at him indignantly. "Hey! Who's stealing whose material now—"

"You okay, Angel?" Casey asked suddenly. The girl in question had barely spoken—a far cry from the brassy little hellion who'd taken the idea of mutant turtles in stride, and then managed to coerce them into Purple Dragon disguises.

Angel sat up even straighter, which seemed impossible given the already ramrod-straight set of her spine. If she sat any closer to the edge of the sofa she would topple off. "Huh? Of course I am! What makes you think I'm not okay?"

"I dunno. You just seem kinda…off or somethin'," Casey said uncertainly. He would've substituted the word "off" for "like a deer in the headlights", but Angel was at that age where any big-brotherly thing he said was liable to embarrass her for life. "Ya sure nuthin's bothering you or somethin'?"

"I'm fine, Casey." Obviously, his attempt at tact didn't work; Angel was glaring at him as though trying to set him on fire through sheer will.

"Okay, okay! Pardon me for askin'! Yeesh!" Casey raised his hands in surrender. He bent surreptitiously down toward April. "I swear, ever since she turned fifteen, she's been touchier than usual," he confided.

April merely raised her eyebrows and smiled.

"Aw, cheer up, Angel. Whatever it is, it can't be that bad. I mean, look at us!" Mikey pointed with both index fingers to his smiling face. "We got turned into humans through mysterious and quite possibly ominous circumstances, but we're not sweating over it. At least, I'm not. So what if I'm totally sensitive now, or that I got hair in weird places?" He thought for a second, then brightened. "You wanna see my hair?"

Before April or Casey could object in alarm, Raphael broke in. "Mikey, she don't wanna see those three or four strands you got." With that, he proffered his adequately stubbly chin to Angel for inspection. "Now check me out. I think I could grow a goatee or somethin'. Whaddaya think?"

Again Mikey interrupted before Angel could get a word out. "Ew! A goatee? That's, like, such a clichély evil hair accessory."

" 'Clichély'?" Donnie echoed doubtfully.

Mikey made a show out of stroking an imaginary tuft of hair on his chin and affected a bad Transylvanian accent. " 'Ha-ha! I am Raphael, and I vant to suck yoh blahd! ' "

"Ignore Mikey over there," Raphael told Angel through clenched teeth. "He's just jealous 'cause he can't grow anything worth crap, even with growth hormones and fertilizer."

"I can so do so too!" retorted his fair-haired brother. "I just don't need to grow a hairy chin caterpillar to impress the ladies! I got my own personal charm and 100% naturally grown muscles." He rolled back his sleeve and nudged Angel with his opposite shoulder, flexing his exposed biceps. "Eh? Eh? Impressive, no?"

Angel looked like she didn't know where to focus her eyes, which were starting to resemble little spirals. "I, uh…um…well…"

Casey noticed this with steadily rising concern. "Uh, guys, would ya lay off of her a little? Give her room to breathe or somethin'—"

"Casey!" Angel was staring at him again with her fire-starter expression. "I said I was fine! Stop embarrassing me!"

"I ain't tryin' to embarrass—"

"Well, you are! I'm fine. It's just taking me a while to get used to this, that's all! I mean, first they're turtles, and then they're guys…like, guys guys—"

"Huh?" said Don.

"What?" Mikey queried, confused.

"You sayin' we weren't guys before?" Raphael demanded. He was probably the closest to Angel out of his brothers (not counting Mikey), but this was a side of her he didn't remember encountering before.

"Yes! I mean, no! I mean…" Angel inhaled deeply as if to fortify herself. "It's just different, okay? Casey and April told me what went down, so it's not like I was completely clueless when I arrived, but I kind of expected you guys to look…more normal, I guess." Her words began to pick up speed, like she was trying to outrun all their questions. "Hey, no offense or anything! I meant—you guys aren't, like, totally ugly. 'Cause that coulda happened, you know. Not that I was expecting you to turn out to be real dogs, though—I'm sure you were all really good-looking as turtles, even though I wouldn't really know anything about that, you know, and don't think that I'm freaking out like some stupid girly girl just 'cause you're all taller than me now and wet and—oh, forget it!" she snarled as she caught sight of Leonardo emerging into the main chamber with Splinter at his side.

Leonardo's smile faded slightly at the girl's less than friendly greeting, and he looked at his brothers for an explanation. His expression turned even more puzzled as he noticed their condition. "Why're you guys dripping?" He glanced down as the bare soles of his feet came into contact with puddle-strewn floor. "Why's the floor wet?"

"The usual. Mikey and Raph got an idea," said Don, subtly nudging his Waterminator deeper behind the TV console with his foot.

Raphael managed to tear his attention away from Angel long enough to notice his brother's attire, which happened to be one of Master Splinter's brown yukatas (which was too short for his much taller form; on him it appeared more like a shirt, his black boxers visible past the hem). He couldn't suppress his snort. "Look at'cha. Think you're taking that Splinter Junior thing far enough, bro?"

Leonardo threw him a look as he stood next to Donatello across the couch. "At least I'm not wearing pink."

"It's fuschia," Raphael snarled.

"I think it is a great improvement compared to how you were all dressed earlier," said Splinter, taking his place behind the sofa. "Now, I believe my sons have a question to ask you, Angel."

Angel regressed back to her deer impression. "Uh…they do?"

"You know—about that Volpehart guy," Casey said as tactfully and considerately as he could.

"Oh! Right, right. Because, um, that's where it happened, right? This whole…" She gestured loosely toward them. "…thing."

Leonardo glanced at his brothers, who appeared to be no closer to understanding her behavior than he. "Right. This…thing."

Angel crossed her arms, the insouciance of which that was belied by the fact that her eyes continued to dart about as if searching for something safe to latch onto. "Well, whaddaya want to know?"

Donnie tried to aid her along. "Remember when we went to that building to rescue your brother, and we left you with Mr. Volpehart while we went down into the caves to look for him?"


"It took a while before we found him and kicked that alien thingy's shell," said Raphael. "You were with the old man all that time. You gabbed with him, didn'tcha?"


"You remember what about?"

"Um, well…we talked a little more about the monster. About how strong it had become, and how he hoped you guys wouldn't underestimate it, because we couldn't even begin to imagine what was capable of."

Leonardo crouched down in front of her so that they were more or less at eye-level. "Did he mention anything more about what it could do? Or whether there were people it did something with other than trap them in pods?"

Angel absently took one of her pigtails and began twirling the end of it around her finger. "I, uh, I don't remember him mentioning anything like that. But he did say that the creature did whatever it took to get what it wanted. That was part of the reason Mr. Volpehart couldn't get rid of it. He said it had used him too much, that his own hands were dirty enough."

"What did he mean?" Donatello wanted to know.

"He—actually, that part kind of bothered me." Angel paused in her finger-twirling. "He said he helped the creature feed…when it couldn't do it on its own. He lured people into the building and into the caves. He said he'd had no choice."

The ex-turtles cringed at the thought of the seemingly harmless old man they'd once allied with voluntarily—desperately?—offering up his fellow human beings to the beast to be absorbed into its nightmarish embrace.

Angel resumed twisting her hair around her finger. "And, um…that's it, really. I think he was too worked up to do anything else to talk. Most of the time he kept pulling out books from the shelves and looking through them. I thought it was to keep himself from going crazy waiting for you guys to come back. And…I guess I was too worried about my brother to pay attention to what he was doing, and maybe some of the stuff he said." She peered up from under her lashes. "Sorry."

"Don't apologize," Leonardo said, sounding disappointed even as he spoke.

"There was this one thing, though," Angel added quickly, as if anxious to make up for her dearth of information. "That book he had. You know, the one he read out of when he told you guys about the monster? I got to flip through it a little. It was a journal—C.F. Volpehart's. It was so old I think it even had entries dating all the way back to the 16th century—mostly day-to-day stuff. I don't really remember."

Mikey brightened. "Maybe there might be an entry about the monster being able to turn mutants into humans!"

Raphael glanced over at him, his expression sharply skeptical. "Yeah, Mikey, because the 16th century was just full a' mutant turtles in powdered wigs walkin' around pokin' their beaks into the old man's business."

The fair-haired teenager returned his exasperated look. "I meant, Mr. Volpehart must've written down everything that the monster could do. It came from outer space! It put people in pods and messed with their minds and became a multi-zillionaire—who's to say it wasn't able to do more?"

"Good point," April said. "It did understand human physiology enough to lure them into its caves and keep its victims sedate inside those weird pods."

"If that journal did contain everything Mr. Volpehart knew about the creature," mused Splinter, "then perhaps we could use that knowledge to approach this problem in a new way."

Leonardo leaned forward earnestly, his chest nearly touching Angel's knees. "Angel, do you remember anything else about your time with Mr. Volpehart? Anything at all?"

"I…" Angel faltered. She glanced at the blank TV, up at the ceiling, down to her lap, and back to the TV.

"Surely there's more you can remember," encouraged Don, his violet gaze fixed intently on her.


"Look, if she remembered anythin' more, she'd tell ya," Raphael said in her defense, right before draping a casual arm on the sofa cushion behind her. "Right, Angel?"


Mikey bounced to his feet. He had neglected to button up his hideous yellow shirt, so the tails flapped as he landed next to Leonardo. He grinned brightly down at the girl, hands on his hips. "Hey, don't sweat it. We know you must've been stressed out over your brother at the time."

"Oh, right…" Angel said, sounding as though she were trying to recall whether she even had a brother in the first place. "Um, well, there was this one other thing—I don't think that was the only journal Mr. Volpehart had. It was just the first. I'm pretty sure there were others—like, continuations. There must've been. You guys could look into that," she told Michelangelo's (gleaming and still wet) abs.

"Um, Angel…" Raph couldn't help but butt in, pointing up to Mikey's face. "Mikey's there. Up there."

He could not have been less tactful had he been Casey himself: Angel's face turned red, then white, then an even more alarming red.

"I know that! It just happened to be in my line of sight! What am I, some brain-dead bimbo? What's up with all the questions? What is this anyway, the Spanish Inquisition?" She leaped suddenly to her feet, causing all four brothers to rear back. "God, don't any of you have any sense of personal space? You're all suffocating me!" She began to stomp off, nearly bowling Leo and Don over in her fury. "And it's so hot in here! Why's it so hot? Is the heater in here on or something? Never mind, I need to breathe…"

Her tirade receded, thankfully, as she disappeared into the kitchen, leaving everyone else to gape after her.

Casey recovered his vocal abilities first. "Now what'd you guys hafta go an' do that for?"

"Us? I don't even know what we did," defended Mikey.

"We were kind of crowding her," said Don.

"Yeah, but it ain't like Angel ta go off like that," Raphael pointed out. Angel was one of the very few people that raised his protective hackles, and he was feeling more than a little contrary toward his brothers because of it—especially Mikey, whom he was sure had offended Angel in some unspecified but typically Mikey way. "I mean, if we were crowding her she coulda told us off like she's always done and let that be the end of it. So what the shell was that about?"

"You know what, I'm gonna go talk to her." Casey got to his feet. "Maybe it's nothing. Maybe she just had a bad day at school. April, you smilin' or somethin'?"

April managed to control the strange twitching motions her mouth was making. "Um, no, no one's smiling here."

Casey looked at her a second longer, the synapses in his brain straining to make the right connections, but gave up and left for the kitchen to see to Angel.

He had barely moved out of earshot when Mikey snapped his fingers. "Heyyy…you don't think it's her time of the month, do you?"

His innocent question was met by a legion of alternately disbelieving and outraged looks.

"Michelangelo!" Splinter scolded.

"Mikey!" Leo admonished.

"Mikey!" April huffed.

"Idiot," Raphael muttered.

"What?" Mikey whined. "I was just asking!"

Raphael poked an accusing finger into Mikey's stomach. He had one of those pack-things too—slightly less defined than Raphael's, but they were hard enough to easily deflect the latter's finger. "It's your fault, ya know. You're the one who scared her off with that belly of yours."

Mikey jumped back and rubbed his abs indignantly. "No, I didn't! And my belly doesn't frighten people! Have you ever thought maybe it's your face that frightens people?"

"Hey, if I remember right, I was the only one tryin' to be all understandin'. The rest of you were the ones gettin' all up in her face and making her queasy." Raphael narrowed his eyes as he remembered that even Leo seemed to have temporarily forgotten the concept of personal space. " 'Specially Fearless over there."

Leonardo whipped his head toward him; the movement dislodged locks of hair that half-hid his right eye. He pushed back the errant locks with some vehemence. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"Hah! And you're supposed to be the sensitive one?" Raphael pointed at him like a lawyer cross-examining a defendant. "What was that with the eyelash-battin' and the kneelin' and the soft talkin'? Maybe you were the one that creeped her out!"

"Maybe we just caught Angel in a bad mood," Donatello suggested, falling back into the role of peacekeeper. "That's all."

"You guys really don't know, do you?"

The four teenagers turned to look at April, their faces registering genuine confusion.

"Huh." April's mouth was making those weird twitchy movements again. "I thought so."

"Know what?" Leonardo asked.

April for some reason got that expression she got when confronted by an extraordinarily unbreakable bit of computer code. Her gaze floated upward. "It's a female thing. Never mind."

As if sensing another imminent question from Michelangelo that involved feminine cycles, Splinter hurriedly spoke up. "At any rate, Angel has been able to provide us with some insight as to our next step. It seems we must consider this journal of Mr. Volpehart's a viable source of answers to our dilemma."

Leonardo rested his elbows on his knees and touched the tips of his fingers together. "April, did you find where the most of the items from the Volpehart Building went?"

"But of course. Okay, according to the online records, most of the contents were put into storage by the managers of the Volpehart estate, except for some paintings which were auctioned off, like you said, and the books in the private office."

"Where are those?"

"Most of them—the less valuable ones—were purchased for donation to the Oroku Saki Memorial Library."

"And the rest?" Leonardo prodded, as if he didn't already know.

April pursed her lips. "The oldest ones are now a part of Oroku Karai's private collection."

There was a brief silence as they all digested the implications of April's findings, broken by what might have been the gnashing of Raphael's teeth.

"So…" Mikey finally said, drawing out the word. "Do we knock on Karai's door and politely ask if we can borrow the journal from her? I mean, it's not like she wants to kill us…that much…nowadays."

"Well, she is a lot more reasonable now," Donatello allowed.

Raphael could no longer remain quiet—not when his brothers seemed to be collectively losing their minds. "Or maybe she'll realize that she's got the chance of a lifetime when she sees us all weak and fleshy in a building full of freakin' Foot soldiers and won't hesitate ta have us made into turtle soup."

There was a pause, which was ended only by Mikey's tentative: "Uh, dude? We're not turtles any—"

"Shut up, Mikey," growled Raph, annoyed at his own slip.

"Karai doesn't know that," stated Leonardo.

Raphael snapped his head toward his raven-haired sibling. "What?"

"She doesn't know about our change," Leo clarified. A nick appeared between his brows. "At least, she shouldn't know."

"Are you saying that she might have something to do with this?" Donnie inquired, astounded that Leo of all people was the one implying it. More than anyone else, his blue-bandannaed brother had been happily vindicated by Karai's integral role in their battle with the demon-Shredder.

"I didn't say that," said Leo, even as it sounded like he was actually considering the idea for the first time. "I just meant that…if she doesn't know, then there's no reason to let her."

Raphael's brows shot up. "What're you gettin' at, bro?"

"It looks like we really don't have any other choice. We need that journal, and if Karai's got it, then I guess we go through her. But I don't think we should let anyone in on what happened to us."

"So we get the journal without tipping her off?" Mikey said. "That sounds an awful lot like a break-in, Leo."

"Yeah, and it took him almost twenty-four hours to come up with that," Raphael remarked with a healthy measure of sarcasm.

Leonardo stood up, the movement so smooth it looked like he'd merely unfurled his (now long) legs. He did not seem at all happy. "And I still don't like it any more than I did twenty-four hours ago. But so far everything else's turned out to be dead ends. Unless something new comes up or if Donnie finds something in our tests, this seems to be our only option."

"Then you would forget our truce with the Foot?" Splinter said. His bearing was impassive; it was hard to tell whether or not that was disapproval there. "You would forget that our last meeting was on relatively good terms, and that any kind of deception or intrusion of their territory on your part might turn them against us yet again?"

"It won't have to come to that if we do this right," Leo declared with enough confidence to make his siblings sit up straighter. "We'll just take the book and return it as soon as we're done with it. I doubt it's going to be as closely guarded as the Heart of Tengu was; Karai won't even know it's missing. We won't have to confront the Foot and test how fragile this newest truce is."

Splinter tilted his head. "Are you certain that there is no other recourse? You would prefer to choose deception and not simply ask Karai to see the journal?"

"The less people who know about this the better," replied Leonardo. "If she had nothing to do with this, then no harm, no foul. But someone sealed off the secret passage in the Volpehart Building. We don't know yet who. If it turns out Karai was the one who did it, and that she's the one behind this, then we'll be on the alert and we'll at least have another place to look for answers. Besides," he added thoughtfully, "I wouldn't mind assessing the Foot's status. We may not strictly be enemies now, but better safe than sorry. Call it defensive reconnaissance."

"Oooh…sounds official," cooed Michelangelo. "Mikey like."

"Now that's more like it," Raphael drawled. It didn't happen often, but whenever he and Leo were on the same page, he got these weird sappy vibes that made him want to do something lethally humiliating, like hug his brother, or something. Then again, maybe it was a good thing it didn't happen often.

The old rodent still did not seem entirely appeased, but it was clear he could not counter their arguments either. "I must admit I am not comfortable with returning their current goodwill with theft, as minimal as it may be."

"It's technically not stealing if we plan to give it back," said Donatello, almost paraphrasing his words from the night before when the four of them had been sorely tempted to filch those garments hanging on those clotheslines. "It's more like borrowing, sensei."

Splinter closed his eyes and sighed. "Very well. If there is no other way..."

Just then Casey and Angel returned from their sojourn into the kitchen. Angel's expression was an odd mix of sheepishness and defiance as Casey steered her back toward the group.

Splinter rapped the end of his stick against Mikey's bare stomach, a silent order, and his son scrambled to properly button his shirt. Leonardo and Donatello backed up, neither one wanting to deprive their teenaged guest of the space she obviously held in high importance. Raphael edged closer to the side of the couch to give her maximum breathing room.

"Hey, guys," Casey called out cheerfully, shepherding his reluctant charge back into the living room area. "Don't worry. Casey Jones got everythin' under control. Ain't that right, Angel?"

Angel mumbled something no one could catch, rolling her eyes as she did so.

"Turned out she had a hard day at school, like I thought," Casey went on, unrelenting in his cheer. "So go easy on her, 'kay?"

April stared at Casey as he reclaimed his seat, her eyebrow cocked meaningfully. He grinned at her, completely oblivious to the question she was attempting to telegraph, and April gave up.

"Uh, sure, Case," Raphael said, mostly to humor him. He didn't quite buy his friend's explanation, but he wasn't about to upset Angel any further. "You all right, kid?"

Angel fell back down on the couch beside him and folded her arms. " 'Course I am," she shot back, and punched his arm for good measure. She was beginning to sound like herself again, Raphael thought, even though she still wasn't looking directly at any of them for some reason.

"Yeah, listen, I'm sorry for whatever my bonehead brothers did ta you earlier."

He was promptly lanced by glares from his aforementioned bonehead brothers—particularly Mikey, who said darkly, "Yeah, and Raph's sorry, too."

Raphael summoned up a glare of his own. "And Mikey apologizes for that fat belly of his."

"And Raphael apologizes for that ugly face of his."

"Guys, it wasn't anything any of you did. Really." There was a strange cherry tint to the Angel's complexion, which Raphael thought might be due to her not being used to the humidity of their new lair. "I'm just not myself today. So just drop it, okay?"

Mikey and Raph obediently clammed up, while Donnie and Leo looked more puzzled than ever.

"Uh…so, um, don't let me interrupt what you guys were talking about," Angel went on, seemingly eager to keep the conversation flowing. "What's the plan? Are you hitting the Volpehart Building again, or what?"

"Actually, we're hitting Foot Headquarters," Donatello said.

"Again?" Casey asked.

"Again," said Leonardo resignedly.

"Damn." Casey leaned back on his armrest. "So this's, what, your fiftieth Foot headquarters break-in?"

"Feels like it," quipped Mikey. "Hey, at least we can say we got plenty of practice!"

"Doesn't mean it gets easier," Leonardo reminded them. "The building schematics could've changed again after what the demon-Shredder did to it."

"Say what you will about the Foot, but they do not make the same mistakes. At least, not when it comes to security measures," warned Splinter. "We are not going to be able to infiltrate that building the same way twice."

Donnie ran a hand through his almost-dry hair, dispersing a fine mist. "Well, I know they've got the underground routes closed off and unless we blow the power source, every shaft, pipe, and vent in that place is going to be rigged with lasers."

"Yeah, I don't think it's gonna be that easy to get to the power room now, or even the furnace," Mikey added.

"They probably got helicopters and hovercraft guarding the roof and surrounding buildings, even," said Raph.

"And with Baxter off the payroll, the security system's probably been re-programmed by Chaplin, which rules out any online contributions I could make, and somehow I don't think Casey and I would be able to pull off our usual mole/decoy schtick," April told them. "All the guards—heck, maybe even the janitors and messengers—probably have our faces memorized by now."

"Well," Casey said slowly, "maybe they got me and April's faces memorized, but not the ones you guys got now."

The four ex-turtles traded glances.

"Unless the Foot was in cahoots with the Volpehart monster, they shouldn't be able to recognize us," Donnie said with conviction.

Mikey was sniggering. "You know, if you think about it, it's kinda funny. We could walk right through the front doors of Saki Enterprises and no one'd ever know we're the reason that building's always under construction."

Casey chortled. "That'd be—whaddaya call it? Ironic karma?"

"This could be our easiest break-in yet," crowed Raphael. "We could stroll right in under their noses, grab the book, and leave, and no one'd be the wiser."

But Leonardo was scowling. "No. We are not just going to stroll right in. Have you forgotten that the Foot have been fighting with the Utroms for years, and the Utroms looked human? Their security's not going to roll over for us just because we suddenly look like everyone else."

Raphael looked incredulous. "Fer cryin' out loud, Leo. What, now you want we should bust in as usual?"

"I just meant that since the fact that we're unrecognizable is just about the only advantage we've got in these new bodies, we should try and keep it that way."

"The art of stealth and disguise," observed Splinter. "Very good."

"Somethin' tells me those headbands a' yours ain't gonna cut it this time," Casey pointed out. "If you guys really wanna go incognito, you're gonna have ta spring for brand new costumes or somethin'."

Mikey perked up, his hazel eyes growing even rounder. "Costumes? Whoa—that means we get to have real secret identities, like actual superheroes!"

"Down, Mikey." Donatello clamped a hand on Mikey's shoulder. "I think he means something like Foot uniforms."

The strawberry blond stuck his pinky finger into his ear (pausing half a second as he realized that it actually fit), wriggled it, and pulled it out. "What'choo talkin' about, Willis?"

"I know it doesn't sound appealing, but think about it: they cover from head to toe and we don't need to get rid of our weapons once we're in them. It's almost foolproof."

Donnie might as well have suggested they dress up in diapers and frilly baby bonnets, judging from the expressions on everyone else's faces. But, as usual, no one could fault his logic.

"It's gonna feel so wrong wearin' something with the Foot insignia on it," Raph grumbled.

"I know, Raph. But desperate measures and all that," Leonardo said. He managed a wan smile. "Besides, we've already worn Purple Dragon threads; we might as well go the distance."

"Ugh! And I spent an hour in April's tub tryin' to wash the stink of Purple Dragon offa me last night, too. We'll hafta strip naked and roll around in bleach and antiseptic after this one."

Angel made some sort of noise that was half-cackle, half-squeak. Everyone turned to look at her. She stared back defensively. "What?"

Splinter saved her by offering his own two cents. "You will still need to procure those uniforms from the Foot themselves. In addition, you will need to be certain of the location of the Volpehart journal inside the building."

"Well," Leonardo said thoughtfully, "if it's part of Karai's private collection, then it should be in her personal study. If I remember right, last time I was there, it was filled with books. Old, rare books—first editions, manuscripts, even scrolls. Odds are that's where she's keeping the journal."

"But if there're that many books," said Donnie, "then unless the journal's locked away in some glass case, we're going to need a fair amount of time to search through the entire collection. Even if we were disguised as Foot soldiers, it'd be kinda suspicious if we get caught sifting through Karai's stuff."

"Then you will need some kind of lengthy distraction," said Splinter.

"Like a party," April blurted out. She waved off the quizzical looks she was being pelted with, eager to explain. "The Oroku Saki Memorial Library is having a benefit tomorrow night to preserve rare books. The mayor's supposed to be the guest of honor. I remember reading it while I was tracking down the Volpehart items. I'm an idiot—I can't believe I forgot."

"Aw, don't worry, babe. We all got our ditzy moments now an' then," Casey reassured her.

April reached over and hit/love-tapped his cheek, while Donnie latched onto this new detail with enthusiasm. "April, that's perfect! Karai'll have to play host and we'll get a couple of hours to locate that journal."

Mikey let out a whoop, throwing up his arms. "Finally, a coincidence that's on our side!"

"Well—barring an underground spaceship launch, Bishop interfering, and Shredder's asteroid crashing into the middle of Manhattan—we should be able to pull this off no problem," remarked Leonardo. He almost looked like a different person; for the first time since joining them from the dojo, he was smiling a smile that reached his eyes.

Everyone seemed to be too busy smiling goopy smiles of their own, so Raphael slouched down the couch and rapped his black-haired brother with the side of his calf. "Ever the optimist, eh, bro?" he said dryly.

"Cautious optimist." Leonardo ditched the smile for a look of determination as he slipped into leader mode. The overall effect was somewhat marred by the fact that he was still dressed in that undersized yukata with Casey's black boxers peeking out from underneath. "Okay, tomorrow we launch this retrieval operation. The key here is discretion. We use the crowds to make our way inside, grab some Foot uniforms, put them on, make our way up to Karai's private study, find the journal, and slip out like we were never there in the first place."

"Piece of cake," said Mikey confidently. He paused. "Well, it sounds like a piece of cake when you put it like that."

"Uh, I got a question," Angel blurted out, snagging everyone's attention. "Are you planning to go in half-naked?"

There was a short but absolute quiet.

"I meant," Angel rushed on, her face angrily crimson, "if you're gonna sneak into this fancy frou-frou party, you're gonna have to be wearing something better than Casey's stuff."

"Hey! What's wrong with my stuff?" demanded Casey.

"We could pose as part of the catering crew, like Casey did that one time," Donatello said.

"You'd still need a tuxedo jacket or something," April said. "A benefit like this, even the waiters'd be dressed to the nines. Suit jackets, nice shoes, that kind of thing."

"Where're we gonna get those?" Mikey wondered.

"You guys could rent your suits," said Casey. "That's what I do whenever I gotta go to one of those black-tie restaurants April likes."

April gawked at him. "What happened to that suit I got you for your birthday?"

"You got me a suit? Oh, you mean that suit! I thought you were talking about some other…um…it's somewhere in my closet…I just don't wear it 'cause it's kinda scratchy, and tight at the throat…don't get me wrong, I love that thing but…" Casey squirmed on his armrest and raised a finger to try and tug at his collar, except his tank top didn't have one. "Oh, yeah, and speakin' of shoes, the guys'd probably need those, too."

The diversion worked; everyone (save for April, who was still regarding Casey with displeasure) looked down at the aforementioned teenagers' bare feet.

"All we have are April's flip-flops. Maybe they'll be too dazzled by our tuxedos to notice if we wear flip-flops?" Mikey said hopefully.

Raphael curled his lip. "Bein' stuffed into a monkey suit I can take, but I draw the line at appearin' in public in April's sandals."

April folded her arms, annoyed at the lack of grateful males in her life. "Well, you're not going to get in with just socks on your feet."

Leonardo turned to the longhaired vigilante. "Is it possible for you to set us up with some shoes, Casey?"

"I dunno, Leo; I got one good pair—it's imitation leather, cost me almost sixty dollars—but that's it. I ain't the fancy shoes type; give me a pair of good old-fashioned American sneakers anytime. 'Course, those snobs at the benefit wouldn't appreciate a good pair a' shoes unless they had a bunch of wussy tassels on them."

"Why don't you guys just go and buy your own shoes?" Angel suggested.

It took the ex-turtles and their rodent sensei a couple of seconds to fully comprehend what she was saying.

"Ya mean, like, go into a store and give cash in exchange for 'em?" Raphael said slowly, as if it were all an exotic alien process. Which it was, really.

"Why not? You can pull it off now, and you'll get shoes that'll actually fit. Besides, weren't you talking about a shoe sale at the mall earlier, April?"

"The mall?" Mikey repeated, somehow making those two words sound like he'd just said "Holy Land".

"Michelangelo," Splinter chided softly. "We have infringed enough on Miss O'Neill's generosity without asking that she spend money on us."

"Oh, I don't mind," April protested, determined to do the boys a favor that they might actually appreciate. "Really. It's been a good week for my store, and it is a 40% off sale." She pressed the pad of her index finger against her jaw, thinking. "Maybe I could even get you guys your own pants and some proper underwear."

Raphael, Leonardo, and Michelangelo's faces were frozen somewhere between gratitude and horror, but all Donatello could concentrate on was the fact that April had just offered to buy him pants. And underwear.

"Actually, we've got a little cash of our own," he volunteered, startling them all with the louder-than-usual volume of his voice. "You don't have to pay for anything."

Beside him Leonardo looked askance; he'd probably expected Don to decline. The purple-bandannaed teen had never been much for topside jaunts unless they involved scavenging for tech or something educational.

Raphael shrugged. He didn't want his brothers to think he was all excited about this, even though he was secretly curious—plus, it meant that he would have a free pass from living room cleanup. "Yeah, sure. Whatever."

"If you all to accompany O'Neill on this endeavor, then I would very much prefer that you all be on your best behavior," said Splinter. "Which would include trying not to draw any undue attention to yourself, regardless of your current appearances."

It was the old rodent's turn to be on the receiving end of Leonardo's stare. "You don't mind that we're going to be somewhere as crowded as a mall?"

"Leonardo, when you were little, I took the four of you topside every Halloween. I knew the risks, but I also knew that it was something you needed." Splinter moved away from the back of the sofa and touched the end of his raven-haired son's sleeve. "After the events of the past twenty-four hours, I believe this is what might be needed."

Leonardo blinked down at him, then at the others. April was smiling, her fingers entwined with those of Casey (obviously having forgotten their earlier tension over the suit), who was perched on the edge of his armrest. Angel was actually smirking at him in challenge, seemingly having recovered from whatever it was that had been bugging her earlier. His brothers wore similarly expectant looks.

"We probably don't even have to stay there an hour," said Don encouragingly.

Mikey materialized at Leo's side; he seemed to be stuck in some bouncing loop, and had to grab onto his sibling's sleeve as if to anchor himself. "Can we, Leo? Can we? Once-in-a-lifetime chance, remember?"

Leo surrendered. "All right, all right. You guys go pick out shoes and some clothes, and I'll stay here in the lair and hammer out the details of the plan for tomorrow."

His automatic self-omission from this particular venture up into the outside world might have surprised Casey, April, and Angel, but to his siblings it was a predictable Leo-response.

"Over my dead body yer stayin' here," Raphael declared. "If I gotta be stuck in a mall to be pushed and shoved by sale-crazy maniacs, then so do you."

"Yeah, Leooo…" wheedled Mikey, somehow managing to split the shortened version of his brother's name into several syllables.

"It'll be hard for us to get you stuff that'll fit if you don't come," Donnie added for good measure.

"Our sizes aren't that different. I won't mind." Leonardo held up a hand before April or Casey or Angel could voice a convincing argument. "Someone's got to stay here and keep an eye on things. Sorry, guys." He crossed his arms and subjected them all to his best Leader Glare. "I'm not going."

"I can't believe you talked me into going," Leonardo groused, no doubt thinking that his Leader Glare needed work.

Donatello grinned at him. "Oh, come on, Leo. Would you really have left us to explore a strange new world on our own?"

He wasn't exaggerating all that much; in broad daylight, with this many people present while the establishment was actually in operation, the mall might as well have been Mars to them. They'd visited public places before, but densely populated sites with non-winter clothing and more-than-adequate lighting was something else entirely.

For Donatello it was a fascinating environmental study: from what he'd seen from MTV or the occasional after-school special, malls functioned as sort of like the social and financial hub of a modern human community. Alternately sullen and high-spirited adolescents gathered here to lounge about and window-shop; blank-faced professionals stopped by to stock up on small supplies and indulge in brief siestas; shrieking kids towed their frazzled parents from one end of the place to the other. Everything—from the diverse smells to the omnipresent shininess to the occasional smiling employee (yes, they'd actually smiled at him) exhorting him to take a free treat from a newly opened food stall or fill out a sweepstakes form to win a brand new SUV—was so foreign and unreal that Donatello felt like he'd had hijacked someone else's body and was looking out through his eyes.

His own brothers' reactions were almost as interesting to note (though it was quite similar to how they had conducted themselves the first time they'd been teleported off-planet). Raphael had his hands in his jeans pockets—probably to distract himself from trying to clutch the sais he'd had to leave at home—trying his best to look uninterested even as he snorted and smirked at everything that deserved it. Leonardo kept glancing around, a survival tactic as much as a sightseeing one, but even his expression of complete alertness—as if he were fully anticipating that someone amongst the hordes of mall-goers would suddenly awaken to the fact that oversized mutant turtles were stalking their midst—was interspersed with flickers of wonder.

And Mikey? Mikey had been reduced to a human-shaped blur—Donnie could swear that he was at the front of the group, behind the group, and making a beeline for that nearby store, all at once. No sooner would he spot something he had to get at least three inches close to when he'd spot something else even more interesting; it was all anyone could do to keep him in focus.

April, for her part, did an admirable job chaperoning them all, though admittedly she might have had it easier if Casey or Angel had been able to accompany her—Casey had promised a friend of his months ago to do a repair job for him, and Angel had a tutoring appointment that afternoon, and neither one was happy about being left out. Part of Donatello didn't mind; as far as he was concerned, having April all to themselves for their first proper jaunt outside as humans was perfectly fine as far as he was concerned.

So here they were, two and a half hours into their great mall adventure, and they'd only now just reached the men's section of JC Penney's. (For every ten steps it seemed like one of the boys would see something that they absolutely had to check out, and April simply hadn't had the heart to refuse them anything their first day topside.) After picking out their shoes—a long, grueling, and infinitely confusing process—she went off to pay for their purchases, temporarily leaving the four teenagers on their own.

It was strange, Donnie thought as he stood in the eye of a human storm, how the midst of a local mall could feel more alien than any of the extraterrestrial worlds they'd walked on. He still couldn't believe that they were in plain sight and people were all going about their everyday business and not screaming, or pointing at them, or staring at them—

"Someone's starin' at us again," Raphael growled, jerking his head to the left.

Leonardo snapped his head around so suddenly it was a wonder he didn't get whiplash. Donatello looked, too, and saw only a trio of giggling teenaged girls lingering at the entrance.

"Why're they laughing at us?" wondered Don, feeling his ego deflate a little. He was pretty sure they were all wearing clothes that matched this time (a combination of the Purple Dragons' less offensive threads, picks from Casey's wardrobe, and the fruits of Splinter's foraging). He tried to remember if there was some kind of mandatory human accessory that they'd all forgotten to put on before leaving the lair.

"I dunno, but they're tickin' me off," Raphael said.

Leonardo, seeing that the girls posed no immediate threat, promptly lost interest and went back to scanning their surroundings.

"They're not laughing at us," Mikey said boldly, and sent a wink and smile in the girls' direction. To Donnie's amazement, they instantly went beet-red and fled into the adjacent store, squealing all the way. Mikey turned back to his bemused siblings. "See?"

Donatello shook his head. Sometimes he wished he had Mikey's audacity when it came to people.

April called to them from the counter. "Hey, guys, could you give me a hand with these?"

Donnie practically vaulted over the bench and managed to zigzag through his fellow shoe-shoppers (which was somewhat easier without his shell, and he didn't have to worry about any of them looking too close). He swept all four boxes from April with a triumphant flourish.

"Really, Don, you don't have to take it all," April assured him, reaching out to steady the pile of boxes.

"No, it's my pleasure." Donnie decided he liked the look of her hand next to his, the matching paleness of their skin.

April withdrew her hand far too prematurely. "So, guys, ready to pick out your own clothes?"

"Are we ever!" Michelangelo bellowed, and took off like a shot.

At least, he would have, if Leonardo hadn't nonchalantly snagged his hoodie.

"Let's figure out where exactly we're going first, shall we?" said his brother. "Less chance of getting sidetracked."

"Dude, there are so many choices!" Mikey settled down and began to tick off on his fingers. "Abercrombie & Fitch, American Eagle, Diesel, Banana Republic, Hollister, Armani Exchange, Hot Topic…the possibilities are more abundant than they've ever been!"

His brothers looked at him like he'd just babbled in ancient Aramaic. None of their lessons involved clothing brands, and so it was only Michelangelo who'd attempted to rectify this oversight, thanks to his greater exposure to MTV, Bravo, and various teen catalogs and magazines.

"Um, well…not all of those brands have stores in this mall, but I'm sure the men's section in here carries most of them," said April. "We better hurry up, though. We can't spend three more hours picking out clothes when we still need to get you guys underwear."

As Donatello wrestled to keep his suddenly shaky tower of shoeboxes upright, Leo suggested, "Why don't we split into two groups, then? It'll go faster that way."

"Good idea, bro." Mikey tiptoed beside Leo and leaned in confidentially. "And ix-nay on April touching our underwear-way, okay?"

"Um…okay, guys, here's how we'll do it. April, you and Raph and Don go check out clothes and Mikey and I'll grab the underwear. What, Mikey?" he asked impatiently as his brother wagged his head madly from side to side and made x-shaped gestures with his hands.

"I protest against letting Raph have a say in what we wear!" Mikey declared dramatically. "He'll take nothing but leather and clothes with skulls and spikes all over 'em. We won't be able to move without impaling ourselves…or making funny sounds every time we move. We'll all look like leather-wearing pirate cactsuses that squeak a lot!"

"Cacti," corrected Don.


"At least I'd pick stuff that won't make us look like complete wimps," sneered Raphael. "Like, if we put Donnie in charge, we'd all end up with freakin' labcoats or somethin'."

"Hey! I resent that remark!" Donatello protested. "Why would I buy you all labcoats? You guys wouldn't even be caught anywhere near a lab! I mean, give me more credit than that!"

"Maybe Raph's got a point," Mikey said thoughtfully. "You'd probably pick out something nerdy in corduroy and plaid."

Donnie reared back, miffed. "What's wrong with plaid?"

"All right." April waved her hands in a pacifying manner. "Leo, why don't you come with me instead and help pick up—"

But Mikey let out an abject gasp. "Oh, no! Not Leo! Anyone but Leo!"

"Why not?" Leonardo asked, sounding slightly offended.

His brother jabbed a finger at him. "Because you think a bathrobe passes as something you'd wear in public!"

"For the last time, Mikey, it's called a yukata, and it's an accepted garment in—"

"—the thirteenth century? I believe that! And don't get me started on those skirts you seem to like—"

Leonardo pursed his lips, eerily mimicking the sulky male underwear model on the ad stand right behind him. "Those aren't skirts! They're hakama. Usagi wears them!"

"Yeah, well, sorry, bro, but your taste in clothes're, like, a couple thousand years behind the times." Michelangelo made a dismissive little flippy motion with his wrist.

"That's not true! I can pick out something modern and functional like everyone else!"

"Aha!" The fair-haired teen leaped forward and invaded his brother's space with a wag of his finger. "There's that word 'functional'. To you 'functional' means cloth that's cut and sewn in the right shape and has holes for the neck and arms. You wouldn't care less if it was Armani or some ripoff from Bubba's Clothing Empire!"

"What?" Leonardo, in a strange moment of role reversal, looked completely lost.

"I believe I've made my point." Michelangelo stepped back, reveling in the rare high of having out-argued his blue-wearing brother.

April heaved a sigh. "Okay, okay! Michelangelo, you come with me—"

This time it was Raphael who raised an objection. "Over my dead body! I refuse ta look like one of those airhead boy banders on the Disney Channel!"

"I'm not particularly looking forward to being dressed in what Mikey thinks is high fashion," Donatello admitted. "I mean, no offense, Mikey, but I'd rather be comfortable in my clothes instead of being worried I'll sit wrong or spill machine grease over them."

Mikey looked distressed. "I can't believe you're all perfectly willing to decline my help when I'm the only one among you guys with any sense of actual style."

"Yeah, Zoolander style," muttered Raph.

"I'm not looking forward to what you pick, either," Donnie informed him.

"What? You sayin' my style ain't good enough for the geek squad?"

"I'm just saying—"

"At least my clothes won't have chains as a fashion accessory—"

"I don't see what's wrong with 'functional'—"

April had no wooden walking stick with which to rap the floor with, so instead she whistled. The boys' bickering immediately ground to a halt.

"You know what, you guys pick out what you want to buy. Remember, we're on a budget, so two shirts and one pair of pants each. I, meanwhile, am going to go and get you all underwear."

And before any of them could stop her, she whirled around and sauntered off to the other end of the men's section.

"Well, I've got no problem with her taste in underwear," Mikey proclaimed to the world in general.

"I guess if someone had to pick our underthings, we could do worse than April," conceded Leo.

"Yeah, Casey told me she bought him skivvies," said Raphael, grimacing. " 'Course, I told him that was way too much information, but he was kinda plastered and holdin' up this leopard print thong—"

"Breathe, Don," Leo said again.

Even with their newfound fashion freedom, it was still a bear trying to figure out how, exactly, they were supposed to conduct the whole buying-clothes process. There were sizes to consider, and measurements, and tailoring and fit: things they'd only had to think about in theory. And then there were the color palettes, materials, and brand names—Michelangelo insisted that there existed a stringent set of rules of dress that had to be followed or else risk becoming social pariahs.

"No, no, no! Stripes with those pants? Are you blind, man?"

His brothers stood in front of the changing rooms, dressed in their initial choices. Cradled in their arms and scattered across their feet were boxes and hangers. Judging from their wardrobe, not one of them had paid attention to his extremely helpful discourse on style.

Donnie glared, crossing his arms over his otherwise trendy striped Diesel shirt. "Here's a thought, Mikey: why don't you apply your alleged sense of style to your own clothes instead of everyone else's?"

Mikey sniffed. "Well, excuse me for trying to keep my bros from committing fashion felonies! Raph, you look like you've been marooned in the eighties! And Leo—what did I tell you about wearing that particular shade of blue? That's not gonna bring out your eyes!"

Leo rolled his shoulders, paying only the most perfunctory of glances to the mirror across. "Sorry, Mikey, but I'm more concerned about the actual covering-my-torso part than the bringing-out-my-eyes part."

Mikey threw up his arms in exasperation and began to retreat toward the changing rooms. "Augh! I swear, there's nothing more frustrating than curbed genius!"

"What he's got is a curbed brain," confided Raph, clutching possessively at the collar of this absolutely bitching motorcycle jacket he'd found (which Mikey had accused him of stealing from Brett Michaels back when he'd been musically relevant).

"He did sound like he knew what he was talking about. I mean, I didn't even recognize half the brand names he recommended," Don said with a touch of awe.

"You know," Leonardo said, "I'm starting to miss the days when our clothing options were trench coat, winter trench coat, and thick woolly sweater."

He found himself missing them even more when Mikey took full advantage of his expanded range of options by trying on seemingly every possible clothing combo in the store. Unfortunately (for his brothers), his physique and coloring afforded him substantial compatibility with every outfit—a fact the salesgirls did little to discourage. When April returned bearing packs of undergarments, Mikey was still trying to decide on his second shirt and pair of pants. So she went to join his brothers—who had forgotten to be ill at ease and were edging toward near-catatonia—on the bench in front of the changing rooms.

"Sometimes I wonder," mumbled Raphael, watching through his fingers as his fair-haired brother posed and preened before the mirrors.

Yet another salesgirl sashayed by, drawn to the scene like a lion to a kill. "Hello. Are—"

"We ain't related to him," Raphael said immediately. "Never seen him b'fore in our lives."

April elbowed him, then smiled tiredly up at her. "No, that's all right. I think he's got more than enough help."

The salesgirl returned her smile and—somewhat regretfully—left them to assist the customers who actually were in need of help. Mikey didn't even notice; he was still busy checking himself out in yet another new outfit.

"Guys," he called out brightly as he peered into the mirrors, "do you think this shirt makes my complexion look washed-out?"

Raphael finally lost it. "That is it! Lessee how much he cares 'bout lookin' washed-out once I've added a coupla colors t'his complexion!"

Donatello held out a placating arm. "Come on, Raph, let him enjoy this. Sure, watching him conduct his own personal Mr. Universe pageant in front of the changing rooms isn't exactly our idea of a good time, but we can wait a little longer. Right, Leo? Um...Leo?"

"What?" Leonardo stopped fingering his bangs and wrenched his gaze away from the Supercuts outlet across. "Oh, ah, right. But if he doesn't settle on something after thirty minutes, we're going to buy him a trench coat and a woolly sweater and that's it—"

"Perfect!" Michelangelo roared, making them all jump. He swaggered over, dressed in an orange-and-black shirt and designer jeans that actually didn't look bad on him at all. He struck a suave model-ish pose. "I have made my decision! Ahahaha! Tyrese, eat your heart out!"

"Who the hell is Tyrese?" came the mutter from Raphael, but April's exclamation of gleeful relief easily drowned him out.

"Wow, Mikey, you look great!" she enthused. "And I'm not just saying that because I'm glad we can finally get out of here!"

"Really?" Mikey's grin quickly took on a debonair slant. He sidled over to April's side and let his head cant slightly forward to let his hair fall roguishly across his temples like he'd practiced in the mirror. "Sooo…think I look good enough to start riots?"

April thought that it was just coincidence when a couple of young girls ran by screaming. She began to rethink that conclusion when a middle-aged couple and group of seniors huffed past. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Leonardo leap to his feet and unconsciously assume a battle stance.

"Umm…" Michelangelo glanced after the fleeing people, then down at his outfit. "I can't be that drop-dead gorgeous, can I?"

Two young males ran by, shrieking. They were followed by several of the salesgirls who'd assisted Mikey earlier. Outside the store, people seemed to be unfurling toward the exits in screeching waves.

"What the shell—?" Raph breathed.

April was no girly-girl, but even she couldn't suppress the instinctive yelp of repulsion as a rat darted past her foot. It was followed by another, and another, until April was practically scaling the nearest ex-turtle, who just happened to be Donatello.

Somewhere outside the store came a familiar and somewhat mad peal of laughter.

April looked down at the writhing, squeaking brown-and-gray river, then back up at the boys' bemused expressions, and couldn't hold back a resigned sigh.

"I really can't take you guys anywhere, can I?" she said.

End of Chapter Six

Closing Notes: Um, yes…so it's been more than a year between installments, but, you know, I've got college and Real Life and stuff happening, so I kind of lost the characters' "voices" for a while. I can't write properly when that happens; it took a long while (and a protracted re-watching of the original series and the first four seasons of the new series) to get them back so I could continue writing. The holiday break helped a lot, too. My apologies to those whose comments I never answered (I don't even remember which ones I missed!). If there's still anyone who's reading this, I'm grateful. And amazed.

Well, I can't say anything more without coming up with more excuses or apologies, so drop me a comment or let me know if I've got a typo or something. This time I'll do my best to answer. I'm no longer gonna make promises on how long the next chapter's gonna take—something tells me I won't be able to keep my word—but I do have an outline of the entire story already written down in my laptop, as well as snippets from upcoming installments and an artwork or two. This thing just might be completed yet.

Next: The boys get their first real combat test in their new human forms (without their weapons), the Foot Headquarters break-in plan gains traction, and an old enemy starts getting suspicious.