Drowning in Life
By Sinead

Author's Note: You come into the middle of the story, not the beginning. Please have patience with me, as this is my first TMNT fic of any sort. I also have not seen the new series, and the last time I had watched the first one was when I was six. All I have to go on for writing this is descriptions, the first three movies, and the new movie, which I have only seen once, and don't remember much of, only that I liked the CGI and the articulation of their voices. And Mako. Yeah . . . Mako. May his memory live on forever in our hearts.

Many thanks to Lady Venom for helping me keep their personalities straight and for her brutal betareading. That is also why I put more than one chapter up for this first story, since the answers and the beginning is in the later parts.

Chapter One

.o.O.o.

For a girl who had the perfect runner's build and stamina, Victoria didn't like running. She never liked to run away from any event, least of all something that she could do something about. But as she looked upon the fight unfolding below her, she could think of nothing that would help the protagonists. As she watched with great interest upon the method of combat, she knew that they were at a level just beyond her street-fighting, dirty tricks, and a mid-ranking martial arts belt gained in her early teenage years.

But the four had true form. Style. And above all, were able to move as a single entity, knowing how one of their number would move, and then cover their back and move around it. Each had a particular style that was easily recognizable . . . each were individuals, and at the same time . . . so very alike.

With a pause, she remembered something that her old karate sensei had mentioned about true fighters and how they moved. And it applied directly to these creatures and their actions. She sat and watched the entire thing, and when it looked that the antagonists were beginning to win, she saved the trouble of their leader having to verbally call for a retreat by lighting three smoke bombs and throwing them down from her perch in the rafters. She followed them down, a borrowed scarf wrapped around her nose and mouth, grabbing the first green arm she could and literally dragged the shocked turtle-man back a few steps before he resisted. She had expected that . . . and had been warned about it, too.

Her voice was quiet as she addressed the four. "You really wanna be here when the smoke wears off? They had friends comin'."

Their answers, made in low, stressed voices, were of the negative kind. She nodded curtly, and one of them lifted a manhole, then clambered down it swiftly. The one with the bo indicated that she go next, so Victoria followed, and the other three came after her. Last one down pulled the cover over the hole and held it shut, watching through a small hole what was happening upon the topside. After a long moment, he made a fist, and the early-twenties woman heard the one below her begin to move further down the ladder. She wasn't sure why they had all paused near the top, but it must have been for a good reason. Near the bottom, she heard a tired, low voice say, "Jump. I'll catch ya."

As she realized that there were no more rungs left and there was about a seven-foot drop to the "ground," Victoria knew that she would have to trust the turtle. Drawing in a deep breath, remembering not to tense herself up, she let go of the ladder to be caught and momentarily cradled. Before she could settle into what had to be wordless thanks for getting them out of the mess they had been in, she was set down upon the ground. Three other shapes dropped down around her, forming a loose box with her in the middle. After a bit of silence, someone muttered something about Victoria, which was quickly answered with an angry mutter about how she had barged in on their fight. It went on for a moment, before a decision was made about what to do with her.

Straightening, one of the four made a quick and silent motion with his hand, then turned and began walking. Victoria didn't know if he wanted her to follow him, but the one who had walked up to directly beside her put a hand behind her shoulder, as if to usher her forward in a gentle manner. She nodded, and stepped out, hands always in sight, posture straight and professional.

They wound their way through the New York City sewer system, thankfully not walking through water, but upon thin catwalks against the walls. After not too long of a time, but quite the twisty, mazelike path through the sewer system later, they walked into a semi-lit area. In that dim light, she saw bits of dark liquid rolling down limbs, sweat mingling with it. Scrapes, bruises, and what looked like very painful other various wounds lined the hems of who these individuals were. But they looked like they were trying to hide their wounds from her.

As they waked into a brightly-lit room almost two hundred feet in diameter, Victoria took her first good look at the statue-still quartet. Four colored bands told them apart, but their eye colors were another huge indicator. The purple one's hazel orbs were studying her with quick movements, never pausing in his assessment of her appearance. The orange-banded one had baby blue eyes, wide and innocent, almost vulnerable. He looked to her with thanks, holding his hand over a cut that wouldn't stop seeping blood.

The one with the blue bandana had dark brown eyes made darker with anger. But what that anger was at, Victoria didn't know. Finally, the red-masked, red-brown eyed one was watching her with a smoldering, steady look that wasn't a glare, just a gaze from a face that didn't really stop frowning. She had the feeling that he was intrigued by her and her actions.

The entire exchange didn't take more than a minute. So, she did the only thing that she could think of doing. She spoke. "Where's your first aid kit?"

"We're fine," the blue one snapped, glaring at her.

She pointed to the various semi-serious wounds upon the other three. "I do beg to differ." Specifically, she pulled up the orange one's arm and indicated the still-bleeding cut. "I doubt that he could get this cleaned up and stop the bleeding without my help."

"Please," the blue-eyed one whispered in a low, pained voice. His arm was half-limp in her tender grasp, showing that while he wanted the pain gone, he still didn't trust her.

"We're fine," he snarled, stepping a pace closer to glare at her further. "We didn't need your interference, and we don't need you cleaning up after us."

Snorting, she snapped back, "Sure, then do me a favor. Don't come to me to patch you up when you find out that you can't reach places that I know have been hurt." The young woman turned . . . and came upper-chest-to-snout with a large rat bowed over with age. His smile was warm and welcoming, glad to see that she had taken his advice, and she asked in a soft voice, her odd-colored eyes glinting with mischief that the old rat caught on to, "Oh. There you are. Sensei, where do you hide the first-aid kit? Boys did themselves in worse than the other times I've seen them."

"Ah, they will survive." Chuckling, the old rat opened his arms, and Victoria went to her knees to enter his embrace with a gentle, easy motion. He held her head to his chest, bowing his grizzled snout over it. "Welcome, adopted daughter."

"Daughter?" Four voices cracked in shock at different parts of the one title.

"I am the one honored to be so welcomed here," Victoria replied, sighing and feeling peace like she hadn't felt in years come back and enter into her. "Now . . . before the youngest passes out, sensei, I have to insist that you disclose the location of that blasted kit."

.o.O.o.

The hours passed both slowly and quickly. Leonardo consistently and constantly bristled around Victoria, or Tori as she wished to be called. That action and his glare was odd to the others, who were so used to him being the calm one. Michelangelo and Donatello were totally at ease with her, and got their wounds, both large and small, taken care of with only a few yelps of pain when the antiseptic or bandages respectively burned or pulled too hard on broken skin. Raphael, on the other hand, was his usual self and it took Tori's following him around the house and grabbing his hand here, bandaging his calf there, generally and gently annoying him in a way that he didn't mind being annoyed in, if you could understand the grumblings and curse-enshrouded mutters. Unfortunately, he had to admit that she tied a good bandage. So when he finally got up to his room, he was okay with her taking care of a sloppily-made bandage that had been self-applied. Even then, however, he was his usual aloof, grouchy self. "I don' see why you should do this f'r me."

"Because I agreed to Sensei's terms when I wished to help him out with you heathens. Hold still."

"Why shou-AH! OW!"

Cursing loudly and venomously, Raphael held still, knowing better than to pull away from the antiseptic or do anything rash involving throwing things or hitting things. That was a special stupidity he reserved when nobody was around. Even so, his yelling had drawn Leonardo up to the room at a sprint. As much as he disliked this girl, he simply couldn't allow Raph to intimidate her or hurt her. When he slammed the door open, however, he saw Tori sitting beside Raph on his bed, patching up his arm while the turtle sat growling and staring away from the young woman.

Both stopped what they were doing to look at Leonardo. Raphael was glaring at him to leave, while Victoria was watching him with a look of confusion and wary distrust. With a noise of disgust, he did so, passing Donny and Mikey, both of whom hadn't moved one inch since Raph's yelling had began. They didn't look at Leo as he walked back towards Splinter's room. Once there, he walked over to his mentor and knelt. "I can't stand either of them right now. I don't understand what's wrong."

"Did I not tell you that she was not in any danger? Did your brothers not move, understanding that he was just venting his pain?" Splinter was also kneeling, but was watching the steam from a cup of green tea rise towards the ceiling from the mug he held within his hands. His gaze was focused somewhere on the steam, yet not on it, relaxing as the water particles shaped themselves. "Do not worry about the little bird. She is faster than any of you, and her endurance for that particular sport of running, sometimes dodging, is almost on par with Donatello, were she to exert herself. If he were to catch her, however, she would be in trouble."

"But--"

"You will not worry about Tori," Splinter reiterated sternly, his dark eyes piercing as he looked up at his son. "Allow her to be welcome in our home."

"But Master Splinter--"

The ancient-sounding voice lowered towards a gravelly tone. "No. That is a challenge to you, my son. Rise above it."

.o.O.o.

"Dudette, that was good!"

"Nn. Well, not as good as I wish it to be. Show me how you did that again."

Donatello sat upon a wooden crate, watching the very light sparring, lazily leaning his chin on his hand which was resting on one end of his bo. He was smiling at the way that both his youngest brother and the young woman were moving around each other. Raphael joined him, standing to his left and fingering his sai. There was a definite look of interest upon his face, but the computer genius knew that his brother was merely analyzing every move that both Michelangelo and Victoria were making. Crouching to watch it from a lower angle, the hothead spoke. "She's got good form."

Watching, taking his time to answer, Donny nodded. "Yeah. In these exercises, she's easily holding her own against Mikey." Looking up to his older brother, he continued, "You're planning something for her, aren't you."

Raph shook his head. "Not particularly . . . Mikey! My turn."

"Yeap, definitely planning something," Donny chuckled, not moving from his pose.

The hottest-tempered of the four walked towards the pair, causing Michelangelo to back off a few steps, then turn and walk towards where Donatello was seated. He was not surprised when Tori didn't bother to bow, or wait for his own bow to complete itself. She fought on the streets, not in a dojo, after all. He quickly thrust his pair of sai into his belt, securing them as he met her attack willingly, blocking and parrying and striking back out at her. His voice held the smile he wouldn't show otherwise at the new challenge that had been presented to him. "Don' hold back with me . . . I don' play well in the sandbox with the bros."

To that, she replied with an unexpected right jab to his face, connecting solidly and driving him a step backwards. He blinked, addled for a moment at the brazen move, and couldn't help but to take a back-handed fist to the side of his face, a leg-sweep following it up to knock him upon his back. The finishing move was the absolute killer, though, and Raphael knew that there was nothing to have defended against it.

She kissed his forehead. Not only that, but she helped him back up, holding onto his forearm . . . simply because he had her own in a grip so tight that it was this side of bruising. His gaze was locked onto hers, not too angry, but miffed at the very least, and searching, trying to get answers about who she was from gaze alone.

Raph wasn't the only one shocked at both how the fight had gone, and how she had finished it. Both Donatello and Michelangelo were staring in complete shock at her moves. She, however, only had her eyes and attention upon Raphael. "You okay, Rafe?"

"Raph," he replied in a quiet tone, correcting her. She smiled and only waited for his answer. It wasn't long in coming, but it was given with a look of warning, that there was something else brewing under the surface. "Leo usually hits harder."

"Oh, gee. I'm a girl. I've got other things to do with my spare time than benchpress."

"Yeah. That's gonna bruise, though." He stretched his neck, still holding onto her arm tightly, not letting her go, not letting her have the chance to move from where she was standing. He had that feeling that someone was behind him . . . watching her . . . and not liking what had just transpired. He was a hot-tempered and impulsive guy, sure, but even he knew when to try to not let it get in the way.

Mikey, as usual, had the perfect thing to say to annoy his elder brother. "Dude . . . she just whipped you, man."

"Powned," Donny added, grinning at the look on Raphael's face. "Totally surprised you that she would do something like that while down here. She's a little faster than you, I think."

"Bro, not as fast as you when you want to be," Mikey pointed out, popping himself up to sit upon the wooden crate that was used by Splinter when he was instructing them.

"It wasn't a fair shot," Leonardo muttered from the shadows, walking out to level his own glare at Tori. He seemed to be itching for a fight with her, any kind of fight. Tori looked past him, seeing Splinter motioning that it was her decision on how to proceed with this situation. She looked around at the two sitting upon the sidelines, then down at the one whom she was still "helping balance." He was only seeming to be leaning upon her, when he was subtly holding himself upright, his hand light upon her shoulder.

It was Raphael who actually tried to settle it. "She got me when I was braggin', Leo. Fair shot." Red-brown eyes met deep brown ones with black anger in them. "Lay off the chick. She's done nothin' wrong. 'Cept for hittin' me, which she knows I'll get 'er back for, her bein' a lady or not."

Donny sighed, then nodded. As much as he hated it, there was no use staying neutral in a fight like this. There literally was no use for someone who both did and didn't want Tori in their home. "You know, he's right. Victoria's done no harm to us, no wrong in my book, or as far as I can see. If you gotta blame her for something, blame her for saving us in that fight. She helped us get out before we could really get seriously injured. Honestly? Blame her for being caring towards us when we even refused her ministrations at first."

Mikey was in full agreement. "Dude, she's like what Splinter called her. She's totally at ease around us as if she'd been here for months. I'm callin' her my sister, for all it's worth, awright?" The innocent blue eyes narrowed and Michelangelo spoke in a tone that was disapproving, condemning. The fact that it came from someone who held nary a contemptuous bone in his body made it all the more biting. "Bummer that you can't see that for yourself and let her in."

"I don't care," Leonardo said in a sharp tone. "I have all the family I need; all the friends I need."

"Fine! Then it's settled. She'll be Mikey's and my sister," Donatello said angrily.

"Not mine." Raphael had spoken in a slow, thoughtful voice. "Not yet, at least. But for a sparring partner, yeah. I can handle that." He stood upon his own and straightened, also seeing Splinter. But the rat nodded, approving the hothead's words and actions before turning away.

Perhaps it was a moment too soon, as Leonardo "humphed" and commented, "Pathetic."

The rounded ear flicked back to face the brothers, even if the rest of the body didn't. Tori shook her head and spoke in the angry, snapping silence, not about to let him walk all over her with his words or insinuations. "Perhaps I am, but I'm trying to learn. Remember something, Leonardo: Leader of your brothers you may be, but that has absolutely no hold you may think you have over my actions and words. I answer to Splinter, and to him only in this household. I am not one of your elite, nor one of you. I'm here to learn, and to fulfil a promise that I made to Splinter months ago. Do try to keep that in mind."

With that, she tossed the ice packs that she had brought with her in case she had gotten a bump that needed attending to both Mikey and Raph, leaving without another word. Leonardo stormed off in the other direction, leaving Donatello and Michelangelo looking gratefully to Raphael. He groaned. "Oh, don' gimme that look, guys . . ."

"Thanks," Donny said quietly. "You didn't have to stand up for her with us."

"Yeah, bro." Mikey looked at the "oldest" of the four. "We need her around for a while, I guess. April's gonna be busy with Casey from now on."

Raphael sighed. "Yeah . . . I didn't wanna think 'bout that, but you're right."

"You don't mind us keeping her around?" Donny asked quietly.

"Somehow, guys, I don' think we got a choice in th' matter."

"I've got a question, though."

Mikey perked up. When Donatello had a question, there usually was something big to answer it with. And they were usually secrets to be told. No matter what it had to deal with, the youngest was like all little brothers: he loved digging into other people's dirt. Even Raphael looked like he was interested to hear what this question was.

Donny sighed, then looked at both of them, one after the other. "She said she made a promise to Master Splinter months ago. How long has she known about us?"

.o.O.o.

Later that evening, on the way to the showers, Raphael was laughing quietly to himself. Tori had really read the riot act to Leo, and his speechless reply was worth a thousand words. Somehow, when Raph pulled a move like that at times in the past, Leonardo had ended up really angry, yelling back something about responsibility. But this time . . . he couldn't even say a word to try to nullify what she was saying!

He opened the shower-room door, taking his time in going to his usual haunt. On the way, he looked in one of the mirrors that hung on the wall, untying his bandana and pulling it off to investigate a new scar on the top of his shoulder before continuing. There were six showers in the one room; four on one wall, two on the other, and drains in all of them. One of the showers was already running, and the rule was that if one of the turtles was in a shower, you say nothing to them, leave them alone, and if you had a point to make, make it in the other living spaces. Means less blood to clean up if someone lost their temper and slipped and fell on wet tiles.

He opened the corner unit's door.

Girl.

Shower.

Girl . . . in . . . shower . . . and she was going to pull his brains out through his butt if he didn't . . . shut . . . door . . .

OhdearGodsheturnedaround.

Saw him staring . . .

Run.

Run!

Tori was as shocked as Raphael, identifying him by his red-brown eyes and the band clenched in one hand. She recovered by trying to get behind the small door, attempting to push it shut, and for some odd reason, it wouldn't budge, giving her only enough space to get her body behind it, leaving her head out so she could snap at him,"Out! Get the hell out!"

What really threw her for a loop was that he had . . . scampered away. Loudly. And was cursing loudly, reaching the door to yell something quite unfriendly before slamming the bathroom door. It didn't stop her from yelling back, "Bastard!" though. She was breathless from the shock and the very brief yelling match. It took her a moment more to recover and then un-jam and close the thin, lockless door, sitting upon a stool in the large stall. She hoped with all her might that it wouldn't get around that he had seen her in the state of undress . . . in a shower. It wouldn't go very well for either of them if that got around. No, no it wouldn't.