A/N: Well, here it is guys, the last chapter. I can't convey how amazing you've all been, so please just read, relax, and enjoy.
A few days had turned into a week, and the turtles' human friends showed no real desire to leave, nor did the small mutant family particularly wish them to. It was a bit cramped in the Lair with the extra bodies, but they managed. Besides, at the moment, under the streets really was safer than above.
Two days after the death of the Shredder, April's shop had been broken into, probably by a Foot or PD who wanted a leg up in the hopeful restructuring of the organization. As per April's arrangement, both the cops and fire department arrived before too much damage had been done, but none wanted to dwell on what could have happened if April had been there at the time.
The police had been coping well with the outbreaks of infighting among lieutenants of the old administration as the vacuum left by Saki beckoned. Raph and Casey did their part- always toting shellcells. Sometimes Mikey went with them, and Splinter had even gone once when the incredible fullness, and therefore loudness, of the Lair taxed even his legendary patience. Leo was still under house arrest, and so spent most of his time practicing. Don would probably have objected, but he and April had been holed up in his lab almost incessantly since their return.
"We've got it! Leo, guys, you have to listen to this!" Don and April exclaimed as they exploded from the Lab,
"Dude, what is it?" asked Mikey, poking his head around the arch to the kitchen, mixing bowl still in hand. "Did you and April finally discover a theory of everything or something?"
"We've been far too busy to work on that," dismissed April, "… Though, I have had some thoughts I wanted to run by you for the graviton detector."
"Really? I could pull out my old plans after dinner," rejoined Donatello eagerly before turning back to the younger turtle. "And since when have you been interested in theoretical science anyway, Mikey?"
"Whoa, dude, I was just kidding- is there really a theory of everything?- and if there is, you totally know that the answer is twenty four!"
"Okay, Mikey, I didn't really understand that and I don't think you did either. We're not really talking about an equation that would yield a simple numerical answer, we-"
"Enough already, brainiach! Didn't ya hightail it out here with somthin' actually important?" growled Raphael from his seat on the couch beside Casey as the hockey game droned on in the background.
"Right!" beamed Donatello, switching tracks smoothly. "Do you guys want to hear the interesting news or the weird news first?"
"The interesting news, my son," Master Splinter requested sagely, with a slightly bemused shake of his head. Everyone turned as he and Leo emerged from his paper sanctuary.
"Sure, Master Splinter. The interesting thing is that Shredder would never have found Leo, at least not as long as he stayed in the Lair."
"How can this be?" asked Splinter even as Leo questioned:
"Are you sure?"
"Well, the Foot could have found our Lair the old fashioned way, but he never could have traced Leo through the tracker," Don explained.
"Have you discovered why this is so?"
"We think so, Master Splinter," replied April. "Don and I discovered that the tracker uses a basic radio wave frequency, though coded and piggybacked in a truly ingenuous fashion. Really, it is able to hitch a ride on virtually any airborn signal."
"It did not, however, have the capability to record where it had been previously- live transmition only," jumped in the purple banded turtle.
"Yeah, I'm sure that that's fascinatin', Don, but how come they jus didn't trace Leo back here on day one?" growled Raphael impatiently.
"Well, the sewers themselves would have proven a difficulty, especially some of the older tunnels which used some lead and other signal dampening materials, but that would only have slowed them down," expounded Don, unmoved by Raph's ever short temper. "Mikey, you remember all the trouble we had with the entertainment monolith when we moved in?"
"You mean the power problem?" cringed Mikey, remembering the flack he had gotten for blowing all of the lights on the street above them.
"No, not that one," sighed Don, remembering all the frantic diversions he had been forced to throw up to misdirect the city engineers when they were sent to discover the source of the brownout.
"Oh, you mean the other one…" nodded Mikey sagely, hiding his relief behind serious eyes.
"I mean the wireless signals," Don huffed, rolling his eyes. "I tried a whole range of carriers and nothing- eventually I turned to physically wiring up the lair and routing the signal through a junction some distance away. I even had to come up with an entirely separate way of communication for our shellcells for just that reason."
"Point, Donny?" asked Leo, though his warmly amused smile sapped the statement of any real persuasive power.
"There was no way for Shredder's tracker to transmit from the enclosure of the Lair!" cried Don triumphantly.
"And, we think we know why," jumped in April before anyone could interrupt.
"Exactly," said Don, picking back up, "You all remember the ancient city we discovered in the underworld beneath the city?"
"You mean the one with the mutated monsters?" asked Mikey with a shiver.
"Hey it ain't their fault the Shredder ran them through his freaky experiments- you just need to figure out how not ta scream like a girl."
"Says you!" shot back Mikey maturely.
"My sons, my sons," sighed Splinter, dropping his head into his furred hands. Raph and Mikey looked away guiltily, and both were relieved when their Master motioned for Don to continue instead of further chastising them.
"Anyway, the same crystals that went into constructing that city are the same ones that are embedded in the walls of our own Lair. I've supposized that it could once have been an outpost, but whatever the case, the energy contained within the crystals themselves interfere with most signals that are sent through them." Leo lay his palm on the wall beside him, feeling the blue veining in the walls. This is what had kept his family safe when he had been unable to.
"But whenever I left…" Leo trailed off.
"Yes," confirmed Donatello, "anytime you left these walls they could track you." Leo closed his eyes as he recalled the sound of Foot in the sewers, how they always seemed closer after he and Raphael had been out working on Leo's swords. Every time he had been endangering his family, bringing the enemy closer the Lair. But how could he have done differently? True, any remnants of the Foot would have a much better idea of where their home was located in the vast network of tunnels that wended their way under the city, but the Shredder was dead, the Foot disorganized. Being more careful for a few months was surely not too much to pay for such a victory, for such a decrease of weight.
"And the other thing, the 'weird news'? " Leo asked after a pause.
"Oh, yeah," said April more softly. "We went over the results several times, just to be sure, but…"
"The blood on Raph's sais and the sample that I collected from the ground, well… the Shredder wasn't human, guys."
All movement in the room froze, all eyes locked onto Donatello, attempting to process such an unexpected announcement.
"I'm sorry, could you run that by us again?" breathed Mikey, barely preventing the batter from sloping onto the floor as the bowl had listed in his arms.
"The Shredder was not human," Don repeated slowly and clearly.
"What was he then? A mutant like youse guys? Cause I gotta say, he looked pretty normal ta me," chimed in Casey dubiously.
"No, I compared the blood to samples taken from both myself and my brothers as well as Master Splinter and the DNA sequences are nothing alike, even taking advanced and varied mutation into account. I couldn't even identify some of the basic nucleotide markers." Don shook his head. "Honestly, guys? It wasn't like anything ever recorded on Earth."
"You think that the Shredder was an alien or something? And you say I watch too much science fiction!" exclaimed Michelangelo, all but doubling over in laughter, only to trail off as he realized that no one was joining in on his mirth. "You don't, do you?" he squeaked.
"I don't know Mikey. I'd feel better not discounting anything," Don replied. "Master Splinter, do you know of anything that would cause such a condition, or anywhere that such a thing would occur normally?"
"It was rumored through Japan that the one called the Shredder was a demon, or at the very least, a practitioner of the dark arts. I do not know exactly what would be the markings of such a person. To discover this, I would have to contact one more knowledgeable in the ways of such things. It would take several weeks to get a reply," Splinter admitted sadly.
"The first time- when I cut off the Shredder's head… I didn't think about it at the time," Leo dropped his head, "I should have - I should have noticed afterwards, but there wasn't much blood when I wiped my katana. It may not have been blood at all. "
"Well, I'm sure that this is fasinatin an' all," Raph offered up as a distraction, "but where exactly does this leave us?"
"Well, I'd like to take a closer look at Leo's swords, and have Master Splinter see what he can learn about any mystical possibilities, but without a body to study-"
"Since it 'mysteriously' disappeared," interjected Mikey with awkward one handed quotation marks.
"-there's not much we can do," Don finished.
"But we do know that the Lair is safe. There is no way that the tracker was traced here," offered April, feeling somehow that their news had brought with it a gloomy cloud- certainly not something they had intended.
"Still, Miss O'Neill, it seems as though each answer we uncover leads only to many more."
"Perhaps we are going about this the wrong way," suggested Leonardo thoughtfully. "Instead of trying to find our own answers, perhaps we should just track down someone who has them already."
"Yeah Fearless, ya got some sorta secret rolodex ya can pull out there?" growled Raph in frustration.
"Would that be under 'A' for answers or 'I' for impotence?" chimed in Michelangelo with a giggle.
"That would be 'O' for omnipotence, Mikey," sighed Don in despair.
"Actually, I was thinking of the Guardians," Leo said, talking over the responses of his siblings. "They made quite a point of their involvement with the Shredder and their desire to be allies of sorts-"
"But when all a this went down they left youse out to dry," finished Casey. Leo looked for a moment as though he would have liked to argue. They had seemed honorable and genuine, but Leo had no real answer to Casey's argument.
"It's a place to begin," he finally responded.
There was a moment of silence in the Lair when all present pondered the fact that no matter how much they had been through or even recovered from, life still went on, bringing always new goals and more questions.
"Yeah, well don't get your shell in a twist, Fearless," muttered Raph, turning back to the hockey game, "It ain't like we gotta do anything tonight."
"Hey Mikey, don't you actually have to bake that at some point?" asked Don, taking his cue from Raph and referring to the bowl the youngest was still absently mixing.
"Ha ha, not until the filling is done simmering, and that's not till…" he glanced at the wall clock. "Shell! My peaches!" he exclaimed, disappearing abruptly back into the kitchen.
"I'll go make sure he hasn't caught anything on fire," April volunteered, laughing softly. Don shook his head gratefully as he went to grab the book he had been reading before this all started- with their odd little family, one could never be sure when the next lull would come. They had learned early to take advantage when they could.
Leonardo watched as his family turned back to their tasks. Master Splinter softly confided that he had some letters to write and excused himself; Don re-emerged from the upper level and curled up in their Sensei's armchair with a book. Soft noises and quiet exclamations leaked from the kitchen, only to be all but buried under the jostling and snide comments that came with Raph and Casey 'congenially' watching sports. Leo sighed as he felt time wrap him in a bubble, his own little cocoon of space as life in the Lair went on around him. He had no doubt that there would be yet more trouble ahead of them. Shell, at times it felt that there were still problems in him, but he could do this- they could just be them for another day or so. Then they could go look for answers. He didn't want to put his family in any more danger then he had to, but it was just reconnaissance, and he, for one, would sleep better knowing once and for all what or who had been playing with his family for the last year. But whatever it was that they found, where ever it was that they had to go, Leo was determined never to leave his family again.
"Raph, help me set the table," came the pleading, whining voice that only the youngest of siblings can ever truly perfect.
"Naw," grunted Raph, glancing over at where the eldest still stood, "I'm busy. Make Leo do it- he ain't doin nothing." Before Leonardo had time to even think of protesting, not that he planned to, his arms were full of dishes piled haphazardly with silverware and his vision filled with a beaming Michelangelo. Shaking his head with an amused sigh passing his smiling lips, he obediently followed his youngest brother to the table, knowing in his heart of hearts that it was he who would be putting out the place settings while Mikey bounced around the table chattering about what ever came into his head.
Of course, he really wouldn't want it any other way.
A/N: I've been writing this for so very long that I feel a little lost without it, even if I am happy to finally be able to put it to bed. Of course, I have rather left it open for a sequel ;) I hope to get back to these guys after I've taken care of a few errant plot bunnies that popped up while I was busy with this story.
Once again let me say how amazing all of you reviewers have been, and forgive me for asking for just one more. Old times' sake? ~Ever, Delia Ra'Nar