It was, April reflected, probably the strangest place in New York City
Just a quick little study of the turtle's 2003 lair and the place it holds in April's heart. But the funny thing about taking a look at somebody's home is how much of its residents you see in each and every corner…
Disclaimers: I do not own April, the TMNT, Splinter, Casey, or anything else under copyright that ends up in this story. I'm just borrowing them for the purposes of entertainment and a deeper understanding of a beloved fandom.
It was, April reflected, probably the strangest place in New York City.
The fact that the lair was inhabited by four mutant turtles and a mutant rat notwithstanding, the sewer that was a refuge from the outside world had its own oddities and idiosyncrasies. April, having lived with the turtles while her real home was under construction, shook her head as she looked about fondly. Though she had not roomed with the turtles and Splinter for months, save those visits to Casey's isolated homestead, she was unsurprised that their habits had not changed. Those habits, annoying when she had had to put up with them, were now distant enough to be endearing.
For example, April knew from experience that it was extremely rare for the lair to be either completely empty or completely quiet. Day or night, inevitably someone was awake and active. Even long after any sort of reasonable bedtime, Michelangelo might be awake enjoying a late-night movie marathon. Or Raphael might return home from his own solitary patrols and spend an hour winding down with a kata. Or Donatello would be working busily in his workshop, trying to solve the mysteries of the universe single-handedly. Even Master Splinter, who one would assume to be asleep in the deepest part of night, could be heard moving around, perhaps training himself in the relative quiet. It had bothered her for a while, the erratic schedules of nocturnal youths, until she noticed a pattern, something rooted in family and love instead of rebellious energy.
What had then amazed April about the turtles was the way they, none of them, could quite call it a day without the others. Mikey would be up until all hours, but he seemed unwilling to surrender to bed until coerced by Leo, who would inevitably emerge from his own bedroom complaining of the TV noise keeping him awake. Donatello could, and regularly would, forgo sleep entirely if not reminded by Raphael that even braniacs need their shuteye. If it were Raphael up late alone, troubled by some inner unrest, Michelangelo would find himself plagued with the urge to get a glass of water, thus reminding his older brother that "all work and no sleep makes Raph a pain in the shell." The nights that Leonardo could not sleep and needed to train, needed to better himself even if it was three in the morning, Donatello could be counted upon to rise and join him after a little while, such that the eldest turtle need not spend the ungodly hours of night alone. And when it had been April herself, unable to sleep because of the still and all-too-real pain of the loss of her own home, she would not be curled miserably on the couch for more than a few minutes before at least one turtle and usually the rat found their way to her side. It seemed as though none of them could sleep if even one were not yet at peace.
And still, without fail, Leonardo rose well before dawn for morning training, no matter how late the night before had been. Donatello and Raphael would prod each other about who got to use the bathroom first when they each emerged from their rooms. Michelangelo would wander into the middle of breakfast, bleary-eyed but cheerful, and would accept the gentle ribbing for his lateness. And Master Splinter would be there, always a few steps ahead of the turtles, a constant presence in their lives. In fact, April wasn't sure that the wise sensei slept at all – he always seemed to be awake and aware, only choosing not to reveal his presence when his sons were active in the night. She had once asked Donatello about it one extremely early morning when the two had been deep in reconfiguring their firewalls. The purple-clad turtle had smiled and replied mysteriously.
"You know, April, a side-effect of being raised in the art of ninjitsu is that we're supposedly in tune with our environment. That doesn't mean you can't sneak up on one of us if you try, or that we can hear a worm flowing through the sewer or something. But…some noises are louder than others to us, some sounds get through to us more than a claxon would. If I fall asleep at my desk, the guys'll hear it. If Mikey has a nightmare, everybody knows. We just…we listen to each other. I know I do. And I think Master Splinter listens even more than we do, and he hears more, too."
As April looked around the lair now, though it was nearly four in the morning, she smiled. It was still a pretty weird place. Aside from being dank and undeniably subterranean, the quirky things about its tenants that were in evidence everywhere made it seem more like a nest than an alien hole in the ground. Donatello's bo, for example, was currently propped against his worktable, balancing some on-going experiment. The sand beneath Raphael's favorite punching bag indicated that the red-clad turtle had been working off some steam. The fact that the couch was almost invisible under a thick cover of comic books was evidence for a recent late-night marathon by Michelangelo. Master Splinter's new meditation mat was already showing signs where the rat kneeled into it for long, peaceful hours. A neat stand of candles with wicks cut strangely short demonstrated Leonardo's incessant training.
But amidst these specific indicators, there were other things the young woman could see, things that happened everyday or had not happened yet, but were part and parcel with life in this lair. An ipod sat on the kitchen table; April could envision Mikey singing along to it at the top of his lungs until Raphael's patience ran out and a brawl began. A teacup sat next to a chair pulled up to the TVs; April knew that the eldest turtle had probably brought Splinter his tea while the rat watched his "stories." There was a discarded computer keyboard sticking out of the trash; April could imagine that it had finally died the last time Donatello's head had hit the keys after one-too-many late nights.
April took a few more steps into the open room, her feet leading her on deeper into this world beneath the streets. There was a mix of odors in the air that warmed the otherwise coldness of the sewer: candle-smoke from Leonardo's training, sweaty towels and salty crumbs from Mikey's ever-lasting adolescence, oil and rust from Raphael working on his cycle in the garage, solder and chemicals that were strongest near Donatello's workshop but filtered everywhere, and the spice of Master Splinter's incense and tea, softening the other aromas into an ambient air. The whole space was alive with sights, smells, and even sounds of its inhabitants, right down to the orange kitten who was padding across the floor, abandoning his customary place on Michelangelo's bed to greet April with a mewling cry. Everywhere she looked, there was something familiar and comforting. Casey had left his spare backup bag of "weapons" near the door, in case he ever needed them in a hurry. In a pile as far from Mikey's chaos as possible stood a neat pile of books – these were April's own that did not fit in her refurbished apartment, along with her training gi for practice with Master Splinter.
They were not just four turtles living with their sensei. They were four brothers, living with a father. And though there was only one rat, there was also only one scientifically-minded turtle, one hotheaded turtle, one goofball turtle, one eldest turtle. Not to mention one wild human man who dropped by every chance he got. One friendly crocodile genius living a few sewer-pipes away. One orange kitten who had been adopted like the rest of them. And one human woman finding her place in it all. All very different, individually but all bound together by a call to the heart. One family.
April felt a sudden and unexpected prickle in her eyes.
"April? Are you okay?" Leonardo, flanked by his brothers, appeared beside her. He, completely awake, whether or not he had actually been woken by her presence, gave her a worried look. Michelangelo yawned loudly, earning himself a bop on the head from Raphael. Donatello smiled comfortingly.
"Yeah…I just…I didn't want to be alone tonight."
And as the friends, no, the brothers to her they were, the turtles accepted it. They didn't need to know what had troubled her, didn't need to know what had driven her from her own, hard-won home back to their lair. They only needed to know that she was in need. As Mikey began to suggest a series of increasingly bad-sounding horror movies they could watch, April let Raph wordlessly lead her to the couch while Donnie cleared a place amidst the mess for her. Leo moved to the kitchen to make her a cup of tea, knowing without asking that she would want it. And Splinter emerged from his room to lay a furry hand on her shoulder, his eyes assuring her of so many unspoken things. Klunk jumped into her lap and purred at her.
Yes, this was the strangest place in New York City. Without a doubt. Absurd, really. The whole pretense of four mutant turtles and a giant rat living together in a technologically advanced sewer-main lair was beyond fiction.
April felt turtle bodies settling into the couch around her, a rat in his own special seat to one side. The kitten turned around twice and curled up against her stomach, sighing happily. Somebody popped a DVD into the player and the opening of some classically-cheesy monster movie began to play. A warm green arm pressed against hers as the too-small couch became more crowded than usual. April wondered at the feeling of being squeezed tightly between brothers born with thick external shells yet impossibly open and gentle hearts.
And April wouldn't have had it any other way.