Disclaimer: Not mine, just my OC's...you know who they are! No takies!

Author's Note: My apologies for this not being up sooner. I really did have it all finished and ready to post on Sunday, but the fit hit the shan and well...one thing led to another and yeah, it just never got to happen. So...I'm posting it now. However, I'm going to be working ten straight days this week (well ok...four days on, one day off, six days on again! GAH! Hate that my bosses wife's best friend "works" on the nights I don't...she gets any day off she wants at the drop of a hat...even if it mines I have to cancel month old plans. Grrrr!!) so I doubt that I'll be getting the new chapter finished and posted any time in the next few days. But be patient with me please, I know it's been taking me a really long time to get this story finished...but I promise, it'll be worth the while. Don't forget to review it please!! Thank you...and good night!


Chapter Eighteen: "You Can Count on Us"

December 23rd, 4:30pm.

The lair was quiet as Dean emerged from his room. His fever having broken finally the night before, he finally felt well enough to be among family again and to attempt to eat real food. His stomach twisted and gurgled as the scent of his aunt's famous arrangement of Christmas cookies drifted from the kitchen. Peanut butter cookies, chocolate chip, sugar with frosting and sprinkles, macaroons, and various assortments of others scattered across the table and counters of the eating area. How they all could still be out cooling without any of his cousins—or uncles for that matter—being there to try and steal some before they're ready, Dean didn't know.

His sock covered feet shuffled towards the table as he reached for a delicious looking peanut butter cookie that had a large, slightly melting, Hersey Kiss in the center of it. Those had always been his favorite, especially when they were still warm.

"Dean? What are you doing out of bed? Put that cookie down; those are for later." Angela instructed from her place at the oven where she was just readying herself to pull out the final trey of ginger snap cookies.

Giving a slight frown, Dean replaced the cookie and leaned weakly against the table. "I was hungry…and feeling better. I wanted to get something to eat."

"Well, why didn't you call one of us? We would have brought you something. Now sit down here. I think we might still have some chicken noodle soup here somewhere. I know Gwen made a whole huge thing of it…where'd it go?" Angie frowned as she spun from left to right, her eyes darting every which way for the pot that held the remains of their family lunch that day.

Dean couldn't help but chuckle a little as he pointed to the sink, the only place not occupied by cookies at the moment and instead occupied by a stainless steel pot.

"That wouldn't happen to be it, would it Aunt Angie?"

Angie paused for a moment before turning to look at it.

"Ah ha! There you are! Yes! That's exactly it." She answered, grabbing a bowl from the cupboard before filling it with the cool soup. Warming it for a few moments in the microwave, she set it and a spoon down in front of him before feeling his forehead.

"Hm…you are feeling a lot cooler. Well, eat that anyways and maybe later if you're still feeling good, I'll let you have some cookies. But not until we're sure you're going to be able to keep them down."

Dean nodded slowly as he began to spoon the soup into his mouth. He hadn't had one of his nightmarish dreams that past few times he'd been asleep; allowing his body to recuperate and fight off the horrible fever that plagued his young body. Though part of him wondered what it could have meant that he didn't have a foreboding dream. Had everything that happened as of late been nothing more than some horrible dream brought on by extreme illness? He'd heard about such things happening. That people so sick with fever imagined and dreamed out entire courses of events and felt as if what they'd dreamt had actually happened. Perhaps the past month had been nothing more than a horrible dream brought on by fever.

"Where is everyone?" He finally asked between slurps of noodles.

Angie looked up from her baking and frowned slightly. She didn't want to tell the poor thing the truth; that the other adults and all the children but him were training like fiends in the sewers, preparing for the battle they plain to extract the later that night. Sighing and lowering her eyes, she shook her head before placing the cookie he had taken before back by his bowl.

"Mitsie's taking a nap. Ya know what? I bet one cookie wouldn't hurt ya. How's the soup? Not too hot? Too cold? Not enough noodles? I keep forgetting you're the one who likes more noodles than chicken."

"No…it's fine, thank you." Dean answered. His aunt's avoidance of his question was all the answer he needed to hear. It hadn't just been a dream. It was all true and now, two days before Christmas, still weak and partly sick, Dean was helpless to help his family in their oncoming battle. "Are you going to be going with them when they go?"

"Yes, yes I am." Angela's heart broke as she saw her nephew's shoulders slump. She knew that he was against this in every way possible and just wanted his family to turn shell and run, but that just wasn't possible now. The men had made a vow to get Elizabeth and Andy back from the clutches of darkness which held them, and they were not about to just abandon them.

Sighing, Angie moved to sit next to him at the table. "Dean, this is something we have to do, all of us as a family. Your dad and uncle's, they've been up against a lot of things in their time but this isn't just your run-of-the-mill crooks we're dealing with. From what I've heard, these are elite and skilled ninja's the likes of which the guys have never really seen. They need all the help they can get if we're going to get Liz and Tabby's friend back. Please try to understand that your uncle's and dad would never do anything to put us directly in danger if they didn't think we could handle it."

Dean felt his throat tighten as he fought back the urge to cry. Why couldn't he make them understand that nothing good would come from this fight if they didn't listen to him? Damn them and their foolish adult pride! His grip tightening around the spoon, he gulped hard before turning his gaze back to his aunt sadly.

"What about me? What am I supposed to do? I'm still not feeling well enough to fight. And what about Mitsu? She's too little, she'd never make it out there."

"We've all talked about that. Greggory will be here a little later to pick you two up and take you someplace safe until everything has ended and we come back to get you. You two will be fine."

Giving a disgruntled chortle, Dean set his spoon down and pushed his chair back out, his appetite suddenly gone. Shaking his head, he looked at his aunt sadly. "We may be fine…but nothing but pain and death waits for all of you if you go through with this. I'm not hungry anymore."

Turning, the boy slowly shuffled back to his room, leaving his now unnerved aunt seated at the table.


5:45pm

Moving quickly and silently through the sewer tunnels, Donatello couldn't help but allow his mind to wander back to the lair where his young son was—he thought—still sleeping his fever off. Dean had always had the ability to sense things before they happened, and as horrible as it sounded, Don was constantly trying to think of new ways to test and study his son's gift.

A tingle went up the back of his neck as he turned a corner and pressed against the cold damp wall. Someone was nearby.

Staying alert, Don crept down the tunnel deeper, still wondering if perhaps Dean was correct after all. Maybe going up against Dark Shadow was a bad idea. True, since he'd attached the tracking system to her hood, they'd been able to pin-point exactly where her hideout was located, and the night before even went so far as to scope it out for any possible way to break in undetected in order to rescue the teens. There's wasn't. Even with his master skills with technology, there were more cameras and motion sensors than imaginable. Fort Knox had less security than this place.

Pausing mid-step, a sad smirk moved across Don's beak. Faint humming, horribly off-key and nervous.

Silently taking a few steps closer, Don shook his head. He wished there was a better way to end this battle. Fighting had never been his choice to settle things. He, like Dean and George, was a pacifist. Weapons and fancy battle strategies never solved anything; at least not nearly as well as a good conversation. In wars, there were no winners, only losers. Both sides would lose more than their fair-share of warriors. If people would sit down first to discus their differences and come to at least a form of understanding, then needless bloodshed wouldn't take place and families would once again be together as a whole at special occasions instead of being torn apart…or coming together to bury the remains of their fallen one.

A shadow moved to his right, the humming growing faintly louder as it drew closer. He saw the offensive position of the shadow, nunchakus drawn and ready, head slowly scanning from right to left. Reaching out as Tabitha slinked by him, completely unaware of his presence, he wrapped his hand around her mouth to keep her from making any noise before pulling her back against the wall with him.

"Your humming gives you away, Tab. If you're going to try and sneak passed unnoticed, you have to be completely, one-hundred-percent silent." He whispered as he removed his hand from her mouth.

Tabitha frowned but nodded.

"I hum when I'm nervous, Uncle Don…but…I'll try not to."

Don nodded as he motioned to her nunchakus. "Make sure you keep one handle tucked between your body and arm, the other in your hand. The chains are less likely to clink that way. This is all basic things you should know by now, Tabitha."

"I'm sorry. I'm just…I'm scared, Uncle Donnie. I don't want anything to happen to anyone."

"I know. It'll be ok though. Your dad, Raph, Leo and I are all going out first…then your mom and aunts…then you kids. You're to be the last wave, remember? By the time you come out, we'll have gotten most of the trouble taken care of."

Tabitha frowned, her nose scrunching slightly as she fought back the urge to cry. "I…I'm not worried about us…I'm scared for you guys and mom. If anything happens to all of you…what'll happen with us? Who'll take care of us?"

Cringing inwardly, Don sighed as he placed a hand on his teenage niece's shoulder. There was a lot more depth to this girl than she let show; so much like her father it was almost scary. Trying to offer her a reassuring smile, he gently squeezed her shoulder.

"Nothing is going to happen to all of us. Now…remember what I told you about those. Tucked in close, and no humming. Ok?"

Nodding, Tabitha frowned as she moved to tuck one end each up between her arm and chest. Giving a slight nod, Don sighed heavily before nudging her gently.

"Ok…now go on. We'll meet you back at the lair in a little bit."

"Yes, Uncle Donnie."

Donnie watched as Tabitha slowly moved down the tunnel, her head bent low as she made her way back to the lair where her Aunt Julie stood guard at the door.

Sighing, he glanced back over his shoulder and around the corner. The shadow of a pair of Sais bounced off the far wall.

Involving the kids in this war was a heart-wrenching decision, but one that all the adults knew to be inevitable, Don just wished he could promise them that when the smoke finally cleared, it would be the good guys left standing safe and sound. Knowing that wasn't an option though, he shook his head sadly before ducking around the corner to stalk the body that went with the shadows on the walls.


6:25pm

Drip, splat. Drip, splat. Drip, splat.

Michelangelo listened silently to the sounds of the sewer around him. He could hear the nails of the sewer rats as they went scurrying by his hiding place, squeaking at one another as they went. Water dripped from the pipes overhead, splashing into the tiny puddles and the grimy underground stream. From his place inside a defunct drainage pipe, Mike was able to see and hear anything that dared to creep down his way, which at the moment, consisted of the familiar rats and rodents, and the occasional sewer snake slipping by in search of his next meal.

Training in the tunnels below New York had always proved to be one of the best ways to learn the art of stealth attacks. In the tunnels, the faintest of sounds echoed and carried, bouncing from one wall to the next until it finally would reach an absorbent barrier such a debris walls and cave-ins, where it would be sucked in and destroyed. In the near distance, Mike could hear the soft and carefully planned out steps of someone doing their best to tread lightly and avoid the puddles at all costs.

Tilting his head ever so slightly to listen more closely, he smiled to himself. He knew those strategically placed steps; slow and deliberate as she slunk closer to him, her body pressed against the wall in an attempt to not be seen. Mike didn't have to see her though. His years of training and even video-gaming told him exactly where she was.

Forcing himself not the chuckle, he waited until Gwen was just getting ready to duck under his hiding place to swing his arm out and capture her around the waist, pulling her into the pipe with him.

"You're stealthy…but not nearly stealthy enough." He teased, lightly kissing her cheek as he sat her down next to him.

Gwen smiled slightly as she tugged her wavy brown hair down out of its ponytail and shook it free. Subtle strands of silver had been sneaking in to mix with the medium brown color for the past couple of years and she constantly teased that living in a home with eighteen other people was enough to give anyone pre-mature grey hairs. Running her fingers back through it and pulling it back up into a tight cluster, Gwen moved so she was facing her husband and shrugged.

"I don't have near the training everyone else has."

"True."

The pair sat in silence for a moment before Gwen finally spoke again, drawing Mike's attention back to her and off their mock maneuvers training run.

"Mike, is there any possible chance we could get Naomi to listen to us and understand that she has been lied to her whole life? Get her to listen to us so that we don't have to fight her?"

"I wish there was, babe, but I don't think there is. We've tried getting her to listen but," Mike sighed heavily and shook his head as he looked down at his hands, "I don't think we have any other choice."

His wife sat silently across from him in the dark, dank, drainage pipe. Her heart was heavy with despair and Mike knew that the last thing she wanted was to be involved in a battle that, no matter which side 'won', she would still lose a part of her family. Michelangelo's own heart was breaking at the thought of potentially having to watch as the daughter they never got to know was brought down by the hand of one of his own.

Taking a deep breath and squaring her shoulders slightly, Gwen lifted her head and looked at Mike through tearful hazel eyes. "Then, I want you to know, that if the only way to protect the rest of us is by having to…to take out this Dark Shadow, I'm ok with it."

"Gwen…"

"No, I mean it Mike, I'm ok with it." Gulping hard to bravely fight back her tears, Gwen shook her head once more and did her best to avoid looking at the horror and uncertainty on her husband's face. "Yes, she's our child, our own flesh and blood, but we have never been her parents. Her whole life she had been told that we're the enemy. Even if we somehow were able to make her see that Higgins—because I'm certain that's who has been supposedly raising her—was in fact the bad guy and have her join us to defeat him, I don't think she would ever really feel as if she were one of us, as if she was truly accepted. So if it comes to the point where someone has the chance to finish things, I want them to take it. If it means being able to protect the kids and keep them out of harm's way, then…well…that's the way it will have to be."

Gulping slightly, Mike silently nodded as he reached across to take Gwen's hand. Holding it gently in his own, he was still amazed at how small and fragile it was compared to his own. It seemed like only yesterday that she had picked him up alongside that deserted country road in Illinois and took him in when he needed it most. To him, Gwen was still just as beautiful as she had been then. In the time it took to blink, it felt, they'd gone from learning of her pregnancy with Naomi to sitting there in that dirty pipe discussing how to best protect the rest of their family from the very same girl they'd had stolen from them all those years ago. Fate just wasn't fair sometimes.

"Ok babe, I'll let the bro's know." Mike answered softly before bringing her hand to his beak and placing a soft and gentle kiss to her knuckles. "You should head back home for awhile. We're in for one shell of a night."

Gwen nodded as she moved carefully to climb down from the pipe. Pausing long enough to give Mike a kiss on the cheek, she wrapped her arms around him in a loving hug. "I love you, Michelangelo. And in case I don't get to see you before it's time, be careful. I don't want the kids to remember Christmas as the night they lost their father."

Those words stung deep within the grown turtle. He didn't want that to happen either, but knew that the possibility was there that it could happen. Giving a single nod, he held her close and inhaled deeply, imprinting in his heart and mind her exact and unique scent.

"I will, Gwen. You be careful, too."

Pulling away, the pair stared at each other for just a moment longer before Gwen slowly and as silently as possible, moved back towards their crowded home to wait.


7:03pm

Greggory Markus scanned the area cautiously as he pulled his rented van into the designated alleyway that he always used to enter and exit the sewers from. A strange tingle kept prickling at the back of his neck, similar to the feeling of being watched. Though he doubted that was possible since every time he checked his mirrors or looked over his shoulder he never saw even a darting shadow scoot by. Brushing it off as nerves, he put the van in park and hopped out.

He'd been friends with the turtles for the past seventeen years, ever since the day he'd tried to help them rescue Gwen and her unborn baby. He'd never meant to hurt her or anyone for that matter, and in fact, couldn't bring himself to kill a fly or spider even. His brother William, whom he'd heard had finally been found –what was left of him—floating off the shore of Maryland five years prior, had always told him he was too soft-hearted, taking pity on most any living creature, but most especially human's and anything with fur. Though William at the time had been the only family Greggory had left, it hadn't broken his heart when they parted ways; more to the point, when he'd been locked in the observation room so that William and Mr. Higgins could try to do away with Gwen. What had broken his heart was being helpless to save Gwen before she'd been wheeled off to be gutted like a fish.

Fresh light snow had just begun to fall as he quickly moved for the manhole cover. Quiet as a mouse, he removed the heavy metal cap and set it off to the side. Standing to put his mittens back on, Greggory stopped when he faintly heard what sounded like a pair of feet landing behind him. A sudden rush of fear over took him as he spun around to face the stalker.

Tall and strong, with the broadest shoulders he had ever seen, for a moment the former scientist turned veterinarian stood staring at the shadow person in confusion before they stepped into the light. The same dark and menacing eyes that had haunted his dreams for so many years glimmered in the faint light of the alley lamp. Behind him, another shadow moved; this one more feminine and ghost like in its movements. Both slowly approached the terrified man, backing him closer and closer to his van.

"Greggory Markus. My, my, my, what a pleasant surprise." The cold and smooth male voice said as he stepped closer yet.

Gulping hard, Greggory shook his head and whimpered slightly. "N-no…no y-you can't be here. Go away! Go away! You aren't…you aren't really here!"

Oruku Usagi smirked as he watched the color fade from his former employee's face. It brought him so much joy to see that he still was able to elicit such raw fear in people and make them cower where they stood. Hearing Shadow step up beside him, Usagi glanced to his right to look at her before smiling back at Greggory sickeningly.

"Tsk, tsk, tsk, Greggory. That is no way to greet an old friend and his young apprentice."

"Wh-what do you want? Go away!"

Moving with lightning speed, Shadow sprang forward, the deadly tri-points of her sai burying deep into the man's side, narrowly missing all vital organs. Screaming out in pain, Greggory began to crumble to his knees as Shadow removed her weapon and held him by his shoulder, pressed hard against the van so that Usagi could speak with him.

"You know exactly what I want, Markus, and this time you will help me get it." Usagi growled, his eyes narrowed into thin slits.

Whimpering in pain, Greggory shook his head. "N-no…no I won't. I-I won't help you ever again! I won't…won't let you hurt them!"

"You're brother had been right about you, Greggory. You are foolish and weak. Fine then, if you refuse to help me, I have no choice but to finish what my previous soldiers failed to do." Turning to Shadow, Usagi nodded.

"My dear, finish him."


7:17pm

Leonardo and Raphael had been the ones to hear the horrifying screams of agony followed by the sickening thud of a body hitting the concrete platform beneath the alley manhole. Being in the same tunnel but at different ends, both brothers had turned when they heard the sound and took off running at full speed. They weren't sure what exactly had happened; only that someone was in trouble and they were quite possibly the only ones nearby enough to do anything to help. What they found when they met just outside the circle of light that was being cast down onto the platform from the alley above caused them both to gape in surprise.

Lying there before them, covered in blood and barely breathing, was the beaten and broken body of their long time friend, Greggory Markus. Leo glanced up at the manhole opening cautiously, checking to see if whoever had done this to their friend was standing watch, waiting for them to come to his aide. When he was certain no one was waiting, he motioned to Raph to carefully help him in moving the poor man's body.

"U…sa-sagi…he…"

"Shh…don't speak now, Greggory. Everything will be fine." Leo said softly as he dug into his obi to pull his trusty shell-cell out to call for his other brothers and wife to come in as backup. He heard the low growl rumble in Raph's throat as he knelt next to Greg and removed his red bandana to tie around the gash in the man's head in an attempt to stop the blood flow from at least that cut.

"Don, it's Leo. Raph and I need your help. Bring Mike and Sue with you, floral alley entrance, Greggory's been hurt."

"P-please…l-li-listen to me…U-Usagi…he's o-out th-there…he has…a g-girl n-ninja…she…"

"Dark Shadow," Raph growled looking between their human friend and his older brother. Frowning, Leo nodded and glanced back to the place where Greggory had been tossed through.

Turning back to Greggory, he gently placed a hand on his shoulder and offered a forced reassuring smile to him.

"Everything is going to be fine, Greggory. You are going to be fine. Don and Sue are on their way and they are going to get you fixed up."

His amber brown eyes turning from the man to his brother once more, Raph knew Leo was just trying to keep Greggory calm and relaxed. Don and Sue wouldn't be able to help him even if they reached him right that very minute. He'd lost too much blood already and—though he was far from being a doctor—Raphael could tell that at least two of the wounds had been inflicted in just the right place and way to insure a slow and painful death.

Greggory struggled for breath as he looked up at two of the turtles he'd since come to call brothers. The look on their faces was all he needed to know that he wouldn't be there to see them defeat Usagi for—hopefully—the final time. Leo took Greggory's hand and held it securely in his own.

"It's alright, Greggory." He finally said softly and soothingly, as if giving the man permission to give up his painful plight. "Usagi and Shadow will not live long enough to regret the pain they have brought upon our family."

"We're gonna make 'em pay fer wha' dey did ta ya, Greggo. You can count on us." Raph added as his eyes and throat burned with the need to release his pent up sorrow. He hadn't to admit it, but Greggory had been one hell of a good guy. Hell, he'd been the one to help Don deliver every last one of their kids, with the obvious exception of Leo's three step-children.

Taking in one final shaky breath, Greggory tightened his hold on Leo's hand for just a moment, his eyes unfocused as he stared off into the darkness, before his punctured and battered lungs deflated for the last time, the muscles of his jaw relaxing enough for his final breath to escape in a hollow whisper.


7:30pm

Ying-Su, along with her two brothers-in-law, moved quickly through the tunnels, her first aid kit and home med pack clasped tightly in her hands. She wasn't sure to what extent Greggory had been injured, but she had the feeling if Leo requested the help of both other brothers as well as her, that it must not have been just a few scrapes and scratches. The trio was silent as could be as they ran for the entrance that led up to the alley just outside of Gwen's floral shop. Each member praying to themselves that they weren't too late.

Drawing up short when the sight of Leo and Raph both kneeling next to Greggory's lifeless body came into view, Sue felt her stomach lurch and heart stop. Even from a distance she could sense the pain and sorrow her husband was in as he gently placed two of his large fingers on the man's eyes, carefully shutting them for the final time. Placing the hand he'd been holding back across Greggory's chest, Leo reached over to place a comforting touch to Raphael's shoulder.

"Aw man…not Greg…" Mike whispered softly to himself, his head shaking in sad disbelief.

Stepping up next to her husband, Sue frowned.

"I got here as soon as I could. I'm sorry I couldn't have been here sooner."

"There wasn't anything you could have done, Sue."

Both Leo and Raph moved to stand once more before looking to their two younger brothers. Tears were already forming in Mike's eyes as he stared down at the body before them. Michelangelo had always held a special place for Greggory close to his heart for everything the man had done seventeen years before when Gwen had been taken from him. Without Greggory's compassion and sympathy for Gwen, Mike's children never would have been born and his wife quite probably would have been simply dumped in the garbage carelessly once Usagi and his henchman had finished with her.

Placing his hand on Sue's shoulder, Leo looked between the four of them, his face set in stone determination. It was time. "This war ends tonight. We will make Usagi pay for his crimes; and if need be, as will Shadow. They will pay for what they have done to our family."