Disclaimer: I don't own the Ninja Turtles. I'd love to, but I don't, and I probably never will. And because I've pretty much run out of creative ways to tell people just how much I don't own the Turtles, I am officially declaring this a blanket disclaimer. If you ever need to reassure yourselves that I don't own the guys, and I'll never be able to subject them to the events in my stories, feel free to just refer back to this disclaimer. :D However, just so you know, I do own the OCs in this story, of which there will be a few.

New story! I've actually been working on this baby for a while, planning and writing and trying to convince myself to actually post it and finish it, so here we go. It's been a while since I've done a multi-chapter fic, so I hope I can get back into the swing of things pretty quickly, and I really hope you all like this. I love all my readers, so I'm doing my best to make this one of my best stories ever and I'll try and update as frequently as possible. I'll warn you now, you'll be in for a long haul, 'cause this is gonna be a long story. Slow to start, but it'll pick up, trust me. I'm excited to write this, 'cause I don't have it all the way finished, so I'll be reading it along with you guys, and I'm excited to see exactly where it goes. I really hope you guys enjoy this, and please bear with me with the issue of verb tense; this is the first story I've ever written in first person, so if some of the tenses get a little wonky, I hope you'll forgive me. I'll also try and keep perspective jumps to a minimum. (And just so you know, there will be a few spoilers to the Ninja Tribunal arc and the Fast Forward arc, but nothing major, since I have been unable to watch all of either arc. :b)

Other than that, I can't think of anything else. So without further ado, on to the story!


I've always found it odd that the day your life changes, you usually never see it coming. The sense of something about to happen, the signs people say they see or feel coming: 'something in the wind', 'a red sky at morning', 'just a feeling'…it's rather sketchy to my scientific mind. My brothers and I were probably some of the people most trained to sense things coming, and we still got blindsided frequently. You just don't wake up on a life-changing day and know that something is going to happen and that your life will never be the same.

It just doesn't work like that. Fate, I've come to discover, prefers surprises.

The day that my life changed along with my brothers, things started as they always did. We all got kicked out of bed for practice at an ungodly hour (like usual) by Leo, who had already been practicing for a least an hour (like usual), and then went down to the dojo to kick the crap out of each other and have our crap kicked out of us in turn (like usual). Just an average day at the Hamato household.

Once things stopped aching enough for me to be able to move right, I hobbled over to my lab to check my email and the stats on the various security features I'd set up in and around our home. It was more of a cursory action than anything else, because after our time with the Ninja Tribunal and the fiasco in the future, the past year and a half had actually been fairly quiet; the Dragons were regrouping after Hun's death (he died in a fire, of all things, something Casey found rather fitting), and relations with the Foot were somehow holding steady in a rather tense "out of sight, out of mind" sort of peace. But vigilance had become second nature for all of us after twenty-one years, so I checked our home security every day regardless. After I moved past that, I glanced through my email, checking my various cyber-sources for anything new or threatening in the science world or New York respectively. One message in particular popped up, and opened into a vid screen as soon as I clicked on it.

I blinked and jumped as Professor Honeycutt's face flashed onto the screen. "Greetings, Donatello. I do hope I am not catching you at a bad time."

"No! It's great to hear from you!" I assured him, grinning; it was always nice to hear from him, and to stay up to date with how he and the Utroms were doing. "How are you, Professor Honeycutt? Are you doing well?"

"Indeed I am. I hope that you and your brothers and Master Splinter are doing well also."

"We're doing fine. It's actually been pretty quiet lately, so we've been able to relax a bit. And over there? Is everything okay?"

"Oh my, yes. Things are going very well indeed. In fact, that is why I have contacted you, because things have been going so very well. I am calling on behalf of the Utroms, with what they—and I myself, I must add—hope you will find to be an agreeable proposition."

I blinked. "A proposition? About what?"

"How would you and your family like to be human?"

I can honestly say that my heart skipped a beat at that moment. I couldn't believe what he'd just said. Part of me wanted to yell at him, to tell him that it wasn't even remotely funny, taunting me like this. Then I realized that this was Professor Honeycutt, who didn't have a malicious bone—okay, technically any bones, but still—in his body, which meant…

He was serious?

My mouth went dry. How could he put it so simply, so casually? 'How would you and your family like to be human?' How could he ask it like that, like he was asking if we'd like to go out for ice cream or visit over the summer? How could he not realize that he was asking the equivalent of 'how would you like life to be easy for once?', or 'how would like to not live in fear of discovery, imprisonment, torture or death every day of your life?'

It was impossible. It was incredible. It was…

My hearing must have shorted out at some point, because when my mind stopped whirling enough for me to process my higher brain functions again, I caught Professor Honeycutt in the middle of talking, sounding as guilty and upset as an android could.

"—dear oh dear, I have sprung this on you rather suddenly, haven't I? Rather callous of me. I am sorry, but I did think it might be best to just get it out there, as it were, but—oh bother, I am doing this all wrong. Here, I shall have someone else explain it to you better."

Professor Honeycutt shifted out of the view port for the vid phone, and a moment later, the face and torso of a dark-haired man filled the screen. All of my instincts flared—years of fearing discovery, of avoiding humans as much as possible had instilled a natural reaction of fear in me whenever I saw a human face. I leapt out of my chair, my hand darting out to hover over the power button. Even if I had been seen, I could at least cut the connection before the human could see enough of the room to guess where we were. "Who are you?"

A warm smile lit the man's face. "Why, Donatello, my friend, I'm hurt. Don't you recognize me?"

I blinked several times. That voice…the way the man had said my name…why did it seem so familiar? I frowned, trying to think past the instincts that screamed about hiding and getting out of sight. Why would Professor Honeycutt and the Utroms risk our safety by revealing us to a human? Answer: they wouldn't. Was it one of the Utroms we'd met, in a new 'body'? Except, the man had said 'my friend'…and that voice…

The voice clicked and my breath left me as easily as if I'd been punched in the gut.


The man laughed, a deep, kind laugh I knew so well. "Yes, my friend. How do I look?"

"You…how? You said you were going out of town for a break. How is this possible?" I sat back down, leaning close to the screen. "Is it a hologram? It's flawless, if it is; I mean, the overlay didn't even glitch when you laughed. How did you…?"

"Deep breaths, my friend; I shall explain."

I nodded, sitting back and grabbing a pad of paper and a pen; I wasn't going to be able to take all of this in at once, I could tell, but I was still determined to catch everything.

"Now then. As you mentioned, I did say that I was going out of town, but I failed to mention just how far. I have been with the Utroms for the past week."

"I think space definitely counts as 'out of town', LH," I grumbled good-naturedly.

Leatherhead chuckled. "Indeed. Out of state might have been more appropriate, but we—myself and the Utroms—wished for this to be a surprise. I am sorry I startled you. Allow me to explain what has been taking place. You are, of course, familiar with the ooze that mutated us? Well, that ooze was created as part of an experiment. In the early years, our friends the Utroms spent much of their time after landing on Earth observing their surroundings and their new neighbors. As time passed and the Utroms spent more time on this world, they began to see where things would go, how far the destruction could spread if humans continued treating the animals and environment of the world as they had. They had seen it before, and knew how ravaged the planet would become if humans were not shown what their actions would result in. It was around the time of the Industrial Revolution, when expansion and development truly took off. So they decided to give Earth's creatures a chance to speak for themselves."

"So the ooze…was meant to do this?" I asked, gesturing to myself. "It wasn't a freak occurrence?"

"This was its purpose, a chance to let the animals tell humans what they were being put through. It worked exactly as it should. But before they could implement it, something happened to stay their hands."

I frowned, nodding as I continued jotting down notes. "Saki."

"No. Hitler."

I blinked, looking up at Leatherhead in confusion. "Hitler?"

"Yes. The experiment was completed, fully tested and approved only a few years prior to the Second World War, and they had actually been about to implement it when the war broke out."

"That short of a time?" I gasped. "They were able to create such—such technologies and processes in only a few decades?"

"They are remarkably advanced, Donatello, even more than what you have seen. This project was only one of many such undertakings." Leatherhead's expression grew regretful. "Unfortunately, as I said, it was stopped when the war broke out and the Utroms saw what humans were doing to each other."

"The persecution of the Jews…" I breathed. "It makes sense," I said, thinking as quickly as I could. "How could they in good conscience introduce walking, talking animals into the world and expect them to be accepted when by all appearances, humans refused to even accept their own kind?"

"Exactly. They refused to submit the creatures they mutated to the care of such people."

"So the project was aborted."

Leatherhead shook his head. "Not so. Merely…postponed and reevaluated."

I frowned. "Reevaluated?"

"The Utroms did not believe that the idea behind the experiment was flawed. They realized instead that humans just weren't ready for what they had planned. So they decided to take the plan a step further: they created a secondary ooze, this one to cause mutant to human mutation. That way, they would still give the animals the chance to speak out for themselves, but in the guise of humans. It worked marvelously."

"That's not possible…" I murmured.

"I assure you, it is. In fact, some of the first test subjects were the ones to found such organizations as PETA and the ASPCA."

I blinked, confused at his words, then shook my head. "That's not what I meant. I meant the mutation would be impossible. The DNA would be too unstable from the first mutation to hold up under another…especially one so complicated!"

Leatherhead smiled broadly and spread his hands—pale, normal, human hands. "Then you are speaking to an impossibility, my friend."

"I don't believe it…" My pencil dropped to the desk from limp fingers. "What's it like? Why did you choose to make the change?"

"It is incredible. It was very strange at first, adjusting to such a different form." He chuckled. "The first week, my balance was atrocious; I hadn't realized just how much I depended on my tail for balance. Also, I am shorter, as seven-foot humans are not that common. And having hands and fingers…it is a fascinating experience." He waved his hand at me and chuckled. "Quite novel. As for why…there were several reasons. Safety, primarily. To be human, to be permanently free from the interest and grasp of men like Bishop is a great relief. Also…I am less of a threat this way. My temper is still a dangerous thing, my friend, though I have better control of it thanks to Master Splinter and yourself and your brothers. As a human, I can do far less damage than I could in my original form; I am less of a risk to those dear around me."

I smiled; that was definitely Leatherhead. Only he would undertake such a massive change with the intent of keeping others safe. "What does it feel like? Not just being human, but moving in a human body?" I couldn't help staring; part of me still thought it was a trick, but it was Leatherhead's voice, his way of talking, his mannerisms…just in a human body.

Leatherhead smiled wryly; it was so fascinating to see him with the ability to make such expressions. "Both more and less different than I expected. I am still myself, but I feel a greater freedom in movement than before. The five fingers are a welcome blessing, as is the change in size. I no longer have to worry about breaking all that I touch."

I laughed. "Always a nice thing." I stared at him some more, unable to keep from smiling. "This is just so incredible…I wish I could see their research." My brain itched at the thought; this was science dozens of light years ahead of human science. The kind of knowledge they had to have to make such a thing possible…

"What about experiencing it firsthand?" Leatherhead asked with a smile, raising his eyebrows.

He had eyebrows. Fascinating

"This is what they wish to offer you, Donatello, you and your family, as a thank you, a returning of the favor, if you will. They have not forgotten the great service you did their people—and indeed, the universe—when you stopped the Shredder; they wish to repay your sacrifice."

A lump suddenly formed in my throat, and I swallowed hard. Such a chance…I'd stopped dreaming about such chances long ago. And now…now it was right in front of me. To be human? To live in the daylight and walk down the street and not fear for my life or that of my family? To finally be granted access to all of the learning and opportunities I'd always been denied? It was too good to be true.

Leatherhead's smile faded slightly as my silence dragged on. "Do you not want this, Donatello?"

"No!" I all but shouted at him, and lowered my voice with a wince. "No, I—I mean, yes, I do, more than anything, it's just—how would it work?" I could feel myself deflate slightly. "I don't mean the process, but the result? We would have to create histories, fabricate entire past lives for ourselves…and I just don't have the resources. Even I can't hack into the Social Security database and create identities for us."

"I wouldn't be surprised if you could," Leatherhead laughed, "but you won't have to. You would have help. Mortu and his companions spent many years on Earth, and have many connections. In fact, some of their fellows are still in hiding on your planet; not all of them left during the TCRI incident. Many remain, and some hold positions in such places as the Social Security Administration; after all, when they were on Earth, they too needed to create identities. They wish to offer help in that aspect as well. What do you say?"

"Yes! Shell yes. When could we start? Give me a minute, and I'll go get Master Splinter and—" I leapt out of my chair, only to stop short. "Master Splinter."

"Is something wrong?"

I sat back down heavily, chewing on my recovered pencil. "Master Splinter. I'd have to convince him that this would work, that it's safe, that it would be better…"

Leatherhead frowned slightly. "Would that be so difficult? You have proof of the success and safety of the transformation in me; I underwent the change nearly a month ago, and have been closely monitored, as well as perfectly healthy. The Utroms have tested this process as thoroughly as possible, and tested the secondary mutagenic formula on samples from you and your brothers they had on hand from when they rescued you from the Shredder's spaceship; they wanted to make sure it was possible before extending the offer. And as for being better, you would not be…'freaks,' would no longer be recognizable or particularly distinguishable as humans. You would no longer be hunted or targeted; you would be so much safer, a strong point that I am sure Master Splinter would greatly appreciate…as any father would."

"I know that, but…you know how important honor and history are to Sensei. If we were to stop our patrols, stop protecting the city—and we'd have to, because we'd be too easily identifiable with IDs and records—he might see it as us shirking our duties. And, well…we are ninjas. That is our way of life, our life, who we are…and being human is about as opposite as you can get from that."

His face a study in contemplation, Leatherhead nodded slowly. "I can see how that might upset Master Splinter. But Donatello… as ninjas, what better way to hide than in plain sight?"

I blinked, then smiled broadly. "Leatherhead, you're a genius!" I grabbed my notepad again and scribbled that line down, as well as everything else he had argued in favor of this. "That's a good one to use…Leatherhead, I would really appreciate it if I could get your help on this, on putting together an argument to convince Master Splinter. Are you anywhere near Earth? I'm guessing you had to board one of the Utroms' ships to perform the change…" I shook my head. "I never guessed you meant it so empathically when you said you were going out of town for a while."

"Indeed," Leatherhead replied with a grin. "We are actually right outside Earth's orbit."

"Excellent. I'll want to bring you in when I talk to Master Splinter. I'll need the backup."

"Why not ask one of your brothers?"

My pencil gained a few more teeth marks as I thought it over. "Good point," I agreed. "I can probably drag Leo away from his training long enough to talk to him…"

"Leonardo?" Leatherhead's brows knit together.

I frowned back at him. "Yeah, why?"

"I mean no offense, I merely expected that you would have appealed to Michelangelo or Raphael instead," Leatherhead confessed, cocking his head to the side. "In my experience, Leonardo is just as cautious as your father regarding major changes and undertakings, though that is by no means a bad thing."

"No, it isn't. But see, that's why I want to go to him first. I know I would have Raph and Mikey's support; it's Leo who's the challenge. If I told Raph and Mikey about this first, they would push too much. They'd just barge in on Sensei and start demanding and begging respectively. That's the wrong way to go about it. For something like this, we need a carefully structured argument. That's where Leo comes in. I know I can work out the particulars, and if I can convince him, I actually have a chance with Sensei. Harsh as it sounds, Leo's support carries more weight with Master Splinter than Mikey and Raph's."

"Considering some of the ventures they have proposed in the past, I can't imagine why," Leatherhead laughed. "Come then, shall I help you craft this unassailable argument of yours?"

I jumped up and shut the door to my lab, flipping on the "Caution: Experiments in Progress" sign I had installed years ago for privacy. Grinning and cracking my knuckles, I sat back down and grabbed my keyboard.

"Let's get to it."

It took both less and more time than I expected for Leatherhead and I to gather all the information and arguments that we could think of; we finished at about seven o'clock at night two days after I first got the call from Professor Honeycutt. I had gotten lucky that it was a weekend and we didn't have daily practice. We talked almost around the clock, pausing only for meals and sleep, and even those breaks were inconsequential for me. I would grab whatever was closest in the kitchen, or sometimes find food outside of the door of my lab, probably left by Mikey or Leo, who were well-used to my tendency to forget about food when something more important had caught my attention. As for sleep, I caught four or five hours each night at best at my desk or the cot in my lab, and it was far from restful. My mind refused to stop racing, and I'd eventually give up and stumble back to my desk, scribbling down additional ideas or angles to cover. I went at it like an experiment, wracking my brain to come up with any possible downside that Leo or Master Splinter might think of, and formulating solutions to any problem. I researched and browsed and talked with Leatherhead endlessly, until we were both finally satisfied with the argument we could make and the information we had accumulated.

As I made a final note, I groaned and stretched, flexing my hands in a feeble attempt to get them to un-cramp and unlock from their clawed positions. I nudged a dangerously teetering pile of papers further away from the edge of my desk and peered at Leatherhead on screen with strained eyes. He looked as rough as I felt, and I marveled tiredly at how used to seeing him as a human I already was. "I think that's everything, LH," I croaked, making a face at the dry roughness of my throat.

Leatherhead nodded wearily, brown eyes blood-shot and fatigue-clouded like mine. "Indeed. When will you…speak to Leonardo?" he asked, interrupted by a yawn.

I grimaced at the thought of any more talking…or thinking. "Not until tomorrow. I'm just about useless right now. I'm going to take a walk, eat—something, and then go to bed." Part of me suddenly wanted to giggle deliriously at the thought my bed, but I pushed it away. It half-worked; I ended up instead with a grin that I just knew looked stupid and more than a little manic. I'd pulled more all-nighters than this before, harder ones and in more rapid succession, but none in which I'd put as much energy and intent and…hope. "I need to recharge before I go at this, and I should show everyone I'm still alive, too."

"A wise plan," my friend commented. "One I think I will undertake myself. I wish you a good night, Donatello, and good luck tomorrow. Call me with whatever news you receive, my friend; I shall keep my fingers crossed."

"All ten of them!" I gasped suddenly, absurdly proud of my witty, witty joke.

I'm ashamed to say that we both laughed entirely more than was necessary at that.

Leatherhead made a face at our reaction. "Go, my friend. We risk embarrassment or being institutionalized if we do not remove ourselves soon."

"To hear is to obey," I intoned giddily, waving goodbye as I shut off my monitor.

I turned off my consoles and the lights, and stumbled out of my lab intent on the kitchen. I'd missed dinner, and now that I could think of something other than the Utroms' news, I was starving; I could only hope that someone had saved something for me.

"He emerges."

An amused voice hit my ears and I turned to see Leo standing behind me with a plate of food. My stomach rumbled loud enough that even he heard it, and quirked a smile. "Good to see you too, Don."

I grinned sheepishly. "Is that for me?"

He nodded. "I was going to bring it to your lab, but since you came out on your own, why don't we go to the kitchen? You could use some human contact, and it'd be nice to have someone to talk to."

His words made me blink in surprise; Leo didn't normally seek me out for casual conversation all that often, though he still came to me more than anyone except Master Splinter. I smiled. "Sure. What's up?"

Leo started for the stairs, and I tottered after him, my eyes on the plate. "Nothing, really. I'm just hoping for some company. Sensei is meditating, and Raph and Mikey are…out."

'Out'. Stated in Leo's Disapproving Voice™ with that particular inflection must mean… "With Casey?"

Leo's mouth quirked up wryly. "Yeah. And considering they left with a "don't worry" and a "don't wait up"…it doesn't bode well for what their intentions for the evening consist of."

I snorted. It also meant that Leo would be ignoring them completely, and waiting up the whole night worrying. These days, he still waited up whenever one of us was out late (normally Raph), but once he sensed us approaching the Lair, he would make his way up to his room and be in bed by the time the Lair door opened. We all still knew that Leo had been waiting up, but, especially in Raph's opinion, it was nice not to see him sitting in the den looking ready to pick back up where the Spanish Inquisition had left off. I groaned as we sat down at the table, smiling my thanks as Leo placed the plate and a glass of water in front of me.

"I know you'd rather have coffee, but I really think you should get some actual sleep tonight," Leo said, correctly interpreting my less than enthusiastic glance at the water.

I shrugged and tucked into the chicken noodle casserole in front of me. Still warm, and the breading Mikey always sprinkled on top hadn't gotten mushy yet. I moaned happily along with my stomach. "Have I ever mentioned that you're the best big brother in the whole world?" I asked Leo around another mouthful, fully appreciating the fact that he must have been keeping an eye on my plate and occasionally heating it in the oven since dinner so it would still be warm and edible.

Leo laughed. "Not nearly often enough," he joked, sitting down beside me with a mug of tea.

The scent wafted towards me, and I glanced at Leo sidelong. "Chamomile?" I asked, surprised, sniffing the air to make sure.

A tired look settled onto Leo's face. "Chamomile," he affirmed, taking a sip.

I frowned and turned back to my casserole. Leo normally drank green tea, and only pulled out the chamomile when he was having trouble sleeping, or with Raph (though the two were often related). I debated asking him what the most current problem was.

Raph and Leo had been getting along a little better in recent years, now that Leo had loosened up a bit, but they still clashed somewhat regularly. I had long suspected that Leo was just getting tired of it and letting arguments drop, or just keeping his mouth shut whenever Raph did something stupid. The latter was happening a bit more frequently, I suspected, which probably wasn't doing any good for Leo's health, sanity or sleep habits. I decimated the rest of my dinner and considered. These days, asking Leo what the problem was normally had a 40/60 chance of either getting the story out of him, or getting a quiet "nothing," respectively. I think he'd pretty much decided that there wasn't anything Raph had done that annoyed or worried him by this point that we didn't know about and stopped bringing it up. It had worked to convince Master Splinter that things were going better, but Mike and I weren't fooled. I remembered Leo's earlier comment about company and talk, and sighed, bracing myself. "What brought it on?"

Leo shook his head. "I could just really use a good night's sleep, that's all," he said quietly, watching the ripples in his mug. "Really."

I raised an eye ridge, surprised. Leo admitted to being tired about as often as he admitted to being injured: once in a blue moon, or only when it was so obvious to everyone else that he'd be lying if he tried to deny it. "Raph?" I hedged, going with the guess that was rarely wrong.

"Not any more than usual."

Well, that was helpful. "So…is it anything in particular, or just basic fatigue?" I pressed. Getting Leo to talk about personal matters was harder than pulling teeth, but I'd come to realize that being patient paid off, because letting Leo bottle things up didn't help anyone.

Leo drank some more and gripped his mug, cradling the ceramic between both palms. "It's…Don, what you need to understand is that I don't get visions."

I blinked. Well, that certainly came out of left field. "Okay…"

"I'm not advanced enough. I can get feelings, but not clear visions like Master Splinter. I had an…almost-vision, I guess, back in Japan. It was when Karai attacked the Lair. It wasn't anything clear or distinct, but I could sense that I needed to get home."

That was news to me. None of us could figure out how Leo had managed to come home just at the right time, right when we needed him most, and so we just chalked it up to the weird kind of luck/skill Leo had all the time. But that he had gotten a…spiritual or mental warning or whatever, well, that caught my interest. Master Splinter was the only one who was able to receive visions, and while the rest of us could sense danger and various other things, we hadn't gotten any farther than that. I generally didn't place any stock in visions, but after the past few years…I'd learned to be a little less skeptical. "You never mentioned that," I remarked, carrying my plate to the sink before reclaiming my seat.

"I didn't think I needed to. Things were so busy after I got back, and then I just…forgot."

"Mm. So, back to this 'you don't get visions, but you get feelings' thing. What brought that on?" My mind finally reached the obvious reason for why Leo was bringing this up, my fried synapses only mildly restored by my meal. "Did you have one?"

Leo glanced back into his mug, as though expecting the tea to tell him what to say. "I…think so. These things are just so vague, though…and I try not to dwell on them and give them precedence when I don't even trust them. But whatever it is, it was kind of strong."

"What'd you feel?"

"I felt…oncoming change; I guess that's the best way to describe it."

My breath rushed out like someone had punched me. I wanted to say something, to see if I should try and run with this and tell Leo about the Utroms' offer now, but it still didn't seem like the right time. "Anything else?"

Leo shook his head. "Just a feeling of change. There wasn't the sense of danger or urgency I had when I was in Japan; this was different, just like a…a foreshadowing awareness, I guess. It was the same feeling I got when we were on the Tribunal's ship, when we first stepped onto the deck as acolytes and realized where we were…and the wind hit us and we were moving across and above the earth, and I just knew that we would be irreversibly changed by whatever came next."

I shivered suddenly, struck and moved by his words and my own knowledge that his 'feeling' was dead on. "So…not bad, but good change?" I pressed, trying to sound out where Leo stood on this.

"I…there wasn't really a qualifying feeling attached to it, Don," Leo replied softly, his gaze distant. "Change is itself. In and of itself, change is neither good nor bad, it just is; it's how we move with it and what comes along as a result that is good or bad." He trailed off, watching the ripples in his tea before shaking himself and smiling quickly at me. "Sorry, I'm rambling. It's probably nothing." He stood and finished his tea, then placed the empty mug in the sink. "Go get some sleep, Don, and I'll—"

"You don't think it's nothing, do you?" I asked. I had to get more out of him; I needed to know what he did. If this opportunity was going to endanger my family, then even if it killed me inside, I wasn't going to bring it up. "Something has you worried."

Leo sighed and rubbed a hand over his face. "All change has me worried, Donnie," he confessed in a murmur. "More than it should, because we are supposed to flow with change rather than abhor it. It's just…change rarely ends well for us, and…complacency is safe, if not exciting. I can handle how things are now. I suppose part of me has been waiting for something to happen; ever since dealing with the Ultimate Shredder, and then going to the future…well, things have been a bit too quiet, given our track record. But you three…you need change, room to move. I'm aware of that. And Raph…"

Ah. Now we got down to it. Things that bothered Leo always seemed to come down to Raph eventually…it happened at least 95% of the time. "You think that whatever this change is, when it comes, Raph's just going to jump right on it."

Leo slumped, leaning against the wall. He hates being figured out, I think; he's used to being unreadable.

"He lives for change, for excitement, Don," he said softly. "I know he feels like he's been suffocating, slowly going insane lately…and I feel selfish, because part of me doesn't want this change, whatever it is, to come, because I can at least protect you all like this. But I know things have to change. We all need change; it's just a fact of life. If there is no change, there is no growth, no betterment. I just…things are finally something resembling civil between us, and if there's danger attached to this change, Raph won't care…but I will. And if I make myself an obstacle between him and the change approaching, I'll be the enemy again. Raph doesn't care much about danger or his own health; he's so desperate for something to happen these days that I think he'd take anything, so long as it was different."

"Raph does need action and change; he'll never be happy just existing, he always has to be really living," I said slowly, trying to articulate the things I had come to realize about my fiercest brother. "But no matter what, he always stands beside us." I tried for a reassuring smile. "Haven't you noticed, Leo? No matter how far he runs, he always comes back home."

Leo stared at me for several minutes, long enough that I wanted to ask what I'd said wrong, and then smiled softly. He pushed off of the wall and walked over, leaning down and resting his forehead against mine, one hand on my shoulder. "I don't know what I'd do without you around to point out all the things I always miss, Donnie," he said quietly, his voice full. "Arigatou, otouto."

I swallowed hard, trying to quell the sudden lump in my throat that had crept into existence at the warmth in Leo's voice. I wasn't used to such displays from my most reserved brother, and especially not such grateful ones towards me. All I could manage was to nod, and wonder when Leo had gotten so far away from us that things like this had become so rare and surprising.

We both jumped when Leo's bandana tails slipped over his shoulder to fall between us, breaking the moment. Leo smiled wryly, rubbing a hand across my head as he walked past. "Get some sleep, Donnie."

I turned to keep him in sight, suddenly missing the closeness, something that hadn't been so unusual when we were young. "Sure. I'm just going to go for a short walk, maybe just down to Leatherhead's and back."

Leo turned, cocking his head to the side. "I thought he was out of town?"

A slightly hysterical laugh threatened to choke me when he said that. "Oh, he is," I assured him. "I just want to…stretch my legs, so I figured I'd check on the place while I was at it."

"Alright." Leo headed for the dojo, then paused. "Don't be out too late?" he asked carefully, his voice hesitant.

I held up two fingers. "Scout's honor."

He smiled. "Thanks."

I waited until Leo disappeared into the dojo and the familiar sound of swords slicing the air started before I let my breath out in a shaky sigh and slipped out of the Lair, closing the door securely behind me. Of all the things I was expecting from Leo, his suspicion that something was coming wasn't one of them. I set off at a slow pace for Leatherhead's, to give myself time to think and to take it easy on my stiff muscles.

"I felt…oncoming change."

Oncoming change. If Leo had felt that, did that mean that he and Master Splinter were going to say yes, because he sensed that things would change? Or did it just mean that he felt the possibility of change? I groaned. That was why I wasn't a fan of visions, as much as they were something Master Splinter urged us to strive for. Unlike clear-cut, scientific things like weather predictions, visions could mean anything. They could be exact glimpses of the future, or they could be vague images that required interpretation, which opened things up to be even more confusing, since various images could be interpreted in dozens of ways.

Give me a simple, concrete weather forecast or the precise, physics-driven plotting of a comet's course any day.

And yet…couldn't Leo's feeling somehow be helpful? He hadn't said it was bad change, just change, and given what he'd said about that and Raph, it seemed like he was hesitant to reject this change outright, though it didn't keep him from being on guard against it. I knew I had a strong argument for all of us making the change, and maybe he would be okay with that…I hoped. I knew basically every way Leo could feel about this chance, but not which way he did feel about it.

My mind flipped suddenly, switching over to thoughts of Raph and Mikey. It hit me suddenly that I had spent so much time worrying about Leo's opinion, yet I hadn't spent hardly any time on what Raph and Mikey might think. I shook myself and kept walking, changing mental courses as I went.

What would they think?

I still had no doubts that Mikey would be up for this. He was a people-person, no doubt about it, and he needed space and light and people. He'd calmed down considerably, but still, he was an active twenty-one-year-old, just like the rest of us, and he needed something new. I tried to think of any reason Mikey might not want to make the change, but other than the fact that we might drift apart as a result of not having only each other, I couldn't think of anything. I knew that would be a big thing for Mikey, that we stayed together, or at least constantly in touch. As much as we all drove each other insane, as much as we felt increasingly claustrophobic and desperate for new company, we all still loved each other. Mikey especially loved as easily as he breathed, and as fiercely as he fought; separation would kill him. I wanted to assure myself that he wouldn't have anything to worry about, since twenty-one years of depending on and living with each other wasn't likely to disappear, and yet…they might, just because of that. We were all getting stir-crazy these days; even Leo was taking more runs topside than he used to. It wasn't inconceivable that we would run from the old and towards the new, at least at first.

And yet…as strained as it got sometimes, I trusted our bond. We'd all come back together eventually, after trying out our wings; it was just a matter of when.

As for Raph…

I sighed, pausing to lean against a dry section of the tunnel wall and stretch my aching legs before continuing on.

Raph was the issue. Almost never in my life had I been able to successfully guess what Raph would think or do in a given situation or as a result of a given occurrence. He was just—too different from me. Where I was logical, he was emotional. Where I was cautious, he threw himself headfirst into things. Where I paused long enough to consider consequences, he paused only long enough to determine whether something was likely to be fatal. We wanted different things, supported different things. I'd skipped over him at first in all my planning regarding the Utroms' offer, assured of his support, but as I thought about it…could I be certain he would take this chance?

Raph was very proud. Of all of us, he took being called things like 'freak' or 'monster' the hardest; not because it hurt his feelings, like it did with Mikey, but because Raph refused to let anyone judge him or make him feel ashamed of who or what he was. That was a big source of contention within him, I knew; he wanted to be part of the world above, but he knew we wouldn't be accepted, and yet he wanted to be accepted. It was an odd stance; it had taken me a while to fully understand that. He wasn't asking for approval, but acceptance. That was why he felt…oddly comfortable while fighting Purple Dragons with Casey; even if they didn't like him or approve of him, they accepted him as being an inescapable presence in their life, even if it was just as an enemy. It was a hair-breadth distinction for Raph, between acceptance and approval, and it was why he also felt so torn at home; he wanted both, especially from Leo, though he would never admit it.

And yet…as complex as Raph's wants and sense of self were…he wouldn't give up such a chance just because he saw it as caving or conforming, would he?

I slowed to a halt in front of the turnoff to Leatherhead's place, suddenly and inexplicably exhausted. As tired as I was from the past few days, Raph always seemed to further exhaust me. I wanted to understand him, not just in the way that I wanted to understand everything, but because he was my brother. And yet, so much of what I knew about him was hard-won, and the rest of it was guesswork. There was so much Raph refused to reveal about himself; his defensive walls existed even around us, though he had to know that we wouldn't hurt him or take advantage of anything he shared with us.

I stared into the darkness in front of me, then sighed and turned for home. I finally had to face the realization I had been shying away from for the past few days:

I didn't know how any of my brothers would react.

I could make good, informed guesses that stood high chances of being correct, but…my brothers were not algorithms or equations. They were people…different, highly complex people who never ceased to surprise me, and they could (and probably would) react to this news in a myriad of ways.

One day, though…one day, I was going to sit them down and find out who they were. As much as I knew that I couldn't predict their reactions because they weren't machines, I couldn't help feeling that it was also because I didn't know them as well as I could and should. Mikey and I were close, but Raph and Leo…

I wanted to learn more about them, to get my questions answered, to find out what all they were hiding, and, as cliché as it sounds, who they really were and what they really wanted.

As I entered the code for the Lair's door and slipped back inside, I suddenly wanted to talk to my brothers now. I shook it off, knowing that now was not the time, not with two brothers gone and the other dealing with his own worries, but it lingered. Even though I knew much of my impatience was due to exhausted paranoia, I wanted to really know my brothers before they changed even more, before I risked losing them to distance.

Leo leaned out the door of the dojo and glanced around before seeing me. He smiled tiredly, and I could tell he was thinking 'one down, two to go'. It comforted me to know that I could tell some things about what he was thinking, but like with Raph, I wanted to know everything.

There shouldn't be walls between brothers, right?

"Don?" Leo's voice was careful, and I knew that whatever expression was on my face, it was worrying him. "Everything alright?"

"Just tired," I responded. I offered a weak smile in return, heading for the stairs before I started blurting out random questions. I'd be talking to him tomorrow, and hopefully I could start there. "I'm heading to bed. You should too."

"I'll be up in a little while," Leo responded. "Goodnight," he offered, before ducking back into the dojo.

I knew he was stretching the truth. I knew that 'a little while' meant 'when Mikey and Raph get home'. I knew he'd be practicing until they returned. And I knew he did it not because he didn't trust them, or Casey, or their skills, but because he could not stop himself from worrying.

I knew all that…just as I knew there was more I didn't know.

My frustration wanted to flare up, but it was smothered by my exhaustion as I collapsed in bed. Soon, I promised the part of me with all the questions. Tomorrow.

It would all be different tomorrow.

Leo's absurd tendency to get up at disgustingly early hours actually worked in my favor the next morning. I somehow managed to stumble out of bed at about 8 a.m., beating Mikey and Raph by an hour, easily; practice wasn't for another hour, and I knew they wouldn't be up until the last possible minute. As Master Splinter had gotten older, we had pushed back practice, starting later so that he could get some more rest. We were all grateful for the change, though Leo generally ignored it and kept getting up at his regular time, at the 'butt-crack of dawn,' as Mikey so charmingly put it. I was grateful for it now, because it left me with a chance to talk to Leo alone, without any chances of anyone else overhearing.

I cornered him in the dojo (surprise, surprise) doing some warm-ups, and I coughed slightly to get his attention. I knew he had to have heard me coming, but I was getting antsy.

Leo finished the last steps of the kata, then looked over at me. "Morning, Don," he greeted me, his voice soft and slightly surprised. "You're up early."

"Yeah…" I locked my hands behind my shell to keep from fidgeting. "I actually wanted to talk to you about something…uh, alone. If you had the time."

He stared at me, and I could feel him searching for something in my face or eyes. I tried to quell my nervousness, but it was a moot point. Leo nodded slowly, sheathing his swords and bowing as the left the mats. His eyes were careful and appraising as he came to my side. "I always have time for you, Don. Lead on."

I could hardly breathe through my apprehension as Leo followed me into my lab and sat down. So much depended on what he said. I knew I'd have little hope of convincing Master Splinter to allow this if I didn't have Leo on board; having Leo on your side in any argument was a strong advantage. And Sensei tends to trust Leo's judgment a lot.

Go figure.

Leo sat down slowly, looking like he expected me to either jump him at any moment or reveal that I'm secretly the father of Karai's love-child. (A terrifying idea for so many reasons.) He's always been eerily good at sensing other people's emotions; it makes him nearly impossible to prank or hide things from. Though to be honest, it couldn't have been very hard to pick up on my nerves. I took a deep breath, trying to calm down, but I just couldn't. I'd done so much research, spent so many hours talking to Mortu and Leatherhead and Professor Honeycutt about this, and, as much as I'd tried to remain detached and look at this as just a research topic, there was no way I couldn't get my hopes up. The more I learned, the more possible this chance sounded. And the more I thought about it, the more my mind drifted to thoughts of a real life; living topside, rather than just being a shady, uninvited visitor, actually getting to learn and immerse myself in science like I'd always wanted. I'd already built up so much hope in all of this…what if Leo said no?

…And what if he said yes?


Leo's voice pulled me out of my musings, and I sat down quickly, facing him. "Okay." I cleared my throat. How the shell was I going to go about this? 'Hey, Leo, that feeling of yours that we talked about last night? Well, guess what?'

No. Definitely not.

"Okay. Just—just keep an open mind, okay?"

Whoops. Wrong thing to say; one of Leo's brows made a valiant attempt to climb right off his forehead, and his trouble sensors seemed to reach full alert Defcon Two at that question. "…Okay…"

"Okay. Um. I got a call from Leatherhead a couple days ago, the first day I was in my lab with the experiment sign lit all afternoon."

"What was the call about?" Leo asked cautiously.

I hesitated. There really wasn't a delicate or roundabout way to put this, so I took a deep breath and blurted it out as quickly as I could. "Leatherhead's human now, the Utroms changed him, and Mortu says we can be human too so I thought I'd ask you first because there was no way Sensei would say yes if you didn't agree so I just thought I'd bring it up."

Cue the overwhelming silence.

Oh. So that's what it looks like when Leo's mind shatters.

"Um…" Leo's voice was shaky. "Okay, I—what?"

I took another breath and tried to slow down, pulling a pile of notes towards me as I continued. "Leatherhead explained it to me. The TCRI ooze that mutated us? It was only the first half of a process meant to turn animals into humans. Decades and decades ago, the Utroms saw what humans were doing to the planet, especially the animals, and decided that they should do something. So they created the ooze. It's a careful mixture of human DNA and chemicals with mutating capabilities. They planned to administer it to animals, to give them the faculties and capabilities to communicate with humans and tell them that they needed to mend their ways. But before they could really put it into action, the project was—put on hold, in a way."


"World War II. After seeing how humans treated their own, those who were only slightly different from themselves, they didn't want to subject innocent animals to even worse treatment. However, they still thought the idea was sound, even if humans would only be ready for such a thing many years into the future. So they tested the ooze for several more years 'til they were able to get it to work perfectly, without a hitch, every time. Then they began to work on a secondary part to the process. The first ooze would change organisms from animal to humanoid, and the second ooze would change humanoid…"

"Into human," Leo whispered. He looked shaken. "How is this possible?"

"The Utroms are geniuses, and they're light-years ahead of us scientifically. They've tested it and perfected it, and it works because it's gradual," I explained. "The primary mutation changes the most important, intrinsic parts. Look at us; we went from being 100% turtle, to being about 60% human and 40% turtle. Our brains, our bipedal physique, and, from what I've gathered over the years, most of our organs and internal systems…they're all human in nature. The secondary mutation finalizes the process; it would complete the mutation that began with the ooze."

"Why now? Why didn't we hear about this earlier?"

"It wouldn't have worked before now. It's required for a certain number of years to pass between the two mutations to ensure that the DNA, the genes and body don't deconstruct."

Leo glanced down at his hands. "And…does it work?"

"It worked with Leatherhead. It's safe," I assured Leo quickly. "He was changed nearly a month ago, and they've been monitoring him carefully. Everything has gone perfectly. No adverse reactions, no demutation…it went fine. And Mortu said they tested the secondary part of the process on some samples of us that they had from when they rescued us from Shredder's ship, and according to their results—if we're interested—it could work with us, too."

I held my breath, waiting for Leo's response. He was just sitting there, as silent and still as if he were meditating. Come to think of it, I wouldn't have been surprised if he was; that seems to be what he does when things like this get dropped in his lap.

"Have you told Mikey or Raph about this?" Leo asked quietly.

I shook my head, holding my breath. It sounded like he was considering it. "No. I wanted to run it past you first. If…if you or Sensei were to turn this down—I didn't want to get their hopes up. I knew they would take it badly if I told them about this chance and then it didn't work out. But I knew you would be…pragmatic about it."

"Pragmatic?" Leo smiled wryly. "You mean I'm the grounded one, the stick-in-the-mud. I'm too realistic to have hopes or dreams, so I wouldn't be hurt if a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity showed up and then slipped through my fingers?"

"What?" I felt like I'd been slapped in the face. Where did that come from? "No, I just—"

Leo leaned back, staring at the ceiling. "Don, I used to dream just as much as you three."

"Why'd you stop?" I blurted out suddenly, any idea of caution blown away by my shock at Leo's words. As much as I was worried about answering Leo's questions, I had my own that needed answering as well.

A tired smile lifted Leo's lips. "I didn't have time for it anymore. There were skills to polish, a family to protect, an ever-growing number of friends that we'd pulled into our messes to look after, enemies to deal with…I had more important things to think about. Patrol routes, battle strategies, which enemies were eliminated, which ones were still a problem, what needed to be improved on…dreams had to take a backseat. Especially one like this, since there was no possibility of it ever being a reality. Sure, it's a nice fantasy, Don, but I haven't seriously considered it since I was about twelve."

I just stared at him. It's—painful, how every time I think I know Leo, I find out that there's yet another part of him that's been hidden from me, from us…especially when it's something like this. This is a dream that I've always known that Raph, Mikey and I have held to, tightly or loosely, and now I find that even Leo has thought about it…and then discarded it because it wasn't likely to ever come true.

Sometimes I wonder if Leo remembers what it's like to be a kid…if he ever knew.

"Leo, that's exactly what a dream is," I pointed out softly. "It's a hope or a fantasy. It doesn't have to be realistic; that's why it's a dream."

"I know, Don, but—" Leo sighed and looked down awkwardly. "It's hard to be a kid and a leader. One of them had to take precedence…and being a good leader is more important than getting to be a kid with a dream."

I reached out hesitantly and gripped Leo's shoulder. "I'm…I'm sorry, Leo."

He shook his head. "Don't apologize. It's not your fault. I've made my own choices. And it was just a dream."

"Dreams aren't "just" anything, Leo. They're important. And this…this is a dream that could come true," I said carefully; I could tell it was weird for Leo to discuss this, and I was trying not to get depressed by the newest example of my brother's sacrifice for us. If he turned this down…I knew what it would do to me, but what about him? I didn't want to think that there was more he thought he could give up in his pursuit of being the perfect leader.

Leo stared at the papers in front of us. "Don, this sounds…amazing, it really does, and I would—like it if it could be an actual possibility, but…how could it ever work? Not the process, but in a practical sense. There would be no record of the people we could be ever having existed in this world, and we can't just steal five other people's identities. If we suddenly appeared in society, what would people think? Beyond that, how would we make a life?"

"I've got it covered." I tried to hide the excited shaking of my hands as I pulled my notes closer; if he was asking such a question in the first place, it meant he might actually be considering it, not just humoring me. "Okay. There have been lots of cases where people haven't actually been members of society until later in their lives. It could be for religious reasons, preferences of the parents, anything; there are people who have lived half their lives completely off the radar of society and the government. It wouldn't be that strange for us to claim the same. We could put together a story that wouldn't even be that far from the truth. Our father was reclusive, a very private man by nature, who was raised in the old ways and lived in some backwater place out of the city—all true. We were all adopted, kids from off the streets or orphans that fell through the cracks of child welfare. It's not unheard of." I thrust a handful of papers at Leo.

He took them slowly, paging through what I knew were stories of young men and women who joined society for the first time in their teens or twenties, finally escaping the tyrannical or just overprotective rule of their parents to go see the world. "And then what?" he asked blandly.

"We wanted our own lives," I said, pushing ahead. "Our father was good to us, but we wanted to live our own lives. We had to wait until we were eighteen because he was still our legal guardian, and after that, we were just getting him used to the idea and preparing to strike out on our own."

Leo glanced up at me, looking seriously off-balance. "You've thought all of this out?"

I nodded vigorously. "All of it. Birth certificates and Social Security numbers wouldn't be that much of a hassle either; we just explain our past and then apply for them. We'll tell them that we never had them before, the certificates or the numbers, because we never knew our real parents—which is completely true," I pointed out, knowing how Leo feels about lying. "And Leatherhead said that some of the Utroms' kindred are still here on Earth, working in departments like the ones we'd have to visit, so we'd have help getting any awkward questions smoothed over."

"What about—"

"Jobs?" I asked, pushing another sheaf of papers at him; it was a wonder I didn't have paper cuts yet. "Also not a problem. There are tons of entry-level positions everywhere, and I know that we are more than qualified for those."

Leo handed the papers back to me after a quiet minute, his face still that careful, blank mask he wears when he doesn't want anyone to know what he's thinking. "We have no experience, Don. Not just with previous jobs, but actual schooling."

"We've been home-schooled by Master Splinter," I countered. Sensei had always considered it important that we be accomplished mentally as well as physically, and had taught us as well as he could. I'd never heard Leo question that before.

"I mean, we've never gone to any kind of school, let alone graduated. No one would accept an education history like that."

I grinned. "Have you forgotten the GEDs already?"

Leo blinked in realization, then smiled slightly. "I've tried, but it was…too memorable an experience."

A couple years ago, New York had been hit with an extremely bad winter, so we had all moved up to Casey's grandma's house to escape the frigid cold of the foundry. While we were there, I managed to convince Leo and the others to test for their GEDs since they had nothing better to do. (I'd taken the test years ago when I was bored, so I helped serve as a tutor and coach…and punching bag, when Raph and Mikey realized what I'd gotten them into; Leo just glared a lot.) They'd all passed, and Sensei had kept the certificates safe (and framed) since then, extremely proud of all of us.

"GEDs are just as acceptable as regular high school diplomas. And lots of people are of the opinion that home-schooled kids actually do better than many at public schools, so no one would even care that our father had taught us." Setting the papers down so that I wouldn't twist them in nervousness, I tried to grin confidently at Leo. Was he buckling, or was I just imagining it?

"Where would we live, Don?" He asked quietly, waving a hand around us. "We can't put the foundry's address on job applications or driver's licenses. And we can't impose on Casey or April in such a fashion…not after they've already done so much for us."

Can't. He said can't. Can't, as in the present, I-might-be-considering-this-as-an-actual-possibility tense, not couldn't, as in the hypothetical, I'm-only-having-this-discussion-to-humor-you tense.

"We could live at Casey's grandma's place," I countered. Leo frowned slightly and opened his mouth, but I bulldozed over him; if I didn't get my entire argument out soon, I was just going to bypass it and start begging rather pathetically. "If he'd let us, of course. Which I have very few doubts he would, if we asked. The house is old and gets water from a well, it doesn't have central heating or air, and the electricity runs on a generator. We wouldn't cost him anything. We could clean it up some more, and I could find another electric generator, and fix up the piping. It's already habitable because of how often we've gone up there after one fight or another, and we could get it into even better condition. And it'd only be temporary to begin with, just until we found jobs and could afford a place of our own. Or places of our own, or whatever."

Leo sat back, folding his arms. "All of this is riding on a bunch of ifs, Don. What if we can't get birth certificates and Social Security numbers? What if we can't find jobs?"

"We can and will. Mortu and all the other Utroms were full members of society, and Mortu said he can guarantee we can get any identification we'd need. As for the jobs…we all have very good chances. We're educated, physically adept, and none of us are afraid of hard work—well, except maybe Mikey, but for a chance like this, I know he'd work his shell off." I swallowed and made my final point of sale. "This could work, Leo, I know it could. It's the chance of a lifetime, a chance for a real life. Our life now…it's at a standstill. We're just—just stagnating down here, waiting for the next megalomaniac to come along and give us something to do. We've given this city and its people over half of our lives, and so much more. We've more than done our duty—our self-appointed duty; it's time we got a break. We've done almost all we can for the city, and eliminated lots of threats. And we'd be a lot safer; five people among millions, Leo, with nothing unusual about us to catch the attention of people like Bishop, the Purple Dragons, or the Foot. What better way to hide than in plain sight?"

"I…" Leo's calm façade was slipping. I could have sworn that I saw something that looked suspiciously like either hope or fear in his eyes, or maybe both. He looked at me. "Why didn't you say anything last night, when we talked?"

"About what you sensed?" I clarified. When he nodded, I shrugged slightly, feeling guilty. "I wanted to wait so that maybe you'd be…a little more receptive. And I didn't want to bring it up last night, because we were…" I trailed off, trying to think of a way to put it that wouldn't embarrass me terribly. 'Because we were actually talking?' 'Because I realized I missed you even when we've lived together for all our lives and I didn't want to scare you off?' 'Because I didn't want to ruin the moment?'

Leo somehow managed to guess what I was thinking, or see it in my face, because his expression softened almost into a smile for an instant. It cleared quickly though, and then he was eyeing the piles of paper with trepidation. "Don, this…this is so huge. I need to think about it."

I nodded. He would think about it! "If you have any questions, just let me know."

"I will," he assured me. He stood and slipped out of the lab, and I heard the door of the Lair open and close just seconds later.

My breath flew out in a sigh, and I could feel myself deflate as the tension bled out of me. I shoved my papers weakly into something that resembled a neat stack, trying to control the shaking in my hands. It hadn't really set in just how much I had already come to care about this until I watched my hands shake and felt my heart drumming against my plastron.

I reached out and tapped a few keys on my keyboard, bringing up a vid screen and linking it to the signal Leatherhead had given me. It took a few minutes, but the screen finally blinked from black to white, then to Leatherhead's face. He looked tense and expectant as he gazed at me. "Well?" he asked, not saying anything else.

"He said he'd think about it," I explained.

Leatherhead sighed, seeming to lose some of the tenseness in his muscles as well. "Well. If nothing else, it is certainly better than outright rejection of the idea." He gave a tired half-smile. "What will you do now, my friend?"

I shrugged listlessly, completely spent now that it was over. "Wait, I guess. Give Leo a few days to think things over, and figure out somewhere to hide all my notes so that no one else stumbles across them prematurely."

"I wish you luck," he offered, stifling a yawn. "If I think of anything else, I will let you know."

"Thanks, LH," I said, smiling back. "I can't tell you how much I appreciate your help in this."

"Donatello, with all that you and your family have done for me, it is the least I could do for you. Do let me know as soon as you have Leonardo's answer."

"Like I wouldn't be bursting to tell someone anyways," I drawled teasingly. We said our goodbyes, and I turned my monitor back to sleep mode, then realized I might as well do the same for myself. Leo had made a run for it, and almost certainly wouldn't be back until it was time for practice. No one else was up, and I had no real compulsion to do anything but go back to bed for as long as possible. I stacked my papers together, then wheeled my chair over to the bookcase and pulled out a large medical textbook. Flipping back the top cover, I slid the pages out and replaced them with my notes, then slid the original book pages to the back of one of my desk drawers. I'd come up with this idea a while ago, when I'd realized that locked drawers only encouraged Mikey; he always figured that anything locked away was exactly what he needed to be messing around with. However, this way, my notes would be hidden and look like nothing more than a book on human psychology…one of the last things Mikey would be interested in reading about.

I pushed the book back into its place on the shelf, staring at it silently. Part of me wanted to tell Raph and Mikey about this chance, because I so badly wanted to talk to a brother who was as excited about this as I was…but I couldn't. I had promised myself that I would give Leo time, nagging-free time to think about this, and that was a promise I intended to keep. I was asking him to basically obliterate his comfort zone with this proposal, so in turn, I would keep it just between us, and be as patient as I possibly could be.

Which wasn't going to be much, admittedly.

I sighed and made my way to my room, determined to spend what remained of my free time trying to sleep.

Patience was a virtue, I reminded myself as I stared at the pipes crisscrossing along the ceiling above my bed. I snorted and rolled over on my side. Who was I kidding?

Leo had two days tops before I went crazy.

AN: So? What do you think? :D I am so excited and nervous to be putting this out here, 'cause I so want people to like it. There have always been a few story ideas that I have considered a rite of passage/necessity to try out, and a 'turtles-turned-human' is one of those. It's going to be a big project; I only hope I can do it justice. ^_^;; As for my take on it…I just got to thinking one day about that ooze, and a little voice in my head (there are a few of those. :b) just went "why did the Utroms have vials of that mutating ooze just lying around? Why did they create it in the first place?" I wanted a realistic reason for it all, and for how the guys would get human; weird, I know, wanting realism as I write about humanoid turtles, but there you go. Hopefully you guys liked it, 'cause I write for my readers as much as I write for myself.

On that note, I need a little bit of help from you guys. I'm still kind of sitting on the fence with Leo, since he's being stubborn; what kind of job do you guys think would be best for him? I would love to get some input from you, my lovely readers, because it's definitely going to affect how the story goes. I've got a couple ideas, but I'd like to hear a few more if anyone can think of some good ones. Leo's being tight-lipped and won't say anything, but I refuse to let him get out of it so easily, so I'm turning to you guys. :D Help me out, please!

Anyways, there it is; another fic, for the readers of the best fandom out there. :D If you love me, please leave a review! It lets me know I'm doing something right. Constructive criticism is always appreciated, as is blatant love. XD Thanks!