She thinks of herself as two different people.
She drags herself out of bed every morning, taken from dreams that are bittersweet memories or the most horrific imaginings she can come up with from the little information that she has, feeling unrefreshed, the loss hitting her all over again. She showers, trying to wash away the feeling of loss and the exhaustion that comes with her broken rest, goes to work in the store. At the end of the day, she returns to the apartment, eats without enthusiasm, looks at the TV without seeing what is happening on it.
And two or three nights a week, she leaves the apartment as soon as it gets dark.
It started off because she had no idea what she was looking for, but knowing that she had to do something. There is nothing that she can think of to trace the people she seeks, but she can make some observations and work from them.
She's searching for a group. There was no way one person could have done – that.
Not someone with huge amounts of resources to their name, but ones with connections. People who have no compunctions. People with no reason to show on the radar of normal, law-abiding people.
People she has no idea how to find.
But those people have to live in New York, she figures. They have to have known something, even if it was just the apparent myths the street hoods tell each other. They did not just go out looking for four big green talking turtles, nor did they happen upon them by accident and manage to capture them. Which meant someone must remember them.
And she remembers the air in the van, before she turned around and threw up in the gutter, thick with alcohol and cigarette smoke.
There are bars in New York where the laws do not apply, where the tourists do not go. The police tend to leave them alone, unless there is some kind of raid going on, not due to blindness or bribes, more due to an understanding. In such places, people talk, their tongues loosened by alcohol, and sometimes information changes hands. The cops think it better a few smoking citations went unwritten so that they could find out about the more serious crimes and for the most time, it is the right decision.
She went to the first bar feeling like a tourist, out of place. She had drunk the first few beers almost in self-defence, sensing the eyes on her. She didn't look like she belonged. When she left, some guy had followed her and grabbed her wrist as she headed for home.
Whatever his intentions had been didn't matter; Splinter had trained her in ninjitsu for some time and although she would never stand up against a trained fighter, she had dropped one drunken prick in about five seconds and left him writhing on the ground while she headed home.
After that, she learned to blend.
The hair changed first, darkening it to be less noticeable than her usual colour. It was the most obvious change but far from the last. She'd begun to favour more casual clothes on the outings, on the verge of scruffy, making her look younger. She blends with the other people in the bar, chatting with the other patrons and throwing curses as casually as the others. She always arrives alone and she always leaves alone.
Some of the drinkers in those places had initially tagged her as an undercover cop. A few tried to set up traps for her, only to find her uninterested in their activities. A couple of others thought her a nice girl trying to play at being bad, only to find that she could handle herself well.
She doesn't do it for fun. She did it because she wanted information and figured this was her best way to get it. Although she hasn't found anything out yet, she's sure she must be getting close. There are rumours, people whispering about how the biggest problem they all had was out of the way – but she hasn't heard anything concrete, has no names.
And if – no, when – she has names, what will she do then?
She'll work that out later.
She had run into trouble only once. She had been having a bad day, one filled with memories of her old life and the emptiness of the new, had gone overboard at the bar. Going out, the fresh air had hit her and made her feel even drunker. And on her way home, she had seen a man cut her off. She turned, to find another behind her. A couple more lurked in the shadows.
She had tried to set her stance, but her motor functions were working against her. She knew she couldn't fight them all off, was trapped...
...And then a man had dropped from the rooftops, a man that had been looking out from her all along.
He had taken them out and come to her, letting her lean on him while he carried her home. He laid her out on the couch while she muttered about how she was going to find those guys and make them pay. He stayed there until the morning.
And in the morning, they had nothing to say to each other and he left.
She knows he watches her on occasion, but she has never needed his help again. She remains half-way sober and able to take care of herself.
Yet she still goes out, puts herself in harms way, just to find those people who took lives and left a big, black hole in hers. And if – when – she finds them, they could probably hurt her. They had done worse to better fighters.
She no longer cares.
A year. A whole year that she has spent wondering what she could have done differently, how things could have changed. If maybe, she could have announced a film night at her house and got them off the streets. Or if she could have dropped in unexpectedly and made them come home early. Anything except what had happened.
So tonight, almost a year to the hour after she had found the Battleshell, she sits and grimly surveys her surroundings. Same as any other bar this year. The barman, thirty or so, wised up and paid for his silence. The bar, sticky with drink. The people, partying or chatting or searching or mourning. Same scene, same people, same shit. There are the usual pairs, mostly a man and a woman, two tables with men only. One of those pairs, unknown to her, is waiting for their friend Mongo to turn up to start the party in earnest. The rest of the tables are taken with groups, but none of them fit the profile of who she is looking for, mostly would-be toughs and gang members trying to prove how tough they are. None of them are going to know shit.
No one to tell her who killed her friends.
She summons another beer, determined it will be her last. She knows that her friends would not approve of her actions, but she is doing this for them. She had imagined a party among the guilty, marking the anniversary in their own cruel way just as she remembers it in her own, but there are several bars this could happen at and she can't be in all of them at once.
For the first time since the night she was rescued, she feels drunk. She has not been as vigilant as she usually is, but this anniversary has been hard on her, in spite of trying to brace herself against its impact the knowledge of the lost time has slammed into her harder than she had thought it would. Drowning her sorrows does not seem like an altogether bad idea, although she realises that doing so here most certainly is a bad idea.
Imagining she can feel eyes on her, she pays for the beer and necks it, leaving the bar. The air hits her and she leans into the wall, letting the rain wash over her, thinking about the night she never lets herself think about usually, the night that changed her life...
He sounds irritable through the phone line, although she assumed he'd been out with Raph it seems like she caught him in bed. Maybe it was one of those unheard of nights – he went to bed, she went to bed and the turtles hung out at home.
Except for one thing.
"Case! Get over here."
"The Battleshell has been parked outside for a while."
"So, no one came to my door or window yet."
She didn't have to say how bad she felt seeing the van parked outside with no one around. She didn't have to say that she needed him there when she went to the Battleshell. She didn't have to say that she sensed something wrong with the whole situation that was stopping her going to see if she could give aid. He knew.
"Be there in fifteen."
He was there in about eight and a half minutes, dishevelled and in full vigilante dress, although he had not brushed his hair and looked like he might have dragged his clothes on in about five seconds flat. He arrived at her door and didn't enter the apartment. Instead, both of them made their way to the Battleshell, its engine dead and no sound coming from within.
Best case scenario; one of them got the others here and was too weak to get attention.
Casey grabbed the handle of the back of the van, his other hand wielding a baseball bat. He kept April a safe distance away, as far as he could.
The door opened.
April peered inside, gagged and backed away in a hurry, vomiting into the street. Casey stayed, frozen.
His best friend, Raph, was stiffened against the end of the van, dried blood frozen down his face. Leo was in front of him, more red than green. Mike lay in the middle of the van, intestines draped over his body. And closest was Don, half his head missing.
Casey slammed the door closed, heart beating too hard, calling loud enough to be heard through the door but keeping it hopefully low enough to not be heard by people in the nearby buildings. "Funny, you guys. April puked. Enough."
He opens the van to find them unmoving.
"Casey." April takes his arm, trying to pull him back. "It's not a joke."
"Of course it's a joke," snaps Casey, not taking his eyes from the scene in the van, not seeming to hear the way her voice broke or feel how tight she gripped his arm, blinded to the smell within the van, the glassy eyes and broken bodies of their friends that in spite of the gloom were clearly not the work of any special effects.
He reaches out, perhaps to shake Don and tell him to knock it off. Instead, as soon as he grabs the turtle, Donatello topples from the unnatural position he is dumped in and hits the floor of the van with a meaty thump. The stench from within seems to double at the movement and April lets out a high sound from the back of her throat.
Casey jerks back, away from the van, stepping heavily on her foot. April doesn't feel a thing, her eyes searching out Casey's and hoping that he will be able to somehow change things, make everything different. But when he turns to face her, he clearly doesn't see her at all...
Dammit. Not only does she not want to be thinking about this, this is a bad time and a bad place to be doing it. Not when the anniversary is upon her and she has let herself indulge more than she should have done. Shit, she should have seen that she would feel this way, but had assumed that like any other night, she could keep herself to the usual limit and keep her eyes and ears open. As it is, there could have been a banner up commemorating the event and naming the assailants and she wouldn't notice. She should have stayed home.
And she might as well have easy target tattooed across her head as be leaning against the wall outside some sleazy bar and trying to get her bearings. She's advertising herself to everyone from random muggers to guys offering to walk her home, in exchange for some quick encounter in an alley, and she isn't in the mood to argue or to fight.
Straightening up, she takes a deep breath and adjusting her jacket, strides away. Hopefully, her purposeful step and keep-away body language will make up for her previous weakness. She can fall apart all she wants when she gets home.
Trying to take her mind off things, she considers what she will do when she gets back. There's a bottle of wine in the kitchen that she's had for months – she has never been much of a fan of drinking alone and she has had no company in the apartment for a very long time. She sees the visits to the bars as essential and the drinks as a disguise, has no desire most of the time to imbibe, but tonight is different. It's red wine and she'll no doubt feel like crap in the morning from overdoing it and maybe when she gets home she won't want it, any more than she has wanted it in the time it has gathered dust in the cupboard. But it's something to mull over while she walks home, something that takes her mind off thinking about anything else except for in the most superficial way.
She realises there are steps behind her.
Her eyes flick to the side but she can't yet see any shadows. Pretending she hasn't heard anything she shoves her hands deeper into the pockets of her jacket, each hand wrapping around the small canister of pepper spray within. She has weapons, but she prefers the pepper spray. The weapons she learned with were not made to be concealed and those that she has are not something she is familiar with.
At the same time, she eyes the road. At this time of night and in this area, it is not common for cabs to be roaming but she can always hope. She had been planning to walk to a nearby road where she could grab a ride, but if the person behind her is more than a fellow drinker then she is not going to get there before they strike.
What the hell. She has dealt with worse.
She shakes her hair back, trying to look confident, aware of how quiet the street really is. There is music coming from a couple of bars but precious few people – and this is not a neighbourhood where a kindly person would step in, not even one where the police would be called should screams ring out.
Her eyes dart to the ground on her right. The shadow of the person behind her finally comes into view, looming large thanks to the positioning of the lighting.
Letting her eyes drift left, she feels her heart speed up. There is a second shadow approaching her other shoulder. The rain hitting the streets has drowned out what she may otherwise have made out as two pairs of footsteps. Two people. Not good.
Deciding the element of surprise is better, she whips around bringing her hands from her jacket pockets and revealing the cans of pepper spray. She has a second to observe the men, although nothing much more than their identical dumb-ass keep-quiet grins registers, before she unleashes the spray.
She has misjudged their positions, thinking them closer than they were in her paranoia. But it seems that she has not misjudged their intent. As she tries to readjust her hands to aim the spray at them, the one on her right darts with surprising agility, twisting her hand behind her back and forcing her to drop the can. She hears it clatter to the floor.
He reaches behind her and yanks at her other arm. She almost drops the can, her finger coming off the spray release, but manages to keep hold of it. Not that it's a problem, she can take these guys down regardless.
"Babe," the guy breathes in her ear "Babe, we ain't looking for a fight..."
She could get out of this easily...
...Only she does not have the chance.
Someone drops into the alley behind them, a glint of silver showing in the light as something hits the guy holding her. He releases her so suddenly that she stumbles, trying to straighten herself and instead tripping over her own feet, falling to one knee. Behind her, she can hear a small, almost silent struggle as the second guy goes down as well.
She stands again, embarrassed over her trip, feeling like she will always be in this position when she runs into the man with the mask. She didn't even need saving, what the hell was he up to?
She doesn't even bother looking at him, instead concentrating her attention on the fallen man who had robbed her of her pepper spray, glaring at him. He doesn't even seem to be writhing in pain like they usually do, but she thinks little of it, too pissed off to pay much attention.
"Case, I had a handle on it! Are you going to jump in every time? I do not need some big, strong man saving me all the time!"
She doesn't even afford a look at her rescuer, although she can feel his presence. She doesn't see his eyes widen, doesn't see him back away a few steps further into the shadow, doesn't see him cringe at the memories her voice unleashes.
And although she sees the crow perched on a window ledge, it is merely a part of the background and she does not think it significant.
The silence gets to her, but she refuses to look around. "Case, I appreciate you looking out for me, but I don't need it y'know. It needs to stop. I know what I'm doing."
"I'm not Casey."
She freezes. Her whole body stiffens, causing her to straighten up, limbs rigid, even her fingers splayed as the muscles lock. She knows that voice. She has heard it a hundred times before. But she never expected to hear it again.
And then her paralysis breaks and she whirls around, a name on her lips...
Only to find that she is alone, save for the two men sprawled on the floor. There is no rescuer. He is gone as if he were never there at all.