Summary: Rebuilding a world would be harder than saving it. But first there are some ghosts that need to be laid to rest.
Notes/Warnings: This story is set after the events of the episode Same As it Never Was and is a direct sequel to my story "His Obedient Servant". If you have not read that story, you should still be able to understand this one just fine.
The Haunting of April O'Neil
Donatello faded away in a pulse of blue-white light, back to his own world, his own time. Some other April O'Neil would welcome him home and April swallowed thirty years of grief because someone else's happy ending was better than none at all.
He was gone again, leaving her alone in a room of the dead, her brothers' bodies cooling on the floor. She couldn't stay there.
The doors to Shredder's throne room were locked, but April had a rocket launcher. The concussion made her ears ring and she waved smoke and dust away from her face with one hand while she picked her way through the ruined doorway.
It was too convenient that no one had interrupted their battle in the throne room. At the first sign of an attack, Foot soldiers should have raced to their Master's side. And they'd burst through the floor for pity's sake, it wasn't as if they'd been particularly stealthy.
Inside help. It was the only explanation she could conceive of. But there was no time to worry about it. The Shredder was dead, but there was still a war to be fought.
Something caught her attention, a figure in black, the glint of light off a blade. April turned her head but no one was there.
Karai licked her lips, tasting sweat, and stayed on her feet through sheer force of will. Raphael pushed himself to his knees, but did not come for her. Instead he looked to his brother, to Leonardo's body, only a few feet from where he fell. He staggered to his brother's side, calling his name and fell across Leonardo's chest, not to rise again.
Too easy. Too easy. Leonardo was the better fighter, yes, but Raphael had never been so easy to defeat. Karai's hands shook and she swallowed bile. She had been used. She had been nothing but the instrument of Raphael's suicide. She hated him for just a moment, for beating her to it.
She heard her name, the O'Neil woman's voice carrying through the sounds of battle. Karai turned and a rocket launcher was not what she expected, but it would do.
Never let her father say she did not fight to the end. The O'Neil woman fired. Karai ran to meet the blast head on.
April jolted out of sleep, her heart beating its way out of her chest.
She stared around the room in confusion for a moment, half expecting the battle-scarred walls of the Shredder's throne room and the twisted metal remains of the KaraiBots. But she was back at the base, in her own room, surrounded by familiar things.
She pressed the heel of her hand against her lips so hard she nearly cut herself on her own teeth and breathed slowly and deeply through her nose. Nightmare, she told herself. A phenomenon she had become more than familiar with over the years.
After a moment she shook her head and ran a hand through her hair. Guilt had no doubt prompted this one, her mind putting her in the shoes of Raphael and Leonardo's executioner because she felt she should have saved them.
Her mind conjured up the memory of the katana in her hands, the sense of resistance as it cut through Raphael's chest and she nearly threw herself out of bed as if she could dodge the sensation. She paused in the center of the room and pressed a hand against her chest. Slowly turned back toward the bed.
Karai stood at the foot of her bed. Younger than she had been, her hair still dark, her face unmarked by the years, she looked as she had the first time April had seen her during the earliest days of the war. She wore her Foot soldier garb, black bodysuit with gray armor, the red insignia emblazoned across her chest. Her katana were sheathed across her back. She watched April with tired blue eyes.
"You're dead," April said. "I killed you myself. I burned your body myself."
Karai gave the impression of a woman waiting for something. She did not react to April's words. She did not speak.
Someone knocked on the door causing April to start slightly. Karai glanced over April's shoulder, arching one thin eyebrow, then inclined her head slightly in a respectful nod and took two steps backwards, vanishing into the wall.
April rubbed a hand over her eyes. Well, she'd been expecting to lose her mind for about thirty years now. She had always just assumed she wouldn't know it when it happened. "Come in."
Angel peeked in around the edge of the door. "Were you talking to someone?"
"Just myself," April said wryly. "What's up?"
"You wanted me to bring you progress reports." Angel sounded disapproving. She had spent hours convincing April to rest and had only reluctantly agreed to interrupt her with updates every two hours. "Would you like the good news or the bad news?"
"Chaplin's gone." They had searched the Shredder's stronghold for him from top to bottom - either he hadn't been there when they attacked or there had been an escape route they hadn't found. April was inclined to believe the latter.
Having him running around free wasn't a pleasant thought. They would have to make his capture a priority. "And the good news?"
"The Utrom scientists are free and mostly recovering from Chaplin's control protocols." Angel shrugged. "Some of them were too long under, though. The senior surviving officer among them gave me permission to show them mercy."
Control protocols was a fancy word for cybernetic mind-control and April knew that many of those Utroms had been wired into Chaplin's commands for as long as thirty years. She had seen the long-term effects before, in other scientists they had rescued. Some had been driven mad, some had lost all ability to act on their own without commands coming through the control protocols. "How many?"
"Some three dozen freed," Angel said. "Less than half that had to be let go."
It tasted bitter that they had won the day and continued to lose people. "Anything else?"
"Shredder's ship has been locked down. It's in perfect working order, April. The Utrom are already asking permission to take it home."
April couldn't think of any good reason to say no, except that they could really use the Utroms' help rebuilding. "Ask them to meet with me-" she glanced at the window, saw the darkness outside, "-tomorrow at midday. We can discuss the ship and what's to be done with it then. I hate to use it as a bargaining tool, but we really could use their expertise. Especially with Stockman gone."
"Shredder was their problem to begin with," Angel said flatly. "They brought him here, they lost control of him. They had a few hundred years to stop him and couldn't do it. So they can pay us back for stopping him by helping us clean up his mess a little before they fly off home."
April planned to put it to the Utroms in nearly those exact words. "Any problems?"
"None yet," Angel said. "Except our commanding officer is so exhausted and malnourished I think she might be about to fall asleep on her feet."
"Your commanding officer has done more with less," April said. "I'll be fine."
"You were a lot younger then," Angel said. "And you can't rely on adrenaline the way you used to. It's not good for your heart."
April pursed her lips and ignored the smirk hovering at the corners of Angel's lips. "I've mentioned that Casey was always a bad influence on you?"
"Every day for thirty years. But I was a punk long before Casey came along." Angel propped her shoulder against the wall and slouched, her hands shoved in her pockets. "The ride up to the farmhouse is going to be a hell of a long trip, April. And not a safe one. You sure you want to do this? We can always-"
They'd worked and fought together long enough that Angel knew when to let something go. "All right. Then you need to rest. I can't spare the people to escort us up there, and I can't watch both of our backs."
"I do hate it when you're right." April considered the watch on her left wrist and sighed. "Wake me a couple hours before the Utrom arrive. Until then, I'm leaving you in charge."
"We'll keep things moving," Angel promised. "Get some rest, boss. You look mostly dead."
"Flatterer," April said.
Angel left the room. She pulled the door shut as she left and April took a step back as the door pulled back to reveal Karai hidden in the shadowy corner.
The ninja touched the red Foot Clan insignia on her chest and coated her fingers in blood. She studied her hand for a moment as if she had never seen blood before, then she met April's gaze and smiled, holding a finger to her lips in a gesture for silence.
She vanished. April wiped her fingers across her mouth and they came away wet with blood.
April washed her face, chalked the blood up to a bitten lip from her nightmare earlier, ignored the shadowy corners of her room, and went to bed.
Angel woke her at midday from a restless sleep. April hid her face in her pillow and wondered if the Utrom would be angry if she sent them away again for a few more hours.
Eventually she hauled herself out of bed, waved off Angel's amused offer of assistance. Her demolitions expert - her second-in-command, April realized with a sharp pang, now that Michelangelo was dead - was tired but going strong, so April didn't bother ordering her to rest. Angel could be like Raphael sometimes and telling her what to do when she already knew very well what needed doing would only make her stubborn. April yawned into her fist as she pushed herself to her feet. Anyway, she was pretty sure she'd come across a raging hypocrite on the matter considering Angel had done everything short of tying her to the bed before she would agree to rest herself.
She scrubbed her face with the basin of lukewarm water on the dresser. She wiped water away from her eyes and stared at the words written on the mirror.
If she was sleepwalking and writing obscure messages, he'd never hear the end of it from Angel.
She ran her wet hands through her hair a few times and finished dressing. Karai stood in front of the door, watching her with an urgent expression, but when April jerked the door open, the dead woman vanished as if she'd never been there.
She bullied and bluffed her way through the meeting with the Utrom. Shredder was their prisoner in the first place, she pointed out. They had brought him to this world. They had stood back and let him rampage across the centuries because they were more focused on getting home than on one lone criminal. And now billions were dead and they had decades of rebuilding ahead of them. The Utrom could very well pony up to the bar and pay their fare share of the tab, she told them, and if they blinked at her oddly and asked hesitantly if there were horses involved, well, at least they weren't arguing.
Angel made faces at her from behind their backs and April glared a bit more harshly than she would have otherwise. The Utroms paled nervously and exchanged glances before April wiped the expression away. She sent them back to Chaplin's facility to work on setting up the Transmat and contacting their world. Backup was sounding like the best thing she'd ever heard.
The Cavalry is riding in, she thought irreverently, remembering old war movies at her place with Casey sprawled on the couch, Mike and Raph throwing popcorn at each other, Don and Leo critiquing the combat and strategy of the heroes and villains alike.
The memory cut her deep. Grief for Casey still choked her at unpredictable moments. And Donatello - she could forget sometimes, that she hadn't even known him for a year when he vanished. Thirty years of mourning for a boy who'd died almost before she knew him. Sometimes she wasn't sure why she couldn't forget him they way she sometimes forgot her friends from college, her sister and parents, her uncle Auggie. All of them long since gone, and none of them pressing on her heart as heavily as he still did. Donnie, then Splinter, and finally Casey. Sometimes carrying around the few long dead members of her family was easier than dwelling on the hundreds of soldiers she'd lost more recently.
"When are we leaving?" she asked Angel when the Utrom had left.
"Traveling at night isn't the smartest plan," Angel said, "but I don't think we can risk going out in broad daylight either. Not… not with the wagon. People would realize."
"Whatever you decide. Pack enough supplies for a few days. And…" she hesitated. "No volunteers. I don't want outsiders. If I have to, I'll dig all three myself."
"You won't have to," Angel said. "Let me know if you need anything."
She spent a useless half hour trying to organize things for her absence, only to find out Angel had taken care of everything from patrols to kitchen staff already.
Finally she admitted she was putting things off and went outside.
It was dusk. The horizon was bright red and violet, streaks of brilliant color and deep gray clouds. April paused on the stairs, watching the smoke billowing from the fires downtown where the people and the soldiers were still rioting.
The yard was empty; most of her rebels were downtown, the others spread out throughout the city handing out food and supplies.
A jeep sat in the parking lot, a trailer hitched to the back. It was an old thing, with plywood for sides; someone had used it to haul trash to the junkyard or move lumber before the war. Now it held three plain pine coffins.
Someone had found three bolts of cloth and draped one across each coffin. Red, blue, orange. The splash of color was brighter than the horizon.
Karai stood at the back of the trailer, staring down at the coffins.
"No," April said, a little shocked at how her voice carried across the parking lot. She walked down the steps and crossed the lot. "You don't get to be here."
As she came around the back of the trailer she saw that Karai held her arms out, bent at the elbow with her palms up. A purple cloth was folded neatly in her hands.
She stepped forward, laying the cloth down gently across the end of Leonardo's coffin and bowed low at the waist.
April reached for the cloth, not sure why, and Karai took her hand.
The examining room is cold and bright. White tiles and white walls gleam in the light, silver trays and medical equipment catch the light and reflect it back in short, bright glints. She steps forward cautiously; somehow she already knows to regret ever setting foot inside.
There is an examination table in the center of the room, beneath the lights and surrounded by equipment. A heart monitor, an electric saw, a tray full of syringes. A video camera on a tripod in set up nearby.
Something fierce clawed its way into April's chest and she dragged her hand out of Karai's grasp.
She blinked away the sterile room until she could see the dark parking lot and the purple-streaked sky. Karai was gone. The purple cloth remained.
And the back of April's hand was scoured with four shallow scratches.
They left the city at twilight, just the two of them and their cargo. Angel drove because she had night vision like an owl and because April was a better shot with the rifle.
Still, as they neared the river, it wasn't Angel who saw the woman standing in the street.
April sat up involuntarily as Karai was illuminated by their headlights and Angel, sensing her sudden tension, stepped on the brakes. "What is it?" Angel asked. "Ambush?"
Karai raised a finger and glanced to her left, toward the river.
"Where are we?" April asked.
"The river," Angel said. "Um. Laird Avenue. Eight hundred block. The warehouse was just a few blocks away from here."
"Is there anything important about this area?" April asked.
Angel glanced at her blankly for a moment, her eyes vague as she ran thirty years worth of war-time intelligence through her memory. "There were a couple of battles here, but there were battles all along the river. Mike fought the Kunoichi about a half mile south of here the night he lost his arm. There's the warehouse itself, but the Foot torched that long after the guys had abandoned shop. Raphael disappeared around here somewhere the first time he was captured. Leo ran a supply route through here before Shredder set up a river patrol. Bishop was rumored to have a base near here-"
Karai tapped her finger against her lips and stepped out of the light into the shadows toward the river.
"Bishop," April repeated quietly. They'd never crossed paths with the man directly; his commandos had avoided the resistance entirely, preferring to launch sabotage campaigns and sneak attacks against the Foot Clan. April could have told him that sneak attacks didn't work well against ninjas with alien surveillance technology at their disposal. He'd been killed by Karai a couple of years after Splinter died, before the war got really bad. Until they had rescued Stockman and starting grilling him for information, they hadn't even known if Bishop was a man or a woman or even real at all.
Karai was waiting at the side of the road, between two warehouses. April could see the streetlights reflecting off the river beyond her.
April glanced at the trailer in the rearview mirror. "All right. Wait here."
"Why?" Angel managed not to sound like she thought April was nuts.
"Because I think someone is trying to tell me something." April handed her the rifle. "Twenty minutes. If you hear anything, beat it."
Angel snorted and rolled her eyes. April chose to take that as a sign of agreement. It was never worth arguing with her about it anyway. "Who's trying to send you a message?"
"Karai," April said. "And she's getting on my nerves."
Angel looked at her sharply. "Karai is dead. You killed her."
"You know the funny thing?" April asked. "I think she killed herself."
"You shot her at point blank range with a rocket launcher, boss."
"Yeah." April checked her sidearm and adjusted the radio headset. "And she didn't even duck." She shut the door on Angel's objections and turned toward the river.
Karai led the way, transparent in the darkness. Rats and stray cats slunk in the shadows around them, the cats hissing as Karai passed them by. April felt a little better. At least the cats were seeing what she saw.
Karai paused at the edge of the river and waited for her. April stopped at the end of the alley and scanned the riverbank and surrounding area for movement. No sign of guards or the river patrol. She kept her eyes open as she picked her way through waist-high weeds and rusted metal, broken concrete and three decades of litter to join her. She stopped and stared out at the water, noting the buoys and the distinct lack of boats. The river patrol had been meticulous; April was willing to bet they were cutting their losses now that their boss was dead and leaving the city. She narrowed her eyes and scanned the water as far as she could in either direction, but didn't see anything that might have brought her here.
The moon was briefly hidden behind a cloud and Karai was suddenly solid and clear. She crooked a finger at April and pointed down.
The river rushed by below them. April exhaled through her teeth and leaned over the edge.
There, right at the water line, she could see a hatch.
Angel, being somewhat scarily comfortable with explosives, had c-4 with her in the Jeep. April kept watch while Angel blew the hatch door and they both waited tensely to see if the noise had brought anyone looking. After a few minutes April waved the younger woman inside and eased over the side herself.
The water was ankle deep inside the tunnel at first and April grimaced as the cold leeched through her boots and into her bones. She was too old for this, she told herself firmly. Too old for crawling around in the dark, exploring abandoned tunnels and talking to ghosts. She was retiring after this. Time to pass the torch. Angel could save the world by herself from now on.
Yeah. She could go live at the farmhouse fulltime and talk to the ghosts in her head. April shook her head and shouldered the rifle as they moved further into the tunnel. There was another hatch door, this one protected by a touchpad. April hesitated, wondering if they could risk using the c-4 underground, and Karai took her hand. April tensed, but Karai only pressed her fingers against the keypad. One. Nine. Four. Twelve numbers in all. The passcode.
"Be ready," April said. She pressed the buttons in order and the keypad screen flashed green twice before the door slid slowly open.
Stale air flowed out of the interior and April waved a hand in front of her face. Dust and mold and air that hadn't moved an inch in years. If this was Bishop's base, then it had been sealed up for more than twenty years.
"What are the odds the air has gone bad?" Angel wondered, mirroring April's thoughts.
"It should be fine," April said. "In any event, we've introduced fresh air. It should get better." Eventually. After several months. "We'll keep an eye on each other. I want to see what's in here."
Lights flickered on as they entered, some shattered from decades of disuse. The rest lit what appeared to be a laboratory with huge computer consoles and screens and the walls were lined with glass tanks, all broken and empty. Bodies littered the ground and more still sat at their chairs in front of the consoles. Time had worn them away to dry bone with wisps of hair and dried, desiccated skin. Their clothing had survived better - all hail synthetic fibers - and April nudged a stained white lab coat with her toe. Scientists, nearly all of them. Bishop's people. The ones who hadn't immediately surrendered when Karai came calling, at least.
Karai stood over one body, her head tipped to the side as she stared down. It had been a man, judging by the size of him. April joined her as Angel paused to examine the computers. Karai drew her sword and tapped the ground with the point of the blade.
April glanced down. Karai had tapped against the hem of the man's lab coat, but beneath it April could see a small rectangular shape. She lifted the coat and saw a plastic security badge. It was the size of a credit card and when she lifted it off the floor she saw that at some point dried blood had flaked and crumbled around it in a little pool.
April paused a moment to flip the card over. "Bishop," she murmured, a little wondering. So this is what had become of the man who had thought he could defeat Shredder all by himself. Left to rot slowly on the floor of his own base.
Karai knelt in front of her and reached out, covering the picture of Bishop's face with one nearly transparent hand. Her face was hard when April looked up, and memories of Stockman's testimony flickered in the back of her mind. Stockman had thought Bishop was obsessed with results and from what April had been able to extrapolate, Bishop had been willing to sacrifice individuals to preserve the whole. But the look on Karai's face was more than distaste and not for the first time it occurred to April to wonder how mad Bishop had to have been that even Stockman had thought he'd been unbalanced.
The security card had a magnetic strip along the bottom. April glanced at the computers briefly, but Karai flickered and vanished, then reappeared across the room, beside an unmarked door.
A doorkey, April realized. She tapped the card against her knee, then stood and crossed the room. There was a panel beside the door. No keypad, only a thin electronic card reader. April swiped the security card through and the door opened.
The lights came on, brighter than the lights in the main room and April covered her eyes against the glare. The room was pure white, which didn't help and it took a long moment before her vision adjusted.
She'd been there before. Or, she'd seen it before. White walls and white tiled floors, silver trays and medical equipment. A single examination table in the center of the room, surrounded by a video camera and heart monitor and a power saw. April gagged a little at the implications and turned back to the door, her eyes finding Bishop's body lying on the floor in the room beyond. A hand touched her shoulder and April dragged her attention back to the examination table.
Karai looked up at her, confused and upset. She held a sword in her hands, the blade bloodied. April blinked and Karai held only the folded purple cloth.
April gagged for real that time and braced herself against the wall.
She made herself look, eventually. When she could breathe again she took the cloth from Karai and covered him with it.
She sent Angel to search for a body bag or stretcher they could carry him out on and stood beside the table, her fingers curled over one of his hands.
"You killed him," April said finally, but Karai was gone.
Angel came back with a body bag, the plastic old and creaking, but still usable. The carefully moved him over, trying to disturb him as little as possible. Once he was inside, Angel took his shoulders and April took the feet and they made their way back to the Jeep.
They set him in the back with his brothers and April draped the purple cloth over the bag.
Angel drove all night. They didn't speak. Karai did not come back.
They buried the bodies at the farmhouse. Angel drove three stone markers into the ground and stopped over the fourth grave, promising quietly to come back with another.
April rubbed a piece of brittle, dry purple cloth between her fingers.
The sun was coming up. She could hear Angel moving around in the farmhouse. They would have to go back to the city soon and pick up where they had left off.
April dug her fingers into the soft earth over Leo's grave and buried the small scrap of purple cloth there. "Just in case," she told the empty sky. "Just in case you need a hand finding him."
"My sins are not in my actions."
Karai's voice made her skin go cold and April hunched her shoulders unconsciously as she looked up at the tired, old woman who stood just beyond the gravesite.
"I thought I made the right decision. I had two choices: I could kill him myself, or give him to my father." Karai regarded April with dark blue eyes. "I thought I chose mercy. I thought I was doing the right thing." She knelt and folded her hands on her lap. "But then I hid him from my father anyway. If I could hide his death, how easily could I have hidden his survival?" She touched the emblem on her chest. "It is not what I have done that shames me, but why I have done it. Do you understand me, April O'Neil? It never even occurred to me that I had a third choice."
"Don't come near them again," April said.
Saving the world took her and an army of thousands thirty years, countless lives, and the assistance of one time-traveling genius to accomplish.
Rebuilding it, April knew, would be harder.
"This is going to hurt," she said, shielding her eyes against the sun as she waited for Angel to come downstairs.
Karai, silent and young again, nodded. April didn't think they were talking about the same thing at all.