Disclaimer: You know what? I've already done three of these- why should I keep doing them? I'm gonna just stop with them, if that's all right-just as long as everyone's clear I've claimed nowhere ownership of the franchise-btw, isn't a shame Nickelodeon of all companies has the rights now? CGI? Dang!

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The Lair ws quiet. Mike making the shrewd choice to keep his distance was the main cause. Under normal circumstances, a quiet Lair was tense-it was the first indication of unease in the ranks. At this point in time the circumstances could not exacly be called normal, but the same effect seemed to apply nonetheless.

Finally, Leo, driven by the goosebump sensations (which incidentally never appeared outright on his skin) running up his arm, turned to Angel with rapidly waning patience. "Quit staring at me, I don't know anything you don't at this point," he said cordially enough, edge of mouth muscles straining.

"Raph seems to know something."

"Raph has a lot of business he keeps to himself." He was regretting he had taken the initiative of turning off the tube. Now neither of them could pretend focus elsewhere. "There have been billions of times he's gone topside without one of us with him, or even knowing he was out; we don't keep tabs on eachother too closely because we trust eachother. I trust him. He's got common sense." Leo could have laughed his spleen into oblivion with the irony; he only prayed Mikey wasn't lurking nearby with a recorder. Angel's lips didn't budge. She slouched into the sofa, utterly enervated sudenly despite her steady inactivity all day.

It was all out of her control. It wasn't what she was thinking once she had determined to get out of state; the cherished dream of freedom in the shaking off of adult supervision shackles had long dissipated. Because since the moment she rushed out of the sweaty dust-infested room she had had company-a guard-she couldn't bear this indignity. Crushed by unseen pressure. She felt, with a surge of raw self-righteousness-enabling indignance, that this complacent do-gooder, this charitable perfection, this prick of a turtle sitting beside her had expectations. Well, she wouldn't cry, whatever happened; not the time, never the time when sentients are creeping about.

From Leo's perspective she was behaving like an insensate ass, brooding darkly at such an unopportune time-a specialty of Raph's. How unattractive. It was why Raph failed to gratiate himself with others, where Mikey could (mostly...on second thought, he wasn't very popular at all with those who really got close enough to hear what he was saying). Neither of these two, thought Leo, see the value in strategic connections-outside of battle, that is. He turned to face her, with intentions of admonition, when Master Splinter chose that moment to quietly and regally enter the room. "Master Splinter-" said Leo quickly, not remembering if someone had told the details of Angel's situation to the elderly rat.

"Hi, Splinter!" Angel brightened immediately and straightened up to smile at the rat for good measure. Maybe I was wrong about that strategic connections theory, thought Leo. The former gangbaby wasn't slow enough to miss who was really in charge.

"Good evening." Splinter smiled back gently, in his typical grandfather manner, it seemed to Angel. The rat seemed so old, so frail sometimes, she found it difficult to call him the Turtles' father in her mind. Prolly cuz my own parents weren't even voting age, she thought disgustedly, holding her smile in place while learning on the sofa back. She suddenly became aware of a whole different kind of furry tickling her cheek.

"Oh!" she exclaimed, drawing herself away for a complete look. A healthy, if smug-looking, orange tabby arched his back at the attention. "This's gotta be that cat Mikey showed up with at Christmas! What was his name- Klunk! He Klunk! Hey buddy!" She rubbed roughly on the cat's head and smirked. Klunk realized his mistake and bolted away without delay. "It's been so long since I've been down here, I didn't think you'd grow so much." She looked to Leo, only so she wouldn't be talking to herself. "The cat we had was outdoor-indoor, but for all his travels he was still a fat hippo last I saw him. Stupid thing, too. Couldn't even seem to smell the catnip. Wonder if he'll be okay on his own..."

"Cats aren't stupid," said Leo, "Mikey'd say if he heard you."

"Though they may show tendencies toward evil," interjected Splinter, making the two smooth-skinned bipeds (that about summed up all they had in common) smile.

"Nah, this guy was really stupid. Even Casey knows what's good for him, but this one time I saw Gir staring up the telephone post, at the wires, and then he-"

"Raphael," said Splinter sharply. "Who are your guests?"

Plodding sheepishly into the Lair with two small hands clutching his shell as Raph. Leo stood angrily: "You idiot-" But he caught Splinter's disapproving glance and shut his mouth tightly. His offending brother went to his room bearing a small boy, the sight of whom sent Angel into an agonizing process of wracking her brain- she knew the kid.

"You too," snapped Leo, bringing her attention to the shape of a person bordering the Lair, clearly reluctant to comply to the eldest turtle's whim. She squinted at it, but her mind still raced to identify the little boy with the hat on backwards, and even as Raphael came back quietly into the room and the shadow, reassured, stepped forward to reveal herself, she jumped to her feet beside Leo, ramrod straight.

"Carol!"

The bushy-haired blond winced and looked unsteadily at the floor as she bolted across the room with intentions to bear-hug. But the strange expression on her friend's face slowed Angel, and once she stood before her there was a definite awkwardness between them. Angel held her breath, then, feeling the onerous stares of Leo and Raph on her back, realized it was up to her to solidify the trustworthiness of this newcomper. The girl was stiff and trying desperately not to meet her eyes. Angel broke into a strained grin and punched her arm lightly. She didn't flinch.

"Raph," said Angel, being considerate of the setting, "where the heck didja find her?"

"Heading away from your place," he answered gruffly, arms folded.

"Do you know them, Angel?" Leo, she could tell, was trying to the best of his abilities to keep his frustration in check. He'd just love to have them both strapped into a chair in a dark room with a hanging light, she knew, and the sad part was that if it were him and Raph doing the interrogation, she didn't know which of them would be the bad cop.

"She's my friend from school. Done a lot of stuff together. Helped me out of some real deep sh- places," she mended hastily, glancing to Splinter, who remained staid and silent, both hands on his walking stick. As an afterthought, she added, "Her name's Carol."

Mike entered, whistling, large comic book stack in tow. Evidently he had thought to drag Angel into all his favorite fandoms before serious conversation intervened in the process. The mischevious smile he wore fell, and he slowed, seeing Splinter standing so solemn. He approached the two girls with a determind glint in hes eye, and Angel knew he felt it was up to him to lighten the atmosphere once again. If it was at his own expense, so be it.

He tossed his arm on her shoulder and addressed Carol. "Hi! What say you about the third Star Wars movie?" He ignored her taken aback expression and insisted, with his eyes narrowed by his wide grin, "The fate of your socks as long as you're here depends on your answer."

"Aw, Mike," groaned Raph, recalling the demise of April's pantyhose- but seeing as no one yet had discovered the remains, he kept quiet before the two authorities in the room could pick up the line.

The girl called Carol's taciturn facade slipped. She glanced to Angel, confused, but was met with a helpless shrug. Their matching lopsided grins encouraged her, though, so she answered truthfully, "I didn't see it; I don't attend excessively melodramatic space-operas if I can help it." Mikey's derisive snort provoked her. "I never much liked the series once #2 came out, and I've heard #3's plot was total crap."

"Dare you insult the greatest movie series ever the grace the planet?" Mike challenged.

"I thought that was Harry Potter." At his mock-livid expression, she added spitefully, "Yes, so dare I."

Leo serruptitiously moved beside Splinter, who coughed for attention. "Please sit down," he said shortly, gesturing to the couch. Angel gripped the slack-jawed Carol's arm and led her there. She saw, peripherally, Don emerge groggily from his lab, take in the situation, and silently go to the kitchen. How unsocial of him, she thought, but couldn't exactly blame him...it was a long, dreary road ahead. Splinter stood in the space before the television wall, with such an air about him Angel thought ridiculously it looked like he were seconds away from bursting into opera-tonante unt eilend. Would that I brought my ukukele, she thought, and promptly after that choked aloud on her own spit so that she coughed, sputtered, and in the end called it a hiccup at Leo's pointed look.

Splinter spoke softly. "Carol. Who is the boy sleeping in my son's room?"

Carol, face downcast, answered clearly. "Tyler Lundgrum. My cousin. Second grade. He's sticking with me till I can get him to some relatives or something." Her halting, edgy speech pattern betrayed her nerves, unlike her steady-as-steel alto voice. Angel squeezed her limp hand.

"The son of the murdered Irma Lundgrum, yes?"

"Yes."

"Please look up." She obeyed without hesitating, blinking slowly. "Tell me about your friend and your cousin. Their situations."

She opened her mouth a slit. Don appeared silently from the kitchen with a tea kettle and stacked ceramic cups-must me handy, Angel thought. "I-" Carol licked her lips, brow furrowed. Leo and Raph had moved to flank their master, and the result was a formidible barricade against wandering concentration. Carol plowed ahead, talking over the light sounds of Don arranging tea on the coffee table.

"Angel and I met at school, like she said. Our grandparents knew eachother from church; that's how she met Tyler and his mom. We got till highschool before we started cutting classes. I'm responsible for introducing her to the Purple Dragons." The Turtles all shifted at that. Carol did her best to ignore it. "It was spring when she got out of it, but I'd already been initiated, so there wasn't any way I could do the same without moving across the country. By the way," she said suddenly in a marginally warmer tone to Angel, "It was real smart of you not to tell them where you lived. They would've done something about you a lot sooner, hocky mask freak and pals or no. Anyway," she resumed languidly. "Soon after that they were in a couple different plans with the Foot Clan, but those of us not competent in fights-"

"Er, that would be all of them, right?" interjected Mikey irrepressively.

"Sh, Mike, the story's going somewhere!" said Angel

"No, that's true enough," conceded Carol wryly.

Mike nudged Don. "She's a keeper, I can tell."

"Well, nearly all of the girls, anyway, and those specialiing in electronics had a separate project. It was finished a couple months ago, and having dropped completely out of school I was there to see most of it. I had complete access to it whenever I wanted because of a correct suggestion I made in its earlier stages. Once it was complete and the test target was chosen, I waited a few days and took it."

"Why'd you wait until then?" asked Raph, arms still folded.

Leo, in similar stance, asked earnestly, "Who was the target supposed to be?"

"I waited till it was complete because that would be when they most needed to keep it secret," said Lauren graciously. "And the target was you four."

"Thought as much," muttered Don.

"What'd you do then?" asked Mike curiously, heeding Angel and getting into the story.

"I knew giving it to the authorities wouldn't do anything, and moore importantly, get me in the slammer. I panicked. I must've had a bonk to the head, but-it's stupid-well, I figured if anyone could do something about it, it'd be those same guys that saved Casey's ass that time." She was so nervious by now her face was lowered again, facing her jittery fingers so that she didn't see the Turtles flinch at the unnessassary word. "I went to Angel's hous and but it on her bed."

"Is this true, Angel?" Splinter asked quietly.

Angel, abrubtly involved in the interrogation, felt the giddyness gained at the sight of her friend fade that quickly. "Yea-yes, I found an earring and a noe on my bed one morning, not even a week ago. The note said something like: 'This is from me. Give it to those funy friends of your friend.'"

The Turtles looked at Carol. "I hadn't slept that night! Gimme a break!' She almsost said, but actually coughed. "Th-then I went to Tyler's ouse, since Iknew by then they'd know it was me. I ws jut gonna spend the night there..." Her pitch dropped, and her eyelids drooped. "In the morning the news bulliten at the bottom of the screen told me about Angel's granma."

"How is it that you weren't there, Angel?" asked Leo.

"I decided Carol had given me something big, even if it didn't look special," said Angel, pickiing at her nails. She was beginning to feel more and more ashamed. "I told Granma I'd be at the lock-in at church-"

"You used church to lie?" asked Carol, trying feebly to lighten up the darkening mood. Raph decided not to comment.

"And hit it where no Purple Dragon would be caught dead. By the time I got back home, though, it was around 2 am, and she was already..." Angel's lips compressed briefly. "They hadn't found my money stash, so I took that and got outta there quick. I screwed around in Central Park till morning, went to a bookstore till around three, and then went to Casey's to let him know I'd be heading out of town." Against her better judgement, she added, "Feh-wouldn't have bothered if I knew he'd turn me in that quick."

Before the heaviness of the atmosphere could swallow up further speech, Mike prodded Carol. "What were you doing yesterday, then?"

She was finding it harder to speak. She blinked slowly, but kept her head still. "They worked fast. Around four a.m. Tyler and me woke up. They were at the door talking and Irma was packing Tyler's things. I'd gotten him out of there before they got in, but... she stayed behind. I went back in after they left, took out the lookout guy and stuffed him in the laundrey chute. I figured the police might start connecting the dots, but they're useless as ever," she said bitterly, with an upturned mouth.

Raph didn't move. "Does Tyler know about his mom?"

"I didn't tell him out loud. He hasn't seen or heard the news, either." She sighed. "He knows, though. He's smart. I should tell him why it's happened soon..."

"This project," Don spoke up abruptly. "The device itself is disguised as what, again?"

"An earring," answered Carol.

"Oh no!" said Angel, bringing a hand swiftly to her mouth in an uncharacteristically feminine gesture. "I only noticed after it was too late to go back that I'd hid it in a place that's cleaned regularly."

"How regularly?" pressed Don.

"Tomorrow's Saturday-the janitors and volunteers will be there in the afternoon so it'll be clean for evening service." She caught Carol stirring and smirked halfheartedly. "So no, I didn't use church to lie. Shame on you."