A few days ago, I asked myself three questions. They were: A) How did I get here?, B) What happened to my pants?, and C) Why is that duck giving me a funny look? I then decided that these were not, in fact, the questions I most wanted answers to, so I asked myself three other questions. These were: A) Why did April invite Karai to her wedding?, B) Why did the Turtles not put a stop to this insanity?, and C) Why did the Turtles still consent to attend the ceremony, knowing that their mortal enemy would be there?
I then asked one more question, namely, Do you have a pencil I might borrow? This was directed to the duck. He very kindly lent me such a thing, and I wrote this story.
I had an immense amount of fun writing the following, but, fair warning, it probably falls under the heading of Crackfic. The logic is flimsy and I play pretty fast and loose with some of the characterization. If that's not your cup of tea, thanks for visiting and better luck elsewhere. But if that sounds good to you, then... enjoy.
And Your Enemies Closer
I'm putting away some laundry - by which I mean that I'm picking up dirty clothes from the floor, dusting them off a little, and putting them back in the closet - when I hear a tap at the living room window.
I throw the pair of jeans I'm holding onto the unmade bed and go to let my friends in.
"Um, wow, April," Donatello says, as he enters. "I've never seen your apartment quite so, um..."
"I know," I say, shoving aside a stack of newspapers with my foot, so Raphael has a place to stand. "I've just had a thousand things on my mind..."
"You didn't call us for clean-up duty, did you?" Mike crosses his arms and looks at me sternly. "There had better be cookies. I do not clean without cookies."
"No, not that," I say, picking my way over the heaps of clutter to the sitting area. I sweep up a pile of fabric swatches from the couch cushions, and transfer them to the already overcrowded coffee table. "Come in, sit down."
They approach the couch cautiously, and squeeze onto it. Leo perches on the arm. "What was it you wanted to show us, April?"
I shuffle through the mess of papers on the table. "Well, among other things for the wedding, I've been working on the -" Aha "- guest list." I triumphantly pull out The List, and ignore the other papers that come out with it and fall to the floor. "I just wanted to run it by you, so there's no surprises when you show up."
"We appreciate that, April," Leo says.
I pass the list to Don, who's sitting in the middle, and his brothers all lean in to read over his shoulders. "I think you've met them all, but everything has been so crazy lately that I just wanted to check before I do anything stupid."
I can't see their eyes moving, so I just have to assume that they're reading the names. Sometimes I really hate those masks.
Don's brow creases. "'Karai Oroku'?" he reads. "As in Karai Karai?"
"Um, April..." Leo says. "I don't know how to say this, but..."
"I do," Raph says. He leans forward and stares at me intently. "No."
"I'll see that 'no' and raise it a What were you thinking?" Mike adds.
I frown at them all for a minute, and then I remember: They don't know.
"Oh," I say. "Karai and I are friends now."
They all stare at me like I've lost my mind.
"No, really," I say. "Let me explain..."
Why does the doorbell only ring when I have my hands in the dishwater?
I sighed, grabbed a towel, and went to see who it was.
It was two FBI agents.
Like, actual FBI agents. Dark suits, sunglasses, unfriendly demeanors, the whole works.
"April O'Neil?" one of them asked.
"Yes?" I said.
"You're under arrest."
Not like I was really expecting government agents to bring me good news, but I had kind of been hoping they wouldn't say that.
"Why?" I asked. "What have I done?"
"You have been identified as an enemy of the state," the second agent informed me.
"What?" I said, because really, how else do you respond to that kind of accusation?
"We have intelligence that you are aiding and abetting terrorists," the first agent said. "Please come with us."
"That's ridiculous," I spluttered. "I don't know any terrorists!"
"Please come with us," the agent repeated, "or we will treat you as a hostile suspect."
"I don't know what you're talking about," I said indignantly. "Who are you? Do you have a warrant?"
He reached into his inside jacket pocket, and pulled out his badge and, yes, a warrant. Signed by the US Government and everything.
"Do I get to call my lawyer?" I asked.
"You may be entitled to a phone call later," the second agent said. Then he Mirandized me, handcuffed me, and took me away.
"You're making that up," Mike says.
"I am not," I say levelly.
"The government arrested you as a terrorism suspect?" Don says. "I'm sorry, but I find that a little hard to believe."
"And I don't see what it has to do with Karai," Leo puts in.
"Well, listen to the story," I say, and continue...
I sat in the back of a black and official-looking van. I couldn't see where they were taking me and I didn't know what time it was. Eventually, the van pulled up and the agents let me out.
They led me into a very unwelcoming building, and made me walk down long hallways into a kind of prison wing. They put me in a holding cell.
They were at least nice enough to take the handcuffs off.
I stayed there for a while, and then a different guy in a prison guard's uniform came to get me. He put the handcuffs back on and took me out of the cell, to a much nicer part of the building.
The guard knocked on a door and someone told us to come in. We entered. It was a very fancy office and the man lucky enough to occupy it was none other than John Bishop.
"Bishop?" Raphael says incredulously.
"He really does work for the government," Don points out.
"Yeah, but his job is to go on wild alien chases," Raph replies. "Not to arrest terrorists."
Leo frowns. "Go on, April," he says. "I think I'm beginning to see where this is going..."
"Miss O'Neil," Agent Bishop greeted me.
"What do you want?" I spat. I wanted to hit him, but I was still handcuffed. (Don't laugh at me, Michelangelo, I know he's a much better fighter than I am. I still wanted to hit him.)
Bishop nodded at the guard, who withdrew, leaving us alone in the office.
"I will be direct, Miss O'Neil," he said. He rose from his chair, leaned forward, and planted his hands on the desk. "Where are the Turtles?"
"I don't know what you're talking about," I said.
"Do not waste my time, Miss O'Neil," he said. "I know that you are friends with them." He made a face when he said that word, as though a friend were the most disgusting thing in the world. "I know that they have disappeared from my surveillance for over six months. Where are they?"
"I don't know," I said defiantly, and truthfully.
Bishop slammed his fist against the desk. "Miss O'Neil -" I hated how he kept saying my name like that "- resistance will get you nowhere. I have the full backing of the US Government. You will be detained and prosecuted for terrorism if you do not give up the whereabouts of your co-conspirators."
"Co-conspirators?" I said, in total disbelief. "We're just friends. We're not conspiring anything. And -" I straightened up. "- even if we were, I don't see how that falls under your jurisdiction. You chase aliens, not terrorists."
"When the aliens are terrorists," he replied, "that is very much my jurisdiction."
"They're not aliens," I said.
"Well," he said, smiling nastily. "I'll just have to fudge that in my report, won't I?"
"Let me get this straight," Don says. "Bishop thinks that we're terrorists, and he arrested you for aiding and abetting us?"
"Why didn't he just arrest you for aiding and abetting aliens?" Mike asks.
"Because nobody has bothered to outlaw that, stupid," Raph says.
"So Bishop made up some twisted charge so he could arrest you," Leo says, "and interrogate you about us."
"Pretty much," I say.
"But I still don't see what that has to do with Karai," Leo says.
"You underestimate Bishop's determination," I tell him, and pick up where I left off...
Bishop questioned me a while longer, but I wouldn't tell him any more. I really didn't know where you guys were, and I sure wasn't going to tell him where you used to be just because he glared and snarled and banged his fist.
Eventually he called the guard back in, and I was taken back to the cell.
I sat there for what seemed like hours, and then I heard someone coming. It was another prisoner, judging by the yelling.
"This is outrageous!" the prisoner was shouting. It was a woman. "This will not stand!"
The guards just shoved her into the cell opposite mine, and when they had taken her handcuffs off and gone away, I was able to see who it was.
It was Karai.
"What -" Leo starts, but I'm tired of the interruptions and I just keep on going...
"Karai?" I said, and she stopped yelling and looked at me.
"April O'Neil!" she said, surprised and not terribly pleased to see me. "What are you doing here?"
"What are you doing here?" I countered.
"He accuses me of being an alien!" she replied. She grabbed the bars, turned her face down the long hall, and shouted, "He is not my biological father, you fool!"
"So... what?" I said, confused. "He thinks you're an Utrom?"
"Even he is not so deluded," Karai scoffed. She backed away from the bars and crossed her arms. "He charges me with being half-Utrom, an alien spy. It is all a pretense, though. His only interest is to learn what I know about the Turtles." She frowned and studied me. "Does he seek the same from you? On what grounds were you arrested?"
"Aiding and abetting alien terrorists," I said.
She blinked. "The Turtles are neither of these things," she said.
"I know." I moved forward to rest my elbows on the crosspiece between the bars. "But by calling them terrorists, he can arrest me for associating with them, and by calling them aliens, he keeps the case in his own department." I narrowed my eyes. "So, Karai... Where are the Turtles?"
She tossed her head. "I am sure I do not know where those freaks spend their time."
Let me say, it was a good thing we were in separate cells, because otherwise we would have been having it out right then and there. (Stop smirking, Raphael.) Nobody talks like that about my friends.
"I don't believe you," I said. "They would never disappear like this for so long."
She raised one eyebrow. "You have not seen them either?"
I shut my mouth. "Like I would tell you."
She shook her head, and looked around disdainfully. "Perhaps I am not familiar with the ways of your country... Is it legal to falsely arrest people in this way?"
I shrugged. "Mistaken arrests happen. What Bishop is doing... not so legal."
"They said that I have the right to a lawyer?" she asked.
"Doesn't mean you'll actually get one," I replied.
She raised her chin. "I have many excellent lawyers."
"How nice for you," I said. (In case you guys don't know this, I don't have any lawyer.)
"I cannot be held on these charges," she said, as though telling me this would do her any good.
"I don't care," I said. "You may not be a half-alien spy, Karai, but you are a criminal. I hope you rot in jail."
She sniffed and turned away.
"Aaaand..." Mike says slowly. "At what point exactly did you and her get to be friends?"
"More importantly," Leo says, "does the fact that she's your friend now mean that she'll stop trying to kill us?"
"Do you guys know what the word 'patience' means?" I ask. "Just listen to the story!"
A few days passed. Karai and I mostly ignored each other. We would be taken separately for questioning, but I didn't tell Bishop anything, and I didn't think Karai had either. We weren't allowed any phone calls or any lawyers.
"We need to do something," I said finally, one night.
Karai glared at me from her cell. "What do you intend to do?"
"We need to escape," I said. (Yes, Leo, I know that's not a plan. I was working up to it.) "We need to go to the real police and tell them what's going on."
Karai raised her eyebrow again. I hated when she did that. It made me want to tear her face off. Anyway - "We have been arrested by the government," she said. "Are you saying they are not real police?"
"Well..." I faltered. "They're the secret alien-hunting branch of the government. That hardly counts."
She gave me this look like I was a complete moron.
"It's the principle of the thing," I went on. "We have a right to due process, a right to... to not be held on blatantly phony charges. The government isn't allowed to secretly detain people like this. We have -" I clenched my fist. "We have a duty as citizens to escape."
She continued staring at me, like I was some glob of mud that had come to life and started talking to her. "I am not a citizen," she said at last.
"What?" I said.
"I am a foreign national," she said. "A legal immigrant, but not a citizen."
"You still have rights," I told her. "You should demand to contact your embassy."
"Do you think I have not already done that?" she snapped. "I have demanded to contact many people. It has gotten me nowhere."
That shut me up. I sat in silence for a while, thinking. And, eventually, something came to me.
"You have a duty as a ninja," I said.
She looked at me sharply. "What?"
"The Turtles told me that," I said, looking at her steadily. "They told me that the ninja code of honor says you can't allow yourself to be captured. And if you are, you have to either kill yourself, or escape."
"That is true," she said softly.
"So?" I said. "You're a ninja! Escape!"
Karai glared at me again. "And how would that help? What stops Bishop from arresting me again?"
"What about your many excellent lawyers?" I returned. "As soon as you get back to your... secret ninja base, or whatever, you start pulling legal strings. Expose Bishop for a lunatic and shut him down."
She contemplated the wall of her cell. "It is tempting," she said. She turned back to me with this superior look on her face. "If I escaped, I would not take you with me."
"I wouldn't take you either," I replied.
We nodded to each other, and didn't talk any more that night.
"Can you hurry up and get to the point?" Raph asks.
"What?" I say. "You don't like my dramatic, suspenseful style of story-telling?"
"Yeah, it's real int'resting," Raph says. "But it's kinda hard to concentrate on all the fascinatin' details while I'm still wonderin' what possessed you to invite Karai to your wedding."
"Maybe you can skip ahead a bit?" Leo suggests. "To where you and Karai got to be friends?"
"If I did that," I reply, "you would only sit there -" here I adopt a deep voice and exaggerated Bronx accent "- wonderin' what possessed me to be friends with Karai."
Mike snorts, and Raph slaps him in the head. "That ain't funny, bonehead."
Don exhibits a quieter sort of amusement that doesn't get him smacked. "Go on, April," he says. "Give us the full story."
"All right," I say. "A few days after that..."
"Wait a minute," Leo interrupts, before I even get started. "How long did Bishop keep you?"
"Just listen!" I say. I clear my throat loudly. "A few days after that..."
Bishop must have been getting impatient. The guards came, handcuffed me and Karai, and brought both of us to the office.
"All right, ladies," Bishop said, standing there with his hands behind his back. "I am tired of these games. I want to know Where. They. Are."
"Sorry," I say, anger and the lack of any punishment for my non-cooperation making me bold. "I hadn't heard from them yesterday, and I still haven't heard from them today."
Bishop turned to Karai.
"My name is Oroku Karai," she declared. "I am a Japanese national. I demand a representative from my embassy."
I got the feeling she had said this to him a lot.
Bishop looked over our heads. "Bring the electrodes," he said.
I froze. Electrodes? That sounded really bad.
The guards went away for a minute, and then they came back and started taping things to our foreheads. We tried to fight, but we were handcuffed to the chairs, wrists and ankles, and we were outnumbered. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Karai try some interesting moves, but all she got for it was rougher handling.
"Now," Bishop said, once the electrodes were in place. "Where are the mutant turtles?"
"I don't know," I said, going back to the plain truth, because I didn't want to get shocked if I could avoid it.
Bishop nodded to the guards. I heard a high and rising pitch, and then this fiery tingle went through me. It only lasted for a second, and then I became very aware of the chair against my back, as though I had lifted out of it for a moment.
"That was a low-voltage shock," Bishop informed me. "The next will be stronger."
"You can't do this," I said. "This is torture. It's illegal."
"I have special dispensation," he said calmly, and I didn't know whether to believe him.
Bishop moved in front of Karai, who was glaring at him defiantly. "Where are the mutant turtles?" he asked.
"My name is Oroku Karai -" she began, and then her teeth clenched together as she got her own dose of electricity.
Bishop took two steps to the left, back to me. "Your turn, Miss O'Neil," he said. "Where are the mutant turtles?"
"I don't know," I said again. "You haven't seen them and neither have I."
Another nod, another surge of pain.
Two steps to the right. "Where are the mutant turtles?"
"My name is Oroku Karai..."
Leo stands up, storming away as best he can. It's not very effective or impressive, because he has to make several awkward sidesteps around the piles of junk on the floor. "He tortured you?" he says tightly. "To get to us?"
"I never said a word," I swear.
Don leans forward, looking at me with concern. "Are you all right?" he asks. "I mean, you look..."
"I'm okay," I assure him. "Bishop knew it wouldn't do him any good to hurt me too much."
"What about Karai?" Mike asks hopefully. "Did Bishop fry her brains?"
"Mikey, that's a horrible thing to say!" I throw a fabric swatch at him, and it lands on his head, draped over one eye. "She's my friend, remember?" I settle back in my chair. "Can I continue?"
"Yeah," Raph says. "Siddown, Leo, I wanna know how this ends..."
I didn't know how long it had lasted. I thought I had started blacking out from some of the shocks, and I only half-remembered being taken back to my cell. But I knew I hadn't told Bishop anything, and I was proud of myself.
I sat up in my bunk and looked across to the other cell. "Karai?" I called.
"Oroku Karai..." she murmured. "Oroku Karai..."
"Karai!" I said, louder. "Snap out of it!"
She sat up and stared at me as though she didn't know who I was. She looked awful. I wondered if I looked as bad.
"What did you tell him?" I demanded.
"Nothing," she said. "Name, nationality, request. Nothing."
"Okay," I said. "Okay."
I lay down again, and went to sleep.
"Yeah, okay," Mike says. "I feel bad for her now, but I still don't want to be her friend."
"Did I say I was friends with her at that point?" I snap. "Just listen to the story!"
He blinks at me from behind the swatch, and I go on...
It was the next morning. We were eating our breakfasts as slowly as possible, because usually when we finished one or the other of us would be hauled off to interrogation.
"Why didn't you talk?" I asked, to delay things a little more, and because I was genuinely curious. "Why didn't you tell him what he wanted to know?"
"Why should I tell him this?" Karai answered. "Why should I aid a man who holds me prisoner?"
"Why shouldn't you?" I countered. "All he wants is information, and you'll go free. What do you lose by telling him where the Turtles are?"
"I do not know where they are," she said heatedly. "Even if I did, I would not give them up to that honorless dog."
"I don't get it," I said, stirring my cooling oatmeal. "Isn't the enemy of your enemy your friend?"
She shook her head. "They are not enemies to him," she said. "They are only animals, to be exterminated."
"So what?" I pressed. "Don't you just want them dead? What's the difference who does it, or how?"
She put her spoon down and spread her hands on the small trestle table. "You say they told you about the ninja code of honor."
She didn't continue, so I nodded. She must have seen it out of the corner of her eye, because she then went on.
"They are warriors," she said. "They have earned the right to be faced as equals, and to die in honorable combat. They do not deserve to be experimented on, tormented, as though they were nothing."
That was by far the nicest thing I had ever heard Karai say about you guys. I hadn't been expecting it at all. "So..." I said. "You want to kill them, but you want to give them a fair chance to kill you first?"
She smiled into her oatmeal. "A chance, yes. But it will not matter. They will not defeat me."
"Karai..." I said slowly. "You know that they don't want to kill you."
She finally looked at me, surprise all over her face. "What?"
"They don't want to kill you," I said again. "They don't want to fight with you at all. They just want to be left alone."
She continued looking at me for a minute, with that expression of confusion and disbelief, and then her face clouded over. "You lie," she said. "They destroyed my father. They will come for me too."
"Your father," I said, "murdered their father's father. Their fight was with him. Not with you."
She glared at me. "Their father's father killed my father's ranking warrior!"
I glared right back. "Your father's ranking warrior killed their father's father's girlfriend!"
The glaring continued. I was willing lasers to come out of my eyes, and I'm sure she was too.
And then I started laughing.
When I finally stopped, I realized that Karai was laughing too. "Oh, good," I said, wiping the tears from my face. "I'm glad I'm not the only one who thought that sounded completely ridiculous."
"It is not a joke," Karai said, getting herself under some semblance of control. "Our families are locked in blood feud. The cycle does not end."
"It can," I said seriously. "Karai, it can. Just let them go."
She lifted her chin. "They must pay for what they have done."
"Why?" I asked. "You said yourself, they're honorable warriors. They did what honor demanded, and then they didn't come looking for any more."
Her jaw tightened a little. I could tell she wasn't buying it.
"Look," I said. "It sounds to me like both sides are even now. No -" I held up a finger and thought for a moment before continuing. "Actually, you're winning right now. Your father isn't dead, he's just... very far away."
She turned to me angrily, but I went on. "Just let it end, Karai. Walk away before you lose any more."
"I have nothing more to lose," she hissed. "I can only gain. I can avenge my father's banishment by spilling the blood of the four responsible."
"And would that bring your father back?" I asked. "It doesn't solve anything, Karai. And they're not the last of their clan. I swear, if you kill them, I'll come after you myself." I knew this threat was nothing to her, but I said it anyway.
She just sat there, calmly. "Then come. I have nothing more to lose."
"What about your life?" I said, getting exasperated with her. "Doesn't that mean anything to you? Even if you think you're invincible, do you really want to waste your life on this stupid war?"
"I am ninja," she replied. "War is our purpose."
I had no answer to that.
I ate my cold oatmeal.
"Karai," I said, when the bowl was nearly empty. I put my spoon down. "What about Chaplin? He likes you. He's not a ninja." It was a long shot, a desperate tactic, but I had to try. "Don't you care about him at all?"
I turned my head, and I knew I had hit the mark. She did care. She cared enough to think about what I was saying. She had something to live for, something that wasn't about fighting and revenge and stupid ideas about honor.
"They're not stupid," Leo says.
"Some of them really are," I reply. "You know, normal people mourn their dead and get on with their lives. They don't perpetuate this cycle of violence."
"Sometimes violence is the only kind of justice you can get," Leo says evenly.
I match his gaze. "And sometimes you find that justice doesn't make the loss any easier to bear."
We hold each other's eyes for a moment.
And then he looks away.
"When the guards come," Karai said quietly, "follow my lead."
I nodded, and finished the last cold glob of oatmeal.
The guards came, four of them, and so we knew they were planning to take both of us together. They opened both cells at the same time, and went in, two for me, two for Karai.
"You know the drill," one of them said to me, pulling out the handcuffs and taking my wrist to put my arm behind my back.
And then there was a shout from one of Karai's guards.
My guards turned, and rushed to the opposite cell. Karai was fighting back. She had been outnumbered even before the guards regrouped, but she had surprised them and they weren't ninja. They didn't seem to have any close-range weapons, either.
Karai had gotten the handcuffs away from her guard, and was using them as a weapon, clawing with the open loops and garroting with the chain. It was very impressive.
Then I realized - I was free.
One end of the handcuffs was clamped to my wrist, but the other end was swinging loose. The door of my cell was open and the guards were occupied with trying to subdue Karai.
This might not have exactly qualified as following Karai's lead, but... I saw my chance and I went for it.
Unfortunately, I only got as far as the end of the hallway. The door was locked, and I didn't have a passkey.
I knew who did have one, though.
I turned back, running down the corridor to build up some momentum, and launched myself into the fight. On my side, I had surprise, enthusiasm, and a little bit of ninja training. The guards had numbers, size, and guns.
I careered into the cell and jumped onto the nearest guard. He was already off-balance from whatever Karai had done to him, and my sudden weight carried him to the floor. I wrestled his gun out of its holster and clubbed him over the head with it.
One guard down.
Two, actually, since Karai already had one of them pretty much down for the count. The numbers were even then.
Except that one of the guards was calling for back-up.
Karai launched a palm-strike, catching the guard's walkie-talkie with the heel of her hand and shoving it hard into his face. I was sure it had broken his nose. The guard dropped the comm as Karai retracted her arm, and then she hit him again, between the eyes. Quick strikes to the gut and knees followed, and a third guard was down.
The fourth guard had wisely backed out into the corridor, giving himself enough distance to train his firearm on us. "Stand down!" he ordered us. "On your knees!" He switched his aim to me. "And drop the gun!"
I raised my hands, and began to open my fingers to drop the gun, but then suddenly it wasn't in my hand anymore and I was on the floor with a loud roar echoing in my ears.
A second later my brain filled in the blanks. Karai had snatched the gun from me and thrown it at the last guard, simultaneously tackling me to the floor to protect us from the guard's reflexive shot. As soon as the bullet had embedded itself in the wall and the gun had bounced off the guard's head, Karai was up again, hitting the guard with a flying kick and slamming his head against the concrete floor.
I picked myself up. Karai was standing over the fourth guard, waiting for me.
"Door's locked," I said. "Need the key card..."
She deftly swiped the card from the unconscious guard's belt, and we moved together towards the door.
"Did he get the call through?" I asked. "Are more guards coming?"
"I do not know," Karai said shortly. She swiped the card through the reader. A light blinked, something clicked, and I yanked the door open.
No one was on the other side.
"Do you know how to get out?" I asked.
"Follow me," Karai said. It wasn't really an answer, but she had been doing a good job so far, so I did as she said.
We were in a very long hallway without windows or doors. I imagined there must have been enormous rooms to either side of us, that we were in the heart of some huge complex. I couldn't remember passing through a corridor like this when I was brought in, but then, the floor plan of the building hadn't really been the first thing on my mind at the time.
I quickened my pace, because Karai was getting ahead of me. I caught up to her when she stopped short by a sudden double door leading off the hallway.
She held up her hand, telling me to wait, and we both listened. The hallway was still deserted, and we couldn't hear anyone inside the room. Karai opened one of the doors, just an inch, and peered inside. Then she slipped through, and I followed her.
It was indeed an enormous room. It was some kind of garage, filled wall-to-wall with government jeeps and trucks. We moved forward, staying low between them, making our way towards the outside door.
The small outside door, I mean, the people-sized one. We were getting close to it. I thought we were going to make it.
That would have been too easy.
The big outside door, the one for the vehicles, began to crank up. Karai knocked me to the side, behind a truck parked parallel to the exit, pushing me out of the line of fire.
Because sure enough, outside that door was a whole lot of government agents with guns.
Agents were coming in through the inside door also. Including, naturally, Agent Bishop.
"I am very impressed, ladies," he said, his voice echoing around the huge concrete chamber. "But your escape ends here."
As we crouched behind the truck - well, only behind to the guys coming from the outside door, we were pretty surrounded and had no place better to hide - we heard agents approaching from both directions.
I was pretty sure that was it. I would either be shot on the spot, or thrown into Gitmo for the rest of my life.
Karai had other ideas. She grabbed my arm, grabbed the handle of the truck door, yanked the door open, and shoved me up into the cab. She came up quickly behind me, pushing me over into the passenger seat.
"What are you going to do now?" I shouted at her. "We don't have the keys!"
She started fumbling around under the dashboard, as at least a dozen of the agents shouted "Halt!" or "Freeze!" or similar orders.
I crouched down in the seat, terrified that the agents were going to start shooting. "What are you doing?" I asked Karai again.
She glanced at me, and moved something under the dashboard.
The truck's engine rumbled to life.
"Are you kidding me?!" I screamed. "Why do you know how to hotwire army vehicles?!"
Karai only sat up, wrapped one hand around the steering wheel, and reached for the gearshift. Lights blinked all over the enormous display as she forced the truck into drive.
About a hundred agents raised their guns.
Karai hit the button to roll down her window, which I thought was pretty much the dumbest move in the world. I don't know whether army trucks have bulletproof glass, but a window that's open definitely does not stop a bullet.
"I am leaving, Bishop," Karai announced loudly. "Do not come after me again."
Bishop had made his way through the ranks of vehicles, and was now standing just behind the line of agents, on the driver's side of the truck. I couldn't figure out why he hadn't ordered them to open fire.
"You can't stop me," Bishop said. I assumed he was glaring at us from behind his sunglasses. "This isn't over."
I really, really wanted it to be over. I tried to think of a way to make it be over.
I grabbed Karai's shoulder, and whispered in her ear.
"I know about your illegal genetics experiments, Agent Bishop," Karai said, as though she had known all along. "Experiments on humans, experiments that were not authorized by your government. If you come near me again, you will find yourself in court. And then you will find yourself in prison, for the rest of your life."
For a long moment Karai and Bishop stared at each other, while I kind of cowered in my seat and hoped I wasn't about to be ripped to shreds by a hailstorm of bullets. Finally, I heard the three most beautiful words in the English language:
"Stand down, men."
A hundred guns lowered.
Karai turned to look through the windshield, apparently decided she didn't care whether or not she ran over any of the agents standing in front of the truck, and hit the gas.
Agents went flying, either under their own power or from the force of being hit by a five-ton vehicle accelerating directly at them. Karai jerked the wheel hard to the right, piloted the truck masterfully through a narrow aisle between two rows of jeeps, and took us out into the bright sunshine.
There is a stunned silence.
"So," I say. "You guys can be quiet for more than five minutes."
"Um, well..." Don begins. "I mean... that's quite a story, April."
"It's completely true," I say.
"What happened next?" Leo asks.
"I bet I know," Mikey says. "A mile down the road, Karai threw you out of the car, right?"
"No way!" Raph shoves Mikey without even bothering to look at him, his attention still fixed on me. "You threw her out, right?"
"No!" I say. "Nobody threw anybody out of the truck!"
Leo frowns. "But you both said you wouldn't take the other with you."
"Well," I say, "listen to the end of the story..."
Karai rolled up the window as we sped down the long private drive. I didn't dare to speak until we had swung out onto the road. Then I said: "Why are we still alive? Why wasn't there any shooting?"
I'm sure Karai rolled her eyes then. "You cannot fire guns around vehicles," she said. "They explode."
"Oh," I said. "I knew that." I did know it, too. It's just hard to remember those kinds of things when a hundred men in dark uniforms are pointing high-powered rifles at you.
It occurred to me then that I wouldn't have gotten out of there without Karai's cool thinking. I would have just stayed there, cowering on the floor, trying not to get shot.
I told her this.
She ignored me, slowing the truck and steering it onto another road. "What city is this?" she asked.
"How should I know?" I retorted, kind of annoyed that she had completely blown off my display of gratitude.
"You are American!" she snapped. "Recognize your country!"
"Well," I said, "excuse me for not knowing every road in America. Find a highway or something."
A minute later we passed a sign for I-95, which was useful, but not terribly informative. I pointed it out to her.
"I see it," she said shortly. "North or South?"
"Uh..." I said intelligently.
Another sign flashed by, this one for Dulles Airport.
"Washington!" I shouted.
Karai glanced at me, obviously thinking that I had lost my mind.
"North!" I said, as the highway entrances came towards us at breakneck speed. "Take North!"
Karai yanked the truck around onto the ramp. I was sure it was going to tip over, but we made it safely around the curve, and then we were merging into traffic and heading towards beautiful New York.
Then I realized that Karai knew how to get home from there, and I was no longer useful to her.
"So..." I said cautiously. "Are you going to throw me out now?"
"I knew it!" Mikey crows.
"Shut up, Mikey!" the other three Turtles chorus.
"Thank you!" I say...
Karai kept driving, calmly. She was quiet for so long that I was convinced she was going to use a ninja killing strike on me, just shoot her fingers through my throat and keep on driving with my dead body in the passenger seat.
"No," she said, finally.
"Why not?" I asked. I probably shouldn't have argued, but I was curious.
She didn't answer right away. She glanced at the dashboard and pressed the button to activate the cruise control. (Yes, Donatello, apparently army trucks have cruise control. No, I hadn't known that. Can I continue?)
"I would not have escaped without you either," she said.
"Oh, come on," I said, even though I was probably just digging a deeper hole for myself. "You did all the hard work back there."
"I would not have done anything," she said, "if you had not reminded me who I am."
"What do you mean?" I asked, because if I have ever met a self-possessed woman who knows who she is, it's Karai.
She shifted smoothly into the left lane to pass an eighteen-wheeler. "We are not well-acquainted, Miss O'Neil," she said. "Tell me about yourself."
"Oh, no," I said. "I'm not falling for that."
She glanced at me questioningly, before looking back at the road.
"It'll be 'Tell me about yourself,'" I said, "and then it'll be 'Tell me about the Turtles,' and pretty soon I'll have told you everything I didn't tell Agent Bishop."
She shook her head. "Perhaps I should begin," she said. She reached up to adjust the rearview mirror, and then she went on. "My name is Oroku Karai, but that is not the name I was born with. I was born in the Japanese province of..."
For a moment no one says anything.
"Why'd you stop?" Mikey asks. "Nobody interrupted."
"Yeah," Raph says. "Keep goin', April."
"No," I say. "It's Karai's story. Let me skip ahead a little..."
"Now you're skipping?" Leo groans.
"Come on, April, don't skip now," Raph says. "Leo wants to hear about his girlfriend's childhood."
"She's not my girlfriend!" Leo says hotly. "This is relevant intelligence on our enemy!"
"Whatever you say, Leo." Raph leans back with a smug grin on his face.
"Anyway," I say, "a little later..."
Karai had told me about her childhood, about how she got adopted by the Shredder, and about how she came to the US. All kinds of relevant intelligence. (I don't care what kind of faces you make at me, Leo, I'm not saying any more about it.) She told me about her hunt for you guys after her father's banishment, and how you worked together to fight the Demon Shredder, and about how, after that, she hadn't seen you for half a year.
If nothing else, at this point I definitely believed that she wasn't secretly holding you prisoner. And, it seemed like she had been doing some thinking in the past few months. Now that she had fought on your side against a common enemy, and been forced to take a break from fighting you, she had lost momentum and blind hatred as reasons for fighting, and she'd apparently been struggling to come up with a rationalization to continue going after you.
"I have been my father's daughter," she said to me, "but I have not been myself."
We were sitting in traffic somewhere in Delaware.
"He was my teacher, my sponsor, my family," she said, keeping her hands on the wheel and her eyes on the road as she talked. "But he did not love me. He cared for me only as an extension of his own powers, as a lieutenant who could help him to run his empire. He taught me whatever it would be to his advantage for me to know. I think... I think that he did not teach me true honor."
She turned to me suddenly. "I am glad that he is gone!" she said fiercely. "He has used me for too long. It is time for me to be myself now, to live with true honor, and not with this twisted version that served only him."
She took her hands off the wheel, and made a kind of bow. "Thank you, Miss O'Neil. For reminding me who I am."
"Wow," Don says.
Raph just shakes his head. "What is it with women and their female bonding?" He looks at me. "You wanna try that trick on any of our other enemies?"
"Is that the end of the story?" Mikey asks. He's tied the corners of the fabric swatch behind his head, making a kind of kerchief. He looks ridiculous.
"Almost," I say...
It was after dark when we pulled up outside my apartment. (Yes, of course she knows where I live. You know the Foot have been watching me for years... and yes, all right, I did tell her a little about myself. Can I just finish the story now?)
"Thanks for the ride," I said, and reached for the door handle.
"Miss O'Neil..." Karai said slowly, and I paused. "I no longer wish to be your enemy," she said. "I... I would like to be your friend."
I didn't think we had bonded quite that much during the drive. "Is this a trick?" I asked suspiciously.
"No," she said. "I am through with tricks. I am leaving the Foot. I will not be involved with them any longer." She turned to me. "If you wish to see me again, you will know how to reach me. If you do not, then I am sorry it could not be. And when you see the Turtles..." She met my gaze, making sure I was listening. "Tell them that our blood feud is ended. I no longer seek their death."
"That's nice," I said. "I hope you mean it."
"I do," she said. "I am still my father's daughter. But I am no longer his puppet."
We looked at each other for a long minute.
"Good night, Karai," I said.
"Good night, Miss O'Neil."
Then I opened the door and climbed down from the cab.
"And that's the end," Mikey says. "Because after that you did the smart thing and never talked to her again."
"Yeah," Raph agrees. "I don't believe for a second she -" He's been watching me intently for quite a while, but just now he turns towards his brothers, and notices what Mikey has done with the fabric swatch. "Mikey, take that thing off your head. You look like an idiot."
"So?" Mike says, leaning away from Raph's grab. "You tell me I look like an idiot even when I don't have stuff on my head."
"But seriously," Leo says, ignoring his younger brothers' slap-fight. "How does the story really end?"
"Well," I say...
As I walked up to my front door, I heard the rumble of the truck change. Karai had put it back in drive, and pulled away from the curb, heading on to wherever she was going.
I put my hand on the doorknob, and then I realized -
I didn't have my keys.
The government agents hadn't let me take anything when I was arrested. And my front door locks automatically, when the shop is closed. I couldn't get into my own building.
For a minute I stood there. Then I turned and started sprinting down the block, yelling Karai's name.
I caught up to her at the third corner. She pulled over, rolled down the passenger window, and looked at me with total surprise.
"I'm - I'm locked out," I admitted. "Can you... ninja the door, or something?"
Karai continued staring at me for a minute, and then she nodded. "I am coming."
I watched her turn the truck around in the narrow street, and then I walked back to my building. When I got there, Karai was waiting on the curb, the truck idling noisily.
As soon as I reached my own stretch of sidewalk, Karai went up to the door and did - I don't know what, to it. She had it open in about two seconds.
"Um, thanks," I said. "Again." I stood there awkwardly for a minute. "Can I -" I seesawed momentarily, wondering whether this was going to be a monumentally stupid decision, and then I made up my mind. "Can I invite you in for coffee?"
It seemed like it took her a long time to answer. Then she simply said: "Yes."
Mikey makes a noise like he can't believe my stupidity, but I just keep on going...
It was a good thing I had invited her in, because the door to the apartment was locked too. She jimmied it with the same efficiency she'd used on the first lock, and then let me precede her into the kitchen. I prepped the coffee pot and let it percolate. She complimented my decor. I asked her whether she liked milk or sugar. She very kindly unlocked the handcuff that was still clamped to my wrist. And then we just... talked.
There's another long silence.
"That's it?" Leo says finally. "You just... talked?"
"That's it," I say.
He frowns in confusion. "That's the end of the story?"
"Pretty much," I say. "We had a nice conversation. A while later I tracked her down and she invited me to lunch. We've seen each other regularly since then. She really did leave the Foot clan, and she's been nothing but nice. We're friends."
The Turtles look at each other in disbelief.
"And... she's not still trying to kill us?" Don asks cautiously.
"No, I don't think so," I reply.
"I don't believe it," Raph says bluntly. I glare at him. "I mean, I believe your story - I just don't believe that Karai is being straight with you."
"Thank you, Raphael," I say, "for insulting my intelligence and intuition. Do you really think I could be friends with her for eight months, and not notice that she's just waiting for a chance to stab my other friends in the back?"
Raph grunts, but he doesn't say no.
"Listen," I say, to all of them. "Karai kept saying that she really wanted to meet you, if you ever came back. She feels really bad about how she left things, what with threatening to kill you even though you'd just helped her save the entire world from total obliteration."
Leo shifts uncomfortably. "I don't know, April," he says. "Sometimes I trust her and her word is good. Sometimes I trust her and she betrays us. She's a very hard person to read."
"Give her a chance," I say. "One more chance. Just meet with her somewhere. If it goes badly, I promise, she's off the guest list and I will never do lunch with her again."
The Turtles exchange glances.
"All right, April," Leo says, when they're done being telepathic at each other. "Out of respect for you, one more chance."
"Thank you," I say. I know how much it says about their trust in me, that they're willing to accept my word about Karai's change of heart.
"So... when?" Mike asks anxiously. "Where? Is it a date?" He plucks at the kerchief on his head. "Do I have to dress up?"
I roll my eyes. "I'll call her," I say. "We'll set something up."
"A neutral location," Leo says.
"And tell her to come alone."
"And..." His mouth moves soundlessly, as he tries to think what other restrictions he wants to impose. "No ambushes."
I sigh. "I think that's a given."
"Yeah," Raph mutters. "For sane people."
I stand abruptly, step nimbly over the piles on the floor, and retrieve the cordless phone from its stand. I bring it back, punch in a series of numbers, and hold it out to Leo.
"Here," I say. "Her private number."
Again, that look like I'm dangerously off my rocker.
"I'm not going to be the middleman for your paranoia," I tell him. "Talk to her. Work things out."
And then I simply drop the phone.
He catches it on reflex, as I knew he would, and then he has no choice but to put it to his ear.
"Hello?" he says. "Karai?" A brief pause. "Yes. This is Hamato Leonardo..."
I smile. It's good to have the guys back.
It's good to be able to tell them that I've beaten one of their enemies, by making her a friend.
They say that's the best kind of victory.
All in a day's work for April O'Neil, Wise General, flustered fiancée, known terrorist.