Disclaimer: I don't own any mutants, ninjas, or turtles, and I don't even have a teenager in the house anymore. So I quadruply don't own the TMNT. (Although, that's kind of a double-double-negative, so maybe I do own them... *goes to check* Nope, still not mine.) I also don't own any of the things this story references. I can dispense Awesome Points to readers who spot the less obvious references, but the points aren't good for anything, so don't waste your time.
Warning: This fic contains a fair amount of swearing. Some of it is creative. Most of it is Raph. I tried to get him to clean up his language, but he called me a [insult excised]. I told him that names like that hurt my feelings, and he said that if I kept bothering him he would call me something worse, and this all seemed very counterproductive so I just dropped the subject.
And... that's all I have to say about this one! Enjoy the story!
Leo wakes to someone shaking him.
"What?" he mumbles.
"We're here," Donatello informs him.
"What?" He moves his arms carefully, feeling the awkward corner he's wedged himself into. "Already?"
"Already nothing," Raphael says. "You've been sleeping since Hartford."
Memory returns. Casey had invited April and the four Turtles to spend a weekend at his farmhouse in Northampton. Splinter had been invited too, but had declined, citing his belief that, for the father of four rambunctious teenagers, staying at home while the teenagers were elsewhere was a far better vacation than travelling with them would be. Casey and his five guests had made the trip to Massachusetts on Friday, and headed back south late Sunday night. Leo last remembers sitting in the back of Casey's van as it rolled down I-91 in Connecticut. Now he is still sitting in the back of Casey's van, but it has come to a halt somewhere in Manhattan.
"I have not," Leo protests, rolling to his knees and standing up carefully in the low-ceilinged space.
"No, of course not," Don says placatingly. "Your head flops around like that when you're awake."
Leo leans against the wall for a minute, making sure all the pieces of his consciousness are back online before he goes staggering out into a public street. When his head feels clear, he moves to the open back door of the van, peers out, and drops lightly to the asphalt.
Mike is at the driver's door, hanging on the window. "Thanks for the weekend, dude and dudette," he's saying.
"No problem," Casey replies.
"So," Mike says, with his most ingratiating smile. "When can we come for another visit?"
"Another visit?" April sounds horrified. "I need to recover from this visit."
"What are you talking about?" Mike says. "We're great house-guests."
"That's an interesting choice of phrase," April tells him.
"Time to go, Mikey," Don says. He has the manhole cover off and is halfway down the ladder.
"Yeah, I'm coming," Mike says. He turns back to the window. "'Bye, guys." He pushes off from the door and, in one artful flip, he's underground.
"Night, Case," Raph says. "Ape." He glances into the dark opening, and disappears.
"See you later," Leo says, and follows his brothers.
The metal disc scrapes back into place, and the van is alone in the dark street.
"You know," Casey says. "Sometime we could go up to my place without the guys. For a weekend. It would be... romantic?"
"And what makes you think I'd be interested in a romantic weekend with you, Casey Jones?"
But her tone suggests that she'd be very interested indeed.
The spot where April and Casey have dropped them off is several miles from the Lair, maybe an hour on foot through the twisting tunnels under the city. The mutants make it a point not to use the manholes closest to their home, in case anyone is watching their comings and goings. As an extra precaution, the circle of access points they use most often is irregular and off-center, making it difficult for anyone to guess the actual location of their home. And if anyone tries to follow them, they have a chance to fight the tail, or ditch it, while they're still a safe distance from their front door.
Anyway, Leo reflects, they could all use a chance to stretch their legs, after being cooped up in the back of a van for 150 miles. As much as he loves his brothers, sitting in a five-foot-by-eight-foot space with them for three hours is really not his favorite way to spend an evening.
He turns homeward, and begins walking.
Mike bounces ahead of him, then walks on his toes for a few paces, stretching his legs quite literally while clasping his wrists at the utmost vertical limits of his arms. "Aaahh," he says, with a noisy exhalation. "Sweet smell of home."
They move in companionable silence for a quarter of an hour, tracing their way through the familiar passages.
"You know," Don says, over the rush of water at a runoff junction. Apparently it rained while they were away. "We should do something for them. To pay them back."
Raph, who is walking in front, turns around backwards to address his brothers. He knows the tunnels well enough that he doesn't need to see them, only needs to feel the distance he has travelled and turn when he has gone far enough. "You're right," he says. "We oughta invite them up to our vacation place."
"But which one?" Mike asks, as though this is a serious dilemma. "Our mansion in the Hamptons, or our ski lodge in Vail?"
"Maybe we could take them camping," Leo suggests. "Raph, look out."
Raph whips around, and finds himself face-to-face with a brick wall that was certainly not there three days ago. "What the hell?"
"Huh." Don frowns at the fresh brickwork. "The city must be working on something."
"Well, never mind," Leo says. "We'll take the western approach."
They turn, all facing forward now, and continue along the alternate route to their home.
"We should check it out, though," Don says. "See what they're up to."
"Probably nothing good," Raph says. "They never build us anything convenient."
"That's not true," Mike reminds him. "They built us that awesome skate pipe."
"That was a subway extension," Don says, in the interest of factual accuracy.
"It was multi-purpose," Mike defends.
"Wait," Leo says, and they all stop instantly. "Something is wrong." He peers around the shadowy tunnel.
Raph reaches for his sai, and glares up and down the passage.
"The water isn't running," Don says.
They look down. Stormwater from the weekend's rain has been splashing around their ankles as they walked, but now that they're not moving, they realize that the water isn't either. There's no current.
"It should be draining," Don says. He raises his arm slowly, pointing in the direction they were headed. "That way."
"Light," Leo says, and Don fumbles for the small flashlight he keeps in his belt.
Leo flicks it on, and aims the narrow beam down the tunnel.
What little there is of it.
"What the hell?" Raph says again.
Where there should be a branch, there is simply a dead end.
"The city doesn't build anything that fast." Raph moves forward to run his hands over the weakly-illuminated wall. "What's the deal?"
Don joins him, waving Leo closer, examining the new-looking bricks and the smooth mortar. "I don't know," he says finally.
"Useful," Raph mutters.
"Okay." Leo clicks off the light. "We'll go topside for a few blocks, get around this, come down on the other side."
Mike looks nervous. "Do you think -"
Leo shakes his head. "Master Splinter would have called if there was trouble near the Lair. He would have told us not to come back."
Mike's voice shrinks another size. "But what if -"
"No," Leo says firmly. He passes the flashlight back to Don. "Let's go."
They head back the way they came, moving now with the silence of ninjas, and not merely the silence of co-travellers who are busy with their own thoughts.
The nearest manhole cover is only a few hundred yards back. Raph climbs the ladder and pushes against the disc.
Then he pushes harder.
"Won't move," he grunts, unnecessarily.
Mike squeezes up the narrow rungs beside his brother, and adds his lifting power to the effort. Their combined strength still can't budge the metal cover.
"Must be somethin' on it," Raph says. He jumps down from the ladder. "We'll try the next one."
The next manhole yields the same result, and so does the one after that.
"Gimme a break," Raph grumbles, as he climbs down from the third ladder. "Everybody's gotta park their damn car on the covers?"
"I'm calling Master Splinter," Don says. He pulls out his shell-cell, flips it open, and dials. In the silence of the sewer tunnels, they all hear the phone ring, ring again, and then buzz the flat note of a dial tone.
Don lowers the phone, frowns, and dials again.
Don closes the phone. "I'm calling April," he announces, as though this had been his plan all along. He flips the cell open again, dials, and listens.
They all hear it ring once, twice. Then the phone emits a burst of static so loud that all of them wince as Don jerks the device from his ear and jabs at the button to turn it off. "Okay," he says shakily, as the harsh echoes die away. "Who has a Plan C?"
"Plan C?" Mike squeaks. "We're up to Plan C already? Nothing good ever happens on Plan C!"
"Everybody chill out," Raph snaps. He points to a side tunnel they've passed twice already. "I'm going that way. I'll see what hasn't been blocked up by this freakin' fast-forward construction project, I'll find a way home, and I'll come back for you guys." He turns and takes a step.
"Raph, wait." Leo's tone is commanding. "Let's stick together."
Raph crosses his arms. "You guys always get lost in new tunnels. You'll only slow me down and mess me up."
"He's got a point," Don says.
Leo thinks. Raph does have an uncanny sense of direction, a seemingly endless ability to go in circles and come out still knowing where North is. Moreover, he can always retrace his steps exactly. Refinding his starting point after an expedition through rearranged sewer tunnels won't be a problem. Keeping track of which passages he's already explored while three hopelessly lost brothers mill around in confusion could be.
Leo decides he'd rather saddle Raph with potential handicaps than send him off alone. "We should stay together," he says.
"Why?" Raph demands. "Nobody's down here, Leo! It's just some damn stupid construction project that's gettin' in our way and messin' up our phones. Look." He puts his shoulder forward, an aggressive pose, and points his finger. "Not all of us slept in the van. Mike and Don don't want to go traipsing all around trying to -"
"Wait a minute," Don interrupts. "Don't use me as an excuse."
Raph's eyes flick back to Leo.
Leo sets his jaw.
"I'm not ashamed to admit I'm tired," Mike says, into the tense silence.
Raph's smile of vindication comes a fraction too soon for Leo's liking, but he relents anyway. "Fine. We'll wait here."
"I won't be too long," Raph says. He turns and moves off down the tunnel, the water parting smoothly around his ankles.
Mike leans against a curved wall. "See?" he says. "This is why I always say you shouldn't leave home."
Don takes up a position against the opposite wall. "You've never said that before in your life."
Mike shrugs, dismissing the objection as irrelevant. "I'm starting now."
"I'm fairly certain," Don says, "that less than an hour ago you expressed an interest in going to Massachusetts again."
"Sometimes my opinions change very quickly," Mike replies airily.
Don raises a brow. "There are some who would call you... fickle."
"Who are these people?" Mike demands. He raises a fist. "I'll kick their butts!" His hand falls back, his open palm slapping lightly against the wall. "On second thought, I don't care."
Don rolls his eyes. "Leo, quit glaring at the pipes."
Leo quickly looks away from the dull metal tubes that carry the city's clean water supply. "Raph is right," he says. "No - Raph is half-right."
"See?" Mike directs his comment at Don. "Other people change their minds too."
"If mind-changing were a sport," Don replies, "you would be the world champion."
"Of course," Mike says. "Is there any sport I'm not the world champion of?"
Don studies his younger brother for a long moment. Then, with a completely straight face, he says: "Shuffleboard."
"Duh," Mike says, as though he can't believe Don would even bring up the point. "Anyone who plays shuffleboard is a loser, and the world champion of shuffleboard is the biggest loser of them all." He turns back to Leo. "What is Raph half-right about?"
"That there's no one down here." Leo's mouth twists as he reconsiders what question he's actually answering. "Well, no, that's the part he was completely right about. But the part he was completely wrong about, was that he should be the only one who looks for a way home."
Mike turns to Don again. "Are you familiar with this definition of 'half'?"
"Of course," Don replies. "This is the definition of 'half' that applies when you're talking about 200% of your apples and oranges."
Mike's eyes widen. "Leo is mixing apples and oranges?"
"It's very sad." Don shakes his head. "Soon he'll be counting his chickens before they hatch."
"Ha, ha," Leo deadpans. "I'm going to check out the lower levels. If I hit a dead end, I'll come back. If I don't, then... I'll come back, but not as quickly."
"Have fun," Don says, as Leo walks off. He adjusts his position to fit his shell more comfortably against the curve of the wall, and admits, at least to himself, that he is tired.
"What do you think they're building?" Mike asks.
Don considers. Construction proceeding at a breakneck pace, changes to the water flow pattern, potentially sealed-off access points...
"I think it's a clean-up," he says. "I bet they found some kind of hazardous material, and they're blocking things up before it gets into the water supply, or before somebody accidentally gets into it."
"Aw, great." Mike kicks at the water. "Are we gonna have new mutant neighbors now?"
"I hope not," Don sighs.
They lapse back into the silence of their own thoughts. Don turns things over in his head, wondering what might have spilled, wondering whether the public knows about it, wondering what the sewers, his home territory, will look like when the city is done with them.
Sealed-off access points...
"You know..." he says slowly. "There's at least one manhole cover that we know isn't sealed..."
Mike looks up, and there's a flicker in his eyes as he starts thinking what his brother is thinking.