VIGIL: The Confrontation:

April knew that Splinter's loss, although unspoken, lingered like a specter at the edge of everything. True, she wasn't that close to the kindly old rat as the Turtles, but it tore at her soul to think of him being at the Shredder's mercy. And after seeing what had been done to Raphael, nearly beaten to death and thrown off a roof, she secretly resigned herself to either finding Splinter's dead body, or nothing.

She honestly believed that Splinter had been murdered, the specifics of his ending unknowable, and any answers, only speculation. The Turtles would have nothing but uncertainty and only the memories to take brutal solace.

To a lesser degree, her own life had been ripped apart as well. She no longer had a home. She had literally ran for her life, without any word to anybody. She didn't know if she had been reported missing or dead. For now, they were safe in the quiet solitude of the old farm house, but her funds were running low, and she couldn't hide forever. Though she silently fretted about it, she never voiced any of this to the Turtles. If bad came to worse, she could get a job, perhaps in one of the small towns around the woods and stay. She could go back to the city, or leave forever. It would be tough, but she could resume her life again. The Turtles, however, had their own options cruelly limited. They weren't human. They couldn't simply stroll into a new home, or even appear openly without risking their lives. What would happen to them?

She swallowed hard as she quietly stirred more veggies into the stew. The Turtles may be different, unlikely, and not even of her own species. But they had saved her life, and the lives of others, and more than that, they were now family. And families stuck together. Whatever happened, however this ended, they were in this together.

For once, April felt at ease with a decision.

She was startled out of her musings by Leo's sudden, pensive appearance in the small kitchen. One of the things she could never get used to was the Turtles' irritating ability to literally vanish and pop out of nowhere. It always scared the hell out of her. Mikey seemed to get a kick out of startling her at random, and only stopped after she had hit him in the mouth with the business end of the broom. Needless to say, a mouth full of dirty straw, and a tongue lashing from an irate human woman put a stop to the antics. In general, the other three were much more courteous. Raphael always announced his presence by his angry stomp or his grumbling, Donny would quietly acknowledge her, and Leo would always greet her.

Until now.

Leo's lip twisted in his teeth as he apologetically backed away. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to scare you."

April shrugged as she turned back to the soup with a smile. "It's alright, Leo. Everything okay?"

Leo shook his head, uneasily. "I'm sorry to interrupt your cooking, April, but I need to talk to you." He emphasized his point by pulling out both kitchen chairs. He gestured towards the one nearest her, as he folded his arms, waiting.

Worried, now, April turned down the stove, and slid into the chair.

Leo silently glided into the chair across from her, as he lowered his head. Uneasily, April ventured, "Leo, what is it? Is Raph okay?"

"Raph is fine." Leo said bluntly. "And this isn't about Raph, anyway. It's about Splinter. He's alive."

Leo narrowed his eyes, as he considered her reaction to the announcement. April carefully concealed her dismay with a careful show of accepting serenity and gentle disbelief.

"Leo, I know Splinter's….absence has been hard on all of you, but you may have to face the fact that Splinter may be-"

"He's alive, April." Leo's certainty made her heart ache. Had it come to this? Clinging to a child's faith, only to be lost like everything else?

"How do you know that, Leo?"

Leo scowled at the question with uncharacteristic impatience.

April stared at Leo's resolve, set as concrete, and equally unmovable. Great. As if reading her skeptism, Leo shook his head. "Never mind how I know, April. It's enough that I do."

She gave him her a kind, forced smile. "I..hope so, Leo. I truly hope so."

He nodded as he gently lay a hand over her wrist. "April, I can't say thank you enough for all that you have done for us. I also can't apologize enough for all that you've lost on account of us. There's no way that we can ever repay you, but please know that I consider you as much a family member as Master Splinter or the rest of my brothers."

His eyes were storm dark with agony as he forced himself to continue. "I also know that as long as you are with us, your life is at risk. And that is not something that I can continue to allow."

April tensed, her eyes narrowing to glittering emeralds. Her questions and inexplicable anger were both halted and strengthened by Leo's eyes suddenly growing wet.

"And that's why you need to leave." Leo whispered. Leo felt her bones under his fingers arch as she snatched her hand away.

April stared at him, as the loaded silence swelled and festered, until she quietly snarled, "What did you just ask me to do, Leo?"

Leo's face contorted., "April, they burned down your house, kidnapped Splinter,and nearly killed a member of my family!"

"Our family." April ground out.

Leo flinched when she shot from her chair, so fast that it clattered to the floor. She ignored it as she stormed over to his side.

"Our family, you even listening to yourself?" Her voice was so shrill and sharp that he winced.

"Do you recall how we first met, Leo? I was attacked by the Foot, and I would have been dead if Raph hadn't stopped them. He saved my life that night, Leo. I know damn well what the Foot can do."

Leo sighed, and leaned back, as he stared up at her with those pleading eyes. "Then you know why I'm asking you to leave."

She glared at him, and seethed, "Because you want to keep me safe, or because I'm a liability?"

She winced when she saw Leo's tears. "I'm trying to save you. Just like I would any other member of my family. I'm trying!"

Leo exhaled, and scrubbed at his eyes, as he lay his palms on the table as if to keep upright. Raggedly, he shook his head.

"You don't understand. You're human." He jabbed his plastron with his thumb. "We're not."

He breathed out, and raised those ravaged eyes to hers, falling silent.

April hitched her shoulders, helplessly. "Leo, I can't exactly change that. I can't change the fact that you're all Turtles and that I'm not. I can't change what was done to Raph, or the reaction the world would have if they knew you existed."

Bitterly, Leo shook his head. "I know the reaction, April. Even you fainted when you first met us."

"So, that's the issue? That I'm a threat because I'm human? You sure as heck didn't feel that way when you came to my apartment after your home was trashed, or when you needed a place to hide."

Leo's tremble rippled through him like a shot gun blast. "We,' he spat, "never intended to be found at all. Raph was the one who disobeyed Splinter's orders and dragged you down to the Lair. Not us."

The hurt twisted April's features before she smoothed the anguish over in a serene, shaking calm. "So, in other words, it would have been easier for Raphael to leave me to die. Just like it would have been easier on me to leave him to die, which I guess would make this whole thing easier on you."

The words seared Leo's soul like acid, as he could only stare at her, mouth open, shaking, nearly sickened by the tidal wave of things he could not name. April blanched in horror at the words that lingered between them, bright and sudden as a lightning bolt.

Leo saw her hand fly to her mouth and curl over her lips as if she intended to snatch the cruel words back.

"Leo…" April muttered weakly, as she gestured helplessly. "I'm sorry…." It was a breathed whisper.

Leo crumbled minutely, as he forced himself to give her an unconvincing smile of forgiveness. "April, if anything, I owe you an apology. You're a member of this family and you have the right to decide what role you'll play. Please forgive me for overstepping those bounds. It will not happen -"

His eyes nearly flooded as he abruptly rose. "I need to go check on Raph. Please excuse me."

He was gone before she could see him fracture completely.