Title: The Heroine and the Half Shell
Author: Jedi Buttercup
Summary: "Dear Cousin of April": The development of a relationship in six conversations. 5100 words.
Disclaimer: The words are mine, the worlds are not.
Spoilers: B:tVS post-"Chosen": TMNT canon from "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" (1990) and "TMNT" (2007)
Notes: Warnings for INTERSPECIES HET and a couple of vague Buffy S8 comics references. Because a friend mentioned TMNT, and I got nostalgic. And because the Turtles aren't neuter just because they aren't human. Definitely movieverse, with '07 casting and the '90 movie pushed forward a decade.
Raphael frowned as an annoyingly loud noise joined the muted din coming from Mikey's direction. "Ya going to get that?" he called, looking up from sharpening his sai to throw a glare in his orange-masked brother's direction.
"Hmm?" Michelangelo frowned back at him, looking up from his comics to pull one earpiece away from his head. "Oh, phone!" He glanced over his shoulder, then back at Raph, shaking his head. "It's not the landline. Someone leave their cell phone lying around?"
"Cell phone?" Raph blinked at him, then caught on and glanced around; sure enough, the obnoxious sound was coming from a rectangular object on the kitchen table. "Donny, ya got a new toy recently?" he called, reaching over to pick it up.
Donatello pulled away from his monitor just long enough to lean back and get a look the object, then shook his head and turned back to his computer. "Nope. April must've left it behind when she was here earlier. She tore out of here pretty quick, remember? Something about that disaster on the news, the one in California."
"Probably went into the office. Bet it's Casey trying to get a hold of her," Mikey snickered, then replaced his earpiece, turning back to his reading.
Raph rolled his eyes, then awkwardly thumbed the thing on and held it up to his ear. "April O'Neil's phone," he sing-songed into its little speaker. "Sorry, but I'm giving my owner some space at the moment; try calling her back later."
"...What?" a familiar female voice said, sounding baffled, on the other end. "Hello?"
"Hey!" Raph replied cheerfully. "April! We thought it might be Casey trying to call ya. Ya left it at our place."
"Excuse me?" April replied, sounding strangely even more confused than before. "What's at whose place?"
"Ya know, the phone. At our place," Raph replied, amusement fading at her tone. "Hey, are ya okay?" He sat up, moving his sai from his lap to the table; out of the corner of his eye, he could see Leo slowing his kata to watch him, and Mikey pulled one of his earpieces away again, frowning at him.
"No, I'm sorry, I don't-" April began, then suddenly broke off with a frustrated noise. "Oh, right. I always forget, because we don't sound like each other to us. I'm not April; I'm April's cousin, Buffy Summers."
"Buffy?" Raph blinked, holding the phone away from him for a moment to frown at it. "April has a cousin named Buffy?" he snorted, putting the phone back to his head. "She's never mentioned ya before."
"Yeah, well, she's never mentioned you before, either, if you're not Casey," the girl replied tartly. Then she sighed. "Look- do you think she'll come back for her phone soon?"
Leonardo waved a hand in his face to catch his attention, wearing his concerned expression; Raph waved him off. "I dunno. You got a message for her?"
"Just- just tell her Dawn and I made it out, okay? That's all. I'll call her back soon as I can, but- I've got to go."
"Made it out of where?" Raph asked- just before he was cut off by the sound of the dial tone.
"Huh," he said.
"April has a cousin?" Mikey asked, staring at him.
"What'd she want?" Donny asked, leaning over the couch behind Mikey.
Raph shrugged. "Just to tell her cousin she was okay. But it was weird; she sounded exactly like April, guys. I wonder why we haven't heard about her before?"
"Ask her yourself," Leo shrugged, blinking behind blue fabric. "It's almost dark- you want to take her the message in person?"
"Might as well." He stood, then sheathed his sai and stretched. "Since we're patrolling tonight, anyway. Ya know if Casey was planning to go out?"
"He usually does when April's off reporting somewhere," Mikey offered, grabbing his nunchucks and heading for the door. "C'mon. The sooner we're back, the sooner we can make him pay for tonight's pizza!"
Raph shook his head, then snickered as the sounds of skateboard wheels and a dopplered "Cowabunga!" trailed off down the sewer tunnel outside.
Then he tucked the phone into his belt, and followed him out.
Buffy frowned at the email address on the message sitting in her inbox: raphael at halfshell dot com.
The only thing 'half shell' reminded her of was oysters, which: no. And she couldn't think of any Raphaels she knew, either, except for a vague impression that there might have been one mentioned in Sunday School when she was little. An Angel of the Lord, maybe? In her experience, the winged types didn't just communicate with ordinary human beings like demons did.
Unless that was what the PTB really were? If so: their marketing materials were seriously misleading. Not that that would be such a surprise, after everything else she'd seen.
Buffy clicked on the link with a roll of her eyes, expecting to see another badly-spelled advertisement about sexual enhancements- then frowned more deeply and leaned closer to the screen, scrolling intently through the message that had been sent to her.
[[Dear Cousin of April:
You *are* April's cousin, right? I remembered your name, and had my brother Don look up your contact information. I'm the one you talked to last year after that thing that happened with the sinkhole.
Sorry about that, by the way. Losing your home really sucks.
Anyway. I know April flew out to see you in Los Angeles after it happened, and I was just wondering if you still lived there, and if you knew what was going on with the 'mutated attackers' they were talking about on the news this morning. We don't know anyone else who lives out there to ask, and I'm pretty sure the reporters aren't telling the full story. April might've, but she's out of town at the moment.
I'd appreciate anything you can tell me. Thanks,
Buffy checked the timestamp on the message, realized it was only a few minutes old, and hit 'Reply'. She hadn't been in Los Angeles since she and the other Sunnydale survivors had spent a week recuperating at Angel's hotel, but the phrase 'mutated attackers' was ringing all her alarms. If the press had gone further than 'gangs on PCP' or 'barbeque fork wounds' then events must be seriously straining people's capacity for denial, and that wasn't good at all.
[[Dear Friend of April:
Yes, I'm her cousin Buffy. I haven't seen the news yet, but I have a lot of friends left in the city.
What have you heard? And why do you want to know?
She clicked 'Send', then got up and scrounged around for the remote to the hotel TV; she was staying in Cleveland temporarily for a board meeting with Faith, Robin, and the senior Scoobies to plot the course (and the official name) of their new Watcher's Council. They'd collected enough young Slayers already that it was starting to become an issue.
By the time she'd settled back in her chair with CNN playing in the background, a reply had arrived.
[[Just that a bunch of apparently mutated attackers were seen near an old hotel building, and they think there might have been some kind of contamination that caused it. The police are having trouble keeping it contained, and they're evacuating some parts of the city while the Guard is called in.]]
Buffy glanced up as some news reporter or other pretty much echoed what 'Raphael' had just told her, and gaped at the shaky handheld footage of what looked like a dragon swooping over the streets she'd visited less than twelve months before.
[[I don't know what to tell you,]]
she typed numbly, wondering what in the hellmouth had happened. She'd never regretted listening to Giles about cutting communication with Wolfram and Hart's newest management team more than she did in that moment. Maybe Angel and his team had been corrupted by the evil law firm. But then again, maybe things wouldn't have got so far if Buffy had kept an open mind.
[[Maybe it's gangs on PCP? That's what they used to say in Sunnydale,]]
she added with a wince. She knew that would make her sound like an idiot to April's friend; but she couldn't exactly tell him the truth, could she? All she knew about him was that April knew him, and that he had a youngish, friendly voice on the phone. April didn't even know she was the Slayer.
a hurried reply flashed into her inbox.
[[I know destruction with intent when I see it. But if you don't know, you don't know. Sorry to bother you, dudette. Catch you later,
Buffy stared at her screen a moment longer, then shook her head and reached for the phone. Someone had some explaining to do, but it wasn't Raphael; and in the meantime she needed to get to Los Angeles, hasta pronto.
"Faith? Hey, it's Buffy. Have you seen the news...?"
"Got another email from your penpal?" Mikey teased as Raphael typed carefully on Donatello's keyboard. Human made systems weren't exactly built for beings with two fingers and a thumb, but Donny managed pretty well, and Raph had started to get the hang of it over the last few months.
"Shut up, dude," he replied absently as he pulled up the latest missive from Buffy.
It had been about eighteen months since he'd had the impulse to look her up when that mess in Los Angeles had appeared on the news. April had told the Turtles later that the official story was there'd been some kind of hallucinogenic gas released all over the city, which had made people see strange things and distorted all of the camera footage taken that day- and that they'd been asked to stop reporting on it to reduce station liability for 'misrepresentation of facts'. At the time, though, all the news channels had been reporting 'mutated attackers' everywhere. Raph had contacted the only person he knew to have spent recent time in the city, wondering if another company had somehow accidentally recreated TGRI's toxic mutagenic ooze, and had received nothing but an airheaded message about 'gangs on PCP' in return.
Sheesh, even he knew that 'gangs on PCP' was usually cover-up speak for something else. Buffy had obviously known something- and hadn't been willing to talk about it.
He'd held a grudge for about two days. That was when the news stations had all suddenly dropped the topic like a hot potato, and he'd got another reply from April's cousin:
[[Sorry about my last message. They really did say that all the time in Sunnydale. That doesn't make the PCP excuse any truer than the pretty bow they're about tie on what just happened in Los Angeles, but it doesn't mean you're ever going to get the real story, either.
I flew out to check on my friends right after you sent me your last reply. Thank you for emailing me when you did, by the way; if I'd found out any later I might not have been in time to help them. You helped save some lives, even if that wasn't what you originally meant to do.
I can say, what happened didn't have anything to do with mutations. Does that help?
Anyway. If you're still talking to me, maybe you can answer a question for me- do you know if April's still seeing that mechanic guy, Casey? I haven't heard from her in a month or so, and she was having a spat with him last time we talked about something to do with his hobbies. I get that she's even busier than before now that she's thinking about changing careers and looking up her dad's old antiques contacts, but I miss our girl talk, and I want to make sure I don't bring up a sore point!]]
They'd just... kept talking after that. Raph's messages and phone calls had been filled with the ups and downs of April and Casey's relationship, April's new shipping business, Mikey's and Donny's attempts at holding down jobs, and Leo's mission to take a trip to South America to quote-unquote, find himself. There'd been plenty to talk about without ever mentioning the fact that he, his brothers, and their father weren't exactly human; and she'd offered plenty of chatter in return, about her and April's childhood visits to the family farmhouse, her little sister's adventures in college (the girl sounded about as smart as Donny), and the business she and some of her friends had inherited. She wasn't all that big on the details- or maybe it was that her messages were full of personal detail, just not the kind that would tell him what she actually did for a living or where her home was? But he understood.
She'd become a friend, like April and Casey. And more, too. He'd rescued April and been rescued by Casey (after a pretty violent first meeting) and had introduced both friends almost immediately to his entire family. With Buffy, there had never been any obligation involved, either way. She just- wanted to talk to him. And none of the others talked to her, except for sometimes April.
Buffy was his.
Raph knew it was stupid of him to think that way. She was a girl; he was a mutated turtle. So what if there weren't any females of his kind in existence, and he and his brothers had been socialized via Western media to find human beings attractive instead? (Splinter's coming of age lectures for he and his brothers had been a little- weirder- than teenagers usually got, at least according to April's former boss' son, Danny.) He might have a crush on her. But she'd never have one back, not if she knew. So he flirted, but didn't tell her- and he didn't share her with the boys, either. Without her emails, he was pretty sure he'd have gone crazy since Leo left, and he didn't want to lose her.
He slept; he ate; he trained; he went out as the Nightwatcher- and he talked to Buffy.
Four criminals trussed up last night; a message in his inbox this morning. All was right in his world... as much as it was ever likely to be with his family incomplete.
He smiled at the salutation, then scrolled on.
"So you didn't think your physical changes were at all... unusual?" Buffy asked her cousin.
April shrugged. "Unusual, maybe. Worth freaking about about, though? Master Splinter- my sensei, remember I told you I was doing martial arts to keep in shape?- said it wasn't dangerous, as long as I practiced enough to make sure I didn't accidentally hurt someone."
"And you just... took his word on that," Buffy said, eyeing April a little more closely. They'd always had similar hair colors (at least, when they were both avoiding chemicals), and they were of a similar height, but April was even muscled like Buffy was now, and everyone always said they sounded exactly the same. It was unnerving, like powwowing with the Buffy decoys Andrew had arranged in Europe. "Without telling your family?"
April raised an eyebrow. "It's not like you ever filled any of us in on your little secret," she said, dryly. "Pot meet kettle."
Buffy frowned. She'd met a lot of new Slayers over the last few years, and the only ones she'd ever seen take it so well were those who'd found the abilities immediately useful. "I did, actually," she said, wondering if whatever April was into pre- or post-dated her career change. Or caused it, maybe; that could explain a lot. "You remember the mental hospital? And the summer I ran away from home?"
"Ouch," April cringed.
"Oh, it worked out okay once I finally got Mom to believe me," Buffy shrugged. "Support is key for Slayers, actually. The gifts aren't just an upgrade; they're a mystical burden, and draw the things in the darkness as much as they make it easier for you to fight them. It kind of wears on you in the long term. Most Slayers who don't know what they are don't last as long on their own as you have; I was really surprised when Willow finally tagged you as the unknown Manhattan Slayer."
"Things in the darkness, huh?" April's gaze drew inward for a moment as she tapped her fingers on the café table. "Well, I guess that's not news."
So she'd been right! "What do you mean by that?" Buffy asked, curiosity piqued.
April shook her head, slowly. "Let's just say I have some good friends that are already into the whole vigilante thing. I've seen a lot of weirdness hanging out with them over the last seven years. Like that portal that opened up in the Winters skyscraper- did you hear about that?"
It was Buffy's turn to widen her eyes. So Raphael had been involved in that mess. She hadn't heard from her friend for days, until he'd left a babbled phone message about his brother Leo being back and to overlook any contradictions in the news from New York the way she'd asked him to overlook the chaos in L.A. three years before. She'd had to bite her tongue hard on that one; she'd been worried about him, and the news had been pretty crazy.
"You were involved in that? Our local prophecy guys found the Legend of Yaotl a few days before the alignment was due to happen, but it took them awhile to narrow down the location, and when the Slayer team finally found it they ran into a flock of ninja."
April smiled ruefully at her disbelieving tone. "Yeah. Max Winters had asked me to retrieve the statues of Yaotl's former generals, and after they animated and started wreaking havoc we figured out that Winters and Yaotl were the same guy. He'd hired the ninja for security. The thing was, Yaotl wasn't really the enemy; he just wanted to put things back the way they were supposed to be. It was his generals that made things more... complicated."
April's story brushed up against some old, unpleasant memories, and Buffy shivered. "Things with stone hearts? Usually not so keen on the positive emotions. Trust me, I know."
"It came as kind of a shock to Mr. Winters, though," April said, her expression saddening.
"Did he get pulled in, too?" Buffy asked, carefully. "We thought he might've messed up whatever ritual he was trying to use the portal for when the news reported his disappearance, but if he was Yaotl, and he was trying to shut it all down..."
Her cousin shook her head. "No. He just wanted to end his curse. A minute or so after the portal closed he just dissolved, into dust and light. I think he was happy to go; it was almost... beautiful. At least, until one of my friends breathed him in accidentally and spazzed." She chuckled at the memory.
Buffy idly wondered which of Raph's brothers it had been. If April had been fighting with her 'friends' for as long as she'd implied, that meant Raphael had been fighting, too... and might understand her job much better than she'd feared. That was a relief, both on her own account and on April's; she'd been worried about April's support structure being limited to her sensei.
"Ah, I have friends like that," she smiled. "At least one of the same friends, I'm guessing."
April sat a little straighter in her chair, feigning confusion. "Why do you say that?"
Buffy rolled her eyes. "You know I've been emailing Raphael for three years, what other mysterious group of guys do you hang out with? He never said anything about the fighting, but it's pretty easy to see it, now."
April sighed. "I guess I'll have to tell him I told you. Since he's pretty much going to figure out you're a Slayer once I tell him about me, anyway."
Buffy hadn't considered that. "How's he going to take it, d'you think?"
"Considering the whole non-human thing?" April shrugged. "I think he'll be okay. He'll be more annoyed that it's taken so long to spill the superhero beans, and you can throw that right back at him."
Buffy blinked, then replayed April's answer in her mind to make sure she'd really heard what she thought she had. "What do you mean, non-human?" she asked.
It was April's turn to look startled. "What do you mean, what do I mean? He hasn't told you that part, either?"
Buffy groaned and dropped her face into her palms. "God, you think at least once I'd manage a normal relationship."
"Relationship?" April echoed her again, sounding even more startled.
"Well, not yet," Buffy mumbled, face flushing behind her shielding fingers. "And not ever, if I kill him first!"
"Oh, boy," April said, then blew out a breath. "Okay, so maybe I better tell you the whole story..."
The streetlights were just coming on when he finally met her.
She'd asked to meet earlier in the day; but totally aside from helping hide his uniqueness from prying eyes, Raph had found he kinda liked the symbolism of meeting Buffy at sundown. End of a day. End of three years of back-and-forth, hands-off communication. End of knowing her, maybe? He hoped not. But he knew better than to expect.
She sat waiting, hands tucked into the pockets of her coat, on a park bench. He edged up close, taking care not to make a noise as he took in every detail of her appearance; he'd wanted to get at least one good look at her before all hell broke loose, and wouldn't you know it, the art of invisibility was good for something other than kicking enemy ass and pranking his brothers.
She was gorgeous, of course. She looked a little bit like April, who admittedly held the distinction of his first crush; but mostly like herself. Donatello'd found him a few pictures on the Internet from back when Buffy had been in college, and she looked about the same as she had then. More confidence, maybe, in the way she sat, and a little more of a haunted look around the eyes.
Sheesh, he thought, listening to himself moon over her. Raph shook his head, then took a step forward, deliberately not muffling his footsteps. She looked up at the sound- directly at him, too, already aware he was there but letting him approach in his own time. April hadn't been joking about the Slayer thing, then; wow.
"Hey," he said.
"Hey." Buffy smiled at him, then stood, taking a couple of steps away from the bench.
She didn't come all the way to his little patch of shadow, though, and he sighed before stepping out to meet her. He was wearing the trench coat and fedora he usually used when the air in the converted subway lair got too thick and he wanted to feel alone among humanity instead, but it didn't hide everything. She'd see, and he wasn't sure he was ready for that.
She blinked, then swallowed; she looked tense, but he couldn't tell if it was from nerves or imminent rejection.
"So, April told ya," he said, half-heartedly trying on a smile.
She took another step closer. "Yeah," she said. "Kinda came out when we were talking about the Slayer thing. I won't lie, I was a little disappointed."
"That I'm not human," he filled in flatly, half-turning to walk away. "I knew it."
Buffy made an irritated noise- then reached out to snag the sleeve of his trenchcoat rather than let him leave. "No, you jerk," she replied. "That you didn't tell me. The non-human thing's not a serious issue; I've dated guys who weren't human before. Okay, so they used to be-" she waved her free hand, dismissively, "-but they weren't anymore. That's not the point. The point is..."
Raphael reached out to capture the waving hand in one of his own, brain still stuck somewhere a few phrases back in the conversation: "Dated?" he echoed.
She paused, flexing soft, strong digits in his three-fingered grip, and rolled her eyes at him. "Well, at least you're definitely a guy; that's already more 'average' than my last attempt at a relationship."
His thoughts, just spinning back into gear, crashed again at that. "Re-relationship?" he managed to say, covering for the attack of sudden mental images.
She grinned briefly at him, then lowered her hand, taking his down with it. "You've even got the bad boy thing going for you."
She- wasn't rejecting him? She was still flirting with him. Raph blinked at her, trying to catch up with the program for the evening. "But- but we're not. Ya know. Compatible," he hissed, waving his still-free hand around in a vaguely expository way.
Turtles might have analogous organs to human males- most earthly creatures that bred with two sexes did- but they weren't exactly configured the way a human's were. She didn't have a shell, either; he couldn't imagine his plastron would feel very comfortable against all that toned flesh and soft skin. Their lips weren't even the same shape, for crying out loud.
That didn't stop him from liking her, of course; he was drawn to her regardless. But shouldn't it matter to her? He'd asked Master Splinter about it before coming to meet her, but his father had given him just one piece of amused, unhelpful advice: faint heart never won fair maiden.
"And that might be a problem if I was looking for a baby daddy," Buffy replied, dryly. "I think you're getting a little ahead of yourself. God knows sex ruined enough of my relationships; the closeness is more important to me now than orgasms, if you're not interested. But just so you know? If it ever went there?" She blushed bright red. "We'd just have to be a little... creative."
"I'm, uh." He cleared his throat, still scrambling for words. "Yeah. Interested." Creative? Damn.
He was still staring, drawn toward her like moth to flame; and when Buffy reached for the fedora, Raph ducked his head to let her remove it. She tossed it to the bench behind her, then brought her hand back up to touch his cheek, studying his face intently with eyes and fingertips.
He winced under the intent look, wondering what she saw when she looked at him. "Ugly, huh?" he joked, feebly.
"I'll have to introduce you to Clem sometime, and see if you say that again," she replied, smiling faintly. "Okay, so you're a little more green and leathery than I expected. But you're still you, the snarky guy who's talked to me practically every other day for the last three years. You'll never be ugly to me."
Well, she hadn't said 'handsome', but it was still far better than Raphael had been expecting.
Then her other hand tugged free of his to nudge the lapels of his trenchcoat open a little and spread flat across the upper edge of his plastron, and he drew in a surprised, noisy breath as the sensations that shot through him at the touch. No, physical attraction was not going to be a problem on his end. "So, about that sparring session ya said ya wanted to arrange?" he said, uncertainly.
She laughed, an incongruously cute sound from a woman supposed to be ninety-nine pounds of coiled and deadly warrior, and pulled her hand back. "Right," Buffy said. "That was when I thought we'd need something to break the ice? But I do want to see how good you are. April says she's a little quicker, but just about as strong as you are; and you're much better trained. I'm curious how well my skills stack up; I almost never meet a non-Slayer who can give me a good workout these days."
"A good workout, or a good workout?" he dared to tease her, raising his eyebrows above his red bandana.
She laughed again, a delighted tone in her voice he'd only heard before over the phone. "You think you can give me a run for my money?"
"I think I wanna find out," Raph replied, grinning, nervousness temporarily shed. "And then?"
"And then dinner, maybe?" Buffy suggested. "I'll be in town for a couple weeks getting April set up with the New York Council House. So, no rush."
"I think ya know by now I can do long distance," he replied, "but I definitely prefer ya up close. How do ya feel about pizza?"
"Depends on how much of an appetite we work up," she said, smiling.
Raphael grinned, relieved and even more enchanted with her than ever. "A woman after my own heart."
"Raph," Leo said, the day before Buffy was due to leave for Scotland again, laying a hand on his arm as he headed for the lair's exit. "Are you sure you know what you're doing?"
Raph repressed a sigh. He and Leonardo were on much better terms these days, but it still got on his nerves when his older brother tried to play mother hen.
"I'm not an idiot, ya know," he growled in reply, quietly enough that his voice wouldn't carry to the others. "I know this ain't a fairy tale. She's not gonna move here, and I'm never gonna live in a house with a white picket fence."
"Then why...?" Leo asked, wrinkling his forehead.
Raph stared off down the sewer access tunnel, thinking about the sparring sessions; the conversations; the dinner dates; the slow exploration of their interspecies relationship, and what they had planned for that evening. So many human rituals he'd never expected to take part in; things he was experiencing, thanks to Buffy. What would have happened if April had never left her phone behind that day? Or he hadn't been the one to pick up her cousin's call?
"She makes me feel less alone, Leo," he said, trying to explain it. He knew his brothers felt it less; they'd learned their vocabulary from TV, not from mingling, disguised, part yet apart from the flow of humanity around them. "Less like a freak. Even if it doesn't last, even if she dumps me for a human next week... it won't take back what that's meant to me."
"Better to have loved and lost...?" Leo said dryly, but nodded his understanding. "Just- be careful, wouldja? And remember we're here for you, too."
"I know." Raph smiled his thanks at his brother, then ducked out the door.