Author's note and disclaimer: I own nothing but the fond memories I have of watching Turtles cartoons every Saturday morning. The idea for this fic was sparked by the fact that the third movie was set in 1993, almost ten years ago; it was further inspired by a comment I read somewhere on the Internet, that the cartoons of your childhood are like friends you've left behind. When you come back to them they always seem changed, but they leave something with you that will remain forever the same. (At least, it was something like that). Don't bother suing me, I don't have a dime.
Long time since I've seen your smile,
But when I close my eyes,
You were no more than a child,
But then, so was I;
Young and tender.
Time takes its toll,
And time alters our view;
It would be nice to spend some time
-- Amy Grant, "Stay For a While"
The cold blue-white glare from the computer screen was the only illumination, just enough to fill one corner of the apartment with its light. It cast eerie shadows across the floor and lit up the face of the woman in front of the screen, making her seem frozen even though her fingers were in motion. She typed, paused to read over the writing, then started typing again.
The air in the apartment was cool, even a little too cool -- she had a fleece robe wrapped tightly around flannel pajamas, and even so she was a little chilly. It was, after all, only early spring. Maybe it would have been easier to close the window.
Maybe. But she never had the window closed while she was up like this, typing in the late darkness long after everyone else in the building was asleep. Dead of winter or middle of summer, the window was open.
She always left the window open, just in case.
April pushed away from the computer and stared at what she'd just written, then erased half of it in resigned frustration. She'd been working on this for the past few years now, trying and failing to get everything just right. Once or twice she'd come close to finishing it, only to erase the whole thing and start over.
Try as she might, she just couldn't get it to sound right. To sound real. Every time she re-read the story she was trying so hard to write it sounded like something off the Sci-fi channel -- too strange to be true. And she didn't want the people reading it to think that -- to think she'd made it all up.
Because it had been true. All of it -- the Foot clan, the Shredder, the Ooze, even the time travel -- had been real. She'd lived through it, experienced it. Being a reporter, she was dying to tell everyone else about it. But somehow she just couldn't make it believable.
The illustrations had been the easy part. They looked so real, so true-to-life, so exactly like the subjects that it was impossible to believe they'd been made up. But she'd been working from real life for the drawings.
She was working from memory on the story.
A breeze rattled the window blinds and April half-turned, as she always did -- but nothing moved except the shadow she cast in the computer's cold light. She peered into the shadows like a child looking for the boogeyman before glancing at the clock. The red digital numbers announced an hour far past her bedtime, and with a resigned sigh she hit "save" and shut down the computer.
Maybe tomorrow night. She stood in the now-dark apartment, groped for her flashlight and switched it on . . .
And he was there, in the shadows she'd searched only moments before. His eyes glowed behind a glimpse of orange in the fading light of the flashlight's half-dead battery. She took a step back, startled, and then sighed deeply. She knew from the way he stood why he was there.
April sank heavily into the computer chair and said the only thing she could think of. "It's Splinter, isn't it?"
Michelangelo nodded, his face grave and half-hidden by shadows. "He . . . last night."
She pushed her hair back out of her face. "I'm sorry."
"I know." He shifted, discomfort evident in his features and his stance. "He wanted . . . we wondered . . . if we could take him to the farm. He never really liked the sewers, and . . . it would be . . . out of the way."
Her heart went out to him, trying so hard to be strong -- to be ninja -- when he had just lost his father. "Of course you can." She paused. "Do you need a way out there?"
Mike shook his head. "We've got one. Donnie's got a way."
The mention of Donatello's name sent a stab through her heart. She shifted the flashlight so she could see him better.
He looked old, so much older than he had last time she'd seen him. He looked . . . like an adult. Some of the childishness had worn out of his face, part of the innocent laughter had gone from his eyes. Oh, he still looked like "her" Michelangelo -- but he wasn't.
What did you expect? It's been . . . well, ten years. Ten years. A lifetime.
April let her mind wander back to the last time she'd seen them. They'd sat around the table in her apartment, laughing and talking and celebrating her engagement, before offering final congratulations and slipping out the window one by one. Raphael had been the last to go, and he'd turned just before vanishing down the fire escape.
"You two take care of yourselves."
Somehow, from the tone in that single sentence, she and Casey had both known something was changed.
She'd slipped down into the sewers later that week, carrying a pizza and expecting a boisterous welcome -- only to be met with silence. The old subway station was as empty as it had been when they'd first moved in.
The turtles had vanished like the ninja they were, leaving no trace and no explanation.
Mike cleared his throat, bringing April back to the present. He stepped closer. "April, listen . . ." a long pause. "I . . . we wanted you to know that . . ." after a moment of frustrated silence, he plunged forward, "It was Splinter's idea, his decision. After that business with the scepter he . . ." Mikey shook his head. "We couldn't keep messing up your life, April. One of those times you were going to end up hurt, or killed, or out of your job because of us. Splinter . . . no, we . . . wanted you to have a normal life. Even if it meant we couldn't be part of it with you."
He looked at her expectantly, apologetically, with a trace of the "I'm-so-cute-you-have-to-forgive-me" look she'd missed so much. April sighed deeply and looked at her hands.
"You could have said goodbye. I would've understood."
"Would you have let us go?" He asked. His tone made it clear that he already knew the answer. "It was the only way, April."
Her temper flared. "No it wasn't the only way!" her eyes met his. "I never asked for a normal life, Mikey."
"But you deserved one." He looked around."And I don't think you'd trade it in, would you?"
Before she could answer she heard the patter of tiny footsteps on the staircase. Michelangelo melted back into the shadows as a five-year-old girl appeared on the stairs, clutching a stuffed turtle in a death grip under one arm.
"Mommy?" Came the high, sleepy voice, "Are you talking to someone?"
April swung the flashlight towards the stairs. "No, baby. Go back to bed -- I'll come tuck you in in a minute."
"Okay." the small feet padded back upstairs, and Mikey reappeared.
"You've got a daughter?"
"Monet. She'll be six in August."
Michelangelo glanced at the stairs, a mixture of sadness and resignation in his eyes. "Does she know about . . . us?"
"We've told her. But I don't know if she's old enough to realize they're more than stories." April half-smiled. "That turtle's name is Raphael -- she calls him Raffy. And she won't go anywhere without him."
Mikey's eye's lit up with amusement. He snickered. "Oh, yeah. I can't wait to let Raph know about that." Then his face grew serious again. "Thank you for letting us . . ." His voice trailed off. "We're going to miss him so much."
"So will I." She stood, left the flashlight on the desk and crossed to join him in the shadows. "I've missed you all . . . so, so much."
Mikey half-grinned. "Missed you, too, babe."
She embraced him, suddenly and fiercely. Then, after a moment, she stepped back. "I've got a normal life now." She told him. "At least, as normal as it'll ever be. It's normal enough now that a little thing won't mess it up."
"Four mutant ninja turtles ain't exactly a little thing." Then he nodded. "But we'll . . . talk . . . about it." He glanced at the clock, then turned. "I've gotta go, April."
He paused at the window. "Tell Casey I was here?"
She nodded. "I will." Then she whispered, "Don't be a stranger, Michelangelo."
But he was already gone.
"Mommy?" Monet stood in the half-light cast by the flashlight beam. "You were talking to someone." She pattered quickly across the shadowy floor, dragging Raffy by his back leg. "Who were you talking to, Mommy?"
April swallowed the lump in her throat and knelt down to embrace her daughter. "A friend, angel. Just a friend."
"M'kay." Monet lay her head against April's shoulder. "Tell me a story to go to sleep, Mommy."
"All right." April lifted Monet and Raffy up, retrieved the flashlight with one hand, and started upstairs. "I'll tell you a story about Raphael."
Monet clutched Raffy tighter and yawned. "He's my favorite, Mommy."
"I know, baby. I know." She carried the half-asleep child up the stairs, patting her back as she began telling her a story. The lower part of the apartment faded into darkness.
But she left the window open, just in case.
The End . . . ?