It was hard to watch the boys grow up.

Not because they lost the last vestiges of childhood innocence that had still clung to them, like tattered cloaks, when she'd first met them.

Not because their skin and muscles and something in their eyes grew harder.

Not, in fact, because of anything that changed about them. But rather because there was so much about them that didn't change.

She had known them fifteen years now; they were thirty and she, if she told the truth, was going to be forty in the spring. In that time, she had gotten married, had a baby, saved a little money and moved to a bigger apartment. And the boys... well, they had moved also, three more times on top of the time Karai invaded the Y'Lyntian outpost and the time, just before she knew them, that the Mousers ate through their walls. (When she looks at them, at the grown men that they now are, she still feels awful for the part she played in destroying their childhood home.)

She had never helped them move. Every time they had to do it, they vanished from her radar for months. They didn't visit her; they wouldn't answer her calls. Then one day they would show up again, with smiles she could never quite be sure weren't forced, and give her directions to their new home. (Sometimes it worried her that directions like "take the lateral to the pentajunction, follow the B fork, and drop down the vent" were now as normal and intelligible to her as "walk five blocks on 108th and turn left on Third".)

The last time this happened, when the directions were especially complicated and they couldn't quite hide the weariness in their eyes, it had finally dawned on her that this was how it was always going to be. The only milestones in their lives would be deaths and destructions. There would be no weddings for them, no births, no new jobs or paying off the mortgage. No material gains of any kind, but only a slow attrition of what little they already had.

("Not true," Donatello had said, when she had brought up the subject in a roundabout way, and he had immediately understood what she was getting at. "Lots of good things could happen to us."

"Like what?" she'd asked, and cursed her internal filter for only having "abstrusely discreet" and "embarrassingly direct" as settings.

"Freedom," Donatello had replied, and his eyes had slid to the curtained window. A moment later his gaze was drawn back by her silence, and he read the look on her face. "The odds are low," he said softly, "but the return is high. It's worth hoping for.")

And that was another thing that bothered her. The way Don was still steadfastly optimistic, Raphael still impetuous, Leonardo still...

("People are supposed to change as they grow up!" she had shouted at him one day in a fit of anger born of frustration not with him, but with the situation he perpetually found himself in.

"Is something wrong with us?" he had asked, in that calm way that always became infuriating when her own temper was rising.

"You're not maturing!" she said, as though this accusation were both founded and grievous.

"We're already mature," he said. "We grew up fast, remember?"

In reply, she pointed to Michelangelo, who was reading a comic book out loud to an aging Klunk, with accompanying hand gestures, and laughing uproariously.

"Mike is a special case," Leo said, with affectionate resignation.)

But it was Raphael that she was saddest for, she thought. Despite all his grumbling about how much he hated kids, there was no denying he was a different person when her daughter was around. Who would have thought that a three-hundred-pound, short-tempered ninja could become so gentle, or get such a soft look in his eyes, when faced with a small child? There was an emptiness in his life that he was powerless to fill, and she saw how he tried to patch it over with reckless pursuits, using violence and danger as substitutes for safety and love.

(She had tried to talk to him about it; he had mumbled an answer she couldn't understand.

"I trust you with my life," she had said. "With my family's lives. I just wish I could trust you with your own."

"Don't worry about me," he said, but he was part of her family too and not worrying was not an option.)

Some days she wanted to call the Times, to tell them that there were mutated turtles living in the city, and that people should get over their prejudices, damn it, and treat them with the dignity they deserved. Other days she took a kind of selfish joy in knowing that she was the keeper of such an amazing secret. And most days she simply bore the burden of it in silence, going about her business as though other lives did not depend on her ability to keep her mouth shut.

(She had reached a point, years ago, where the Turtles had become so ordinary to her that she forgot she could not speak of them to anyone. A single offhand comment had forced her to backpedal, to cover for her error, and she had nearly had to break a friendship to protect them. After that she had been so vigilant she could barely get through a conversation. And then Splinter had taught her to separate, to slide between worlds, and the ability was both liberating and terrifying.)

She had adopted them as her surrogate family, and it was amazing how little the relationship had changed even after she found a new family of her own. She had thought that if green men were frightening to adults, they would be walking nightmares to children - but it had turned out to be quite the opposite, and there was no one she trusted more as babysitters.

("Raph, I have got to get out of this house," she had said, and he didn't need any further explanation. He was there in ten minutes, she spent twenty trying to tell him everything there was to know about childcare, and for the next three hours she needlessly worried about everything that could be going wrong.

When she walked back through the door she found them on the couch, her daughter lying asleep on Raphael's plastron, and the Turtle looking more helpless than she had ever seen him. "I can't get up," he whispered.

"She only weighs twenty-five pounds," April whispered back, but he just stared at her like she had asked him to move the Statue of Liberty up to South Street Seaport, please, because wouldn't it look nicer over there.)

It made her wonder why, with the right kind of introduction, the Turtles couldn't be accepted just as easily by the wider population. Rescuing people in dark alleys was good, of course, but maybe what they really needed to do was meet people in the light, as equals, and show that they weren't so scary after all.

She could tell that neither the world nor her Turtles were quite ready to hear the suggestion. But it was an idea whose time was coming. She could see it in a child's eyes.