What They Are

"Kentucky Avenue is mine, baby! Pay up!" Michelangelo chortled.

"Again?" Leonardo exclaimed. "It's the shoe. I always lose when I'm the shoe."

"At least you haven't been in jail the last three turns," Raphael countered. "Why's it taking me so frickin' long just to go bankrupt?"

April looked at her watch and sighed. "Speaking of the time, I'd better get going."

"Really?" Michelangelo said. "It's not that late yet, is it?"

"Almost ten thirty. Some of us have to work during the day, you know." She gave Mike an affectionate squeeze on the arm, spread out her street cards and stood up, swinging her tan wool coat off the back of the chair and around her shoulders.

"Well, looks like I was ahead, so I win," Donatello said. The others groaned.

"No, no, you guys can keep playing," April insisted, as chairs began to scrape back. "I can get home myself. It's not like I don't know the way."

"Don't be silly, April," Leonardo said. "It's no trouble for us."

"But it will be," she protested. "I have to stop by my office on the way home. I left some reports on my desk at work and I was supposed to read them tonight."

"It is you who goes to the trouble of visiting us in our home down here," Splinter said. "I would not dream of allowing you to leave unaccompanied."

"I'll take you, April," Donatello said. "I can look for that power cable I left at your place."

April sighed in acquiescence. "Oh, fine. You guys are so paranoid. Thanks Don."

Donatello disappeared for a minute as the others stood and packed up the board game. April fastened her coat and slung her purse over her shoulder as she waited.

"I'm going for a quick run," Leo said, stretching. "Anyone want to come?"

"I was going to nuke some popcorn and play Wii," Michelangelo replied.

"What're you gonna play?" Raphael asked.

"Mario Kart?"

Raphael said to Leo, "I'll come. I'm sick of losing that damned game."

Donatello returned with his belt and bo strapped on, a trench coat over one arm. "After you," he motioned.

"'Night, April," the others chorused.

"Good night, boys," she said, smiling to herself.

There were still moments, occasionally, when April O'Neil felt thunderstruck by how strange her life was. As she stepped from the warm, dim orange glow of the lair into a cool cavernous tunnel, she looked over at Donatello, walking next to her. When she studied him, pretending to see him without the veneer of familiarity, it was easy to feel amazed. The slightly leathery texture of his skin, the grooved pattern on his shell, even the blunt, pail green nails on his thick fingers - he was so real, so seemingly natural - and yet, so very alien. And she was one of the few individuals on earth that even knew he existed.

She could only hold that feeling for a few seconds. Then he became just Donatello - thoughtful, brainy, unassuming Donatello.

They walked for almost thirty minutes. If she were alone, it would have been marginally faster to go up to the surface and take a taxi, but at least they avoided traffic this way. They talked of this and that, their voices sounding hollow, stretching out into the damp, yawning gloom. After a while, Donatello lapsed into silence, lost in thought.

"What are you thinking about?" she asked.

He shook his head, turning to her with an apologetic smile. "Oh, nothing. Just stuff I have to do. You know, projects around the lair." After a moment he added, "And I was wondering if I could convince anyone to stay up on a cold rooftop to watch the lunar eclipse with me next week." He mulled on it. "Maybe Leo would."

"I bet there's an eclipse-watching party you could crash," she teased.

"Yeah, one with an alien costume theme!" They reached the tunnel access point and he climbed up first, quickly and easily, reaching back to offer her a hand as she navigated the ladder in her wedge heel boots. He dropped the grate back into place and they walked together down the side street. Don had taken them most of the way underground; they had only one block further to go.

"How's work?" Don asked.

"It's okay. We just got a brand new IT system, so things are a little disorganized. And none of the stories I'm working on right now are that interesting." She shrugged. "Oh well. Sometimes boring is good, right?"

"Yeah," he said. "Definitely."

They reached the news office building and April said, "We can go in the back way, it's closer to my office. Everyone should be gone by now, but stay behind me just in case." She rummaged in her purse for her building access pass. "Ah, here it is." She swiped her card across the reader and pulled the glass door open. They walked down a very short, dark corridor and she pushed open the next door, flicking on the light switch.

Three men in black ski masks stopped dead in their tracks and stared at her.

April gasped. The man closest to her said, "Oh, shit!" She saw the whites of his pale blue eyes and then she saw the gun that he yanked from his waistband.

It all happened incredibly fast.

For a heartbeat, the black barrel of the gun filled her vision. Then the wind rushed from her lungs as she was knocked to the ground. The shot exploded. She went momentarily deaf, smelled gunpowder. She felt Donatello falling with her, on top of her. He twisted in the air and the rim of his shell knocked her under the chin, clicking her teeth together painfully. His arm whipped out in a flinging motion as they hit the floor. A slim blade appeared, protruding from the man's left eye. A second one sank into his throat and his gurgled scream cut off as he fell.

Donatello's weight flattened her for a second and then was gone. Another man shouted obscenities and dropped the computer monitor he'd been carrying. It crashed to the ground. He barely fumbled the gun from his pocket before the heel of Donatello's hand slammed upwards into his nose. There was a sickening crunch. A half second later, Donatello's entire weight connected in a roundhouse punch to the man's temple.

The final man began unloading bullets in panic. One shot, then another, and a third. April didn't hear her own scream as she threw her arms over her head. From between her elbows she saw Donatello fall to a crouch, swinging the man he'd felled around him. In the split second pause after the third shot, he shoved the limp form aside and dove forward. His bo appeared in his hands and made a sharp, upward whipping motion. Something flew out of the end of the staff and the shooter reeled back, throwing his gun arm up over his face. Two small metal fragments lodged in his forearm, a third in his cheek, pinning his ski mask to his face. Don's bo whistled in a low arc and knocked the man's feet out from under him. The staff's trajectory continued up, over the turtle's shoulder, where it straightened and drove straight downwards, like a spear towards a fish. April heard, but did not see, the end connect.

There was silence.

Then, a sound. A single, muffled sob. After a moment, April realized it had come from her. She pushed herself up on her elbows. Donatello appeared in front of her, kneeling and taking hold of her upper arms to help sit her up. His broad green face, eye ridges furrowed, peered into her face with concern. "Are you okay, April? Are you hurt?"

She shook her head. "I...don't think so." Her hands were trembling. She looked around him to the three bodies on the floor. "My god, Don. What are we going to do?"

Donatello pursed his mouth. He stood and studied the grisly scene for a moment, then pulled his mask off and wrapped the cloth around his right hand. "Can I have your access card?" he asked.

She had forgotten all about it. To her surprise, it was still in her hand, the edges of the white plastic rectangle digging into her palm. She held it out to him unsteadily. He took it, holding it with the cloth, and walked over to one of the prone men. Crouching, he lifted the man's open jacket and slipped the card into the inside pocket. April watched, morbidly transfixed, as Donatello retrieved his throwing blades and shuriken from the bodies, wiping them fastidiously on the inside of his arm band.

With his wrapped hand, he picked one of the handguns off the floor. He studied it for a moment, then with a grimace of distaste, crossed the room and shot one of the bodies in the head. April stifled a shriek. Don walked over to the man he'd taken down with his bo and emptied a bullet into him as well. Then he laid the gun in the hand of the first shooter, the blue-eyed man. He found a different gun and sighted it down the knife wound in the man's eye. April looked away. She heard two shots and when she looked back, Donatello had set the second weapon near a different body and was walking back towards her, stepping carefully around the expanding pools of blood on the industrial grey carpet floor.

"We have to get out of here. Those guys might have had friends on the way," he said, unwrapping his hand and refastening his mask. "Do you think you can walk?"

April nodded and he held out his hand to her. For just a second, she stared, seeing him as he'd appeared to her for the first time years ago, a creature benevolent and terrifying. Then she took his hand and he pulled her to her feet gently.

With an arm around her shoulder, he guided her out of the building, the same way they had come. The cold night air was like a slap in the face. It made everything that had happened suddenly sharp and real. Her knees buckled and Don lifted her, carrying her down the street to an empty bus stop bench. He set her down and she started to gasp, her breath coming short and tight, tears springing to her eyes.

"Put your head down, April, it'll help. It's okay. You're okay." He rubbed her back a little awkwardly. How can he be so calm? she thought.

She took deep breaths, felt her heart rate subside. "Thanks, I'm better," she said. Donatello seemed uncertain whether to believe her, but it was clear he wanted to get moving as quickly as possible. "Can you can make it to your place?"

For God's sake, she wanted to say, you just saved my life by killing three men in under thirty seconds. The least I can do is walk to my apartment. "Yes, I'm sure. Let's go."

"Let me know if you need to stop."

The eight blocks to her apartment building passed in a kind of dreamy monotony of deliberately placing one foot in front of the other. They were both silent, though Donatello kept a reassuring hand on her elbow. "I'll meet you upstairs," he said, as she opened the door to the lobby. The old elevator hummed up to her floor and let her off with a delicate ping. She walked down the hall, put the key into her lock and pushed open her door. Mechanically, she turned on her light, crossed her apartment and opened the fire escape window as far as it would go. Donatello's hands appeared on the ledge and he hoisted himself up, swinging his legs into her kitchen.

April pulled out a chair from her table and dropped into it. She had been through some harrowing times with her mutant friends. But to have been a hair's breath from her own death, and to have seen all that from so... up close...she felt as though she were in some altered mental space, where the familiarity of her own walls and furniture was oddly surreal.

Donatello said, "Your chin. Did I do that?"

She touched the tender scrape. "It's nothing."


She almost laughed. "It could have been a lot worse," she pointed out.

Donatello didn't seem to think it was funny. He pulled up a chair opposite her. "Do you think you'll be able to get to sleep? You'll need to go to work first thing in the morning, like nothing's out of the ordinary. But before that, as soon as you wake up, can you phone or email someone to report a lost access card? Think about when it might have been lost or stolen yesterday. And we have to give Casey a call in the morning too, have him back up the alibi that you were with him tonight."

"Alibi? Why would I need an alibi? They wouldn't think that I-"

"The security system is going to have a record of your card being used to enter the building around eleven o'clock tonight. Luckily, I don't think there were any security cameras. But the police can probably peg the deaths as being right around the same time. It's going to be hard to explain how you got out alive, why those guys are dead, and why you didn't call the police. So it has to be clear that they got a hold of your card sometime today without you knowing about it, and that you weren't an accomplice, or complicit."

"Jesus, Don." Her head began to spin. "You're right."

Donatello blinked at her, with that mild of course I'm right expression that she had seen on his face many a time before, usually with regards to more mundane technical details or trivial facts. "They'll question you of course," he said. "But hopefully, the only conclusion will be that it was a burglary gone wrong - some conflict went too far and it turned into a shootout. Or maybe one guy intended to kill the others and took a bullet himself. You'll have to ride it out a bit."

"Oh my god." April O'Neil thought of herself as a capable, independent woman. But right now, she felt out of her depth listening to the calm advice of this reptilian teenager. "I need to lie down."

"Good idea." Donatello hesitated. "Should I go?"

"No! I mean, could you stay for a while? If you don't mind."

Don nodded. "Can I use your phone? I should call the guys."

"Of course." She pulled herself out of the chair and walked weakly over to her bathroom. She ran warm water and splashed it on her face. From the kitchen, she heard Donatello's voice. It sounded a little different, slightly clipped and business-like.

"Hey Raph, it's me. Something's happened. Is Master Splinter still up? ... No, no, don't wake him. Can you get Leo over here? Mike too, if he's up. ... I'll tell you in a second, just go get them."

As he waited on the phone, she heard him rummaging in her kitchen, the fridge door opening and closing.

"Hey. Am I on speaker? We ran into trouble. We're both fine, I'm at April's right now. There were three guys lifting computers and stuff from her office building. We walked in and spooked them and they opened fire. I got all three of them and covered our tracks, but it might be worth a recon."

A few seconds of clinking cutlery.

"Yeah. ... Okay. ... No, I couldn't tell if they were. ... Errr.. she's a little shaken, I think. I'll crash here on the couch for tonight. I'll be back in the morning. ... See you then."

April rinsed the toothpaste out her mouth and regarded her own exhausted expression in the yellow-tinged bathroom mirror. She stepped out and met Donatello in the hallway with a bowl in his hand.

"I hope you don't mind, I helped myself to some cereal. I was kind of hungry."

"What did they say?"

"They're going over there now, just to keep an eye on the situation. In case those burglars had buddies who show up, panic, and try to torch the building or something. Plus if they were part of a gang, or the mob, there could be some misplaced revenge killings that get set off."

April said softly, "I'm going to bed now."

Donatello gazed seriously and sadly at her for a moment. "I'm sorry you had to go through that tonight, April. Sorry you had to see it."

She leaned into him for a hug as she passed. "Thanks Don."

Tomorrow morning, this would feel like a dream. Like a dream so strange that she couldn't say if it meant she was cursed or blessed, or both. Then she remembered feeling this way before, waking up in a sewer.

Just before she closed her bedroom door she heard Donatello exclaim, "Ah ha, the power cable! And both of those missing DVDs!"

Alex Fisher - January 2012

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are owned by Nickelodeon