Thanks again everyone for your feedback (including a few of you I was afraid had stopped reading – welcome back)! I love hearing your thoughts on the story, and I love how many of you picked up on the Space Heroes thing. That was an exchange that has pretty much been written since I started working on this thing. I really wanted to explore the idea of Leo realizing that April's reasons for liking the show were a little different from his (TMNT writers, please take note. I'm betting that Space Heroes doesn't have any women on the writing staff either), and of April using the language of the show as a way to get through to Leo. Imagine my delight when they started doing that in-canon as well. :o)
Disclaimer: I tried to work off photos and blueprints as much as possible, but I'm still taking a lot of liberties with the layout of City Hall station and the MTA tunnels. Mea culpa. Holy crap, staging this part and blocking out the fight was hard.
So here we go. Act Three Finale! (Yes, there will be an epilogue). Settle in, kids. This is a long one.
Falling: Act Three, Part 8
Leo's arm pushed her back against the damp wall of the tunnel. April caught her breath, all too conscious of the glow radiating from just around the corner. Frowning, Leo turned back to her and cast a pointed glance upward. She followed his gaze to the pipes on the ceiling and nodded.
Retreating to a safe distance, he went down to one knee and laced his hands together. April put her hands on his shoulders, bracing herself, and placed the foot that wasn't still aching into the cradle of his hands. He gave her an inquiring glance, and at her nod, he launched her upward.
It was definitely a new experience. Her stomach dropped out beneath her as she sped toward the ceiling, and she barely had time to get her hands up. She reached, straining for the pipes, but as her fingers wrapped around the metal, damp with the spillover from the excess rain, she wasn't prepared for the force of her own weight as gravity reasserted herself, and her fingers slipped from the pipe. She tumbled uncontrollably, unable to tell which way was up, and instead of the roof of the subway tunnel, all she could see were the spinning blades of a helicopter...
Then, abruptly, she was no longer falling. As her lungs started to work again, she became aware of the hands supporting her around her shoulders and beneath her knees, and she glanced up into Leo's amused face. He raised a brow at her, and she felt her face heating with embarrassment.
"Shut up," she mouthed at him.
His mouth quirked, and April's breath hitched as the ridiculousness of it hit her. It wasn't funny. It really wasn't. But she was so tired, and terrified, and suddenly it was hilarious. She bit her lip and pressed her face against his chest as she shook with unvoiced laughter. From the tension in his arms, he was having the same problem.
Eventually, the moment passed, and she was able to draw a breath, raising her head again. He set her on her feet and looked at her, his meaning perfectly clear. Ready to try again?
She nodded, and once more he offered her his hands. This time, she caught the stupid pipe. Once that was accomplished, however, she found herself facing another problem. As she dangled into empty space, she discovered that pulling her entire weight up to the pipes was actually ridiculously hard. She couldn't do it. Before panic had a chance to set in, she felt a reverberation course through the metal beneath her hands, and three incredibly strong fingers wrapped around each of her wrists. She breathed a sigh of relief as Leo hauled her up in front of him and handed her the bat. That's it. If I survive this thing, I am totally joining a gym.
They started moving in the direction of the station, but they hadn't gone more than a few feet before Leo's hand on her ankle stopped her. She craned her head around, and he pointed up. Over her head was a shadow, just barely discernible in the glow from the creatures that lurked just around the bend in the tunnel. When she squinted, she could just make out, through layers of dirt, a yellow sign bearing the words "EMERGENCY MAINTENANCE."
April scooted forward to give Leo room, and he pushed open the panel and disappeared through the hatch. She followed, and found herself in a shallow crawlspace above the ceiling. Leo was already moving off, and she grabbed at his foot to avoid losing him in the dark. He led her to the side of the crawlspace, and in very little time, he'd located a ladder and led her down it. At the bottom, the crawlspace opened up into a narrow corridor, dotted periodically by high ventilation grates through which green light streamed in narrow bars.
"There's a maintenance tunnel?" April whispered. "Man, this would have made things so much easier!"
"Shhh," Leo cautioned, squeezing past her. He took her hand and led her down the tunnel, and the glow through the grating brightened as they approached the station. After a little while, April was able to make out three shadows in the dim light ahead of them.
"Oh, jeez," she heard Mikey whispering. "We are in so much trouble."
It was then that Donnie caught sight of them. He took two steps toward them, and even in the dim lighting, April could see that he wasn't happy. "Leo!" Even hushed, he was able to convey a massive amount of displeasure in that one word.
Raph followed Donnie's gaze and clapped a hand to his head. "Are you crazy?"
Leo leaned against the wall of the tunnel, giving April space, and folded his arms. "Do you want to tell her she has to stay behind?"
"Yeah, go ahead," April said, planting her hands on her hips.
Donnie and Raph exchanged a glance. Donnie fidgeted with the bandages on hin hands. "Ummm..."
"That's what I thought," said Leo.
April put her free hand over her heart. "I solemnly swear that I will stay out of the fighting and stay where you tell me to." She dropped the hand. "Happy?"
"Works for me," whispered Raph, and gestured at the grate around which they were clustered. The others moved aside a little to make room for April and Leo, and she peered cautiously through it as Leo looked over her shoulder.
April couldn't hold back a tiny gasp. She'd heard of the station before, of course – you didn't grow up in the city without being bombarded by ghost stories set in the abandoned stations – but she'd never seen it. Brass chandeliers, now dark, would have cast their light on the most beautiful station she had ever seen. Coloured glass tiles arched between interlocked bricks over the platform and the track below, supporting intricate amethyst glass skylights embellished with delicate patterns that evoked the ghosts of a time when the city took more pride in itself than it did today. A time when a station that even then saw little use had been turned into the crown jewel of the city's transit system.
Now the station sat in disarray, covered in grime, bricks crumbling even from below the sign that proudly proclaimed "CITY HALL" in large, blue letters on a white background. And the entire station was bathed in the sickly green light of the horrors that now called it home. The ratroaches swarmed around the station, piled one on top of another, so deep that they filled up the entire depression where the tracks ran and spilled over the platform.
"Oh, come on," she heard Leo breathe over her shoulder. "When did they get tentacles?"
"Unstable mutation," Donnie whispered back. "And technically, they're not tentacles; they're extra antennae that have developed the ability to move in a prehensile fashion, which, while uncommon in the arthropod phylum, is not entirely—"
Raphael smacked him on the back of the head. When Donnie turned to glare at him, he gestured sharply at the grate. "Science later. Squishing now."
Mikey placed his hands on April's shoulders, craning to see over her head. "I don't get it. Where's the—"
That deep, horrible roar filled the tunnels, so loud that it physically hurt April's ears. She would have covered them, but Mikey had let out a tiny squeak and grabbed at her, squeezing her like she was some kind of living teddy bear. Things got uncomfortably squished as the others crowded in, jostling to see through the grate. Then, as they watched, a giant mound of ratroaches in the corner of the tunnel heaved and slid to the platform below.
The queen was underneath.
She was absolutely enormous. The bulk of her body filled the tunnel, spreading almost from floor to ceiling. She was practically the size of a subway car. Beneath her lay a mass of glowing spheres, dozens of them. She roared again, and the waves of ratroaches in front of her parted. The spheres quivered for a moment, and about twenty of them on the edges of the pile split, each one disgorging a writhing baby ratroach.
"I will stand here and take it right now if someone will hit me hard enough to make me forget I ever saw that," Mikey breathed.
"Oooh, I'll do it," Raph offered.
"Tempting as it is," Leo said, "we can't afford to take Mikey out of commission right now."
Raph sighed. "I hate it when you're right." He frowned at Mikey. "All right, get off of her. She can't breathe." He pried April out of Mikey's grasp and passed her over to Donnie as she gasped for breath. Rolling his eyes, Donnie placed himself firmly between April and Mikey.
"So," Leo said. "All we need to do is get in there and take down the queen while not getting eaten by the hundreds of angry babies in our way."
"The quality and craftsmanship of your plans is truly astonishing, you know that?"
"Shut up, Raph. Donnie, what's the best way to get in?"
Donnie peered through the grate. "Well, since we blew the barrier on the other end of the tunnel, they all seem to be swarming up around the queen for protection. It looks like they're staying on the platform level, so if we take the maintenance shaft they built to do work on the skylight in the mezzanine—"
"How do you know there's a maintenance shaft?" Raph interrupted.
Donnie glared at him. "It's called a blueprint, meathead. I've read plans for all the stations in this city. Anyway, we should at least be able to get into the station without them noticing." He shuddered. "We're going to have to fight our way to the queen, though. It's the only way we can be sure the incendiary will be effective."
"And I'll stay here and guard April," Mikey said, attempting unsuccessfully to navigate around Donnie.
Leo grabbed him from his other side. "No, we're all going down there to give us a fighting chance of actually pulling this off." He fixed April with a stern glare. "April is going to stay in the maintenance shaft away from the fighting." He raised a brow.
She held up two fingers. "Scout's honour."
Raph snorted. "Like you were a boy scout."
"Hey, we live in a free and equal society. Supposedly. Except when it's not." She frowned. "That was a bad example."
"Come on," said Leo. "At this rate, that thing will have enough babies to fill every tunnel in the city before we even make it down to the platform."
Donnie took the lead, drawing them deeper into the station. April had been getting used to the whispered conversation; the silence with which they moved now was unsettling. Worse, compared to the guys, she sounded like an elephant. In tap shoes. She was getting the feeling that hanging out with a group of ninjas was going to provide ample opportunities to expand on her definition of the word "humbling." Not to mention "embarrassing" and "humiliating."
They turned a corner, away from the platform, and Donnie paused at a series of rungs set into the wall. The ladder disappeared into a dark hole that yawned above their heads. "It's probably going to get tight," he whispered. "You'd better follow us up, April."
She nodded and let the others pass her by, watching as they swarmed up the wall. Leo was the last up. "If it gets too dark, or you need to stop, grab my foot," he said. She nodded again, and followed him up the ladder.
Climbing a ladder while holding a bat in one hand was not easy, but somehow, she managed. Once they were through the hole, she found herself in an inclined shaft. Trying to reconcile what she was feeling with her mental images of other stations, she eventually figured out where they must be. Donnie had said that the shaft was used to service the skylight; they were crawling across the domed ceiling of the mezzanine.
Gradually, April became aware of a faint glow ahead, illuminating the four bulky figures in front of her. They stopped suddenly, April barely catching herself before she crashed into Leo. She heard the faintest of sounds, the glow brightening just a little, before the turtles began to vanish through the maintenance hatch in the floor.
Leo paused as he reached the opening and looked back at her. "Close it as soon as I'm through," he whispered. He paused a moment and added, "and please stay put."
"No argument here," she whispered back.
He nodded once, and dropped through the opening after his brothers.
April scooted herself forward. The hatch, a grate that opened outward, dangled from the side of the opening closest to her. She reached down and hauled it upward, hearing a faint click as it locked into place. With a sigh of relief, she peered through the bars into the room below.
It was dim, but the light from the ratroaches streamed up the stairs leading down to the platform just enough to illuminate the guys as they vanished into the shadows of the doorways around the mezzanine. They were in full-on ninja mode again. Leo reached the doorway first, peering down the stairs. He gestured sharply, and flung himself down the steps, using the wall to kick off and launch himself into the horde. The others rematerialized from their hiding places and were right on his heels.
There was a moment of silence. Then the ratroaches started screaming.
April flinched as the sound cut through her. She couldn't see the guys from her vantage point. The only thing that made it bearable was the sound of them trading quips as they laid into the horde.
"Ugly little things, aren't they?" Raph called.
"Faces only a mother could love-" Leo began.
Mikey shrieked. "Dude, I think she just ate one of them!"
"Coming at you, Raph!" Donnie's voice rose above the fray.
"Gee, thanks Donnie—" A pained grunt, followed by an explosion. "Remind me to return the favour."
Their voices faded as they moved away from the staircase to the mezzanine, and April laced her fingers through the bars of the grate, desperately straining to hear what was going on. She hated this helpless feeling, and it made her half-sick to be stuck here, not knowing what was happening below. But she'd promised Leo, and she knew that going down there would be completely stupid, and likely to accomplish nothing but getting her killed.
That didn't make it suck any less, though.
She sighed, resting her chin on her elbow. She looked at her hand, and frowned. The raw patch from the ratroach's caustic slime was starting to blister a little, and it glistened faintly in the light…
She threw herself backward, bringing her bat up just in time to deflect the leap of the ratroach behind her in the maintenance shaft. It knocked her back, and she landed hard on the grate. The catch gave beneath her weight, and before she knew what was happening, the grate dropped away beneath her. She scrabbled at the edge of the hatch, just able to catch herself with her free hand as she fell, the other hand still clutching her bat. The ratroach wasn't so lucky, and it tumbled, shrieking, to the tiles below her. It hit hard, head-first, and she watched it stagger for a moment before it fell to its side and exploded a moment later.
April breathed a sigh of relief and looked up, only to find herself staring at the gleaming teeth and dripping mandibles of a second ratroach. She screamed, and let go of the edge. The drop wasn't that far, but it was enough to send her sprawling when she hit, scrambling desperately to avoid the ratroach's puddle of goo. A heartbeat later, the second ratroach was on top of her, pinning her to the tiles. She had just managed to get her bat up in time to wedge it into the thing's mouth, bracing it with both hands and pushing for all she was worth to keep those teeth away from her. Her eyes widened as the slime from its coat began to slowly drip toward her unprotected face.
Suddenly, the ratroach jerked. April was able to catch a glimpse of a cable wrapped around its throat before its weight lifted from her and it went hurtling toward the wall, where it exploded in a shower of fluorescent goo. Gasping, April pushed herself to her knees as a green form planted itself in front of her, quickly finishing off the third ratroach that dropped from the hatch above them.
As she managed to calm her heart down, Mikey glanced over his shoulder at her, his expression oddly defiant. "I got your back," he stated, as though daring her to disagree.
April nodded. "I know." She took the hand he offered her, and let him help her to her feet. Then she swung her bat around and whacked him across the shell.
"Ow!" he yelped.
"That's for abandoning me in the tunnel," she said.
He stared at her for a moment in disbelief before understanding crept across his features. "So we're good now?"
"We're golden." She smiled at him.
Slowly, a manic grin spread across his face. "Then let's rock this party!" He seized her hand and dragged her down the stairs toward the platform as a fresh wave of ratroaches tumbled from the ceiling.
Mikey landed hard on a group of the creatures, clearing the way with both feet and weapons before shoving her up against the wall. Raph, who was fighting nearby, gaped at him. "What do you think you're—" The flood of ratroaches that pursued them cut him off. "Oh. Okay then." He laid into them with his stick-weapons – Time for Ninja Weapons 102, April - as Mikey pressed April farther back.
The noise was unbearable. Between the bellowing of the queen and the shrieking of the ratroaches, she could barely hear herself think. Both the creatures and their mother seemed to be operating on the same frequency that fingernails on a blackboard employed. Ratroaches continued to dive at her from either side, but Mikey fought like a maniac. None of them even came close to reaching her.
The bellow carried over the noise, and April winced. Apparently Donnie had noticed that she wasn't in the maintenance shaft anymore.
"Hey," Mikey called back, whirling to dispatch another two with the blurring wooden nunchucks in his hands. "You'd rather I left her in the other room to get eaten?"
"If we can focus please?" Leo cut in. "Donnie, I would really like to kill that thing now." He gestured sharply at the queen with one of his wooden swords, turning the movement into an arc that snapped the neck of another one of the creatures.
Donnie rolled his eyes. "Do I have to do everything?" Without waiting for an answer, he shoved his bō into the sheath at his back and leaped, catching hold of one of the chandeliers overhead. With an expert kick, he swung himself forward, letting go at the apex of his swing and catching hold of the next chandelier down the line. He continued to launch himself over the heads of the screaming ratroaches until he was fairly close to the queen. Then, he reached into the duffel at his side and withdrew a couple of liquid-filled bottles. Winding up, he flung them at the queen for all he was worth and then heaved himself onto the platform, carving a path in front of him with his bō as he fled. "Hit the deck!" he called.
April gasped, pressing herself back against the wall. Mikey backed toward her, the hard surface of his shell pressing against her, as a flash of light burst from Donnie's contraption.
With a small poot, a thin cloud of smoke rose from the spot where the bottles had been. The queen opened her mouth and screamed hard enough to drive all of them to their knees.
"That was it?" Raph shouted. "Donnie, that was pathetic!"
Donnie was halfway across the platform, and even from where she stood, April could see his horrified expression as he slapped his hand to his head. "It's the slime coat! She's covered in it!" He paused to take out another four ratroaches. "It's so caustic, it's cancelling out the catalyzation reaction!"
Leo ran up the wall and flipped over to put himself behind a writhing mass of very confused ratroaches, which he took out with some small amount of effort. "What does that mean?"
Donnie yelped as one of the ratroaches' prehensile antennae wrapped around his feet and yanked them out from under him. "It means," he said angrily, swatting it with his bō and launching himself back onto his feet, "that unless I can find a corrosive in quantities large enough to neutralize the stupidly big amount of alkali slime covering that thing, we can all kiss our shells goodbye!"
"Aaaugh!" Mikey hollered, punting a ratroach onto the tracks. "Why don't you ever speak English?"
"He did," April whispered. She cast her eyes frantically around the tracks. There had to be… they were in every station… There! At the opposite end of the platform from the queen, in the direction from which she and the guys had come. There, set in the wall, was an old-fashioned case with a glass front. The glass was now thick with grime, but she was almost certain she knew what was in it. With a glance at Mikey, whose back was to her as he tried to fight off the ratroach that had an antennae wrapped around his wrist, she turned and fled toward the case.
"April!" She heard Donnie scream her name, followed by a series of shouts from the others, but she couldn't afford to stop. The queen's cry had changed, and the ratroaches were starting to boil up from the level of the tracks. They'd all be lost in a minute. She swung her bat wildly, driving the ratroaches in her path away, breathing a fervent prayer of thanks that they were mainly clustered around their mother, and comparatively thinner at this end of the platform.
One of the ratroaches, quicker than its siblings, sank its teeth into the bat as she swung and jerked it from her hands. Gasping, she ran harder, her last line of defense gone. Another jumped at her, its teeth catching in the fabric wrapping her arm. She shook it free, leaving the fabric behind, her left arm now dangerously exposed.
This close, she could read the words on the frame. In case of fire, break glass. It was old, probably dating back to when the station had been built, long before the days of safety glass and plexi. It was one of the old style cases that had once had a little hammer hanging next to it to use on the glass. The hammer was long gone, lost to the taggers and urban explorers who had painted the alcoves just off the main station. But through the grime, she could see a glint of red. The station was old, unused, but workers still manned the tunnels. They would have kept their nearby safety gear up to date.
She didn't have time to slow down; the ratroaches were on her heels. Tearing the fabric from her other arm, she wrapped her left hand in it and drove it through the glass.
Pain, white hot, sliced through her hand, blurring her vision for a moment. When it cleared, all she could see was the vivid red of an industrial-strength tri-class fire extinguisher. "Thank you, Firefighters' Local 94," she breathed, and grabbed the extinguisher out of the case, barely noticing the blood streaming from the cuts in her hand.
She turned just in time to see Mikey yank away the ratroach bearing down on her, swinging it into a wall by its tail. "Donnie!" she yelled, and ran as hard as she could, trusting Mikey to keep her path clear. She passed him, and then it was Raph keeping the creatures off her tail. She was halfway to Leo before she felt something wrap her ankle, tripping her up hard. She went down to her knees, and threw the extinguisher as hard as she could. Leo caught it, and didn't hesitate before throwing it over to Donnie. Their resident genius stared at it, bewilderment plain in his expression.
She yanked her foot free of the ratroach antennae holding it and kicked the ratroach back onto the track, hoping that her boot was thick enough to protect her foot from the slime. "Monoammonium phosphate!" she shouted.
He stared at her, and a gap-toothed grin blossomed across his face. "You are so cool!" he crowed. Hauling his arm back, he looked over his shoulder. "Leo! Pull!"
Donnie launched the fire extinguisher toward the end of the tunnel. Leo reached into his belt, and just before the fire extinguisher reached the queen, three shuriken thudded into it with deadly accuracy. The fire extinguisher exploded, drenching the queen in white foam, which began to bubble and froth as soon as it contacted the slime covering the creature and her offspring.
If April had thought the queen's screams were bad before, they were nothing compared to now. April covered her head as bricks began to fall from the ceiling, sure that if the sound were to continue any longer, her brain was going to liquefy and come out her ears.
Abruptly, the ratroaches stopped their attack and swarmed toward their mother. Donnie was in the midst of them, drawing another one of the bottle devices out of his bag as he did so. As he neared the queen, a massive antennae whipped out from her side, seizing him around the waist and lifting him from his feet. He cried out as the queen flung him back down the platform toward the others, but the incendiary was no longer in his hand. Donnie collided with Leo and raised his head, his frantic eyes locking with April's.
The ratroaches reached the queen, swarming over her until she was a writhing, glowing mass of bodies. Which suddenly began to swell.
April whirled, pelting back down the platform, not sure where she was headed, so long as it was away. A distant part of her mind boggled at the absurdity of trying to outrun an explosion, but she couldn't just stand there and let it take her. Maybe if she could reach the tunnel—
Something hard seized her ankle and yanked her off her feet. She plunged off the platform toward the tracks, striking out with her fists, determined not to let some stupid errant ratroach take her down now.
An arm like steel wrapped around her, locking her arms to her sides, and dragged her into an alcove underneath the platform so fast it left her breathless. Dazed, April found herself on her knees, pinned against Raph's chest with her face pressed against the hard surface of his plastron. His other hand came up to cradle the back of her head as he curled himself around her, covering her with as much of his body as he could as he knelt between her and the explosion. A second later, her breath was driven from her as Mikey slammed into her other side, wrapping his arms around both April and Raph, wedging her in between them.
And then April was aware of nothing at all as the conflagration reached them and the world dissolved into a wall of fire and light.
Leo groaned into the darkness. Everything hurt. Even his shell hurt. He shifted, reassured by the weight in his arms that he'd succeeded in dragging Donnie into the mezzanine, out of the direct path of the blast. It had still been enough to throw them into the wall. Working by feel, he managed to find Donnie's bag and dig out one of the few remaining flares. At least, he hoped it was a flare. Praying that he wasn't about to blow them both up, he lit it and examined the still form of his brother.
He looked okay. He was in one piece, at least. Leo grabbed his shoulder and shook it. "Donnie. Donnie, wake up."
Donnie moaned and blinked up at Leo. "Are we dead?"
"I don't think dead would feel this terrible," Leo said, half smiling.
Leo froze suddenly, looking around the room. "Raph?" He was on his feet then, Donnie a step behind them as they pounded down the stairs toward the platform. "Mikey?" Ankle-deep goo covered the floor, hindering them as they struggled toward the last place they had seen the others.
"April!" Donnie's voice contained an edge of hysteria. The platform was empty.
Then, an aggravated voice came from the darkness below. "Jeez, you two, stop screaming. You're worse than that queen thing."
Leo let out a breath as Raph vaulted over the side of the platform, Mikey following close behind. Both of their shells were plastered with ratroach goo, though their fronts were still clean. Donnie pushed past Leo. "Is April—"
"I'm fine!" Raph and Mikey leaned down, catching April's hands and pulling her up to the platform. She looked down at her feet and grimaced as she sank into the goo. "These boots are ruined, but I'm okay." As Leo and Donnie reached them, she grinned at Donnie. "Mendeleev," she said, and held up her uninjured fist.
Beaming, Donnie bumped it, and both of them made an explosion with their fingers. Without warning, Donnie seized her, pinning her arms to her sides as he lifted her off her feet and hugged her for all he was worth. "I'm so glad you're okay," he breathed, pressing his cheek against the top of her head. Then, realizing that the others were staring at him, he set her down quickly and coughed, raising his hand to scratch the back of his head. "I mean, we're glad."
Leo hooked a hand into his belt. "I've gotta admit it, April, that wasn't bad."
"But this is!" Mikey was looking over his shoulder at the goo dripping from his shell. "This is disgusting! Eww, I need a shower!" He ran over to a stream of droplets coming from a crack that the exploding queen had left in the ceiling, letting it wash over him with a blissful expression on his face.
"Uh, Mikey?" Donnie said. "That's not water."
Mikey's eyes snapped open, and he threw himself out of the stream, tripping and falling into another pile of goo. "Gross!"
Leo shook his head, and placed a hand on April's shoulder. "Come on. Let's go get Splinter."
Leo shielded his eyes as Donnie worked on the bars covering the mouth of the tunnel. Donnie was trying very hard to ignore Raph's ribbing about the fact that he'd had a blowtorch and a mask in his bag. To Donnie's dismay, April had dubbed it his "magical nanny" bag due to its seemingly bottomless capacity, which had delighted Raph and Mikey to no end.
April stood in front of Leo on the ledge, watching the interchange with some amusement. She was swaying a little on her feet, though. She held her laptop under one arm – it had been the only thing they'd managed to salvage from her ratroach-ravaged backpack when they came across its shredded remains in the tunnel. Her other hand sported a quick pressure bandage drawn from the magical nanny bag, though Donnie had insisted that he was going to have a closer look at her injured hand when they were in a sterile environment.
"You okay?" Leo asked quietly.
She started a little, and nodded. "Yeah. I can't wait to have a shower, though. I don't even want to think about what's in my hair."
"April," Leo began, awkwardly. She turned to face him, her expression concerned. Leo spread his hands. "I'm not sure how to thank you…" He looked at the mouth of the tunnel behind which Splinter was trapped. "For saving his life."
April smiled, just a little sadly, and patted his arm. "Hey, you tried to do the same for my dad. It was the least I could do."
Donnie finished what he was doing and lifted the mask from his face. "Okay, that ought to do it," he said. On either side of the grate, Mikey and Raph lifted the pipes they'd appropriated, wedged them into the bars, and strained against them.
April turned back to watch. "I just can't wait to actually meet him."
Leo's brow furrowed. "But you—"
"It was dark," she said. "You can't meet somebody properly when you can't even see their face."
Leo's eyes widened. "Uh, April? Did any of us actually tell you about Master Splinter?"
She glanced over her shoulder. "Tell me what?"
Leo's answer was drowned out by a crash as the grate came free. Dancing from foot to foot, Mikey leaned into the opening. "Sensei? Are you okay?"
"I am fine, Michelangelo." The darkness at the mouth of the tunnel shifted, and Splinter, leaning heavily on his staff, emerged into the newly-restored light.
April let out a gasp, colliding with Leo's chest as she jerked back. Leo's hands came up to her shoulders, steadying her, and he looked around at his family in dismay. The looks he got back were equally alarmed. He had no idea what to do if April started screaming.
Then, she took a breath. "Sorry," she said. "I thought you'd be…taller."
Splinter blinked, his ears twitching once in surprise, and a smile spread across his face. On the other side of the tunnel, Raph let out a strangled sound that might have been a smothered laugh. Judging by Donnie's expression, he was also having as much trouble smothering his laughter as Leo was.
To be fair, they were all exhausted. A little hysteria was only to be expected.
Shaking his head, Splinter approached April and held out his hand. "It is good to see you at last, April."
Leo let his hands fall away from her shoulders as April took Splinter's hand and shook it. "You too."
"You're okay!" Unable to contain himself any longer, Mikey threw himself at Splinter, wrapping his arms tightly around their sensei and pressing his face against Splinter's chest.
"Yes, Michelangelo." Splinter tugged ineffectually against his son's hold. "I am happy to see you, too."
Finally, Mikey released him, beaming for all he was worth. Splinter smiled fondly at his smallest son and patted him on the head. Then, in a move too fast to follow, he whacked Mikey on the arm with his staff.
"Ow!" Mikey rubbed at his arm.
"That was for leaving a young woman unaccompanied in strange sewer tunnels in the dark," Splinter said sternly.
"Hai, sensei," Mikey said, but he was still unable to suppress a grin.
April was grinning too, until the staff whipped out again. "Ow!" she cried.
"And that," Splinter continued, "was for breaking your promise." He straightened and regarded them all. "Now, boys, if your friend is staying for dinner, I would suggest that we send out for pizza."
"Sweet!" Mikey crowed.
"Oh, my gosh," April gasped. "Guys, I have to get home. My aunt will be frantic!" She scrabbled in her pocket for her phone, hindered by the bulky bandage. "It's—" she looked at the display, and frowned. "Wow. Huh. Not nearly as late as I thought."
"Yeah, time goes funny when you're doing ninja stuff," Raph said.
"Then I guess I can stay." She glanced shyly at Splinter. "If you'll have me."
"This is awesome!" Mikey swept a bemused April off down the tunnel. "We need to have April over for dinner every night!"
Donnie and Raph took off after Mikey, but Leo lingered, keeping himself to Splinter's slower pace. And so it was that he heard his sensei murmur under his breath, "why do I get the feeling that is a distinct probability?"
As they headed after the others, Leo couldn't help smiling. They had just met the girl. They barely knew her. But for all that this was only the second night they had spent together, he found it hard to imagine life without her anymore. Having April around just felt...right.
Although one thing did worry him.
Now that she'd seen what she could do planetside, Lieutenant Virtue was never going to stay behind on the ship again.