I haven't forgotten about History Bites, and I promise I am still working on it. But this story had to come first, for a number of reasons.

The timing of it is a bit odd - it begins about 30 minutes before the start of "Karai's Vendetta", spans that episode, the "Scars" interlude, and finishes just after the end of "The Pulverizer Returns." It should be fairly obvious where the events of the episode falls. It also incorporates Jasjuliet's absolutely amazing Pulverizer comic, which is linked on my tumblr, and if you have not read it yet, look it up after you finish this interlude.

For Peechy.


Tortoiseshell (an interlude)

April's toes dug into the threadbare carpet as she took her opening stance. Her fingers splayed against the faded pattern, and she was glad of the rugs beneath her; it would hide the sweating of her palms. Her eyes narrowed as she looked at her opponents across from her, and her heart kicked into overdrive. Part of her was nervous, if she was being honest, but most of the shaking in her limbs she attributed to pure adrenaline.

Finally.

Her opponents exchanged an uneasy glance, and looked to the rat towering behind April for guidance.

"Are you sure about this, Sensei?" Leo ventured.

April could feel her lips drawing into a hard line as her nails dug into the rug beneath her fingers. Forget Sensei. April was sure about this! "What's the matter?" she taunted. "Afraid I'm going to kick your butt?"

Raph let out an incredulous snort. "In your dreams, sister."

The sharp crack of Splinter's staff rapping against the ground stopped April's retort before it could leave her mouth. "Raphael, enough!" Splinter's voice was stern as he moved between April and his sons. "There is only so much April can learn without facing an opponent. As you challenge each other and push your skills to new limits, so must you now challenge April. so that her skills may grow." His stick rapped the ground again. "Hajime!"

With a wild cry, April launched herself toward the others, using the momentum as she powered out of the crouch to gain speed as she ducked beneath Leo's outstretched arm. Strategy. Go for the weakest first. She'd been out in dangerous situations with Mikey before and wouldn't trust herself to last a second with him if he was actually focused on taking her down, but he was distracted by novelty of her presence. Drawing the tessen as she ran, she flicked it open as she closed in on Mikey and swiped...

But he was already falling toward the floor.

Her brow furrowing, April turned and lashed out at the shape looming behind her, the iron of her fan barely brushing against shell before Donnie was sprawling at her feet, proclaiming loudly about the strength of the blow that had felled him.

April's brows drew further together. Any trace of nervousness she'd had at the start of the bout was gone, replaced by anger as she struck out at Leo. He patiently, slowly blocked her attacks, but as the tessen rang out against his katana, they slipped from his hands and clattered to the ground. April looked down at them and back up with her mouth agape. Then she turned on Raph, who simply stood next to Leo with his arms folded across his chest, and whacked him hard across the shell with the iron fan.

"Ow." Raph said flatly. "You got me."

"Yame!"

April threw up her hands in frustrated disgust. "What the heck was that?"

Mikey blinked up at her in confusion. "Uhhh... sparring?"

"It most certainly was not!" Splinter moved to stand over April's shoulder. "April is right! What on Earth do you think you were doing?"

"Sensei," Leo ventured as he picked up his katana. "You can't expect us to just... fight April."

"Yeah," Raph added. "It's not like we can hit her."

"Why not?" Splinter demanded. "She can hit you." He passed his staff to April.

Grabbing it in both hands, she brought it down hard against Raph's shell. "Why?" she snapped. "Because I'm a girl? You don't think I can take care of myself?"

"Ow!" Raph squawked, ducking away from her. "No, it's not that! It's because... because..."

"Because you're April," Donnie finished.

"It's not that we don't think you can take care of yourself," Leo sighed, sheathing his katana. "We just don't want to hurt you."

Splinter groaned softly, reaching out to pluck his staff from April's hands as she raised it against Leo. A quick gesture sent them to the kneeling posture reserved for lessons, though April was still fuming as she took her place beside Mikey.

"My sons," Splinter said, schooling his voice to patience. "Your intentions are admirable. Indeed, you should never raise your hand to a family member in anger, and I only wish you would show such scruples with each other." He raised a brow at Raphael, who had the grace to look uncomfortable. "But you are ninja, as April strives to be. Sooner or later, your enemies will land a blow against you. It is only a matter of time." Moving down the row of students as he lectured, he stopped in front of Mikey. "Michelangelo. The first time one of the Foot ninja struck you in battle, did you freeze?"

Mikey blinked in surprise before he laughed, waving a dismissive hand. "Naw, 'course not, Sensei. I whipped his butt. But good!" He elbowed April in the side. "Get it? Butt?"

April rolled her eyes. "I get it, Mikey. Yeesh."

Splinter cleared his throat, and Mikey fell silent, returning his attention to Splinter. "But did the blow not hurt?"

"Well," Mikey said slowly. "Yeah."

"Then why did you not freeze from the shock of it?"

"Cause it wasn't exactly a surprise," Mikey said. "I've been hit lotsa times before!" He thought about that for a moment, and looked at April. "...oh."

"'Oh,' indeed." Splinter sighed, resting his hands on the staff. "I appreciate that you four care for April. Indeed, I do so as well. But ours was a difficult and dangerous life even before the Kraang expressed an interest in April. In combat, a ninja cannot afford to be taken off guard by the pain of a blow. He or she must know it, anticipate it, and fight without pause, for even a moment's hesitation in battle can be fatal." April shivered at the thought, and Splinter did not fail to notice. His voice was gentler as he continued. "I know you only wish to help, but you do April no favours by going easy on her. As all four of you are well aware, it is far better for April to learn to take a blow at the hands of this family who cares for her safety and well-being than at the hands of the Kraang or the Foot."

"Hai, Sensei," came the quiet murmur of four voices in unison.

Splinter stroked his beard slowly as he regarded them. "April is ready for this. But perhaps the four of you are not." He tapped his staff on the ground. "Very well. Pairs sparring, Leonardo will face Donatello. April, I will be your opponent."

Wordlessly, they broke apart, flowing into the familiar motions. April stowed her tessen and moved through the forms with Splinter, accepting his gentle corrections to her posture as they went. She watching with genuine interest as he directed her attention to the spar between Mikey and Raph, where Mikey actually got the upper hand until he got cocky and Raph grabbed him from behind. She even found it in her to smile as Splinter turned the tables on Raph and demonstrated how to throw one's opponent off balance.

But she couldn't quite shake off her foul mood. She and the guys had been growing closer over the past few months. She'd even started to think of them as her brothers, and it went a long way toward helping her cope with the increasingly more frequent feeling that she was alone in the world. But with ninjutsu sitting at the centre of everything they did, how could she truly feel a part of the family if they couldn't even bring themselves to practice with her?


She shouldn't have let it bother her as much as it did. The guys even tried to make up for it, in their own ways. Raph asked if she wanted to feed Spike, Mikey brought her pizza, and Donnie asked for her help to analyze some sewage he'd found with unusual radiation signatures, which she had to admit was kind of interesting even before it led to the discovery that the Kraang were tampering with it. Leo even attempted to extend an olive branch and asked if she wanted to help them investigate the source of the contamination, and Leo never invited her to join them on missions. But it was bothering her enough by that point that she declined his thoughtful invitation to help them check out sewage on the bottom of the East River, and opted to head to Murakami's instead to see if some nice handmade gyoza could cheer her out of her funk.

In retrospect, that had been a huge mistake. And what made it even worse was that until her dinner companion had revealed herself to be Karai, April had actually been enjoying herself. Sitting and talking to the other girl, April had actually dared to hope that she'd made a new friend. Like normal people do.

Dumb, naïve kunoichi.

Even knowing that Karai had been raised in ninjutsu for just as long as the guys had, April had still thought she could take care of herself. Right up until Karai hit her.

It hurt. Unbelievably. And it just kept getting worse; the more Karai hit, and kicked, and punched, the longer it took for April to recover, to fight back through the paralyzing shock as the blows found their mark. If she hadn't managed to catch Karai off guard and toss her down the subway steps...

She'd been proud of herself right up until Splinter had decided she wasn't safe with her aunt any more. He was right, and the boys had been really sweet about helping her get patched up that night, but when she woke the next morning, her resolve was set. Let's get started., she'd told Leo. And step one to getting her life back was learning how to hold her own if Karai managed to catch up with her again.

Splinter had been uncertain – she'd practically had to beg him, and swore up and down that she was all right before he agreed to another sparring session. She couldn't hold that against him; her reflection in the mirror still caught her off guard, and she knew how bad she looked now that the bruises had started to show. Maybe that was why Splinter had decided to pair her up with Donnie.

April crossed her arms as she glared at him across the mats. "Don't you dare go easy on me."

"No, no, no," Donnie said, raising his hands in supplication. "Of course not! I promise!"

Splinter gave the command to start, and April rushed across the mats toward Donatello, channeling all her pent-up anger and frustration into the blow as she brought her tessen down on his staff. He blocked it easily, twisting his wrist to catch the tessen and flip her, though the landing as her back hit the rugs was suspiciously softer than it was whenever Splinter did it. April rolled back to her feet and ran at Donnie again. He batted her hand effortlessly away, whirled his bō, and then…

...brought it down in a feather-light touch across her shoulders.

Her patience snapped. With a cry that even she colud recognize was bordering on tantrum, she flung her tessen at the carpets and turned on him, jabbing her finger into his plastron. "Dammit, Donnie! You promised!"

"Yame!" Splinter called from where he stood next to Leo and Mikey, the two brothers still locked together as they stared over at her in shock. "April, what is going on?"

"He's doing it again!"

Donnie held up his staff defensively. "I'm sorry, Sensei, but I can't." He gestured at her. "It's April. I can't just hit her."

"Karai didn't have a problem with hitting me!" April planted her hands on her hips. "How am I supposed to learn to defend myself if you won't even let me try?" Her voice was growing louder as her frustration and anger built, but she couldn't help it. Everything still hurt, and with the prospect of being trapped down here until the Kraang were stopped looming in front of her - if they even could be stopped - she was starting to feel like the walls were closing in.

"You won't have to," Donnie fired back, the edge of his own temper starting to show. "I'll be with you next time! As long as I'm with you, I won't let anything happen to you!"

"You can't always be with me!"

"Yes I can!"

"Enough!" Splinter pushed his way between them. "Donatello, go face Raphael."

Donnie looked stricken. "But-"

"Go!"

As Donnie reluctantly crossed the room toward his brother, Splinter rested a hand on April's shoulder. "You will come with me."

Her shoulders hunching, April nodded, and accompanied Splinter out of the dojo. "Sensei, I'm sorry," she said as they descended the stairs. "I just-"

"I understand, April. I do not condone what happened, but I do understand. Perhaps it was too soon."

She turned to him, her eyes wide. "Sensei, no, please! Don't make me stop-"

He raised a hand. "Calm yourself, April. I do not mean to abandon your training. But before you can master your physical forms, you must first have mastery over your emotions. This is a trying time for you, and it strikes me that perhaps what you need is a moment of calm in this river of adversity to find your centre again. I would like you to gather what you need to see you through a few days away from this place."

April let out a long breath, and squared her shoulders. "Hai, Sensei."

After she had done as he asked, he met her at the turnstiles and led her into the darkness of the tunnels. She wasn't afraid - she felt safer with Splinter than she did with… well, anyone since the days in her childhood when her father would wake her from her nightmares and gather her into his arms. But she was curious.

"Sensei? Where are we going?"

He turned his head to smile at her. "To a place my sons do not know of. They are my greatest joy, but spending each day with four teenage boys can at times be…"

"Incredibly annoying?" April offered.

His soft chuckle echoed off the tunnel walls. "I would not have used quite those words, but yes. Before I was quite as… adept at tuning them out to meditate as I am now, I occasionally needed a retreat where I could find solitude. Particularly when I was troubled by unpleasant dreams."

"You have nightmares?" April shouldered her bag a little more securely as she stared up at him in wonder. "What would you have nightmares about? I would have thought that if anything showed up in one of your dreams to bother you, you'd just pulverize it and then meditate on its corpse."

That startled another laugh out of him, and he shook his head. "Nothing so colourful, more is the pity. No, April, when nightmares trouble me these days, they are more often than not about my sons." He sighed, softly. "In the latest, for example, I often dream that they are disarmed in battle, and helpless without their weapons of choice. And in that moment of helplessness, the Shredder arrives, and they fall."

"Oh," April said quietly, and a shudder chased through her. "That is bad."

"Indeed," he responded dryly."There are times the dream feels so real that I fear it is not merely a dream, but a warning about the future."

"You know, Sensei, if we're trying to solve my problems by working on my weaknesses, maybe you should do the same thing with the. Next time they get cocky about how good they are, take away their weapons and see how they do. Just like we're trying to get me to learn how to take a punch by having the guys hit me instead of Karai, make them go up against the Foot without weapons before they have to go up against the a big bad like Shredder without them." She smiled tentatively. "It might let you sleep a little better."

Splinter raised a hand to stroke his beard. "It is an unorthodox idea… but not without its appeal. Very well, I will take it under advisement."

As they walked, the humidity in the air was increasing, along with the temperature. It piqued her curiosity to no end, but she trusted Splinter. Then, at last, they turned a corner, and Splinter led her into a narrow crack in the tunnel wall. They followed it for quite some way to what appeared to be a dead end, until Splinter shifted what seemed to be solid wall, and April found herself staring past him in shock.

"Sensei," she breathed. "Where are we?"

"I believe it was once a carriage station," Splinter said. "Before a group of industrious environmentalists got their hands on it."

She was standing in the middle of a lush garden. Trees stretched out along the length of the station, creating little copses and groves in and around a host of flowering bushes. In the middle of the massive subterranean space, a small fountain created a source of fresh, running water in a little pond that drained into a channel which ran throughout the garden before vanishing into the sewer systems below. Large lights overhead were off now, only auxiliary emergency lights illuminating the space, but it was clear how the plants had managed to thrive down here. All around the walls were hung artistic works of varying degrees of competency, but the entire thing spoke of a great optimism and love of beauty.

"How…?"

"From what I have overheard, they wish to propose a system of parks in abandoned rail stations across the city. This is their… not entirely legal prototype to prove that it can be done." He folded his hands behind his back as he moved to stand next to her. "It is most often empty. The lights are automated, and on the rare occasions when someone does come to tend the garden, there are ample places I can show you where a kunoichi can hide." He glanced down at her. "It is, I find, a good place to gather one's thoughts."

April bit her lip, nodding slowly. "I'll try, Sensei. But… I'm not really a meditation kind of girl."

"Then perhaps it is time you began." He passed her the bag of supplies he had gathered while she was packing her things. "Come. Let me show you what I have discovered."


She wasn't sure if it was exactly what she needed, but she did have to admit that the peace and quiet was not unwelcome. It was nice, for a while, to have her own words be the only ones in her head. No overheard arguments, no Space Heroes reruns, no blasting music… just the sound of running water and the occasional thunder of a distant subway. She spent the time exploring the gardens, and attempting to meditate, and reading a novel Donnie had loaned her, and practicing her katas. Though her time spent in isolation also reminded her just how inconvenient it was to be stuck down here. On the second day, she ran out of solution for her contact lenses and had to switch over to her glasses, despite the fact that she hated the lack of peripheral vision that they left her with. By the time Splinter returned for her, she was almost glad to be back in the lair.

Until she saw the thing waiting in Donnie's lab.

"What…?" She reached out a hand to tap on the glass before Mikey reached out to catch it, shaking his head.

"I wouldn't," he advised. "Donnie gets really mad if you do that."

Never mind that Donnie wasn't there - she hadn't seen him the whole time she'd been back. She stared at Mikey incredulously. "What is it?"

"Well, it used to be the Pulverizer. Guy named Timothy." Mikey peered over her shoulder at the tank."I'm not exactly sure what he is now. I'm trying to come up with a good name for him, but 'Goo Guy' isn't working for me."

She shoved her glasses further up the bridge of her nose as the eyestalks of the creature in the talk swiveled to stare back at her. "Poor guy."

"Donnie's pretty messed up about it," Mikey said. "He kept trying to-"

"April, Mikey," Leo's voice broke in, and April turned to see him standing in the doorway. He gestured over his shoulder. "Practice time."

Donnie was waiting in the dojo when they arrived, and once glance was enough to confirm Mikey's assertions. Donnie couldn't even look at her for long, and he practically radiated hurt. She was almost glad when Splinter gave him a very long look and paired him up with April. At least this gave them a chance to talk.

When Splinter called for the match to begin, she closed without the frustration that had been driving her before her break in the garden, moving through the forms Splinter had taught her with rote precision. Donnie, for his part, blocked her with the same ease and precision, but something was different this time.

His punches were harder.

"I heard about what happened," she said as she attempted a double punch. "I'm sorry."

"Thanks," he said, blocking her with a force that stung a little, and the sadness in his voice made her heart ache in sympathy. "I just… I thought I could save him."

April went into a tuck, coming up on his other side. "Some people… they make it hard to help them. But hey," she added, trying to lighten the mood. "That's why this practice is good, right? So next time we're in a fight, you won't have to worry about saving me. I'll be able to do it myself!"

At that, his attention snapped on her in full. He'd been distracted before, but a darkness swirled across his features as he stared at her. "Uh-uh," he said, striking out with a speed that left her scrambling to catch up. "You're not going into any more fights."

A familiar flare of anger kindled deep within her. "Well, not right now, no, but I can't stay down here for the rest of my life!"

She struck back at him, hard, but he parried her with ease. "It's the best way to protect you!"

"I can take care of myself, Donnie!"

Splinter had been teaching her a series of new combinations, and she resorted to one of them in desperation. It was incredibly difficult, and she wasn't very good at it, but she was so angry, she attempted it anyway. It went well for a moment… until Donnie started to counter.

"No you can't!" He shouted back at her. "You're human! You don't even have a shell! You're so easy to hurt, it's a wonder you can even move without injuring yourself!"

"Well I can take care of myself better than the Pulverizer!" In a frantic, last-ditch attempt to prove herself, she disengaged and attempted the newest combination she'd been learning. She heard Splinter call out as he recognized what she was attempting, but she stubbornly ignored it. "But hey, at least he has people to wonder if he's ever coming home again! If I stay stuck down here for the rest of my life, I don't know if anyone's even going to notice that I'm gone!"

She launched herself into the finishing move of the combination, and time seemed to slow to a crawl. Donnie's hand filled her field of vision as he raised it in the instinctive counter that had been drilled into him by years of training with Splinter. The counter she'd never been able to properly block. She saw the look on his face the moment his expression changed from wounded anger to horror. And then she felt the blow, ripping through her head in a burst of excruciating pain, and felt rather than heard the crack.

Time righted itself as she fell to the mats, her head ringing as her vision blurred. There were several pairs of green hands reaching for her, Leo's voice demanding to know how many fingers he was holding up, and she squinted through the stars in her vision.

"Uhh…. seven?"

There was a moment of shocked silence before Raph's voice blasted over her shoulder. "Geez, Donnie, what is the matter with you?"

"I… I don't know…" Donnie's hushed voice was raw with shock. "I'm… I'm sorry…."

She heard the sound of his footsteps on the mats as he ran past her, but she didn't see him go. She was too busy staring down at what was left of her glasses, one lens smashed and the bridge snapped clean in two. Slowly, brushing off the hands that reached for her, she gathered up the pieces and rose shakily to her feet. Ignoring the concerned questions around her, she left the dojo, gathered her bag, and walked quietly past the waiting turtles and out through the turnstiles.

"Sensei," she heard Leo's concerned question behind her. "Shouldn't we stop her?"

"She is not our prisoner, Leonardo," Splinter answered quietly. "She may come and go as she wishes. Though I hope, for her sake, she returns soon."

Shaking her head, April ascended the ladder and vanished into the night.


It didn't take long to clear her head. She was upset, but that didn't change the fact that she'd gotten what she'd wanted after all. Donnie had finally stopped fighting her like she was a porcelain doll, and started fighting her…

...like one of his brothers.

Sighing, April paid the cashier at the pharmacy and stowed the contact lens solution in her bag. It hadn't been about her. Not really. She'd heard about the Pulverizer before, largely in the form of exasperated stories as she'd helped Donnie with one project or another. She'd heard, too, about how he'd looked up to Donnie. Treated him like one of his heroes. Donnie had been right there. To see Timothy mutate, and not be able to do a thing about it….

No wonder he'd stopped pulling his punches. He hadn't just seen the consequences of doing so, he'd been slapped across the face with them, and they'd left him broken.

She paused outside a storefront, staring absently at the large ad in the window. Hitching up the strap of her bag, she went to the door and pushed her way inside. "Hi," she said as the clerk looked up. "Can you really be done in about an hour?"

He smiled. "Sure can," he said, and whistled as April pulled the broken remains of her glasses out of her bag. "Wow. You did a number on these." He looked in sympathy at the bruising on her face. "Playing sports?"

"Uh-huh." She glanced around at the racks of frames lining the walls. "Can I get new ones?"

"Sure," he said, carefully picking up pieces of the shattered lens. "Take a look, see if there's any you like."

April smiled at him and pulled her phone from her bag. When her aunt's familiar voice answered the call, she let out a breath she hadn't known she'd been holding, keenly aware of just how much she missed it. "Hi!" she said, forcing brightness into her voice. "Yeah, I miss you too. Karate camp is great… but I kinda got carried away and broke my glasses. Do you think maybe you could transfer some money for new ones… Yeah, they've got one of those one hour places here..."

She listened with half an ear to the admonishments from her aunt as she browsed through the different frames, trying on a few but not finding any that spoke to her. Until she tried on the last pair in the row, and stared at her reflection in the mirror in shock as she realized what she was seeing.

They were perfect.

Shaking just a little, she pulled them off and passed them to the waiting clerk.


The lair was quiet when she slipped back inside, and her heart sank as she stepped into Donnie's lab only to find it empty, save for the mutant who watched her from his tank. She would have left again, but the pile of crumpled papers on the desk drew her attention, and curiosity got the better of her. She smoothed out a few of the papers that surrounded a battered notebook before her eyes widened as she figured out what she was looking at.

The abandoned attempts at writing a note. A note in Timothy's handwriting.

The fragments and aborted attempts culminated in what would have been his final draft before he copied it out for good. There were a few scratches and crossed-out words, but the meaning was clear.

Dear Mom,

I'm going away for a while. I've made some friends who are helping me figure out a few things. Please don't worry about me. I'll be back before you know it.

-Tim

It ended with a copy of the little Space Heroes doodle that dotted the cover of the notebook next to Timothy's name.

"Oh, Donnie…" April whispered softly.

"He's back, you know."

April glanced up at Raph, who stood in the doorway with his arms crossed. She set the note down, smoothing it out carefully before she moved toward Raph. "I should… I should talk to him."

Raph didn't say anything, just reached out to take her chin carefully between his fingers and turn her face to the light. "Well," he said at last. "At least this black eye isn't as bad as the last one."

That managed to get a grin out of her, and she nodded. "Just wait. I'll be a pro at shiners in no time."

"Hey, April?"

She paused on her way out the door, glancing curiously over her shoulder. "Yeah?"

"I'm sorry." He shrugged. "About… y'know. Everything." Looking distinctly uncomfortable, he hesitated before continuing. "For what it's worth… we'd miss you. You know. If you disappeared."

April blinked at him for a moment, and her expression softened. "Aww. Raph. That was almost sweet."

"Yeah, well, don't get used to it." He planted a large hand in the middle of her back and shoved, not ungently. "Now get out there before I take it back."

Donnie sat alone in the pit, his back to the lab as he fiddled with the tape on his hands. He didn't look up as she quietly sat on the edge, her feet resting on the bench next to him. He was so tall that even a level down, his head was nearly level with hers. She bit her lip nervously as she waited for him to acknowledge her, and it hurt her to see him so drawn in on himself .

"Hey," she said at last.

"Hey," he answered softly. "They… they said you left."

"I had a few errands to run and a head to clear," she answered. "But I'm back now."

He took a long, shuddering breath, and his head sank into his hands as he let it out. "April, I'm so sorry."

"Me too," she said. "We were both pretty upset." She glanced back over her shoulder at the lab, and shifted along the floor, bringing herself a little closer to him. "I'm sorry about your friend."

"You were right," he told her, his voice muffled against his hands. "Someone had to make sure his mom wasn't just waiting for him to come home." He lowered his hands again, staring at them as though they belonged to someone else. "It wasn't too hard. Took one of his notebooks for reference. I left the letter on his window sill and waited for his mom to find it." His big hands curled into fists against his knees. "I could hear her crying."

She was reaching for him before she could give it a second thought, and at her light touch against his shoulder, he tensed as though she'd hit him. "It was good of you to go."

The short laugh that escaped him was utterly devoid of humour. "First good I've done. He was the most annoying person I've ever known, but I never meant for him to get hurt." He turned his head away even further, and his voice was barely above a whisper as he added, "I never meant to hurt you either."

"Donnie, I'm fine," April said. "Besides, they're just glasses."

"...I wasn't talking about the glasses," he said.

"...I know."

There was a moment of silence between them, and April folded her hands in her lap as she thought about what to say next. But it was Donnie who finally broke the silence again with a soft sigh. "I was afraid you weren't coming back."

"Donnie…" April breathed, and shook her head in disbelief. "Well, then you're a doofus." She leaned over to nudge him with her shoulder. "We're friends, Donnie. Friends fight. That happens sometimes."

He looked at his hands, twisting them awkwardly in his lap. "I wouldn't know. I've never had friends before. Just my brothers." Despite himself, he glanced over his shoulder at the lab. "And it looks like I'm down to just 'friend' again."

"Yeah, well, this friend isn't so easy to get rid of." She shifted her foot to kick his leg lightly. "We may have fought, but the thing about fighting is that you can make up after." She nudged him again. "I came back."

"Where did you go?"

In answer, she pulled the new glasses from her face and dangled them over his shoulder. Startled, he took them from her, holding them gingerly between his giant fingers, and she saw the jolt of surprise run through him as he recognized the pattern on the frames. "Wait, is that…?"

"Tortoiseshell," she said. "Imitation, of course. I checked to make sure."

Finally, at last, he turned to face her, his brown eyes gazing up at her in wonder.

"So there," she finished smugly. "Now I have a shell too."

There was regret in his gaze as he took in the dark discolouration of the bruises around her eye, but he masked it behind a smile as he reached up and very gently set the glasses back on her face. "Shell suits you," he said, his lopsided grin drawing an answering one from her, but his own faded in another instant. "April, I-"

She brought a hand up quickly, silencing him as she laid her fingers lightly over his mouth. "Don't apologize for doing what I asked you to do. The only way I'm ever going to get better is for you guys to treat me like one of you, and even though it makes you uncomfortable, you did. Once I got over the whole 'ow it actually hurts' part, I felt…" She bit her lip. "I felt like I was actually part of something for once." She lowered her hand, and smiled down at him. "Thank you."

He wasted no more words, but leaned forward and wrapped his arms around her waist. She let out a long breath as her arms wound around his shoulders, and she rested her cheek against the top of his head. She could feel the sorrow that drew his muscles taut as he clung to her, and her heart ached for him. She wished she had the answers. That she could have been there to hold his hand as she listened to the sobs of Timothy's mother. But she was here now, and even as she gave comfort, she took it as well from the strength with which he held her. In the storm that whirled around her in the nightmare her life had become, he was her anchor. He reminded her where she was, who she was, and helped her find her place in this odd little group she had come to call her family.

They had fought. And knowing the ginger temper she had inherited from her father's side of the family, they would more than likely fight in the future.

But that didn't mean she wouldn't come home again.