Based on the 2003 series. This chapter takes place shortly after the season 1 episode "Nano".
April stared at the brick wall uncertainly. She knew the lair entrance had to be close, but she hadn't come down on her own before. She shifted the paper bags in her arms and wondered if she should knock. Would knocking even work through brick?
The sudden hiss of hidden hydraulics made her jump, and the wall a few yards to the left slowly parted with a low rumble. She took a deep breath to slow her pulse and smiled at the Rat that stood waiting for her. "Hi, Master Splinter."
"Come in, Miss O'Neil." The answering smile on Splinter's face was genuine and, April was glad to see, devoid of the caution that he had initially regarded her with. "Donatello told me you were waiting out here."
"How did he...?"
She couldn't help glancing around the dark, drippy tunnel but saw nothing. No big surprise there. She stepped inside as the wall closed behind her, hefting the bags she held. "I picked up a few things for you. Some non-perishables and batteries in the left one and some fruit in the right."
Coffee-black eyes warmed in gratitude. "You know you do not need to do this."
She smiled back. "I know. Where should I put these?"
Splinter held out his arms. "I will put them away. Go find Donatello."
April handed the bags to Splinter and veered off to the right, circling around the edge of the lair to the cluster of computers against the far wall. A flash of silver caught her eye as she moved around the first pillar and she saw Leo in the center of the room, moving in slow, liquid sweeps with a katana in each hand. He didn't speak, but he smiled a little as he saw her before the flow of his movements turned his shell toward her.
Don was already grinning in welcome. "Hey, you made it!"
"Sort of. I got to the right hallway but I forgot where the door was."
"Well, that's kind of the point. Um, not that we want you to forget, but we can't exactly hang out a 'welcome' sign."
"I suppose not," she said with a wry smile. She settled into the extra desk chair. It squeaked alarmingly but remained steady. "Okay, give me the details. What was that thing that broke into my shop? I know you guys figured something out but I was busy patching up Casey the Muscle-Brained Ape – all I know is you were messing around with that old microscope and then you were gone. Thanks for dumping him on me, by the way."
"Yeah, sorry about that." Don rubbed the back of his neck, looking sheepish. "We wanted to stop it before it was too late. As it was, we barely succeeded. It was a robot built with self-replicating nanite technology."
She blinked. "Come again?"
"The technology was pretty awesome, actually," Don said, reaching for his pad of graph paper. "Or it would have been if it hadn't been trying to kill us." April bent her head to look at Don's attempt at sketching the robot's schematics. "I wish I could have brought part of it home to study, but the nano-bots are lethal. Put them near any technology and they engulf it to make the robot bigger. It has a hive mind with some sort of artificial intelligence, too, but it can't be reasoned with. It was like dealing with a gigantic, destructive toddler."
April snickered. "You'd be surprised how destructive the average sized toddler can be." She shook her head in awe, looking at Don's drawings. "I've never seen technology like this before. It makes the Mousers look like Tinker Toys."
Splinter emerged from the kitchen to stand near Leonardo. He watched his son's exercises for a moment or two before giving the stone floor a sharp rap with his cane. Leo immediately whirled and flowed through his previously slow steps at lightning speed. April felt her mouth fall open a little as she watched, hardly able to follow him as he moved. She felt an irrational compulsion to tell him to be careful with those huge swords and had just enough time to realize what an incredibly stupid thought that was before he came to an abrupt halt, crouching with his blades crossed.
Splinter circled around him once or twice. He paused and extended his walking stick to nudge the back of Leonardo's right leg, bending his knee by a degree or two before nodding in satisfaction. "Well done, my son. Nearly perfect." Leo relaxed and straightened, looking pleased with himself.
"Wow," April murmured.
"Yeah, he's been working on that one for a couple weeks," Don said.
"It's pretty quiet here today," she observed, glancing around. "Where are Raph and Mikey?"
"They went out a little before dusk. Just doing a sweep of the neighborhood. There's been a lot more gang activity lately. We're not sure why."
Her brow furrowed. "Do I need to be worried?"
Don shook his head. "I don't think so. Seems like the break-in to your store was a coincidence. I don't think it's related."
April's eyes widened in surprise as her phone chirped. She dug it out of her pocket and glanced at the screen. "It's my sister. I can't believe I get reception down here!" Don just slanted her a look that said, What kind of engineer do you think I am? She rolled her eyes and hit the "answer" button. "Hey, Sis! How've you been?"
"Hi April! I'm doing great. Work's keeping me busy as usual. I was just calling to check in. How are you?"
"I've been pretty busy, too. You know how I still live over Dad's old antique shop?"
"Well, I'm reopening." She leaned back in her chair, grinning back at Don when he smiled at her before turning back to his computer. "There's been a lot of interest. I think it's actually going to do really well!"
"That's great, April."
The smile faded from April's face as she heard the note of hesitation in Robyn's voice. "But...?"
Robyn paused for a beat. "I just...I want to make sure this is what you want. I mean, you had that great job with Dr. Stockman..."
"And that turned out so well."
"I know, I know, but you were so excited about it! Even if Stockman did end up being..."
"A megalomaniac super-villain? I ended up being the unwitting Igor to his Frankenstein."
Don darted a glance in her direction and quirked an eye ridge.
Robyn laughed. "Well, I wasn't going to put it like that. But no matter what he did, that shouldn't affect you, should it? You have a masters in mechanical engineering and a killer résumé, and I know you were thinking about getting your PhD. I'm sure you'd have no trouble finding another job. Will running an antique store really make you happy?"
A troubled frown darkened April's face. She wasn't angry. She'd been asking herself the same question, and while she thought she knew the answer, there were moments where she questioned the major life decision she had (rather abruptly) made.
"You're not mad at me for asking that, are you?" Robyn asked slowly, misinterpreting her sister's silence.
"No, Robyn, I'm not mad." She heard the grating rumble of the lair entrance swinging open behind her and cupped her hand around her phone to shield it from the noise. "I know this is a big change but I didn't make it lightly. I - "
"Guys, what happened?" Leo's voice rebounded sharply off the yellow brick walls. Don's wheeled desk chair skittered away as he jumped up and hurried to meet his brothers. April swiveled to follow him with her eyes and saw Mike and Raph walking close together as they entered the main living area. Mikey's face looked drawn and he was hunched oddly with his left arm held close against his body. He seemed steady on his feet, she noted with relief, but Raph had a guiding hand on Mike's right elbow and the scowl on his face was more concerned than angry.
"April, are you there?"
"Uh, yeah...yeah, I'm here. Sorry, Rob. I just got distracted."
Splinter joined the Turtles near the entrance. Despite being half the size of his hard-shelled sons, he threaded his way easily between them to rest his hand on Michelangelo's forearm. The family lingered there only a moment before Raph and Don steered Mikey toward the bathroom, Splinter close behind. Leo jogged around the pool at the center of the lair and disappeared into a room on the far side.
"Is everything okay?"
"Yes, everything's fine. But I think I need to go. Can I call you back?"
"Sure. Take care, okay? I love you."
"Love you too, Sis. Talk to you soon." She hung up as quickly as she could without sounding abrupt, hesitated just a moment, then set her jaw determinedly and headed for the bathroom. She may not be family, but she'd quickly become fond of this unusual little clan and she wanted to make sure Mike was okay. She could hear the shower running as she drew near.
Splinter startled her as he emerged from the open door. His arms were full, holding Michelangelo's mask, gear, and weapons. His ears twitched forward when he saw her. She wasn't sure how to interpret the gesture.
"Is Michelangelo okay?" she asked in a small voice, feeling suddenly intrusive.
"He has been injured, but he will be all right," came the reply. He studied her for a moment more, then his expression softened. "You may go see him," he said kindly. He stepped past her and disappeared into Mikey's bedroom.
April waited a moment until the self-conscious blush faded from her cheeks, then stepped cautiously into the doorway. Mike was seated in the bathtub with his back to the shower head, letting the water pound against his carapace to flow down his arms and plastron. Don was perched on the edge of the tub, and Raphael was hunched on the closed toilet lid with his elbows propped on his knees, glowering at the shower curtain bunched against the wall.
Don looked up first. "Hey, April. Come to visit the wounded warrior?"
"April! I didn't know you were here." Mike half-turned to smile at her over his shoulder. "Chicks dig scars, right? I'm gonna be the sexy one now."
"I thought you were the pretty one," Don said absently. He put his hand on Mikey's shell and pushed gently to nudge his brother back under the lukewarm spray.
Mike's breath hissed between his teeth as he flinched, but he wasn't deterred. "I'll be the pretty one and the sexy one."
April smiled a little. "Who are you dethroning as the sexy one, then?"
Don and Raph said together: "Me." Don chuckled and Raph let the corners of his mouth turn up slightly as his shoulders relaxed.
April moved to stand next to Don so Mikey wouldn't have to crane over his shoulder to see her, but her green eyes widened in dismay when she saw the savage, oozing red burns spreading across his left shoulder and arm. "Oh, Mike, what happened?"
"Purple Dragons," Raph growled. "We were passing through one of the junkyards and ran into one of their crews messing with a couple cars. I don't know what they're up to, but they were using some kind of ultra-concentrated battery acid. Someone who shall remain nameless managed to get splattered with the stuff while getting in someone else's way."
April had been around the Turtles long enough to know that they never 'got in each other's way' during a fight. Each ninja was always aware of where his brothers were.
"Well, I couldn't let them splash it all over your face," Mikey said. "I mean...you're weird looking enough. I didn't want you to have to wear a mask or anything."
"We already wear masks." The "duh" in Raph's voice was heavy enough to crush a cinder block.
"I meant like the Phantom of the Opera, Dude." Mikey's voice quavered a bit as he shivered and he gave Don a plaintive look. "Donny, I'm getting cold, here."
"Sorry, Mikey. You've got a little while yet. We've got to make sure that stuff is washed off of you. And it won't feel good on that burn if the water gets any warmer."
Satisfied that Michelangelo would be all right, April withdrew. She entered the main living area at the same time Leo did. He gave her a friendly nod and started sorting though the armful of first-aid supplies he was carrying. The lair was silent aside from the sound of running water and the droning voices from the television as Splinter watched the news.
The sound of the shower stopped ten minutes later, and the three Turtles emerged from the bathroom soon after. Mike was nearly dry except for his injured arm, but he looked chilled. He let Don guide him over to the couch while Raphael made a beeline for the kitchen.
"Just let it drip, Mikey," Don was saying. "Your arm will air dry in a few minutes and then we'll bandage it."
Mikey dropped to the couch with a theatrical shudder and immediately pulled one of the blankets close around his body, leaving his burned arm and shoulder free. Leo cast an appraising glance at the wounds before he started tearing open packages of sterile bandage material. April's eyebrows lifted a little but she knew better than to ask where they had obtained the supplies.
Raphael reappeared, holding a glass of water in one hand an a couple ibuprofen in the other. He handed first the pills, then the glass to Mikey before slouching in an overstuffed chair. He took the remote that Splinter held out to him and changed the channel from the news to a college basketball game.
April sat back in another chair, letting her mind drift back to her aborted conversation with Robyn. Her sister was right – April's academic achievements and research experience were stellar and had set her far above from other candidates when she'd submitted her resume to the Stocktronics corporation. She had been thrilled to be included in one of the most cutting-edge companies in the fields of robotics and artificial intelligence. Baxter Stockman's work was world-famous and he had been on speed-dial for NASA and the Department of Defense. He had been in early discussion with Johns-Hopkins regarding the development of new technology for surgical lasers. April had landed her dream job.
She pulled her unfocused gaze away from the TV and quietly studied her companions. Don had retrieved his laptop from the lab and was sitting on the floor by Splinter's feet, propping his shell against the sofa. His face was illuminated by a bluish-white glow as he divided his attention between the computer screen and the enthusiastic cheers from the student section as the home team pulled ahead. Leo sat balanced on the arm of the couch, gently putting ointment on Mike's burns before bandaging them while Raph pretended not to watch.
Yes, April had had her dream job. But what would she be doing now if Baxter Stockman hadn't become corrupt? She'd probably be just getting home – it was easy to lose track of time in the windowless, brightly-lit lab. She would drive home to her dark, empty apartment, decide what to microwave for dinner from her mostly empty fridge, then eat in front of the TV until her eyes grew too heavy and she wandered off to bed. She did have close friends, but none of them lived nearby and most of them had started families of their own. There were a few work acquaintances she'd hang out with, but not very often.
Now, she closed the shop at 6. She still depended on the microwave for food most days, but after dinner it was still early. She'd go for a walk, or maybe to a movie. Sometimes she'd take a book or her laptop and go sit in Starbucks. The baristas were starting to recognize her and would smile when she came in. And every so often, she would hear a soft rapping at her window and four of the most amazing people (she had long since stopped thinking of them as 'creatures') she had ever met would climb in from the fire escape to ask how her day was and say good night (or good morning, in their case) before they went flying across the rooftops of the city. Her life was simpler, but it was fuller.
Admittedly, it wasn't perfect. Money was tighter than it had been before. She was starting to understand that being friends with the Turtles also meant being afraid for their safety, which was a bittersweet pain that she hadn't anticipated when she had first met them. There were days that she missed the challenge of her old job; but it helped that Don had enthusiastically welcomed her ideas and help in his inventing process. And Raphael had surprised her by giving her a tour of the inner workings of the Battle Shell's engine when she'd asked.
Leo carefully applied one more strip of surgical tape to the bandage on his brother's arm. "There you go," he said, giving Mike's shoulder a gentle pat. "That should hold you until tomorrow. We'll need to change the dressing every day for a while and you'll have to go easy on that arm during training, but you should be good as new in no time."
"Thanks, Bro." Mikey settled deeper into the cushions and pulled the blanket up to his chin.
Leo gathered up the leftover bandaging supplies, turning in April's direction before he left to put them away. "It's getting kind of late. Are you still okay here?"
She nodded. "I can stay a little longer."
He smiled. "Okay. Just let me know when you'd like to leave and I'll walk you home."
Her smiled widened as he walked away. "Walking her home" meant that she walked all by herself through the dark streets while at least one of the Turtles followed somewhere out of sight. She never heard or saw anything, but she felt safer than if she were walking beside a dragon. She hadn't felt that secure in a long time. She hadn't felt like part of a family in a long time.
She pulled out her phone and typed a quick text to her sister. Can I call you tomorrow?
Ok. Anytime after 5.
Will do. Don't worry about me, Sis. I'm happy. I think this change is the start of something amazing.