Last one-shot in this series! This picks up at the very end of the 2k3 season 4 episode "Good Genes Part 2". The story assumes that April and Casey are still on board the helicopter when Leo, Raph, and Mike go back to Area 51. We don't actually see if they're in the chopper or not at the end, but I think it makes sense – I doubt that the guys would take the time to drop their human buddies at home before heading back to get the rest of their family, and I find it highly unlikely that April and Casey would agree to just wait at home. Besides, someone had to guard the helicopter from Bishop while the guys were busy saving Don.
April struggled to keep her hands steady as her heart hammered violently against her ribs. Her left hand was clenched tightly around the helicopter's collective lever while her right wrapped in a death grip around the cyclic in front of her. Her fingers slipped a little, slick with sweat, and she let go for a fraction of a second to wipe her palms against her jeans. It had been mere minutes since Raphael, Michelangelo, and Leonardo had entered Bishop's base, but the silent desert had suddenly erupted with blaring klaxons and the sinister strobe of red warning lights.
"It'll be okay," Casey said. His words were deliberately calm, but she could feel his muscular frame vibrating with tension where his hand rested heavily on her shoulder.
"It's Bishop," she retorted, voice low and tight in her throat. Her eyes narrowed as if she could focus her gaze like a green laser beam and pierce the corrupt government agent's heart. Her already rapid pulse double-timed when hundreds of black-clad figures emerged from the compound at a run, making the sand-colored buildings look like an anthill that had broken open.
"Whoa...where are they going?" Casey muttered.
April tore her eyes from the fleeing soldiers to glance briefly at the weapons control to her right. "I'm not sure. Better strap in, Case. I don't know if the guys are behind this or not, but things could get hairy pretty quickly." The warmth of his hand disappeared from her shoulder as Casey moved to one of the jumpseats in back, leaving the co-pilot's chair free for Leonardo if – when – the Turtles came out.
Ten agonizingly long minutes later, relief spilled over April like a waterfall when she saw Leatherhead's enormous silhouette in the doorway. She strained her eyes as more figures came into view – Splinter was a gray and brown blur flanked by flashes of red, orange, blue, and...
"They've got Donny!" April crowed joyfully. She kicked the idling engine out of warm-up and the rotors started to turn as her friends sprinted towards the helicopter.
Leo raised his arm, waving frantically. "Move it!" he hollered. "This place is about to blow!"
Raphael came bounding through the doorway first, holding Don close to his side and all but carrying his brother's weight. Leo threw himself into the co-pilot's chair and buckled in as Splinter brought up the rear. April gave Leo a nod and he initiated take-off. The helicopter lurched into the air and the metal frame groaned at the sudden speed. They were just in time. As soon as they lifted off, the night grew bright as day as the compound exploded, sending a fiery column of dark smoke billowing up to choke the stars.
"Geez," Casey said, looking down at the destroyed base. "Your friend doesn't do anything halfway."
"He is no friend of mine," Leatherhead snarled. "And the only thing he does halfway is tell the truth."
Donatello swayed on his feet slightly, trying to maintain his balance in the moving helicopter. Leatherhead stepped close behind him and leaned slightly against his shell to steady him, ire dissipating as he looked down at the dazed Turtle in concern.
Splinter reached out and took Don's hand. "Welcome back, my son."
"I hope you guys didn't go through too much trouble for me," Don said. There was a pause as his brothers exchanged an uncertain look. Leatherhead hadn't been sure how much Don would remember.
Mikey, true to form, was the first to break the tension. "Naaah," he said with a grin, waving away the question.
Don's brow puckered a little as he realized he was missing something, but he didn't have the strength to press his family for questions. When his still-shaking legs gave out on him, Leatherhead was there to catch him in his large hands. "Donatello, you are not all right," he said worriedly.
"No, I'm fine," Don protested. "I'm just...really tired. And I think I know how Raph's punching bag must feel. I ache all over."
"I am not surprised," the Crocodile replied, easing his friend down to recline against the bulkhead. "Your body has been through an ordeal. It will take some time before you feel like yourself again, I think."
"Why? What happened?" Sudden panic washed over his face as the echo of terror and black rage sank its claws into his memory. "Wait – Casey, are you okay? Where's April?"
"Don, I'm here!" April risked a glance back and gave her friend what she hoped was a reassuring smile. "We're all okay."
He looked relieved, but troubled. "I thought you were in danger..."
Mike glanced at Raph briefly, giving him a visual nudge. The red-masked Turtle looked down at his brother. "What exactly do you remember?" he asked carefully.
The troubled look intensified. "I was sick. You guys left me at April's for the night. I remember I just kept feeling worse – so hot, and I hurt so much I thought I'd die..." Although he formed his words with his habitual precision, the vague wandering tone in his voice betrayed the fact that he still wasn't completely tracking with the rest of them. "What happened?" he asked again. He craned his neck to see out the window. "Where are we, anyway?"
"We will answer all your questions," Splinter said, covering his son with a blanket and brushing a furry hand softly over the top of his head. "But only after you are rested. Trust us, my son. We will take care of you. Sleep, now."
The fact that Don didn't argue was a testament to how exhausted he was. April knew he had felt too poorly to sleep well before the whole nightmare started, and he hadn't slept at all after the secondary mutation – he had been expending all his rapidly dwindling energy on rage-fueled escape attempts. The only times he had been still were when he had been heavily sedated, a chemically-induced slumber that brought no rest. He didn't know that yet, though. All he knew was that he was hurting and utterly wrung out. He pulled the blanket up to his chin, curled against the solid furnace of Leatherhead's side, and was asleep in moments.
The ride home was quiet. Leatherhead had not paused to rest either during the whole ordeal, and he fell asleep not long after Donatello. In a low voice, Splinter told April, Casey, and his sons what had happened in their absence. The revelation that Bishop hadn't had the cure at all – that Leatherhead had been the one to crack the code of the mutagen – left the three Turtles stunned.
Raphael clenched his fists so hard that he started to shake. "That son of a bitch," he growled. "He used us! He played us like we were a bunch of - "
"Brothers," Leo cut in. His voice was low, but it stopped Raphael's building tirade instantly. He half-turned to look at his sibling. "Three brothers, desperate to save our fourth. Like it or not, Bishop has us figured out. He knew we'd go to the edge and back for Donny."
"Did we come back?" Raph asked. His voice was sullen, but he wasn't upset with Leo. "We as good as declared war on the Foot. Again. As if Karai wasn't already obsessed with getting your head on a pike – this is gonna make her go Captain Ahab on your ass."
Despite the seriousness of the situation, April had to bite the inside of her cheek to choke back the unexpected bubble of laughter that Raphael's analogy triggered. But Leo just sighed, letting his head fall back against the seat. "We'll deal with that when the time comes. Right now..." He swallowed hard, looking at his slumbering brother. "Right now, let's just be grateful that we've got our Don back."
The eastern horizon grew slowly lighter as they flew, and as the New York skyline appeared in the distance, the sun set fire to the sky.
It was nearly a week before April heard from them. She wasn't surprised. She had learned – far too often over the years – that when one of the Turtles had a close call, the brothers tended to close ranks and withdraw until their injured brother was on the mend. They weren't trying to exclude her, and she knew if she were to show up at the lair she would be welcomed, but she also knew how to respect the need for time and space.
So when her Shell Cell chirped five days later, she snatched it up, a grin already spreading across her face as she saw the name on the caller ID. "Hey there, Don! How are you feeling?"
"Much better," came the blessedly familiar voice. "I have you and Leatherhead to thank for that, I'm told."
"Leatherhead did all the work," she amended. "I just sent him a bunch of emails and translated your chicken scratch." Leatherhead had requested her help in his research – he hadn't wanted to download any of Don's work onto Stockman's computers or take hard copies with him lest it fall into Bishop's hands. He had done his work logged in to his encrypted email account.
"Well, thanks anyway," Don said.
"So to what do I owe the pleasure of this phone call?"
"Well...I was wondering if I might come over tonight. The guys are going out on patrol in a bit and I..." He didn't say can't keep up. "I'm going a little stir crazy."
She glanced uncertainly at the holes gouged in her apartment wall, but smiled into the phone. "You need to ask? Of course you can come over! I was going to make dinner soon. How does grilled cheese and tomato soup sound?"
"Sounds great. I'll be over soon."
April unlocked the door for him, then hurried to gather up the pile of laundry she'd deposited on the couch. It was clean, but she'd avoided folding it for two days. She dumped it on her bed, hesitated for a moment, then decided she'd sort socks later and left it there, making sure to close the door to hide the evidence. She was in the middle of slicing cheese for the sandwiches when she heard the sound of the door closing very quietly. She turned with a grin to see Don standing in her living room next to the duffel bag he'd just set down. She knew he'd avoided entering noiselessly on purpose. It was second nature for the Turtles to move without a whisper of sound, but one too many startled yelps from their human friends had taught them that it was in the best interest of everyone concerned to announce their presence somehow.
"Donny, I'm so glad to see you!" She hurried over to him and hugged him tightly. "You really had us worried."
"It's good to see you too." He stepped back as soon as she released him and held out the bright bunch of wildflowers gathered in his hand. "I wasn't sure what I should give you for a 'Sorry I Almost Killed You' present," he said, smiling hesitantly. "If you have any ideas of what I should get Casey, let me know."
April smiled, touched and a little sad, as she took the flowers. "They're beautiful. But you should know this isn't necessary." Still sensing his distress, she tried to sound lighthearted as she asked, "You didn't get flowers for Mikey or Raph, did you?"
For a moment, she thought she'd made a mistake. She'd meant it as a gentle tease, but perhaps all it would do would remind Donatello how violently he'd attacked his own brothers. But she saw the moment when realization and acceptance connected in his eyes and his shoulders relaxed. Don was smart enough to know that he wasn't at fault for any of the destruction he'd caused...he just needed to be sure that others didn't hold it against him.
Putting her arm around his shoulders – proving to him that she wasn't afraid to be near him – she guided him into the kitchen. "Come on. You can stir the soup." She tossed a wooden spoon and two cans in his general direction. He caught them easily. A short time later, the warm smell of tomato soup and the sound of bread sizzling in a frying pan filled the small kitchen.
Dinner didn't take long to prepare, and the two of them ate in easy silence. Don kept glancing out the window at the slowly sinking sun, and April could see the look of contentment on his face as the rays played across his body. The Turtles had grown up living a nocturnal lifestyle, both out of the need to avoid detection and due to the natural inclinations of their Sensei, but they loved the long days of summer when the sun still hovered above the horizon for a few hours after they awoke.
"I brought some tools over," Don said when they were finished. "Figured I could help patch things up since I was the one who caused all the damage." He lifted a three-fingered hand when he saw her beginning to protest. "Uh-uh. Don't argue. This is happening. Besides," he said with a lopsided grin, "I need to keep myself busy somehow. I've spent the last five days with three mother hens and Raph."
"Fine, I'll put you to work," she said with a laugh. They left the dishes for later and headed for the basement where the worst of the damage was. April had already started fixing the drywall. She took sandpaper and started smoothing over the dried plaster while Don patched over the claw marks gouged in the powdery surface. They didn't speak much while they were working, and it was only when Don's putty knife clattered to the cement floor that April realized something was wrong. Ninjas didn't just drop things.
She glanced at him sharply and saw him bending to pick up the dropped tool. He moved a little slower than was his wont, and a fine sheen of sweat glistened on his forehead. Dust clung to his hands and arms, making the olive hue of his skin look ghostly pale.
"Maybe we should take a break," she suggested carefully.
He shook his head. "I'm okay."
"Sure you are." Wiping the dust from her hands, she set aside the sandpaper and hooked one hand through his elbow, steering him toward the stairs. "You forget I know you, Donny. I can tell you're tired. And we've been at this for a while anyway. I'm ready to call it a night." He sighed a little and nodded, and she thanked her lucky stars that she was dealing with Don and not Raphael. Raph would keep going until he keeled over and she knew she couldn't lug 180 pounds of hard-shelled dead weight up the stairs. "You go wash up," she said, giving his shell a little push. "I'll put this away and be up shortly."
It didn't take long to gather her supplies. She heard the phone ringing as she locked everything the supply cabinet, but by the time she made it upstairs the machine had already shut off. Donatello was standing by the window, watching the sun sink into the iron and glass forest of the city. The red light from the answering machine flashed brightly in the low evening light. "Who called?" she asked.
She was a little confused by the guarded look that slipped briefly across his face at first, but when he took a short breath and answered, "I think it was your aunt," she understood. Nora O'Neil Parker was abrasive under the best of circumstances. She didn't envy Don having to sit through an entire recording from her relation.
She toed off her shoes and left them by the door before crossing the living room to her phone. "Well, let me see what she wanted and then we can watch a movie." When she hit "play", the familiar strident voice of her father's older sister filled the small apartment.
"April, it's your Aunt Nora. I've called a few times but you haven't been home – I suppose I'll just have to leave a message this time. April, dear, I'm worried about you. I don't want to make you angry, but your life seems to have stalled a bit, don't you think? You had so much potential! You put so much time and money towards getting your degree and I'd hate to see it go to waste. Are you really going to let everything you've accomplished so far – "
April deleted the message with a jab of her finger. "And that is why I don't answer when you call," she muttered. Giving Don a wry smile, she said, "Caller ID is the best thing that has ever happened to me."
He smiled halfheartedly and moved to sit on the couch. Concerned by his uncharacteristic reticence, she sat down next to him and leaned forward a little, trying and failing to make eye contact. "Hey, are you sure you're all right? Do you need me to take you home?"
"No, I'm fine. I just...I wish you hadn't had to hear that."
"What, Aunt Nora?" She rolled her eyes. "There's no pleasing her. Even if I won the Nobel prize, she'd find something to criticize."
He was still gazing at her answering machine. "Is that what your whole family thinks?"
"Everyone except for Robyn and Uncle Augie. And you guys," she added, gently prodding him in the side with her elbow.
A small smile crossed his face, but he still didn't look at her. "You don't feel that way, do you? Stalled, I mean. Your life would have turned out pretty differently if you hadn't fallen in with us."
She lifted her hand to swat him lightly on the back of the head. "Have you forgotten the night I first met you guys? If I hadn't 'fallen in with you', I'd be dead. Stockman sicced his Mousers on me, remember?" Despite the years that had passed, the memory still made her shudder as she imagined being violently torn to pieces by razor-sharp metal jaws.
"You don't feel as if we've held you back?"
"Are you kidding?" she said with a smirk. "I've been instrumental in curtailing gang (and ninja) violence in this city, fought off an alien invasion, learned Ninjitsu from a martial arts master, and I just helped save New York – and possibly the world – from a killer mutant virus outbreak. I've also gotten pretty darn good at piloting a helicopter. That's just the highlight reel. I think I've achieved quite a bit, don't you?"
Finally, he met her gaze. The last glow of red-orange light from the sun illuminated the gold flecks in his cocoa-colored eyes, and she felt her heart grow light with relief as he started to smile. "It makes for one heck of a résumé."
"Yep. Too bad I can never show it to anyone." She grinned. "So what if life didn't turn out the way I expected? I wouldn't change a thing."
Humor crept into his voice as he answered. "I suppose you couldn't really have a contingency plan for giant mutant Turtles."
She winked at him. "Have you ever heard the proverb 'man plans and God laughs'?"
Don laughed outright for the first time in weeks, the last of the doubt in his eyes vanishing like fog in the sunshine. "God must have a pretty warped sense of humor."
April chuckled. "So it would seem." She wrapped her arm around his shoulders, leaned in, and kissed his temple. "Fortunately, so do I."