I woke up in my bed, barely remembering even getting into it. My head was buzzing cautiously, free from the pain. On the other side of the room I could see April cross-legged at my workstation, sipping a diet soda. She reached across tapping gently at some of the keys. She put the can quietly down, and continued tapping away in a flurry of muted chatter. The blue glow of the screen reflected off her pale skin, and I lay on my side watching her, captivated.
Sensing that I was awake, she broke the silence.
"I found the problem." She said without turning around.
"What is it?" I said, not missing a beat.
"Here." She pointed to some code.
I squinted at it, but couldn't make out anything wrong.
"I already fixed it. It's not the code, that's fine. Beautiful, actually. It's your circuit breaker. It's faulty."
I closed my eyes again and lay back.
"Splinter will be glad to hear that."
April swivelled around.
I pondered briefly at her meaning. I went the safe route: "Of course, I'm definitely glad to hear it. I should've seen it." I grinned devilishly, "You're a genius".
"No." She said at length, "Just methodical. I'm… scared of making mistakes." She had a worried look on her face and I couldn't grasp quite why. Instinctively, I tried to put her at ease.
"Don't be scared. The best things come from them."
"You think?" she asked quietly.
"Definitely. Absolutely definitely."
I wanted to tell April that that was how we had come across her…by mistake. A massive one I had made by reprogramming a small robotic mouser to try and lead us to its origin. It proceeded to chomp through half the lair before eventually leading us to her. It scares me to think that it might not have happened.
Instead, she said it for me:
"That's how we met."
I nodded in agreement.
She didn't say much, but I could tell she was holding something back. For a brief moment, I couldn't help but think it was something to do with me.
I paused, and looked around, unable to gauge the hour in our sunless lair,
"What time is it, anyway?"
"Uh," she looked at the clock onscreen, "Seven o'clock. You must've been out for about two hours." She smiled gently at me. I felt my heart skip, but did everything not to let it betray me. "You were sorely missed amongst the land of the living. You should have seen what Mikey brought back from Chang's."
"I'm afraid to ask."
"Let's just say that subliminal advertising is actually working very well on him. And that you're well stocked for the next movie marathon."
We both chuckled.
"You know. It's kind of quiet without you. Even with Mikey here."
If I were Raphael, I'd probably dismiss the comment with a resentful growl, unable to take a genuine compliment. But unlike him, I had grown very comfortable in my own skin, and even though I knew that we'd never belong in the world above, I felt that I'd found my place here: beneath the city's heart, in front of a computer, behind a bo, amongst my brothers. But then April literally fell into our lives and my whole world was thrown off kilter. Firstly because, I suppose, I thought that'd we'd regard each other as no more than acquaintances, brought together by happenstance. But she so quickly disarmed us with her charm and wit and intelligence that I soon began to realise that she meant so much more to me than that. We played off each other as effortlessly as a squadron of birds turning at a point in the sky, careening into a new direction. I don't know if that was how it was for her...but that is what it is like for me. And good God, she was stunning, and I don't think she had any idea how much.
"It seems quieter than usual. Where are the others?" I queried.
"Out. Splinter thought he'd take them on a run after supper. Probably because Mikey complained about doing the dishes."
She got up and knelt beside me, her left arm using the edge of the bed for balance. She was close to me now, so close I could touch her. I almost couldn't help myself, to reach out and brush a stray auburn tress off her face, but I resisted the urge.
"That's better." I told her quietly.
"All the better to see you with." She joked. She rested her hand against my brow. "Well, you don't seem to have a fever, so you got away with just a migraine this time, grandma."
"Argh, I feel like a grandma right now. Sorry for being such lousy company."
"Are you kidding? It's always a blast hanging out. And I'm glad we got to the bottom of the security problems. You know, without any distractions..."
"Me too." I agreed. "The alarms break down so often that you'd think it was a cliché plot point."
"Hm," she sniggered, "Pretty much, but don't worry - I'm here to protect you. Well, I can at least hand you your bo." Her eyes sparkled mischievously.
"Anytime, Miss O'Neil."
"Count on it." She said softly.
She was so close now, her eyes serenely on mine.
"YO!" A voice boomed from out in the living area, "We're back. Mikey, touch my game and I'll break ya shell in half."
"Raphael!" Splinter chided, "Your brother is resting."
Her demeanor faulted as she heard my brothers in the living room. She turned towards their voices, then back to me.
"Looks like the Calvary's arrived."
"I thought you were already here."
If she blushed she hid it well in the dim room. She sat back on the ground, hands splayed behind her.
"Anyway," she began, "knowing our luck, any kind of rescue would be right in the middle of comparing our favorite internet videos."
I shook my head knowingly, "It's Trollolo, slowed down 800%, hands down."
"No way! How can that compare to the cat jumping on the toddler!"
"Ah, April, you're a sick puppy."
She snorted derisively. "And you're my willing accomplice."
I laughed and she joined me. It was true, when it came to causing trouble, she and I teamed up well. Both Raphael and Mikey still hadn't known what hit them after some of our more elaborate practical jokes. Like the time we rigged Raph's cycle to play Karma Chameleon every time he braked (I nearly lost an eye for that); or when we sent Mikey 'cat facts' to his shell cell – although admittedly that did backfire considering how much he enjoyed reading them aloud to us all. These were purely in retaliation for the multiple stunts they had pulled on us, by the way. Her laughter quietened and she looked down at the ground pensively. I couldn't read her.
"Well, I've got to run along soon." she said at length.
She shrugged apologetically. "Yeah."
The word sent a wave of emptiness through me, another reminder of an impassable barrier. I pushed the feeling aside, scolding myself for being foolish. We were friends. That was all it could ever be.
"I'll walk you back."
Trudging back in the twilight is not so bad if you take the path were the most streetlight pools down into the sewers. We came to near her building, not saying much. I lifted her up the first few rungs, and I could feel the heat off her body. It made me weak at the knees.
"Thanks Don." She leaned back off the ladder, kissing me on the cheek, the clean fragrance of lilac surrounding her. She gazed at me but a moment, which to me felt much longer.
She paused a moment, "I'll come by tomorrow, if you're not busy?"
I shook my head, my mask tails swishing across my shell.
And just like that she climbed up and out of my life. I made my way back to the lair slowly, and sat back at my computer. I looked up to see my chat window open, and a new message from April:
Donnie, you make me want to make mistakes. You always have.
And with just those words, my heart burned brightly but only to warm no-one and light nothing but my empty, dark room.