AN: Recently reconnected with my love of TMNT, specifically the 90s live action universe. Also watched the Michael Bay movies finally. This fic is going to be based on a combination of those two universes.

I see April and Casey as their 1990 film versions.

I would love reviews!


New York City

2005


I.

It's one of those mornings where Donnie is the first one up, so he starts making breakfast for himself and his brothers, according to the silent agreement the four of them reached years ago where the first turtle in the kitchen is on cooking duty. It's after seven, and Donnie is only awake because he went to bed early last night, lulled to sleep by the movie he and his brothers watched together. Despite being in the habit of going to bed late and sleeping in late, Donnie does enjoy waking up early and having the lair to himself, before the rest of his family joins him. It doesn't happen often, but he relishes the quiet when it does.

Leo comes out not long after Donnie starts scrambling the eggs. The two brothers nod at each other, and Leo heads for the couch in front of the TV, switching to the channel ahead of the first local news broadcast of the day. April's typically on the morning news.

"Sleep well?" Donnie says.

"Not bad," says Leo, looking from his brother to the car dealership commercial and back again. He's got one arm outstretched on the back of the sofa behind him. "You?"

"Yeah, I slept all right. Had some weird dreams—but that's pretty typical." Donnie looks over his shoulder at Leo, who's watching the television. He's had the faintest feeling the last couple weeks that Leo's anxiety has been on the upswing, though he doesn't have any specific evidence to prove it. It's just his intuition telling him so, at this point. Leo's never really spoken of his anxiety to his brothers, but Donatello's been aware of it since they were teens. One tell-tale sign is Leo having trouble sleeping.

"Just weird?" says Leo, eyes trained on the TV. "Not bad?"

Donnie recognizes the concern and appreciates it. "No, not bad," he says. "I don't even remember them now. The bad ones always stick with you."

Leo doesn't respond, and Donnie wonders about his eldest brother's bad dreams. He slaps a whole packet of bacon on to the griddle, then goes back to moving the frozen potatoes around their skillet. Donnie and Leo have always been able to share comfortable silences, and it's one thing Donnie likes about their relationship. But sometimes, those silences do leave him wondering what Leo may be keeping from him.

April comes on the screen and begins talking about sex trafficking in New York City. Donnie listens to the first couple minutes of her report, before tuning it out. He's been aware of the topic for a few years, at least, but it's not one he wants to think about.

He glances at Leo, noticing his older brother's absorption in April's newscast. "Have you seen Mikey today?" he says.

"No," Leo says absently. His eyes never leave the screen, and the expression on his face, which Donnie can only see part of, is one of Leo-like focus. The kind that makes him forget the whole world.

Donnie's not even sure his brother heard him. He continues stirring the potatoes in their skillet and switches off the burner heating the eggs. He's perfectly aware of what April's saying on TV, but he doesn't want to pay too much attention to the details. The story is too gruesome. Satisfied with the crispness of the bacon, Donnie turns off that skillet and wonders about his youngest brother.

Mikey wanders into the kitchen as if he knew Donnie was thinking about him. Donnie senses immediately that something is off with him. He's not his usual cheerful, talkative, rambunctious self. He's quiet and calm, the way Leo typically is. He sits down at the table without saying a word.

"Mikey?" Donnie says.

"Yeah, I'm here," Mikey replies, barely looking at him.

Donnie steps up to the table. "You okay?"

Mikey nods. "Fine, bro. Hungry."

"Breakfast is ready," Donnie says and returns to the stove after a moment of hesitation. He takes four plates out of a cabinet above the kitchen counter and fixes Mikey his plate first.

Mikey thanks him and starts eating, but it's clear to Donnie that he's lost in a thought to a degree uncharacteristic for the youngest turtle.

"Leo?" Donnie says. "You gonna eat?"

"Yeah," says Leo, still engrossed in April's report. He's watching a montage of film footage depicting alleyways, street corners, and clubs in the city, April's voiceover explaining that these sex traffickers target young women and underage girls in these locations and usually employ manipulative rhetoric to con their targets into speaking with them or physically going with them to a secondary location.

Donnie's eyes linger on Leo, before he turns away and fixes a second plate. He brings that plate to his brother who sits unmoving on the couch, and Leo takes it, shoveling the food into his mouth without even looking at it.

Donnie fixes his own plate next and leaves Raph's portions in the pans to prevent them from cooling before Raph shows up. Donnie sits at the table across from Mikey and waits for his little brother to explain what's on his mind.

"Hey, Donnie," Mikey says after a few minutes.

"Yeah?" says Donnie, trying not to sound over-eager.

"Do you wish you could have a wife?"

Donnie blinks at his brother, utterly surprised by the question.

"Or a girlfriend?" Mikey adds. "Like, do you feel bad about not having one? Like you can never be fully happy without one?"

Donnie takes a while to answer, as his mind scrambles to process the question. "Uh," he starts. "I—I guess not, Mikey. I don't think about it, really. I did when we were teenagers, but…. Not in a long time. Do—do you feel bad about being single?"

Mikey doesn't answer him immediately. He's staring into space, not looking at his brother, with a weirdly serious expression on his face. "No," he says. "I don't feel bad. I'm okay with it. I just—I don't know, man. Is that because I'm a turtle instead of human? Like, am I supposed to feel bad about being single? Am I supposed to be sexually frustrated?"

Raph appears behind Mikey, making his way to the stove and that last plate on the counter. "What's it matter, bro?" he says. "No human's going to hook up with us. Guess it'd be kinda weird if one did."

He slides the last of the eggs, potatoes, and bacon on his plate and sits down at the table with his brothers. He glances at Leo, who ignores the kitchen.

Donnie looks at Mikey quietly, then at Raph, then at his plate. "Mikey, if you have questions about the potential biological explanations for your feelings on coupling and sex, I can do my best to find answers. I just need some time to do the research."

Raph eats, more interested in Leo than in the conversation between Donnie and Mikey. "What's up with him?" he says to his younger brothers, cocking his head toward Leo.

Donnie looks at Leo, then at Raph. "Fascinated by April's report, I guess," he replies.

Leo gets up from the couch, takes his empty plate to the sink, and heads straight for Master Splinter's room without a word.

"Good morning to you too," Raph says under his breath.


It's been years since Donnie read the book about turtles he found in Master Splinter's personal library, and he returns to it only to look for the section on social behavior and mating practices. He supplements the book with a quick internet search. He remembered correctly: turtles do not pair-bond, nor do they form family units. Neither male nor female turtles take an active parenting role over their young. Turtles only have sex for the purpose of reproduction, and males and females stay away from each other apart from mating season. He can't find any information on homosexual behavior in turtles, though he's aware several species display it in the animal kingdom.

The first time Donnie read about turtle social behavior, he was fifteen and felt strangely let down by the information. Ordinary, wild turtles didn't act anything like him and his brothers. He knew he and his brothers and Master Splinter were different, were part human in a way, but he had never seen anything human about himself in the mirror. He was expecting to relate more to turtles than people, but the most important behavioral area in animal existence left him feeling utterly un-turtle-like. He couldn't imagine living his whole life alone, without any meaningful relationships—without his brothers and his father. He still can't.

Donnie sets the book on turtles aside and leaves his lab for the dojo, hoping it's empty. Usually, Leo is in there because he lives and breathes training, but fortunately, he's not in the dojo now. No one is. Donnie takes his bo from the wall and moves to the center of the mat, beginning in the traditional first pose preceding every kata regardless of weapon. He takes a breath, then begins one of the kata he likes using as a warm-up.

Donnie is no stranger to alienation. None of the turtles are. Now thirty years old, they're accustomed to who they are and how they live, comfortable with themselves in a way they weren't as teenagers or even early twenty-something's. So much has happened, they've been through more stress and life-or-death situations than most of the human population will ever face, and the very basic question of their "normalcy," their nature, their value as living things was more or less resolved years ago. Donnie certainly doesn't wish he was human, though he was curious as a teen.

But Mikey raised an important question—a fascinating one. Are they supposed to long for romantic relationships? Are they supposed to agonize over their singlehood, the way humans always do in movies and TV shows? Should they be tortured by the lack of partnered sex?

The real question is: if the way they live doesn't bother them, does it mean they're truly the kind of creatures that humans consider beneath them?

Well, they're not human. Never have been, never will be. It would be silly to expect their every feeling, desire, impulse, and behavior to match humans. Yet they don't act entirely like unmutated turtles either.

Donnie twirls his bo around him, strikes an invisible enemy, turns around, spins the bo, strikes again. Out of all his brothers, his ninja skills are the least flashy, but Master Splinter has reminded him many times that he is just as deadly as they are, that he is one of the most skilled fighters with a bo in the world. Donnie feels as if he's never been as identified with his weapons, his ninja status, as his brothers. He sees the bo as a tool, no different than all the tools in his lab, and he's mastered it for the sake of doing his part on the team. But he knows this isn't who he is—at least not entirely.

He somersaults on the ground and springs back on his feet, thrusting the bo forward into another invisible opponent. He's not thinking of the kata at all, performing it solely from muscle memory.

Donnie was never sure whether he had a crush on April as a teen or not. Mikey seemed to be attracted to her, but there was no angst behind it. Donnie wonders now if it truly was sexual attraction Mikey felt for her or if it was more an aesthetic attraction combined with a teenage turtle fascination with the first human woman any of them had ever known personally. Mikey's been a big fan novels most of his life and used to consume those cheap, trashy Harlequin books when they were teens—Donnie suspects they may have had an influence on his brother back then. But now?

None of them, as far as Donnie knows, are devoid of a sex drive. But none of them have displayed frustration at being unable to have sex with other creatures. Donnie himself is quite satisfied masturbating and finds that now, he only needs to do it a couple times a month. He's sure he doesn't know what lust truly feels like, based on everything he's read and watched over the years. If he was identical to an ordinary turtle—if any of his brothers were—the impulse to copulate with another animal would be overwhelming to the point of near uncontrollability. The idea of being brought to his knees by a physical urge like that, even to the point of forcing himself onto another living thing, makes Donnie shudder.

But sex and romantic love are two different things. His ordinary turtle relatives prove that much. Romantic love doesn't exist for them. Their sexual activities are purely reproductive in nature. Humans, on the other hand…. Humans usually treat falling in love with a mate like the pinnacle of their emotional experience, aside from reproducing. They fuse that love with sex, with few exceptions, and they don't seem to feel half as much emotion in their other relationships as they do in those couple ones. That always struck Donnie as weird. In fact, most of human social behavior is weird to him, now that he's thinking about it.

Separating from your siblings so early in life and only seeing them a few times a year? Raising offspring apart from them? Living only with a mate and seeking out the lion's share of your physical and emotional needs from that mate?

Donnie can't imagine how anyone gets by like that. He's watched April and Casey over the years, as they progressed from dating to living together to marriage, and in the back of his mind, he always wondered how they could be happy with their arrangement, in the absence of family or friends who were the equivalent. He doesn't think he could be happy without his brothers living with him, sharing everything with him.

Is that what Mikey's getting at?


"Father," Leo says, when he enters Splinter's room.

The rat's ears perk up at that. Leo addresses him as father only in certain situations, usually ones involving his son's emotions. Splinter turns toward his eldest, watering can still in hand and some of his plants behind him. "Good morning, Leonardo," he says. "Is everything all right?"

Leo bows. "Yes," he says. "But I have something important I need to discuss."

The turtle crosses the distance between himself and Splinter and folds his legs beneath him to sit on the floor, hands on his thighs. The pose signals to Splinter that whatever's on his son's mind is truly serious. Splinter puts down the watering can.

"April gave a report just now," Leo starts. "On sex trafficking in the city. Young women and underage girls disappearing…. Presumed to be…. Taken. Taken and sold out there for…."

He can't say it out loud, but Splinter knows exactly what he's talking about. The rat bows his head a little. He's been aware for quite some time what humans do to each other when it comes to sex. He assumed—though maybe he's only just now realizing he assumed all these years—that his sons knew too.

But Leo is rattled in a way he hardly ever is.

"She made it sound like the people responsible for these crimes operate in some kind of network," Leo continues. "Like the Foot clan. I got the feeling she was holding back, not sharing everything she knows."

Splinter folds his hands and looks at his son. "Leonardo," he says. "What are you asking me?"

Leo drops his gaze from Splinter's face and goes quiet for a moment, as if trying to decide what he wants. "All this time, I thought missing persons were either dead or had run away to start a new life…. I never thought they might be…. That they might be prisoners somewhere, used for those…. evil purposes."

He lifts his eyes to look at his father again, and now, there is that cold, steely glint Splinter knows well. The look of a warrior whose wrath has been provoked.

"You have yet to ask your question," Splinter says.

"Shouldn't we do something?" says Leonardo. "Shouldn't we find a way to wipe out the men responsible for these crimes altogether?"

The second question is heroic to the point of innocence, and it reminds Splinter of teenage Leonardo. He doesn't have the heart to say that the turtles could never eliminate sex trafficking in New York, even if they spent the rest of their lives trying and had the entire NYPD at their disposal.

"It is not my place to tell you what you should do in this case," Splinter says. "What do you want to do?"

Leonardo purses his lips. "I want to take out as many of those traffickers as I can."

Splinter hangs his head now. "Leonardo—your intentions are noble, but I fear this mission is not one you can ever win. And it is dangerous. More dangerous than you know. Perhaps one of the most dangerous missions you could ever engage in. The risk to yourself and your brothers would be great. And for so little reward…. I fear that even if you pursue this mission and escape unscathed, you will have your heart broken and your morale shattered."

Leonardo's face contorts in confusion and surprise.

"You cannot solve this problem permanently, my son," Splinter adds. "Not even with the help of your brothers. You can only decide to walk away when you've had enough."

Leonardo's expression clears with understanding and disappointment, just a touch of disbelief that his father can respect in a young man. Leonardo bows his head.

"Tell me what to do, Master," he says.

Splinter smiles just a little. "You are an adult, Leonardo. I cannot command you. I can only give you the same advice I've tried to impart all your life: search your own heart, meditate on the question until your own wisdom is revealed to you, and consult your brothers. Each one of you must decide for himself, but always remember you are strongest as one."

Leo lifts his eyes to peer at his aging father and gives the rat a respectful nod.


When Raphael swoops down onto her building's rooftop, April is already there, waiting for him. She's smoking a cigarette, something she only does when she's had a hard day or when she's under a significant amount of stress. It's a bad habit she picked up from Casey in the 90s, and Raph wishes she would quit the way Casey has. But he never nags her about it. Not his style.

"Hey," she says, smiling at him with a tired face but genuine warmth in her eyes.

"Hey," says Raph, nearing her. "Thanks for meeting me this late."

"No problem. Everything all right?"

Raph nods. It's not often he asks to see her in person alone, and when he does, it's always to discuss a sensitive subject he doesn't want his brothers knowing about. He looks away, nervous about asking her what he wants.

He starts somewhere else: "That story of yours this morning…. Pretty dark stuff."

"Yeah, you could say that again," April replies, taking a drag on her cigarette. "Stuff of nightmares. The women I interviewed over the last few weeks…. Well. Suffice to say, I've lost plenty of sleep over this story."

Raph grimaces at her. "Now what?" he says.

April shakes her head. "I don't know. We'll see what kind of response the story gets over the next week, and if it's strong, then I might keep pursuing it."

"Do you want to?"

April meets his gaze. When he was younger, Raphael wouldn't have had the emotional intelligence to ask a question like that, but he's matured a lot since he first rescued her in a subway fifteen years ago. It still takes April by surprise sometimes.

"I don't know," she says, because that's the truth.

"Well, I won't blame you if you decide to move on," Raph says.

"Is that what you came here to talk to me about? My story?"

Raphael shifts his weight from one foot to the other. "Not exactly."

She looks at him with renewed interest now, more alert, tracking him as he starts to pace. He's quiet for a long time, but she doesn't prod him, knowing he'll speak when he's ready.

"You ever meet anybody—any humans—who don't do the whole married-with-kids thing?" Raph says. "Because they don't want to?"

There's a strange quality in his eyes when he asks the question. It's hope, she realizes.

"Uh—I don't know. I can't think of anyone off the top of my head, but I know there are people who don't get married. It's rare, I guess. But I'm sure there are some people out there who like being single."

Raph keeps pacing. He looks troubled, tense.

"Why do you ask?" April says, surprised by the turtle's question.

"Mikey brought it up this morning," he says. "He was wondering if we're supposed to be upset because we're never going to have that kind of life. I don't think he's actually upset about it….. But it's like he realized that it might be weird if we're okay with it or something? I don't know."

"Well, what do you think? Are you upset? Do you wish you could…. Have a girlfriend?"

"Not really. I don't think about it, you know. There's always more important shit to think about. And like I told Mikey, it doesn't matter how we feel about it because there ain't nothing we can do to change the situation. We're turtles. Humans are never going to want us like that. I'm not even sure it's right for us to want to hook up with them, if any of us do. I mean, that would be weird, right? Wanting to do the do with a different species?"

April half-smiles and says, "I should really have a glass of wine for this conversation."

"Sorry," says Raphael. "This is stupid, I shouldn't have let Mikey get in my head."

"It's okay. You can always come to me about stuff like this. What are human friends for, right?"

Raph gives her a smile.

April crushes her cigarette butt under her heel and gets up from her seat, approaching the big turtle. She lays her hands on his bulging upper arms and looks at him with kindness. "Raph, the only thing that matters is that you're happy and at peace and doing what you want to do. You don't have to be like anybody else. You already know that. And if you don't like the way things are…. Then try to change them."

Raphael nods, feeling soothed enough despite the lack of concrete answers.

"And when all else fails, talk to your brothers," April adds. "They're the ones you should compare yourself to, not people."


The next morning, Leo is the first to rise, and he begins his day with an hour-long meditation in the little room that Master Splinter set aside for just that purpose. He tries his best to keep his mind quiet and clear, and when the question of his potential mission arises, he tries to listen to his heart, which really means listening to his body.

Once he opens his eyes, he knows what his decision is—but deciding was only step one.

Leo emerges from the meditation room and heads for the kitchen, assuming he'll be on breakfast duty today. But he finds Donnie sitting at the table, sipping on hot tea and thinking. Which is not like Donnie at all. Undistracted thinking is Leo's territory. Donnie's always got his attention on something outside of himself, usually an experiment or scientific research.

"Hey," Leo says, keeping his voice down, so only Donnie can hear him.

"Morning," says Donnie. "Were you meditating?"

Leo nods and rests his hands on the back of the empty chair across from his brother. "Got any more water in that kettle for me?"

"Yeah, there's plenty."

"Cool." Leo moves to the kitchen counter, takes a clean mug out of the cupboard, picks a green tea bag from the family tea collection, and pours the water into the mug. Many of the most important conversations he had with his father growing up were had over hot tea. Leo drinks it more than any of his brothers to this day.

He sits across from Donnie at the table and warms his hands around the mug, waiting until it feels right to speak. "What's on your mind, Don?"

Donnie's eyes meet his brother's. "I could ask you the same question."

Leo lifts one corner of his mouth. Donnie's always been the most perceptive of his three brothers. They're more similar in temperament than either one is to Raph or Mikey, which has always made it easy for them to communicate despite their differences.

"I'll start if you want me to," Leo says.

Donnie gives him the gentlest of nods, watching his big brother as if Leo is the only thing in the world.

"I've been reflecting on April's report," Leo begins. "I haven't been able to think about anything else. I spoke to Master Splinter about it yesterday…. He wouldn't tell me what to do. He said I should decide for myself, then talk to you and the others."

"Talk to us…. About what?" says Donnie.

Leo looks up at him, feeling the weight of his decision. "I want to go after the traffickers. I want to save as many women as I can, and I want to avenge the victims."

Donnie's eyes shine and widen. He's speechless. He never would've thought Leo would suggest anything of the kind, based solely on a news report.

"I know I don't…. usually decide on something like this so quickly," Leo says, staring into his tea. "But I feel different, Don. This feels different. It feels like…. A calling. I don't think I can resist."

"Leo—" Donnie says, the gears in his mind racing. "What you're talking about is…. I wouldn't even know where to start. And it would be super dangerous, I mean—the men you're talking about hunting are the worst people on earth."

"I know." Leo meets his brother's gaze, and he's got that look in his eyes. The one Donnie knows means his leader is out for blood. "Master Splinter warned me. And he's right. This mission would be incredibly dangerous—and hard. Maybe harder than I can imagine…. Which is why I'm not asking you or Raph or Mikey to do it with me. I'll take your help if you want to give it to me, but if you don't, I understand. Just because I feel this calling doesn't mean you will too."

Donnie sits there with his mouth open for a second. "Leo, you can't do something like this alone. You would get killed or worse, captured…. I don't even want to think…."

But he does. And Leo's thought of it too. If he or his brothers were ever captured by men in the trafficking industry, they would meet a fate far worse than the experimentation and imprisonment they've feared from the government all their lives. The fate of the victims he wants to help.

"I need to do this, Donnie," Leo says, after drinking some of his tea. "I need to at least try. But I don't want to drag you and the others into it if you're scared or if you think it's a bad idea. Each of you should think about it the way I have and decide. I won't be offended if you decide to sit this one out."

Donnie's hand darts across the table and grips Leo's arm tight, startling the older turtle.

"Leonardo," Donnie says, giving his brother one of the most intense looks Leo has ever seen from him. "You will not perform this mission alone. I won't let you. Neither will Raph or Mikey. If we decide we don't want to do it, you're not going either."

Leo could retort that he's an adult and the leader of their team and can do whatever he pleases, but the way his brother's looking at him tells him two things: Donnie is willing to physically fight him to stop him if necessary, and Donnie is terrified of Leo going on the mission alone.

So Leo just looks at his brother and nods.

Donnie lets him go and seems to calm down again. "I'll support you," he says. "I won't tell Raph and Mikey what call to make, but I'll vote in favor of this mission because I can see how much it means to you."

Leo smiles. "Thank you," he says.

Donnie sips at his tea, his cheeks hot from the spike in adrenaline he just felt. "I can't believe you would consider doing something that dangerous by yourself," he says, so quiet that Leo can only just hear him.

Leo feels a twinge of guilt for scaring his brother, so decides to finally change the subject. "It's your turn. Tell me what you were thinking about."

Donatello glances up at Leo, as if unwilling to move on from his brother's slight so easily. But he relents. "I was thinking about how to answer Mikey's questions concerning our social and sexual nature," he says.

"What?" Leo replies. "What questions?"

"You were too focused on April's report yesterday to hear him, I guess. He asked if we're supposed to be unhappy about never having romantic relationships. I think maybe he was trying to ask why he's not upset about it, as if there might be something wrong with him, with us, for being at peace with it."

"Where did that come from?"

"I don't know," says Donnie. "But he'd obviously been thinking about seriously. The answer matters to him."

"Why?" says Leo. "If we accept our lives the way they are, why should we question that acceptance? That's just looking for unhappiness."

"I don't know why, and I don't think it matters. He asked me a question, and I'm trying to come up with an answer."

"So do you have it yet?"

Donnie's quiet for a moment, then says, "Turtles don't pair bond the way humans do. They don't even raise their offspring. They don't form families, they just—have sex and reproduce. Humans are the exact opposite: highly social, family-oriented, and geared toward long-term romantic relationships with sexual partners. We seem to fall somewhere in between. Emotionally, we're far more human than turtle, but sexually, we're more turtle-like, I guess. Although, we haven't displayed sexual frustration at our lack of suitable mates…. So it's almost like we're asexual, but we do have sex drives…."

"I'm not seeing an answer in that info dump," says Leo, affectionate amusement in his voice.

"If none of us feel an overwhelming urge to pair bond with a sexual partner, it's probably because we're turtles," Donnie says. "If we don't experience a desire to have sex with other beings, despite our libidos, that could be an effect of the mutagen. The point is, we're not human—so it makes sense that our social behaviors and drives are different from most humans."

"Donnie, I don't think that's what Mikey wants to hear…."

"What do you mean?"

Leo pauses and drinks more of his tea. "I think he wants to know if it's okay to be the way he is. The way we are."

"That—doesn't make any sense. Okay according to who? Humans probably wouldn't think it's okay, but we're already not normal in their eyes, so…."

Leo searches his own mind for a way to put into words what he senses in Mikey. "Maybe he's afraid that not wanting a life mate or a girlfriend or whatever means that…. He's heartless. I know that sounds ridiculous, uh…. Emotionally incomplete or defective. Something like that."

Donnie blinks at his older brother. "That's ridiculous," he says.

Leo shrugs.

Donnie sighs and rubs at his forehead.

"That's really what's got you so quiet?" Leo says.

Donnie looks at him again. He considers trying to put into words what he's feeling, but he doesn't think it would go well right now. He hasn't finished processing. "I'm just thinking about our social behavior a lot," he says. "When I'm done, I'll let you know."

Leo nods.


After dinner, Leo calls a turtle meeting in the dojo. He and his brothers sit in a circle on the floor, something they haven't done since they were kids, and Leo can tell Raph and Mikey are uneasy in anticipation of whatever he's got to say. They both figure Splinter already knows about the subject, or else Leo would've called a family meeting to include their father. Neither one notices Donnie's lack of suspicious energy.

Leo takes a deep breath before he starts, his shoulders tense. "I have a mission I want to take on," he says. "I have Master's blessing to make my own decision, and so do you. This mission isn't like anything we've done before…. So I think you all have to think about it carefully before you decide whether you want to go for it. Don't give me your final answer now. Sleep on it."

"Leo, are we ever going to find out what the mission is?" says Raph.

Leo doesn't quite roll his eyes at his brother, who's sitting directly across from him. "You all heard April's report yesterday morning, right?" he says.

Donnie nods.

Mikey looks at all his brothers in confusion.

Raph says, "Yeah, about the city's sex trafficking problem."

"Right," says Leo. "Well—I want to go after the bastards involved. I want to rescue as many of their targets as I can, ideally before those targets become victims. And if I can trace the connection between victims and their original traffickers, I want to punish those traffickers…. And I don't mean turn them into the cops."

Raph holds Leo's gaze, while Donnie surveys the faces of all his brothers and Mikey gawks at Leo.

"I know getting involved in that world is dangerous," Leo continues. "Which is why I'm willing to pursue this mission without you, if you don't want to get involved. I won't blame you if you say no."

"You're not going alone," Donnie says softly, at Leo's right.

"You're fucking insane if you think I'd ever let you go up against people like that without backup," Raph tells Leo, a hard edge to his voice. "I'll chain you to your bed the rest of your life if that's what I have to do to stop you."

"Dude," Mikey says at Leo, his expression a mix of awe, disbelief, and a tinge of indignation.

Leo remains unruffled. "I need to do this," he says, not wanting to fight over it. "I can feel it in my gut, this—calling. This is more important than anything we've ever done."

"How would you even start?" Raph demands. "And when would it end?"

"I don't know."

Raph rocks forward and backward but remains seated. "You're talking about murder with no end in sight, Leo. You think you can handle that? Because I don't think you can. And you wouldn't even get to save anyone probably. You'd just be vindicating people who are already lost."

"Maybe you don't care enough about the victims to do something about what's happening, Raph, but I do," Leo replies, raising his voice just a hair. "I can't just go on living my life pretending that this city is safe when it's not, letting who knows how many women and children be destroyed…."

When they were younger, Raphael would've taken his brother's bait and flew into a rage, but he's developed enough self-control to see through Leo's tactic. He keeps his voice low—the kind of pitch that sounds dangerous coming from any of the turtles. "You're smart enough to know the risks this family would face if we accepted this mission," he says.

That blunts Leo's energy. His eyes soften. "I know what's at stake," he says. "That's why I'm giving you each the option of sitting this out."

"Letting you do this alone isn't an option for us, Leo," says Donnie. "It's all of us or none of us."

"Are you sure about this?" Mikey says to Leo. "This is like…. dark to the max, bro."

Leo looks at his youngest brother and doesn't answer. Mikey can see in his eyes that he's already made up his mind.

Leo faces Raph again, glances at Donnie. "I don't want to drag you down this path if you're not serious about the mission. So if you all vote against it…. I'll try to put it out of my mind."

The eldest turtle gets to his feet and leaves the circle, heading for the door.

"Leo," Raph calls.

Leo stops and turns around, seeing his three brothers on their feet.

"We're in," says Raph.