Author's Note: Hello everyone! This is my first attempt at a TMNT fanfiction. This story follows the 2k12 series…mostly. I came up with the idea prior to "The Mutation Situation," so in the story, April stays underground for a while; however, since word leaked months earlier that Kirby O'Neil would end up being Wingnut, I allude to his mutation. Also, I own neither TMNT nor the song used to inspire this story, "Gypsy" by Fleetwood Mac (although I highly recommend you give it a listen.) Finally, though this story is a one-shot, it grew beyond my initial concept, so I'm posting as two chapters for the sake of readability. That being said, enjoy!
Lightning Strikes, Maybe Once, Maybe Twice
"So I'm back, to the velvet underground,
Back to the floor, that I love,
To a room with some lace and paper flowers,
Back to the gypsy, that I was,
To the gypsy that I was…"
-"Gypsy," by Fleetwood Mac
The cursor on the blank page winks at me arrogantly, taunting my inability to commit my thoughts to paper. I've been staring at the screen for the better part of an hour now, but the words simply won't flow. For a moment, I consider feigning illness—it would be easy enough to send someone to the podium to graciously accept the award on my behalf and to crack a joke about how I shouldn't have eaten the rakfisk—but it would be a cowardly thing to do. After all, I'm already in Oslo and everyone—from the distinguished to the obscure—will be waiting with bated breath to hear the words of the great April O'Neil.
I've become a legend to them, you see—a hero. They believe me to be a prodigy—a once-in-a-millennium intellect whose inventions have changed the world. They have awarded me the Nobel Prize an unprecedented three times—twice in physics and once in medicine—for my contributions to humanity. When my admirers compliment me, they say I possess an ethereal quality—something that can't be put into words: a romantic would tell you that they are in awe of my presence, of standing before the mind that brought the world into a new age of technological advancement; a cynic would tell you that they are bald-faced flatterers. Perhaps both arguments can be made, but neither is correct. I am a fraud and everything about me is a lie.
Fumbling through my purse, I pull out a pack of Djarum Cloves and a book of matches. I make my way to the mini-bar in my suite and pour two fingers of whiskey into a rocks glass—I don't bother adding ice. I unlock the door to the balcony, and step into the milky moonlight beyond; a rush of cold air sweeps up and down my body, chilling me to the core. Using my hand to shield the flame, I light the cigarette and take a long drag; smoke fills my lungs and soothes my frazzled nerves. When I think about how I have gotten to this point in my life, I find myself returning to the same moment in time—the night the Kraang kidnapped my father. I didn't know it then, but life as I knew it would never be the same—never as honest and never as simple.
It isn't easy being sixteen, but it is especially difficult when your entire world is stripped away from you. If you would have told me that inter-dimensional aliens aspiring to take over the world would abduct my father, I would have recommended you take an extended stay in a padded room with a roommate who spends their time crocheting imaginary sweaters. But it happened. At first, I didn't know whether to cry or scream. The prospect of facing the world without my father's love and guidance absolutely terrified me and what I knew of his captors did little to temper my fears. Fortunately, four friendly faces looked my way and offered their help.
Strange and unusual things can be seen on a daily basis in New York City, to the point where you become desensitized; some encounters, however, are just too jarring—too monumental to downplay. That's what meeting the guys was like. In an instant, I found myself trying to wrap my mind around—and this sounds terrible—what they were. I had never seen anything like them before. Nothing even came close. At first—and I am a bit ashamed to admit this—I was afraid. But their actions spoke volumes. When the dust and rubble settled and they stood before me with concern and warmth in their eyes, I knew that what was most extraordinary about them was not their appearance, but their spirit.
The days that followed are some of the happiest I can recall. My new friends—Leonardo, Raphael, Donatello, and Michelangelo—though incredibly gifted, had little working knowledge of life aboveground. Most of what they knew they gleaned from televisions shows—and bad ones at that. I was more than eager to shepherd them through the streets of New York and show them what I loved most about the city. Every outing was an adventure—a new experience waiting to be lived. Yes, a lot of terrible things had happened. Yes, there was evil afoot. And yes, Earth itself was in jeopardy. But their buoyancy—the way they could plunge into the deepest depths yet remain above it all—healed the fractures in my faith and helped me to see the good in the world.
Just as they took an immediate interest in my life and the world in which I lived, I admired theirs. Perhaps it was because they were so unlike anyone else I knew. They were unafraid of hard work, discipline, and rigid regimentation; in fact, they thrived on it. They were graceful, tactful, and cunning; yet, they were just as prone to throw caution to the wind and act spontaneously. Early on, we were simply drawn together: we shared a common enemy and had common interests. They had skills and abilities far beyond my wildest dreams while normalcy and discretion allowed me to undertake covert missions and reconnaissance. If fate hadn't intervened, our relationship may never have gone further; however, when I became a bartering chip for the Shredder and the Foot Clan, I was forced underground.
You never truly understand someone until you have lived with them in close quarters. Prior to my time in hiding, I believed I knew them all reasonably well; little did I know that I had barely begun to scratch the surface. The longer I spent in asylum, the more I came to respect and appreciate them as individuals. After all, without a variety of personalities with which to interact, a life lived in relative isolation would seem hardly a life worth living. Fortunately for me, the Turtles had personality to spare.
When I needed to calm my mind, I sought out Leonardo. There was quiet elegance about him that I greatly admired. His intense focus when coupled with his deep reverence for tradition fueled an unparalleled desire for perfection. He would train for hours: every movement had to be crisp and clean, every strike decisive, and every kata flawlessly executed. He didn't waste words, either, and kept quite a bit to himself. But I never confused his silence for a lack of mental acuity. There was a time just before a battle with the Foot Clan when he sat at the table staring into space.
"Leo, are you okay?" I asked. He paid me no mind.
"Leo?" I waved my hand in front of his face, hoping to snap him out of it. Again, nothing.
"LEO!" I roared. It was loud enough that Donatello, who was working in his lab, poked his head out to see what was going on. Leo, though, simply raised his eyes to meet mine.
"Oh, hey April. What's up?"
"Are you alright?" I tried not to sound freaked out.
"Oh, yeah." A faint smile graced his face. "I was just thinking."
"Penny for your thoughts?"
I sat beside him at the table. He sighed heavily and roughly rubbed the back on his neck, working the stiffness from his shoulders.
"With the Foot Clan and the Kraang working together, things have become more complicated. On their own, they are formidable, but together…"
"They'll be tough to bring down." I offered, finishing his thought.
"Yeah… Raph seems to think that we need to make a stand, a show of force to let the Foot and the Kraang know that we aren't going to sit back and wait for them to put their plans in motion. Donnie thinks that it would be more—what was the word he used—'prudent' to wait a little while longer. Maybe see if we can stay a step or two ahead."
"And what do you think?"
"They're both right. That's the problem. If we attack, we put our lives at risk; but, if we're successful, we could derail or delay whatever Shredder and the Kraang have planned. If we stay put, we stay safe; but, it gives Shredder and the Kraang valuable time to get organized and an organized enemy is a dangerous enemy."
I put my hand on his shoulder. "I can't tell you what to do and I definitely don't envy the decision you'll have to make, but I know you'll make the right call. When things get bad and the odds are stacked against you guys, somehow you always come out on top. You'll figure this out and when you do, the Kraang and the Foot won't know what hit them."
He nodded in consideration.
"I keep running through scenarios in my head." He said evenly. "And the more I do, the more uncertain I feel. I just don't want to make the wrong choice or approach this the wrong way…"
"How can you be so sure?"
"Because you've been sitting here staring at a wall and thinking about it for a couple of hours now. Whatever you choose to do, it won't be some last second, spur-of-the-moment decision."
I got up from the table and turned toward Donatello's lab.
"April?" Leo called. I turned and faced him. "Thanks."
When they gave him a hard time for being out-of-touch or "uncool," I often wondered whether or not his brothers understood how much Leo had on his mind. It was a burden he carried at all times; it was a burden he concealed at all costs.
Raphael taught me a great deal about passion. He never did anything halfway; if he devoted himself to something, he did so completely. It was a quality that served him well…usually. In battle, it made him fierce, tough, and indomitable—a highly trained martial artist with the mentality of a street brawler. But the same quality that made him a great fighter put a strain on his relationships. He could be hotheaded and impetuous. He was stubborn to a fault. And when it came to matters of the heart, he kept everyone an arm's length away. He was difficult to read and volatile—not a combination that generally works well. But as I got to know him, it became clear there was much more to him than sarcasm and surliness.
Every mission is dangerous. Every mission is potentially fatal. But one in particular stands out. Winter had a stranglehold over the city. The air was the icy breath of Death and the trees, leafless and spindly, resembled skeletal hands stretching to the heavens. The guys, vulnerable to extremely cold temperatures, were not at their best—perhaps a step or two slower than usual—but the mission came first. They discovered a covert Kraang communications hub and hoped to disrupt the chain-of-command by destroying it. Once inside, though, something went wrong: the Kraang saw them coming and opened fire. They tried to press on—to complete their objective—but they were outnumbered and outgunned. During the battle, Michelangelo went down, shot in the thigh and shoulder.
By the time they returned to the lair, Michelangelo had already lost a great deal of blood. He lay motionless on a table in Donatello's lab, his shallow, rhythmic breaths the only discernible sign of life. Raph refused to leave him. He didn't sleep and wouldn't eat. After two days passed, I became concerned.
"How are you holding up, Raph?" I asked. My words, however, didn't reach him. He sat, arms folded across his chest, with his eyes fixed on Michelangelo.
"Are you hungry? I brought you some Ramen. I know it isn't much, but you haven't eaten in a couple days now…"
I couldn't think of anything else to say. Words seemed inadequate. I set the soup beside him and turned to leave him to his thoughts.
"Shoulda been me." He murmured. He shook his head and cast down his eyes. "Not him…"
"Don't say that."
"Why not? It's true."
"What do you mean?"
He rose stiffly from his chair and stepped toward me. "What do I mean? I mean what I said. It should be me on that table, not Mikey. I didn't wanna fall back when Leo gave the order. I wanted to keep goin', keep fightin'. But they just kept comin' and comin'. No matter how many I took down there were more. Next thing I know, Mikey's next to me. He's tryin' to help, tryin' to get me outta there. And then…" He took hold of the chair and smashed it against the wall and floor until only broken shards remained. When his rage petered out, he withered to the floor. He panted heavily on his hands and knees and clutched his side.
"Are you okay?" I knelt beside him.
With a snort, he winced, gritted his teeth, and stumbled to his feet. "I'm…I'm fine. Just tired, I guess."
"I don't believe you."
"Whatever…" He grumbled. He held his side tightly and controlled his breathing to mitigate the pain.
"Move your hand." I demanded.
"N-no." He retorted brusquely. "Leave me alone."
"You know I'm just as stubborn as you." I shot back. "And I'm not leaving until you move your hand."
He glared at me, hoping to shatter my resolve. When he realized I meant what I said, he rolled his eyes in exasperation and did as I asked. The wound was under his right arm. It was several inches long, filled with congealed blood, and bordered by charred flesh. A gasp escaped me.
"Raph, this is serious. We gotta have Donnie take a look at it."
"It's just a graze. I'll be fine." He griped. His body trembled and he leaned against the wall for support. "'Sides, I…I don't wanna leave him by himself. He doesn't like to be alone…"
Despite his protestations, he allowed me to clean and dress his wound so long as I didn't tell Leo or Donnie about it. He didn't want to be "babied" or made to rest. All he wanted was to be by Mikey's side when he awoke. Though he argued with and teased Mikey mercilessly, it was clear his true feelings lay deeper—far beneath the steely veneer he wore to face the world.
Ironically, Michelangelo was the most difficult for me to understand. For the longest while I assumed I had him figured out; in fact, it wouldn't be a stretch to say I had written him off. At a glance, he was aloof. While the others would debate strategies or ideas, he would remain detached from it all—in a world entirely his own. In combat, though he was highly skilled, he was indecisive and the blows he did land lacked conviction. I suspected—and again, it sounds awful—that he wasn't dedicated enough to be on par with his brothers. I couldn't have been more wrong.
Aside from possessing a delightful sense of humor, an endearing child-like innocence, and an inherently kind soul, Michelangelo was also the most emotionally intelligent person I had ever met. He had an uncanny knack—almost a sixth sense—for interpreting the emotions of others and providing exactly what they needed to move forward. As he healed from his injuries, I began to face the grim reality of my father's fate. At the time, I was bitter. I wanted the world to suffer as I was suffering. I isolated myself and pushed everyone who tried to help me away—until Mikey pushed back.
When I was at my worst, I had a nightly ritual: the guys would go out and patrol, Master Splinter would meditate, and I would go to the training room and work the heavy bag until my hands bled. This particular evening, though, was different: Michelangelo stayed behind and was training, working his way back to full strength.
"Hey April." He said in between push-ups. "What's up?"
I walked past him without a word and positioned myself in front of my threadbare canvas opponent. My first blow sounded with a dull thud.
"You gotta keep your shoulders square." He said has he transitioned seamlessly from calisthenics to a sequence of katas. I responded with another blow to the bag.
"You needta drive all the way through when you hit. It'll hurt more that way."
Rage coursed through me. I was a powder keg beside and open flame. I struck the bag again.
"Keep your wrist straight. You're gonna hurt yourself if you don't."
"Do you EVER shut up?!" The words, sharp and callous, escaped me. "I don't want help…especially from you!"
He stopped what he was doing and turned to me. "April, look…I…"
"You think you know it all, don't you? DON'T YOU?! Haven't you done enough?! My life was just fine until you showed up. Now everybody wants me chained up or worse, I'm stuck in this godforsaken sewer, and my dad is a mutant FREAK." I was mere inches from him. My fists were tightly balled and poised to strike. With a single step, he closed the distance between us. Angry and confused, I pushed him away. He stumbled back a step, regained his balance, and approached yet again.
"Just leave me ALONE!" I jammed my fists into his plastron—harder this time—to drive my point home. He anticipated the move and absorbed the blow.
"I MEAN it!" I bellowed, striking him once more.
"It's okay, April." He whispered. He shrugged and upturned his hands. "It's okay... I can take it."
He was willing to drop his guard and let me take my anger out on him. He had been through hell trying to help me and had the scars to prove it, yet he was willing to endure more pain to spare me mine. Tears welled in my eyes. Without a word, he wrapped his arms around me as I collapsed to the floor and sobbed.
"Everything's gonna be alright." He cooed. "You're gonna be fine…"
He held me until I dried my eyes. For the first time in a long while, the world didn't seem a cruel and unforgiving place.
I light a second cigarette off of the dying embers of the first and down the glass of whiskey. I savor the fleeting sense of warmth it brings and head back into my room for a refill. Thoughts of Donatello are often accompanied by unpleasant memories of how things between us went awry. I find that it is easier to confront my demons when I am drunk. It's a damn cowardly of me, but on the list of reasons why I dislike myself, it hardly ranks.
While his brothers certainly taught me about life, Donnie taught me about love. Early on, it was apparent that he had feelings for me. He tried to hide it—perhaps to save himself from embarrassment or heartache—but his actions betrayed him: when I needed someone to talk to, he was there; when I needed someone to lean on, he was there; and when my mind begged to be occupied, he had a project at-the-ready and an extra stool beside his workbench. It wasn't long before his kind gestures grew grander.
My first week living underground was the most difficult. Mild claustrophobia aside, my mind was restless. Every time I closed my eyes, I was jolted awake by thoughts of the Kraang. I would lie in the dark listening to the sounds of the world underground: rivulets of water trickling, dripping, or spilling forth; the footfalls of small creatures meandering about; the distant hum of traffic from above or the grumbling of the subway. Eventually, I gave up on sleep, got to my feet, and gingerly made my way toward the kitchen. I started the kettle on the stove and pulled a mug from the cupboard. That's when I noticed a shaft of light shining from beneath the door of Donnie's lab. I knocked gently; he answered promptly, his welding goggles perched atop his head.
"Oh hey, April." He stifled a yawn. "Can't get to sleep?"
"Not so much. I was just making some tea. Would you like some?"
"Yeah," His expression brightened. "That would be great!"
His enthusiasm made me smile. I turned and pulled a second mug from the cupboard. "What are you working on, Donnie?"
"I've been analyzing the power cells the Kraang use in their blasters. If I can reverse-engineer the design, I can repurpose the technology and put it to better use."
"Better use?" I poured the water into the mugs and let the tea steep; tendrils of steam rose and danced in the air. "What do you have in mind?"
"Well, the possibilities are endless." He emerged from his lab and pulled up a chair at the table. "The most practical choice would be to upgrade the Shellraiser. Maybe add energy cannons of our own or divert the power through a series of matrices to form a deflector shield."
"You could do that?"
"It might take some time, but I'm fairly certain it can be done." I handed him his mug and took a seat across from him. "That would be small potatoes, though. Tech this sophisticated should be used to improve the human condition. Can you imagine it? A world with clean, sustainable energy? A world where lost limbs can be replaced by fully functional prosthetics? Where people can live longer, happier, and more independent lives?" His eyes were alight and his smile widened. "But I don't want to get too ahead of myself."
I sipped my tea and he his. "I think it is great. Too many people think only of themselves. The world needs dreamers, Donnie. Dreamers change the world."
He blushed and giggled nervously. He drew a breath to speak then stammered and wringed his hands.
"You look absolutely exhausted." He noted, changing the subject. "How long has it been since you've slept?"
"How many days have I been down here?"
"Then I guess it has been five days. I've just had a lot on my mind. I've been thinking about my dad—worrying about him, wondering how he is doing, hoping he's okay…" I sighed then added, "And I guess I'm a bit homesick, too."
"Is there anything I can do to help?"
"No, no…" I replied. "You and the guys have already gone above and beyond for me. You've taken me in and kept me safe. It'll just take some time to get used to living down here. Up above, the noises are different and it isn't as dark…" I rubbed my eyes with my thumb and forefinger and quickly changed gears. "Sorry, I'm rambling. I don't mean to sound ungrateful, especially after you have all been so good to me. I'll adjust."
He smiled, thanked me for the tea, and excused himself; I decided to give sleep another shot.
A couple days passed before I gave our late night conversation much thought. I hadn't seen Donatello since and worried that something I said had offended him. He withdrew completely and remained in his lab. Though protracted periods of work or study were characteristic of him, I was concerned. At times, feverish bouts of activity could be heard—various tools droning, objects being dragged across the floor, the hammering of metal—followed by long stretches of silence. It wasn't until a third day had passed that the door to the lab finally swung open and he stepped out. He looked ragged—physically and mentally drained.
"April," His voice was hoarse. "Do you have a minute? I've been working on something I'd like to show you."
"Donnie, is everything okay?" I asked. "You've been shut up in there for days…"
"I'm better than okay." He rasped. His smile carved a path across his face.
"What is it you'd like to show me?"
"Telling you would ruin the surprise!" He replied. He held out his hand to me. "Close your eyes and I'll take you there… And no peeking!"
Initially, I thought it to be an odd request, but I relented; Donnie's excitement triggered mine. I covered my eyes with one hand, gave him the other, and he led me through a series of serpentine turns.
"Alright April," His words dripped with anticipation. "You can open your eyes now!"
The sight that greeted me took my breath away: it was a room. Lace adorned the walls and cascaded to the floor. Strings of lights and phosphorescent paint were painstakingly applied to the ceiling to mimic the night's sky; a handful of origami cranes swirled amidst the stars. A queen-sized bed lay on the floor, covered by a crushed velvet quilt; two small nightstands flanked the bed—a vase with paper flowers topped one and a candelabra the other.
"Donnie…" Elation and disbelief left me speechless. "How did you..?"
"Do you like it?" He asked.
"It's…it's beautiful. I…I don't know what to say…"
"Leo, Raph, and Mikey helped, too. They did quite a bit of the legwork; they found most of the fabric in boxes behind the defunct futon factory. I welded the walls together and designed the ceiling. Getting the bed was actually the most difficult part…"
Before he could finish, I wrapped my arms around him and kissed him on the cheek. In a single act, he gave me a place in his world; what's more, he carved it from the epicenter of his universe—his lab. It was one of the kindest, most thoughtful things anyone had ever done for me. That night, I slept soundly.
After that, our relationship deepened. I became his confidant, and he mine. Together, we reveled in the afterglow of victory; together, we shouldered the sorrow of defeat. When I was scared, anxious, or feeling low, he knew exactly what to do to help me through; when he isolated himself or worked too hard, I knew how to set him at ease and bring him back to the present. And when it was quiet and we were alone, time passed swiftly and with remarkable sweetness.