Lair of the Stealth Bunnies | home
It’s been two months since they killed him.
Two months since the downfall of the Foot Clan. Two months since we lost our empire. Two months of wandering the city without a home. Two months, while the monsters that killed him live secure in their victory.
Two months to think of revenge.
Many of the kids simply went home to their parents. With our father gone, they chose to forget about our family, the loyalties they pledged, the vows they swore. Instead, they returned to the world that had rejected them. The rest wander the city with the other forsaken, surviving by using the skills the Foot taught them. They no longer matter.
Some of the warriors who survived the Battle have banded together. But they are leader-less and panic like sheep. Without our father's leadership, the Foot Clan is nothing. Tatsu is no leader; he is capable only of following orders, rather than creating them. I listened to their confused babbling, then left without looking back.
I spent the last two months living in the lair that the monsters had created for themselves in the sewers. It is warm and dry, and it is doubtful that the monsters will return again, after the time they came and took away what they treasured. I searched through the belongings that they had left behind and came to know the personalities behind these monsters. That will be the tool behind my victory. I know them, know their loves, their hobbies, hints of their fears. This time, the ways of the Foot will not fail.
It has been two months since they killed him. But my victory will be the Shredder's revenge.
"I'm bored," Raphael said.
Donatello promptly picked up his tool belt and the pile of computer chips that he was working on and left the room. Raphael's boredom usually led to something broken.
Raphael picked at a corner of the carpet with one of his sai. "There's nothing to do anymore. What did we do before we discovered the Foot?"
"Practice." Michaelangelo flipped through channels on the television. "Practice, practice, listen to you moan about being bored, practice some more... Are you sure you're really bored? Because if you are, I'm going to sneak away before either Master Splinter or Leo hear you say that. There's got to be a good movie on here somewhere, and anything's preferable to sparring my muscles sore."
"Awww, you're just out of shape," Raphael retorted.
"Soft!" Raphael leaned toward him, grinning maliciously. "Flabby! A couch potato! Your shell's beginning to sound like an overripe melon! Squish!"
Michaelangelo threw the TV Guide at him. It was all the excuse Raphael needed. Shouting happily, he launched himself at Michaelangelo, and the chair his brother was sitting in tipped over backwards from his added weight. Michaelangelo howled, rolled out of the chair, and grabbed for a couch pillow. Raphael snagged its mate and thumped Michaelangelo in the face with it.
Pieces of pillow foam were flying through the air by the time they heard the cough. Raphael swiped at Michaelangelo one last time with the tattered remnants of fabric, before they both turned and looked up at Leonardo, who was standing in the hallway, foot tapping. "Look at this place!" he ordered.
They glanced around them sheepishly. Michaelangelo's soda had spilled and it was foaming across the carpet. One of them had rolled over the open bag of potato chips and scattered crumbs everywhere. The remote for the tv had been crushed, the couch cushions were knocked across the room, a vase was broken and its flowers laying in a puddle of water on the floor, and the pillows simply didn't exist any more.
Michaelangelo blew a floating piece of pillow foam away from his face. "April's gonna kill us."
"And Splinter will repeat the massacre when he hears about it," Raphael agreed.
"Clean up time?"
"Massive." Raphael grinned. "But I'm not bored anymore!"
Michaelangelo quickly caught up a magazine, rolled it up, and was about to fly after Raphael with it, but Leonardo plucked it out of his fist. Michaelangelo melted under Leonardo's angry gaze, put the chair back up on its feet, and smiled hopefully at Leonardo.
Leonardo's glare nearly broke, but he forced it to stay put. "It's a start."
Michaelangelo sighed. "What are we going to do about the remote? And the pillows?"
Raphael gently swept the pieces of the remote into his hand and went out into the hall. "Oh, Donatello.....?"
They heard Donatello sigh. "What did you break this time? Aaak! What did you do to it? Jump up and down on it a few times? Why didn't you just drop it out the window? You certainly couldn't do that much _more_ damage to it!" The tirade lapsed into muttered grumblings, and Raphael came back out, dusting his hands off. "Do you think April would notice if the pillows simply disappeared?" he asked.
"Yes," Leonardo said sharply.
"That does make it difficult." Raphael picked up a piece of the fabric. "Think we can sew it?"
They looked at each other, shook their heads. "Naaahhh."
"I'll go out and look for new ones!" Michaealangelo volunteered, eagerly running for his coat.
Leonardo snagged him by the belt as he went by. "Not a chance, Mike. _You_ created this mess. _You_ clean it up. _I’ll_ go look for new ones." He caught up his own coat and hat, a piece of the fabric, and ducked happily out the window. He would never admit it to Raphael, but he had been just as bored. This way, he got out of the house without wrecking it first.
Hmmm, he thought a few hours later. _Maybe cleaning would have been the easier job, after all._ He had been through several different department and variety stores and hadn't found even a close match to the pillows. He sighed and searched through the bin of pillows again. _I'm beginning to think that this will take a miracle._
There was a soft giggle next to him. "Haven't you looked through that a few times already?"
He quickly pulled his hat down over to shade his face a bit more. "Five, actually," he said, glancing at the girl out of the corner of his eyes.
She hopped off the bin she had been perched on. "Are you trying to find a specific match?"
"Yes! Do you work here?" he asked eagerly.
"No." She took the dead pillow fabric and looked at it, eyebrows arched. "What happened to this?"
He chuckled weakly. "Overactive brothers."
She giggled again, then flipped absently through the pillow-bin. "Well, if you've already looked through here and haven't found a match, then I doubt looking another time will turn up anything. Have you tried a fabric store?"
She looked at him in amazement. She was really very pretty, he noticed a bit wistfully. Her black hair was cut short, but not cropped, and it curled around her face attractively. "A fabric store. A place that sells material?"
"You mean... make... new... pillows?"
"It's not that hard."
"C'mon!" She grabbed his arm and pulled him out of the store.
He protested all the way downtown and into a store filled with rolls of fabric. He continued protesting as she picked up two foam pillow inserts.
His protesting turned half-hearted as she triumphantly pulled out a roll of fabric that perfectly matched the old pillows.
And it was definitely only a token effort as she talked to a clerk that she knew and managed to borrow some time on one of the display sewing machines.
He was half in love by the time she had finished sewing the two pillows. "Did they have any kind of trimming on them?" she asked, tugging experimentally on the seams to make sure they held.
"Good. That makes it easier." She handed the second pillow to him. "There. Done."
He gaped at her. _And I had been talking about miracles?_ "Uhm... what do I owe you?"
He froze, suddenly realizing how much time he had spent with this one person. Dinner would mean taking off the hat. He groaned. "I... I can't. I mean..."
Her face fell, and she pushed back her chair. "Sure. I understand. Catch you around."
"Wait!" He caught her arm. "I mean... I have to get these back before the person who owns them realizes they're missing. She should be home soon, and --"
"Right." She shrugged her coat on.
"Wait." What am I DOING?! "Tomorrow?"
Her face lit up as much as it had fallen earlier. "Sure! Meet you here? About seven?"
He nodded silently. _What have I DONE?! She grinned and began to walk away.
"Wait!" he said again. "What's your name?"
She turned back. "Kari," she called, waved, and disappeared into the crowded street outside. He ran out and watched her walk to the corner. She turned, waved again, and ducked down into the subway.
_What am I going to DO?!_
_The first dilemma I have to deal with is getting out of here._ Leonardo shouldered the over-full knapsack and peeked out his door.
The hallway was empty.
He tiptoed down the hall. No one was in the living room, either. He silently put the pack down and pulled his coat on. _Maybe this will be easier than I thought._ He picked up the pack again and reached for the door and eased it open.
Three doors in the hallway opened, and his brothers all poked their heads out. "Where're you going, Leo?" they chorused.
_Groan. And I was saying?_ "Nowhere."
"You don't lie very well, Leo. You never have." Raphael came out and tried to peek in the knapsack. "Hey, food! You going on a picnic?"
"And didn't invite us?" Michaelangelo faked a pout. "Don'tcha like us anymore?"
"Nope!" Leonardo chirped cheerfully. He started to leave again, then thought better of it. _Of course they'll follow me unless I give them a reason not to._
His eyes fell on the pile of books on strategic planning and battle tactics that he had been reading earlier, and he caught them up. "I just thought I'd take some books and munchies to the park for a while. Nice summer evening and all that, you know."
"Oh." Michaelangelo lost interest immediately. "Hey, Don, didn't you say you had a new video game?" They disappeared into Donatello's room.
Raphael gave Leonardo a thoughtful look. "Lotsa munchies for a couple of hours in the park."
Leonardo shrugged. "It was too hot to eat much earlier." Raphael nodded slowly, but watched him as he went out.
Leonardo left through the Second Time Around store. He glanced up the stairs, making sure Raphael hadn't followed him down, then quickly stored the books behind the counter. He chuckled ruefully. _I spend all my time nagging at them when they aren't observant enough, then grumble when Raphael is. Something's wrong with that._
He arrived at the fabric store several minutes early. Several minutes later, he was still waiting.
Half an hour later, he was cursing himself the fool. _This is ridiculous. I spend all day worrying about what to tell her, then she never shows up. Probably just as well. _ He sighed and stepped away from the store front to look up the street in both directions. _Well... maybe I'll check the subway stop. If she's not there, or here when I get back, I'll cut my losses and leave. _ He kicked sadly at a piece of gravel. _Shoulda brought those books after all. I could have gone and read, like I said I was going to do. The evening wouldn't be a complete loss, then._
He heard the first scream as he reached the first step down. By the second scream, he had taken the rest of the flight of stairs in one leap, drawing the brace of knives that he carried when his katana would be too noticeable.
The stop was mostly deserted. He skidded around the corner where he heard loud voices, male, and one frightened, female.
It was Kari, surrounded by teenage members of some gang. Leonardo leapt up, somersaulting over heads, and landing protectively in front of Kari. He pushed her deeper into the corner, out of his way.
_Damn, they're just kids._ He reversed his knives, using the hilts instead of the blades. _Don't want to kill any of them if I don't have to._ He ducked under a clumsy sweep of a switchblade and knocked the boy's legs out from under him with a kick. The boy fell heavily and the one behind him tripped over him and also fell. One came up brandishing a metal pipe; Leonardo came in close and caught the boy's wrist. He lashed out with one foot, landing it squarely in the boy's stomach. The boy went down, choking for air.
The one in the background drew a gun. _God, where do they get them?_ It was small, a .22 perhaps. Probably wouldn't even penetrate his shell, but there was Kari behind him to think of. He threw both knives; the blades went through the sleeve of the kid's denim jacket on each side of the arm, then bit into the decorative wood trim on the wall behind him. Leonardo lunged forward before the boy could catch the gun up in his other hand, pinned the boy's shoulders against the wall, pushed up nose to nose to him and snarled full in his face. The kid turned several shades paler and fainted. Leonardo snorted in satisfaction, then turned and used the same expression on the rest of the gang, adding a loud growl for effect.They ran.
He laughed and collected his knives. He picked up the gun distastefully, unloaded it, and removed the firing pin. He crushed what was left between the wall and his shell. He turned happily to Kari. "Didja see them run?"
She scrambled back away from him, one hand pressed up against her mouth in soundless fear.
_Oh, damn._ He had lost his hat.
"Look, I'm not going to hurt you." He took a step towards her, hands held outward in appeal, and she tripped trying to back away further.
_Damn._ He let his hand fall. "I'm sorry," he said softly, miserable. "I didn't mean to frighten you." He turned and walked toward the staircase, scooping his hat up from the floor as he went by it.
There were light footsteps behind him, and a small hand caught his arm. "Wait," she said. He stopped walking, and she fidgeted a moment, playing with the corner of his sleeve. "I mean... I guessed already. Yesterday." She glanced back up at him. Her face was still pale. "You're one of those turtles, aren't you?"
_”Those turtles." Should I be offended?_ He sighed wearily. _No, I guess not._"How did you hear about us?"
She shrugged. "You hear things, out on the streets. Rumors. I'm sorry for reacting like that back there." Her hand waved toward the corner. "It was just a surprise anyway."
"And you had a shock to begin with," he said gently. He patted her hand. "I'd
better go. Should I call for someone to walk you home?"
"But what about dinner?" she asked plaintatively.
He looked at her in amazement for a long moment. _Well... why the hell not?_ She was too beautiful. He held up the knapsack. "I didn't think going to a restaurant would be too good an idea, but I brought some stuff, and I thought we might go to the park."
She clapped her hands in delight. "A picnic? I haven't been on a picnic in years
Leonardo grinned. "And let me tell you, my brother Mike makes the best homemade bread and potato salad you've ever tasted!"
It was much later by the time he slipped back inside the house.
Raphael was sitting sideways in the recliner, legs dangling over the chair arm and head resting against the opposite arm. He watched as Leonardo put away the leftover food.
"You forgot your books." He pointed at the pile on the kitchen table. "You didn't do a very good job of hiding them. Would have thought better of you."
Leonardo cracked open a can of soda and drank from it, watching Raphael. He turned over a few answers in his mind, didn't come up with anything in particular, and so decided to say nothing.
Raphael mimicked him with his can of beer. Leonardo finished his soda, crumpled the can, and tossed it in the trashcan. He picked up his books and started for his room.
"She's very pretty, isn't she."
It wasn’t a question. Leonardo turned back. "You followed me."
That wasn't a question either. Raphael read the implied threat, tasted it for a few seconds, then shrugged. "Wanted to see what had you all fired up today." He took another sip from his beer, then sighed and stood up. "Look, Leo, it won't work. She's human and you're not. We're not. We're this strange mutant creation, and relationships, outside of friendships, were one of the things we had to give up." He crumpled the empty bear can. "Worst thing is that we never got consulted," he added fiercely.
Leonardo didn't say anything. He just watched Raphael as his brother walked into the kitchen and threw the can away.
"We're always going to be alone, Leo," Raphael said softly out of the dark kitchen. "Just the four of us. And someday, there will be three, and then two, and someday we'll be gone. There will be no families left, no one to carry names or lines on. That's it. Nothing left." He stepped back into the doorway. Leonardo could only see the outlines of his body and the twin points of light reflected in his eyes.
"I don't want you getting hurt, Leo."
Leonardo turned away. "Rather stupid thing to say, isn't it?" he bit out and went into his room, closing the door firmly behind him.
You killed our father, monsters. Mv father. You took my entire life, all that it was going to be, and you crumpled it up and threw it away like garbage. Never thought of what you were doing, did you? You just stood there, watching that garbage truck as it crushed my dreams, and you _laughed_.
A few days. That's all.
It will be my turn to laugh, then.
Michaelangelo bounded out into the living room. "Hey, guys! How about we spend the night bouncing around on rooftops? It's been a while since we all went out together."
"Sounds good to me." Donatello rolled over onto his stomach, closed the service manual he was reading and rested his chin on the cover. "We could all use a good work-out."
"Yeah. Leo hasn't even been slave-driving us lately," Raphael said casually.
Leonardo glanced over from the kitchen table at Raphael, eyes narrowing, but his brother didn't look up from flipping through the pages of his magazine.
"Yeah, that is a switch." Michaelangelo came over and sat down backwards in one of the kitchen chairs, arms resting along the back, "You okay, Leo? You haven't been around much lately."
"Sure. Hold this a second, will you?" Michaelangelo took the bokken and held it steady while Leonardo wrapped duct tape tightly around the crack above the hilt. "Don't know if this is worth saving or not," he added, "but it will do for practice, at least for a few more sparring sessions. I hate throwing something away if it can still be used." He glanced up and grinned a bit maliciously. "Do you really want me slave-driving you? Maybe we should have a sparring session tonight."
Michaelangelo shrugged. "It would be something to do." He handed the bokken
back to Leonardo. "You know, I think I hate summer. The nights are too short. We have to stay indoors too much."
"Why don't we compromise?" Raphael reached behind him without looking and snagged the phone. "Let's call Casey and get him to take us to the drive-in. That's getting out, but not spending the evening trying to bash each others' shells in."
"Awww, and I thought you said you missed being slave-driven, Raph."
"You're pushing it, Leo."
Leonardo balanced the bokken thoughtfully, then decided to keep it around after all. "In any case, guys, I've got to back out tonight. I've got plans."
Donatello sat up. "More reading, Leo? What, you going through every book at the library?"
"You should talk. _You_ go to the library, and we don't see you for days."
"An exaggeration, as usual."
Leonardo snorted playfully. "Not by much."
"Well, stop reading for tonight, both of you." Michaelangelo stood up, swinging the chair back under the table. "Call Casey, Raph. Mans' Night Out tonight."
"Go ahead without me this time." Leonardo put the duct tape back in the cabinet. "I'm busy tonight."
Raphael had eased the phone back into its cradle and was quietly regarding Leonardo, who caught the look as he turned back around. "You got a problem with that, Raphael?" he asked evenly.
Raphael ignored the warning in his tone. "You could bring her along with us, you know. Probably about time she met the family, knew what she was getting herself into."
Michaelangelo was looking curiously back and forth between the two. "Who?"
"No one, Mike." Leonardo glared warningly at Raphael.
Raphael put the phone back on the table behind him and met Leonardo's gaze directly. "Leo's girlfriend," he said clearly.
"Girlfriend?" Michaelangelo asked in delight.
"Damn you, Raphael!" Leonardo exploded.
"What, were you planning on keeping it a secret?"
"You've been against this from the start. Why can't you keep to your own business?"
Donatello leaned over towards Michaelangelo. "Fight?"
"Fight," he agreed.
"I'm out of here."
But Michaelangelo was judging the tension level between his two brothers and shook his head. "I think we'd better stick around for this one, Donnie. It doesn't look good."
"You're my brother. That makes it my business." Raphael was saying as he stood up. "It's a relationship that simply can't work. What are you going to do? Marry her? 'Do you take this mutant to be your husband until death do you part?' It's bad enough being ninja — she'll spend every night wondering if you'll actually make it home or if this will be the night you get killed. I don't exactly see you giving your lifestyle up. But in any case, you're not human. First of all, there isn't a priest in the world who will officiate —"
"Got this all thought out, don't you?" Leonardo snarled. "Did you do all this effort on my account, or who did you get messed up with?"
Raphael's eyes turned black with deep anger and his fingers tightened over the back of the couch. Michaelangelo saw the fabric begin to part and tensed, ready to jump between the two, but Raphael calmed himself with a remarkable effort. They had all seen him put his fists through walls over much less. "Yeah, I liked April a lot when we first met her."
"And she returned it," Michaelangelo said softly.
Raphael looked at him, eyes lit wistfully. "You think so?" He thought about it a moment, then shook his head. "Maybe. But do you really think she would have been happy? We couldn't really go out together, she couldn't introduce me to her friends. And someday I'll get killed doing the stuff that we do, and she'll be alone." He met each of their gazes. "I think we've all pretty much come to grips with that. We ain't likely to live to a peaceful old age, are we now?" He plopped back down in the recliner. "It would have been nice if there were some female turtles who had been conveniently mutated for us, but there weren't and there won't be. We're it, guys. I couldn't see April spending the rest of her life with me. She'd just grow to resent the differences." He cocked his head at Leonardo. "Or do you think your Kari is different?"
Later, Leonardo had to admit that Raphael had a good argument. Looking back at it, he knew that it wasn't what his brother had said; it was the way he said it, the sarcastic tone, the way he played condescending older brother, the way he had followed them enough to know even Kari's name.
Leonardo's temper snapped — Leonardo, the most controlled of the four of them. Snarling wordlessly, he vaulted the counter, bokken raised. Raphael's eyes widened in shock, then threw himself over backwards. The chair fell over, much like it had done in the wrestling session he and Michaelangelo had played a week or so, the day this all began.
Leonardo wasn't playing. Raphael was the largest and strongest of the four, but Leonardo was the best, undoubtably. He brought the bokken slicing down towards Raphael's head; Raphael clapped his hands together, catching the blade a few inches in front of his face. He heaved sideways, throwing Leonardo off balance and onto the floor. The bokken splintered, the hilt breaking through the duct tape. Leonardo rolled to his feet, and Michaelangelo grabbed him from behind, trying to pin his arms behind his back and pull him away from Raphael. Leonardo wrenched away, catching up the blade of the bokken the from the floor, a hand on each end. He shoved away Donatello, who was helping Raphael to his feet, and Michaelangelo's quick reflexes were all that kept the smaller turtle from falling into the glass coffee table. Leonardo lashed out at Raphael, who stepped backwards, still trying to avoid the fight. His feet tangled in the lamp cord and he fell again. Leonardo was on top of him in the next instant, slamming the bokken at the unprotected throat under Raphael's chin. Raphael coughed for air, then his eyes went angry-black, and his foot came up, slamming into Leonardo's chestplate. Leonardo staggered back a step, then Raphael came up and pushed hard, and Leonardo went down, Raphael on top of him. Raphael brought his fist down against the bokken, and it cracked again in two. He threw the pieces away and caught at Leonardo's head, slamming it against the floor twice before both Michaelangelo and Donatello reached them, pulling him off his brother. He strained to pull away and had almost succeeded in the few seconds it took for Leonardo to jump up, eyes blazing to match his. Leonardo crouched, ready to spring in again.
"That will be enough!!"
They all froze at Splinter's voice. Their sensei never raised his voice, but none of them had ever dared disobey that quiet tone. Raphael shoved Michaelangelo and Donatello away angrily, then stood away from them, fists clenched at his sides, head lowered.
Leonardo's eyes were wide with shock and chagrin. He caught his breath in gasps. _That wasn't me! That couldn't be me! I'm always in control. He's my brother!_
"What is happening here?" Splinter demanded. His eyes glittered angrily. "This is not like you, my sons, fighting against each other. Arguing, perhaps, but fighting? You are brothers."
_Brothers_. "It was my fault," Leonardo choked out.
Splinter's eyebrow raised in surprise. "You, Leonardo? That is especially unlike you."
He couldn't stand his sensei's disappointment. "I'm sorry, Raph," he said quickly and ran for the window. He heard Splinter call his name in concern as he vaulted out, then Raphael's voice, strangely subdued: "Let him go. Master. He just needs to be alone for a bit." He was quiet for a moment. "I can understand that," he added.
Then Leonardo ran, so he wouldn't have to hear anymore.
"I still can't believe I did that." Leonardo's head was buried in his hands.Kari leaned over and hooked her chin over his shoulder. "Why not?"
"Because I don't do things like that!" he cried. "I'm the one who's always in control, not losing it."
"That's important to you, isn't it?"
She tickled the back of his neck a bit. "Being in control. Succeeding where others failed. Making up for everyone else's lack. That type of stuff."
"Of course," he said immediately, then thought a moment. "That sounds terribly conceited, though."
"Mmmm. Maybe just a bit overloaded. You can't take the world on your shoulders, Leo. If you try, eventually you're going to crack." She giggled suddenly. "Pop!"
It was meant to coax a laugh from him, he knew, but instead he reached out and brushed the hair out of her eyes. "Is Raphael right?"
"About everything. About us."
"Marriage?" she asked in surprise. "Isn't that sudden?"
"But would you be willing to?" It was suddenly very important, and very frightening. "I mean, could you live with it? ....With me?"
She backed away a few inches until she wasn't touching him, then drew her knees up to her chest and rested her chin on them. "You're asking an awful lot, awfully quickly, Leo."
"But what's the worth of going through all this, if you already know it won't work out?"
She cocked her head at him. "Maybe the fun of finding out?"
He couldn't find an answer for that, so he looked away and out over the street
many stories below.
"Maybe he is right about one thing, though," she said slowly, and he looked back at her. She smiled, a quirking of one side of her mouth. It never quite reached her eyes for some reason. "Maybe it is time for me to meet your brothers."
He thought about that for a long time, wondering how his brothers would react to her. She was already causing disruption between them, and he had a sudden vision of Raphael demanding him to chose between family and Kari. And the worst of it was that he honestly didn't know how he'd chose.
He groaned and rubbed his eyes fiercely, as if the action would wipe out the fast few hours. "Maybe it would make things a bit easier," he agreed. "But after today, I don't think it will be very comfortable for me."
"Or me either," she admitted. "So not at your place. Somewhere neutral, where we're all uncomfortable. Then we're on even footing."
"Raph suggested a movie," he considered. "But all of us crammed in one vehicle might be a bit...."
"Crowded?" Her eyes glittered with mischief. They were green. Leonardo had never noticed that before. He almost lost himself in those eyes, when he realized she was still waiting for an answer. "Uhm... actually, I was thinking of explosive, but you're right, too. How about getting a pizza and eating it someplace? Like our picnics?"
"So we can all sit around trying to think of things to say to cover the uncomfortable lapses of conversation? Maybe not." She let her breath out sharply in aggravation. "How 'bout meeting someplace and heading down to something like Chinatown? It's usually so busy around there that no one pays attention to who's around them anyway, and we can get something to eat down there, poke around in the shops, get more neat looking junk to clutter up our houses with, things like that."
"Just what April needs. More clutter to eventually cycle through the store." He grinned. "Sounds good. That subway stop still the best place to meet you?" She nodded, and he frowned. "I don't really like the idea of you being there alone, Kari. It's always so deserted."
She grinned impishly and poked his nose with her finger. "Ah, but then my knight can come and rescue me. You don't think I'd pass up a chance like that, do you?"
"Was that what that first time was?" he teased. "A staged act?"
Her expression faltered a second, then she scrambled up. "Can't let you guess all my secrets, can I now?" She laughed gaily. "Tomorrow, normal time?"
"Sevenish," he agreed She gave him a mock salute and rattled down the fire escape.
Today. It's today.
I can't face all of them at once. They've been training all their lives, and I've only had the few months. Intensive though those months were, they won't make up for the difference.
One at a time, then. Or something that will kill them all at once. Explosives, maybe. I could easily steal some, from Tatsu's encampment, if worse comes to worse.
So many things to decide, to get done.
But I want them to know _why_ they died. I want them to know that this revenge comes from the Foot. This revenge is for our father.
This one is for me.
"You sure this is the right place, Leo?" Don stood and stretched lazily. He walked to the edge of the platform and looked down the tunnel. "We've been waiting an awfully long time, and the next train isn't for another fifteen minutes."
"It's the same place we've met every day."
"Aww, I'll bet she doesn't exist at all," Michaelangelo teased. "You're just trying to show off."
"She exists," Raphael said shortly.
Leonardo resisted the urge to check Raphael's expression. Raphael hadn't mentioned the fight, and Leonardo had decided to follow his example. Usually Splinter wasn't as easily avoided, but he hadn't said a word to Leonardo since yesterday. His gaze spoke volumes, though, and Leonardo hadn't slept well that night.
"Well, how much longer are we gonna wait?"
"Until she comes!" Leonardo snapped. Michaelangelo looked hurt, and Leonardo bit back his next few words before he could make the situation worse. "Look, Mike, I'm sor—
"Hey, hush up a minute, would you, guys?" Donatello was peering intently down the tunnel.
They all tensed. "What is it?" Raphael asked, hands automatically caressing the hilts of his sai.
"I'm trying to figure out where those voices are coming from."
Michaelangelo relaxed and waved a hand dismissively. "Echoes from the next stop up the line, what else?"
Donatello shook his head impatiently. "Look, this stop is off a long ways from the main routes. It's way up here out in the middle of nowhere. It hardly gets used, and the other stops on the route have been inactive for years. Now be quiet a moment so we can listen."
"Probably some homeless, then," Michaelangelo grumbled softly, but sat down at the edge of the platform, legs swinging over the tracks. "I can't hear anything."
"Well, if you'd shut your beak long enough," Raphael began in exasperation, but Leonardo's hand suddenly bit into his shoulder. He turned angrily, eyes dark, then noticed that his brother's attention wasn't on him. Instead, Leonardo was staring down the tunnel, straining to hear, sniffing the air currents slightly.
Raphael stood, trying to see, hear, and smell everything at once. "Whatcha scent?"
A voice suddenly came through, muffled, but enough to make out that it was female and scared.
"God, no," Leonardo choked. He started to jump down onto the tracks, but Raphael pulled him back. He fought back. "Let me go, damn you," he snarled. "It's Kari."
"Which direction?" Raphael demanded.
Leonardo stopped, forcing himself to calm. He sniffed at the air again. "That way." He pointed down the tunnel. "The echoes are bouncing all over, but her scent is definitely coming from that way. Don, how much longer until the next train?"
"Getting squished on the rails isn't a very pleasant idea," Donatello agreed. "About ten minutes from now, give or take a minute. I've studied the maps of this area; there's a sewer link not far from here. We should be able to get there before the next train."
Leonardo was shedding his coat. "God, I wish I had my katana. Let's do it. You lead, Don."
"Gotcha." Donatello dropped his own coat on the pile and carefully jumped down on the tracks. "Let your eyes get used to the dark, then let's move it, bros. We don't have that much time before the train comes."
His warning wasn't necessary; they had crossed into the sewers a good five minutes before they heard the roar and squeal of the train passing by. Donatello paused in the sudden quiet after its wake. "Can you hear her?"
"No," Leonardo said in frustration. He sniffed at the air again. "That way, I think. It keeps getting faint, then strong. I think they're taking her further away from us. I just catch her scent on drafts."
Michaelangelo sniffed cautiously. "How come he smells girl, and all I smell is New York?"
"Our sniffers aren't the greatest," Donatello explained. "Unless it's a scent we're well familiar with, we would miss it. If it was April, you might be able to make it out."
Leonardo suddenly knelt and picked up something. "In any case, I know she's this way." He held up a paperback book, warping from the water, and flipped open the cover page. His name was written on it, the ink just beginning to spiderweb down the page. "I loaned her this two days ago." He dropped the book back into the water and strode deeper into the sewer system.
They moved quickly, pausing only to confer Leonardo's nose with Donatello's perfect memory of the sewer layout, until all of them suddenly stopped, looked around, and looked at each other in dawning recognition.
Michaelangelo said it for all of them: "We're near our old home."
"But... other than Casey and April..."
"The Foot, Donatello," Leonardo said tightly. "They know where it is, and I gave Kari right to them." He looked at Raphael in horror. "What have I done?"
"Nothing that we can't get her out of, Leo." Raphael caught Leonardo's shoulders and gave him a slight shake. "Don't let guilt cloud your thinking. We need your calm thinking, not more hotheadedness like mine." He grinned shortly. "Tomorrow you can wallow in guilt."
_But there's nothing more I want than to run in there and pull her out to safety._ He gnawed at a fingernail for a moment. "All right. We blocked all the other entrances back before that last fight. Let's scout and see if we can get through any of them without making more noise than a DC-10. Meet back here in fifteen minutes."
"Let's make it five," Raphael suggested.
"And you were telling me about avoiding hotheadness?" Leonardo chided. "No, let's take the time and do this right. If the Foot were going to hurt her, they would have done so by now. They know she's the bait right now, so they're going to keep her safe and in one piece."
Raphael nodded smugly. "Now you're thinking."
Leonardo shot him a you-did-that-on-purpose look, but Raphael was already moving down one tunnel, chuckling softly to himself.
The idea had been, back in the few hours before that battle, to entrap Foot soldiers inside the small lair once they had rushed in. They had pushed rubble and debris into all of the alternate and emergency entrances. The blockades, however, had been hastily erected, some by the simple means of placing a bed or the refrigerator in front of the tunnel mouths. They had relied mostly on the chaos of the fight to keep the Foot confused enough not to find their way out once they had burst their way in.
_We can easily get back in,_ Leonardo thought in frustration as he peeked around what was left of Splinter's favorite chair. He couldn't see around it well enough to see in. _The problem is that the people on the streets above could hear us doing so._ He tried to squint around one more angle, still couldn't see any more of the room than before, and crawled back out.
He met the others back in the adjacent tunnel. "Any luck?"
"Damn. So much for doing this the easy way."
"Wait a minute." Michaelangelo was quiet for a few seconds. "Raph, do you remember that time, oh... about seven or eight years ago when we tried to sneak out to go to the movies?"
Raphael's face lit up. "I don't remember closing off that route." "That's because we didn't!"
Leonardo growled impatiently, and Michaelangelo hurried on to explain before he got pounced on. "There's a pipeway that leads into my tunnel-room. At one time, Raphael and I wanted to go to the movies and thought we could use that way to get out past Master Splinter. We had a devil of a time reaching it, though. We finally had to pile a footlocker on top of my desk and put a chair on top of the footlocker, and even then, we had to stand on our tiptoes."
"And none of that stuff is in there anymore," Leonardo finished. "Great. We're back where we started."
"Hear me out, Leo. Remember, this was eight years ago. We were a lot shorter then. It shouldn't be any trouble for us now. That's why I didn't remember it until just this minute; in the back of my mind, I was still thinking of it in the scale of the height I was then."
"But if it was this great way out, why didn't you use it more often?" Donatello asked.
Raphael looked a little embarrassed. "We got caught."
"Yeah," Michaelangelo added in mild disgust. "You know Master Splinter — he knows what we're up to before we even know we're going to do it. In fact, I half expected him to make us block it up. but maybe he knew even back then that we'd need it."
"Wouldn't surprise me," Raphael snorted. "We had to clean the lair for a month."
"I remember that!" Donatello chimed in. "That was the neatest it had ever been. I had wondered what had brought that cleanliness fit on. It was so unlike you two."
Michaelangelo stuck his tongue out at him.
Leonardo buried his head in his hands. _I have this sudden urge to start laughing hysterically. I'm frantic with worry about her and they're joking._ He bit his lip sharply, and the pain brought him back.
Michaelangelo was watching him, subdued. "I'm sorry, Leo."
"'S all right," he said gruffly. "You and Raph go slip in through that pipeway. Don and I will go through the main entrance and provide the distraction for you. We'll give you five minutes to get in place, then go in."
Raphael slapped Michaelangelo's shoulder and pointed down one of the tunnels. "See you in a few, guys."
Donatello's lips were moving silently as he counted passing seconds. Leonardo crouched down on his heels and closed his eyes, leaning his head back against the damply cool cement. He trusted Donatello's uncanny sense of time better than a stopwatch, but it never made the waiting any easier. He forced himself to narrow his focus down to his breathing until Donatello touched him lightly on the arm. He opened his eyes, and Donatello nodded toward the tunnel in the opposite direction from the way Raphael and Michaelangelo had gone.
"Let's do it," he murmured, and Donatello's teeth flashed as he grinned in return.
_They're looking forward to this,_ he realized as they crept down the tunnel. _They've been bored and this is a little action for them. They really don't understand._ He missed the comforting weight of his katana on his back. _Well, maybe Raphael does,_ he reconsidered a few steps later.
Light was spilling through the broken remains of what had been their front door. Leonardo pointed toward the far edge. Donatello darted across the puddle of light and shrank up against the doorframe. He held his bo in one hand, lightly shaking the other to loosen it. He clenched his fist, met Leonardo's eyes and nodded once.
Leonardo took a deep breath and kicked the door in. He dove in, rolled once, and came up in the shelter of one of the pipes running through ceiling and floor, both knives held in throwing grips. Donatello matched his movements, vaulting behind the couch.
There was no one in the room.
They whirled around, scanning the shadows from pipes behind them. There was no
one there, either.
"She's here," he said frantically. "She was here! She is here!" He sniffed the air. "I don't smell her anywhere else."
"Which could mean that they've taken her down a tunnel upwind from us. The air currents would be carrying her scent away from us instead of toward us."
Leonardo slammed his fist into the back of the couch. "I could have been wrong the entire time, then, couldn't I? I've lost her!"
"Not necessarily," Donatello said carefully. "It may just mean scouting around some more until you catch her scent."
"She could be halfway across the city by now!"
Donatello regarded him for a few seconds. "You said before that they won't hurt her because she's bait for us. Following that reasoning, if we have lost her _temporarily"_ he stressed as Leonardo hit the couch again, "then all we have to do is wait for them to contact us."
"If I was even right about them using her for bait," he snarled back. "Maybe she just stumbled onto them, and they don't even know she's connected with me."
"In any case, is beating the couch into a pulp going to help?"
Leonardo stopped just before his fist connected with the couch again.
Raphael dove into the room from the tunnels leading to the sleeping rooms sai drawn and flashing in the dim light. His eyes quickly scanned the room as quickly as theirs had done before him, then he stood up and tucked his sai back under his belt. "C'mon, Mike. You can cut the theatrics."
"What took you so long?" Donatello began walking around the room, absently poking around in the corners, looking for anything salvageable that they had missed when they had cleaned the lair out.
Michaelangelo stepped in. "Well, you see, the pipes that were slightly too big for young turtles then are slightly too small for turtles full grown now."
"Mike got stuck," Raphael said bluntly. "I told you that you were getting fat."
"I am not." Michaelangelo looked hurt. Although Raphael was bigger than he was, Michaelangelo was a bit rounder-shelled, and his love for experimenting in the kitchen tended to attract teasing from his brothers.
"Had to push him right through like a cork," Raphael shook his head mournfully. "Pop!"
"I am not!"
Donatello suddenly lunged across an overturned table, scattering objects across the floor. He scooped an armful of something up and frantically began turning it over and examining it.
"What is it?" Raphael vaulted over the couch and skidded over next to him.
"Bomb." Donatello's fingers flew across the device, trying to find its controls.
"Can you defuse it?" Leonardo snapped.
"I don't know." He glanced up at them. "Two minutes left. You'd better get out of here." He pulled out his pouch of tools and began tracing wires.
Raphael shook his head stubbornly. "We ain't leaving you. Can we help?"
Donatello looked up at him again, then his eyes widened as he focused on something up past Raphael's shoulder. "Yeah. Keep that Foot warrior away from me.”
They spun around. A single Foot was crouched up in the piping above their heads.
"Damn," Raphael spat. In flashes of steel-reflected light, he drew his sai and threw them at the dark figure. The Foot swung off the pipe into the air, somersaulting up over the way of the shuriken Michaelangelo had flung and twisting aside from the spikes Leonardo hurled in.
"One minute, thirty," Donatello chanted. The Foot caught up one of Raphael's sai and threw it directly at the Turtle bent over the bomb. Donatello wrapped his arms around the bomb and rolled out of the way as the sai clattered off the ground where he had been sitting. "Keep him away from me!" he screeched. The Foot threw the other sai, but Michaelangelo stepped in front of Donatello, nunchaku swinging, and batted the sai away. Raphael dove in behind him and rolled up, both sai comfortably in his own hands again. He snarled and lunged at the Foot, who effortlessly leaped up, catching hold of a pipe, and swung up and over Raphael's reach, dropping back down by Donatello again. Leonardo found himself realizing just how small this Foot was, even as he caught the black-clad hand clutching a wickedly long knife. The Foot was barely his own height and not very strong as Leonardo wrenched the weapon away easily, but made up for it in speed and agility as the tiny ninja twisted loose and danced away."One minute. Better hurry, guys." Donatello was chewing his lip nervously. His fingers flew over wires.
"We ain't leavin'," Raphael growled, snagging the Foot, swinging the ninja around up against the wall. His sai flashed again, and the Foot staggered away, favoring one arm, blood showing through the tatters of black. The Foot shied away from Michaelangelo's nunchaku leaping up at catch at one of the pipes. The wounded shoulder gave, the Foot's hands slipped off the pipes, and the ninja fell directly onto Leonardo's waiting knife. The bright green eyes behind the black mask widened in surprise, and Leonardo dropped to one knee to take the heavy weight off his blade.
"Nice going," Raphael said briskly. "Don, how's it going?" Leonardo could hear his voice, but it sounded like it was coming from far away. The Foot's eyes were full of anger now, green fire blazing hatred.
"I think I've got it," Donatello said absently. He snipped at a pair of wires and held his breath fearfully. After a second, he relaxed. "Yeah, that was it." He grinned. "Aw, whatcha worrying for? We still had thirty seconds."
Michaelangelo picked up one of the ragged cushions from the couch and thumped Donatello soundly with it.
"Easy, Mike," Raphael laughed. "This whole thing started with a pillow fight, didn't it, Leo?"
_Green eyes..._ Leonardo reached out and gently shoved the Foot's mask back. Short black hair, still curling around her face, even sweat-soaked. She was still beautiful. And she was dying. "Kari...," he whispered.
"You killed my father," she hissed back, no sound left to her voice. Then the life in her eyes died, the hatred frozen in the green ice forever, and Leonardo's heart shattered.
"Leo?" Raphael was kneeling next to him, hand on his arm as he stared numbly at those eyes. "Leo, what is it?" He followed Leonardo's gaze down at the face in the mask. "Oh, damn," he said softly.
"What is it?" Michaelangelo bounded over. "Man, when did the Foot start taking girls in? She was real pretty, too."
"Real pretty," Leonardo echoed softly.
Donatello was looking at him thoughtfully. "Did you know her, Leo?" he asked carefully.
Leo looked at her face one last time, then pushed the body away. "No," he said. "I didn't." He stood up, wiping blood off his hands and strode out of the lair. "C'mon," his voice floated back. "If we rush, we can still make the last movie tonight at the drive-in."
"What about your girlfriend?" Michaelangelo called.
Raphael glanced at the body of the Foot. "Don't worry about it, Mike."
Michaelangelo followed his gaze, his eyes suddenly filled with shock. "Raph, Leo—"
"Don't worry about it," Raphael repeated firmly. And when Michaelangelo started to protest, Raphael just slowly shook his head at him, his eyes not leaving his brother's.
"Hey, you guys, hurry up!" Leonardo called.
"Coming," Michaelangelo called, his voice still confused.
"Is he going to be okay?" Donatello asked Raphael softly.
Raphael shrugged. They couldn't understand, yet, so there was no need to distressing them. "He'll be fine."
The lie was worth the relief in his brothers' eyes.