The Arctic Fox
The night is deep as Donnie treads down the sidewalk in the open light of the streetlamps. He knows better than to be so careless, but for once he can’t be bothered to pay any mind to the eminent danger. After the mess with Mutagen Man he just feels so heavy, so hopeless.
He sighs heavily. April had been there. He saw her just as clearly as he saw her every night in his dreams. He also heard her warning off that boy. Yet she barely turned an eye toward them – him. She still wanted nothing to do with them after everything. But really, who is he to blame her?
She was just getting her life back together and then they went and ruined everything. They mutated her father. And through such carelessness. He clenches his fists. It was all my fault. The thought pulses in his head. Every step he takes drives it further home. If only I wasn’t so stupidly careless.
He mindlessly flicks his belt. He hopes it will take his mind off things, but it does nothing to distract him. It just gives him another nervous habit with the potential to form. Like he doesn’t have enough of those already. He chides himself. He makes a face and shakes his head bitterly.
Donnie is so engrossed in putting himself down that he doesn’t notice a quickly approaching figure. Only as it comes within inches of him does the movement catch his eye. He jerks his head up and his eyes widen, but he doesn’t have time to act. Before he can even reach for his weapon it is on him – whatever it is.
The figure pounces on him and takes him to the ground in one smooth movement. He hits hard and a pained moan escapes his lips. His head pounds and spins as he struggles to wrap his mind around what just happened. “Wha…?” Just as suddenly as it is there though, the presence pressing heavily on his chest is gone.
The figure leaps back and lands on all fours, but does not rise. Fours? Donnie blinks twice as he sits up. He rubs his head tenderly and steadies his thoughts. Still, the image before him does not disappear. There in the artificial light of the lamps sits a stunningly white figure.
Donnie’s mouth slowly falls open. It is not human. It is a fluffy creature with pointed ears and only a deep purple around the eyes to contrast the blinding white of the rest of the body. A large tail swishes playfully behind it and Donnie can not help but follow the movement with every bit of his attention.
The creature yips at Donnie. Her eyes are wide and bright with enthusiasm. The golden color stands out especially noticeably with the purple framing them. She wriggles in place, about ready to pounce again.
Donnie tears his gaze from the tail in order to focus on the creature’s face. He sees the intent obvious there and he struggles to get words out before the intent turns to action. “W-What are you?” He would say an arctic fox, but this animal, this thing – it’s way too big. It’s very nearly Donnie’s size.
The animal hesitates. The eagerness flees from her eyes and her body settles its restless movements. She seems to frown and puzzlement sets in. Her tail flicks now and again, but only automatically, not from any underlying emotion. She opens and closes her mouth, but can not find the words in her jumbled mind.
Donnie eyes it carefully. What is an arctic fox even doing in New York? They’re supposed to live in frigid climates. He frowns deeply and his brows knit together. “What?” A sudden thought dawns on him and he leans farther forward. “Can you understand me?”
The fox brightens and she wags her tail a little. She opens and closes her mouth some more. As she does so she takes in Donnie fully. The greenish skin is nothing like she has seen before and, is that…a shell? She crinkles her nose and pulls back slightly. This is no human.
Donnie’s eyes sparkle. “But you can’t talk, huh?” He rocks himself over onto his knees and crawls closer. He tentatively reaches out to touch the fox’s ear.
The fox draws back sharply. She bares her teeth and glowers at Donnie. “No.” The word is course and barely loud enough to be heard. Still, it was a word. She can’t help but let the accomplishment relax her.
Donnie starts and pulls back. The fright quickly fades to shock as he hears the soft word on the fox’s lips. “You…You spoke!” Donnie says giddily. He clenches his hands in anticipation. “No way!” But that can only mean… “Did you get exposed to some mutagen?” He holds his breath.
The fox stares blankly at him. She blinks twice and cocks her head slightly. She has never heard of such a thing. Mutagen…? What an odd word.
The idea sends Donnie’s previous emotions rushing back through him. He bites his lip and cringes in apprehension. Here it is – yet another sign of his mistake. No matter how amazing this is – that an animal was changed much like them – it is not a good sign. Perhaps it even means…? “Were you a person once?”
The fox makes a soft sound and shakes her head fervently. “No.” She tries to say more, but the words get caught somewhere in her throat. If only she knew how to control this stupid new body and its strange abilities.
Donnie lets out a breath. He lets his head fall forward and hang in relief. Still, this is obviously the work of mutagen – human or not. “So, you’re really a fox?” He raises a brow. He doesn’t know why he asks. It can’t respond, not really anyway. “But why the heck is an arctic fox in New York?”
The fox makes another sound. This one is somewhere between uncertain and desperate. Her face wrinkles in frustration. “Ma…ster…” She squeezes out.
Donnie perks. “Master?” He repeats. “You mean you had an owner?” He taps his chin thoughtfully. “So did he bring you here illegally? Is that it?”
The fox bonces a little on all fours. “Yes!” Her tail goes back and forth quickly.
“Figures.” Donnie scowls off in the distance. He slowly pushes himself to his feet. “People in this city I swear. Sometimes I wonder if we shouldn’t be getting rid of some of them while we’re at it.”
The fox ignores his words. Instead she watches his movements intently. She notes each tiny step and then she leans back on her haunches, her front feet lifting off the ground. She sways unsteadily and can not raise herself into a standing position without risking toppling.
Donnie watches curiously. He waits for a minute until he is sure it has done all it can. “Here.” He reaches out and takes its front paws. He tenses in preparation, but when the fox does not react he helps it stand the same as him.
The fox wobbles on her new legs and fear shines in her bright golden eyes. She is sure if this person lets go she will fall right back down. So she curls her stubby finger-like appendages around his hands, ensuring he can not simply let go.
Donnie looks up and meets its eyes. He sees the uncertainty lingering there and he smiles. “It might take a while to get used to.” He shrugs. He remembers it took him and his brothers a while to get the hang of it. “Being naturally four legged does make it harder anyway.” He half laughs.
The fox folds her ear at her will and tilts her head slightly. This green person talks a lot. “Harder.” She repeats. The word flows better off her tongue than the others. It pleases her and she smiles a little.
Donnie grins. “Right.” He nods firmly. “Harder.” He frowns thoughtfully. “So, let’s try something.” He draws one of his hands back from it and the fox teeters. “Here,” He guides it to the wall. “Use the wall for support.” He takes a few large steps back. “And get over to me.”
The fox leans heavily on the wall. Her legs tremble beneath her. Her brows furrow far down on her head and she looks at him with uncertainty. She has the overwhelming urge to drop back down to all fours and rush toward him. But she has the feeling that would be cheating.
Donnie crosses his arms and waits patiently. He smiles over at the fox, but he is not so much thinking of its success as a victory for itself. His mind runs wild with what it means if he can teach such a newly mutated animal so quickly. That makes him wonder though – is it truly a recent mutation? Or has it been struggling for a long time, him and all his brothers completely unaware?
The fox swallows hard. She pushes up on the wall a little, putting more pressure on her feet. She takes a tentative first step and lurches forward. Her breathing hitches and chest tightens. She catches herself on the wall quickly, but her vital signs remain elevated.
She straightens. She tries another step and this time remains upright. Her breathing settles and she allows herself a tiny smile. She takes another and another and soon she feels much sturdier. She withdraws her hand from the wall and makes the leap of walking without support.
She stumbles slightly, but she regains her balance without having to reach out for the wall. Within a few minutes she is moving at an average pace and she makes it all the way to Donnie. She tags him on the chest. Her tail swishes energetically and she grins from ear to ear, the sentiment lighting all the way to her eyes.
Donnie chuckles. “Good job.” He taps the animal lightly on the shoulder. A shiver runs up his arm as its amazingly soft fur tingles his palm. He pulls his hand back and lightly touches the area. He wouldn’t mind doing that again. And that tail…his gaze deviates to the side and focuses on the massive amount of fluff flicking behind the fox.
The fox beams. “Thank…you.” She finds the words come quite easily with her good mood.
Donnie brightens further. Every time the fox speaks he can’t help but get even more excited. A fast walker and probably a fast talker if given the right attention. This is truly an amazing specimen. Heck, this animal could even prove to be a useful tool in better understanding how the transformation process works and even more so the difference between an animal turned human and a human turned animal. Perhaps…might he even find a cure through this fox?
The fox finds this ability to walk upright quite intriguing. She watched her master do so many hours of the day. Although she can’t say she sees the benefit in it. She was always faster than him and two legs are such an unsteady way to move around. So she drops back down to all fours, for now.
Her tail swishes idly behind her as she looks up at him with bright eyes. “Play?” She nods her head slightly as if to subtly push him to agree. She can feel herself changing – body and mind – but she still feels her animal instincts strongly. She does not wish to sit and talk or even practice frivolous human things. She just wants someone like her old master to play like before.
Donnie snaps out of his thoughts and peers down at her. Oh, she reverted to her old way of moving. He shrugs. Oh well. Soon enough she’ll get used to her human characteristics. “Play?” He casts his eyes to the ground and sighs softly. “No…I don’t really want to play.” With the excitement fading he feels the terrible gut wrenching emotions from before returning to torment him.
The fox makes a soft, curious sound. She tilts her head and her ears slowly flatten as his foul mood drips off of him and she notices the torment in his light brown eyes. “Play.” She urges. She scurries forward and runs in a tight circle around his feet. She stops suddenly in front of him and bounces back on her haunches, lifting her hands in a begging pose.
Donnie mindlessly reaches down at pats the fox’s head. “Sorry, I’m busy.” He says mechanically. He stops patting its head but does not lift his hand. He lets the soft fur relax him a little. “I…have to fix things. Things like you.”
The fox settles back on all fours. She makes a face. “Fix…me?” She frowns deeply.
“Yeah,” Donnie keeps on, not really registering how offensive he sounds. “I mean, this isn’t right. Animals should stay animals and people should stay people.” He sighs heavily and runs a hand over his face. “I mean, it’s cool. But…it’s wrong. Not to mention we don’t need a million mutants running around New York.”
Most of his words go over her head. She does pick up on one though. “We?” Are there other strange not human humans around here? Others like her? She isn’t sure what to feel about it all of a sudden. The human instinct of mistrust clashes with her animal training of believing in all who are kind until they are proven to be otherwise.
Donnie doesn’t hesitate. He is only half aware of himself anyway, lost somewhere in his thoughts. “My brothers.” Besides, it’s only a fox. Even with heightened intelligence it has no previous ties to anyone in this city but whoever its master was – probably a nobody.
The fox nods slowly. “Bro…thers…” She tests the word on her tongue. She has vague memories of siblings, back before she was taken from her home and brought here, where a man bought her for a handsome price. All she really remembers is what happened after – all those moments with the man. Her brows furrow. And yet, even now those memories are growing dimmer. It’s harder to picture the little things that once shown so clear. Is it because of what he called mutagen?
Donnie finally finds his bearings and shakes his head to clear the lingering fog. “Hey,” He says carefully, slowly. “Why don’t you come back with me?” He rubs his arm nervously, his feelings eating him up inside. This is wrong. He can’t really use this animal like that. It’s a person now, or the beginnings of one. What’s he saying!? Experimenting on animals is wrong anyway!
The fox shrinks back. She narrows her eyes at him and her lips curl back slightly in a small snarl. No. Something is wrong. She can’t go with him. His little movements, the swirling look of betrayal and desperation in his eyes, it’s all so wrong. She curls her fingers and the claws rake against the sidewalk.
Donnie sees her defensiveness and his expression shatters. What’s wrong with him…? He moans and slinks backward until he presses hard against a wall. His legs tremble and his body is suddenly heavy. This is it. This is what desperation really feels like. He slides down the wall inch by inch until he is sitting. “Sorry.” He pulls his legs up and leans his head into his knees. “Just…never mind.”
The fox’s expression changes instantly. Her eyes lose their intensity and she untenses. Her tail droops and her ears flick with unease. She watches him with uncertainty. She saw her master like this a few times, and there was only one thing that she could ever do.
She creeps closer. She curls up next to him, directing her large tail over to rest on top of his head. Before the best she could have done was touch his hand like she did her master’s, and then only if it was down on the ground. Now is different.
Donnie shudders as its fur floats across his skin. “I’m a mess.” He croaks. He sniffles as hot tears slowly slip down his cheeks. “Just look at me – about to use a person, animal, whatever in my tests. God, April, why? Why did this have to happen?”
“April?” She slides her tail down around his shoulders.
“A girl.” Donnie whimpers. “A girl who I love and who hates me forever now.” He raises up to reveal a tear stained face. He sniffles again. “And it’s all my fault.” His voice cracks.
The fox looks sadly at Donnie. She smiles softly and her tail twitches on his shoulders as an idea strikes her. Her smile spreads and she leans up toward his face. She licks his cheek like any good pet, the only way she knows to dry his tears.
Donnie leans away from it at first. No matter how far he shifts though it follows him and slowly his lips turn up into a faint smile. He chuckles through his tears, the sound cracking at the edges but still holding a ring of true happiness. “Stop it.” He swats playfully at it.
The fox finally heeds him and pulls away. She grins and lifts her tail in order to wag it.
Donnie smiles softly down at the fox. His eyes scream of the continued pain, but he is at least a little bit above the surface now. “Thank you…” He wipes at his eyes.
“Alopex.” A word comes to her lips unbidden, an automatic reaction to his open statement. That’s right. That’s her name.
Donnie starts. He swivels his head. “What? What was that?” He knows he heard right, he just isn’t sure what the meaning was actually intended to be. Alopex was basically ‘artic fox’.
“Alopex.” She repeats. She frowns deeply and digs for the way to make it sound more clear. She knows what she wants, she just can’t get it out. “My…name.”
Donnie’s eyes wide. “Your name? Oh, cool.” He grins. Now that the fox has a name he needs to settle on whether to think of it as a guy or a girl. Before it was easy to consider Alopex as an it, but now he just can’t do it. But with the clipped speech it’s hard to tell by voice if Alopex is a guy or girl. And the name is definitely ambiguous. “Mine’s Donatello – Donnie for short.”
“Donnie,” She turns the word over and focuses on it until she is sure she won’t forget it, even if they don’t see each other for a long time to come. “Nice.” Her brows furrow together. That’s not quite what she means though. She tries again, “You are nice.”
Donnie snorts softly in faint amusement. “If you say so.” He doesn’t really feel like a good person after all that’s happened, even if it wasn’t intentional. “I just wish April still thought so.” He lets his head fall down into the palm of his hand.
Alopex’s ears droop. She leans over and nuzzles his cheek lightly.
Donnie reaches up and runs his fingers through the soft fur. It really is amazingly soft. It’s better than any blanket he’s ever had the fortune of having. “You don’t have a home anymore then, huh?” He says drowsily. Emotional exhaustion is amazingly powerful.
Alopex shrugs. She doesn’t suppose so. Humans probably wouldn’t welcome a giant arctic fox the way they did when she was small and cute like a dog.
Donnie nods vaguely. “Then…will you stay here?” He indicates further back in the alley. They are a bit to out in the open this way. He works his way up the wall and stretches out.
Alopex does not follow his lead. She does however get back on all fours, ready to go alongside him to wherever he sees fit. Her tail flicks gently behind her.
Donnie smiles faintly at Alopex’s quirks. They won’t last long after all. “This way.” He moves halfway down the alley nearest them. He lets the darkness engulf them and then he stops. He gets down on his knees. “Here’s ok.”
Alopex circles him and settles in the corner of the wall and a dumpster. She lays like she would as a fox rather than a semi-human. Surely without a bed it’s much more comfortable this way anyway. She does not yet close her eyes though, she keeps them focused on Donnie.
Donnie eyes Alopex with uncertainty. The fur wouldn’t be a bad bed. There’s so much of it too. Alopex is rather big. Or maybe the fur just gives that appearance. He wrings his hands. “Uh…is it ok…” He licks his lips carefully. “If I can…” He doesn’t want to invade Alopex’s space.
Alopex raises a brow at him. After another moment she thinks she understands. She smiles. “Use me as a pillow.” She articulates amazingly well. “Yes.”
Donnie lights up. “Really?” He crawls over and curls up by Alopex, scrunching his legs up close. Once his head is settled comfortably he mindlessly reaches up and lightly grabs two tuffs of fur.
Alopex eyes his clenches hands a bit warily, but she can barely feel his clinging to her. And really, it’s reassuring and a way for her to be sure he’s still there. She smiles and wraps her large tail over his body before letting her eyes close and her awareness to slip. It’s not a bad time for a little rest, even if she is supposed to be a nocturnal animal. After changing…she’s tired.
Donnie snuggles deeper into the fur. His torturous thoughts dull in the wake of such peacefulness until the pain completely fades away. He doesn’t mean to actually fall asleep, not for long at least. But exhaustion grows heavy over him until he can’t fight it any longer. His breathing softens and the real world falls away, giving way to gentle dreams full of April’s smiling face.
Their nap becomes much longer than that. Before either know it day is breaking across the sky and light filters through even to their dark alley. Sounds of people passing nearby on the sidewalk breach the fog of sleep, but neither find the want or need to fully wake up.
It is only as a sharp, much more distinct noise reaches them does Alopex stir. Her ears twitch and her golden eye open suddenly. She slowly lifts her head, noticing Donnie there still curled up in her fur. The sound comes again and again.
Alopex brings her tail away from Donnie and shifts. She tenses instinctively. If she isn’t mistaken, the voices are calling for Donnie. Perhaps it is his brothers, but she doesn’t want to find out. It could easily be a dangerous stranger.
Donnie grumbles and reaches aimlessly for Alopex’s tail. Where did it go? He can’t find it and reluctantly opens his eyes. He yawns loudly and slowly sits up off of Alopex. “Alopex…” He rubs at his eyes, clearing them. “What is-”
Before the words are out Alopex jerks away. She stiffens and slinks out from behind the dumpster. She bares her teeth and bristles. They’re coming closer. She can’t stay here.
Donnie snaps to attention, fully alert now. “What? What’s wrong?” The air is suddenly tense. He instinctively grabs for his bo. It is probably just a human – one that Alopex in this new state is right to fear with all her heart. Her? Maybe.
Alopex backs up. She gives one last fleeting look to Donnie and then swivels. She sprints deeper into the alley and out of his sight.
“Wait!” Donnie reaches uselessly after Alopex. He sighs heavily. And he still doesn’t know whether to think of Alopex as a girl or not. It’s easier not to. It makes him feel a little weird about last night if Alopex is a girl. And he doesn’t need to have more girl problems. Oh well.
“Donnie!” His name comes sharp and clear. He tilts his head back in the direction Alopex had been growling at. A loud thud rattles the dumpster. “There you are!” It’s Mikey. Happy as ever. But is that an edge of worry he detects there?
Leo sighs in relieved aggravation. He appears around the dumpster a moment later. “Do you know how long we’ve been looking for you?” He chastises. He crosses his arms firmly over his chest. He stares hard down at Donnie. “You had us worried sick! You-”
Raph pushes Leo lightly to quiet him. He bends down to Donnie’s level. “You ok?” He quirks a brow. He holds out a hand to help Donnie up.
Donnie offers a tiny smile. “Yeah,” He sighs. He takes Raph’s hand and lets himself be pulled up.
Leo drums his fingers and sighs again. “What were you even doing out here all night?” He notes everything in the surroundings and can’t even begin to piece together the reason.
Donnie shrugs. “Just…thinking.” It’s true, in its own right. He glances back behind him in the direction Alopex went. He wonders if Alopex is hiding just out of sight. He also wonders if he should say anything about his strange encounter to his brothers. Do they really need to know?
Leo shakes his head. “Well next time think a little closer to the lair please?” He smiles, but is tinged with so many other emotions. His eyes especially scream of his desperation.
Donnie smiles apologetically. “Sorry.” He bows his head slightly.
Mikey pops up close to Donnie’s side. “Heeey,” He reaches out pinches a large strand of fur from Donnie’s shoulder. “What’s this? White fur?” He cocks his head and holds it out to his other brothers. “Huh?”
Donnie’s eyes widen and his mind races with excuses. His panic slowly rises within him until he grabs onto the simplest of reasons. He snorts and shrugs. “Probably just from sleeping out in the dirt.” He hopes he sounds more nonchalant than he feels.
The other three shrug and agree immediately. “Probably.” Leo nods. “Now let’s go.” He motions up. “It’s no time to be out. Someone will see us.” He gives Donnie an especially sharp look.
“I know.” Donnie murmurs. He watches Leo and Mikey hop back to the roofs. Then there is suddenly an arm thrown over his shoulders and he looks up to see Raph by his side. Donnie smiles sadly at him.
Raph smiles back. “Are you really ok?” He ventures.
Donnie shrugs. “As ok as I’ll ever be right now.” He presses his lips into a tight grimace. “But, that’s ok for now.”
Raph pats Donnie lightly on the shoulder. “She’ll be back bro.” He assures. Even if he didn’t think so he’d never tell Donnie that. Poor little genius is already torn up enough.
“I know.” Donnie glances discretely over his shoulder. He pretends that in that moment Raph knows what happened and is speaking not only of April, but Alopex too. He or she or whatever…they’ll be back. Alopex can’t really be gone forever.
Then they all go home, back where they belong.