Mona wrapped the trench coat more tightly around her and tugged her fedora down further over her face. What had possessed her to agree to this? It was just a pizza run. Her help wasn’t needed topside. Except Raphael had asked and she had been unable to bring herself to say no. Especially since it was just him and her.
But being self-conscious was kind of ruining the mood. That and the creepy, human mask Raphael was wearing. Had April found the set in a Halloween shop? Because, speaking as one who had once been human, that was not what human’s looked like. No way would she be caught dead in one. She wanted to look less disturbing, not more.
Tapping her foot impatiently, she leaned against the wall, trying to keep her tail tucked up in her coat. It was getting uncomfortable. What was taking so long?
The little bell jingled as the door opened and Raphael staggered out under the weight of a towering stack of pizza boxes which he was struggling to keep balanced. If they weren’t careful, he’d be mistaken for a street performer, though she wouldn’t be averse to donations if anyone was willing to pay for the spectacle.
“You want a little help?”
He wobbled again as the stack almost toppled. “No. What would make you think that?”
Snickering at his sarcasm, she responded in kind. “No reason. Well, if you’re good, I’ll just…”
“Aaaghh!” He almost stepped into the street, rebalancing the stack. “Ok, you got me. I need help. Lots and lots of help. Help please.”
She laughed and steadied him, removing enough of the stack that she could see his face. Or his creepy costume mask. As soon as they were below ground, that was coming off.
“Whew. Next time if Michelangelo wants a sample of every topping on offer, he can come help carry it. Or we can borrow April’s news van. Channel 6’s insurance covers pizza damage right?”
She rolled her eyes, but couldn’t say that she entirely disagreed with him.
They were almost to the nearest manhole when an alarm sounded nearby. Darting into the closest alley, she set her stack down atop a dumpster. “Looks like your brothers are getting cold pizza.”
She turned, experiencing a shiver of delight as he yanked off the mask and hat and tossed aside his coat.
With a smirk, he reached into the box and stuffed a slice of pizza in his mouth, swallowing it with exaggerated satisfaction. “Yup, tough luck for them.”
Stripping out of her disguise, she followed him out of the alley and towards the alarm. It probably would have been silent, if the source hadn’t been a petroleum refinery. Someone must have triggered a safety alarm, intended to warn the neighborhood to clear the vicinity. Fantastic.
“Remind me again, why we’re buying pies from a parlor in the industrial district.”
Raphael laughed as he cupped his hands to help her jump the chain link fence. “Best prices in town.”
Balancing atop the fence, she reached down to grab his hand and pull him up. “Because their product is coated in chemical residue?”
He shrugged and hopped down from the top of the fence. “Adds flavor.”
Shaking her head, she followed.
They’d almost made it to the main doors when Rocksteady and Bebop burst out of them, flanked by several robotic, Foot soldiers, carrying large metal canisters, that reminded her of oversized scuba tanks.
Rocksteady caught sight of them first. “It’s the toitles.”
Bebop stepped up beside him. “You want we should crush them?”
Rocksteady nodded as he cracked his knuckles. “Yeah, we can deliver the shells to the boss, like presents.”
Bebop frowned. “But that one doesn’t have a shell.”
Rocksteady shrugged. “Then we bring her tail.”
Bebop grinned. “Ooh. Good call.”
She gave Raphael a nod and ran in towards them, taking Bebop while he went for Rocksteady, the tank-wielding Footbots backing out of the fight.
Bebop ripped the broken remnants of the door he’d just come through off its hinges and took a swing at her but she turned her run into a slide, ducking under his wide, side-swipe with the it and breezing between his legs, ramming her heel into the obvious, unguarded target as she did so. With a strangled gasp, he dropped the door and doubled over, falling to his knees. No matter how solid they were, they still had weak spots.
Grinning as she rolled to her feet, not a hint of road rash on her skin from her slide across the pavement, she was grateful for her scaly armor. And for her tail.
With a spin she whipped it around, taking his feet out from under him. Bebop landed on his back with a resounding boom and curled into fetal position. Lizard lady, one. Shredder minions, zero.
She turned back to check on Raphael and saw him balanced in crouch atop a six-foot-tall, thick, metal pole, one of several, seemingly designed to stop reckless drivers from barreling into the refinery. The barbs of Raphael’s taunts struck true and Rocksteady charged him, putting his horn through the post as Raphael gracefully flipped off of it, landing behind him.
She followed his gaze up to the payload above, held aloft by a large crane. It was so perfectly positioned that it was just asking to be a part of the battle. Raphael dashed over to the crane, tugging on the release lever inside the cab. “Oops.”
The net of large crates dropped in a heap of wooden splinters and shards, right on Rocksteady. He groaned but the pile didn’t shift, indicating that he was as out of the battle as Bebop.
As Raphael ran towards the Footbots, she saw the chemical label on the tanks and gasped. “Wait!”
Raphael skidded to a halt, eyeing her questioningly. “Those tanks are full of hydrogen.”
He blinked. “And that means…?”
“Don’t break the tanks. Even a little spark and boom. This is not the place you want things to go boom.”
His eyes widened in understanding. “Lovely. One wrong move and I’m turtle flambé.”
She was caught up with him now, as the Footbots tried circling around back towards the tunneler.
“Just don’t drop them.”
His head snapped towards her, but she was already gone. Using everything she’d learned since meeting the turtles, she put all her mutant strength and agility to the test, plowing into the crowd of Footbots, counting on Raphael to catch the tanks as each was launched airborne. Up. Under. Kick. Tail whip. Punch. One by one they fell.
As the last one dropped, she turned back to Raphael, breathing heavily as he carefully set the last tank down in the cluster he’d been making. It kind of looked like pins in the most extreme game of bowling ever.
He flashed her a grin that set her stomach fluttering. “Caught ’em all. Worst carnival game ever. Do I get to picked my stuffed prize now?”
She laughed, feeling bold in the wake of her victory, and gave him a peck on the cheek, enjoying the way his cheeks blushed to match his mask. “Sorry. That’s all I have to give.”
Rubbing his cheek, he cleared his throat. “Eh, it’ll do.”
He surveyed the mess of fallen enemies. “Ready to send this lot back to the Shredder with only excuses?”
She shook her head. “I’ll leave that to you.”
He rolled his eyes. “Gee, thanks.”
“I need to check on that alarm to make sure they didn’t do something stupid.”
He laughed. “The wonder twins not doing something stupid? What reality are you living in, lady?”
She sighed, trying and failing to hide her amusement. “Fine. I need to go fix the stupid thing or things they’ve done.”
Raphael grabbed Bebop’s ankles and started dragging him toward the tunneler. “Well if you finish with that, I wouldn’t say no to a little help with heavy lifting.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.”
She turned and stepped into the refinery, quickly getting a sense of the layout. Fifteen minutes later, she’d located the control room and mitigated the damage done by the Shredder’s goons, saving the neighborhood from what would have otherwise been a very newsworthy explosion. Sorry April.
By the time she got back out, the goons and tunneler were gone and Raphael was examining a scrap of paper.
He looked up and smiled. “Late for the party, I see.”
The corner of her mouth quirked up in a smile. “You’re a big, strong turtle. I figured you had it covered.”
She plucked the paper from his grasp, scanning the column of bullet-pointed items.
“The Shredder’s shopping list?” He suggested.
She frowned. Some of the things were very dangerous, others completely innocuous. But she couldn’t see the whole that they made when put together. “What does he want with all this?”
Raphael shrugged. “Don’t sweat it. That’s what Donatello’s for.”
She handed the paper back to him and he tucked it into his belt. “We’d better get back before they send out a search party.”
He nodded thoughtfully as he tagged along after her. “Uh, Mona Lisa?”
“Yes.” She answered as she scaled the fence.
“I was wondering…have you ever thought about, you know…being human again?”
So he had noticed. Without his armor of sarcasm, he seemed so vulnerable that all thoughts of deflecting the question with a joke, fled her mind. He deserved honesty anyway.
“Yeah, I have. I do. A lot. I miss my family. My friends. My life.” Watching his expression fall, she rushed to correct herself. “But I have you guys now and you’re great, so it’s not all bad. I wouldn’t give up knowing you for anything.”
He managed a smile that reached his eyes. “Even Michelangelo.”
She grinned. “Even Michelangelo, although he’s welcome to stop trying out his culinary experiments on me at any time.”
Her smile dropped. “It doesn’t matter anyway. This is my life now and I need to accept it. Don’t worry. I’ll be ok. I’m just a little homesick.” She turned away as she spoke, so he wouldn’t see the lie in her eyes. “Come on. Let’s get these pizzas home.”
Raphael knew that he was unusually quiet on the way back and that it was worrying Mona Lisa, but he couldn’t help it. Suspecting was one thing. Confirming those suspicions was another. She wanted to go home. Back to her real life. And why wouldn’t she? It was probably a million times better than squatting in the sewers. He couldn’t ask her to stay. And he wouldn’t. She deserved better than he could give, though the thought of her leaving left him hollow inside. This wasn’t about him.
Leading the way into the lair, he dropped his stack of pizzas on the table with Mona Lisa not far behind.
“Take long much?” Michelangelo, the first to appear at the scent of pizza, peeked into the top box. “Dude, you are the worst pizza delivery service ever.”
Raphael snorted. “Don’t like it. Don’t eat it.”
Michelangelo pulled a cold, congealed slice from the top box. “Whoa, whoa, whoa, no need to get extreme. I never said that.” He stuffed the pizza into his wide mouth.
Raph shook his head, before returning his attention to Mona Lisa, who looked as pensive as she had over the last week or two. “Hey, I’ve got a surprise for you.”
Her eyes lit up at his words. “A ‘well-earned punch in the face’ kind of surprise, or an actual good one.”
Unable to help smiling despite the circumstance, he realized how badly he was going to miss this. But she was meant to be human. To have a real life.
“I like a good face-punch as much as the next guy, but I guess I’ll settle for an actual good surprise this time.”
Stuffing down his trepidation, he took her hand, not knowing if he’d ever have another chance to touch her again. Her delicate fingers curled around his as he led her to Donatello’s lab.
Donatello looked up from his desk as they entered, wearing headgear that magnified his eyes by a factor of ten. Raphael flinched away. “I did not need to see that. Take that off before you give us nightmares.”
Mona Lisa laughed. “What? I think it’s kind of becoming.”
He snorted. “Becoming the stuff that will haunt my dreams.”
As usual, Donatello ignored their banter as he slipped off the apparatus. “I take it that the pizzas here. I promise I’ll get something to eat in a minute. I just need to finish…”
Mona Lisa fished the note out of his belt and he froze as her hands grazed his waist, sending a cascade of pleasant tingles through him. Don’t think about it. You’ll only make it worse when she’s gone.
“We found this on a Shredder goon-squad. Theories?”
Donatello’s eyes lit up as he scanned the paper, she handed him. “Wow, imagine all that could be built with this.”
“You mean all the Shredder could build with it?” She replied archly and his enthusiasm dimmed.
“There are some unpleasant possibilities…”
“Which you will no doubt enumerate for us in painfully-graphic detail. Later.” Raphael cut in before his surprise could be co-opted by a trip down the science rabbit hole.
Donatello blinked at him in confusion. “Uh, I guess so…”
Raphael sighed, hearing Leonardo and Michelangelo wander into the lab to find out what was up. “Don’t you have something else to show Mona Lisa?” Donatello stared blankly at him for a moment, until he jerked his head towards the chemical table.
Understanding flooded his brother’s expression and he banged his palm against his forehead. “Oh, right. Sorry, I completely forgot.”
Raphael shook his head. “Only you, Donatello.”
Mona Lisa followed them both over to the long table containing an elaborate, glass chemistry set up. Michelangelo and Leonardo hung back with a caution borne of well-earned experience.
With a flourish Donatello presented Mona Lisa with a glass vial, filled to its corked top with shimmery, red liquid.
She eyed it curiously. “Dare I ask?”
Donatello smiled broadly. “It’s retromutagen, specific to your mutation. Drink it up and you’ll be human again.”
Her eyes widened in disbelief as she reverently took the vial from his brother’s hands. As her amazement transformed into joy, he felt a flush of happiness on her behalf, even as part of him felt like it was dying. She deserved a life in the sun.
“Will it work?”
Donatello nodded. “Yes…maybe.”
“If it does, you’ll still visit us right?” Her eyes twinkled at Michelangelo’s innocent question.
“Of course. Every chance I get. You guys are the best.”
Leonardo nodded. “And you’ll have to continue your training.”
She smiled. “I wouldn’t miss it.”
With a deep breath, she uncorked the vial and knocked the whole thing back in one gulp. For a moment nothing happened and Raphael felt a mix of sorrow and relief.
Then the vial slipped from her loose fingers and she wobbled unsteadily on her feet. Seeming to glow as a whitish-blue light emanated from her body, enveloping her like a blanket. Her eyes closed as all the tension slipped away from her.
Raphael watched in fascination as her face reshaped and the scales melted away, feeling a pang of intense loss at their absence even as he marveled in her human beauty. She was and would always be perfect in any form she took.
Almost too late, he realized what was happening as her tail shrunk away and her shoulders became bare skin. Snatching a white drop cloth off the nearest contraption, he rushed forward, wrapping her up in it.
“Hey…oh.” Donatello started to reprimand him, but stopped as the glow faded, leaving Mona Lisa’s bare arms and legs sticking out of the cloth that he’d just managed to get around her body in time. Wearing only a belt and neckerchief worked great for a lizard mutant, but not so much for a human woman. Mona Lisa didn’t seem to mind as she stared at her five-fingered human hand in astonishment.
It was time for her to go home, where she belonged. His heart clenched but he ignored it, instead turning to Leonardo. “Think April’s got a spare set of clothes she can borrow? This might not be the right look for the subway.”