Mona Lisa shifted uncomfortably on the subway, the trip she’d purchased with money borrowed from April. Part of it was probably habit. The impulse to avoid being so exposed. So visible. The rest was probably her borrowed clothing.
She was relatively certain that the bright yellow jumpsuit, paired with white boots did not flatter her complexion at all. That and she and April were simply different heights and shapes. The whole ensemble fit her completely wrong. She felt like a bag lady. But in true New Yorker fashion, nobody batted an eye. She might as well have been invisible. The sensation was too strange.
Normally she’d be paranoid about someone catching sight of her, bundled up and sticking to the shadows. But now that she could walk out in the open, she moved through society like a ghost.
Shaking her head, to clear her thoughts, she focused on her destination. It was the next exit. Her heart picked up. She hadn’t been in the Bronx since the last time she’d been human, afraid that she might run into the family she’d been too afraid to see. Coming home again felt surreal. Like a dream.
The doors opened and she staggered out, jostled and shoved by an indifferent crowd. Had she been accustomed to this once? Was this what she’d been like before? She couldn’t really remember. It was hard to compare the person she was now with who she’d been. Too much had happened to her in the interim.
A few blocks later, she was standing on the stoop of her parent’s apartment building, willing herself to ring the bell. Instead, she simply stared at the button beside the label, reading ‘Arthur and Madison McKinley,’ her hand refusing to move. She hadn’t spoken to anyone in almost a year. What would they think? What would she tell them? Longing warred with fear.
Then an old man with a paper bag full of groceries, struggled up the stoop and unlocked the door. She helpfully held it open for him. He gave her a grateful nod and slipped into the building. Taking a deep breath, she followed.
Four flights of stairs and a long hallway brought her to her parent’s door. She stared at it for a moment and considered walking away. But that would be a waste of the gift she’d been given. She’d wanted this. Longed for this. And it wasn’t in her nature to buckle under the demands of fear.
Reclaiming some of her innate boldness, she knocked on the door and waited. A minute or so later, it opened and her mother stood before her, with brown hair and eyes mirroring her own, an older version of herself.
Her mother’s jaw fell open, the blood draining from her face. She barely had time to catch her mom as her mother’s eyes rolled back in her head and she fainted. Well this was off to a great start.
Mona Lisa sat awkwardly on the living room sitting chair, clutching a mug of tea as she faced off with her family, staring openly at her from their seats on the couch. Her mother and father kept looking at each other, as though to confirm this was really happening and not some sort of a dream.
Her little brother, Monroe, exuded an air of resentment that she couldn’t figure out. She’d always been closest with him before. Why would he be upset that she’d returned?
He must be a junior in high school by now. Though they were only a few years apart, it always felt like more since she’d moved through school so quickly. Skipped grades and placement exams had made her an unusually young grad student. A prodigy, she’d been called. She’d been proud of it before. Now it almost seen laughable. After having known Donatello she felt like the village idiot. Now that was smart.
The awkward silence stretched, no one seeming to know what to say. Until Monroe broke it. “Where were you? What have you been doing? Why didn’t you come home?”
The accusing tone stole her words and she looked to her parents. Her dad cleared his throat. “After that man who kidnapped you was arrested…”
“Captain Filch.” Her mother supplied.
“…when you weren’t found, we thought…”
He trailed off but Monroe finished for him. “We thought you were dead. You let us think you were dead. Did you even think about us at all? What were you doing all this time?”
So that’s why he was mad at her. Honestly, she couldn’t blame him. Were their positions reversed, she’d probably feel the same.
“I’m sorry. I’m here now.”
Monroe slammed his mug down on the coffee table, making their parents jump and stalked out of the room. Her eyes followed him as he disappeared from sight. How was she to fix this rift she’d created? What could she tell him? The turtles’ secrets weren’t hers to compromise and she really didn’t want anyone to know about the creature she’d become.
Her mother gently set her own mug down and carefully pried her undrunk tea from her grasp. “You must be tired after…you must be tired. Come.”
Her mom took her hand and pulled her up, leaving her dazed father to stare off into space on the couch. Before she knew it, she was standing in front of her childhood bedroom.
“We kept everything just the way it was…” Her mother trailed off before abruptly reaching out and embracing her.
Mona Lisa slowly wrapped her arms around her mother who now sobbed into her shoulder.
“I’m so glad you’re not…you’re not…I’m glad. My miracle.”
Her mom spoke through sobbing gasps as she just held her, not knowing what to do or say. She’d been so caught up in her own predicament, that she hadn’t even thought about what they might have gone through in her absence. The guilt gnawed at her.
“It’s ok, mom. I’m home.”
With a sniff her mother released her, struggling to regain her composure. “Yes, you are. Why don’t you get some rest, honey? I’ll make spaghetti for dinner.”
Mona Lisa nodded, watching her mom turn and go, still wiping away stray tears. With a sigh, she twisted the knob and entered her room. No joke. It was exactly the same. Not even a layer of dust. It could have been yesterday that she’d last seen it.
Stripping out of April’s ill-fitting clothing, she made a beeline for her closet. Several moments later, she stood in front of her vanity mirror, examining her handiwork. She wore a strappy, pale-pink sundress with matching, low-heeled shoes. Gold bracelets jangled from each wrist, pairing the simple gold necklace that encircled her throat and the small golden drop earrings, dangling from each earlobe.
Her hair was pulled back into a thick pony tail, held in place with a wide, pink band and her lips and nails were painted to match. Yes, this was much more her style. This was the her she wanted Raphael to see.
Her cheeks burned as she banished the thought. Now was not the time for personal indulgences. She needed to make things right with her family. If only she knew how.
With a sigh, she plopped down on her frilly pink comforter. Too keyed, up to sleep, she just sat and waited for her mother to call her to dinner. Maybe something would come to her if she thought on it long enough.
Leonardo tapped his foot impatiently as he kept looking over Donatello’s shoulder. Donatello turned to frown up at him. “You do know how distracting that is, right?”
Leonardo ignored the question. “Well, have you figured out what this list means? We need to know what the Shredder is planning.”
Donatello sighed. There was no breaking his brother’s focus, once he latched onto a potential threat. “I don’t know. There are so many possible combinations of these materials. It could be any number of things, assuming they aren’t all going towards separate projects. Put together, it could be a bomb, a chemical weapon, a generator to power a city on the moon. I don’t know.”
Leonardo frowned. “When will you know?”
Donatello’s shoulders slumped. Leonardo wasn’t getting it. “Without more information? Not until the Shredder reveals his plan himself.”
Leonardo crossed his arms angrily. “That’s not an option. The world could be at stake.”
Donatello smiled. The world was always at stake. But they never failed to come through. “We’ll just have to wait until they try again. Maybe we can get more data?”
Though what he hoped to learn from Rocksteady and Bebop, he didn’t know. Even if the Shredder let those two lunkheads in on his master plan, it would be like pouring water into a sieve. They wouldn’t retain a drop.
“Dudes we’ve got a mondo problemo.” Michelangelo sauntered in, breaking Leonardo’s interrogation.
But their leader switched gears as naturally as breathing. “Raphael?”
Michelangelo nodded, eyes wide as though he couldn’t believe Leonardo had guessed it. Donatello had to smother a laugh at his brother’s cluelessness.
“I made him a pineapple, gummy bear and jalapeno pizza and he wouldn’t touch it. Do you think he’s sick?”
Leonardo shook his head. “No. He’s feeling sorry for himself. It’s no excuse for missing ninja practice.”
Donatello’s laughter faded away. That wasn’t very fair. “Cut him some slack guys. Granted Michelangelo never stopped eating, but each time Kala returned to Dimension X, it didn’t look like he tasted anything for weeks afterwards. And you’ve done your own share of moping whenever we’ve had a run-in with Lotus Blossom after she ALWAYS returns to her mercenary lifestyle.”
Leonardo rubbed the back of his head sheepishly. “Run-in might a strong way to phrase it.”
Donatello arched an eye ridge at him. “Name one encounter with her that didn’t start with her kicking our shells.”
He couldn’t and Donatello grinned smugly. He’d never say so out loud, but there nothing quite so satisfying as being right.
Leonardo sighed. “Fine, but we will need him at the top of his game to foil the Shredder’s plans. Maybe Master Splinter will know what to do.
Raphael sat at the table, poking at the pizza Michelangelo had placed in front of him. He wasn’t hungry. He should be, but he wasn’t.
It had only been a day and a half. Surely she would at least call when things settled down. Her reunion with her family must be taking up all her time. That was all. She wouldn’t have forgotten them. Him. He hoped.
The chair across from him scraped across the floor and he looked up, surprised to see Master Splinter taking a seat in front of him. The old rat settled comfortably into the chair. “Is there anything you would like to talk about, Raphael?”
He frowned and looked away. “No.”
The silence stretched between them, but it wasn’t uncomfortable. Master Splinter had always had a peaceful aura. Maybe they could just sit and be for a while.
That illusion was upturned when Splinter spoke again, hitting the nail on the head. “She won’t stay away forever. You must be patient my student.”
He swallowed hard, not daring to look into Master Splinter’s face as he voiced the fear that had been nagging him from the start. “What if she doesn’t come back?”
Splinter reached across the table and patted his hand. “Have faith in her. She will return. I did after all.”
Raphael snorted. “Yeah, after you turned back into a rat.”
Well that sounded more bitter than he’d intended. But Master Splinter didn’t flinch or even seem the slightest bit offended.
“Did you think I would not have, had I remained human?”
He winced and turned away from that piercing gaze. “I thought…maybe. Why would you want to come back down here with everything there is up there?”
Splinter smiled kindly. “Because everything that matters to me is down here. After having enjoyed my life among you and your brothers, I found I didn’t fit in up there at all, with or without my human form. My place is and always will be here with my turtles.”
Raphael blinked away tears, surprised by how much he’d needed to hear that. He hadn’t realized how much doubt he’d been harboring. “Yeah?”
Splinter nodded solemnly. “And Mona Lisa is just as much a part of us. Believe in her and give her some time, my student.”
Raphael nodded, feeling lighter than he had in a while. “Yes, Sensei.”
The Shredder pounded his fist against the technodrome console as Rocksteady and Bebop cowered back from him. Imbeciles! And now those wretched turtles were aware of his plans. They’d be interfering at every turn. His worthless minions couldn’t find subtlety if it sat on them. This would make things impossible.
He eyed the contrite mutants thoughtfully. Maybe this could be turned to his advantage. It would necessitate him being his own errand boy, but he would do whatever it took to win.
“You are forgiven.”
Bebop, perked up. “Gee boss, thanks.” He smiled at their mindless sincerity.
Yes, this would work just fine. “In fact, I have a whole new job for you.”
Rocksteady clapped enthusiastically. “Really? Thanks boss. We won’t let you down this time.”
Of course they would. He was counting in it. “Tonight, you will go down to the docks and loot warehouse seventeen. Destroy anything you can’t carry.”
Bebop nodded confidently. “Got it, boss.”
Rocksteady thrust his chest out proudly. “You can count on us.”
Shredder sighed, fanning his cape as he swept out of the room. It was time to prepare his own strike team to come with him and retrieve the real prize.