Mona Lisa exited the bathroom in her robe, hair wrapped in a towel, to almost trip over her mother folding laundry in the hallway. Her jaw clenched involuntarily. Her mother never folded laundry in the hallway.
“Oh hi, honey. How are you today?”
She immediately pasted a smile on her face. “Good. Uh…wouldn’t it be easier to do that in the living room?”
Her mother laughed nervously. “I suppose it would, wouldn’t it?”
She sighed and shook her head. “Here, let me help with that.”
She reached for the heavier basket, experiencing an inkling of annoyance at its weight. It wasn’t as though she couldn’t carry it. She could easily. But it was awkward and took effort. It would have been nothing to her in her mutant form. The reminder of being weak wasn’t helping her mood any.
She headed towards the living room with her mom at her heels, setting the basket down in the hopes of making a quick getaway. The moment she turned, she nearly collided with her dad, kicking herself for not sensing him there. She wasn’t as aware as she used to be either.
“Uh…good morning, dad.”
He smiled and clapped a hand on her shoulders. “Hey Pumpkin, how about some breakfast? I made waffles.”
She could almost feel her eye twitch, but allowed herself to be lead into the kitchen anyway. This had been all fine and dandy the first couple days, welcome even, but now, five days into being home, it was starting to eat at her. Her parents were hovering constantly. Dad had even taken the whole week off work.
After what she’d done to them, she couldn’t really blame them for trying to find a way into her presence every waking moment. They probably felt like she’d disappear again if they took their eyes off of her. But after the relative solitude of the life she’d been living, she felt like she couldn’t breathe. She’d missed them, but this was too much. She’d been loath to go out after first arriving, but if she didn’t escape soon, she might just snap.
After stuffing a couple waffles in her gullet without even tasting them, she rushed off to her room to get dressed. Having a rare moment to herself, she followed the routine with deliberate slowness, stretching out each step as long as she could. She’d just finished readying herself for the day, when a knock sounded at her door.
“Are you ok in there, honey?”
She could feel her eye twitch again. “Yeah, mom. I’m good.”
“Ok, you’ve been in there a while. Do you need anything? I brew some tea? Or how about a bowl of ice cream? I can make whatever you want.”
The sensation of being smothered was back along with a side of guilt for feeling that way. “No, actually I’m still full from breakfast. Thanks though.”
“Is there anything else you need? Let me know what I can get you?”
She took a deep calming breath. It had been like this for five days now. Five days. “No really. I’m fine.”
She could tell her mom was still standing on the other side of the door, not moving away, but unable to come up with another reason for lingering. She needed to get out of here.
“You know what? I think I’ll get some air on the roof for a bit, ok?”
Before her mother could splutter out a protest, she darted out her window and up the fire escape, breathing deep the quiet air at the top of the building.
To her surprise, Monroe was already up there, his homework spread out in front of him as he lay across an old picnic blanket. For moment the present and past seemed to overlap as she could see them years ago in her mind’s eye, studying together up here on the very same blanket.
Her heart clenched as she realized she’d hardly seen any of him this past week. Sure he’d been in school, but aside from meals where he was required to sit with the family, he’d made himself scarce the rest of the time. Even today, Saturday, he’d made a point of avoiding her.
With her parent’s ever-present looming, she hadn’t noticed. It hurt to think that he was still mad. Only the truth stood a chance of bridging the gulf between them, but she couldn’t bring herself to tell it. Not just for her own sake. Her recent past held secrets that weren’t hers to share.
She approached stealthily, a more difficult than usual task in her human form and peeked over his shoulder. Pre-calculus. Didn’t he hate math? Was he really going to spend his weekend working ahead in his homework?
Seeing her shadow spread across his papers, he looked up at her and frowned. “What?”
She curled her feet under her as she sat beside him on the blanket. “Need any help?”
He huffed. “I’m doing fine. Thanks anyway.”
Given that his work was a mix of skipped, partially complete and obviously wrong attempts at the problems, she found that hard to believe.
“Monroe…” She reached out towards his shoulder, but he swatted her hand away, glaring at her.
“I don’t want your help ok. I’ve been doing just fine without you, so you can just go already.”
It was difficult, but she maintained her gaze in the face of his anger. “Please.”
Some of the anger dimmed and he looked away. “Where were you?”
He was offering her a chance to make things right, but she couldn’t take it. Not completely anyway. But she could at least give him something. “Some new friends took me in while I…recovered.”
He glanced back at her curiously. “Recovered from what?”
She involuntarily ran her hand over he now scale-free arm. “I was…changed. Physically. I wasn’t me anymore.”
He frowned. “What does that mean? Why didn’t you let us help?”
Her vision blurred and she looked away. “I was afraid.”
“Of what? Us?”
She nodded. “I was so different. You don’t understand.”
“No, I understand. You didn’t trust us. Didn’t trust me.” He slammed his textbook closed and rapidly gathered up his papers.
But he just tromped back to the fire escape. “No, I get it now. Thanks for clearing that up.”
And then he was gone. She’d screwed up again. Looking down, the red and white of the picnic blanket blurred and blended together as her tears slid down her cheeks. She’d only made things worse.
Leonardo veered through traffic, hating driving through such crowded streets. Why’d Bebop and Rocksteady have to start hitting targets in the middle of the day? This was the second one so far after a series of seeming random night robberies in the days before. No matter how many times, they took the duo down, they’d pop right back up again, like weeds.
And they were still no closer to figuring out the Shredder’s plan with all this. Imported antiquities, industrial parts, grocery stores. It didn’t add up. What was the Shredder after?
He risked taking his eyes off the road for a second to glance over at Donatello who was bracing himself in the passenger seat while trying to work his computerized map, getting knocked around with every sharp turn, despite his seatbelt.
“You’re sure they’re raiding the Natural History Museum in broad daylight?” He braked hard as he asked, narrowly avoiding rear ending the car in front of them, before pulling onto the sidewalk to get around the traffic.
Donatello gagged as his throat slammed up against the seat belt shoulder restraint and he juggled the map gadget, barely snatching it back to his chest before it shattered against the windshield. Sucking in a breath, his brother answered. “Pretty sure. April’s covering the attack now and gave us the heads up.”
“Hey dudes, do you think we’ll have time to check out the dinosaur exhibit. I’ve always wanted to see a T-Rex up close.” Michelangelo’s voice boomed up from the back.
Leonardo waited for a glib comment from Raphael, the natural response, but his brother remained uncharacteristically silent. He had to admit that he’d thought they would have heard from Mona Lisa by now. He hoped she was ok, but, if she was, did that mean that she really didn’t want to see them anymore? The train of thought led nowhere good and he cut it off. He need to focus on protecting the city from Shredder and his minions.
Screeching to a halt, in an alley a block or so away from the museum, they all piled out and made a run from the building, choosing to avoid the media and slip in the back. April would be disappointed but she should have enough footage with Bebop and Rocksteady’s wanton destruction to keep her viewership rolling. They’d already had more than their fair share of the spotlight.
It didn’t take very long to work their way to the front where the Shredder’s lackeys were tearing apart the entrance hall, though they’d had to drag Michelangelo away from several displays along the way.
“Whoa. Imagine how stupendimoso it would be if they were animatronic.”
He elbowed Michelangelo and drew his swords as the Bebop and Rocksteady batted apart the brontosaurus with its own leg bones.
“Turtle power!” He cried out as he led his brothers into battle.
Rocksteady turned at the sound of his battle cry. “Hey it’s the toitles.”
Bebop grinned. “Gee, it looks like we’ll finally have something fun to hit.”
Once again silence from Raphael where there should have been a clever quip. It worried Leonardo.
“Catch me if you can horn head.” Michelangelo taunted Rocksteady and was rewarded when the rhino charged him, getting his face stuck in the wall as Michelangelo gracefully flipped out of the way.
He, Donatello and Raphael were ducking and dodging as Bebop wield a brontosaurus femur like a two-handed club. He was slow and telegraphed his attacks, so there was no chance of getting hit, although countering turned out to be a problem.
At least he’d assumed there was no chance of getting hit. In the same, semi-daze he’d been wandering around in for days, Raphael missed an easy dodge. The bone hit him dead on to the center of his chest and sent him flying into the display of some other unknown dinosaur skeleton that Donatello likely could have identified in more detail than any of them would ever have wanted to know. Raphael sat up, wincing as he rubbed his plastron, not noticing the display of bones beginning to fall.
“No!” He screamed and ran for his brother who was just looking at him in confusion. Raphael grunted as Leonardo collided with him, tumbling them both across the marble floor.
As his brother groaned beneath him, Leonardo looked up to see that the collapse wasn’t a total loss. Donatello had managed to maneuver Bebop close enough to the display to bury him in the falling heap of bones.
“With a little more practice, your rescues might eventually be less painful than what you’re us rescuing from.”
Leonardo couldn’t help grinning at the sound of Raphael’s sarcasm as he gave him a hand to help him up. Who would have thought he’d miss his brother mouthing off? “Well, try not to need rescuing so much then.”
Raphael’s eyes widened and Leonardo followed his gaze. Rocksteady had pulled free of the wall and was about to throw a dinosaur skull towards the front door, where April had her back turned to the fight as she yelled vitriolically at someone out of view.
“Michelangelo! Grappling hook.”
His brother gave him a wink and used the roped projectile to knock the skull off course, just in time, as Donatello jumped in between her and the attack to shield their squishy, human ally from the spray of bone shards with his shell.
When Leonardo turned back towards Rocksteady, Raphael was already in position and Leonardo could see what he had in mind. With a running start, Raphael caught his foot in his cupped hands, launching him upwards, landing on the spine of the T-Rex. He ran up to the head, leaping off the skull and onto a hanging pterodactyl, slashing the wire supports free and riding the skeletal bird all the way down onto Rocksteady, diving off at the last second to absorb his momentum in a roll.
The turtles converged on an irate April by the door.
“Are you ok?” Leonardo asked breathlessly.
“Of course not! Vern flaked on my again and we missed broadcasting the best part!”
Leonardo sighed. April was fine.
The sound of bones tumbling at their backs caused them all to turn in time to see Bebop dragging Rocksteady out of the pile of pterodactyl remains. “You ain’t seen the last of us!”
Leonardo considered giving chase, but the press was converging on the museum. “Time to make turtle tracks.”
With a nod, they all pulled out their grappling hooks to climb the pillars and escaped through the upper windows.
Mona Lisa watched Taylor’s jaw fall open as she stared at her through the open door of their dorm apartment. She probably should have called first to give her friend some warning, but trying to do so would have given her parents a chance to make excuses as to why she shouldn’t leave as they’d done several times before. And she’d really, REALLY needed to get away. It was a wonder her old metro pass was still valid, but she would have walked to Washington Square Village if she had to.
It was strange being back in New York University’s graduate residence hall again after such a long absence, but there was a comforting familiarity to the place. It hadn’t changed much.
“Mona Lisa?” Taylor asked in disbelief.
“Yeah. It’s been a while.”
Taylor’s eyes shined with tears as she stumbled forward to embrace her. Mona Lisa awkwardly patted Taylor on the back. Once she’d been so familiar with Taylor’s easy affection, but the excessive contact felt foreign to her now.
It suddenly occurred to her that during her sabbatical with the turtles, the most physical contact she’d had with anyone was during sparring. She’d come close to casual touches with Raphael countless times but always chickened out at the last minute.
She’d gotten a vague sense of the discomfort from her parent’s constant touching, but had been more focused on their never giving her a minute to herself. Now, here with Taylor, she realized how accustomed she’d gotten to having her personal space. The proximity of her best friend was making her decidedly uncomfortable. But she sucked it up and endured it for the distress she’d undoubted caused Taylor by up and vanishing the way she’d done.
Stifling a sniffle, Taylor released her and dragged her into the small apartment, pushing her down onto the couch. “Where have you been? When did you get back? How? Tell me everything.”
It abruptly occurred to her that she couldn’t. Not anymore than she could with her family. Part of her mind had held onto the delusion of curling up on the tattered, old sofa, black, knit surface almost worn away in the seat and back, sharing a pint of ice cream as she dished on all her recent life events, soliciting her best friend for advice. She wanted nothing more than to tell Taylor all about Raphael and get some feedback as she once had before. But it couldn’t be that way anymore. She had too many secrets now.
It was too bad because she could really use Taylor’s advice. On the way over, she’d almost stopped at one of the few remaining pay phones still scattered around the city, kicking herself for leaving her turtle-com back at the lair when she’d changed clothes. With her parent’s near constant surveillance, she’d had no chance to contact them and now she feared it was too late. Would they have read too much into her silence? Did they resent her now? She was afraid of what they might think of her for failing to get in touch. Taylor would have known the right course of action, but she couldn’t come up with a way to bring it up, even hypothetically.
“I got home a few days ago. It took me a long time to recover after the whole…Captain Filch incident.” Best to be as vague as possible.
Taylor obviously knew that she was holding something back, but she didn’t press. Knowing Taylor, her imagination was probably filling in the blank spaces with all kinds of unpleasant possibilities. She wished she could reassure her friend that her time away hadn’t been that bad. In fact, it had been one of the happiest periods of her life, now that she thought back on it. She ached for the friends she hadn’t seen in days. It felt like much longer.
Taylor wiped away a wave of fresh tears. “We all thought that you were…”
“I know and I’m sorry.”
Taylor shook her head. “All that matters is that you’re back and you’re ok. You are ok, right?”
She managed a smile. “Yes, I am.”
“Taylor have you seen my body butter? I swear I left it on the bathroom sink…” Reagan, wearing black, mesh shorts and a ratty, grey tank top marched barefoot into the small living room, toweling down her wet hair, but froze at the sight of Mona Lisa.
Taylor cleared her throat. “There’s not enough room on the sink as it is. I put it in the bathroom closet.”
Reagan, never took her eyes off Mona Lisa. “Uh…yeah. Thanks. Umm, welcome back.” With that she turned on her heel and disappeared again.
Taylor rubbed the back of her head, nervously. “I guess I should have told you, but you did kind of catch me off guard. The University wouldn’t let me keep the apartment to myself, so after you’d been gone a while, I had to find another roommate.”
Mona Lisa nodded numbly, swallowing back the shock of being replaced. By Reagan of all people. Although they’d shared several classes with her, Reagan wasn’t that interested in Physics, coasting along on her natural talent, doing as little as possible to keep from failing. Reagan was more into parties than school and only attended classes to keep the free ride from her parents coming, buffering her against the real world. What could Reagan and Taylor possibly have in common?
Taylor chuckled, as though reading her thoughts. “Most everyone we know is already paired up and she got booted by her last roommate so…”
As Taylor’s voice trailed off, Mona Lisa’s eye caught the television, on in the corner. Diving forward, she cranked up the low volume.
“This is April O’Neil reporting from the Museum of Natural History where mutants are tearing our beloved artifacts to shreds. We’re going in for a closer look.”
“We’re are?” An indignant voice responded from beyond the view of the camera.
April’s eyes narrowed. “Yes. We are.” Then she turned and the camera followed her into the building.
There were Leonardo, Donatello and Raphael facing off with Bebop, wielding a dinosaur bone the size of a log.
“Man this town has a lot of crazy weirdos.”
She flinched at Taylor’s assessment of her friends. But before she could speak in their defense, her breath caught in her throat as Raphael was violently knocked into a hadrosaurus skeleton. Though she wanted to, she couldn’t look away as it started to come down on him, only releasing her breath, when she saw Leonardo barrel into him, rolling them both to safety.
A chunk of marble wall shattered near the camera and then all she saw was a wild flight out of the museum with April calling out in the background. “Come back her Vern, you coward!”
Seeing all the idle police officers outside of the building, Mona Lisa felt her ire burning in her gut. “Why didn’t anyone help them?”
Taylor raised an eyebrow at her. “What are normal people supposed to do against that? We couldn’t help, even if we wanted to.”
She wanted to. She should be helping. But Taylor was right. In her current state, she’d only be a useless burden.
Michelangelo munched on his mouth-watering, victory pizza-pie that he’d insisted they pick up on their way back, completely ignoring Donatello’s no food in the lab rule. If they were going to be stuck in here, he wasn’t going to allow himself to waste away. Speaking of…
With his free hand, he grabbed another piece and offered it to Raphael who merely declined with a shake of his head.
Michelangelo frowned. His brother’s hunger strike was totally bogus, but he didn’t have a clue how to break it. Turning down pizza just wasn’t natural. Maybe they could fix Raphael with Donatello’s personality-ray. Sure it had turned into a mondo-disaster the last time they’d tried using it to get Leonardo to lighten up, but that’s because it had gone off by accident. If Donatello used it properly, it would surely be ok. Just to get him to eat. Then they could revert him to his mopey self.
He turned his attention back to his brothers in the hopes of asking, but didn’t see an opportunity to get a word in.
“I just don’t see what use the Shredder could possibly have for dinosaur bones.” Donatello paced as he spoke.
Leo crossed his arms frowning. “They weren’t stealing them. They were just making a mess.”
Donatello rubbed his face, frustrated. “But why?”
Leonardo’s eyes hardened. “Decoy. It’s all a distraction. Donatello can you look up other ordinary robberies that have occurred during Bebop and Rocksteady’s crime spree?”
Donatello blinked in surprise but nodded and darted for his computer. They all crowded around him and a few keystrokes later, Donatello had the information. Although Donatello kept insisting that it was science and logic, Michelangelo was pretty sure it was magic. That seemed like the best explanation for the way his brother seemed to grab answers out of thin air.
“Whoa. There have been a string of robberies and look at all these. They fit the items on the list and they occurred simultaneously with Bebop and Rocksteady’s attacks.”
Leonardo concentrated on the screen as he spoke. “How much have they gotten?”
Donatello compared the list taken from Rocksteady and Bebop with his search results. “Most of the equipment and hardware. There are a few items left, but it’s mostly chemicals remaining.”
Leonardo nodded. “Then we stake out where the remaining items can be obtained.”
Donatello sighed dramatically. “There are too many possibilities.”
Leonardo was undeterred. “Then work up a surveillance system and we’ll spend as much time as needed installing it.”
Michelangelo groaned, knowing that meant he wasn’t going to have any personal time over the next couple of days. Goodbye fun.
“What about Bebop and Rocksteady? They’re still gonna be playing demolition derby with the city right?”
Leonardo considered Raphael’s point for a moment without coming up with an alternative to the obvious but unpleasant conclusion. “Then we’ll have to split up each mission.”
Michelangelo groaned again. They could really use Mona Lisa about now.
The Shredder rubbed his hands together greedily as the Footbots assembled and installed his new apparatus into the Technodrome’s engine. His plan was proceeding flawlessly. He had almost all the physical components he needed. Just a few more items and he could focus on fuel. He’d only need enough to launch the initial assault. From there on, he’d be able to take all the resources he needed. Soon, very soon, the world would be his.