The Way Home

Chapter 5

Raphael leaned over the edge of the roof to affix the last sensor to the building. Hauling himself back upright, he yawned and stretched. The all-nighters were beginning to take their toll, but it wasn’t in Leonardo’s nature to cut them much slack when on a mission.

Looking out to the horizon, he could see the sky beginning to lighten and was glad he was done. The last thing he needed was to get caught illegally installing spyware around the city. The news, with the exception of April, loved to report a good scandal on them even if it needed to be invented and he didn’t intend to give them any extra fodder.

In all honesty, April would probably be just as likely to slather over the ‘Turtles Spying on Unsuspecting New York’ story as the rest of them, like a cartoon hobo over a pie, left unguarded on a window sill, but her friendship with them helped to keep those baser instincts in check.

He started across the roof to head back towards the fire escape when he found himself stopped and staring at the brightening sunrise. With a sigh, he sagged against a large AC unit and sank down, wrapping his arms around his knees. With this dawn, it would be eight days since Mona Lisa had left. Eight days without a word. Eight days, not that he was counting or anything. He wanted to believe Sensei, but with each passing day, his doubt grew.

Seeking to give her the benefit of the doubt, he turned it around in his mind, trying to see the situation from her point of view. It might seem like a long time to him, but a little over a week wasn’t that long to have just been reunited with one’s family.

He remembered the lesson in togetherness that Master Splinter had once taught them. He’d learned a few things from the experience. One was, he had the least marketable skill set among his brothers, having gotten stuck singing turtlegrams at parties while the rest of them managed to find real jobs. The other was that he needed his family more than anything.

He’d fought the hardest against Splinter’s instructions that they split up, but had been unable to overcome Leonardo’s obedience. Brief as it was, that separation ranked among the most miserable periods of his life. What if he’d been apart from them as long as Mona Lisa had been out of touch from hers? After being reunited, would he be able to leave them, even to visit a precious friend?

He didn’t think he would. Not at first and not for a while. Maybe she needed this time with them and only them and there wasn’t any room for friends right now. Because even if she felt like family to him, that’s what he must be to her. With a sigh, he forced himself back onto his feet and towards the fire escape.

A loud thud, causing the questionably stable metal structure to shudder violently, broke through the cloud of his thoughts.

“Yo dude, you done, cuz I could really go for some pizza about now.”

Clasping his plastron, he commanded his racing heart to slow, annoyed that Michelangelo, of all people, had gotten the drop on him. “Could you be any less stealthy? I think there are still some people in Michigan who didn’t hear you.”

Michelangelo rolled his eyes. “Missions over for the night, bucko. We can stop ninja-ing it up for a while and have some fun for a change.”

He was sorely tempted to tattle to Leonardo, but no one deserved that. Not even Michelangelo. “Fine. Just get your own fire escape. I prefer mine still attached to the building.”

He expected Michelangelo to take off, eager to get back home to the food, but, to his surprise, his normally carefree and oblivious brother had stopped to stare at him. Finding the scrutiny distinctly uncomfortable, he crossed his arms over his chest defensively. “What? Is my shell on backwards?”

Michelangelo smiled. “Chill dude. She’ll be back in no time. You’ll see and I can say ‘I told you so’ at the return party.”

He scowled and turned his shell on his brother, starting to climb down. “How would you know anything about it?”

Michelangelo laughed. “Come on, being human is totally bogus.”

He sighed. “Well that’s what you get for eating cookies made by the Shredder and she’s not in any danger of randomly switching back and forth between forms or exploding. And just because you didn’t like it, doesn’t mean that she feels that way. She was born human.”

Michelangelo shrugged, undeterred. “So, she’s one of us now. You don’t just go back like nothing’s changed. She’ll come home. You’ll see.”

He blinked as Michelangelo scrambled past him to the alley below. The idea that she wasn’t already home had never occurred to him. But if Michelangelo was right, what was taking so long? He missed her.

Mona Lisa’s eyes glazed over as Professor Hoover droned on. She’d fought so hard for the chance to shadow some of her old classes, her parents still reluctant to relinquish their smothering death grip on her, and now she wondered why.

Elbow balanced precariously on her desk, she rested her cheek on her hand and stared out the window. She’d never found her classes boring in the past, but, as with everything else, nothing was the same and she just couldn’t make any of the pieces of her life fit back together the way they used to.

After Donatello’s more enthusiastic and interactive approach to the acquisition of knowledge, she couldn’t seem to get into Dr. Hoover going through the motions. It didn’t help that she already knew the material. Another side effect of working with Donatello. He’d rapidly advanced her education to get her up to speed so that she’d be able to more effectively help him with his projects. There was none of Donatello’s experimental excitement and thirst for knowledge here.

“Ms. Mckinley, would you like to tell us what the time dilation is in this problem?”

She glanced at the board, taking in the variables, knowns and unknowns, running the math in her head. “Thirty-two years.” She answered blandly before turning to stare back out the window, completely ignoring her instructor’s huff that she was right when he’d been planning on making an example of her.

Instead he glared at the rest of the students. “Dismissed.”

Finally. She stood and darted out of the stuffy building into the brightly lit park just outside. Park might be an exaggeration, as it was just a few stone benches around a cluster of trees and a fountain, but the sun was warm and she felt like she could breathe out here.

“I thought you couldn’t wait to get back to school?” She looked up to see Pierce, an old classmate and study buddy of hers, whom she’d talked into allowing her to shadow his classes.

In the past, hanging out with Pierce had been fun. Being a blue-eyed blonde, around six feet tall and solid, he kind of looked like Captain America and everyone assumed he was a dumb jock on an athletic scholarship, a notion that had never ceased to amaze her after seeing him trip over his own feet to tumble down a flight of stairs in the library. The looks on their faces, when they found out he was total science nerd, were priceless.

True, getting mistaken for a rival by those aggressively pursing him had made for more than one unpleasant and awkward situation until she learned to roll with it. Everyone had to find out for themselves that Physics was Pierce’s one true love. It hadn’t bothered her though as she’d never seen him as more than a friend and idea sounding board.

“I…I’m sorry. Maybe I should have started with a more challenging course.”

He frowned. “Technically this should have been beyond where you were before…”

He didn’t finish. No one really referenced her abduction directly, preferring either euphemisms or avoiding it entirely. She hated that. They way everyone looked at her uncertainly, as though she’d break at any moment, choosing their words with extreme care, drove her crazy. She’d rather they be blunt about it. She wasn’t fragile or weak and the way everyone walked around her on egg shells since her return was slowly infuriating her. They were the ones uncomfortable with what had happened. Not her.

“Circumstances dictated I expand my knowledge base on the fly. I bet I know more than you now.”

Pre-abduction-Pierce would have laughed and demanded she prove it via some sort of science-related competition. Post-adbuction-Pierce just gave her a tight smile. “Sure. I’ve got to get to the lab. Are you going to be ok?”

She sighed, making an effort not to be annoyed. “I’ll be fine. Don’t neglect your experiments on my account.”

For a moment, it looked like he couldn’t decide whether or not she’d been sarcastic, which made sense, since she wasn’t sure either. Ultimately, he decided on the course that made him more comfortable. “Great. See you round then.”

She shook her head as he turned and walked off, not waiting for a response. Why couldn’t things be easy, like before?

In the distance, she could see Truman and Wilson approaching, looking much the same way they did when she’d been abducted. Truman, with his brown hair cut short to showcase his early-onset widow’s peak baldness and large nose overshadowing his beady brown eyes, was dressed almost exactly the same as that day.

Wilson had a least made a few alterations to his style since then. They still shared their fondness for turtlenecks covered by matching blue windbreakers, although any rational person wearing the same would be dying in this heat.

Truman had his classic gray top, complemented by his ever-present khakis. Wilson favored jeans and brighter colors. Today he was rocking a yellow turtleneck instead of the aquamarine he’d chosen the day of her capture. His glasses were still huge and boxy, but at least he’d trimmed his hair close to his head. The square, tabletop cut he’d insisted on before had not been doing him any favors.

She’d been mad at them for so long after they’d jumped ship and abandoned her to fend for herself, especially since they were the reason she’d been out there in the first place. As marine biologists, the expedition had been for their research project and they’d asked her along for her Physics expertise.

Looking back, she was pretty sure that Wilson had been trying to hook up with her and Truman had been playing his wingman, both roles they were ill-suited for even if she would have been aware enough of it to pick up on the sad attempt at innuendo at the time. It sort of made the running off and leaving her at the first sign of danger that much worse.

She’d spent her entire captivity in resentment, blaming them for everything that happened to her. As she watched them now, she realized the resentment was gone.

They caught sight of her and immediately turned in another direction, pretending they hadn’t noticed her.

Well, maybe the resentment wasn’t completely gone as she felt a fresh surge of annoyance at their avoidance. They probably thought she was going to punch them. And prior to her escape, they would have been right. She would have beat them bloody. But now…ultimately their screw up led her to meet the turtles. To meet Raphael. She couldn’t regret what they’d done as long as that was true.

At the thought of the turtles she felt another rush of longing, sorrow and fear. For the past three days, she missed every opportunity to contact them, afraid of what they’d say to her for leaving them hanging so long. Afraid she’d hurt their feelings…his feelings…beyond the point of forgiveness. And every new day she delayed made it worse. If only there were a way to communicate them that wouldn’t involve immediate feedback, where her broken promises wouldn’t be thrown right back in her face.

At the corner in the distance, she could see a woman approach a mailbox with a handful of letters. Maybe there was a way after all.

“So did we draw the short straw or what?” Raphael peered down from atop a three story building to the small carnival in the church parking lot below, closed for the evening. Of course they would get stuck with Bebop and Rocksteady, wreaking havoc on some dinky fair. Of all places why here? There were only a few rides and not even a Ferris wheel.

Next to him Michelangelo shrugged. “Dude, Leonardo’s not going to skip out on facing the Shredder and he’s hoping that Donatello can figure out what Shred Head is up to.”

Raphael blinked. “I feel like I should be concerned that you, of all people, had to point that out to me.”

Michelangelo grinned for a moment before thinking about it. “Hey!”

A loud smashing noise interrupted their banter and they both looked to see Rocksteady slamming a large cotton candy machine onto the ground.

“Aww man, the kids are gonna be majorly disappointed tomorrow.”

Raphael frowned at his brother’s observation. “Not in my town.”

Without another word, he leapt from the building to the top of the church, trusting Michelangelo to follow. Sliding down the deeply pitched roof of the gothic building, he launched himself off the edge, landing loudly atop the funhouse. “If you want concessions, you’re going to have to wait in line and pay like everybody else.”

“Yeah, dude. Don’t be a pig.” Michelangelo chirped as he landed next to him.

Bebop looked up and snorted. “Oh yeah? Why don’t you come down here and say that?”

Nodding to each other, Raphael and Michelangelo split up, each flipping down in separate directions. Raphael landed by a booth with a wire basket of baseballs next to a carefully stacked tower of glass milk bottles. With a grin he snatched up the basket and began pelting Bebop with one fast pitch after another.

Taking several solid blows as he tried futilely to swat the balls out of the air, Bebop let loose a ferocious growl. “I’m gone feed those balls back to you!”

Raphael just laughed as he darted across the arcade lane, loosing another volley. “You’re just jealous that I’m ten for ten.”

Snorting angrily, Bebop charged at him.

Waiting until the last second, Raphael deftly rolled out of the way, evading Bebop’s rush and landing in time to see the warthog slam head first into the ‘test of strength’ mallet game, shooting the puck so high that it rammed the bell straight off the top of the stand. Raphael watched it go up and then down, wincing as it slammed right into the top of Bebop’s head at the end of its descent before the warthog could shake off the initial blow.

“Get back here toitle!”

“You’re not gonna win the cupie doll with that attitude?”

Hearing Rocksteady and Michelangelo, he turned to see Rocksteady, horn covered in ring toss projectiles, chasing down his brother who was making faces at him while loping through the arcade games.

With a laugh, Michelangelo ran gracefully up the rope ladder climb game and jumped from the end to the top of the weight guessing game, ringing the bell as he went. “Dude, I’m betting you’re a solid ton.”

“Hold still so I can pound you!” Rocksteady yelled as he attempted to follow Michelangelo up the ladder, tangling his feet in the rope and tumbling to the ground in a clumsy heap.

Hearing Bebop stirring behind him, Raphael caught Michelangelo’s eyes, cocking his head towards the far end of the arcade.

His brother caught his intention with a grin and took off running. “Catch me if you can!”

Raphael glanced back at Bebop, staggering to his feet. “After a blow like that, I bet you’re going to be a sore loser.”

Casting a wink towards his infuriated opponent, he turned and raced after his brother. They reached the end, pretending to be cornered as their enemies closed in on them. As one, they both leapt up to the top of the booth, leaving Rocksteady and Bebop to plow straight into the dunk tank, drenching themselves as the container shattered, spilling the water free.

Raphael chuckled as he looked down at them. “How about you guys cool off?”

Michelangelo laughed. “Yeah, you dudes needed a bath.”

“Aww, we didn’t need one for another couple of months.” Rocksteady moaned.

“Let’s get out of here!” Bebop called out, desperately trying to shake the water from his fur.

Raphael and Michelangelo watched them flee with a smile. Out of habit, Raphael turned almost expecting to find Mona Lisa nearby to ask her what she thought about those two cleaning up their act. Abruptly recalling where she was and why, his good mood evaporated. Shoulders slumped, he jumped down and started to head home.

Clearly confused by the sudden turn in his demeanor, Michelangelo quickly caught up. “How do think Leonardo and Donatello are doing?”

Raphael snorted. “Those two? Please. They’re probably already done and waiting for us back at the lair.”

Leonardo crouched next to Donatello, sheltering behind a steel control panel as Foot soldier’s laser blasts exploded around them. “That could have gone better.”

Donatello didn’t immediately respond, frowning at the concrete barrier to their left that was now spider-webbed with cracks. “I’m more worried about a breach in the radioactive containment unit. What does Shredder want with that much Uranium anyway?”

Leonardo scowled. “He already got away with his payload. What is there left to worry about besides the platoon trying to fry us?”

Donatello perked up, as he always did when he had an opportunity to explain something. “The neighboring room is a depository for radioactive waste products, waiting to be shipped off to an appropriate storage facility. If that wall breaks, being anthropomorphic turtles isn’t the only mutation we’ll have to worry about, assuming we survive the radiation poisoning.”

Leonardo groaned. “Thanks for that because we already didn’t have enough problems.”

Donatello shrugged. “Technically it would still be a problem, whether or not I mentioned it.”

Leonardo shook his head. “Do you have any good news?”

His brother thought for a moment, seemingly oblivious to the explosions going off around them. “Well, this place is pretty solidly built. If the wall breaches, at least the neighboring community will be protected from radiation exposure.”

Leonardo glared at him. “I meant good news for us. Like suggestions on how we can get out of here with our shells intact.”

Donatello shook his head. “The only way out is the steel door on the other side of those Foot soldiers.”

Leonardo’s mind worked fast as he assessed their environment. As useless as the suggestion sounded, it was the seed of a coherent plan when combined with everything else that Donatello had told him. “Can you set this control panel to make noise without light after a couple minute’s delay?”

Clearly not seeing where he was going with the question, Donatello nodded.

“Good. Do it.”

Donatello immediately removed the back panel of the console, doing something, presumably useful and scientific, to the wires within.

The moment his brother indicated that he was done, Leonardo launched a barrage of throwing stars, killing all the lights in the room. Then he launched his grappling hook towards where he remembered the centermost ceiling light being, sighing in relief as he felt the grapple catch. Grabbing Donatello he began rappelling them both up and outward.

Before the slight sound of their movement could draw fire, the panel behind them released a series of loud beeps and clicks that caused the Footbots to light it up like a firework.

Clicking off the rappel feature midway off, Leonardo used their momentum to complete the swing, gracefully landing them both just before the steel door. Shoving Donatello through, Leonardo spun back, using the dim illumination of the laser blasts to identify the robots closest to the damaged wall.

Unleashing another volley of throwing stars, he was rewarded by the glowing sight of their overloading weapons before diving through the door and slamming it shut. Together, he and Donatello slid closed the steel crossbar to seal the room. A few seconds later, he could hear the wall crumbling within amid the weapon fire and more explosions.

He looked over to Donatello. “Will that stop the soldiers?”

Donatello grinned. “The Shredder never bothered to shield his bots against radiation. That’s going to ruin the transistors in their semiconductors.”

Leonardo blinked uncomprehendingly at him.

Donatello sighed. “They won’t work anymore.”

Leonardo let out a relieved breath. “Good. Let’s go home so Michelangelo and Raphael can rub this in our faces.”

The Shredder returned triumphant from his hunt, robotic servants already unloading his haul. Leaving them to their task, he went to check on the progress of his generator’s construction. A quick examination revealed that it was almost complete. A few more runs for fuel components and he’d bring this world to its knees. The only caveat being that the wretched Turtles had shown up for tonight’s heist.

With any luck, the two he’d left trapped were out of the picture, but experience had taught him not to count on it. Even at this late stage their interference could be problematic. But he was so close, there was no way he’d give up now. Not when victory was nearly in his grasp. This time he would win.

Mona Lisa fingered the polaroid picture of herself that she’d taken. It was a wonder the camera still worked, still had film even, after collecting dust in her closet for so many years after being handed down to her from her father.

She’d worn her favorite pink sundress with matching flats. Her gold jewelry sparkled in the light of the camera flash and her hair, gathered thickly back in a pretty, pink band crowned her head. She’d wasted a lot of film, posing in front of the mirror, holding the camera up and to the side to capture herself, until she’d finally gotten a result that she considered passable.

She’d already finished and labeled her missives to Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo and Splinter, but when she started on Raphael, it impulsively occurred to her that she wanted him to see her as she was meant to be. She wanted him to see her as pretty. Hence the time wasted on an old school selfie.

Writing his was the most difficult. Not wanting to seem ungrateful for their gift to her, she’d opted to focus on the positive aspects of her resumed life, few and far between as they were, refusing to bring up all the difficulties she’d endured.

It had been easy to gloss over in everyone else’s letters, but she hesitated with Raphael. She wished she could just talk to him about everything that seemed wrong in her life. He’d understand and lighten the mood with some witty repartee. How she missed that. Maybe if she was subtle, she could get his advice without revealing how utterly crap-tastic everything seemed at the moment.

With that course of action decided, she settled into her desk to finish her final letter and seal the envelope, already addressed to April, who would see it safely to the right hands. All she needed now was to find the words.

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