Donnie could feel the pressure building up in his head as the stress migraine began to take root. Everything was going wrong today. With the unseasonable spate of fall rain his security system was failing and completely unreliable. Wiring and flooding were just not a good combination.
Fortunately, he had a prototype for a new wireless, battery-powered security camera. Less fortunately, the battery pack appeared to be overloading. Maybe he should have gone with a simpler power cell that he would have to change more often, but it was in his nature to be ambitious with technology.
“Uh, Donnie…” His head snapped up at the sound of Leo’s voice, realizing just now that his big brother was standing beside him.
“Leo? Is it time for patrol already? I’m kind of in the middle of something and this really isn’t a good time to stop. You see…”
Taking one of the hands from behind his back, Leo held it up to stop him. “It’s still daylight. Actually, I…”
“Aww man, bro, you should have seen it. This was the most spectacular one yet.” Leo’s jaw clamped shut as Mikey appeared from behind Leo, dancing playful around his agitated older brother.
Donnie eyed them both cautiously. “What happened?”
Leo rubbed the back of his head sheepishly. “I was in the kitchen and…”
“He totally killed another toaster.” Mikey burst in, his eyes wide with mirth.
Donnie rubbed the bridge of his beak feeling the headache throbbing behind his eyes. “Another one? Leo you just have to wait for the toast to come up on its own. What happened to all the patience you’ve cultivated in training? You step foot in the kitchen and trade mindsets with Mikey.”
“Hey!” Mikey yelped as Leo stiffened slightly in indignation.
“If it was just a matter of waiting there would be no problem, but the toast already cooked to the point where it should have been done. Continuing to cook would have made them burnt.”
Donnie groaned. “There are settings that can be adjusted and an eject feature. You do NOT jam your katana or any other type of knife into the toaster. EVER.”
Leo frowned. “I did not stick a knife into the toaster.”
Donnie sighed in relief. “Ok, what happened then?”
Leo pulled the toaster out from behind his back to reveal a fork sticking out of the scorched toast slots.
Donnie silently counted to ten before yanking the toaster out of Leo’s hand and dropping it on his workbench. “You’re not allowed in the kitchen unsupervised anymore.”
Leo huffed. “But…” He silenced under Donnie’s glare. “Fine. How long will it take to fix?”
Donnie’s shoulders slumped as the fight went out of him. “I’m not sure. My priority right now is…”
“…my video game controller!” They both turned to Mikey who held up the controller while posing dramatically.
“What?” Donnie managed to get the question out before Leo recovered.
“The control stick isn’t as responsive as it ought to be and it’s messing with my flow bro. You gotta give it a little TLC.”
Donnie just blinked in disbelief as Mikey shoved the controller in his hand. “Mikey I have a ton of real work to do and don’t actually have time for…”
“Plleeeeaaaaaassse.” Mikey put on his best puppy dog eyes and Donnie could already feel himself being sucked in. How did Mikey do that? He should be finishing his camera.
Donnie spun back towards his original project just in time for it to blow up in his face. He had to make a conscious effort not to crush the video game controller in his hand as he realized an entire day’s worth of work was abruptly gone.
“Whadjya do now cindershell?”
Raph was smirking at him from the doorway and he looked down to find that he was covered in residue from the explosion. Setting the controller down as carefully as he could, he struggled to compose himself enough to ask his brothers to leave the lab in as civil a way as he could muster.
“Never mind. I don’t really care as long as you keep it in the lab. Here.” Raph threw something and he caught it on reflex, seeing a crushed TV remote in his hand. “I’ll be doing some weight training for the next hour or so. Will it be fixed when I’m done?”
The question came out more like a command and shattered Donnie’s precarious hold on his temper. “I am not your technical servant! If you break stuff, why don’t you try fixing it yourself for a change! I have real work to do! Work that involves the safety of our home and family that the constant string of your demands is disrupting! Do any of you even care?”
The silence that followed the outburst, loud enough to have been heard in New Jersey, was deafening as they all stared in shock, including Donnie. Normally he was more than happy to fix and make things for his brothers and almost compulsively driven to comply, but the loss of his current project because they took for granted that they could interrupt and pile on demands had pushed him over an edge he didn’t know he had.
Sensei swept into the lab and Donnie released an internal sigh of relief, knowing that his father would straighten his brothers out and give him the time and space he needed to work. Until he saw the broken desk lamp in his father’s hand.
Leo saw it too and intervened before a second, more massive eruption could occur. “Everyone out of the lab. Right now.”
Sensei immediately assessed and understood the situation and apparently agreed with Leo, stomping down Mikey and Raph’s whining protests with a single look as he shuffled them from the room.
Grateful, Donnie was about to return to his workstation when Leo’s hand clamped down on his shoulder. “Everyone means everyone.”
His jaw fell open. “But, but, but…”
“How long has it been since you’ve slept?” Donnie blinked at Leo’s question and realized that it was going on close to forty hours. Leo smiled knowingly. “You’re off patrol tonight. I want you to go to your room, stay there and sleep. We’ll be back from patrol at midnight and if I don’t find you in your bed sleeping, there will be consequences.”
Donnie’s teeth ground together in frustration. He hated being forced to sleep. It just didn’t work if his mind was too active. Enforced rest merely made him stir crazy. But he could tell that Leo was unmovable on this and that he really wasn’t going to like the consequences Leo mentioned if he pushed his brother.
With a Raph-like growl, he shoved past Leo and bee-lined for his room. He could be forced into inactivity, but he couldn’t be forced to like it.
Donnie didn’t know how long he’d been in his room seething, but it had been long enough that his brothers had already left for patrol and his father was probably meditating away the worry he always had for his sons whenever they went topside.
He’d considered sneaking back to his lab to get more work done before Leo’s given deadline but he suspected that his brother had visually memorized the state of things in the lab and would notice any changes that occurred during his absence. It wasn’t worth the risk. So he was stuck here, bored out of his shell and unable to sleep.
“Donatello?” Mr. O’Neil’s voice called out from the pit, breaking through his ruminations.
Nearly tripping over his bedding in his rush to get out of his room, he burst through his door, just as Mr. O’Neil was reaching the turnstiles on his way out. “Wait, I’m here.”
April’s dad turned back towards him with a kind smile. “Oh. I thought I must have missed you for the night when I didn’t see anyone here. Have you not gone patrolling yet?”
The way Mr. O’Neil said ‘patrolling’ indicated that he wasn’t entirely comfortable with the idea, probably because it was only a matter of time before April would insist on joining in.
“Well, my brothers are out. I’m on enforced rest.”
Mr. O’Neil chuckled good-naturedly. “Not always possible with the scientific mind.”
Donnie shook his head morosely. But April’s dad must have come here for a purpose and had been asking specifically for him. Desperate for something to do, he asked. “So what brings you down to the sewers?”
Mr. O’Neil held up a small tool roll and offered it to Don. “This came into the shop and I thought that you could use it.”
Accepting it eagerly, he practically drooled as he unfurled the set of precision screw drivers. They were so much better than the ones he’d Macgyvered together from bits and pieces. “Wow, this is amazing. Thanks.”
Mr. O’Neil wrung his hands together sheepishly. “Your welcome. And I may have come with a favor to ask.”
Given the day he’d had, Donnie would have responded snappishly if he wasn’t currently enamored of his gift. “What do you need? Is something broken?”
Mr. O’Neil sighed. “It’s April.”
Donnie’s head snapped up, zeroing in on the man with a mix of worry and concern, but he continued as though he hadn’t noticed.
“She’s been so focused on school and training, I’m worried that she isn’t having any fun anymore and that’s no life.”
Donnie raised an eye ridge curiously, wondering where this was going.
“Anyway, when Irma asked her to a costume party, I insisted she go despite her protests.”
Donnie blinked in puzzlement. “Costume party? I thought Halloween wasn’t until Wednesday?”
April’s dad grinned. “Halloween night is more for little kids trick or treating. When it falls on a weekday, everyone else has no problem celebrating it the weekend before.”
“Oh.” Donnie said as he filed this information away for future reference. “So what’s the problem then?”
April’s dad rubbed the back of his head. “Well, with being forced to go, I’m pretty sure she’s set on not enjoying herself on principle. I was kind of counting on Casey to pull her out of herself, but he’s down with the flu so that plan is shot.”
Donnie’s blood pressure skyrocketed as he heard mention of Casey being Mr. O’Neil’s first choice of companion for April regardless of how much sense it made in the context of the situation and he took momentary glee in the boy’s downfall before starting to worry about April’s risk of catching it from her schoolmate. Real flu was quite serious and very contagious.
“Anyway, since you’re April’s best friend, I was hoping maybe you could help her try to appreciate the night out.”
As Mr. O’Neil’s words cut through his concerns, Donnie spent a moment drifting on cloud nine before reality came crashing back down on him. “I would love to. I really would, but even though I might be able to pass myself off as being in costume on a poorly lit street, at a crowded party, there’s simply no way.”
April’s dad eyed him thoughtfully for a moment. “What if you were in costume?”
Donnie stared in confusion.
“My car’s parked just outside the alley of the nearest manhole cover. Come back to The Second Time Around with me. I have an idea.”
Donnie shifted nervously on the stool in Mr. O’Neil’s second hand shop as the man rummaged about for supplies. The thought of going to a party, a real party, with April sent pleasant shivers up his shell and loosed a horde of butterflies in his stomach. He was excited, happy and a little nauseous.
Mr. O’Neil returned, laden down with what appeared to be oversized and out of date formal wear. Donnie looked down at it dubiously. “What am I supposed to be again?”
April’s dad held up a smiling, white, thespian mask with a grin. “The Phantom of the Opera. I know the mask isn’t supposed to cover the full face, but we work with what we’ve got.”
In a whirlwind of activity, Mr. O’Neil had him suited up in enormous black dress pants that only stayed up by virtue of the suspenders holding them in place. In addition, he sported a puffy white shirt, with a huge frilled collar that would make any novelty pirate king proud. Topping that was a velvety, green vest and unreasonably large suitcoat. Mr. O’Neil capped off the costume with a large brimmed black hat and theatrical black cape. He looked ridiculous. If his brothers ever found out about this, he’d never hear the end of it. Would April laugh when she saw him?
Mr. O’Neil looked him up and down, examining his handiwork. “Hmm. Can still see your hands and feet.”
Donnie groaned as April’s father darted off into the store once more. This was a disaster.
Mr. O’Neil quickly returned with a ream of white cloth, a couple pairs of black snow boots, scissors and some black electrical tape. Cutting and wrapping Don’s hands with the cloth taping it in place until he appeared to be wearing a pair of white oven mitts. Then he cut apart the snow boots and taped them together around Don’s feet to produce some custom fitted footwear that Don could barely walk in. Maybe with some practice.
After another perusal April’s dad took off again, returning this time with a bucketful of bits of tumbled glass in various colors and a hot glue gun. Within a few minutes the glue was heated enough for him to plaster the top front of Donnie’s new boots with a sheen of colorful glass. “There. That’ll give them some pizzazz. What do you think?”
Donnie forced a smile that he knew April’s dad couldn’t see with his mask on. “Uh…it’s perfect.” He really hoped that he didn’t end up regretting this. Only the thought of April, bored and miserable at the party on her own, kept him from fleeing.
“Great. You can keep your gear in my car. I’ll just be parked right outside.”
Donnie nodded. “Good. I need to be home by midnight or Leo will have my shell.”
Mr. O’Neil nodded thoughtfully. “I can manage that. I don’t really like the idea of April being out much later than that anyway. Ready to go?”
Donnie took a deep breath. “Ready as I’ll ever be.”
April glowered at the festive atmosphere of the apartment. She’d been here a couple hours now and was bored out of her mind. Irma had tried to keep her company at first, but, as it was her party, Irma had been forced to abandon her to mingle.
The situation was not helped by the white frou-frou dress that her dad had found for her in his shop. It looked like a nineteenth century wedding gown gone wrong, but she hadn’t been planning on coming until her dad insisted at the last minute and had no alternative costume to turn to.
Gazing at the crowd around her, April had never been more acutely aware of how little she socialized with her peers than this moment. Pseudo-peers anyway. Despite her appearance, she wasn’t human. An imposter among them.
She’d tried listening in to a few conversations, but after her life full of hunting down alien invaders, studying the ancient art of ninjutsu and hanging with the most extraordinary band of mutants in the sewers, all anyone here had to say seemed mundane and uninteresting.
She might have joined in the dancing if she wouldn’t have felt weird being alone on the crowded floor. Too bad Irma wouldn’t be caught dead dancing.
Then the crowd parted as someone in a homemade, formal, ghost costume approached her. Wordlessly he took her by the hand and led her out onto the floor. Normally, she would have been wary, would have resisted, but some instinct placated her into lowering her guard and she followed willingly.
The music played a mix of fast and slow, but her mystery partner didn’t let her down through a single song, displaying an astounding level of athleticism despite his cumbersome costume. They moved perfectly in sync as though they’d rehearsed the series of dances. Before she knew it, April realized that she was smiling, laughing and actually having a great time.
And then Irma appeared at her side. “You know your curfew is coming up, right? Want to call your dad and ask for an extension?”
She looked at the wall clock, rather than Irma, who was smiling like the cat that swallowed the canary, and found it was quarter to midnight already. How time had flown. She was about to take her friend up on the offer when her mysterious partner gasped and fled. The rest of the party stared in disbelief as he darted out the window and down the fire escape.
“Wait!” She cried as she rushed after him, but he was already gone. Then she saw the remnants of a boot. It must have snagged on the window as he rushed out.
Picking it up, the portion that went around the ankle and calf was ripped wide open, held together by a flimsy net of electrical tape, but the part that encased the foot was still intact and based on its shape, it hadn’t been designed for a normal human being. Well that narrowed her mystery partner down to four possibilities.
A minute to midnight found Donnie back in his room, dumping his gear on the floor and stripping out of his costume like it was on fire. Leaving everything in a messy heap, he dove into his bed, pulling up his covers and stilling his body, just as he heard his door creak open. Controlling his breathing, he really hoped Leo was fooled into thinking he was sleeping.
If not, it would still have been worth it. The night had been pure magic. April looked like a fairy princess and he’d never been so suave around her. It might have been a combination of the anonymity and being forced to act without words, as she would have certainly recognized his voice, but for once he hadn’t been an embarrassing nervous wreck. He couldn’t have asked for a more perfect evening. The only flaw was that it had been too short. He wished it could have gone on forever.
His door closed slowly and he relaxed. The caper had been pulled off successfully. With a smile, he drifted into a pleasant dream world where he could dance publicly with April anytime he pleased.
April showed up at the lair the following morning, timing her arrival at just after morning practice. Mikey was sprawled across a bean bag chair in the pit, staring at the television as cartoon reruns danced across the screen. Leo and Raph were facing off competitively at the foosball table and Donnie was nowhere to be seen, which probably meant he was working in his lab.
She went straight for Mikey. He was the danciest turtle after all, though she had her doubts on his ability to keep his mouth shut for an entire evening.
He smiled up at her as she plopped down beside him. “Yo April, wassup?”
She held up the tattered remains of the boot. “Try this on.”
His eyes sparkled. “Did you make us shoes? That is so awesome.”
Before she could correct him, he snatched the boot and tried stuffing his foot in it. With some effort he did get it inside, but the boot clearly didn’t fit him right. He admired it on his foot for a moment and beamed at her. “It’s great. If only there were two.”
She rolled her eyes and tugged it off, to his dismay.
By this point, curiosity had caused Leo and Raph to drift over and investigate. She tossed the boot to Leo, who deftly snatched it out of the air, only to examine the item in puzzlement.
“Put it on.” She clarified for him.
“Put. It. On.” He immediately stuffed his foot inside, only to have the boot hang loosely off his raised foot.
Tugging it free with enough force to nearly unbalance Leo onto his shell she thrust it towards Raph. “Your turn.”
His eyes narrowed. “Shell no.”
She smiled and he watched her warily, mildly unnerved by her expression. Then Leo and Mikey tackled him simultaneously and pinned his thrashing body to the floor. April grabbed one of his kicking feet and stuffed the boot on. But his foot was too large and split the seams. Her mirth vanished as she looked forlornly at the boot fragments in her lap.
“Aww Raph, you broke it. Why’d you have to struggle so much?” Mikey pouted and Raph glared at him.
“What? How is this suddenly my fault?”
April looked up to see Donnie observing the scene from his lab door. She expected him to approach and greet her, but he wordlessly turned and disappeared into his room. Her eyes widened as he returned holding the matching boot to the one she’d broken. Without saying a thing, he slipped it onto his foot, a perfect fit. Then he looked up at her nervously.
Mikey glanced between Raph and Leo who were watching the scene unfold in confusion. “Uh, anyone know what’s goin’ on, cuz I’m lost?”
Of course. Who else could it have been? She knelt in front of Don, ratcheting his nervousness up to new heights. Donnie’s eyes grew wide as saucers as she cupped his cheeks and pulled him into a gentle kiss. He melted against her to a chorus of gasps from his brothers.
Pulling back, she smiled at the stunned expression on his face. “Thanks for making my night.”