Author: Kat Lee
Fandom: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Character/Pairing: April, Splinter, Ensemble
Challenge/Prompt: puzzleprompts May 2017: ALL Categories
Word Count: 2,868
Date Written: 30 May 2017
Disclaimer: All characters within belong to their rightful owners, not the author, and are used without permission.
"They're finally asleep," April almost whispers, treading softly into the kitchen. It seems almost strange for the Turtles' home to be so quiet. It's always a hubbub of activity filled with the boisterous voices of at least two, often four, excited teenage boys for, despite their green skin, the missing digits on their hands and feet, their huge shells, little tails, and amazing abilities, that's what the Turtles are above all else: teenage boys. And right now, looking at their worried father, she can see that more than ever before.
Splinter looks up at her through the smoke rising off of his cup of tea. Ordinarily, she might join him, or she might at least wonder about what he's drinking, but she's tired and knows she has to get up early in the morning if she's going to get to work on time. "Care to join me?" he asks softly, his tail whisking behind him, and her heart aches as, for just a moment, the old rat's face shows every bit of his age.
She approaches him slowly but doesn't sit. "I've got to get up early in the morning," she explains apologetically. She wishes she could stay, but she's got a job to do, a job that's often come in handy with the brothers' investigations. She might even find some of the information they need tomorrow at work; it's happened many times before, after all.
Splinter nods; his gaze falls from her to the contents of his mug. His tail whisks one more time before curling around the bottom legs of the chair Donatello made so long ago. "I understand."
"I wish I could stay," she speaks truthfully.
"But you can not. I do understand." His ears flick; still, he does not look back up at her from his hot tea. "The above world calls you. It is full of dangers, you know, Miss O'Neil. I've always worried over my boys going above ground. I understand the allure of it, but it is so full of dangers. There seems to be more every time I journey above and in every area. I wish, with all my heart, they had not ventured above ground today."
"So do I," April whispers, knowing he's right and that her world is nothing but one danger after another for people like them, no matter how heroic, strong, and sage they may be. She finds herself sitting down across from the old rat, though she knows she doesn't have the time. She reaches forward and lays a hand on one of his gnarled hands.
Splinter looks up, thankful for the reassuring touch. "I keep thinking of the time they disobeyed me and snuck out to go to the amusement park when they were younger. I was busy scavenging and had no idea they were gone until Leonardo found me. He was out of breath and terrified. Somehow, Michelangelo had managed to get inside the cotton candy machine."
"Why doesn't that surprise me?" April interjects, smiling, but Splinter continues as though he's not even heard her.
"His mask had gotten stuck and ripped off of his face, and people were gathering around the machine, amazed at the tiny turtle inside it. Leonardo was crying when he reached me. They all felt like crying tonight." But he had not seen a single tear drip down any of his son's faces nor had he allowed them to see the tears he had wept in solitude.
"What did you do?" she asks, seeing his terror in his mind. Such a sight would have drawn a crowd, and sadly, she's not even surprised that the people were more busy gawking than trying to figure out how to get the live being out of that hot machine.
"It was not I who saved him that time," Splinter confesses, his tail whisking again. "Thankfully, his brothers, Donatello and Raphael, had concocted a plan. Donatello set off several explosions not far from the machine in the park -- just far enough and big enough to draw the crowd away from Michelangelo and the cotton candy machine. Raphael broke into the machine and saved his brother. He was covered in that sticky confection from head to foot." Splinter's thin, fur-lined lips twist into a small smile. "He refused to take a bath and was nibbling that stuff off of himself for the next three days."
April shakes her head. "That's Mikey for you!" she says, unable to resist grinning and laughing.
"The above world was full of so many dangers when they were younger," Splinter remarks, growing solemn once again, his smile fading. "Now they have the age and at least some of the wisdom that comes from experience, but their sizes once again make them easy targets for everything in your world."
"We're going to find out how the Shredder and Stockman shrank them," April declares, "and we're going to get them back to normal!"
"I know we will, with time, but in the mean time, I worry. They're tinier now than they were even as children. A drink of water could prove hazardous to them."
April's head ducks with respect. Her smile, too, is gone now, but she doesn't have any answers. She watched tonight as Splinter worried over his boys. She watched him sew new outfits for them, tinier masks and bandanas than ever before, and she watched Donatello try his best to find some information on his computer to help them, although he literally had to jump from one key to the next just to type. His search had proved fruitless, and he'd finally fallen asleep on top of his keyboard. She had been the one to scoop him up, and she remembers how her heart had filled with dread at the realization that he easily fit in the palm of her hand. She could hold all four brothers in her hands now!
She squeezes Splinter's hand. "We're going to get them through this," she vows, not knowing what else to say. She knows they'll find the answer they need. She knows they'll get the boys back to normal not because she has any idea how they're going to do it but because she knows they have to do it -- for them, for their family, for all of New York. If they don't get the Turtles back to their rightful size, the whole city, and soon the world, will be sitting ducks for the Shredder!
Splinter looks away again, but not before April spies the tears glittering in the corners of his dark eyes. His tail curls demurely around his feet. "Sometimes," he confesses in a choked whisper, "I wonder if I am doing the right things by them or if all I have done by training them is leading them closer to their deaths."
April grabs his hand, squeezing it until he looks back to her. "No!" she cries defiantly. "Master Splinter, anybody would be lucky to have you for their father! You didn't have to take care of these boys! You didn't have to love them like they're your own children! You chose to, and you do, and you do a wonderful job of taking care of them!"
"But look at them now," Splinter whispers, his tail striking the stone floor of the sewer. "Sleeping in an old shoe box!"
"What happened today is not your fault," April vows. "They wouldn't be here now if it wasn't for you!"
"Isn't that just the dilemma, Miss O'Neil?"
April frowns. "What do you mean?"
"If it was not for me," Splinter says, slipping his hand smoothly out of her grasp and rising, "they may well be in a better place."
April shakes her head as the fingers of her now empty hand curl against her palm. "No," she denies, "they wouldn't be better off!" She stares at him as he pours himself another cup of tea. "None of us would be better off without you, Sensei! You've saved us all!"
His whole body seems to sag before her very eyes as he whispers, "But I fear I can not save them from this."
"Splinter -- Sensei -- " she tries but can not find the words she needs. She never seen a father care more for his children than the loving, old rat before her. She thinks again of how diligently he sewed the Turtles' new duds and how he rescued not just them but herself from the Shredder this very evening. The world would be lucky to have more fathers like him.
He sighs, the tip of his tail once more twitching with his emotions. "At any rate, Miss O'Neil, you have an early rise in the morning." He slips from the room before she can voice another complaint or reassurance, leaving April alone. She strikes the table in anger but, after a few minutes, leaves to go home herself.
The trip back through the tunnels is eerily quiet, the sounds of her own shoes sloshing through the murky water the only sound. Something squeaks, and April stops dead in her tracks. She watches as a rat scurries through the path ahead of her, then shakes her head at her own jumpy nerves and continues. She's not accustomed to making this journey by herself, and part of her wonders if she should even be going home tonight.
Splinter and the boys need her, but what more can she do? She's been by their side every since the incident happened. She's tried to help everywhere she could, typing for Donatello, carrying the boys to wherever they wanted to be, changing the channel on the TV for Mikey, ordering pizza, and then tearing it up in small enough bites that the boys wouldn't be as likely to choke on it. She's helped them a lot today, but what has she done for their father? What has she done for the old rat who she's come to love every bit as much as she loved her own grandfather, the father figure in her life before she met the Turtles? What can she do for them? He's doubting himself at every turn, and she doesn't have the answers he needs.
The sounds her hands and feet make as she climbs up the ladder leading to her world echo in the empty space. Just before she moves the sewer plate, April looks back over her shoulder, once again thinking of going back to the lair, once more wondering what she can say or do, if anything, to convince Splinter that he is doing right by the boys and that none of what happened today, except for the fact that they have lived through it so far, is his fault.
But she doesn't have any answers, and maybe tomorrow will get her the answers she needs. It's not likely to, she thinks, not with the story her boss wants her to cover tomorrow. Nonetheless, she pushes the sewer cover aside and shoves herself up out of the sewer and into her world. The smell of rain is heavy in the air, and a thick cloud of fog covers the street. It rained for hours tonight, so the atmosphere isn't surprising, but a chill does run down her spine. Again, she thinks of how she's not used to walking home alone, but she continues forward.
She slides the manhole cover back into place, stands, wipes her hands off on her jeans, and looks up at her apartment. She doesn't have far to go to reach it. Voices on the street corner suddenly draw her attention. A few men stand around, smoking and chatting low in the fog. It's every bit of three or four o'clock in the morning, but this is the city that never sleeps, she reminds herself. Besides, she can take care of them if they make a move on her. She's learned to even handle herself, for the most part, with Foot soldiers; those punks won't be a problem.
She gazes back up at her apartment, knowing she's got cold pizza for herself in the fridge and a soft, warm bed just waiting for her, but then the men on the corner move again and she thinks back to the five reasons why she can handle herself around thugs like them. Just a few years ago, those men could have taken her and done whatever they wanted to her. She can protect herself now, but it's because of the Turtles and their Sensei that she can.
And her story's not going to lead to anything useful to do with Baxter Stockman tomorrow. She's lying to herself if she thinks it will; she's not even supposed to go by his factory. April shakes her head but not at the day's events this time. She shakes her head at herself and her own foolishness. This isn't where she needs to be tonight. She's got far more important business to take care of tonight and tomorrow than anything she can possibly do at Channel Six News or in her apartment.
Her mind made up, April pulls out her cell phone, hits a few buttons, and watches, with her shoulders squared, as the men on the corner slip further down the street. Her Chief's gruff voice answers his machine in her ear, and she responds quickly at the beep, "Chief, this is April. I'm not going to make it in tomorrow. I've had a family emergency come up."
She hangs up her phone, moves the manhole cover again, descends back into the sewer, and repeats the steps she just took to go to her world. There isn't a thing in her world tonight that she needs, she thinks, slipping back into the lair and checking on the boys. They're all sound asleep in the shoe box in their room. Mikey's even sucking his thumb and murmuring from time to time in his sleep about pizza. Raphael shifts, his foot sneaking out and kicking Leo's shell. Leo mutters, turns over, and curls up tighter but doesn't wake. April smiles, barely resisting the urge to touch them, and heads for the kitchen.
There she finds Master Splinter on yet another cup of hot tea. She still doesn't know what to say to him, although she wishes she had the words to make him understand what a wonderful father he is, especially in comparison to so many of the fathers she's covered in the news, but she no more knows what more to say now than she did when she left him a few minutes ago. She walks forward, though, takes her seat again, and quietly, almost humbly asks, "I'd like that cup of tea now, if I may."
His smile is all the reward she needs to know she's made the right decision. "Thank you, my dear." He rises, fetches her tea, and sets it before her. He refills his own cup of tea and starts another pot before sitting back down himself.
"Thank you," she says softly.
"For what?" he asks. His tail twitches, because he knows she's not talking about the tea.
"For sharing them with me," she answers, lowering her own mug but still warming her hands on it. "For sharing them with us all. I know it's not easy, but the world needs your sons."
"It's not," he admits with a weary sigh.
"I need them," April adds, "and you, and they need you." She reaches across the table again, takes his hand once more in hers, and squeezes it gently. "We'll get them through this, you'll see," she vows.
He nods. "I know we will, although I have no answers tonight."
"They'll come. We'll find them together."
He inclines his old and gray head in another nod, even now somehow managing to make himself look wise and almost prophetic. "We will," he agrees, "and you'll help. You're an important part of this family, Miss O'Neil."
"Thank you, but you're more important. You're their father. They need you, and you've done a wonderful job of raising them."
He could say he sometimes still fails to protect them, like today, but he remembers the lesson he learned that day at the amusement park. Children will be children no matter what, which means they are going to find danger; together, though, they can deal with what this world throws at them. Together, they can save each other. "Thank you," he says softly, sipping his tea. His tail swishes again, but this time, he doesn't let go of her hand, not until she's falling asleep across from him at the table.
Then, he pats her hand as he lets it go. She doesn't go to the couch tonight; instead, she takes Donnie's bed. It's Splinter who covers her, scant moments later, with his son's sheet before sitting down himself on Leonardo's bed and watching over his sons in the shoe box until he, too, falls fast asleep. Tomorrow is another day. Tomorrow, they'll find the answers they need and save each other and New York again together, but tonight . . . Tonight, they sleep as a family, content with, if nothing more, the fact that they are all together, safe from the dangers all around for one more night.