Family, Friends, and Foes

Chapter Seventeen
Don't You Hate It When Everyone is Right

Ryan slumped against the wall of the elevator. "They had to go get Allie's bike and they still beat us back."

"Don't take it so hard, dude. Those are outer space bikes. They probably have jet engines or something." Mike rocked back and forth as the elevator climbed up Tala's building. "Wish we had gotten here at the same time."

"Yeah, now you're concerned."

"Cause all the bad guys can do to hurt Allie is hurt us or kill her."

What the hell does that mean? He didn't ask. It wasn't right that the Turtle knew Allie so much better than he did. And the way she leaped into his arms. He gritted his teeth not to snarl.

The elevator finally came to a stop. They could hear the shouting from Tala's huge loft apartment. Mike quickly threw open the gate and moved down the metal stairs. Ryan followed behind him.

"How could you be so irresponsible? You can't risk your neck playing ninja. First off, you die and the Oroku clan wins. Second off, you have no right endangering Donatello and Di's lives, not to mention the other hostages!"

Ryan could only blink. He didn't think Leonardo could get this furious. But the blue-masked Turtle had the room enthralled with his yelling.

Mike tried to get to Allie's side, but Raph grabbed him. "No, Mikey. Somebody's gotta tell her."

Throttle and Charley held Vinnie back. The white-furred Martian spluttered with anger. "Keep your hothead out of it!" Throttle ordered right in his ear.

Leonardo ignored them. "You keep doing this. Running off to save the day heedless of the risks. Even Raph shows more sense than that. We don't need a repeat of the first time you went up against the Shredder solo! Or the last time either! So could you please save your suicidal stunts till after we get them out and Zack is okay!"

Mona Lisa moved into Ryan's field of vision. A damp towel was wrapped turban-style around her head. Her tail twitched nervously. "Allie."

"It's alright, Mona. Leonardo's entitled to his opinion." Ryan shivered. He knew that cold, flat voice. Skulls had called it her may-God-have-mercy-on-their-souls voice. Allie stood in front of Leo, twisting the Ronin's hood in her hands. Her eyes were focused on that material.

"Opinion?! Haven't you listened to a single thing I've said?"

She looked up at him. "Yes. And apparently you think I'm an idiot. Raphael thinks I'm a coward. So that leaves what for Donatello, psychotic?"

"I don't think you're an...."

"Spare me, please. None of you have ever considered me capable. Despite the face that I've been doing stuff like this longer than you've known people!" Leo tried to break in, but she overrode him. "Not capable of fighting, not capable of planning, not capable of loving. And all I wanted to do was help fight the monsters. But I forgot I can't. I'm not capable."

Mike made a horrified, agonized sound. Allie's stony visage cracked and she looked down at the floor. Her entire body trembled.

"Allie...." Leo began.

Her body stiffened and her head snapped back up. "There's only one thing you want to hear. Only one thing that'll fix this." She unbuckled the heavy pouch-covered belt. She unwound it from her waist. She bundled it together with the Ronin's hood and heaved it at Leo's chest. The blue-masked Turtle caught it and stared at her in confusion. "I quit."

"You can't!" Vinnie yelled.

Allie continued staring at Leo's face. "I'll go sit and wait for my brother to die. Then I'll take his place in Japan." She turned and marched to the stairs. Ryan decided discretion was the better part of valor, and vaulted over the handrail to the floor. Raph stepped back and tried to pull Mike with him. The orange-masked Turtle shook his brother's hand off and reached for Allie as she passed. She looked at him. The bleak, lost expression begged for comfort, yet the rage in her stormy eyes blocked access. But he still reached out. "Maybe if I'm lucky, they'll kill me and put me out of my misery!" She ran up the stairs and leaped into the elevator.

Mike's outstretched hand curled into a fist as he turned away. Ryan blinked. He thought he saw something glistening under Mike's bandanna.

The room remained stunned. "Three months!" Mona yelled over the elevator. "Three months of convincing her she wasn't as evil as the Shredder!" Her thick, green tail slashed angrily on the floor as she stalked up to Leo. "Three months to make her pick those things up again. And you destroy it in less than three days! That has to be a record!" She pushed past him. "You should've let the Shredder kill her. That would've been merciful!" She stormed out through the stairwell door.

Leo sighed. "Mike, will you go talk to Allie?"

"No," he answered hoarsely. "She's not mad at me."

"Whatcha mean no?" Raph demanded. "You always fix it when she goes nuts."

"And you guys keep treating her like this! Like she has nothing to contribute. Even Vinnie saw how stupid it is." The white-furred Martian looked embarrassed about suddenly getting tossed into the debate.

"I wouldn't think you'd want to see her get hurt," Leo interjected.

"D'uh! I hate it. I hate seeing my own brothers do it to her even more." Mike pointed to the belt and hood still in Leo's hands. "Did you ever think that she might not have put that stuff on if you had gave her a chance?" He didn't wait for an answer, stormed past Leo, and banged out the stairwell door.

"Nothing I hate worse than landing in the middle of a soap opera." Tala glared at everyone in the room then turned and dropped herself on her couch.

"No one asked you for your comments," Raph snapped.

"Look, I don't have to put up with your attitude. Get on my nerves and I'll just shoot you."

"Let it go, Raph." Leo said wearily. He left through the stairwell too, carrying the Ronin's equipment with him. Raph, muttering to himself, banged out after him.

Vinnie sighed as Throttle and Charley slowly released him. "You know, a mouse could get the feelin' you don't trust me."

Charley flexed her fingers that had been clamped around his green bandoleers. "That's 'cause we don't."

"Very funny, Charley-girl." He plopped down next to Tala.

Ryan couldn't see the look she shot him, but her tone was icy. "You're not running off to comfort her?"

Vinnie glanced around the room, his face and mask twisted into a what-did-I-miss expression. "That's Mike's job and he's got his work cut out for him."

"Well, you were awfully eager to jump in the middle of it." Tala's arms folded over her chest.

"That's 'cause he wasn't being fair! She didn't endanger anybody. Hell, she got in and out with way less mess than we make. And she didn't even hit Limburger. And Leo wasn't lettin' her defend herself at all."

"Then I guess she made quite the impression."

"Not as big as you."

"Why, 'cause I have a motorcycle?" She jumped up and marched to the metal staircase. The catwalk echoed with her footsteps until she slammed her bedroom door shut.

Vinnie stared up at the door and blinked his red eyes. "Can anybody tell me what I said wrong?"

"Nada," Trash chomped on a piece of bubble gum. "Maybe it's PMS." She swung her legs around the chair she was straddling so Throttle and Charley stood in front of her. She looped his tail around her ankle. "If nothing else is too pressing, let's take some time out to play." She stood up and gave the tail a yank. The tan-furred Martian fell back with a cry of surprise. Trash, grinning widely, caught him in a role-reversed romantic embrace. "I've always been a fan of doctor." She trailed her fingers under his chin.

"Hey!" The chestnut-haired woman grabbed Throttle's arm and pulled him loose. But Trash still had a hold on the Martian's right arm. He was bent back like he was in a limbo contest.

Trash's hazel eyes blinked innocently at her angry face. "You wanna play too?"

Charley's face reddened. "No! And you're not playing with my man either!"

"What if he wants to?"

"No, I don't want to play that game with you. This attention is flattering, Trash-ma'am, but I have a girl and I'll play with her. Will you give up already?" Throttle tried to stand up but both of the girls' hold prevented him from getting any leverage. "I think I hear Modo callin' us, Charley."

"He is not," Charley snapped. "And you got a lot of nerve, putting moves on my man with me right here!" She tried to pull Throttle to her.

Trash pulled him back. "A lot of nerve is how we survive, bitch. And when I see something I want I go for it!"

Throttle's expression behind his dark green shades was panicked. "I'm not interested. How many times do I have to tell you that? I'm in love with Charley. So I'm really not interested! Let me go and leave us alone!" He tried to stand up again.

"But you might like it." Trash glanced down at him with her blinking innocent and coy expression.

Charley's flush faded to white fury. "Let. Him. Go."

"You gonna make me?" She shook her black hair off her shoulders. "Don't make me laugh. I can break you in half one-handed."

Throttle was beyond panic now. He struggled against both of them to stand up. "Don't you dare hurt my girl, you horny, little...!"

"Sex-starved slut!" Charley yelled into her face.

Never fails. Why does she always throw herself at every guy she meets? And she never picks anyone she has a chance with. And damnit, why him? What does he have? Ryan growled under his breath as he grabbed hold of Throttle's jacket and pulled him upright. "Lay off, Trash." She released the mouse with a shrug.

Charley seized the moment to ball up her fists and charge toward the unconcerned Trash. Throttle grabbed the norm woman by the shoulders and held her back. "Control her," he said to Ryan in a gravelly voice that left no argument. "Or we'll transport her someplace out of the way and let her wreck havoc there. Like Plutark." He herded his girlfriend to the stairwell door, ignoring her protests to let her pound Trash into next month.

"He needs a date without the missus." Trash planted her hands on her hips.

Ryan glared, not that it had any effect. "Just leave them alone."

"I can't help it that he's cute."

"Take twenty dollars and go buy a date! The poor guy doesn't want to be subjected to your raging hormones." Ryan took a deep breath to control his anger.

"He's just playing hard to get."

"Why can't you leave him alone?"

"Cause he's nice to me," Trash pouted. "He appreciates my help and said so. Something you could learn. Girls like it when a guy is nice to them."

"And this is how you pay him back, by making mess between him and his girl?" Ryan demanded.

Her sharp face flushed. "You ain't got any right to mess in my love life!"

"How many times do you have to be told no?"

"What, you're not keeping track? I figured you'd have it tallied up somewhere." Trash crossed her arms. "You keep track of how perfect Allie is."

"I do not!" Ryan felt his face go hot.

"You're always going on about how great it used to be. News-flash, she left us!"

"She had her reasons."

"Goddamnit!" Trash screamed. "You're so busy defending her, you don't even notice who's left!"

Ryan blinked, confused by Trash's ire and what she was trying to say. "What is that supposed to mean?"

"You figure it out." Trash answered scathingly before storming out of the loft.

The silence was finally broken by Vinnie's voice. "Well apparently Tala isn't the only one with that PMS-thingy."


Raph surged into the spaceship. If Mike ain't going to talk some sense into her, I will. He stopped at the medbay door.

Allie bent over the bed, smoothing out the blanket over Zack. "Sleep now, Zack. I'm not going anywhere. I'm staying right here."

"Don't leave me, Allie. Not like that." Raph's heart twitched to hear the boy's vibrant voice sound so frail.

"I won't. I promise." She sat down on the pile of blankets and pillows in the corner once she was sure he was asleep.

Raph steeled himself and marched to her side. "What are you trying to prove?"

"Absolutely nothing." She sighed wearily, but refused to turn her head and look at the red-masked Turtle.

"I think you're trying to make everyone feel sorry for you. Well, it won't work. Leo was right to tell you how stupid you've been acting."

"I don't care what you think, Raphael. And I can't explain to you how wonderfully liberating that is."

His white spark of anger was set off. "You stone-cold bitch. You go nuts, break Mikey's heart for three months, and now you're trying to walk away from everything?"

"When the door is repeatedly slammed in your face, you're left with no other choice."

"Damnit, Allie! Stop trying to sound like Splinter!"

"Nothing I do makes you happy. Take your victory and gloat somewhere else."

"Victory? What victory?"

She took a deep, shaky breath. "All you've ever wanted since we met is for me to step back, let you handle it, break up with Mike, and get out of your lives. I can't be the Ronin and live with your hostility. So you guys have to handle all the bad things now. I can't be the Hamato heir and have a relationship with Michaelangelo, so you can safely consider that over. And when Zack dies, I'll go to Japan and be killed in the fight." She took another shaky breath. "Contrary to popular opinion, I'm not stupid. I have good skills. But I couldn't beat the Shredder. Fury won that one. I couldn't take Leo or Lotus, or anyone else who has dedicated their entire lives to learning the art. If I fought you, we'd probably kill each other. And the Oroku clan will send their best to the fight. So I'll be out of your lives."

Raph growled under his breath, trying not to wake Zack. "That ain't what I wanted. You're the one who never worked with us!"

"When did you ever want me to be part of the team?" Her voice sounded heavy and thick.

"You never gave us a chance!"

"What chance did you give me?" She bowed her head. "Please just go."

"I'm not going anywhere 'till you understand!"

She finally looked up. Raph was shocked to see tears running down her cheeks. "Please just go. You've been yelling at me for three years. Billy died and you started yelling. Respect Zack enough to stop while he dies."

The tears had set him back, but he found his tongue. "You can't write Zack off like that. You can't give up hope."

"Hope? Please just go. I've given you what you've always wanted. Now let me have what time I have left with Zack, please." She looked back up at the bed and burst into sobs.

Flabbergasted, Raph could only stare. Allie never cried. Even when she thought the Shredder had killed Mike, her response had been vengeance-driven fury. Somebody grabbed his arm and yanked him out of the room. Still in shock, he let whoever it was drag him from the spaceship.

Mona released Raph's arm when they reached the hanger bay. "Can't you leave her alone? Haven't you done enough?" Her damp, brown hair left wet trails on her shoulders.

"She was crying." He glanced back up the entrance ramp of the ship.

"What do you expect, her to be turning cartwheels over this? You and Leo have just jerked away everything that matters."

He glared at her. "That's not true. She just has to stop pretending to be a ninja."

Mona matched his glare with sparking brown eyes. "She's no more playing than you are. She is a legendary fighter for the Mutates. She was so good for those couple of years; Val Tech wants to get her as bad as they want to know who the Leader is. I would think even you could realize that's why they mutated Zack. And you saw her kill the Shredder. How can you keep denying her skills?"

"Skills? She got lucky. She can throw a decent punch but she ain't all that."

The ridge of flesh above her eye rose. "Oh, so only guys with green shells can fight crime and the other badness? How chauvinistic and sexist."

"I'm not sexist! Allie shouldn't fight 'cause she's the last of the Hamato clan, not cause she's a girl. She could get killed!"

"Yeah and so could you. Don't hear anyone bitchin' about that."

"Cause I'm not the last of the Hamato clan."

She folded her arms across her green and tan chest. "So that's why you don't think Allie should have anything to do with paying Val Tech back for what they did to Zack?"

"They wanna kill her, Mona!"

"And I'm sure Allie's feeling pretty violent about the situation too."

Raph's hands clenched, but he kept them by his side. "Killin' the Shredder screwed her up, and you want her to go back to that same situation?"

"She has to face them. She was starting to come to terms with being the instrument of the Shredder's fate--to put it poetically. And then you jerks screw it all up."

"Call me crazy, but I don't think it's a very good idea to let her go in, face those people, kill them, go crazy again, and drag you off for another three-month adventure!"

"Okay, Crazy. The only way she'll realize that she ain't evil like the Shredder is to face that situation again." Mona sighed, "Allie ain't like you or me. She can't see killing as necessary. You know that sometimes it's the only way to beat the bad guys. We'll probably have to kill Val Tech before we can be free. But I don't think Allie will do that. She tries to live by her ideals."

That reminded him of something else that made him mad at both Allie and Mona. "She never told us anything about Mutates! Neither did you. And you expect us to trust you?!"

"God, you are an idiot. She was protecting you Turtles, you dope! Val Tech has never been able to create intelligence in mutated animals. The Hounds come the closest. Every Mutate was once human. Allie knew once Val Tech figured out what you were, they'd stop at nothing to get you. Between the Mutates and the Shredder, Val Tech was staying out of New York. It was the safest place for you guys and Allie."

"Yeah, well, you could've said something," he answered belligerently.

"Allie asked me not to. I can't discuss Mutates business with anyone who doesn't already know. She said you were too busy with the Shredder to be distracted by someone else to fight. So I doctored my reports to Snake-eyes and kept my trap shut."

"Your keeping secrets got Zack into this mess!"

"Any more crimes you want to put on our shoulders?" she snarled. "No matter what we did, how we did it, or why we did it, it's going to be wrong, wrong, wrong! We did what we thought was best and if that's not good enough for you, to hell with you! Just leave me and Allie alone!"

Heavy footsteps moved down the ramp. The large grey-furred Martian glanced from Mona's angry face to Raph's. "Problem?" Modo asked lightly.

"Yeah, keep him out of the ship and away from Allie!" She stormed past Modo and back into the ship.

The look in Modo's one red eye was puzzled. "Can't you be nice to anybody?"

It hurt to see her storm away. He wished he could take back what he said. It wasn't her fault; it was his. He was the one who failed Zack and Donnie.

But she was the one using you? To keep tabs on the Ronin. He tried to feel angry again, but his heart was too heavy.

He looked back up the ramp. "I was nice to her and she used me. I love her, but she never loved me." He realized the mouse was still there with a growing sympathetic expression. "Aw forget it, who needs her." He slowly walked away, heading to the stairwell door. You do. You do. He ignored the echoing voice in his head.


Modo shook his head. He hadn't wanted to interrupt their fight when she was telling him off. But when it sounded like it was going to get physical, he had to step in. But the Turtle had managed to keep enough of his cool not to start hitting, earning a smidgen of respect from Modo. But just a smidgen. He watched the stairwell door swing shut.

The whole thing, it's a misunderstandin'. And they ain't talkin about what they should be. He brightened slightly with that thought. He never liked watching a relationship self-destruct from any distance. As Momma would say, pride will drag you through the sand. If he really loves her, he should swallow it and say so. Otherwise, he'll lose her like I lost Stella. He winced with the remembered pain. But there was stuff Stella should've said too. Frowning thoughtfully, the large mouse went back into the ship.

The lizard-girl sat on the couch in front of the wall-mounted vidcom screen. Her hands rubbed across her broad cheeks as she sniffled. "What the hell was I thinking fallin for such a, such a, such a...."

"Wrenchhead?" He offered from the door to the long room that held both the ship's lounge and galley.

She turned to see who it was. Tears rolled out of her large brown eyes. "Yeah."

Modo sat down on the other end of the couch. "How long have you been together?"

"We had three official dates. Then I took off with Allie to screw her head back on. I knew that upset him, but I thought." Her lower lip trembled. "I thought we had something special. Or at least the start of something special."

"You can't base anything off one fight. Especially when you're just startin' out."

"He hates me!" She wailed and burst into full-force tears.

Modo winced. There was probably nothing worse in the universe as a crying female except an angry one. But this one was suffering needlessly. "He said he loves you." He touched her shoulder. "He said he loves you."

"When?"

"Just now." Modo leaned back now that he had her attention.

"He has a warped way of showing it." She sniffled loudly.

"He also said you don't love him."

"That's not true!"

"But he thinks it is," he said gently.

Mona looked straight ahead. She sniffled loudly before finally saying, "Hell, that explains a lot. Charley said he was blaming himself for what happened to Donnie and Zack. He takes his bad moods out on everybody. And if he thinks I don't love him on top of that." She sighed heavily as she wiped away the last of her tears.

"He also said you used him." Modo steeled himself for her reaction.

"Used him for what? Where did he get that crazy idea? Great, not only am I in love with an asshole, he's a delusional asshole." She threw her head on the back of the couch and gave a strangled groan as she stared at the ceiling.

"Sounds like you two have a lot to talk about when you talk," he replied neutrally.

Mona jerked her head back up and stared at him. "Talk? If he wants me, he can come talk. I'm not crawling back to him."

He sighed. That was the reaction he was afraid of. "Don't make that mistake."

"Mistake?"

"I lost Sparks's mother and eight years of his life because I was too proud to go back and talk to her after a fight. And she never came to talk either." He took a deep breath. "Nothin's been planned yet, but we're gonna be headin' into a fire fight. Bad things happen and you'll regret it forever."

Mona blinked at him. "You have a point," she said slowly. "But I don't think I can talk to him now. I mean the idea is to talk, not to yank him out of his shell." She offered a wan smile. Modo grinned back at her encouragingly.


Charley didn't say anything during the ride on the dark, night streets to the garage. His bike automatically turned in that direction, and Throttle figured the more space between them and Trash the better. He tried to make himself breathe normally. He could feel Charley's anger slamming against his back. He sighed mentally. It's not fair. I thought we had everything all worked out. Why won't she leave me alone? It's kinda flattering, but I don't understand what she sees in me. But then I don't know what Charley sees in me either. If she'll still see anything after this.

His black and chrome bike slowed down as they reached the pool of light from the corner street lamp angled to light up the Last Chance's garage bay doors. One of the large doors rolled up automatically, triggered by the remote Charley installed. He parked inside.

Charley jumped off. She grabbed a ball-pin hammer and stalked over to the body panel that she had removed from the yellow van. She pounded on it a couple of times, then whirled back around. "Give me one good reason why I can't punch her!"

Throttle took a deep breath. "She can break Plutarkian shrink steel bare-handed."

She turned back to the metal and pounded some more. Throttle sighed aloud as he went into the kitchen. He fixed himself a tankard of root beer and moved upstairs. The wooden floor dimmed the pounding slightly. He collapsed into a chair at the table. How long is this going to last? He stared at the descending foam. Before the yelling, the blaming, the protesting that I have to be encouraging Trash in some way. Then the begging, pleading, cold showers. He felt his ears droop. He could remember all too well the fights with Carbine over different girls. She even pitched a fit over Harley, despite the fact that it was so blatantly obvious that Stoker and Vinnie were the ones running after the mechanic/doc.

He took a swig. Carbine always had control issues. Face it, every time you'd fight, it was because she didn't think she was getting her way. And she always got so jealous.

Then she would cause a scene, claiming that Throttle was cheating on her or thinking about cheating on her or flirting with another girl, and Throttle was cut off until she was convinced he was humiliated enough.

At least she kept that private. I know Modo and Vinnie knew what was going on or had a pretty good guess, but at least they never saw me on my knees beggin' for forgiveness. And to her credit, after we made up was always fun. But there would always be another scene.

The ice cubes in his tankard suddenly shot to the top of the liquid. That was over and done with. He shouldn't have those fears anymore. But Charley could get jealous. He had seen it time and again between her and Vinnie. And that was when they were just flirting. Now she and Throttle had a relationship; things were different. And she was furious if the banging on the metal was any indication.

I can't lose Charley, I can't. Not to some stupid jealousy fight and not to death either. He tried to think of how his life would be without her. In just three--almost four--years, she had become as integral to his sane existence as Vinnie, Modo, and his bike. The way she supported them both physically and emotionally; the way she defied any adversity; the way she worked with them or around them when they were too stupid to realize her way was just as good; the way she touched his body; the way she looked at him that made electricity dance beneath his fur; the way she kissed that made time stop. By all the gods, he loved all her ways. I... I need her. She pulled me out of that black pit and I can't go back to it again. If I lose her, I won't come out again. Not for anything.

The hammering stopped. Throttle held his breath as his heart continued with the rhythm. Here comes the fight. He tried to swallow, but his throat was dry. Please Charley, don't leave me. He heard her footsteps reach the top of the stairs. He didn't dare turn around and face the staircase.

Her hand gently rested on his shoulder. She sighed as she brushed against him and sat down in his lap. She wrapped her arms around his neck and rested her head on his left shoulder. "Can I use the grenade launcher to hit her with?"

He swallowed hard as her sexy scent filled his sensitive nostrils. He wanted to curl his arms around her hips and waist, but he was leery. "Don't set me up for blue balls tonight. I don't think I can handle it."

Her bright green eyes grew puzzled as she looked up at him. "Why do you think I would do that?"

"Carbine did a few times. When she was really mad at me."

The beautiful face framed by her soft chestnut, wavy hair smiled at him. And her eyes and her full pink lips were filled with love. "I'm not Carbine. And if I don't want to sleep with you, I'll send you to the scoreboard way before you get hot and bothered. And I'm not mad at you."

"You sure?"

"Positive. I know you're not doing anything but being you and I trust you. I want to beat some sense into that little slut with the hammer, but I think I can control my homicidal impulses." She traced his chest muscles with her fingers. "There's been plenty of times I've felt like killing you three macho furballs and you're still breathing."

He wrapped his arms around her, the need to hold her stronger than his fear. "I love you so much. If anything happened to you...."

"Shush, stop dwelling on the negatives, Throttle." Her lips found his before he could reply.

His arms tightened around her as he savored her sweet taste. They parted and he had to catch his breath. "You know I love you."

"I know."

"You're not mad at me?"

She cupped her hand around his cheek and her fingertips combed into his pelt. "I'm not mad at you. Why do you think I would be mad at you?"

He frowned, considering. The last thing he wanted to do was cause Charley pain. He wanted to give her water and pink seed blossoms for the rest of her days. But life ain't ever a straight road and if they couldn't make it easier for each other, better give it up now. "When Carbine got jealous, she'd always accuse me of cheatin' and then we'd fight to the point of breaking up. And then I'd get us back together. She would've probably killed me if there had been a girl throwing herself at me like Trash is now." He looked down feeling pensive.

"Did she spend all her time trying to kill you? Cause it doesn't make for a healthy relationship and I'm not doing it." Her green eyes blinked. "Why didn't you just break up with her? She never trusted you."

Throttle felt like squirming but couldn't with Charley on his lap. "So many of our people turned traitor, it's understandable she lost faith in us. She got it back quickly." Her expression frankly told him she didn't buy it. "I loved her."

Be honest. It wasn't just that. You figured Carbine was tough enough to survive the war and your curse. It was safe to love her. And she was sexy as hell.

Charley's fingers stopped petting. "And now?" She couldn't keep a trace of fear out of her voice.

"I've always been a one-woman man. And now you're my woman. You're showing me what love truly means." He found her lips and kissed her hard enough to take away all their doubts. "I just don't want to repeat what went wrong with Carbine, that's all."

"We won't. Now that we have that settled, can I go shoot Trash with the grenade launcher?"

Throttle gave a half-hearted sigh. "As much fun as that would be, I do owe her for gettin' those Hounds off me."

"I knew you were going to bring that up."

He squeezed her in his arms. "Also, it's not a good idea to shoot your allies. You run out of them faster that way."

The smile threatened to undo her pout. "Alright, alright. But I push the button to send her to Plutark."

"No arguments here," he chuckled. The panicky edge of fear was dulled and buried by love. "Do you think it's safe to go back? I wanna talk to that Turtle, Leo."

"I guess." Charley kissed him again and it took all of his sense of responsibility to kick out the idea of just staying put. She reluctantly pulled away. "It wasn't fair to abandon Modo, Vinnie, and Tala."

"Nope." He took hold of her hand as he stood up. "Let's roll."


The tears finally stopped, through loss of fluid not loss of pain. Allie rested her forehead against her very wet knees and waged war within herself. The need to lash out on the ones who had hurt Zack still burned. I can't. I can't payback evil with evil. I can't.

She could hear Caine's kind voice echoing in her mind. "To use evil to stop evil continues the cycle of hate. That cycle must be broken for evil to be stopped forever."

"But what if the hate starts in your own heart?" she whispered aloud. Her throat tightened with tears that couldn't come out.

Quiet steps entered the metal room. If Raph had come to continue the fight, he was going to be surprised. She looked up--fully prepared to tell whoever it was to go play in traffic--saw the dismayed but determined face of the young Martian, and lost the heart to tell him anything.

Sparks's feet shuffled as he stopped near the pile of blankets and pillows Allie sat on. He thrust his hands into the pockets of his jeans. "MC let me hear what happened downstairs. I don't like it. You shouldn't quit."

Under any other circumstances, this would be hysterical getting lectured by a pre-pubescent Martian mouse. "I have my reasons. And they hurt too much to discuss."

"Zack wanted to watch you beat up those Val Tech creeps!"

Her throat tightened. "Sparks, you do understand what's happening here? Zack isn't going to see his next birthday, much less who I'll fight next."

"Only if he doesn't get help!" His grey tail slashed through the air behind him.

The boy on the bed stirred. They both glanced at him guiltily. Allie didn't glance away and made sure her voice was low. "I can't help him. As much as I want to. I'll just mess things up worse."

"How?"

Allie sighed. She couldn't find the words to describe it to herself, how could she explain it to a child? "Leo and Raph don't like it. They never have. They won't work with me and we'll need harmony to free Donnie, Di, and the other prisoners."

His disbelieving snort made her look up at him and he spoke with unwavering conviction. "They're just gonna hafta deal. You have to do somethin!"

"I am. I'm here. Zack wants me here."

The expression on his grey-furred face mirrored the one she felt inside her. "That's a cop-out. You have to fight for him; he's family. And you have to stop Val Tech and Limburger 'cause you hate what they're doin'."

Allie cringed. "That's exactly why I can't fight them. I hate too much."

"Huh?"

"If I fight them, hating this much, I'll do what they would. And become the same monster they are." She took a deep breath. "Hate just leads to the dark side. Haven't you watched Star Wars?"

Sparks snorted again. "You're afraid of killin' 'em. If it was me, I'd jump at the chance. Roddie always said that all fighters have a responsibility to stop bad guys before they hurt someone else. That's why we fight the Plutarkians. And Dad, Roddie, or the others aren't monsters for doin' that."

"I'm not them. I can die for the cause, I just can't kill."

"Any idiot can die for a cause." He blushed under his fur. She could see the red glow from his skin. "That's what Roddie would say. You don't know how much something means to you until you fight for it. And you have to keep fighting for it. You were fighting before; you can't quit now."

"You don't understand. Hell, I don't even think I do. Maybe Leo and Raph can see what I can't. The monster I become when I put on that hood."

"You're not a monster! If you were a monster, you wouldn't love Zack or Mike. And you wouldn't be worried 'bout turnin' into one all the time! Fightin' to get those other guys out will be just like the fight with the Hounds. Everybody hasta help. Otherwise, all those people are gonna get sick like Zack. And your other friends will die. You're not supposed to let friends die!" He scowled around his uneven buckteeth.

Zack moved restlessly under the blanket. Tears pricked at her eyes. "But you can't help them by becoming a greater evil."

"But you aren't gonna. Not now, not ever!" He stomped his foot in frustration. "Ask Zack. Ask Mike. They'll tell you the same thing." Allie couldn't look up at him. "Fine. Stay here feelin' sorry for yourself. I'm gonna help even if Dad does throw a fit." He stomped out of the room.

Caine had told her something similar. "You do not fear what evil can do to you. That is your greatest strength. For once you fear evil, you give it power over you. The fear that you have is turned to the darkness you fight and becoming that darkness. But it will not happen to you. That fear strengthens your inner light."

Splinter had warned her of the dangers too. "When you travel the dark paths you must always keep one path leading back to the light. If you do not, the dark will trap you forever and you will become what you hate." And the rat had been right. She had thought Mike was gone forever and killed.

"Without Mike or Zack, I have no path to the light." The tears spilled out again, hot against her cheeks. "And the darkness is destroying what little inner light I have. I can't lose it all. I can't."

But a cry for vengeance still hammered inside her chest.

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