State of Confusion
Manuelo's head felt clearer, even though he was more confused. He climbed the stairs and kept one hand on the rail. He needed to get away for everybody else. Whatever the blonde woman--Tala--had given him, it had worked to calm his shaking and had eased his headache. He had finally washed off, and the scrapes and cuts were now disinfected and treated. He found the roof's access door propped ajar. He stepped onto the roof without disturbing the brick keeping the door open. Charley and Modo had tried to explain what had happened. He understood that Limburger teamed up with this Val Tech that mutated people. His family was in danger of becoming mutated, which had made the teenage boy in the medbay so sick.
He let his eyes adjust to the night, poorly lit by the glow from the streetlights. A small light made a pool of light around the door. The human bikers and the turtle creatures fought this Val Tech, but had lost their last fight and had friends imprisoned in Limburger Tower too. He wasn't sure about the girl in black or about the argument. But he recognized the absolute misery of the round figure huddling on the roof's parapet wall. He paused; it wasn't right to intrude on heartbreak. He took a step back.
The dark head turned slightly, and Manuelo could see a light-colored bandanna around the eyes. "You don't have to go, dude."
He looked at the turtle creature--mutant, he reminded himself--who turned back to look down at the street. "If you'd rather be alone right now?"
"I'm more alone now than I've ever been in my entire life. You stay, at least I'll have someone to talk to. Michaelangelo, Mike, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle."
"Manuelo." He cautiously sat with his back against the parapet wall. "You really love her, don't you?"
"I loved her before I met her," he sighed. "And there hasn't been anyone else since I saw her."
"That is how I feel about my Serafina. I hope she's okay. They all better be okay."
"These Val Tech guys are worse monsters than the Shredder ever wanted to be."
"The Shredder?" Manuelo thought Limburger had gained a new nickname.
"A former baddie of ours." Mike tapped the shell on his chest. "He's dead now. Don't worry, with this many heroes around, we'll get your family out."
"Oh. Well, if anyone can figure out how to defeat them, it will be the Biker Mice. They've won fights no man could've won."
Mike glanced over his shoulder at Limburger Tower. "I hope someone comes up with a plan soon. Maybe if we had a plan that Allie had to help with, we could make her un-retire." He dropped his chin back on his knees.
Manuelo saw the roof door open. Mike chortled. "That's gotta be Eight. Nobody else has vibrations that big. Have a seat. Give us an update on downstairs."
The massive black man, larger than the Pit Boss, plopped down on the floor with a grunt. He pulled a notepad out of his jacket's inner pocket and quickly wrote on it. When he finished, he passed it to Manuelo.
Manuelo cleared his throat, found the right angle of light, and read the note out loud. "Ryan says it'll have to be tomorrow. The biggest drawback is not having any layout or plans of the building. After that what to do with the prisoners once they're rescued, is the next drawback. We can't bring them all here." He handed the notepad back to Eight, trying to swallow down the sudden tightness in his throat.
"Anybody asked Allie what she's seen in there?" Mike asked.
Eight wrote quickly and passed it to Manuelo. "She refuses to talk to anyone. Trash tried. Allie threw her Bones jacket in her face. Allie-Cat has given up."
Mike swallowed audibly. "She's so strong." His breath caught in his throat and he paused until he regained control. "But she's got this thing; thinks that she's gonna hurt the ones she loves. That's the only thing that can break her. And now it has. And I can't fix it." He hid his face against his knees.
"That can break anyone, no matter how strong." Manuelo sighed. "And desperados use it against you when they can." His heart pounded as he glanced at Limburger Tower. Tomorrow. Just hang on until tomorrow.
"Either the baddies hurt us or she starts thinking she's goin' evil." Mike lifted his head. "Nobody can convince her she ain't. But it doesn't matter. Leo and Raph won't work with her."
Eight grunted and wrote on his pad. Manuelo read it for him again. "Why don't they like her?"
"Raph and Allie are too much alike. Both puttin' on a front to hide how they really feel; Raph goes angry, and Allie shuts emotions down. If they could just realize that...." Mike shook his head. "Leo's got big brother protection to the extreme. He just doesn't think Allie can help. That nobody can fight as good as us, so step back and let us do it."
"Why don't you show them?" Manuelo asked. "Won't they listen to you if you told them what they do?"
"No, they won't. Mikey don't know nothin. Especially about his girl. I love her so much, but it's not enough."
"Damn them! Forsake all others. If you love her, your place is with her."
Mike glanced down at Manuelo's earnest expression and then turned to gaze at the street again. "I can't give her a child. If Zack dies, Allie has to have a kid to keep the Hamato line going. If by some miracle, she actually won control of the Foot Clan dojo, she'd have to have a kid to pass it to. She's givin' me up 'cause of that."
Eight wrote furiously, thrusting the notepad back in Manuelo's hands. "You're giving up on her because of that! Why do you think they invented sperm banks?"
Mike pivoted on the parapet wall and stared at the bald, black man. "Sperm bank? We never thought about that."
"That would solve that problem," Manuelo added.
"YEAH! Back to plan A."
The Turtle jumped from the wall and landed beside Eight. "To be by her side no matter what."
The stairwell door banged against the brick. Eight grinned at Manuelo. Kids, he had written on the notepad.
"Love doesn't solve anything. Just makes the hard things easier to bear." Manuelo's shoulders drooped.
That's right. You've been through something bad before, haven't you?
"Two years in the Pits." His teeth clenched with the memory of it. "Nothing will tear me from my family again. Not as long as I can stop it."
We will stop them from hurting them. That's our job. Your family is okay, probably. They'll be busy trying to figure out how Donnie works and haven't mutated them just yet.
Modo took a deep breath. This wasn't going to be easy. He paused in the hallway of Tala's ship. Damn, I don't wanna have this conversation. I never wanted to have this conversation with any of my kids.
The Turtle in the orange bandanna mask bounded up the ramp and stopped. "What's wrong?"
"Nothin' with yer girl, well, nothin' new. I gotta talk to Sparks."
Mike winced as he tucked his thumbs into his belt. "The other big talk. Leave you to it. Just got an idea that I need to share with Al." He frowned suddenly and pulled a computer disk from a pouch. "Is somebody around here good at computers?"
"Yeah, I'll find them. Go pull yer girlfriend out of her funk." Mike dropped the disk in Modo's hand as he headed into the medbay. Modo took a deep breath and opened the door to the bunk they had slept in last night.
Sparks sat on the edge of the bunk, swinging his feet. His grey tail wrapped around his body and his arm completed the hug. He looked up. "Hey Dad."
"Hey Son." He sat down next to him and wrapped his flesh arm around Sparks's shoulders.
"I don't understand! She should be fightin' the hardest for him!"
"Ya don't know what she's goin' through. Or what happened before. Ya gotta cut her some slack."
"Yeah, I guess." Sparks focused on the floor. "She keeps thinkin' 'bout the worst, though."
Modo took a deep breath. "Sometimes you hafta think about the worst. So it doesn't shock ya as bad when it happens."
The boy twisted away and jumped off the bunk. "But we hafta help him!"
"We're gonna do everything we can, Sparks, but there's some stuff we can't do." Modo watched Sparks's face continue to fall and his own scrunch with sympathy. "Even if we get his friends out of Fishlips's Tower, they might not be able to fix him."
"He can't die! He's my friend!" Large tears rolled out of his red eyes. Modo pulled him onto his lap. Sparks buried his wet face against his neck. "He's my friend."
Modo squeezed his eye shut, but still felt the tears leak out. He tossed the disk Mike had given him onto the bunk. He held Sparks tightly. "He needs you to be a friend. Just keep being a friend."
She slammed up against the wall. An invisible force pinned her armored body there. She strained her arms and legs against it, but couldn't move. The redheaded boy strode down the hall. He was younger than she was, and his face was twisted with anger. "What do you think you're doing, letting all those people go? After I worked so hard to catch them!"
Tala bolted upright in her bed. Her limbs trembled with fatigue and her heart pounded. Father, I hate those dreams you gave me. She sighed and climbed out of bed. "At least it wasn't about Vinnie," she muttered. Speaking of the white mouse, he sat in the living room section below all alone. She wondered how long she had been napping and what had happened to the rest of the party as she shuffled across the catwalk and down the stairs.
Vinnie looked up from her binder of Plutarkians on Earth. "You went to sleep?"
"Still haven't caught up." She stifled a yawn as she fell back in the recliner attached to the end of the circular couch. She was nearly perpendicular to him. "Where'd everybody go?"
"Throttle and Charley haven't come back from wherever they ran off to, Modo and Sparks are up in your ship, Ryan took his crew down to give their bikes a tune-up, haven't seen the Turtles." Vinnie counted them on his fingers and shoved the binder off his lap. "Look, can we talk?"
She started to get that funny, fluttering feeling in her stomach. The one that made her feel like her insides were hollow. He looked at her and she glanced away, suffering from vertigo suddenly. "What about?" she asked brusquely, trying to hide her nervousness.
Vinnie's scuffling feet were loud in the room. "Are you still mad about what happened on the Fury?"
She looked back at him. He stared at his feet. "I hadn't thought about it," she admitted.
"Then what did I do to make you so mad?"
Tala sighed as the hollow inside filled with lead. "Something you can't help. You want every pretty girl that comes along. Surprised you haven't made a play for Trash."
He stuck out his tongue. "She tried to rip me apart. A guy would hafta be crazy to take her to bed. And what every pretty girl?"
"What about Harley and Roddie and Charley and Allie?" She made a face. "Do you like any girls whose names don't end in a vowel?"
"You're jealous over nothin' with Allie. I think she's loads of fun in a sis-kinda-way and yeah she's pretty, but I don't want her. Mike has whatever she needs." He scuffed his right foot against the floor. "Charley and Roddie are just friends, and I ain't breaking up what they've got now. You don't steal a girl from somebody else, especially a bro. And Harley...." His throat moved as he swallowed hard. He didn't look at her. "Who told you about Harley?"
His head jerked up. "Why are you discussing us with Stoker?"
Tala clenched her fist at his tone. "There was no discussion. He just offered me some friendly advice."
"Stoker treats me as something more than a sex object. Maybe you should take some lessons. He's one of the few friends I have. And what I've been seeing these two days makes me think that he is right."
Vinnie's red eyes narrowed. "Oh? And what did he say?"
"That I'm likely to take this more seriously than you. But that doesn't matter." She shook her fist to release her fingers.
He sighed and looked down at the floor. "What do you want, Tala? I want you and I'm ready to date you until you're ready. I've never made that much of a commitment to anyone else."
Her heart pounded again. "What makes you think I want a commitment like that?"
"All girls want commitments. So how big of one do you want?"
She couldn't face him. What do I want? I want him to stop chasing after everybody else. If I actually managed to give him what he wants, I want it to mean something besides humiliation. I don't want to be used again. "I want to trust you," slipped out of her mouth before she could stop it.
"But you can trust me, can't you? I've never tried to hurt you on purpose."
"I know that." She wished they had never started this conversation. How could she explain to this thickheaded mouse that he would never get what he wanted from her? Not if he was waiting for her to give it. "I just... I don't compare to those other girls."
"You're right, you don't." Vinnie slipped off the couch. Her lip trembled and she couldn't stop it. He knelt next to her legs. "You're better than all of them."
Tala looked down into his face and looked away. "I can't make you happy."
His hand caressed her right cheek and gently guided her back to look at him. "Who wants a safe bet? The bigger the score, the bigger the risks. And you need those risks as much as I do." His hand crept around and rested on the back of her neck and in her short hair. He moved up. Their lips connected. Tala whimpered with relief as her lips parted. Vinnie's tongue moved into her mouth and wrested with hers. Her arms wrapped around his neck. That movement toppled her out of the recliner. He wrapped his arms around her waist as he fell back.
She pulled her head back. "Sorry."
"I'm not," he said breathlessly. "Awoo, Tala, I can't get enough of you." He moved his hand back up to pull her head down for another kiss.
A sharp giggle interrupted them. Vinnie let Tala go and she rolled off of him. They both stared up the steps at Trash. "Aw, you two are so cute. Don't stop 'cause of me; I like to watch."
Tala clenched her fists and glared. "I'm not part of a show!" She jumped to her feet. "And don't even try to make me one!"
Trash held up her hands to surrender. "Chill, chicky-boo-chick. Not everyone is as liberated as I am. But if you want to hide, you should be in a bedroom." She stepped into the sunken area and sidled up to Tala. "I copped a feel when we were fighting earlier," she murmured near her ear. "Trust me, you'll love his ride." She smirked as she plopped down on the couch. "So are there no Martian women left or do you boys just like experimentin'?"
Vinnie rolled on his side and looked up at her. "Yeah, there are some left, but none I wanna date. Wouldn't think you'd find something wrong with it."
"I don't, but I do want some pointers on getting you guys in bed."
"Get Modo drunk." He climbed to his feet and brushed off his fur.
Trash made a face. "He's not the one I'm interested in."
"I know, but I'm not doin' anything that'll give Charley the excuse to aim a rocket launcher in my direction. She'd do it too."
She twirled her black hair in her fingers. "At least, he has a good excuse for not giving me the time of day."
Tala sighed as she sat down on the couch. "How long are you guys staying in town, again?"
"They can leave as soon as everyone is rescued and the partnership between Fishlips and Val Tech is busted up." The stairwell door closed behind Throttle and Charley.
"Yeah, what he said," Trash replied.
"And we're attacking tomorrow night," Throttle added.
Tala frowned. "But we don't have a plan?"
"Deadlines make the plans come faster." Throttle kissed Charley on the cheek. "I'm going to talk to Leo."
"Okay, while you're fixing that, we're going grocery shopping." Charley looked down at the group on the couch. "Come on, Vinnie. You can help haul."
"But Charley-girl...." He squirmed underneath the stares both Charley and Throttle gave him. "Okay, I'm going."
"Good. Come on, Trash." Charley started leading the way back to the stair well door.
"Huh? Why me?"
"It's called earning your keep."
The black-haired biker girl grinned. "I've never had a jealous chick ambush me in a grocery store before. This should be fun."
"Don't worry," Tala answered Throttle's pensive expression. "I'll make them behave." She trailed after them, almost matching Vinnie's dejected walk perfectly. "How did I get caught up in this mess? Oh yeah, it showed up on my doorstep."
Throttle watched the group leave and shook his head after the stairwell door was safely closed. "Trust your Charley-girl. She can handle that biker bombshell. And Tala's not in the mood for any crap," he told himself firmly, then cleared his throat. "MC?"
"Yes, Biker Throttle?" the disembodied, electronic voice answered.
Throttle wondered how many speakers and sensors Tala had hidden in her building so that the computer could always know what was going on and comment on it. But it was a good thing, because it made it that much more likely MC could answer his question. "I'm looking for Leo, um... Leonardo, um...."
"I understand the request, Biker Throttle. Ninja Leonardo is on the third level, meditating."
"Thanks." Throttle found him inside one of the partially remodeled apartments on the next floor down. The Turtle was doing a one-handed handstand in the middle of the living room. His eyes were closed and his body rigidly straight. "MC said you were meditating."
"Mikey calls this extreme meditation. Lotus calls it showing off. And what Raph calls it isn't polite." The muscles in his arm bulged under his green skin as the arm bent. Leo sprang into the air and landed on his feet.
I've never seen anyone that bulky move so smooth, Throttle thought. They don't look like much, but they're as strong as Modo. "Did it help clear anything up? The extreme meditation?"
Leo leaned against the wall beside the Ronin's gear and his own swords. He picked up the Ronin's hood between his toes and transferred it up to his hand. "I've managed break how I feel into two separate thoughts. I don't trust the Ronin. And Mikey is right about Allie." He stared down at the hood with a sigh. "If we hadn't made her stay behind all those times, if we had actually listened when she had something to contribute, she wouldn't have needed to put this hood on."
Throttle rubbed his jaw. "Aren't we all on the same side here? Why can't you trust her?"
"Okay, maybe trust is the wrong word. She has too much integrity to sell anyone out. But she doesn't take it seriously. And when the really serious stuff hits, she can't handle it."
"She's been holding up pretty good considering it's her brother that was hurt."
"You didn't see how she lost it after killing the Shredder. She had treated the battle up till that point as a big game, and lost it when Mikey almost ended up dead. How can I trust my brothers' lives to someone who can't cope? Or innocent bystanders? She just doesn't understand the responsibility."
Throttle leaned against a support column for the ceiling. Vinnie's coping mechanisms drove them crazy, but you couldn't deny he didn't have any. Maybe Leo didn't know what he was looking at? "Maybe she does understand it, and is coping the only way she knows how."
Leo balled the hood in his fist. "Running away isn't coping. When things get too hard, she runs away. She's using Japan as an excuse to run away. She's using quitting to run away again...." His voice trailed off as his eyes focused on something else.
"Is that what Allie's doing?"
"Yeah, I think it is. Damnit! The easiest thing to do is just let her do it."
"But that's hardly the right thing to do." Throttle tried hard not to frown. "Or logical. She has gotten in and out twice without getting caught." Leo didn't answer. "It can be hard workin' with different methods, but just 'cause they're different doesn't mean they're bad."
The Turtle grimaced. "I get the point. And I'd rather be in Donnie's shell right now than do what I have to do."
The field specs slid partly down his snout. "What are you gonna do?"
"Go convince Raph that we hafta apologize to Allie."
Finally, some progress. "Think you can convince him before tomorrow night?"
"Deadline for the assault?" Leo slid the swords into the scabbards on his back.
"Yeah. The bad guys know we're comin; why disappoint 'em?"
Leo grabbed the Ronin's gear with a chuckle. "Let's give 'em a fight they'll never forget."