Reaching an Understanding, Finally
Mona leaned back against the bitch bar of the dark blue motorcycle and enjoyed the wind whipping her brown hair back. This was fun. Except for the pain of having to keep your tail in an unnatural position for so long, you could almost forget that you were a freak. She sighed and rested her hands on top of her jean clad thighs. I haven't worn blue jeans since before I mutated. Gee, how long has that been? Years? At least five. She normally ignored clothing. Her post-mutation body had lost most outward feminine characteristics--like big boobs and all hair except the shoulder-length mop on her head--so she usually hid under a trench coat and a fedora. But Allie had pointed out the limitations of her green skin should they take a spill. So she had gotten a seamstress at the last cell to figure out how to make blue-jeans fit and got a leather duster long enough to hide her thick, green tail.
A frown crossed her broad, green face as she considered the human girl guiding the motorcycle. Mona had started doubting the validity of the reports that Allie was a force to be reckoned with. That Val Tech wanted her as bad as they wanted the elusive Leader of all the Mutates. That without her, the Black Bones were a pale imitation of what they had been. Those reports just didn't match with the reserved high school senior she had been introduced to. Then nearly a year later, she watched in horror as Allie plowed hand claws over the Shredder's chest, drove them into his stomach, and kicked him off a roof. Talk about your rude awakenings. The only thing that made her feel slightly better was that everyone was as shocked as she was. And Allie was shattered; so shattered that Mona was afraid she was heading out to commit ritual suicide. Now three months later, they still hadn't found the answers to Allie's questions.
Those hardheaded Turtles! She fumed, I'm not a psychiatrist. And I wouldn't have to be playing one if they had supported her, made her feel like part of the team. But no, she was a fruitcake with no experience. All because she couldn't tell them about the Mutates or the Black Bones. And Allie was hiding and couldn't do anything to attract Val Tech's attention and wanted Zack to have a normal life. Not that Zack actually wants one.
Mona sighed; she hoped she had helped. Allie wasn't waking up from nightmares anymore, screaming that she was the Shredder or a monster or responsible for destroying everybody. And it had taken almost a month of constant barbs to make Allie pick up her sais and knives and prove to Mona that the norm girl still knew what to do with them. The katana was left behind in New York, and Allie never talked about replacing it. Allie still hadn't put on the Ronin's outfit, but she hadn't burned it either, and Mona decided to take that as a positive sign. Despite what those idiot shellbacks thought, Allie needed to help people and she needed to run the risks on the front lines. She wasn't happy anywhere else. And with Val Tech still hunting her, she had to keep her identity concealed. Val Tech never gave up. Allie's DNA probably had an alarm bell tacked onto it in every computer they own.
Yeah, I hope it's worth all the crap Raphael is gonna throw at me for leaving with Allie. His letters make it pretty clear that he thinks Allie dragged me away just to hurt him. She grinned to herself. I wonder what Mr. Angry-at-the-world will do when I show him what kind of homecoming I want? He usually loses track of his blustering when I don't yell back. And yelling is the last thing I want to do. She grinned harder, imagining his reaction to a soul-searing kiss.
They had reached Chicago a few hours after noon. Mona had looked forward to coming here. Another Mutate she had known in Atlanta had moved here a few years back. Chord was one of the most gifted guitarists she had ever performed with, and now no one but fellow freaks could ever appreciate them. The sudden lump in her throat couldn't dislodge the craving she had to sing. Maybe they could get together tonight.
But Chicago wasn't quite what she had expected. Living in New York City accustomed you to urban decay, but the half-demolished buildings and deep holes where buildings had once been wasn't decay; it was the gouging of a city. It confused Mona. She expected to see construction sites at some point, but they hadn't ridden past any. A few of the demolition sites showed signs of the work ending violently: burnt and broken cranes, dozers, and funny looking backhoes; shallow holes that had ejecta fields. Yikes, when did protest groups get so explosive? They rode the dark-blue motorcycle further into the city. Still no signs of construction, only inhabited oases against the blight of destruction. I like that. Gotta remember it for a song.
A convenience store/gas station filled one corner of the next intersection on the street. This area looked more alive; dangerous but lived-in. Allie started slowing down the motorcycle and pulled into the station. "Pit stop," she called over her shoulder before the bike engine died.
Mona nodded and climbed off the bike with a grateful stretch. The tan underside of her tail hit the concrete and refused to move or even twitch. "You sure we can't trade this thing in for something with four wheels?"
"Gripe, gripe, gripe." The human girl pulled off her helmet and shook her blonde hair free. "You didn't have to come."
"You'd be lost without me," Mona dismissed airily.
"You're probably right." Allie's voice lost its teasing tone. "And I don't know if I can ever thank you for it." Mona gaped at her, disbelieving what she heard until Allie started to look uncomfortable. "What? What'd I say?"
"Never mind," Mona muttered and shut her mouth.
Allie peered at her--puzzled--then shrugged. "Want something to eat?"
"No, I'm gonna hit the restroom." She walked away feeling like the world had shifted underneath her. Allie wasn't supposed to notice and she wasn't supposed to say thank you.
Allie secured her helmet to the bike. Mike is always telling me I gotta work on expressing gratitude. I don't say "thank you" often enough. She missed him so badly it made her ache. Did he miss her as much? They had been in a weird relationship spot when all the badness happened. They had broken up because she refused to share her secrets, but they were still very much in love. How can you doubt how Mike feels? After everything that happened later?
The Shredder had made his move. But instead of fighting and killing Zack, he fought the Ronin. And she had been ready to sacrifice herself for everyone's safety. Only that's not what happened.
She could still see Mike's crumpled body and the blood on Oroku Nagi's katana. She could still feel the rage and despair. And she unleashed that hate. She let it kill.
Allie knew death. It seemed no matter what she did, anyone she cared about got hurt. That's why she left the Bones, why she left San Francisco, and it seemed like Mike was another casualty. Without Mike, there was no reason to continue. She dipped into the darkness she knew so well and did exactly what the Shredder would have done in her place. She reveled in his agony and death.
It was only when Michaelangelo grabbed her that she realized what she had done. How evil she had gone. Mike was what kept her out of the darkness and she had nearly gotten him killed. That couldn't happen again.
She hadn't resisted Mona's coming along. At the time, she was too apathetic over her own fate to care. The only thing she wanted to do was to get as far away from Mike as she could. She had almost gotten him killed and it wasn't happening again. She left him an excuse about needing to find herself and asked him not to follow. He hadn't. And she had been so glad that her evil wouldn't drag him down with her.
Then Mona had started. Pointing out that if the Shredder hadn't tried to fight Zack and if he hadn't tried to kill Mike, he'd still be alive. Allie couldn't claim responsibility for the Shredder's actions. She goaded Allie into fighting again, and Allie kept up with it because there were too many people in the world that couldn't. It reminded her of what Caine would do. Only Caine wasn't as sarcastic as the Mutate with salamander characteristics.
Allie had left the Lair with the idea of finding Skulls. But Skulls never shared the nagging doubt in her heart that one false step would turn her into a raging monster. Caine understood the balance between Light and Dark. She wanted to run to the seemingly ageless man, show him the blood on her hands, and ask can I still fight for the Light? And hopefully the serene man with long grey hair and wearing his loose, silk shirt with tigers embroidered on it would explain her inner self using an ancient Shaolin proverb. Then he would explain it again in English, so she could still the nagging doubt.
Detective Peter Caine had written her a letter asking if his father had come to see her. So Kwai Chang Caine was probably traveling again and hopefully he was moving in Mutate circles.
She still feared that there was nothing she could do to atone. But her panic that she was New York's new Shredder had eased during the three months. Now it didn't seem to matter since she so badly needed to see the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle in the orange mask. It was completely selfish how badly she wanted him with her again. But she had to find Caine and settle the question for her own peace of mind. I should call him. Say "Mike, ditch New York for a couple of months and help me find a certain Shaolin priest." He would do it too.
She kept that thought in her mind as she headed to the glass doors of the store. Two men stood in front of the clerk with odd-looking weapons, some type of portable flame-thrower. Three heads turned as the glass door swung closed behind her: two uglies and the pinched, angry face of the Hispanic clerk.
One of the uglies--a burly man with bushy tan hair spreading from under his blue baseball cap and an under bite that would scare a bulldog--faced her and brought up his flame-thrower rifle menacingly. A small spurt of flame danced at the end of the barrel. "You just stepped into something you didn't want to, girlie."
The other ugly--a thin man in a brown trench coat with greasy, shoulder-length black hair--snickered as he let his blowtorch rifle dangle from his shoulder. "Fill it up!" He told the clerk, thrusting a canvas sack across the counter. "Or something nasty will happen."
A wicked grin slid over Allie's face as the adrenaline began to flood her system. Never show fear, especially not to idiots like these guys. "Yeah something nasty will happen--to you two."
"What was that?" The ugly with the under bite demanded.
"Are you going to fight or barbecue me?" Allie surged forward. Her sudden movement took him by surprise and she grabbed the rifle. But it didn't take him by enough surprise because he didn't relinquish the gun. So she shoved him back and dove down an aisle. She saw the clerk dive behind the counter out of the corner of her eye.
The ugly recovered quickly with a snarl and fired the flame-thrower down the aisle she had run through. Luckily, it was the snack aisle and not the automotive. A few bags of chips combusted but nothing exploded.
Allie reached the end of the aisle and grabbed a six-pack of soft drinks off the display. She hurled one can after another as she moved up the next aisle. The cans sailed over the shelves on the left and a few heartily yelled cuss words told her they had connected. When the six-pack was gone, she flipped over the shelves to the aisle on her right.
At the cash register counter, the other ugly leaned over it trying to find the clerk. A fire extinguisher went off in his face and he staggered back. The foam dripped from his face, front, and blowtorch rifle. The clerk jumped up and swung the extinguisher by its narrow top, heaving it better than most batters handle their baseball bats. The red canister connected with the ugly's head. He spun around 180 degrees and fell to the floor.
Before Allie had a chance to whistle admiringly, the ugly chasing her rounded the corner to the aisle she had thrown the cans from. "What the hell?"
She fluidly moved around the end of the aisle and jump-kicked his back. The ugly flew through the air, landing and busting through the Formica countertop. The cash register slid down and landed on his back.
The clerk grabbed the strange flame-thrower rifle out of the rubble that had been the counter. "Stupido Pit scum. You should know better than to mess with Manuelo!"
Allie stuffed her hands into her Black Bones leather jacket and sauntered to the front of the store. Mona jerked open the glass doors and skidded to a stop. "What'd I miss?"
"A hold-up job. Which I'm sure these sleeping beauties are going to regret attempting when they wake up." Allie's sky-blue eyes flicked over the clerk. His gaunt frame looked like it was slowly filling in again. A haunted angry expression of clenched teeth and wide-opened eyes dominated his face as he stared at the criminals. He knows these guys, she realized. And they hurt him bad. "Manuelo? Are these guys going to be here for the police?" she asked softly.
His head jerked up and he stared at Allie. He swallowed and spoke after his Adam's apple stopped bobbing. "Sí, the police will get these two." He kicked the nearest one. "Maybe that'll keep the rest of the Pit scum away."
"So we don't need to stick around?"
"No." He smiled, "Thank you."
"Just passing through. Handy use of a fire extinguisher." Mona had backed out the door and held it open, so Allie circled around the uglies and joined her.
"Ride free, citizens!" Manuelo called after them.
"Ride free, citizens?" Mona climbed onto the bike.
Allie shrugged as she pulled on her helmet. "I kinda like it."
"You would. Man, if Chicago is this much fun in broad daylight, I can't wait till after dark."
Allie pulled the bike out into the street and gunned the engine. "I heard it was getting bad out here but I figured it was the standard inner-city decline."
"It wasn't this bad the last time you passed through with the Black Bones?"
"It looks like they've been in a war."
"With who, I wonder?"
Allie shrugged again in response to Mona's question. 1990 was the last time she was in Chicago. Skulls nearly had the new Black Bones assembled. They had traveled from New York with stops for training and to learn where Mutate safe houses were. They had reached Chicago, picked up Smarts, and Skulls had declared they were ready for the major leagues. And they started kicking butt all the way to California. Things had been simpler before she was tagged.
"Cheap motel time?" Mona asked.
The human girl glanced at her watch. "Yeah."
Allie stretched out on the bed and closed her eyes. She could still feel the throbbing of the motorcycle, but it was fading. Mona was soaking in the bathtub, trying to restore the natural water balance in her salamander skin.
That fight--she hadn't held anything back and nobody died. Maybe killing the Shredder had been an unlucky fluke. Maybe she could fight without touching that darkness again. Caine had said she wouldn't become a monster. She wanted him to be right.
His son had been right about her. "Look, it's not impossible to rebuild a life." His blue eyes flicked around the living room and came back to Allie's face. And she was sure her face was set to show how unhappy she was. "I had to do it when I thought my father was dead."
You'd never believe that Detective Peter Caine had any Chinese in him with his curly black hair and blue eyes. But sometimes you'd see him give the same look his father would. He and Kermit--Detective Griffin--personally flew her back to New York from San Francisco to protect her from Val Tech and to make sure she stayed with her older brother. Billy was lurking somewhere in their parents' apartment with Zack. The apartment she hadn't seen since she was four years old. Billy had decided to bring them together and this was the only place to go.
"But I was rebuilding my life," Allie cried petulantly. It wasn't fair. Skulls and the Bones needed her. She was doing good and controlling her impulse to hurt just like evil people could hurt and helping people and now she couldn't. Practically blowing up the Hundred-first Precinct proved the lengths they would go to. But she knew that. That's why she left Skulls and the Bones, because she didn't want to endanger them more than their lives already did.
"On the run from monsters and an evil corporation that wants you dead is not a life." Once again, he leaped right into her thoughts. Allie decided she really didn't like it. "Never turn away a second chance," Peter added.
The same thing Caine had told her. She cracked a smile. "You talked to your dad about me."
"Well, we understand about second chances."
Allie opened her eyes and stared at the dingy tile ceiling of the motel room. She had given Billy and Zack a school year to see if the experiment would work. If it hadn't, she would have left to find Skulls and together they would have found a way for her to help without alerting Val Tech. But instead the end of the school year found Billy dead, her and Zack heirs of Hamato Yoshi, a homicidal maniac ninja after them, and her in love with a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. A love she of all people didn't deserve.
"I can't keep hiding from it. Either the Ronin brings out the evil in me or it doesn't. But there's only one way to find out." She stared at the ceiling. "I have to figure out the truth."
Mona lay on her stomach across one of the room's double beds, finishing the last of her french fries while watching an old Cyndi Lauper movie on the free cable. Allie had insisted they take a break from each other tonight. Which worked out fine with what Mona wanted to do in Chicago. She had called around, finally found Chord, and worked out an impromptu jam session. Allie still hadn't announced her plans yet. After the norm girl bought supper, she had locked herself in the bathroom.
The bathroom's light clicked off as Allie stepped into their motel room. She was dressed entirely in black: calf-high combat boots with daggers tucked in the tops; black leotard covering her legs, arms, and torso; on top of the leotard a pair of black denim shorts and a loose shirt. The belt with built-in compartments--holding everything she could possibly need--and a pair of sais strapped around her waist... and she held the Ronin's hood in her hands.
Mona sighed. Well, I guess it's time to see if she's ready. "What are you doing?"
Allie looked up. "I'm going prowling. It's been a while, I'm out of practice."
"You don't have to wear that."
She grinned and there was nothing hiding behind it. "No, I don't. But there are advantages to being hard to see and harder to identify. Besides it's a scary look. A lot scarier than a short, blonde girl waving a sword."
"A lot of people would disagree with that description. Vehemently," Mona pointed out with an ironic twist to her lips.
Allie shrugged. "I'm considering the perfect stranger's point of view. I just have to remember that I am Allie and the Ronin and stop that nasty split personality thing before it starts."
"But that hasn't been your problem."
Allie looked down at the hood in her hands. "I got addicted to being the Ronin. That's not going to happen again. I'm going to work out a better way to help people. Something more legitimate than vigilantism." She stuffed the hood into one of the pockets of her leather jacket and pulled the jacket on.
Mona quirked her eyebrow. "Isn't it a little hot out there for that? I understand needing it on the bike but it's the middle of July."
"Instant camouflage. If you need to find me, I'm ending the night at Pete's."
"You're not taking the bike?"
"I don't use the bike in New York." Allie slipped a room key into the jacket's breast pocket and zipped it closed.
Mona twirled a lock of brown hair in her green fingers as she waited for Allie to say something else. But she just turned and left the motel room, without another word. The Mutate sighed. "She's got brains and she always uses them. I don't have to worry. Much."
Allie took a deep breath as she surveyed her surroundings from a skyscraper's rooftop. Mona didn't understand. Despite the card she had been dealt, she would never be at home in the night like Allie and the Turtles. Of course, Mona wasn't a ninja. Inside, she was still the same girl that craved the stage and lights. She had learned new skills for her mutated body but only because she was a survivor.
The mesh covering her blue eyes didn't impede her vision, but Allie still didn't like what she saw. It was a war zone. Destroyed and deserted buildings stood next to still inhabited ones. No one bothered to hide the scouring marks of laser burns and debris from explosions. And the ruined buildings waited to have the destruction finished by shot-up construction equipment. Temporary metal fences surrounded these abandoned sites and the same company sign hung on all the sagging fences--Limburger Industries.
The roar of many engines pulled her attention further up the street. The sound wasn't right for a motorcycle gang. She had been away from the Bones for years, but that year with them was still engraved in her memories. She missed them. She missed Skulls' gruff complaints, Eight's silent protection, Smarts' vocabulary that rivaled Donatello's, Trash always trying to get them both dates, and when Ryan forgot about his devotion and was just her friend. But her place was with Mike. If only she wasn't so worried about getting him killed. As much as she missed the Bones, she wasn't going to leave Mike for them. And Mike would never leave his brothers. And she didn't want him to either.
Her eyes scanned the desolate street. Headlights were coming forward. A squad of dune buggies covered with some heavy artillery rolled down the street. She didn't need special mutant senses to figure out that the thugs heading out of town on weapon-laden dune buggies were up to no good, but without knowing what was going on she didn't know who to help or hinder. Time to scout out some answers.
She got her bearings and climbed down to the street. She headed west into a neighborhood she remembered from her first visit to Chi-town. Back in 1990, Pete's Chi-town Tavern was the first bar she had ever entered. And it was still her favorite. What a night that was. I had Mike laughing hard enough to split his shell. Maybe I should tell Zack the story. He's always asking me about the year I was gone. Pete was another norm that had befriended Mutates and helped them out. He and Skulls were old road buddies. Pete let Mutate minors into his bar but never served them alcohol. They had worked out a system where the telepaths would let Pete know if any undercover cops were present and the "C" in the neon sign would go out. Handy code for those patrons who needed to avoid the law, too.
Allie passed a still-open garage named the Last Chance and grinned. Wonder if it refers to the mechanics' skills, the hours they keep, or the neighborhood? The neighborhood was just a little more upscale than condemned. A few buildings were still inhabited along with the garage. But at least the streets were free of debris from the crumbled buildings. With a garage in their neighborhood, she guessed there was incentive to keep the streets drive-able.
Changing streets and heading up a few more blocks improved the neighborhood significantly. The area around Pete's looked about the same as it had five years ago. The "C" on the sign was lit. She sighed as she retreated slightly into the shadows to pull off the hood and comb out her hair with her fingers. Looking presentable, she headed for the front door.
Mona waited in the shadows outside the motel. Tired of all the disguises, she had left them in the room with the rest of the luggage. A cool breeze from Lake Michigan whipped her hair. You could close your eyes and forget that you were in the middle of an urban wasteland. An old station wagon pulled up through the streetlight, but parked in the shadows. "Mona!"
She grinned and jumped into the passenger's side. "How ya been, Chord?"
The lean man shifted the gears. Thick black fur covered his hands, arms, and face. His eyes gleamed brightly. "Pretty good, all things considered. Heard you ended up in New York."
"Yeah, in Snake-eyes' cell." She looked out the window at the crumbling buildings. "How can you live here?"
"With a strong stomach." Chord's laughter was infectious and Mona started giggling. "Ready to jam?"
"More than ready."