Molly weighed next to nothing when Donatello finally scooped her up out of the bed: he was gentle, but she still stiffened at the contact. April couldn’t tell whether it was because Don was a scaly reptile, because Molly was in pain, or because she was still traumatized by whatever had happened to her back at the shipyard. There was certainly something lurking in Molly’s eyes that she didn’t like.
Raphael was the first to spot them emerging from the train car; he had been hunting for sprinkles in the kitchen cabinets and was shaking them over his slice of triple-cheese. “Hey, look: she ain’t dead yet.”
Casey and Mikey glanced up from the hockey game on TV: it seemed Molly was almost more a freak show than the mutant turtles were at the moment. Michelangelo bounded from his seat in an instant. “Hey, what’cha doin’? Where are you guys going? Can I join?”
“We’re going to the pool, and no you can’t,” Donatello explained… but he said so kindly. “I’ll be back up here in a minute, too.
“Raph, did you grab the soap?”
The gruffest of the brothers shied away slightly. “I thought that was a joke. Whaddo you need soap for?”
“Molly’s taking a bath—”
“And don’t you,” Donny ordered him quickly. “…say anything on that subject.”
He was largely ignored; Molly jumped at the tap on her shoulder the youngest of the turtles gave her, anyway. “How about rubber duckies? Do you want a rubber ducky? It’s cool if you don’t. But seriously, I’ve got a bunch of rubber duckies and stuff. So if you want one, you should totally let me know—”
“Here,” Raphael grunted, fetching a small white bar from a nearby cabinet and handing it off to April as if it was a time bomb. “Use as much as you want.”
“Geez, Raph, what’s with you and soap?” Casey laughed from where he remained hunched on the couch in front of the hockey game. “If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you were afraid of it!”
“Psht— that’s stupid, I ain’t afraid o’nothin’.”
“SSSOAP,” Mikey hissed suddenly in his older brother’s ear— Raphael dropped his plate of pizza to the floor with an involuntary shudder.
- - -
April inspected most of the pool before agreeing with Donatello that it was slightly cleaner than even some New York bathtubs she’d seen. It took him a few minutes to explain all of the nuances of the faucets to her, since the plumbing that he’d installed to make their underground swims a reality had gotten rather complicated. They sat Molly down in the shallow end and Donny left, making sure to drag Michelangelo away and lock the door behind himself.
After double-checking the lock (at Molly’s request), April turned on the faucets and let the steaming water run into the deeper sections of the pool. Then she helped to peel Molly’s clothes away, which was a more difficult challenge than she had first expected thanks to three days of blood and sweat and grime. If anything, the redhead looked even worse without the grungy ensemble: her skin (and especially her back) was almost more gray than pink, covered in countless blue bruises from head to toe. She sank gingerly onto her back and April propped her bandaged leg up on a little wooden fruit-crate that Don had left for them.
The bathwater slowly rose and seeped into the shallow area, pooling around Molly’s mottled body and soaking into her greasy hair. She shut her eyes and sighed in relief as the warmth crept up and enveloped her: April shut the faucets off just before the water level reached the top of the crate.
“Thanks,” Molly croaked as the news reporter started lathering suds into her skull.
“Well, don’t thank me just yet,” April muttered. “Regular soap may really mess with your hair.” Then she glanced down at her friend, and tilted her head to one side in curiosity. “Did they break your nose?”
Molly’s eyes shot open. “What?”
“I dunno, your nose just looks different. I thought maybe it was just the light back in the train car, but it looks sort of… flatter. I dunno.”
“Hm,” Molly sighed, hardly caring. “Might not be a bad change. I always felt like that thing was too big… just really pointy.”
“But I liked it. Really.”
“You’re sweet,” Molly hummed, and then she sighed. “This feels so nice… I may just sleep here.”
April thought that the remark was a joke, but long after she finished helping Molly scrub off, there was no sign that said the redhead wanted to return to the train car where her bed was. In fact, her only movement was to shift onto her side whenever lying on her back started to make her nauseous. After hours dragged by (thank goodness she had brought her book to pass the time), April apologetically admitted that she had to get going, as she would be expected for work the next day and had to get some rest. She left her friend as comfortable as possible, with a towel rolled up beneath her head for a pillow (now soaked) and another equally-wet one draped across her body like a blanket, since for emergency’s sake they wouldn’t be able to keep the door locked. Molly didn’t argue much at April’s leaving — and she didn’t even seem to mind that the bathwater had long since grown cool. It still felt good on her bruises, almost dulling the pain like ice might, even though it was nowhere near that cold.
Donatello stuck his head in a few times to check on her (thank goodness for the towel-blanket), but soon even that stopped and the distant static of the television set went quiet: Molly slept through the night without so much as lifting a finger or rolling over, and only the distant rumbles of passing subway cars dared to break through the emptiness to confirm that she was not dead. It was still quiet when she finally awoke (it had always been dark in that place, so she had no light and only silence to judge the time by), but ‘awake’ was still quite a relative term: she did little but reach up a wrinkled hand to rub her eyes and breathe a little deeper. Her every move let out a faint plink in the bathwater that echoed in the cavernous chamber.
April had been right; the soap had made her scalp itch horrendously, and her skin felt tight and flaky. Molly scratched her neck and skull absently, still in a half-sleep.
- - -
Deep within his dojo, Leonardo sat stock-still with his legs crossed and his back straight and his eyes shut. His breath came slowly and deeply, the only sound coming from him, and it was very nearly inaudible. To the untrained eye, it looked like he had fallen asleep while meditating… but in reality, his mind was anything but rested. He had been perched on his mat doing this for almost two days straight: thinking through his mistake with the blood transfusion, ever since it happened. He hadn’t even risen to eat. A few concerned voices had whispered around just outside his room through the hours — he had even recognized Splinter’s raspy murmur — but no one had entered. They all knew that Leonardo wouldn’t emerge until he had thought everything through himself… until he was ready to discuss what was bothering him.
Even Leonardo was still slightly unsure why he was so deeply unsettled by the medical mix-up. He could hear into the living area and knew that Molly was recovering, but he had still nearly killed her. In his mind, he had killed her — he kept hearing gasps and cries in the distance and imagined himself running to her side a hundred different times, always beholding a different sight. Sometimes she was wasting away from blood loss, sometimes burning with a fever. Sometimes twisting into some horrible human-turtle hybrid that screamed and clawed at him for making such a stupid mistake. Sometimes Leonardo would even leap to his feet and get halfway to the door before realizing that he had dreamt the sound he had just heard, and that the sewer lair was completely silent. Then he would turn around, sit, and try to meditate again… only to have his nightmarish imaginings return.
Then he heard it: real and actual, a horrified scream the likes of which he hadn’t heard since Molly had first been shot in the leg. In an instant Leonardo had flung open his bedroom door and crossed the living area, while all of his horrific visions flooded back into his memories at once. He burst into the bath-chamber with little regard for what he might have accidentally stumbled upon.
Molly lay curled in the shallow end of the pool, half-wrapped in a towel and clutching at her head like it might fall off. No… at her hair. Wispy curls of red were floating in the bathwater, and beneath her fingers he could see a few bare patches of freckled skin. But more than that, Molly’s hair wasn’t just falling out: her body was changing, taking on the color of her yellowed bruises more and more as if they were spreading some disease. She had barely even registered the fact that Leonardo had stormed into the room, but he knelt at her side in the blink of an eye anyway.
“I’m sorry,” were the first words out of his mouth, though he’d meant to try and calm her down, or ask what he could do to help. “I’m so sorry — this is all my fault.”
She shivered. He couldn’t tell if it was from the cold or from his touch when he tried to place a hand on her shoulder. She was staring ahead into space, looking as empty as they day they’d first brought her in. “You can see it?” she whimpered. “You can see it? It’s not all in my head?”
The door burst open again and the other three turtles entered, Donatello in the lead brandishing a stethoscope. “What’s happe— oh, cripes.”
“Is she alright? Was it a nightmare? She’s not hurt, is sh— whoa, dudes. Is everybody else seeing this right now?”
“Well,” Donny admitted hesitantly. “I think some of us wish we weren’t.”
“You kidding!? This is awesome!”
“It is not ‘awesome,’ Mike!”
“Withdrawals,” Molly muttered to herself. “Gotta be the nicotine withdrawals. This can’t actually be happening to me—”
“Hate to break it to you, Freckles, but it’s happening,” Raphael grunted.
“I’ll never smoke another cigarette as long as I live,” Molly moaned. Her breathing grew quicker as the four massive reptiles approached and surrounded her, and she suddenly felt very exposed… likely because she was covered by nothing but a thin towel. She knew Donatello was the medical expert of the group, but suddenly she craved the presence of a human being… someone she knew. “C-Casey?” she whimpered. “Where’s Casey?”
“He don’t sleep down here.”
“Yeah, he’s a cosmo-phoney.”
“That’s not important right now,” Leonardo snapped at his brothers. “Donny, what do you make of it?”
“Well, I’ve got a theory,” his brother muttered. He started fiddling with the bandages on Molly’s leg. “I’ll need to get a blood sample, though—”
“G-go away,” the girl gasped as they crouched down, each of them coming closer and closer until she was backed up against the side of the pool. “Go away, I— I— I want to get dressed!” she decided.
“I said GO AWAY,” Molly snarled. She yanked her leg out of Donny’s grasp and pulled it away beneath her wet towel, which felt tinier and flimsier as time went on. She ignored the fact that the damp started to soak into the bandages.
Raphael crossed his arms and snorted. “Geez. What’s your problem?”
“Said the turtle who’s never worn clothes before,” Donatello muttered. “Listen, Molly, I just need t—”
“We’re going,” Leonardo ordered his brothers sharply, and he stood to his feet.
“Aw, what for?”
“But it’s vital that I check th—”
“In a minute. Give her space.”
Somehow, Leo managed to corral (or drag) his brothers all the way to the door. He paused before shutting it, though… and in that moment when he glanced over his shoulder, he glimpsed Molly rocking herself back and forth, and she caught his eye. “What’s happening to me?” she whispered.
“I’m not sure,” Leonardo muttered, and he shut the door… but in his mind’s eye, he could still see her sitting there, curled in the cold water… and he had a feeling he knew. The more he had looked at her, the more he had recognized the subtle similarities between her human body and his own: her face had grown flatter, and the gaps between her outer fingers had grown slightly webbed. The marks on her back were especially dark, the shoulder muscles more and more stiff as if they were actually growing hard.
And it was all his fault.