It was three days before Mikey's brothers could be convinced to leave the lair. Unfortunately, they needed a new television to replace the one with the gaping hole in it, a new computer for Donnie, and a new couch. As luck would have it, though, Casey had gone searching almost immediately after Master Splinter sent him and April home and managed to find a working television at the local junkyard. It was an old model, maybe a little beaten up, but it worked. And that was all that really mattered to the turtles. Chances were good they'd be replacing it soon, anyway. For her part, April garbage-picked a forest green couch. Taking a break from Mikey watch, Donnie helped carry what was left of their old couch up to the curb so the trucks would pick it up. He also tried lowering his little brother's morphine dosage on the third day. Then Mikey started spewing every bad word Casey had taught him under his breath and Donnie realized that he might have lowered it a little too much. Raph, overhearing the familiar curse words, decided it was time to have a talk with his best human friend. That was right around the time Casey decided to go out for a run. Coincidentally, Raph felt a sudden urge to go on a run.
"Hey, April, did ya see which direction Casey ran in? I'm going on a hunt."
"Um, you mean "run," right?"
"That's exactly what I said."
For the most part, things were peaceful again. Except Leo noticed Donnie was looking more and more worn down with each passing hour. When he wasn't sitting with Mikey in his room or helping to clean the lair, he was locked in his own room, the sounds of glass clinking and pencils scratching on paper lasting the entire night. That was probably why when Leo woke up in bed, gasping from the usual nightmare, he went to his room first. However much Leo may have disapproved of his little brother pulling another all-nighter, he couldn't deny the sense of relief that bloomed in his chest at seeing him awake. And alive.
Donnie didn't notice him leaning in the doorway right away, too engrossed in the pale liquid bubbling in his beaker to notice if the sky was falling. Skin, dark and puffy, drooped under his bloodshot eyes as he muttered something about increased atom density.
"Well, Don, if you're running for mayor of the undead, you have my vote." Startled by the sound of his brother's voice, Donnie jumped nearly a foot out of his chair. His hand jerked, spilling some of the boiling liquid across the ruin of his once prized laptop. "Woah."
Saying Donnie wasn't usually jumpy probably wouldn't be right, but he wasn't usually that jumpy.
Turning around to glare at him, Donnie said, "Ha ha. Very funny, Leo. I'll have you know that I've been working on a synthetic shell for Mikey. Something so strong we could throw him off a plane shell-first and it'd barely have a dent in it." Leo looked at the bubbling liquid curiously, wondering just what his genius brother had done to make it. And whether or not it was safe.
Keeping his tone neutral, Leo asked, "Would Mikey survive that?"
Donnie deflated a little. "Well… no. But his shell would be fine." Oh, good. That took care of everything, didn't it? Sure, their little brother would be dead, but at least they would have his perfectly intact shell to remember him by.
"Donnie?" Leo put a hand on his shoulder, resulting in Donatello looking at the hand as though he were wondering what the hand was doing touching him. "There is something wrong with that plan. The first part being we can't throw him off a plane."
But Donnie wasn't in the mood for words of wisdom. He rolled his eyes so hard he imagined he could see his brain if it wasn't so dark in his head. "Is there anything else wrong with my brilliant hypothetical plan that you want to mention? You know, the plan I only mentioned for rhetoric's sake and actually had no intention of carrying out?"
Boy, someone was in a snippy mood.
"I have a feeling," Leo replied as he pulled his hand away, " that I'm not going to like any of it, actually." How could they put some new material they'd never tested before on Mikey? What if it didn't work? What if it made things worse? What if there were side effects?
Anger flashed in Donnie's eyes, his hands twitching like he just wanted to grab the first thing he could reach and throw it in Leo's face. Instead, he snapped, "Well, then what do you want me to do, Leo? Mikey fell down an elevator shaft. Did he tell you that? That's how he cracked his shell." Of course he'd told him that. "Did he tell you why he fell?" Leo felt his eyes narrow because Mikey had been a little vague with the details, but Donnie had been spending the most time with him lately, so it made sense that Mikey would tell him more. Rationally, it made perfect sense. Irrationally, it still hurt a little to realize his little brother had kept something from him. "Mikey was poisoned, Leo. I analyzed a blood sample of his and found traces of chlorine. I thought the coughing was just due to the infection in his foot, but then I asked him about it and he said that he tried not to inhale any of the green gas when he was crawling through the vent but he was dizzy and he couldn't see." He waited, breathing hard, for Leo to say something. And Leo waited for something to come to him; something he could say that would take the edge off of finding out his baby brother had been poisoned. It might have been easier to think if the impulse to rip something apart wasn't nudging at his mind, right along with the fear from the remaining traces of his dream. Nothing was worse than wanting to protect his brothers and not knowing how.
When he saw that Leo wasn't going to respond, Donnie threw up his hands with a snort. "Don't you get it? That's why he fell. It wasn't because he was clumsy or distracted or woozy – well, that might have had something to do it – but, mostly, it was because he couldn't see. And he couldn't see because the Shredder tried to poison him."
Alright. Like he needed another reason to hate the Shredder.
"What are you trying to get at, Donnie?" Last time he saw Mikey, the cough was dying down, the fever was broken, the infection was nearly non-existent, and his voice sounded a million times better. If it weren't for the wound in his plastron sending pain shooting through his muscles every time he moved, he'd probably already be walking around. In a few more days, he probably would be.
Putting a hand on his forehead, Don took a breath. When he started speaking again, he stopped sounding like he was talking about some complex puzzle he'd pieced together and finally sounding like he was talking about their little brother. "I'm saying I'm a genius, Leo. And I thought that was enough. But what kind of genius am I if I can't even protect my brothers? Even if I wasn't there, I should have invented something to protect him from the poison, something to protect his shell in case he fell from a building. I should have done more than let myself get ambushed and then crawl around in a fish bowl and eat cucumbers while Mikey was out there DYING!" He clapped his hands over his mouth, eyes wide and horrified. They waited, still, silent, for any sign that he'd woken up Raph or Mike.
When no sound reached their ears, Leo said softly, "We all wish we were there, Don. Believe me." And, to be honest, the entire conversation was starting to give him a serious case of Déjà vu. "But we can't change the past. And beating ourselves up about it will only make things worse." As the world' resident expert on beating himself up, he would know. Shrugging, the slightest smile tugging at his lips, Leo added, "And Mikey's stronger than he looks. He'll get through this." There was the slightest hesitation, because he really didn't know whether comparing himself to Michelangelo was a good idea, then he rushed ahead. "I mean, I did, right?"
And, wow, he did not know Donnie's face could turn that shade of purple.
"MI-" Catching himself, Donatello lowered his voice to an acidic hiss. "Mikey isn't you, Leo. He isn't-"
"What?" Leo demanded, his expression gone hard and cold. "He's not invincible?" Then he saw the instant regret on his little brother's face and softened a little. "I'm not, either, Don."
A broken leg.
A month of walking with a crutch.
Leo knew what it was like to feel invincible. And he knew how much it hurt when the world decided to show you just how mistaken that feeling was. After their vision quest, Donnie had asked him how he'd managed to fight off the pain in his leg when it wasn't mental. And he'd been too embarrassed then to admit it, but he was pretty sure now that the pain was mental. His leg had already healed. He'd just wanted an excuse not to get hurt again.
Leo wasn't fearless. He wasn't invincible. He was just doing the best he could. Sometimes, that was enough. The rest of the time, it wasn't.
It was the rest of the time that kept waking him up in the middle of night.
Donnie buried his face in his hands, so his voice came out muffled and tired, " I know you're not, Leo." There was a long pause. And the oldest Hamato brother waited, unmoving as a mountain, because something was bothering his little brother and, whatever it was, he had a feeling that if he spoke too soon or moved too quickly, Don would change his mind and refuse to tell him. So, he waited. And, finally, Donnie said, "He dropped a nunchuck today." When Leo lifted an eye ridge to show that he didn't understand, Don clarified, "I unwrapped his arm and asked him to hold one of his nunchucks for me, and it slid right through his fingers."
If Donatello hadn't sounded as upset as he did, Leo would have just shrugged this off as Mikey being Mikey. After all, dropping a weapon wasn't a big deal. It wasn't something they did often but sometimes butterfingers could get the best of even the most experienced ninjas. "What does it mean, Donnie?"
He sighed. "It means the Shredder's blades hit his radial nerve. It sends signals from the brain to his hand, and if it's damaged, it can lead to," he ticked the symptoms off on his fingers, "decreased grip, lowered arm strength, delayed reaction time."
Frowning, Leo replied, "But it'll heal, right?"
"It never should've happened!" Donnie snapped. "But, yeah, it'll heal. And then you can go right back to using him as bait!"
Now, that was crossing a line. Being upset and lashing out because Mikey was hurt was one thing, but he wasn't going to lie down and take it when his leadership was being questioned. "I haven't heard you-"
"But I've heard you." Don and Leo whipped around to see Raph standing in the hall, looking red-eyed and irritated. "You're keeping me and Mikey awake so if you could both just shut up, I'd really appreciate it."
"And if ya don't, I'm gonna shove both your thick skulls through the wall. Got it?" Twin looks of complete disbelief followed him as he stalked back to his room, obviously muttering insults under his breath.
Breaking the silence in the room, Leo chuckled, "He's been doing that, lately. It's weird, right? If he doesn't cut it out soon, I'm going to be out of the," he looked up to see his younger brother still blue with shock, "job."
He wrapped an arm around Don's shoulders, furrowing his brow as he trained his gaze on the mysterious liquid in the beaker and said, "Tell me more about the synthetic shell you're making for Mikey."
Uncertain about the change in topic, Don replied, "I thought you said it was a bad idea."
"Well, I still think we should test it on plaster or something first, but the idea itself isn't a bad one. And Mike's gonna be thrilled when he hears you're making him a stronger shell." For the first time in three days, Don relaxed.
There was a small smile on his face. "I thought so, too." A sound like a bear snoring issued from his stomach and his cheeks lit up.
Leo laughed. "Sounds like you're hungry, bro. I'll go get us some pizza."
"It's two in the morning!" Don protested.
Grinning widely, Leo left the room, calling gleefully over his shoulder in a hushed voice so only Donnie would hear, " Then I'll do the responsible, leader thing and go get us some ice cream."
And that gave Don an idea.
Another three weeks passed and then Don was finally ready to put his brilliant plan into action. Casey and April were already sitting at the dinner table with Leo and Master Splinter, so now they just had to wait for-
"Mike, would ya stop hopping around like jackrabbit! You're gonna tear open your stiches."
Right on schedule.
Sticking his tongue out, Mikey hopped away from his brother and retorted,"Don't tell me how to live my life, Raph." Then his foot rolled, triggering a reflex that jerked his abdominal muscles, and he sucked in a sharp breath as he sagged against the wall, his foot, mostly healed by now, placed firmly on the ground and one hand clutched around his stomach. "On second thought, that's probably enough hopping for one day." Rolling his eyes, Raph slung one of Mikey's arms around his neck and helped him to the dinner table.
As they approached, Don shot a scowl at Mikey, just to let him know that he didn't appreciate it when his little brother goofed around and set his healing process back a few days. They'd been building his arm strength back up with conventional rehabilitation exercises like squeezing tennis balls and unconventional ones like katas, but puncture wounds that passed straight through the torso took longer to heal than a cut on the foot or even a bad puncture wound in muscle. They couldn't start building the strength in his abdominal muscles back up until Donatello was sure that something as simple as a crunch wouldn't tear the stitches. In one (or two) more weeks, he'd start removing some of them, but that was only if Mikey didn't injure himself any further by pushing his limits.
The longer Mikey had to stay at home, the longer Don would be stuck on a team with just Leo and Raph. And without Mikey around to ease the tension, those two were about as fun to hang around as rattlesnakes.
Noticing the scowl aimed in his direction, Mikey offered Don an apologetic smile as he gingerly lowered himself into his chair.
"Hey, Mikey," Casey leaned forward in his seat, "what did I tell you about bad words?"
After an exasperated sigh that suggested this was not the first or second or even seventh time he'd been asked this question, Mikey replied, "Don't say them unless I know what they mean."
"Not unless I'm alone."
"Or?" Master Splinter frowned disapprovingly at the lessons Casey Jones was teaching his son.
"Or I'm not with someone who will chase you through the sewers."
Raph huffed. "I told you I was on a run."
"You threatened to slam me across the head with Mikey's skateboard!"
"Big deal." Raph scoffed. "I always threaten people when I go on runs." Exchanging nervous glances, Mike and Don silently acknowledged the truth of the statement. They usually regarded the threats with the same sense of irritated resignation most humans reserved for tone-deaf birds that like to start singing at five in the morning. They were both background noise to a new day and the only thing that could stop either was a sturdy pair of earplugs.
Donnie clapped his hands. "Well, now that everyone's finally here, I'd like you all to try the ice cream I made." After pulling away from the table before anyone protest, and smiling briefly at sound of cheers that followed him, he ran to the freezer, moved Ice Cream Kitty to the left so he could pull out the regular strawberry ice cream he'd created in his lab, then moved Ice Cream Kitty to the right so he could pull out the ice cream with the special recipe he'd created specifically for Casey.
"Well?" Donnie asked, desperately trying not to look at Casey as he inhaled his first five bites. "How is it?"
"It's good, Don." There was a yelp and Leo looked across the table to see Casey had fallen out of his seat. Then he turned back to Donnie to ask him to check on him since he was already standing, except Don was already leaping to his side. And though reaction time wasn't something he was necessarily poor at, something about the grin on his face made Leo suspect he'd been expecting this.
If Leo looked at the ground to see that his genius brother had turned Casey into a newt, he was going to be very cross. It had been a long three weeks and that was really not something he wanted to deal with right now.
So when Donnie looked down at the ground and crowed with triumph, "I did it!" Leo's stomach sank. Then Casey stood up. And his skin from head-to-toe was the exact same shade of sickening pink as cotton candy and bubblegum. If someone had dropped the candy and bubblegum in irradiated waste and then set it on fire.
Casey turned his hands over, looking dumbstruck. "I'm pink."
Cackling, Donnie replied, "That's what you get for treating me like a pet, Casey Jones!" When Casey didn't react beyond checking out his elbow, Donnie's mirth faded. "Hey, you're not actually upset, are you?"
"Casey?" Donnie cringed under the weight of April's withering glare.
Then Casey surprised both of them. "This is amazing!"
Since he'd been bracing himself for a very different reaction, the best Donnie could muster on short notice was, "Huh?" To be fair, the rest of his family had pretty much the exact same thought running through their minds.
"I have pink skin, Donnie." Jumping excitedly, he added, "You know who else had pink skin?" Uh, Kraang? "Nobody! Ah, man, I can't wait to show my sister." And with that, he rushed out of the lair, with Donnie calling sulkily after him, "You're really not supposed to be happy about this. Come back here and be embarrassed."
Raph walked over and slung a comforting arm around him. "Ah, cheer up, Don. You can try and find Casey's sense of shame again next time. But, you know," the air suddenly felt a little colder, "I seem to remember something embarrassing happening to me when we were regular turtles and you laughing your shell off at it." Most of the memories they'd kept of their time without mutagen had been rank with worry and desperation, so Don flitted through them quickly, finding the one of Raph with a cotton ball tied to his head in the space of a second. When Raph saw the way his eyes widened at the memory, he grinned like a shark. "Now seems like a good time for some payback."
"My sons," Master Splinter interrupted, sounding stern, just as Raph was about to lunge at Donnie's head. But if Donnie was expecting help, he wasn't getting any. With a sigh, Splinter simply said, "try not to break anything."
Raph made Donnie walk around with a pillow tied to his head for four hours. Since his wounds still hurt if he laughed too much, Mikey resigned himself after his first giggle fit to simply smiling whenever he saw his pillow-clad brother, something that relieved and angered Donatello. As nice as it was to have one less brother laughing at his expense, Mikey should have been able to laugh if he wanted to. A week ago, he'd worked out the kinks in his synthetic shell and applied it to the cracks in Mikey's carapace. And, just as he'd designed it to, it'd blended in almost seamlessly with the rest of his shell. The only difference was the hardened synthetic shell came out slightly lighter, like a scar.
It was a step. But it still wasn't enough. Unfortunately, he'd promised Leo that he'd give sleeping at night a shot and not try anything mad-scientist-y unless he bounced it off of him first. And something told him Leo wouldn't be as willing to let him experiment with tissue regeneration as he had been to let him work on a harder shell.
So, when Donnie turned in his bed, feeling restless, he decided to do something he hadn't done since he took Mikey off the IV and slipped into his room, the pillow he'd had tied to his head now tucked under his arm.
His little brother was awake when he entered. "Don," he whispered, blinking owlishly in the dark, "what are you doing here?"
"Scoot over, Mikey. There's enough room in that bed for two." Smiling, Mikey edged closer to the wall so Don could slip under the sheets. Almost immediately after, he felt his breathing even, his heart rate slow to a more comfortable pace. He felt his brother shift slightly next to him, then still, so with a quiet grunt of frustration, he reached over for his little brother's hand and squeezed.
They were together.
They were safe.
For the moment, nothing else mattered.
And if they woke up that morning to see two more bodies sleeping on the floor, one lying down in front of the door like he could keep the whole world out and the other with an arm draped protectively over the bed, then that was their little secret.
A/N: And that's the end. Thank you so much for your continued support. Despite this being a Mikey-centric story, I did try to give every character at least one chance to shine, so hopefully that worked out. Hm, first off, I'd like to thank Zelgadis55 for giving me the idea for this epilogue and SilverExorcist405 for reminding me that I actually had to write it. I'd also like to thank moogswriter, Taisi, Gwydion, and Zelgadis55 (yes, again) for being such a huge inspiration while I was writing this.
The music I listened to the most while I was writing this was basically Florence and the Machine (No Light, What The Water Gave Me, Breathe, Shake It Off, Drumming Song), The Light Behind Your Eyes by MCR, In Our Bedroom After The War, Youth by Daughter, I Like It Like That, and The Fall by Imagine Dragons (heh).
On a more story related note, the bait issue is fairly controversial, especially among the fans, and neither Donnie or Leo were really in a position to talk about it clearly. Essentially, I think the difference Leo sees between him using Mikey as bait and Slash using Pigeon Pete as bait is that Leo always makes sure someone is close by in case Mikey is in trouble, he knows it makes Mikey feels like part of the team, even if he complains about it, and, most importantly, he has Mikey's consent. Usually. As far as Leo could tell, Pigeon Pete was being used as bait and he didn't know it. That kind of reasoning is hard to express in the heat of the moment, so it's just better if they have that conversation at another time, when they're both not running on fumes. Plus, if Leo had said anything about how using Mikey as a distraction made him feel needed, Donnie would have exploded. And this is the epilogue now. No exploding allowed, guys. Calm down and eat ice cream.