The other day, Donatello had spent a long time talking to himself in his lab. Longer than usual, at least. The words had been muffled by his locked door, coming through low and indistinct, but Mikey had a feeling Metalhead would know what Donnie was up to. He also knew Metalhead was programmed to reveal Donnie's secrets over his genius brother's dead body, so…
"Waaah!" Mikey wailed as he rushed into the lab, heading straight for Donnie's desk so he could collapse and sob dramatically in full view of the pint-sized robot.
"Michelangelo," came the synthesized voice, with what actually sounded like genuine concern, though Mikey brushed it off as his imagination playing tricks on him, "what is the matter? Did something happen?"
Not stopping the water works for a second, Mikey blubbered, "Donnie died! It was awful, he-" He blanked on the exact manner of death. Saying Donnie had drowned or been killed off by the Foot seemed kind of morbid for what really amounted to a harmless prank. "It doesn't matter how he died. But, uh, if he left a will or a diary entry or - Hey! - a love letter, now would be a really good time to show me, don't you think?"
The robot whirred as its processors considered that. The sound grinded to a sudden halt as it turned to face the doorway. "Hello, Donatello."
"Mikey," Donnie growled from the doorway, with a pulsing vein on the side of his head that looked about three seconds away from bursting, "how many times have I told you to stop trying to convince Metalhead I'm dead?"
"Um… This is the first time, D."
He paused, considering that. "I SHOULDN'T HAVE TO TELL YOU!"
"Donatello is here."
Gritting his teeth, Mikey glowered down at the green lights blinking up at him from the shiny metal face, and briefly considered kicking it again. It'd only hurt him, but it wasn't the thought of stinging, throbbing toes that froze him. Metalhead was one of the last true pieces of Donnie he had left.
"No," he says shortly, quietly, because he's arguing with a robot and it's embarrassing. "He's not."
They'd been out on patrol together when Mikey noticed the air smelled like smoke. Sure enough, a building was blazing like a torch in the distance, glowing orange under the night sky. He'd wanted to check it out right away, but Donnie insisted they wait. There were a lot of people outside the building, and the firemen were already on the scene.
It was such a cliché, really. Everything was fine until one of the women started screaming that her baby was still in the building. She pointed up to the third floor, and Donnie rushed in, crashing through the window with his arms shielding his face and Mikey right behind him.
That was what Mikey loved about his genius brother. Sure, his big brain was vital to the team and it proved useful every day, but when it came down to a choice between doing what was smart and doing what was right, Donnie never even hesitated.
"Careful, Mikey! The structure's unstable. I'm not sure how long we have before this building collapses, but we have to get out of here fast." He pulled his mask from his forehead, pressing it against his mouth like a makeshift filter. "Stay close to me."
He kept the lead, checking for any weakening sections of the floor as they made their way through the hallway. The masks helped, but only a little. It still felt like they were trying to breath freshly boiled coffee as the hot air scalded their throats on the way down. While Donnie had to divide his attention between the floor and their search, Mikey focused on listening for the sound of crying. If the baby was awake, and he really hoped it was, it'd be crying.
Around the turtles, flames began to crack and snap, spreading over the ceiling as though it were covered in petrol. Being around them was like getting the world's worst sunburn.
"Baby! Baby, where are you?!" Mikey coughed, tears streaming from his eyes. He squinted, trying to keep his brother in sight as the sounds of burning grew to a roar. If the baby wasn't crying, then it was probably choking. And that was if it wasn't already too late.
Screaming in frustration, the two started kicking down the doors, no longer caring about upsetting the building's structure.
On the third try, they darted into an apartment with toys scattered across the floor. A Sippy cup covered in sparkly purple unicorns sat on the countertop, next to the sink, and a stack of what appeared to be plastic rainbow donuts could be spotted by the television.
By this point, everything was taking on a glossy sheen, wooden chairs and tables bubbling and blackening as their finish succumbed to the heat.
The brothers ran straight for where they guessed the bedrooms were and yanked open the furthest door based on a hunch to hear a strangled cry emanating from a crib standing next to an unmade full-sized bed. Mikey scooped the baby into his arms. "Hey, it's okay, baby," he cooed. Half-lidded brown eyes in a soot covered face slowly blinked up at him, letting him know she – long lashes, chubby cheeks, and a pink onesie suggested the baby was most likely a girl - was awake. "We're gonna take you back to your mommy."
A groaning, cracking noise coming from the ceiling sucked the relief from their lungs. They had to leave. They were on the third floor. Those two realities did not mix well. "Alright, what's the plan? How we getting out of here, Don?"
Donatello swung his head around frantically, attempting to find the fastest way out that resulted in the least amount of injury. "I think I saw a fire escape on our way in."
"That's across the hall! We don't have time!"
"And we're losing more of it standing here arguing. So unless you want to try jumping out a window with a baby in your arms, I suggest we get moving."
Scowling, Mikey clutched the bundle in his arms close to his plastron and ran out of the room with Donatello taking the rear. The fire was worse in the hallway now, the floor hot enough to sting the pads of their feet. Years of walking around barefoot gave them a benefit humans wouldn't have, though, and the scales definitely helped.
All the while, Donnie urged him to go faster, his voice shrill and urgent. And Mikey wanted to tell him off for telling him something he already knew, but he needed to save his breath. Also, he admitted to himself, it wasn't like Donnie was wrong. They leapt over a fall cabinet, tucking their legs in, and even in the roar they could hear their own harsh, raspy breaths. Black spots were creeping into their vision from the smoke inhalation when Don shouted, "Turn left!"
Simultaneously, there was a crack and Michelangelo spun around, turning his back on the open window he could see through the doorway to his left. "Donnie!" In the place where his brother had last been standing was a pile of burning beams and a thousand thoughts ran through Mikey's head, each one a variation of the same denial. Because that wasn't possible. They were getting out together, just like always. "Donnie?" he repeated as he approached. It sounded so small he wondered if his brother could even hear him. In his arms, the baby was making weak kitten sounds, wheezing, but Michelangelo couldn't think about that right now, because thinking about it means he might have to make a choice between saving the child and saving his brother.
Who was more important?
They were both important.
Shouting for his brother to move, to say something, he shifted the bundle he was carrying to one arm and began furiously tossing the burning wood in haphazard directions. As long as it wasn't on Donnie, what did it matter where it went?
Something moved under the beams. One toss later and Mike could see his genius brother blinking up at him, looking groggy and disoriented and alive.
Not content to let them have this moment, the entire building moaned like it was cranky or tired or like it was going fall down and crush them. "Come on, Don, time to go." He latched onto his brother's shoulder and pulled, heaving, while Donatello freed his arms so he could shove some of the beams off his legs. Nothing budged. Another flaming piece of the ceiling came down, taking some of the floor with it on its way down.
Finally, Donnie let his arms fall to his sides. "Mikey, you have to go." He sounded calm, not relaxed but not angry or scared. He was scared, though. Mikey knew him, knew Donnie had done some sort of calculation in his head, knew he'd decided the risk of him staying to help was too great, but Mikey didn't care about any of that. He just wanted to save him.
"I'm not leaving!"
Immediately after those words left his mouth, he realized how quiet the baby was. How long had it been since she'd last coughed? Eyes going wide with horror, he glanced down to see the baby appeared to be sleeping.
Sensing something was wrong, Donnie yelled, "If you don't leave, all three of us are going to die! Is that what you want?!" At this point, he'd say anything to get Mikey to leave.
Once more, Mikey hesitated, then nodded hard and sharp with resolve. "I'm coming back for you, D."
As he hurried away, Donatello watched his back for as long as he could manage. "I know."
Then Mikey was vaulting one-handed over the windowsill, sliding down the rusted railing of the fire escape until he found his feet pounding on the ground as he rushed towards the paramedics. "I have a baby!" He screamed, throwing his own safety and wellbeing to the wind because there was no time to come up with a way to secretly hand over the baby and throwing her like a football wasn't an option. "She's not breathing!"
Behind him, the building rumbled, black clouds spewing from its windows and roof, and then a crack so loud it shook the ground emanated from its wall as the entire structure came crashing down in an explosion of ash and rolling dust.
He didn't notice when the baby was taken from him. He didn't answer any questions. He stayed still, oblivious to the gawking civilians, oblivious to the paramedics that tried to check him over. They tried to move him but he was rigid, silent, still.
Words like 'shock' and 'unresponsive' and 'mutant' were spoken, but most of the attention rested with the baby. They cleared her airway, pumped air into her small lungs, and just when Michelangelo thought the despair holding his body hostage would never let him go, a whimper drilled its way into his ear canal, followed by the sound of weeping, the sight of a woman climbing into an ambulance with a watery smile splitting her cheeks and fast tears carving clean trails through the soot coating her skin.
By the time the paramedics had turned their attention back to him, he was nowhere to be found.
That was three days ago. Raph and Leo were still searching for his remains in the rubble.
He'd wanted to go. Well, not really, but he'd said he had. Being around them felt weird, because rationally he knew they didn't think he'd left Donatello to die, rationally he knew there was nothing he could have done, but he wasn't Donnie, and knowing what was rational didn't stop him from studying his brothers in quick, hidden glances, and wondering...
It wasn't his fault.
There wasn't anything he could have done.
So why did it feel like it was and he could have?
Had their positions been reversed, Donnie would have thought of a way to save him. If he hadn't gotten all ticked and stormed ahead, maybe he wouldn't be talking to a robot for company.
"Donnie is here." If he has to hear that one more time…
A screen flashed on Metalhead's chest plate. The picture was fuzzy at first, as though the screen was warming up, then it cleared and Mikey had to bite back a cry. Purple mask, brown eyes, green skin, and a gap in his front teeth. For an instant, Donatello was alive again.
Then he smiled. "Hey, guys! If you're seeing this, something must have happened to me. Whatever it was, I'm sure it wasn't your fault. Just like I'm sure you're blaming yourselves, anyway. That's why I made this video, so I could tell you to cut it out. Blaming yourselves isn't going to bring me back and it's not what I want. And since I'm dead, you have to respect my wishes." The video was obviously meant for all of them. As he settled in to watch, Mikey briefly considered pausing it. The video kept playing uninterrupted. "Leo, you did your best, bro. I know you. I know you did everything to save me. Raph… Well, even if I tell you not to lose your cool, you're not going to listen, so make sure you dish out some payback for me. And Mikey," Mikey sucked in a breath at the fondness his brother was regarding the camera with, "thank you. Being so smart… it's not the greatest all the time, you know? It's hard to get into the Christmas spirit when you know Santa's sleigh would have to fly at 3,000 times the speed of sounds to reach all the children in the world in one night, and that's once you get past the improbability of flying reindeer, but it's even harder not to when your little brother never shuts up about it." A laugh. "Thank you for all those times you dragged me out of the lab to play video games or eat pizza. Thanks for always having faith in me." He paused, scratching his cheek as though he were suddenly nervous. "I hope," he swallowed, "I hope this doesn't change that. I guess what I'm trying to say is… I did my best, too."
And that was enough. Mikey pressed the rewind button so his brothers wouldn't find out he'd seen part of the video without them.
It was cold in Donnie's lab. He'd never noticed before how cold it was until his body started to shake and wounded animal noises started scraping at his throat, echoing endlessly in the empty space around him, echoing long after he quieted, long after he noticed a comforting metal hand patting his shoulders.
"I'm sorry I thought about kicking you," he croaked when he was done.
"Donatello is here."
"I know. Thanks, bud."
His brother's favorite turtle-shaped robot tilted its head just as the doorbell rang, the dumb tune Mikey had picked out reaching them through the closed doors and violently breaking the lair's three-day silence streak. At the sound, Mikey tasted bile. The last thing he wanted was to open the door. He didn't want to see April or Casey or Master Splinter or Raph or Leo. He didn't want to see anyone standing outside that door except the one person it couldn't be.
Groaning, he stumbled to his feet and trudged out, anyway. Because everyone was grieving, even if sometimes it felt like he was only one, and he couldn't very well shut out the world when it knocked on his door and asked to come in.
Without thinking, he inputted the password into the keypad - another piece of technology Donnie had crafted himself out of scrap to protect them. The door retracted into the hollow they'd carved out of the wall, revealing nothing but empty space where Mikey had at least expected someone to be standing. Out of the corner of his eye, he spotted a green foot splayed out on the ground. He circled around, curious, hoping. Sitting on the ground, charred, bruised, but otherwise okay, was Donatello.
Exhausted, Donnie worked up a grin for his slack jawed little brother. "Hey, Mikey."
And Mikey leapt into his arms, holding him like he was never going to let him go. "I thought we lost you, D. We all did. Raph and Leo are looking for you right now." He tried to pull away, "We have to call them. We have to let them know you're alright."
A frown edged itself between them even as Donatello's grip tightened to an almost painful degree. "They're looking for me? Why aren't you?" Something was burning. "Why didn't you come back, Michelangelo?"
Mikey stiffened, heart hammering in his chest. "I thought you were dead, Donnie. There were humans, everywhere." Flesh peeled under his grasping fingers, turning crisp and flaking off, giving way to slippery, wet bone.
Metalhead peeked out of the lair. "That is not Donatello."
A chill ran down Mikey's spine. He closed his eyes. "Look at me, Michelangelo," said the thing that looked like his brother.
"Mikey? You don't want to see me?" Growing angry, he snarled, "You let me die and now you won't even look at me? Mikey!"
And he knew he shouldn't look, shouldn't listen, because it wasn't Donatello, it wasn't his brother, but there was something so heartbreakingly hurt in his voice and Mikey felt his resolve give. There was a sting in his shoulder that barely registered, and then he lifted his head to see his brother's face.
He woke up screaming.
Ever since he'd been sprayed with the mushroom's spores, Michelangelo hadn't stopped mumbling his name. Maybe that was the reason Donnie made sure he was within hearing distance at all times, so that when his little brother begged for his forgiveness, he could tell him it wasn't his fault, that he hadn't done anything wrong, and hoped it got through to him in some way. Manifested itself as part of his hallucination.
Unlike before, it took three days to find the necessary ingredients and equipment necessary to synthesize the antidote. When it was done, Donnie was so giddy with relief he nearly dropped it. He glanced at his little brother on the gurney, taking note of how much stress he seemed to be under. Lines caused by the strain of what Donatello could only guess to be an endless stream of nightmares ran in grooves across his furrowed brow and curved around the downturned corners of his mouth. They could only hope this latest dose would fade like the first. It was too frightening to laugh about, the spores must have been concentrated this time, stronger, but maybe the memory of this would quickly be buried under newer, better ones.
Except Mikey didn't wake up, rub his eyes, and shrug it off.
He brought the nightmare with him.
"Mikey! It's okay. Stop fighting. You're safe. It was the fungus. It wasn't real!" His little brother continued to struggle in his arms, wild and frightened, with blank irises and constant, pleading apologies. "Mikey, please… it wasn't me."