*Disclaimer: I do not own the rights to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise.
*'That's What Brothers Are For' Summary: Leonardo may have just come out of a coma, but he's not the only turtle still struggling to heal.
*Author's Notes: At long last, I'm back with a new 'Shell Shot' and this one takes place about a week after the episode 'Within the Woods.' I had numerous requests for a story along this line. Apparently, I'm not the only TMNT fan who wanted more closure after the episode 'The Invasion.' I hope you all like what I came up with.
Thanks so much for reading, everyone. I sure do appreciate it.
That's What Brothers Are For
For the third day in a row, the screechy sound of a rooster crowing is trying to pull me out of my slumber way, way too early for my liking. I let out a groan and crack my eyelids open just a sliver, only to be blinded by the sunlight pouring in through the window. Something I never had to worry about back in the sewers.
It makes me realize just how much I miss the lair...
Yanking my covers up over my head, I attempt to go back to sleep. Not that I really need more sleep. After being in a coma for three months, I should be plenty rested. Yet, I feel as though I'm a walking zombie. Well, maybe a crippled zombie would be more accurate. I still can't actually get around without the aid of a crutch.
My eyes drift towards the wooden stick leaned up against the footboard of my bed. Just seeing that dumb crutch makes my chest tighten with dread. I can't help but wonder if my injuries are ever going to fully heal. What good is a ninja who can't –
I stop myself mid-thought before I get too caught up in self-pity, again, reminding myself that I only regained consciousness a little over a week ago.
I can just hear Master Splinter's voice telling me, 'You must be patient, my son.'
The memory of my father causes my breathing to become ragged, like my throat is suddenly closing up on me.
In a matter of a few hours, my brothers and I lost nearly everything. Our home, our city, our father…
Granted, I don't remember a whole lot about what happened. I had been unconscious for the lion's share of it. All because I had been foolish enough to walk straight into a trap and get my shell whacked like a piñata.
A competent leader would've seen that coming…
Okay! Could you possibly be any more negative?
Realizing a change of scenery would do me some good, I grab hold of my crutch and clumsily make my way downstairs. Once on the first floor of the farmhouse, I hobble inside the kitchen, where my senses are instantly greeted by the familiar smell of bacon and eggs wafting in the air. Too bad I'm not the least big hungry. Nauseous, mostly.
"Morningmikey." What should've been two distinct words come out as one, like it's too much effort to pause between the 'g' and the 'm.' My voice doesn't sound right anymore. Not just this morning, but all the time. The irreparable damage done to my vocal cords courtesy of Shredder and his goons left me sounding like a total stranger. Almost as if someone's doing a voice-over whenever I talk. I'm still trying to wrap my head around it.
That's not the only thing I can't seem to wrap my head around…
Feeling somehow heavier than just seconds ago, I settle my weight onto a dining room chair with all the grace of a three-legged hippopotamus. I then turn to see Mikey's bright, blue eyes beaming at me. The smile on his face is far too cheerful considering how early it still is.
I guess some people do mornings better than others.
"Hey, Leo! You're just in time for a little wakey, wakey, eggs 'n' bakey!"
For a moment, Mikey appears to be hurt by my rejection, but his face soon creases with genuine concern. Anyone who's ever met my baby brother knows he's got a heart the size of Jersey. "Stomach still bothering you?"
"Yeah." A look of pity washes over Mikey's features; the same sympathetic expression everyone gives me when we talk about how I'm doing. It's embarrassing. Seriously embarrassing! I don't want them to feel sorry for me. Like I don't feel bad enough as it is.
Now would probably be a good time to switch the subject…
"So, where is everyone?"
After doing a quick once-over of the kitchen, Mikey appears to be convinced that we are, in fact, the only ones here.
"April headed to town to get a few supplies. Raph and Casey are still sleeping."
"Really? They can sleep over all the racket that rooster keeps making?"
"You mean Miss Squawksy?"
Hearing Mikey refer to the rooster as a 'Miss' has me a bit puzzled. I guess my baby brother must not have mentioned the name around Donnie yet, because there's no doubt in my mind our genius brother would've set the record straight about the gender of roosters. We're all painfully aware that Donnie can't resist being accurate. Surely, he wouldn't have simply let something like that just slide.
Speaking of my genius brother…
I swear Mikey's skin turns three shades lighter at this question and he quickly shifts his gaze onto the bacon, sizzling and popping in the pan.
The reaction seems a little strange, even for Mikey.
Why does he look so guilty all of a sudden?
"He's out in the barn."
This answer makes my blood pressure instantly spike and I narrow my eyes to show my obvious disapproval.
"Already? He's spent the past three days out there!"
Flinching at the edge in my tone, Mikey hangs his head down and continues to stare at the pan with a dark expression. An expression that just doesn't look right on my baby brother's face. Mikey's supposed to be the happy-go-lucky one, but he looks anything but happy.
"Wait! What time did he come in last night?"
The lack of response that follows can only lead me to one unnerving conclusion.
"Did he come in last night?"
Mikey lets out a dejected sigh and starts to shake his head; a gentle motion that's nearly imperceptible. I'm not sure if the gesture is meant to be an answer or if he's just upset by my line of questioning. Then, there's his posture: slouched and full of defeat. His entire body appears to be sagging towards the floor, almost as though he's slowly melting.
Something is clearly wrong, and based on my kid brother's dejected reaction, that something has been wrong for a very long time now.
Something to do with Donnie…
I've noticed it, too.
Even before we left the city.
When I first came out of my coma, Donnie had seemed thrilled to see me, but now, it's like he goes out of his way to avoid me. It's gotten far worse since I stopped taking the elixir he made for me.
That awful elixir!
Just the thought of it makes my toes curl. It was like a rancid blend of turpentine and motor oil. I can still taste it, as if the disgusting flavor is forever burned into my mouth. That's probably part of the reason why I haven't had much of an appetite lately.
I know Donnie was only trying to help, but in all honesty, I wouldn't have given that putrid concoction to my most hated enemy.
Still, I have to wonder, if that elixir has something to do with Donnie now shutting me out.
Or is it something more?
My mind travels back to the last conversation Donnie and I had before the Kraang attacked us.
Just before I went out and got my shell waxed…
"Left! That'll lead us to the Turtle Mech!"
"No! We gotta find Raph and Casey first!"
"We can find them in the Mech!"
"It's too slow!"
"You're the one who's too slow! You're leading us into disaster!"
"I'm doing what Master Splinter would want us to do!"
It wasn't our finest hour, that's for sure…
I remember seeing the anger glowing in Donnie's eyes as he confronted me and basically called me out for being a lousy leader. Even now, the words still sting. I expect that kind of disrespectful behavior from Raphael, but Donnie? I have no idea what had gotten into my genius brother.
Well, whatever's going on with him, I intend to find out.
Pushing myself up out of my chair, I start towards the door, but I get all of two feet before doubling over in pain. My knee feels as though someone just drove a dull blade through it.
To add insult to injury, Mikey is immediately at my side, offering me my crutch and, of course, his sympathy.
"You okay, bro?"
"Fantastic." Nearly choking on my pride, I seize the wooden crutch and heavily lean my right side into it. Once I straighten myself into a mostly upright position, Mikey backs away a bit, but still stays within arm's reach, like he's readying to catch me if I fall.
Nice vote of confidence…
"Maybe you should just take it easy, Leo."
They're treating me like I'm made of glass.
But then again, I'm not exactly giving them a reason to think otherwise…
"I'll be fine. I'm just going out to check on Donnie. I'm sure I can handle it." My response comes out a little colder than I'd meant it to, making me instantly feel bad.
Seeing the hurt look on my baby brother's face only adds to my guilty conscience, but upon closer inspection, I'm not so sure the look is because of me. He's staring off in the general direction of the barn, like I'm suddenly a million miles away. The fact that he seems to have completely forgotten about his breakfast still sizzling away in the pan makes my already queasy stomach churn with worry.
It's not like my youngest brother to lose focus when it comes to anything having to do with food. Everything else, yes. But never food.
My brother's eyes don't move from the spot they're zeroed in on and I'm starting to wonder if even heard me when he breathes out, "Take it easy on him, okay? He's been through a lot."
This comment throws me for a bit of a loop.
"We all have, Mikey."
Finally, my brother's gaze turns to meet mine, but only for a moment before his gloomy stare trails down to his feet. He then starts to fidget and twist one of his big toes against a separated seam in the hardwood floor, telling me that he's nervous about something.
"Yeah, I know. But Donnie – " Mikey pauses to look back up at me with eyes that seem impossibly wide. Several long-drawn-out seconds of silence pass. It's clear my most talkative brother is struggling to find the right words. "Well, things have been rough. Just don't hurt him."
The insinuation that I'm going to hurt our genius brother instantly rubs me the wrong way, but I understand why Mikey would say this.
He was standing right there when Donnie and I had argued, forced to listen to the whole bitter exchange between us. I remember the sadness that had been written all over Mikey's face; the same sad look he's giving me right now.
"I never meant to. I was only trying to do what I thought was best for our family, Mikey."
"So was he." My baby brother turns and trudges back over to the stove, evidently done with the conversation.
Not wanting to upset Mikey any further, I swallow my reply and limp towards the back door of the farmhouse, leaving my youngest brother to his breakfast and his thoughts.
Once outside, I head straight for the barn at what would best be described as a snail's pace.
Maneuvering on hard surfaces with this crutch is one thing, but maneuvering on soft, uneven ground is quite another.
I'm just glad Casey and Raph aren't awake to witness my complete lack of coordination.
At long last, I reach the barn doors, which, as turtle luck would have it, are closed up tight. Fortunately, I'm able to pull the doors open just wide enough to slip inside without drawing too much attention.
In fact, I don't draw any attention at all.
Donnie doesn't even budge as I close the doors behind me and begin gimping towards him. His shell is turned to me, so I can't actually see his face, but I can tell just by the way he's sitting at his worktable that something's off. For starters, he's not doing anything. There's no scientific equipment set up on the table, nor is he busy conducting his usual experiments. There are no schematics, notes, or journals splayed out for research purposes. There are no tools or strange gadgets to fiddle around with. There's nothing, other than a couple of forgotten books off to his right.
He's just sitting there, as though frozen.
A slight tense of his shoulders lets me know my brother heard me, but he doesn't make any motion to turn towards me as he speaks. "Hey, Leo. How are you feeling this morning?" His voice sounds almost mechanical, like he prerecorded his response and just pushed play.
"I'm good. How about you?"
"I'm fine. Thanks for asking."
Small talk is generally a bit awkward, but this is just plain excruciating. I decide to cut right to the chase. "So, what time did you get in last night?" Yes, I know it's a loaded question, but a necessary one if I'm going to get to the bottom of this.
There's another tense of his shoulders followed by a long pause. I don't know if he's trying to come up with an elaborate excuse or if he simply fell asleep from exhaustion.
Finally, he answers, but it still doesn't sound right. His voice is muffled by his hands that he's now dragging up and down his face. "I'm not sure. I think I may have passed out at my workbench. That would explain the unpleasant kink in my neck. No rest for the wicked, right? Heh heh." Somehow, even Donnie's laugh holds no trace of happiness.
How can a laugh be depressing?
This is ridiculous!
I'm about to start chewing him out for pulling another one of his all-nighters when he casts a gaze to his left and I catch a glimpse of his eyes. They're glazed-over and dull, and not just from lack of sleep. There's a battle going on within them; a storm my brother doesn't look to be weathering all that well.
"What's wrong, Donnie?"
The question makes my younger brother shudder and I hear a sharp intake of breath, not unlike a gasp, before he stammers out his slightly panicked response.
"N – Nothing. I'm fine. Just – Just a little tired is all."
It's almost the exact same bogus answer I keep giving everyone when they ask me how I'm doing. Had it come from anyone other than my genius brother, I might be more apt to believe it was true, but my instincts are telling me that Donnie's lying. Maybe that's because, nine times out of ten, when Donnie says he's fine, he's not.
The slouched posture, the restless eyes, the long face, the sleepless nights – I know my brother well enough to recognize all the telltale signs that he's upset about something. The problem is, I'm not always the best about dealing with it.
Case in point…
"Yeah, right. Fine. That's why you're avoiding everyone like the plague." I place my free hand on my hip while my other hand clings to my crutch with a white-knuckle grip. Not that it really matters where my hands are. Donnie doesn't bother to look back anyway. He's too busy staring at the wall, again.
"I'm not avoiding everyone. I've just got a lot of work to do."
This is load of worms and algae and he knows it.
"You're sitting at an empty table doing nothing." I hate overstating the obvious, but it's not like Donnie wouldn't have pointed it out if the shoe were on the other foot. "What's going on with you, Donnie? Ever since I woke up, you've barely come out of the barn, and when you do, you just mope around the farmhouse."
"Nothing's going on."
Instead of elaborating any further, Donnie just sinks down deeper into his chair and continues to stare straight ahead. I can see that his hands are shaking, but I'm not exactly sure why. Maybe that's because he's being so darn stubborn and won't tell me what's wrong.
Little brothers can be incredibly frustrating sometimes.
Oh, who am I kidding?
They're frustrating most of the time…
"Just tell me what's bothering you! And don't say it's nothing. We both know that's not true."
I watch on in silence as Donnie's hands ball into fists and hear a snort of disgust sound out. It's a sure indication he's about to snap. Donatello may not be as temperamental as my hotheaded brother, Raph, but he definitely has his share of explosive moments. "Stop assuming things, Leo! I said I was fine!"
See what I mean?
The extra emphasis put on each syllable of my nickname makes me roll my eyes.
Donnie can be so dramatic.
But then, just as soon as his flash of anger came on, I can see it start to fade into submission. His defenses are down, suddenly making him seem vulnerable. He glances to the side once more and it hurts to see the remorse darkening his features. Even harder to see are the tears pooling in his eyes.
Mikey's words from just a little while ago echo inside my brain…
"Take it easy on him, okay? He's been through a lot."
The problem is, I'm the one turtle who doesn't have a clue what Donnie's 'been through,' having been in a coma the past three months. And it's not like my brainy brother's going to voluntarily fill me in on the details any time soon.
It's funny how you can't get Donnie to shut up about some things, but other times, getting him to talk is more painful than pulling teeth.
Not that I go around pulling teeth on a regular basis…
That'd be more up Raph's alley.
Now, I'm faced with the dilemma of getting my most introverted brother to open up when he clearly doesn't want to.
Good luck with that, right?
My odds would probably be better going up against the entire Kraang elite. At least then, I could use my ninja skills and trusty katanas. Against Donnie, I'm totally unarmed and way out of my element. I feel pretty much defenseless here. Of course, it doesn't help that my confidence is already at an all-time low.
Maybe this isn't the best time talk to Donnie about what's bothering him. He needs someone strong and that's the last thing I'm feeling right now.
I'm about to turn to leave when I notice just how tired Donnie looks; his eyelids lowered at half-mast as he wearily gazes down at the table. I wonder how many sleepless nights he's suffered through since the Kraang invasion. How many nights he was out here, at this very same table, desperately working on that elixir he made for me. Just like he spent all those sleepless nights working to create a retro-mutagen.
That's Donnie for you.
Always trying to fix things or make things better.
But, in this case, he wasn't able to make things better, or more specifically, make me better.
Maybe that's why he's so upset?
"This is all because of that elixir not working, isn't it? That's what's bothering you, right?"
"No! I don't want to talk about it, Leo. Please, just go back to the farmhouse."
Classic Donnie, trying to push everyone away when there's clearly something he needs to get off his plastron.
Well, he's not the only stubborn turtle in this barn.
"Not until you tell me what's wrong!"
"I told you nothing's wrong! Just leave me alone!" Donnie slams his hands down on the table and I can see his whole body start to shake. Whether it's strictly from anger, I can't be certain. I don't think it is.
"I'm not going anywhere, Donatello, so you might as well talk to me."
"Please, Leo. Just go!" The anguish in his voice makes my insides cringe. Then, he hoarsely adds, "It's safer for you – for all of you – if I just stay out here in the barn… away from everyone."
"Why on Earth would you think that?"
"Because, all I ever do is hurt you."
This instantly makes the light bulb flicker on inside my head.
Why didn't I see it sooner?
"Listen, Donnie, I can imagine how you must have felt after the Kraang invasion."
Every muscle in my brother's body goes rigid at this comment.
"No! You can't! You have no idea what it felt like!"
Finally, Donnie turns towards me, but the sight of him is enough to nearly make me gasp. His eyes are blood shot and his cheeks are stained with tears that had fallen long before I'd gotten out here. I've never seen him look so tragic. Not even when April told us she never wanted to see us again. I find myself at a rare loss for words as I watch a single teardrop slowly roll down Donnie's face.
"You almost died, Leo! You almost died and it would've been all my fault! If I would've just listened to you – "
I suddenly realize just what Mikey had meant…
"Take it easy on him, okay? He's been through a lot."
All this time, Donnie has held himself responsible for what happened to me.
"Things have been rough. Just don't hurt him."
No wonder he's so miserable. That's too much of a burden for anyone to carry on their own.
"Donnie, you can't blame yourself for what happened."
"Why not? If we would've just left the city like you said… I shouldn't have argued with you, Leo. I'm the reason Shredder and his goons just about killed you. Then, I made you violently ill with that stupid elixir, and to top it all off, that same elixir nearly killed Raph! I mess everything up. You shouldn't be out here with me. I'm a hazard to everyone I care about."
"That isn't true, Donnie! You saved Raph's life! If it weren't for you – "
Donnie cuts me off with a screechy howl. "If it weren't for me, Raph would've never been turned into a plant in the first place! Face it, Leo! I'm a constant threat to this family."
I wanted the truth from my brother, but now that it's out in the open, I'm not sure what to say.
Then, I'm struck by another memory of my conversation with Mikey prior to coming out here…
"Just don't hurt him."
"I was only trying to do what I thought was best for our family, Mikey."
"So was he."
It suddenly occurs to me just how much my genius brother and I are alike. Far more than either of us probably care to admit…
"You've done absolutely nothing wrong, Donatello. Yes, we may have argued, but only because we were both trying to do the same thing: protect our family. We just wanted to keep them safe, but had differing ideas on how to do so. That doesn't make either of us wrong. It just means we want to watch over the ones we love."
"But if we would've just left the city – "
Now, it's my turn to cut my brother off before he can finish. "I made the choice to separate, Donnie, not you. If I would've just stayed with you guys, I wouldn't have waltzed right into an obvious trap. That's all on me. You need to stop taking the blame for what happened. This wasn't your fault, Donnie!" I place a hand on his shoulder and give it a firm squeeze as tears start to pool in his eyes once again.
"And for the record, you're not a threat, little brother. More like a miracle worker. Just look at all things you've done for us and the incredible inventions you've created out of nothing but scrap parts. You think Mikey, Raph, or I are capable of doing even half the stuff you do?"
A flush of red paints Donnie's cheeks as a small smile twists at his mouth. This makes it impossible for me not to smile while I say, "Yeah, you're just grinning 'cause you know I'm right."
My brother chuckles softly in response to my comment. It's a happy sound that instantly lifts both our spirits, and for the first time since waking up, I laugh back, loud and genuine, but not for long. Without so much as a warning, Donnie leaps up out of his chair and throws his arms around me.
Thanks to my bum leg, I almost lose my balance and stumble backwards a few steps, but I soon eagerly return the embrace. It's been a while since Donnie and I hugged it out, so I just want to enjoy the moment while it lasts.
"I'm sorry for everything, Leo. I was so worried you'd never wake up. I don't know what I would've done if we would've lost you." Although the words are mumbled into my chest, I have no trouble hearing them and they make my heart soar. I know exactly how Donatello feels. I would die if anything happened to any of my brothers. I love them more than life itself.
For fear of losing my legendary composure, I opt to hide behind my sense of humor. A side of me that hasn't reared its head for quite some time now.
"You're a genius. I'm sure you would've figured something out."
No sooner does the snarky comment pass my lips when Donnie releases his hold on me so he can presumably look me dead in the eyes. His expression is the definition of seriousness as he speaks. "I'm not kidding around, Leo. The three months you were in that coma were the worst three months of my life."
"Even worse than when Mikey decided he was going to be a professional rock star?" Again, I'm hiding behind my sense of humor, but this time, Donnie doesn't seem to mind.
"That's debatable. The image of him squeezed into that tiny spandex outfit while wearing that filthy wig he found in the dumpster still haunts my nightmares."
"Ehhh! Don't remind me. And what about his extended version of 'Bohemian Rhapsody?'"
"Holy mother of mutation! That six-minute guitar solo he threw in there was sheer torture. He can't play to save his life."
The sound of laughter fills the air once more and I see that glimmer of light in Donnie's eyes that has been missing for far too long now. Up until this very moment, I didn't realize just how much I needed to see that light again. It makes the dark cloud that seemed to be hovering over me start to disappear and I suddenly feel better than I have since I woke up.
I can tell my brother's feeling much better, too, when he squeaks out the words, "Thanks, Leo."
My composure falters, but only a little, as I gently remind him, "Hey, that's what brothers are for."
*Additional Author's Notes: I truly needed this bro-ment between Leo and Donnie. This one-shot wound up quite a bit longer than I originally intended, but I didn't think any of you would mind. Thanks to everyone who requested a one-shot that takes place after 'The Invasion.' I really appreciate it. (•ᴗ•)
I'm keeping my fingers crossed that this story inspires some Rock Star Mikey fanart. That would be super sweet! XD
As always, please take a moment to favorite, follow, like, reblog, review and/or comment on 'TMNT Shell Shots' if you're still enjoying these short stories and want to see more. I absolutely love the feedback. Thank you very, very much for reading. ;) CJ