Summary: When one of turtles sinks deep into the grip of a deadly illness, there's only one person who can bring him out of it and tell him it's not worth it: The only brother who's been there himself. One-shot. First TMNT fic.
He probably diagnosed himself, which explains the pills. But even I noticed the symptoms. I can't really say if Mikey and Leo have figured it out yet, but they seem oblivious to it. I guess I really began noticing it a year ago. He became more reclusive, speaking little, and locking himself in his room with his precious research and inventions, working into the long hours of the night and sleeping much of the day. He only submerged from his sanctuary when necessary, for training, patrol, or pizza, and when surrounded by his family, he seemed amiable enough, cracking a joke or two and laughing. But the laugh was hollow. It was a laugh I recognized all too easily, for it was one I had once emitted myself.
Those days are buried in my past now, but it was easy for me to catch on to why he wanted to be alone so much. But unlike me, he seemed to have no reason for it. Nothing traumatic set this off, he had been perfectly happy with his life before all this started, and I couldn't figure out what had changed in him to make him feel so lost. His withdrawal was totally unexpected and unfounded and for the life of me, I couldn't figure out what the hell was wrong with him. And asking would do no good. Talking to Mikey and Leo wouldn't do much more good. And although I respected his wisdom, what good could Splinter really do about this hurricane that was ripping Donatello up inside? No one would get him to speak, at least not until he was ready to, which may be never.
I had gotten over my rough patch without anyone's help. I did it almost as if it were a fad to try and discard when it was unpopular anymore. But depression is no game. It may have been to me, but to Don, it was much, much more than that. And I could tell. I could see the scars in his eyes night-long internal battles had left on his soul.
I joined Mikey on the couch early one Saturday morning. He was channel surfing with his feet up, eating a slice of cold pizza for breakfast.
"Dude, do you remember when it was worth it to get up early to watch Saturday morning cartoons?" Mikey asked, wrinkling his nose at some corny new kids show.
"Kids today," I muttered. "Watchin' things like that crazy show with three stupid kids with the same name or the one about a talking sponge. They'll all grow up to be idiots."
"Yeah, what ever happened to things like Johnny Quest or Captain Planet or the Smurfs. You know, the educational cartoons."
"I never knew there was such thing, Mikey," I said, looking at him with a lopsided grin. "You learned stuff from the Smurfs? No wonder you're thickheaded."
"And Johnny Quest, man," said Mikey, totally missing my point. "Don't forget him, man. That Dr. Quest came up with some really cool science stuff, dude."
"Right, right," I said. It was too early to argue with him.
Mikey shook his head, nostalgically. "Yeah, dude, cartoons in the day really made you think. Not like this mindless crap."
"Hey, uh, is Don up yet?" I asked, as much to change the subject as anything else.
"Nope," Mikey chirped, strangely riveted by one of the cartoons he'd previously been dissing. "That guy's up all night though, workin on some new machine or other..." he trailed off and I saw the drool begin to collect in the corner of his mouth.
Mikey now lost to us in the world of mindless oblivion, I decided to pester Leonardo, who was definitely awake meditating with Splinter, as he did every morning.
However, standing in the doorway and seeing Leo serenely sitting cross-legged next to Sensei made me hesitate. True, I did have a persistent urge to lean into Leo's face and tell Houston there was a problem, but I wasn't entirely in the mood to bear the wrath of our Fearless Leader. Besides, I'd just be acting like Michelangelo anyway, and Leo would say so. Who wants to be accused of that?
As I debated what to do to entertain myself before my brothers awake from all their different forms of sleep, I realized I was going to have to awaken Splinter.
Holding up a finger, I opened my mouth to interrupt politely.
"Yes, Rafael?" I tried to hide my surprise as I realized the rat was looking at me through one open eye. It was then that I understood that I'd been standing in that doorway for nearly ten minutes now. Splinter must have heard me. Or somehow sensed me through his meditation. Leonardo, on the other hand, seemed deep in concentration, and I was glad of it. I didn't want to have to deal with strange questions.
"Er, when you're uh, not meditating, Sensei, I'd like to talk to you. About something pretty serious."
"You wanna talk about serious things? This is a new development."
I tried to contain my fury at Leonardo's voice. Looking over and gritting my teeth, I forced a smile at his single opened eye.
"Leo," I said, with obvious forced politeness. "I didn't realize you were awake from your coma."
"What is it, Raphael?" Splinter said calmly, apparently to distract my annoyance at my brother. I took a deep breath and glanced at Leo's eyes, now both open and scrutinizing.
"Uh, well, it's kinda a sensitive subject," I said, watching Leo pointedly and biting my lip. "You know, like, uh... personal matters, that's it."
"He's probably having another unresolved inner conflict with his psyche," Leonardo said, jokingly, smiling at me sarcastically. "You know, the usual."
It was all I could do not to retaliate at this joke. I closed my eyes praying for patience. I realized I'd have to divulge more information to satisfy Leo's curiosity.
"It's not about me," I said, my eyes still closed. When I opened them, I noticed Leo's countenance had about faced on me. His eyes were thoughtfully curious and his expression solemn. "What is it, Leo, think you know who it is about too?" I snapped with unjustified anger. Leo did not bark back a biting retort. On the contrary, he merely nodded and glanced at Splinter.
"I'll leave you guys to it, then," he said, his voice a near whisper as he left the room. Splinter lifted his head as he watched my brother's exit. His eyes then flew to me and he nodded at me.
"Sit down, Raphael," he told me and I did, sitting across my master with my hands on my knees, my legs crossed. "Why are you concerned for this person?"
"You can tell that much, huh?" I said with a small laugh. Splinter nodded.
"You said as much yourself," he said, with a weak smile. "But I could sense it without your words. As could your brother. Which is why he respected your wishes to be alone. Now tell me, what troubles you, my son?"
I sighed. "I really dunno if I should be talkin' to you about this kinda thing... Or if I should talk to him directly."
"Donatello," Splinter said. I looked at him suspiciously.
"How did you know?" I asked.
"Lucky guess," said Splinter with a mysterious smile.
"Anyway..." I started, unsure of how to find the words I wanted. "It's... something's up with him and I'm really beginning to get worried."
"Donatello is not acting out of the ordinary. He is merely involved with his work," said Splinter, with subtle disregard. I looked at him quizzically before I realized that he was testing the depth of my concern. He felt something was wrong with Donnie too. He just wanted to make sure if his instincts were correct by running it by me.
"You know it's more than that," I said, my face a cold stone of graveness. Splinter was silent a moment as his eyes gazed deep into mine. I refused to look away from his piercing glare, meeting it with my own.
"What do you expect me to do?" he asked at last. I was startled by the question. What did I want him to do? I'd already told myself that he couldn't help Don any more than I could, than any of us could.
But even through my bafflement and confusion, I knew the answer.
"I want your approval to try and stop this," I said finally, voicing a subconscious desire I must have been trying to bury for an entire year as this whole thing went on. Splinter smiled, satisfied and he nodded.
"You are not often the one to sympathize with your brothers, Raphael," he said.
"Nah, that's normally one o' them, you're right. Leo, or even Mikey. But Donnie once said something to me a while ago when I was in my own rut that I haven't forgotten. I just wanna return the favor."
Splinter smiled at me approvingly. "Whatever you think is best, my son," he said.
As I left, I found Leonardo leaning against the wall outside Splinter's room. His arms were folded and his foot was up against the wall, his eyes cast downwards. He looked deeply troubled.
My anger that he'd had the nerve to eavesdrop on us escalated with the words he spoke.
"Donnie's fine," he whispered, resolutely. He refused to look at me for reasons unknown.
"Fine?" I said, furiously, with a contemptuous scoff. "Of course he would seem that way to you. You don't get these things, do you?"
Leonardo looked up at me and I immediately regretted the words I'd exploded with. I realized the reason he'd refused to look at me before was because of that look in his eyes. Defiant and angry, he seemed accusing me of trying to interfere with his perfect world. But behind the defiance, his soul was troubled, confused, hurt, and lost. Almost as lost as Donnie's.
"No, you don't get it," he said calmly. "There's nothing wrong with Donnie."
It was then that I realized he only half believed this statement. I'd never seen Leonardo, our own Fearless Leader, in denial before, and something from deep inside me began to rattle my bones. So Leo had noticed. He'd just chosen to ignore it and continue on until it interrupted his world of training and heroism.
I found myself smiling reassuringly at him. I put a hand on his shoulder.
"You're right," I said, quietly. "Nothing's wrong with him."
I left Leonardo staring bewildered at my retreating shell. Even I don't really know why I said it myself.
I opened Donnie's door slowly, expecting him to be asleep, but I found him hunched over his desk, quickly trying to hide something. There were blueprints and papers everywhere, and a piece of this and that unfinished invention on the floor that I had to carefully avoid. There was a near-empty bottle of pills on his desk, with a fresh one beside it.
"Don't people knock anymore?" Don said, sounding a little irritated.
"Not if they didn't wanna disturb your sleep," I replied, disentangling my foot from some cable or other. "Hey, do you ever clean your room?"
"I'll get around to it..." he said, hurriedly shifting about worriedly. I could only hope he was hiding the plans for his next big invention.
As I got closer, however, I learned I was wrong.
"Don, man, what's that?" I asked, looking at the hilt in his lap.
"It's..." he started. I reached to pick it up and he sighed and his shoulders slumped, giving up his protests.
"Don," I said, looking at him seriously. "What are you inventin' with this thing?" I held up the kitchen knife I had discovered.
"I..." But he was lost for words. He sighed and stood up from his desk. He fell back onto his bed and stared at the ceiling, probably hoping that if he ignored me, I'd go away. Like his sanity.
"Donnie," I said, slowly. "I know what this is for." He said nothing. "Of course, a razor blade makes much neater cuts. And it's easier to hide from pesky intruders that don't knock."
He turned his head to look at me, startled. I smiled weakly and nodded at him. But he shook his head and his tense expression dissolved as he stared back at his ceiling.
"I don't know what you're talking about," he said, evenly.
I sighed and closed my eyes. I knew he'd want to be difficult. I sat on the end of his bed. "Hey man, I wanna show you what you're doing to yourself."
"And what am I doing to myself?" Don asked, sounding uninterested.
"Well sit the hell up and look!" I cried. Donnie propped himself up on his forearms and looked at me.
"Well?" he said. I smiled.
"You're lookin' at it," I said, simply. He seemed to study me a moment before falling back onto his bed with a sigh.
"You don't know what you're talking about," he said.
"Oh do you think so?" I said, standing up. I nodded, as if deciding something. "Alright... Alright, then I guess I gotta show you I know what I'm talkin' about." I walked over to the side of his bed and looked down at him.
"What are you, in love with the ceiling? Get up."
"I said get up, you slug!" I snapped like a drill sergeant. He was so surprised, he did so without further question. He swung his legs over the side of his bed and looked up at me. That's when I held out my arms to him, wrists up.
"Look close, now, they'll have healed pretty much by now. But these things last longer than you'd expect them too," I said. Donatello looked at my scarred arms, then up at me in astonishment. "Listen, Don, I know where you are 'cuz I've been there too."
Donnie's jaw dropped and he shook his head in utter shock. "I didn't know..." he whispered.
"No one did," I replied. "I kept mostly to myself about it, like you."
Donnie looked down at his own arms, which to my surprise, were unscathed.
"I never had the courage," he explained with trembling voice. He looked up at me. "Does it really help?"
"Not really," I said. "Hurts like a bitch. But it ain't no distraction from the pain you're feelin' in here." I pointed to my chest. "Or up here," I said, pointing to my head. "Which is where I think you're really troubled."
"I'm fine..." Donatello mumbled in weak protest.
"You doctors always had a funny definition of the word fine," I said with a sly grin. He looked up at me in a weak smile.
"Raph, I'm not like you," he said at last. "It's different with me."
"Like I said, head more than heart." I nodded, understanding. "I was just an angst-ridden teen. You're really fucked up."
"Thanks," Donnie muttered with a snort and roll of the eyes.
"With intelligence comes great responsibility," I said, mimicking him. "You think like a human, you get the headaches of a human. So to speak."
"So you do listen to me?" he said with another weak smile.
"Are you kidding?" I said. "Don, I listen to everything you say. Ever since you told me life's full of hidden responsibilities."
"I remember that," said Donnie. "You'd just blown up at Leo when he tried to get you to concentrate on training. So I followed you out into the sewers. You said you'd wanted to be alone... And I said..."
"You said I was never alone. Don, you talked me out of a really tough spot," I said. "Do you know what you said to me? You reminded me that my life was one worth living. And you said you'd never let me down."
"I guess I screwed up that promise..." Don muttered. I grinned.
"Nah," I said. "Never."
His eyes then darted to the pills on his desk. I was afraid of what he was thinking. As if reading my thoughts, he said, "I've honestly thought of overdosing. I've thought about it so much I dream about it. Then... then these damn chemicals would shut the hell up and leave me alone."
"Hey, man, those fucking chemicals," I said shaking my head. "I never got how chemicals could make you feel some certain way."
Donnie bit his lip, and got that faraway look in his eyes. "My serotonin levels are low. That's why I sleep odd hours."
"Uh huh," I said, nodding, pretending that made sense.
"And my norepinephrine hormones are all messed up. Which doesn't help my blood pressure..."
Donnie went on about chemicals and what not and I totally had to zone out. So I really can't say what he was going on about after that.
"... with you too, Raph?"
"Huh?" I said, blinking and shaking my head. Don gave me a crooked grin.
"I said do you think this could have been the case with you too?"
"Uh, no," I said simply, because I knew it wasn't. "I was unsure of myself and frustrated with my life. I felt like a lion in a bird cage. And somehow, I wanted out, release. Hence the cutting. But I had no chemicals screwin' with my head. How do you know all that anyway? About that serendipity and nora-pine-cones."
Donatello laughed at my blatant disregard for medical speak. "My sleep patterns have gone wacko. And I'm feeling more sluggish and melancholy than I used to. And my blood sugar and heart rate's pretty low, even when I exercise and train, the adrenalin helps very little. Plus the lack of sunlight in this dank sewer is messing with me. We may be creatures of the shadow, Raphael, but we do require light."
"I don't need light," I said, stubbornly. Don smiled.
"I bet a little sunshine would do you some good. I'm sure you'd be a little less grumpy."
His eyes flew once again to the pills and I followed his gaze.
"Don't," I said firmly, staring at the antidepressants which only made Donnie feel worse instead of better.
"Why not?" he said, with such grim defeat I could hardly bare it. He was a walking atom bomb, and sitting next to him, I could feel the scorching heat that was radiating from his core, threatening to tear him to pieces, along with everyone else within a ten mile radius. Or in other words, his family. I knew this. And for the first time, I wondered if the remarkable, Einstein Don thought of the ramifications his suicide would have on us, his friends, his family. Didn't that mean anything to him?
But I sighed. It hadn't to me two years ago. Not until Donnie ran after me into the dark sewers, where I had intended to drown myself. He reminded me that there was something to live for. If not myself, then my brothers. I'd live for them, and for Splinter.
And really, that's what kept me going until I got my life together. It wasn't really what he said, although I do remember the conversation well. It was more about what he impressed on me by just being there. The simple fact that he came after me made me realize that people cared about me. And as much as I'd never say it aloud, I'd go to pieces without them. Because I love them. And they love me.
Love. Funny thing. Fun to mock.
"It's not worth it," I said at last, remembering his earnest, honest eyes in the sewer that day. The spark of life was so deep and bright in his eyes, it lit my own fire that had previously been extinguished by my own dismal thoughts. Was that fire strong enough today to rekindle the flame in Donatello's soul?
"Is living much better?" Donnie asked. I took a deep breath, choosing my words carefully. I didn't want to lie, but I couldn't give him the wrong impression, or I might lose him forever.
"At first... no," I said, my eyes still on the pills, but not really seeing them. I could feel the steel heat from Don's eyes on my skin. The clock on the bomb was ticking. I had to figure out the right wires to cut, or I'd never have a chance to forgive myself before I died along with him. "It's hard, kid, I know, especially with your mind the way it is. But them pills don't seem to do you no good. You sure you got the right kind? Serendipity and all that?"
"Serotonin," Don corrected me. I ignored it.
"Anyway, I digress. But Don, man, believe me, I know what's going on here. I know your reasons are different than mine were, but the results are always the same. If you take those pills, there's no turning back, and where's that gonna leave the rest of us? You swallow those damn capsules and you're not only throwin' your own life away, but you're flushin' ours down the toilet. I mean, come on man, don't you have any decency? Leo, me and Mikey, and Master Splinter; these lives aren't yours to throw away. And no matter what you do to yourself, you gotta realize that we'll be dragged down with you. You've done a hell of a job tryin' to keep us outa the picture so far, but even Leo's beginning to have his doubts. And whether you like it or not, you're stuck with us until... well, until a long time from now that's not today and not tomorrow or next week, you here? I don't wanna lose you, Donnie, not just yet."
"You think it's that easy, don't you?" Donatello said, with a hurt laugh. I realized with horror that I'd cut the wrong wire. I shoulda gone for the blue one instead of the red. The calm approach, like Leo would've done. Damn, I'm bad at this stuff.
"Believe me, if I could just shove it all aside and keep going, I would, Raph, don't you think I would? Hell, I'm too much of a coward to slice my own wrists! It's taken me weeks to build up the strength to actually take a little too many pills just to knock me out for a while. I mean... God, Raph, suicide! To think that I would even seriously contemplate it is a dangerously drastic thing, Raph–"
"I know," I interrupted harshly, grabbing his shoulders and shaking him lightly. I took a deep breath and sighed. "Believe me, I know. That's why I'm scared, Don, I'm damn scared."
Donnie looked at me a moment inscrutably. "I've never heard you admit you were afraid of anything in your life."
I gave him a wan smile. "Well I'm scared now," I said. "And I was scared then, of the water."
"Water?" He was puzzled. What better time then now to share my long-kept secret with someone? I sighed and stared at my knees, almost ashamed of it now, although it had seemed like an easy solution then.
"You don't want suicide, Don," I said, counting the specks of dust on the floor by my feet. "It's the easiest solution, but it's still hard. That night I ran out on Leo and the rest of you... I was thinkin' of drowning myself. And then you came along, and reminded me life was worth living."
Don stared at me, silent a moment, then he, too, decided to see how many dust particles littered his floor. "You're really brave, Raph..." he whispered.
I looked up and smiled. "No, Donnie, you're the brave one." I said. "Suicide's cheap. The coward's way out. You, you're gonna dump those pills and just smile, knowing you have a brother who'll watch your drug habits for a while. You're not even gonna try it, because it's weak and stupid, and like you said, drastic. You'll realize life's not so bad. Give those chemicals a kick in the butt and get out and watch the sunrise for once in your miserable life. Feel those damn rays of sunshine clearin' your mind of all the shadows that have seeped into it. Be all Polyanna and sing in the shower. Find beauty in the simple things, Don, starting with the love you have in this very room. Love I give you unconditionally."
Damn that sounded cheesy.
"Uh... Can I retract that last statement?"
But Don was grinning. "No you cannot, Raphael," he said. "You just made my day brighter than any sunrise."
"No, seriously," I said, feeling awkward and strangely unsettled. "That wasn't me. I never said that. Mary Sunshine possessed me, I swear. Dude, we may need an exorcist."
"I saw that movie," said Don. "And until your head starts spinning backwards and you start spewing green slime, I think you'll be just fine. I can't remember the last time you said you loved me, Raph."
"Maybe it's 'cause I never did," I said rising, although I knew in the back of my mind I must have. You see, the thing with me and love is, we get along fine as long as I don't have to admit out loud that it's there. I act on it, I show it, but I refuse to say it. That's just me I guess.
Nonetheless, Mary Sunshine does like to possess me on rare occasions such as these, and it always leaves me feeling empty, like when Mary left she took a part of me with her. Or maybe I gave it to her. Or maybe, I gave it to Donnie.
"Hey, man, you need a therapist. Talk to Leo next time, will ya?" I said, offering my hand to help him up off the bed. "I'm no good at this stuff."
"On the contrary, Raphael," Don said, taking my hand and pulling himself up. "I think you're pretty good at this. Get a licence and I'm sure Mikey would love to use you as his pizza ticket."
I scoffed, throwing my arm around my brother's shoulders as we left the room.
"I don't think my income would cover his bottomless stomach," I said. And we laughed. The first genuine laugh out of Donatello's mouth in a long time, and first of many.