To Forget Dreams
Disclaimer: Ninja Turtles belong to someone else. Not me.
Summary: A companion story to Sleeping Alone, this time from Donatello, Michelangelo and Raphael's perspective.
Despite his powerful nightmares, Donatello sleeps easily most nights because of the reassuring presence of his oldest brother. Just knowing he's nearby if the dreams become too much is a relief. Sometimes he thinks he wouldn't feel so relieved if he was like Raphael or Michelangelo, in need of physical contact and whispered reassurances, but Leonardo's help at night has never been because he talks to him. It's because Leonardo listens.
All day, Donatello listens to everyone else, repairing broken appliances and mending the occasional cracks in the walls and pipes throughout the lair. The maintenance list never shrinks. After he fixes one problem, another comes up, always tossed into his lap like a command. Raphael and Michelangelo are the worst but even Splinter and Leonardo end up asking him to repair things. He tries not to hold it against Splinter, who already takes care of so much around the house, and he would feel more irritated at Leonardo except he knows his big brother is at a loss when it comes to mechanics.
On the other hand, when he retreats into his lab, he enjoys the quiet lack of demands but he misses their companionship. Wires and circuitry are fascinating but they can't talk, and more than once someone has walked in on him talking to himself. Everyone in the house thinks that makes him a little nutty, but not his big brother. As far as he knows, Donatello is the only who's ever walked in on him while he calmly asked his swords never to turn on him, to never cut him even accidentally. Donatello would have thought that strange, but after thinking back through all the years, Leonardo is the only one who's never hurt himself while practicing. Donatello never quite understands his brother's feelings of kinship with his weaponry, but he knows his brother doesn't understand his own love of mechanics.
On bad nights, when Leonardo sits next to him, Donatello sees the confusion in his sibling's eyes, the absolute lack of understanding when he describes problems with his latest equations or inventions. Donatello doesn't need him to understand. He just needs someone to listen, someone that isn't a machine. Often it's that same confusion that lets Leonardo ask questions that he would never think of and that give him the answer he's been looking for.
Most importantly, though, simply knowing that his brother is there makes the nightmares go away. He prefers to think of himself as an engineer, not a fighter, and while his machines earn him a feeling of being worthwhile, he knows he'll never be as efficient as his big brother at fighting. He's even measured the difference down to the decimal point, and he knows that being one decimal off can sometimes mean life or death. Like a good scientist, he examines the variations in their battles at night, alone in his nightmares as the knife that barely missed one of his brothers the day before now flies straight, as the lucky hit that saved one of them now misses entirely. Worse, as one of his creations short circuits at the wrong moment, and all their deaths are his fault. Then he understands Leonardo's devotion to his swordcraft. Leonardo carries that weight all the time and manages somehow. At night, Donatello thinks that maybe if he studies that a little bit more, observes his sibling a little more extensively, he might understand how he lives with that. So when Leonardo is listening, Donatello observes, analyzes, and hopes.
At night, the laughter stops. Michelangelo finds nothing funny in being alone. Being alone in the dark is too much like being dead and he's dreamed his own death hundreds of times, never in a coffin because he doesn't expect he'll get a proper burial when the times comes. He's been in outer space, beneath the earth and on different planets. He knows death could come in strange places, but the one thing that never changes is that it'll be dark. And cold.
After the bad dreams, the really bad ones that leave him crying in bed, no amount of blankets can warm him up again. He used to be able to take comfort in his brothers' presence when they used to sleep together, but now that they're in seperate rooms, he wakes up feeling like he's in a stone tomb. He never tries to slip into bed with them, though. Raphael doesn't have the patience to put up with him and Donatello wouldn't really know what to do. They'd try to help, he knows they would, but in the end, he wouldn't feel any better.
That's why he's always surprised that Leonardo knows how to make the cold go away. After a nightmare, he always wakes up with his big brother silently holding him. He doesn't ask questions, doesn't demand answers, doesn't even try to tell him it's all right. He's just there so that Michelangelo isn't alone and isn't cold.
Michelangelo thinks that might be why he starts talking. He talks a little bit about each dream, says that he got lost in the tunnels and never found his way out, that he sits in the middle of the lair waiting for a sun that will never appear, that he's alone and no one will ever come find him. And Leonardo never tries to analyze his dreams, never tries to tell him that everything will be all right someday. Michelangelo thinks that his brother might have his own nightmares, might know that in the morning the dreams fade but the echoes linger until the next night. That it won't be all right and the only thing that'll make it hurt less is someone to hold you.
Michelangelo considers creeping into Leonardo's room and laying down next to him as if they were children again sharing a bed. Then he remembers that Leonardo doesn't have a bed and never has had one ever since they started sleeping in their own rooms. He wonders if his brother spends every night with one of them so he doesn't need a bed, or if his nightmares are worse than everyone else's and he can't bear to sleep alone. Michelangelo never has enough courage to ask. Deep down, he already knows the answer. So when he wakes up with tears in his eyes and his big brother holding him, he doesn't feel like he's a burden on Leonardo who already has enough to worry about without him acting like a cry baby. Instead, he feels like he's helping his brother past his own demons. That way, they both escape the darkness.
Raphael remembers a time when he didn't resent his brother, before Splinter forced them into their training and before he had to fight for his master's recognition. A long time ago, when he and Leonardo were friends who went everywhere, even if Leo never wanted to venture as far from the lair as he did. Leonardo always considered Splinter's words law, whereas Raphael thought they were just tentative suggestions, but he always followed close at his side whenever Raphael wanted to explore a new tunnel.
Sometimes he thinks that if they never learned to fight, never had to form a team, that he wouldn't resent his brother so much. If Splinter had never measured them against each other, then maybe he wouldn't fight so much with his big brother because he hates fighting with him. He hates feeling angry and jealous because he can see just how heavy the responsibility weighs on Leonardo. And while making his brother's life a little harder sometimes feels good, most of the time he wishes he didn't yell or curse or make sharp comments that he knows hurts, even if Leo manages to hide it.
Once when they all shared a bed, they would wake up curled together. Now they're lucky if they don't snap each other's heads off during the day. Strange, but everytime he thinks about it, they started growing apart when they started sleeping apart. That's also when they started practicing and also when their nightmares started. He knows that Michelangelo and Donatello have nightmares and that Leonardo's there to help him through his own bad nights, but he doesn't know how Leo handles his own problems. He knows Leonardo doesn't sleep in his own room because he's caught him asleep on the couch a few times, looking so lonely that Raphael wonders how he sleeps in the vast emptiness of the lair. At least in his room, Raphael doesn't feel so lost.
That thought leads him to another. He's never seen a bed in his brother's room. It's neater than everyone else's, without clutter and empty pizza boxes and sais stuck into a punching bag, but it's also emptier. There are none of the loose notebooks of Michelangelo's room, none of the spare parts and wires of Donatello's room. Leonardo's room simply doesn't look lived in.
Since he knows he won't able to sleep tonight, Raphael gets out of his hammock and quietly leaves his room. By the scant light of Donatello's aquarium and the televisions that never really go dark, he edges towards Leonardo's room, hoping that he won't wake his brother. He doesn't know if Leonardo has super sensitive hearing or not, but he must have something to be able to catch Raphael every time he tries to sneak out. To his surprise, he spots his brother sitting in the far corner leaning against the wall. Raphael wonders if he's really asleep, but the slight tilt of his head, the irregular rise and fall of his chest and especially the way he's curled up convinces him.
For a few moments he watches him, thinking that Leonardo looks much younger than he does during the day. He looks almost as young as Michelangelo acts. Hidden away in a tiny corner of what suddenly seems like an immense room, he looks lost in all that darkness.
A tentative hand falls on his shoulder and he glances back at Donatello, who has a blanket around his shoulders and a wondering look on his face. It suddenly occurs to Raphael that maybe he isn't the only one that Leonardo visits at night. That thought is confirmed when Michelangelo glances out of his room and sees both of them at Leo's doorway. Raphael smiles ruefully. So this is what happens when there are too many problems and not enough big brother to go around.
Quiet for a change, Michelangelo comes closer and looks in, and for a few seconds they all watch their brother flinch at something, hissing in imagined pain in his sleep. They share another look, and then Michelangelo disappears back into his room only to return with his pillow under one arm and dragging his blanket behind him. Without glancing at his siblings, he walks inside Leonardo's room and plops down next to his brother, putting the pillow behind him and spreading the blanket over both them. A second later, Donatello passes Raphael and settles next to Michelangelo, nudging him over so he can snag a spot on the pillow.
Raphael hesitates. Usually when he can't sleep, he goes downstairs and practices against Leonardo until exhaustion knocks him out. Even when they fall asleep on top of each other, it's only because neither of them can keep their eyes open anymore. Raphael considers that and tilts his head. Or maybe if he's honest with himself, it was never the practice that let him relax enough to fall asleep in the first place. Ignoring Michelangelo's smug grin, he takes his place on Leonardo's other side, yanking the blanket away from his youngest brother. Michelangelo barely holds in a squawk of protest and instead grabs part of Donatello's blanket. After a few seconds of wrangling back and forth, they finally settle down and lay still.
When Leonardo opens his eyes, he briefly thinks he's still dreaming. His siblings are all curled up tight around him. Even more startling, Raphael is in front of him with one arm around his shoulders. Leo looks over his shoulder and spots Michelangelo's slowly stealing Donatello's blanket in his sleep, but it'll still be a few hours before Donatello gets cold because he's completely draped over his little brother. Wondering how this happened and not about to question it, he pillows his head on Raphael's shoulder and goes back to sleep, already forgetting what he was dreaming about.