Author's Note: Many thanks to Sarah for the beta-read of the re-write of this chapter – especially for catching my mistakes and British-isms.
HUGE thanks to everyone who has read and reviewed so far – I appreciate it enormously. I hope this chapter isn't a disappointment or an anti-climax.
Don stared up through the grating, wondering if he dared say his secret, deepest wish… then decided that he had nothing left to lose if he did. He'd already left. He'd already owned up to not wanting to be a ninja… and he'd LEFT… Doesn't that mean that I don't CARE what they think about me any more? Deep inside, he knew that wasn't true… but if he admitted that he still cared what they thought about him, he was admitting that he cared about them… that ninjutsu or no ninjutsu, they were his family and he wanted them… he WANTED to belong.
He couldn't look at any of them as he whispered, "I'd like to be a scientist... not… not like those guys in labs who'd prod us about and stuff…" He shuddered. The mere thought of that sort of science was terrifying. "But an inventor, y'know? I wanna be one of those scientists who make stuff and CREATE stuff. Improving things... Not killing and destroying." Hic. Boy, he hated hiccoughs.
Leo looked at Mikey and Raph, before looking back at Don. There was a long, dragging moment of silence, before he spoke. "But… umm…" He paused again and Don glanced up to see all three of them exchange what appeared to be significant looks with one another, all wiggling brow ridges and grimaces. Leo cleared his throat and tried again, "There are scars on your arms, Don… Did you get those sparring?"
Don blinked in surprise. What was Leo going on about? "What! You know I didn't, you KNOW where I got them." Hic. He was utterly confused by Leo's changing the subject, especially when he saw Raph grin as if he'd suddenly got something. Hic.
"Where DID you get them?"
He sighed. He didn't know where Leo was going with this and he didn't think he liked it. "From the burns I got off the sparks when I got electrocuted." He rubbed his forearm. He didn't like being reminded of that. Hic.
"And WHY did you get electrocuted?"
"Leo! Okay." Hic. Hic. "I got electrocuted when I was mucking about with the wiring in the lair," Hic. "Even though Master Splinter had told me a dozen times not to touch it. Satisfied?" Hic. "Why are you bringing THAT up?"
"'Cause we've got electric lights now, because of you. And they are way better than candles." Raph grinned.
"YEAH!" Mikey's looked excited now, not upset, and he was bouncing slightly, making the water around his calves ripple. "You fixed the electric wiring! And you helped Master Splinter get that camping stove he found in the junkyard working! And now we get cooked dinners! And it was your idea to have that... that tank thing, for clean water, so that it can be heated and we can have hot water for our baths!"
"And when we break stuff you can usually fix it. And you're putting a clock together. Just THINK of everything you've done... everything you DO for us… for the CLAN. Even Master Splinter thinks you're brilliant and he's really, really proud of how fast you learn math and stuff, too!"
Raph grinned, "And like Mikey said, ninjas need gadgets! Not just weapons. Blinding powders. Smoke bombs. Poisons…" He thought about that. "Okay, maybe not poisons if you don't wanna… but what about climbing tools… an' hiding places to keep their weapons and stuff in, secret passageways… an' security things to protect their strongholds an' stuff. Why can't Master Splinter teach you how ter invent and make THAT sorta stuff? Ninja stuff?"
"I'm not a Clan leader or even a chunin," Leo smiled at each of them before looking back at Don with that intense, utterly serious face he wore when they were training. "But I think there's room in a ninja Clan for someone who can do all that. More than room – he's NEEDED. You already ARE an inventor, Donnie." Leo absolutely beamed at him.
Hope surfaced. Maybe… But he couldn't let himself hope that everything could still be okay. Not yet. "Fine, Leo. I'm an inventor." Hic. "I still don't belong -- I still don't want to fight or kill. And ninjas ARE killers." Hic. They were being so nice, so supportive... but he couldn't just gloss over the fact that he had now realised that he didn't want to be a ninja. "Even if I made all those things Raph said, it wouldn't be enough. I'd still have to fight."
"Wouldn't you even fight in self defence? I mean... if someone came into the lair, or attacked us, or saw us or somethin', we'd HAVE to kill him in case he ever told other people and came BACK for us."
"I know, Raph…" He paused, troubled by that. What if someone DID see me? Or attacked me? Or attacked one of them? "But I don't want to KILL. I don't think I COULD." Hic.
"How's he gonna manage that, Mikey?"
"I been thinkin'…"
"Don't hurt yerself."
Don got the giggles at Raph's come-back. He really couldn't help it, especially when he saw Mikey's over-the-top indignant face.
Mikey gave Raph a shove. "Baka. That's YOU, not me. I get LOTS of good ideas."
Raph pushed back, "Bakayerself!" They started wrestling, sending water splashing everywhere.
Don cringed against the wall, fully expecting another fight to break out, but somehow Leo got himself between them and pushed them apart.
"Stop it you two! Haven't you squabbled enough for one day?" He glared at them both and held Raph against the tunnel wall. Looking over his shoulder, he asked, "What was your idea, Mikey?"
Don was impressed at how Leo had tried to bring things back on track, but worried that he might have just started a fight of his own with Raph. However, Raph merely glanced at Don, nodded and pushed Leo off him.
"Okay, okay, let's hear it."
Mikey grinned at having everyone's attention. "Well… We'll be fighting as a team, won't we? All four of us? So Donnie could sorta drive the bad guys towards one of us and we could finish them off. As long as he could fight an' hold his own for a little while he wouldn't have to do the actual KILLIN'" He looked around the three of them and shrugged, "Right?"
Raph grinned. "Yeah! Yeah. It's like I was sayin' about real weapons -- I mean, okay. Swords are made fer killin'. I get that. But a bo or a hanbo is just a big stick – I don't think you can do much harm with that. Wood can't be as deadly as steel."
"That's a spurious argument." Hic. "A bo can crack an opponent's skull. Nunchucku spin fast enough to smash bones like they were sticks." Don shook his head. He was not persuaded.
"Okay, okay... but a hanbo or a bo or somethin' doesn't have that, whatever you call it," Raph twisted his wrist in an indication of spinning a 'chuck.
"Right. That. An so long as you didn't make a killing blow…" He shrugged. "You could disarm the Enemy or knock him out or somethin' and one of us can kill him. 'Sides, you might find that when yer facin' someone who wants to kill you or put you in a cage or somethin' you WANT to kill 'im."
"I'd still be..."
"Donnie!" Mikey sloshed through the channel and grabbed Don's knees. "Don't you GET it?"
"I thought you were s'posed to be smart." Raph chuckled.
Hic. "What are you talking about?" Hic. Don turned his head from one brother to another. This... this was confusing. He had never thought he'd be sitting in the sewers TALKING about all this. "YOU don't get it! I can't stay… I can't… I can't DO all that ninja stuff. I try and I try… and…" The tears were close again. He took a shaky breath and tried to control himself.
Leo reached out and beckoned Raph to come nearer, which, to Don's surprise, he did, putting one hand on Leo's shoulder and the other on Mikey's. All three of them surrounded Don as he huddled in on himself, hiccoughing and sniffing. All three were touching him; Leo and Mikey each with one arm around him and one around Raph's shoulders, Raph just by pressing close against Don's knees. A four-way hug.
"We're a family, Donnie. A Clan. And it doesn't matter whether you are the best or the worst. It doesn't matter WHAT you are good at." Leo looked up at the others. "I'm right, aren't I guys? We just want Donnie? For himself, not what he can do?"
Raph nodded. "Look... if I upset you earlier, Don... I'm, I'm sorry. I... I never meant fer you to feel that you don't belong, or that you have ter LEAVE. That's stupid. How will you take care of yourself?"
Raph had apologised. Raph never SAID sorry unless absolutely made to by Master Splinter -- as far as he was concerned what he said or did in a temper wasn't something he was responsible for and wasn't something any of them should take to heart. Either that, or it was the truth and they shouldn't get hurt feeling about that either… but he'd said sorry… and said it like he meant it. Donnie felt his throat close and his eyes prickle with tears. But they still didn't get it. He shook his head.
"Don't... don't get me wrong. I'm grateful that you want me around... and you're all being really great and kind... but this doesn't change the REAL problem. I don't want to be a ninja. I'm no good at being a ninja and I'm a coward."
"You're a coward?" Raph chuckled again. "Don? You DARED leave the lair, all on your own, at night and go out into the tunnels to LIVE all on your own – just because your honour wouldn't let you stay. That's the bravest thing I ever heard. You won't break the rules fer a game or a dare, but here you are out in the sewers when yer not s'posed ter be! But you've gotta come back. We need you. Who's gonna fix our stuff up if you leave?"
"Yeah" Hic. "Right. You need the useless one. You need the one who doesn't want to fight and CAN'T."
"You're not useless at making and fixing things, Donnie. WE all have things we're useless at. Raph's useless at anythin' that means sittin' down an' bein' quiet… Gah!" Mikey lost his balance as Raph shouldered him for that and was – just – caught by Don and Leo. He regained his footing, stuck out his tongue at Raph and leaning into Don continued in a near-whisper, "An' I can't do math to save my life! You've gotta come back so you can keep helpin' me!"
"You know what I don't get?" asked Leo. "You do okay at the katas. You learn them slowly, but you learn them and you do them well. So why's it different when we spar?"
"There's no-one else involved in a kata. I just hate that moment when my fist or my foot or my weapon connects with an opponent." Don shuddered. "I hate it. I just keep thinking about how it must hurt."
"Yeah... but maybe that's because we're not yer Enemies. Look, I know I don't get where yer coming from on this, Donnie... but the way I see it, it's gotta be better to LEARN, so's you know how to fight if you ever need to. You can choose to fight or not fight… an' to kill or not to kill an' stuff, if you want... but if you dunno how to fight you've got no choice if someone attacks ya. You got no CHANCE! If y'dunno how to fight... I don't see how yer gonna stay safe. 'Specially on yer own."
Don blinked, thinking that one through. He hadn't ever known or thought that Raph could construct such a logical argument. He hated to admit it, but it DID make sense.
"Don't talk about him being on his own. Please." Mikey shuddered and pulled closer to Raph. Don saw Raph squeeze his shoulder. "It's just like a nightmare!" Mikey squeezed his eyes shut as if to block out the image. "I... I have this dream, Don... and I hate it. I've had it ever since… well…" He rubbed his own upper arms. "Since forever… I'm in the sewers and I'm all on my own... and I'm looking for you guys and I can't find any of you... and I hate it... and I'm lost an' I'm scared an', an'… I can't stand to think of you all on your own in the sewers. Going through all that for REAL."
"Hey. Mikey. Shush." Raph gave Mikey a very soft punch on the shoulder. Funny. Don had never thought Raph could be gentle. "Don't be silly. He's not gonna stay all on his own in the sewers, are you, Donnie?"
"Donnie, you have to come home. I need you." Leo grinned at him and nudged his shoulder. "You're the only other sensible one of us – you can't leave me alone with these two!"
"HEY!" Raph shoved him, grinning.
"Stop it, Don," Leo shook his head at him. "You can't win this one. It doesn't matter which one of us is good at what. We're all good at something and we're all bad at other stuff... and in a team... that's okay. We... we com... com… com-ple-ment each other. With Raph's strength and Mikey's speed and me... you don't need to be a brilliant fighter, 'cause the three of us will always be there to cover you. And you can make things and build things and invent things... and you WILL get better at ninjutsu in time. I'm sure of it. Master Splinter says we all will."
"Besides." Raph grinned. "We need you to help us build those walls."
Don managed a weak laugh at that. "But... but what can I really do to earn my place?"
Raph and Leo both groaned. "Donatello!"
"You mean OTHER than all the stuff we've been talkin' about fer the last HOUR!"
"I know." All three of them looked at Mikey, who in another lightening change of mood had gone starry eyed and dreamy. "You can fix us a television."
"We've all seen them in the store windows when we've gone topside, haven't we? Those black boxy things with the moving pictures. They look SO good. Comics that MOVE. An' an' MOVIES. An' it's gotta be edu-can-al… edu-kay-shal… oh, learn-y! You know what I mean."
"Yeah. That. Learn-y. 'Cause we could watch all about topside stuff, an' then we'd know fer when we're on missions an' stuff! And... and I've seen broken ones in the junkyard... and there's a picture of one's insides in Donnie's book an' I couldn't understand it but I think it shows how one works... and I'm sure if we ALL asked, Master Splinter would bring us a broken one back. And Donnie could fix it."
Leo rubbed his face in his hands. Raph laughed and gave Mikey a playful punch.
Don blinked at them… then started thinking about it properly. It WAS an appealing thought. "It should be theoretically possible..."
"What's that mean?"
Leo grinned. "It means he thinks he can do it. Come on Donnie, there's got to be loads of stuff like that you can do for us – not to mention all the ninja gadgets and gizmos you can make – if you think you need to pay for a place in the Clan. But you don't. You've got one whether you like it or not. You're our brother... and that doesn't stop 'cause you're not good at sparring or ... or..."
"For anything," Mikey finished.
Even Raph agreed?
Don looked at them. His brothers. They were all so good at ninjutsu, and he was so bad. But they wanted him... they said he belonged. "I... I thought I was odd. I thought I didn't belong."
"You are odd. But we're all odd – what's normal when you're a turtle who can talk and do ninjutsu?" Raph shrugged, his eyes twinkling. Don stared at Raph for a moment, then curled up, laughing and felt Mikey and Leo's arms go around him as they joined in. His brothers.
He straightened, slipping his arms around their shoulders and squeezing. "Okay." He smiled, bit his lip nervously and released them so he could tuck Titian's jar safely back into the satchel. "If you guys are SURE I'll never have to kill someone unless I want to? I'll come back."
"We promise, Don." Leo was absolutely serious again.
"Heck, we even promise never to tell Master Splinter what you did tonight... That is if he's not already in when we get back!"
He hadn't been in. They'd washed the run-off water off their legs, straightened up the lair and gone to bed and Master Splinter still hadn't come in. There was nothing unusual in that, though.
Lying, wrapped in his blankets, his brothers close by, Don was too preoccupied to sleep. The others were asleep already, he could tell -- Raph was snoring and Mikey was talking in his sleep. His brothers. He still could not believe how... how supportive they'd been, how desperate to make him feel he belonged. That, more than anything they had actually said was what had convinced him that there was a place for him if he came back. They were all different... and he still knew in his heart that he was most different of all... but that was not the bad thing he'd thought it might be. He still had worries... but he knew now that they appreciated him for what he COULD do. Which was a little bit amazing.
Tomorrow there would be another practice. He'd do things wrong again and he still feared the weapons and what they could do. Someday he might have to fight – maybe even HAVE to kill to keep them safe. But that didn't matter right now. Fighting – if it ever happened – was a long time away. And while he didn't think he'd ever stop hating practice, there would also be AFTER practice and making and fixing things and math lessons. And brothers.
His brothers who'd broken the rules to go after him and had refused to let him go.