This is a digression from the storyline. I wanted to add character stand-alones into the action as it seemed fitting; and since the action came to a nice resting place last chapter for a bit, I wanted to try inserting one of these.
I decided to do this for two reasons: First was because I wanted to explore each character more thoroughly. I have to admit I have an all-out favorite turtle, and a least favorite, one I really like and one I find really difficult to write for. But I want this story to be one that lets all 4 brothers shine equally so I wanted to force myself to write stand alones for each one and slot them in as each character comes to the center of the action. The second reason is mainly because I found it an interesting structure for the piece, with these fun little diversions for each turtle (and their fans). I hope that adding them doesn't make the piece hard to follow.
So without further ado, we'll start with Donnie.
Standalone 1: Donatello: "Mother of Invention"
Timeframe: two or three years prior
"Why?! I don't know why, Donnie! Why the hell do you have to keep asking? Do you think there's something wrong with me?"
Donatello was leaning back in his chair far enough that if he wasn't careful the whole thing would topple over leaving him flat on his shell on the floor, and still he could feel Raphael's breath hit his cheeks as he yelled.
"Because I can tell you that the only thing that's wrong with me is the fact that you can't shut up and leave me alone!" Raph hit his open palm against the top of the table to make his point before he stood up and shook his head looking for a way out.
Don sat there, wiggling the back two legs of the chair a little before slowly setting it into an upright position. He rubbed his forehead, and in the wake of silence that followed his hotheaded brother he could hear how loud and uneven his own breath sounded. "Hookay… that didn't go as planned," he murmured to himself. He stood and stretched a little, pacing around the lair until his feet hurt and he decided to slump on the couch for a while. He considered going off into his room and messing with the computer parts he had scavenged, thinking this time he really thought he could make Mike's Atari 7800 work. But despite his unwillingness to get involved with the tensions in the lair he found they had crept under his shell.
For almost a week now everything felt disjointed to him. He expected Raphael to be temperamental; but lately he had been going off on his brothers without apparent reason. Leonardo, too, had been exceptionally tense and he kept spending large amounts of time in solitary practice or meditation. Even Michelangelo seemed distracted; and unlike his usual demeanor of an ADD poster child, this seemed more focused, as if something was nagging at him. Either I'm the only one out of the loop, or something needs to be fixed, he thought with his brow creased in frustration.
He stood back up off the couch, restlessly, his feet making their way to Master Splinter's room. He knocked softly on the doorframe, watching his Father as he looked up from reading. "Yes my Son?"
Donatello walked in quietly and knelt. "Father, I'm concerned about my brothers," he started softly. Splinter perked a furred brow and nodded for him to go on. Don cleared his throat a little. "Everyone had been very strange lately. Distracted and tense, Father, and it worries me."
Splinter knit his furred brows slightly. "Yes, my Son. I have seen the agitation among them." After a pause his voice was calm and reassuring. "But I do not think it is anything you need be concerned about, Donatello."
"But what is going on, father?" his voice was imploring.
Master Splinter's face took on the serene neutrality when he was teaching a lesson. "My son, some things are not meant to be told. Your brothers will share with you when they feel comfort in doing so. Feel secure in yourself my Son."
The young turtle frowned a little. Despite how much better he felt knowing that Master Splinter was on top of things, he couldn't shake the feeling that he needed to know what was going on. Still he put a small smile on his face as his father came and patted him on the shoulder. "All right, Master Splinter" he conceded, bowing his head.
Splinter watched his Son leave, with a small glimmer in his eyes, wondering just how far curiosity would take the intelligent young turtle.
Late in the evening the sounds of traffic above them had died down from a constant rumbling to a deep humming purr. Similarly the tempers of dinner had calmed to a static tension that hung in the air. Raphael was practicing jump kicks on the bag, seeing if he could kick it hard enough to have the bag hit the back wall, and getting annoyed when he missed and crash-landed into it instead. Leonardo had taken up meditating far away from Raphael, and Michelangelo was slumped on the couch with a little handheld version of pinball. Every time a ball dropped into the dead zone the game would make a taunting little electronic buzz and Mike would find some new way to insult it. Finally he sat up, slapping the game down into the couch cushions. "I think it cheats," he muttered.
Donatello looked up from his book and hid a small smile. "How can it cheat, Mikey? It's a game, it's not playing against you."
The youngest turtle picked up the hunk of plastic and thrust it towards Donatello. "Here you play it for awhile and you'll see what I mean. The levels don't get any more difficult, it just gets harder and harder to make the paddles flip."
Don took the game and turned it over, looking at it. For a second he was struck at how much similarity Mikey's complaint was to his family. As they grew older everything seemed to stay mostly the same, but it was harder and harder to make anyone talk to him. Staring back down at the game he saw that Mike had worn the buttons clean of their paint from constant play. "It might be that the game is getting old."
"Man, don't tell me that…I like that game" he groused lightly, picking it up gently when Don handed it back to him.
"I can take a look at it later if you want." The older turtle offered with a faint smile.
Mike shrugged and tucked the game away in the cushions. "If you want." He replied, apathetically.
Donnie frowned as he watched his younger brother rummage through the kitchen. "Mikey…what's wrong?"
He turned suddenly, a gallon of milk halfway towards his mouth. "I'm not drinking out of the carton! I swear!" He reached awkwardly behind him to grab a cup.
Donatello shook his head. "I'm not talking about the milk, Mike. I'm wondering why you're so…down … and distracted lately.
Michelangelo jerked his head back up, eyes wide as he stared at his brother when he spoke. "I'm not distracted!" he protested, putting on a rather unconvincing smile. He stopped paying attention to the milk as he spoke, and kept pouring it until it spilled over the sides of the cup, onto the floor.
"Mike…Mike!" Don stood, ready to run to the kitchen if he needed to. "The milk, Mikey!"
Mike blinked and realized that the growing puddle was from his pouring and he picked the gallon up, taking it to the table before he scrambled for some towels. Don walked over, taking up a wet rag to help clean. "Not distracted, huh?" the elder asked gently.
Mike worked in surprising silence for over a minute, the corners of his eyes creasing in embarrassment. "Thanks." He said finally. "I guess I'm just tired. I heard Raph and Leo arguing late last night and it just kept me up." Again he gave Don a halfhearted smile before putting the milk soaked rags in the sink and heading off to his room, leaving his older brother standing there, brow creased in worry and confusion.
Two days later, no change in his brother's dispositions yet, but now Donatello had a plan. Sitting up late in the evening he kept fiddling with one of the heat sensors he had left over from setting up the rudimentary security system. Beside him sat the guts of a chair pad massager and several long lengths of wire.
If Master Splinter won't tell me what is going on, I guess that just means I have to find out for myself. He mused to himself as he worked. And since every time I question my brothers they just shut down, I guess I'll have to be a bit more creative about it. He slipped the heat sensors into the pocket of the chair pad where the heating control usually went, gluing the edges together and zipping it up. Pulling the wires through, he threaded them along the power cord and taped it all together with electrical tape. He spent a few seconds admiring his new invention before he trotted it out into an empty living room, setting the pad on one of the ratty recliners.
In retrospect he didn't know if it had been eagerness, exhaustion, or the extremely large amount of Mountain Dew he had drank, but it sure seemed like a good idea at the time.
The next morning started off serenely enough. The crunching of cereal and milk punctuating a sullen silence, but at least Raphael had stopped glaring at Leonardo from across the table. Donatello was quiet, hoping that he could see if his newest invention would work properly, trying to contain his excitement lest he messed up the readouts.
As soon as Mike finished his bowl he tossed it in the sink and stretched, heading out into the living room. After a few seconds his eyes lit up in glee. "Ooh! A massage pad… these things are SO cool!" Grinning, he practically launched himself into it. "Where did we get one?"
Don looked over and suppressed a smile. "I found one while I was scavenging this week. I finally got it working last night."
"Sweet!" For perhaps the first time in days he gave an honest to goodness grin and switched the power on. The pad made a contented little whirrrr as the massage turned on. Mike leaned back, putting his hands behind his head. "This is the life!"
"It can't be the life for too long, Mikey. We have practice this morning." Leonardo chided. There was a silence that hung in the air as Raphael glared at him across the table. Leo frowned, meeting his brother's glare halfway. "It's a Thursday, Raph. We always have practice."
"Yeah, and I think we all know it, too. You don't have to remind us like we're three." The red-banded turtle countered hotly. Donatello took in a soft sighing breath, hoping that this fight wouldn't get too nasty.
"I'm not trying to insult you!" Leo started, the rest of his comeback cut off by a sharp cry of Michelangelo.
The youngest turtle flung himself out of the recliner like it had just bit him, yelping "Ow! Ow ow ow ow ow!" and dancing around the living room. The foul scent of smoke and melting plastic rose up from the chair, and it stopped his brothers' argument in its tracks.
"Mike! Are you OK?" Leo turned, creasing his brow.
"What the hell is wrong with the chair?" Raph asked, walking over towards the recliner and waving a small stream of smoke away. Back at the sink Donatello started to turn very red.
"I turned to heat on, and it started to sauté me!" Mikey whined, rubbing his bottom.
"Raph, can you turn it off? Mike, come over here, let me see if you're burned." Leo commanded, pointing his brothers into action. Donatello dropped the dishrag and caught Michelangelo by the shoulders, trying to calm him down.
"Damn, that's hot!" Raphael had picked up the control box and dropped it immediately afterwards, shaking his hand.
"Unplug it from the wall." Donatello replied mechanically, trying to check his wriggling brother's backside.
"Is he alright?" Leonardo asked, leaning down beside Don.
The brainy turtle gave a nod. "Just some minor first degree burns. His sunburn last year was worse. Hold on, Mikey, I'll get some cream for that." He stood and headed off for the bathroom.
"Great, I got a burn on my bottom." The youngest groused lightly.
Leo grinned at him, patting his shoulder reassuringly. "Well it should keep you off your bum for a couple of days." Mikey gave a short huff and an expression of 'that's not funny.'
"Hey, bro… check this out…" Raphael called from the corner of the room where the outlet was. In his hand was the chair pad massager cord and he held up another, smaller wire that was taped to it, leading of into Donatello's lab.
"What is that?" the eldest asked, walking over to inspect.
"I dunno. Want to play follow the wire?" the younger turtle grinned slightly. Leo nodded fractionally.
"Can I come too?" Michelangelo asked, eyes widening.
"No, Mikey, stay here and let Donnie put medicine on your back." Leo's command was met by a heavy pout from the youngest brother. He gave Mike a sympathetic smile and then gestured for Raph to lead on.
When Donatello came back, he was carrying a jarful of some of the ointment their father used to rub on burns and cuts when they were children. Mikey wrinkled his nose at the smell, and the memories that came with it. "Hold still, Mike." His elder brother chided.
"I can't. It itches." The younger turtle complained, stretching to scratch where the ointment was rubbed in.
"You're just going to have to leave it alone for a little while. The itch will go away once the salve dries." He paused, looking around the lair and reaching in the couch to bring out the pinball game. "Here, play this for awhile."
For the next few minutes the living room was blissfully quiet, filled only with the tinny sounds of the game. When Donatello finished rubbing a second layer of salve into the burned areas he capped the jar. "Where are Leo and Raph?" he asked, casually.
Mike turned and shrugged, stuffing the game back into the couch. "They went to follow some wire they found in the chair pad."
It took a second, but very slowly Donatello's eyes widened to the size of dinner plates. "They…what?"
"We decided to check out your experiment." It was Raphael's voice. When Don turned he saw that his brother still held the sensor wire in his hands.
"Don, what exactly were you doing with this contraption?" Leo asked, stepping forward, his brows creased in confusion.
Donatello stared at the floor for what seemed like forever, but when he looked up, his brothers were still watching him. He cleared his throat before he spoke. "I wasn't trying to hurt anybody. I put a heat sensor in the pad… but I forgot to disconnect the heating element."
There was a long few seconds of utter confusion before Leo scratched his head and caught Donnie's gaze. "Why did you want a heat sensor in a chair pad?"
"I had it hooked up to the same computer as our security system. It was recording body heat output." The young inventor's words were so mumbled that they were hard to make out.
"Donnie…" Raph looked at him pointedly. For a second Donatello braced himself for a fight, but instead his hotheaded brother smirked. "Why on Earth did you want heat sensor readings of Mikey's butt?"
"I…uhh…" Don bit his bottom lip as his brothers started to snicker.
"This isn't some weird science geek fetish, is it?" Mike asked, innocently, not really understanding all the implications of the word 'fetish'
Donatello blinked, his eyes going wide with embarrassment. "No!" he protested, which only prompted the snickers to turn into full-blown laughter. Don shook his head, turned and left for his lab without a word.
The two younger brothers wiped the tears from their eyes as Leonardo sobered himself. "Raph, why don't you and Mikey start on a jog? Not too hard with Mikey's burn."
The red clad turtle nodded, and tapped his younger brother on the shoulder. "C'mon." and the two started out of the lair and down the sewer tunnel, leaving Leo standing in the living room alone, staring at Don's closed bedroom door.
Taking in a deep breath the eldest brother walked very quietly up and knocked on the doorframe. "Don, you ok?" He didn't get an answer
Inside the room, Donatello was making an effort to be engrossed with the pattern of bricks on the wall. Maybe if I rewired the control box it would work better? He sighed a little. Or Maybe if I found some new parts I could get it to give a good readout? I think I have a printer somewhere. Slowly he pressed the palms of his hands into the hollows where his bandana rested. Maybe if I sit here long enough they will all go away? The only good that had come of this little fiasco was that his brothers weren't fighting with each other anymore; now they were all laughing at him.
"Don, can I come in?" Leo's voice came through the door again, and this time Don actually looked towards it.
"Leo, I'd really rather not talk right now. I'll take my punishment this evening and do my workout then" he replied, evenly.
Outside the door Leo furrowed his brow, stubbornly. He was about to walk away when he has the whim to check the doorknob. Unlike Raph, Don didn't usually lock his door and he didn't think to lock it this time either. Leo poked his head inside. "Are you OK, Don?"
Don looked up, and nearly jumped out of his shell. He opened his mouth to protest, but something about the calm, worried look in his older brother's eyes made him stop. Leo walked slowly inside and took a seat on the bed. "What's going on?"
"Nothing." The younger turtle replied stubbornly.
Blinking slightly, Leo leaned forward. "If it's nothing then why are you acting so strange?" he asked softly.
"Me acting strange?" Donatello raised his head, his voice sounding a little incredulous. "Leo, all this week I think I have been the only one not acting strange. You've been crabby, Mike has been depressed and being around Raph is like walking on hot coals – even more so than usual. And I can't figure out what's wrong!" He waved his hands in exasperation before he decided to sit on them.
Leo sat very still for a few seconds, absorbing it all. When he spoke his voice was quiet. "Don, why didn't you ask us?"
His younger brother formed his mouth into a thin, hard line. "I did, Leo. How many times did I ask you guys what was going on?" The question seemed to catch his brother by surprised and as the blue clad turtle though about it, the look of realization dawned in his eyes.
"I'm sorry, Donnie." He murmured.
"Why didn't you answer me when I asked?" the younger pressed, his brows creasing in frustration.
Leonardo took a good long time to think about that before he spoke. "Don, sometimes when you ask you…nag. And I don't mean that you tell us what to do, but you pick at something over and over again. The problem is that you can pick apart a machine to see how it works and then put it back together again. But if you pick at a person they usually just shut you out."
Don sat there with his mouth very slightly open. He could feel heat creeping up his throat and into his cheeks. "I was curious. Curious and worried about you guys."
"So you invented something you thought would tell you what we were thinking." Leo guessed. As Don nodded the pieces started falling together. "Why did you use heat sensors?"
"Leo, it's a scientific theory that body heat output can be linked to emotion reactions." Don chided before he sank back into his quiet tone. "I thought if I could get readouts I could compare observations to the data and maybe figure out what was going on with you guys."
Leo gave his brother a soft smile. "Next time can I suggest just observing and listening?"
Don gave a lopsided smile. "Sure." There was an awkward pause and he added, "So what is going on?"
His older brother sighed a little. "I was going to wait until Master Splinter decided to tell everyone; but I guess now everyone knows except for you." He settled his hands on his knees. "In a week or so Master Splinter is taking a trip to the countryside, and I'm going with him. It's for some sort of special training for a few days. He wanted to be the one to tell everyone so he could explain everything correctly."
Donatello nodded, and suddenly the little pieces he had seen started to fall into place. "But Mikey overheard, didn't he?"
"Yeah. And he accidentally let is slip to Raph."
"And Raph overreacted." Don finished.
"That's pretty much it." Leo nodded.
Slowly a smile formed on his younger brother's face. "And here I thought there was this terrible secret being kept from me."
His brother chuckled a little bit and stood up. "No." He started to head out for practice but turned as he reached the doorway. "Coming?"
Don stood, giving a small, embarrassed smile. "Yeah."
A tinge of fond humor showed in Leo's eyes. "Promise me something before we go?"
"You won't make any more secret brother-sensor inventions unless we all agree we need them." He held out his hand to shake on it.
Donatello paused for a long second and then took Leo's hand and shook. "Deal."
Author's Ruminations: This piece was very difficult for me to write, and I don't know why. I found it very hard to find a good voice for Don. It also turned out to be the longest chapter I have written so far, so here's to hoping it reads well.