I can't believe what you tell me
So I just look away
When you realize you fail me
Lying right through your teeth
Anything I see in you,
Everything I thought I knew goes away
With every word you say
You betray me!
Can you see the other side of things?
Can we be more than we have become?
I can see that you've got something to hide,
Something to hide behind those eyes
- "Something To Hide", Of Mice & Men
Chapter 25: The Beatdown
They were back in familiar tunnels now. Running after Leo didn't take any mental effort. Especially not in these tunnels stretching between the lair and Casey's place. He could have run them drunk or asleep on his feet. Right now he was neither, and it left his mind free to wander.
Unfortunately, his stubborn mind refused to do him that favor. Almost the whole way to their apartment, Raphael couldn't stop thinking about Don.
He thought about the shipment of stolen pills they had fought over while on patrol late one night.
"It would just be seized as evidence, Raph! I know it seems like overkill, but I can break this down into smaller dosages, no problem! An opportunity like this doesn't happen very often. I don't think any of you realize the hassle I go through keeping my field kit and the med cart at the lair stocked with painkillers for medical emergencies. The laws and regulations surrounding scheduled drugs just get more and more convoluted every year..."
But those were calmer days. There was no reason not to believe him. Raph had given in.
And then what happened? Everything happened. Leo didn't come home on the day he was supposed to. Splinter got really sick. And for a while there, Don fucking lost it.
He didn't want to patrol anymore. He didn't want to run the rooftops. He didn't want to go topside with them at all except when he needed specific parts or supplies. He would usually mumble something about undue stress on Splinter's heart, but Raph knew the real reason Don didn't want to patrol anymore was because Don didn't want to patrol anymore. He knew this because Donatello also dragged his feet when it was time to train, and he didn't do any more cardio or strength conditioning beyond what Master Splinter demanded of them.
And then, when Donnie would fly off the handle about something stupid, like seeing a sink of dirty dishes or double-digits in his bank account, he would have the nerve to claim that Raph was the one not pulling his weight on the team.
He thought about one piss poor dojo performance after the next.
"What the hell is wrong with you? Why am I getting this close to you so quickly? Defense is supposed to be your thing, man!"
"I dunno, Raph. I'm tired. Can't you just take the win?"
"Tired! Are you sure you're not drunk? I should not be able to get past your guard like this. You know what, forget it. I'm gonna spar with Mike. This morning with you has been a fucking travesty!"
But he was doing better in the dojo lately… a lot better. At least there was that.
A thought struck him like a punch to the throat. He'd never let Don know that he appreciated it, never even let it show that he had noticed. It hadn't occurred to Raph at the time, that he should have to praise one of his brothers for something they were supposed to have been doing all along. But what if it was a bigger deal than he had realized? Maybe Donnie could've used his support.
Raphael hoped like hell that his lingering suspicions would be proven wrong. He thought again about Don's renewed effort and dramatic improvement in the realms of combat and physical training. This could be a sign that the Brainiac was getting better. After hearing everything Leo had to say, a lot more things made sense now. He could see how it might've been depression all along...
Raphael could have told Don a thing or two about depression if he'd ever had the guts to ask. They didn't seem to express it in the same ways. Raph, for example, certainly didn't want to kick and stab and punch things any less when he was feeling low. Then again, maybe it was just that anger and violence didn't go hand-in-hand for Don the way they did for Raph. This was a guy who showed his anger in subtler ways: the many eye rolls, irritated sighs, words muttered under his breath, or cutting sarcasm. He may not want to fight physically, but he was plenty angry.
He thought about other ways it made him feel. Maybe... separate from the others. Unworthy of them. Unworthy of anything.
Is that how you're feeling, brother?
Not like it hadn't been a shitty couple of seasons for everyone. Nobody made it through unscathed. Mike started leaving the lair without permission, and he would come home smelling like pot and spray paint and sometimes cigarettes. And as for Raphael… he had become the Nightwatcher.
Raph wished he could believe it was all for the good of New York, chasing violence as a solo vigilante warrior. But he wasn't one to fool himself, not about something so obvious. He knew better than to compare himself to Leonardo or the big-hearted heroes in Mikey's comic books.
He knew there was unhealthy release in it. He knew there was a great big fuck you in it.
On some level he must have assumed that Mike and Don had the same motivations. It sure felt like a big fuck you to Raph at the time, especially when those two tried Mike's favorite release together one night. He had taken one look at Don – at Mike's bong in his lap, at the smoke trickling through the fingers that were lifted to partly cover the lower half of his guilty face – and tore off in a fury.
"Raphael, wait! No... stay here, Mikey. Please let me handle this. RAPH! Hold up, will you?"
"Don't talk to me, Don. I can't even look at you right now."
"Listen, I just, give me a chance to explain! That wasn't, ah—"
"You kidding me? Are you seriously gonna stand here and tell me that wasn't what it looked like back there?"
"Well, no. I'm not going to insult your intelligence. Obviously you caught us red-handed. I only wanted to—"
"Great. Glad we cleared that up!"
"Raph! Will you stop walking away from me and listen? For two seconds, please? I just, I want to assure you that you don't have to worry about, um. Back there. That wasn't – uh, typical. I mean, I'm not a pothead, and have no plans to become one. That was actually the first time I ever—"
"There shouldn'ta been a first time! Not for you, and not for him! But especially not for you. Don't you get it? By trying it with him, it's like you're encouraging him to keep getting fucked up. It ain't right!"
"Well, that's debatable. I'm actually... sorta pro-legalization? Not because I want to be able to smoke it myself necessarily, but for numerous economic and political reasons..."
"Nobody gives a flying fuck, Don! Nobody's gonna let you vote in a human election, anyway!"
"Look, Raph, I'm not... articulate enough… presently to, um, to explain to you how I participated in the last three elections, so… uh. I don't think I'm communicating very well. I'm just going to start over. What I'm trying to say is, I'm sorry. I disappoint you. I get that. But seriously, this stuff tonight? You have nothing to worry about."
"Oh yeah? I got fucking plenty to worry about. My dad is sick, one brother either died or ran away, and the other two are doing drugs."
"Now you're just being dramatic."
"I gave you two seconds and then some. Now get the fuck out of my way."
They knew how he felt about all that shit. More importantly, they knew how Leo would have felt, and they still didn't care.
Sometimes he used to torment himself with the idea that Leonardo had returned tragically early. Homecoming Day was almost upon them when they finally noticed that the lair had become a pigsty after a year without their resident neat freak. They had gone on a fairly impressive cleaning rampage, but in this masochistic daydream Raph imagined it had been too late. He pictured Leonardo slipping in undetected late one night, stepping over their clutter and filth, and he would look upon them with a magical, all-knowing gaze and in an instant he would know all of their sins. And he would be so weary and disappointed and fed the hell up with all of them that he turned and walked back out the door, never to be heard from again.
It was good to be proven wrong sometimes. Now if only someone would prove him wrong about those god-damned pills.
Ideally, Don himself would prove it. Raph wanted so badly to believe that it was just a one-time mistake, the screwed-up end of a screwed-up day.
It really was one of the worst days he could recall, ranking right up there with Splinter's collapse and Homecoming Day itself. It was the last attempt they had made to patrol the streets of New York City without Leonardo.
Just tell me that's all it was, Donny-Boy… a really bad day.
Donatello hadn't wanted to go at all, but that was nothin' new. In the end, it took repeated promises from Splinter that he was feeling fine, and would even welcome a peaceful night of uninterrupted television after a day of so much bickering and strife. He promised Donatello that he wouldn't raid the freezer for cake, and also to call if he felt even the slightest symptom.
And after all that, Don still hadn't wanted to go – for his own reasons, I was pretty sure – but since he didn't feel like sharing those reasons, he got trumped by the rest of us. I'd be lyin' if I told you I didn't get some petty satisfaction out of watching him splutter and submit.
He dragged his feet, and had to mess with the security system first for some reason, and took forever getting his bag of tricks assembled. He also made a few aggravating comments that I suspected were attempts to start an argument with me. I'm not sure if it was supposed to be a stall tactic, or maybe he thought he could get out of patrolling if I would do him the favor of blowing up and storming off. I wasn't about to fall for any of his manipulative crap, and gave his stupid remarks no more response than a lazy shrug or a disdainful prod, like, "Would'ja hurry the fuck up already?"
By the time the three of us made it up to the surface, Donatello's motivation level had done a one-eighty. He was filled with a nervous energy that set my teeth on edge. He was twitchy and talkative - more chatty than Leo would have put up with during a topside run, I'm pretty sure.
On the one hand, Mike was eating up all the attention and fresh opportunities to banter. And it's not like the angry drunk trying to choke his woman in an alley proved to be a real challenging foe for us, right?
But on the other hand, every other word out of his mouth was ticking me off.
Maybe it was getting under my skin because one of the things I used to really love about working alongside Don was that he always knew when to shut the fuck up and focus. I'm not just talking combat, but working on cars and large appliances, construction, maintenance shit like running cables or laying pipe – and not just work, but even lifting weights, watching an intense movie together, or leaving in secret to test the top speed and maneuverability of Don's crazy homemade subterranean vehicles with methods that Splinter and Leo could never find out about… you know. All the awesome shit we used to do, back when we could stand each other.
All these ways that he was changing… I didn't like it. I didn't like it at all.
In the end, I kept my mouth shut. Whatever, I thought. Let them have their fun. It's a slow night, anyway.
It probably would have been fine if we hadn't run into the Foot Clan.
One second we were alone on a rooftop, looking out over the city. The next we were surrounded by enemies on three sides with our shells facing a six-story drop.
I think I said something cocky like, "Check it out, guys! We're finally getting some real action!" I was fronting, of course - for whose benefit, I'm not really sure. But it had been a rotten day from the start, the sort of day that makes you think youd'a been better off just stayin' in bed.
"Aww, shit," Mike remarked, which was a lot closer to how I was feeling about this fight.
They weren't a full force. Karai wasn't there - neither were any higher ranked Foot that I could recognize. I don't think they meant to cross our path, just spotted us at random. We must've been too tempting of a target to leave alone. Maybe they were trying to impress their higher-ups, who knows?
Normally a dozen or so on three ain't terrible odds, even if it's Foot ninja. We just didn't have our shit together. It had been too long since we faced flesh-and-blood foes as a team.
They didn't do us the favor of fighting us one at a time. Four ninja rushed me simultaneously, and it took all my attention just to keep their initial attacks from landing. I knocked out one of the four right away and leapt over him, unwilling to stay flanked, unwilling to give them a stationary target.
It gave me the space I needed for a quick glance around to check the status of the others. Four on Mikey, but they couldn't pin him down or land a blow. He was all over the place like usual, chucks spinning, evading them with fancy tumbles, and laughing at his enemies. In spite of his initial reluctance at the sight of them, he was determined to have a good time.
Don was surrounded but keeping his attackers at bay with his whirling bo staff, punishing anyone who got too close. Already one of the Foot was cradling a badly broken arm. I didn't like the shine of sweat on Don's skin, not when the fight had only just begun, and decided I'd better go help him out.
One of my original attackers came at me with a flying kick. I side-stepped and grabbed the pajama-wearing motherfucker as he was landing, redirecting his momentum and swinging him to collide with the other two. That gave me the clearance I needed to rush the wary circle of ninja surrounding Don. I attacked the nearest of them, coming at him from behind (honor be damned) and striking the back of his head hard with the butt of my sai. Don made good use of the distraction, surging forward and clocking another ninja with a precise blow. Both slumped to the ground in unconscious heaps.
Our eyes met over their fallen bodies and Don gave me a small nod of acknowledgement, maybe even thanks.
But I'd chosen poorly. I should'a gone for Mike. I hear him yelp with pain and turn towards the sound.
It's a horrible sight: Mike, his face twisted in a grimace, his hands locked around the hilt of a throwing blade sunk deep in his calf. He's down on one knee beside a defeated foe, but now he is unable to run from the remaining Foot who are simultaneously closing in on him
"Mike!" I yell, and Don whirls to take in what I have already seen. I abandon the enemies that have been attacking Don in favor of defending Mike.
We're both drawing the same conclusions. We both run to get nearer to him. I am immediately desperate to help. We've been through so much this past year. All I can think is, not Mike! I can't stand to lose Mikey too. Sometimes I think he's the one who is really holding this family together. More than anyone, it's been him.
I was closer, so I reach him first. I pull out the knife, tear my mask off, and toss it at him. "Tie it off!" I shout, then I'm back up to face the enemies that had been closing in on him.
Don's on them already. He cracks another across the head, drops him to the floor.
"Behind you!" I shout, seeing a small, wiry ninja leaping at him with a drawn knife.
Don whirls, using his momentum to propel him, and nails the incoming ninja so quickly that I don't see much more than a blur. The sound of his bo staff connecting is all wrong. It isn't the usual 'crack' of solid wood on skull. It's more of a wet crunch.
"No," I hear Donnie gasp. He drops to his knees and reaches for the fallen Foot ninja, drawing the masked head into his lap. Then he's shaking his head, pleading under his breath. "Nonono…" His hands explore the wound delicately, checking the extent of the damage to his enemy's shattered throat.
There is no hope for this guy. I can tell at a glance.
"Don!" I shout, looming over him, trying to snap him out of it. "Don, it happens! This dude is Foot clan. He'd a killed you if he got the chance. He ain't worth fallin' apart!"
"Not 'he'," Don croaks, looking up at me with liquid eyes. "K-kunoichi…!"
Aw, shit. When I look more closely, I can see the feminine swell of her hips, her breasts, her slender gloved hands and tiny feet. He's right.
"Then SHE ain't worth it!" I savagely insist, once I'm over my moment of shocked hesitation. "What's between her legs don't make a damn bit of difference. She's the enemy!" I'm full of shit, though. I'm just saying what I think he needs to hear. I mean, it shouldn't make a difference. My head knows that. There are obvious exceptions, like Karai or that crazy roid-raging bitch who wanted to film us and put us in a documentary. But for the most part we are a LOT more used to defending women than fighting them. So it does make a difference, for some reason. If I was in his situation, I know it would matter to me.
I don't think he's listening. He needs to torture himself, I guess – pulls off her mask to look at her face. Blood is bubbling from her full dark lips and sliding over her delicate chin. I can see that she's young, probably not much older than me.
The Foot are hanging back now, watching us warily. They seem to be deferring to the one guy who has stepped forward. I straighten, ready for whatever attack he is about to launch at us. Instead he tosses his ninjato down purposefully, letting it land with a clatter, and hoarsely murmurs, "Watashi no ai…"
Don skirts a startled look at him, then back down at the dying girl in his lap. He fumbles in his bag for a cheap ballpoint pen, of all things, and snaps it in two.
"Don!" I warn him sharply. As much as it sucks, we've got no business saving the life of the enemy when one of our own is down. He ought to know better. Splinter would never approve.
The Foot in charge doesn't wait for whatever Don was planning to do with the broken pen. He sweeps forward suddenly and scoops the fallen girl into his arms. Donatello makes a strangled sound as she is snatched away. He holds out the broken pen and desperately explains, "She can't breathe! Y-you've got to make a tube, drive it in below the… below the injury..."
I don't think the dude speaks any English, or maybe he just doesn't trust us. It's hard to tell when their masks hide their faces completely. In any case, he ignores the pen and backs away from us.
Mike is back on his feet by now, and some of the ninja have roused their fallen comrades or slung them over one shoulder. They've suffered too many losses and are covering one another as they melt back into the shadows. It's clear this fight is over.
We head home, mostly in silence. At one point Don shoots me a guilty look and mutters, "Sorry. For… back there."
"Forget about it," I tell him. It's all I can come up with, such a useless thing to say. "Let's just get Mike home."
"I'm fine!" Mike insists, even though he's pale and sweating and we can all see how his face twists with every landing as we move from roof to roof. It's a tough call, sticking to the rooftops instead of descending into the sewers, but Don's right: we gotta minimize the chance of infection. We've understood for ages now that open wounds and raw sewage aren't the greatest mix.
Once we're home Don drops into doctor mode, methodically cleaning and binding Mike's injury. I hang around, trying to be supportive, but mostly I feel awkward and in the way. It's hard not to feel responsible. More than anyone, I'm the one who pushed for tonight's adventure. But aside from fetching clean water and updating Master Splinter, there's not much left for me to do. I tell sensei about the accident with the kunoichi, but not that Don freaked out and tried to save her. I figure he knows by now that he fucked up. After what he's been through tonight, I didn't want him to get lectured too.
I'd planned to go out on my own that night. I was going out most nights, and a part of me was beyond restless, itching for the chance to redeem myself after that botched topside run. But at the same time, my instincts were niggling at me to stick around. I kept seeing Don's horrified face, the broken way he looked at that ninja, like he was holding someone he loved rather than an enemy.
But that was crazy. He couldn't have known her. Sneaking off to flirt with Foot Clan babes was Leo's thing, right? Anyway, Don's a recluse lately. He leaves the lair less than anyone. I was pretty sure one of us would have noticed.
Eventually Mike makes an appearance in the common room. He sprawls on the couch with a giant bag of Funyons and takes over the remote. I swing by Don's room without even really knowing what to say to him, just planning to wing it – but in the end, it doesn't matter. The door is locked and the soundproof light is on. I'm so sick of that fucking light. Never actually thought I would miss the sound of his computer games and buzzing power tools, but I do. The lair is too damned quiet lately.
I putter around by myself, scrounge up some food, punch the bag for a while, just killing time. I start to feel more and more stupid for sticking around. There's nothing for me here.
I start to think maybe a hot shower will help calm this agitation still rattling around inside me. Heat can have that effect on us; it relaxes us in a deeper way than humans can probably understand.
My plans change, or at least get put on hold, once I reach the upper landing. Don's heavy metal door is ajar and I can hear weird music coming from his room. The music only gets weirder the closer I get. It's got a hard electronic beat and some kinda vocals but I can't understand one word. I don't think it's a language I ever heard before. Also… I'm no expert, but it sounds kinda like a female backup singer might be having sex in the background and crying out in time to the music
I don't bother knocking, just push through the open door muttering, "Geez, Donnie. What kinda pornographic alien techno are you listening to…?" More of my awesome communication skills at work, see? I'm worried about my brother, so I barge into his room and immediately crack on his taste in music.
It doesn't matter, though. The room is empty.
I approach his main computer, the one making the bizarre music. There's a scrolling line of text near the top of the screen, and I squint at the words for a couple moments before it clicks. This program is translating the lyrics. It's boring, repetitious, hedonistic crap – which means it's pretty much like all techno music, even if the singer IS an alien. I lose interest immediately and drop my eyes to look at his desk instead. Don ain't the type to listen to music without doing something else. It's all just background noise for him.
I'm expecting to see the usual technology-related clutter, near-illegible blueprints, maybe the remnants of some project in progress. Instead… I see a dinner plate. A small pile of white powder. A razor blade. A post-it note rolled into a thin tube. Some yellow stuff, scraped off to the side.
My eyes are wide and blinking. I feel like I can't breathe even though my plastron is starting to heave. I don't want to believe it, but I know right away what I'm looking at.
Immediately I am racking my brain for valid reasons, trying to find a good excuse for what I'm seeing. Mike just got hurt, after all, so maybe it's left over from earlier? Maybe… but no! There's NO innocent reason for a post-it note to be rolled up like that.
I pinch the yellow stuff, roll it between my fingers. It feels waxy to the touch, and pretty much confirms what I'd been thinking. This is the time-release coating, scraped away so the stuff hits all at once. And it's the exact same color as those pills we fought over so many months ago.
OxyContin. This is so fucking serious. This is a million times more serious than him and Mike smoking weed together. I back away from his desk, feeling cold all over.
I'm furious at him. I'm fucking terrified for him. It's not a good combination. My mood has taken a sharp and deadly turn as I move into the shadow of one of his floor-to-ceiling server towers and wait for him to walk back through that door.
When Donatello comes back in, he immediately bumps the door shut behind him and hits a button on the wall beneath the light switch. The sound-proofing must be active now.
Good, I think. In the back of my mind I already understand that things are about to get ugly. I don't want interference from the others when the shit hits the fan. My father's heart is weak, and my desire to shield Mike from every ugly thing in life is so deeply ingrained that I barely need to think about it. We were gonna work this out right now, just him and me. We would sort this shit out tonight.
He's carrying a glass of water and a blue rubber bulb syringe. I watch him fill the bulb syringe and set the water down. Then he uses it to squirt water up one nostril, tilts his head way back, and closes his eyes. It takes me a second to figure out what he's even doing, but eventually I get it. We've got tiny, slitted nostrils – way smaller than a human's. They're also set low on our snout, so any stuff we inhale would have farther to travel. Never considered it before, but it must be hard for us to snort drugs without getting clogged up. I got no sympathy for this.
Don tosses the bulb syringe down and stands over his desk to mess with the powder. I've seen enough and step out of the shadows. The evidence I've seen is plenty damning. I'm not about to stand here and watch my brother poison his body with more of the stuff.
"Un-fucking-believable," I growl, advancing on him with clenched fists.
Donatello startles at the sound of my voice and fucks up the line he'd been chopping. Looks at me, then down at his desk, then at me again. One hand reaches out to tap his keyboard, some shortcut that stops his weird music. The silence is heavy now as he straightens up and slowly turns to face me.
"Well…" he notes distantly, "that was careless of me."
My brother sounds a lot less concerned about being caught than I'm expecting. Where is all the panicked sniveling I had prepared for? He was way more contrite about the weed.
With an awful lurch, I realize that he must be too high to care.
I didn't think I could get any more pissed off and disappointed, but that's exactly what happens. "Is that all you got to fucking say?" I snarl, getting up in his face and letting him see just how angry I am. But at the same time, it fucking hurts. It hurts deep in my chest, because he doesn't care.
It is way easier to embrace the rage than these hurt and heavy feelings.
"Why?" he wonders slowly. His eyes are like two polished marbles, glassy and utterly blank. "You wanna talk about it? That would be new."
"Yeah, Don. Let's talk about how I fucking TRUSTED YOU!" I give him a hard shove, send him flying backwards.
Don catches himself awkwardly on the edge of the desk. His mouth curls, almost smiling as he drags his gaze back up to meet my eyes. "Guess that was careless of you."
I grab him and look around, wanting to throw him again, harder, farther, preferably into something breakable. I can hear my breath coming in and out in angry huffs, and somehow I stop myself. When I release him, my hands are stiff and shaking with anger. But I make an effort to calm down some and study his face. I really do want to understand. "Who are you? Is there something wrong with your legendary brain all of a sudden? This shit is so fucking dangerous. The news is calling it a god-damned epidemic! How the fuck could you..."
Donatello doesn't answer. Instead he shakes his head and laughs. "Classic Raph… Sometimes I play this game where I see how many sentences you can go without dropping the F-bomb. Right now your high score is two."
"You think this is a joke?" I snarl. I am growing more desperate to wipe that lazy smile off his face. "Our whole family is counting on you. And you can't even fucking-" Great. Now this asshole actually has me paying attention to how often I say the word 'fuck'. "Just tell me why!"
Don rubs at his snout and his knuckles come away wet. He looks at his hands for a moment before lifting his eyes and searching my face. In a soft and gentle voice that I haven't heard him use in ages, he says, "Because… fuck this. Fuck all this."
"You… don't get… to say that," I inform him, bringing my face in close and enunciating every deadly word. "Leonardo would never say that. He would be the first to tell you that a leader doesn't have that luxury!"
"I'm not Leonardo," he deadpans. "I will never be Leonardo."
"No shit, Don. That's been pretty obvious to everyone since day one!" My lip curls in disgust as a new thought occurs to me. "Is THAT why you haven't put your foot down with Mike about the pot?" I narrow my eyes and lower my voice with disdain. "Does going there make you feel like too much of a hypocrite?"
Don starts to shake his head, then stops and half shrugs. "Believe whatever you want."
The truth is, even though he apparently can't be bothered to defend himself, I'm not convinced about what I just said. Maybe it's wishful thinking on my part, but if he's been at this for any length of time, somebody woulda noticed. Right now he is thoughtless and more than a little fearless. I haven't got him to flinch yet - not once. Not even when I threw him against the desk. I know for a fact that I have never seen him act this way.
I almost wanna give up on him at this point. I want to end this whole conversation as completely POINTLESS, but something compels me to try one last time. I scowl and look away, debating with myself. It's the best guess I got – the ONLY rationale that doesn't make me wanna pummel him. It's the whole reason I wanted to check up on him in the first place.
Yeah, I'm just gonna say it. "Donnie... how much'a this is because of what happened with that girl today?"
At first he doesn't want to answer. No snarky reply, no careless shrug. Maybe that's telling in itself.
"Don," I repeat sternly. I'm not letting this go without an answer.
"I wouldn't call it - unrelated," he says softly. He's no longer meeting my eyes but staring off across the room.
I relax a little. That's what I need to hear – that this is a knee-jerk reaction to something awful, something specific. I don't even want to consider that he might be locking himself in here and getting fucked up all the time.
"Look, Donnie…" I make a face. This is awkward. "Tonight, with the girl. It just… it happens. Probably less to you than any of us. But it's bound to happen sometimes, even to you!"
He snorts softly. I'm definitely not getting through to him.
I rub my eyes briefly, all too aware of my missing bandana. I still haven't replaced it since handing mine over to Mike. "It's nothing to beat yourself up over, is all I'm sayin'. You were just tryin' to defend Mike. I get that. Anyway, she was comin' in fast from behind. There's probably nothing you coulda done differently..."
"You sure about that...?" Donatello's reply is so absent and detached that it locks my teeth together. He meets my eyes dead-on, but there might as well be galaxies between us when he admits, "I was thinking I could've been sober."
"You…" I can't fucking believe it. I can't believe he just said that. "You worthless piece of shit!" These ugly, snarled words are out of my mouth before I can filter them. I'm attacking him before I can stop myself.
The first punch cracks his head back and to the side. His hand lifts reflexively to touch his mouth, then looks down in mild surprise at the sight of blood, just a small smear of it, but the contrast is bright against his olive green fingers.
When he looks back up at me, his bleeding mouth has curved in a wicked smirk. "There we go." His words are slightly slurred - whether from the punch in the mouth or the drugs, it's hard to say. "That's the sorta heartfelt talk I can always expect from you."
"Oh, you wanna talk about this?!" I rage at him, seizing him fiercely in both hands. I am yelling in his face now, "You wanna talk about how you betrayed my trust, betrayed our whole team? And all the innocents up there, the people in this town who're up there getting robbed and stabbed and shot and fucking raped by our enemies. But you - you don't give a FUCK about them lately! You are a fucking danger to them and to ALL OF US if you think it's okay to patrol the streets or even go to the surface when you're high!"
"Y'know I didn' wanna go!" Don mumbles, looking sharply aside. "N'obviously I wazzn'... doped up like now, I was jus—"
"Wrong answer!" I holler, cutting him short. I pin him with one hand and slug him hard with the other.
He reels and stumbles backwards, but doesn't so much as lift a shielding hand when I come at him again. I pull the next punch right before it lands and threaten him in a savage voice, "Better defend yourself, Donnie! We both know you deserve it this time."
I broadcast this next kick about a week in advance. Not only that, but I pretty much verbally warned him it was coming. He had forever to duck, to dodge, to deflect me or shove me off balance or SOMETHING! But he just… soaks it.
This is why fighting with Don is never any fun. I hate it. I fucking HATE when he does this! Because I wanna fight him. I deserve to fight him, maybe now more than I ever have before! He did kill that ninja girl. And his recklessness, his idiocy, put all of us in serious danger!
I grip his plastron hard and yank him away from the desk. My eyes are deadly on him now, I know. "Did you know… Master Splinter and I, we got an understanding. It is actually my role on this team to take the leader to task when he is being a total fuck-up and putting the team in danger!"
Donatello's eyes flicker with – something. I don't smell fear on him, like I normally can with the people I'm fighting. But I've got his attention.
"So, y'see... I don't really give a shit if you defend yourself. Fighting with you this time is actually," I shove him away from me fiercely and deliver a turn-kick to his bridge, "my fucking duty!"
The blow lands right where I want it to, gets him right in the lung. It's a take-down that only works on ninja turtles, one that our enemies must never find out about. We are trained to defend our bridges carefully when we fight, but of course Don is determined to ignore all that training. \ So he gets kicked to the floor with the wind knocked right out of him, and ends up on his shell, clutching his throat and gasping for air.
I'm on him then. There is no technique whatsoever in the way that I ground and pound him. I trap him between my legs and my fists go to town, smacking dully off bone and flesh. I'm not trying to do permanent damage, but I blacken both his eyes, get his mouth swollen and bleeding. I'm leaving my mark, really letting him have it.
But none of it matters. My fist freezes as I realize that he's started laughing.
"Dumbass..." he wheezes. "Go ahead... gimme your worst!" His shoulders heave, even though his eyes are swollen and streaming with tears. "Like I can even feel it."
"Wrong. Fucking. Answer," I mutter, deadly low. I'm so pissed off that he could laugh after all that, his words don't even fully register. I just want to hurt him. In my fury, I bring my fists down hard on his chest, but he's not some squishy human. I have a better chance of injuring my hands than his chest plates with this stupid move.
Of course he only laughs harder.
I realize then just how pointless this is. Just to prove it once and for all, I leap to my feet and pull the dirtiest trick in the book. This move has been off-limits by unspoken agreement since we were ten years old.
I lift my heel and bring it down hard, right on his fucking tail.
Don gasps and then sort of giggles, "Okay, wow! Yeah… Might've felt that a little."
A little? Fucking hell! He should be howling in pain from a blow like that. I realize then that my usual methods of punishment are not going to cut it.
I haul him up off the ground using both hands. Deceptively heavy as my brothers and I are, it's easy to do this now that my vision has tunneled and my veins are pounding with adrenaline.
I step back and execute a cheap but effective throw as soon as I've got enough clearance to pull it off. I send him flying shell-first, away from me and into the first of several servers and network switches which are mounted on a lazy combination of salvaged metal racks and homemade wooden shelving. I watch as he lands with a terrible crash that reduces working technology to wreckage.
"You feelin' it yet? I bet those big metal boxes and blinky lights are feeling it." I crouch down and cock my head at him conversationally. "What'd we break just now? Think it mighta been important?"
"Eh… Wi-fi?" Donatello is breathing hard now, carefully picking himself from the ruined racks and equipment.. His glassy dead eyes slide over two crushed drives on a server, take in darkened switches and status lights among mangled racks and splintered wood. "Voice over IP landlines, not that use them much these days. Most of the lair's intercom system."
"Yeah? And that doesn't bother you at all? Doesn't harsh your buzz?"
"Smash whatever you want, Raph," Don sighed. "I'll have it all back up and running by tomorrow."
"Are you seriously asking for MORE of this?" I growl, grabbing him with both hands again and tossing him into the next rack.
Another terrible crash, and an even uglier landing. I stalk closer and glare down at him.
"Well…" Donatello eventually groans, extracting the sharp edge of some twisted, jutting metal from his shoulder, blood welling up in the wound. "Anti-virus is fucked. But not the firewalls, those're redundant. There's an off-site mirror or… or some shit, no! Raph, that's enough, you've-"
"You are the dumbest genius I ever met, I swear to God," I snarl, seizing him again and slugging him in the face a couple more times, his head snapping back violently. When he's down, I haul him up and hiss, "At least protect your head this time!"
He has the sense to do like I suggest, getting his hands up and laced behind his head just in time to brace his skull for the next collision with a server rack.
The rack topples beneath our weight. I grab him by the shoulders and this time I use his shell like a fucking battering ram, driving it repeatedly down on all three stacks of hard drives until they are crunched and spilling with mangled arms and platters. I may not know much about how to fix computers or build them from scratch, but I sure as hell know how to effectively destroy them. With enemies like Bishop and Baxter Stockman, I've had to learn that much.
I heft him up, stagger back several weary steps, scoping out my next target for potential destruction. This one is heavy duty, housed in glass. The toss from here to there seems like an enormous gulf, but… Fuck it. If he tests me, I swear I will find the strength somehow. I look at him. His eyes had followed mine to the glass server case, but now they snap back to meet mine. For half a second, he almost looks sober. He's feeling something, finally – even if it is shock and horror. What I've done to him is finally starting to have an impact.
His wide, dazed eyes struggle to fix on mine, and his hands touch the side of my face with clumsy emphasis. "Please. Please stop, Raphie," he begs me quietly. "Please don't do this."
God. He hasn't called me that in so many years. It makes him sound so young.
It makes me feel young.
"Punish me if that will make it better somehow," Donnie gasps for breath, bracing his hands on my shoulders now. "But please don't. Please don't punish our whole family."
"Fine," I intone, deadly soft. "Then what do you think I need to hear from you right now?"
"I'm sorry!" he offers, looking and sounding stone sober. But he hands me this apology too earnestly. Too… automatically. Suddenly I am enraged all over again. I am looking at his shoulder which is torn open and just pouring blood, and he doesn't even notice!
"LIAR!" I howl at him in a voice that I barely recognize. "You don't feel shit!"
"M'not lying. Not really." Donatello's face pinches slightly. That's the only reaction I get for all of my berserker rage. He doesn't raise his voice at all when he says, "Tomorrow, I assure you. I will be so sorry… about all of this."
"Then I guess sorry's a start," I growl. "But what do I NEED to hear from you right now? What promise am I waiting for?" I bear my teeth in his face and spit each word with furious emphasis. "What. Actions. Do. I. Need. You. To. Take."
"Never again. I, I'll never – I won't take OxyContin. Recreationally. No, wait, how'zis? I won't take any opiates ever. Unless authorized by you, for medical reasons. From now on." His glassy grey-brown eyes are solemn and unsmiling.
I'm still panting as I study his face, thinking it over. I set him down with a grunt. "You ready to promise all of that?"
"Yes. Absolutely," Donatello agrees with an untroubled willingness that sets my heart back on a calmer rhythm. "I'll swear by the Great Turtle, or the soul of Hamato Yoshi, or whatever you want."
"Swear it on three more of them towers," I threaten.
Donatello's tongue darts to wet his mouth and he nods. "I promise, Raph. I swear."
"And if there is a next time, Donnie - I will be more thorough. I won't start with shit like wi-fi. Do you hear me?"
"Loud and clear," Already my brother's eyelids have grown heavy. The narcotics are sweeping back over what little semblance of sobriety he had been able to muster for the sake of that exchange. "I promise," he says slowly. "It won't be an issue."
"And what action do I need you to take right now?" I remind him.
"Now as in… right now?" Don sighs. "Can't whatever it is wait until I'm… less worthless?"
"Not a chance. Where's the rest, Don?"
"Oh," my brother's posture slumps with relief. "Is that all? Yes. I'll hand it all over to you. Every remaining pill."
"All the drugs," I clarify with a scowl, not trusting his specific phrasing. "I don't give a shit whether or not it's in pill form."
Donatello doesn't look offended. He actually smirks and meets my eyes briefly, like I have proven myself unexpectedly clever. "I'll be thorough. You can dispense it yourself or throw it away. Whatever you think is best. But, um. Please dispose of it responsibly, if that's what you've got to do. Don't just, you know… dump it in the nearest reservoir."
"I'll keep that in mind," I deadpan. "Come on. Let's get you stitched up."
"Wait, just, lemme… sorry." He bows his head and holds one hand up.
I wait expectantly, uneasily, while Donatello turns and pukes into the wreckage immediately behind him. I glance over his shoulder at the mess he made and wrinkle my nose.
My brother scrubs the back of his knuckles across his mouth and eventually laments, "That's gonna set back my estimated time of repair."
I snort quietly. "Y'think? Up and at 'em, doofus. We gotta stop that bleeding." I try to shoulder him into a more upright position with only partial success.
"Oh, that," Don mumbled. "Needs stitches, m'pretty sure. Forgot about it..."
"No kidding. One thing at a time, yeah? Come on. One foot in front of the other…" The blood is still pounding in my temples, but the anger is gone now - sapped right out of me by the pathetic sight of him.
I glance over my shoulder at the damage I have done to about a third of his server racks. There's no way he's getting all this fixed by tomorrow, I remember thinking. Somehow it still manages to surprise me, seeing the whole of my destruction, even though I remember every brutal throw.
Donatello hadn't wanted Raphael's help rebuilding the server room. He didn't get all of it back up and running by the next day... just the essentials. He turned over all the painkillers promptly and discreetly. It looked like most of the shipment was accounted for. In spite of all that had happened, Raph had believed him.
Maybe it was just easier to believe him. Maybe it was cowardly. I should'a kept better tabs on him after that. That's what Leo would have done.
Instead Raphael had been wrapped up in his own stupid shit. He kept going out night after night, placating his rage, nursing his own hurt and sense of abandonment.
He'd convinced himself that Don couldn't have been messing around with that stuff for very long, considering how messed up he'd been just from snorting a couple lines. He'd told himself that the situation had been handled. As time went by, the incident had slipped further from his mind.
I had wanted – needed – to believe that it was over, but... God! What if it's not? What if I dropped the ball?
What if –
With a terrible lurch of vertigo, Raphael snapped back to reality. He was falling. He felt his shell slam hard against a sand-paper surface. The angle was sharp – too sharp to keep from sliding. and his stomach bottomed out.
He had been running in preparation to make the leap from a water tower to the next rooftop, but something had gone wrong. A loose shingle sliding out from underfoot. Now he was on his shell, skidding unchecked towards a dangerous drop-off.
"RAPH!" his brother's voice rang out in alarm from somewhere nearby.
Raph flipped over and spread out instinctively for purchase, his fingers and toes digging in hard for a handhold. Panic seized him by the guts with razor teeth as he felt one foot swing out over open air. The red-masked ninja managed to halt his rapid descent right as Leonardo reached him.
His brother's eyes were dark with concern as he extended a hand. Raphael gripped it gratefully and allowed the other turtle to help pull him back up to safety.
"Thanks," Raph muttered dazedly once they were back on the peak of the water tower. "Holy shit." His heart was still pounding painfully and his hands were shaking.
Leo was studying his face. "You okay?" he persisted, only adding to the humiliation. He could see perfectly well that Raph had not been hurt physically.
"Yeah," Raphael blurted automatically, then covered his face with his hands and retracted, "No. Just – gimme a second." It was humiliating. He should know every step of this route. He did know every step... but apparently being sleepy or drunk was less impairing than spinning his wheels about Don.
Leonardo frowned and glanced around. "We're awfully exposed here. Can you make it to the next rooftop?"
Raphael shot Leo a dark look. He launched himself down the sloping water tower and into the sky. He flipped once in the air and nailed the landing, but this display of extreme proficiency did nothing to soothe his wounded pride.
Leonardo leapt after him, landing casually. The pair moved away from the edge where they might be seen from below.
"Raph. I need your head in the game now that we're on the surface, okay?" Leo was lecturing him already. It was always worse when Raph knew that he deserved it. "We're almost there."
"Look, I'll be fine," Raph muttered. "Dunno what came over me."
"Well, I do," Leo's expression was serious, even as he quipped, "And it doesn't take a mind reader. You're freaking out about Donnie. We both are."
"Not for the same reasons," the red-masked turtle muttered, looking down and watching his scarred hands flex and un-flex.
"I don't think that matters," Leo countered. "It's probably all related. I bet we're attacking the same problem from two different sides."
That actually made a lot of sense to Raph. He looked over at Leo and gave a single, small nod.
"Now, listen. April's apartment is literally a minute and a half in that direction." Leonardo casually pointed as he said it. He'd always been a living compass compared to the rest of them. "So let's just get there. We'll learn what we can, and then we'll get home and see what you can work out with Donnie. Okay?"
Raphael felt some of the world's terrible weight shifting off him. "Yeah, okay," was all he could manage in the way of a response, though he was really thinking: I am so glad you're back.