"The Five Stages of Grief"
By Donny's Boy
Disclaimer: I own neither the characters nor the plot relating to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and I am making no money from this story. I mean no harm.
Warnings: Depicted character death, some mature language, some violence (very little blood/gore), and lots of angst.
Author's Notes: This story is set in the 2003/Fast Forward universe. It's not an official sequel to "Time's Prisoners," but I like thinking of this story as set in that same canon.
On an unrelated note, I'd told myself I would branch out and write some stories that aren't Don-centric and/or aren't angst. So what's this? Yup, more Donny angst. Heh.
Chapter 1: Denial
The rain drizzles down half-heartedly, perfectly matching my mood. Like with most everyone, there are days that I really hate my job. Today is definitely one of those days—especially because this is the twenty-eighth time I've lived through this particular day. Unfortunately, it never gets any easier. And I highly doubt this will be the last time I'll have to live through it.
So it's with little enthusiasm that I follow my old friends from a distance. They're so happy. God, that kills me. They are so fucking happy right now. They're chatting, laughing quietly amongst themselves. Every few yards, she reaches out to touch one of them—Leo's shoulder, Mikey's arm, Don's cheek, Raph's shell. As though she's deeply grateful for their mere existence. I feel my chest ache in sympathy. They'd been gone, without a trace left behind, for months. She must have been absolutely heartbroken.
At times I'd considered telling her that they would be back. Telling her where they'd gone—when they'd gone, actually. But of course I couldn't.
At the moment, though, it doesn't matter. Those dark days are long gone, though not forgotten, and despite the cloudy moonless sky overhead, her face positively shines with her current happiness. She has her family, fully intact. The ache in my chest deepens into a steady throb.
Today is the ten year anniversary of the day the boys finally returned from the twenty-second century and the days of Cody Jones. And it's about to become another sort of anniversary altogether.
Still chatting, the merry little group rounds a corner and disappears from view.
I pause. I don't want to follow anymore. I really, really don't. Closing my eyes, I turn my face up to the rain. It washes away the stray tears that trickle down my cheeks. With all my might I wish, for just a moment, that the universe would reach down and pluck the scepter from my hands. This damn, unforgiving scepter.
But there's no such thing as cheating fate. If anyone knows that, it's me. So I take a deep breath, quickly blink away the wetness stinging at my eyes, and walk around the corner.
As soon as I do, I find exactly what I've seen twenty-seven times previously. An ambush. The ambush. The Foot have been secretly planning it for weeks now. The birth of an heir to the O'Neil Tech fortune didn't go unnoticed, and that woman—What's her name? The one who bugs Leo so much?—the Foot's current leader decided this was an excellent time to settle old scores.
My boys are good. There's no denying it. Years of daily training and a crash course with the Ninja Tribunal have assured that. They are liquid grace, steel glinting in the yellow streetlights, wood thudding softly against unyielding human flesh. They dance in the shadows, like good little ninjas, and I can just barely make out their silhouettes. Yes, my boys are very good. But they're outnumbered. Badly outnumbered.
Slowly I creep closer, careful to stay out of view. Tonight's assignment ought to be showing up any minute now, if I've done my calculations right, and I've got to be ready. My adversary is brilliant—he always has a trick or two up his sleeve.
The fight, as always, goes well for the boys. It goes well … at first. But then the Foot ninjas seem to really notice that she's there. Like sharks smelling blood, they approach and circle her. She gets in a kick here, a punch there, but she's not a ninja. This is, as always, where things start to go wrong.
Inevitably, she goes down.
Leo's nearest by—if I couldn't tell from the outline of his swords, I could from simply having the events of this night beaten into my memory through sheer repetition. Yes, there Leo is, trying desperately to fight his way over to her. Then there's Raph, facing away from it all, still unaware of what's going on behind him. Mike's fighting at his side. With a gleeful whoop he leaps over an enemy, and as he does, he flings the man into some trashcans with skilled ease. Donny, meanwhile, is not quite so far away and has already seen her collapse. Like Leo, he begins fighting his way towards her, screaming her name.
My gut twists. I can hear the desperation, the pure terror, ripple through his voice. Though I've heard him scream exactly like this so many times, it never gets easier. It never stops hurting.
Then, as always, comes the flash of blinding blue light. It's like hitting pause on a—What's the tech they have in this century, anyways? VCRs? DVDs?—it's like hitting pause on a DVD player. All action stops, and everyone turns to stare at the newcomer who is now materializing in the wake of the fading blue light. He's clad in clothes not unlike those the Foot ninjas are wearing, simple and black, and a similar mask covers his entire head. Even so, I know all too well who he is. Although, even if I didn't, I'd be able to identify him easily.
Because the purple steel-and-fiberglass bo he carries in his right hand? It's a total giveaway.
Taking advantage of the hesitation, my newly-arrived adversary immediately leaps into the thick of things. Immediately he deals a crushing blow to the ninja who is looming over April. Then he spins his bo, its metallic tips flashing in the dark, and attacks the remaining ninjas with ferocious intensity. The distinct sound of a skull cracking echoes throughout the damp night air.
Meanwhile, my boys have resumed fighting, still working their way towards April but uneasy now. Unsure. Above the clash of swords, the yells and grunts, I hear Leo's voice shout, "Who is that guy?"
Raph's reply is quick and decisive: "Who cares, as long as he's on our side?"
It's time. Edging my way carefully around the fighting ninjas, I position myself so that I have a clear line of sight on the newcomer. As I reach for the tranquilizer gun on my belt, I fight off a sudden wave of nausea. I hate this. I hate him. Why does he keep doing this to me? To us? Yet, at the same time, I can't help but admire him a little for his persistence. Twenty-seven times he's tried this. Twenty-seven times he's fought like a complete madman, lashing out wildly, frantically, with his bo staff. Twenty-seven times he's failed.
About to be twenty-eight.
Sighing deeply, I step out from the shadows. He catches the movement—long before now, he learned to keep an eye out for me—and he tries to duck behind the nearest enemy ninja. But they're pressing in all around him, and he can't. He has nowhere to go. We both know it. Trapped and defeated, he locks eyes with me and from behind his mask, as always, he glares in defiance. I grit my teeth then do as duty demands. I shoot him. Square in the chest. He slumps to the wet concrete without a sound.
A moment later, April screams and, as always, the scream cuts off with an unnatural suddenness. Thoroughly hating myself, I holster the tranq gun. I won't need the gun anymore, after all. It's done. Or as Lord Simultaneous would say, in the stuffy pretentious voice that grates on my every last nerve, "Destiny is fulfilled."
Yeah, well … sometimes, destiny bites.
By now, the boys have gathered around her, arguing in hushed, worried tones about what to do. The remaining conscious Foot ninjas, meanwhile, are slinking off into the darkness. I guess they know that they've done more than enough damage for one night. As Don bends over April, applying pressure to her wounds, Raph looks over at me with distrust written all over his face. His eyes narrow down to tiny, angry slits. Guiltily I turn away.
It's not until I hear a soft groan that I look back at the tragic scene unfolding a few yards away from me. My adversary is awake again, sitting up and rubbing the back of his head. He glances around, seeming confused, until he sees the turtles gathered around their fallen friend.
"Dammit!" Staggering unsteadily to his feet, he rips off his mask. His face, as always, betrays his frustration and pain. Even though we've shared this moment too many times, I'm still slightly shocked when he takes off the mask. His brown eyes are deep-set, sunken almost, and his face has a long, jagged scar across the cheek. He looks old. Much older than he actually is.
I look over to see that Leo is squinting at the unmasked ninja and frowning that classic Leonardo frown. Donny, still kneeling on the pavement, doesn't even look up as he replies, with a hint of impatience, "What, Leo?"
The elder Don surges forward, reaching April in three long strides. He falls to his knees next to his younger self, staring hard, analyzing, planning. Even from a slight distance I can see the flash of hope in his eyes.
Before the turtles can really react, he grabs the younger Donny's wrist. "Let me help her," Don all but commands. "I'm older than you. More experienced."
Raph lets out a deep growl and starts forward menacingly. "What the hell kinda trick is this? Look, buddy, I don't know who or what you are—"
"It's not a trick." The older turtle turns to face Raph. He continues, voice high and taut, "When we were four, you used to be frightened of thunder. You would climb into bed with me during storms because you didn't want Mikey or Leo to know you were scared."
Many things about this damned night stay the same, but this moment differs. Sometimes Don tells the thunder story, but not always. Sometimes, instead, he talks about a six-year-old Leo crying when he saw a cat catch a mouse. Sometimes he mentions the time when he and Mikey were eleven and accidentally killed a stray dog.
Sometimes he merely points to me while snapping, "Tell them. Tell them it's really me." Which I always do, and which they always believe. All in all, there doesn't seem to be a rhyme or reason to why he tells a particular story any particular time. It must just be another ever-fluxing current through the chaotic river of time.
Meanwhile, Raph is gaping in shock. Then he whirls to glare angrily at his brother. "Donny! You swore not to tell!"
The younger Don holds up his hands in appeasement. "I didn't! I swear I never told a soul." And he hadn't. Realization dawns. Don's face turns pale, and he stands up and takes a step back from April's body. "Please," he says to the stranger who isn't a stranger. "Please, save her if you can."
As always, everyone watches in silence as Donatello works, deferring to his authority. Because they know now who he is? Maybe. But I suspect they'd defer even if they didn't know. There's something about this older Don that's … intimidating? Imposing, definitely. He carries himself with the assurance granted by advanced years and lived experience. More than that, he wears his grief like a suit of armor.
Don tries. He really, truly does. As always, he holds a rag to her bleeding wounds while applying firm, steady pressure. When her chest finally, inevitably, falls without rising again, he begins CPR. He doesn't falter once. He's done this twenty-eight times. It's almost second nature by now.
Then, as always, he stops. Time itself seems to stop, too, perhaps in sympathy. Pushing off the wet asphalt, standing stiffly, Donatello stares down at April's lifeless body for several long moments. He doesn't say a word. He just turns and brusquely walks away.
The remaining turtles shuffle their feet, nervous. Finally the younger Don kneels down to crouch over April.
"Is she … "
Silence, broken at last by a long sigh.
Turning my head, I take after my thwarted nemesis. It isn't hard to catch up. His walk is slow, slow as molasses, and broken. From behind someone calls out my name, but I ignore it. Donny rounds the corner of the nearest building, disappearing into shadows and alleyway, and I follow.
"Don, hold up!"
He freezes but doesn't turn around. He waits, patiently. Always, always patient—that's his great strength. And he might just win one of these days, by simply and slowly wearing me down.
Sometimes I have to wonder if he's actually counting on that.
Thinking, I bite my lip. I know this conversation tends to not go well, but … even Donatello's maddening, exhausting perseverance hasn't destroyed all my optimism. Not quite yet. In a voice loud enough to carry to where he stands, I try in a joking tone, "So, what are my chances of getting you to turn over that portable time machine of yours? Not good, I bet."
"Hmm." He pretends to think it over. "I'd that's a pretty good bet."
I growl in frustration and, I admit, a bit of despair. "How many goddamn times," I snap at him, "are you going to make us relive her death?"
He whirls around at that. He glares at me, unrepentant, and replies coldly, "That depends. How many times do you plan to stop me from saving her?"
"It isn't my choice." I sigh. I'm getting so very tired of having this conversation with him. "This is her time. She's supposed to die. She has to die."
"Renet, I don't care what bull Lord Simultaneous has fed you. Fate is like alchemy, astrology, and invisible pink unicorns. It isn't real."
He gives me a weary smile, strained and pulled tight at the corners. "Til we meet again, Renet." Pulling a blinking piece of electronics from his belt—that damn time portal he invented—Don pressed a few buttons, and the familiar blue light once again enveloped him from head to toe. "And we will meet again."
With a final flash of light … he's gone.
I lean against the bricks in the alleyway and close my eyes. Thinking about the last twenty-seven times I've gone through tonight, I begrudgingly marvel at Don's sheer ingenuity. He's tried stopping the attack directly, he's tried keeping April from leaving her apartment, he's tried warning his younger, past self. He's gone to extremes. Like attempting to prevent April from even meeting him and his brothers. Like trying to assassinate that Foot woman. But for some reason he always comes back to tonight in particular, to try yet again.
Oh, yes, his inventiveness is nearly endless. So much the worse for me, of course. I'm sure that I—that we—will have to live through tonight another twenty-eight times. At the very, very least.
This is another conversation I'm sick of having.
Opening my eyes, I see young Don standing at the alley's entrance, framed against the streetlight, an indistinct silhouette, darkness against light. His heavy breathing echoes off the surrounding buildings. Then he begins walking towards me, and I watch numbly. Even though it's dark I can see how his plastron glistens faintly. Blood. But not his blood.
He reaches me and stares deep into my eyes. It's completely unnerving. His eyes are white and mysterious and so heartbreakingly empty, almost dead.
Licking his lips, he begins, "You … you knew she was going to … and I was trying to stop it from … and you—you knew, and you …" He breaks off and stares at me in miserable silence.
"Donny, I can't let anyone do anything that will contaminate the timeline." I swallow thickly. "Not even you."
A cry escapes his throat, and he lurches forward. Involuntarily I pull back, as he falls to his hands and knees in the dirty alley. As always, he begins throwing up, noisily and messily.
Shame rips through me. And any trace of irritation from before? Gone in an instant. This Don isn't my adversary. He's still only a boy, really. A poor boy who's lost someone he loves. Crouching beside him, I rub his shell as he gets sick. A tiny bit of vomit splatters onto my boot, but we both pretend that it didn't. Finally he finishes and, as always, I gently pull him into my arms. He hesitates for a moment—just a moment—before wrapping his arms around my waist and burying his face against my neck.
His tears are hot. Scalding.
The sobs rack his body, and I hold on as tight as I dare. I whisper soft words in his ear. I tell him I'm sorry, over and over, but I don't think he hears me. Still I feel compelled to tell him. I don't know why. I just do. I always do. As always, my own tears come soon enough, streaming down my face, down my cheeks, down my neck, where they mix freely with Don's own.
And I know that he will remember this moment. Even through the years of grief and pain, even though he will always blame me, he remembers that this moment too is a part of tonight. Sometimes I think this is the only reason that, with every trick and trap Donny has tried over time, he's never once tried to kill me. He never will. He can't. Which means that tonight, as always, will never be truly over.