A/N: I've never written the Turtles before, even though I made up stories for them when I was a little girl watching them the first time, so this should be an interesting ride for all of us. I know that my interpretation of their personalities may not be main stream, but I like them. I hope you all do too.
Disclaimer: I don't own these guys.
Summary: Raph shares with Donnie one of his own worst memories to help his younger brother feel less alone. 2003 TV-Verse, set after Same As it Never Was.
This story is for my pal Halo, because THIS IS ALL HER FAULT!
Raphael was used to staying up impossibly late every night. Used to the sounds of the sewer you could hear without Michelangelo's mouth constantly running. Used to the way things just felt heavier in the dark, and the way things felt both closer and farther away in the silent, lonely hours before dawn. The night was his domain, and he thrived there.
What the red turtle was not used to was sharing his night time solitude. That was sort of the point of it BEING solitude, wasn't it? There wasn't much use for his insomnia if he couldn't get some much needed quiet solo time, but one of his brothers seemed to have developed a case of their own.
Not that Donatello had been loud at all during the last few nights when he'd joined Raph's sleepless vigil. In fact, all the younger turtle had done was sit and stare at his computer monitor. He didn't click or type on the thing. Hell, he didn't even turn it on! He just sat in his chair and looked blankly at his reflection in the monitor.
It was creepy, that was for sure. Some nights he only stayed for a little while before returning back to his room, but for at least the last two he'd stayed up until just before Leo and Mikey got out of bed. He'd disappear just as Leo's alarm was going off, as if he didn't want their other two brothers to know what he was doing. That there was anything wrong with him.
'And he probably doesn't,' Raph mused to himself, watching Donnie watch himself. 'But there is definitely something wrong with him.'
The older turtle was fairly certain he had a good guess of what was getting under his younger brother's shell, too. After some sense of normalcy had been restored to the world after their travels to the other dimensions, the brothers had of course swapped stories. Donnie had been hesitant to share, and after hearing that he'd been transported into a dark future where the Shredder had succeeded in taking over one couldn't really blame him.
Raph couldn't help feeling, though, that Donnie had left out some details—like where his brothers had been, for example, though he'd said he'd freed that world with April's help. He was sure it was those details that were currently keeping his little brother from much needed sleep, and he for one was tired of waiting for Donnie to come to terms with them on his own.
He wanted his privacy back, damnit.
With a deep frown on his face, Raph walked up behind his brother, folded his arms across his chest, and did his best impression of a stern big brother face he'd picked up from Leo. "Are you ready to talk now, or should I just wait until you finally crash from exhaustion and start talking in your sleep?"
It was a great credit to their years of training that Donnie didn't jump at Raph's silent approach, but the sai-wielder knew it was actually a very near thing.
"There's nothing to talk about, Raph. I just can't sleep, that's all."
"Hey, pleading insomnia is my line, bro, so don't think you can pull it on me. You've been screwed up since we got back from those little misadventures in the other universes, and I want to know what the shell is wrong with you, right now."
He caught Donnie's frown deepening in the reflection on the computer monitor, and noticed he was using the reflection there to make eye-contact with the red-clad elder ninja. "It was a little upsetting, that's all. That you…that we…that it could end so badly."
"You won, Don." Raph stated simply, tilting his head back and a little to the side. "That should be all that matters."
"There comes a point," came the quiet response, "when victory stops being important because the price is too high."
'And we're on the right track,' he thought to himself, before moving off slightly to Donnie's side to lean against the edge of his desk. "Something did happen there, Don, and you're choosing not to share it with us when we told you everything. How is that fair?"
The younger turtle leaned forward, resting his closed eyes against the heel of his palm. "You guys don't need to know. It won't happen. I won't let it happen."
If Raph were in the habit of being honest with himself, he would have been forced to admit that seeing Donatello so shaken up was shaking him up rather badly. Of all the brothers, Donnie was probably the most stable one. Even in a fairly intense crisis, Donatello never lost his cool. He refused to appear rattled by things, and never admitted it when something had gotten to him.
In a way eerily like Leo, Donnie had a fierce need to appear strong for his brothers, but unlike Leo did so silently and without ever seeming to expect anyone to realize it. Sometimes, Raph found himself questioning just who was really the eldest brother anyway.
But he could think about that later, when he had his silent thinking time back to himself again. Now was the time to make Donnie talk about it, analysis and dissect it anyway he wished, and then let it go like anything else that didn't go quite as the younger turtle had planned.
"Listen, I don't know what's gotten you so spooked, little bro, but if you're worried that we'd just let you disappear for thirty years and not go lookin' for you, you shouldn't. You know Leo wouldn't just stop looking for one of his teammates."
Much to Raph's surprise, Donnie started laughing. It wasn't a real laugh though. It was more of what one might think irony sounded like.
Once the laugh had quieted—it couldn't have been more than a few seconds—Don turned to look directly at his older brother for the first time, and Raph almost physically pulled back slightly at how strangely distant his younger brother's eyes looked as he spoke. "It's not monsters under my bed anymore, Raphie. You can't just chase them away for me."
This time, Raphael did visibly jerk a little bit. It had been years since his brothers had called him Raphie, as he'd started insisting he'd outgrown the childish nickname fairly early on. Probably not long after Donatello had stopped calling for him in the middle of the night, every night.
Mikey had always gone to Leo. Leo was the eldest, and was never afraid of the monsters that Mikey was certain lurked in the dark corners of his room. Donnie had always come to Raph, sometimes yelling out for him when he awoke from a nightmare, and sometimes simply coming into Raph's room and curling up at the foot of the bed.
He wasn't sure anymore when exactly it was that Donnie had stopped doing that, but suddenly he missed it. Back then, Donnie would have told him anything and had idolized his bigger brother.
How he'd HATED it at the time when Donnie used to follow him around and mimic everything he did—in or out of the dojo.
The sudden nostalgia just served to remind Raphael how much he missed the Donnie he was used to, and make him angry at this new and somehow darker version. "Yeah? Well how do you know that if you haven't even let me take a crack at it, huh? I think I could probably…"
"You're not invincible, Raph!" Donnie was on his feet now, so suddenly in his big brother's personal space bubble that the elder turtle had to grab the table to keep from grabbing his sais on reflex. "And it isn't your problem, okay! It's my fault, and I'm the one that has to deal with it, alright?"
An angry Leo, Raphael would have known how to handle. You just get mad back at it. Donatello losing his temper was a whole new ballgame, and Raph decided to do what he usual did when faced with something new. He decided to poke at it. "Hey, aren't you the one that's always trying to remind us we're brothers? That we don't have to face things alone? What a major hypocrite you're turning out to be!"
"Don't you get it, Raph? I was alone! I was alone, and it was all because of me! You all died because of me!"
'Okay, not exactly the way I was expecting to get it, but if it works…' Raph shrugged mentally and remained without moving as Donnie flopped back down into his seat, looking even more exhausted than before. Now he knew what was bothering him anyway. "Look, Donnie, if you weren't there than it really isn't…"
"No, that isn't it." Donatello's face was buried in his hands again, and his voice was surprisingly soft after his display of temper before. "I could almost live with that. Master Splinter and Casey…I wished I could have saved them but I knew I couldn't do anything about it. You…Mikey…Leo…you all came with me. To stop Shredder. We knew it was risky, but I thought it was real. Thought maybe, if we won, I could make up for not being there for you guys."
Raph shifted his weight a little. This was getting uncomfortably emotional for him, and he suddenly wished he'd just dropped hints and let somebody else handle it. "Look, Donnie, maybe we got out too? We're…"
"You died, Raph! I stood there and watched you die, because of my stupid plan! I thought…I really thought I could save you guys this time but I wasn't fast enough. Wasn't good enough. You all died because I lead you there!"
"We died because we believed in you," Raph shot back, not sure how he knew it was true but certain that it was.
"Exactly," Donnie whispered to the floor, shoulders slumped and eyes closed.
Raph frowned, fidgeting slightly, before directing his gaze to the ceiling. "Hey, Don, do you remember when we were kids?"
Donatello blinked up at Raphael through his fingers. "Yeah, sure. I remember lots about when we were younger."
"Do you remember how you used to follow me around? Do everything I did? Try to look and sound just like me?"
The purple banded turtle didn't say anything, but smiled a little bit in spite of himself. He wasn't about to tell Raph, but he did in fact remember wanting to be just like his elder brother. He couldn't figure out why anymore, but that didn't seem to be important.
"Do you remember how you following me almost got you killed?"
Now Donnie jumped, and looked at Raph with wide eyes even though the older turtle wasn't looking at him anymore. "What?"
Raph seemed to be addressing the blank computer screens now as he spoke. "It was a long time ago. We were only about six or seven, I think. Master Splinter had gone out foraging, leaving very strict instructions that we were to stay in the lair, since it had been raining for the last couple of days above ground, making the tunnels difficult to navigate with the extra water. But I wasn't about to just sit there and do nothing all day…"
"Raph, where are you going?" Leo demanded as his brother gathered up some supplies and stuck them in his blanket.
"I'm going exploring," Raph said simply, putting his own cup in with the other supplies he thought he might need if he was going to be gone past dinner time like he thought he would.
"But Master Splinter said we were to stay here!" Leo insisted, causing Donnie and Mikey to look up from their coloring pages.
"And do you always do what Master Splinter says, like some kind of baby?" Raph shot back, turning to face his older brother.
Both of them knew it was true. Leo ALWAYS listened to his sensei, but the blue bandanna wearing turtle certainly wasn't going to admit to that. "He said it was really dangerous, Raph."
"Not for me. I beat all you babies in training today, remember? I can take care of myself!"
Leo's frown deepened and he turned back towards watching TV. "Fine. If you want to get in trouble with sensei, you go ahead. But don't say I didn't warn you."
Raph made a neutral noise before shifting his pack onto his back and running out the main entrance of the tunnel. With Leo and Mikey both absorbed in the strange fuzzy pictures of a cat chasing a mouse, Don took the opportunity to slowly stand up and follow his older brother.
Once out the tunnel, Donatello broke into a run. "Raphie! Raphie, wait for me!"
Raphael groaned and kept walking, not bothering to slow down at all. "What do you want, Donnie? Go home."
The younger turtle pouted briefly as he fell into step behind his older brother before grinning again. "What are we doing, Raphie? Are we exploring? Are we going to find a new place to play?"
"Whoa, we?" Raphael turned to frown at his little brother. "WE aren't doing anything. I am exploring, and YOU are going home."
"But Raphie," Donatello almost whimpered, "it's really dark out here. I don't want to go back all by myself."
"You ran out here all by yourself," he muttered back, but didn't push it any further. Actually, he was glad for Donnie's company because it was kind of dark out there. Not that Donnie ever needed to know that of course. He threw his pack back at the younger turtle, who fumbled it a little before catching it. "Well, if you're going to be a pain and tag a long, you might as well make yourself useful."
"O-okay," came the slightly muffled response.
"I was hoping that after I ran you around for a little while, you'd get tired and leave." Raph continued narrating to wall, though Donatello was watching him intently. "You were never the fastest or strongest one; I didn't think you could keep up with me for so long."
"Gee, thanks, Raph," Donnie muttered, looking down at his feet.
Raphael ignored him. "But you kept up. You stayed right behind me for more than two hours. By that point, I figured the only way to get rid of you was to lose you…"
The red turtle grinned to himself as he looked across the unusually high waters of the sewer. It was raining above ground, causing the water to be unusually high and swift. "No way Donnie will be able to get across this. His legs are too short. He'll have to turn back."
That thought in mind, Raph backed up a few paces before approaching the water at a run. The very last second, the young turtle jumped into the air, and used a few pieces of scattered debris to make his way across the rushing water.
"Raphie?" Donnie asked, running up towards the water and stopping at the last second. He peered around Raph's bundle of supplies to look at the rushing liquid with wide eyes.
"Hey, slow poke, are you coming or what?" Raph asked, pleased at how scared his younger brother looked. Donnie was sure to turn back and leave him alone now.
"I-I'm not so sure that's safe, Raphie," the smaller turtle said, taking a step back from the edge. "That water is really high."
"I made it across just fine. But if you're too chicken to do it, you might as well leave the stuff there and head back home."
Instead of the younger turtle thinking that sounded like a good idea, as Raphael had hoped, Donatello's eyes narrowed in determination.
"I'm not scared. If you can do it, so can I!" Clutching the bundle tighter to his chest, the small turtle backed up a few paces, took a deep breath, and charged at the rushing water with his eyes on the other side. Unlike Raphael, he didn't have any debris to use to get the extra distance, and Donatello barely managed to land on the very edge of the far side. With a yelp, he threw his arms out to keep from toppling backwards into the rushing water; dumping Raph's things into the water in the process. "Oh no!"
Raph watched his supplies float away as Donatello regained his balance, and then turned on his brother angrily. "Now look what you did, brainiac! Master Splinter's going to be really mad at me and make me find all new stuff!"
"I'm sorry, Raphie," Donnie muttered to the ground, not wanting to look up and meet his elder brother's furious gaze.
"You bet you're sorry! Why do I even put up with you?" To emphasis his frustrated question, he gave the smaller turtle a firm shove in the chest.
Already on the edge, Donnie stumbled backward a little before tumbling into the water with a yell of surprise. He disappeared below the rushing surface, and soon so did the ripples he had created.
Raph stood right where he had been, arms folded across his chest. "Yeah, very funny Don. I feel real bad for pushing you in now. You can get up now." Nothing happened, and Raph frowned, dropping his arms to the side. "Donnie, I said joke's over. Now get out of the water."
Still no sign of the smaller turtle, and now slightly fearful Raphael rushed to the edge. "Donnie! Donnie, this isn't funny! Get up, now!"
"About then, my mistake occurred to me," the Raphael of the present day said, about as softly as Donatello had ever heard him speak. "The extra water didn't just make the sewer deeper, but created a strong current as the system tried to get rid of the extra water as fast as possible. Maybe Mikey or I could have swam against it, but not Leo and certainly not you."
The young turtle looked toward the sound of the voice, eyes wide, and managed to catch a glimpse of something purple further down current. He started running towards it. "Donnie! Donnie, hang on!"
"The current…" cough "It's too" choke "strong! Raphie, I can't," and the young turtle disappeared under water again.
Without hesitation, Raphael dove headfirst into the water and began swimming with the water, giving him extra speed, but it was too muddy for him to see where he was going. Before long, he had to surface again to see if he could catch sight of his little brother. "Donnie! Donnie, where are you? Oh man, Master Splinter is so going to have me doing tumbling exercises for a month. Donnie!"
He could see nothing in the swirling dark water, and decided to swim to the edge again and get a better look when he wasn't trying so hard to keep himself a float. Using all the power in his small body, the young ninja-in-training made it to the edge of the sewer and pulled himself out again. Spitting out a mouthful of dirty water, Raph stood up and started running down the edge again, his eyes frantically looking for any sign of his little brother. He finally found him several feet down stream, clutching some debris that had gotten stuck in a narrower part of the tunnel.
"Raphie!" Donatello cried desperately, looking up at his brother. "Raphie, help!"
"Hang on, Don, I'll get you out," Raphael yelled back, sounding far more confident than he felt. He stepped off the edge onto the nearest piece of debris, but he'd barely put half of his weight on it before the whole mess shifted and Donnie yelled out in fright. The young turtle pulled back sharply, not wanting to send his younger brother tumbling into the swift water once again. "Hold tight, Donnie! I'll think of something!"
"O-okay," Donatello answered, not seeing another option anyway. Not wanting to put his older brother in danger, the young turtle began looking around for a way to get himself out of this mess. He didn't see any thing like that, but he did spy a familiar looking blanket caught on the edge of his unsteady safe hold. "Hey! Raphie! You're stuff!"
"Huh?" Raph looked up, momentarily confused as he'd completely forgotten about the lost items.
"You're stuff, Raphie, it got stuck here too. I can get it back for you!" Pleased with himself, Donnie began inching his was along the debris, hand out stretched for the blanket.
"Are you crazy?" Raphael yelled after him. "Just leave it alone, Donnie, and get back here!"
"But I've almost…got…" Donnie grunted, stretching his arm as far as he could reach it. His small green fingers had just wrapped around the blanket when another board ran into the one Donnie was holding. The pile gave a terrible groan and shifted, collapsing in on itself moving down stream. The small turtle gave a startled yell, but was cut short when a falling plank hit his head with a resounding crack. Raphael watched, horror struck, as Donatello fell limply into the water, a swirling trail of red following him.
"DONNIE!" He heard his own scream echo off the almost silent tunnels, above the rush of the water, but Raphael didn't care. He just started running again, trying desperately to reach his brother. He stumbled a couple of times, his breath coming in quick gasps as he fought down the fear trying to cloud his senses. "Please be okay, please be okay, please be okay."
Raph caught sight of his brother once more, no longer struggling against the water but instead floating limply along, about the same time he heard the dull roar of one of the many falls that lead to one of the sewer's many drains. Looking ahead again, Raph saw the deadly drop off approaching.
Panicked now, the youngster put on more speed, trying to get ahead of his drifting brother, while pulling his bandana off and tying it around his waist instead. He pulled only a couple of feet a head of Donnie, using the precious seconds to tie his makeshift rope to the bar blocking his side edge off from the perilous fall. He barely had time to look at the swirling drain below before lunging out and grabbing Donnie's hand just as the unconscious turtle fell off the edge.
Donnie's dead weight was more than Raph had expected, and would have dragged him completely off the edge had he not used his legs to wrap around the pole as well. He grunted, trying to haul the smaller turtle up again. "Donnie! Donnie, wake up!"
There was no response from the younger turtle, and from here Raphael could see the gash on the back of his brother's head that was probably responsible for that. He also found that he couldn't tell whether the younger turtle was breathing.
Another wave of water, probably from more debris coming lose further up stream, washed over them both, and Raph found his grip on his brother's hand slipping. "Donnie…Donnie come on…" Now he was holding onto just the fingertips of the smaller hand. "Donnie!"
He couldn't hang onto the dead weight anymore, and in spite of himself, Donatello slipped through his fingers. Raph's eyes widened, and he desperately scrambled to try and grab on again, "NO!"
Donnie was falling, tumbling head long to certain death, and there was nothing Raph could do but stare after him. His brother was going to die, and it was all his fault! "DONNIE!"
Sudden movement out of the corner of his eye caught Raph's attention, and he heard the dull 'clunk' of metal on metal just as he saw his Sensei swinging across the chasm and snagging the lifeless young turtle out of midair.
Raph couldn't stop the relieved yell that escaped him as they swung back toward the middle, and the large rat began climbing the rope one handed with Donatello slung over one shoulder. Splinter spared him a brief glance, but chose not to say anything until he was sure both little ones were safe. Once he'd reached the top, Splinter lay Donatello down before reaching over the edge and pulling Raphael back to safety. The older turtle immediately scrambled to his younger brother's side.
"Donnie! Donnie, wake up! Say something!" Raph looked up at his Master imploringly, taking his bandana when it was offered him. "Donnie's going to be okay, isn't he, sensei?"
The rat didn't answer, instead picking the young one up and bending him over his knee so he could smack Donatello firmly on the back—hopefully jarring the shell into his back enough to force him to cough up the water that was no doubt blocking his airway.
It worked, and with a hacking cough, the youngster coughed up several mouthfuls of muddy water before groaning and half opening his eyes. "Wha?"
"Donnie!" Raphael, bandana replaced around his head, leaned down so he was almost beak to beak with his brother. "Don?"
"Raphie?" Donatello coughed again, spitting out more water. "Raphie, I'm sorry I lost your stuff. I didn't mean to make you upset. You probably won't ever want to play with me again."
Splinter watched as Raphael's almost constantly scowling face crumbled into a look of genuine distress. "No, Donnie, it's okay. Really…"
Splinter stood up, holding the exhausted little one to his chest. "We will discuss your behavior when we get home."
Raph hung his head, though whether in shame or to hide his tears even Master Splinter couldn't say. "Yes, sensei."
Donatello stared at his brother with wide eyes. He'd completely forgotten any event like that, but from the dark look on Raphael's face it wasn't something the elder ninja was ever going to let go. "Raph…"
"I guess what I'm trying to say, Don," Raphael interrupted, trying to get out what he wanted to before his senses got the better of him, "is that we all screw up. When you're the leader, you like to think you're in control, but sometimes there are things you just don't think of. You don't count on. And you can let go of the guilt, accept that you screwed up, or you can let it destroy you."
Donatello sat silently for a while, slightly confused about how to respond to a suddenly wise Raph and instead studying the floor intently. "Which did you chose, Raph?"
"…I'm still working on letting it go."
Donnie smiled a little sadly and glanced up at his brother. "Then that's what I'll do too. Sometimes, following you is still the best thing for me to do."
Raphael said nothing, instead just running a hand a long Donatello's head affectionately and returning to his spot on the couch.