After the Fact
Disclaimer: In the form of haiku! O TMNT / You do not belong to me / I live in despair.
Author's Notes: A ficlet, small, about how grief in different stages. It's meloncholy and overly dramatic and pure self-indulgence. So you'll have to forgive me. But I tried to make it less about death and more about process, so I hope you enjoy. Thank you so much, as always, for taking the time to read.
A few weeks after the fact, Don doesn't ever think about it.
It's easier than it sounds. Sometimes the guilt surges inside his gut and makes Don feel ill, like he keeps swallowing some spoiled meat down despite knowing better. It shouldn't be this easy to forget a brother. But the truth is, it becomes more normal every day. The clock has not slowed. The world has not stopped. Don wakes up at the same time every morning, eats the same meals, fixes the same broken gadgets, and builds the same things that have always swam about in his brain, urgently seeking attention. There are other matters to tend to; it's what his brother would have wanted, Don tells himself. After all, no one else is in any shape to take care of things around here.
Machines must have it this simple.
He takes care of it. All of it. Don sets out four days after they bury him (four days, that's ninety-six hours without him, he's done far worse), dragging himself out of the cocoon of his blankets, still warm, and the pillow he'd stolen from Leo's room. It smells mostly like laundry soap, but it comforts him. His face is sore and his stomach hurts. He washes himself and makes A List.
The lair is a mess. His lab—reeks of death. Don mends what he can see first. Mops the cement, scrubs at the stains with chemicals that burn his throat. The table is ruined; he takes it to the dump and leaves it there, then later regrets not destroying or burning it. It may have helped him feel better. After that, Don picks up all the papers he's thrown furiously across the desk, cleans the few dishes left in the sink (no one's eaten), and throws out the bread that's growing spots. Then he sweeps the living room free of broken glass—muttering, as if from far away, about Raph and his temper and who even knows where the pictures have gone—because someone could get hurt. He also picks up the lamp.
Don picks up all the candles in the dojo and puts them away. Then he shelves a few books that no one will read anymore, and heads to Leo's room.
There isn't much to clean in there, but he prepares a few items for storage. The bedding will have better use elsewhere; the weapons he will leave for Master Splinter to contemplate. There is a half-written note on the chest, hastily scrawled, that he tucks inside of a novel. There's not much that requires immediate attention, but Don finds some lukewarm water bottles huddled half-way under the bed and goes to dump them in the sink. Then he locks the door rarely closed.
Don goes and eats lunch. It is a sandwich that tastes bland.
After that, it falls into place beautifully. Rote patterns, routine that gives order to the world around him. He replaces the table. Appropriate calls are made, to the select few of their friends left, and Don teaches himself to make green tea the way their father likes it in the morning. He fixes the television twice, both of the accidents Raph's fault. Mikey eats after a while, which is good, and Don learns the best way to firmly push his younger sibling into following an order to chew.
He studies the small schedules and plans Leo left stacked neatly, bound, in his bedside table. Soon Don does equipment check when needed, helps Mikey arrange the shopping so they won't end up with an abundance of junk food, and replaces Master Splinter's candles. (He always does it when their father can't see, though he surely must know, though neither of them say anything.) Sometimes Don thinks of Raph, of patrolling, and even once of the empty armchair in the living room with the shiny, threadbare spot on its arm where an elbow used to rest just beside a book. But mostly, Don doesn't ever think about it.
There are things that must be done. Taken care of, duties passed down on a line thin enough to lose in the snow. There's the rest of his family to consider. Some things can't be changed, or fixed, or returned through agony. So Don reminds himself quietly every morning that he can breathe (and he can, and he hates it) and keeps the structure from failing. Keeps the gears running smoothly.
Some of his family is still alive, after all.
(Raph punches him on the third week. Don gets up. Raph punches him again and this time it hurts. Don doesn't get up. Instead, he puts his head in his hands and starts to howl, like an animal, because it hurts so much.)
He still has the pillow. It smells like laundry soap, but now it is Don's.
A few months after the fact, Mikey can't stop thinking about it.
The grip on his chest is still tight, like someone's grabbed onto his major organs and won't let go, but it's becoming bearable. Yesterday Mikey had even remembered a good joke and laughed at it. He's smiling a lot, but most of it's to do with the fact that Mikey's been smiling so long he's not entirely sure how to stop. The first week, he'd beaten his fists against a mirror in a desperate panic because no matter what he tried, even through his tears, his grin was a frightened, awful thing beaming back at him. His eyes are almost black, the circles get so deep. He looks haunted.
He feels haunted, too.
It'd be easy to deny it, but he doesn't. For a while, Mikey blanks out on everything, sure. He can't eat, can't sleep. He feels pinpricks along his entire body, a restless urge to do something, anything, so long as it keeps him moving. He walks the lair relentlessly. Trains himself until he coughs saliva and mucus on the floor of the dojo. Runs the sewer tunnels with war-like abandon, his breath echoing harshly against the slip upwards of the tube. For the first time in years, Mikey feels like he's going to be crushed underground here, under all this weight, without the sun or anywhere to bleach out the shadows.
He bawls himself to sleep.
It passes, though. All of it. Not that he'll ever stop feeling the gaping, irritable hole inside of him, some black spot that leeches all emotion, tarnishes memory with a touch. It catches Mikey at stupid moments; eating cereal at breakfast and hearing a kettle go, watching Godzilla, the classic, on television when the lights are out and no one can see him slip up. Ironically, it's only in Leo's room, in the dojo, settled amongst everything that could jar the memories that Mikey feels at peace.
He doesn't get better, but he stops getting worse. Hope tastes stale but then, they've all been starving.
Now Mikey suddenly can't get enough of it. Leo. His brother. It's freaky, he knows, and he understands innately that if Don or Raph catches him at it, there will be either a patronizing talk or a quick beating (he wants to show them, though, let them see for what it is, what they both ignore). He spends hours thinking furiously in his room, pacing the small space, tapping a pencil to his chin. Notebooks are sacrificed. Doodles kept no matter how awful, little chicken-scratch notes that tell him nothing but mean everything collected in a binder.
He's terrified he'll somehow forget all of this. Him.
At first, Mikey feels guilty. (But then the arcs start to come out, the shape of a strong shin, the curve of a jaw.) Then he feels exhilarated, some equal parts excited and sickened and wanting. (Stories—how when Leo was young, he had a solemn but boyish manner of speaking, how when Leo was older, he'd begun storing words like they were water in a desert, which made them seem more precious than they actually were sometimes.) He tries to remember the details of his brother's life, capturing a vivid sense of one moment and then panicking when the others fog in his mind. He suddenly wishes he'd asked more questions. Demanded more time together. Stopped taking what was steady for granted.
He fills twenty-two notebooks before he runs out. It's a striking blow. His big brother's life, summed up in twenty-two spiraled notebooks, not even college ruled. Ridiculous. Mikey plummets into somewhere that makes his skin crawl, where he believes himself dead, and wakes sobbing for air amidst a flurry of paper grayed with lead. It can't end here.
Leo just can't end here.
He rereads everything. The sketch of Leo scolding him for being too careless with himself on a mission. How Mikey's fingers spread farther than Leo's, seemed bigger, but that was why he'd been given 'chucks instead of blades. The list of Leo's favorite bad jokes, his favorite foods (the hot sauce Mikey never saw coming), the way he used detergent religiously and made everything of his seem like brand new even when it was ancient. The tale of the morning in the rain and the farm where Mikey had almost lost him the first time. Poems, scribbled in haste and often interjected with random footnotes, about Saturday mornings and team practices. How Leo had always fed Klunk if Mikey was busy. How he'd once taken Mikey by the face and brushed his hands over it, frowning, like he could erase any strain there if only the touch was soft enough. How he'd been an idiot sometimes, like all of them; hardheaded and angry.
There's still so much missing, Mikey thinks. He swallows his despair. It's never going to be enough.
So he sleeps. And when Mikey wakes up, he goes to see Don because Don is the observer of the group. Clever details, he'll know. Parts of Leo Mikey never understood or glimpsed. A jump start to bring to mind bits and pieces Mikey should remember, but can't, too desperate and thus limiting.
("Tell me about my brother," Mikey asks in a small voice. At this moment, crouched before the dark compassion of Don's eyes, tears blotchy on his cheeks, he has never felt more grown up.)
The story eats his shelves. It has no ending, at least not one penned yet. Mikey imagines that he will tell it to many people years from now and that, when he does, all he'll feel is the love.
A few years after the fact, Raph makes a pot of green tea.
He takes it to the rooftops before the sun rises. It's cold by the time he settles down on the cement, shell propped up against a storage shed, even though the wind hasn't stirred with the day. His bones ache, although he's still young. Raph pours two cups, ignoring the unappetizing chill to the teapot. It's not like it matters and he's never been good with tea, anyway.
The morning is gray. Raph has always liked a gray morning. Someone once told him, what seems like a long time ago, that a red evening and a gray morning bode well for the traveling and the lost.
He raises the teacup in silence. Then, he drinks.