He couldn't say that they weren't good enough. Not when they were all he had.
It wasn't as if they questioned why they were different than he was. They paid little heed to any mysteries surrounding their origin. Never wondered why he would bleed when he messed up with his tools, rarely noticed when they themselves became disfigured when things went wrong. Leo would throw a roll of gauze at him, looking annoyed because he was never careful. Mikey would sidle up to him, utilizing absolutely none of the ninja skills that were given to him. Raph would grump and growl in that special way of his, just like he always used to. It was normal enough.
Sometimes when he woke up, and the smells of food were floating around him, and the whirring of the bike's wheels and clinking of the equipment in the dojo were surrounding him, he really did believe that everything was how it was supposed to be.
Mikey really only cooks for one. Just a single cup of coffee, two eggs, and a slice of bacon. Every morning. That's what he gets when Mikey is left to his own devices. If he asks for something different, the turtle smiles widely and says "Sure, Don," in a gleeful way, and cooks precisely what it is that he wanted, all the while chattering and making bad puns and jokes. The coffee is as it always was, and the eggs are over-medium.
After a moment, both Leo and Raph wander into the kitchen. Raph is scrubbing at his skin with a cloth to remove grease, while Leo swipes a towel across his forehead. Donatello hopes that he isn't overheating. He'll have to look into that later. Both take a seat at the table, beginning to engage in the small talk he hears every morning unless he brings something up. Life is so predictable now, and unless he takes a very active part in it, his brothers could go on in a mindless routine forever. The originals had very diverse and complicated personalities; he's nailed that for the most part, if he could just get them to actually use them…
He doesn't notice that he's finished his eggs, and when he does, he gets up to scrape the remains into the sink. He's not so hungry today. Giving it a swift rinse, he dumps it into the dish bin. It's been taking much longer to fill it up, so he hopes that nothing stains before he gets chance to clean them.
"It's time for practice," Leo says suddenly, glancing to where he knew the clock was. He pulls the towel off his neck and leaves it on the table to deal with later; this Leo is a little messier than the original. Yet another thing he had to fix.
Raph grumbles rebelliously but complies, moving over to the dojo. Mikey makes an excited sound and follows his brother, batting at the red bandana tails that flutter in front of him.
Leo moves to follow them before Don speaks up, making a waving motion. "Uh, Leo! Can I see you in the lab again?"
He clacks his teeth impatiently and sighs. "Again? Donnie, how many times do we have to do this?" Don knows he doesn't enjoy feeling imperfect. This was something he was able to keep from the original.
"This'll be the last time, I promise. Come on, Leo. Please?"
He gets a hesitant look in his glassy eyes, then grunts. "Get on with it."
The lab is as it has always been; the abandoned experiments sitting in the corner, cobwebs stringing them together, books scattered messily about desks and tools lying in rather inappropriate places. He sweeps an atlas from his chair and motions for his brother to sit down, searching for a screwdriver.
Leonardo makes an unsure sound, which mellows out into bored acceptance. "Come on then."
"Right". He takes the screwdriver and gives a sharp jab to the plastron, where the heart would normally be. When he releases his finger the skin rises as if one were clicking a pen, and his brother tenses a moment. Donatello grabs the button of skin between his fingers and pulls sharply, and it comes off like a cork. Leonardo's hands tighten around the chair's arms before he slumps backwards slightly. Don supports the lolling head with his shoulder and punches through the small hole where the cork once was. Immediately the skin parts and reveals the deep inner-workings of his brother.
He inserts the end of a small flashlight between his teeth, pauses to screw it so it lights up, then thrusts his hands into the chest cavity.
There are many wires, but he knows what each of them does. After all, he put them there. He removes various strips of tape that bundle things together and rearranges them, stopping every now and then as he is faced with a particularly steadfast piece that requires him to pick at it. Sockets are given different wires, screws are tightened or loosened, bolts are relocated or simply discarded. He's on auto now, he knows. It's almost like he's brushing his teeth, doing simple motions and steps that his brain has learned to conduct on its own.
Only, this robot is far more important to him than clean teeth.
Eventually he stops, after assuring himself that his Leo was not overheating. He was just being Leo. Being the guy who does so many flips in the morning that it's a surprise that he's not passed out by noon. Being the guy who sits on the sidelines and observes. Being the big brother, just like he used to be. Just like he is again.
He allows himself a peek at his Leo's face, and cringes. The eyes…they're so empty. So lifeless. They aren't what they should be. No intelligence. No warmth. Not what he made them to be. Just glassy, modeled orbs. What he made them. A voice reminds him of the fact that emotion will flood them when he turns his brother back on.
But he isn't willing to say that himself.
He never had to turn the real Leo on.
Donatello shoves the plastron-imitation cork into the small hole again, and the broken skin begins to mend, shaping itself around the button of artificial flesh. He can't remember if it's organic material or nanobots that he used. He doesn't particularly care. As long as it works. As long as it's real.
As the material finishes mending he wipes his grease-slicked hands on a towel. His brother stirs and groggily lifts his head, and Don nods at him briefly, telling him that he's finished.
With that he's finished with Leonardo. He throws the towel onto his desk and gathers his tools, preparing to work on his next big project. After this one he'd probably lay off of the engineering for a while.
The new project has wires. Many more wires, and sockets. It's smaller too, so he has less working space. And it's taken Don months to even fathom how to begin coding the personality chip. There was so much about his personality that couldn't be caught and created, and he couldn't be satisfied until it was like the real thing.
He needed the real thing.
"Ah. It's Master Splinter."
The voice startles him, but he doesn't turn around. He knows that it's Leonardo because of the smooth voice and the casualty in which he was approached. He'd expected his brother to wander back to the dojo, but this change in routine was promising. His brother wasn't a mindless robot. Not anymore.
"Yeah. You remember Master Splinter?"
"Kind of. I don't have any consistent memory of him, but I know that he's important. He raised us."
It was expected; Donatello could only fill in his certain parts of his brothers' memories of Master Splinter. It wasn't like he knew every family exchange, so he could only program the parts of them all being together…
"You know he won't be the same."
Donatello's tool drops.
"I said he won't be the same. We aren't. He won't be either. He can't. Even if he tries."
So he knew. Of course he knew; he was Leo. Leo always knew these things. As far as Don knew, Raph and Mikey might have as well. He was…just too good at it. He knew his brothers too well.
"I'm trying to make you be the same."
"I'm sorry, Don. I wish we'd lived."
So does Don. More than anything. He picks his wrench up from the ground and wipes the dust off of it, turning to his partially complete Master.
"You don't have to be. I've re-made you. You're here, Leo."
An uneasy sound escapes his brother, one that he vaguely finds recognizable. He ignores it and continues. "I understand. Why I survived. It's because I was the only one who could bring us back, Leo. Our family. If one of you died, the rest of us would be gone forever, but I can…I brought you back. I knew how."
Donatello expects a lecture now, but doesn't get one. Good. Leo always was unpredictable. He sets his wrench down on the table, spinning to face Leo. His goals, his reasons for doing what he did…they make sense now, more than ever now that he's saying them out loud.
"You get it, right? This ability…this knowledge that I'd never lose you. The fact that I know how we can always be together. It's…it's true genius, Leo!"
Sadness flickers across his brother's eyes, and he watches as the turtle closes them and takes a slow breath. When he opens them again they're so empty…empty like they always were when Leo was troubled. Empty like they were supposed to be.
But still, Donatello isn't sure whether or not this Leonardo is real.
Not when he smiles sadly and says, "I guess it is, Don. I guess it is."