Problem Solving
by KC

Disclaimer: Ninja Turtles belong to someone else. Not me.
Summary:
The theft of Donatello's old math books brings past hurts to light.
Apologies:
it wanted to be written in present tense. And explaining math isn't easy when you can't show the numbers, so the confusion is not entirely my fault. With thanks to crabapplered and spacefille.
Dedication:
to everyone who cried and flung their math book at the wall in sincere frustration.

Following his nightly routine like a battle plan, Donatello drinks down his last cup of coffee, shuts down his computers, flips off the lights, then stands by his door and opens, closes it. He waits a moment, straining to hear the faintest footfall on the metal walkways, someone's breath coming closer. Nothing, but he expected that. His thief wouldn't sneak in until sure Donatello was long gone.

As he leaves the door and moves behind his desk, he wonders if 'thief' is too harsh. All that has disappeared from his lab are a pair of books, and the first had been returned the next night. The only reason he's even noticed their loss in the clutter of his projects is that he uses that book as a weight holding down a stack of blueprints. He doesn't have much other use for an old algebra book.

The door pushes in an inch, two. Donatello grows still. That was faster than he expected. The light from outside is nothing but a dusky glow, but to his adjusted eyes, it's enough to see the silhouette of one of his brothers slipping inside. Not big enough to be Raphael, but Michelangelo never crouches or hangs his head when playing a prank. Nothing about the figure's movements looks like his little brother, so...Leonardo?

Constantly looking over his shoulder, Leonardo takes a few steps inside, listening for the faintest sound. Donatello holds his breath and hopes his heart doesn't sound as loud as it does in his own ears. But why does he feel so nervous? This is his lab, these are his books. But he has the distinct feeling of witnessing something he shouldn't.

Leonardo sets something down on one of the piles of books in the corner, then looks over the other stacks. How on earth can he see to read the covers? Donatello soon realizes that Leonardo isn't reading, he's counting, across two piles, then down three, picking out another book. Leonardo looks at the cover in the thin line of light from the door, then holds it close and reaches for the door again.

Biting back a shout, Donatello fights his urge to jump up and catch him in the act. It's just a book. Leonardo could've just asked, but is it such a big deal? Why does Leonardo look so worried? He cranes his neck trying to see the cover, but the room is too dark. A moment later, his brother slips out again. The door shuts with a barely audible click.

Long minutes pass. Only when Donatello is sure Leonardo has gone back upstairs does he turn on his monitor, knowing the ambient glow won't shine under the door. He picks his way across the cluttered floor, careful not to send anything clattering or rolling, and looks over the stacks of books. Most of them are dusty from disuse. Intro to Algebra, Pre-Calculus, Pre-Trigonometry--kid's stuff he hasn't cracked in years.

Why is Leonardo digging through his old math books?

Part of him wants to let it go. He doesn't need these old books anymore. Leonardo returns anything he takes. But the more Donatello thinks about it, the more it bothers him. He looks for the book Leonardo just returned and finds it, the only one not covered in dust. Foundations in Geometry. He doesn't even remember it as he opens it to a random page.

He half-smiles. Childish notes fill the margins and work out each problem in his old messy handwriting. How long ago had he worked any of this, teaching himself volume and mass? It had taken him long weeks of nothing but studying to figure it all out, and now it looks so basic and obvious.

Maybe that's it. None of his brothers have ever shown much interest in studying geometry, but maybe Leonardo has suddenly decided to try? Donatello frowns. But Leonardo only borrowed this book yesterday. That wasn't enough time for a glance, let alone a serious try.

Were there any notes, any new efforts at trying the problems? Donatello notices that he'd left some of the problems blank, and he flips back to the first pages to see if Leonardo wrote anything. Nothing. The only handwriting is his own.

Curious, he sets that book down and looks at the door. He could always just talk to Leonardo--but that doesn't feel right. If Leonardo wanted help, he would have asked. He would have asked to borrow these. Something gnaws at the edge of Donatello's thoughts, and he quietly makes his way out of his lab and up the stairs, listening to make sure he was alone.

He knows the lair by heart, but he has to hope that Michelangelo didn't leave any of his magazines out, or that Raphael's soda or beer cans aren't scattered across the floor. If he trips on one of those, he doesn't think he could fall silently. His whole body aches from training, piecing together his latest projects, and then unwinding in front of the computer for a couple hours. He wonders how Leonardo, who practices religiously and performs various chores around the lair all day, somehow finds energy to sneak through the lair at night.

He passes by Raphael's room, briefly listening for his heavy snoring to make sure he was asleep, then moves by Michelangelo's room. He doesn't even lean in to listen. There's no telling what alarms Michelangelo has set for intruders. Donatello sometimes thought of them as a child's boobytraps for monsters, Leonardo thinks they're good practice and never lectures Mike for them, and Raphael just thinks they're annoying when he crashes drunk into the wrong room at five a.m.

At first he thought his brother had gone straight to bed. Leonardo's room is dark, but as Donatello peers around the corner, he spots a flickering orange glow near the far corner. His brother simply lit a candle.

He doesn't dare move closer, afraid that Leonardo will hear him. Craning his neck, he stares at the spot near the candle and waits for the strange shapes and shadows to turn into something recognizable. Slowly the shadow between him and flame turns into Leonardo sitting on the floor with a blanket over his shoulders, sheltering the light from the door. The book lay open in front of him. Donatello thinks he looked a little like a sorcerer reading a grimoire,

Is he reading? Donatello narrows his eyes. No, not studying. Leonardo turns the pages too quickly to be reading the text, looks over the numbers with no comprehension in his eyes. He flips backwards, staring at the book as if it's a foreign language.

For some reason he didn't understand, Donatello figures out what's wrong when Leonardo tilts his head and exhales. It isn't a sigh. It sounds more like he's taken a fatal sword thrust. His head lowers in defeat, and he closes the book, running his fingertips over the cover again as reverently as if it really does hold magic spells.

Donatello blinks wide eyes. The book is pre-algebra, basic mathematics, and Leonardo doesn't know what the equations mean.

For the next week, Donatello puts the majority of his projects on hold and observes his brother. He doesn't dare take notes. Even though Leonardo never snoops through his lab, except for math books, Donatello can't risk Leonardo glancing at his notebook or at his computer at the wrong moment. His big brother has an uncanny knack of spotting scraps of information and putting together other people's plans.

Which makes sense, now that Donatello thinks about it. In the same way illiterates develop strong memories, Leonardo uses what he has to its fullest potential. He can't use higher mathematics, but he can estimate and instinctively guess outcomes.

Now that Donatello's looking, it's fascinating.

Perched on top of the corner grocery store, they sit like a pair of gargoyles in the snow, watching for shadows on the street. Donatello keeps one eye on his brother, wondering if he even feels the cold. He knows they can't let the Purple Dragons establish this corner as one of their hangouts, not with the Battle Shell and garage so close by. At the same time, he never got a good answer for why he couldn't set up cameras and monitor this spot from the lair with a cup of coffee in his hands.

They can't stay much longer. Cold weather affects them worse than humans. His blood feels like it's freezing to slush. He glances sideways and raises one eyeridge. Leonardo understands his question and considers.

Their thought processes are clearly different. Donatello would take the temperature of the air, his own body temperature, and plug them into a formula to give him an exact time to leave, all in a moment. Leonardo instead places his hand on the snow around him. He breathes deep, exhaling white mist. His gaze turns distant, and Donatello knows he's remembering past nights, not all of them pleasant, telling him how long he lasts in winter.

Donatello knows that he relies on his intellect, but now he sees how Leonardo thinks with his whole body.

The decision is rendered moot by gunshots below.

As he leaps down, his staff already in one hand, Donatello wishes Raphael and Michelangelo were here. Not that he thinks he and Leonardo can't handle this on their own, but he knows the odds improve with each brother in a fight. Raphael is fond of pointing out every instance Donatello needs someone to guard his back, snapping that he spends too much time hunched over a computer.

Then again, fighting beside Leonardo means a lot less chat between punches. Leonardo tends to fall silent if he doesn't have to talk. Michelangelo's not here to grab the gang's attention, Raphael isn't slamming one human after another against dumpsters and through windows. The street is eerily quiet and Donatello enjoys the sound of snow hitting the pavement, the soft thud of his bo into the back of a head, the sound of wind moaning around his staff. Sometimes, when he hears a hand crack around a gun as he smashes them into the ground, he can tell exactly what speed and force he struck with.

Once the handful around him are on the ground, he looks over his shoulder. Leonardo's finishing his last couple, but the amount of blood surprises Donatello. Leonardo doesn't draw blood if he doesn't have to, but the thin red sprays along the wall show exactly how heated his fight became for a moment. When Leonardo drops the last purple dragon, he breathes out heavily and looks right at Donatello. Frustration and relief fill his eyes.

Oh. Donatello winces and tucks his staff back in his belt.

"Sorry," he says softly.

Leonardo shakes his head, takes another breath and wipes his swords clean on the nearest unconscious body.

"Not your fault," Leonardo says. "He was drawing on you from the other end of the alley."

At least Leonardo won't rub his face in it, but he knows Raphael would, and so would Michelangelo. They all have that feeling, that sixth sense when they're in danger, but his own seems useless compared to theirs. He wonders if it stems from the way Leonardo thinks with his whole body, and if it's something he could develop for himself.

Something to think about later. For now he glances at the fallen gang to make sure they won't be getting up anytime soon.

"Did we get all of them?" he asks.

"Close enough." Leonardo glances at the bodies around Donatello's feet, then those around himself, finally glancing toward the end of the street. A few escaped, but the falling snow is already covering their trail. "Five, seven...so three that ran."

He sighs and comes closer, and now Donatello can see the cut along his shoulder. He gently takes Leonardo's arm and holds it out, checking to make sure it really is as shallow as it looks. Leonardo waits for him to finish.

"One of them just got lucky," he explains, not meeting his eyes. "Took me by surprise."

"I'm not about to yell at you," Donatello says and lets him go. "Especially when I'm sure that happened when you were watching my back."

His brother half-smiles and takes his arm back. "It's what I'm here for."

He walks by, starting the long trip home. Donatello watches him for a moment, then follows close at his side, deep in thought.

They're both here, he thinks, to watch each other's back. A gun pointed at one of them is just a little more obvious than being hopelessly frustrated by mathematics.

When Donatello sets the math book on the table during breakfast, however, he hits a snag.

Leonardo spots the book, swallows quickly and takes his plate to the kitchen, disappearing around the corner. A moment later he appears again, heading for the dojo. He never glances at Donatello. His look is focused on the mat and the day's practice.

Only Donatello notices, and he knows that if he hadn't been watching for any reaction, he wouldn't have realized why Leonardo left. His brother's look was so fleeting that he wonders if Leonardo recognized it as one of the books he'd borrowed, or if the numbers were enough to drive him away.

Cracking the book and listening to the cover crease, Donatello thumbs through the pages. He's carefully erased all of his old notes, and the pages are clear, if worn. The simple equations don't look intimidating to him. They never did, even when they were new. Beginning algebra felt like opening doors in his mind, but he supposes they may feel like fighting rusted locks to Leonardo. It's the same way he feels about using a sai, a sword, anything other than his staff.

The scene repeats itself later in the day. As always, Leonardo is the last to leave the dojo, his head bowed in exhaustion as he extinguishes the candles. Although they all meditate to some degree, Leonardo is the only one who remains longer than Splinter demands, lighting a few candles in the far corner and withdrawing into himself. Donatello wonders what his brother gets out of it. When Splinter has them meditate after practice, he thinks about the repairs, projects and plans waiting for him in the lab. Leonardo, whenever Donatello sneaks a look from the corner of his eye, seems a thousand miles away. From the way he walks with his eyes half-shut and his shoulders slumped, maybe Leonardo really does journey far away.

Watching from the sofa, Donatello is careful not to attract anyone's attention. Michelangelo is absorbed in channel surfing, but Donatello's learned that his little brother can be dangerously insightful. Beside him, Raphael sits on the edge of the couch, a beer in one hand and a free weight in the other as he counts arm curls.

Following the evening script, Leonardo comes behind his siblings, leaning one hip against the couch as he watches the channels blur. Eventually Michelangelo will settle on one, much like a roulette table, and he is allowed to do this because he always finds the best program.

From the corner of his eye, Donatello observes his older brother. Blinking slowly, Leonardo watches as Michelangelo lands on a nature show about the ocean. The screens fill with black water with bioluminiscent sparks as the camera dives deeper and deeper into the unknown. Raphael grimaces at the angler fish, then growls at Michelangelo when reminded that they're only five inches long.

Then Donatello sees it. Leonardo's gaze slips from the televisions to Michelangelo himself, then over to Raphael, as if reassuring himself that they're all right. Donatello stares at the far wall as if deep in thought, and in his peripheral vision he sees Leonardo sweep over him and then to the open book in his lap.

Leonardo's hand on the couch tightens. His breath hitches. Donatello has to fight to show no reaction. Without a word, Leonardo turns and walks away, heading toward the shower. Michelangelo and Raphael pay no attention. It's a regular part of the routine.

Not quite sure what he's doing, Donatello sets his book aside and follows him.

In this new lair of steel and empty spaces, the bathrooms are a welcome change from what they had before. Multiple shower stalls line the walls with curtains at each one, and putting up with Michelangelo's wet towel snaps beats waiting for one piecemeal showerhead that may or may not work that day. Best of all, there's always hot water.

Running water audibly splashes the floor and steam creeps from under the farthest shower. Donatello quietly shuts the door and listens. He knows this wouldn't be possible without the water running. Leonardo has frighteningly good hearing.

A sharp jolt and the crack of tile makes him jump. Donatello wonders what just happened, but Leonardo's hiss and, a moment later, strained sigh make it clear, even if the sound of porcelain shattering on the floor didn't. Why didn't he recognize it? Raphael punches the wall enough times for them to all know what broken masonry and glass sound like. He winces. That had to hurt.

Not sure what to do, Donatello slowly takes off his mask and padding, folding them up and setting them neatly on the floor outside the closest shower. Hyperconscious of every sound, he turns on the water and lets it pour over him as if nothing was strange.

On the other side of the room, Leonardo pauses, falls silent. The water gives him away, splashing the floor with no change in pitch. After a moment the water changes rhythmn and sound, moving as he moves. Neither of them speak.

Until this moment, Donatello didn't know how bad Leonardo felt. His brother never gives into frustration without doing everything in his power to fix it, whatever "it" is. Longs hour practicing, sometimes whole nights spent in meditation, even self-destructive training runs against all their enemies festering in the city.

As he thinks, Donatello grows worried. Leonardo's hurt himself before because of self-perceived faults. He's surprised that something as seemingly useless to his brother as algebra, something this cerebral, would call up the those feelings in him. Maybe that's why he's starting to lash out. It's something none of them would imagine him understanding. Not even himself.

The problem has suddenly taken a serious turn. Donatello decides not to bring his books out into the open until he has time to sit his brother down and talk to him. There's no point in parading them openly. Leonardo will never ask, will never even look at them.

The first step is to get everyone else out of the lair. He loves his brothers, but Raphael and Michelangelo hovering over the kitchen table teasing Leonardo would go over as well as when they tease Donatello in the dojo. Splinter would snap at them, then the jibes would become comments said under their breath, and if called on that, they would fall back on the excuse that they were just teasing.

Donatello hates being "just teased." He figures Leonardo, who tries to do everything perfectly, hates it, too.

He turns off the shower and leaves, almost forgetting to dry himself off. If he's right, Leonard will finish soon, and sure enough, his brother steps into his laboratory only a minute after he sits in front of his computer. Making a show of pausing his screen saver of a rotating engine, Donatello spins in his chair to face him.

"Hey, Leo. What's up?"

Leonardo holds one hand over the other, wearing a grimace at himself. "Clipped the wall while I was training. Didn't even notice 'till the water hit it."

No widening of his eyes, no tensing, nothing. Donatello has to fight not to reveal anything on his face. He holds his hands out, taking Leonardo's wounded fist. The sharp tile edges certainly paid him back for that hit. Blood covers the knuckles, so he gently cleans it off to see the sliced skin.

"It's just messy," Donatello says. "It won't need stitches, if that's what you were worried about."

Leonardo nods once and watches him wrap the bandage over it. Donatello keeps himself focused on the quick work. If he looks his brother in the eye, Leonardo might notice how shaken he is.

Has he always lied this easily? He remembers when Leonardo stammered if he tried to lie. Now the lie comes smoothly, plausible and simple. How many times has he done this before? Raphael will mumble excuses and Michelangelo concocts wild stories that don't hide the fact that he's distracting his listeners. Donatello can remember a few half-truths he's told himself. But they all trust Leonardo.

What reassures him is the way Leonardo doesn't meet his eyes, either. He tells himself that Leonardo has to lie to their enemies, bluff their way convincingly out from under terrible odds. And this lie is so small it shouldn't matter. Donatello wouldn't want to admit he hit the wall, either. Not when the obvious question, "why?", couldn't be answered without admitting a host of other things as well.

Tomorrow, he decides. He'll find an excuse to get Michelangelo and Raphael out for the day. And maybe send Splinter with them. Tomorrow.

"So it'll be okay?" Leonardo asks needlessly. He knows the answer. Donatello would tell him if the bone was cracked or the cut too deep. He just likes to hear it out loud.

"It'll be all right," Donatello says, tucking the bandage in. "Promise."

During next morning's practice, Splinter announces that Raphael and Michelangelo will accompany him to April's to help Casey move. At first Donatello kicks himself for yet again obsessing over one project to the exclusion of everything else happening around him. It's only when the three of them leave and the lair falls silent that he realizes what's happened. For once, the universe is working with him.

He joins Leonardo at the breakfast table, self-conscious of how he moves and breathes. There's a couple of leftover oranges that Michelangelo didn't get to, so he takes one and starts peeling it to have something to do with his hands. Leonardo pushes aside his plate, already finished, but he doesn't leave yet.

Normally he can sit comfortably in silence, but today Donatello needs something to talk about, to find a way to angle his conversation. He stares at the door.

"Why'd Splinter just take Raph and Mike?" he asks.

"Afterward he's taking them to work on their meditation," Leonardo answers, a half smile quirking his mouth. "They just don't know it yet."

Donatello nods once, too nervous to smile back. Even with Splinter focusing on them, he doesn't think that they'll come back any more disciplined. Raphael meditates best when he's not thinking about it. And although Michelangelo masters everything else their father puts him to, penning his boundless energy turns him into a time bomb. He only masters what he wants to, and he doesn't want to sit still and think about the cosmos.

Come to think of it, neither does Donatello. He glances at Leonardo, who relaxes in his chair and leans back, letting his eyes close. It's obvious why Leonardo didn't go. He already sits surrounded by candles every evening.

"How come he didn't take me?"

The question comes out more hurt than he expected. He doesn't like sitting still either, unless he has his sketchbook and maybe a calculator. His tone must surprise Leonardo, too. His brother looks at him with round eyes.

"Did you want to?"

"Honestly--no." Donatello sighs and puts down the half-peeled orange. "I don't really enjoy it. I don't get the same thing out of it that you do."

Leonardo relaxes again. There's something about the way he moves, slowly and with small sighs, that makes Donatello feel tired in sympathy. He happens to notice as Leonardo moves his bandaged hand beneath the table, safely out of sight, and Donatello wonders if he'll ever be able to get closer to his brother, to understand exactly how he thinks.

"I don't think you're supposed to," Leonardo says.

"I use it to relax and let myself stop worrying about everything for awhile," Leonardo says. "Sometimes to focus on fights ahead of us. It's okay if you think about something different."

"I'm usually thinking about what I'm going to do when Splinter let's us stop," Donatello admits. "I guess I just don't focus the way you do."

"Some people are better at doing things than others," Leonardo says with a shrug. He stands and presses the heel of his hand to his temple, working out a minor headache, then turnes to leave.

Before he can stop himself, Donatello stares at his shell and grabbes the edge of the table. This isn't how he wants to start the conversation, this isn't how he wants it to go, but the question bubbles out of him as if it's an idea he can't keep quiet.

Complete stop. Leonardo freezes, but he doesn't turn turn around. Donatello didn't know what he'd expected, but his brother's inaction is worse than anything he'd imagined. The moment drags until Donatello thinks he'll suffocate as the air grows heavier and heavier.

"What?" Leonardo whispers.

In the silence, the quiet response is a shout.

"I...I know you took my books," Donatello says in a rush. "That you've been trying to--I mean, what I mean is, I know you don't understand what's in them. The basic algebra and..."

He hesitates. Leonardo tenses with each word as if struck. Donatello doesn't know how to guide the conversation, how to turn this into a conversation. It's falling apart around him and he scrambles to salvage it.

"Well, you must've been trying for a long time since you went backwards to the easiest books and you're haven't gotten it yet...how long have you been trying? Weeks? Months--"

"I didn't--" Leonardo tries, still not turning. "I thought maybe this time...maybe you were wrong."

This time? Donatello wishes he would turn around. He's glad he doesn't turn around. There's a weariness in his voice, something deep and hurt.

Something in the air changes. Leonardo's come to a decision. He stands a little straighter, as if he's accepted something, but he still won't face his brother.

"Stupid," Leonardo breathes. "I'm not built for anything but fighting."

Important, Donatello can tell his answer to this is important. Confusion and awkwardness garble his answer, and he doesn't even realize that his answer "of course not!" has been misinterpreted until Leonardo walks, not upstairs to his room, but out of the lair.

The door closes behind him and the lair is still. Donatello stares at it as if he can bring his brother back through sheer force of will. The moment passes and he leans against the table, his head in his hands.

"Stupid..." he whispers to himself.

Running the conversation again in his head, he grimaces as he hears himself as his brother must have. It isn't hard to take everything he said the wrong way, and he knows his brother's pride can be so brittle. Amazing how just a couple of seconds tore apart everything he wanted to accomplish.

No. He sits straight and takes a deep breath. No, it's not all torn apart. He hasn't failed yet. True, he screwed up, and it won't be easy to fix. But Leonardo will come home, and the secret is out between them, and while he'll have to tread carefully around his big brother for the next few days, that will give him time to figure out the first step of what he meant by Donatello maybe being wrong.

Repairing the rift takes longer than he expected. Leonardo comes home late, well after Splinter, Raphael and Michelangelo return. His absence is assumed to be one of his training runs, and no one questions him when he simply showers and heads upstairs to his room earlier than usual.

The silence between them stretches for a week. Donatello tries to watch him without being obvious about it, but Leonardo has always been stealthier and he knows. Donatello's sure Leonardo can feel him watching.

Neither of them breaks, although Donatello doesn't think it really counts when he hides himself away in his lab for long hours of the day, or when he joins Raphael in the garage helping with his motorcycle's engine. When he's working, he can forget about the tension for a little while.

As they walk out of the garage wiping grease and oil from their hands, Donatello's smile fades when he spots Leonardo standing behind the couch as usual, watching the news over Michelangelo's shoulder. Without glancing at him, without showing that he's even aware of them coming in, Leonardo sighs as if tired and leaves the room to take a shower. Raphael follows him out, but Donatello sits down hard on the nearest sofa and stares at the ceiling, his hands in his lap. The television volume is low and easy to tune out.

"Dude," Michelangelo says, tilting his head at him and making it look lazy and casual. "What did you say to him?"

Dammit. Donatello closes his eyes and tells himself he should have realized Michelagelo would notice. Michelangelo notices everything. A week long silent treatment would certainly get his attention.

"Mike," Donatello starts. "I've been trying to remember, and I can't. Maybe you'll know."

Michelangelo shifts in his seat to better face him.

"Did I ever intentionally make you guys feel like you were stupid?"

"Ohhhh..." Michelangelo nods once and looks back at the television. "So that's what happened. Man, you haven't done that in ages, but I guess you still got the touch."

"Huh?" His attention snaps from the ceiling to his little brother. "What?"

"You honestly don't remember?" A rueful smile crosses his lips. "Hm. You always did it when you were pissed and working on something, so maybe that's why."

"Did what?" Donatello asks. He leans forward, forgetting about the grease on his hands.

"Well..." Michelangelo sighs as he gathers his thoughts, and his gaze grows distant as he looks back into the past. "You'd get annoyed if we bugged you while you were busy. Y'know, Donnie, fix this, Donnie, I broke that. It was when we asked you to fix it while you were working on something else that you'd snap at us."

Staring at the floor, Donatello fishes for the memories and remembers vague images of being elbow-deep in the gears and bolts of a new creation, struggling not to drop a washer, a screw and a screwdriver while holding a flashlight in his mouth. The door opens and someone walks in with a question, and it's only now in retrospect that Donatello thinks of how he probably looked with his shell to the door. His wriggling and fighting with the machinery looked like he could simply pull his hands free and set the flashlight down with no problem. Or if he was studying circuitry and engineering, he could have simply pushed the book and pencil aside, put away the calculator.

"You know how kids can be," Michelangelo says softly, flipping channels as the news ends, finding his favorite cartoon.

Now that he's been reminded, Donatello does indeed remember how they used to be, the frustration of trying to cobble a life out of the city's underground and all the distractions that went with it. Sometimes it was his brothers' fault, sometimes it was his. Sometimes it was no one's. But in his childish impatience to learn and build, his temper would flare with a put-upon sigh, he'd snap at whoever had walked in to simply leave their broken whatever on the table behind him and go away.

I can't keep up with everything you break, and I'm the only one around here who can fix things. You sure can't learn anything, spending all your time working out and bossing everyone around. You'll never crack a book if it doesn't have a new kata in it. Just go away and beat on a punching bag for awhile, that's what you're best at.

And a hundred more little cuts and jabs sprinkled over the years that stung all the more because they hit so close to the truth. Michelangelo was right. He hadn't snapped like that in a long time because they've stopped coming by when he's working. No wonder his lab feels so quiet.

This is worse than he thought. He can't let Leonardo bury this. Even when his brother starts talking to him again, he'll have that latest jab fresh in his mind. It won't just stop him from learning algebra. Donatello frowns. Leonardo hasn't been in his room reading since they spoke, not even his military theory, his history of great battles. Donatello snorts. They're really books about different types of katas.

This is affecting a lot more than he expected.

"I need you to get Raph and Master Splinter out of the lair for a day," he says suddenly.

Not much comes between Michelangelo and his Super Justice Team Go Go Show, but that does it. He looks at Donatello with wide eyes, his mouth half open.

"Um, Don, no offense but the last time you talked to him, I think you made it worse."

Donatello nods once. "This time I'll do it right. Can you get us alone for a day?"

After considering for a moment, Michelangelo grins. "Sure. If you promise to do my chores for a week. And fix my Walkman like you said you would a month ago."

A steep price since Michelangelo's been punished with extra dish duty for skateboarding in the lair, but Donatello nods. Anything. Because tomorrow he'd get through Leonardo's damn wounded pride.

By breakfast, they're gone. Donatello doesn't know how Michelangelo does it. He's been up half the night focused on how to fix what he's broken. Forget the books. He wishes he had a schematic for his brother's mind, but he thinks he knows how to start. Carrying a small bag in one hand, rubbing sleep from his eyes, he leaves his bedroom and heads downstairs, hoping to catch Leonardo before he disappears into the dojo.

He's in luck. His big brother is still at the table, looking like he's had the same kind of night Donatello had. Leonardo leans forward, head on his arms, not paying attention to the world around him. The sight makes Donatello walk quieter, muffling the sound of his footsteps. If Leonardo hears, he might leave again.

He's within reach by the time Leonardo notices, and as his brother starts to get up, Donatello sits down next to him and grabs his wrist, pinning him to the table.

"Don--" Leonardo starts, his teeth clenched.

"I'm sorry. I'm sorry for everything."

Once again there's silence in the lair, but this time Donatello thinks he can actually hear the wind taken out of Leonardo's sails. Leonardo holds still in surprise, no longer trying to pull his hand free.

"What?"

"I said I'm sorry." Donatello sets his bag on the table, then looks up at his brother. "Could you sit down? This'll be a lot easier if I don't have to hang onto you."

Slowly, watching him as if he might bite, Leonardo sits and then glances at Donatello's hand, still tight around his wrist. Donatello takes a deep breath and meets his look.

"I'll let go in a minute," he said, "but I don't want you to leave before I finish. I wasn't trying to be mean or superior before. I don't think you're only good for fighting. And all those things I said as a kid, about you being stupid--geez, I was just a kid, Leo, and the whole lair seemed like it was breaking down around me. I barely remembered all that. I didn't mean for you to internalize it. I was just...pissed and frustrated."

Leonardo looks away, but he doesn't try to get up again. Donatello leans forwardly slightly trying to see his face, but he can't from this angle.

"The things I said then," he continues, "I was angry. I was wrong. I shouldn't have said any of it, and I should've said this sooner, but I'm sorry."

Neither of them speak. Donatello can hear the clock ticking all the way from the other room. It seems to tick for a long time before he gets a reply.

"You haven't been wrong before," Leonardo says softly.

"...what?"

Leonardo doesn't repeat himself. Donatello's jaw falls open for a moment and he struggles to collect his thoughts again. "I've been wrong lots of times! I don't always get my numbers right, I make mistakes in my programs, I built a circuit that went backwards once--"

"--got my tungsten mixed up with magnesium, that was fun..."

"Not those," Leonardo says again. He heaves a sigh and leans back in his chair, resigned to a conversation he doesn't want to have. "Not little things. You're never wrong about us. It's like you can see gears in our heads."

Tilting his head in disbelief, Donatello has to take a minute to think. Leonardo really sees him that way? Even Splinter doesn't know everything about them. The idea occurrs to him that maybe this past week, Leonardo hasn't been avoiding him out of anger. Perhaps he wasn't pissed off by what Donatello said, he just didn't want to face it. As often as Leonardo willingly faced his fights, Donatello knew that on rare occasions, he hid from them, too.

"Maybe when I'm thinking clearly," he said, deciding to use Leonardo's argument against him. "But not when I'm pissed and snapping at you because I want to hurt you."

No answer. Leonardo doesn't move, but Donatello has a feeling that he's trying to argue again and drawing a blank. It makes sense, he thinks. They've lived cramped together for years, forced to live closer than most families. Of course they would end up hurting each other sometimes.

"I'll never be able to do anything like what you do," Leonardo suddenly says.

Donatello smiles. He kept coming back to that thought all last night. The answer comes easily.

"I'll never be able to fight like you do," he says. "'Some people are better at doing things than others'."

Despite himself, Leonardo almost smiles and turns his head slightly. He doesn't look up at him, and Donatello feels a little grateful for that. He feels awkward and self-conscious enough. Removing his hand and waiting to make sure Leonardo won't leave, he pulls the bag he brought to the table closer, unzipping it open.

"I got the idea that maybe you just need this stuff explained in more concrete terms," he says, upending the bag. A dozen toy soldiers pilfered from Michelangelo's room spill out in front of them. "You already know the basics. You just don't know you know."

His confidence clearly not helped by the toys, Leonardo glances sideways at him. "Don, I don't really think--"

"I'm going to show you how this works," Donatello says over him. "Those equations with all the variables--letters," he clarified at his brother's lost expression. "The x's and the other letters, those all stand for other numbers."

Leonardo hesitates, then asks despite himself. "Which numbers?"

"That's what you have to find out," Donatello says. "Watch."

He pushes most of the soldiers away, counting out fifteen, which he stands up and arranges in front of them. Splitting that into three groups, he sets three soldiers apart and the rest in front of himself.

"Remember the fight near the garage last week?" He traces a line with his fingertip. "This is the alley. These are the guys we beat up. You remember how some of them ran off when they saw us?"

Leonardo nods and watches him take them away.

"Okay..." Donatello says. "There are twelve soldiers here. There were fifteen in all. So how many ran away?"

"You just worked an algebra problem."

"...huh?"

Knowing full well that he's smiling like Klunk when he's stolen dinner off the table, Donatello grabs a paper napkin and pulls out the pen he always has in his belt. Leaning closer so that Leonardo can see, he writes the equation 12+X15.

"This is the equation," he starts. "Here's the number of soldiers, the number that we beat up...the X just stands in for something we don't know."

"But that's just subtraction," Leonardo argues. "Why stick in a letter?"

"It's easy now," Donatello says, writing out a new equation. "Later on it gets a little harder and you need the numbers. Let me give you another one."

X-1015

"Twenty-five," Leonardo can't help but say.

"These are easy enough to work in your head," Donatello says. "Watch how we'd work it if we were doing it like the books say to do."

Beneath the first equation, he writes "+10" under the ten and under the fifteen, and he catches a glimpse of Leonardo staring intently at his hands. "You add ten to both sides. That's called balancing the equation. You're trying to get X all by itself."

"Exactly. But because I want X alone, I need to take it out of that side. We treat it like a negative number if it says subtract, so the positive cancels it out, see?" He draws a line through both of them.

"Uh-huh." Donatello can hear the uncertainty in his brother's voice. "Last easy one."

5+X-213

"Can you tell what to do now?" he asks.

Leonardo stares at it for a moment, hesitating for fear of being wrong. "Take out the five and add two, on both sides?"

"Yup." Doing the arithmetic under the equation, Donatello keeps the numbers neatly lined up so that he can scratch them out as he balances the equation. "X equals ten."

"That's all it is?" Leonardo asks softly. "But there were a lot more letters and numbers in the books..."

"It gets more complicated as you go on," Donatello says. "It's like katas. This is white belt stuff."

Laughing at the comparison, Leonardo looks up at him, the first time he's faced him since they started and the first time he's smiled in days. "And what belt are you at?"

"Probably second degree black," Donatello says. "One of these days I'll tell you about how some infinities are bigger than other infinity subsets. And how I could probably prove that this napkin is exactly the same as the pencil."

"You..aren't kidding, are you?"

Donatello chuckles at how lost Leonardo sounds saying that. "Math gets kinda weird the higher up you go. After awhile, you can't use toy soldiers anymore."

"Because you'd need too many?"

"Because you can't see them in other dimensions." He pokes the pen idly in the napkin, following the numbers. "Maybe when Raph smuggles home beer again and we're all kicked back, I'll try to explain the basics of string theory and quantum mechanics."

"'Try to explain'?" Leonardo echoes. "Is it hard to understand?"

"You could say that. No one understands it." He crumples the napkin and clears a space of soldiers. "Here, you go get my algebra book, the one with the blue cover, and I'll get some real paper and pencils, and I'll show you what order of operations are."

For the better part of the day, their home is quiet except for their low voicies and the scratch of lead on paper. Pages flip back and forth as Donatello explains the way previous lessons are used in new problems, and he works each equation out with Leonardo, comparing them so that he can see his errors. The work feels like teaching the alphabet to a child, but he doesn't mention it at all, the same way he knows that Leonardo doesn't tease him about his mistakes and less adept technique in the dojo.

When they reach the eighth chapter, they both stare at the chapter heading before groaning and leaning back in their seats. Leonardo sets the pencil down and slides his chair back.

"I don't think we should do any more today," he sighs.

"I don't think I can do any more," Donatello says. He closes the book with the paper and pencils inside. "Maybe tomorrow we can do a small section. Maybe."

Leaning back over the table, Leonardo grabs a few of the toy soldiers and arranges them into a skirmish, using the book as high ground. Donatello watches in mild amusement, wondering if his brother can't help modeling battlefields. The set up doesn't take long, and Leonardo sits straight. After a pause, he glances over.

"Don...thanks. And for putting up with me, too."

That makes the whole week worth it.

"Thanks for letting me," he answers.

Groaning as he stands and stretching muscles cramped by sitting too long, Leonardo puts one hand on the back of the chair to steady himself. "I gotta get rid of this headache. I'll be upstairs meditating if you need me."

"Wait."

Not sure if it's because he doesn't want this peace between them to end yet or if he really wants to know, Donatello stands up and puts one hand out, lightly touching the edge of his brother's shell.

"Could you--you said that meditation doesn't have to be one way, right?" Donatello waits for his brother to nod. "Splinter's not going to let us get out of it, and I don't want to sit for hours doing nothing, so...could you show me how to do it right?"

"Probably not," Leonardo says, touching Donatello's arm when he starts to draw away. "But I might be able to show you how to do it right for yourself. Do you mind if we use the dojo?"

Donatello smiles and follows him. "That's fine. Um, do we need candles?"

"I usually use them, but we don't need to," Leonardo answers.

Before they go in, Leonardo leaves off all the lights except for the one farthest back. Entering feels as if they're leaving the lair and walking through darkness to reach the back wall, and when Donatello looks back, the light from the kitchen doorway seems far away. He isn't nervous, but he feels suddenly isolated.

"Sit down," Leonardo says, "but don't worry about sitting 'the right way'. Just get comfortable."

Hyperaware of how he feels, Donatello fidgets until he's sitting crosslegged with his hands in his lap. It's not exactly how Splinter makes them sit, but Leonardo doesn't try to move his arms or force his hands into O shapes.

"Now close your eyes," Leonardo starts. "Think of some of the things you're working on, the things that you have going right now. Think of one in particular."

As Donatello calls them to mind, repairs to the van and the motorcycle, blueprints for the lair's wiring, he thinks of the shelving units he would like to install throughout the garage so he doesn't have to scatter things on the floor. Long metal shelves bolted to the wall, with racks for screwdrivers and wrenches and electric saw blades...

"I have it."

"Focus on it." Somehow Leonardo's voice doesn't interrupt his thoughts. It flows with his mind and guides him deeper into himself, helping him push away distractions. "Let everything else disappear for now."

"What if they don't disappear?" Donatello asks, opening his eyes for a moment. "I've never been able to just stop thinking."

"Then don't stop," Leonardo says, and he makes it sound so reasonable. "On bad days, it can take hours before I finally clear my mind. It's okay if it takes awhile. Just push away other thoughts when they come and don't worry about it."

Nodding once, Donatello closes his eyes and thinks about his workshop. The more he thinks about the shelving units, the more he thinks about the tools he'll need, the long screws and drills, the steel supports. That leads him to thinking about clearing space and moving his tables and cabinets, and he visualizes shifting his other projects, the motorcycle upgrades and the disassemlbed van engine, from one side of the garage to give himself room to work. Without his other plans demanding to be fixed right now, he focuses on the details of this project and watches it come together like a perfect computer simulation.

So this is meditation, he thinks, but only for a moment. He turns his thoughts to different methods for assembling his project, and he lowers his head, concentrating in earnest.

Later, perhaps minutes or hours, quiet whispers at the door finally drag his attention back to the real world. Leonardo still sits silent in front of him, lost in thought, so he glances to his right and spots Michelangelo and Splinter looking in curiously. His little brother throws him a thumbs up with questioning eyes, grinning when Donatello nods once.

Donatello breathes out and sits straight again, sparing another glance at his older brother before he closes his eyes.

Problem solved.

end