The Shadows Dancing On Their Own
There's a place where fear won't find you
Where your secret dreams remind you
This is all you have to know and
This is all you have to go on
October Project, 'Take Me As I Am'
Author's Note: This takes place in the fourth movie timeline, but it is AU.
spreading the ashes
There's nothing left to keep him here but the intangible pull of memories left lying about, like old toys in an attic (not that he'd ever had one to know about,) and the hope that maybe his last brother will come home, and hope is everything they've ever said it was when they called it a chain.
Michelangelo is twenty-five now, the Lair is mainly a dusty, decrepit mess without Donatello to keep the maintenance up, and sometimes he gets afraid that he won't remember his brother's faces. That they'll slip from his mind and he'll be left, finally, with nothing. He dreams of empty faces sometimes, and echoes of memories that he wants to videotape and keep in a collection to view every day. Michelangelo doesn't want to think that he's already lost them.
He's twenty-five and his family is dead. A lot can happen in eight years.
Well, he amends that, not really. Not 'dead.'
They're not really deceased. Well, not at all like people normally think when they are confronted with the word 'dead'. He's never seen the bodies, and the one body he sees sometimes is still walking around and talking, and not six feet under and with lilies or whatever people typically picture when they think of a body for burial. (Michelangelo thinks of blood and cold rain and asphalt, white street lights and enemies everywhere.) There was nothing that easy- they just one by one left home and vanished. There's dead and then there's dead, and this is the worst way: the not truly knowing, the desperate, half-subconscious hope.
April comes sometimes and cleans the main room with him and leaves food. She asks him how he's doing.
"I'm fine," he says. She smiles like she doesn't believe him but doesn't press further than that.
hide and seek in the dark
Donatello comes sometimes when he thinks Michelangelo isn't watching, or isn't there. Michelangelo isn't the best ninja to come out of their family- never was, but even without the diligence of constant training he is still better than Donatello.
So Michelangelo hides and watches him, and sometimes comes out and sometimes he doesn't. It all really depends on what mood he thinks his brother is in, and he's gotten less good at reading him.
He moves more or less slowly now, without the grace he used to have- but they've both of them grown less agile over the years. Donatello just doesn't bother to try, though. Not while he's here. The hunch of his shoulders could mean concentration, or frustration, or depression. Michelangelo doesn't know anymore, and he's tired of reading thoughts from shadows and figures in the dark.
His brother looks at the refrigerator for a long time before opening it and studying the contents. He turns things over in his hands- probably the same objects, there isn't much in the fridge nowadays. The power, now with Donatello gone, is iffy on the best of days, and he doesn't have many refrigeratable items in there now.
Not that he's starving. He lives off canned food, vegetables, and Gatorade, and wonders if one day he's going to resort to Armageddon supplies like Spam.
That's hardly the worst of his worries, but he likes to dwell on the little things and ignore the looming monsters just beyond the peripheral view of his thoughts.
for those I knew the best
Michelangelo thinks that there could have been worse deaths- which is sort of a strange thought, because he really doesn't know how they died, or if they did. Leonardo left for South America and was swallowed whole by the country (because that's what he thinks, of the jungle opening up and swallowing him down, him sinking into leaves like quicksand,) and Raphael who vanished after months of staying out all night and sleeping all day.
Both older brothers who stepped out into the night and were gone without a trace.
It gives credence to his kid fears of the darkness as a creature that could eat you, that could take you up into its jaws and swallow and never let you leave. Not that he ever thought that was what happened, but it's easier to think of it this way. Easier to give death the name of a childhood ghost rather than dwell on guns and chains and angry humans, and his brothers dying alone in the night.
But all of this was years ago. He shouldn't think about it as much as he does now, probably shouldn't think about it at all.
He'd like to say he doesn't.
flying machines in pieces on the ground
It's days and months and even years since this happened, but he remembers when they give up on Raphael like they all gave up on Leonardo. He doesn't know if they took the same amount of time to do it- like abandoning a person as dead was given a structured amount of time, sand running out of an hourglass of hope…but one day they sit down and realize Raphael just isn't going to come back. That he isn't ever going to come through the door, snarling and wearing his bike leather.
And he thinks that is the straw that finally breaks the back of their family. Leonardo is the one that gives them structure, Donatello gives them stability, but Raphael is much harder to think of a use or place for. It isn't like he needs one, because he is a brother and to Michelangelo that has always been more than enough. He has been his best bud, and that counts for even more when you live in the sewers and never meet humans unless they crawl down the grates and come to you. Still, what his loss takes away is only obvious in hindsight. You can only see it if it ceases to exist. He is like air to them, or sunlight.
Raphael causes friction, fights and harsh words, but he also gives them motion. Michelangelo can't put a word to that. He is the hand that turns the wheel or pushes the button, the one that starts the car and sends it racing down the road. Leonardo might be the one who steers and Donatello might be the brakes, but Raphael is the ignition.
Does he even make any sense, he thinks to himself. That even with Leonardo organizing and Donatello stabilizing they still need Raphael to make the first reckless move towards the horizon? Well, that's just what he did. That is Raph's place in the team. And now there's nothing to push them forward.
Michelangelo doesn't know what his place was. He figures it doesn't matter anymore, now that there's no team. They're only two now. Half of what they used to be, and passing through life rather than facing it head on. But that's one thing he misses about both his missing brothers. They used to be so good at staring down fear.
only in my mind
"I brought you some orange juice," April says, handing the carton over. It's pretty good, actually, Tropicana and no pulp just like he likes it. He wonders what keeps on bringing her down here- they saved her life once, but she's always been free to go on and live her own life afterwards. She's not like Casey, a half-crazed vigilante with no home.
"Thanks," he mutters, and slides the juice into the fridge. The stuff inside has been rearranged and organized. "Don'll like this, too. I mean, if he drops by in time to get some."
April touches his hand gently. "Mike," she says, "Isn't Don…gone?"
He's not dead, he wants to tell her. He's just very good at staying still.
ask me no questions
He asks Donatello if he's a ghost once. It slips out without him even thinking about it as he's watching him fix something in the electric system, both of them quiet, and it seems like none of this is completely real.
Donatello laughs and it's not a happy sound. "Maybe I am," he says. "It's fixed now."
It takes him a while to realize the second part is in reference to the electricity.
the heart of light, the silence
The days following the acceptance of Raphael's exit from their lives, (because death was something he didn't want to say, much less think then,) aren't the chaotic montage of fights and drama and battles rushed into that came when they were fighting the final goodbye to their oldest. It is like Raphael has taken all the energy out of the air and all that is left for them is listlessness and dull, foggy resignation.
No one even says it out loud, like they have done with Leonardo. No screaming that he is either dead or never coming back again. Donatello continues his work, Michelangelo can't keep up the Cowabunga Carl routine after a while and one day just stops wearing the costume. Just like that.
Life is simple for a while like a puzzle meant for a kid is simple- he does the same thing over and over without even thinking about it, until after a while he forgets how to think, how to smile, how to move. He just sits there on his bed with comic books and reads them repeatedly until he is bored of those, too. And then he lies down and stares at his ceiling and loses himself in his own thoughts.
He's never been very good at that- thinking, he means. Michelangelo tends to leave that up to the others and drift off himself. And then when they are gone he thinks about everything he'd never thought about before, like he can bring them back if he can try hard enough.
It isn't like he puzzles about big things, or complicated problems. Michelangelo just- remembers. Sinks himself deep into the pit of memory and claws away the images from his mind, digging through and trying to memorize each one.
Training with his brothers in ninjitsu, tackling Raphael into the mat, sprawling from a well-placed blow to the knee.
Chocolate candy from Halloween: they are each allowed five pieces each, one for each day of the week, but Leonardo would give his pieces away and Michelangelo would steal what he could from Raphael and Donatello.
The way they look together when they meditate, reaching Master Splinter's mind through it. He feels unshakable, indivisible, part of a family that was more of a whole than a group. Wherever Leonardo and Raphael had gone now, they were completely unreachable. Or maybe all four of them had to be together to reach anyone at all.
are there no survivors
He remembers this- Raphael is gone and Leonardo is missing and their father acts like a ghost inside a body now, and he and Donatello are sitting alone amidst the mess.
This is the last time they search for their lost brother, and when they return home the first thing Donatello does is slam a fist into the desk, sending it crashing to the floor with everything it's holding: computer, mugs, paper, all of it slides and crashes to the floor. They clean it up without speaking, Michelangelo holding a dustpan and Donatello picking meticulously through the papers and doing his sorting. There's bits of glass in it, wire and plastic and components occasionally fall through his fingers while he sorts.
He picks up a fragment of coffee mug, the piece with the handle on it, and reads from the broken ends of words the remnants of : 'I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast'. It seems almost impossibly sad, all of a sudden. This stupid broken mug and its lost message are one more casualty, their family is broken now. He knows it. His whole family is broken.
"He was the Nightwatcher," he says. It sounds too loud to his ears, almost defensive. "Did you know that?"
Donatello doesn't even look up from where he's cleaning, but his mouth quirks up in something too bitter to count as a smile. "I fixed the bike once," he says. "I always knew."
A few months later, their father leaves them a note of farewell, passing into the shadows without a trace. He wonders if this is going to be a trend in his life, the people he cares about vanishing behind the veil of night and leaving him wondering, always wondering.
the name of the game
Donatello blames Splinter for Raph leaving.
It's never said outright because Donatello won't mention what can't be fixed, but he knows it. Knows it in the half-resentful, half-disdainful expression on his brother's face when Splinter used to glide by to get to his soaps. The anger in his eyes now that their father has gone.
He knows the reasons: Donatello might have been made leader, but Splinter forced the position and didn't intervene when things didn't work. Something could have been done, something could have been said. They were only young still and the burden didn't sit well on anyone's shoulders.
Now Raph is as close to dead you can get without a body, Splinter has left them, and there's nothing that can be said to solve that. Donatello won't say anything, and that's exactly what's hurting them the most.
Michelangelo buries himself in video games to escape the cold, oppressive silence.
They feel it when he dies. Master Splinter's life force is like white noise- constantly thrumming in the background and then suddenly gone from their lives. For a moment it feels like their hearts are constricting: one quick, painful snap and then there is nothing. Michelangelo is drinking a Pepsi when it happens and crushes the can in his hand, cold soda spurting over his fingers and dripping down his chest. The breath that he has been holding finally comes quickly, leaving him gasping.
"Don," he cries out in a voice that sounds much more like a croak than anything else. He tries again, louder, "Don? Donny!" Silence. Stumbling, tripping, crawling to the main room because he think he has felt his father's death throes, he makes it to Donatello's little workstation and sees him silent and still.
He won't speak for three hours after that. Michelangelo thinks- thinks maybe he is the next to step into the night and vanish from his life.
Well, he isn't proven wrong.
we all fall down
Donatello's exit from his life isn't dramatic. By now it's practically expected. He knows he should really be thankful that he's at least being given notice.
"I just can't, Mikey," Donatello explains. He sounds calm, but then he usually does now. Like his voice has been leached of any emotion and all that's left is that cold, faceless logic. Maybe he can't feel anything anymore. Michelangelo wishes he had that luxury.
All that's left of Donatello's stuff is a line of plain cardboard boxes, some scattered hardware, and whatever he thinks is unimportant enough to leave behind. Michelangelo wishes he could fling some of those boxes at his head. Probably the big one, certain to be weighted down with metal and heavy plastic. "You don't have to leave. What if- something happens?"
"I'm not going very far."
The box looks very tempting. "But you're not gonna tell me where you're going."
"You don't need to know. And it's not like I won't visit. I just can't stay here anymore, Mikey. It's- too oppressive. You know." Donatello looks tired of all the explaining, probably wishing he'd chosen a time that Michelangelo had actually been asleep. They've been arguing for hours and he's still packing, still moving boxes, still never giving a single inch.
He does understand. He understands how living here is like the bottom of an ocean of memories, each layer pushing against the other until they're crushed beneath the weight. How each little piece of their brothers and father who have left them- books, discarded weapons, the odd notes they left behind, might as well be tacks hidden in the floor. But they're different that way, Donatello escapes from it, but family is all Michelangelo has known and wants to know, he clings to it. He thinks they're both stuck this way, neither of them really shaking themselves free.
"So, that's it," he says. He can't recognize his own voice anymore. It's not gone half-dead like Donatello's, it's just showing its age. Old. He's pretty sure he's too young to sound that old. "You're leaving like Leo and Raph."
I'll be the last one, he wants to scream, cry, break something, the last and I can't handle it, I can't. And it's not supposed to happen this way. If he dies alone, it's not supposed to be because one brother chose to let him.
The distance in Donatello's eyes is like the lid closing on a coffin. "I'll visit," he says again.
And then he's gone.
Michelangelo lines up a row of action figures on his desk and knocks them down one by one. Superman is Leo, he tips him down with a finger and he goes toppling from the desk and onto the floor. Click. Raphael is the Incredible Hulk, another barest nudge with a fingertip and the action figure clatters backwards, arm falling off the socket yet again. Click. Yoda he slides from the tabletop and to the floor. Click.
Batman, though, he flings against the wall.
keep what is secret
April thinks Donatello's dead like the other two. It's to be expected, since she hasn't seen him in a little over a year, but still kind of awkward for him when he offhandedly mentions him without thinking about it and gets a strange look. She sits him down sometimes to talk about it, about the others that he's left behind and how it must be lonely for him down here.
He wonders what she expects him to do about it. The little voice of desperation cries out there is no one else, I'm alone, dear god, I'm the last one here…but of course there's Donatello. Isn't there? It all comes down to wondering if he's lonely enough that the echoes left in the lair start turning flesh-and-blood in his mind, and he knows he's always been good at make-believe.
Late at night he's not so sure about anything anymore, and when his sanity can't even be taken for granted, he knows something's wrong. When he can't be quite sure he can trust his sight and his memories (he's seen Donatello hasn't he?) and the lines between gone and dead cross over themselves, entwining and tangling. What was dead, anyway? What was the difference between memories and ghosts when both of them were almost, a very thin almost, close enough to solid. Sometimes he thinks he can reach out in the dark and touch them all.
And that scares him.
leave tonight or live and die this way
He leaves a note when he goes. Not very security-wise, but if Donatello sees it (if Donatello is still here) he'll know where to find him. If anyone comes back home. It's like a message sent out into space, a time capsule.
The echoes in April's old home aren't as strong as the ones here, not as pervasive and consuming. They haven't been there in ages, and it's quiet, and he's going somewhere where he can see the sunshine and see the life around him and know that, maybe, he's not the only creature breathing.
Michelangelo is the last of his brothers to leave his home.
When he goes, he thinks of Leonardo in the jungle with vines tangling around him and rain thick in the air, sweaty and quiet. Of Raphael on his bike, eyes wary and narrow beneath the helmet, and Donatello and his boxes and machines, huddled up in the sewers. They're like separate voices crying out to his heartbeat, I'm still alive, I'm still alive, and as hard as he tries, he can't let those ghosts fly off into the night. Master Splinter is in every recollection, and miles away from the lair his voice is the one that is still strongest with him.
"Ssh," he tells them, "We're almost there."
Even if he goes a thousand miles, he knows, he'll never quiet them.