Two updates in one year? Look who got writer swag.
Yeah...that's a joke. A very sad joke.
April reached blindly toward the nightstand as her phone went off. She was gonna kill Casey. Somehow her ringtone had been switched to "Call Me Maybe," and yes, so it was possible one of the Hamatos had done it, but Casey was her boyfriend, so she was allowed to kill him, and that was the only kind of logic that existed when it was dark and the clock read A.M., and "Call Me Maybe" was playing loudly. She fumbled to answer, almost knocking her lamp over, and without even bothering to check the I.D. "It's going to be stuck in my head all day," she groaned. She glanced at the clock. 4:58. Wait a minute. No way was this Casey calling. "I mean…Hello?"
"Leo?" Worry brought a more useful level of consciousness. She didn't know what would drive Leo to call her at five in the morning, but with everything going on, she would've bet money it wasn't good. Also, she was sort of cynical anyway.
"Hey. Wow. It's so early. I guess I woke you up. Sorry about that."
"What's going on? Is something wrong?"
"Really no. Probably not. Just…Don and Mikey haven't been by at all have they?"
"Mikey's missing again?"
"Well, I mean, Don's with him, I'm sure. I'm sure everything's fine. I was just checking. Sorry I woke you."
"Leo, wait. I'm coming down there."
"You really don't have to, April. I'm sure they're both fine."
"And I'm sure you're right. That's why I'll pick Casey up and grab doughnuts on the way."
There was a pause before she heard the smile. "You're totally highest on our speed dial."
"Because I'm awesome."
"Because you're Batman."
She ended the call and then called Casey. He answered on the fifth ring sounding rather disheveled. "Hate." He literally didn't have a whole sentence. It wasn't "I hate you," or "I hate mornings." He said the word "Hate," in a vaguely seething, not fully conscious manner.
"Morning, cupcake. Need you to put on pants and brush your teeth. I'll be by in twenty to pick you up."
"Wha? April? Why?"
"Because it might be chilly, and my car has heated seats, and because I don't trust you to obey traffic laws this early in the morning."
She hung up and tried to convince herself she wasn't rushing to get ready and out the door. There was minimal success. She was worried. Leo was worried. He didn't hide it as well as he liked. Or maybe she was just getting used to spotting it. She had lived with them all for almost three months. She liked to think she was pretty good at reading them.
By the time she got to Casey's he was sitting on the fire escape, waiting for her, and that was mildly shocking, but probably shouldn't have been. "So what's the story?"
"Would you believe we're just picking up doughnuts for our favorite subterranean family?"
He shrugged. "I'd believe we're picking up doughnuts. Probably don't believe we're just picking up doughnuts."
So she told him about Leo's phone call, and really, there wasn't much to tell. They got apple fritters for Splinter and chocolate long johns for Leo and jelly doughnuts for Raph. And they certainly got the blueberry cake doughnuts for Donny and the rainbow sprinkles for Mikey.
"I don't ever want to be a baker," Casey said as he paid for the doughnuts at 5:30 a.m.
"I feel like butcher and candlestick maker should also be out."
"What? I'd make some pretty hot candles." She glanced at him. He shrugged. "It's not even six a.m. Don't ask me to be hilarious."
When they got to the lair, it was quiet. Leo and Raph were both pacing, but they both seemed like they were trying to look like they weren't. Splinter sat in his chair.
"Didn't know doughnut places delivered," Raph said.
Casey held up the box. "Probably won't for long. I haven't made jack in tips."
April went and sat on the couch near Splinter. He looked at her warmly. "It was kind of you to come to have breakfast with us."
"Anytime. So. You haven't heard…"
"Not yet," Leo answered. "But I bet they show up any minute. It's not weird to stay out late. We've all done it."
April nodded and tucked her feet under her on the sofa. She looked around. It was amazing how much she'd really come to like this place. It was an abandoned subway station under the streets of New York. It really had no right to be a home. But it was. In all the best ways it was. And it was because of this family. This odd little family that had to stay hidden and secret, but had welcomed both her and Casey with open arms and endless hospitality.
She glanced at Splinter. There was a book in his lap, and it wasn't even opened, so he must have given up the pretense of reading it some time ago. The elderly rat was tense in his shoulders and hands, even though to look at his face would've given lessons in calm. She wondered briefly if her parents had ever waited up for her like that. It didn't look like fun at all. But there was a certain beauty in it. A certain selflessness that she couldn't remember seeing during her childhood. But it was still easily recognized as something paternal.
"Do you think this has something to do with the Shredder?" she asked quietly.
"No," Splinter answered immediately. He looked at her with a wan smile. "But I suppose that is only…" He paused and seemed to try to think of the word. "Hope," he decided.
"Well, I guess if it was, he would've told you about it."
"Yes," the ninja master said. But there was something.
Casey sat beside April, and his arm went around her shoulders. "You think the kid wouldn't tell you?"
Splinter was silent for a moment. "Not always, perhaps."
"But Donny would," Leo said. "Donny definitely would. The two of them probably just went for a run and ran out a bit farther than they meant to."
"Yeah," Raph agreed. "Donny's got a one-track mind, and Mikey's got…about a point-two track mind. It'd be like them. They'll be back any second. If not, I got dibs on their doughnuts." And he went back to not-pacing.
All the logic in the world said that the two were fine. They wouldn't both be gone if there was a real problem. But it didn't really matter. There would be worry and concern. And no matter what Raph said, nobody was really very interested in doughnuts.
Donny tried the kick for the forty-ninth time. And for the forty-ninth time, he ended up on his shell. It was a complicated technique, one they'd been working on for weeks. Really, it was three kicks, all in the air, and it involved a flip while applying a tornado kick to three set targets at three different levels. Half of it was executed upside down. Mechanically, Donny understood every part of it. He knew how high he needed to be; he knew the rotation he needed to get in his hips; he knew where he needed to turn in the air to hit each target. But he was pretty sure he was going to die before he ever got it right.
A three-fingered hand appeared in his line of vision. Which was fine because the ceiling was getting to be a pretty boring sight. Donny took Leo's hand and let his brother lever him up.
"I think you were closer that time," Leo offered. It might've even been true. There was no real way to tell. Leo had gotten the move right for the first time nine days ago. Now he could do it with an almost sickening precision. Raph had done it correctly two days ago. He was still clumsy with it, but he landed it every time. And Donny…well frankly, Donny was considering… "Donny," Leo said. "You can't give yourself super ninja bionic implants."
Donny sighed. "Yes, but why?" And when had he become that transparent?
His older brother grinned. "Do they exist?"
"Not yet," Donny conceded, only a little petulant, and he crossed his arms, and he wasn't pouting, he was thinking, and those were two entirely different separate things. Of course, bionic implants were currently completely outside the realm of possibility. Even if he had the technology—which he didn't; he was decades away—a procedure like that in these conditions…the possibility of infection alone…
"Donny." Leo's hand was on his shoulder, and he was still grinning a bit, but he was not about nonsense. "Come on. Just try it again. Try to get a little more vertical. You're rotating too early." He looked at something over Donny's shoulder and his smile widened. He nodded in that direction. Donny turned to see what it was, and mostly Donny smiled because Leo was smiling. The little human was sitting up against the wall, and his eyes had drooped shut, and he was nodding heavily, some part of him still fighting what looked to be shaping up to be a pretty epic accidental nap. And Donny smiled because Leo thought it was cute.
Donny snickered behind his hand. "Think we're boring him?"
"Us? Couldn't be. We're entertainment gold."
Raph dropped the tonfas he was working with and blustered toward the door. "Yeah. If they like freak shows."
The angry voice wasn't loud, but it was enough to make the little human's eyes snap open and dart around, immediately wary and assessing.
Leo didn't seem affected. Really they were all pretty used to the routine. "And Raph exits stage right. Always can count on you for comedic relief, brother."
Probably if Splinter had heard what Raph said back, he would've been grounded. As it was, their sensei had gone to the kitchen to make dinner fifteen minutes ago. And Donny wouldn't tell. Still, though, he watched after Raph. A lot of times, if Donny was having trouble with something like this kick, Raph would hang back and work out with him. Leo was the one who really liked to teach and explain and all that, and he was really good at it, but Raph was the one who would offer to launch Donny over and over again so he'd have more hang time to practice the kick airborne. Who needs a trampoline when you have a brother who likes throwing stuff? Donny felt his smile fall. Raph was being a jerk. Raph was being a big jerk. And he still didn't know why. But he missed his brother.
"Come on," Leo clapped his shoulder. "Let's do this. Concentrate."
Donny heaved a put-upon sigh and brushed off the disappointed and the hurt. Clapped his hands together. "Concentrate. Right." He really wanted to get this to work tonight. He was never two days behind his brothers.
And four seconds later, he was looking at the ceiling again. "Argh," he growled and pounded the mat with one hand. He knew what he needed to do. He'd studied it and dissected it and memorized every single piece. He could diagram the thing if he wanted. So why couldn't he do it?
A human face appeared over him, head tilted, blue eyes blinking down at him.
Donny smirked. "Graceful, right?"
"Ballerinas are graceful," the little human said helpfully. And Donny didn't think the kid was teasing him on purpose.
"I am not a ballerina."
"You are definitely not a ballerina," he agreed. More innocent blinking.
And of course Leo cracked up. "Come on, Don. I think you'd make an awesome ballerina."
"I think you'd make a terrible motivational speaker." And really, Donny thought it was funny, too. He reached his hand up, but the little human skittered away, and it was more instinct than real fear. The boy had been jumpy lately. Maybe he was always jumpy. But the nightmares were such that the poor kid was still sleeping on Donny's floor instead of the couch.
Leo's hand slipped in smoothly and pulled Donny up before the little human could really think about it or get embarrassed. "Well. Since all our dreams are crushed…you want to try again?"
"It just keeps ending the same way, Leo. How many more times do you really want to see me land on my shell?"
"Don't feel bad, Donny," the little human comforted, playing with the punching bag in the corner. "It's funny every time." And he was just so sincere.
Leo didn't quite manage to cover the laugh with his hand. "Yeah," he said, also failing to keep a straight face. "Don't sell yourself short."
Donny glared at the entire world.
"You just need to concentrate a little harder," Leo tried, serious this time. "You're so close. You just have to follow it all the way through. You're hesitating."
There was a small sound of disagreement from over by the punching bag that made both turtles turn their heads. The little human didn't seem to notice and bowed to the punching bag like a fancy maître d and then straightened its invisible collar, oblivious.
"What?" Donny asked.
There came from the boy a very discerning, "Eh," that was more or less a verbal shrug.
Donny grinned at his brother, and the two went closer to the human boy. "What's that, little human?"
The boy was now looking very suspiciously at the bag which seemed to have offended him. "Hm? Oh, I just don't think you gotta concentrate harder." And it looked like he was going to give that bag what for, but he stopped. And seemed like he lost a little color. He looked up, and realized the turtles were closer, and he took a step back. His eyes darted back and forth between them, evaluating, measuring, looking for all the anger that wasn't there. Donny held his position and nailed his smile in place. Made sure nothing showed except the friendship and the invitation and the safety. He thought Leo was doing the same thing.
"How come?" Leo asked, so calm and warm. And sometimes Donny was convinced that Leo always knew exactly what to do all the time.
Gradually, the tenseness faded, and the uncertainty went back on standby. "Just…you think so…loud, Donny."
And that was absolutely unexpected. "I…what?"
"When you think, it's not just all in your head. It's in your whole…" he gestured up and down, "self."
Usually Donny understood things. He was sure he did. "…Can you hear what I'm thinking…now?"
The little boy raised an eyebrow. "Now you're talking crazy, Donny."
"I don't hear what you're thinking. Just when you're thinking so so hard, it makes your whole body move. Your face and your whole head and your shoulders and your back and your arms and your knees and everything they're connected to, which is…all of you."
"…All of me."
"Yeah. Like this." And he morphed into this pose like he was folded in on himself a little with shoulders forward and one arm folded across his chest, and the other hand on his chin, and his forehead creased in deep concentration, and his eyes laser-focused on something miles away like he wouldn't notice if a train crashed through the wall.
"Whoa," Leo said beside him. "Donny. That is exactly what you do."
"I do not."
Leo glanced at him. "Bro. You really do." He looked at the little boy. "Can you do Splinter?"
"Leo," Donny cut in. He looked at his human friend. "I look like that?"
"Yeah. Because you're so smart. But sometimes you gotta not think so hard. It locks you up. Sometimes you just gotta do it. Even if it's not all just like what's in your head. Just do something. It's always safer to do something than not anything. One hundred percent."
Overthinking. Was that even a thing? All the techniques he did, he kept a sort of file in his brain with their schematics, with exactly how to execute them. He knew them backwards and forward. …And he hadn't beaten Leo in a sparring match in almost a year. Longer for Raph. Was it possible? "But you can't do something without thinking about it."
The kid shrugged. "I do. All the time."
"Well, what does that even look like exactly?"
"Like…" Little human went out to the mat and stood with his feet together and pointed with both fingers at his mouth. "You smile," he demonstrated with a wide, exaggerated smile. "And you think, 'This is about to be so fun no matter what.' And then you jump so that you feel the air, and you see the ground and the ceiling and everything to hit. And it's like, boom." And then the kid crouched like Spiderman, with one hand on the ground, and his smile was real. And then he jumped. And it wasn't mechanical perfection or precision. It was athleticism. It was feeling and discovering and moving and eight years old and human. And there was a flip, and he was upside down with the tornado kick, spinning, rotating to three, and the strikes were about where they should be, and the landing was low, but he landed it. One hand came down to the mat for balance, but he popped up, grinning. Just grinning like he was simple and like that wasn't incredible. "You're going to love it, Donny! It's awesome! You try!"
Donny felt his mouth hanging open. He couldn't even answer.
"Whoa." Leo sounded about where Donny was. "Buddy. I knew you could… But that was…"
The little boy looked back and forth between them, and his enthusiasm visibly dimmed, and his hands were at his sides, and he was a little further away and nervous and apologetic. "But I…I could work on it more. I could…I could get it right." And he flinched when nobody was there. Like he'd set off an invisible trap somewhere in his mind. "Or I could…or I could not…"
"That was awesome!" Donny said, and probably he was a little too loud. The little human jumped, and maybe Leo did, too. "Leo, did you see that? Has he done that before?" He knew about the late night training sessions they'd had. He was glad. It seemed like on the nights he stayed up late with Leo there were fewer nightmares.
"No. I've never seen him do anything close to that big. That was crazy! You didn't tell me you could pull out techniques like that. Holy cow. Your feet were like over my head. What are you, like part grasshopper or something?"
"I think he might be part turtle," Donny said, and wow. He was proud. He had no idea. He'd seen the little guy be quick. But that was pure…special.
"Either way. Buddy, you definitely have some green in you."
The kid looked as amazed as both of them. Maybe more. And Donny realized this wasn't something he'd gotten from them yet. They'd been encouragers and comforters and friends. But this was praise. They were impressed. And if the look on the kid's face was any indication, this was not something that he had any kind of recent experience with. "I…I…" And he clearly did not understand.
So Donny tried to lay it out for him. "Good. Job. That was incredible, little human. You did a good job." And Donny smiled wide at him and got purposely close and bumped him with his shoulder, and probably could've knocked the little boy over in that moment. And then that little human boy was positively glowing. Still amazed and overwhelmed. But that kid glowed under the praise. Eyes wide, and smile blinding, he glowed.
"My sons," Splinter called from the entryway. "It is time for our evening meal."
"Master Splinter!" Leo even forgot to bow. "Did you see that?" And their father hadn't seen, and the little human seemed to shrink a bit at the idea of doing it in front of the ninja master, but no one pushed him to. Leo described the kick to Splinter, and the old rat had smiled and only seemed a little surprised, but he'd been warm and generous in his encouragement and approval. Donny and the human boy had eaten quickly, and then they'd run back to the training floor after dinner.
The little human had immediately darted off toward Donny's room and returned with paper and scissors and colored pencils, and he'd drawn all the most distracting masks he could think of to help train Donny "to not think so much. You can't think too much when there's a…three-headed country opera singer trying to scare you." And there were two crazy faces, one sitting on each of the boy's shoulders. And after the debate over whether there was even such a thing as country opera, they played.
They laughed and argued and played, and there was some measure of confidence in the blue eyes. And there were those moments when those eyes were shadowless, and everything that was a nightmare wasn't visible, and for those couple hours with only occasional flinching and worrying and nervousness, the little human seemed like a kid and like he belonged and like all of it was normal. Donny ended up landing his kick, and they'd been so excited. Really, though, that was just a bonus.
It was always better when Mikey was saying something. Didn't matter if he was teasing or cracking jokes or shouting or rambling or laughing or even crying. It was always better when there was some noise coming from the youngest Hamato. It seemed a bit counterintuitive to think so of a ninja. Then again, a look across the surface, and one would think this particular young ninja was incapable of silence for any stretch. But he was. This particular young ninja knew very well how to keep his mouth shut. And when he did, it usually meant things like hopelessness and dark and fear and heartbreak. It usually meant everything in the world Don wished he could keep away from his brother.
Mikey had pulled away from him a minute ago and turned away to stand on the ledge of the roof, sinking into a crouch like a gargoyle, looking out over the city, tension pouring from his entire being. He still hadn't said a word. Sometimes it was some quick, straight, honest words that would snap Mikey back to himself. A lot of times it was distraction. Or reassurance. But then there were times like this when Donny was faced with looking at his brother and not knowing what it was that was hurting so much. And these were usually the times, and they didn't happen often, when Don didn't need to say anything.
He walked up next to Mikey and sat, dangling his feet over the edge. Reached over and got a grip on the kid's arm and pulled him back off his feet so that he was sitting like Donny. Then he scooted over, making sure their shoulders and thighs were touching. And he watched the city.
The relatively few times Donny had seen the city during the day, everything looked sort of gray and lackluster, and even though the skyline was impressive, it didn't hold a candle to the way it looked now. At night the city was alive with light. Colorful and moving and defying the night sky. And up on the rooftop, everything looked clean, and they were so far removed from the gritty and the dirty that it was like none of that existed. The breeze blew upward and felt good after running. And he glanced over at his little brother, watched as that breeze ruffled his clothes and blew his hair around on his forehead, and mostly he saw the eyes that were staring out over the city and everything that was pretty about it and didn't seem to see any of it. And mostly he saw the bruise forming on the left side of his brother's face.
Donny sighed. What is going on with you, little brother? Mikey sat with his hands in his lap. Don reached over and snagged the left one by the wrist. Wasn't bruised or scraped around the knuckles. That was good. These knuckles were tough and hard from hours of hitting heavy bags and dummies. There was the scar from the third knuckle to halfway down his hand from a sticky situation that involved a fence, barbed wire, and a really cliché junkyard dog when they were kids. Little knick of a scar where thumb met hand from a little piece of wooden shrapnel the time they'd blown up a crate of roman candles—which admittedly could've been a lot worse. He turned the hand over, palm up. It was smaller than his. More fingers. Not green. Calluses from the time spent working with wooden nunchucks. Then there were the calluses that were identical to the ones Donny had from doing hundreds upon hundreds of disciplinary back handsprings for any one of dozens of adventures, very few of which he ever regretted even for a second.
"What are you doing?"
Donny looked up. The blue eyes that had been staring sightlessly at the sights were on him, questioning. Don smiled. "How many flips did we have to do the time the four of us snuck into Comic Con and you dressed as a Shy Guy, and Raph, Leo, and I told people we were Koopa Troopas?"
"He let us stop after 107. But probably just because Raph threw up."
Donny chuckled. They had all been so dizzy. 107. Wow. "Good memory." Mikey did have a good memory. Donatello hadn't doubted that from the moment the kid looked up at him and told him he had amnesia all those years ago. He let go of Mikey's hand. "You made fun of Raph for that for like a month."
"I made fun of Raph for that like yesterday." And there was that grin. That small, glinting, mischievous thing that was thoroughly Mikey. "It's good for him."
"Really? Is it also good for you?"
"A lot less so, actually." And that was all before Mikey turned and looked away, and was quiet for several more moments, and then he was leaning into Donny just a little, and his voice was just audible over the breeze. "How did you get there so fast, Donny?" And there wasn't a hint of pretense or casualness.
"I followed you."
"Because you're my brother. And you scare the ever-loving crap out of me sometimes." Ever-loving crap wasn't an oft-used term in his vocabulary. But he had a deep repertoire.
"What happened? Why'd you leave?"
Mikey winced. "It was about my mom."
And Donny just didn't understand. Couldn't understand. This kid could be the most complicated puzzle. And normally Don loved puzzles. But it was time for this to get solved. Because there was never any part of this that was merely an intellectual exercise. This was his brother's life, and he'd had way too many scares lately concerning his brother's life. "How?"
"Well…you're not going to like it."
"I didn't like it from the moment you stepped up the ladder."
"Donny, I don't know…"
He closed his mouth for a moment. But in the end, he trusted Donny. Donny had a lot of faith in that trust. It was the kind that had been hard-earned and tried and tested, and in the end, it was always a gift. "There was a gang called the Proud Tide. Once upon a time. They were my…they were…before. Before I was with you. I was with them."
And there was a sudden ringing in Don's ears. Of rage and what almost felt like panic, and there was blackness and anger and everything that Don had ever hated. They'd met those guys before; they'd fought those guys before, and Don hadn't known. That nasty run-down, condemned-looking building and the filthy, empty, dead-eyed people in it. Mikey couldn't have grown up in a place like that. "Tell me," he said quietly. And he reached out and grabbed the hand he knew better than the back of his own and gripped it tight.
Because there were things he didn't know about his little brother. And he'd only caught glimpses of horrors through years of nightmares and instinctive worries and fears, and he didn't know. And he'd always thought that one day he would. And now that he might find out, he found that it scared him. Because if the small, barely discernible tremors he felt in his brother were any indication, what he was about to hear was going to absolutely tear him apart. And he knew it. And still he felt like he'd never needed to know anything this badly.
It was late when Splinter's door burst open, and the ninja master reacted immediately and still only had time to sit up before there was a bundle of shaking, crying, nearly hysterical turtle on his bed, clinging to him and sobbing earnestly and utterly inconsolable.
"My son," Splinter whispered, and truly the old rat had little to say for shock. This was not the norm. His sons were not prone to fits of this sort, and even had they been, this seemed a deeper thing than a childish hurt or outburst. And to add to the worrying, it was Donatello. Donatello, who was a gentle soul and perhaps the most sensitive of his sons, but when Donatello was troubled, he tended toward pondering and silence. To consider and conclude. But this was no silent pondering. This was something rawer and previously unbeheld in the young turtle. "Donatello. What troubles you, my son?"
"Daddy," he choked, and he continued to cry. And his sobs were such that he could not even speak. Splinter tried to maneuver the young turtle away from his chest so that he could see his face, but the child would have none of it. He held tightly to the fabric of his father's robe and buried his face there as if Splinter were the only one on earth who could fell whatever giant would dare raise a hand against him. He shook and cried, and his body was tense and coiled and racked with each shuddering sob. "Are you hurt?" Splinter asked, and his own calm felt as though it were fraying in its center. Donatello shook his head against his chest. There was some relief in that. Donatello was not the one who had feared thunderstorms when he was younger, nor the one who would often come calling after a nightmare. Very few times had this bright-minded child needed so badly to be close. Therefore, now was cause for question, but hardly for hesitation. The ninja master adjusted himself on the bed and wrapped both arms around his young son and held him. Without knowledge of what it was that could shake his precious child so, he only resolved himself to be trusted protector and comforter for however many moments he would be allowed. And really, even in spite of a parent's worry, that was a joy and honor all its own.
Splinter rocked Donatello gently and did not shush him or ask any more questions. For several minutes, he rocked, and he hummed, and he held. And sometimes in English and sometimes in Japanese, he would say, "You are loved, Donatello. You need not fear," and "Breathe easy, my son. You are safe," and such true things as that.
Eventually the harsh sobs receded into sniffing and hiccupping and then into quiet, deep breaths, and yet the child still seemed dismayed. After many minutes more, Donatello's hands fisted in Splinter's robe, and he said quietly, the tears still very present in his voice, "They hurt him. They hurt him so much."
And the old master's heart nearly hesitated. This certainly was not a childish outcry. This was righteous anger and heartache and a spirit that hurt for the wrong done to another. "Tell me."
"He came back from playing with Leo, and he was…changing his shirt, and I didn't know…he was there, and he…didn't know th-that I was, and…and I saw." His breaths still hitched in the aftershock of still-present grief. "His back. Daddy, they…" He could not finish.
The father's heart was in his throat. "What did it look like?"
He took several steadying breaths. And his answer was a mixture of sharp analysis and helpless ignorance that contained more maturity than any creature of only ten years should ever possess. "Some of it looked like a strap. Or maybe a whip. I don't know. And some of it was…short and thick and angled, like…like a piece of wood. And there was…a big…I think they cut him. I think they cut him on his back. With a knife." His breathing was quick, and the child hardly knew what to do, and he had such an incredible mind, even an emotional maturity, but this he could not process. And Splinter could not blame him.
"Were they tended to, my son?" Splinter's own voice sounded low and raspy to his ears.
"A lot of them…a lot of them looked like this." And he pointed to his knee. There was a scar there that ran vertically over his kneecap from an errant slide and a broken vase. It was three years old. The scar tissue had stretched with time as Donatello grew. "But some of them looked newer."
Splinter nodded. And every time that little boy had flinched, every time he had looked at Splinter with eyes full of fear, full of certainty, every time he'd fought a sleep that would bring nightmares, every time he'd said words that hinted of a life no child should know sparked in the master's mind, and every time the boy had smiled in stark, beautiful defiance of all of that took hostage his heart. "Scars are wounds that have already healed, my son," Splinter tried to comfort. "They will not hurt him here."
"Memories can hurt," Donatello replied, and it was rare, sharp rebellion, but the turtle still held tightly to him. "And sometimes," he whispered, "Sometimes scars are memories."
And sometimes children were great teachers. "Yes," Splinter answered quietly. And how he'd wished to shield his sons from a world that would reject them. Never would he have guessed that they would see what the world could be in this way. And how he wished he had been there to shield that little boy. His son was looking to him for wisdom on the matter, and he felt suddenly as though he had precious little to give. Where does one find wisdom in such senseless, wicked cruelty? "Do you suppose the little one would wish to be defined by those scars? By those memories?"
"No." Donatello sniffed. "He pretends like he doesn't remember anything."
"But they are a part of him. They are a part of how he moves and how he thinks. They are the world that he knows. Just as the memories of your friendship are becoming a part of him. And as I have watched, you have affected how he thinks and how he moves. A bad memory may not be forgotten any more than a scar may be erased. But good does overcome evil. Good does restore. A scarred heart is not one without hope."
Donatello sniffed. "It's hard."
"Yes. And worthy of your anger." Worthy of infinite armies of anger.
Donatello laid his forehead on Splinter's shoulder. "I just wish…" he didn't finish.
"What do you wish, my son?"
The young turtle sighed. And said with simple, breathtaking practicality, "I wish that things could always be how I wished them."
Donatello had gone back to his own room that night. And when he had, Splinter observed a change in him. There was a weightiness there. A responsibility. Perhaps not an unwanted one. For the most part, Donatello had always relegated himself to being bossed by Raphael or mothered by Leonardo when the situation called for it. And though the young turtle often acted as the voice of reason or caution, he had never had the opportunity perhaps to hold himself responsible for another. And then there came this small boy. Everything about him complicated and mysterious and contradictory. And this charge Donatello accepted without pausing for a breath, without regard for his own heart. And it was something real and observable that was taking place in the young turtle. And as much as it worried the father, it made him swell with pride.
It was days later that Splinter had the opportunity to put an overly exhausted young human to bed, and the child could hardly have stirred if a carnival had rolled by. And Splinter looked and saw what Donatello had seen. And they were just as Donatello had described. Every one of them. From mid back to shoulder blades where smooth, young skin should be. And Splinter had expected them. He finished his task and left the room. And that night, alone in his room, he wept as his son had.
"You were five years old. And you were living with the Proud Tide." Donny's voice sounded hollow in his own ears. It was painfully, outlandishly, miserably unbelievable. Mikey was born into the Foot clan to eventually be taken by a rival street gang? And then end up with us, he had to remind himself. He ended up with us.
He still held his brother's hand, and his brother still wasn't looking at him. "'The Proud Tide.' Still all I can think of is the laundry detergent. Must've told them a thousand times. It's all about the marketing. Like it's just not scary. Everybody expects to hear, 'The Proud Tide: now with bleach.'"
"And they don't know what happened to your mom either?"
"Shift said one of them killed her. But if that's true…and what the Shredder said is true…you think the Shredder would just let that stand?"
"You think maybe this is bigger than either of them is really saying?"
"Having a hard time thinking, actually. Processor's kind of overloaded. At least I know I'm not the only one in the universe who's ever felt this way. I mean…there is Luke Skywalker."
Donny really loved his brother right then. Because what in the world had to exist in a person to make it possible to go through all this and be able to say something like that? "Mikey…" He hardly knew what to say. But he knew what he wanted to know. "What was it like?"
Mikey blew out a breath. He was trying to sound casual. At points he'd almost managed it. But he was shivering and it really wasn't that cold. "Like what was the overarching theme? Or what was it like any given Tuesday?"
"Yeah. What was it like?"
The young ninja shrugged. "They were all scared of me. A lot of them wouldn't go near me. And, as wacked out as it is, at least I understand that part now. But it was just a lot of…confusing, I guess. Different people wanted different things from me, and I was just supposed to…know. Like some people didn't want me looking at them, and if I did they'd freak out on me. But then there were guys that wanted me to look right at them if they were talking to me, and if I looked away, they'd freak out on me. And Shift…his rules never stayed the same day to day. I just…I never quite knew how to be. You know, and I get it now. Like that guy…that guy was going to hit me no matter what I did. He just out and out hated me because of the Shredder. But I never knew that then. He never played it like that. He played it like I'd done something wrong or broken a rule, and he had to punish me."
Don wanted to go back in time. He wanted to go back in time right then and find the monster and tear that guy apart because who looks at a kid between the ages of five and eight—who looks at Mikey ever—and sees someone they want to hurt? It was pathetic and wrong and evil. And Donny didn't usually have to deal with this kind of anger, but when someone messed with his family, and especially when they messed with his family like that…
"Dude. You're looking kinda homicidal."
"Also, my hand is made of bones."
Oh. "Sorry!" He released the death grip he had on Mikey's hand. "Are you…"
"I'm fine." His smile wasn't to its usual specifications, but at least it was there. "Sorry. I don't mean to dump all this on…"
"Mikey. Keep going."
Mikey hesitated, and Donny could see the war going on. "It's not…"
"Please." He somehow managed to catch Mikey's eyes. And he'd never been able to win this war before, but something had changed. Maybe it was just that Mikey was so freaked out. And that was understandable. Just being in a place similar to the place he'd grown up with people who stood under the same banner…it was just unthinkable. "Please don't stop now."
Mikey sighed. Rubbed his hands on his jeans. Didn't start talking again until Donny reached over and took his hand again. But he did start talking. "I trained with them actually. Sort of. They weren't ninjas. Not by any stretch. They're street level thugs. But they tangled with the Foot enough to work some stuff out, I guess. And my mom had been training me since I could remember, so…there was that."
"Your mom practiced ninja?" Maybe that was more surprising than it should've been.
"She taught me the basics. I never thought it was weird. I was a little kid, you know. It was all I knew. Her background was boxing, though, true Irish form. She had a lot of street in her, too. She didn't talk a lot about her past. I was just little. Maybe she would've told me more if …things were different. But I got the feeling her childhood wasn't the brightest. She was awesome, though. I remember she was quick and crazy flexible. Her kicks were insane. And everything she did, it was like she was dancing."
It made sense. Mikey was so naturally athletic. He wasn't big. He was still hoping for a growth spurt, but he'd never be big. But there was grace and ease of movement and an innate sort of knowledge of form and space and energy and how the body worked with all that. Donny had always thought maybe that it was that understanding that had something to do with why Mikey was so good at art, too. "Must be genetic."
A brief smile. He loved her. And Don had known that. He'd known since he'd first seen the locket. But it was so different to hear it. To see it. "I guess…I don't know where she picked up the ninja basics. Guess it's possible she learned from…" Mikey shook his head. And still that wasn't a subject he could deal with all the way. And how could that woman ever be with the Shredder? "Anyway, they drilled what they could into me. Different guys tried to get me to do different stuff. Some weren't so bad. Not everybody was cracked out all the time. There was one guy, everybody called him America, and he was nice about it. I think he felt bad sometimes. Like when I was too hurt or whatever. He'd say he was going to drill something into me, sound real tough in front of Shift or whoever else was there. And then he would take me upstairs and give me a corner and just let me sleep for awhile. He wouldn't talk about it or explain why. He would just look real serious and tell me I should rest while I could. Probably he was my best friend before I knew what a best friend was." He suddenly swallowed.
Donny had a bad feeling. "What happened to him?"
"Shift killed him." Mikey rubbed his eyes with his free hand. He wasn't crying. It was more like he was trying to scrub an image out of them before they could get all the way to his brain. Shook his head.
Donny got a terrible feeling. "Why?"
"I'm not sure. A lot of what went on I couldn't understand. But…with America, it was different. I think…I think it might've been about me."
"Why would it have been about you?"
"He made me watch." Mikey sucked in a breath. "They didn't kill their own people all the time. It wasn't like that. But there were two guys that died while I was there. The first one I didn't know, but I guess was a snitch. And I was downstairs, but I heard it. And the second was America. And I guess he'd tried to get out."
Deserters and traitors get cut. It had been eight years, but Don remembered the words out of the mouth of a terrified, traumatized eight-year-old child.
"Shift was saying something to me. I don't think I heard any of it. He just had that knife, and I was so scared. And America…he had helped me. You know? Like I look at it now, and he wasn't in the running for a Nobel Peace Prize or anything, but he'd helped me, and nobody else did ever. He was the last thing I had that wasn't…awful. And Shift just…Shift just took a knife and unzipped the guy." Mikey shuddered and looked sick. "Like it was simple. Like it was easy. Like he could do it to anyone." He shook his head like he was surprised and appalled and all of it was only just then coming back to him. "And I just got left in there with him. A long time."
Donny sat there in horrified shock. He'd known it would be bad. He'd known. Better than anyone he'd known. But this…he couldn't have known this.
Mikey didn't seem to notice. "Anyway." He seemed to shoulder past the memory with difficulty. Swallowed past the tragedy and the ugly and the evil. "That was the kind of guy Shift was. You just…you never knew with him. Some days he would be nice. He'd take care of you. And other days…you just never knew."
Tears were burning Don's eyes. And mostly it was for everything that had happened. But it was also because his little brother had spent eight years burying it all, and it could all bubble up so easily and so vividly, and no wonder the nightmares and the fears that would even now show themselves in subtle, unexpected ways. "This Shift guy. He's the one who…your back?"
Mikey tensed. They didn't talk about his back. And it wasn't because it made him angry. It was because it made him ashamed. It embarrassed him. And he'd never been willing to talk about it. "Some. Not a lot. He used his hands mostly. He cut me once. On my back. I'd been there maybe a few months. And he lost it one day. I'd thrown a…" he gestured vaguely, "like a piece of a curtain rod I think. And I mean I meant to do it, all the way, and it hit him in the face. I don't even remember why I did. I was just so mad. And he lost it. Took awhile to heal, and a lot of that time I don't remember. Think I got sick. Anyway, after that, he didn't ever…like that again. He would stop if I really was bleeding. And he would stop the others, too, if it was getting bad and he was there. I think he was worried about infections and stuff. Didn't want me to die." He was gripping the knee of his jeans, and his other hand was tight in Donny's, and it had to be miracles or magic, because there was nothing in science to explain what was keeping that kid's voice steady right then. "I didn't want to die either. That was the last time I ever stood up to him really." He looked small and ashamed for a moment. "Probably shouldn't count tonight, since…well, you know."
The storm of emotions raging inside Don paused only long enough to try to process the words. "Tonight?" And already it was all he could do to keep from grabbing the kid up in a hug and declaring to Mikey and the world that anyone who came near would have to go through Donny, and surely he'd misunderstood what his little brother just said. Because it couldn't be that…
"Yeah. That building. That's where we were even back then. That guy I was with, that was Shift. He's still there. Looked like he was running things. He got real old."
Mikey. Alone. There. With him. And everything seemed to run together, and something inside Donny exploded.
The Foot ninja made his way to the meeting point. The plan was brilliant, and he wasn't thinking about any part of it. He was thinking about shadows and what could be lurking in them, and every sound was an assassin, and every corner presented the likelihood of a monster. And he couldn't help feeling doomed, and all he wanted was the supply.
Carefully, he turned the last corner, eyes darting around, seeing dangers that weren't there. And through a basement window and into a room, and it was supposed to be so simple and so quick, and the master would surely be pleased with him, would be so pleased, and he would get all he'd ever wanted. It was supposed to be easy, and at first he didn't understand.
The man sitting at the table was a secret member of the Foot. And there was a bullet wound, and the man was dead.
And there was no duffle bag in the tiny room, and that's when the Foot ninja started screaming.
Mikey didn't know where all this was coming from. Didn't know if it was okay to be thinking about much less talking about it, but Donny was there, and it was all pouring out, and Donny was just sitting and listening, and he'd been so close to Shift tonight, and now he was close to Donny, and all those things that had suddenly been wrenched to the surface were coming out. And then Donny surprised him.
The turtle shot up, lifting Mikey by the arm to stand with him, pulling him away from the ledge, and holding onto him with a hand on each shoulder. Staring at him incredulous, eye to eye, and there was such emotion, and so many that Mikey couldn't distinguish them all. "You went…that was the same place? That was the same guy?"
Mikey blinked, and he was startled, and he wasn't sure what he'd said wrong, but there was a big part of his mind whispering, Everything. "I…yeah. I told you. I had to see if there were answers there. It was the only place I knew to go."
Donny shook his head. "You walked into the place that was your prison from age five to eight. And you had a conversation with your warden."
That time wasn't even a question and it was confusing. "…We're doing metaphors?"
"Wh…I don't even…you faced him!"
Oh. So Donny had seen him fail. Had seen him choke. Had seen him revert back to a helpless little kid. That's what this was. And Mikey realized it wasn't okay. It wasn't okay to talk about all this stuff. It was wrong to talk about it. It was pitiful and weak, and he should be stronger. He'd had three years in that place to work up enough anger to do what he needed to do, and when the moment of truth came, all it had really taken was a few words from Shift to all but shut him down. He'd given up, and that was never ever okay. Even if you knew you couldn't win, you never just give up. That wasn't how their family operated. "I'm sorry, Donny," he whispered. He didn't have an excuse.
"Sorry? Mikey, I want to know how. How could you do something like that?"
"I don't know. I was okay at first. I had a plan, and I was sticking to it pretty good, I thought. I made him think I could kill him if I wanted. Because of how people were scared of me when I was little, I thought it would work. And I think he believed me at first. But then…then he figured it out. And he was saying stuff, and it was just…I got…lost, or…" he couldn't even explain it right, and now he was rambling, and he just couldn't take his brother being mad at him right now, and especially when that brother was Donny. "I didn't…I just knew I had to go there, and I thought I could do it. I'm sorry."
And Donny just stared at him for a moment. Dumbfounded. And Mikey started feeling like an idiot. More of an idiot. He ducked his head, felt his face get hot, and Donny was still holding him in place by his shoulders. And he'd learned his lesson, and he could bury it again, he would, and he just wanted to be at home and pretending to be good and normal and like everything was okay, and that was always always better than…
"You think I'm mad at you right now." The voice was soft and legitimately amazed.
Mikey wasn't about to look up. "Not mad. Disappointed. Got it." Thousand times worse. Every time.
"Not disappointed. Not disappointed at all. Astounded." Mikey winced. Just a little. He was an astounding failure. Awesome.
He nodded. "I get it."
"No. You're not hearing me right now. Get out of your head and listen to what I'm saying to you. Listen to what I'm really saying. Stop hearing what you think I'm saying or what you think I should be saying. Listen. Brother, I love you, okay? That's the truth. That is what is true. That is what has been proven and tested and confirmed again and again and again. You always, always start with that." There were tears in Donny's eyes. And Mikey had no idea why, and he didn't expect them, and he couldn't stand them, and there was a lump in his throat.
"You don't know. You don't. You have no idea. You have no idea, Mikey. And that's on me. If you don't know, I'm not doing my job, little brother. And I'm sorry. But you need to listen to me. You need to listen to me right now, Michelangelo."
"Okay," he whispered helplessly.
Donny's eyes were boring into him, tears lining them, something desperate in his posture, in the way he gripped Mikey's shoulders, something that needed to be understood. And his face crumbled a bit as he fought the tears, and he let Mikey go and turned around. Fists clenched and shaking at his sides. And he looked like he wanted to hit something, and that wasn't what Donny did. Donny wasn't the one who hit things when he was mad. Donny was the one who fixed things when he was mad, so Mikey wasn't sure what this was, didn't know how to fix it; it was always Donny who was fixing him. "It's just not fair," Donny said, his voice quiet and strained. He bowed his head. "It's not fair."
He turned back around to face Mikey, and Mikey stood frozen to his spot.
"I always wanted to know. Always. You never were going to tell me, were you. If all of this hadn't happened. You never would've told me." Wasn't a question. Wasn't an accusation either.
Mikey shook his head mutely. He never would've told him. Things were better buried. The more he buried the more he could be sure things didn't touch his family. If Donny hadn't known, he never would've hurt like this. And even if he didn't understand it, he knew Donny was hurting.
Donny nodded. And he looked like he would cry. Donny wasn't a crier. Mikey wanted to say something. Something to make it better, but he didn't have any idea what that could be.
"Mikey. Do you know who I was before I met you?"
Mike didn't say anything. He thought he had an idea. He would've loved to have known.
"Before I met you, I lived with my mom. And I loved her so so much. And then she was murdered." Mikey's eyes widened and he shook his head. What? No…what? "And I was there. I saw. And it was so bad that my brain, as a defense mechanism, shut it out. So that I wouldn't…so that I could function. And I was kidnapped by people who hated me. They locked me up. They beat me. They cut me. They lied to me. Every day they lied to me, and everything they did told me I was worthless. And that I deserved it. Even if they didn't say it, the things that they did taught me that I was…wrong." No. No, no, no. That stuff…that stuff didn't happen to Donny. It wasn't okay. It wasn't okay for Donny to even be saying that stuff. That stuff couldn't happen to Donny! Donny never deserved anything like that! "The one guy in three years that might have been anything other than a monster, the one guy in three years that acted like maybe what they were doing was wrong, they killed him right in front of me. They killed him horribly." Mikey remembered America's face. The agony. Sometimes he could still hear the screaming. The brown eyes he always felt so relieved to see, and they only looked at him for a moment. Then they looked away from him, and they were dying. And Donny should never know what that felt like. Donny should never know the horror and the pain and the deep, hopeless, alone. "And they hurt me, Mikey! I was just a little kid, and they hurt me! They left scars! I was a little kid, and they taught me what death was, and time after time, I had to wonder when it would be me. And I would die alone, and it was going to hurt. And by the time I was eight, that was all I'd known for almost half of my life." Donny was crying. Like it was all real.
Tears were falling of Mikey's face, and he couldn't stop them any more than he could stop the memories, and the very thought of Donny going through anything like that made him hurt. "Donny, stop…"
"No one else should have to know what I went through, Mikey. I should just carry it. I should be able to carry it, keep it to myself. Keep my family safe from it. And besides, what if…what if they were right? What if I deserved it? What if my family found out that that's what I deserve?"
"Stop! Donny, stop! You couldn't! Nobody could hurt you like that!" And he was crying, and he knew what Donny was doing, and it didn't make any difference that he knew what Donny was doing. Hearing his own darkest thoughts come out of Donny's mouth was too much, and Donny should never know what it was to have to think like that. "It would be wrong! You…just…I…"
Donny grabbed him by the arms. "Tell me what I deserve that could ever be better than what you deserve."
Mikey shook his head. Only everything.
"Tell me what you wouldn't help me with that would be so much that I shouldn't help you with it."
It wasn't fair. It wasn't a fair question at all.
"If that was me. If that was my story. If you and I were reversed, in what alternate universe would you let me deal with this on my own? In what universe, if that had been where I came from, would you somehow think less of me?"
He couldn't think in those terms. He just couldn't. Mikey loved his family more than anything. Nobody could possibly love him that much. Could they? Their capacity for love was great enough, yeah, sure, because they were amazing and kind and generous, but it wasn't…it couldn't…not for him. He was…it wasn't the same. Was it?
"You went there alone because you thought you should be strong enough to handle it. You thought you should be able to handle years of abuse and torture that most people would never have survived because you thought all of that was on you. Look at me!" Somehow Mikey did. Donny spoke slowly. "You did not deserve that. Not then. Not now. And this is the part I need you to listen to, little brother. You are the strongest person I know. But I could care less how strong you are. There is no part of this that you need to do alone. You aren't just you anymore. You haven't been just you for a long time. You're us. Me and Leo and Raph and Master Splinter, we need you. We don't work without you anymore. Nothing fits without you anymore."
Mikey sniffed, and the tears were still falling, and everything was falling. "I didn't…mean to make you upset." And it was a stupid thing to say, but Donny's eyes were so fierce and so sincere.
"Anyone who looks at you and sees less than what I see will make me upset, Mikey. You thought I was mad at you for not being able to beat a guy who was literally your worst nightmare. And that's after I saw you break his jaw. Don't you get it, kid? I couldn't believe what it had taken to get you there in the first place. You are astounding. And incredible. And insane. And the only thing I could ever be mad at you for is not giving me the chance to stand next to you when you're facing down something that any right-minded person would be running from."
Mikey took a deep breath. He let it out shakily. His mind was racing, and his nerves were firing, and all he really wanted to do right then was tell his brother that he loved him. And to thank him. And to tell him he was sorry. And to tell him that he would try to believe him, and that he wanted him there standing next to him all the time, and that he was the best big brother ever, and that even if Mikey deserved better than what he'd had when he was young—and he did deserve better; he did; they were wrong, and he had to believe that; he had to; somehow he had to—he'd never be able to deserve the family he'd ended up with. He wiped his sleeve over his face. What he said, just a little brokenly, was, "Well. That's not true. You were pretty mad when I borrowed one of the axel nuts off your skateboard."
Donny blinked, surprised. And then he smiled a little, and it was warm and safe. "It wasn't one of the axel nuts; it was one of the kingpins, and I still have a welt on my shin."
"I had no way of knowing you'd jump on it without checking it over first. And I needed it for an experiment with magnets. I thought you'd approve. You know. For the sake of science."
"You were playing with a Magna Doodle."
"I…was drawing you?"
"I don't have a moustache."
"But you should."
And Donny gave the reluctant smile and rolling eyes that were so super normal and familiar, and usually, he'd give Mikey a little shove or mess up his hair or some such little exasperated type thing that was all about indulging annoying little brothers and letting him know things were forgiven but not forgotten. What he got was pulled into a hug by his big brother. "You're part of a family. And you know it. Don't let all this shake you."
Mikey rested his head on Donny's shoulder. He should've known Donny wouldn't drop it that easy. He smiled a little. Realized he was a bit exhausted. "I'm kind of an idiot."
"Nah. You just like to play one on TV."
He grinned. Didn't say anything. Love you, Donny. He'd never really been able to say it out loud. Not to anyone, not even Splinter. He thought he should. He did. It just…it never seemed like…it would be quite right. His father said it. Often. His brothers hardly ever said it out loud, but they'd all told him so at least once. He should be able to say so.
"Whoa. Sun's coming up."
"Ohhh, crap." Mikey pulled away from his brother, and some small part of him felt guilty at the relief he felt for not having to work out the rest of his thoughts. The rest of him was really thinking Ohhh, crap. It was getting close to six o'clock then. Which meant the family would be getting up soon if they weren't up already. They needed to get home. Post. Haste. "Don't suppose you left a note?"
The look Donny leveled at him answered the question quite neatly. And probably pretty impolitely.
"Yeah. You were probably thinking of other things. Man. They're going to want to know where we've been."
"Oh, that's a big affirmative." Donny tilted his head and looked at him. And even offered him an out. "Are you going to tell them?"
He didn't relish the thought. Actually, the thought still scared the ninja out of him. But he couldn't keep this a secret anymore. Now that he'd told Donny…not telling the rest of his family felt like it would be the same as lying. Which…actually…he'd basically been doing anyway for about eight years. But…no, it still felt different now. He swallowed. He just really wanted all this to be over. But it wasn't. "Raph's gonna blow a gasket."
The smile was brief and brilliant. "Oh, definitely."
"So…you wanna tell him?"
"Mikey," Donny stepped up and put a hand on his shoulder, all seriousness. "You are my brother. And I would do absolutely anything for you." He patted the shoulder once and turned away. "Ehhhhhxcept that." With that he hopped up on the ledge.
Mikey looked on in amazement. "When did you start being funny?" His only answer was a quick, teasing grin, and then he was following after his brother. And even with all that was in his head, it was amazing how much different it was simply being there with his brother than being alone. He'd talked about it. He'd talked about it out loud. With someone. And he'd never thought that could change anything for the better. And he was only just then thinking he might have been wrong.
A/N: I enjoyed writing this chapter. Even if it is...pretty much all talking. Wow. It's pretty much ALL talking, isn't it. This is like one of those episodes of Star Trek: TNG where they spend practically the whole episode in a conference room. But...I really like Star Trek. But yeah. Those conference episodes are boring. Ah, well. Mikey needed to get his head screwed on straight before he could move on. And besides, I wanted to cry when I heard what had happened to him. I can only imagine how Donny felt.