I wrote this back in January of 2010, but looking back over it now it seemed pretty rough to me, so I went ahead and gave it another pass. I think I nailed most of the grammatical errors, at least. I also cleaned house on some of the poor wording and tightened up the dialogue. If you were a fan of the original version don't worry - I didn't change any plot elements. But keep in mind that reviews prior to the date above were for an older version (for instance, I rewrote the very end of Chapter 16, which I think was called out in the comments. I think it reads a little better now.)
Thanks for reading, love you guys!
- Graphic violence / horror
The TMNT and TMNT universe is (as of this writing) property of Nickelodeon/Viacom Entertainment. This fiction is non-profit and for the fans.
"The one in purple. Only him."
"Understood, my Lord."
Raphael ran at breakneck speed, clutching his shivering brother tight. He could feel the warmth of his body radiating. Fear drove him into a state of raw power. His thoughts bent on his task, he urged himself forward. Go, go, go, go… keep goin'… just gotta get to the lair… c'mon, faster! Every muscle was on fire, but it didn't matter. He'd entered that state of pure adrenaline; the pain and exhaustion pushed from his mind completely.
Hardly matters though… don't know what's at the lair that's gonna help him. He nearly lost his footing at the thought, stumbling slightly but catching himself.
"Raph! You alright!?" Leo looked up at him, concerned.
"…Fine," he managed. Leonardo had been keeping pace beside, desperately trying to talk to Donatello in an effort to keep him conscious. Don was losing the fight quickly. His eyes fluttered, and his words soon degenerated into nothing but painful moans.
"Don! C'mon, Donnie!" Leo's voice was commanding, trying to will his brother awake. "Raph! Maybe we should stop for a second!"
"Almost… there…" Raph said between gasps of air. He was a machine, its only function to move forward. Almost there… go, go... just keep goin'.
He was right, they were nearly there and Leo didn't press the issue. Though they were driven to get Don to a safe place, Leo shared his brother's feelings of helplessness. But what do we do when we get there? Don said it himself, it's too late... He tried not to think about it. No matter. Master Splinter will know what to do.
The lair was quiet. A rare thing on any day to be sure, but today's peace was partly in thanks to the two more boisterous turtles' absence. Leonardo sat in the kitchen, sipping tea and trying to enjoy the time off, but found that his thoughts kept wandering. He closed the book he'd been reading and looked down at his knee, where a neat brace had been fixed. He sighed. As nice as this is, he thought, I wish I was over there helping too.
The sprain hadn't been serious, but Leo thought it prudent not to overdo it. The faster it healed, the faster he'd be back in top shape, something he was really itching for. It wasn't uncommon to see braces or bandages on one or more of the brothers at a time; with the sort of lifestyle they led it was a rather ordinary sight. Donatello had been adamant that he take it easy for a few days and keep heat on it, advice he followed pretty strictly. After all, Don would know.
Leo's brow furrowed. Speaking of Don, where's he been all day, anyways? Their house engineer was often working on something, but the day was waning and Leo realized that he hadn't even heard a peep from the workshop all day. Odd. Maybe he did end up going over to April's after all. Just as he was beginning to think more on it, his attention was taken away by the sound of the front door, the voices of Michelangelo and Raphael pouring through it a moment after. "Hmm, they're early," he mumbled out loud to himself.
The two turtles entered the kitchen, splattered head to toe in paint. Leo didn't have to say anything, the look he gave them was enough.
"He started it." Mike said guiltily, pointing at Raphael.
"Did not." Raph stood, arms crossed and eyes narrow. "But I sure ended it." He gave a toothy grin.
"Oh, you know I would've gotcha good if… uh, if April hadn't kicked us out."
"Ugh, you guys." Leo buried his face in his hands, "Need I remind you that you were both over there to help April, not to drive her crazy all day. I knew I should've come along."
"Ah, we weren't so bad – really, Leo. I think Casey got on her nerves more than we did anyways." Mike plopped down in one of the kitchen chairs, stretching.
"Not surprised there." Leo smiled, and the other two chuckled in unison. "Well, I hope you guys at least got the place looking nice."
"Heh, just wait'll ya see it - shit looks damn near professional. I think me and Mikey missed our callin'."
"No doubt! This could be a new business venture for us, Raph! Ninja home décor – your ugly walls vanish without a trace!"
"Huh. I'll pass." He turned towards Leo. "Anybody seen the egghead today? I gotta ask him about that system he's got rigged up over there. Freakin' alarm tripped off three times while Mikey an' I were workin'. Apparently it's driving April nuts, too."
"Nope. You know, come to think of it, I haven't actually seen Don since yesterday's exercises." Leo's brow furrowed again at the thought.
"Hm, yeah. Me neitha'. He's hibernatin' again, probably workin' on another one a his great inventions." Raphael raised his hands in the air for emphasis, mocking the absent turtle. "'Course, if he was doin' something really good, like say, givin' my bike an upgrade…" He trailed off, daydreaming of the possibilities.
Mike piped up. "Oh you didn't know? Donnie's throwing in a whole turret system, y'know, big ol' guns on either side, grenade launcher on the back -"
"What, really!?" Raph's eyes suddenly became huge. He realized his mistake a split second before the laughter started.
Gasping, Mike managed, "No, not 'really'! You think Donnie would trust you with a grenade launcher?" He broke into another fit, wrapping his arms around his middle. "Oh man, Raph, you are so gullible -"
Raphael hardly moved an inch. He stood still, arms crossed and eyes no more than slits. His expression never changed. But Leonardo caught sight of the green blur a second before Raph's foot shot out. With a loud crack, the chair Michelangelo was sitting in became horizontal, the unfortunate turtle still seated in it.
Leonardo sighed. "Anyways. I guess I should go and have a talk with him. It's all well and good that he's working on his things, but he can't go neglecting his other responsibilities. Namely, to himself – I haven't seen him come out for a meal in the last twenty-four hours either, so I imagine he's forgetting to eat again too."
"Ah, I say let 'em be. If he don't wanna come out, he don't wanna come out. You know how Donnie gets sometimes, just wrapped up in stuff. One day he's gonna burst outta there with the cure for cancer, or somethin'." Raphael rolled his eyes, adding, "If he wakes me up again for one a his great discoveries, it better be a cure for somethin'. Somebody needs to tell him the rest a us don't care about spore molds as much as he does."
Ignoring Raphael's rant, Leo went on. "Yeah well, it's not good for him. He needs to take better care of himself. I've gotten after him before about missing meals especially."
"So I take it you're gonna go in an' give 'em one of yer famous lectures," Raphael said bitterly, "lucky him."
"Don't start in with me, Raph." Leonardo shook his head, sounding tired. "You know I'm the one that keeps the machine running around here. Otherwise, you'd sleep all day, Mike would go blind from video games, and Don - well, Don would never come out of his lab."
"Oh gimme a break Leo, enough with your 'I gotta keep the machine runnin' speech. Don'tcha ever get tired of repeatin' yourself?" Raph was still feeling sore about Mike's little joke and the words came out harder than he intended.
"Once you start listening to what I say, little brother, I'll stop repeating myself."
"Oh believe me, I'm listenin' - I got no choice. Like an annoying fly buzzin' around I can't seem to swat." Raph leaned in close. "Maybe Don's got the right idea. Gonna lock myself in my room for a day or two and say I'm 'workin' too."
"So I'm an annoying bug then? Real mature, Raph. We don't even know why Don's locked up in there anyways, he could be sick or something." Leo had his arms crossed, ready to fire off some more. Tension was building, and this was ramping up to be another classic blowout between the two elder turtles, but something stopped them before it got too out of hand.
"Oh, I think Donnie's holed up 'cuz he's bummed out about training." They had forgotten about Mike, who'd apparently decided the floor was just fine. Having slipped the handheld game system from his belt, he was now sitting cross-legged and fully engaged in the device.
The arguing turtles turned in his direction. "Wh-what was that?" Leonardo stammered.
"Hmmm? Oh, yeah – I guess he's been blowin' it in practice or something. I dunno." He sneered suddenly at the game. "Aw c'mon! I totally had that guy!"
"Hey Mikey, focus." Raph bent over him, snapping his fingers. "What was that about Donnie now?"
"Huh? Oh, nothin' really. He helped me get the PS3 online yesterday, and that was so awesome, 'cuz now I can finally download all those custom levels for LBP and duuude… it's so great. I've been bugging him to hook me up forever. I mean, it's only like, the best game ever. And you should see some of the custom levels they got on there -"
"Mike! Forget the game." Leonardo was firm, but managed to keep his patience. It was sometimes difficult to get Michelangelo to complete a thought, something that often frustrated his family members. "What's this about him 'blowing it'? I haven't noticed anything different in practice. Did he say something?"
"Well, kinda. He was kinda in a funk, you know how he acts all annoyed with stuff. Grumbling a lot, sighing, that sort of thing."
"Yeah well, maybe he was just tired," Raph said. "Or maybe you were gettin' on his nerves. I can sympathize."
"Hey, you're so funny," Mike said without taking his eyes from the game. "But he was saying some weird stuff when I was leaving, something about him being a crappy ninja, or something." Glancing around, Mike's eyes suddenly lit up. "No way! Guys, check out that spider over there – it's huge! Thing's like an animal! I should give him a name. What do you think of, 'Eduardo'?"
"I think ya must've hit yer head down there. C'mon." Raphael extended an arm, helping the younger turtle off of the floor.
"Mike, what did he say exactly?" Leonardo suddenly looked very concerned.
"Huh? Oh, about being a crappy ninja?" Mike snapped the device shut, giving them his full attention. "Well, I told him thanks, y'know, for hooking up the PS3, and then I said something about us doing topside training this week. I said he better get his geeky butt away from the computer and get ready, 'cuz I wanted some real competition this time around." Mike looked confused, suddenly. "I mean, I was just talkin' a little smack, 'cuz I crushed him pretty hard the other day in sparring practice… I didn't think he was gonna get all serious about it."
"What – did – he - say?" Leo repeated, his patience for this beginning to wear.
"I dunno exactly, but it was something like, 'what's the point?' Then he went into this thing about how he just holds us back, an' that he's never gonna be a 'great warrior', or something… said he should give up being a ninja and just do science stuff instead." Mike strained to think, the action looking like it was almost causing him pain. Shrugging, he said, "To be honest, I was pretty sunk into the game, so I kinda tuned out after that."
Raphael and Leonardo just stared at him, their jaws dropping simultaneously. Leo broke the silence. "H-he said what!?"
"An' you didn't think to tell us any of this until now." Raphael debated knocking his younger brother to the floor a second time.
"Oh, c'mon guys, he wasn't serious. I mean, I don't think he was serious. Dude, Leo's training sessions make me wanna give it up some days, too." He grinned wide for a second but dropped the expression when the serious looks on his brothers' faces didn't change. "What? You guys really think Donnie doesn't wanna be a ninja anymore? That's crazy."
Leo exchanged a look with Raphael. "Maybe so, but it's not a matter to be taken lightly. I should get to the bottom of this. I'm going in there."
"Yeah, uh," Raphael added, "think I might join ya, actually."
"Oh really." Leo eyed him suspiciously. "Since when is Mr.-less-talk-more-action interested in his brothers' feelings? I don't need a babysitter, if that's what you're thinking." Recalling what they'd just been arguing about moments before, Leo got the impression that Raph felt he needed to mediate. Jeez, he thought, it's Donatello. What does he think I'm going to say?
That was exactly what Raphael had been thinking, but he bit his tongue for now. "Nah, I jus' wanna make sure he ain't gonna do anything dumb, is all." Like hang himself after listening to yer long-winded ass. He tried not to smile at the thought. "'Sides, I gotta say somethin' about April's security system, or she'll chew my head off."
"Yeah, well have fun with that." Mike got up and started rummaging though one of the cupboards. "Me an' Eduardo here are gonna hang back and spend some quality time together. Hey, do spiders just eat bugs, or other stuff too? You think Ed here would go for some cereal? I really hope so, 'cuz that's about all we got left…" Mike suddenly realized that his brothers had already walked away. "Pfft. Rude. Oh well, guess it's just you an' me, buddy. Here, have some Lucky Charms."
"There are some things you could improve on, that is true," Leo started, "but that can be said for all of us. None of us is without our flaws. I mean, I tend to over-think situations, sometimes I get so wrapped up in maneuvers that I let my guard down, or worse, I don't support the three of you enough. Michelangelo, he's always losing focus as you well know, and Raphael – jeez, just look at Raph. He talks back, defies orders, constantly loses his temper, goes head-first into a fight like a stubborn mule, and just the other day -"
"ALRIGHT, Leo, I think he gets the point." Raph shot his brother a pissed off look.
Don couldn't help but smile a little. "Yeah, I guess. I mean, I know all that of course, but…" He trailed off a bit, struggling to find the words. "But it's more than that." Centering on Leo, he said, "Look. I know why you're here, and the pep-talk isn't necessary. You and I both know that I'm a weak link." He looked away then, unable to make eye contact.
"What do you mean?" Leo pressed him.
Don shot back at him, almost defiantly. "You think I haven't noticed that our formations have completely changed? Sure, it started slow at first - at first I just thought I was being paranoid. But these days, there's no doubt about it. You guys practically form a circle around me every time we engage the Foot."
"Ah, that ain't true -" Raph began to brush him off.
"No he's right."
Raphael stopped, looking at Leo with total shock. "What?"
"He's right. I have been… altering our tactics." He looked squarely at Raphael. "Just like he said, to better protect Donatello."
"What the hell, Leo. You can't be serious." You could hear it in Raph's voice; there was that calm, psychotic quality that told his two brothers that there could be violence in the near future.
Leo completely ignored him, instead turning back to Donatello, who was now sitting and hanging his head in shame. He kneeled in front of his brother, placing both hands on his shoulders. "Don, look at me." Donatello slowly did as he was instructed, dreading the next words out of Leo's mouth. "It's not what you think. I can't believe you think this way, I guess I'd always assumed that you just knew -"
Don frowned. "I don't understand, knew what?"
Leo stood back up, looking at Raphael for support. Realization was setting in, and the more volatile turtle was looking a bit more subdued now. Of course, Leo thought, now he knows what I'm about to say. He turned his attention back to his purple-banded brother. "Don. This is a little awkward to say, but basically – you're just too valuable to us. Your knowledge of… well, everything… has made our survival possible."
"What – you're not serious? So what are you trying to say, that you guys couldn't get by without me? I hardly think that's true…" But Donatello didn't sound so sure. He understood what Leo was saying, but it was hard to hear it out loud. Did they really depend on him that much?
"Dude, you're like the medic." Michelangelo's voice came wafting in, between munching sounds. He stood there in the doorway, taking another bite of the apple he was holding and went on. "Yeah, you know, like in all those war games? You always got your guys on the front line, your artillery guys, demolition dudes, spies an' shit. Then there's the medics, the guys that heal everybody else. Everybody knows to protect that guy – actually, the other team will always try to take him down first, 'cuz it pretty much guarantees a win."
"So – so you guys feel like you have to… have to use your lives to protect mine?" Donatello was suddenly very upset. "Who gets to decide that my life is more important than my brothers'?" He looked hard at Leo. "This isn't a damn game!"
Leo looked apologetic, but stood his ground. "Like I said, it's not something we really talk about, but… it's something we all agree on. I know it's not an easy topic." He swallowed. "But that's the hard fact. If Raphael, Mike, or myself - if any of us get taken down, then the rest of us could probably adjust. But it's different with you, Don. We just don't have your knowledge. We literally couldn't survive."
"So 'the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few' then? Who do you think you are, deciding our fates like this? Don't I get a say!?" It was odd for them to hear the normally passive turtle express any amount of anger, and all three looked a bit surprised at the way he sounded now.
"Again, I know it sounds harsh out loud," Leo ran a hand over his head, running fingers through non-existent hair. "And I'm sorry we didn't discuss it with you sooner. But think of it like this. Let's say you're out of the picture, and one of us gets hurt. Mikey breaks his leg, or something. With you around, it's hardly a concern, right? But what if I had to set it, or Raph? We could screw it up, and Mike might never walk again. Or worse, he could get an infection and die."
"Dude, weak." Mike paused to interject between bites.
"Shuddup, Mikey." Raph said absently, giving him a shove.
Leo continued. "Look it's not an easy decision for me, contrary to what you might think. But if given the choice between losing one brother or losing them all, you know what I'm going to do."
Donatello looked anxious. "I still can't help but think that my skills as a fighter are in question here, since you all seem to feel as though I need protection."
Leonardo shook his head. "Don, it wouldn't matter to me if you were the world's greatest ninja, able to take on the Shredder and half of the Foot Clan yourself. Tactically speaking, this is just the smartest way to go."
"Yep." Raphael finally broke in. "As much as I hate to agree with 'em, Leo's right. Guess we kinda need that big brain of yours more than ya think."
Donatello sighed. "I don't know. This doesn't sit well with me."
"And I hate to bring this kind of burden down on you, but that's how it is. I've spoken with Master Splinter about this in length, and he agrees. Don – you know I'm right about this. We'd be lost without you."
Though he'd calmed considerably, Donatello wasn't looking happy. "I guess… I guess I kind of always knew that in the back of my head, I just didn't want to really believe it."
"Ah, c'mon. At least ya ain't the ninja fuck-up ya thought ya were."
"Yep, you're just our MVP, Donnie – or uh, I guess that would be MVT, actually. Or MVN?" Mike, his apple now finished, stood twirling the core. "Of course, you're no Battle Nexus Champion* or anything, but hey – OW!" Raphael didn't waste time with any words, instead smacking his open palm into the side of Mike's head. "That hurt, Raph!"
"Don, why don't you come out of this cave and get something to eat with us? I think it's Mikey's turn to make dinner tonight," Leo said.
Still rubbing the side of his head, Michelangelo brightened up. "Ooh yeah! Prepare yourself for Chef Mikey's three-bean taco explosion! Maybe I'll add a fourth bean this time, who knows – we'll get crazy up here!"
"Great," Raphael groaned, "that's just what I wanted to do, is share a space with four otha' guys after an all-bean meal."
That caused Michelangelo to burst out laughing. As they began to head out, he turned to Raph and said, "I'm having seconds tonight just for you, dude."
Leo hung back for a moment, letting the other two get some distance. "So, you coming?" He looked down at Donatello, the worry still present in his voice.
"Yeah – yeah. Sorry Leo, I didn't mean to get so heated. I know you're just trying to protect us." He stood up. "I guess I always look at the work I do as improving our lives, making it more comfortable. But that's not just it, is it?"
Leo shook his head. "Your medical knowledge especially has become a necessity to us. Maybe if our enemies weren't so much of a threat…" Leo got that look again, the one that told Donatello he spent more than a few sleepless nights pondering this issue. "You know how much stronger the Foot are getting. And I know you've noticed the increase in our own injuries of late because of it." He looked down at his knee brace almost shamefully.
"Don't remind me. It's been a real pain to keep our supplies stocked." Donatello rubbed his temple. "I don't know Leo, I'm not sure how I feel about all this. Knowing that my entire family's survival is so dependent on me…" He trailed off, giving his brother an understanding look.
"Sucks, doesn't it?" Leo grinned wide. "But we do what's necessary. It's tough I know, but you've got to admit, it does feel good to be needed also. C'mon, I know it strokes that nerd ego of yours a little bit."
"Okay, you got me there. I guess it does feel good to know all my hard work is appreciated, at least." Donatello rolled his eyes good-naturedly. "Alright, I'm ready for some food. Tacos actually sound pretty good right now."
"Yeah, say what you want about Mikey, but he sure can cook." Leo smiled again, but his thoughts betrayed his demeanor. As they walked out, he thought back to something Mike had said, unable to shake the uneasy feeling those words stirred in him.
"…the other team will always try to take him down first, 'cuz it pretty much guarantees a win."
*For the purposes of this story, The Battle Nexus is just an in-joke, referring to a tournament-style video game. There is no continuity here with the actual 2k3 episodes.