"I'm, like, dreaming, aren't I?"
"No, Mikey, you're—you're not dreaming."
"Good. I have nightmares about birthday parties."
Leo's brow furrows.
"Birthday parties—oh, Cowabunga Carl. Is it really that bad?"
His little brother looks up from where his head is smushed against his plastron, soul visible through his eyes: sadness is ascendant. It makes Leo's heart twinge.
"Yes," he says in a small voice. "Shredder never hit me where these kids do."
Leo laughs in spite of himself, in spite of the fact that behind his joke, Michelangelo is completely serious. He hears Don sigh next to him, and he looks at his brother, really looks at him. Now that the happy shock of Leo's presence has worn off a little, there is an expression on his face Leo can tell is habitual, but it's one he's never seen before. It is careworn and weary, almost jaded. It makes him afraid. He pushes Mikey upright and looks into his eyes.
"Why did you have to get a job doing birthday parties, Mikey?" He can understand Don doing tech support. It had seemed criminal for his genius to be wasted like that, but it was something Don could do, and it had been very responsible of him to provide for the family like that. But why Mikey? Why did his little brother have to do something so grown up as get a job? He'd imagined Mikey enjoying his work as an entertainer, but it was clear he was miserable. Don answers for him.
"Mikey needed something to do. With me working and Raph… well, doing whatever, we needed to keep him occupied."
Leo's furrowed brow turns into a real frown. Mikey's humor-filled expression wilts a little.
"Aw, c'mon, Don, you don't have to say it like I'm a dog who starts chewing on shoes if I don't get enough exercise."
"Well, Mikey, I hate to use such a distasteful metaphor, but you basically did."
"It wasn't that bad."
"You were playing video games all day."
"Oh, like that's any better."
Leo watches this with a sick feeling in his stomach. He's beginning to see what his absence has done to his family. Don and Mike never fought like this. Not that this can even be properly called a fight. And it's not like they never fought at all. But a fight between Don and Mikey was either mostly full of teasing and rough-housing and over quickly, or it was a smoldering conflict that could last for days. There had never been this—this… rehashed feeling, as though they'd had this conversation a thousand times before and they have forgotten how to talk to each other any other way. It makes him wonder what else has gone wrong in this family during his absence.
He has a feeling he'll find out soon enough.