I've read so many fics where the author throws Donatello (and sometimes Mikey) a huge pity party for all the crud he had to deal with during Leo's absence. Leo is almost always the bad guy in these fics, with Splinter as a close second. I wanted to turn that around. I also wanted to give Mikey and Donnie their own rooftop fight. They need love too!
Also also, I know I said at the end of Baby Steps that the sequel would deal with Splinter, and I tried. But I can't make Splinter the bad guy, I just can't! Not even a little bit! Besides, as I watched the movie again, I realized that, after Leo (who I've made my peace with), Donnie is the one I have the most problems with. I am not one who combines the 2003 cartoon with the 2007 movie continuity. I feel it follows the live action movies, and if that's so, then what the heck happened to Donnie? He used to be as big a goofball as Mikey. I wanted to explore that (abrupt and unexplained) change.
One Step at a Time
"Mikey…" Leo began, unsure of how to phrase it. His younger brother looked up from the stack of fliers he was holding, his inquisitive expression barely visible under the deep hood of the sweatshirt he wore. "Why do you let him talk to you that way? Donnie, I mean."
Mike's expression turned to something understanding and almost patient, and he turned back to the telephone pole he was standing in front of, slapping up a flier and stapling it on in one practiced movement.
Leo was referencing Donatello's parting words to Mikey before leaving that evening, which had been extremely condescending and, Leo was sorry to say, extremely typical of the way Donnie spoke to Mikey these days. That had been one of the many shocks he'd had upon coming home, and while it had been swallowed up in the crisis with Winters, lately he'd been increasingly aware of and troubled by the new relationship between these two brothers. Gone were the days of sharing pork rinds in the kitchen while he and Raph fought, cracking jokes and being silly. Lately, especially with him and Raph at that stage of forgiveness where they were walking on tiptoe around each other, Don and Mike were more likely to being fighting each other. It made him sad, and a little sick, and the worst part of it was, Mikey didn't even seem to be that upset at the way things were. They had gotten marginally better now that the business side of Cowabunga Carl was in Mikey's surprisingly capable hands, but there seemed to be no sign that things were returning to normal between those two, or that they ever would.
"You gotta understand, bro, I've forgiven you and everything, so I'm not mad at you anymore." They moved on to the next telephone pole. "But things really went to pot when you were gone. It was like we were the Fantastic Four without Reed Richards. It just didn't work. And Donnie was like Sue Storm trying to deal with the Thing and the Human Torch all by herself. And you can imagine—" Mikey stopped as he realized that, in fact, Leonardo could not imagine. He gave him a sheepish grin, slapping up another flier. "Well, anyway, me and Raph, we didn't exactly step up, you know. So Donnie had to kind of take your place. I mean, Raph would lead us in fights well enough, but he didn't really know how to do the other stuff you do, the little stuff, at home. You know."
Leo hadn't known Mikey even noticed the little things he did. He'd barely been aware of them himself. It was just part of being a big brother. They crossed the street and made their way to the van a few blocks away.
"And then sensei started getting on his case for not keeping us in line, and it was like he just, I dunno, imploded or something. Especially after sensei said we couldn't fight anymore. He just…" Mike gave him a serious look. "I think he tried to be you. And, and he just couldn't. Especially with Raph. Raph never took him seriously, and so the only one he could keep in line was me. So, you know, I let him. I kinda missed having a big brother to boss me around." He flashed Leo another sheepish grin, and climbed in the driver's side of the van. Leo opened the passenger side door, lost in thought, and tossed the extra fliers in the back.
"Okay, I can see that," he said slowly, gripping the dashboard in an instinctual attempt to keep himself from being too jostled by Mikey's driving. "But why does he keep doing it? And more importantly, why do you keep letting him?"
"I don't think he knows how to stop, bro," Mike said, shrugging. He swerved around a stopped taxi, the van briefly lifting onto two wheels. Leo choked down a reprimand. Not only was he trying not to do that anymore in general, it really wouldn't help his case right now. "And, I dunno, I think this is who Donnie is now. Jokester Donnie ain't coming back. So it's all up to me now."
The last sentence was said with a sort of bravado that Leo knew was supposed to make him think Mikey was being silly, but it was forced and didn't match his expression. It confirmed what Leo had suspected ever since that first night home: Mike had lost his best friend.