xxi. pacifism

"Stop it, Raph!"

Ronny couldn't believe it. There was a giant meat slab of an arm grinding his windpipe into chalk, and the red mutant freak it belonged to couldn't even be bothered to look at him. Instead he was bickering with his nasty little purple-wearing friend, who just stood there shuffling around in a duffel bag.

"Are you crazy, Don? Did you miss the part where knife-boy here just tried to cut you a new breathin' hole?" The red one spat, shoving his bulk against Ronny's chest.

"I'm fine!" The other one snapped. He pulled a square of gauze out of his bag and pressed it into the side of his bleeding scalp, then pointed to Ronny, who scrabbled feebly at Red's grip. "Can't you see he's had enough?"

Red snarled, his sharp gaze swerving to pin Ronny with a calculating look. After a heartbeat, his weight finally shifted away, unpinning Ronny's arms from the wall. "You're lucky Donnie's such a bleedin'-"

Now. Heart pounding in his ears, Ronny slid a second jack knife from his jacket sleeve and plunged it into the soft flesh at Red's side. With a sound of surprise that choked off into something wet at the end, the mutant released his grip on Ronny and stumbled to the right, his huge hands grasping clumsily at the wound. An angry, pained growl burbled in his throat when they came away slicked with red.

"Raph!" howled a voice to Ronny's left, followed by a cry of utter fury, and he barely had time to turn and catch a flash of purple before a wooden staff cracked into his skull at—quite literally—breakneck speeds.

––

xxii. carnic

She has only felt the texture of their skin in brushes against her own. It doesn't occur to her, really, that she's never felt them, never taken the time to explore the thing that makes them so unique and so isolated from everything she knew as normal until they blazed into her life like four bodies of living fire. Perhaps it doesn't matter, she thinks; they are who they are, and she loves them all the same.

But then she wonders if loving them despite their mutant heritage is really what she wants, and there's a sick twist inside her chest that immediately serves as her answer.

One day she visits the lair with a purpose in mind, and only Leonardo is there to greet her. She hadn't really put thought into who she wanted it to be, but she's glad it's him, in a way. It seems right. He's wearing a mild smile when he invites her inside, polite and warm as always, but only now does she notice the way he carefully avoids touching her exposed shoulders as she's ushered inside.

"Leo," she says to him after he puts the kettle on for tea, grabbing the marginal scute over his right shoulder. It's rough and hard, like sandstone. (But that she already knew.) Leonardo turns to her, and she commands, "Give me your arm."

Leo's only response is a flash of curiosity through his dark eyes. After a moment of hesitation, he wordlessly complies.

She takes his arm gently, pinching at the elbow and wrist and bringing it closer to herself. She runs her thumb over the green flesh at the inner elbow; lifts her hand, her touch softly ghosting down the length of his forearm. The skin is leathery, almost scaly, but the uneven texture feels more like goosebumps beneath her hand.

Then she bends his arm upwards at the elbow, sliding one palm gently over the back of his hand and spreading his thick fingers wide. She hears the breath catch in his throat as she pushes her hand slowly over his wrist, up his palm, and ends with their hands spread against each other, her extra fingers pushed together to match his three digits.

Leo is completely silent. His eyes catch hers, caught somewhere between complete understanding and terrible fear.

April lifts her hand away from his. "Definitely a turtle," she says with a chuckle, and flicks one of his bandana tails into his face.

He smiles at her with something new in his expression, and it almost hurts how much she loves him, scales and all.

––

xxiii. vapor

Donatello places the lid upside-down on the pot. "And then you just wait. One gallon usually takes about four hours to fully distill, but there are always factors you have to take into consideration, like altitude, the contaminants in the water, things like that. I'll give you a list. There's probably no harm in letting it sit while you do other things, but..."

Leonardo watches his brother prattle on in silence, arms crossed. They're standing in his lab with a pot and a fire, and his brother is teaching him how to do something they all learned about before they knew their times tables (well, except for Don himself, probably). His eyes travel to the pot boiling on the counter, and then to the floor, where various textbooks lie askew; as though they'd been swept off in a hurry. The corner of his mouth tugs down.

"...be best if you kept at least two flasks of clean water at all times. Preferably more. You never know when—Leo? Are you listening?"

He turns to see his brother staring at him, his face haloed by a ring of warm light from the fire in the otherwise dark room. Leonardo sighs, turns to lean on the counter with both arms. He stares at the boiling pot. He knows his brother is just trying to help, but...

"I already know how to distill water, Don." It's a bit harsher than he meant it to be; his brother flinches, eyes growing quiet. Leonardo wonders when he lost the ability to be patient even for Donatello, and hates himself all the more.

"I know," Don mutters. "I'm not trying to insult you, honest. It's just... Master Splinter didn't say how long you'll be gone, or even where exactly you're supposed to find what you'll be looking for. It's a big world out there, Leo. And I just want to make sure you..."

He trails off, staring at the pot with an unreadable expression. Leonardo knows his poor brother—cursed with a heart that loves far too much to express itself in words and a mind that moves far too quickly to parse down everything he wants to say. Donatello has always spoken in demonstrations of technological and scientific wonders; things turned by heart and mind into something that does for his family what words never could. In a way, the very lives they lead are products themselves of Donatello's love; shiny toys and hover-boards come from the same place where security systems and shell cell trackers do, in the end.

Faced with his oldest brother's departure, Don is saying goodbye and good luck in the only way he knows how. But for some reason... it's not enough. Not this time. And he's scrambling to make both ends meet.

"I will," Leonardo promises.

Usually that's all it takes, too. But the balance is thrown off (because of him), so it's no great surprise when his brother turns with a gaze like molten snow.

"Will you really, Leo?"

Anger and shame spike in his chest; fills his lungs until he's breathing tacks. How far he must have fallen in his family's eyes, that his word now means nothing to the brother who once trusted him through every one of his flaws. No wonder he's being sent away. Half of him is amazed that Donatello is even still bothering with him, if not out of a sense of obligation. (the other half knows it's because he loves far too much.)

He lifts the lid from the pot, dewy droplets sliding down the convex curve of metal. The steam floats into the air in front of his face, dispersing and scattering into the darkness.

"Yes."

No. He wishes he could disappear, too.

––

xxiv. selfishness

You try not to think about the way your brother's eyes fall; the tunnel is dark and there's oily, half burnt-out ceiling lights with ropey wires and moths tapping against the grimy glass bulbs. tap tap tap, louder than the hammering blood in your skull. Louder than the sound of your brother's quietly shattering eyes.

"I don't need you," you repeat, maybe for posterity. Maybe because it's all you have to say. It's all you've ever had to say, but the lies were paper-thin and fragile like moth wings. Roasted gold in the light. tap tap tap. you're burning alive.

Your shoulders hardly brush together as you storm past. It pulls him wide open, but his shards end up cutting your feet, piece by piece.

––

xxv. frail

Dark figures dancing on rice paper walls. The room is warm, oppressively so, even though the only source of heat is a small, yellow candle that flickers and writhes with every ghost of air trailing from his mouth. Wax pools on the floor, and he wants to clean it up. But his bones creak like ancient metal in his joints whenever he tries to lift the blankets from his body.

Something cool passes over the slick fur of his forehead. His eyes crack open and catch flashes of purple interposed over olive-green. Ah. His gentlest son, dark eyes squinted in worry as he replaces a cool cloth over his head.

Splinter slowly pulls up a hand from the blanket and grasps Donatello's wrist. His son stiffens in surprise, yet all Splinter does is murmur words of love and praise—words he speaks so rarely to any of his sons. Frailty has shaped clarity, and only beneath the dark glow of fever can he see how much they all crave his warmth.

It seems incomplex. Warmth, right now, is all he has to give.

––

xxvi. path

Four roads are woven into the ground before him. A burn, the dust, the dark, a light. Peace rings like a bell in the distance, reaching down with starry wings.

He turns and treads the backwards path. More important are the ones he left behind.

––

xxvii sweetness

Life at best is bittersweet, his mind reminds him, and it's in his voice because the little piece of paper is folded into a square and tucked into the sentimental drawer where his first physics book and purple head scarf are, and he hasn't looked at it in years. He wants to reach in and strangle himself, burn everything to the ground, but his brain is going twenty miles a second and it feels like he's underwater and everything is moving like a broken film strip and

he bends over his brother's cold chest, gripping the edges of his plastron until the blood cakes his fingers and face. Nothing is bitter, or sweet. Metallic. It's all death is.

––

xxviii. impenetrability

One crack in his shell, a broken leg, and a concussion, and even with all of his brothers' fretting, Michelangelo still manages to laugh off his injuries. Raph, incoherent with fury, takes off topside the moment he knows his baby brother will be okay, ready to extract vengeance on every Purple Dragon he can find for nearly killing the youngest member of the family.

Leo shoots off after him, leaving only Don, who watches his older brothers depart with dark, red eyes.

"Don," Mikey croaks out. His brother turns to look at him, frowning. "They'll... be fine, bro. Leo'll... take care of 'im." He groans, trying to squirm under Don's firm grip at the fire in his spine. "Hope Raph gets a couple first, though."

Donatello sighs, gently pushing up Mikey's bandana with his thumb to study the bruises dotting the space where his freckles should be.

"I don't know how you do it, Mikey," Don murmurs, voice tight with worry. Mike opens his mouth, and then Don quickly adds, "If you start trying to sing Titanium, I'm going to add one more bruise to your collection."

Mikey's mouth snaps shut, and Donatello's smile gains a little more sincerity at the edges.

––

xxix. nullification

There came a time when the horror stories of humans and their dark, cruel world no longer affected his children; no longer kept them up at night, listening to the subway tunnels rattling and peering through sewer grates at passing shadows and dark city lights.

Then came the time when he realized that he had been the cruel one, and that his sons would find a way to live in this world even still.

Then it was he who began to lose sleep.

––

xxx. imminence

Don once tried to figure out their lifespans. Red-eared sliders lived only around twenty years or so, but their speed of maturation seemed to more closely mirror that of a human's. Even so, he'd said in that shifty, neurotic way he does when he's been awake for thirty hours and living exclusively on caffeine, it wouldn't hurt to have a rough outline.

Soon enough, Master Splinter forbade the research. It was unhealthy for Donatello to pursue such dark unknowables with such obsession, he'd asserted, his whiskers twitching in hard concern. Life was unpredictable, indefinable, and always far too short. Above all, it was something to be savored—not studied.

Reluctantly, Don had sealed his notes away in a manila folder and banished them to the filing cabinet of abandoned projects. But sometimes, during long nights and caffeine rushes, he would dig them back out, flip through the pages, and wonder why he had been forbidden from something so important.

Then, at the age of nineteen, Raphael died of a gunshot wound from one lucky punk.

Donatello never looked at them (or wondered why) again.


A/N: WOW I'm so sorry, I don't know why they all ended up so sad. Guess I'll call this the Decangst chapter. And I don't know why I always pick on poor Don, either; isn't SAINW enough?

(never.)

Might have a whole chapter of lighthearted ones to balance this one off. Either way, hope you enjoyed!