A/N: I spend way too much of my time thinking about the gaps in canon we don't get to see, speculating about how things came to be. This fic is my attempt at filling in the blanks between the final episode of the Exodus arc and the beginning of "Cousin Sid" in a way that makes the most logical sense. This is a 38 chapter monster that I already have mostly finished. Updates will be every Saturday if I'm running on schedule. As a note, some minor elements of canon have been changed for the sake of realism. I hope you enjoy!
Prologue: It All Starts With the End.
The countdown starts. Each beep of the clock beats in time with the pounding of his heart as it ticks its way to oblivion. Donatello watches with his family all around him, his blood turned to ice, each second shaving their lives paper-thin. Five seconds stretch on for years.
They almost missed it. The massive ship stirred like a sleeping titan, breaking free of its umbilicus tethers with a choking burst of heat and smoke. The ceiling opened up, swallowing partygoers like a hungry animal. A table, still dressed in its white linen table cloth, clattered to the floor. It barely made a sound over the deafening roar of the engine.
And with that ship, the Shredder would be gone. They did everything they could to stop him. Ripped off his false skin. Tore him down to his mechanical parts. And then, exposed the fragile alien underneath. But even then, he was too strong. Even then they couldn't stop him. And now he was leaving. Fleeing Earth. With newly gathered strength, he would go on to conquer new galaxies, ravage his native planet that had caused him so much suffering. And then, he would return to Earth with a new bloodlust carved in his alien heart .
In that future that wasn't a future, Don had seen what the world would become if the Shredder wasn't stopped. With the remainder of the party crashing down around them, he could feel the world crumbling beneath his feet.
That's why they jumped; launched themselves from the platform and onto the moving ship in a heart-stopping moment of weightlessness. From that moment on, it was a suicide mission. And Donatello knew-they all knew-there would be no coming back from this.
Lying broken, battered, and bleeding on the ship's cold metal floor, there was only one thing left to do.
Honeycutt had said the situation was hopeless, but that couldn't be farther from the truth.
Their lives have always been tangled in the threads of a never-ending cycle of revenge. They had been raised and trained as ninjas to avenge the death of their father's Master. His Master, who had fallen victim to his own brand of betrayal and deceit. And in turn, fell into the web of an ancient war of vengeance that spanned galaxies.
All their lives, they had fought the same battle as their ancestors. But as the final countdown numbers his last breaths, Leonardo's voice echoes in his head.
We could end this.
The pillar of light erupts with a volcanic force, pitching him forward in an unbearable wave of heat and rubble that cracks his skin, rattles his heart, and snatches his breath away. The world fades into blistering white.
The chaos freezes like a gasped breath held in waiting lungs. Scorching heat becomes crystal, a wall of snow that hangs in the air like fog. All he feels are pins and needles, and he's floating, listlessly drifting in an endless sea of static. His heart is as unbeating as a stone in his chest. His body hums like fluorescent lights with the flatline ringing in his ears.
Donatello is sure he was dead. But in that blindingly white, bodiless world, voices filter in from darker places.
"—can't breathe! I need—"
"—arterial bleed. He's—"
"—need a biosuspension chamber prepped! Now!"
It's like startling awake from one nightmare and into another. His body half-numb with a brain full of molasses, awareness sinks its teeth deep into his arm and drags him like a savage dog into the swirling confusion of semi-consciousness.
The last thing he remembers is the molten blaze of the ship's power core combusting into pure, destructive energy. The next, he's blinking up at… something. Something living—a network of tissue and veins lining the walls and ceiling. Vaguely, he wonders if he's been eaten alive. And his arm hurts. A lot.
He'd be more worried if there wasn't utroms everywhere. They hover with worried looks over mounds of tubing and equipment, barking orders, hurriedly muttering to themselves, mechanical arms ticking needle-like fingers with frantic precision. All around him is a living, techno-organic marvel of Utrom science.
Laughter burbles in his chest from a well of pure, sick relief and panic. From the minute it starts, it doesn't feel right. There's no humor or happiness in it, and it bangs its way out of his throat like gravel. But he laughs so deliriously his eyes fill with tears. Even when utroms, flitting around the room like mayflies, stop to squint at him worriedly. Even when the pain shredding his arm makes him want to throw up because he knows that pins and needles feeling, that cold static that tears you apart and makes you feel like you've been turned inside-out and back again...
It was a transmat.
He's alive. Against all odds, he's alive. He made it out of there. The Shredder… They…
His body is still numb as he bolts upright with the grace of a poorly-strung marionette. His broken arm screams at him in protest, making him stifle one of his own, his vision going dark around the edges.
"Donatello, please! You must lie back."
But he can't. He's wild-eyed and completely out of his senses, still half-blind and deaf from the blast. There's nothing to laugh about.
All around him, the real picture unfolds. His arm is in a sling. Utroms swarm like bees over mounds of blood-stained gauze. The sick smell of burnt hair, iron and antiseptic permeates the air. Above the hurried voices, the hum of machinery and the beep of monitoring equipment, he can hear his family in the throes of misery.
On one station, he can hear Raph's ragged breathing even over the clamor of the emergency room's chaos. His chest aches in sympathy as every breath grates through his brother's lungs with a deep-chested wheeze.
Across the room, he can barely see what he knows is Leo. The only thing visible are his feet and the growing crimson pool on the floor. There's blood everywhere. Utroms' faces are spattered in red over grim expressions, their metal limbs bathed in the stuff.
It happens in an instant—pure panic floods his senses, lighting a fire in his chest. Eyes wide, his heart thundering inside of him, and the taste of metal on his tongue, he ignores his own pain and swings his legs over the side of the cot. Can't catch his breath as the world tilt-a-whirls around him, but the ache in his chest is screaming just go to them, be with them, do something. His brothers are dying right in front of him. He can't just lie there and watch them die!
Someone retches beside him, and he hardly has to look to know it's Mikey. On the next bed over, he's got his face half-buried in a metal bucket, his body lurching with every heave.
His brother's blue eyes are swollen and bloodshot. Tear stains streak his face. A trail of saliva dangles from his mouth until he spits, gathering his composure just in time to start a new wave of tears.
"Donny!" He sobs, and in an instant Don's stumbling on jelly-legs, yelping at the sickening crunch of shifting bone. But he grits his teeth and shakily wraps his good arm around his brother's shoulders. The bucket gets shoved away, and Mikey wraps his middle in a bear hug that crushes him more than a little. But it feels good. Every part of him is cold, shaking, disjointed, and Mikey is a warm anchor that still doesn't feel quite real. The world is falling to pieces around them, but they're alive. They're alive.
"Careful," he chokes around the lump in his throat, his head swimming as Mike accidentally brushes his bad arm. The pain is almost enough to make him pass out. "My arm..."
Mike shifts, but otherwise barely seems to hear him, still trying to talk to him between shuddering breaths.
"They... they took...," he starts, takes a deep breath then lets the rest tumble out. "They took Master Splinter! They said something about his heart... They had to put him in one of those freaky tank things again! It's because he got shocked, Don! You saw it, right?"
In his brother's voice, Don can hear the same feverish delirium. All he can do is hold onto him, weakly running his good hand in slow patterns across his shell, trying to clear his own mind and piece together what's happening.
Things are bad. Leo's bleeding out. Raph might stop breathing, and Master Splinter might very well be dead already… It takes everything in his will to stay where he is, resist the urge to charge his way into the fray and do everything he can to help save his brothers. But he doesn't know what he's doing. His mind is reeling and his body refuses to cooperate. He wishes he could do something. He has to do something.
"They're gonna die, aren't they?" Mikey asks miserably. The look in his eyes sends a hot lance through Don's stomach. He can't find the words to answer.
"Glurin! If they're stable, I need the remaining turtles moved to Med Bay Three!"
The order barely registers in Don's mind until an utrom in a metal exosuit is trying to gently break them apart. It takes every ounce of his self-control not to physically lash out. And judging by the look on Mikey's face, he's not much better off. Their nerves have been frayed to nothing, they've been as close to death as anyone ever has been, and their brothers are inching their way closer every second. Nothing can drag them away.
"Please," the utrom begins again in a placating tone, not missing the hostility in Don's expression. "You must return to your station so we can help your brothers."
He won't lash out physically. Not after these people just saved their lives. But under pressure, Donatello's tongue is as sharp as any weapon. "We almost died on that ship! To save your planet!" He snaps with no small hint of hysteria, the pain shooting through his arm only spurring him on. "Now I'm about to lose my father and my brothers. I'm not leaving them."
"Donatello, please," he tries again, mechanical arms held open in a peaceful gesture. "We need to prep your brothers for surgery. The infirmary needs to be cleared for decontamination."
Surgery. The word sparks nightmare images of bone saws and rusty scalpel blades. If he wasn't panicking before, he certainly is now.
Mike's eyes are wide as saucers. His jaw practically hits the floor. But Don is still up and fighting. There's no way he will ever let someone touch any of his brothers with a scalpel blade.
Before Glurin can answer, another utrom swoops in to intercept."Your brothers are in need of immediate surgery or they will die. Now please! We need you to evacuate the area."
The second utrom's sharp tone snuffs the anger right out of him. The utroms wouldn't hurt them. He knows that. These were the people Master Yoshi swore his life to protect, the people who had saved Master Splinter's life once before. The people who, barely minutes ago, gave his entire family a second chance. They were practically family. And as much as that deep-seated fear of dissection screams at him from the darkest corners of his mind, he knows he has to trust them.
"Don..." Mike starts, his voice quavering, half fear and half surrender.
"Okay," he breathes, casting a sidelong look at the chaos surrounding his remaining brothers. "But you have to tell me everything."
Glurin only nods his robotic head hurriedly, the other utrom rushing back to the bloody war to save their dying brothers. For now, it has to be enough.