Sometime near the artificial dawn of 05:00, an eerie flickering of the lights rouses Donatello from a light doze. After recovering from his migraine, he'd spent the rest of the night grappling with sleep, ghosting between bed and a makeshift workstation on a nearby table. Scraps of paper stick to his arm and cheek, littered with his narrow, slanted scrawl. Paper was a rare commodity on the ship, but in their hurry to escape from Earth, the utroms had managed to squirrel some away among the archaic mementos of the centuries they had been stranded there.
The utroms themselves had no need for such a thing. Everything they needed to write was chronicled in a universal database. Their technology had evolved beyond the need for hand-writing thousands of years ago. But Don needed to take notes. He needed something tangible, and something to take home if he needed.
When he asked for something to write on, Don hadn't been expecting it. And even though it was the middle of the night, Glurin had arrived with it wrapped in neat packaging not long after he put in the request, signed in English from Mr. Mortu himself.
But thoughts still reel around his head like a tilt-o-whirl. Half-baked ideas and observations, notes about his family's medical conditions, thoughts of home and flashes of memories from the Shredders ship collide in a vacuum of chaos that only started to make sense when pen was put to paper. Not before, sometimes not even after, but only in that flashpaper moment of finally making the chaos tangible.
Another odd flicker of light has him blinking owlishly at the nest of papers, running a slow hand over his freshest set of diagrams.
His head is a mess.
"We are now entering the planetary gravitational field," a smooth voice on the intercom announces. "Please prepare for landing."
Landing. On the Utrom Homeworld. The thought jumpstarts a little flutter in his chest Don hardly thought he was capable of in his current state of mind. It feels good to be nervous, even excited about something that didn't directly affect the well-being of his family. Things were starting to get better. Today, Leo was being discharged, everyone lived through the night, and they were about to land in the middle of one of the most technologically advanced civilizations in the known universe.
For a moment, through all the pain and exhaustion and worry, Don actually lets himself feel happy.
Though happiness comes with a fair helping of guilt. Should he let himself be happy when Master Splinter still floats in stasis, or Raph remains too unstable to see his own family? It's a hard question to answer. The sloppy, left-handed charts and tables scrawled in front of him make much more sense, and it's easy to get lost in them, to file things down to their minutest details. To categorize, graph, and record until everything has its place. Until life can be boiled down into facts and logic and equations.
In a turbulent world, this is what makes Don feel safe, makes the world seem a little less scary than it actually is. Makes him feel as though he can predict, prevent, and find new ways of avoiding future catastrophes.
Though he's never dealt with a catastrophe quite like this. Not one that so directly impacted the lives of his family in such a devastating way. And there's still too many variables. Everything is still so unpredictable.
It makes him feel on edge, like the universe has gotten a little less structurally sound. (And it always was precarious at best.) In turn, it makes him feel less stable, has him resorting to his best methods of self-comfort: isolating himself with nothing but his thoughts for hours on end, and taking notes until things start making sense again.
When he'd woken up to an empty hospital room, he was almost relieved. After almost losing his entire family, there was still that twist of sick panic that came with being alone. Not knowing where every one of them is at any given time leaves a spiraling worry hardening in his gut. But solitude has always been his friend, and the last few hours had felt nice, like finally being able to breathe again.
The Utrom ship is safe. His family is in good hands, and as much as he hates to relinquish control, he can trust the utroms with their lives. Everything is going to be okay. It has to be.
The door to the med bay slides open, but he's too tired to look up or even make an effort not to look quite so unraveled. He hasn't had any kind of quality sleep in days; not since before they left Earth, and certainly not afterward. At this point an attempt at looking presentable is moot anyway. So he leaves his mask hanging loosely around his neck, the rest of his gear tossed on the floor behind him.
Unsurprisingly, it's Mikey, looking about as terrible as he feels. But there's something different about him. Something's changed since he'd seen him last night. He can't quite put his finger on it, but the soft smile he gives him from the doorway is a good enough hint.
After all the hysterics of yesterday, his brother has somehow found some stability. Though for some reason, it makes his own anxieties twinge that much sharper.
"Morning," he says tiredly. Not 'Good morning', just 'Morning', and Don wonders if the omitted word was intentional.
Tiredly, he starts shuffling through his papers. Organizing. Making things feel right again. And Mikey makes a slow beeline for the closest bed, the door automatically shutting behind him.
"How did you even write all that?" Mike teases, glancing at Don's work over his shoulder as he passes by. "It almost looks better than your actual handwriting."
"Funny," Don grates out. Luckily their training meant they were all practically ambidextrous, but that hardly translated into writing. Trying to keep up with his own brain on a normal day was hard enough. But now he's forced to hand write everything with his non-dominant hand, and having to compensate has already worn on his nerves.
"Welcome to the Lefty Club," Mike says smugly, the bed creaking quietly underneath him, sighing as he finally gets his weight off his poor legs. "You and me, bro."
And then silence. Blissful silence. Don manages to scrawl about half a sentence before Mike decides to fill it.
"Guess we're landing soon."
Don just hums in response, keeping his attention glued to his papers. Mike's crutches clack behind him as he settles on the edge of the bed.
"Wonder what it's gonna be like," he muses to himself, staring at the ceiling almost wistfully. "Like, you think the whole thing is made up of gross guts and stuff? Because if it is, they seriously need to fire the decorator."
Don's eyes land on a chart in its beginning stages of completion. It's for a new type of engine he's been working on that would run over 200% more efficiently than the one he used for the Tunneler, based primarily on utrom tech. If he could find the parts…
As he starts hashing out some detail work calculating combustion properties, he isn't ignoring Mikey, just dividing his attention multiple ways. It's something that comes as natural as breathing, and it makes him feel a little like home. Mikey talks his way through his stream of consciousness, and Don listens, sorting through his own. Mike usually doesn't need an active conversation partner to feel as though he's being listened to, and Don doesn't need to be heard to take comfort in the company of others. It's just how they work.
Eventually, Mikey goes quiet, and Don is too lost in thought to notice until his brother is calling his name. His head snaps up like being startled out of a dream, looking around, confused. "What?"
"What do you mean, 'what'? You totally zoned out on me."
"Oh, sorry," he sighs, tiredly rubbing the side of his face. He hadn't even noticed he hadn't been paying attention, and now he feels horrible. "I guess I got a little carried away."
When he turns in his chair, Mikey's looking at him with his arms folded, a hurt look on his face.
"Yeah, you did."
"I'm sorry, I-" Shoulders slumping, he weighs the various responses floating through his head: I just need my space right now. I need a distraction. I'm still trying sorting things out. He could see how each one of them could be misconstrued as selfish. So he lands on a better choice, the one with the best outcome. Setting his pen down, he turns his chair around to fully face his brother. "I'm listening."
Mike's expression softens. He understands how hard this is for Don. This whole 'let's sit down and talk about how we're feeling' thing isn't exactly his cup of tea. Don likes to work things out on his own, and he doesn't like getting all emotional about it. Even as a kid he was like that. Quiet. Independent. Kind of a loner. He spent most of the time reading instead of running around talking smack and scraping his knees with the rest of them. And even now, years later, when he's upset he has to throw himself into something. Some project or invention. He has to fix something, make it better. And if he can't, he writes all kinds of gibberish like a crazy person. He's not a robot but, he just doesn't deal with stuff the same way everyone else does. He would rather be by himself, not being prodded by his needy younger brother. He gets that.
What Mike can't get is how he does it. His own coping mechanisms are so different, he can't even imagine needing that much space all the time. Mike deals with things by talking, by sharing his feelings and whining and complaining and having whole conversations about how much things suck. He needs eye contact, he needs to feel like someone is giving his problems all their attention. He needs to feel like they matter. And he needs to hear what people think about them. Without that he feels like a corked bottle under pressure. Like all this stress and worry and uncertainty is going to make him explode if he holds it in.
Usually Don listens, sure. He's a great listener. He lets him talk to himself for hours while he does his own thing, never even flinching when he says something weird or kind of crazy. Then, the moment Mike starts doubting his brother's even paying attention, Don'll chime in with something that says he's been paying closer attention than even he was when he was saying those things.
But this isn't just some bullshit. Okay, well, it might've started off that way with all the talk about guts and decorators, but now it isn't. Now he needs something more than just a listener. Maybe that isn't a fair thing to ask, but it's not like he has anyone else to talk to. Leo won't even look at him long enough to give him any advice, Raph's hardly conscious, and Master Splinter…
He's so lucky he got to connect to his sensei, but the whole thing had left him feeling more sore and drained than ever. He knows that kind of meditation can be dangerous if misused, and he can feel the pull on his chii already. If he tried it again, he's afraid of what could happen.
So that leaves him with Donny. Poor Donny, hunching protectively in his chair over his busted arm, a worried crease in his forehead and tired lines etched all around his eyes. As much as Mike would love to just give him the time and space he knows he needs, they're in this together. Just the two of them. They have to be there for one another.
He lets out a slow breath that falls with his shoulders. The words come tumbling after.
"So I saw Raph last night."
Don's eyes widen. "You didn't. Mikey! I didn't think they'd actually let you in! The doctor said-"
He throws his hands up in surrender. "I know, I know. But I had to, Donny. I couldn't just leave him like that. And you were all migrane-y…"
Speaking of which, Don wouldn't be surprised if the pressure building between his eyes was about to become an encore. He pinches the skin there, letting out a slow breath. "How was he?"
Mike's eyes skitter across the room, resting on a random cabinet squatting against the wall. He can't look at his brother, folds his arms across his chest, hugging himself. The last thing he wants to think about is how Raph looked, pale and weak in that hospital bed, but he can't get the image out of his head. "Remember when we had to take Leo to the farmhouse? After the Foot threw him through April's window?"
"It's worse than that."
Don physically flinches at the thought. His throat is too tight to do much more than nod at the floor.
There's a long silence, and when he speaks again, Mike's voice is hoarse and quavering. "But he knew I was there. He squeezed my hand. I could tell."
"I'm sorry I wasn't there," Don murmurs quietly, his hand drifting to rest on his casted arm. With his attention off his notes, the dull ache of healing bones has turned into a maddening throb that shoots up through his shoulder. "I'm still trying to get my head straight."
"I know. And it's okay. I just… I'm just scared, I guess." But he doesn't miss that drifting hand, the tightness in his brother's expression. "How's the arm?"
Again, Don weighs his response, tilting his head as he gives himself a full assessment. It's odd how meditative drafting can be, allowing him to completely ignore any kind of physical cues. "It's all right."
"Which is Donspeak for 'hurts like hell'. Right? You didn't take your meds yet, did you."
Don offers him a reluctant smile. "You… wouldn't be too far off."
Mike sighs in a long-suffering kind of way. "Take your meds, Donny. They're great. I promise."
He frowns. Painkillers can dull the senses, or from last night's past experience, make him really tired, and they have another hard day ahead of them. But he's sore and exhausted. Maybe a little rest wouldn't be the worst thing for him once they get settled off the ship. Though Mikey's waiting eyes tell him he won't allow him to wait that long.
"Okay, I'm taking them," he huffs, reaching for the container and giving himself a half dose for now, swallowing the tiny pill dry. Later, he promises himself he'll take more and make another attempt at sleep. But not now. Not when there's still so many things left to do.
"Too bad they don't do anything for the itching," he whines, thumping backward on the bed until he's only propped up by his elbow. "Mine's driving me crazy!"
Don slumps farther into his chair, pinching the skin between his eyes with a groan. "Mikey, they whole point of me trying to get some work done is to distract myself from some of these things. Don't remind me."
"How could you forget?"
But Don only shrugs, wincing at the poor choice of nonverbal responses. Mikey isn't even looking. He's completely laid out flat on his shell, one arm thrown over his eyes. Don takes it as his cue to turn his chair back around, shuffling through his papers with a little less focus than before.
A few moments of quiet slip by, and the painkillers start working miracles on his sore muscles, soothing out the clawing throb in his arm to something far more manageable. He can already feel himself start to unwind.
"I know you want to do the mad scientist thing right now," Mike murmurs to the ceiling, startling Don out of his reverie. "And I get that. But please don't start holeing yourself up, okay? Not yet."
He freezes, frowning down at the swarm of note pages scattered in front of accusation hurts, but Mikey has a point. He can't start withdrawing into himself now. Not when Mikey needs an active support system. That's something he just can't offer when he's locked inside his own head. But at the same time, it just seems selfish of Mike to tell him he can't have the alone time he needs.
It's a misunderstanding Don's been dealing with since early childhood. In a family that's very vocal with their feelings, he has never seen the therapeutic side of talking about his emotions. He can understand that other people benefit from it, and has no problem listening or offering advice, but it isn't how he copes. He would rather sit and think and sort things out on his own. But time and time again, his family has accused him of alienating himself, of holding things back. More than once he's had a brother, or even Master Splinter, go on huge crusades to get him talking about things, as if he's harming himself with his already proven methods and just needs to learn how to cope with things "the right way" or "the healthy way".
It never made much sense to him, but right now, he's all that Mikey has. He needs to be there for him, and it's not the first time he's had to make that sacrifice. So maybe Mikey doesn't completely understand what he's asking him to do, but that doesn't mean Don isn't willing to do it. He'll sort himself out another time. For now, he has to take care of his brother.
Mike smiles, relieved. But it doesn't last long. Soon, everything in the room is vibrating. Don's pen rolls off the desk on its own accord, and the walls around them groan and shudder.
Don traps another wandering pen under his hand and smiles. "I guess we're here."