I had to get this down. It is a tragic story, so keep those tissues handy.
Coping Like Drowning Slowly
Mikey pulled the box down from the closet, ducking as several winter hats and one glove rained down on his head. He used his foot to kick the items deeper into the closet and shut the door with one hip as he swiveled around. He moved into the living room where Raph was flipping through a magazine with race cars on the cover and Leo was concentrating on memorizing passages out of his favorite book, The Art of War. Splinter was already in bed. Exhausted from the previous stress-filled night.
No one moved. Mikey set the box down on the worn coffee table and stood with his hands on his hips. He cleared his throat.
"So, yeah. It's Saturday night."
Raph raised one eye-brow but kept his focus on the magazine cover. Leo glanced up with a frown, eyes distant and lips still silently forming the words he was trying to commit to memory.
"C'mon. It's our night off. I thought maybe we could play a game." He pointed to the yellowed box with large faded orange letters proclaiming Yah-ha-tzee!
Raph stared at the box and to Michelangelo's surprise, he shrugged and threw his magazine to one side.
"Why not. I'm bored as hell."
"Great!" If Raphael played, Leo wouldn't be able to resist the need to compete against the hothead. Sure enough, Leo carefully set a bookmarker to keep his place and gingerly laid the book on the floor next to the chair he sat on. He slid from the seat and knelt next to the table. He and Raph looked up expectantly at Mikey. He fidgeted where he stood. He turned his face and looked up to the second floor where their bedrooms were.
"D-Do you think he might want to play too?"
Raph and Leo exchanged a look. Leo said, "Why don't we let him be, Mikey. He had a long night last night."
"Yeah, kept me an' Master Splinter up half the night," Raph grumbled and rubbed his eyes between finger and thumb with a sigh.
"I want to ask him," he said stubbornly. Raphael stared straight ahead and Leo dropped his gaze away to the floor.
"Mikey," Leo started, but Mikey had already made it to the stairs.
. . .
Mikey tapped at the door and when he got no response, gave it a slight push. It swung open, brushing the piles of printouts and wrinkled paper into a large heap behind it. The only light came from the desk lamp in the corner where his brother was hunched over the computer screen, tapping and clicking at the keys. He was surrounded by paper with partial math equations and notes scribbled all up and down and across the surface. Mikey stepped further into the room. The air felt stuffy and it seemed to only constrict his already squeezing chest more with each breath he took. He approached Donatello's back with all the caution one might approach a sleeping gorilla.
"Is that you, Mikey?" Don asked without turning and Mikey froze, mid-step. The sound of the keyboard being tapped paused.
He rubbed the back of his neck and inched forward. He glanced over his brother's shoulder. "Whatcha workin' on there, buddy?" Mikey asked gently. He couldn't help but glance at the blank cracked screen of the computer.
Donatello's face shot up. His blood-shot eyes sported dark circles. His face crushed into a deep frown.
"What do you mean?"
"Uh, nevermind. Um, I was thinking . . ."
Mikey faltered as Don continued to stare at him coldly. It was too hard seeing his brother like this. Day after day. Week after Week. It had been six months now, and all of them were getting better. All of them except Donatello. He was spiraling down a rabbit hole towards oblivion and it scared Michelangelo worse than anything he'd ever felt before in his life.
He gazed into his brother's once thoughtful and gentle eyes. Now they were blank and hard and cold. Alien. Michelangelo licked his bottom lip. This was a bad idea. Why didn't he listen to Leonardo?
Michelangelo gave himself a mental shake. No. Sitting in this room making believe he was figuring out how to save her was not helping Donatello get better. He didn't care what Master Splinter said. Don needed his help. He needed his family. He needed to get out of this room and come out and try, just try, to be normal, even if for a little while. Then maybe he'd feel a little better and his mind would clear. Maybe it would clear without the screaming and the tears and the fighting that it usually took. Leaving them all emotionally spent and empty and hollow inside. No. He would not be deterred in his attempts to bring his big brother out of his cavern of self-imposed madness and grief.
He attempted a smile and it did not meet his eyes. "I pulled out the Yah-ha-tzee game. I was wondering if you wanted to play with us." Don looked over his shoulder at the door and Mikey's heart gave a leap. "Even Raph's playin' tonight, Don. That gives you more uh, what is it you like to do when we play? Oh yeah, more variables and percentages to . . . figure out . . ." he trailed off as Donnie's gaze dropped and returned to the fractured screen of the dead computer.
"I don't have time for games, Mikey," he said flatly and began typing madly at the keys. His voice dropped lower, more as if he were speaking to himself and said, "I'm close to finding where they took her."
Michelangelo's heart constricted. He stood for a moment at a loss, staring at his brother's hunched form. The unshed tears stung the corners of his eyes. His fingers fidgeted at his sides. With his bottom lip trembling, he crept closer. He reached down and placed one hand on his brother's thin shoulder; the flesh was cool and clammy. Don made no move to show he even felt his brother's touch on his bare skin. Slowly, Mikey wrapped his other arm around Donatello's shell. He lowered his head and rested his cheek on Donnie's head. And for a moment, Donatello accepted the hug without protest. Without acknowledgement.
"I'm so sorry, bro," Mikey croaked in a whisper before he could stop himself.
With a violent jerk, Donatello broke free from Mikey's embrace; smacking and shoving Mikey's arms away from his body. He stood abruptly and rigidly. The motion made his chair swivel and crash backwards into the crumpled piles of paper. Michelangelo brought his hands up in a peaceful gesture. Don scowled at him. Eyes flat and cold.
"What are you doing?" he hissed. "Why are you in here? Can't you see I'm working on something? Encrypted algorithms . . ." Mikey blinked, his face a mask of confusion. "I'm trying to break the code, Mikey. You know," he pantomimed writing on a piece of paper, "Even you can understand that word," he said, voice laced with condescension. Mikey's mouth tightened, but he told himself Don didn't mean it. He couldn't take any of this personally.
"Then I'm going to find her and bring her home," he spat the last word, pointing to the floor. "No matter what Leo says or Raph," he started to pant between words, his chest heaving. His voice rose an octave as he shouted, "Or Sensei! You're not going to stop me this time!"
Mikey took a step back. This was all messed up. Raph was going to kill him. Leo and Splinter would be furious at him for setting Don off, especially since he'd had such a rough night last night.
"Don. C-Calm down. I just wanted to see if you wanted to play . . ."
"Play?! Play?! How can you ask me to play games when she's out there? Probably hurt! Or worse!" Don screamed and his voice cracked as his hands curled to fists at his sides.
"D-Don, chill. Please, bro. I'm sorry. I didn't mean nothin' by it."
Donatello lurched forward before Michelangelo could react. He grabbed his younger sibling by the arm, roughly. His face came up an inch from Mikey's. His dark eyes were wild.
"No one cares! No one cares but me! I told her she'd be safe and I got her captured!" His voice was breaking as he shouted hoarsely into Mikey's cringing face. He was losing it. Just like last night. And two days ago and just about every other day since April was killed in front of him six months ago.
"Bro, relax! Please! I-It's okay!"
"How can you say that? Mikey?" Don's eyes bounced between his. "How can you tell me it's okay when they have her? We . . . I have to save her." His voice now sounded small and broken and Mikey felt his heart break not for the first time for his brother's inability to grasp and come to terms with the sad fact that she was really gone. Forever.
Mikey shouted in pain as Donatello twisted his arm. Shit! That hurt! As gently as he could, Mikey grabbed Don's fingers and tried to pry them off his forearm. But before he made any progress, Don twisted his body around and flung him forward over his shell. He flew through the mess of paper and debris covering the floor. His shell slid across the floor until his legs hit the edge of the door with a loud bang. He groaned and rolled to the side; propped himself up on one elbow; peering up, Don's silhouette loomed over him. Mikey gulped.
"Get out of my sight."
Leonardo appeared suddenly in the doorway. Behind him, Raph stood, looking concerned, gazing over Leo's shoulder. Donatello spun around on his heel, ignoring them as Leo stooped and helped Mikey to his feet.
"I told you not to bother him," Leo hissed.
Mikey shook his head as his eyes grew glassy with unshed tears. "I-I just wanted to get him out here with us," he said and his breath hitched in his throat as he spoke. He hated that. Why'd it always seem like he was the cry-baby of the family. Stubbornly, he pulled free of Leo's helping hands and slammed his shoulder into Raph as he walked away. Raph's hand cuffed him as he went. He ducked and growled.
"Back offa me!" He turned to lob a punch at Raph when he froze, eyes going wide. Donatello charged from his room, a naginata clutched in his fists. "Leo!"
Leonardo twisted and dove out of the way just as Donatello dashed into the room, swinging the deadly bladed bo staff in a wide arc.
"Get out of my way! I'm going to save her!"
"Fuck, man!" Raph covered his head and ducked. The blade just missing his head. "I thought Splinter hid all his weapons," he screamed and somersaulted to the side.
Donatello twirled his staff, watching with wild eyes as Mikey and Raph moved into a crouch and Leonardo circled him, hands up.
"Calm down, Donatello," he said in an even voice.
Don's face snapped around. "Leo," he said desperately. "I have to go. I-I know where they have her."
Leonardo shook his head, keeping his eyes on Donatello, he said to Raph, "Get the belts."
"Wh-Wha? N-No!" He lunged at Raph who moved towards the now abandoned lab. Raph hopped back, arms up and at an angle. His stomach sucked in; coming within an inch of being sliced.
"Watch him, Leo!" Raph snapped and raced out of the room.
"Why won't you help me? She needs us to save her!" Don spun and jabbed, catching Leo in the mouth. Leo staggered backwards, a stream of blood spilling from the corner of his mouth.
"I'll go myself if I have to! But you won't stop me! You won't!"
Donatello moved to swing the bladed end at his brother just as Mikey tackled Don from the side. He grabbed his legs, head barreling into Donatello's stomach. They went down in a strangled groan and grunt. Don gripped the naginata and struggled to swing it out at Leo as the eldest jumped on top of his chest. Thrashing, kicking and growling, Don fought to free himself from Michelangelo's hold. But the youngest held his legs; pinning him to the floor. Leonardo gripped his shoulders and forced his upper body back and down. Don sputtered and thrashed as Leo pressed his knee into his forearm until his fingers released their grip on the weapon. Stretching, Leo used his foot to kick it out of reach.
"Let me up! Get off! Sh-She needs me! She needs me!"
Donatello closed his eyes at the sound of her name, his body still bucked and struggled to get free. Leo went on, his voice firm and calm, but not unkind nor cold, "You know this. You were there. You know this. Donatello. She's . . . She's dead. Donnie . . . she's dead," Leo said mournfully, voice thick with emotion; drips of blood spattered against Don's face, dribbling from Leonardo's mouth as he spoke.
Donatello grimaced and tears spilled from his clenched eyes. "Mmno!" He shook his head violently side to side. "No!" He writhed and fought and struggled. "Get off! Get OFF!"
Leo shook his head with regret and brought his fist down once, then twice; knocking his brother's head back. Raph leapt over the naginata and dropped into a slide next to them. Just then Master Splinter emerged. Leaning heavily on his cane, he limped into the center of the room and watched in silence as the three wrestled Donatello onto his plastron and wrapped the belts around his wrists and ankles; securing him tightly. Donatello's protests dissolved into a sobbing, hysterical burst of wordless noises.
His brothers eased off and sat in a semi-circle around him on the floor. Raph dropped his forehead into the palm of one hand, his elbow propped on a knee. He turned his head and looked at Master Splinter who gazed stoically at his broken child. Lines of worry and stress etched into his face, aging him. Leo stared at his bound brother, murmuring soft sounds, trying to comfort and calm him even as he pulled and strained against his restraints. Mikey sat with his legs crossed; lowered head propped by the fingers of both hands. His shoulders shook but no one could hear him crying over the loud gasping sobs of Donatello.
An hour later, Leonardo slowly undid the belts. Sniffling, Donatello rose up on his elbows then sat up onto his knees, rubbing his wrists. He stared at the space between him and his brother with glassy eyes, dazed and far away. Leonardo bumped his knee gently with one knuckle.
Don closed his mouth and nodded. He blinked and looked at Leo who knelt next to him, belts coiled in a heap next to his legs. Leo met his brother's hurt-filled and betrayed gaze and dropped his eyes away. Unable to hold it.
"I'm sorry we had to do that again, Don." Leo, keeping his head lowered, raised his eyes up. "Last time, when Master Splinter told us to let you go . . ."
Donatello closed his eyes in shame. He didn't need to hear it. He lived through it. Master Splinter told his brothers to back off, in the hopes that Donatello's grief would work its way through him if he were allowed to seek what he was so determined to discover on his own. Only he never found what he was so sure would be the location of April O'Neil's whereabouts. No, he wandered for hours like a blind fool, all through the night, until eventually, someone found him.
. . .
He had been using his tracker. The tracker that he'd fixed in his lab. He'd worked for two weeks on perfecting it. And while he was sure it was giving off a strong signal as he raced through the sewers to the alleys and rooftops, now it lay, still and silent in the palm of his hand. Devoid of sound; devoid of light; of life. Don clenched his jaw in aggravation. He shook it once. Then again. He tapped it against his thigh and looked again at the screen. It made no sense. Why wasn't it working? The tracker was leading him to April. He was sure of it. Certain beyond a shadow of a doubt.
Earlier, when he'd insisted that he'd finally found April's location no one would listen to him. He went to Master Splinter. Insisted that they go at once to rescue her. At first, Splinter seemed to evade all of his attempts to make him listen. Even changing the subject and suggesting that he was confused; eventually calling Leonardo into the room to help him. What did he need help with? Donatello couldn't have made it plainer.
When he'd even shown his proof to Leo and Master Splinter; holding the tracker up and so they could see the flashing lights and hear the beeping sound on their own, however, they had stared at the device for a long time. Didn't they hear it? Didn't they see? Then slowly, they turned and looked at him with an odd expression on their faces. The memory made his stomach clench and roll. They had looked at him with a mix of sorrow and . . . and pity.
Something had made his heart squeeze painfully then. So painfully, it had stolen the breath from his lungs. It felt like something had struck him, directly in his heart. He doubled over. His knees had gone weak and an image flashed through his mind. Red. Everywhere red. Red over his hands, down his plastron, dripping over his legs. Laughter and blood. Blood so hot he thought it would leave his flesh burnt. Burning instead through his mind and heart. Leaving everlasting damage behind.
Leonardo had gripped him and demanded to know if he was all right. Donatello was shaking. But he wasn't all right. He needed to go rescue April. NOW. And Master Splinter had told him to go.
Donatello shook his head, banishing the memory from his thoughts. What was he doing standing around here for? He had to find April before something terrible happened to her. He shoved the tracker into his belt. He clutched his bo staff and circled the platforms near the docks; calling for her. The lapping water against the sides of the boats was his only response. So he continued. Determined to find her. Sure that he knew where he was going. Calling and calling until his hoarse voice was reduced to a strained whisper.
"April? April! Where are you! April?"
He heard a noise and jumped. A triumphant smile dying on his face as a large shadow fell over him. He shuffled backwards until his shell hit the wall of a building.
"Well, well, well!" Dogpound growled as he emerged from behind a stack of crates near the dock.
Several Foot soldiers braced, boxes in their arms. Where did they come from? Donatello frowned. He should have seen that many soldiers. Confusion tore at his mind. Wait, where was April? What was happening?
Dogpound called over his shoulder, "Keep working. I've got this." The giant mutant turned back to him. He cracked his knuckles and smiled. "Calling for your little girlfriend, huh?" He chuckled. "April . . ." his eyes rolled up as he thought, "that was the little red-headed bitch, right?" Donatello's eyes narrowed. "We had just enough time to have some fun with her while you were busy with the soldiers before the master had us cut her throat."
Donatello froze. Images flashed through his mind. Assaulting him. Racing and tearing through the fabric of his carefully woven reality.
April reluctantly following him to his favorite junk yard to scavenge for computer parts; the ambush; the droves of soldiers falling on them, separating them; her frantic screams as he fought and finally coming up for air long enough to signal his brothers for help. Then searching through the bodies; fighting for his life; desperate to find where they had taken her; Leo's voice filled with warning and fear; the shadow falling over them; the body being dropped on top of him; how it rolled and bounced like a rag doll over the heaps of garbage until he dropped his staff and rushed forward to catch her in his arms. His knees gave way; the air rushed from his lungs . . .
The choked sound of his voice in his own ears, "April . . ."
Her head lolled to one side. The long crimson gash spilling the curtain of blood, washing both of them in it. Painting them in a grisly shade of death. The scream that tore through him. The flashes of his brothers fighting around him. And him kneeling, holding her to his chest, keening and blind with pain; lost in grief.
Heart racing, Donatello pitched forward, head in his hands. A strangled sound wrested free from his throat. Dogpound chuckled.
Leo tentatively reached out to touch Donatello's knee. Don started at the contact. His large eyes snapped to meet Leonardo's and they were full of anguish and grief. He pulled away from Leo slowly.
"I know. I know she's . . ." his throat caught on the word. He forced it out, "dead. I know she's dead, Leo."
He stood suddenly. Turned his back as he moved stiffly towards his room. "I won't break down again," he promised flatly and crossed the room to the stairs.
Leo watched him go and dropped his head into his hand. The burning tears seared the edges of his clenched eyes.
Three days later, the alarm system tripped. The lair was filled with strobe lights and a screeching noise that had everyone racing into the living room. The brothers cast around. It only took a second for them to realize one was missing. Leonardo's shoulders dropped. Raph bobbed his head as he swore furiously. Mikey's legs gave out and he sat heavily - straight down. Master Splinter placed a claw on Michelangelo's head.
"Leonardo," he said, voice weighted down with a heavy sadness, "bring Donatello back."
Exhausted, Leonardo gave a short bow, "Hai, Sensei." He raced to the turnstiles and leaped over them in a graceful bound.
Several minutes later he caught up with Donatello. His brother was in an alcove, walking in a circle, mumbling to himself and tapping a small device in his hand. The wavering shadows played across his arms and body. His face was hidden from sight.
"Don," Leonardo called through the darkness and reached out to him.
Donatello's face snapped up. The shadows receded as he approached. Leonardo could see his brother's glassy, wild gaze.
"Oh, good, Leo, you're here! Maybe you can help me fix this! I was tracking April's signal and . . . I seemed to have lost it somehow . . ." he frowned as he took in Leonardo's expression. He went on, with some hesitation, "But this device can locate where they've taken her. . ." he paused. "You'll help me find her, won't you Leo? You'll help me."
Leonardo dropped his burning eyelids closed. His shoulders slumped. With measured steps, he closed the space between himself and his younger brother. His lost little brother. Leo reached out and pulled him slowly into an embrace; resting his forehead onto the taller sibling's shoulder. He choked once. Then started to cry.
A/N: Tissue? Need more than one?
Don't forget to review! Thank you!
Awwwhhh soooo sad!!! But so, so very, very good!! I know you posted this one on fanfic, and it was one of your many stories I had to read
Where to even start? First off OMG I LOVED how you captured Donatello's state. "He was spiraling down a rabbit hole towards oblivion" Loved this line!. Best Line ever! to describe Donatello's descent into both madness and a dream world of his own creation to deal with the crushing, soul destroying grief that he was losing a battle with.
And poor Mikey. He was only trying to help, but instead set Donatello off again and the whole situation was heart breaking because they had to restrain poor Donny so he wouldn't hurt himself or anyone else. And Mikey's reaction was perfect. I love how he was just about to cry, but then got angry with himself for always being the cry-baby, so he got angry and defensive instead (taking after Raph a little there
And the flashback was amazing. It was poignant and showed perfectly the reason why Donatello's mind just snapped. And when Donny finally came back to himself I love how he was resigned, calm and accepting of April's death, but you could just tell how he was dead inside.
And the end! OMG wanted to cry!! Poor Leo. He was just crushed as Donatello reverted back to his dream world fantasy again. (back down the rabbit hole if you will) So, so good. Wonderfully written as always!!
Don just can't accept that she's dead.
For me too, it's like a nightmare that my dad is gone now.