Though he would never admit it, Raph was almost certain that Donnie was the strongest among the turtles, maybe not in brute strength and raw power, but in resolve and determination and valour. Even in the Hashi, Donnie’s punishment was something so abnormal to his usual system, something to different than what he was. Leo often stretched his limits to handle his control and Mikey was upside-down most of the time anyway and Raph liked to knit, but Donnie got motion sickness and nausea and hated the very idea of breaking things when he didn’t have too, even if they were just eggs, but wasting food was something he disliked, so his punishment in the Hashi was more extreme than anyone else’s.
Which is why, when faced with their father’s rigorous interrogation and the ceaseless pain of the many hours in the Hashi, Raph always claimed, “I’m not breaking if Donnie ain’t breaking”, because, despite everything that was happening, Raph knew that his brother would be the last one to break.
Even while they were out in the field, Raph knew he should worry about Donnie more than he did, which is not to say that he didn’t worry at all, but he knew what his brother was like. He knew that no matter how many hits he took or how much smaller he was than the rest of the turtles, that Donnie could take a hit as well as he could give one, and Raph wouldn’t yield as long as Donnie didn’t.
When they were sore and tired and bleeding out on the floor of their sewer home, Donnie was always the first to steer them into the room he had claimed as the med-bay and was always the last to patch himself up and find himself to rest. He would take care of each and every person who had gone out that night, regardless if they were hurt or not, and then he would do it all over again. Only when the lair was silent save for the snoring of three giant turtles and the flicking of a candle flame that Donnie would relax and let himself breathe deeply and Raph knew deep in his heart that he would never stop until Donnie did.
He may have been more brain than brawn, but Raph didn’t care. Some days, he felt like Donnie was the strongest among them, despite what anyone else said.
Even Leo, who often got 'brother' and 'leader' mixed up in all the wrong ways, had to admit that Donnie never quit- whether it was on a project he was intent on working on until the early hours of the morning or an upgrade he had to map out or a new training move that he just had to perfect. Raph respected him more and more for that.
Sometimes Raph would watch him from the shadows as he pottered along in a daze from his room to the kitchen to the lab to the med bay and back again and something sharp would tug and pull at his heartstrings and he would meet Leo’s eyes and they would fall under a silent agreement to try and get Donnie to bed before midnight. They never ended up doing it, though.
But on nights like tonight, when the world was just too quiet and the days too hectic, Raph refused to go to bed until Donnie quit.
As he made his rounds, Raph passed the med-bay, blood still dripping from the bed and onto the floor, the sheets still stained and Donnie’s chair made out of skateboards that his brother had made himself and usually reserved for when he needed back support for the many hours spent working at his desk. Raph thought it was telling that it had been brought into the med-bay, by Donnie or one of the others, but it was still telling. He snagged a blanket from the cupboard as he moved away and instead deliberately approached his brother’s workroom.
The workshop was just a tiny room far away from the rest of the lair, stuffed with metal tables filled with supplies and cluttered with experiments and inventions in various states of progress. It was Donnie’s favourite addition to their new home because he could work on whatever he wanted and he wouldn’t put any of his family in danger, and nobody would disturb him.
It was late, and the dingy, dim light that hung on a thin cord from the roof cast shadows out into the hallway and Raph peaked into the room to make sure Donnie wasn’t working on anything explosive or delicate before he knocked.
Don was watching some sort of documentary or infographic about something Raph couldn’t even begin to understand on the tiny, old TV they had found on a random trip to the junkyard and Donnie had fixed it up until it worked again. He turned when Raph knocked and smiled politely at him and Raph caught sight of the metal bowl filled with blood-coated tools in his lap. “What’s all this?” Raph asked as he entered the tiny room, remembering to duck at the doorframe and to stay away from the left side of the room, where all of the explosive chemicals were kept, despite not knowing how Donnie got them. He was proud that he remembered the floor plan he was given.
“Just some equipment that I need to clean,” Donnie said. His eyes pinched with worry. “Is everything alright?”
“Yeah Don, everything’s good,” Raph reassured easily as he slowly lowered himself into the other chair in the room. It creaked under his weight. “We’re all ok, thanks to you. I just thought I’d come in a check on you is all.”
Donnie turned back to his work, mindlessly cleaning the objects in a way that told Raph that he was very adept at it like he was with everything else. Raph eyed him and made sure that all the wounds he had noticed doting his brother's skin when they had returned were properly stitched up and he was pleasantly surprised that they were. “What are you watching?” Raph asked.
“Oh- just a documentary on security systems and how do identify faulty wiring,” Donnie waved his hand absently. “Nothing important.” Idly, his fingers continued to rub away the starkly glittering blood that clung to the metal of the utensils that slowly began to fade away in flecks. “Did you want to talk?”
Raph wouldn’t naturally like to talk, would much rather sit there in silence and watch Donnie work, but he had noticed the closed off look on his brother’s face and how distant he had been lately, so maybe talking was the best thing to do here. “Sure,” Raph rumbled, bending over until his elbows were on his knees. “Let’s talk. What’s been bothering you?”
“I don’t know what you mean…?” Don tilted his head to the side and pushed his glasses back up his nose and they immediately slipped back down. “I’ve actually been in a really good mood for the last week so if there’s something that you’ve noticed, I obviously haven’t.”
Humming, Raph reached over and took one of the many cleaning rags off of the table and took the bowl from Donnie, who made a confused sound of annoyance and began to wipe his eldest brother's blood off of the many tools. “Right,” Raph knew Donnie was probably looking at him in confusion, but he didn’t look up. The bowl was heavy in his lap with water and metal. “If you say so.”
“I am saying so. I don’t know what you’re trying to get at?” Donnie sounded annoyed but it was a common emotion for him so Raph didn’t worry too much. “Is there something I’m missing?”
Sighing, Raph looked at his brother and tried not to smile at the way Donnie’s face crinkled. “Cut the crap, Don. Do you know it’s almost four in the morning?” By the startled look on his face, Donnie obviously hadn’t. “Exactly. I know you. We’re brothers. I know that you only stay up this late when there’s something on your mind so either you tell me now and we’ll never speak of this again or Leo finds out and he makes a big deal out of it.”
Donnie blanched and sat back against his seat and Raph knew that he had him. “Oh,” Don said quietly, looking away. “I don’t know what you want me to say.”
“Well,” Raph began, making sure he kept his eyes on the bloodied tools in his hand and not on his brother. He knew Donnie well enough now to be acutely aware that his brother hated being looked at when he was pouring his heart out. “How about you start with explaining why you’ve been pretending to be all happy and chipper all week?”
If it was possible, Donnie sank further back into his chair, the rough fabric creaking under his shell. Raph was momentarily glad that Donnie had removed that giant pack he kept clipped to his shell at all times- it made him look too big, too wrong. Nothing like the small, timid boy that was thinner than all the others and yet taller than all of them at the same time. “You uh- you noticed that?”
“I’m your big brother, what else do you expect.” Raph reached over and slapped Donnie gently in the arm. “It was either going to be me, Leo or dad, so just be grateful it was me.”
Clearing his throat, Donnie fidgeted, and Raph watched his fingers twist together so tightly that Raph was sure it was painful. “Uh, yeah, that’s a good point.” He gulped again and Raph wanted to grab his fingers in his much larger ones but knew he should probably stay put. “Um. I guess I just feel… weak? No, that’s not right. Not the right… word uh, I think I just feel like I could be better in the team, you know? I feel a little useless?”
“Useless?” Raph asked, surprised. He knew that it was a common thing that Donnie often thought, but he wasn’t expecting it. “You saved Leo’s life tonight. That doesn’t sound useless to me.” He tried to be gentle, but that wasn’t his strong suit, so it still came out gruff.
“I know but if I had been paying more attention on patrol today then he wouldn’t have had to save me and he wouldn’t have gotten hurt.” Donnie sounded so guilty that his voice practically dripped with it. “I wouldn’t have had to save his life if I could take care of myself.”
“Well, if it makes you feel any better,” Raph tried. “Mikey saved my life today as well. Mikey saving me. Can you believe it? It’s the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to me, but I don’t think I’m a screw up because it happened because I know that I won’t let it happen again.”
Donnie made a frustrated sound deep in his chest and Raph forced himself to stay put. “But we all know that it's going to happen again because it always happens. I always lose concentration when it counts and when it doesn’t count I get hyper-fixated on stupid things.”
“It’s not your fault if that’s the way your brain works,” Raph suddenly felt the need to defend his brother, for no good reason. “The only option my brain gives me is to punch things. Mikey’s doesn’t give him much of anything, really. And Leo’s brain must tell him to be a stern, grumpy bastard all the time, so I can’t really speak for him. If your brain tells you that it’s easier to focus on little projects that make you happy rather than keeping track of all the people trying to kill you at once, then so be it, but we’re never going to hold that against you.”
Huffing, Donnie flopped back into his chair, his long arms flailing about for a moment before he removed his glasses and rubbed his hand down his face. “You don’t understand,” he muttered so quietly Raph wasn’t even sure he’d heard him properly. Louder, he said, defeated, “Sometimes I think you guys would all be better off if I just stayed here and build things while you guys go out and fight.”
Raph was already shaking his head before his brother had even finished speaking. “Are you nuts?” He demanded. “You can’t stay behind. We need you! We wouldn’t be the same without you- we’ve had you by our side all our lives and to suddenly have you gone would just ruin everything we’ve worked towards. You can’t just… quit.” Because you’re my little brother, Raph didn’t say. And you don’t break. You don’t quit. I won’t as long as you won’t and if you start then what’s to stop the rest of us?
“What else do you expect me to do? To think?” Don waved his hands wildly at the open door that lead out into the rest of their home, where his brothers and their human friends were sleeping soundly. “When someone gets hurt because they’re trying to protect me from something I never should have had a problem with in the first place, then don’t you think it would be easier to get rid of the problem?”
“If you don’t come with us Donnie, we won’t have anyone to knock away throwing stars that are coming for our heads,” Raph pointed out gently. “We won’t have anyone to tell us our odds. We won’t have anyone to knock out bad guys who are too far away from me or Leo but is doing too much damage. We won’t be the same and we’ll be worse for it.”
“Or,” Donnie challenged. “You’ll be better because then Mikey will need to learn how to deal with more responsibly, you and Leo would work together more and none of you will get hurt because of me. And when you do come home hurt, I’ll be here to fix you up. Because that’s all I’m good for.” He dropped his head to his hands, hunched back and so much thinner than Raph would like. He hoped Donnie was eating properly and taking good care of himself, despite knowing that there was no way in hell for that to be true. At least Raph knew for sure that he wasn’t sleeping. Donnie reached over to his desk and plucked one of his complicated toys off of the table and Raph could tell he had spent a lot of time on it despite not knowing what the hell it did, but after inspecting it half-heartedly for a moment, Donnie tossed it across the room where it crashed against the wall and fell into a broken, mangled mess of wiring and metal. “All I do is build pointless things and stitch people up when I get them hurt.”
The breath that Raph involuntarily inhaled was so strong that it stung his throat. Donnie’s head was down, pillowed, on one hand, his glasses dangling loosely by his fingers. “No Don, that’s not true…”
“Save it Raph,” Donnie sighed. “I know you’re trying to make me feel better and all, but maybe you should stick with hitting things while I stick to ruining them.”
Raph watched silently as his brother curled up into himself, making him look smaller than he already was, and couldn’t even bring himself to be offended by Donnie’s statement. There was something so painful and raw on Donnie’s face that Raph felt something inside him wobble and sink and he reached a hand out to turn his brother’s chair around. Donnie still refused to look at him. The scattered pieces of Donnie’s broken invention was still a tangled on the floor and Raph wanted to reach over and carefully pick them up and place them back into his brother’s capable hands. But Donnie’s hands were shaking and Raph worried for a moment that if Donnie were to hold them, they would just tumble to the floor again.
If he was being honest with himself, Raph had never seen Donnie break. Never in his life had he seen his brother give up, throw in the towel, hang up his bandanna, and it actually scared him to see him come so close to it now. Sure, maybe Donnie was the smallest of the bunch and had the least amount of strength and maybe he had never killed anyone and was more used in battle to disable technical problems than to actually fight, but Raph had never noticed how much his place in the team beat him down.
“Well,” Raph said gently, fiddling with Donnie’s bandana that had fallen over his shoulder. “I think that you’re more important than Leo,” Donnie made a disbelieving noise and Raph shook his head as he continued. “Nah man, I mean it. You may think that you get everyone hurt and ruin everything, but at the end of the day, you always manage to fix us up and keep us alive. You build things that basically let us live a life of luxury. We’d be nothing without you.”
Donnie looked up then and watched Raph shift awkwardly over the top of his glasses. “Really?” He sounded doubtful.
“Hell yeah man, are you joking?” Raph snorted, in absolute disbelief. “You’ve set up our security- without you, we would have been ambushed a long time ago. You look after us when we get sick and you save our shells every time we come back from patrol. You learned enough to keep us alive for another few years despite all the crazy shit we get into. You fix everything that breaks around here like the toasters and the TV and you repair all the pipes when they go haywire. You make sure we’re well stocked in the kitchen and that we have enough bandages in the med-bay. You do more for us than I think you realize, Donnie.”
This time Donnie did look up, eyes wide and suspicious and too small without his glasses there to magnify them. “Really?” He asked again. This time he sounded hopeful and more surprised than Raph would have liked.
“You really think I would lie to you about this sort of crap?” Raph scoffed, reaching out and pulling Donnie’s chair closer. “I wasn’t kidding around when I told you that we’d all be dead without you. You keep this whole thing running. Forget about not being the best out on the field- you’re basically our life support down here. Without you, Mikey probably would have pissed off ages ago, at least one of us would have died by now and not a single one of us would be able to stand each other.” He pulled Donnie in closer and cupped his hand on the back of his brothers’ neck and pulled him forward until their foreheads touched. “You’re strong, Donnie. Sometimes even stronger than I am, in more ways than one. And I ain’t breaking if you ain’t breaking.”
Raph could feel the way the back of Donnie’s neck warmed up and his cheeks flushed. “Oh,” he said lamely, weakly. “Right. That’s… kind of you.”
“It was,” Raph said, putting a little acid in his voice but by the way he watched the small smile creep up the corner of Donnie’s mouth, his little brother obviously knew it was fake and defiantly wasn’t buying it even as Raph pulled away. “Now come on, four eyes. It’s late. Let’s get you to bed.”
Smiling, Raph managed to pull a reluctant Donnie up from his chair and half dragged him to his bedroom with the glowing purple ring he used as a bed and the technology that littered every surface and Donnie was asleep within seconds, snoring softly. Amused, Raph took the glasses off of Donnie’s face and left the room as quietly as he could, happy as a pig in shit that his brother hadn’t broken yet.