A partially aborted scream filled the night air as Donatello awoke with a start.
He laid in his bed gasping, his mind buzzing with pain and terror. He had remembered reading about how when a person would have a limb removed that they would experience phantom pains. He wondered if he was feeling the same after having lost his mind.
A quiet shuffle interrupted his thoughts and he felt the bed dip near his right shoulder. Don gave a gasp of alarm and initially struggled when he felt a pair of arms encircle him.
“Shhh,” said the low voice in his ear, “I have you.”
Donnie instinctively relaxed at the soothing voice before he was able to register that it belonged to his eldest brother. The monitor in his room was giving off an eerie blue hue, and Don could barely make out the silhouette of his brother before he found himself latching onto the strong support the body was offering. He allowed his mind to go mercifully blank as he held onto Leonardo and allowed the low murmur of comforting words to wash over him.
As soon as his body stopped shaking and the phantom pain started to recede, his memory came back and was able to recognize the meaning behind his night terror and the reason for his brother’s prompt visit.
It had only been a few weeks since Triceraton invasion and he knew they were all still reeling from the events, him more so than anyone. If he had not been grabbing onto Leo’s shell like a lifeline, he would have scratched his head where he could still feel where the helmet had been slammed down on. Unwelcome tears sprung to his eyes and pressed his face into the plastron in front of him harder in order to keep them at bay. Leo gave another soft word of comfort and placed a hand on the back of Don’s head. He quickly removed it when he felt the involuntary jerk at the touch and lowered it to his shoulder, his fingers tightening slightly in apology. Don accepted it wordlessly, tightening his own embrace in response.
Accepting night time comfort from Leo was a new thing. It wasn’t like he wasn’t a comforting turtle. In fact, Leo was his usual go to option when he became frustrated with a project or sought guidance for a hard-to-complete kata. But his usual haunt when it came to nightmares and monsters under the bed had been Raph’s grumpy but surprisingly welcoming arms. When Don was a child, and still believed in creatures that bumped in the night, he had chosen his red-banded brother as he protector for several reasons. One, Raph had been a tough playmate, always fighting and wrestling, and Don was admittedly slightly afraid of being hurt by him. He was bigger than all of them and was the first one to be able to hold a bokken up without his arms wobbling. Don’s logical mind figured that if Don, who wasn’t scared of much, was afraid of Raph that must mean that the monsters had to be, too. The second reason was availability. Mikey had nightmares often, or sometimes just wished to snuggle with someone else. Being the baby, he had his pick of snuggle buddies, which he seemed to evenly split his time with their father or the eldest brother. Don could never predict who the rascal would go to on a given night, so Raph seemed to be the best bet. And third, Don had been in awe with and slightly intimidated by Leo in his youth. He had seemed so perfect and well put together, and Don hadn’t wanted his brother to look down on him for having the silly notion that there was a scary being hiding behind his bookshelf. Raph and him were on equal ground, despite Raph’s claim of being older. They were both middle children, stuck in between the responsibilities of being the eldest and the carefree nature of being the youngest. They needed to stick together.
Now, of course, Don was thankful for Leo’s calming presence. Raph’s usual version of “comfort” would be to listen to Don’s stuttering problem, if the olive-green turtle were to say anything at all, told him that the dream or thought was “stupid” and to just get some sleep, it’ll be gone in the morning. Raph wasn’t trying to be mean, it was supportive in his own gruff way, but right now Don needed logic and gentleness, not rough assurance and avoidance. For what had happened to him had been illogical and cruel and he was in desperate need to counterbalance that.
As much as he tried to avoid thinking about what had occurred on that ship, his mind involuntarily jumped the throne room and to the moment when the alien had forced that helmet onto his head. He shivered at the phantom feeling of tight pressure around his cranium, and the shooting pain when the device had been turned on.
He knew the neuroscience behind the mind probe. At least, he could hypothesize since there was no one on Earth that had made one. The electrical currents were shot through his brain, causing the neurons to fire and send a message back through the device and project the images taken from his cerebral cortex, where long-term memory is stored.
Logically, he knew all that, but that’s not what it felt like. What he felt was thousands of sharp-nailed, red-hot hands grabbing onto his brainy tissue and tearing into the most intimate and precious parts of his mind. They went from memory to memory, reaching as far back as he could remember, searching for clues to where Professor Honeycutt was, discarding all useless information (to them) hap-hazardously, uncaring of where or how they landed, and leaving behind destruction and filth. Each memory, whether treasured or unimportant, was now contaminated; a residue of filth and pain now covered them.
The thing about the memory, it isn’t just stored in one part of his brain but was widely distributed in the cortex, so it didn’t leave many places untouched. He still felt it, the trace from the probe, lurking in the far regions of his mind. It made him want to dunk his whole brain, his whole body, in bleach, and even if it were a real option, he was afraid it wasn’t enough.
It didn’t matter what science had been telling him, or what is family tried to convey, he couldn’t shake this dirty feeling, like the probe had destroyed something precious, had taken something from him that was not theirs to take. He felt dirty. He felt broken.
He hadn’t mentioned his ordeal of what had happened in the throne room to his brothers with all the chaos that had happened after, but they knew something was up when they finally returned home and Splinter had looked at him with such gentle and worried eyes that it had tipped off Leo, at least, who was quick to inquire about it. Don, who was still in mild shock about it, but was far enough removed from the incident to explain, calmly, what had happened, leaving out the feelings of violation and shame. He had just stated simple facts and had assured them that there seemed to be no lasting damage, despite the wizened look on Master Splinter’s face and shadow of doubt that crossed Leo’s. He thought that was the end of it and they went on their merry way.
Until the nightmares started. They weren’t just regular nightmares, either. The kind that he would just replay the events of what had happened. He could actually feel the electricity jolt through his mind as though it were a solid, grim-covered hand that shifted through his thoughts and memories and he would awake defiled again. Over and over, he had these dreams, and they were just getting worse and worse.
His family and friends tried to help him, but he refused to talk fully about them. He was always filled with shame and confusion, like he should have been able to stop what had happened to him and was unable to convey it into words that his family could understand. He was supposed to be the smart one, after all. He shouldn’t have let it get as far as it had, that he almost gave the location of Professor Honeycutt before he had finally called Master Splinter’s name in pure desperation. And he should be able to stop these dreams from reoccurring, block them somehow with his supposedly powerful mind. He should be able to find a way to describe the situation so that his family could move on from this, like he should be doing. But no, here he was, sitting in bed and holding onto his brother as if he were a lifeline. Tears of humiliation flooded his eyes to join those of pain, and they fell despite his desperation for them to stop.
And it was always Leo who came to him when this monster of a terror came bumping in the night, not any of other brothers or his father. Raph would probably feel completely useless in this situation. It wasn’t anything he could physically fight to protect him from them and he wasn’t the type that could use words to comfort him. Mikey had comfort in abundance, but he just didn’t understand the concept that a thought could be just as crippling as a blow, which Donnie was grateful. Their baby brother was still so much of an innocent in this world despite what they had come across in their short lives that they wanted to preserve what child-like essence that he had in abundance as much as they can, even at the expense of their own sound of mind. It was the lack of action on his father’s part that had Don curious. Splinter had to have had first-hand knowledge of what he had experience when he had joined his mind to help break the connection with the scene, while he was sure that Leo was just dealing with guesswork. Both Sensei and Leo were masters in meditation and the spiritual essence of the mind; they both understood and anticipated what he would call a supernatural attack on the mind. But what had happened was not spiritual, but physical and mental, which is probably why their father had left the care of his distraught son in the hands of his eldest, who knew what it was like to be broken by an enemy. Leo’s recent incident with the Shredder made him somewhat of an expert in rebuilding after a devastating and potentially fatal event. While Leo’s attack had left him physically broken, Don’s had left him mentally fractured. There was a different healing process that neither of them had been able to find a way to tackle yet. At least, nothing permanent.
Don, who could not contain the sobs in for any longer, let out a loud wail that was only muffled by his brother’s body tight against him.
“Leo,” he whimper, agony filling his voice. He felt rather than heard the distraught sigh from his brother and felt usually sure fingers of his leader creep up to the juncture of his neck. Both knew that this was starting to become a problem, this . . . avoidance was neither healthy nor helpful in the long run, but Leo couldn’t stand to see the distress his brother exhibited after each of these night terrors, and Don was too weak to say no.
“Are you sure?” Leo asked softly, caressing his carapace with his other hand while the one on the olive turtle’s neck was poised just so. “You know you’ll probably have a headache in the morning.”
“Yes, yes!” Don cried out. Headaches he could cure easy with a pill or mediation. This, this wasn’t so easily fixed. He was sickened by his own desperation and weakness. He was sure none of his other brothers, Leo included, would ask for this relief that they were stronger in spirit than he was, but he just couldn’t be bothered to care about childish jealousy over better brothers at the moment. It just wanted it to end. He wanted the dishonor and dirty feelings to stop, to let him be at peace. He wanted to forget, for a few hours, for a few seconds, what it is like to be destroyed.
To be broken beyond repair.
“Shhh,” Leo said, his voice as gentle as the rising sun and gave his brother an one-armed squeeze of comfort before bringing his fingers to that spot on his neck, just at the juncture, that would make everything okay, for now.
As Leo decompressed his hand, Don felt a rush of adrenaline, which lasted only a moment before the sweet bliss of nothing washed over him. For one shining moment, Don felt comfort and control. He felt . . . normal.
And then he knew nothing as he finally was able to slip into a dreamless sleep.