Note: This story is set in the not-so-distant future. When I came up with the concept, I envisioned the Turtles as being about 21-22 and April (when she makes her appearance) being about 22-23. Also, as a forewarning, this story is rated 'T' for coarse language (blame Raph) and references to the consumption of alcohol. Furthermore, I do not own the Turtles. That said, enjoy!

Chapter 1: Inertia

"Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.
Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain."- Kahlil Gibran

My right hand moves with fluidity and precision; my left holds steady the drafting paper and journeys to my desk to retrieve items integral to the task: the ruler, compass, eraser, and my coffee mug. All the while, my mind hums along, scrutinizing every detail. The repetitive nature of this work used to calm me, especially when I was younger and the stakes were lower. Back then, my creations were little more than the product of an overactive imagination, designed to make life easier or more comfortable. Now though, as they have found their way into battle time and again, I can ill afford miscalculations. The smallest misstep on paper is catastrophic in practice; if something fails or falters at a critical moment, all could be lost. My brothers, try as they may, don't quite understand. They're always telling me that I work too hard, that I need to relax, that I shouldn't put such pressure on myself. But I'd rather spend a sleepless night hunched over my drafting table working the kinks out of a design than the rest of my life mourning one of them. And so I do.

But that is only part of the reason I immerse myself in my work: it's also an escape when life becomes unbearable—when it's easier and nobler to pour my efforts into a project than to face grim realities or troubling notions. That, I suppose, is why I am here now. I couldn't sleep and couldn't bear my own company. It's funny how that happens sometimes and even funnier how something like a date on a calendar can cause such strife. It has no fists. No voice. No agenda. It's completely immaterial. Yet the power it's given by others through consent and participation make it formidable.

"Dudes! Breakfast is ready!"

Mikey's voice reaches me from beyond the confines of my lab. It soars above the dull scraping of graphite against paper and the sound of my own breathing. To be honest, it startles me and for a split second, my heart gallops. I didn't realize it was already morning. Heck, I didn't hear the usual morning soundtrack: the clinking of pots and pans or the frothy rhythm of the whisk keeping time against the side of the mixing bowl. Only when I set down my pencil do I realize how tired my eyes feel. Surely red-rimmed and glassy behind heavy, drooping lids. With a yawn, I stand; my joints pop. I stretch the stiffness from my limbs and head to the kitchen, coffee mug in tow. Leo is already at the table nursing a glass of orange juice and reading a worn, yellowed copy of The Sheltering Sky; Mikey is working feverishly at the stove, turning his attention from one pan to the next, the loosely tied strings of his threadbare "Kiss the Cook" apron bobbing lazily behind him.

"Good morning, fellas."

"DON-NIE!" Mikey sing-songs my name and looks at me over his shoulder. "Mornin' bro! I hope you brought your appetite!"

I pull up a chair beside Leo. He folds over a page in his book to mark his place and flips it closed.

"Good morning, Donnie." His eyes pull to mine. As always, he takes note of every detail—no matter how minute—and I sense what he is about to say before the words leave his lips. "Are you feeling alright? You look awful."

"Gee, thanks."

"You know what I mean. Did you get any sleep? Any at all?

"Some." I lie. I don't support the practice, but I'd rather he not worry about me. After all, he has his own crosses to bear. "A few ideas came to me last night. Little tweaks and improvements I can make to the new stealth cycle. And I knew if I didn't get them down while they were fresh in my mind I would have promptly forgotten."

"Oh…" For a moment, he falls silent, searching for the right words. "Um… are you really going to rebuild it? I didn't think you were going to… Not after… well, you know…"

I know. All too well, in fact. It was no secret that the more Raph hung out with Casey, the wilder he became. It was a lot like adding water to acid—the reaction was immediate and undeniably volatile. And if fuelling his appetite for reckless abandon wasn't bad enough, Casey also introduced him to the mind-altering, inhibition-numbing allures of alcohol. Raph, never one to do anything half-heartedly, developed a rather serious problem: what began as a way to blow off steam one or two nights a week quickly developed into a nightly vice. When he wasn't drunk, he was drinking and when he wasn't drinking, he was passed out. A couple nights ago, in a hazy stupor, he wrapped the stealth cycle around a telephone pole. He walked away with cuts and bruises and vowed to kick his habit. But the very next night he was right back at it. If I'm to be honest with myself—and I try to be—I think the reason I'm rebuilding the stealth cycle is out of sheer, mad hope—hope that fixing it will somehow fix Raph, too.

"We need it. It's too useful and versatile for me to just let it go. Besides, I think I can make it better…safer."

Mikey chuckles. "Dude, the only way you can make it safer for Raph is to add training wheels or something…"

"Mikey's right." Leo adds, downing his OJ. "There was nothing unsafe about the cycle in the first place… It was the driver… and we all know why that is…"

I shrug, hands upturned. "I don't know what else to do, guys. It's not like we can watch him 24/7 to make sure he doesn't take a drink…"

"I know!" Mikey smiles wide. He scoops the last of the pancakes onto a plate, sets them on the table, and takes a seat. "I was watchin' this old western the other night. The sheriff and deputy locked up the town drunk for a couple of days so he could 'dry out.' It's pretty crazy, but it might work. Whaddya think?"

"It's an idea…" Leo muses, grinning. He skewers a few pancakes and plops them on his plate; a flicker of confusion burns in his eyes and his brow furrows. "Uh, Mikey… What's up with the pancakes?"

I look to Leo's plate and notice that they are heart-shaped.

"Oh, that…" Mikey serves himself, drowns his breakfast in syrup, and passes the plate to me. "Just mad skills, bro. Figured I'd be festive, you know, it being Valentine's Day and all?"

Inadvertently, I fumble with the plate and drop it on top of mine. A cacophony of rattling dishes and clinking flatware rises and falls. In its wake, a tense silence settles in and I feel their eyes upon me. A nervous giggle pries itself from the back of my throat and I feel my cheeks burning with embarrassment. As usual, I'm a smooth operator.

"Heh, heh…" I toss a couple of the offending heart-cakes on my plate and use the side of my fork to mince them to mush. "I'm all thumbs this morning…"

I shovel an oversized forkful into my mouth and fix my eyes to the table, hoping they will shift the conversation in a different direction. Unfortunately, my withdrawal only exacerbates the situation. Rather than skirting around the topic as they normally would, they take my odd behavior into account, ponder its cause, and come to the inevitable conclusion. They look to each other and back to me, unsure of what to say or do.

"Oh, jeez…" Mikey mutters sheepishly. He rubs the back of his neck the way he always does when he is nervous or self-conscious. "Donnie… Look, I forgot… I'm not the best at remembering dates and stuff like that. I didn't mean to…"

"It's fine, Mikey. Really it is." I plaster a smile to my face, hoping to reassure him. "The pancakes are delicious, by the way."

At that, he brightens. "Thanks! The secret ingredient is lo…" He trails off and clears his throat. "I mean, butter! Globs and globs of butter!"

Leo turns to me and opens his mouth as if to speak; a wall of noise, however, interrupts his train of thought and holds his attention hostage. About a year ago, while channel surfing, Mikey discovered a production of "Stomp" on PBS. I'm not sure if it was the fast-paced rhythms, theatrics, or the concept of using garbage cans, brooms, and metal barrels as musical instruments that appealed to him most, but he was immediately enamored with it. The uproar down the hall sounds quite similar, only off-beat, dissonant, and lightly seasoned with profanity. After a minute or two, it dies down and Raph emerges, teetering from side to side on unsteady legs. He scowls at us, his eyes sunken and bleary.

"Heya, Raph!" Mikey chirps, his greeting a white flag. "Are ya hungry? I whipped up a batch of pancakes and they're happy to see you!"

Groggily, Raph rubs his eyes, all the while grumbling under his breath. He sways as he approaches, barely able to keep his feet from buckling under his weight or betraying him altogether. He steadies himself against the table and draws several deep breaths—in through his nose and out through his mouth—either to slow the spinning of the room or to keep himself from emptying the contents of his stomach on the kitchen floor. Leo, Mikey, and I take in the sight—as we have most mornings—with aching hearts, fretting minds, and voices unable to convey the depth of our concern.

It isn't until he pulls up a chair that he notices this morning's breakfast is unconventional. At the very sight, his eyes narrow. The muscles in his neck tense and jump and his hands ball into tightly clenched fists.

"Wha's this…shit?"

Mikey's smile fades; inwardly, I cringe. Ever since we were young, Mikey's looked up to Raph. He's his hero, his protector. An occasional victim of his pranks but constant recipient of his admiration. Whether Raph realizes it or not—whether he cares or not—he holds influence over Mikey. His every word has the power to heal or inflict harm, to uplift or debase. Holding such influence is a responsibility. But to Raph, responsibility is dirty word. He doesn't see how every idiotic word that slithers from his drunken maw wounds our brother. But I do and my heart breaks every time I consider what might happen if nothing changes—slight after slight will drive a wedge between them until the warm relationship they share shatters irreparably.

"Pancakes, Raph. New look, same great taste." Leo chimes in. He wipes his mouth with a napkin and shakes his head in either disapproval or disgust, I can't quite tell. "Jeez, you act like we're trying to poison you or something."

"Well…'scuse me for askin' a question… I've just never…seen 'em in such…fruity shapes before. Wha's the deal with that? Ol' Mikey here 'splorin' his feminine side? Watched one too many episodes of Martha-friggin'-Stewart, huh?"

My anger is a ball of molten slag roiling in my gut. My body stiffens. My blood burns in my veins, practically screaming as it races through me. I try to calm myself, to avoid making things worse than they are, but the words slip off my tongue before I can catch myself: "Shut up, Raph."

"Wha'd you just say t' me?"

"You heard me. Lay off. Either eat breakfast or don't, color commentary is unnecessary. As for the heart-shapes… well… do you even know what day it is..?"

His drunken mind reels. He falls silent in intense contemplation, as though he is unraveling some grand, unfathomable mystery. After a moment of clarity and realization, he throws the plate of pancakes in my face. "Fuck you, Donnie."

He pushes away from the table and spins on his heel, nearly losing his balance. He retrieves a beer from the fridge, plunges one of his sai into the bottom of the can, and greedily sucks every last drop through the makeshift opening. Then, he crushes the can in his hand and tosses it in our direction; I practically jump out of my chair, pancakes sliding from my shoulders and plastron as I do, seeing red. Leo's hand, however, catches my wrist.

"Don't." He whispers. "That's not gonna solve anything…"

Raph snorts in contempt; a throaty chortle rumbles from behind his smug grin, his body quaking as it does. "That's right. Cuz even on my worst day I could still wipe the floor with your sorry ass, you pussy."

I watch impotently as Raph staggers back from whence he came, his coarse, braying laughter lingering in the room before following him out. Practically trembling with rage, I turn to Leo and yank my wrist from his grasp.

"You shouldn't have stopped me."

"I know you're angry, and you have every right to be." He says calmly. "Trust me when I tell you that there have been times lately when I've come awfully close to taking a swing. But it won't change anything and it won't help. All it'll do is push him further and further away… and probably deeper into the bottle than he already is."

Mikey sighs and glances to the floor where the fruits of his labor lay strewn about. "Is that even possible?"

"Please, guys…" Leo's voice is strangely subdued, lacking its confident edge. "I know it's been difficult seeing him like this and even more difficult dealing with him. But he's still our brother, even if he isn't acting like it…"

"Well, we have to do something..." Though not my intention, my statement comes across as a demand rather than a call for corroboration.

"I know... But whatever we do has to be tactful. If Raph thinks we're ganging up on him, he'll shut us out completely. We have to take a more subtle approach… maybe if we voice our concerns and hear his side of things, we can convince him to change…"

"Oh!" Mikey exclaims with a snap of his fingers. "Like an intervention!"

I roll my eyes at the suggestion. Leo either catches me from his periphery or senses my tacit objection. "Problem, Donnie?"

"Well…It's just…"


"Well, you're assuming Raph will listen to reason. I don't think he will. As it stands, he's beyond our reach." I gather my breakfast dishes and set them in the sink. "And while I want to help him as much as I can, we can't risk dragging this out. He got lucky when he walked away from that accident. He was banged up a bit, sure, but it could have been a lot worse. What if next time he can't walk away from it? What if he does something reckless and it puts you or me or Mikey in harm's way? What if we're in a fight, he's not at his best, and the Foot or the Purple Dragons seize the opportunity? In a perfect world, we'd be able to handle this thing with due care… But the circumstances don't afford us that kind of time."

Leo eyes me with suspicion. "What are you suggesting?"

"Something...more drastic. Maybe keeping him confined until he's healthy isn't the worst idea…"

"No! No way, dude!" Mikey protests. "I was jokin' about that. You can't do that to Raph! He'd never let it go... He'd hate us forever…"

I glance between Mikey and Leo. "How long do you think he can keep this up? You can't burn a candle at both ends and expect the light to last. I don't want Raph to hate me and I'd much rather have him as an ally than an enemy… But if I have to be the bad guy to save him from himself, then I'll do it…"

At that, their features slacken and I can sense their mutual reluctance. I can't tell if it stems from apprehension or misplaced faith, but whatever the cause, I find myself outnumbered. I consider arguing my case more ardently, but choose to let the moment pass. Matters of the heart are impervious to logic and reason as they are guided almost exclusively by emotion. Leo and Mikey have their opinion and I my own. And neither side will concede to the other, no matter how convincing the argument. Instead, I sigh, turn away, and head for my lab.

"Donnie…" Leo's voice stops me in my tracks. "I know you think I'm wrong… I'm just asking you to trust me."

"I trust you." I manage. I draw a deep breath and remind myself that though our philosophies differ, we want the same thing. "And for once, I can honestly say that I hope I'm wrong…"

My mind whirls. It pulls me in a thousand different directions at once, each jockeying for preeminence; Raph, however, remains at the forefront. I think of how he used to be: strong, dependable, loyal, goodhearted… But those days seem so long ago. Part of me wishes I could hate him—to pry him loose from my heart, cast him aside, and move on—but I know I'm incapable of that. So, like a fool, I'll hold onto hope. I'll let fond memories sustain me in disappointment and steady me in anger. I'll yearn for him to realize the error of his ways and pray that he finds the strength to change. After all, I've been here before. I've walked this road.

I trudge up the stairs to my lab and close the door behind me. I take a seat at my drafting table and give my drawing a quick once-over. A few ideas come to mind—adjustments to the suspension; improvements to the steering; reinforcing the frame with high-tension, low-density steel to make it lighter and stronger—and I jot them down at the bottom of the page for future reference. Pencil in hand, I reach for my ruler, fully intending to finish the design so I can begin building a scale model, but I find myself unable. My hands, ever steady and reliable, shake of their own accord. The lines I've committed to paper seem to swirl and twist before me—a kaleidoscopic effect likely brought on by sleep deprivation. I lean forward, rest my elbows on the table, and bury my head in my hands. My tired eyes protest and demand a rest; grudgingly, I acquiesce and close them. The morning's events replay in my mind like some tired old song I know all too well—the verses change, but the melody remains:

"Fuck you, Donnie."

"…Even on my worst day I could still wipe the floor with your sorry ass, you pussy."

Alone, as I have in the past, I wear my sorrow like a yoke and my anger like a ball and chain. Together, they hold me back; they keep me from doing what is necessary; they force me to relinquish the things I want. In the interest of self-preservation—to avoid more pain and disappointment—I submit to them and humbly accept less than I deserve. After all, it's safe. It's comfortable. It's manageable. Even if in the deepest parts of my mind I know that I'm profoundly unhappy.

Author's Note: Well, here is the first chapter! Clearly not your usual Valentine's Day fare, but I decided to run with it. As things progress, you'll gain a greater understanding of what exactly happened to Donnie and why Raph has become such a lush. I am interested, though, in knowing what all of you think! Please tell me how I did! Also, I would greatly appreciate it if you took a look at my other TMNT stories, "Gypsy" and "Forever on a Winter's Eve."

Also, the current TMNT Fanfiction Competition is underway at the Stealthy Stories website (stealthystories DOT prophpbb DOT com). Please visit the site for the rules, details, and pertinent dates! Plus, stop by to hang out! A lot of cool people (SleepingSeeker, Terraform, Alex Hamato, BubblyShell22, TheIncredibleDancingBetty, Enimul, and The Nerdfighter [to name a few]) frequent the site…so stop by and say hi!