Chapter 4


Ba-bump… Ba-bump…

Ba-bump… Ba-bump…

It was easy enough to time the loud click-clack of typing to the ECG machine going in the background. Donnie observed the slow but stable heartbeat, jotting notes in Junior’s file. His computer buzzed, interrupting the rhythm he had going. He cursed–it always shut down at the worst time–and slammed his hand on the side. “Stupid,” he muttered.

Ba-bump… Ba-bump…

Ba-bump… Ba-bump…

It sputtered before returning to its normal state. The thing was as thick as a brick, completely rudimentary compared to the tech he had prior to the invasion. Not much he could do about that. He made do with what resources could be scavenged and tried not to complain where April could hear and reprimand him for it. He understood how difficult it was for her to do supply runs alone.

Ba-bump… Ba-bump… Ba-bump… Ba-bump…

She used to have Draxum’s help. He acted as a pillar of wisdom in Splinter’s absence, comforting April and Mikey when all seemed lost. Donnie and his other brothers never enjoyed the yokai’s company but they couldn’t turn him away. Draxum genuinely cared about April–they must’ve bonded all those years ago. When the only worry in the world for the two of them was making sure Sloppy Joseph didn’t eat all the food before the student body could come down for lunch. Then, just when Donnie found himself warming up to Draxum’s presence, his odd form of care–

Ba-bump. Ba-bump. Ba-bump. Ba-bump.

“Shit,” Donnie hissed. He rushed over to Junior who only tilted his head in confusion, small hands clenching the examination table.

“Professor Donatello,” Junior started, voice trailing off as it tended to during his check-ups. His breathing was uneven and sweat began beading on his forehead. The palpitations caused Donnie’s computer to ping alerts, the loud notifications distracting and only stressing Junior out more.

“It’s okay.” Donnie wiped at Junior’s brow. He took the kid’s hand, pressing a device to his back. “Take a deep breath for me. Good. Exhale. You’re doing great, CJ. Another.” Donnie didn’t take his eyes off the kid, knew from experience that that always seemed to make his heartbeat speed up. Instead, he counted the pulse from the wrist in his grasp.

It took a couple minutes for Junior’s heart rate to slow down. All the while, Donnie whispered encouragements. They were awkward and stilted but they did more good than harm so Donnie kept saying them. Eventually, Junior’s pulse returned to its regular, concerningly slow pace. Donnie knew children were supposed to have a faster heartbeat than adults. It bothered him that Junior’s always drudged along like his heart couldn’t handle its job. Perhaps it was a product of the environment? Maybe the kraang’s habitation of Earth changed the very nature of biology…

Ba-bump… Ba-bump…

Ba-bump… Ba-bump…

Junior squirmed. “Sorry,” he said, tone sheepish. Donnie wished Junior wouldn’t get so embarrassed about this but he was still a child–a young one, at that–and he never understood why his health came as such a concern to the adults around him. “I’m will, right?”

“Ill,” Donnie corrected. He sighed, rubbing a hand down his face. “I’m not prepared for this,” he whispered to himself before turning to a crestfallen Junior. “You’re not ill, kid.”

“But I’m not healthy.”

Donnie opened his mouth to speak but he found himself at a loss for words. Junior wasn’t… wrong. It bothered Donnie to admit that he didn’t know what ailed the kid that saw the medical bay more than anyone on the regular. Leo tried to figure it out when Junior first joined their team, but he never found anything odd other than the growths that appeared on the x-rays. Thankfully, they were benign which meant they didn’t have to put the poor kid under. On the other hand, it also meant that they had no leads as to why Junior’s heart functioned the way that it did.

Junior often asked Donnie questions. That fact in and of itself never bothered Donnie. It came with the territory. As soon as the kid could hold a conversation, he was bombarded by the child’s natural curiosity. Junior quickly became familiar with certain words everyone used when discussing him: good, bad, hungry, sleepy–the ones they said the most were healthy and ill. Junior didn’t really understand what they meant but he knew it worried his mom.

At night, wedged between his mom and Raph, he pretended to be asleep enough times to hear them speak in hushed tones. It was always about him. Did Donnie find anything during his check-up? Was he eating enough? Why wasn’t he growing like other children his age?

Ba-bump… Ba-bump… Ba-bump… Ba-bump…

“Hey.” Donnie tapped his shoulder once. “Breathe. You’re tensing up.” Donnie went back to his desk and began typing again. “I’ll have to see you again in a day or two. Depends on what April brings home this time. Maybe I can start work on…” He muttered to himself about plans for machinery he could possibly build with scrap metal parts. “Rubber casing could protect a metal conductor from high-amp voltage–”

“Professor Donatello,” Junior called out. “I can’t get down from here.”

Donnie pushed his folding chair away from his computer and stood. “Right. My apologies. I forgot you were tiny.” He made his way to Junior, moving the kid to the ground. “There. Now I will return to my–” A soft whimper stopped him. He looked down to see Junior tearing up and holding his hand in an uncomfortably tight grip. “What’s wrong?”

Junior’s lip wobbled but he didn’t make a sound. His gaze stayed glued to the floor. “Am I going to die?”

The question struck Donnie like a sword to the heart. Where had Junior heard that? Did Raph– No. This was no time to start pointing fingers. Donnie had to think of something to say. Something to pacify Junior. Even though he sucked at talking to kids. Even though he knew Leo could handle this situation better–loathe he was to admit it. Donnie sat on the ground in front of Junior.

“You’re not going to die.”

“How do you know?”

“Because,” Donnie began overconfidently. He paused for dramatic effect. In reality, he was stalling. Junior sniffled, looking up at him with big, watery eyes. “Because we won’t let you.”

“You won’t?”

Donnie placed his hands on Junior’s shoulders, shaking him slightly before pulling away. “Of course, we won’t. Because we’re your family. Look,” he sighed, leaning back. “I’m not good at this,” he gestured between them like the emotions would physically manifest in the air, “but I do know that, like it or not, we all care about you. And when you care about someone, you protect them no matter what. Like my papa did for me.” He rubbed at the nape of his neck, fingers bumping against scars across the top of his shell.

“Your papa?” Junior tilted his head but at least he didn’t look like he was about to start crying. “What’s that?”

“Oh, well. Papa, dad, pops. We all called him something different but he was like Casey. He protected us and loved us just like your mom.”

“My mom is your mom?”

“What?” Donnie shook the surprise off his face. “No. Moms, dads–they’re the same thing. They’re parental figures. Their number one goal is to be there for their children. No matter what. Do you get it?”

“I think I do…” Junior looked up at Donnie. “Thanks, Professor Donatello!” He smiled a big grin that squeezed the turtle’s heart. It was easy to love the kid. He got to his feet and clenched his fists. “I gotta go. Bye!”

And, just like that, he ran out of the medical bay. “Hey! Be careful! You’re gonna– Oh, what’s the use.” Donnie smiled despite his concern. It was nice to see Junior act like a kid. He was a kid. They could only hope to give him something akin to childhood. Donnie sat down at his desk and took out a blueprint.

Junior scrambled through the corridors of the cave, past the food stores and the communal bedroom. He had a mission to complete. He still wasn’t good at running but Leo taught him a few things. He breathed in through his nose, out through his mouth–never mind that the timing wasn’t the best or that he still sounded ragged. Someone came from the entrance. His target.

“Goongala!” Junior exclaimed as he launched himself at the shadowy figure. They had spikes that were easy to latch onto. He used them to climb onto the person’s shoulders but a big hand grabbed him by the scruff, pulling him forward. He came face to face with Raph. He dangled several feet off the ground but that did little to dampen his spirit.

“What’s gotten into you, Junior?” Raph chuckled, tucking the kid against his side. No matter how big he got, Raph would always carry Junior around like a baby.

“Dad!” Junior shouted, his voice bouncing off the walls. “Dad! Daddy!”

Raph blanched. “Where did you hear that word? Wait, no. Doesn’t matter. Why are you calling me that?”

“Because you’re my dad!” Junior said it like that was supposed to answer all of the questions spiraling in Raph’s head. He grunted, getting out of Raph’s lax grip to climb the turtle’s arm until he sat gloriously atop his father’s shoulders. He grabbed the red tails and yanked on them. “Professor Donatello said dads care about their kids like my mom does with me. You tell me that you love me all the time. You’re my dad.”

Raph could practically hear the grin in Junior’s tone and, while this should’ve been an exciting moment for him, Raph only felt a great sense of dread. He tried to hush Junior but the kid only pushed at his hand and shushed him back. “Please, Junior. Listen to me–your mom is gonna kill me if she finds out.”

“If I find out what?” Casey’s voice came like a bullet, piercing Raph with deadly accuracy.

Junior, completely ignorant to Raph’s plight, leaned forward, shoving Raph’s head down like he was bowing. Knowing his best friend, he might as well have been. “Mom! Raph is my dad!”

“Oh?” A grin slowly grew on her face. It was sly and reminded Raph of when he first found out that he should never, ever take the last piece of jerky from Casey. She walked over to him, taking Junior from Raph’s shoulders. She tickled his belly, getting a good giggle from him before holding him under her arm like a sack of potatoes. “Is he now?” She leaned into Raph’s space and, despite being two feet shorter than him, made his knees tremble in fear.

“Case, I’m sorry. I– I don’t know why he’s calling me that.”

“Because you’re my dad!”

“Not now, Junior,” Raph hissed. It wasn’t out of anger. Raph never got mad at Junior, but this was a matter of life or death.

Casey held a hand in front of his face, effectively silencing him. “You heard the kid, Raph.” She dropped her hand so he could see her maniacal grin. “Junior said you’re his dad.” She held Junior out. “Get him.”

Raph froze for a second before his body moved for him. He fell into a sprint about as gracefully as a greased-up hog out of a canteen. Behind him, he heard the unfathomable screech of a five-year-old.


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Art provided by Karday! Find them here and here.

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