Donatello sat looking at the chest that contained the six dead eggs. He had a decision to make before he took them to their final resting place.
A few days after Vern had caught Donnie in the process of laying his eggs, he returned and the two of them had a long conversation. It felt good to talk to someone who wasn’t family and to get an unbiased view on the situation. However, one thing Vern pointed out was how unfair it was of Donnie to keep his brothers away from the mourning process.
“I know you want to limit how much you remind them of… certain things,” Vern said. “But don’t you think that they would want to say goodbye to their kids?” They argued about it for a while, going round in circles until Vern held up his hands in defeat. “It’s up to you. All I ask is that you think about what I’ve said.”
At the time Donnie simply huffed and dismissed the idea completely. But then, for the first time, he started to pay a little more attention to his brothers. He was curious to see how the whole situation affected them. So he decided to distract himself, while he waited for the fate of the eggs, by observing them.
The most noticeable difference was that there wasn’t any laughter. The brothers usually did something with one another to occupy their free time. But now they were all keeping their distance from one another. Donatello had thought it was because his brothers were giving him space. He soon realized it was because they didn’t want him to see their pain.
Leonardo spent more time than usual meditating, the musky aroma of incense filling the lair. At times, Donatello swore that he was praying.
The rhythmic clanging of Raph’s weights could be heard echoing in the silence. If it wasn’t that, then it was the sound of him punching his punching bag. Donatello watched him from a distance and could see the worry and pain that was etched on his brother’s face.
But the most heartbreaking was Michelangelo.
Donatello found him sitting alone, holding an old, mended teddy bear. “One day,” Mikey said to the bear. “I’ll be able to give you to a little baby one day.” Fat tears dripped from his cheeks and he nuzzled against the bear. “I don’t care if it’s mine or not. I just want one to live.”
Slipping away before Mikey noticed, Donnie headed back to his room.
Now he sat, thinking. In the past, Donnie had been so wrapped up in his own grief that he had never noticed that his brothers also grieved. Donnie had thought that he was sparing his brothers. The truth was he was being selfish and doing them a great disservice by keeping them out of the process.
Donnie removed his glasses and wiped the back of his hand across his eyes before putting them back on. As hard as it was for him, Donnie knew he could no longer deny his brothers a chance to say goodbye.
Taking a deep breath to settle his nerves, Donnie got to his feet, picked up the chest, and made his way out of his room. He first spotted Leo, who noticed the chest in Donnie’s hands and looked away.
Donnie cleared his throat. “Would you like to come with me?”
Surprised, Leo turned his head to look up at Donnie. “What?”
“I’ve decided that… you guys should be able to come with me,” Donnie stated. “It was wrong of me to keep you away.”
Leonardo looked afraid to speak and simply nodded his head in response.
“Can you get the others?” Donnie requested.
“Sure.” Leo’s head bobbed again as he turned to find their brothers.
It wasn’t long before Leo returned with the rest of the family, including Splinter, all of them with confused and concerned looks on their faces. Donatello shifted from one foot to the other and adjusted his grip on the chest. “You can all come with me… if you want.”
“Yeah,” Raph replied, his voice failing him a little.
“Follow me.” Donnie walked around them and headed for the exit.
They walked in silence. The only sound was the splashing of water underfoot and the occasional sigh or sniffle. Even Mikey, who always had something to say and usually full of questions, was quiet.
As soon as they got to the old subway station that was the grave site, Donnie stopped and looked at his family. “We’re here.”
Leo looked around and there was a knowing look in his eyes. “We came across this place when looking for somewhere to live. Now I know why you argued so strongly against coming this way in the first place, and then against us living here.”
Donnie looked down at the chest in his hands. “Yeah.”
Raph looked around the room. “They’re all here?”
Without looking up, Donnie nodded. “I’m gonna get to work burying these and then I will take you around and show you the others.” Following his usual routine, Donnie sought out some loose flooring. The others stayed back, not knowing what to do. Even Splinter waited patiently for Donatello to give him instructions.
Once the hole was dug, Donnie looked over his shoulder at his family. “It’s… going to smell,” he warned them and then opened the chest. He placed the six eggs inside and then proceeded to cremate them. Not a word was said as they waited for the flames to do their work. When they burned out, Donnie filled the hole and placed the slab of flooring back in place then chiseled a number six into the stone.
After sitting for so long, Donnie was a little unsteady getting to his feet. He turned to his family and motioned for them to join him. One by one he guided them to each grave, giving them a moment to say their silent goodbyes before guiding them to the one from the year before until they reached the first one.
Mikey let out a few stifled sobs so Raph comforted him with a sideways hug. It was sometimes easy to forget how much time had passed. It didn’t feel like it had been that long. But here they were, facing the harsh reminder that they have been losing children for the past six years, thirty one in all.
Donnie knelt down to run his hand over the makeshift grave marker. “Hey, Nozomi. I brought… your dads… and grandpa… to come see you.” He could hear his brothers shifting uncomfortably behind him. He could almost hear their desire to speak, stifled by the years of conditioning to stay quiet about it.
Donnie sat conflicted as tears streaked down his cheeks. There was a desire to confess what he had done but he feared their reaction. What if his brothers hated him? They had a right to know. “It’s my fault she’s dead,” Donnie choked out.
“We don’t blame you for any of this, Donnie,” Leo stated, stepping forward to stand next to him. “None of this is your fault.”
“It our fault,” Mikey said, sobbing a little. “If we could just control ourselves this wouldn’t be happening to you. I’m sorry, Donnie.” His sobs turned into full on crying.
Keeping his eyes on the grave, Donnie shook his head. “I don’t blame you guys, Mikey. But it is my fault that Nozomi is dead.” He swallowed hard. “I had only laid two eggs that first time. One had collapsed almost right away. But Nozomi….” His throat closed up on him and he had to take a few steading breaths. Raph sat on the ground next to him, wrapping his arm around Donnie. He feared it was the last time his brother would ever want to embrace him.
He continued. “The egg started to move and I could hear sounds coming from inside. I was so excited because I knew that it was close to hatching. It would move off and on over the next few days and I waited expectantly for it to hatch. And then one day it stopped and didn’t start again.”
Donnie choked out a sob, removing his glasses so he could wipe the tears from his eyes. “I placed my ear against the egg but I heard nothing. In a panic I broke open the shell but it was too late…. She was already dead. In her struggles she had managed to flip herself over and had suffocated. She couldn’t break out because we don’t have beaks; our lips are soft. I should have known. I let her die.”
There was silence. He felt Raph start to pull away and through that this was it. They were all ashamed of him. They would never forgive him for letting their child die. But then he realized that Raph wasn’t pulling away, only shifting his position so that he could pull Donnie in closer.
Leo dropped to his knees and placed a comforting hand on Donnie’s cheek to thumb away the tears. “You’ve carried this guilt with you for all these years?”
“I was afraid to tell you,” Donnie confessed.
Raph kissed the top of Donnie’s head. “You were only twelve. You can’t blame yourself for this.”
Mikey dropped down to his knees behind Donnie and then leaned in for a hug. “That must have been so hard for you to go through.”
Donnie didn’t understand. They were supposed to be pushing him away in anger and disgust, not comforting him. Their child was dead because of him. They would be preparing for her sixth birthday if he had been smart enough to figure out that she needed help hatching from her egg.
“I’m supposed to be a genius,” Donnie said, hiccupping. “How could I have been so stupid?”
“It was not stupidity.” Splinter walked around so that he was in front of Donnie and got down on the ground to comfort him. Splinter placed his hand over the one Donnie had on top of the grave. “You were young and inexperienced. Your decisions were based off the knowledge you had at the time. You knew that turtles hatched on their own and that it was dangerous for you to handle it too much. You didn’t want to risk harming the baby inside. There was no way you could have known.”
They didn’t hate him. Donnie’s eyes burned from the seemingly never ending stream of tears as that realization struck him. His brothers sat in silence as he cried himself out. They held him and soothed him with gentle touches as they waited. The only other sounds were Mikey’s soft sobs behind him.
After a few hours, Donnie rubbed his eyes and placed his glasses back on his face. “I’m ready to go home now.”
“Okay,” Raph whispered.
His three brothers stood first. Leo assisted Splinter to his feet as Raph and Mikey helped Donnie. Raphael held Donnie’s hand as they made their way back to the lair. Donatello felt as if a great weight had been lifted from his shoulders. He felt no anger or resentment from his brothers, just love, comfort, and support.
Donnie let out a soft sigh and Raph leaned in, placing a soft kiss on his cheek.
When they got home, Donnie kept hold of Raph’s hand and made his way to the sofa. For the first time, Donnie did not want to be alone to wallow in his self-pity.
They weren’t on the sofa long before Leo appeared with a cup of warm tea for Donnie. Though he wasn’t usually a tea drinker, Donatello knew that the herbal brew would help. Leo then sat down and continued to offer his silent support.
Seeing that Donnie wasn’t pushing Leo away, Mikey soon joined them. Since the seats on both sides of Donnie were already occupied, he sat on the floor at Donnie’s feet and rested his head in Donnie’s lap.
Allowing his brothers to mourn with him helped to ease the pain more than he could have ever imagined that it would.