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Returning to the farmhouse after so many years felt like going back in time.  So much had happened, yet it was as if none of it mattered there.  Master Splinter was gone, not MIA like last time.  The hole in their hearts had finally healed to a dull ache, never truly gone, but not as torturous as before.  Despite that, everyone was in great health.  They weren’t hiding this time, just vacationing.  Everyone needed the relaxation that the old home could potentially provide.  But for Donatello everything was not all sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows. The rest of his family had a companion, or were at least pursuing one.  Raphael had his Mona Lisa; Leonardo was with Karai, of course; and no one could ever tell who Michelangelo was more interested in, Renet or Shinigami.  The cherry on top of it all being the agonizing year and almost a half since April and Casey had announced their relationship.  Everything was different.

Donnie was hoping there would be no new cause for heartache for a long while; he was quite fed up with it.  He was fed up with a lot lately though and he knew the others had noticed a while ago.  He hoped no one believed the biting comments or sarcastic remarks he couldn’t stop himself from making.  He always felt bad in hindsight, but could never shut up before putting his foot in his mouth.  All of the fights with Raph and Casey, arguments with Leo, and sour words from Mikey and April had, at the very least, taught Donnie the importance of internalizing his completely unfair criticisms.  He really didn’t see how this “break” was supposed to help him either.  He’d still be lonely even when surrounded by his family, he knew the others would continue to try to help ease his lingering pain, and he would consequently feel just as crowded by them.  Plus, whose dumb idea was it to visit the farm in January!  Between the bitter cold and the unpredictable snow storms he wouldn’t be able to escape into the outdoors for nearly as long as literally any other time of the year.  Just because Leo was unconscious for it last time didn’t mean the rest of the group should suffer through it again.  He could at least count his blessings that the others had left him in peace to repair the long neglected plumbing, because there was no way he could have held back from tearing someone a new one.  He sighed contemplating his mood swings.  Donatello figured he was depressed to some small degree but his symptoms were all over the place.  He wasn’t suicidal and was therefore not concerned with his lack of motivation in self-diagnosis so consequently there was really no relief.

 It had only been a couple days since he, his brothers, April, Casey, Ice Cream Kitty, and Chompy finally clambered out of the Party Wagon after the long drive.  Everything was finally in acceptable working order and a daily routine had taken hold.  First breakfast, then training in the old barn until lunch, after that everyone was free to do their own thing until dinner; the evening was usually concluded with a movie or random show on the ancient television set.  However, this left Donnie with a lot of spare time which he would always choose to fill by tinkering in his makeshift lab-away-from-home.  That is until Leo came to retrieve him for dinner one evening and realized how cold the barn would get, even with the small space heater running nonstop at full blast.  The chill wasn’t noticeable when everyone was working up a sweat during training. 

Donatello knew now of the poor choice he’d made when rolling his eyes at Leo’s lecture about prolonged exposure to the cold.  His remark about low temperatures not actually making you sick just weakening the immune system making you more likely to get sick, probably didn’t help matters either.  If he had known Leo would strictly enforce a limit on the length of time he spent in the barn, he would have definitely tried to prevent anyone paying him a visit out there in the first place.  After a long argument the leader refused to budge on granting him more than two hours a day and Donnie could do nothing but comply or risk his brother’s wrath.

It hadn’t even been a full day since his barn visitation rights had been reduced and Donnie was already on edge.  After lunch he had hoped the documentary he’d found on the TV would distract him for a decent amount of time, but he couldn’t concentrate with April and Casey being in the room together.  Sure they were his friends and he was perfectly content to let them be happy in their relationship.  The boastful side glances Jones shot him every time he made even the smallest physical contact with her were unnecessary though and would enflame the rejection he was desperately attempting to heal.  Seriously, it had been well over a year!  Why couldn’t the guy just leave him alone?  Having his fill of Casey’s behavior, he quietly took his leave, hearing April’s disapproving tone directed at her boyfriend after he’d made his exit.  Donnie began bundling up in his winter gear ignoring the fact that Leo would be arguing the letter of the law when he returned.  He groaned internally when Mikey’s voice chimed from behind him, “Whatcha doin’, D?”

He quickly recollected what little patience he had remaining and replied, “Going for a walk to clear my mind.”

“Isn’t there like, a crazy big storm coming?” the freckled turtle questioned.

Donnie sighed knowing Mikey wasn’t going to let him off the hook easily.  “The storm isn’t forecast to start until later this evening and I only plan on being out for an hour,” he reasoned.  When it appeared that the shorter brother was about to make a counterpoint, he quickly interrupted, “I’ll have my weapon and T-Phone if anything happens.”  Mikey still didn’t look convinced.  Donnie slumped slightly and, in a hushed tone, confessed, “Look Mikey, I can’t,” he paused casting a pained glance towards the happy couple snuggled on the couch and then down to the floor in front of him.  “I just can’t be in here anymore.”

Mikey followed his brother’s gaze and was immediately sympathetic.  “Okay bro, but you better promise to be back in an hour or Leo’s gonna kill both of us,” he insisted.

Donnie softly smiled his thanks and hurried out the door before anyone else could stop him.  He was in the woods bordering the property before he realized it and promptly slowed to his natural pace, which compliments to his long legs, made covering great distances still pretty quick, especially compared to most.  He admired the way the evergreen boughs hung low with snow and the way the sunlight sparkled on the untouched precipitation blanketing the ground.  As he continued he found tracks made by small mammals and even observed a herd of deer through the trees.  Everything was so peaceful and Donatello appreciated the chance to breathe deeply with no one around to judge or pity him.  He was just beginning to feel like himself when he checked his phone and realized he should have turned back a while ago.  Taking one last look around and vowing to come back out next time the weather cooperated, he turned to head back but was stopped in his tracks.

‘Was that a voice?’  Okay, dumb question, it was too clear to be mistaken for anything else.  The better set of questions was ‘who would be way out here with a storm coming and why?’  The nearest building was the O’Neil property, nothing else was within walking distance by a longshot.  He slipped into full ninja mode and leaped up into a nearby tree, deciding it was too dangerous to allow an outsider this close to his family without proper reconnaissance and knowing he would be more difficult to track in the branches.  As he carefully and quietly approached his slow moving target he was able to make out words and a melody and made a mental note that the stranger was likely female and had a lovely singing voice.  After maneuvering farther into the woods, he stilled his movement when she finally came into view. 

‘She’s a mutant?’  He was starting to annoy himself with all these Mikey like questions.  Yes, she was obviously some sort of cat mutant.  Inspecting her as she unwittingly sauntered onward, her fur was a silvery taupe and probably in the winter coat stages seeing how it puffed out quite a bit from under the scant amount of clothing she wore, just a sports bra and athletic shorts.  He supposed that with fur as thick as hers she probably didn’t need the outfit for warmth.  His eyes traveled back up to her face, he was still too far to see specific features, but the longer ruffles of fur lining most of her jaw and the black tufts at the tips of her ears were easily visible and hinted that she was either bobcat or lynx.  Her tail would be the distinguishing factor.  As she finally strolled past his location her stubby appendage lashed back and forth allowing him to judge her as a lynx since the entire tip of her tail was black and not the dual black and white layer of colors a bobcat would have.

 Knowing there were several lynx subspecies, he could hypothesize about hers while following her.  That would be his family’s safest option upon finding a strange mutant wandering so close to the relative safety of the farmhouse.  He was easily able to follow her meandering course for about an hour when a sudden gust of wind from behind reminded him that his curfew would be upon him well before he made it home.  The same wind also caused a startled reaction from his quarry which immediately drew his full attention back to her.