I know it is probably a mistake for me to post this while the TMNT FanFiction comp is up-and-running, since most people's attentions will be elsewhere -- but what the heck, why not? Anyway, I hope you are in the mood for a hefty read this time out, since it is the longest chapter yet. Oh, and don't mind the mistakes -- I edited this while hopped-up on Robitussin.


Raphael leaned against the doorjamb and stared into the infirmary, looking on as Splinter walked from bed to bed, keeping watch over his two sleeping sons. Sleeping. It had been three days since the accident, and no one had yet been able to bring themselves to say that either Mikey or Leo were anything but asleep -- though everyone knew it wasn't true. Sleeping people rolled over, reacted when people shook them, moved their eyes when they dreamed. Sleeping people woke up.

None of that was true for Leo, though there had at least been some kind of reaction from Mikey; he would mumble a bit, breathe heavier, roll his head from side-to-side. At one point he had even opened his eyes, though it wasn't clear if he had woken up for those few moments, or if it was just a muscle spasm of some sort. Still, to Raphael's way of thinking, any movement, however slight, was a good sign -- though that thought only made him worry that much more about Leonardo, who hadn't so much as taken a breath on his own since the accident.

Raphael turned to where Donatello sat in the corner of the room, hunched over his keyboard. He'd set his computer up in there two days before; and so far, with the exception of the rare trip to the bathroom, he hadn't wandered far from it. Nor had he slept, as far as Raphael could tell, and the fatigue and frustration were clearly beginning to wear down on him. Splinter and Raph had done what they could to ease Don's burden, but it seemed that April was the only person that really managed to help. Every now and then she would come in with coffee and snacks, then the two of them would sit and talk quietly for a few minutes while he ate. Donatello would allow himself, for just a little while, to relax, but after April left, he would get right back to work -- and the frustration would return. Though, judging from the bandage on Don's hand and the condition of the bathroom sink, that frustration had already degenerated to outright anger at least once.

Gonna have to sedate you pretty soon, bro, Raphael thought, shaking his head.

Almost in response, Donatello glanced up from the computer and gave him a stiff nod, then turned around and hit a button on his keyboard. The printer he had positioned on the floor hummed to life, then began a steady clack-clack sound that shattered the relative silence of the room. Splinter looked up suddenly, and Donatello shrugged at him apologetically before leaning over and picking up the first paper as the second began to print.

Past the mechanical reverberations, Raphael heard the squeak of a door opening somewhere behind him. He looked back over his shoulder, watching as Oyuki made her way out of Michaelangelo's bedroom and eased the door shut behind her. She glanced at Raphael, then looked down at her loose blue nightshirt and ran her hands over it, as if she were trying to work out the wrinkles. After a moment she gave up the effort and looked at Raphael again, offering him an altogether fake smile before making her way through the living room, into the kitchen.

That acknowledgement, as slight as it had been, was one of the few that Raphael could recall getting from the young lady since the accident. She had been hiding out in Michaelangelo's bedroom almost as much as Don had been hiding out in the infirmary. In fact, much like Don, the only person who seemed to have managed to coerce more than a few words out of her had been April, though Raphael was sure that the "conversations" between the two women had been mainly one-sided -- no doubt favoring April.

Raphael looked back into the infirmary once more, watching as Don neatly stacked the printed papers together and fastened them with a paper clip before sitting back down on his stool. Raph reached down and grabbed his cane, tapping his fingers against the handle a few times, then put his weight on the old wood and stepped away from the infirmary door. He limped to the couch, where April sat with the telephone in her hand and an expression of aggravation on her face, and gently cleared his throat.

"Any luck?" he asked.

April looked up at him and shrugged. "Still on hold," she said, shifting the phone to her other ear. "You guys are lucky you don't have to deal with this."

Raphael hummed in agreement. Even in the worst of times, the legal lives of humans couldn't be ignored, and April had tried to convince Oyuki that she needed to report her truck as stolen -- but even after two days of "nagging", as Oyuki called it, the younger woman still steadfastly refused to have anything to do with the police or the insurance company. So April had taken it upon herself to make the calls, and the redhead had so far spent the better part of two hours on the phone, trying to pretend that she was an eighteen-year-old Japanese girl. Judging from April's expression, however, it didn't seem to be going very well.

"This is ridicu..." she began mumbling, then her eyes widened and she spoke into the phone. "Yes, hello? I was told that... you need what, again?" She reached over to the coffee table and flipped through the pile of papers stacked there. "Give me a second."

The turtle patted April on the shoulder. "Well, good luck."

She looked up at him, then back down at the papers on the table. "Thanks," she said, then spoke into the telephone again. "What? No, I wasn't talking to you..."

Raphael looked around the room, again casting a glance at the infirmary door. As much as he wanted to be with his brothers, he couldn't bring himself to go in and just stand by, watching and waiting. He needed to be away from there, if just for a while, though he couldn't figure out just where he should be. He didn't want to deal with the awkward silence that Oyuki would surely have to offer, April was clearly too preoccupied to be much company at the moment, and he didn't want to take another shower. Rest came to mind, but his bedroom was too quiet, too isolated -- and it was bad enough that Don and Oyuki were hiding themselves away, Raphael was not about to do the same.

Raph turned himself in a full circle, looking from door-to-door, then stopped and stared at the far end of the room for a few seconds before limping away from the couch and a softly-swearing April. He made his way to the darkened training room and switched on the light, then smiled faintly, remembering the last time he and his brothers had been in there together. He had been so close to whacking Leonardo with his cane when he'd found him pinning Mikey to the floor -- until Mike had explained that they had just been sparring. The way he said "sparring" had reminded Raphael of his own "sparring session" with Donatello a few weeks before, and how the two of them had been ready to beat each other bloody, until a bullet and a broken leg brought that confrontation to a swift end. Raphael imagined that Leo and Mike's clash in that room must have been very similar, but at least that particular scuffle had ended with both combatants in one piece.

Raph's smile faded when he remembered how Leo and Mike's last argument had ended, and he sighed and slowly made his way to the weapons wall at the far side of the room. He stared at the display for a moment, then reached up, running his hand along one of Michaelangelo's nunchaku, pausing his touch over the spot where Mike's grip had worn down the wood over the years, then slid his fingers down to where the chain links had begun to rust slightly from disuse.

Better to wear out than to rust out, he thought, lowering his hand. He looked at Mike's weapons a moment longer, then glanced over at his own sai and Donatello's bo, noting that they, too, had become victims of neglect over the past few months. Damn it… what the hell happened to us?

Raphael let his gaze fall to the floor, then lifted his eyes to look at a pair of sheathed katana where they rested at the center of the display. The barest trace of a smile pulled at the corner of his mouth and he shook his head, not at all surprised at how well those swords had been cared for. Every day Leo would wear them out on patrol, then he would be sure they were sharp, clean them, and carefully slide them back into their sheathes before placing them back on their rack. Every day -- until three days ago. Raphael couldn't remember the last time those swords had rested there for so long, untouched.

The turtle leaned his cane against the wall and reached up, hesitating for a few seconds before taking gentle hold of one of the cord-wrapped handles, then eased his other hand around of the lacquered wooden sheath and lifted the sword off the rack. He turned the katana over and ran his fingers up to the decorative inlay at the top of the scabbard, examining the design. This sword was older than Leo's other one, but no less cared for -- no less immaculate. It had been given to Leonardo by Tai San; a gift to replace Leonardo's other sword's twin after it had been broken in Japan.

…This sword very old… Tai San's gruff voice echoed in Raphael's mind. …Very special.

"Special…" Raph whispered, then tightened his hand around the haft and carefully slid the blade free.

Raphael watched as his eyes came into view, reflected in the polished steel, then placed the sheath back on the rack and stepped to the training mat at the center of the room. He took an unsteady stance and slowly began to run through the sword positions that he remembered from his lessons many years before, counting out each station as he pulled into it. Gradually, the counting ceased and his movement started to flow as he began a shadow-boxing exercise. He imagined himself being set upon by unseen attackers, and he grinned with approval as his brother's katana cut noiselessly through the air with each slash, jab, and parry.

I may be silent, but I'm thinking, he said to himself as he pulled into a high-block of his imaginary foe's blade. I may not speak, but…

Raphael twisted around to counter a nonexistent attack from behind, but the movement proved to be too much strain on his barely-healed leg and his balance failed. He instinctively threw his arms out, regaining his equilibrium, but sending Leonardo's sword flying from his hand. The weapon skittered across the concrete floor and bounced off the far wall before coming to rest against the weight rack.

Raphael stared at the weapon for a few moments, then limped over and picked it up. "Damn it," he whispered, turning the sword over and examining the scratches he had just put on the hand guard and the tip of the blade. "Just great…"

"A little out of practice?"

Raphael spun towards the door and saw Donatello there, leaning against the jamb with a folded stack of papers in his hand. After the surprise of seeing his brother out of the infirmary passed, Raph shook his head and looked back down at the sword. "I never really had a feel for these things," he said, wiping the concrete dust off the metal. "You think Leo'll still be able to use 'em as good as he used to? I mean, with his arm being all busted up the way it is?" There was no answer and Raphael again looked over at Don, who was staring down at the now-unfolded stack of papers. "What'cha got there, bro?"

Don refolded the papers and turned towards the living room. "Something I wanted to talk to you about," he said, glancing back over his shoulder. "C'mon."

Raph nodded. "Give me a sec," he said, then watched Donatello step out the door. Raphael slowly limped back to the weapons wall and reached for the empty sheath, but even as he did, he found himself tightening his hold on the sword's handle. He let his fingers hover over the wooden scabbard for several long seconds, then lowered his hand and took hold of his cane, backing away from the wall. He turned and left the training room with the katana still in his grip, then stopped just outside the door as he heard the sound of voices set in deep whispers from the area of the couch. He looked over and saw April still sitting there with the telephone held to her ear, though now Donatello was kneeling by her side with his hand holding hers. The woman lowered her head and shook it slowly, and Don let out a breath and set the stack of papers down on the arm of the couch, then reached up and ran his thumb under April's eye.

"I'll let you know, okay?" he told her softly.

April mouthed the word "okay", and Don stood up and let go of her hand, then reached down and picked up the stack of papers. All at once, he seemed to realize that Raphael was there and spun around to face him, then turned without a word and stepped away from the couch and out of the room. Raphael stood frozen in place for several long seconds before moving, and as he walked past the couch he found himself pausing by April's side long enough to see tears gathered in her eyes. Raphael cleared his throat, then followed his brother into the infirmary.

Raphael found Donatello standing by his computer when he entered the room, but Don didn't stay there for long. He set the stack of papers down next to his keyboard and gave Raph a slight glance, then walked between his other brothers' beds and placed a hand on Splinter's shoulder. Splinter turned to face him, then looked over at Raphael, who still stood by the door. Raph quickly slid the sword behind his back, trying to get it out of his father's line of sight, but he could tell from the look on Splinter's face that the action had come a little too late.

"Why don't you go take a break, Master?" Don said, his tone as casual as he could manage. "Me and Raph can handle the watch for a while."

Splinter looked into Donatello's tired eyes. "Have you slept?"

Don shook his head. "I've been a little busy, Sensei," he admitted, taking his hand off his father's shoulder.

"Perhaps it would be best, then, if Raphael and I stood watch while you took a break."

"I still have a few things to take care of, Master."

Splinter tilted his chin up, squinting questioningly at his son. "These... things cannot wait until you are rested?"

"It won't take long," Don said, looking away. "I promise I'll get some sleep in a little while."

Splinter stared at him for a moment, then nodded and moved towards the door. "I will return shortly," he said, then made his way past Raphael and into the living room, closing the door behind him.

Raphael let out a long-held breath, then watched as Donatello walked back to his computer. Raph took a step forward, stopping when the sudden sound of metal scraping across a rough surface rang through the room. He looked down at the katana, noticing that the tip of the weapon had found its way into the grouted groove between the floor tiles, then lifted it and grimaced at the further damage he had just done to the metal. He let himself focus on his eyes' reflection again before lowering the sword and slowly limping to Leonardo's side.

"Here ya' go, bro," Raph said softly, lifting Leo's left arm and laying the sword on the bed beside him. He lowered his brother's hand onto the haft, then patted it gently. "Sorry about the scratches." Raphael took two limping steps back, then looked over at Don, who held the papers out to him. Raph took the top sheet, giving the list of names, phone numbers, and addresses a cursory glance. "Who're these guys?"

"Cardiac surgeons. The best within a couple hundred miles."

Raph glanced over his shoulder at Michaelangelo. "Thinking of calling in a second opinion?"

"Not exactly," Don said, laying the rest of the stack down the counter.

Raphael focused on the paper again, then drew his eye ridges together. "You weren't actually thinking of having one of these guys take a look at Mikey, were you?"

Donatello tightened his jaw. "I've reached the limits of what I can do. From now on it's going to take more that guesswork and Band-Aids. Mikey needs help from someone who actually knows what they're doing."

"And how are any of these guys supposed to know jack about how our bodies work?" Raphael snapped.

"I've checked their records. All the doctors on that list have shown that they're quick to adapt to unusual situations. Like I said: they're the best."

"That's beside the point. All they'd want to do to Mikey is dissect him, like that Synargo jackass was going to do. Or did you forget that whole Dator thing ever happened?"

Donatello grabbed the paper out of Raphael's hand and spun back around towards the computer. "You don't have to remind me of that," he said, slamming the list down on the counter. "You weren't even there!"

"I saw…"

"All you saw was a video," Don interrupted, nearly yelling. "I was there. I saw what they were doing to…" Donatello stopped and stared at Raphael for a moment, then looked past him, towards Michaelangelo's bed. "This time it'll be different. This time we'll be in control."

"In control? You planning on holding a knife to the doctor's throat?"

"If that's what it takes."

Raphael glared at Don. "Then what? You gonna kill the doc if he can't fix Mikey's heart?"

Donatello shook his head. "Some things can't be fixed," he said, then stepped around Raphael and made his way to Michaelangelo's side.

"Then why the hell are you…?" Raph threw his hands up in exasperation. "Let's fucking face it, you're talking about kidnapping one of them. If you don't think they can help Mikey, then why…?"

"I never said I didn't think they could help," Don said, drawing the penlight out of his belt. "I said that some things couldn't be fixed."

"You ain't making a damn bit of sense."

Don turned around and leaned his shell against Mike's bed, absently tapping the small flashlight against his palm. "Come here," he said, sighing. "I need to show you something."

Raphael reluctantly stepped near and Don switched on the penlight, then leaned over Michaelangelo. He waited for Raphael to lean in close, as well, then eased Mike's eyelids open and aimed the beam in at first one pupil, then the other.

"You see that?" Don asked.

"What am I looking at?"

"Did you see how his eyes reacted?"

Raphael shrugged. "They got small. They always do that."

"They're supposed to, anyway. It's an indicator of neural function -- it means the brain is working. At least… somewhat." Don turned and walked to the head of Leonardo's bed, then waited as Raphael made his way over. Donatello swallowed hard and pushed open Leo's eyelids, then aimed the light in, as he had done with Michaelangelo. "Now what do…" Don stopped, the words vanishing from his lips, and it was several seconds before he found his voice again. "Now what do you see?"

Raphael leaned over Leonardo, staring deep into his eyes, then stood back suddenly. "They're not changing…"

"They haven't since the accident."

"What're you saying, Donny?"

Don bit down on his lip and eased Leo's eyelids shut, struggling to force the next words out. "I'm saying that he's probably never going to use those swords again," he told Raphael at long last, motioning towards the weapon under Leonardo's palm. "Or walk or talk… or open his eyes. He's never going to wake up."

Raphael paled. "You don't know that… he could..."

"He hasn't reacted to pain or any other stimulus," Don interrupted. "He can't breathe on his own -- the only thing keeping him alive right now is a jury-rigged oxygen pump, and if that went down, or if… if we disconnected it, his heart would stop beating within minutes."

"We're not human -- none of that could even apply to us."

Don turned away, stepping to the counter and pulling open a drawer. "Humans are the only frame of reference we have." He placed the penlight in the drawer and slid it shut. "Hell, they're the only frame of reference we've ever had. And so far, most of what applies to them does seem to apply to us."

"Most. Not all." Raphael took a few limping steps to Donatello's side. "You're not a doctor, Donny… you said so, yourself. You could be wrong about all of this."

"I hope to God I am," Don said, wiping his eyes with the back of his hand. "But if I'm right, we're going to have to consider all our options." He reached out and picked up the stack of papers, then turned and held them out to Raphael again. "That's what this list is all about."

Raphael took the papers and put them back down on the counter. "These are heart doctors, not brain doctors," he said, his ire rising. "They might be able to help Mikey, but I doubt there's a damn thing they could do for Leo."

"Exactly." Donatello looked down and ran a thumb along the bandage on his palm. "Some things can't be fixed… they can only be replaced."

An air of dread settled down over Raphael as he realized what Donatello had been trying to tell him since the two of them had gotten to the infirmary. Leo's heart… in Mikey's body. Raph gritted his teeth, managing only to hiss out, "Donny…"

Donatello pointed at the papers. "Look… if one of these doctors can do something for Mikey without touching Leo, then we'll let them try, but if the only real option… if this is his only chance, then we're going to have to at least consider it."

"Consider what?" Raphael felt his face begin to burn. "Killing Leo?"

"He's dying, Raph."

"Dying isn't dead."

"Brain death is death," Don said, raising his voice. "Heartbeat or not, we lost Leo in that accident -- and if his body dies before we have a chance to see this through, then it'll be too late for his heart to do Mikey any good."

"It won't work." Raphael felt an ache rise into his chest and shook his head hard. "And even if it did work… if, by some miracle, Mikey lived through it, how do you think he'd react? When he woke up and we told him that we let Leo… when we told him what we did? You really think he'd be happy about it? He'd never accept it, and you know it."

"At least he'd be alive."

Raphael turned away. "Alive isn't living, either."

Don slammed his fist down on the counter. "Leo would want us to do this."

"Mikey wouldn't."

"You don't know that."

"And you don't know what Leo would want!"

"I know he wouldn't want to die like this," Don yelled, motioning towards Leonardo's still form. "He wouldn't want to just lie there waiting for his body to give out. He'd want his death to have some meaning… to serve some purpose. Leo never did a damn thing in his life unless he thought it could help someone else, and that's how he'd want to die -- with honor. Who the hell are we to deny him that?"

Raphael opened his mouth to yell back, but echoed words from his own mind silenced him. Damn it, Leo… guys like you don't die like this. Not without a fight… not without a fucking reason -- he'd thought that three days before, just after the accident. But that was when Leo was dead already -- dead, as far as they knew. The words made sense back then, but not now. Not while there was still a chance that Don was wrong.

Raphael felt the weight of Donatello's stare and he turned to face him. "I don't want to lose either of them."

"But don't you at least want to try to save one of them?" Donatello let out a long breath, then turned to his computer and sat down. "We have to keep our options open," he said, beginning to type. "All our options."

Raphael stared at the back of Donatello's head for a moment, then looked over at Michaelangelo. "How about an option that doesn't involve putting both our brothers under the knife?" he whispered, then looked at Don again. "When were you planning on telling Master Splinter all this?"

Donatello stopped typing suddenly, his fingers frozen over the keyboard. "Soon."

"You weren't going to tell him at all… were you?"

"There are some decisions he shouldn't have to make."

"Maybe we shouldn't be making it, either."

"Somebody has to," Don said, again rubbing his bandaged palm. "Somebody has to speak for the people that can't speak for themselves."

"That's not what you're doing…" Raphael shook his head, realizing that he was now fully-involved in the situation. "…Not what we're doing, and you know it. It's not about what Leo and Mikey want, it's about what we want."

"You know what I want, Raph?" Don said, resting his elbows on the counter and clutching his head in his hands. "I want everything to be back to normal. I want to go to bed and wake up to find this whole damn nightmare was just that -- a nightmare. I want my brothers back. I want it to be the four of us again… it was supposed to be the four of us, wasn't it? You, me, Mikey and Leo… the four of us…" Don folded his arms across the counter and rested his head on them. "And you know I love you, Raph, but… I don't want it to end up just you and me."

Raphael felt a tear escape his eye and he reached up, wiping it away, then looked at Don and watched as his tensed muscles relaxed and his shoulders drooped. Raph raised a hand and placed it on his brother's shoulder. "A sleepy man needs to sleep, bro," he whispered, recalling more words from Mike's book collection. Don opened his eyes for a moment, then closed them again, drifting off, and Raphael gave the list of doctors a sidelong glance before turning away. He slowly walked to Leonardo's bed and looked down at him, and his throat closed up in a stinging ache when the rest of the quote leaped into his mind. "A dying man needs to die, as a sleepy man needs to sleep, and there comes a time when it is wrong, as well as useless, to resist." Raphael squeezed his own eyes shut. Son of a bitch, Leo… I know you don't want to die like this -- but we both know that Mikey wouldn't want to live like that.

Raph opened his eyes and looked from one quiet face to the other, then reached down and slowly eased sword out of Leonardo's loose grip. He held the weapon up, again staring at his own eyes, then rotated the katana, bringing it parallel with Leo's body, examining Leo's reflection in the metal -- the sheet pulled up to the center of his chest, the brace on his neck, his oxygen mask, his bandaged cheeks, his loosely-closed eyes. Raphael twisted his wrist and a flash of reflected light from the overhead assaulted his vision. He blinked, then paused and blinked again. His eyes haven't reacted since the accident, he thought, repeating Don's words in his mind. He hasn't moved since…

Raph drew his eye ridges together and looked down at Leo's hand, then began to turn towards Donatello -- but another presence brought his attention around to the door, instead. Old eyes stared at the turtle curiously, then shifted to the weapon being held over Leonardo. Raphael felt his face begin to warm and lowered the sword suddenly, clearing his throat. "Sensei… I was just…"

Splinter tilted his chin up, then stepped to his son's side, reaching out and gently taking the weapon from him. He turned the katana over, examining the hand guard, then ran his finger along the fresh scratches. "It has been damaged."

Raphael nervously rubbed around the stitches on his forehead. "Yeah, I… kinda dropped it."

"You were practicing with it?"

"A little, yeah," Raph admitted, almost afraid that he would be scolded for using Leonardo's weapon without permission. "I was just about to put it back."

Splinter lowered the sword. "I will return it," he said, walking towards the door. He stopped at the threshold and looked back over his shoulder. "If you would like, after your brother…" Splinter looked at his unconscious sons, then back at Raphael. "After Donatello wakes, you and I could practice together."

Raphael smiled faintly. "I think I'd like that, master."

Splinter gave him a nod, then left the room, and Raphael turned back to Leonardo, a moment later shifting his eyes across to Michaelangelo. Raph slowly stepped around the foot of the bed, then to Mike's side, but couldn't stop himself from looking back towards Leo. Raph wanted to be with them now, more than ever… he wanted to be with both of them, but he couldn't bring himself to decide who he should be with -- the one he had lost, or the one he was losing.

There was a slight noise from the far side of the room and Raphael looked over, watching as Don shifted in his sleep and mumbled to himself in the midst of a dream. Raph stared at him for a moment, then limped to his side, lifting a hand and resting it on his head. Don jumped a bit, then settled back down into his restless sleep, and Raphael shook his head silently, deciding at last which brother to stand by.

"We'll do this, Donny… " Raph whispered. "But if it doesn't work…" He sighed and looked over at the others, hoping that, just this once, Mike wouldn't go where Leo was leading.