Leonardo swung his katana, bringing the flat of the ninja sword down on the street thug's wrist, jarring the flick-blade knife out of his grasp.
Leo disposed of the low life with a roundhouse kick, and automatically glanced around to check on his brothers.
Raphael's swirling sais and and pepper tongue indicated he was doing fine against the gang members.
Donatello and Michaelangelo were fighting back to back, adding to a quickly growing pile of unconscious hoods.
They'd been out on night surveillence, unluckily for the gang that was attempting to break into a pharmacy from a back alley.
No doubt to add to the stock of ingredients for their back yard drug labs.
The appearance of four giant turtles hadn't deterred them, they'd simply launched a savage attack with their concealed blades.
Street fighting is no match for armed ninja fighting, however, and soon the alley was still, save for the panting of the turtles.
"Good job, guys," Leo said, sliding his katanas back into their case.
He and Raph began tying up the unconscious, disturbingly young, gang members, as Don slipped off to make yet another of their anonymous police tip-offs.
"Will you guys hurry up? I'm starving," Mikey grumbled, swinging both nunchukus in one hand.
Raph glared at him. "Then why dontcha help insteada whining?"
Mikey grinned. "That's ok. I'll go help Donny."
Leo rolled his eyes. "I think he can manage to dial 911 on his own."
Mike met Donny further up the alley as he made his way stealthily back, wondering why no security alarm had gone off.
He spotted a transformer at the side of the block of small shops.
Don tried to examine it in the light available -there wasn't a lot of it- and realized the gang had disabled it before smashing through the back entrance.
Donny whipped around at the sound of a car, without headlights, quietly turning into the head of the alley just several yards away.
"Mikey..." he called in warning to his brother standing in the middle of the alley, stargazing, then "MIKEY!" as the four-wheel drive tyres screeched.
The car careened toward him, its fifteen year old driver bent on getting revenge for his 'gang family'.
Donatello sprang out, shoved Mike out of the way, and copped the full force of impact.
Leonardo and Raphael heard the car tyres squeal, and then the sickening thud, from down the alleyway, and made it to their brothers in about three seconds flat.
"Oh hell..." Raph gasped, taking in the sight of Don face-down and unconscious, flung a good twenty feet from the impact.
Leo fell to his knees beside Donatello as the junior hood frantically wrestled the steering wheel around, trying to maneuver the 4WD out of the confined space.
Raphael, eyes flaming in fury, tore a sai from its holder and flung it at the rear wheel with such savagery that the rubber tore open.
The vehicle spun and smashed head on into the brick wall.
Raphael saw blood spatter across the inside of the windshield. And didn't care.
He ran back to his fallen brother, relieved to see Michaelangelo there in one piece.
"Mikey you Ok?" Raph panted, dropping beside Leo, who was trying to support Don's head, his hands slippery with his brother's blood.
A deep forehead gash was bleeding profusely and the purple mask was already soaked a deep magenta.
Mike, kneeling on the other side of Don, didn't hear.
"Leo...is he...is he..." he stammered.
Stricken, Leonardo shook his head, trying to keep it together for Mike and Raph's sake.
"...There's a pulse...but it's weak," he whispered, laying his fingers on the neck vein.
"Thank Christ," Raph breathed, as Donatello gave a low moan.
Mike cradled Don's head in his lap as Leo quickly felt down his badly grazed legs and left arm -the right one was pinned under him- for broken bones.
"I don't think anything's broken, but we have to get him home," Leo said quickly.
He indicated to Raph that they were going to slowly pull Don onto his shell so he could be more easily picked up.
They started to carefully turn their brother, Mikey steadying his head and shoulders.
Mike drew in a sharp breath and paled.
"Mikey, what-" Leo began as he and Raphael completed the gentle roll, and his hands flew to his mouth in shock.
Raph felt his blood run cold as they stared at their brother.
His plastron had been virtually crushed, and gaps showed where pieces had actually come away...flesh and all.
Blood dripped from the gaps and open cracks, and pulsed from the jagged gaping split that ran from armpit to armpit, down to right thigh, and across almost to left hip.
His breathing was becoming ragged and shallow, further panicking Michaelangelo, who was clinging to Don's hand, while pressing his orange mask to the head gash.
Leo removed Donny's blood-soaked weapon strap with shaking hands, as Raph tore t-shirts from the still unconscious thugs in an attempt to staunch the flow.
Leonardo swallowed -hard- as he realized he could see organs through the open wound.
Leonardo was never to forget the trip home that night. Stumbling through the dark subway tunnels carrying Don. The warm wetness of his little brother's blood running down his front, unabated by the makeshift padding. Don's gasping struggle for each breath. Mikey's continual choking sobs. The unmasked fear in Raph's eyes. His own eyes stinging and blurred with tears.
His own fear threatening to overwhelm him.
Splinter felt the bottom drop out of the world when he laid eyes on his sons.
He rushed to Leonardo, his agility belying his advanced years, and gasped at the horrific injuries suffered by his second youngest.
"Byouin," he ordered, pointing.
'Byouin' was the Japanese word for 'hospital', how they referred to the small room off one of the tunnels that held a single, narrow bed, what passed as medical supplies, and most of Splinter's herbs and remedies.
Donatello had been the one to suggest it.
He'd discovered, not long after they'd moved to the abandoned subway, that steam cycled through the three large pipes overhead every four hours, at staggered intervals.
This kept the little space warm, vital for any ill creature, but especially important to unwell, cold-blooded reptiles.
None of them had had to use it until tonight.
Leo moved swiftly through the living area into the tunnel, and placed Donatello on the cot as gently as he knew how.
Even so, the injured turtle moaned weakly, and Leonardo couldn't begin to imagine the pain Donny would be in if he were conscious.
Splinter removed the blood-soaked t-shirts and applied pressure to Don's open wounds with the small, clean towels they kept specifically for that purpose.
He noticed Donatello's skin turning sickly pale, and he was beginning to shiver violently.
"Leonardo! Please bring heat pads and more blankets,"
Leo stood as though paralysed, weak-kneed, with pins and needles prickling up and down his arms from carrying his brother.
His lungs felt as though they would implode if he didn't either scream or burst into tears, with chips and shards of Donny's shattered plastron clinging to his own bloodied front.
"Leonardo! Now!" Splinter snapped.
Leo started and stumbled to get the items.
Michaelangelo sank into an armchair, head in hands, shaking with huge gulping sobs, while Raphael fought against the very core of his being to not explode in rage.
He knew the last thing anybody needed tonight was one of his displays of temper.
But the thought of his quiet brother laying in there, wrecked and hurting, for what?, made his blood boil.
The sounds of Mike's distress suddenly registered, and he turned to him, momentarily forgetting his fury.
"Mikey..." Raph said softly, kneeling in front of him and laying a hand on the quivering shoulder.
He raised a tear-stained face, and Raph felt his heart twist as he saw the anguish and bewilderment in Mikey's eyes.
Raphael wordlessly drew him into his arms, feeling his little brother's body convulsing as he wept himself breathless.
"Mikey...Mikey, c'mon, don't, you're going to make yourself sick...Splinter'll fix it...you know how stubborn Donny can be...this won't keep him away from his books and research for long..."
Raph trailed off, trying as hard as he could to convince himself, trying to hold back his own grief.
The bleeding was slowing as last -the rat's paws ached from applying pressure- and the heat pads were warming the turtle.
Leonardo had helped his father stem the bleeding, and Splinter saw and heard him breathe a small sigh of relief as it slowed.
"My son, the battle is not yet won," he warned quietly.
Leo's hands still tembled slightly.
"I...I know, Sensei...but, but the bleeding's stopped...that's good..."
His voice cracked, and the tears that had been threatening to escape all night overflowed.
"Leonardo. Your brother's will and spirit are strong, and we will all do whatever we can to help him. You must not allow yourselves to become so overwhelmed that you cannot do this,"
Splinter said gently.
"Please join your brothers now, and clean yourself up," he added.
Leo looked down dumbly, vaguely registering the coating of dried blood on his plastron, and the red wetness on his hands and arms.
He left the byouin on automatic pilot.
Splinter briefly closed his eyes.
He didn't show it, but he was as close to despair as he'd ever been in his entire life.
His formidable inner calm was utterly crushed by the true extent of Donatello's injuries.X
Leo shuffled to the bathroom and made a half-hearted attempt at a wash.
He then went to the living room, and let Raph verbally pounce on him.
"Leo! What the hell's going on, is Donny going to be Ok what did Splinter say?" Raphael exclaimed, his words tumbling over themselves.
Leo tried to avoid Mikey's pleading eyes.
"I...I don't know...the bleeding has stopped...but it's just so bad..." he said, barely above a whisper.
"We just have to be strong," Leonardo added, knowing full well how futile that sounded.
"How...?" Mikey uttered wretchedly.
"Why did he do it? He saved my life, and now...and now..."
Silent tears poured forth as his brothers kneeled on opposite sides of his chair, trying to comfort him, while needing comfort themselves.
Splinter added the saturated towels to the stained heap and began trying to clean his son's injuries.
He used a healing, home made herbal antiseptic that did not sting, and with infinite care, began working the dirt, gravel and plastron splinters out.
Splinter listened to Don's shallow, pained breaths, and knew there was damage to his lungs.
He'd also picked up that several ribs were shattered on each side, and guessed it was more likely than not that there was much internal damage, given the impact on his broken and battered plastron.
He felt for the large neck vein; the pulse was irregular and weak.
His paws shook as he wondered how he could tell the rest of his sons just how badly their brother had been hurt.
The fact that organs were visible worried Splinter terribly; an underground tunnel was not the most sterile place.
He hoped Donatello would not regain consciousness any time soon, for the pain would be unbearable, and they had no medication strong enough to make it at least tolerable.
At the same time he knew an unconscious being could not swallow; how would he prevent dehydration?
As Splinter contemplated and worried, Don began a weak, choking cough, and the rat quickly turned him onto his side.
The spasm ended and Splinter carefully eased him back on his shell, the turtle gasping for air.
There was a bloodstain on the white pillow that was not from the head injury.
Leo, Raph and Mikey clung to each other, laying all their faith in their father's healing abilities and their brother's strong will.
"We better let April know," Raph said finally, feeling his stomach knot.
He knew it would be up to him to break the news to her; Mikey was barely coherent and Leo seemed to be in a different plane of reality.
He glanced at the VCR clock -he'd lost all sense of time- to confirm it wasn't late enough that a phone call would wake her.
Raph knew it wouldn't matter to her anyway, she'd always called them family and would definitely want to know if something had happened.
He disentangled himself from Mikey's grasp and slowly got to his feet.
He dialled April's apartment almost without glancing at the digits.
April and Casey Jones laughed and flung popcorn at each other, more or less ignoring the Jackie Chan movie they'd finally decided on.
"Look at this mess! This is all your fault," April accused, pointing at the self-proclaimed vigilante.
He gave an elaborate shrug and cheeky grin as the phone called for attention.
She dumped the rest of the bowl over his head as she scrambled for the phone.
"Hello?...hey Raph!" April said cheerfully.
Casey glanced up from picking unpopped kernels out of his longish hair as her tone changed dramatically.
"We'll be right there," she said, hanging up the phone.
Casey watched, startled, as the colour drained from her face, and went to her quickly.
"Hey! What's wrong? What's going on?" he asked in concern, holding her by the shoulders.
April looked up at him, tears shining in her eyes.
"Don was hit by a car tonight, and...and it's pretty bad." she whispered.
Casey felt like he'd been king-hit.
Splinter had removed Donatello's knee, wrist and elbow guards and was cleaning the last graze on his leg.
It had taken him well over an hour, closer to two, to clean and dress just the torso injuries, and he was exhausted.
Don had coughed up blood twice more, but seemed to be breathing just slightly easier.
Given the extent of his injuries, even that seemed a minor miracle.
April and Casey had arrived earlier in shock, bringing with them several bags of bandages and medical supplies that had been hurriedly purchased on their way over.
Splinter was grateful for their friendship, and somewhat relieved to have another adult presence.
He put the final piece of surgical tape -courtesy of April and Casey- into place, and re-adjusted the heat pads.
He carefully checked the bindings and thick dressings on Don's plastron again, hoping mightily that the open wounds would begin to knit.
Splinter pulled the cotton blankets up, making sure there was no added pressure to the turtle's front, but that he would stay warm and covered.
He knew his sons were desperate to see their brother, and he knew they would want every detail of his injuries.
Splinter didn't know if he could tell them everything.
Mikey had stopped crying, he'd literally run out of tears.
He'd cried so hard that Raph's prediction had proven correct, and he'd been physically ill.
Now he just felt numb.
"I just can't believe it," April whispered, from her spot on the couch between Mike and Leo.
Casey and Raphael were pacing like caged tigers.
None of them could bring themselves to go to the little room; desperate as they were to know, they were afraid to hear the answer.
April silently cursed whatever higher being it was in the universe that had chosen her friends to be created the way they had been.
Hospitals and medical care was available to all, but not to them.
Even the most dedicated, animal loving vet could never keep their existence a secret.
"It's all my fault," Mike said quietly into the silence, "If I hadn't been standing there like an idiot..."
This seemed to snap Leonardo out of his daze.
"Mike. This is not your fault. Any one of us, including you, would have done the same thing," he said firmly, glancing at Raph for support.
"The only one whose fault this is, is that friggin' street scum who I hope's now suffering miserably," Raph said savagely, pounding fist into hand.
That sentiment was unanimous.
Casey sighed, rubbed his eyes and half-sat on a chair arm, feeling lost.
These guys meant more to him than he'd ever admitted, even to himself.
He'd never be able to claim that the night's events hadn't hit him hard, the tearstains on his cheeks proved that.
They leapt to their feet as one, silently pleading for information as Splinter joined them, seeming to have aged visibly.
He looked at each in turn and the pain in his eyes was clear.
"Your brother is still with us," he said in a low voice, "but his injuries are severe."
Mike, Leo and April clasped hands without realising it, and Casey laid a hand on Raph's shoulder.
Leonardo swallowed hard.
"Sensei...will...will he be alright?" he said fearfully, hardly daring to ask what they all wanted to know.
Splinter folded his paws over his walking stick and looked to the floor.
"I do not know."
But it doesn't look good.
The unspoken sentence fairly trembled in the silence.
The rat eased himself into his chair, noticing for the first time the bloodstains on his kimono.
He sighed, and as calmly as he could -for his son's sakes- began spelling out each of Donatello's injuries.
He watched, wishing he could take the hurt away, as the reality of the situation began to sink in.
"Can we see him?" Mikey begged tearfully, and shot off almost before Splinter nodded.
"We shall have to take turns staying with Donatello through the night, he must not be left alone," he pointed out, looking at his two elder sons.
Leo and Raph nodded, shaken and desperate to do anything to help their little brother.
"We'll stay too," April offered, gesturing to herself and Casey.
"Thanks, you guys...for everything," Leo said softly to their human friends.
Michaelangelo hesitated at the doorway of their makeshift sickbay.
The sickly sweet scent of the herbal antiseptic was familiar, but one that Mikey had always associated with pain.
It mingled with the faint rubbery smell from the fabric-covered hot water bottles, and slight 'hospital' odour from the sterile bandages.
There was also the unmistakable copper smell of blood, although Splinter had removed all the stained material.
Mike tried to settle his stomach and crept into the dimly lit space.
His brother's breathing was faint and ragged.
Michaelangelo removed some unused dressings from the chair in the corner and silently placed it next to the bed.
He sat, taking in Donny's pale skin, realizing it was from the loss of blood.
The head laceration had been carefully bandaged and at the back of his mind he wondered where the purple mask was.
Mike shivered, recalling the sight of Don's shattered plastron as Raph and Leo had turned him in the alleyway.
He took his big brother's hand in his own as gently as he could, aching for a physical bond, his eyes blurred with tears once more.
Steam hissed through one of the overhead pipes, and Mike nearly jumped out of his skin.
He felt the warmth from the trapped steam drift and settle, and wondered if Donny could hear him.
He thought of the stories and articles Don had told him about over the years.
He'd read about people waking from lengthy comas or unconsciousness, with clear memories of loved one's words getting through the fog.
"Hey Donny...it's Mikey. Trying to give us all a heart attack or something, were you...I wish there was something I could do for you," Mike whispered, brushing the back of his hand against his brother's bruised cheek.
"I hope you can hear me, because you need to get this into that amazing mind of yours, and keep it there. I love you with all my heart Donny...and I don't want you to leave me," Mike choked out softly, as tears spilled over.
"You saved my life tonight, bro...now you're here suffering..."
He sniffed and regarded his brother, hoping he wasn't uncomfortable, having to lay on his back; Michaelangelo knew Don always slept on his stomach.
How dumb are you? He's got injuries that would shock the most experienced ER doctor, and you're worrying cause he has to lay on his back?
The thought crossed his mind and he felt stupid.
Leo and Raph would've given him hell over a blunder like that, but not Don.
He'd never picked on him or asserted the big brother 'superiority' like the other two had.
"You've always been there for me Don..."
His mind skimmed through sixteen years of memories, and Mikey couldn't remember a time when that hadn't been true.
Donny had always been the one who'd stuck the band-aids on his scrapes, the one who spent hours reading to him when Mike was sick in bed.
He was the big brother whose bed Mikey would creep into after a nightmare, knowing he would be comforted, not ridiculed.
When they were younger, Don had always stuck up for him in the face of merciless big brother teasing, and when they were older, they'd stuck together through Leo and Raph's constant bickering.
He'd defused many a volatile situation in their training room, caused by Mikey not having the ability to keep his mouth shut during group sessions.
He recalled fondly how no matter what Donny was working on, or reading, he'd always put it aside when Mikey wandered up to him, with his puppy-dog look, holding out a beloved but broken toy.
The corners of his mouth turned up slightly as he admitted that still happened, only now it was usually a video game or his Walkman.
Donny would patiently provide an audience for Mikey's excruciating impersonations and bad jokes, long past the rest of the family's tolerance.
And no matter what happened, they were never far apart in battle.
"Don...remember when we were eight and Raph tortured me with the stories about the dragon..."
Mikey tossed in his bed, gripped by a nightmare.
A huge black dragon chased him through the underground tunnels, roaring, with it's eyes glowing red.
It lunged toward him, giant steely claws ready to slash him to shreds.
"No! Stay away! Don't eat me! Heeeelllp!"
"Mikey! Mikey, wake up!"
Something shook his shoulder and he panicked and lashed out, before fully waking.
"Mikey, are you OK? What a nightmare you were having," Donny said, kneeling next to his brother's bed.
"Donny...Oh Donny it was horrible! A dragon was trying to eat me!" Mike shuddered and pulled his blankets over his head.
Don shook his head, knowing exactly where that image had come from.
Raph's horror stories right before bed, that's where.
"It's Ok Mikey. There aren't any dragons," Don said soothingly, patting his brother's shoulder through the covers.
"Are you sure?"
Mike slowly emerged from his coccoon, blinking in the light from Don's flashlight.
"How do you know that?"
Don paused. "Uh...I read it somewhere."
Mike accepted that and Don joined him on the bed.
"What's that?!" Mike yelped, pointing.
Don looked around, puzzled, then spotted the strange shape on the opposite wall, a shadow from his flashlight.
"It's just a shadow, see?" he said, waving the flashlight and making the image tilt back and forth.
He turned the light to a clear part of wall, and wriggled his fingers in the beam.
"Look... a bunny!"
Don glanced at Mike as a slow smile spread over his face.
"A duck, look he's waving at you..."
Mike giggled, then gasped at the next shadow puppet.
Don looked at the shadow, he certainly hadn't intended to make a dragon, but admitted that's what it looked like.
He thought for a second.
"Mikey, look, this dragon wouldn't hurt you...he's doing ninja, just like us!"
He moved the image around in an awkward imitation of the art their Sensei was teaching them.
Mikey laughed and stuck his hands in the beam.
"A butterfly coming to get the ninja dragon!"
They laughed and played in the light until Splinter came to put them back to bed.
Mikey sighed happily as he settled back down.
And dreamt of a friendly ninja dragon and his butterfly friend.
The tears coursed down Mikey's cheeks, completely overcome with dread and fear at the thought that Donny might not make it through this.
"Donny...please, please be ok..."
"Mikey's been in there for ages," Leo said quietly. "Do you think someone should check on him?"
It wasn't an unreasonable question, given how upset he was.
Raphael looked around and realized no one, especially Leo, seemed to be in the right frame of mind to go in there.
He was afraid to see his injured brother too, but he knew someone had to go.
Raphael went to the byouin, legs trembling, and found Mikey practically asleep.
He turfed him out of the chair, amid weak protests, and told him to go to bed, although he knew that would be the last place Mike'd go.
He waited while Mikey smoothed the blankets.
Raph distinctly heard Mike's stomach growl.
"Go and make a sandwich or something, Mikey," he said gently, as he stood beside the bed, still holding Don's hand.
"I couldn't get anything down tonight," Michaelangelo said shakily.
He knew his brother wanted some time with Donny too, but he just couldn't make himself leave.
Raph sighed and took him by the shoulders.
"I'll let you know...if anything changes," he said.
He felt bad for his little brother, it was bad enough for all of them, but those two had always been especially close, special friends.
Raph sat in the plastic chair and listened, afraid, to Don's pained breathing.
"It isn't good, is it Don..."
He slowly pulled back the covers and surveyed his brother's broken, bandaged body, pulled them back up defeatedly.
Raph folded his arms on the edge of the bed and buried his face in them. "You leave us Donny, and I swear I'll come after ya just ta kick ya butt. You think I wouldn't...just try me," Raph whispered in despair. "You can't leave me on my own with Mikey and Leo...We'll all kill each other."
Raph never understood why he got on so well with his smart brother; they rarely argued like he and Leo, and often he and Mikey.
Was it because they were so different?
Raph knew he and Don had very little in common, and they were opposites in almost every aspect, but they respected each other's differences.
Raph appreciated just how little Donny tried his patience compared to his brothers.
He thought about how Don's peaceful nature and calm persona had always acted as a buffer for both his and Leo's brand of pig-headedness.
"It's not supposed ta end this way! It should be all of us together, goin' down fightin'...not losing you like this..."
Raphael did then what he rarely did: he let himself cry.
"Dontcha wimp out on me Donny...that's not you. Yeah, ya quiet, but I know in there somewhere is the heart of a tiger...even though you never show it..."
Raph trailed off, tears dampening his red mask, as he recalled the one time Don had displayed that tiger heart...
"That will be all for today, my sons," Splinter sighed as he dismissed his students with a wave of his paw.
He left their training room, thinking just how little had been accomplished that session.
Don and Leo had trained reasonably well, even with all the distractions their brothers had provided.
Mikey, goofing off and Raph at his throat for every little slip-up...even accidental ones.
Leo cased his katanas and left the room, as Mike twirled his nunchukus, giggling, and got in one more jibe at his hot-tempered brother's expense.
Donatello was at the other end of the room, going over some stances he'd mucked up previously, and spun around at Raph's colourful rejoinder.
His foul mouth was not uncommon by any standard, but none of them had heard anything to equal this before.
"Jeez, Raph, you're lucky Splinter didn't hear that one," Mike said.
Raph's short fuse suddenly reached its end, and he launched a blind, raging attack on his little brother.
Mikey, taken by surprise, didn't have a second to defend himself, and landed halfway across the room from a powerful roundhouse kick, clutching his shoulder.
Raphael didn't get to finish that attack; suddenly driven shell-first against the brick wall and pinned across the shoulders by a bo staff.
"Mikey. Go and put some ice on that," Don said quietly, his eyes locked with Raphael's.
Mike shook his head and stumbled from the room.
Don glared at his older brother without flinching as Raph struggled, trying to free himself.
"Don, I'm warning you," he said furiously through clenched teeth as Donny wrestled him back to the wall.
"Raph. You have to stop this. One day you're really going to hurt him...and if that happens I'll hurt you," Don stated, low but clear.
Raphael looked at him and almost started at the ice in his eyes.
"Yes. I am serious. I know what you're thinking, and no, I suppose this is not like me. But I am fed up with your attitude and temper. You don't direct any of it at me, and sometimes I almost wish you would."
Raphael looked at Don again, and saw the ice had given way to more familiar concern.
"I don't know why you are the way you are, and I wish I could get rid of your anger, Raph.
I know Leo goes over the top at times, and Mikey would try the patience of a saint, and I'm sure there's something I do that irritates you too, but if you'd just talk now and then, it wouldn't seem so bad."
Don paused and cased the bo as Raph slid cross-legged to the floor.
Donny joined him.
"I feel like a wuss, spilling my guts to someone," Raph admitted, his anger completely cooled at his brother's words.
"Even me?" Don asked softly, putting a hand on Raph's shoulder.
"S'pose it couldn't hurt," he admitted grudgingly.
Don smiled. "I'll always be here to listen Raph, about anything."
Raphael wondered just how many times he'd 'spilled his guts' to his quiet brother since then, and although he wouldn't say it out loud...it did help to have someone just listen and not criticise.
"I'll never forget the look in your eyes that day Donny," Raph said. "And... I never did have the guts to go for Mikey like that again...cause I knew I didn't want to take you on...but don't tell anybody."
He gave a shuddery sigh as the tears still ran.
"Who'll listen to my B.S if you're not here?"
Raph jerked back to reality as Don wheezed and struggled to cough, and quickly eased his brother onto his side, as Splinter had instructed.
He watched, horrified, as the suffering turtle gasped for each painful breath, coughing mouthful after mouthful of bright, frothy blood into the small towel placed on his pillow.
Raphael had gone to Splinter in tears and shown him the bloodied towel, glad that Mikey had listened to someone and crawled into bed for awhile.
Splinter had sent April and Casey home, overriding their protests, and pointing out they needed to sleep, and that April had to be up in the morning to go to work.
Sleepless reporters weren't popular with their bosses.
It was already around 3 AM when they finally gave in and left, not long before Raph brought out the towel.
Splinter said nothing as he went to see if there was anything else he could do to ease his son's suffering.X
His sense of smell was the first to kick back in, and he dimly recognized the herbal scent.
Hmm. Splinter's non-sting version of Dettol. I must have a few scrapes.
Next he heard himself -he thought it was himself- breathing...but it doesn't sound too good, he thought, wondering why.
He realized he was belly-up, and tensed to turn over.
Then the pain hit.
He panted, feeling pressure and a torturous ache in his chest with every breath.
His head throbbed and he frowned, feeling the slight tightness of the surgical tape.
He could feel his heart beat along every crack, large and small, in his plastron, and with each beat came an agonising, tearing hurt; tears of pain gathered in his closed eyes.
There was a dragging, sore tightness in his sides, and a stinging burn up and down each arm and leg.
What happened? came the thought from amid his agony.
He struggled to raise his hand to his chest, to try and feel what was going on, and couldn't shift it an inch.
He tried to swallow, and faintly tasted blood.
He suddenly sputtered and coughed, gasping at the bitter pain that engulfed every part of him.
Don felt warm hands carefully turn him; he felt his throat clear a little, but the pain from his side was unbearable in this position.
He choked and retched at the warm liquid that filled his mouth, and felt a soft towel wipe his chin.
He moaned involuntarily, and tried as hard as he could to open his eyes.
The warm hand placed itself on his forehead.
"Oh, my son..." a sorrowful voice whispered.
Quiet darkness settled over him once more.
Raph sat next to Leonardo on the couch, feeling his insides shaking.
They silently drew each other into a hug, both masks wet with grief.
"I can't do this Raph," Leo said shakily. "I can't say goodbye to him...how can we let him go?"
"Leo...we don't have a choice this time...but maybe we won't have to. You know how Donny's always saying 'Where there's life there's hope'...we just have to hope..." Raph whispered.
Mikey, unable to sleep, crept out and joined his big brothers on the couch.
They sat in grievous silence until Splinter came back to the living room.
"My sons, I have done everything within my power. Donatello is fighting from within, and it remains to be seen if his physical self will join the fight to survive. He is in great pain, and it may overcome him. We can do nothing but wait," Splinter concluded heavily.
Raph and Mike looked silently to Leo, willing him to go to his brother.
Leo watched his brother slowly draw in breath after tortured breath.
"Oh Don...you're the one I've never had to worry about...you always did your own thing, without causing any trouble...I don't know what we'd do without you," Leo's voice broke. He raised his brother's hand in his own to his wet cheek.
He thought about his quiet brother's good nature and the patience even Leo didn't possess.
He remembered how Don had spent hours with him when they were twelve, trying and trying to explain the mathematics Splinter had set; one of Leo's academic weak points.
He thought about how, even now, they'd almost forget Don was there, he'd be so quietly fixing something or in another world, buried in a book.
Leo recalled the countless games of chess they'd played over the years; Mike and Raph had no interest in it, so it was just between them.
They'd both learned to concentrate so well on the game they could tune out their noisier brothers.
"Who would I play chess with? Master Splinter takes too long to move...but we could always talk while we played Don...you listened to my Raph problems...and I'd try -or pretend- to understand something you'd tell me about that you'd read, or were trying to fix...."
Leo sobbed silently, clasping Don's cool hand in both of his.
"I remember one time you showed us just how patient you can be. I'll never forget it because it fascinated me..."
The night they had befriended April and stayed at her apartment after Splinter had been abducted.
After they'd calmed down, talked and made plans, they discovered they were bored.
Don spotted a small, multicoloured square on April's fridge, and introduced his brothers to the Rubik's Cube.
They all knew what it was, of course, but had never actually seen a real one.
They were sitting in a circle on the living room floor, April on her couch, trying to smother her giggles as Raph took the first go.
"Piece of junk...sonuva...damn...Jesus Christ, is this supposed ta be a form of torture?" Raph said disgustedly, giving up and dropping the object of frustration in Mikey's lap.
Mike laughed and picked it up. "You don't have the proper coordination bro! It takes skill, imagination..."
"And a degree in astrophysics," Mike finally grumbled, passing it over his shoulder to their hostess.
April grinned and sat up. "After all the years I've had this thing, I still can only get one side," she demonstrated, lining up the white squares, and getting stuck.
Leo took it as she held it out and studied it for a minute.
He turned it a couple of times, attempting to line up the blues without disturbing the whites, and failing miserably.
He gave it to Donny before the urge to pitch it out the window overtook him.
"Can anyone actually get that thing?" Mike wondered, as Don made a few experimental twists.
"Sure. They used to hold world championships. The record is something like, less than a minute," April said.
"You have got to be kidding," Raph said in disbelief as they stared at her.
"Why is that so hard to believe?" Don asked, holding a 'completed' Rubik's Cube up on the palm of his hand.
They gaped at it, especially April.
"I can't believe it...I'm gonna display that," she said, highly impressed.
Raph grabbed it and put it back to it's normal chaotic state.
"Now show us how it's done," Raph said with an evil grin.
"It had to be a fluke," Mikey said, elbowing Donny.
Don shrugged and gave the thing a few turns in full view of everyone in the room, and presented a completed cube again.
"It's just mathematical," he said with a small grin.
"How about this..." he said, lining up diagonal colours.
"Or this..." single middle colour with opposite middle colour surrounding.
They were kept fascinated for hours that night, as Donny turned up every combination he could think of.
"I couldn't believe how easy you made that look...but I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised...you're so bright..."
Leo couldn't stop the flood of tears.
"Please come back to us...we need you here Donny...don't break my heart like this...I don't want to say goodbye..."
April and Casey silently made their way to her apartment through the relatively quiet New York streets.
They clung to each other in despair at her door, then parted with hollow words of comfort in each other's ears.
April dropped her bag, not caring where it fell, and sniffling, kicked off her shoes and collapsed onto her couch without even removing her jacket.
She rolled over on her stomach, burying her face in a cushion, and dug her hands under the couch cushion.
Something rubbery caught on a fingertip, and she drew her hand out to see what it was.
A small piece of a balloon.
She sat up, cupping it in her palm as tears dribbled to her chin, thinking about where that balloon had come from....
"C'mon Casey! Can't you blow them up any quicker than that?" she needled, grinning, at her red-faced friend.
Casey puffed and glared at her.
"Why do I have to be the one to do this?" he grumbled, tying a knot in the balloon in his hand.
"Cause you're full of hot air," she answered sweetly, putting the last streamer in place and stepping back to admire her handiwork.
Her living room was bursting with white and purple streamers and balloons in preparation for the party that night.
It was Don's sixteenth birthday the next day, and Mikey had eagerly suggested a surprise party.
April had loved the idea and had roped Casey into helping.
She'd also invited Keno, Danny Pennington, and had even managed to track down Professor Jordan Perry, who'd been delighted with the invitation.
"Jeez you're getting old Donny! Sweet sixteen already! You're catching up with the oldies," Mikey giggled, gesturing to their older brothers.
"Mikey, we're all just about the same age," Don pointed out calmly without looking up from his book.
Mike wriggled around excitedly -you'd have thought it was his birthday- planning how many pizzas they'd need the next night.
Leo and Raph exchanged a secret smile, knowing full well why Mike was so excited.
They were too, but were trying to keep a lid on it.
"What is with you tonight?" Don asked Mikey a few hours later as he tried to watch the news.
It was a bit hard with his brother practically bouncing off the walls.
He shook his head and tuned back into the TV, wondering why April wasn't presenting tonight -it was her usual spot.
"Anyone know why April isn't on tonight?" he asked the room in general, and was perplexed when Leo and Raph snickered behind their hands.
"Perhaps she is unwell, my son," Splinter suggested, with a secret glare at his two oldest.
The phone jangled then. And again. And again.
Don finally glanced around at Raph, who was practically sitting on top of it.
"Why don't you answer it?"
Raph shrugged, grinning.
Don realized no one was going to get it, so he quickly grabbed it, wondering what had been in those red Popsicles his brothers had been into all afternoon.
"Hello?...Hi April! Hey, are you ok? Aren't you usually on tonight-"
April grinned, thrilled he hadn't suspected a thing, and gave Casey and the others a thumbs-up.
"Yeah, I'm fine Donny, I, um, swapped a shift with June. I hate to bother you, but my um, fridge has just died, and-"
"No bother. I'll be right there."
He hung up, just missing Raph and Leo elbowing each other, and Mikey giving Splinter an A-OK sign and a huge grin.
He turned to Splinter.
"April's fridge needs fixing, and-"
"Yes, yes. Go, my son," Splinter said, waving a paw.
Donatello looked at him a second, vaguely surprised his father hadn't protested a night time topside trip.
"See ya later, bro," Mike said, plopping into Don's spot on the couch.
Don looked at him, surprised. Mike usually leapt at any chance to visit their friend.
He grabbed his trenchcoat and left.
His family waited til he was out of earshot.
"Yes! I can't believe he fell for it!" Mikey exclaimed, pumping his fist in the air.
Even Splinter had a somewhat goofy smile on his hairy face.
"Come, my sons. We must arrive at Miss O'Neil's home before Donatello."
They left quickly, taking a shorter route than they way they usually went, knowing Don would be wandering over slowly, lost in thought as he usually was when alone.
Donatello easily scaled April's building's fire escape, to the window she always left open.
It was only then he realized that there were no lights on in her place.
He entered hesitantly.
He nearly jumped out of his shell as lights came on and friends and family crowded round, laughing, giving handshakes, shoulder slaps, and above all else, Mikey's thrilled, "I can't believe he fell for it!"
Don looked round, smiling, speechless, at April's transformed living room, the delight in his brother's and father's eyes, their special friends, and was touched to his very soul.
"That was only a few weeks ago," April whispered to herself, touching the rubber scrap in her hand.
"I'll never forget the look on your face Don. I've never seen anyone so surprised...and you were so happy to see Professor Perry again. The two of you just talked science all night...I don't want to have to tell all your friends if...if..." she couldn't finish the sentence, overcome with deep sadness.
Casey slogged home to his run-down East Side tenement, barely noticing anything but the hollowness inside him.
He freely admitted to himself how much it hurt to see his friend in that state.
Don had been the first to befriend him when they'd escaped to April's farmhouse that time.
Casey unlocked his door and nearly tripped over Puck, who purred a welcome and rubbed against his feet.
He gave a weak smile in spite of himself and scooped up the young cat.
"Someone smart once told me you're never alone if you have a pet to come home to," he said to the gray bundle, "And they were right."
He sat on a barstool, cradling his four-legged friend, thinking about how she'd come into his life...
"Come on, pass...YES! SCORE! Whooo!" Casey cheered the TV, spraying potato chips everywhere and earning complaining thumps from the floor above.
"Did you see that off-side pass? What skill, what timing...just like me," he grinned, talking to himself as usual.
Taps sounded at his door, surprising him.
He grumbled and struggled of the lounge, adjusting his track pants and trailing crumbs and empty wrappers everywhere.
"Yo...Hey Donny! What brings you to my door?" He grinned, genuinely pleased to see the green guy, gesturing a welcome.
"Hi Casey, how you doing?" Don grinned, arms folded over the front of his trenchcoat.
"Alone as usual I see?"
"Best way to be! Free and single!" Casey claimed, flinging himself back on the couch.
"Uh-huh. Um, did you ever think about getting some company? Like...maybe a pet?" Don asked cautiously.
Casey looked at him strangely.
"What's with you? Why are you so concerned about my solitude? You gonna take that thing off? "
He gestured to the trenchcoat.
Don sighed and reached inside the coat, pulling out a tiny, scruffy kitten...one that latched onto his thumb and growled a protest.
Casey stared at the furball as Don rescued his thumb.
"Where did ya get that reject?" he asked, wrinkling his nose.
"I found her wandering around, starving, in Central Park."
"Why didn't you leave her there?"
"This isn't going very well..." Don mumbled to himself.
"Look, I want to know if you'd like this kitten? Other than that, I'll have to drop her off at the animal shelter...." he trailed off.
"April's building doesn't allow pets, and we can't keep her, underground...and she doesn't deserve to be put to sleep just because no one has the heart to take her..."
Don looked at the human, hoping he was softening.
"She's got spirit," he added, wincing, as she clawed and struggled to get out of his grip.
Casey shook his head. "What am I going to do with a cat?"
"You can talk to her...you're never alone if you've got a pet."
"What if I forgot to feed her?"
"She'd remind you, don't worry!"
Casey scratched his head. "I'm not really an animal person..."
He held up the loveless scrap, and she looked directly into the human's eyes.
Don could practically see him melt.
"Oh, alright, but first slip-up and you're outta here!" he warned, taking the kitten, who just about clung to him...and purred.
Don smiled inwardly, knowing nothing she did would ever persuade Casey to give up that cat.
He absently stroked the sleek, plump companion in his arms, hoping with all his heart that his friend would recover.
Splinter draped blankets over Leonardo, Michaelangelo and Raphael.
They'd fallen asleep, one by one, together on the couch, tear-stained and emotionally exhausted.
He glanced at the time. 4.45AM.
Splinter went back to Donatello, heavy-hearted.
His son was coughing blood more frequently and in greater quantities, and had begun urinating same, confirming Splinter's fear of further internal damage.
He knew the outlook was grim, but like his sons, could not let go of hope.
He lit a small candle, turned off the lamp in the corner, and settled in the chair next to Donatello.
Splinter leaned over his chest as far as he could without touching him, and listened carefully.
He could plainly hear the gurgle of liquid with each struggling breath.
Splinter tried to make his son as comfortable as he could, carefully straightening his pillow, checking the hot-water bottles, dampening his mouth with cool water.
It was all he could do.
Splinter gently pulled the covers over Don's exposed shoulder, and his paw brushed against another furry something.
He peeled back a corner of the cover and saw Donny's old stuffed cat had been placed next to him, probably by Michaelangelo.
He smiled sadly at the touching gesture and layed the blankets back, leaving the cat- Schrodinger, Don had named it, Splinter recalled, a scientific reference that eluded the rat- where it was.
He felt the neck vein once more, and found each heart beat further apart and weaker than before.
Splinter felt tears soaking his whiskers and tried to clear his mind with meditation.
Instead, a memory came to the surface.
Splinter regarded his young charges as they coughed and sniffled.
The two year old turtles had come down with yet another cold, and were refusing to drink, frustrating the rat.
He sighed and tucked another rug over them.
"Raphael." Splinter frowned slightly at the largest of his sons, as he tried to get away with more than the lion's share of the coverings.
The smallest turtle giggled through his sniffles at the tone directed at his brother.
"Michaelangelo. Time to sleep."
Splinter adjusted the ample bedding and smiled at his two quieter boys cuddled together.
He then had to force down a chuckle at the look on the bright one's face, as his eldest brother suddenly sneezed and sprayed dampness over him.
"Sowwy Donny," Leonardo apologized, giggling.
"Yucky..." Donatello snuffled, trying to wipe off his front.
Splinter smiled and kneeled down, pulling some clean handkerchiefs from his kimono pocket.
He handed one to each son, wiping off Leonardo's runny nose and the moisture on Donatello's chest.
Raphael threw his to the floor and Michaelangelo bunched his and hugged it.
"Time to sleep, my sons," Splinter said gently when they were settled again.
He began to hum a Japanese lullabye and noticed Donatello sit up.
"What troubles you, my son?" he asked, and his jaw dropped when the boy gave him the full Japanese title of the ditty.
Splinter had sung it to them just once before, several months ago.
He'd only been reminded of it tonight when he'd seen a flowering plant in Central Park that was similar to that mentioned in the lullabye.
"That is correct, child," he said slowly, amazed at the boy's memory.
The little turtle smiled happily and snuggled back under the covers as Splinter continued the gentle sound.
"Your intelligence has always been a source of amazement to me, my son," Splinter said softly, taking Don's weak hand in his paws.
He thought of the disbelief he'd feel when Donatello would describe something he had in mind for making their home more comfortable, wondering how he would possibly manage it.
Yet his son had proven him wrong time and again, providing their old lair, and then the abandoned subway, with hot running water, electricity, telephone, heat and so many other things.
"You have no wish to be a warrior, but always train and learn as hard as you can the way of ninjutsu. I feel you do this solely out of respect for me, and I will never forget it, my peaceful ninja."
Splinter's eyes streamed and he could hardly get he words out.
"I love you, my son. I wish to take your pain away...but there is only one path that can do this for you. Do not be afraid to take it. We will always be with you, and you with us..."
Don felt the pain within him easing.
He heard voices, gentle and familiar.
Sensei...I don't know what's going on...
He felt a hand holding his own.
He heard sobs.
Mikey, don't be sad...
He felt hands turn him.
I don't want to leave my family. I want to stay and fight...
The pain ceased.
The soul of the being known for his gentle heart and keen intelligence, quietly slipped away into the darkness, his broken physical self all that remained.