Disclaimer: I don't own the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and this story is purely for non-profit.

Notes To Reviewers:

Yes, this is indeed the last installment!

Thank you everyone who reviewed this fic! I have left a quick note the reviewers of chapter 7 on the Stealthy Forums website, and you can find a link there on my author's profile page.

In the meantime, a big warm hug and thanks goes out to all who's reviewed! Thanks, blueraven, Buslady Of SoCal
captkablooey, CheatersBaby, Chibi Rose Angel, Dierdre, EagleFox, eldarsevenstar, jigsaws231, kaya lizzie, Leo Oneal, Linz1224, Lunar-ninja, majinme, Melodist, Mickis, Mikaela's Spade, misterfooch, pacphys, Pi90katana, Ramica, Raven001, The REAL Cheese Monkey, Sassyblondexoxo, Shadowflame611, Ted, Tewi,
and Vampy! I really appreciate you all!

(PLEASE tell me I didn't forget anyone!)

A special thanks goes out to my love, captkablooey, who makes me feel like I'm more than a silly fangirl... even though I'm really not! hehe!

Chapter 8: Hope

The echoes of his brother's scream reverberated intensely in Leonardo's ears, lingering long after Mikey's ravaging torment had died away into deadened silence. A void devoured the lair and swallowed the family of mutants, voraciously consuming Leonard's breath, his heartbeat, his hope..

Donatello hastily scrambled out the door, traversing the cluttered mountains of computers and machinery that lined his science lab. He effortlessly leaped over bushes of tangled wires, his nimble feet easily encountering the scarce specks of bare flooring. As he exited, Donatello smoothly vaulted overa few of the neglected heaps of abandoned electronics that were overtaking the ground. The practiced manner in which he flawlessly navigated himself through his chaotic room proved that it had been rejected in this state of disrepair far too long.

Leonardo jumped to his feet ungracefully, and swiftly proceeded to trip over a milk crate overflowing with circuit boards. He stumbled after his brother as quickly as the metallic mess permitted.

The two turtles barged into the medical lab and greeted the disturbance with opposite reactions. Leo froze at the abhorrent sight, while urgency compelled Donatello to move even faster. Raph convulsed violently, his quakes rapidly gaining in momentum. His body thrashed vigorously, his jerking movements tearing at his stitches, and his wounded shoulder splattering blood that gushed through his bandages. Oh god, Leo thought hopelessly, he's having a seizure!

His awareness barely registered Splinter as the rat dashed into the medical lab, his movements surprisingly nimble for his ancient bones, and with a bundle of items cradled protective against his chest. There was nothing Leonardo could do; he was utterly helpless. Lacking any serious medical skill or knowledge, he could only stand on shaky legs and gawk with unbelieving eyes.

Leo's body and mind were paralysed. His eyes were imprisoned with morbid fixation, unable to turn away from the demons pillaging his red-banded brother, red like his spilled blood, red like the Leo's tinted and collapsing world...

The stabbing pains in Leo's chest finally relented and dissipated, replaced by an infiltrating numbness that darkly enveloped his body in a cruel embrace. Trepidation slithered into his perception, constricting him sinisterly, and injecting it's merciless toxins.

Leonardo began to catch bits of rushed conversation passing between Donatello and Splinter as they circled Raphael. They looked as powerless as Leo felt. He eventually noticed that Donnie kept repeating the word "convulsions" instead of "seizure", but Leonardo didn't know what that meant, if anything.

A horrible gurgling noise invaded his ears, sounding quite unusual and alarming, and so alien that it demanded Leonardo's attention. Forcibly tearing his vision away from the medical emergency before him, he found the source of the awful sound to his right. Mikey stood faintly at his side, his face paling into a complexion unhealthier than Raph's current one, if that was remotely even possible. Micro tremors attacked the orange-clad turtle's body until even his enlarged eyes seemed to bulge and tremble.

Leonardo heard Donnie call out his name, though just barely. His head whipped back around looked into the face of his brother. It was only a flash of a moment, but the crystalline unspoken message that transpired between them carried a lifetime of words. With the elapse of one pained heartbeat, the moment had passed; Leo nodded his understanding and Donatello concentrated again on Raphael.

The sorrowful expression on Don's face was heart-wrenchingly transparent. Leonardo knew what had to be done. If Raph were to pass away in this horribly violent manner, it wouldn't be how Leo wanted to remember his brother.

Leonardo grabbed Mikey and pulled him tightly against his plastron. He couldn't feel the pain of his bruised ribs as he pressed his shaking brother against himself for comfort.

The act of turning away from the rest of his family tore at his soul and almost withered his resolve. It was the most difficult task he had ever faced, but he somehow managed. It had to be done; his and Mikey's presence would only have encumbered Donatello's efforts. Sparing them both from potential trauma, Leonardo solemnly led Mikey out of the room, closing the door behind him.

As the door latched with a fine clatter, the situation maliciously struck him very hard, and very abruptly. His world began to spin dizzyingly around him, and he attempted to fight it. Leo tried to focus on the stale russet bricks of his home, and attempted to smell the stagnant atmosphere of the underground. He desperately tried summon his senses, but he couldn't. He felt like he was tumbling into darkness as his vision blurred and darkened. He swayed on his feet, convinced he was about to collide into an eclipse of desolation. Yet through his devastated obscurity, he felt a warmness tighten around his torso, the first physical sensation he felt since he had entered the medical lab. With his embrace, Michaelangelo kept them both upright, catching Leonardo before he fell.

Gathering strength they currently didn't possess, Leo and Mikey staggered down the hallway on wobbly legs. Leo was starting to recover marginal amounts of brain power, just enough to realise he needed to find a place to sit, and quickly, before one of them collapsed.

Left. He didn't know from where the direction came. It took him a moment to realise the voice was inside his head. He blindly obeyed.

Tottering through the hallway, a large brown rectangle materialised through Leo's foggy vision. It took a long moment of stumbling stubbornly forward before he realised it was indeed their tattered old couch, decaying from a long life of weathered abuse, but a couch nonetheless. He bit his cheeks in concentration, and distractedly wondered why his vision was so obstructed, why his eyes burned and protested the light, why his face stung with irritating wetness, and why his chest and throat felt so swollen...

They almost made it to the couch. It was nearly within grasping distance when Mikey's knees buckled, bringing them both to the ground in an exhausted heap. Their limp bodies unfolded willingly onto the chillingly lifeless floor. Leo didn't really mind; it was an acceptable compromise, and definitely an improvement to standing.

Resting from the surprisingly arduous effort of walking, Leonardo became adamantly determined to calm himself down. He closed his eyes briefly and focused on regulating his breathing. He took a few shuddering and painful breaths before he started to improve. He let himself succumb to the increasingly even rhythm of his heart, letting his pulse guide him away from ominous shadows of his fears. He remained that way until his own tranquility weaved it's way to Mikey, who's trembling then tapered down.

"It's not fair," Mikey muttered, his voice stifled against his brother's body. He plied himself away from Leo's plastron, and scooted on the ground until his shell was leaning against the couch. "It's not fair!" He continued in a tone that was quickly gaining heat. "Raph needs a hospital... or... or a surgeon... or... a team of doctors..." Mikey's voice hiccuped anxiously as he stuttered. "he got hurt h...helpin' the city, and he's gonna... a...alone in the sewers..."

"He's not alone," Leonardo corrected him in a grieved voice. "He's loved.. loved more than most have ever known..." Leonardo hadn't seen much first-hand exposure to other families, but he nevertheless knew no one could match the love that the turtles had for one another.

"It doesn't look good... He's... he's..." Mikey couldn't say it, and Leonardo couldn't finish the sentence for him. No, Raph wasn't dying. He couldn't die. He wouldn't die. Raph wouldn't leave them like this, not now, not ever, and especially not on their birthday. Fate was cruel, but it wasn't that heartless...was it?

Leo didn't want to believe it was true. No, there was still hope, there was always hope, for without hope or faith, there was nothing.

Leonardo sluggishly shimmied himself toward the couch. The pain in his chest had returned, and he noticed how his shallow breaths peaked with a flaring of stabbing sensations. He did his best to dismiss the discomfort as he rested immobile by his brother. He grabbed Mikey's hand firmly in his own. "No, he isn't, Mikey," Leonardo responded, surprising himself by his own confidence, and realising that his words weren't empty consolations. He believed them.

The orange-clad turtle looked at Leonardo expectantly, a soft glimmer of hope flickering in once-despairing eyes. Energy quickly fled from Leo's voice, leaving him incapable of uttering further words, but apparently what he had said was enough.

Nearly exhausted past the point of reasoning, Leonardo almost wanted to sleep. Even the pain in his side, though sharp and piercing with every breath, hardly mattered anymore. He could have lost consciousness if not for the severity of the situation keeping him wide awake.

They sat together in silence, drawing comfort and strength from each other's presence.

Hope, yes. There was always hope.

Leonardo noticed immediately when Donatello stepped out of the medical lab. His brother's movements were slow and lethargic, his feet a silent whisper, as though he was careful not to shatter the porcelain atmosphere he left behind. Donnie didn't walk all the way into the living room, he merely remained in the hallway. The three brothers swapped glances with one another, Leo and Mikey both desperately trying to get a read off their other brother. It was impossible, Donatello looked pale and about to faint. His expression was anything but reassuring.

Then slowly, a weak smile graced Donatello's features. It was contagious, and quickly mimicked by the other two brothers. Donnie nodded his head, then silently returned to the medical lab. No words were spoken, no details interchanged, or explanations voiced. None were necessary. All that mattered was that Donatello had rescued them all from destruction, at least for now.

Raphael was alive.

"You're suffering from a condition called pneumothorax," Donnie explained gravely, "on top of that, three of your left ribs are bruised, and the bottom one is clearly cracked."

Leonardo stared dumbly at what was supposedly an X-ray of his torso. He took a moment to let himself feel frightened by the fact that Donatello did indeed have an X-ray machine. How was that even possible? Was creating such a machine not beyond his brother's means? Wasn't that dangerous? Did Donatello just... irradiate his body? The notion was disquieting, and Leonardo couldn't escape the feeling that Donatello was wielding weapons of mass destruction in his science lab. Yet, Leonardo had to admit he knew nothing of the science behind such a machine. He even knew how illogical his thought process sounded in his mind. For the time being he would just suppress his concerns.

Leonardo squinted as he focused back on the X-ray, but didn't notice anything out of place, he couldn't even find the crack that "clearly" afflicted his bottom rib. He gave up his effort, dismissed the X-ray, and instead inspected his brother. Donatello looked back with concern, searching Leo's face for a reaction.

Leonardo stared back at Donatello blankly for a moment, unwittingly exposing his confusion. He blinked once, then questioned, "Numer...thora... hmm? Pardon?"

Donatello sighed and pulled a weary hand over his face slowly, his three fingers rubbing deeply onto his exhausted eye lids, before slowly making their way to his lipless mouth. "Pneumothorax," he repeated in a worried voice devoid of energy. He hadn't rested, this ordeal weighed heavily upon him, and now he had two injured brothers to care for. "Your left lung is partly collapsed, but before you get upset, I want you to know that I'm convinced that it will improve by itself. This explains the sharp pain and dry coughing you experience when you breathe. "

Donnie paused and waited for Leonardo to respond, but his brother continued to stare at him with an unnervingly blank expression. Donatello sighed again, this time in a more exasperated manner, then continued speaking, "This isn't uncommon with the nature of your injuries. I don't know what pummeled your side, but it got you good. With appropriate rest, and absolutely no exercise, your lung should re-inflate itself as your body heals."

Leonardo finally reacted. He opened his mouth to speak, as Donatello watched eagerly and leaned forward with anticipation. "Okay," Leo said simply. "Is there anything else?"

It was Donatello's turn to give Leonardo a blank look. "Anything else?" the purple-banded turtle repeated incredulously. "You did understand what I said, Leo, right?" He seemed almost disappointed that Leonardo hadn't become upset.

Leonardo nodded his head nonchalantly, "Of course. Partly-collapsed lung, beaten ribs. It's all quite clear to me." Perhaps Leo was too mentally exhausted and spent, leaving him unmindful of his own physical state.

Donatello looked at Leonardo very strangely. "You don't seem to care!" He threw up his hands in frustrated defeat. "Look, Leo..." he addressed very sternly, his voice saturated with built-up frustration and anger from Raph's near death experience. "You may not seem to take this seriously," he continued, "but if you don't get rest, your condition will get worse." His punctuated tone might have been angry if he hadn't been so tired. "You'll be no good to Raph or the rest of us if your lung collapses entirely! If you aren't completely honest with me, and continue to make bad decisions, like when you ran with Raphael in your arms, then you'll get very sick."

Leonardo had winced at the words "no good to Raph or the rest of us", and further squirmed when Donatello had said "bad decisions". He was still struck with guilt over Raph's close-call, convinced that he could have prevented the entire situation if only he had performed better in his leadership duties. He couldn't even bring himself to treat his own ailments, and not only because he felt that they paled in comparison to Raph's wounds. Was he punishing himself? Was he terrified that if he stopped devoting his attention to Raphael, that his brother would leave him for good?

Leonardo would have to meditate on these matters, but not at present. For now, he took Donatello's lecture to heart. His brother was right, of course. Neglecting his needs only made things worse.

Donatello's face softened as he observed Leonardo's depressed posture and expression. He was only worried, and perhaps a little frustrated, but not angry. Don's eyes reached out to Leonardo with concern and empathy, seeming to understand what was going through the blue-clad turtle's head. He rested a hand on Leo's shoulder in an apologetic gesture, then spoke delicately, his stressful mannerism abating into compassion. "I'm not a real doctor, or a surgeon, not really. There's only so much I can do. I can't fix your lungs myself, so we need to handle you pneumothorax now, while it's still minor and manageable. Right?"

"I'm sorry Donnie," Leo said sincerely, "Of course I understand what you're saying. I'll take good care of myself, I promise."

Donatello smiled and slumped into his chair, having expelled at least some of his concerns. "Good. Then you can go to your bedroom and get some rest."

Leonardo's eyes widened in alarm, and he dropped his jaw like a young child who had just been denied dessert. "But Raph..."

"Raph is in good hands," Donatello interrupted in a clipped voice. "You made a promise, now keep your word and go to bed."

Leonardo loathed being treated like a child. He wondered if this was how Mikey felt, and couldn't suppress further uninvited feelings of guilt. He supposed it was a side-effect of being protective siblings. They didn't have many loved ones to personally care for, except each other. Donatello left the room and returned to the medical lab where Raph still lay unconscious, leaving Leonardo in trust that he would do the right thing.

The blue-banded turtle knew he had no choice but to retire for the evening, though grudgingly. He doubted he would be able to actually sleep. Mentally, he wasn't tired at all, even though his physical reserves of energy were tapped dry. Perhaps he would meditate, or at least lay down on his appealing futon.

With all the craziness and stress tormenting his mind, Leonardo he was beginning to suspect that he may never sleep again.

Leonardo tried to stifle a yawn, and failed miserably. He was thankful that neither Splinter or Donatello were around to notice. Both had been getting on his case about requiring rest. Leo was touched by their concern, but didn't need sleep, at least not mentally. He got plenty of rest sitting on his chair by Raphael's side. He couldn't leave his vigil, couldn't they understand that? How could he sleep when his brother was in such a horrible state? He at least agreed to relinquish his seat and recede to his bedroom every night, giving his lungs and ribs unhindered rest. Yet during the daytime, he couldn't leave his post. He would have to be dragged against his will, but with his injuries, getting manhandled by his family was thankfully not an option.

At least Mikey seemed to understand. He frequently brought him meals and well-received words of encouragement, refusing to leave until Leo had finished every last drop of food. If it weren't for his brothers, who would never eat. His appetite was non-existent while his Raph lay unmoving and rasping for breath.

Leonardo was worried, damn worried. Raph's bruises were hardly improving, especially around his swollen unbandaged shoulder. Only some of the marks on his face had faded into a grotesque taint of yellowed brown. His bandaged shoulder had ceased to bleed, the gauze and cloth remaining an emaculate white whenever his wounds were redressed, but his overall colour hadn't improved.

It had been several days since they had brought him back to the lair, wounded and beaten. Several days since his "seizure"... Donatello seemed convinced that the convulsions that attacked his body weren't actually a seizure, but the symptoms of shock... some sort of shock... the name of the actual term currently eluded him. Either way, Leonardo was still being eaten alive by his concern, a worry that was strengthened by every passing moment when Raphael failed to awake. His wounded brother needed sustenance. There was no IV to feed him. Nothing keeping him alive, other than a facecloth trickling droplets of water into his agape mouth.

Donatello was extremely worried too, and he couldn't hide it from Leo. He would reassure an anxious Mikey that Raph would be alright. He would tell Leo to get some rest, reminding him that Raphael wasn't going anywhere. Yet Leo could see it written all over his face, see the dread surfacing in his eyes, see the concern swirling through his facial expressions.

Donatello was still beating himself up over his own inability to give Raphael a plasma transfusion. The blood loss was why Raph still looked so horrible, showing hardly any signs of improvement, and why he hadn't yet awoken. It was the reason why Leonardo was so frightened for his ailing brother. Raph needed blood, and they couldn't supply him with any. He needed food, and they couldn't feed him in his unconscious state. Without access to either, the odds were working against Raphael.

The door creaked as Splinter slowly opened it, and gracefully slinked into the room as if careful not to disturb Raphael's slumber. The aging rat sat next to Leonardo, on a chair by the head of Raphael's bed. His head declined mournfully as he stroked his son's face tenderly with emaciated hands. Without raising his head, he whispered audibly enough for Leonardo ear's to capture. "Raphael is a survivor; his mind will fight, and his body will heal. He will return to us."

Leonardo couldn't bring himself to be comforted.

They remained in silence as his father continued to caress his son's motionless head. Eventually he stopped, and turned to look at Leonardo.

"My son," he spoke quietly, "I have meditated many hours, and have made a difficult decision."

Leonardo looked up at his sensei curiously, nodding respectfully in response.

"I speak of this to you first, Leonardo," the aging rat elaborated in a somber tone. "Your brothers look to you for support and leadership. It is essential that we remain undivided. Only through unity, may we survive and flourish."

The sobering and purposeful nature of his father's speech communicated more than his words, and Leonardo started to dread his father's decision.

Splinter frowned with soft sadness, but continued speaking with unwavering eye contact. "You fought honourably my son, but the battle you described causes me great deal of concern. Now, more than ever, the above world drifts further from our grasp. "

Leonardo was getting uncomfortable quickly. He didn't like where this was going, not in the slightest.

"It is through inaction that all things fall into place..." Splinter spoke wistfully, but he also seemed unconvinced. It was rare that the ninjitsu master strayed from confidence, proving to Leonardo that his sensei had been left with no other choice. "It is important that we exercise patience, and remain underground until further light has been granted onto our situation."

Despite himself, Leonardo spoke, his words escaping unsolicited. "We can't go topside anymore, can we." It was clearly not a question, but a statement.

Splinter's ears drooped with obvious displeasure at the claim, but he didn't argue, for Leonardo had been correct. The turtle couldn't conceal a look of utter dismay from his face, no matter how much he respected his father. Leo remained silent, shocked and physically unable to voice any complaints. Splinter continued in a saddened tone, "Our numbers are too few, while the Foot's warriors are too numerous. We can no longer afford to patrol the city at night."

Leonardo couldn't believe what he was hearing. How could Splinter be saying these things? Sure, they got their shells kicked, but they couldn't just surrender their freedom! It was a risk Leo was willing to take, if it meant the safety of men, women and children. Women like the one he saved a few nights ago...

Splinter could read Leo's thoughts. "I know this troubles you greatly my son, but this is a conflict that surpasses our abilities. It is a battle that the city of New York must learn to rise and embrace. Perhaps then we may return to our regular routine..." Splinter trailed off and glanced at Raphael, knowing he didn't need to finish his sentence from the look on Leonardo's face. He saw guilt, sorrow, frustration... and understanding.

Splinter couldn't further endanger the lives of his sons.

Leonardo felt slightly selfish, but he certainly didn't want to risk loosing his brothers either. If their family was disrupted with tragedy, they would be useless to everyone, be it the citizens of New York, or each other.

He was starting to accept in his heart what Splinter was saying, though his mind was screaming to rebel. He didn't say anything for fear that he would loose control and shout out his distress. He bit his tongue and retained his dignity with fluctuating repose.

It wasn't going to be easy, convincing his brothers that this was for the best. They would demand revenge for what happened to Raphael. He wanted vengeance himself. And Raph... oh, Raph... his hot-headed brother would loose his mind cramped in the sewers... Even the endless underground was too small for his angry red-banded brother.

Splinter smiled sadly, but his eyes glowed his pride in his son for comprehending and accepting his decision. He continued to speak with his gentle Japanese accent. "We must take many precautions. I would have waited to speak of this matter, but already our resources and supplies are nearly exhausted. When there is absolute need to venture to the surface, the outside world, all four of you must journey as one. None may depart alone, not even you, Leonardo."

Splinter's speech finally came to a conclusion, and Leonardo nodded, his mind overactively reflecting upon his father's words. He had a feeling that their training would also increase tenfold, once their injuries had recovered.

There wasn't anything left for Leonardo to look forward to, save Raphael's possible awakening. Splinter slowly stood up, his ancient bones creaking more than usual, and his balance wavering until he managed to straighten his posture. He leaned heavily on his walking stick as he gazed down upon Leonardo thoughtfully, before carefully emphasising, "I believe in you, Leonardo." A hand stretched out, barely steady, and rested upon the turtle's shoulder. Leo looked up at his father with sad voluminous eyes, allowing his sensei to see patience beyond the young man's years. "I believe in you all," he concluded before turning away and gradually making his way out of the room.

Leonardo sighed heavily after his sensei had disappeared. He hung his head in his hands in a very resigned gesture. Splinter was right, now wasn't the time to be thinking of the overbearing circumstances that lurked topside. The growing army of Foot soldiers would unfortunately have to wait.

The first sign of good news arrived a few days later, and in the form of fluttering eye lids.

"Raph!" Leo exclaimed with unbridled joy. He leaned forward far too quickly for his damaged lung and ribs, and acidic pain raced long his side. He had to wipe away the tears in his eyes with a shaky hand before he could see Raph's form clearly. Leo was relieved to see that his brother's eyes had indeed opened, and were now looking around the room in confusion.

Leonardo moved more carefully this time, bringing himself as close to his brother as the medical cot allowed. Raph's eyes wandered until they drifted in Leo's direction, where the blue-clad turtle waited with bated breath. After all this time, with the oxygen deprivation in the lake, his stopped heart, and the convulsions earlier in the week... was his mind damaged, or intact? Was Raph still himself?

"...Raph?" Leonardo implored his brother for a response. He was met with dazed eyes that barely revealed a hint of recognition. "Raph, can you hear me? It's Leo, Raph... You're going to be okay. Just hang in there."

Raph looked at Leo with something new in his eyes... was that... vague amusement?

"Leo..." he responded sluggishly, "You've always... had... a funny definition... of 'okay'..." His voice was husky, breathless, and choppy as he struggled to use his lungs properly and force air through his chapped throat.

Still, it was the same old Raph inside that beaten body that lay before him.

Leo once again had to wipe salty wetness away from his eyes, but this time it wasn't from any physical pain.

"Raph," Leo uttered while trying to hide a choked-up quality that threatened to expose him for the sap he was. "Good to have you back, Raph." His brother moaned his answer, a pitiful and breathy croak that formed in the back of his throat, barely managing to steal past his tongue. Leo didn't know if it was in response to physical pain, or Leo's heart-filled welcoming.

Yup. Same old Raph, alright.

"Listen Raph, I'm going to get Donnie," Leonardo said carefully while grasping Raph's bandaged left hand delicately, careful not to jostle his bruised shoulder. "You have to stay awake. Do your best to stay with us, okay Raph?"

Leo's words were met by another groan, this time irritated like a restless winter wind. Same old Raph.

With a final squeeze, Leo braced himself against the pain in his ribs, an agony that he was almost accustomed to, and hurried to the medical lab's door. He threw it open and let it rattle noisily. He was so happy, that he was giddy.

"He's awake!" Leo shouted with overflowing excitement that spilled from his lips and warmly embraced the dreary atmosphere of the lair. "Raph's awake!" His family's response was varied, including crashing sounds as everyone literally dropped what they were doing, the thunder of racing footsteps as certain family members dismissed their ninja training, and a few whoops of joy from a certain overzealous brother.

Leonardo rushed back to Raph's side, who's face was contorted further in pain with every moment he confronted lucidity. With increasing concern Leo patted Raph's head with a cloth in a comforting gesture, and trickled fresh water from a washcloth down the wounded turtle's parched throat. His kindness was reimbursed with annoyed grunts and pained moans.

The rest of the family spilled through the door anxiously, thrilled that Raphael had finally spared the time to return to the world of the living. Unable to contain their excitement, three brothers rambled on with their greetings, all addressing their concerns and apprehensions at once, in a rumbling symphony of rushed speech

"Raphy, you're okay! I thought..."

"...you look pale, do you need more..."

"...shouldn't be in that much pain, I'll need to..."

"...asleep for a whole week! I was so worried..."

"...we missed you, I couldn't imagine..."

"...perfectly immobile, else you'll tear the stitches..."

"...and cookies, and your favourite: chocolate marble cake, and..."

"...wrong? Do you have a headache? Do you..."

"...bed rest for a few weeks, with a strict diet of..."

"...and hot cocoa and peanut butter cups, and then we..."

Poor Raphael looked like his head was going to explode, and his twitching eyes rotated between squinting in distress, and widening in horror at the smothering display of affection from his brothers. Splinter quickly rescued his overwhelmed son by stepping forward and staring in annoyance at his standing sons. With practiced expertise, he cleared his throat loudly in a near-growl that projected over the medley of words, causing everyone to snap their mouths closed in obedient response.

Splinter tried to looked stern, but he succumbed to his fatherly love and smiled kindly upon his sons. Without pause, he skipped directly to the matter at hand. "Michaelangelo, prepare broth for your brother," he ordered. "Donatello, fetch additional pillows, quickly!"

His two sons didn't even nod, and merely dashed out the door, having recently reacquired their ninjitsu agility. No sounds were heard, except the occasional yelp and clamor of pots from the kitchen as Mikey struggled to make soup in his anxious condition.

Splinter smiled and looked down lovingly at a grateful Raphael. "My son," he soothingly whispered, cautious of the red-banded turtle's apparent headache. "It is a relief to see you awakened. How do you feel, my son?"

Raphael couldn't help himself. Through his pain he gave his father a funny look, as if to say "stupid question," but he managed to force a real answer in his raw voice, "Been better."

Splinter smiled sadly, brushed his son's forehead warmly, and told his son to lie easy, that all would be well, but that he had to stay alert.

Splinter then turned to Leonardo, and spoke softly, "I shall prepare tea for Raphael, keep him company until I return. Ensure he remains awake. I shall return momentarily."

Leonardo nodded, but Splinter's form had already slipped out of the doorway. He turned back to Raphael, carefully monitoring his facial expression, determined to keep his dear brother awake until they got some nutrients into his weak body. An amused smile stretched away the worry from Leo's face when he saw Raph try to shift around in his bed, but he was too sedated, and his diminished strength disallowed him any significant movement. It was certainly a change of pace to have Raph as helpless as a newborn kitten, a peace Leonardo may certainly learn to appreciate now that his brother was in the rebound.

Leonardo laid a hand on Raph's arm, trying to mimic his father's comforting touch, and succeeding as his brother's meager efforts were abandoned. "It is nice to have you back, Raph," Leonardo beamed. "You've been out of it for a week, you know, while I sat here worrying..."

Raphael gave Leonardo an annoyed look, obviously surpassing his monthly quota for touching family moments. Raph's eyes were far more alert, possibly from his sobering pain, or his stubborn battle to conquer his weakness. The injured turtle studied Leonardo for a moment, then muttered weakly, "S'that why ya look like hell?"

Leo blinked in surprise, temporarily speechless. He hadn't expected his brother to be so observant, let alone voice his remarks so openly. He supposed Raph was hoping to change the topic from himself, but Leonardo wasn't going to let him off the hook so easily!

"Look who's talking," Leo said with a smile, then tried to chuckle in amusement. His injured lung stifled that attempt, and he was launched into an attack of heaving coughs instead.

When he recovered, he was stunned to see Raphael was looking at him with concern. He couldn't understand why, Leo wasn't the one who had almost died this week!

"S'wrong, Leo?" Raph slurred fainting, failing to hide his concern in his quiet tone. When Leo didn't answer, Raph easily filled in the blanks. "Yer hurt, n'exhausted, n'stuff."

Leo felt uncomfortable, not only because Raphael was repeating what everyone had been telling him all week, but because Leo was supposed to be taking care of his wounded brother, not the other way around!

Leonardo started to voice a complaint, but he hesitated, and Raph spoke again. "I'm fine. Go. Rest." His eyelids started drooping heavily, the conversation stealing what little endurance remained in his faded body.

Leo was instantly startled. Who knew how long it would be before he awoke again, and without nourishment, he may not wake again...

"Hold on," Leo urged, "stay awake, Raph. Stay with us, you need to hold on until Mikey and sensei return with food."

Raphael grunted in disapproval, but nevertheless reopened his eyes with articulated strain. Leo needed to distract him from succumbing to the clinging tentacles of oblivion, but Raph was one step ahead of him.

"Ya gonna get some rest?" Raph asked slowly, elongating his words unwillingly in his weakened state. "Or babysit me instead?" He tried to smile, but it faltered quickly, and his brow furrowed in pain.

Leonardo's face softened in sympathy, and he tried to smile reassuringly for his brother's sake. "Babysit? ...possibly," he said playfully. "Probably."

Raph's face warped into a disappointed scowl, which looked quite comical coming from his decrepit state, until his expression slacked and his eyes again closed.

"No, Raph," Leonardo spoke sternly, frustration masking his deep concern. "Stay awake, Raph. Come on."

Raph's eyes shot open, and a determined glean shone in them. He tried to smile again, and this time he managed. "Can't sleep," he voiced breathlessly with increasing weakness that bothered Leonardo, "not while knowing... you're starring at me... it's creepy.."

Leonardo chuckled heartfully despite himself, doing his best to subdue a coughing spell that threatened to invade his chest. "Well, get used to it Raph," he said lightly, "because until you're up and at 'em... Raph? Raph, what are you doing!"

To Leonardo's exasperation, Raphael was making a renewed effort to raise himself from the table. His body trembled violently as he tried to lift himself with his battered left arm. Leonardo stood up abruptly from his chair when Raphael's effort didn't cease. He tried to lower his brother gently, but was surprised to feel resistance in his supposedly ill brother. "What are you doing!" he repeated in alarm.

Raphael let himself fall gently back onto his cot, panting heavily, and eyelids flickering in exhaustion. "Gettin'.. up and at 'em," he repeated Leo's words stubbornly in between heavy breaths.

Leonardo wiped his bald head with his hand in a nervous gesture. Raphael was himself, alright, a little too much himself.

His father and other two brothers choose this moment to bustle back into the room, to Leonardo's relief.

He stepped back and allowed them to prop Raphael up on pillows, gently encouraging him in the process. Leonardo watched his family fondly as they slowly helped his brother drink his tea and broth. He watched with a fond smile, and felt his muscles melt as he relinquished tenseness and stress.

He observed his family with immense pride as they supported Raphael, tenderly holding a cup of tea to his lips, and patiently letting him drink at his own exhaustedly slow pace. Mikey radiated like a proud father, his appearance accurately reflecting his fatherly attitude he exhibited toward his brothers during the past few days. Donatello's smile grew larger with every sip of broth their brother took, knowing that each drop was going a long way to his recovery. And Splinter... Splinter, who had been so strong for everyone during the past week... Leonardo could have sworn he saw tears brimming in his father's eyes, if only for a moment.

The picturesque scene filled Leonardo with a warmth that lent strength to his spent body. It blossomed in his chest, billowing upward to meet his watering eyes. Such emotion was too much for his body to handle, and his body brimmed and overflowed with tears. He was overcome by an elation fueled by love, one so powerful and complete that it tore at his heart with an extreme mix of sadness and joy. An overwhelming and confusing combination of sensations so powerful, that to resist them would bring him to his knees. He would never want to resist them, though. He greedily drank it up, relishing the moment for ever second it was worth. He couldn't remember a time he had been happier.

This was his family. They had each other, and no matter what happened, they would always be a family. It was their love, their loyalty, their undying devotion that made the turtles who they were. They were brothers, blessed with a caring father.

It dawned on him just how precious a gift they all were. If they changed, or fell ill.. when they weren't themselves, and when they were kept from performing in their everyday routine... it could never change the way he felt about them.

Their love was their greatest gift.

The End.

For now...

Author's Notes:

Awww, sappy happy ending... I hate happy sappy endings! But I respond well to threats left by my reviewers, demanding that I keep Raph alive. So I did.

I hope everyone's happy that I had to suffer through writing a sappy happy ending, and that everyone's alive! lol, just kidding.

... BUYAH! Complete! It's complete! Oh, feel the sappy happy ending. Be he sappy happy ending...

Did you think Raphy was going to die, for real? Well, I almost killed him... but where would that have left my first TMNT fic? I didn't want to set a bad precedent!

Let me know what you think! PLEASE READ AND REVIEW! I love to hear feedback! Thanks in advance!

... I can't believe it's complete...