A/N: As TOWCaBeT draws to a close, I decided that it might be time to start posting this story (which is all but complete on my harddrive) Don't worry, folks, Amiah is still in the works too. This one is just ready to start going up. Enjoy!
Disclaimer: If I owned the ninja turtles, I would not be here writing fan fiction. I do not own the turtles or any associated characters or places. I make no money from this and I mean no harm. Please do not sue.
Splinter held the tiny turtle gently. Three years and it never failed. Every year around the same time the small turtle got so sick that Splinter feared he would not survive the harsh winter of the New York sewers. His brothers fared better, and Splinter had a hunch that their bodies were better suited to the cold. Raphael seemed to do the best when subjected to cold temperatures. Michelangelo also did well enough that Splinter seldom had to worry, though he was never quite sure whether Michelangelo's body actually produced enough heat to help him through the winter or whether it was his 'extra insulation' that did the trick. Either way, Leonardo and Donatello and a definite disadvantage in the chill winter months, and it was Donatello who suffered the most in the chill of the sewers.
The only explanation he had for the drastic differences between the young turtles was how they reacted to the ooze that had mutated them three years ago. All had taken a humanoid form, but they developed so differently.
Michelangelo, at two feet and three inches, was short compared to Raphael and Leonardo, and his coordination and athleticism were astounding for his age and size. Of the four turtles, Michelangelo had the hardest time learning anything that wasn't physical. It wasn't that the child wasn't intelligent, Michelangelo simply did not have the attention span needed to learn as quickly as his brothers could. This young turtle was also the most difficult to keep fed. The boy was always hungry, and when food was plentiful or scarce it showed most on him.
Raphael and Leonardo were close to the same height, each standing around two feet six inches, but Raphael was far more muscular than any of his brothers. The powerful little turtle learned well when he cared. Usually he just couldn't be bothered to learn something new, especially if he wasn't interested. Splinter knew that he would have his work cut out for him in keeping Raphael's interest. With Michelangelo's lack of focus, teaching the pair anything was quite a job. But both did well in their very early ninjitsu training, and Splinter was grateful for that. Raphael's strength allowed him to force through situations his brothers simply couldn't. He was also a bit of a bully, which was a situation that Splinter knew he would have to rectify.
Leonardo was slimmer than both Raphael and Michelangelo, and he had a little trouble with the physical aspects of their early training. Though his problems were easily made up for by his eagerness to learn and the focus he brought to everything he did. Leonardo was also very willing to learn and did well in just about every endeavor set before him.
Splinter looked down at the child in his arms. Donatello had presented some rather unique challenges to the rat. The little turtle was often bored, completing mental exercises far more quickly than his brothers then having nothing else to do. A little over two months ago, the small turtle had taken apart the toaster while he was supposed to be working on a puzzle. As it turned out, the puzzle had long since been completed and the child had been bored. Having nothing better to do, he had taken the appliance apart. Splinter had decided that it was easier to encourage the tinkering that followed the incident than to try stopping it, and he brought home a few things he found at the junk yard for the boy to play with. Donatello stood a touch less than two feet tall, and his weight fluctuated horribly during the course of a year. In the summer months his build was similar to that of Leonardo, and if left to his own devices under ideal circumstances that would probably have been his build year round, but the bitter winters necessitated some changes.
This winter had been particularly harsh and during the fall, food had been scarce. Splinter always offered the four turtles equal portions, but Leonardo and Donatello would give what they didn't eat to their larger brothers, the system worked fairly well. In the fall Splinter would force the two smaller turtles to eat the full amount of food they were given. The practice made the two smallest turtles gain weight before the harsh winter set in. Leonardo would generally keep the extra pounds, converting them to muscle and height, but Donatello did not. The bitter winters would bring the small turtle's body temperature down and make him susceptible to illness. Splinter had yet to figure out why the others were not equally affected and passed it off as part of the ooze had affected them.
Donatello coughed into Splinter's fur and tried to burrow deeper into the warm pelt. Splinter was well aware of the child's discomfort and wished there were more he could do. Just like every year since the turtles had come into his life, Donatello had gotten so ill that he was refusing to eat. Even getting the child to drink was often a challenge. It was only the beginning of January, and the tiny turtle had long since lost the meager pounds he had gained during the fall. Come March, provided the little turtle survived, he would be swimming in his own shell just like last year. Donatello coughed again and gave a quiet whimper. The tiny turtle was miserable, and Splinter could not blame him, but he could not help him either.
As much as Splinter hated to do it, everything backed off in the winter. All four of the children slept more in the cold months and occasionally were ill, but a big part of the reason was that Splinter would be too busy trying to keep the smallest one alive to even consider anything for the others. Even during the best times, Donatello had a horrible time with anything physical. The child did not have the coordination his brothers were so lucky to have been blessed with. Additionally, Donatello did not seem particularly interested. Simply put, the little boy did not want to be in the dojo. He did what he was told because he he had to. Splinter often wondered how many of the times Donatello was dropped in one of the little fights that invariably sprung up were because he was that much worse of a fighter than his opponent and how many were because the little turtle simply preferred not to hit back.
"BORED!" Michelangelo's voice rang out through the lair. Splinter sighed and quickly came up with a tumbling exercise for the child and anyone else who wanted to join in. He stood from his chair, keeping Donatello close to his chest, He paused at the sofa and grabbed a small blanket to wrap around the child. Splinter had come across the blanket shortly after the turtles had come into his life, and somehow, some way the smallest turtle had managed to claim the oddly colored blanket as his own.
"If you are bored, Michelangelo, How about you go get your brothers and we will have a small ninjitsu lesson."
"Awww..." The roundest of the young turtles complained. "ALWAYS do ninjsu."
"I thought you enjoyed tumbling?" Splinter asked. He watched as Michelangelo's face brightened and the turtle scampered off in search of his brothers. Looking down at the small turtle in his arms, Splinter wished he had a better way to keep the boy warm. He carefully shifted the child, and his heart broke at another pained whimper.
When Michelangelo returned with Raphael and Leonardo, Splinter set them a series of tumbling exercises. It gave them something fun to do that also helped the ninjitsu skills that Splinter had very recently and slowly begun to cultivate. When they were done it would be dinner time, and Splinter headed to the kitchen to prepare their meal. He had come across some uncooked pasta recently, and planned on making spaghetti. For that he would need both hands.
Wrapping the bright purple blanket tightly around his ill son, Splinter laid Donatello down on one of the chairs. The tiny turtle whimpered when he lost his heat source and curled into a tight ball as he was put down. As Splinter was finishing up and putting food on plates the three turtles who had just completed their tumbling routines poked their heads into the kitchen.
"Ps'getti!" Michelangelo cried out, recognizing the food, if not pronouncing it correctly. He bounded to the table and yanked out a chair, unfortunately the chair he chose was the one Donatello had been resting on, and the smaller turtle crashed to the floor. If he'd had the energy to cry, Splinter was sure he would have. But following the heavy thunk, all he heard was another whimper of pain.
"Oopsie" Michelangelo said quickly as he slapped a hand over his mouth. A wide-eyed, innocent look was plastered on his face.
"Donnie falled." Raphael reported.
"Donnie 'ick?" Leonardo asked quietly as he poked the smaller turtle on the floor. Donatello tried, rather unsuccessfully, to bat his brother's hand away.
Splinter sighed as he turned around and rescued the turtle from the floor. "Michelangelo, you need to be more careful. You are getting big, and you might hurt others if you are not careful. I need you to be especially nice to Donatello right now too, ok? Leonardo is correct, he is very sick, and he needs all the help you can give to get better." When he spoke he addressed all the turtles, but the rebuke was mainly directed at Michelangelo.
Three little turtles dug into their dinner and Splinter began the battle to get Donatello to eat something. All four of the turtles could be obstinate when they wanted to be, but Splinter just wished that the little one in his arms would stop being so about his dinner. On the other hand, he was pretty sure that if Donatello did eat the food, it would be back in less than a half hour. Splinter finally managed to get some orange juice down the boy's throat and took what victories he could get. He slid Donatello's portion to the center of the table and started on his own dinner while Michelangelo and Raphael divvied up Donatello's dinner between themselves.
"be ekcued?" Leonardo inquired sweetly, asking if he could please be excused from the table.
Splinter sighed as he took note of the fact that the young turtle had only eaten half of his dinner. "I'd feel better if you ate a little more of your food." He told the young turtle. The child sighed in response and went back to his dinner. He pushed it around his plate for a few minutes before asking again if he could be excused. Knowing that he didn't have the energy tonight to fight with Leonardo over eating his dinner after fighting to get Donatello to drink something, Splinter nodded and let the boy go. He looked down in concern when Donatello coughed weakly and gave a small moan.
The child's coughing had lessened over the past few days, but Splinter simply couldn't be sure if it was because he was getting better or because he no longer had the energy to cough. Given how weak the coughs that Donatello did manage were, Splinter had a bad feeling that it was the latter. Splinter prayed for an early spring as he looked down at the terribly sick little boy. Donatello was too small for his age, being closer to the size his brothers had been a year ago than their current size. Each winter Splinter became more and more sure that it was the bitter cold and illness that had resulted in Donatello's stunted growth. He carefully shifted the small boy and gave him several sharp pats on the back in an effort to knock loose some of the gunk in the child's lungs that Donatello was no longer strong enough to remove on his own. The small turtle whimpered at the blows to his already battered frame.
"I am sorry, my son. I know this hurts you, but we need to clear your lungs out. It will help you breathe more easily."
Splinter sat on the couch and carefully cradled his sick son. It wasn't long before Michelangelo found them there.
"P'ay wif 'ego's?" the young turtle asked.
"I do not think that is a very good idea right now, Michelangelo." Splinter turned the child down gently on the ill boy's behalf. "Donatello is not feeling very well, and we should let him get some rest."
"But Donnie 'ike 'ego's" Mikey objected.
"Yes, Donatello likes Lego's, but he is sick, Michelangelo. He cannot play right now."
"I p'ay for Donnie?" Mikey asked.
"That is a good idea." Splinter agreed. "You can make something for your brother. I am sure he will appreciate it."
The young turtle blinked at the long word, and his eyes asked for an explanation.
"I am sure your brother would love you to make something for him." Splinter explained. He smiled as Michelangelo immediately started building with the little colored blocks. It was not long before the other two joined Michelangelo in his play with the Lego's. The 'Lego's' were not actually Lego's at all, but larger multicolored blocks that Splinter had come across.
Donatello gave a couple of weak coughs and Splinter was forced to give the child several more smacks to the back, drawing more whimpers from the small boy. Two stronger coughs resulted and Splinter felt the boy throw something up on his shoulder.
"ew..." Raphael said from the floor, and Splinter was quick to scold and quiet him. It was obvious that Donatello was upset enough as it was, he didn't need his brothers making fun of him right now. Splinter's own breathing hitched when the child in his arms coughed again and had to fight to start breathing once more. Not until Donatello's breath came more easily again did Splinter sigh in relief.
"My sons, I believe it is time for bed."
Three of the four turtles moaned and Splinter began the familiar routine of preparing them for bed. Once the healthy three boys were safely tucked in, Splinter took Donatello with him and curled himself around the small, ill child in an effort to keep the little boy warm during the night. Little did he know that by morning his life was going to change... again.