Disclaimer: Don't own TMNT. My attempts to buy it with pennies, dryer lint, and an empty cocoa bottle were thwarted by the greediness of Peter Laird and company. Insert melodramatic sigh here.
Author's Notes: Chapter one of what will probably be around five or six chapters. :) It's a bit rushed and has way too much exposition, but I hope it's okay and you all enjoy! The "powder" mentioned is something I've researched quite a bit so I'm hoping the portrayal is accurate enough. If you think otherwise (er, if you've figured out what it is with the clues I've given you), please let me know. In this chapter, it should be noted that Don's a genius but he only knows the basics about this, so some of his ideas on it are sketchy at best. That will be rectified shortly, believe me. No one keeps Donnie in the dark for long, man.
Thanks for reading and reviewing if you do so!
'We move in, we get out,' Leonardo had said. 'What happens in between that is the easy part.'
Now Raphael curses under his breath and dodges another rapid stream of gunfire. The bullets hit the wall and splinter the wood, bits of plaster raining down on him from above where he crouches behind the sofa. He hates it when Leo's wrong. Next time he sees their fearless leader, he's going to shove each one of those words right back down his throat, with interest.
Of course, none of them had thought there would be this many guards. Or this many guns. Just goes to show they're all a little behind on the times, maybe.
Next to him, Donatello is tense—he can feel the nervous energy vibrating throughout his brother's body, even with the foot of air between them. "Mikey and Leo made it to the upper rooms," he says, low, and tucks the Shell Cell back into his belt. Raphael has to strain to hear him. "They should be taking care of the labs now."
Raph grimaces at the idea of Mikey in one of them. "Like turnin' a bull loose in a china store," he growls, clutching his sais tighter. They have to run out of bullets some time. More plaster gets into his airways; he coughs, then sputters, "What is it with damn nutjobs and abandoned apartment buildings?!"
Don makes a face, apparently agreeing with him. "I have to say," he says, "this is the worst kind of place for chemical testing. Doesn't Keslemen have any idea of the potential risks involved in experimenting with dangerous toxins without any environmental precautions to—"
"Not big on geek speak, Donny," Raphael says, grimacing. "'Sides, Keslemen ain't much of a scientist. More like a drug runner with aspirations."
Don nods grimly. They exchange glances. Raph looks away first, remembering the unfamiliar anger in Don's face when he'd first heard about Keslemen's experiments. There are certain lines in the progression of science Don thinks should never be crossed—kidnapping homeless friends of theirs and using amateur chemical mixes on them, as a means of finding new ways to get a better high, is one of them.
Raph doesn't want to think about some of what they've heard, what they've found. There are some things that aren't forgivable. So much that even Leo, usually the most reluctant to get involved in street matters, had been the first to step up to the plate.
Don's fingers clench so tightly around his bo that the wood protests. Raph nods in approval, then fingers his own sais.
"I say we get rid of these bozos and make our way to the mad scientist. Can't let Leo and Mikey have all the fun," he drawls, muscles preparing themselves. The bullets are blowing pieces of the upper cushions of the sofa to mere fluff. He blows it off his wrist.
Don shoots him a look. "That man is no scientist."
"Not arguing with ya there, Donny."
The gunfire halts abruptly, men cursing just beyond them at the doors. Empty clicking sounds are replaced by frantic scurrying for another magazine clip, instantly recognizable.
Raph grins fiercely and leaps.
'What is it with nutjobs and abandoned apartment buildings?' Leo wonders, ducking into another room. Below him, from the downstairs living room he sent Raph and Don to enter into on the other side of the building, he can hear gunfire, very faint. That's a bad sign. If it hasn't stopped by now, this could be uglier than he'd thought. Apparently the drug trade buys more guns and thugs than they'd anticipated.
Story of their lives. Leonardo sighs and takes out the two men sitting in chairs inside the rundown room, watching a television. Easy pickings. Their eyes are glassy from something that Leonardo doesn't really want to name. All it takes is a tap, really. When they slump unconscious to the floor, he makes his way back to the door.
No sign of Keslemen, the ring leader of this disturbing little circus. He wonders if Mikey's having better luck.
Raph and Don can take care of themselves. He trusts them to handle the rough part, even if it hadn't been entirely planned. Drug money buys goons, but not skill—something his brothers are in ample supply of, as it happens. It says enough that they guard the main entrances but almost completely ignore the windows in the complex. Mikey and Leo had both slipped in without a problem, no one guarding the upper floors. Bad strategy. Sloppy.
Of course, Leo muses, it's not often anyone had mutant turtles dropping in on them for social calls. Of course.
Another lab across the hall. This is the third one. He ignores it, finding it empty and disturbing, the dirty tubes littering the floor and broken needles scattered on the counter telling tales of frequent use. It's nothing like Donny's lab. Leo feels safe in Donny's lab, having come into it numerous times late at night to find the light still blazing and his brother sleeping peacefully, head pillowed on his arms over the desk. He's stumbled over the mess on the floor to get to Don, trying to quietly put a blanket over his shoulders, but never felt in danger. To him, it is another piece of home, as familiar as his brother himself.
This place, this isn't remotely safe.
Sometimes Leo wonders what the human world is coming to, seeing these things. The hollow eyes of the kids—kids, younger than him, too young to be here—he'd already knocked out. They look like they can't even see him anymore, like they can't even move. They remind him of some of their homeless friends they found, after Keslemen was through with them and had thrown them away like broken toys. And they had been broken, of that there was no doubt.
If they were even alive.
Unforgivable, using anyone like that. Leo moves across the hallway and finds another lab, occupied by rickety tables and shelves of packed powders, chemicals labeled with chicken scratch writing. In the corner, there's a young woman sleeping. He doesn't bother waking her just to knock her out again; from the pale, gaunt stretch of her skin, she won't be waking for a long time, anyway. Some of these people, he thinks, are beyond help. For the ones that aren't… at least maybe the city can help, if they're forced to.
The gunfire from the bottom floor has stopped. Good. He'll have company soon, then. Best to wrap this up before Raph or Mikey get a little shuriken-happy.
Even Leo's having a hard time keeping his composure in this place. It reeks of death, of a sick crawling despair in his belly, of dark times. He itches to take the payment for his discomfort out of Keslemen's skin. Make the man pay for what's happened to their friends. But it's not that kind of mission, and Leo's not that kind of ninja. Not for this.
'Once we get inside, it's just a matter of immobilizing the guy in control of this operation. Without Keslemen, it all dries up,' Leo recites, calling up his words from earlier while they were in the lair. 'Just enough to make sure no one can cover things up again and make a run for it before the police arrive. The authorities can take care of the lab. Nothing fancy.'
'Define fancy, O Fearless Leader,' Raph had said.
'Fancy means loud, frivolous, or stupid.'
'Might hafta define it a little better.'
'It means we take out the building quietly, Raph. No funny business, no serious injuries. Just keep them down long enough for us to wrap things up in a pretty little package. We're not here for revenge, we're just making sure he doesn't have any more chances. That clear enough for you?'
Of course it wouldn't have been. Leonardo has the feeling by the time they leave, there will be more than a few drug peddlers barely crawling. He doesn't plan to say anything. In this, at least, he can give Raph some ground. For now. As long as it isn't too much.
He shifts, the metal gleaming across his swords even in a damp, dank room such as this. April will be calling the police in less than fifteen minutes.
It's time to end this.
Michelangelo is having a great time.
It's been a long time since they've had a bust like this. Quick, harmless, personal vendettas fierce enough to warrant a drop in Leo's sensibility. It's always about justice. Sometimes Mikey daydreams about a world where his big brothers share his dreams of following in the footsteps of the Turtle Titan or something like-minded, but mostly he's just happy to be making a difference even from the shadows. They all stand for the same causes, after all—it's just the costumes that are any different.
He has some fun taking out the few guards posted in the hallways, then tying them up and shoving them in linen closets. The police should be able to follow the muffled yelps later. The kids, Mikey doesn't feel nearly so good about knocking out, but it's that or give away his location. He makes sure they're nice an' comfy before hightailing it outta there.
The labs are gross. Mikey wonders when they're actually going to see a real lab, like on television—the kinds that are shiny and white and glow really funny. At least Donny's doesn't smell so acidic and rotten.
He gets through the third floor and works his way up to the fourth. It's not much better. Leo's probably on the fifth by now; they should be meeting soon.
The next room has purple curtains. Mikey is tempted to make fun of them, but the only two people in the room are a sweating woman and her silent baby. He hesitates. She stares, wide-eyed, whites around small pinpointed pupils.
Mikey raises a finger to his mouth. "Shh," he warns her.
She closes her eyes and makes a vague cross over her chest.
"Cute kid," Mikey tells her, then closes the door softly behind him. He figures, what Leo doesn't know won't hurt Mikey.
Besides. He's got the feeling his big brother might've done the same.
"That," Raph says, "was disappointing."
Don makes an absentminded sound of agreement, studying the folded blueprint plans he'd tucked inside his belt earlier.
"Not much of a fair fight," Raph continues, muttering. He kicks one of the henchmen petulantly, scowling further when the man only groans and spits out a trace of blood. Raph's knuckles still hurt from this one, but sometimes strength works better over sai, and Leo had given strict orders not to leave their signature.
Not that Raph gives a damn what Leo said, but he hasn't had a good brawl in a long time, anyway.
"We're on the bottom floor," Don says. "Leo and Mikey should've covered the top four floors by now, if they didn't run into any… ah, setbacks like we did. That leaves us one more."
"Let's hope Keslemen doesn't like heights," Raph growls, punching his open hand. The smack is satisfying, as is Don's exasperated glance.
"Leo said not to do anything to him. It's not about revenge, remember?"
"Yeah, well, what Leo doesn't know won't hurt 'im. I bet Keslemen needs a shell of a lot of immobilizin' before we can be sure he won't be going anywhere," Raphael snarls, opening the door to the stairwell.
"We don't know anything about him," Don warns.
"How hard could it be? He's a scrimpy little freak with a chem set. What's he gonna do, blow pixie dust in my face?"
"You know, it's lines like that," Don sighs, "that always give me a really bad feeling."
The stairwells leads up into darkness. For a while, there's nothing but their footsteps pounding and echoing against the narrow passage, and Raph thinks that without the gunfire, this building is entirely too silent.
Leonardo knows he's on the right floor when an arch of bullets decorates the space just above his head after entering.
He rolls towards them instead of away, opting for the quick track. A quick jab upwards with the hilts of his swords, the snap of chins meeting momentum, and then the bodies crumple to the ground. He immediately glances around for others, but there doesn't seem to be anything. Keslemen doesn't know what he's doing, then. By sending his main force downstairs, he's left himself wide open for Leo's advance from above.
Pathetic, almost. It's nothing like the Foot. Which Leo is very grateful for, he reminds himself, everyday.
He hopes the others have gotten through alright.
The floor is deserted. He doesn't have to look into any of the other rooms to know this; a deafening silence seeps into every corner of the hallway and beyond it. Leo closes his eyes for a moment. Listens.
Breathing, heavy, from behind the third door down. The clink of glass tubes together. A low mumbling.
He lets himself not-quite-smile before gliding forward.
Leo rests himself against the wall to the right of the door, then reaches out and wrenches it open. Flattens himself again to the side, and just in time. The gunfire is deafening—the wall across from him is littered with holes, plaster and shredded wallpaper drifting down to the bare floorboards. He waits patiently until the panicked shots have finished and a frantic clicking pervades the air.
"Your sick games are over, Keslemen," Leonardo says, stepping into the room. It's very dark; his eyes struggle to adjust. "Surrender peacefully or I make you."
Keslemen is short. Young, Leo discovers with irritation, and filled with nervous energy that speaks of the man trying too many of his own concoctions. He crouches against the far wall, gun unsteadily swaying in his hand, eyes unfocused in the darkness and sweat beading his neck. He's wearing the sort of lab coat that would be comical if it weren't covered with smears of mucus and dappled blood. Leo can smell the acrid stench of the man from across the room.
"W-what are you?" he gasps.
Leo tilts his head. "It doesn't matter," he answers coldly. "You've crossed a line when you started picking innocent people off the street to have them tested in your twisted desire for power. I'm here to make sure the police get their hands on you this time and put you away, for good."
A hesitation, then Keslemen licks his lips. "Another hallucination," he whispers.
Leo steps forward again, unafraid now that the gun is useless. "No."
The gun is fumbled with, then falls heavily to the floor. Keslemen gets on his knees, searching almost blindly. "Y-you can't be real," he hisses, shaking violently. "You can't be real. You're another of those ones. The amphitheatre. The caravan. You're—"
Leo extends his arm to knock him out. Whatever need for revenge he'd had, it's dulled. This man is a shell. A shell that needs to be taken care of, but this will be enough for today, for him.
Keslemen jerks back, reflexes disturbingly quick. "You won't take me!" he shrieks, his hands bunching into his pockets and turning them out. Tubes clatter over the floor. He grabs one, uncorking it—
"Put that down," Leo growls.
Later, he'll curse to himself for being stupid. For underestimating. For not obeying the small, welling pit of dread in his stomach, steadily growing outward and coming to a screeching high at the emptiness in Keslemen's eyes. There is no sense of humanity there, no sense of self.
Keslemen dumps a handful of white powder, crystal-fine, into his hand.
Leonardo steps forward and reaches for him again.
The flat side of his sword glistening, even without light, some remnant from the hallway catching on the blade—
It hits Keslemen hard, smacking into his hand and head at the same time with a sickening crack. More than enough to knock him over and out. Keslemen jerks and drops like a sack of stones. His hand opens. The powder flies up like a miniature, silver snowstorm. Leo steps back hurriedly, but it's too late—it spreads out quickly, a small cloud, and he inhales something so bitter that his tongue curls in on it in protest.
He coughs. Shakes his head. Swallows. Bitter, strongly so, strange—
He sneezes, backpedaling further. Rubs his face. Coughs again.
Stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid—
Keslemen is down. He barely notices, gagging on the taste, the texture of it. Stumbles back out of the room. Closes the door. Keslemen isn't going anywhere, not when the police should be here any minute.
Leo wheezes, rubbing his nose. Takes a deep breath. Then another. Clears his throat experimentally. Nothing. Just the lingering strength of its bitterness, a heavy irritation in his throat. He goes to the lab across and finds a dirty sink with bottles littering its bottom, turns on the water, and drinks from it. Rubs it into his face. Better. Already, it's better.
He really, really hopes that hadn't been cocaine. He'd never hear the end of it from his brothers.
He looks in the fragmented mirror above the sink. He looks fine, if a bit wet now. Leo breathes deeply, easily. The taste lingers only slightly. He can see straight. There's nothing wrong with him. Maybe in some last, half-cooked desperation, unable to think straight because of his own drugs, Keslemen had botched his own last attempt at defense. It seems likely.
Well, then. What his brothers don't know won't hurt them. Leonardo smiles swiftly at himself in the mirror and exits the room, slipping downstairs just as the police sirens begin to wail in the distance.
It takes fifteen minutes until they're back in the lair. An overall mission of little over two hours, Don notes when he comes back into the living room. They're either getting better or the villainous clientele of the city are getting worse. He hopes it's a mix of the two.
"I've just taken on a third-grade class of losers," Raph complains aloud as they enter, obviously likeminded. "What ever happened to all the ninja clans and cyborg scientists and alien weapons? It's like pickin' off girl scouts, these freaks."
"Except they're seriously lacking in the thin mints, dude."
"He was dangerous enough, guys. He should never have been able to get a hold of half the stuff I found in those laboratories," Don argues. "Most of it wasn't even usable in drugs. I don't know what he was thinking. It was more like a toddler mixing paints than the work of any rational mind."
"Next time, can I get the head honcho?" Mikey groans. He drops onto the sofa and clicks on the television. "I always feel like a miss the party, bros."
"You're missin' something," Raph grumbles. He heads to the punching bag. Of course. Don watches him go disappointedly, expecting no different but hoping nevertheless. The goons weren't much for Raphael. He hadn't had to do anything, honestly, except stand there and wait for his brother to wrap up shop. Don has no problem doing that; it's when the fix isn't met that he begins to worry.
One of these days, it's going to be an even bigger problem. Keeping Raph satisfied, keeping his thirst for vengeance in check. Glancing over at Leo, Don expects their leader will be watching their hotheaded brother with the same degree of grim exhaustion.
But Leonardo is leaning against the door, fidgeting. He stares at their home like he's never seen it before. Cautious, apprehensive.
Leo jumps, visibly startled.
"You okay?" Don frowns, stepping forward. It's not like his brother to be so… high strung.
"Lay off the caffeine, bro," Mikey calls, watching them curiously. Apparently The Wild Kingdom can't hold his attention nearly as well as his own family.
Leo moves quickly forward, displacing any of Don's initial concerns about hidden injuries (he's gotten on Leo's case about that before, had hoped it wouldn't be an issue again). When he makes his way towards Raphael and the practicing area, the concern dissipates completely. Restlessness—so that's it. Sometimes it happens even to the best of them. A fight felt unfinished, the one who escaped justice. Even Donatello feels a twinge of bleak anger. He remembers the frozen faces of their homeless friends, the gruff but kind features, the ginger-pepper beards and skin long cold and white from strain and suffering.
Prison's too good for Keslemen.
'We've put him away, though,' Don quietly thinks to himself. 'No one else has to get hurt anymore. It's over.'
He joins Mikey on the sofa and steals the bag of chips. Sometimes Don thinks about a life where he doesn't have to fight, but most of the time, he figures he's got a pretty good one already.
His fist hits the bag with a loud thump. His knuckles are protesting already—too many of the gunmen had sharp chins. Raph snickers to himself and hopes they at least have to see the reminder of their stupidity in the mirror for a few weeks longer.
It takes him a second to realize Leo's on the edge of his vision, but one glance tells him enough. Leo looks pained, impatient, agitated. He only gets like this when he needs a good tussle as much as Raph does, and in this instance, for once, their ultimate goals coincide. He pushes the punching bag away and grins fiercely.
"Up for sparring?" Raph speaks short, wastes no time. Leo watches him with wary eyes, then nods.
"I ain't gonna go easy on you," Raphael warns, but he puts away his sais. Hand to hand is more satisfying in this case, and Leo has already set aside his swords, dropping them to the mat and then wincing as if the resulting clang is too loud. 'Wuss,' Raph sneers inwardly. He's going to enjoy handing Leo back his little "fancy" lecture from this morning, piece by piece in the gut.
Normally they'd approach with normal rules, but Master Splinter's presence is absent and the rush of the fight is still thick in Raph's veins. He doesn't bother calling out a warning, just kicks for Leo's chest and considers that ample starting call enough. It shouldn't be enough to connect, anyway—
Leo jerks back so far that he almost falls over. Easily dodged, but overdone. Raph frowns at him.
Leo is breathing too hard.
"We haven't even started, Fearless Leader. Don't tell me you're finished already?" His eyes narrow, tracking his brother's body. The muscles are covered with a light, almost unnoticed sheen of sweat.
"I don't feel so hot," Leo says abruptly.
"Not lookin' so hot, either," Raph counters grimly. He calls to the sofa without turning his head. "Don! We need ya here!"
"No," Leo protests. He shakes his head weakly, then stops, cringing. Presses his hands to his neck. Squeezes so hard that Raphael can see the muscles bulge in protest. "I… don't need help."
"Shut up or I'll kick your ass and say I won in the fair fight," Raphael snaps.
"What's wrong?" Don peers over the sofa.
"Leo over here is—"
"Just everybody be quiet," Leo whispers. "Stand still. I can't think."
"Like hell we're gonna do that," Raph growls, reaching forward. He yanks one of Leo's hands away from his throat—
The attack, when it comes, doesn't give Leonardo enough time to scream.
He's been in pain before. Part of Leo knows that, is trying frantically to track down a time he's been in worse pain than this, but he comes up blank. Inconsequential. Oh god. Like someone shoved electrified wire through every part of his body. The mat against his shell. It's cold. He's on the floor. Why is he on the floor? He can't breathe. He can't breathe.
Someone is screaming. More than one. Donny—if something's happened to Donny, he'll—
'No, it's you, you idiot. You're the one in trouble.' He can't open his mouth to cry out for help. Everything is wired, wired shut, tight and awful and oh god it hurts—his jaw bone is trying to creep back into his skull, oh god—
His entire body is on fire, even his insides. What is it? Where did it come from? The enemy—no, the powder. Leo spasms, head jerking back, slamming into the mat. Pain. He can't close his eyes. The top of the lair looks very far away.
Hands on his own, trying to pry them away from his plastron. Clenched. Fists. Clawing. Air. He needs air. Too fast. Too late. Raphael, screaming in his face. He can hear him, but the words aren't coming through. He can't breathe. Can't move his arms, his legs. Everything twists underneath his skin, pulses. Can't breathe—
Fingers shoving into his mouth, yanking it open. Pressure on his chest. Leo knows it's Don's fingers because they taste like salt from the chips, and Mikey doesn't have that gentle of a touch. He knows that, like it's coming from somewhere very distant, and when he inhales, he can hear himself, ragged and panicked. This is all very wrong. He has to get up. Has to tell Raph to stop yelling in his face, has to—
Air. Air. He breathes, wetly.
"Hold on, Leo," Don is saying, frantic. "Just relax, try not to fight it, hold on to Raph—"
"What the hell is wrong with him!?"
"Mikey, get Master Splinter!"
"Donny! Answer me!"
"I don't know! Shut up and keep him from shutting his mouth—Leo, Leo, breathe, you gotta breathe, bro—"
Thicker fingers between his teeth. He'd been biting Donny, Leo realizes with numb shame. Tries not to press his teeth against Raph's skin, too, but he can't stop himself; his neck is a mess of pain, his muscles aren't obeying. His throat closes in on itself. Air. God, he can't—
The sound coming from his lungs. He's never heard it before.
"Leo! Leo, don't you fucking dare!"
Don pressing his hands against the convulsing flesh of Leo's neck and chest. It feels like everything's trying to escape his shell. It's almost funny. Leo doesn't have the breath to laugh. Saying something. Donnie, saying something. Oh god, it hurts. He hadn't even been prepared. Don, he wants to say. Raph. Donny, please. Why? Please what? Just something.
"—et him go, Raph! Just let him go!"
"Just do it!"
Hands gone. Fingers gone. Leo's teeth snap shut. He arches. His shell won't let his spine arc. Pain. No air left, nothing, nothing, Donny—
When he twists over on the mat, for a split-second, he thinks he's dead. The pain is gone. His body is still. The mat is cold and sticky; his own sweat, Leo realizes distantly. He can't see the lair so well anymore, and it's silent, too silent, not like home, not right. Air. Air, wheezing, light. Burning, but breathing.
A moment ago, he couldn't stop moving if they'd paid him. Now Leo can't move at all, even to tremble.
Too close. The only thing Donatello can do is shake. Too close.
"Donny," Raph chokes out, glancing his way with wide eyes. There's too many questions there that Don would love to know the answers to, but there isn't time. Instead, he takes a deep breath—the one their brother could have used a minute ago. Only a minute.
A lifetime, thinks Don. Too long. Too close.
"Don't touch him. I think it just makes it worse right now." God. It had been just a hunch. Don feels sick to his stomach, the snack he'd just had turbulently shifting around in it impatiently. Just a hunch and not even a good one, a wild guess, based off of television and literature instead of anything useful in his head, and it still might not be right but at least Leo is breathing now. Raspy, scared breathing. But breathing.
"What the hell?" Raphael looks like he's going to kill something if he doesn't get to touch his brother right this instant.
Don feels an answering surge of frustration. 'Easy. Important things first.' He moves to Leo, crouches down next to his brother. Keeps his voice quiet, doesn't touch. Is too scared to know if he's right, to find out. "Leo, I know you're hurting right now but I need you to help me. Can you breathe alright?"
Leo's pupils have contracted, Don notes, but they search him out nevertheless. His brother's slumped form on the mat is boneless, sprawled. Unlike him. The fear inside Don's stomach solidifies into a ball of steel that drops down to the lowest point of his world.
Leo opens his mouth. "Yes," he slurs. "Now."
It's a small relief, but a welcome one. "Your muscles were convulsing," Don tells his brother softly. "It was an independent reaction, Leo. That means you had no control over it. You had trouble breathing, couldn't get your respiratory muscles to obey. Is all that right?"
"Yes?" Leo frowns, eyes flickering. Uncertain. "I can't move."
"Don't you dare try, either."
"Donnie, there was…" Leo stops, exhausted. His shaky inhales are the only noises in the room for a moment. "Keslemen," he says finally. "There was a powder. White. He threw it at me and I… I inhaled it in, I wasn't ready."
Don nods like he figured so. He had, in a way; just hadn't wanted to believe it. "Leo, did you swallow it orally or through the—"
"Both," Leo mumbles. "I… I thought it might be cocaine."
Next to them, Raph's bark of laughter is torn between disbelief and fear. "You're kiddin' now, right?" Silence. "You neglected to mention that, Fearless Leader, in your story," Raph snaps.
"I was fine," Leo whispers. "I was… stupid."
"At least we agree on somethin' for once. What the hell were you thinking?!"
"Stop it," Don hisses. "Both of you! Raph, if I'm right, we have to be careful. Anything could provoke another attack. A touch, a loud noise, even a stray breeze right now—"
"If you're right?" Raph's head snaps to the side. "You know what's wrong?"
"I'm not sure if—"
"Leonardo!" Master Splinter's cry from the doorway interrupts; both of their heads swing towards its strength.
"Master Splinter, please, I need you to be quiet!" Don begs, making shushing motions with his hands.
"What has happened?" Demanding, but softer now. Splinter is getting older as the years trace into each other, but there's nothing old in the swiftness with which he descends the ramp to his children. Behind him, Michelangelo stumbles into the room, eyes wide and frightened.
"I got 'im," their youngest brother gasps. "I, I couldn't find—"
"You did good, Mikey," Raph says lowly.
The sight of their father silences the pounding of Don's heart for the first time in the past four minutes. "We have to be careful," he tells him weakly. "You can't touch him. Master Splinter, I—"
"My sons. Slow down, there is no need for this panic." Their father stops beside Don, his fingers curling around his shoulder. Though the words are refutable, the touch is enough to send Don to pieces on his knees; it's also enough to let him garner strength. By the time Splinter has kneeled beside him, his voice feels like it isn't tucked up somewhere in his esophagus anymore.
"Master, I think Leo's been poisoned."
Splinter glances at him sharply. "Poisoned? In the sewers?"
"On the mission."
"Poisoned?" hisses Raph. "Donny, what're you—"
"Father," Leonardo says, slowly turning his head. He opens the fingers in his outstretched hand.
Don shakes his head when Splinter looks to him. A darkness shifts over the rat's face, grim as stone. "Leonardo," their father says, the gentleness in his voice at odds with the distress that creases at his eyes, "please stay still, my son. I do not know what has happened, but your brothers and I will find the answer. You must rest, now. Do not let the fear overtake you."
"I need to take a sample, Leo," Don says, swallowing. "Mikey—I need swabs. Top shelf in my lab, in the first aid kit. Now."
A pause. Then the skittering noise of feet on stone and a distant crash. Don can't even bring himself to wonder what's broken. No matter now. He bends down close to Leo and studies the smooth green muscles of his neck. Still, then, for now. The seizure has left behind only weariness and heavy breathing.
Splinter doesn't ask the obvious questions of how or when—instead, he looks to Don for the what. "This poison," short and to the point, sensing the urgency, "how do we remove it, Donatello?"
"I have to confirm that I'm right first," Don says. Tries not to listen to himself. "If I don't, the treatment could do just as much damage as the cause. I need to run a test. I need to—" and Leo is just watching him, still, fingers curled up in on themselves again and Don feels like something's ripped in his chest, "—need to call April if I'm right. Supplies. We'll need them." He just hopes he's wrong. "Raph?"
"Get some bedding. We can't risk moving him out of here; he stays where he is. Don't touch him, just… get it ready. We move him over if another attack strikes, after it won't matter."
Raphael slinks out his sight-line like a shadow, a sour expression on his face that speaks too much of his internal fear. Mikey's footsteps coming back, a breathless cry of victory.
"Master, stay with Leo while I'm in the lab. If anything happens, you call for me. He'll be having… attacks. I don't know how long in between them yet. Short, but violent. He'll have trouble breathing and his body will… seize up. Like a vice."
Don can't say anything more than that. It's too hard. He just hopes that their father will understand.
"If this attack comes," Splinter asks quietly, "am I to leave him alone, my son?"
"Got 'em," Mikey says shortly, slapping a handful of swabs into Don's ready, outstretched hand.
"No," he answers the question. Lets them all fall to the floor except four. "At that point, it won't matter. Raph and I held onto him through the first. I only let go because I was afraid the extended stimuli was making it worse. I don't… if he goes into it, I can tell if we need to stop." At least, he hopes he can.
Leo is still watching, unreadable and so very limp. It's not right, Don thinks. He bends close and attempts to smile, but he can tell from Leo's softened features that the finished product is more pitiful than comforting.
"Leo, I need you to open your mouth. I'm going to swab it and then your other airways, okay? I need to see if I can't find a residue from what you inhaled."
Dismay crosses Leo's face. "I… drank water afterwards. To get rid of the taste."
His smile all but disappears, held on by a thread. "It's okay, Leo. You probably didn't get it all out of your nose." Don pauses. "What was the taste?"
"Bitter. Really bitter."
"Okay, that's good." It's something, anyway. "Open your mouth. I'm going to be really careful, okay?"
He takes four samples, two from the mouth and two from Leo's nose. If it had been any other situation, he would've laughed at the irritated expression on his brother's face after the second stick prodded around. As it is, Don instead spends the entire minute almost sick with suspension, praying internally, bartering with everything he can think of, that the gentle pushing won't send Leo back into convulsions.
"That wasn't so bad," he mutters when finished. Leo closes his eyes.
When Don leaves them there, Splinter and Mikey and Leo are in a semicircle, two open spots beside them. Under the lights, Leonardo seems more dead than alive, face turned into the floor, just waiting. He looks very alone without anyone touching him, the careful space between his family and himself a gulf created out of terror and necessity. Waiting.
Waiting for the next time. Don tears his gaze away, hurrying to the lab. A next time—over his dead body, he swears. And meanwhile, in his head playing like a macabre cartoon, he's thinking about Norman Bates and a house.
Mikey wishes he knew what happened in between the good day he'd been having and the nightmare it became. It somehow seems important. Like, if he'd done something different, this wouldn't be happening at all.
Leo hasn't opened his eyes for a while. But he's not sleeping—Mikey can hear the unevenness of his breathing. It feels like forever. It's been maybe a few minutes, tops, since Donnie left them.
"Michelangelo," Master Splinter murmurs, "you must sit still for your brother. We cannot risk triggering any continued effects of whatever ails him."
"Sorry, sensei." Cross legs, inhale deeply. He knows this routine. Mikey tries not to fidget anymore, relaxing his muscles. Like meditation, right? Right. Except if this were meditation practice, Leo'd already be in a trance and looking all solemn and stoic and cool, not looking like a doll someone threw across the floor, like maybe one of Mikey's action figures, all stiff and limbs flailed, hidden under the bed somewhere and forgotten. Not like he's scared but sort of trying to hide it, and failing miserably because if Mikey can tell, then—
"Michelangelo." Splinter's spidery fingers rest across his head, soft skin and wiry hair a comfort as much as an admonishment. Mikey stills.
He doesn't ever want to have to see his brother do something like that again.
"Don't worry, Leo. Donny's going to find a cure." The words are lame and fumble their way out of his mouth. It's like scoring bad on a video game; every bar suddenly dips lower. "Next time, I'll definitely get the head honcho," he adds, and that sounds better.
Leo opens his eyes and smiles, tiredly.
Mikey grins back, the worry fading. If his brother's well enough to give him such a fondly exasperated look, it can't be nearly as bad as it seems. He opens his mouth to crack a joke about—
"How's he doin' now?" Raph's voice echoes. Everyone winces. When he appears from the shadows, Raph's face is as chagrined as it can possibly get. "Sorry," he mutters. His arms are heaped with blankets and pillows that Mikey recognizes as Leo's. It's a nice touch. If he hadn't known taunting Raph would make Splinter mad at him, he'd go ahead and do it.
"He," Leo says in annoyance, "is perfectly capable of answering for himself. And he's fine."
"Your definition of fine needs a lot of work there, Leo." Raphael rolls his eyes. "Sorta like your definition of 'fancy'—"
He drops the blankets on the mats.
It's a single thump. A soft brush of wind against Leo's temple, cool and dusty like the lair itself. It probably smells like home.
Mikey has never heard his brother scream before.
'Stupid, stupid, stupid!'
He hadn't been able to move for a second. Just stood there, like an idiot. Frozen. Leo's scream is strangled and cuts off, and all Raphael can do, all he can do, is just stand there.
'You talk shit all the time about wanting him out of here. You push him away. You want him gone so damn bad you can taste it. Well, you got your wish, Raph. You've killed him. Your fearless leader.'
Maybe he freezes, but he's still the first to move. The horrified, dumb stare on Mikey's face, the 'what do I do what do I do' painting everything—every thing, always, out on the sleeve, out there for Mikey. Raph pushes him out of the way, hears him hit the mat with a thump, doesn't care. Leo is writhing, seized up, an invisible enemy Raph brought down on him without thinking twisting every muscle he can see, spreading his brother out like a—
'Stupid fucking moron! You heard Donny. You heard him and you still—you've finally done it, you've gone and killed him. Killed Leo.
'Leo, you numbskull.'
Raph is cursing and he can only barely hear himself, on the edge of sound, somewhere along with the uncomfortable protest of Leo's shell as his brother tries to arch his way out of it. Raph pushes down on his plastron. It doesn't help. Leo is trying to bend his spine in ways that aren't available to a turtle; his body rocks, squirming, pushing against the natural casing of his torso. There is no relief.
"Master Splinter," Raphael gasps. "His legs. Grab his legs—"
Leo's arms pressed tight to the mat, stretching as far as they can go in opposite directions—like the kind of toy Mikey used to have, Raph thinks wildly, the rubber man you could pull on that would stretch like a—but Leo isn't rubber, is just skin and bone and blood, and it's too much. It's like all his limbs want to escape away from his body. The legs are straight and shaking wildly, bulging muscle at the calves, all wrong—
He senses rather than sees when Splinter tries to hold onto Leo's legs. Beneath Raph, his brother's face is fixed in a painful, grotesque mockery of a smile, teeth bared and jaw set tightly.
He can't tell if Leo's breathing. "Mikey!" Raphael bellows. "Don!"
Master Splinter is whispering something, low and soothing. It sounds like a prayer or a chant. The fear behind it is unmistakable.
Don's footsteps, a sudden weight behind Raph's shell. Fingers pressing into his shoulder.
"Pressure on his chest," his brother gasps, winded, and then his hands are over Raph's, pressing down hard on plastron. Leo convulses under their hold. Pushes up against them, rocking wildly on his shell. The desperation in his strangled noises makes something in Raph flare in agony, but at least they're sounds, which means he's sort of breathing, which means he might—
"Mikey, his arms—" Don says desperately.
Raph can barely see Mikey above them by Leo's head, wrapping his own arms tightly around Leo's shoulders and biceps. Trying to keep them to the floor. Trying to keep Leo's head from snapping around too much with the weight of his body.
He doesn't hear the words spilling out of Mikey's mouth, but they sound hurried and frantic and not much like Mikey at all.
If he's killed him, he'll never forgive himself. He might not even if Leo makes it. Raph grits his teeth against the wounded words trying to fumble out off his own tongue and tries to hold on, if only for his brother's sake. It can't end here. Not like this. He ain't saying goodbye, not like this.
"Move him over to the bedding," Don snaps. It's the third time he's said it, Raph realizes, but the first time he's heard it properly. He nods shakily.
"Go now!" Don puts his hands under Leo's rocking shell, joined by Raph, and Mikey props ups his head and Splinter his legs. It's two feet. Two feet and the rest of Raph's life. Leo almost squirms off their hands, his strangled sounds growing higher. He hits the bedding Raph dropped haphazardly with a thump that, had he any air left, would have knocked it clean out of him. But there isn't any air, Raph realizes in horror, because his brother can't breathe.
"What do we do, Donny?" he hears himself asking, desperate.
Don doesn't answer. He puts his fingers to Leo's neck, then his plastron, and looks up at Raph with wild eyes. Trapped eyes. "I… I don't know," Don whispers, stricken, and that's when reality slams home to Raph.
They can do nothing. Just wait. Fucking wait.
Wait and pray.
Raph falls to his knees beside his brother and takes his hand, clenching his fingers around Leo's. He doesn't know any prayers. So instead he closes his eyes and recites every single thing he's ever hated Leo for and, one by one, takes them back until he feels his brother still again.
It feels like forever before the convulsions slow to a halt. It's only barely been two minutes. Don counts, in his head. Counts along with the steady stream of observations, filed away distantly below the screaming panic in his brain, the 'his temperature is skyrocketing—I'll need to take blood pressure to—all the symptoms but if I make a mistake—please breathe—please, please—he wants to hyperextend, his limbs are—central nervous system, that's where it must—no, don't stop breathing now, don't stop—'
He's never felt so appallingly useless in his entire life. What good is being a scientist when he can't do anything except hold on and whisper, if Leo can even hear him, that it's going to be okay?
When Donatello had woken up this morning, nothing had said today would be one of the worst days of his life. They'd had Corn Flakes for breakfast. Leo'd bugged them all to train before the mission tonight. Mikey'd slurped his milk. He'd sort of been thinking about starting a new project after all this was over.
Now the world is a pinpoint in his arms.
It's barely two minutes. Two minutes, two hundred years. One minute and fifty-three seconds and a nearly-sobbed breath that escapes Don without warning. Leo finally shudders beneath them, then falls limp. No one speaks. Splinter strokes his son's head, but says nothing.
"K-keep him wrapped up. Don't touch him." Only a single falter, one break in Don's voice. His hands won't stop shaking and he needs them to, needs to be stable to help Leonardo. "I'm almost done. We'll have help soon."
Useless words. Raphael puts a hand over his face and keeps it there, burying his agony. The other hand clings to Leo's, resolutely squeezing harder than even their brother's disobedient muscles were. Mikey has tears in his eyes, fat drops rolling down his cheeks unchecked.
Don doesn't want to know what his own face looks like. Nor does he want to see Splinter's—instead, he gets up and goes to the lab on rubbery legs. On his way, he takes out the Shell Cell.
It's time to call in for help.
End of Chapter One