Disclaimer: I don't own TMNT. Your mom does. I... love her for that.
Author's Notes: Oh man. I'm so sorry this took so long, but for those who don't know, this was a nightmare. I have to revise the stupid chapter two times completely and editing it was also a pain in the shell. But it's done! It's done and it even stops earlier than planned, just because it was getting longer than the average amount I was putting aside for chapters, and so I have a good eight page start on the next chapter, as well. The majority of this is in the bag. So hopefully updates won't be as painful anymore. Thank you so much for your patience and your support, I really couldn't have made myself work through the plot hazards without you. Thank you so much!
So this is a pretty boring chapter, despite all that work. I hope it doesn't disappoint too much. Freaking plot. I'm gonna be so glad when I toss it off a cliff after Chapter Four. Bwahahahaa.
Chapter Three: A Race Against a Sunflower Clock
Don can count on the three fingers of his hand how many times he's seen Leo badly ill. These do not include the endless parade of injuries, deathly wounds, or spiritual "funks" (as Mikey terms them and Don agrees, for lack of better options) that his elder brother usually attracts. For all that Leo acts as a magnet for battle scars, simple things like colds and viruses seem to bounce off of his shell. The benefits of an insanely healthy diet and rigorous practice to keep his body in an absolute, controlled condition, probably. He's always been the one to help take care of the rest of his brothers when they fall prey to weather and bacteria warfare, remaining upright and placid himself. It's something they've always teased him about, his relentless training "scaring the germs away."
The handful of exceptions are for the most part old and vaguely remembered, just ghosts, really, of a time Don has discarded. Only one of them is not.
Of the three, two of these memories are of peeking into Leo's room around the doorway, watching their father administer care to a lump in the blankets on the bed. They are bare traces of imagery, points of interest because back then, Leo had rarely been sick and so it seemed a frightening phenomenon to his young mind. Don can recall sneaking into Leo's bedroom the first time, creeping up to the mattress. Leo's eyes, studying him with fever intensity in the dark, his face sticky and sore from being swollen. The frailty of his breathing; tiny rasps that told him, 'S'okay, Donny… s'gonna be alright.'
It had always been Raph and Mikey, their careless brothers, the ones that stomped through sewer water without consideration or ate food that might be spoiled, that got sick. Don had rough winters, too, but Splinter treated him with enough caution that eventually his thick skin grew in and the danger passed. It's that memory of Leo, sunken into the sheets and weakly grasping Donny's hand, that stays forefront in his mind. It's what he's thinking about now.
Only one of these memories is recent, the Battle Nexus tournament that almost ended in tragedy. The poison that crept through Leo's veins as he stumbled in the arena left him unconscious and on the edge of death, cured by Usagi's kind nature and habit of carrying around herbal remedies. Don had been the one to stay at Leo's side then. Dampening his cold cloth. Soothing his sedated, uneasy sleep. Worrying that his older brother would never wake up to see this strange world or any other again. Don had thought, at the time, that he'd never felt more helpless. Now he's been proven wrong and this time the poison is doing more than sapping away at his brother's life, it's yanking it out of Leo with talons, dragging him every inch of the way.
It's not fair. Even if Don knows the means to hold onto him, he doesn't have it yet. All he can do is watch. Again.
It's not fair.
Not even a minute after Raph is gone, Leo goes into his fourth attack. After it is done, Don will speculate as to whether or not it had been done on purpose. That somehow, delving into the wealth of will power Leo has always possessed, more than all three of his brothers combined on a good day, his older brother actually staved off the effects long enough for Raph to leave. Kept the violent shaking at bay until the lair door had shut with a clang of finality that made even Mikey flinch. It wouldn't surprise Don. Unlikely as it may be, and impossible as it may seem, he's seen too much to believe in coincidence.
As it is, he'll never ask. It's not something Leo would admit to, anyway, whether it had been a conscious effort or not.
Either way, Don sends a silent rush of gratitude off into space because he knows one thing for sure. If Raph had stayed any longer and seen Leo begin his fourth attack, there may have been no convincing him to leave. And right now, Leo needs those sedatives more than an extra set of hands to keep him down on the floor. Raph and Casey are their only hope. A slim, desperate hope at that, a gamble Don can't help but feel guilty for making in the first place.
If he loses Raph over this, too… if something happens…
Not that it will matter. He can't imagine life without Leo, anyway. What happens when four brothers become three? He's seen the answer. The twisted world of Shredder's hands, the broken band of brothers carrying their scars and empty-air appendages and hidden eyes. Take one engine away from the machine and the others falter in time, becoming prey to the absence of what makes them whole, until everything falls apart. He hates that place. The family he'd seen, struggling to survive, jagged at the edges, barely able to heal even with the return of Don's presence. The gaping yawn of that future is so barren that Don can see nothing from it. It's unfathomable. Insane. 'We can't let it happen. That's all there is to it.' He won't destroy his family again by not being good enough to save them.
He's here now. Leo's here. No one's going anywhere.
Leo quakes under their hands and sometimes Don isn't sure who's shaking more, his brother or himself. The way the muscles move is disturbing; as though an invading force has taken possession of his brother's body and is attempting to rip itself free. The skin burns. His temperature sky-rockets with every attack, Don notes, keeping the tidbit filed in the cabinet of information at the back of his head. It's a bad sign. A severe reaction. Of course, he can't imagine it becoming any worse.
But it's going to get worse, that's what's wrong. Don pushes his arms underneath Leo's, cradles his brother almost in his lap. Meets eyes with their father, whose lithe strength keeps Leo's shell connected to the earth, and Mikey, spread out across Leo's legs like a turtle paperweight. It would be funny if it were any other circumstance. Don wonders if he'll hear the strange choking sounds Leo's making in his nightmares for the rest of his life. Assuming they ever sleep again after this. How could things go wrong so fast?
April is making tea in the kitchen. Splinter's idea. Don wishes he'd thought of it, but the attack had come so quickly—too swift on the heels of Raph and Casey's departure, as though Leo waited, on edge—and he hadn't even thought of April. He should have warned her. He can remember the look on Leo's face. Her short scream of surprise may have hurt Don's brother more than the convulsions' angry beginnings, and Don is going to feel rotten for forgetting both of them like that for a long time. It's even worse because he knows how awful April will feel for not keeping her cool when her friends needed her the most. It's a silly thought, Don tells himself, because April's probably the only one in the entire lair keeping her head on straight. He feels like he's lost his to the current ages ago.
It's going to work, though. They take care of Leo better without worrying her this way, at least for a while. Splinter had sent her into the kitchen, using his teaching voice—almost strange to hear out of the dojo—that without fail resulted in obedience. Even April, years of hearing little of it, had automatically obeyed in her shaken state. Though not, Don had noticed, without first grabbing the bag of cheap muscle relaxants and chloroform and taking it with her. Good girl. She'll be making more than tea, then, which is precisely what they need right now. And with her help, Don will feel better about what he's doing, and knowing Casey is with Raph on their crazy mission—they've given his family so much in the past. He hates to beg more from them. But time and time again, they always prove to be up to the challenge, to come willingly into danger and all matter of foes.
It's frightening and humbling and amazing to Don, even now. Especially now.
'We've got good friends,' whispers Don to Leo, knowing the mental admission won't reach him but trusting his brother would agree.
Leo moans from the back of his throat, guttural and strangled, and pushes his head back into Don's plastron. His arms and legs stretch wildly away, scratching against the blankets. He keeps trying to arch up—the hyperextension again, Don thinks grimly, trying to keep Leo from doing so too severely. Humanoid as they may be, Don knows for a confirmed fact that their spines are altogether too turtle in fashion. They fuse to the carapace, along with sections of their ribs, meaning that no matter how hard Leo tries to bend his backbone in the unnatural curve, the contortion of his shell won't allow for it.
Don isn't sure if the limitation is good or not yet. It could end up causing less strain on Leo. It could end up causing worse.
For Don, there is nothing worse than not knowing.
In this case, he has no choice, however. He closes his eyes, grits his teeth, and holds on. Leo's frantic struggles only last as long as the others have, barely even two minutes, far too long but gratefully short. His brother's abrupt limpness brings relief to them all.
Leo's breaths, drawn and shaky, are the best thing he's ever heard. 'At least,' his brain reminds him traitorously, 'for another ten minutes or so. Fifteen if you're lucky.' Maybe there's something to say for knowing being the worst possible thing, after all. Don rubs his brother's arms in long, even strokes, attempting to impart at least a small bit of comfort. But Leo doesn't even look at him. His eyes have squeezed shut, strained at the edges already. Every ounce of him is in internal struggle for—
For what? Don clenches his brother's shoulders instinctively. 'What are you thinking about right now, Leo?'
He's too afraid to ask.
"Raph'll be back soon," says Mikey, too loud in the silence. Don glances up and sees him pat Leo's legs awkwardly. "Don't worry, bro."
"No… I won't," Leo says slowly, voice scratchy with the effort of each word. "But you haven't said exactly where he's going, either."
Don exchanges a look with Mikey and Splinter. The decision is made swiftly, in unison, only a shadow of regret pressing down on their backs. "He's gone to get some supplies," Don says, trying to sound flippant and not entirely sure he's succeeding. "I don't have what I need here to treat you, and Raph volunteered for the job of fetching some things. Not too far from here."
"A drugstore. Casey went with him to—"
"Don," Leo says wearily, "I'm really tired. So why don't you stop lying to me?"
It's not the best lie he's even made, but it's not the worst either. He wonders what did it, but Leo's always been able to tell. From when they were kids, some innate mix of intense observation and natural instinct, he knew every time Raph sullenly lied about where he'd been. Every time Mikey lied about who made which mess. Every time Don promised he hadn't been working until two in the morning on inventions or stolen parts from the toaster again. Leo doesn't always tell on them; it's not his way. But he always knows and when he calls them on it, there's no use denying. Inherited from Splinter, not by genetics but an innate understanding, Leo has a gaze that can pierce as deeply as it can warm on the better days, splitting his brothers down the middle. A living sword. His big brother.
But this isn't ten years ago and Leo isn't staring him down—instead he's barely keeping his eyes open. This is a real problem. So Don swallows and says, "I'm not lying."
Leo doesn't seem hurt. Just impassive and a little more worn down. It's ten times worse, somehow.
"Just let us take care of it, bro," Mikey says hesitantly. "Y'know, like you always do for us—"
"Where. Did Raph. Go?" Leo grates out.
"Leonardo," says Splinter sharply. Leo flinches—and only Don sees the remorse flicker briefly over his father's weathered features. Splinter doesn't lay a hand on Leo, but instead hovers his fingers over his son's shoulder as if willing the connection to be established on another plane. Maybe it is. "Leonardo, my son," their father repeats, softer, "you must rest now. Trust your brothers, all they are doing is for your sake."
"I know, Master," says Leo, resigned. "But I'm not an invalid. If there's some way I can help…"
"For all intents and purposes, you are an invalid right now," Don disagrees quietly. He hates to bring it up because he knows it's the last thing Leo wants to hear, but it's necessary. "You can't move without aid and the potential stress alone could set you off at this point. We can't take any chances. The last thing you should be focusing on is what Raph's doing. He's a big boy now, Leo. We're trusting him to return safely. Aren't you?" It isn't to say, Don adds silently, that he's not insanely worried about his hotheaded brother right now, but what Leo doesn't know won't hurt him.
Leo frowns. "I do trust him," he agrees quietly. "But even if my body isn't seeing eye to eye with me, that doesn't mean I'm not in control of my brain, Don. You can't just keep me in the dark. I want to know… what's going on, what's happening to me." He pauses, inhaling deeply. The words had taken their toll, the effort expounded in order to get them all out clearly taking its payment out of Leo's already strained health. "Even to Master Splinter, you haven't said…"
Don exchanges a glance with their father at that, inwardly sighing. That much is truth, at least. Though he'd pulled Splinter aside briefly, softly speaking so no one would hear them, to give an update of what Raph would be doing and why it's so vitally important, he hadn't told their father everything. The danger speaks for itself alone. All he'd been able to do was make reassurances that the plan wouldn't fail, that it is necessary, that without it, Leo might…
"He knows," Don tells him. At least it's not entirely a lie.
Don fidgets. He really doesn't want to talk about this while it's still fresh and sickening in his mind. The last thing he desires to do is outline to another brother just how futile this entire mess is and upset his churning stomach further. 12:50 a.m. He can see it on the digital watch, matching sibling to Raph's that he'd dug out of the mess of a lab drawer, adorning his own wrist. Casey and Raph should be nearing the street where they'd come up to the hospital soon. He should be in his room with the headset, getting things ready, setting up blueprints and double-checking the facts he barely recalls. Making sure he won't get his family caught. There hadn't been much time when shoving things together with Raph, just a few sparse minutes to get the necessary files open on his computer, solve a few details in his overworking brain… no guarantee it will even work, really, just a base idea, such a stupid idea…
"Donatello," Splinter gently prods, voice bringing him out of the depths of his thoughts like a small fishing line attached to the weight of his worries. Dredging him up from the bottom. "There are questions that can surely be answered to give us all greater peace of mind. Just as you trust Raphael to return safely, we must also trust Leonardo's wishes. I, too, desire an understanding of many of tonight's events."
"I don't know where to start," Don admits helplessly.
"What's wrong with me?" asks Leo simply.
Like it's a question that can be answered with only a sentence. Don sighs, rubbing the back of his neck. He can feel a migraine pulsing through his entire skull that he wishes he could smother under a blanket and a day's worth of sleep. He isn't going to be that lucky, though. As soon as the thought comes, guilt crunches it underfoot; he's not the one in real pain right now, after all. This can't mean anything compared to what Leo's going through. "It's hard to explain," he says, mostly because it's not and he wishes he didn't have to.
"Try," Leo tells him.
"Okay." Don takes a deep breath. This is going to be hard. He has to censor it like he did for the others—there has to be hope left over when he's finished. Hold back the unnecessary information if he can. But Leo isn't Mikey, either. His eldest brother is observant enough to recognize a charade when he sees one, being well acquainted with gambits and distraction as a means of victory. "You already know you've been poisoned by Keslemen's little funhouse mix," he begins, steadying himself.
"The powder," murmurs Leo.
"Yes. It's a toxic alkaloid called strychnine. It used to be an ingredient in pesticides, especially rat poisoning, that effects the central nervous system by exciting motor areas and causing reflex excitability in the spinal cord." At Leo's blank stare, Don waves dismissively. "Basically, all your muscles contract at the same time. Normally, small amounts would just pass through your system in a twenty-four hour period, but Keslemen knew what he was doing. You've overdosed."
"When you say it like that, I feel like a drug addict," Leo mumbles, sounding put out. Mikey laughs nervously. Don ignores them both.
"Increased amounts of the toxin absorbed into your blood cause the convulsions. Your muscles spasms are violent enough that you can't control your respiratory process, which means you can't breathe during the attacks. The reason you've been set off by small things, like Raph touching you or brushes of air or flashes of light, is because strychnine also creates hypersensitivity. Any stimuli could cause an unpredicted seizure within the time range normally stretching between each attack. Generally, it's ten to fifteen minutes, and the convulsions may last up until two minutes."
"So what?" Leo asks grimly. "I just keep having these until… until what? They stop?"
'No,' Don thinks. 'Until you do.'
"Until Raph comes back with the medicine," he says.
"From the pharmacy."
Leo looks as if he wants to shift, but can't. "They have something… for this?"
"Something that might help with it, anyway," explains Don quietly. He can't help himself. He grasps Leo's shoulder and squeezes, very gently because he knows how sore the muscles must be. "Will you promise not to worry about it now? I've got everything under control. You just concentrate on conserving your energy. That means don't talk unless you absolutely must and don't ever, ever try to move. Understand?"
Leo's gaze slides away from Don's, staring off into the empty space a few feet from the floor. "Alright."
"Somehow I don't really believe you," Don says, dredging up a sliver of humor from somewhere. "Your idea of bedrest has never really been the same as mine, remember?"
"You'll have trouble with it later," agrees Leo, smiling faintly. "But trust me, Don… I'm not going anywhere right now."
The amusement dies. Don knows. He knows Leo can't move right now, as well as what that's probably doing to his brother. Don's like Leo in that arena. Loss of control only eats away at the mind. They live their lives counting on that control and even Don, who gets lost in his brain often, feels his skin crawl at the idea of being trapped there with no idea of what's happening.
He pats Leo's shoulder, judging the risk to be minimal this soon after an attack. "Don't worry," he repeats. "It's going to be alright."
If Raph and Casey can pull off a miracle, it might even be true.
April comes out of the kitchen then, carrying a tray of steaming cups for everyone. Her drawn face and concerned gaze immediately seek out Leo's form—Don can tell when she notices that he's breathing because April smiles, albeit tentatively. She seats herself and Leo opens his eyes.
"Hey, April," he says quietly. "Sorry to give you a scare." He says the last few words in one, tired exhale.
"Oh, it wasn't—I was surprised," April says, shaking her head. "That was all. How are you feeling now?"
"Don't talk, Leo," Don instructs automatically. He takes the tray from April and sets it on the floor. There's one cup further apart from the others. He glances at her—she nods. 'This one must be for Leo.' The muscle relaxants certainly can't hurt anything. He passes the others to Splinter, who cups it and gratefully murmurs to April, touching her arm with his free hand, and to Mikey, whose gaze flits down at the cup before he sets it to the side and focuses, as intently as if he would on a video game on boss level, on Leo again.
"I made some tea," says April softly. Her hair is auburn against the dim lights, ones which Don turned down to keep from possibly aggravating Leo's seizures. Tendrils fall against her shoulder and she puts a hand on Leo's wrist. "Your favorite. I hope you don't mind."
Leo flashes what could be his first real smile in hours at her. "It sounds perfect."
"Here, Leo, I'll help." Don picks up Leo's cup, already considering how to tip Leo's head up and forward without making a complete mess. And there's his brother's dignity to consider, that's the real problem. But maybe if—
"I'll do it," says Mikey, taking the cup from Don's fingers. The entire motion is executed in a brief second, leaving Don blinking at his empty hand. "Donny, you gotta go work on something, right?"
"I'm not… it's just—" Oh. Raph and Casey. Don swallows.
"We can take care of things here," April assures him, following Mikey's cue. "I'll keep a steady eye on him. We'll call you immediately if something happens."
"Go on, Don," Leo murmurs. He probably wants to ask questions, but he won't. Don bites his lip instinctively, torn between rationale and the prevailing fear that's gnawing at him. If he leaves now—if something happens while he's not here, if they don't know what to do—if only there were some way to monitor both of his brothers through their dangers at the same time, but—
"C'mon, Donny," urges Mikey. He gets to his feet and pulls Don up by the arm. Unwilling to struggle, Don follows. "Let's get you set up."
He feels the hesitant grasp on things slipping away. The idea of leaving Leo right now is… difficult. "Not now, Mikey, just as soon as—"
"I can do it," his brother insists, pushing Don in the direction of his lab until they're within feet of the door.
Don shakes his head. "I know, but…"
Mikey speaks low, beneath the hearing of April, Leo, and possibly even Master Splinter. "You just hang tight with Raphie and Casey, and make sure they don't get into trouble. I got things under control here."
"They need you more, Don." Mikey's voice is as serious as Don has ever heard it and when he twists around, the face matches the tone. He's never seen Mikey's eyes so determined. They were anxious not a minute ago—the gaze of a little brother who doesn't want to lose his protection against a nightmare, one Don knows well from years of Mikey sneaking into his bed well after hours because he'd been unable to sleep. The creak of the ladder leading up to his bunk used to be as familiar as the sounds of the sewer pipes when it rained. But Mikey doesn't look like that right now. He meets Don's gaze evenly and squeezes his brother's shoulders. "I'll take care of Leo and Master Splinter. You take care of the rest of the family."
Don studies him like this, struck by how much older Mikey seems in this moment. Solemn, but not angry. Wary, but with hope. The balance Splinter had always hoped he would attain, the harmony of his joy and his abilities. 'When did our Mikey become a mountain?' Don wonders, and then he chuckles. When this is all over and done with, he'll be glad to have his little brother back to whining at the television and freaking out over spiders in the bathroom. When it's all over…
"Nothing, Mikey. You're right." He pats Mikey's hands, smiling, and lifts them from his own shoulders. "The best thing I can do is be in this room, making sure Raph doesn't scare any nurses except the one I need him to. I know you'll take care of them. Thank you."
"Yeah, you better. Now get!"
"Getting, getting!" And he does.
When it's all over, Don thinks, maybe this really will be just another one of Mikey's nightmares—something to put away in the dark together. Because although he'd felt alone minutes beforehand, he's starting to remember that's not true at all. They've always survived leaning on each other. They can do it again.
He sits at the computer and adjusts the controls for his headset, bringing up the building blueprints and hospital files he's hacked into on the computer screen with his other hand. As soon as he switches the headset on, sound floods in.
"—onna answer me? Don!"
"Here!" And not going to waste anymore time, Don tells himself silently. "I'm here, Raph. Where are you?"
"We're under St. Joseph's. So you, uh, gotta plan or what?"
The nearest hospital is seven city blocks away. If they took the van to the streets, it would've taken several minutes to get there even with the lack of late night traffic. There are intersections to consider, other people. As it is, below the roads, streaking through the tunnels on the Shell Cycle at a reckless pace, it still takes six minutes. Debris is strewn everywhere from a flood earlier in the week. Pain in the shell, Raph thinks, gritting his teeth and plowing through whatever won't throw them off—the rest of the dents can be buffed away. (If they can't, he doesn't care.)
He slows when they reach the street that should be running parallel to the back entrance of St. Joseph's. Raph and his brothers know these sewers like their own weapons; years of playing, exploring, marking where every manhole is have imprinted into his memory. You never know when you'll need an exit, after all.
It's saved their lives more than once.
'And it's gonna do it again,' Raph thinks, slowing the bike and bringing it to a nevertheless jarring halt. Casey yelps and his forehead crashes into Raph's helmet.
"Ouch! Warn a guy, you moron!"
Raph rolls his eyes. "We're stopping, okay?"
"Yeah, thanks. Thanks, that helps so much." Casey grunts and throws his leg back over the side, getting off the bike. "Dibs on driving the way back. My bruises got bruises from all the crap you kept runnin' into."
"It was in my way," Raph says indifferently. He swings his leg over the back of the motorcycle and rolls it to the wall, propping it up against the bricks. Then he leans down to rummage in the saddlebag. "Time to hook up with Donny. Try not to break 'em, genius." He tosses one of the headsets he'd pulled out to Casey. He puts his own over his temple, adjusting the band that fits, custom made, over his head so that the microphone curves in front of his jaw. The control box, a tiny protrusion against one side of his ear, is uncomfortable and familiar. But he's used this before. He switches the volume on and upward, listening past the static. "Donny? Don, you there?"
No answer. They might be running early, but that's no reason for his brother to not be already sitting at the computer, being antsy. Raph half expects a "Where have you been!?" But nothing comes.
Casey is cursing at his headset, trying to twist the mouthpiece so it doesn't stick out like an antenna out of his cheek. They're made for turtles, not humans. Raph turns away again and taps his own headphones. "Don? This is Raph, I'm in position. Donny? You gettin' this?"
No answer. Sudden fear traces its way through Raph's bloodstream, cold and hot at the same time. Crud. Faulty equipment? No, not Don. Not even in an emergency. But what if they were in some sort of Bermuda Triangle hole of communication under the hospital, maybe—
"I don't think mine's working," Casey complains. Raph ignores him.
"You gonna answer me? Don!"
"Here!" The voice that crackles through is faint but unmistakably his brother. "I'm here, Raph. Where are you?"
Relief churns in his gut. "We're under St. Joseph's. So you, uh, gotta plan or what?"
"Head on up. Keep a close eye out, though. It might be almost one in the morning, but this is New York we're talking about here."
"Yeah, an' now's about the time the hospital probably gets busy," Casey mutters, coming up behind Raph and elbowing him in the side. Raph turns, disgruntled, and Casey motions towards the manhole with a shit-eating grin. "Ladies first."
Raph hooks his foot around Casey's ankle and yanks him forward, sending him out on his ass in the sewer sludge. Then he gets up on the ladder. "Thanks, Case," he says, smirking. "You're a real gent."
"Damn it, you numbskull, this is—I don't even know what this crud is! Gross!" Casey clambers to his feet, shaking off his hands. "That's it, I'm gonna—"
Don says, "I am already regretting this."
"Shut it, bro. You're the one who sent 'im."
"Hey, I volunteered! You ungrateful, short-ass piece of—"
"Guys! Guys, we do have a mission to think about? Leo? Name ring a bell?" Don demands impatiently. Raph feels whatever short flare of humor fade, smothered as though by a spiteful hand. He grunts and starts climbing up the ladder. "If you can be bothered for one second to—"
"We got it, Don," says Raph shortly. "On our way."
"Sorry," Casey whispers. "It was my bad."
There is silence and then Don sighs. It feels weird to hear it right up against his ear, Raph thinks, awkwardly rubbing his shoulder up by his jaw as if to banish it. "No, I'm the one that's sorry. Just… let me know when you're up on surface, okay?"
Raph picks up the manhole by about half an inch and peers out. Then he scrapes it across cement, off of the opening from where he clambers. Casey follows and shoves the manhole shut with his sneaker. The alley is dirty, cold, and from beyond he can see the glaring lights of the hospital and a murmur of constant noise. It pricks at the back of his neck; too close, too easy to be spotted. But this is where Donny told him to come and so Raph creeps forward cautiously to the corner.
"So what's the plan, Donny?" Raph adjusts his headset, feeling awkward with the constricting band and wires circling his head. This has never been his sort of gig. Electronics just get in the way during a serious fight. He's thrown away more than one pair on purpose before, only to get them out of the way and to stop irritating Raph when his concentration should be elsewhere, though he'd never tell Don that. "Please tell me you've gotta plan. Case and I aren't so big on those, y'know."
"I know, believe me," Don reassures him over the set. His voice crackles with static. "Where are you guys now?"
"Outside of the Emergency Room doors, in an alley across the way, just where you sent us," answers Raph. He peers around the brick corner at the entrance. There are a few men in dark blue uniform leaning against the wall, one checking his watch. One of them is finishing off a Danish. Through the opening, he can see the swarm of white-clad people scurrying back and forth under the flare of bright lights, like some foreign world. One Raph's definitely never been to, anyway. "What do you think? Steal a gurney, play dead, and walk straight through? It works in the movies, right?"
"Like they'd let you two feet in front of the door without rushing in to help," Don scoffs. "It's New York, but people are still civilized."
"Yeah, they eat with forks, I hear."
"Shut up, Casey," sighed Raph. "Don? It's late, but not late enough for the city. There are people milling in and outta here, constantly. An' the rooms will be full, the hospital's surrounded by tall buildings with equally full rooms… Hope you gotta really good plan, bro, 'cause it's not a pretty sight. And by not a pretty sight, I mean the giant turtle those people would see scaling walls and sneakin' into said full rooms."
"You're not going through the front door," Don says dryly. "Unless you really want to be on the eight o'clock news."
"Through the windows." Raph blinks and glances up at the building. It is several stories and even more windows; every single one of them with tiny streaks of yellow filtering through the blinds. The glass gleams against the smog and gray tones where darkness is chipped away by the multitude of city lights. "We take a cue from Leo. Attack from above, not below. Cover more ground. I can get you directly onto the floor I need you at this way and it's a safer exit afterwards."
"Yeah, okay." He can grant Don that much. "But how you gonna know if the room's empty? And most of 'em won't be, big place like this. They're crammed full all hours…"
"Getting you into a room with a person occupying it isn't the problem," Don corrected. "It's only a problem if the person knows you're getting into it."
"Use the parking garage on the west side for cover and work your way up. The parking garage goes up for three stories, at night it should cast enough shadow and be close enough that it will provide at least some degree of invisibility. We'll still have to risk being seen—" the words Raph had thought he'd never hear, "—because that's the only way I can guarantee you'll make it up to the floor I need you at without being caught, carted off elsewhere by someone with good intentions, or… who knows what. After that, there will be more, but we can get through it as long as I get you into the right room according to these records." Don exhales loudly. "I know it's a stupid plan, okay? But it's all we have."
"Not stupid," says Raph. He means it. It might not have all the delicacy and care Leo would give it, or even Don's normally meticulous and clever touches, but this is something Raph can do. No problem. "Case. Let's go."
"Waitin' for you, man."
"You'll need these." Raph digs into the pouch tucked at his belt and yanks out a pair of shuko. He tosses them to Casey. The other pair, he yanks over his own fingers, adjusting the band until the spikes run comfortably across his palm. "Tell me you've got 'nough muscle in them arms to pull your own deadweight up."
"To answer your question, yeah, I do. S'called chin-ups. And you suck. These suck," Casey grumbles. "They're almost too wide to stay stretched over my hand. Hey, can't I jus' walk in and meet him up there, Donny? I lack the whole green an' ugly thing."
"You, Case, are a whole 'nuther breed of ugly."
"Trust me, Casey. You do not want to be on camera, involved in this incident," replies Don, his voice dry. "That is the last thing you want. It has occurred to you that we're stealing expensive, highly secure equipment and drugs, right? From an institution that is designed to save lives of innocent New Yorkers every day, a fact which probably endears it greatly to the public? And further more, that this isn't going to happen without a little… creative, not entirely ethical maneuvering?"
"Heh. Was kinda hopin' for that, actually."
Raph cracks his knuckles and then a grin that's all teeth. "What're we waitin' for, then? I wanna get to the part where I tell Leo we knocked off a hospital to save his life."
"Raph's not at the pharmacy, is he?" Leo asks, so quiet that Mikey almost doesn't hear him. It's the first thing he's said since refusing anymore tea, a move that Mikey's convinced had been based solely on the embarrassing process of sipping it with Mikey's hand supporting behind his head and the other holding the teacup. On one hand, it feels good to hear Leo's voice.
On the other, Raph really isn't at the pharmacy.
Aw, shell. He tries to fix a grin on his face, but it seems a little stupid—Leo will just see through it, anyway. "Eheh… nope. What gave it away?"
It makes the corners of Leo's mouth quirk up, a little. "Hmm. I wonder."
"Besides the fact I could have easily gone to a late night pharmacy myself," says April dryly, "I have no clue. Leo, are you sure you don't want more tea?"
"What's in it?"
Mikey hates it when Leo's perceptive. Which is, like, all the time. "Just some stuff to help you! I think." He's not actually sure what's in it, but since Donny gave it the eye of approval, he's probably not lying to Leo. "Don't be like Raph and complain about the taste. It's in tea. You can't possibly not love tea, no matter how bad it's made. You drink my tea."
"Not bad… just different." Leo stirs slightly, glancing at April. "Muscle relaxant?"
She doesn't pretend, only smiles. "A strong one. Don hopes it'll stave off some of the worse effects. Can you tell if it's working?"
"Not really. But it sounded more plausible than anything else." Leo's voice is tired; it seems to fade in and out at odd words, like a radio only partly in tune. Mikey has to come up with trace syllables that fit into the sentence like a puzzle here and there. "Raph?"
Leo'll freak if he finds out they're stealing from a hospital. "Does it matter?" Mikey edges.
Leo closes his eyes and sighs. "… he and Casey are at St. Joseph's, aren't they."
Way too perceptive. There has to be therapy for something like that. Of course Leo had figured it out. He knew about the time Mikey flooded the entire lair with soap suds because he'd been curious about what would happen if one poured an entire bottle of bubble bath down the sink drain—and they'd been kids, and Leo should've had no way of knowing, and it's that damn Big Brother Is Watching radar that Mikey always will be equally grateful and despairing of, really. Of course Leo knows Raph and Casey are at St. Joseph's, which is closest. It's like asking if the sky is blue or if he'd really like a good, old fashioned meditation session in the dark.
This is somehow all Don's fault. Mikey knows if he tries hard enough, he can blame Donny for this. Not for the whole—well, crazy drug dosing and consequent issues—but for forgetting that Leo is great at the whole reading your brain thing.
Master Splinter saves Mikey from having to answer, though. Mikey loves Master Splinter. "We have no other choice in this matter, my son."
"All those people…" whispers Leo.
April rests her hand on his shoulder. "Don't think about it, Leo."
"But… the cameras, the alarms… There's been no time to plan. If we had a day—" he stops to cough, hoarse. Mikey has to clench his fingers to resist grasping his brother's arm in concern. He recovers well enough, though, and continues. "It'd be a piece of cake. Especially if we were together. But this is…"
"I agree," Master Splinter concurs gently. "But as I said, we have no other choice. Your brother has assured me of this. The proper treatment is not something we can find elsewhere and we do not have the time to wait to procure it. Raphael is also the best choice for this. Here, he would have done nothing but driven himself into a rage with his emotions, finding no release within these walls. Outside, he gains clarity. He will stop at nothing to complete his mission."
"That's what I don't like." Leo's brow furrows, lines of stress that Mikey can remember seeing increasingly often since their childhood revealing themselves. "It's too dangerous. He'll be reckless because he thinks there's no other chance."
"Well, there kinda isn't," says Mikey, shrugging. "Besides, he told me he promised not to break the hospital." It's not precisely what Raph had said, but what Leo doesn't know won't hurt him.
"Believe it or not, but it's not the hospital I'm worried about."
"Enough." Master Splinter's tone is warm, albeit sharp. "Leonardo, you must save your strength. Donatello has told you not to speak unless it is important. Please, do not concern yourself with your brother so much that you make his danger pointless."
Chastised, Leo nods very slightly in agreement. His gaze goes inward. Mikey can tell when it happens because it's sort of like watching Leo meditate with his eyes open—his mouth relaxes into a default straight line, his eyelids hooded. It means he's thinking heavily, even if he's not saying anything. Mikey hopes they're not exhausting thoughts. Master Splinter's right when he says Leo needs all the energy he can get.
Mikey's read about what happens next, after all.
But for some incomprehensible reason, for the first time since this began, he's not afraid.
"I… hate… this." Casey sounds like he's dying or pissed off. Maybe both.
Raph grunts, digging the climbing claws into stone and lifting himself up another few inches. He'd agree if he wanted to waste the air. As it is, opening his mouth feels like a stupid idea. No doubt the amount of cursing would set off Don's lecture mode for the duration of the climb and it's already bad enough without that. This doesn't stop Casey, of course.
"D'you do this all the time? No wonder you're so… freakin' tough." His friend huffs loudly, dragging his body up the vertical wall. "April's always talkin' about wantin' to gain s'more muscle… which is stupid. Should tell her… just go climb some buildings. Some hospitals."
Raph's gonna push him off. And he'll like it.
"You're almost there," Don encourages them—or rather, mostly Casey. "Just a few more levels. Remember, you want the third window from the corner, seventh floor. Neuro-intensive care unit. It's our best bet."
Raph exhales loudly. "Peachy."
"Well, it's still a tough call if we'll find the medicine we need on this floor, but the treatment room in this ward's probably pretty well stocked. The main supply room would've been better, but we'll just have to hope we're lucky."
That's not something Raph wants to hear. "Peachy."
"I hate… these things."
The wind bites at Raph's exposed skin and beneath the curved edges of his shell. It's irritating. What's worse is how exposed he feels. The parking garage had been easy to sneak through—full of shadows, cement outcroppings, and cars—and it had been a simple swing from the roof to the hospital wall, thanks to the grappling hook. But that had been two floors ago. It may only be a climb of a few minutes, but these few minutes are in completely wide open air. Sitting duck is the phrase that comes to mind. Across the street, the business firm with its expansive glass windows is boring into Raph's shell, and he's trying not to imagine a hundred curious eyes catching the flash of green in the night. Ridiculous. He knows how humans are. They never look around and pay attention to things.
But the fear is there, crawling in his blood nevertheless. For all Raph's bravado about being seen, it's been buried into him through years of conditioning. And he doesn't like being out here. Not a bit.
'Just imagine Leo's expression when you tell him,' he thinks quietly to himself. 'Don't think about lawyers callin' news stations or families pointin' up from the sidewalk. It's one in the morning, you idiot. No one's around. No one cares.'
"Bein' ninja… sucks," says Casey.
"Funny, it ain't the ninja with the problem." Raph glances up and counts the windows. One more level. He grits his teeth and yanks the spikes out of the stone again and replaces them above his head, feeling the muscles burn with effort. The wind's too strong; he needs secure holds. That takes effort, and time. Neither of which he can spare as easily right now. "Don't make me ditch your ass next time."
"Next time?" Casey groans, but Raph can hear him pick up the pace and get a little closer.
"Where are you guys at?" asks Don. Raph sighs.
"We're about three feet from the window, so you wanna let us in on what we do next? I'm all for exciting the locals, bro, but somethin' tells me whoever's in that room won't be too happy with unexpected guests. Unless the room's empty?"
"No, there's nothing empty right now." Don sounds distant and Raph can hear quicksilver typing, jarring in its rhythm. "Every floor's overrun. That's why they say there can never be too many hospitals in New York—we're just lucky it doesn't matter. I've hacked into the records here. If I'm right, that room should contain Malcolm Briton, a forty-three year old who's been in a coma for the past few week. In time, they'll probably move him to a rehabilitation facility, but this window is ours for the taking. He won't have visitors this late and he's not married… there are no contacts listed here, as a matter of fact."
Casey mutters, "Bummer."
"His loss, our victory." Raph hauls himself up against the sill of the window, noting the dark blinds with satisfaction. One of the few panes without light shining through—it bodes well for Don's prediction. "Here, numbskull, gimme your hand."
Raph reaches down and hauls Casey up the rest of the way, shoulder straining with the effort. He holds him steady until his friend has a grip on the frame, then turns back to the glass. "Here's to hoping no one's on the other side," he mutters, sliding his sai from his belt. He makes the jab quick. The window pane nearest to the lock cracks, one chunk falling way to the streets below, leaving a jagged frame behind. He uses the hilt to knock out the rest of the protruding glass and sticks his arm through, heart racing—not a sound yet, but who knows? He half-expects an alarm to blare, though it doesn't.
'You'd think breakin' into places in the dead of night on a regular basis would make you less nervous about it,' Raph thinks wryly. Then he unlocks the window and withdraws his arm. "C'mere," he says to Casey, "and help me push this up from the other side."
"Whatever," Casey says nervously, getting into position.
"Once you're inside, we'll have to get you to the treatment room. It's located behind the nurse's station," Don instructs from the headset. Raph can hear him turning in his chair now, the wheels rolling against the cement of the lair. It strikes an unexpected pang in him. He could be there now, but he's not. It's better that he's not. "Now, it's going to be a little tricky to get you down the hallway, but I made sure it's only a few yards down the way—"
"Whoa, whoa, whoa," Casey interjects, grunting as he pushes up the window. It goes inch by inch like someone has coated its sides in sawdust. Raph immediately clambers through, one sai at ready, but it doesn't matter; the room is dark and quiet, save for the steady beep of a machine and a human's nearly inaudible breathing. Casey follows him. "Let's wait a second. Okay. Now I'm on flat ground again. Repeat that—we have to walk down the hallway somehow? And into a room behind the nurse's station? Ain't that—"
"This is where it gets ethically unstable," mumbles Don.
"So this treatment room," Raph says, walking towards the bed. The male in it has one arm wrapped in bandages; he's losing hair, and weight, fast. But he's as asleep as a soul can get and even Raph, who doesn't have the discipline of mind to focus on the presence of a being, can sense nothing. It's a shell that reminds him disturbingly of another form sprawled somewhere else, breathing quietly. He moves away, eyes sliding towards the door and its single square window where a white light gleams. "It's, what? Locked? That's nothin' new."
"Locked. Um. We'll need a keycard to get into it. If I was there, I'd have it open in half a second," Don continues, guilt lining his words, "but you'll have to actually get a badge from a nurse there. And the keys. To, uh, the drug cabinet there."
Silence. Raph considers this very carefully. "So you're sayin' that…"
"There's only one set. I don't know for sure—my research isn't exactly detailed, you realize—but it's going to probably be with the head nurse for this shift. If you can just send Casey out to ask who it is and somehow lure them back—"
"That's the plan? That's the plan?"
"Whoa, they aren't just gonna let me run around here," Casey protests.
"I know, but we don't exactly have much of a choice! I can't shut off power and give you guys enough time to break in, it'd be too long and you'd get caught. And those are people on that floor. What did you think was going to happen, it's a hospital, Raph!"
"That's the plan?"
"Can we just think this through a little more?" whines Casey. "Please? I thought I didn't want my face on camera?"
"No, because it's already—" Don stops. Raph can hear Mikey in the background shouting something, faint but urgent. "Damn it! Wait a second, Raph!" Don curses uncharacteristically and then there's a swish of air and static against Raph's ear drums, and then, crackling, absolutely nothing but silence.
"Don? Donny? You there?"
Mikey had sounded upset. There's a thin current of air trickling down through Raph's throat, barely touching his lungs. He feels like he's sucking it through a straw. He listens. No answer.
'Stupid. Just a hitch. Don't even think about it. Leo's a pain in the shell, but he's not—a coward, he's at least better than that. Don't think about it.' The coma patient's heart monitor is irritating. Raph wishes he were bastard enough to sweep it down with an arm, just one clean swipe, done in rage. Instead he inhales deeply and lets it out again until he feels like he's actually taking in oxygen again. 'He's fine. It's all fine. Just do the damn job you came here for. It's already…'
He checks the watch strapped, by necessity, to his wrist. 1:07 a.m.
"Raph," says Casey, quiet-like.
"I know." He glances towards the window set in the door. Maybe eight by eight inches. "We gotta go. We can't wait for Don."
"But we don't know what—"
"He said we needed a card an' the keys from the head nurse." Raph glances around the room, but there's nothing to make Casey look anything less like some punk that just climbed through a window. Which he is. They'll just have to hope no one gives him a second stare. "Which means we have to put her out of commission."
"What? Like… knock her out?"
"Yeah." Maybe it's not what Don had planned, but Raph can't see any other way out of it. Maybe that's what "ethically unstable" means. He doesn't care. "Go outside. Ask the desk to figure out who she is. Jus' get her here."
"Aw, man. I hope she's not pretty," Casey mumbles, sweeping back his hair with his fingers. "Fine, fine. If I get kicked out, I'll… uh, try to come back."
There wouldn't be time. Raph grins, anyway. "Heh. Just get going."
"Yeah, yeah." Casey peers out the window and then cracks open the door enough to let in a sliver of light. "Be ready."
Then he's gone and Raph's alone. Well, almost. He turns back to the man in the bed, scowling, but finds he can't keep it up when there's no response. The room is really white; barren and untouched. He leans against the wall and listens for Casey's footsteps as they squeak on the tiles down the hallway.
"I can't wait to tell Leo we knocked out a nurse to save his life," Raph tells the guy. A few moments later, his sharp grin falters and falls away. The empty vase by the side table had to have had flowers at some point or it wouldn't be there, but now it just stands like a relief in the shadows. He fingers the headset and waits, but there's nothing to hear.
His brother might be in trouble and all they have is a half-assed plan where anything could go wrong at any given time. Perfect.
Raph thinks about the first time he learned to hit a skull without leaving any lasting damage beyond a small headache. His practice dummy had been Leo. Back then, when they were younger, it still felt normal to reach out a hand to help his brother up, even as Leo clutched his temple, one eye shut, and laughed. That had been normal, too.
He tips his head up against the wall and closes his eyes, listening.
"Donny!" Mikey all but shrieked. "Donny, he's not breathing! He's not breathing!"
It had been too much to hope for, after all. That's all Don could think when he felt his heart stop. It had been over fifteen minutes, too long for another attack, and even though he knew not to—he'd hoped. That maybe he could call Raph any second. Stupid. He's too intelligent to believe that. "Damn it!" CPR. Mikey knows it, but none of them are as good as Leo and Don when it comes to resuscitating. Leo has the patience, Don has the technique. Technique will have to do. "Wait a second, Raph!"
He hates to leave them there, but no choice. He rips off the headset. It rebounds off of the computer chair, but he's already out the doorway.
April's grim face is the first to glance up at him from where she crouches over Leo's legs, trying to keep them pinned to the floor. Master Splinter is clutching Leo's arm, an intent expression that seems unmovable against the force of his son's violent shaking. It hasn't gotten any less surreal since the last time Don had seen it.
"It's an attack," Mikey says tersely when Don falls to his knees, fingers prying at the rigid set of Leo's teeth as they bare at him in a parody of a grin. Don doesn't have time to think of Leo's comfort zone; he wedges his thumb in between the molars and leans down to listen for the flow of air. It isn't coming. "It's only been 'bout a minute, but now he can't—he just stopped—"
"Mikey, you do the compressions!"
"Compressions," his little brother repeats, pale. But he puts his hands on Leo's chest, folding them carefully and waiting just above the plastron in the upper center.
Don leans down and covers Leo's beak. "Breathe for me," he whispers, pushing up on the chin so his brother's head falls back. He has to press hard to make it stay in place. Holding the jaw with an iron grip, he bends and blows into Leo's mouth. And again. Turn, inhale. "Mikey—"
"One, two, three, four…!" At twenty-one, Mikey's numbers turn into grunts. But Don's still keeping track. When it hits thirty, he listens, finds nothing, and then bends again. One. Two. Turn, inhale.
It's a nightmare. Performing CPR is hard enough, but every desperate twitch shifts Mikey's positioning and it's getting increasingly difficult for Don to keep Leo's hardwired-shut mouth capable of receiving breaths. His brother's going to have bruises all over his face. Fingerprints dotting his cheek and neck, he can already see the pale imprints. It won't matter. Just so long as—
In mid-process of pushing another puff of air into Leo's lungs, Don can feel the exact second when Leo goes limp. For that exact second, he assumes the worst.
A second breath. Turn, inhale. Don fumbles for a pulse but can't make himself look at Leo. Mikey's not counting or even making any sounds, just punching down with a high quivery noise, but—
Shuddering, tight, a painful sound. It's fantastic. Don turns and puts his hands against Leo's cheeks, gentle this time, as his brother weakly coughs. "That's it," he whispers. "You got it. Calm down, just concentrate on taking in air."
"You did it," Mikey's repeating, low, reverent, and Don's not sure if he's talking to him or Leo or himself or what—it doesn't matter. "You did it, it's gonna be okay. Oh man. Oh man."
"Don," Leo croaks.
"Water," says Don. April gets to her feet in an awkward motion where her left sneaker skids on the mats. She heads for the kitchen. "Don't talk too much, Leo, you've got to save your strength. That was way too close."
Leo blinks wetly at him, his dark eyes slightly glazed. Then he nods, brow furrowing in concern. Don strokes his face, unable to help himself, and thinks that he must be grinning something frightful if Leo's worried about him. So he pulls back and begins to do a quick check of Leo's body, making sure everything's in order, eyes running over the muscles and slick sheen of sweat. It'd been a hard, long attack. Not the good news he'd been hoping for, although the stretch of time in between the last attack and this one did seem to bode well—
"Leo, when we gave you tea before, I asked April to include a simple over the counter muscle relaxant of some strength. Did the muscle relaxant help at all? Just nod yes or no. Did you notice a difference?"
Leo shakes his head slightly. Don feels his shoulders almost sag in disappointment and stops them. "Well, maybe some more tea wouldn't hurt," he suggests. April comes in with the glass of water right on time and catches his eye. She nods and then hands him the glass. There's a light dust of white coating the bottom of it; they won't need anymore tea. Sometimes Don thinks if there were ever a girl, if it were even remotely feasible, it would have to be April. As it is, he'll never be able to thank her for this.
"Here, drink this." He tucks his hand under Leo's head and pushes it up slightly, ignoring the slight tension as Leo pulls away instinctively. "Don't gulp. Sip."
It takes a moment, but Leo relaxes and slowly sips from the glass. A small rivulet of liquid trails down his beak, but Don catches it with his wristband. After about half the glass is gone, Leo closes his eyes and rests his head heavily against Don's hold. Don puts the glass down. That's enough for now. Enough medicine and enough of a blow to Leo's pride, as stupid as it is. He wants to shake some sense into his brother right here and now, but it's not the time, the place, the situation—and it's weird, but he can't because it feels almost good to see the miniature acts of defiance. He's seen Leo as bad as it can get at this point, even worse than the night Leo came crashing through April's apartment window, and any piece of his brother still showing past it is comforting. Don's almost tempted to give him the lecture he would've if Leo had been caught practicing with a sprained wrist.
Leo inhales raggedly, like his esophagus is in pieces. It's not like a sprained wrist. Don's vague smile fades, and he leans in close. "Leo, are you sure the muscle relaxant had no effect?"
"Yeah…" Leo turns his head towards Don nearly imperceptibly. "Pretty sure."
That idea can go out the window, then. And he doesn't dare try chloroform. Who knows what would happen if it was still in his system when Raph returned with the medical supplies—or if it would slow the seizures at all.
It's not the first time Don has wished their medicine cabinet supplies could expand in variety and usefulness. It's not the first time he's stood staring at the shelves with a sinking feeling, that helplessness that burns too fiercely to ignore, and not the first time he's had the fleeting thought that, 'If we were normal… this would be so much simpler.' In that world, Don can just take his brother to a hospital that's more than prepared to deal with the situation at hand. Leo would already be getting better. Raph wouldn't be risking his life and their detection by breaking into a hospital—and there is a wealth of trouble there, too many ways this could go horribly wrong and too much to lose if it does. Mikey wouldn't be shaken but hard, his smile becoming a mask as he pats April's shoulder.
It's just… this is the first time Don has come this close to hating his home.
A sharp pain stabs through his temple. Don rubs his forehead, grimacing. He wishes he could crush the ache in his head with his hands, too. It's not making this any easier. It's part stress and part the gears working overtime, maybe, and he's had headaches before but never have they been so inconvenient.
"You should take… something for that," Leo says quietly. "If you're not feeling well. Relax, Don. I know you're doing your best."
"I thought I told you not to talk," replies Don softly, but he smiles again. "I did take something. I'm fine. Leo, was this seizure more severe than the others? Just nod."
Leo hesitates and makes the smallest of shrugs.
"Right." It's no help, of course. "Well, there's some good news, at least."
"I like good news," mumbles Mikey. His hands are moving every so often, drifting from Leo's plastron to clutching Leo's arm, as if they can't decide where they need to be. "I also like the absence of the bad news part."
"The whole thing is bad news, Mikey." Don makes as if to get up, but a noise from Leo stops him. "What is it?" He bends in concern.
Leo shakes his head minutely. "The good news?" he asks, pointedly.
Oh. It's not good news he particularly wants to share. But now Mikey's beaming at him like maybe it's the lottery or something and Don is cursing his big mouth. Even Master Splinter's ears have pricked forward. It's Leo who cinches it, though; solemn and weary, studying Don like he's expecting him to suddenly throw up his arms and cry out that it was a joke.
Don sits again. "Um… well, it's just a theory I've been considering. I don't know if you'll like it very much, but it really is good news if it turns out to be true. See, the seizures are supposed to come in regular intervals. Ten to fifteen minutes each."
"Oh," says April. "But this was…"
"Right, it was longer than that. A hefty eighteen minutes or so, almost twenty. If there's more time in between, it's hopeful that the drug wasn't as potent as we originally thought it might be. Keslemen… he might've made a mistake."
"How do you make a mistake?" Mikey asks, confused. It's naturally the question Don had been hoping to avoid answering.
He sighs. "Well, it's… the drug, it probably wasn't pure, Mikey. Understand?"
"Okay, if that had been a dose of pure strychnine? We might not even be having this conversation." He tries not to think about that idea; just breezes on past it. "There were numerous other elements in the sample that I discovered when I was trying to isolate the strychnine's molecular compound. So that means the strychnine was mixed with other stuff, not so dangerous."
"How does that help?" Leo murmurs inquiringly. He's still watching Don with those damp, tired eyes. "And what if the other stuff… if it was bad, it could…" He can't seem to get the last words to work, so he just stops.
"He must've been mixing it with LSD and other drugs. It's been done before, without any conclusive results." Don hesitates. "In fact… the small percentage of other chemicals in the sample I tested suggests it was an attempt, as well. By blending it with the drug, though, it might have negated—"
"Okay, that was not the good news I was hoping for," mumbles Leo. He looks like he wants to cover his eyes with his hands, but has to settle for simply closing them. Don fidgets and looks away. He'd wanted to spare Leo this, too, but nothing's going the way he'd planned. He should've known. Leo never rests easy until he has every fact, some innate compulsion to keep control of every aspect of his life and those around him creating a single-minded pursuit of truth. There are plenty of things Don could say to make this sound better, but it would almost be an insult to Leo to do so. Instead, he is respectfully silent.
After a long moment, Leo exhales loudly. "Okay. So why is this good?"
"It might not be." Don glances at Leo's fingers, which are twitching slightly as if he's trying to move them. "But if the dose had been tampered with—any sort of chemical drug mixed in with it, any attempt to distill the product—there's a chance it wasn't as strong as a pure shot of strychnine. I'm not… an expert, Leo. I can't tell you that. But there's a possibility. It makes logical sense. It would give you better odds—it would be a good thing if it were laced with that many drugs."
Leo still hasn't opened his eyes, but at least the hard line of his jaw has eased. He seems to be thinking it over carefully. "I feel fine," he says, neutral.
It's good in one way and bad in another. If the drug cocktail simply hasn't worked its purpose but still is canceling out some of the immediate severity of the poison, Don figures it's the best of both worlds. If it just hasn't had enough LSD to create an effect… they're right at where they've started. Just a little hope. "Okay," replies Don quietly, making as if to stand. "It doesn't matter, really; what's done is done. But I had to tell you."
"Thanks, Donny." The gratitude is honest. Don feels a bit of himself relax, deep inside of the knot of worry in his belly. But then, "Wait. Um—"
"What is it?" He stays in the half-crouch, fingers to the floor, and studies his brother's troubled expression. Leo appears to wrestle with something; when his eyes open, they're guarded. It's the countenance Don has only seen the few times his brother's been openly embarrassed or frustrated. He can recall—like so many of the memories that have been warring for attention in his mind all night, as if forewarnings—the first time Leo had a nightmare as a child and sought out comfort, when he'd realized Don could read the volumes that Leo still hadn't mastered at a young age, a mistake in training or on a mission that cost him nothing but dignity. He's never seen that face look up at him before; it's disconcerting.
"Don't tell Raph," Leo finally says, his voice small.
And somehow, yes, Don had expected that. But the request hits him in a place he hadn't been prepared for—he fumbles out an agreement, walks away on numb legs, and feels the tears brim over as soon as the door to his lab closes.
He leans against the wall and presses his palms to his eyes. Shudders deeply. Takes a deep breath. Then he goes to pick up the headset left abandoned by the computer, slides into the chair, and says, "Raphael, I'm here. Where are you?"
The End of Chapter Three
Next time: Raph and Casey scare two nurses. Damn those drug trolleys! Mikey steps up to bat. Leo is freaking tired and Master Splinter will not shut up. Don loses a bet. Time runs out. Raph figures out how to say what he needs to say.