AN: ToriAngeli was my beta for this fic, and she deserves MAD PROPS for the magnificent job she did. Tori, you are tough but your frank and insightful suggestions are worth it. They had a huge and very positive impact on this tale, and I thank you! The quote in the summary was by Wes Borg from Dead Troll dot Com.



--- S U P P O R T -- B O U N D A R I E S ---

Leonardo could tell the call wasn't going well. It wasn't that Donatello was shouting, of course. This time it didn't even sound like he was being shouted at. But he knew how much Don hated being made to repeat himself, and there was an awful lot of that going on.

He tried to throw his attention back into the documentary he was watching. It wasn't riveting, but it wasn't half bad. The History Channel was one thing he'd sorely missed during his travels. However, bits of Don's call kept floating back to reach him.

"Your situation is very unfortunate, sir. But I'm afraid those programs are well beyond our support boundaries, and – well. What that means is, if I proceed from here and I start to trouble-shoot those issues for you out of sympathy, and our call log was ever pulled and reported— I could be terminated. I'm sorry. Yes, I really am. Sir. It sounds like you've been horribly inconvenienced. If I could just. Um. Please hold."

Michelangelo was lounging on the couch beside him, and appeared to be quite absorbed in playing the new Pokémon game on his Nintendo DS. But as the length of Don's words and the rate of his speech continued to increase and the pitch of his voice went higher and higher, even Mikey could not remain oblivious to it. He didn't look up from his game, but leaned over a little to mumble at Leo, "He's so gonna snap. Waaaaait for it…"

"I am starting to worry," Leo agreed. "That was his third 'please hold' in five minutes, and none of them for any particular reason."

"Yep. Five bucks says he breaks his headset once this call's over."

"You're on. Don's got way too much respect for his gadgets."

"Ha!" Mike paused his game to turn and give Leo an incredulous grin. "Shows what you know. I'm telling you, bro – it totally happens. He keeps a whole box of spares under his desk there."

"Really?" Leo looked aghast at this news.

"Yeah, really! Just you wait."

They turned to watch Don. It was clear to both of them that he'd given up trying to help the customer at this point and was just desperate to get this person off his phone – so far, without success.

"You know, I've been meaning to talk to him about this job of his. I'm starting to think that it's not good for his mental health, on top of being a true waste of his abilities…"

"I really don't think now is the best time to lecture him, Leo," Mike observed with a smirk.

It was sound advice, but Leonardo ignored it. He waited until the next 'please hold' before rising from the couch and taking a step towards his seething brother. "Maybe you should take a meditation break after this call, Don," he suggested delicately.

"Maybe you should suck my tail, Leo," Don shot back, almost pleasantly.

Leonardo stared. Then, slowly, he turned and sank back down onto the couch. He continued to stare at the television and blink slowly for several moments before inquiring, "Did – did he just…?"

"Dude," Michelangelo was cracking up. "I so warned you!"

Meanwhile, Don was back on the line and renewing his escape efforts with a vengeance. They heard him spitting out the required call closing from between his gritted teeth. Then he tore the headset off and held it tensely in both hands, panting softly at his monitor. Leo held his breath, truly thinking for a moment that he would break it.

But then Don seemed to sense their eyes on him. He threw the headset onto the ground instead and whirled to snap at them, "What?"

"Nothing!" Mike and Leo both yelped in unison, turning quickly to face the TV again.

Leo waited until he was sure Donatello's attention was no longer on them. Soon he could hear the clatter and clack of his brother's fingers hitting the keyboard, typing something heatedly and at a rate of at least eighty or ninety words per minute.

It seemed like a safe time to lean over and mumble a friendly reminder to Mike out of the corner of his mouth. "I believe you owe me five bucks."

"What?" Mike protested. "No fair! He was totally gonna, 'til he caught you staring at him!"

"Okay. First of all, you were staring too," Leo said very patiently. "And the only term you qualified for this bet was that he would break the headset. Which he did not. Therefore, you owe me five bucks."

"Aw, man!" Mike groaned, but dragged himself up off the couch in a big show of reluctance and trudged off towards his room. Normally he would have let it go, since Mikey was always so broke; however, at the moment, so was he.

Leonardo refocused his attention on the History Channel just as the credits started to roll. He frowned. Reaching for the remote, he brought up the channel guide, but the next program they were showing held no interest for him. He began paging down, skimming the listings for something else to watch.

Behind him, he could still hear the angry clack-clack-clack of Donatello pounding away on the keyboard. He had not slowed down. If anything, he was typing even faster.

Leo turned to study his brother from over one shoulder. He'd assumed Don was venting with April or Leatherhead over some instant messenger, but now he gave the screen a closer look and could see that it was an email. And not his usual program for personal emails, but the web mail that he used for work.

Alarm bells went off.

"Don?" he called warily. No answer. "What are you writing, Don?"

"Oh… nothing important really!" Don chirped in an insincere voice that did little for Leonardo's peace of mind.

He got up off the couch and crept closer to see for himself. Don hunched his neck a little as Leo began to read over his shoulder, but he did not look over at his brother or stop typing. He did not even slow down. He did murmur, half to himself and vaguely sing-song, "It's only courteous to email the customer with a follow-up!"

The blue-masked turtle's eyes grew wider the further down he read. When he got to the part that was written entirely in caps, he tore his gaze off the screen to look at Don imploringly. "This – is just therapeutic, right? You're not actually going to send this."

Don's brow ridges shot up, and he gave a positively evil high-pitched giggle. "Oh ho!" he assured Leo, sounding giddy and unhinged. "Just watch me!"

Michelangelo returned carrying a cereal bowl and made a beeline for the couch. The cereal bowl was kind of weird. It was evening and dinner had not been that long ago.

Leo spared him only a brief, puzzled glance before going back to staring at Donatello, who seemed to have completely lost his mind. "No, Donnie," he insisted very seriously, "I'm telling you. You're not going to send this."

"Mmhmmmmm," Don murmured, bobbing his head cheerfully. He was typing again.

Leonardo was starting to get annoyed. He saw Michelangelo again out of the corner of his eye and looked back towards his younger brother. Who was going through the couch cushions with one hand. And still holding a cereal bowl in the other. "Mikey," he intoned gravely. "WHAT are you doing?"

"Uh." Mike straightened up quickly and dropped two pennies into the cereal bowl. Then he giggled and reached behind his neck to tug sheepishly at the tails of his bandana. "Thing is, I'm coming up a little short."

Leonardo looked towards the ceiling with an exasperated sigh. "Forget about it, Mikey. Just give me what you have."

Michelangelo trotted forward and held out the cereal bowl obediently. "Sorry, Leo. I thought I had five dollars, but turns out it's only, like… three forty-five. Ish. But I threw in two arcade tokens. And uh. This coupon for free chips and a medium soda when you buy a sub from that sub place on Ninth."

Leo took the cereal bowl and peered down at the contents dubiously. The change was mostly pennies and nickels. Should he mention that he hated those greasy, oil-drenched subs they made over on Ninth Street? The bowl itself was also sticky to the touch, suggesting that it may not have been washed since it was last used. Who knew how long it may have sat in Mikey's toxic waste dump of a bedroom…? Checking himself before he could make a face at the thought, Leonardo shoved the bowl back into Mike's hands. "Just… keep it."

Michelangelo broke into a sunny smile, apparently misreading Leo's change of heart as generosity. "You so rock."

"All done!" Donatello announced. He sat back and steepled his fingers over his plastron, eyes glittering as he surveyed the unsent email

"Oooh, whazzat?" Mike invited himself into the alcove, setting the bowl of coins down on the corner of Don's desk and peering over one of his shoulders to see what his geeky brother had written. He started out just skimming quickly towards the bottom, looking for the point of it. Then his mouth dropped open in a shocked sort of grin and his gaze bounced back up to the top of the page, apparently deciding that it warranted a full read-through after all. "Dude," he commented about half-way through. Then a beat or two later he repeated it, blue eyes blinking wider. "Dude!"

"Donnie…" Leo warned, looking at his brother critically and putting on his Quit Playing Around voice.

It did not have the desired effect. Don gave that deranged little giggle again. Then he took hold of one of those modified joysticks he liked to use in place of a mouse and started spinning it in merry circles, causing the cursor on the screen to make teasing loop-de-loops around the 'SEND' button.

Leonardo shot forward to stop him, seizing Don's hand with both of his. "Don, listen to me," he commanded sternly, trying once more to reason with his brother. This tactic normally worked so well... "Now, you know that up until now I've been happy to play the part of your 'supervisor' whenever your callers get abusive and irate. But, Don. That is not going to happen this time. This – this is just uncalled for, and –" He'd been doing such a good job of staying calm, but now Leo released Don's hand and turned to explode, "—will you shut up, Mikey!"

Mike had finished the email by this point and was in hysterics. He was trying to speak but it came out barely coherent because he was laughing so hard.

"Bwahahaha! Zimbabwe, dude!" Michelangelo gasped, struggling to draw breath into his lungs. "And like. Haha, and the best. Okay, like." He was curled forward and bracing his plastron with one hand, gesturing wildly with the other, "I bet he totally could, right? Like. Like all of it! Ahahaha…!"

Curling his upper lip and bobbing his head slowly, Don assured Mikey, "Totally could." He looked entirely too pleased with himself.

"I love you, dude," Mike sobbed, throwing his arms around Don. "I just love you so much. Hahaha…"

Meanwhile, Leonardo seemed to be deep in thought, or perhaps struggling to reach Zen, or both. He had his palms pressed together in front of him, and his lips touching the tips of his fingers. He was no longer looking at either of them, for all appearances quite calm and just very, very thoughtful as he talked himself out of doing either of them bodily harm.

Leo dropped his arms to his sides and announced in a falsely upbeat voice, like he was starting over from scratch. "Okay, then!" He grabbed Mike by the knot of his bandana and dragged him off Donatello with ease. Then he seized Don's chair by both armrests, hauling him into a quarter turn and dragging him closer, away from his keyboards and joysticks, with the added bonus of forcing eye contact.

Donnie blinked owlishly, and then beamed at him. "Hi!"

"Hi." Leo smiled tightly, choking back a – what? Was that a laugh caught in his throat? Oh god! The madness was catching. He must rein this in fast. "Now, I want you to listen to me very carefully Donnie." He had to raise his voice a bit to be heard over the sniggering hyena still cleverly disguised as his youngest brother. "Because this is important. You're listening?"

He felt like he was talking to a very small child now. Don didn't help the image by pursing his lips to ward off his laughter and responding by nodding his head five or six times in quick succession.

"Okay, good. Because what I'm saying is, when this guy calls back screaming mad, you will be on your own. Do you understand what that means? It means that when he asks to talk to your supervisor – and I promise you, Don, he will – you will have no one to transfer him to. No one. Except your actual supervisor."

"Hmm," Don remarked neutrally.

"Now, does that sound like very much fun to you, Donnie?"

Talking to his genius brother like a little kid did accomplish one of his intended goals, at least: it seemed to restore his maturity. Don tilted his head to the side as if considering his brother's condescending words, then finally murmured, "You do make a compelling point, Leo."

"I'm glad you think so."

Don tapped his chin thoughtfully. "But I believe I have a rebuttal."

"Do you, now," Leonardo deadpanned, lowering his chin.

"Yep." Donatello leaned back in his chair, putting as much distance as he could between himself and the big brother still holding onto either armrest of his chair. Then he tipped his head back and hollered at the ceiling, "RAAAAAAAPH!"

Leonardo groaned and let his shoulders slump a little. "He's taking a shower, Don," he tried, knowing it was a weak defense. And, sure enough…

"I don't hear water running anymore." He took another deep breath, readying to call out again. "RAAAA—oh, there you are! RAPH!" Don clapped his hands together and gushed, "My valiant, stalwart, dauntless brother Raph!"

From the balcony above Leo could now see Raphael peering down at them, unmasked and dripping wet, a towel draped around his neck. He narrowed his eyes at Don and demanded, "You crackin' on me?"

Don huffed a quick sigh, glancing up and away briefly before assuring him, "No, Raph. Those are all good traits."

"I KNOW, dammit!" Raphael growled, clenching his fists on the balcony railing and leaning forward more. "What I MEAN is, are you bein' sarcastic or what?"

"No," Leo corrected crossly, releasing Don's armrests and standing up straight. He looked up at Raph, folding his arms across his chest and warning, "It means he's buttering you up because he wants something."

Michelangelo had almost quieted down, but the sight of Raph got him started giggling again. "RAPH! Raph, you gotta come here!" he jumped up and waved eagerly to his brother, insisting, "Haha, you gotta read this!"

That worked better to summon him than Don's sugar-coated greeting. Raphael casually leapt down from the upper balcony and landed in an easy crouch in the middle of the common room. He'd forgotten the towel, which escaped during his fall, and had to back up and retrieve it. Then he snapped it over one shoulder and wandered over to where his brothers had gathered to see what the fuss was about.

As Raph moved to stand in front of the monitor, a worried look crossed Don's features. He lifted one finger to request timidly, "Though, if you could, just be sure not to, ah – drip on the equipment, please."

From what Leonardo had observed, Raph had seemed careful in the way he positioned himself, keeping well away from the keyboards and PC towers. So he found himself sympathetic when Raph turned around fully to glare at the unneeded suggestion. "Well fuck, Don! And here I was just about ta' practice my pirouettes." His brow ridges furrowed in annoyance and he took a step forward, advancing on Donatello menacingly. "You got a lotta' goddamned nerve for somebody who supposedly needs my help."

"What? I said please!"

Leonardo caught himself feeling glad, for the first time ever, that Donatello and Raph still weren't on the greatest of terms. Maybe Raph wouldn't help, after all!

But then Michelangelo spoiled everything by taking matters into his own hands. "Dude, you're blowing it," he scolded. "Put a lid on it, 'kay? Let the thing speak for itself!" He took Raph by the arm and dragged him back into a position facing the monitor. "Read!" he commanded, pointing at the screen eagerly.

Raphael obeyed, though at first he did so very grudgingly. Then his expression softened and became unreadable as his gaze flickered over the lines of text. The room became very quiet. Don and Mike both watched Raph blatantly, waiting for his reaction.

Leonardo did not look at Raph, but he was waiting for it too. He was surprised, actually, at how vehemently he did not want Raph to help. His attention divided, keeping his brother in the corner of his eye but turning much of his gaze inward to analyze his discouraged feelings.

He was self-aware enough to recognize that much of what he was feeling was selfish and personal. In repairing the pair of katana that had been destroyed during that devastating rooftop confrontation, it was like he and Raph had also silently agreed to re-forge the way they dealt with one another. And now, for the first time in what felt like ages, he and Raphael were actually getting along.

He was still gruff, still quick to snarl and argue and tear Leo's ideas down any time he saw flaws in them. In other words, he was still Raph. But Leonardo was starting to see the value in a dissenting voice. Lately he saw proof that Raph was listening, considering, before he protested… and that made all the difference. He had even stepped up to defend or enforce his orders openly a few times, leaving Leo stunned and grateful and struggling to cover it.

For almost three weeks it had been thus. Three weeks exchanging grins, nods of understanding, silent looks full of meaning that only they could understand. After the solitude he had known for two long years, the feeling of connecting with someone – Raph, of all people – was heady and intoxicating. He was every bit as terrified to show it as he was to lose it. He was afraid to let himself care at all. Three weeks of peace was impressive, but it was nothing compared to the long years they had been waging a cold war. It made their truce feel as fragile as spun glass at times, and a dark and pessimistic part of Leonardo was just waiting for it to break.

Maybe even over something as stupid and petty as this…

These racing thoughts did not continue long before Leonardo cut them off, sternly upbraiding himself. Because it was selfish. It was personal. Most importantly, none of it had anything to do with Donatello! He should not even be ALLOWED the luxury of friendships if he could not analyze situations or make decisions without bias.

Okay. Time to refocus. He looked over at his brothers. Raphael was still reading. He still hadn't even needed to scroll down yet, and Leo felt a wash of old sympathy.

As a child, Leonardo remembered trying to hide the fact that Splinter had him reading "The Grapes of Wrath" at the same time that Raph was still struggling through "Sideways Stories from Wayside School". He was completely literate now, of course. It was not unheard of for him to pick up a book now and then, but mostly he stuck to magazines. Raphael remained the slowest reader of the four by a pretty wide margin, and was very sensitive to the fact. So they all waited silently now, aware of it, but knowing better than to mention it.

Leonardo moved to stand beside Donatello, taking a position where he could keep an eye on Raph's reaction and re-read the email himself. He was determined to clear his head of these thoughts and reconsider it. He felt he owed Don that much.

Dear Valued Customer,

I'm glad I was able to explain to you the purpose and precise technique of "right-clicking" your mouse. In lieu of our recent unsuccessful attempts to troubleshoot your issue, I thought I would provide a follow-up and some information that I hope you'll find helpful.

1.) When a tech says "click", they want you to push the left mouse button once.
2.) You also want to push the left mouse button when asked to "double-click" - just do it twice, and quickly.
3.) When we want you to click the right mouse button, we tend to actually

So you see, by studying these simple guidelines it will no longer be necessary to ask "right-click or left-click?" at every goddamned thing I want you to click on. Because even though I'm still not sure what you specifically DID to hose your system, I'm almost positive the solution will involve clicking. LOTS of clicking.

I'll spend a few days monitoring your connection and will get in touch with you at the end of the week with the results. It should also give you plenty of time to completely memorize the three aforementioned rules about the terminology and proper use of your pointing device. In fact, I'd like to make you a deal. If you manage to get through our next phone call without uttering the question "right-click or left-click", I will waive any charges that you may have incurred in the course of resolving this issue, as well as your next month of regular service.

And I'm sorry, but if you CAN'T manage this -- I WILL SEE TO IT THAT YOU SUFFER.



As always, we appreciate your business and apologize for the inconvenience these problems have caused you!


Donnie, Your Friendly Neighborhood IT Tech Support Rep

By the time he'd finished his second read-through, Leonardo found that his distaste and irritation over the email had only redoubled. Threatening a customer like this… It was horrible, just horrible! So disrespectful and crude. What was Don thinking? Clearly he was experiencing some kind of temporary insanity.

He could not let Donatello send something like this. Leonardo would not allow it.

Finally, Raph seemed to have finished. Leonardo glanced at him and saw that he was still completely expressionless. Raphael's head cocked a little, and then twisted to cast that blank look over his shoulder towards Don.

He said nothing.

He looked back at the screen.

Then he looked back over his shoulder. Then he turned around all the way to level his deadpan expression at Donatello head-on.

Raphael solemnly held out his fist.

Don looked at it with confusion at first. Then he belatedly seemed to realize what was expected of him and extended his own fist to Raph, who bumped it in a show of deep respect - first from above, then from below.

Leonardo covered his eyes and groaned.

Donatello smiled up at Raph sweetly. "So… does that mean that if I send this, and the guy calls back in to yell at me, you'll be my supervisor?"

"Don," Raph said, his straight face cracking to allow a grin, "when this guy calls back in, I can't wait to be your supervisor."

"Really?" Don brightened.

"Oh yeah. I'll tell him your ass is so fired!"

"And when his real supervisor finds out about it?" Leonardo reminded them crisply. "Do you want to field that call too, Raph?"

"Umm," Raphael didn't have to think about this for very long. He clapped Don's shoulder and chuckled, "Sorry, pal. That one's all you."

"I can't believe you're going to take that call," Leo fumed very quietly, shooting Raph a look and then glancing off towards the wall.

Raph turned with genuine surprise. "Why shouldn't I?"

"It undermines everything I've been saying to him for the past ten minutes."

"Whoa, hold up. Why ya getting so worked up over it, Leo?"

"Cuz like, you know," Michelangelo interjected cheerfully, "it's what he does?"

Leonardo shot Mike a warning look before turning on Raph. "You can't expect me to support something like this," he snapped. "It's just… it's rude, unethical, and completely irresponsible!"

"So?" Raph argued, wry but calm, spreading his arms in appeal. "Isn't it his own business if he wants to mouth off and get fired? It's a stupid job, anyway. And weren't you the one who was sayin' just the other day that maybe he oughta' quit it and find somethin' that actually challenges him?"

"I…" A blush was coming onto Leonardo's cheeks now. He willed it away with a vengeance, but still the flush of warmth crept over his face and down his neck as he realized that Raphael was right.

He looked over at Don, who met Leonardo's gaze. A shadow had passed over his face as he wondered soberly, "Do you… do you really think they'd fire me, Leo?"

Embarrassment and realization had snuffed out his temper completely. "Of course they would, Donnie," he affirmed softly. "Is that what this is really about? Are you trying to get free of this job?"

"No, I… Maybe." Don's gaze darted between his brothers for a moment, then he turned to look at the monitor, murmuring, "I… I'm not sure."

"Gosh, Donnie," Michelangelo said gently, "even I thought you were trying to get yourself fired with this."

"Maybe I was," he realized very softly.

"I can't believe I'm about to say this," Leonardo sighed, crossing his arms. "I mean, I'd much rather see you give a proper two weeks notice, but – what the shell. Send the email, Don."

"I…" Donatello started to reach for the joystick, then hesitated and drew his hand back. He bit his lower lip and said glumly, "But I really like having money."

"Then don't send it," Leo advised. "Or sleep on it, and send it tomorrow. Whatever you decide to do, we'll support you."

"Thanks, Leo. I do see what you're saying about the two weeks notice. You just don't know what it's like sometimes, when – er." Don's attention derailed, his words halting abruptly. Looking past Leonardo, he narrowed his eyes and wondered warily, "What are those two up to?"

Leo followed his gaze and immediately saw what had distracted Don. Michelangelo and Raphael were standing a ways off with their heads bent close, whispering to one another and sending occasional glances towards Don. "I'm not sure, but they're definitely up to something," he agreed with a sympathetic nod.

As if on cue, Raph nodded at Mike and they pulled up out of their huddle. Both were wearing dangerous grins. As they started to approach, Don's eyes widened and he scooted back in his chair a little. Leonardo eyed them both sternly, but they ignored him and moved to flank Don on either side.

"Donnyboy," Raphael intoned, looming over him, "you've made us both very proud. I just 'bout had tears in my eyes."

"Yeah!" Mike piped up, clapping his brother's shoulder. "So now we're gonna take you out to celebrate."

Don looked between the two of them, one brow ridge hitching upwards. "Celebrate what, exactly?"

"Duh!" Mikey chided, like it should have been obvious. "All these great strides you've made tonight towards being somewhat remotely cool!"

"We have even decided that you are cool enough to hang with us tonight." Raph clasped his other shoulder with a grip that looked much firmer than Mike's. "So pack up! We're taking you out drinking."

"Something tells me not to trust you guys," Don frowned, peering at Raphael. "Especially you. Is this some kind of prank?"

Leo felt he would have wondered the same thing in Don's position, but Mike sighed as if exasperated. "No, Don! This is mostly MY idea okay? Besides, I bet I can come up with at least a jillion better ways for you to be making money than letting stupid people call you up and treat you like dirt all day long. So come out with us and I'll tell ya all about 'em!"

Don considered this grudgingly before launching into a rebuttal. "First of all, if you're so great at coming up with career advice then how come you're still unemployed? Secondly, I'm the one who came up with the job you had before this. And thirdly, there's no such number as 'a jillion'."

"Dunno about this, Mike," Raph rumbled, releasing Don's shoulder and folding his arms. "The email was pretty sweet and all, but he's losin' cool points fast."

"Awww. Come ON, Donnie! I really do have some good ideas. They won't even involve stuffed heads!"

Leo could see that Don was considering it now, probably more for Michelangelo's sake than for himself. His gaze shot between the two of them dubiously, searching their faces for some sign of deceit. Raph's narrow-eyed smirk was impenetrable, but Mike had eyes like neon signs. When he got excited like this, they would spell out everything he was feeling for the whole world to read. It was plain to see that there was no malice in what he was suggesting.

"Yeah, okay," Donatello finally relented, earning a whoop from Mike and a slap on the shell from Raph.

"Atta'boy! Hey, gimme a sec to call Casey and make sure he can help us out. This'll be a lot trickier without him…" He moved off towards the kitchen area to make the call.

"This is gonna be GREAT! Course, Raph said we gotta make sure we don't get rowdy at all unless we're at Casey's place."

"Mikey, when am I ever rowdy?" Don countered amusedly.

"Every so often you are!" Michelangelo lifted a finger to add gleefully, "Mostly it just happens when you've been hanging out with ME!"

"He's right," Leonardo agreed. Don shot him a look which Leo met easily, giving him an easy-going shrug. Well, it was true.

Mike cocked his head towards his older brother. He'd been getting carried away, but apparently this interjection reminded him that Leo was still in the room. "Hey. So, um. It's okay if we go, right Leo? I mean… you went with him that one time, and all, so I just thought. You know. But I just wanted to make sure. It IS cool with you, right?"

No one could pull off puppy dog eyes quite like Mike. Leonardo remained silent for several beats, just to watch his kid brother's face get more urgent and adorable. When he finally replied, his voice was quiet and his words utterly predictable, "So long as you're careful."

"Wahooo!" Mike was shaking Don now in his barely contained excitement. "Shut this crap down, Don! We gotta go get ready!"

His cheer was contagious, and Donatello was laughing as he scrambled to put his computers into hibernate mode. "Okay, okay…! And what do you even mean, 'get ready'? What's there to do but throw on a trench coat and be on our way?"

"Dude, trench coats are so three years ago! We'll find you something better than that. Come on!"

"But I don't have—oh. You know, actually… I might still have the clothes Angel gave me to wear when we all had to impersonate Purple Dragons."

"PERFECT! Between that and some of my stuff I can let ya borrow, you're gonna be totally stylin'!"

"I suppose I should be grateful that it's just clothes. I was afraid you were going to douse me with cologne or something…"

"Dude, it's a bar – not a blind date! Though – if you do decide to start mackin' on chicks, ya gotta let me know so I can watch from the shadows, and like, take notes. Got it?"

"Ha! Whatever you say, Mikey."

"And pictures. I might need to take some pictures, too. But don't worry. I'll turn the flash off."

"Why in the world do you even need pictures of – of – you know, I don't even know what, and I'm not sure I want to know, Mikey!"

"It's all for my next scrapbook! Don's Tubular Adventures with the Hottest Ladies in the Galaxy!"

"Oh, geez…"

They were heading for the stairs now, but Michelangelo paused as he touched the railing and looked back over his shoulder at Leonardo. "Oh. Hey, bro? What's the curfew? Cuz if there's a certain time you want us home, I'm so there. Just cuz, well, I think it's kinda rad how you're being so cool 'bout it."

He was trying to be courteous with this prattling. Leonardo could recognize this, and he even appreciated it on some level. But also he felt an unhappy pang in his chest that he wasn't yet ready to analyze. Not with Mikey still hovering at the base of the staircase, his whole face lit up with that eager, hopeful grin.

Leo considered the question impartially, reminding himself that Mikey had been barely sixteen the last time he'd picked a curfew out for him. After taking the two extra years into account, he elected a time that seemed more than fair: "Be back before two, please."

Raph probably would have laughed in his face, but Michelangelo felt that his new curfew was 'the bomb' and said as much. He snagged Donatello by the arm and dragged him towards the stairs. The whole way up and around the upper landing he could still be heard chattering animatedly about how wicked pimp Don was going to look after he got done with him.

Leo's vague smile dropped away once they were out of sight. He looked down at the floor.

He tried not to let Mike's words sting him. He was sure they wouldn't have, two years ago. Wasn't this normal? How things ought to be? This was business as usual.

What had Costa Rica done to him…?

Leonardo knew how the night would unfold from here. They would rush off together. He would stay home. He would go back over the katas he worked on this morning. He would order himself a veggie pizza and eat it alone in his room. He would read a book to keep himself awake, and take it out into the common room in time to greet his brothers when they came through the door, hanging onto one another, giddy and tipsy and about as stealthy as a stampede. None of them would be surprised to see that he waited up to make sure they made it back by the agreed-upon time and all safely intact. They would regale him with stories about how the evening went, and he would click his tongue and try not to lecture them too much, and…

All in all, it was going to be a pretty lonely night.


The proximity of the voice behind him startled Leo out of his melancholy thoughts – and in what felt like such an obvious way that he may have even jolted visibly. It was beyond humiliating. Last he checked, 'total immunity to being startled by people' was supposed to be one of the perks of devoting one's life to the art of ninjitsu… He whirled to face Raph, expressionless.

"Did you wanna come too, Leo?"

"Er," was all he managed for a response at first, still on the defensive and fully expecting to be teased. After all, he deserved to be teased. Had their situations been reversed? He would have teased. No question.

But Raph was just standing there, starting to look impatient. "Well," he growled, "do ya?"

"Depends." Leo's chin came up as he stated flatly, "If my choices are 'get piss drunk' or 'take heat from you guys all night long', then no. Not really."

"Naw," Raph smirked. "Tell ya the truth, not even sure I'm gonna. 'Specially if you ain't comin', cause that means I'm the only one stuck babysitting those two dweebs." His teeth flashed an amused grimace. "Ugh. You know how those two get when they start bein' all goofy together. And knowin' Casey, he's only gonna encourage 'em. I'll be peelin' Mike off the ceiling fan... and makin' threats, like, 'The Monty Python quoting. Stops. NOW. Do you hear me? Or, swear ta' God. I'm gonna pick up this barstool, and I will beat you both to death with it."

Leonardo didn't expect to laugh so it got pinched off in the back of his throat somewhere, and came out more like a short, vaguely amused grunt. But the truth was, his heart was swelling. He was working hard not to show it, still holding on to some semblance of reluctance. But a part of him was very happy. So what you're saying is – you'd have a better time if I come? And, wow… it's just so responsible of you to put your brothers first, Raph.

But he couldn't say any of that.

Instead he wondered, his tone dry with mild sarcasm, "You're sure you won't mind being seen with me in my horribly unfashionable trench coat? I am NOT letting Mikey dress me up in some stupid thug costume. "

Raph just laughed. "What the fuck ya' think I'll be wearing? Trust me. We'll be horribly unfashionable together."

"Well… fine then," Leonardo eventually muttered. "I guess I could tag along with you guys."

Raph looked a little surprised to hear him agree. He blinked once, then grinned like a fox and clapped his shoulder approvingly. No more words were exchanged. He simply headed off to see if the others were getting ready.

Only after he was well out of sight could Leonardo finally relax. The blank mask he had been wearing to hide his emotions fell away slowly, revealing the expression that had been waiting behind it.

It was his sweetest, shining grin.

It was almost noon by the time he heard another one of his brothers moving around upstairs. Mikey was his first guess, but it was Donatello who eventually trudged down the stairs and across the common room, moving towards his computer lab with that bleary-eyed, pre-coffee stumble that seemed so much more pronounced these days. He plopped down in the office chair and scooted closer to one of the computers, extending one foot to press down the power button on the front of the tower with his big toe. Then he leaned forward heavily with his elbows on his desk and his forehead propped against his palms, waiting for the PC to boot.

Leonardo set his book down to observe his brother's near-comatose condition. After a moment or two, he sang out, "Donatello! How are you this fine morning?"

Don rewarded him by sending a warning glare over one shoulder. Then he turned away, grunting, "Peachy."

Taking the hint, Leo tried to go back to his book but glanced back when he heard Don printing off something. He watched his brother haul himself out of the chair, collect the page from the printer tray, and then he was zombie-trudging off into the kitchen still holding the article or whatever it was.

Leonardo decided to go ahead and indulge his inner nosy bastard. He got up, creeping over to Don's computer, and tapped the joystick once to wake the terminal from hibernate mode. Sure enough, the internet browser was showing some forum post with an extensive list of suggested remedies for a hang over.

Poor Donnie. He wasn't entirely without sympathy, but Leo still had to smother a rare wicked grin. How was I supposed to know he'd be such a lightweight? Next time we'll make sure to cut him off sooner.

He put the computer back into sleep mode (a command that every good nosy bastard should learn if he intends to pry regularly into the affairs of a supergeek) and hurried back to his place on the couch with plenty of time to spare. Leo dragged his way through another sentence or two, but eventually just sat and listened to the sounds of his ailing brother rummaging through the medicine cabinet and puttering about in the kitchen.

Eventually his brother emerged from the kitchen holding a large bottle of water and a light breakfast, both of which he sat on the desk and proceeded to ignore. Leo got up off the couch again and wandered closer. Don flashed him a sullen look and closed the website as he approached, like he didn't want anyone to see it.

Leonardo regarded him a moment, then finally spoke up, "So… I never did find out. Did they help you pick out some crazy new line of work last night?"

"Most of Mike's ideas weren't exactly – um, practical." Don observed, traces of sleep still in his voice making it sound scratchy.

"You mean, you didn't like 'Hacking for Jush-tice?'"

Donatello gave him a doubtful look. "Toppling evil corporations by draining their funds electronically? Even if we were giving half the money to charity like Mike suggested… Are you telling me you would actually go for something like that, Leo?"

"Well, sure," Leonardo murmured, enjoying the way his brother's eyes widened. Then he smiled innocently and concluded, "Assuming you can get Splinter to sign off on it."

"Oh," Don smirked. "Right. And doesn't that sound like a fun conversation."

"So… seriously," Leonardo wondered, dropping the smile, "you still haven't decided what you're going to do from here? I mean, you pretty much told us point blank that this job is making you unhappy."

Donatello pressed his fingertips into his sinuses and dismissed the question with, "All right, Leo. Look, I'll give it more thought, when… I'm actually awake enough to think. Okay?"

"Sure, Don." Leo had no trouble picking up these not-so-subtle hints that Don wanted him to go away. Clearly the heart to heart he'd been hoping to have with his brother was going to have to wait until Donatello was feeling better. "Look, I'll leave you alone, I guess. But, I've just been really curious about whether you were still going to send that email…"

Don shot him a grumpy look that said 'you never give up, do you?' Taking a hold of the joystick, he moved the cursor to click the 'SAVE AS DRAFT' button and grumbled sourly, "Ask me again after our bank account recovers from the hundred bucks or so we blew last night."

Leonardo returned to the couch. He did glance back to see Don putting on the headset, and felt a pang of disappointment. But he was determined not to interfere again, or at least not until his brother was in a better mood. Settling down with his book, he tried to find the page he left off on.

Behind him he could hear Don offering a weary good morning to Janet, the woman who was usually running the switchboards. He was always kind to this one.

"Can you clock me in? Yeah, sorry – alarm clock didn't go off for some reason." He was lying, but he'd never been the best liar. "I think we might have had a brown-out or something… What? Wild night? Me? Why, I'm shocked and offended, Janet. And here I thought we were friends, but clearly you don't know me at all…" His second attempt was more convincing. "They actually want to hold a meeting for that? You poor thing, they should pay you more." Don paused, then gave a quiet chuckle. "Well, that's sweet of you. Please feel free to pass the opinion on to Rob. Oh, no! Let's keep stalling for another few minutes, at least. Say, how IS the weather in Hartford…? Oh, gorgeous. Uh, that is… except for the storms. You know, the ones causing all the brown outs. Haha, right! Well, you too, dear. Yeah, I'm good to go. Hit me."

Leo heard him draw a long breath and slowly release it. Then he could hear his brother's voice drone the now-familiar call opening, "Hello, and thanks for calling Skynet Data Services. I'm Donnie, your friendly neighborhood I.T. tech support rep, here to help you twenty-four hours a day… Now if I could just have you verify your ten-digit phone number, we can get started.

"Er. Ten digits, please. No, I'm afraid that was seven. Right. What I mean to say is, can I please have your area code? Um. No, ma'am, that sounded more like a zip code. Well, because I was looking for a number with three digits, and you gave me five. Look, what I want is your area code, the three digits that precede your phone number, that you'd have to dial whenever you – YES! Yes, that sounds like exactly what I was looking for. That's great. Now, it will just take the system a moment to bring up your account, so – um, please hold."

Don slammed the mute button harder than necessary and dropped his head into his hands.

AN: If anyone is dying to know what happened during that night out with the four of them, don't worry! I'd definitely like to write it up in a separate oneshot at some point down the road. It sounds like a fun diversion, but it's time for me to get back to work on the Talk now. Thanks for reading, guys! xoxo Winny