"By your wish, Father."

Raphael closed his eyes as Splinter left the room, still kneeling down besides the weights that he had overturned upon his entrance. Confessing to Splinter that he had inadvertently caused the capture of Leonardo by Winters' stone warriors was easily the most difficult thing he had ever had to do. And yet, Splinter's response about "taking back what is ours" seemed to be the simplest of answers.

"Raph?" Raphael winced at the sound of Michelangelo's soft voice behind him. He hoped that his brother hadn't been listening in. Not only wasn't he ready to face his remaining family as a failure, but he also hadn't managed to compose himself yet. "Is it true, Raph? Leo… Leo's really gone?"

Of course Michelangelo overheard everything. It was so very typical of him. "Yeah Mikey," he answered, his head bowed. "Leo's gone." Michelangelo said nothing for a long time, and Raphael wondered if he wasn't being silently accused of tearing this family apart so soon after it had been reunited.

Seeing Michelangelo's shadow loom over him, Raphael could tell that Michelangelo had been warily stepping closer to him. "I can't believe it," the normally-joyful turtle replied as he sank to his knees besides his brother, facing him. "Leo… taken away? How'd it happen?"

Raphael closed his eyes and cringed, hearing the very question that he had hoped Splinter wouldn't ask. Even though the query came from the least threatening of his brothers, Raphael felt the guilt pressing down on his chest, suffocating him.

"I did it," he responded after a long moment of stillness. He could almost hear the quality of the silence change at his confession. "We was… I was… he saw…." He let out a frustrated groan, balling one of his hands into a fist. "We got into a fight. And I beat him up. I beat him pretty bad. Not as bad as I coulda done, but I beat him and left him and then I heard him screamin'. And by the time I got back there, they had already taken him away."

He was about to let out another enraged cry, but he heard Michelangelo's voice quickly ask, "But we're gonna get him back, right?" Slowly, Raphael opened his eyes and looked at his brother. "I mean… it's kinda what we do. We save people. And even though it's been a while, we'll get back into the swing of things real quick if it means getting Leo back."

"I dunno, Mikey," Raphael murmured after a moment. "We're gonna try, and that's the best we can do. Those stone goons are pretty strong, and if Winters goes around shootin' more of his stupid tranquilizers, I don't know how long we'll be able to hold up."

They merely stared at one another, not knowing what else to say. Finally, Michelangelo softly questioned, "Raph?" When Raphael asked him what, Michelangelo whispered, "It's not your fault." Raphael widened his eyes, and Michelangelo hastily continued. "I know you think it is, but… it's not. You get mad sometimes. And Leo gets mad, too. It's been that way ever since we were kids-"

"Mikey, I almost killed him!" Raphael blurted out. "My sai was right next to his face, and if I didn't stop myself, there'd be no Leo left to save. What I nearly did… ain't no reasoning or counseling gonna atone for that."

"You don't need to atone, Raph," Michelangelo gently told him. "That's what I'm trying to tell you. You're scary and psychopathic, but… you did stop yourself before you could do some major damage." His eyes went downcast, and for the first time in years, Raphael saw a truly solemn expression on his brother's face.

"I know what it's like," Michelangelo remarked. "Leo's the leader, and you're second-rate. Donnie's the smart one and me… heck, I don't even make it onto the list. I'm nothing but a born follower, and that's okay. I don't really mind it. I'm meant for playing video games and maybe doing to occasional rescue of a kitty caught up a tree. You, though… you're second-in-command. No matter what Donnie tried to say or do while Leo was gone, you always did your own thing. And now that Leo needs us and we need somebody to lead us in battle, you're gonna step up to the plate. And you're gonna make Leo proud. Just stop beating yourself up over one little mistake. Sometimes… you need mistakes. How else are you ever going to learn from them?"

Raphael was astounded. It wasn't unusual for Michelangelo to talk a lot, but it was rare for him to actually make sense for a long period of time. And now he wasn't just being coherent, but profound. It was a side of his blue-eyed brother that he had never seen before.

Putting a hand on Michelangelo's shoulder, Raphael waited for him to meet his eye. When Michelangelo finally did, Raphael lowly told him, "You're a fighter too, Mikey. Besides, I'm sure those kitties consider you to be one heck of a hero." It wasn't the most philosophical of replies, but Michelangelo seemed happy enough with it. Besides, Raphael thought it was best to leave the truly deep thoughts to the likes of Splinter and Leonardo.

As he rose to his feet, Raphael said, "I'm gonna go call Casey and April and give 'em the lowdown. I have a feelin' we're gonna need all the help we can get. Talk to Donnie for me, huh? I don't… I mean… I just ain't really ready to-" Michelangelo cut him off, telling him that he understood.

Raphael turned to leave the room, but stopped when he heard Michelangelo call to him. Putting a hand on the doorway, he turned around to see that his brother hadn't moved. After seeming to think about it for a moment, Michelangelo told him, "I love you, bro. You know that, right?"

Raphael blinked, not knowing how to respond to the sudden display of sentimentality. "I mean," Michelangelo hurriedly explained, "I do, I really do. And I know we all love each other, even though we yell and fight like all the time. But I mean… there was that time you fought the Foot on April's rooftop and were unconscious for days, and I didn't think I'd ever hear you insult me again. And now with Leo missing… we just never know, you know? So I thought it'd be good to say it now, just in case. Not jinxing it or nothing, just… yeah."

Michelangelo felt the familiar blush of embarrassment that usually comes from saying something silly at an inappropriate time. Raphael said nothing in response. He merely leaned against the doorframe, looking at his brother as though really seeing him for the first time… or, at least, for the first time in a long time.

"I love you too, Mikey," he finally answered in an uncharacteristically warm voice. "More than I know how to express sometimes. You're the best buddy a turtle could ask for."

Michelangelo's eyes lit up at the confession. "Really?"

Raphael chuckled as he answered, "Really. Now go get that grumpy geek off his headset so we can go rescue our brother." He turned around and continued towards the phone as Michelangelo scrambled to his feet.

It was true what Michelangelo said. Sometimes, the brothers got so caught up at throwing bigger, meaner words at one another that they never just took the time out to say the only words that were really real. They were little words, words that were tossed around every day by people who may or may not mean them. But as he picked up the phone receiver, Raphael suddenly realized that all of his actions over the past few months weren't the result of someone who was cooped up at home and begrudging his brother's travels. They were the actions of someone who loved his family and didn't want anything to hurt them. And now that something had one of his brothers in its grip, Raphael wasn't going to rest until he could get Leonardo back and tell him the same simple words that Michelangelo had told him. I really oughta get around to sayin' 'em to Donnie, too, he mused as he dialed Casey's number.

Hearing the ring on the other end, he let out a small smile. Nah. No sense pushin' things.