Author's Note:

This story was like a demon in my chest until it clawed its way out. I originally wrote it just for myself, but seeing everyone else's wonderful and creative stories out there inspired me to share. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing! Reviews are always welcome.

Of course, I do not own the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or any of their companions.


This story takes place immediately following events in The Shredder Strikes Back Part II, when Splinter, the Turtles, April and Casey have arrived at Casey's grandmother's farmhouse in Northampton.


"Nice and easy does the trick, guys. Try not to move him too much"

"Oh, that's perfect, Don, try not to move him while we're moving him?"

"Yeah, probably not a bad thing he's unconscious right now."

"Right on the couch? Lower on three. One, two, three."

The three brothers straightened up as their Sensei covered the turtle in blue with several warm blankets. The Massachusetts night was cold, and as yet the only thing functioning in the old farmhouse was the electricity.

"Donny, tell us what we can do," April said, inclining her head meaningfully at the prostrate Leonardo.

For a moment Donatello's sensitive face showed uncertainty, but the look was replaced with resolve as his scientific mind took over. His emotions would have to take the back seat for now.

"I need some hot water, clean fabric like towels or sheets, bright light, and someone to help me clean him up. We should get a fire going in here if we can."

Even the first item was a stretch, since the water coaxed out of the kitchen tap was frigid and the old range stove certainly did not look up to the task of heating it. Therefore while April found some old bed sheets and began cutting them up, Casey, Raph, and Mike fired up the wood stove. Don retrieved the medical supplies they had picked up on the way north and began laying out what he needed on a square of the sheet. Splinter found a desk lamp upstairs and set it up on the end table next to the couch.

When the water heating on the wood stove was reasonably warm, Donatello pulled a chair up next to the couch and gingerly uncovered Leo's right arm. Master Splinter knelt next to him and waited to be directed. The other three clustered around behind Don, who began unwrapping a bulky and bloody kitchen towel from around Leonardo's shoulder. Everyone came in closer, peering intently over Don and getting in his light.

"Ahem." A stern look from Master Splinter directed over his shoulder. "Perhaps you three should begin looking for ways to make this place more livable. Donatello needs to focus. Miss O'Neil, when you are finished cutting that would you continue to heat more water? Mr. Jones, could you try and locate a large pot or basin and some soap? Michelangelo, Raphael, we could always use more firewood."

Don glanced gratefully at Splinter as the troops got the hint and sprang to action. The two began to methodically clean Leo up as best they could with cloths while taking inventory of the damage.

By the time the others rejoined them some time later, Don was still stooped over Leo's right shoulder. April was gently supporting the forearm so Don could work, and Splinter was standing by with scissors to clip sutures when directed. As Splinter snipped the next suture, Don straightened up, rubbed his eyes, and heaved a sigh. "Now for some antibiotics . . ." He reached for a syringe and a vial, and gave Leo an injection.

Nobody asked where Donatello had gotten sutures and antibiotics. Even Splinter had 'looked the other way' when they stopped briefly for supplies and Donny spotted a nearby medical clinic that was closed for the night.

"Okay, I've done all I can for now. Who's next?" Don asked.

"Whoa there Bro, we'll live for another few minutes without medical attention," said Raph, taking a step closer. "Why not give us the damage report first. How bad is he?"

The right shoulder was the most obvious wound, with two parallel slashes running from the top of the shoulder and cutting across the upper bicep. Don had done a neat job on the stitches, and cleaned up it looked a lot better than it had when Leo first landed in April's apartment. Then, with blood pooling around the shoulder and chaos all around them, it had been hard to assess how bad it was, and hard to tell how much of the blood on Leo's body was even his.

"Well, this arm was the most time consuming simply because of the stitch job—"

"Have you done that before, Don? They don't look half bad," interrupted April.

"Sure he has!" declared Mikey, brandishing his forearm to display a jagged scar.

Don grimaced. "Well, that was one of my earlier works."

"Hey, that's a pretty good battle wound, Mikey," stated Casey enthusiastically. "Chicks dig scars! Bones heal!" he chanted, offering up a high-five which the grinning turtle accepted.

"Cut it out you guys, or I'll give you both so many battle scars you'll need heavy artillery to keep the chicks away!" growled Raph, clenching a fist. Then composing himself, he said, "Donny, keep going."

"Sure, I've done plenty of stitches, but I had to sew up the muscle up first with internal dissolvable stitches. The cuts were deep, and there's just no way the muscle would heal properly if I hadn't. Still, I've never done that before," explained Donatello. "Besides the arm, there are a myriad of smaller cuts and bruises, a large flesh wound on the thigh which might be a result of being dragged along concrete, and extensive bruising around the left shoulder which could be anything from impact damage to muscle tearing. No broken bones or dislocations that I can tell, which is good."

Raphael scrutinized his brother, knowing he was just trying to paint a pretty picture before dumping black paint all over the canvas.

"But there's also this head injury," continued Don tentatively.

And there it was. Woosh! All over the canvas.

Everyone leaned in closer as Don directed some more light on the unconscious turtle's head. In better light, and with Leo's face cleaner, a purple-black bruise was clearly visible on his temple. Above the swelling was a small cut, which was taped up in thin butterfly strips.

"There's no way to know yet how bad it is. It's probably a concussion, but that doesn't mean much. It could be fairly innocuous."

The unspoken OR stood in front of them like a Dark Rider blocking the path.

"Is that why he hasn't woken up yet?" ventured Mikey.

"I just don't know," said Don, shaking his head. "It's not really surprising that he's out of it at this point—it could easily be the shock in general, combined with exhaustion and dehydration. However, for now one of us should be with him all the time. If he—" Donatello swallowed. "When he awakens, it's very important that we try and get him to drink something."

After everyone else's relatively minor injuries had been looked over and patched up, Raph finally surrendered his right hand to Don's inspection. Peeling away the dirty cloth binding, Donatello sucked in his breath when he saw the ragged crevasse running over Raphael's hand between thumb and forefinger. Still oozing blood, the wound had already swelled considerably.

"You should have let me take a look sooner," Don reprimanded. "This isn't even a clean cut, it's more like a tear. It would have been a lot easier to stitch before it swelled up like this."

"It'll be fine, Donny, I ain't gonna die," Raph said impatiently. "Just patch it up for me, will ya?"

"Okay. Can you make a fist? That's good. It seems like the tendons are intact. You're lucky, and you'll be even luckier if this doesn't get infected. You want a local for the pain?"

Raphael's gaze hit his brother like twin sai as he calmly held out his hand. With that, Don set to work on another lengthy cleaning and stitching job.

As Don worked on Raphael's hand, Michelangelo stood aside slightly in the shadows, hands fisted loosely at his sides. He had sustained only minor cuts and bruises and a slightly sprained wrist, and those had already been attended to by Master Splinter, but he stood transfixed by the sight of Leonardo prone on the couch. They had taken off Leo's mask and all of his other things as well. All of them removed their masks from time to time, but Leo was rarely seen without his, even when he was young. It made Mikey uncomfortable to see him without it now—it made Leo seem somehow . . . diminished. Unprotected. Mike's palms began to sweat as furtive Fear crept swiftly into him, stealing the warmth out of even this turtle's optimistic heart.

Don awoke slumped against a wall with a blanket over him, momentarily confused as to why he was there and why his body felt as though he had been chucked out of a moving vehicle at 90 miles an hour. Dim light was coming through the windows. He sat forward a little and tried to stretch his locked muscles, and saw Leonardo stretched out on the couch with Master Splinter settled on a chair to one side.

"How is he?" asked Don as he used his bo staff to lever himself up.

"The same. He has not awoken," replied the father.

Don approached and laid a hand over Leo's brow, noting that his breathing seemed normal and his temperature, although warm, was not hot. Straightening up, he took stock of his surroundings in the daylight. Mikey was curled up in a blanket on the floor, still sleeping. "Where is everyone?"

"Raphael and Mr. Jones are still on the roof from their watch, and Miss O'Neil is in the kitchen trying to clear space for cooking," answered Splinter.

Donatello yawned, and as he stretched he noticed the contrast between his hands where he had washed them, and his forearms which were filthy. Not as filthy as Raph, though, he noted as his brother and Casey entered the room. Raph's entire plastron was absolutely caked with dried blood and other matter that only the turtle in red would enjoy thinking about. Whereas Don's weapon allowed him to keep his opponents at a distance, the limited reach of Raphael's sai, not to mention the keenness of the points, had made for a messy battle. Come to think of it, he probably considers that a bonus, reflected Don.

As Casey and Raphael inquired about Leonardo, April entered the room and announced that she had managed to throw together something for breakfast if they were interested.

"Should we wake Mikey?" inquired Casey as they filed into the kitchen.

"Naw, let him sleep. If he's so tired he didn't wake up at the word 'breakfast,' he must be pretty deep," answered Raph with a snicker. "Besides, more for us."

Over breakfast, the group discussed what tasks needed to be done and in what order. They agreed that the greatest need was for hot water, so Donatello volunteered to tackle that problem. April offered to sit with Leonardo so Master Splinter could get some rest. While they were talking, Michelangelo began to stir, and finally opened his eyes with a groan.

"Oh, man. Did anyone get the license plate of the truck that hit me?" He sat up, massaging one shoulder. Then his eyes caught on an empty plate. "Did I miss food?!"

"Yeah, sorry Mikey we ate it all. You'll hafta hold off until lunch now," sneered Raph, at which news Mikey looked so crestfallen that April laughed and got up to get him a plate.

They filled Mikey in on the discussion, and Master Splinter suggested that since Raph and Casey had also been up all night, they too should get some rest. In response Raphael walked over to Mikey and grabbed his blanket away, resulting in Mikey being dumped unceremoniously onto the floor. Wrapping the blanket around himself, Raph stalked over to a corner and laid down muttering, "It's just too easy when he's tired."

They all went about their respective activities (Mikey was 'volunteered' to wash dishes and continue getting the kitchen in working order), and by early afternoon everyone was ready for some lunch. Although Casey and Raphael hadn't slept long, they both declared that they were ready to pitch in. Don updated everyone on his progress and estimated that there should there would be hot water by the end of the day. Although they kept a light banter through the meal, everyone's glances kept flicking toward the couch where Leonardo lay, revealing their ever growing unease. There had been no change in his condition.

Work continued through the afternoon, with Splinter again taking up position next to Leo and resting a forepaw lightly on his shoulder. Don came in some time later, cleared his throat loudly, and announced with some ceremony the hot water was working. The others, who had been working on organizing, cleaning, and various repairs, greeted this with whoops and cheers.

"Hey," said Raph, "Can we just do ourselves a favor and let Mikey have the first shower? It's killin' me just standing in the same room with 'im."

"Fine with me," retorted Mikey. "At least I can do something about it. Doesn't matter how many times you shower, you'll still be ugly!"

Mikey easily dodged Raphael's predictable swing, and as the scuffle continued until all of the sudden they heard the water start upstairs. Raph looked up with Mikey in a headlock, and realized that everyone was standing around laughing except for April.

"I believe the phrase is 'ladies first'," came Master Splinter's amused voice from by the couch.

The guys decided to see what they could scrape together for dinner with the assorted canned goods that were available while they waited for the shower to open up. Donatello went to check over Leo while Master Splinter took his turn in the shower, and was dismayed to find that Leo's temperature had gone up. Brow furrowed, he checked over his brother's injuries to make sure there were no obvious signs of infection. The mauled arm was inflamed, but he didn't think it was to an abnormal degree. He pulled the blankets up closer under Leo's chin and sat back on his heals, thinking.

"How's the big guy doing?" Raph asked behind him. His voice was unusually quiet, and Don realized he probably didn't want others to overhear. Sensitivity was not one of Raphael's strong points, but he could be perceptive.

"He has a fever."

When no further explanation was forthcoming, Raphael simply nodded to himself, and returned to the kitchen.

Dinner was somewhat strained, with everyone trying just a little too hard to be cheerful. Michelangelo was particularly subdued. Master Splinter asked Casey to tell them some stories about the farmhouse to pass the time. Casey was not the most eloquent of story tellers, but he made up for it in sheer enthusiasm. And, to Raph's particular delight, he was not afraid to tell them stories that made him appear foolish. April told a couple of anecdotes as well, mainly from her childhood. The brothers were intrigued. Even though the turtles had gotten to know April and Casey quite well by this time, they had never thought of them as once being children, and it added a new dimension to their relationship.

Don, who was sitting by the couch, occasionally reached up to touch Leo's forehead or adjust the blankets. He tried to look casual about it, but no one was fooled. Finally Raph stood up and declared he was going up to the roof to keep lookout. No one really thought there was much danger of being discovered, remote as the farmhouse was, but they had learned the hard way that you could not be too careful.

After Raphael left, the talking kind of petered out while everyone became absorbed in their own thoughts. Eventually April stood up and asked if anyone wanted some tea, more to create something to do than anything else. She passed cups around to everyone when it was done, giving Donatello's tense shoulder a reassuring squeeze as she passed him his cup.

"Casey, would you like to take a cup up to Raphael?" April asked. "It's pretty cold out there"

"Uh, sure," he said, putting on his coat and retrieving two mugs from the kitchen.

Casey made his way up to the roof, where Raph sat wrapped in a blanket. The night sky was crystalline, the stars vivid and infinite. But Raphael was not looking at the sky at all. Casey sat down beside him.

"Here, April sent this up."

"What is it? Tea?"

"Not just tea," Casey said, and pulled a bottle out of his coat. "Part of my Grandad's old stash," he added as he unscrewed the cap.

"Ah, now that's more like it." Raph held out his mug and Casey added a liberal amount from the bottle to both cups.

Raph took a sip and grimaced involuntarily as the liquid burned a satisfying path down to his stomach. He waited, wondering if April sent Casey up to say something to him, but Casey was quiet. Good, thought Raph. He had no desire to articulate the thoughts stalking through his head. But it did help to have a friend sitting there next to him. April understood, he thought. April knew that he came up here more to escape than to keep watch. She knew he buried his worry under snarls and spines, but he couldn't keep that up for long in there. He continued to sip his tea, welcoming the warmth it brought and watching the moisture curl up from the cup on its way to the stars.

Michelangelo sat in a dark corner of the room, covered over with a blanket. He watched silently as Donatello and April put another blanket over Leonardo. Leo was burning up now, but his body shivered subtly under the avalanche of blankets covering him. Master Splinter was still sitting in the chair beside the bed. To someone who didn't know him well, he would appear calm, even serene. But Mikey saw the slight tension in his muscles, particularly in the hand that occasionally passed a cool washcloth over his son's brow and face. Don and April whispered to each other now and then. Maybe they kept their voices down because they thought he was asleep, but somehow Mikey didn't think that was the reason.

"I should have gotten the materials to set an IV," Donatello was whispering. "I just assumed he'd be able to drink by now."

"Donny, you couldn't have known. Do you even know how to set an IV?" countered April.

"I could have tried. Being properly hydrated would go a long way in helping him fight this." Donny clenched his jaw. He stood up, paced the length of the room a few times, and then came back beside April and knelt down.

Mike knew that in a few minutes Don would begin to fidget, and get up to pace again. He had been doing it half the night. Watching his brother's actions, he tried to imagine what it would feel like to be the one that had the ability to help Leonardo. He had felt so useless tonight. The most helpful thing he could think of to do was simply stay out of the way. He almost envied Don—at least he could take action. The little brother, the baby brother, could only look on helplessly.

How did they think he could actually be asleep right now? Throughout the day images of Leo, defenseless Leo lying there without his mask on, had been rising up and bursting unexpectedly in his mind like bubbles in a thick stew. His insides would go cold the way they had when he was very small and was waiting for Splinter to discover some mischief he had gotten into. In those times, the waiting was always worse than the reality. Splinter would eventually discover what he had done, and ask his son to confess. Michelangelo always did, tearfully stating that he hadn't meant to do wrong. And Splinter would take him up onto his lap and let him cry, and tell him he knew.

Mike shook his head to clear it of the memory. He was not a child anymore, but he was still helpless. Only now he couldn't crawl into Splinter's lap. And he couldn't truthfully tell himself that the waiting would be the worst part.

Donatello was racking his brain as he paced, trying to think if there was anything he could do for his brother that he might have overlooked. He wished he knew much more about medicine. His fingers ached to be working on something familiar, like a machine. Although he had learned basic medicine for practical reasons, he was more an engineer than a biologist. He could fix almost anything given the right tools and enough time. This, this waiting for things to happen, was not the way with engineering.

He walked back to Leonardo, kneeling yet again by the couch. He put both of his hands on top of the blankets over Leo's chest, and let them rest there, fingers spread. He slipped one hand down by his brother's neck, feeling the erratic pulse and the heat that was like a dragon consuming his brother's body from the inside. Leo's breathing was becoming more rapid, and his chest could be seen rising and falling with the effort even under all those blankets.

Hand still on Leo's neck and head bowed, Don closed his eyes and simply tried to will his brother to get better, to cool down, to breathe normally. He felt his throat begin to burn and constrict, and he clenched his jaw harder and took several slow, deep breaths to regain control. He could not afford to lose it right now. He needed to be ready when the time came that he could do something, but for the moment he was helpless.

Raphael and Casey turned expectantly when they heard someone approach on the roof. It was April.

She spoke even before she was all the way to them. "You guys, Splinter . . . Splinter says—," she began breathlessly.

In that moment, Raphael stood on a transparent sheet of ice, and below was only suffocating black water.

April lifted her gaze and fixed Raphael, her eyes softening slightly, and took a slow breath.

"You should come."

Raphael was past her and gone even as the words were completed. All he could think, all he heard was the word "no" repeating through his head. No no no no no no . . . This was not it. This was not the way it went. No!

He didn't remember coming down from the roof, but suddenly there he was standing in front of the couch where his brother lay. Splinter, Don, and Mikey were there, but only Mikey looked up, his blue eyes wide and haunted. The first thing Raph noticed was that Leo was breathing. He exhaled, unaware until then that he had been holding his breath, and dropped to his knees beside the couch.

"Donny, what's . . . How—," he started, but didn't know the words.

Don's voice came out choked and gruff. "He has a high fever, and if it doesn't break soon his body will overheat to the point where his cells begin to break down."

Raphael found his brother's hand under the blanket and grasped it. He forced himself to look at Leonardo and tried to recall him the way he had been two days ago, before this shadow fell over them. He tried to recall the last words they'd exchanged, but he couldn't. Couldn't remember the last time he'd heard his older brother's laugh. His mind registered what he thought was Leo's ragged breathing, but he understood after a time that it was his own.

He was losing it, losing the battle to his emotions. He couldn't let this out, but it was coming anyway.

Head down, still holding Leo's hand, he choked out, "Gimme a second?"

He heard steps backing away, and hoped they wouldn't watch. Raphael leaned in closer, putting his head as close as he could to his brother's until they were touching. He curved his right arm over the blankets, over Leo's chest and around his far shoulder until he was hugging him as best as he could. Tears were falling now unbidden, just slowly leaking like rain down a window pane, but behind them there was an entire ocean.

"Leo," he croaked. "Leo. Stay with me Bro, just stay with me." Once he started talking, he knew he had to keep going or he wouldn't be able to continue.

"You've always been there for us. Always been a good son, a good student, a good brother. I haven't always made it easy for ya . . . but that don't mean . . . I love you any less. You tried to lead us, and I fought you every step. But I knew . . . I know . . . that everything you did was for the family. Shell, Leo, we still need you so much—and I want you to know that until you're with us again and ready to take over the lead, you can count on me to step up and do whatever it takes to keep our family safe."

He gave himself over to the weight of pain and sobbed for a short time, which was more than he'd ever allowed himself before. When he had regained some measure of control, he extricated himself from his brother, and straightened the blankets around him again. He wiped his eyes on his arm, but for once he didn't care if anyone saw.

He stood up, and in moments his family was around him again. They didn't say anything, and didn't touch him, for which Raph was grateful. They just stood, shoulder to shoulder, and tried but failed to grasp the enormity of the loss they were facing.

April and Casey stood in the periphery, unwilling to intrude. After a few minutes, Master Splinter turned to them, and beckoned them closer. The three turtles stepped aside a little to allow them room, and Casey put an arm around April's shoulder and gave her a squeeze. Then Splinter returned to his chair next to the couch, and gestured for them to sit down. The vigil continued; everyone slightly calmer now that they were all together.

"Master Splinter?" April spoke tentatively, startling everyone. "What was Leonardo like as a child?"

Splinter pulled his gaze away from Leo, and closed his eyes. Moments passed and April thought he wasn't going to answer. But then he opened his eyes and began to speak in that calm, steady way of his.

"Leonardo was like his siblings in many ways. He was energetic, inquisitive, and at times disobedient. He smiled as much as they did, although he laughed somewhat less. When he did laugh, it was so exuberant that everyone had to join in, whether they got the joke or not."

Donatello smiled weakly at this, in spite of himself. Their brother was still like that.

"When he was quite small he differed from the other three in one very noticeable way—he was very careful of his belongings. I brought home toys whenever I could salvage some, sometimes giving a particular item to each of my sons. Michelangelo's were quickly scattered about or lost—he would grow tired of his own toys and move on to his brothers'. Donatello did not mind sharing. His favorite toys were usually leggos or blocks, and when Michelangelo took them apart, it meant that Donatello could put them back together again. Raphael often broke his toys, either out of frustration or simply for amusement. So he did not mind if Michelangelo played with his either.

"Leonardo did mind. He would become very angry when his things were removed without his permission because they would often end up broken or lost. He tried to hide them, but nothing stayed hidden from Michelangelo for long. One day, Leonardo's favorite model airplane was broken. I do not recall who broke it, but Leonardo was very distressed and begged me to help prevent his brothers from getting to his things. At this time the four shared a single room, and although they were still very young, I realized that personal space was somewhat lacking. The others did not seem to mind, but Leonardo had often shown maturity beyond his age, and perhaps he needed his own space where the others did not.

"I therefore relented, and after some searching found a box with lock that fitted to it. I put the box in my sons' room, and explained to them that it was Leonardo's alone and they were not to disturb it without his permission. I gave Leonardo the key, and he kept it tucked away in his belt. Michelangelo would occasionally ask Leonardo if he could play with the toys, but Leonardo refused him. Raphael once tried to break into the box, more to see if he could than because he wanted the toys inside, but he was not very subtle about it and I was able to prevent him from doing too much damage.

"For his part, Leonardo would occasionally take his toys out and set them up, playing quietly on his own. His brothers had given up asking if they could join him. One day, Donatello, Michelangelo, and Raphael were in the common room playing, and Leonardo was in the bedroom. There was much laughter from the three, although I could not determine what game they were playing. In time they began wrestling, and the toys lay forgotten. Leonardo peeked out of the bedroom, looking wistfully at his brothers. He spied me sitting in my pretended meditation, and he approached quietly. He held out his newest favorite toy to me, and asked if I wanted to play with him.

" 'Not right now, my son. I am meditating' I told him. I watched him out of the corner of my eye to see what he would do. He stared thoughtfully down at the toy he had offered out to me, and then looked at his brothers. Oblivious to their brother's quandary, Raphael, Michelangelo, and Donatello had ended up in a heap on the floor and had fallen asleep. Leonardo went back into the bedroom, and emerged a short time later carrying all of his belongings in his small arms. He walked over to the pile of toys, and dumped all but one of his on top. Next he approached Michelangelo with the remaining toy, the same one he had offered to me, and tucked it under his sleeping brother's arm. Then he found a comfortable spot against Raphael, gave a great sigh, and went to sleep.

"From then on, Leonardo left his toys out with everyone else's. He gave the lock box back to me, and for many years I used it as a place to store books and candles."

Here Master Splinter stopped, and the others assumed that was the end of the story. But the wizened rat could not bring himself to speak the rest out loud. For Leonardo had given him back the box, but not the key and lock. Some months later, as he was tidying up the lair, Splinter picked Leonardo's belt up off of the floor, and the key slipped out of a hole in the seam. As Splinter retrieved the key to put it back, he noticed writing on one side of it. There, in blocky, childlike letters was spelled out one word—FAMILY.

Silence had returned as everyone absorbed the words. Donatello liked the idea of telling stories about Leo, though—it made him feel like his brother was right there participating. And it was certainly better than sitting in silence.

"Do you guys remember the Halloween when Master Splinter took us trick-or-treating and Mikey lost his candy?" asked Don.

"Yeah," said Raphael. "He had a hole in his bag, and he must've left a trail of goodies across miles of sewer before he realized it."

"Uh oh, that must have been a real blow to you, Mikey," April said with a half-smile, trying to involve the turtle in the talk. Mikey glanced up but he didn't feel like talking and remained silent, listening.

"Mikey wanted to go back and look for it all," continued Donny, "but Master Splinter forbade it. Leo told Mikey not to worry, he'd share his candy with him. We were fine with that part, weren't we Raph?"

"We shoulda known we weren't off the hook that easy," replied Raph.

"Leo then told Mikey that Raph and I would also give him some of our candy, to make it even. Boy, that's not what we wanted to hear, but even before we could argue, Leo gave us one of those looks. Shell, even when we were kids Leo could look daggers almost as well as Master Splinter. And before we knew it, without even a fight, we were handing it over."

"Halloween was fun for you guys, huh?" said April. "Built in costumes and all that?"

"Yeah, we—," Don started.

"Donatello," interrupted Splinter calmly. He was looking at Leo.

Don jumped up and ran around to Leo's head. Master Splinter slowly passed a cloth over Leo's brow, and after he removed it tiny beads of moisture began to appear. Don quickly slipped a hand under the blankets, and felt more perspiration there. He began folding back the top two layers of blankets. "Can somebody help me with these?"

Michelangelo was closest, and grabbed the corners of the blankets at Leo's feet to help Don lift them off and then draped them over the end of the couch. Don tucked the remaining blankets up close around Leonardo, and then felt his head again. "He's sweating now. It could be that the fever's beginning to break."

"Should we take off more blankets?" asked Mikey.

"No, we need to keep him fairly warm but still allow his body to cool off gradually."

At first, there was not much change. But Leonardo started to sweat profusely, and over the next couple of hours his temperature crept down. Almost imperceptibly his breathing became slower and more even. Donatello hardly dared hope at first, but then Leo swallowed, his breathing slowed even more, and he was able to take deeper breaths. He still felt hot, but he wasn't burning up like before. Then Leo moved his head to the side a little, and Don almost laughed out loud.

"Don, what is it?" asked Raph tensely. He had been biting his tongue to keep himself from hassling Donatello every minute, but he was watching closely.

"He just swallowed, and then he moved his head a little," Don said, sounding amazed. He glanced back over his shell at everyone. "I know that doesn't seem like much, but he's breathing slower and deeper, and his temperature's still coming down."

"C'mon, Donny, throw us a bone here," pleaded Raph.

"Well, I'm not completely sure," said Don, "But I think he's just sleeping now. I'll feel a lot better when he wakes up, but I think this particular danger has passed." And this time he did laugh out loud.

The room itself seemed to exhale, and the sudden reversal of such drawn out anxiety sent them spinning into a state of giddy intoxication. Raph came up behind Don and put him in an affectionate chokehold from behind, and Donny patted his arm in return. Mikey tried to stand up too quickly, got tripped up in his blanket, and landed across the laps of April and Casey where they ended up in a tangled embrace. Don and Raph wrapped Master Splinter up in a double hug until their furry Sensei accused them of trying to smother him. The whole group ended up alongside Leo again, and everyone found some excuse to gently touch him, as if to reassure themselves that he was really there. This time, instead of bracing themselves for a loss, they were welcoming him back.

Leonardo's condition continued to stabilize, and finally Master Splinter suggested everyone try to get some rest while he kept an eye on Leo. It was just past four in the morning. Sleep came rather quickly as everyone was both physically and emotionally exhausted. Splinter sat quietly, his body in a state of relaxation even as he kept watch over his son.

Michelangelo was the first to awaken later that morning. The room was bathed in the dim light filtering in from the overcast sky. He stood up slowly and stretched his stiff muscles, and then rubbed his arms briskly to ward of the chill.

"Good morning, Sensei," he said in a whisper as he stepped around the other sleeping bodies and put more wood in the stove. "How's Leo?"

"He appears to be resting comfortably."

"And how are you?" Mikey asked with concern as he approached his father. He didn't know what time it was, but he knew Master Splinter had been awake a long time now without rest.

"I am fine my son," he responded with an encouraging smile.

Michelangelo smiled back. It was good to feel like smiling again. "I can look after him now, if you want to rest."

"In a little while perhaps, but for now I could use some food."

Mikey's face brightened still more at the mention of food, and he offered to see what he could scrape together. Splinter told him to fix enough for everyone, as he was sure the others would be hungry when they woke up as well. Mikey set about making breakfast with the limited fare they had. It wasn't much, he reflected as he worked, but at least it would be hot and filling. He also made tea for Splinter, and hot chocolate for himself.

The sounds and aromas emanating from the kitchen began to reach the sleepers, and by the time breakfast was ready they were all awake too. They ate together in the common room, still quite sore in body but noticeably lighter in spirit. Don had already checked Leo and proclaimed that his temperature was near normal, he was no longer sweating, and he was breathing the slow, steady rhythm of deep sleep.