This was written as a Christmas Gift-Fic for Winnychan who wanted to see this interaction to take place. Her TMNT fics were amongst the first I read and loved. She has a beautiful way of bringing the Guys to life that delighted me from the get-go and has always supported my writing in the fandom. Thanks Win! Merry Christmas!

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Sparring

Now is probably not the optimal time, Donatello thought, stirring a heaped teaspoon of stevia into his espresso. Raphael had just entered the lair, the camouflaged brick walls sliding shut with a soft schtink.

On the other hand, it was now or never.

He'd been debating with himself whether or not to approach Raphael on this matter for a few weeks now, ever since he'd first noticed.

He knew, in his heart, that it was the right thing to do. He also knew, in his heart and mind and stomach, that Raphael would not agree with him.

Especially considering the way they'd been getting on lately.

He continued to stir his coffee steadily, the spoon moving in automatic circles, staring blankly out across the lair where his brother strode across the den space, stretching his bulky arms up above his head and opening his maw in a great yawn.

Raphael always seemed to need to unwind a little when he returned from his all-night sojourns and this morning was no different. He kicked aside a sofa cushion that had been knocked to the ground sometime during the previous evening and slumped down in one of the reclining armchairs, flicking the television on.

Donatello realised he was still stirring his coffee and set the teaspoon down with a jerk on the sink, it chinking quietly. Raphael did not look over from the armchair, his eyes glazed over as he stared blindly at the flickering screen. Donatello looked down into the murky dark depths of his mug and sighed, then began padding over to where his brother sat.

Within two feet of Raphael, he reeled, and the aggravation – which he had to admit had been the first motivator for him to decide on initiating this conversation with Raphael – flared up again, like hot white sparks fizzling in the circuitry of his brain.

"Does he think we're all stupid", he thought furiously, "that I'm stupid?"

Raphael came home reeking of the girl.

He circled around and came up behind Raphael's armchair, suddenly unwilling to approach his brother with this irritation so fresh and fierce. His bo was propped up against the couch where he'd leant it, moving from his bedroom through the den to the kitchen. It had edged sideways, in danger of sliding to the ground, and he straightened it.

He wasn't sure what annoyed him more. That Raphael seemed to think he was stupid, and wouldn't notice; or that if Leonardo had been here, things would not have gone on for as long as what they had without the issue being broached.

He almost wanted to think Raphael never would've dared gone this far if Leonardo was still here, but he knew that was a cop-out.

He tapped the toes of one foot against the thread-bare rug thrown across the raised platform where the couches were clustered and took a soothing sip of his coffee. Funny the way it was supposed to be a stimulant, yet it always calmed him down. He cupped his hands around the mug gratefully and inhaled the aroma of the incinerated little beans. And caught the scent that clung to Raphael again.

Maybe he genuinely doesn't notice it. Donatello considered charitably, willing himself to be fair. But that – that couldn't be possible. Not only was the scent of the girl almost offensively strong to his heightened sense of smell, Raphael brought back other telling odours – alcohol and musty, damp cotton and, worst of all – nicotine – great, clinging clouds of it. It seemed to hang in the air of the den for days, putrid and poisonous smelling.

But that wasn't even all of it. It was his behaviour too. Skulking around, being evasive about where he was going and what he'd been doing. Staying out all night and returning at dawn, exhausted. Funnily enough, his aggression also seemed to have decreased. Of course, when it came to Raphael, that didn't mean a whole lot. He was still like a bull in a ring, just maybe without the red flag flickering at him.

He either thinks I'm stupid, or he just doesn't care, Donatello could hear his mind's voice, the one which so rarely made it to his mouth, snarling and savage.

Which was worse?

"You checkin' to see if I'm breathin', Don?" Raphael's voice broke the silence, gruff and bleary, his I'm-too-tired-to-be-in-the-mood-to-talk-to-you-Brainiac voice and it raised Donatello's hackles right up.

"Oh Raphael, you're up early." He replied in a concertedly casual tone of voice, walking around the armchair to stand in a position just enough to block Raphael's view of the television without it seeming deliberate. Passive-aggressive, a little voice cautioned him, but he shook it off.

Raphael did not bother to open his half-lidded eyes, just stared numbly at Donatello then said heavily: "I just got home. And you know it."

"And how was Casey last night?" Donatello crossed in front of Raphael, moving to the sofa set slightly back from the battered old arm-chair, settling into it in order to leave his brother no doubt he was there to stay. He waited to see what Raphael said, wanting to catch his brother in the lie.

But Raphael was cannier than he gave him credit for. After a long pause in which he was unable to catch his brother's facial expression, having moved just further back enough for it to be out of sight, Raphael replied carefully:

"Wasn't with Casey."

"April?"

"Wasn't with April."

"Oh. You were alone then?"

Another pause. Donatello waited. It felt suddenly stupid, not to mention vicious, trying to catch Raphael out like this, but he wanted to see just how far his brother would drag the charade out.

But Raphael evidently wasn't in the mood to play that morning. He pushed himself out of the armchair and strode off the platform, heading towards the stairway, not looking at Donatello.

And another little voice murmured in his ear: Be nice.

"Uh Raph, hang on a moment…"

Raphael turned slowly at the new tone in his voice, an eyeridge cocked, his eyes still slitted, one hand on his belt. Donatello continued, encouraged and confounded at once:

"I just wanted… to talk… a moment…"

And then he felt a wave of sadness. True, he and Raphael had never spent a lot of time in heart to hearts, but they used to have fun. Lots of fun. Playing video games, picking on Mikey, working out mechanical puzzles and souping up the van… they'd been a good team. All of that had stopped over the last twelve months. These days, any conversations they had always seemed to end up with him trying to explain reality and practicality to Raphael in the most straight-forward way, to which Raphael responded by doing what he did best: getting angry. Donatello couldn't figure out why. He was trying to do things differently to Leonardo – not talking at Raphael, but just – just explaining things to him. It just didn't seem to work. He'd practically resigned himself to the fact that Raphael just had a problem with authority, full-stop.

He became aware, with a start, that Raphael had stepped back up onto the platform and swung the armchair around to face him, sitting in it with his legs spread and leaning forward, arms dangling over his thighs. Raphael briefly met his eyes, shrugged uncomfortably and spoke: "So. Uh. What did ya wanna talk about?."

Donatello had never imagined this was going to be easy. Still, now he was faced with it, it seemed excruciatingly more difficult than even he'd anticipated. He took another gulp of his coffee to steady his nerves, coughed in readiness to speak, then took another sip.

They sat in silence, each nervously looking around them rather than at each other.

Donatello set his now empty coffee mug on the coffee table and caught sight of the latest copy of Hustler magazine jumbled up in the debris there.

Damn Mikey. Went to bed and left it there. Again. And it was going to be up to Donatello to put it away before Splinter left his room. Again.

Then in a fit of inspiration, he swiped the magazine up and began rifling through the pages. "You'd think Mikey would take better care of his porn." He croaked, evincing what he thought was a rather good jab at camaraderie.

If Raphael was surprised, he didn't let on. "You kiddin'?" He managed to sound almost light-hearted. "He's got the stuff alphabetacised."

Donatello resisted the urge to correct Raphael, sensing it would not work in his favour right now. He continued to flick through the rhythm rag, catching sight of peroxided locks, unnaturally large breasts balanced upon unnaturally tiny waists, and dozens upon dozens of slickly-glossed pouting lips. "What is it with the tanlines?" he queried his brother. He wasn't trying to make conversation, he was genuinely curious. "There's something about porn and tanlines so vivid they're practically UV. " Raphael chuckled and Donatello's confidence rose. "And the silicone – I mean, I don't get it. It doesn't move. It just – sits. What, do the men who get into this stuff just want something indestructible to hang onto when the nuke hits?"

Raphael's raspy laugh rose in volume and he rubbed at one eye with the back of a fist. "Substitutes cryin' for Mommy, I s'pose."

Donatello held the magazine up by one end, letting it flop naturally open into the centrefold. "Well, at least the Lady of the Month stands out this time around." He observed and turned the magazine around so Raphael could have a look. His brother's eyelids flickered as he took an obliging look, then his gaze darted away again. Donatello felt the blood crawl into his cheeks. This definitely wasn't something he and Raphael used to do together. But he'd started on this course and for better or for worse, dammnit… "She's pretty hot, actually. Her ribs show, but her boobs are natural at least. They're – they're nice boobs too. Great, actually. I bet they – uh – acchhhem" he sputtered and continued desperately, aware Raphael had crossed his arms over his plastron and was glaring off to the side. "She's a redhead as well. Gee, that's unusual for the centrefold. Natural too, by the looks of it," Geeze, that sounds sleazy, "they haven't even air-brushed her freckles out. Hell, I might even start buying Hustler if they keep this – "

"Don." Raphael broke the awkward tirade, spitting the syllable through his teeth. "Wouldja quit tryin' to do the alpha-male ogle? You're makin' me uncomfortable."

Donatello tossed the magazine back on the table and wiped his brow. Well, that was a bust. "Sorry," he said sincerely and Raphael uncrossed his arms, kneading his eyes with his thumbs, kinda, almost sorta, grinning. Donatello reached beside the couch and stroked his bo-staff. He needed some sort of bolster.

"So, Raph. Do you know about safe sex?"

The words just sort of spat themselves out and Donatello jerked forward and swallowed, as though he could suck them back in.

Raphael's reaction was immediate. "What? Are you kiddin'? What the hell?" He sat up sharply, instantly defensive. He looked distinctly cheated, as though he'd been lulled into a false sense of security. Although there really hadn't been anything secure about it so to speak…

"I just wondered," Donatello hastened on, "it's just – well. You never know when this information – might be useful."

Raphael had once again crossed his arms and was staring at his brother with now wide-open eyes, his expression sour.

"We're mutant turtles, Don." he said dryly. "We'd have to be real lucky."

And suddenly Donatello was annoyed again. He's playing that card, he thought in disgust. How can he be so brazen. Does he think I'm stupid, or does he just. Not. Care?"

Careful to keep his voice neutral, struggling against the irritation, he responded: "Well, we have encountered females in other dimensions – on other planets – and I think we've all enjoyed a flirtation, or an exchanged glance or two – sometimes with humans, ven. I actually don't think it's as unlikely as I once did. At least, I hope not." And he hoped that last remark would convince Raphael he was on his side. He just wanted his brother to be honest. Heck, why hadn't Raphael considered he might be worried about him?

Why did Raphael never consider things like that?

His brother continued to sit in stony silence and Donatello hemmed softly. He didn't trust himself to speak calmly any further, so instead he adopted the same matter-of-fact yet entirely-friendly voice he had grown most comfortable with, momentarily forgetting it inexplicably made Raphael angry.

"Also – didn't you have that friend – the human girl – the one who stayed with us – what was her name, Amy – or Andrea – "

"Amber."

Raphael's voice was a low growl. If there had been any doubt remaining, it was cleared up now.

"That's right. She was a redhead too – like uh, Miss March over there. How's she?" He kept his voice light, easy, but Raphael was visibly glowering, sinking further into the chair cushions. This isn't going very well, the little voice piped up again, but he ignored it as Raphael blurted out his blunt response.

"Fine. "

"Soo – you still see her?"

"Yes."

The monosyllabic answers should've warned him off but he persisted. "Have you started – um – have you tried anything – of a sexual nature – "

"That does it." Raphael kicked back against the sofa as he stood up, clenching his fists by his side. "I'm outta here." He spun on his heel and stormed off and Donatello leapt to his feet, grasping his bo tight, furious at his brother's blatant disregard, desperate not to let this go.

"I know you're sleeping with her." He threw at Raphael's retreating shell and his brother pulled up short, spinning around to meet Donatello's eyes. He couldn't help a slight smirk.

"Ain't no sleepin' involved." He said snidely and turned back again, heading towards the stairs.

No. Donatello thought. No. You do not get off that easy.

He darted after his brother, leaping onto the cement flagstones and calling out, as softly as he could, aware of the rest of the sleeping household.

"Raphael, have you even thought about what you're doing? You need to be careful. I mean, there's a risk associated with anyone, but with her it would be increased."

Raphael halted, fists balled, his head snapping up straight. Still with his back to Donatello, he growled.

"You did not just say that."

It was always the same.

"I'm not trying to be insulting." He said wearily, unable to help a tinge of duh-I'm-just-pointing-out-the-obvious creep into his voice. "I'm just stating the truth."

Raphael turned slowly around, grinding his teeth and glaring furiously at him. Donatello felt his guts sink. Should've known. With the amount of testosterone Raphael was expending on this girl, his reactions were going to be the most instinctive and brute.

His brother strode back across the den towards him, and Donatello stood his ground, even as he struggled not to swallow the lump in his throat, a tell-tale signal Raphael wouldn't fail to notice.

Raphael came up toe to toe with Donatello, his shoulders lifted and hunched forward.

Raphael was a couple of inches taller than all of them, and he was the biggest. The weight training he'd been doing had made him broad and heavily muscled, but he was also naturally stronger.

Raphael was also a bully.

He'd always been a bully.

When they were kids, Raphael played King of the Castle even when there was no Castle. It took only a bout of well-orchestrated tears from Michelangelo to have the hothead repentant; but Donatello had never been able to manage that tactic. He'd always attempted to stand up for himself before inevitably growing nervous and consequently, slightly breathless. Raphael would inevitably notice and this would just increase his taunting and shoving, and that would inevitably lead to Donatello snapping back with some sharply observed and desperate insult, usually around Raphael's intellectual aptitude. And then that would lead to the inevitable fisticuffs. Which Donatello would inevitably lose.

Donatello was a good fighter – a great fighter – but he was always slightly overwhelmed by Raphael's skill and strength and sheer aggression, plus the fact it was his brother who was 'knockin' the stuffin outta him' as Raphael would crow. This was long before they ever went into a real battle – or really thought they ever would. And besides, as he would remind himself, he had other things to do besides practice and fight all the time, like Raphael did. Other interests. And other aptitudes.

Which did not include leading the team, he conceded glumly as Raphael drew himself up to full height, attempting to intimidate his brother (and succeeding, Donatello had to further concede). They hadn't had this sort of show-down for years, but he knew it had been months in the making and damned if he was going to back down to the bully now. Not after the way Raphael had been so careless, and so thoughtless and so damned inconsiderate and – and so frickin' stupid.

His grip on the bo-staff tightened and Raphael noted it, eyes darting to his hand sharply then back up to hook Donatello's gaze.

"You challengin' me, Donnie?" There was a faint tinge of amusement in Raphael's voice, something akin to mockery. Not only that, but Raphael had a way of putting nuances on the diminutives when he wanted to establish the pecking order. Donnie, just then, was Raphael's way of letting him know who he figured was the weaker of the two. Donatello bristled and straightened.

"No, Raphie," his usual matter-of-fact voice, this time dripping with sarcasm, "It's morning. I've just woken up. Which means that I haven't had my staff strapped to my shell all night because, let's face it, that's not comfortable. Hence why I'm carrying it. And I'm carrying it because, once again, it's morning. And I'm on my way to do what we always do in the morning. That is, train."

Raphael glowered at the disdainful tone of his voice, his face blank with fury.

"Well, you need it, little brother."

It had once been a debate who was the eldest out of Donatello and Raphael, but that wasn't what Raphael meant, of course. Donatello felt blood pool into his cheeks again, woefully aware of the slightness of his frame in comparison to his brother's.

"And you need a shower." He said, keeping his voice low to stop it from cracking, forcing himself to hold Raphael's eyes. Raphael edged forward again, teeth clenched, but Donatello stood his ground, bo-staff digging hard into the cement slabs, his grip on it so fierce he thought he'd somehow find a splinter in the perfectly sanded wood. It kept him upright as Raphael sneered and stepped back, still holding Donatello's eyes. But Raphael seemed to be letting this one go, turning slowly away, fists still clenched and shoulders hunched up like a linebackers and Donatello let out a breath he hadn't even realised he was holding.

"Least I'm gettin' some," he heard Raphael mutter, his tone somewhere between smug and vindictive and Donatello couldn't help rolling his eyes. Oh please. As if it had ever been about that. It was finally one insult too many.

"Just be careful you don't catch some sort of disease." He called out to his retreating brother spitefully.

Raphael whirled around, his temper so ignited it seemed to crackle through every bulging vein as his muscles tensed and he ground his teeth hard enough Donatello heard them crunch against each other.

This is going to hurt, Donatello thought resignedly as Raphael came barrelling toward him, and tossed his bo-staff to the side, then brought his fists up and ready.

Guess it'll count as training.