As I lay me down to pray…
Leo hadn't been to the dojo to do anything other than exercise his body in quite a long time; now, however, with his body out of commission, and his mind spinning out of control—with one brother missing, one brother not himself, and the last potentially going round the bend, he supposed that now was the time to stop neglecting his spiritual side. The dojo was clean, but another kind of cobweb seemed to have taken up residence—once a strange static of young energy, constantly spiraling into a pirouette of motion, danced about the room with an electric crackle of short-term memory; and like Raphael's mind, that memory had faded, some gone altogether, while only the most important ones remained. Leo couldn't help but feel that it was his own mind that attributed special meaning and memory to the dark corners of the room, and sometimes that might have been what was happening with Raphael—he read into him and imbued him with those special qualities that once gave him life in an unreachable past. Perhaps there was nothing special about the room at all anymore.
As he closed his eyes, though, Raphael's face it was now flitted before his vision. Raphael smiling, Raphael spelling words with a simple grin, reaching out to put soap on Leo's face, Raphael sorting letter noodles, looking quizzically at Michelangelo passing, as though sightless, through the den past him; Raphael pawing at Don for attention and flinching under rebuke, or smiling quizzically when hearing a joke he could not—perhaps would not—understand. He tried in vain to conjure up the vision of an older Raph—a Raph disconsolately glaring at him over cereal bowls, a Raph fixing the cable with Don and quipping jokes, a Raph watching Donnie work on the security system and occasionally asking him questions about the hook-ups for pointers, a Raph with cameras and tools in his hands to help his brother, a Raph shouting that Don's stupid Tech mag was in from the PO box, a Raph rolling his eyes as Mikey popped in with a Kiss the Chef apron, a Raph smeared with grease after fixing up bikes in the afternoon, a Raph racing bikes or skateboards with Mike and exchanging macho challenges to one another, a Raph with a rakish grin, with a glint in the eye full of danger and darkness and recklessness—a Raph arguing with him as though fighting for his life, a Raph raging against Shredder, roaring into battle against Foot ninjas, a Raph picking his teeth with one long sai blade to show off for the enemies, a Raph eating an apple in the middle of a battle while getting his revenge… a million flitting ghosts like so many spiders and shadows, cleaned from the dojo and imagined into corners, phantoms beamed into a dusty brain. Maybe the dusty brain was his own.
Raph had become a ghost to him.
As I lay me down to pray…
He forced his thoughts back on track, back to praying for something good, anything good, to happen for them—for something to follow his brother other than himself—for a bodhisattva, an angel, a guardian spirit, a totem, to fall from a heaven he had to convince himself still existed, to protect Michelangelo, to save Donatello, to look after the Raphael whom had fallen into some kind of indiscernible void. Where did people go—where were their souls, the sparks that made them real, when they continued to live on with new personalities, with diminished abilities? Were they only half-dead? He could have let Raph go if he'd been shot, lost in battle. There was a veil there, tangible, that would separate his brother and himself—cold flesh, stiff features, still breath. He could believe his brother nearby, watching over him. Instead his love had to transform, and inevitably defy, betray, the person his brother had once been. But then who was the judge, who the audience, that condemned him for it? He wandered in a cardboard, story-book world with an amused, sadistic author, no escape but death or waking up. And still he opened his eyes, and the altar was before him. Forsaken, allies vanished into air and forgetfulness.
A gunshot echoed in his mind.
There is always a way out.
"Don, have you considered actually talking this out with the family?"
"It doesn't concern you, Leo. It's between myself and Raph—and it's a simple enough procedure. He'll be fine after a few days and much better for it."
"It's not just between you, Don! Everything you do concerns the entire family"—
"You're such a controlling bastard sometimes, it makes me sick."
"You don't want Raph and I doing this without your approval, your input, your permission"—
"I'm not saying you need my permission, Don—but I do think I oughta be at least included"—
"No! You shouldn't! It's got nothing to do with you! Raph's brain, my know-how—no great shining fearless leader Leonardo in that equation! So butt out!"
"I said no, Leo. Take it up with Raph. This was his decision. At least I respect it. What, you think he's a kid?"
Don had cooked and re-cooked this conversation between his ears a million times over—sometimes the words changed, the outcome became different as his over-active imagination, through the scrub-scrub and swish-swish of near-silent cleaning noises, went to work on the lines to alter their meaning, to make it all somehow not true. He wanted to go back to that moment, be the Good Doctor and tell Raphael he needed to sit down with the family and talk it all over, to hear the pros and cons from Leo and Mike and Splinter and April and Casey and whoever-the-fuck-else wanted in. Then when the shit hit the fan after all this, they would all be just as responsible as himself—well, almost. He owned the lion's share. It was still his burden—the fuck-up ultimately belonged to him. He couldn't deny that piece of shitpie. But at least he could pull them in with him.
But no. He hadn't wanted to hear a single word against the procedure from those who knew nothing about neurology or those who many have stupid, groundless or superstitious fears. So seldom did he and Raph have a "thing." So seldom did they get to have a moment with one another. So seldom did Raphael come to him and say, honestly and clearly, "I have a problem and you're the only one who can help me." The only one. It meant something to Donatello. It meant Raph wasn't coming to him to be the mechanic or the tech, to work on objects and petty desires. It meant he could truly alter his brother's life, health, and prospects. It meant he could be fabulously praised, eternally thanked—not just the geeky mechanic. This was something more, a miracle, turning water to wine, turning RAPH into someone livable, normal, balanced.
If succeeding meant all those things, failing was failure forever.
No going back, except by scraping the experiment and pretending it never existed. And the experiment was none other than his dear, stupid brother.
He stared at the compilation of parts on his cleaned and sanitized table, awaiting organization. There was no magic in these odds and ends that could bring to him the one thing he needed, the one tool that could reverse this entire mess, the one miracle that would make all the difference.
He'd wished in vain for magic, for utroms, for Triceratons, for the fugitoid, for any of the great technologies and powers that he'd encountered in his lifetime by accident and had treated with almost blithe disrespect, to come when he really needed them. Great powers only seemed to appear when he and his brothers were required, yet never the other way around. They had friends when the universe wanted them to help around the house, and when they needed it, the stars and courses of magic that ran around them seemed suddenly and wretchedly silent. And Renet, who had been of all those people and races to them a friend, had utterly forgotten them. Not a word, not a whisper, as though Raphael meant nothing in the great scheme after all. Only when he was helpful to her. To time. To… whatever.
A crack met Don's ears; he looked down to see a microchip turned to silicon fragments between clenched fingers as he'd stared off into space. He'd once seen small cities and amazing potential in these little chips. Now he truly knew how fragile they were… even though he should have known all along. Logic, after all. Perhaps even he had known an element of youthful invincibility.
"Hey—Mike caught a fish for dinner again. Think he's getting pretty good."
"Oh… awesome. I'll be right over, sweetie—gotta finish up these stupid knots. Leo showed me but, like, it's just too complicated, you know? Taking me forever!"
"Leo's knots are always more complicated than they need to me—here, let me help you. Jeez, what'd you do to this one, Renet?"
"I dunno, almost got my hand stuck in that one. Kinda gave up."
"Uh… I'm gonna just untie it and show you a shortcut, okay?"
"Wow! Thanks! Couldn't you just… like… do it for me? Please?"
"Heh, you'll never learn how to survive out here if I did that, Renet."
"Oh, Donnie—such a good boy. Good thing you're cute."
"Um… heh. There. Untied. Now, hold it in your hands like this"—
"No, like—no—okay, actually watch me, alright?"
"Oh, like this?"
"Okay, now you're just doing it on purpose."
"Heehee, am not."
"Think you got it?"
"Um… can you show me again? I like watching you."
"Uh, sure… see how I looped it like this? You try."
"But you're so good with your hands, Donnie!"
"Oh jeez—I was supposed to get you to come help with dinner. We should go."
"Such a good boy."
"Look, Renet… uh. We should… um. Get back to camp."
"Don't sound too heartbroken."
"Oh, we'll be stuck here a long time, sweetie. Aren't you glad we're friends? We ARE friends, right?"
"Uh, yeah. Of course, Renet."
"Good. It's so nice of you to help me out… even though it totally, like, ruined you guys' lives and stuff. You're not mad at me, right?"
"Let's not get into that."
Only when it worked for Renet, of course.
"Don—Leo tried talkin' to me about this again"—
"So? What does he know about brain chemistry?"
"It ain't that, Don—listen ta me, I just wanna know—what the heck is the worst case scenario here? I mean, I'm not too sure I really know what it is you're doin'."
"Ah… well, it's a little hard to explain. Basically I'm going to trick your brain into altering your brain chemistry permanently. It's a lot of equations for the most part."
"You didn't answer my question."
"Raph—with the nanobot technology I made from the utroms, a lot of the potential risks will be kept to a minimum. Try not to worry too much, alright? If you really want to get into the nitty-gritty of all the potential variables, there's an almost limitless number of things that could go wrong. Like any mission on the surface, or driving a car. It's a very noninvasive procedure there, so I guess… you know, you'll have to trust that I know what it is I'm doing."
"… yeah. I never said I didn't trust ya, bro. You know that. I just… kinda wanted to know what it was I was gettin' myself into."
"I think, no matter how it goes—even if it doesn't have as big an affect as I wanted it to—it'll have a huge influence on your quality of life. Definitely for the better."
"You're the doctor man, Donnie."
Don't reverie was rudely interrupted as he pulled his head upward from under the workbench where he'd been stacking his tools and bumped it on the upper surface with a sharp crack on the back of his skull.
"Ah! Damn it!" He allowed himself to curse a bit, with the same modicum of restraint as he would have around inanimate objects and nothing more, before turning to Raphael, who now stood in his doorway, shifting nervously from left foot to right. "What is it? Leo okay?"
"H-he's… ahkay. Dohnay?"
"What? I'm working on something, alright?"
"E's… Dah, Doh-nay. Sohry." Hesitant and obviously afraid of his brother's reaction, Raphael now shifted his way as to make it out of the door without further disturbance. Making an exasperated sound, Don stepped forward with an arm out.
"Wait? What about Master Splinter? I don't know how to help if you don't tell me the problem."
A moment's processing as Raphael turned back to him, his eyes staring almost blankly with struggle for a moment, before that click occurred.
"Dah—f-fah-gotted hes med-sine, Doh-nay."
"He forgot to take it?" Don clarified, knowing Raph had troubles being clear. As expected, Raphael shook his head, not yet frustrated.
"L-Leo s-stohped hem, Doh-nay. T-t-two taimes."
Don had to take a moment himself before understanding—Leo had had to stop Splinter from retaking the medicine. He made a much more sincere sound of exasperation.
"Well, why the heck'd he send you?"
As though hearing the disdain in his voice, Raph blinked a few times and clammed up—as though refusing to cooperate further—and shrugged noncommittally. Impossible. Don swung out past him and grabbed his arm as he passed.
"Well, come on. I can't leave you alone in my lab."
Raphael pulled back slightly and Don let him go, glancing back—however, Raphael continued to walk dutifully, only throwing off the hand that dragged him, as though he wanted to come alone. Donatello felt himself swallow back something odd gathering inside him, eyes slightly widening, before hurriedly turning away and hiding the disgust which lanced up on his face in familiar defense. He hated it far more when this fake Raphael showed teasing signs of his dead brother, as though mocking his grief and his failure, as though entirely on purpose—planned, vindictive, a demon in his own home dogging his heels in sadistic punishment.
"In the kitchen, Don! What's took you so long?"
"Well, I couldn't get what—are you doing?"
Leonardo was, in fact, surrounded by what tools he himself knew how to use—namely screws and an electric screwdriver—and installing on the medicine cabinet in the kitchen a padlock, while Splinter hummed peacefully away over his tea.
"My son, your playing is so loud," Splinter said gently, taking a sip and spotting Raphael coming in ahead of Don. "Ah, Raphael—be kind to an old rat's ears and encourage Leonardo to play with you outside."
Leo ignored his father. "Raph—hand me another screw, yeah?"
Raphael looked between them with very confused eyes, working his mouth silently, until moving past his father with a slight pat of his clumsy, pawing hand.
"Sohry, Dah—ahmos d-done, ahkay?"
Don remained in the opening to the kitchen, stunned by what he was seeing—suddenly he felt like the one out of the loop entirely, while Leonardo had taken complete charge of the scene before him. And while this was precisely what he'd wanted, he found himself folding his arms, swallowing back gall. Too little too late.
"You wanted to see me, fearless brother of mine?" Sarcasm oozed from his voice uninhibited. "Seems like you've got everything pretty much under control."
"Two things, Don," Leo said, turning from the cabinet while Raphael played with the screws in his hand with interest, a tongue between his teeth. "Firstly, we'll be hanging the key to the medicine cabinet in my room, and partitioning the pills into daily doses in clearly-marked groups for the day, date, and time, so there's no confusion."
"Completely flawless approach," Don commented coolly, with his doctor's voice—detached. "And the second thing?"
"What are you doing in your lab, Don?" Leo's voice was blunt, accusatory.
Donatello stared at him, silent in defiance, and so Leonardo sighed, continuing on.
"Tomorrow night, I know Mike will be meeting someone at a particular location. I'm going to give you mission parameters and an address, Don. I need you to bring him back—by force if necessary. I can't do it now. And I won't be leaving Raphael with you again."
Don frowned. "Again? In what time period?"
"As in… ever again, Don."
Whatever reaction Donatello felt, he kept it well away from his face. "Is that all you want with me?" Not waiting for an answer, he'd already turned to go back to his lab.
"That's it? You don't want to know why? No fight at all? Won't even defend yourself?"
Don laughed derisively. "Why bother? I've got what I want. You can keep your slobbering troglodyte. Marry him for all I care. And even if I wanted to defend myself, you'll always believe a drooling child over me any"—
It wasn't Leo that spoke—but a voice that struck a wave of frission through the kitchen. Three pairs of eyes turned to Master Splinter, who had stood, staring hard at his second oldest, appearing far more together than he had mere moments before.
Don looked like his heart had stopped. "Father…" he whispered, but got no further.
"You will not speak of your brother in such a manner! It shames us all!"
Don didn't even realize there was moisture in his eyes—only that the room had grown strangely cloudy and difficult to make out.
A small clatter, like glass breaking, filled the silence of Don's unfinished sentence as Raphael flung his hands up to his ears, dropping the screws to the ground with little clatters.
"Isn't." It was all Don could say, directly at Raphael, as though finally understanding what the words meant to him.
"Why does he hurt so if he is not your brother?" Splinter asked him, maintaining the authority in his voice. Leo's eyes were covered by a hand, and he stood very still beside Raphael, placing the skin of their shoulders in close contact.
"B-because… he's just enough like my brother… to make me have hope—to torture me a little longer. This is nothing but punishment, Father. He's an object of Raph's revenge." Don could hear his own voice, realized from the cool part of his mind that he sounded deranged, and for once in his life had to watch it go on, unable to stop the vehicle from careening out of control.
Raphael's face was scrunched up. He could still hear every word.
"My son…" Splinter's voice was oddly gentle, somehow broken.
At last Leo had taken his hand down from his eyes, and they burned into Donatello—the way they must have burrowed into the depths of his enemies like cursed torches.
"You're going to burn in the seven hells for this, Donatello. Not for that stupid experiment. Just for this."
"THIS IS HELL, LEO!"
He couldn't see the room clearly anymore in between blinks, passing a hand distractedly in front of his eyes, and swung around, trying to find a way out.
"Why do you have to torture me?" Don's voice was a plea, but he felt sick at the sight of Raphael—attempting to speak, pawing away a small line of drool, and staring suddenly at it with something almost like horror. Raphael's eyes dodged, panicked, up at him—trapped like an animal, he seemed, desperate and unable to speak.
Leo and Splinter both watched the exchange, as though waiting for Raphael to finally speak for himself, for something within the depths of him to shine through the damage.
"What do you want from me?" Don asked the apparition, shakily, and it tapped distractedly at its temples with both hands.
"Doh-nay…" And those pleading eyes, suddenly like his own.
"Donnie… I don't want to be like this anymore."
"What are you saying, Raph?"
"I'm saying… I… Help me, Don."
"I can't help you," Don said, backing away slightly. "I couldn't help you. I shouldn't've helped you. No one can help you—no one wants to help you. Everyone is so silent now. It's all over, Raph. Can't be reversed. Apparently…" he was speaking now, not to the living body, but to some ghost printed on the inside of his own eyeballs. "You don't matter. Everyone seems to think that as long as you're alive, there's no one to grieve. It's unreasonable to think you're gone. No reason to have a funeral. No reason to make a difference between what you left behind and what you were. But not me. Not Mike. We won't… Don't ever think that we'll… stop… stop…"
"Stop it," Leo whispered, clenching the counter behind him. Splinter had sat down at the table, diminished once again, as though sapped of his strength. Raphael was watching and listening to Donatello, spellbound.
"No one acknowledges the grief," Don continued. "That's why the ghost is still here."
"Stop it, stop it, stop it…"
"Punishing us for forgetting you."
"STOP IT!" Leonardo exploded in a burst of energy, all his limbs flying at once save the damaged arm. "How DARE you?! He's standing right here, Don! This is Raph! Look at him! Listen to him! He hasn't gone anywhere! HE'S RIGHT FUCKING HERE!"
"That isn't Raph."
It felt so unbelievably good to say it, to let the words leave his mouth before everyone present, a great burden off his shoulders. Leo looked ready to cry in frustration.
"How could you do this?"
Don shrugged, suddenly filled with an odd peace—more peace, in fact, than he'd felt in many months. "I haven't done anything wrong, Leo. It's just the truth. Acknowledge your grief—you'll be at peace, and eventually so will he. And then there'll be no more revenge."
"You've lost your goddamn mind."
Don laughed outright. "No crazier than you've become, fondling that… that poltergeist like a newborn kitten—you make me ill."
Leo had flinched eerily at the word fondle, eyes faraway and disturbed, but Don didn't follow it up. He didn't care what Leo did with it, as long as he helped him to make it go away.
"You'll retrieve Michelangelo tonight, Donatello," Leo said, after a short pause; his voice had grown reticent, cold and commanding—safe ground. "After which you'll get back here and back to your lab. Not to clean—am I in any way unclear on this, Don?"
Don scoffed. "You'll order me to fix the unfixable? You can't unbreak glass, Leo. You can't unstir soup. You can't undead our brother. And neither can I."
Leo finally snarled. "We're done talking about this, Donatello. If you can't keep a civil tongue in your head, I'll have to"—
"What, cut it out for me? Is that Mike's new job? Sounds useful."
"Get OUT of this kitchen, Don!" Leo looked about ready to froth at the mouth and tear his belligerent brother to pieces.
Raphael's hands had notably gone up around his ears, and as though to drown out the sound for him, Splinter had begun humming gently under his breath—Raph seemed to focus on it, face scrunched up and closed.
"Or else what?" Don's voice was low, purring, dangerous. "You've got nothing to offer me, Leonardo. Nothing to scare me with, nothing to take away. You're nothing now but a small, impotent, deluded babysitter in love with a slobbering child. I've already lost everything you could ever take from me, and you try to tell me I've gained. You're like a sand dune in the distance that tricks everyone into thinking it's a mountain, and the only one impressed with you is that drooling, psychopathic"—
A small scrapping of chairs disturbed Don's diatribe, and a blur of green and blue overtook his vision. Leo expected that the dive bombing and a shift punch to the face would have sobered, even scared his brother; unexpectedly, however, when he pulled away he found Donatello laughing his head off, a small smear of blood on his front teeth and lip like a grotesque kiss mark.
"Now…" Don gasped, grinning wildly as though it were his first Christmas, "You're acting like a man who's lost a brother."
Leo grasped Donatello's windpipe with his bad arm, relishing the pain as it lanced through him, and leaned down on the limb to inflict pressure on the fragile trachea.
"Shut up…" he menaced, closing his eyes for a moment but unable to follow any steps to calm himself. "Can't you ever shut up?"
"Don't you just want to hit something, though? What else is there to do, Leo?" Don rasped, still grinning at him, meeting Santa Claus for the first time ever. "Doesn't it make the itch in your brain go away?"
"You did this," Leo whispered, not entirely speaking to Don, a person possessed. Don still grinned, but he met his brother's eyes.
"I did this."
A crackle of communication appeared to pass between their eyes in the near-silent kitchen, with only Splinter's humming setting the tune in the background. Koi fish, windsocks, Boy's Day, childhood and the kitchen, two boys tussling on the floor.
"Raphael, your brothers play too loudly. Take them to the dojo with you if they have too much energy, my son."
A wave of cold water seemed to hit Leo and Don in their positions, and all the energy went out of Leonardo's threatening gesture—sitting atop Donatello weak and impotent, as Raphael walked up behind them, wondering if they'd indeed been fighting, or if it had all been an illusion.
"R-Reo? Don' huht Doh-nay, plaise."
It was such a together, non-panicked and simple request, as though Raph were trying to be matter-of-fact or even ironic. Leo blinked up at him, sitting back on his heels, and felt Don get out from under him with notable dignity.
"Give me the address and whatever other info you've got before seven, Leo," Don breathed, sounding suddenly too tired to raise his voice. "I'll be in my lab."
"And what are you doing before seven?" Leo asked, curiosity piquing his voice slightly.
"Practice run. I haven't been out in forever, remember?"
Leo seemed ready to protest, but Raphael interrupted his thought.
Don appeared confused, glancing at Leonardo, but Splinter spoke again from the table.
"Have your brothers been frightening you with tales of ghosts again, my son? You should not listen to them." He sipped his tea then, with his velvety fur crinkling in his old smile. "There are more dangerous things in the world."