Disclaimer: I do not own TMNT and all rights go to the original creators.
Warnings: Contains slash/yaoi (BOYxBOY love) and incest (or turtlecest). NC-17. Please do NOT read or comment if these things offend you. Don't like? Don't read! Flamers will be ignored and laughed at.
...Or as Mikey counted it 61 days... 1464 hours... 87840 minutes... 5270400 seconds since him and his brothers had last seen Raphael Hamato.
They seldom used calendars in their household and watches and clocks for that matter.
In fact Donnie was the only one who occasionally donned those kinds of timing devices and even that was only because he adored the techno gear involved with it.
As Mikey sat in the kitchen for long hours cooking or stuffing his face he began to feel the insatiable itch to constantly check how much longer it would be until Raph returned to their family.
The calendar became the most important item they owned in the young turtle's eyes.
Mikey shivered lightly, so small it was almost unnoticeable.
The impression of sinking very slowly into a toxic mud puddle was very real in his mind as he eyed the hanging pages.
To the youngest turtle their current point in time felt exactly like when Leo had been away, to the point where it was scary.
Back then he got up later and got bored earlier... just like he was starting to do now.
When Leo was gone he missed the security of his eldest brother and the happiness that seemed to be sapped from each of his remaining brothers.
...Granted it was time when he and Donnie had gotten together...but it still wasn't the same.
Now there was a hole in his daily timetable that in the past was filled with teasing and taunting Raph.
With Raph gone Mikey had no one to joke around with, no one less serious to talk to, no one else who would put up with his general tomfoolery for hours on end...and most importantly no one to help him back up with a joke or a quip about his lack of intelligence...
And this time he didn't even have exciting new feelings with Donnie to pick him back up and make things bearable again.
Everyone always told him that he, Michelangelo was the brightness, the shining sun bringing joy and happiness into their family.
Mike knew that it was only true when their family was together and whole.
He could only work his magic when his family wanted to be happy.
Mikey looked back at the calendar in hope, rechecking and making sure he had marked in the right number of days.
Just as he had circled the date Leo was to return from Central America the orange-masked ninja, ever the optimist, had circled the date Raph was to walk back in the door and back into their lives.
He grinned proudly.
Mike was counting down the time with large red X's not caring that it had only brought heartache when he had done the same for Leo and Leo had not returned when expected.
Unlike Leonardo on his trip to the jungle the red-masked ninja had warned that he probably wouldn't write much, if he wrote at all.
Raph was definitely keeping true to that promise.
The only thing their family had received so far was one small letter sent to them (courtesy of April and Casey) which had consisted of a scrawled page of writing saying nothing personal to any of them, just that Raph was alive and that the journey was working well for him....or something of that nature.
Mikey had to stare cross-eyed at the thing just to decipher Raph's totally messy handwriting.
Despite the illegibility Mikey had eagerly pinned it to the fridge as the obvious gap Raph had left in their family life began to settle in, reflected most clearly in his bright blue eyes.
It had only been about two months.
Two months without his older brother's gruff voice and fiery eyes and firm hand slapping him over the head or helping him back on his feet when he fell...
.... The time felt like forever to the youngest turtle.
The 'yang' to his 'yin' was missing.
Mikey felt like the fun and happiness in his life had been torn in half.
Mikey glanced up as Leo walked into the kitchen to quietly brew some tea.
He managed a smile then, if only for his brother's sake.
At least he wasn't alone in dealing with this.
To lose his best friend and brother was hard....
Leo's eyes met his in understanding as Mike's smile faltered.
...losing a lover was harder.
"Was this what it was like when I was gone?" Leo asked quietly one evening as Mikey and he looked out over New York City.
A gentle breeze swept past tickling their mask bands.
They had both decided that some fresh air and some time away from the confined lair were needed.
Michelangelo had tentatively asked Donatello if he wanted to join them.
He got nothing but the back of Don's preoccupied shell and shooed away as if he was an annoying bug that needed to be swatted.
In a way Mikey was glad Don had said no to his offer.
Mike hadn't really properly spoken to Leo alone for a long time now.
...On the other hand Mikey just didn't understand why Donnie was acting the way he was.
It seemed like no matter what they did and no matter how many problems they overcame as a pair there was always something else that came up and ruined everything, something that stopped them moving forwards.
Mike shook his head returning to what Leo had just asked.
The orange-masked ninja was tempted to say it was worse when Leo was gone, that things had truly fallen apart without their fearless leader to guide them.
...But he knew in his heart that it wasn't true.
It was horrible having either of his brothers gone.
While Leo was away it was just...different, not really any worse or better.
With Raph discovering the big open world there were less arguments, no Nightwatchers and no sneaking out at night and sleeping in all day.
There were less yells and it was slightly quieter...although not much because Mikey had tried to make it his mission to spend time with them and replace Raph's hole with more jokes and more movie time.
Surprisingly enough this time Master Splinter hadn't even banned them from going topside and fighting.
Mikey knew it was only because Leo was slowly cutting back their patrols until they rarely went out on missions at all (obviously they were not strong unless they had their entire team ready for action)...but in reality Mike didn't really mind.
If they patrolled or didn't patrol didn't make the slightest difference in how fast Raph made it back home.
The only thing the orange-masked ninja particularly missed was the fresh nightly air.
"There was the same kind of feeling around when you were away dude" Mikey said finally, "It was like when you have your favourite breakfast cereal but no milk to eat it with. Just the same. No fun anymore."
Leo snorted softly at the comparison.
Neither of them tried to fight it as naturally they found themselves tangled in each other's arms, looking out over the city with the sides of their heads pressed together.
The wind blew gently ruffling their mask tails again.
They were silent in the noisy dark city.
"This is my fault" Leo said quietly breaking the stretching silence.
The blue-masked ninja sighed, burying his face into his neck.
For a moment Mikey thought he might have been crying...
But no, Leo looked up without even a hint of wetness on his face.
'Of course...' Mikey thought a tad bitterly, 'big brothers never cry'.
He sighed, echoing Leo.
Mike knew better than to deny everything and say it wasn't his bro's fault, Leo would just become stubborn and chew him out if he did.
"You don't know that something else wouldn't have set old Raphie-boy off and made him leave" Mikey said stubbornly, "If it wasn't whatever you did to him it could have been me finally driving him insane or Donnie or Casey or April or even Master Splinter telling him off for being too reckless!"
"But I was leader and Raph-"
"Who made the rules that you can't be a good leader and brother at the same time?" he challenged.
Leo shook his head and Mikey's eyes flashed like blue steel.
Some hurt part of him was aching for a fight even though venting his painful feelings onto Leo wasn't going to help anyone.
"I'm serious dude! Every time you don't think about it and just act naturally you're the best turtle ever, leader and bro combined!"
Leo frowned but Mikey continued anyway.
His stupid bro needed to hear this.
"Like dude, when we were watching toons yesterday! You were being a great bro by being there with me and being a great leader by not letting me wallow in my room all day, keeping me strong for the team!"
Mikey took another deep breath.
"So yeah this time it was you that drove him away but you don't know anything about what could have happened if you didn't. You don't know what would have happened if I pushed him a little too far with a prank or if Don stuffed up his shell cycle or if Casey punched him a little too hard or if April was a little too nosey and caring or if Master Splinter chewed him out a little too harshly! So just shut up already and stop feeling guilty bro! You don't always have to separate yourself into being our leader or being our brother!"
Leo sounded confused.
"I'm the best turtle, when I act natural?"
God, sometimes his brothers missed the most basic things about themselves...it was almost funny.
Mike grinned suddenly amused by his bro and snuggled back into him.
"You got it bro!"
Leo mulled it over, with a slight smile.
He didn't quite believe it ...but maybe there was some truth in what Mikey was saying...
Was it possible for him to be a brother and a leader...
....and a lover...?
He looked down at the top of his little brother's head.
It made Leo sad that he could feel an invisible weight pressing down on the orange-masked ninja's shell, just like the one pressing down on his.
"You're going to have to talk to Don eventually Mike" Leo breathed as Mikey nuzzled his neck like a sad puppy.
"I know bro" Mikey murmured, "Just like you'll talk with Raphie-boy when he gets back"
Leo grimaced and tightened his hold on his brother, not really wanting to imagine what was going to happen when that particular moment arrived.
The two brothers sat on the rooftop until the horizon began to lighten.
When they travelled back to the lair it was empty, but just like the coming of the new day they were both more light-hearted than either of them had been in a while.
Leo had avoided it long enough, thought about it and meditated long and hard.
It was time to talk with Master Splinter and to come to an understanding between them.
He wasn't running anymore.
He quietly knocked on the wooden panes of their Master's sliding door before walking in quietly, falling to his knees.
His head bowed in respect as the old rat came to stand in front of him.
"You are kneeling before me Leonardo ....but are you as calm as you seem today my son? Enough to show me that we will not end in direct conflict as our past talks have?"
Leonardo nodded, this time knowing he was whole-heartedly ready to tackle this issue between them once and for all.
"Sensei, I can't apologize for some of the things I said.... but I do wish to explain my actions and apologize for my disrespect towards you..."
Splinter nodded, also calmer today.
He had also done some thinking.
He also knew that it was time to finally unclog the unruly log that blocked their river.
"You must understand that I still stand by my decision in regards to Raphael"
Splinter's eyes were unwavering.
Leo smiled without humour.
"...But perhaps I was also rash and hurtful my son."
Splinter sounded apologetic but not unfirm in his voice, something only a true master and sensei could achieve.
"Then you must also understand Sensei, why I am going to go against your wishes and why Don and Mikey will not settle for a blind eye" Leo countered calmly, his hands twitching briefly.
He kept his head bowed as Splinter frowned.
Leo tried to show that his actions were not just defiance because he was simply trying to disobey Splinter's word.
"Perhaps it is destiny that we come to this day where neither son nor father can see eye-to-eye" Splinter murmured moving and lighting candles around them, "I cannot accept this happening within our family yet you four boys cannot seem to be without each other...a hard situation indeed".
He stroked his furry beard slowly and gently with his clawed hand.
"We both have had time to think this matter through" Splinter said softly, snuffing the match he was holding with the leathery pads of his fingers, "yet a solution has not been reached"
"Time will not change such feelings sensei" Leonardo said quietly looking up at the old rat, meeting his eyes directly.
Although he didn't voice it aloud Leo had never really believed time was going to change anything...not now, not after all they had been through together.
"You do not know what the future holds for you my son" Splinter said looking at him sharply as he was drawn from his thoughts.
There was something strangely intimidating about how they could both be so sharp with each other yet never raised their voices or made any rude gestures ....as Raph would have.
"I'm not predicting the future, I'm telling you that I know my brothers well enough that this will not fade"
For the first time since he'd stepped into his father's room the blue-masked ninja saw his father's tail flicking back and forth.
"Better than you think I know them and yourself Leonardo?"
Leo shook his head.
He would never understand why Donnie loved logic and debating so much.
He found himself caught in an eternal match with their master.
"You've known us during times we can't even remember Sensei. My only point is that I know these relationships will not fade over time because they are held together by more than just empty words, they are strong with love"
"And brotherly love is not enough?" Splinter countered, "You will split off into pairs and never look back, take apart bonds of family intimacy?"
Leo's expression didn't change or flicker, not even for a moment.
"You have that much doubt in us Sensei?"
Splinter took a step back.
The old rat sighed.
He then kneeled in front of Leonardo.
"...No, my son" Splinter said finally, "but you must understand... Would you not almost feel some.... distaste, if the four turtles you raised, your own sons suddenly wished to pursue each other. Would you be so accepting if your own children were to turn to you and ask to have such a personal relationship?"
Leo raised his eyes.
Shiny coal black and deep chestnut brown clashed.
"I would at least hear them out" Leo said roughly, "let them explain their reasons, give them a chance..."
They stared at each other as the candle glow slowly warmed the room and scented the air.
"I am your Master" Splinter finally said.
An odd look came over Leo's face.
"I am your son Sensei" the blue-masked ninja said, "And I will not give up on Raphael"
Splinter's mouth pressed into a thin line.
"Do you love him as more than a brother my son?"
Leo couldn't lie.
Leo bowed as low as he could while still on his knees.
"In time you'll see that Don and Mike will not give up on each other either father, I'm not the only son you need to convince."
Leo then stood up, plastron out and eyes even with his father's.
"I am sorry I said some disrespectful things to you in the past"
Splinter frowned sadly at him.
"You are the leader" he pointed out, "can you be both a brother and one in such a partnership?"
Leo didn't answer.
"I may be leader" Leo said as he turned around giving the old rat a meaningful look, "But I think there's someone else who you need to speak to before making this decision".
Splinter's previous question was left hanging in the air.
The rat silently flicked his tail as Michelangelo stepped around the corner with his head bowed but his eyes wide open and determined.
Leo left the room quietly.
Just before Mikey entered their Master's sanctuary Leo discreetly touched his little brother's arm.
There was a hint of pride in the action; immediately Mikey straightened as the confident turtle he should have been.
Mikey had his serious face on.
The blue steel was back in his eyes, he looked ready to fight an entire army, he looked strong.
Leo knew where he now needed to be now.
He knocked on Donatello's door with a firm fist not expecting a reply and not needing one.
The blue-masked ninja pushed the door open uninvited.
Leo heard a frustrated sigh and the rapid clicking of a computer keyboard before he glimpsed upon a stressed-out looking Donatello.
Leo was needed here now, was needed by his brother to snap him out of his over-the-top working.
The purple-masked ninja was hunched over and in obvious need of a break from whatever he was fiddling with.
"What is it Leo?" came the impatient remark.
Donatello wasn't snapping at him exactly... it was a curt statement from a turtle that had had too much coffee and not enough sleep.
Leo's eyes quickly noted his brother's posture and the sadness in his tired eyes.
Donnie was usually adeptly skilled in hiding his innermost feelings.
It seemed like this time it was just too much for Don to handle all by himself even with all the machines and inventions he surrounded himself with.
"Want to talk?" the blue-masked ninja asked quietly ignoring the sinking feeling in his stomach.
He would have to tread carefully around his brother today.
Sure enough, the purple-masked ninja's shoulders tensed as if just accused of something ridiculously horrible.
"What makes you think I need to talk about anything Leo?"
Leo mentally braced himself knowing he had just triggered defensive-Donnie mode.
Now his brother would be difficult and stubborn to talk to...just like a certain hothead sometimes was.
"You've barely spoken to Mikey, Sensei or me since Raph left" Leo said over the buzz of the electronic appliances in Don's room, "You're not as good at concealing things as you think Don".
Don's fist clenched on his keyboard.
"I'm not concealing anything Leo" Don said through what sounded like clenched teeth.
Leo paused and then stepped closer shutting the door behind him softly, realising he was still standing in the doorway.
"Are you saying that Raph's absence hasn't affected you at all? That this is normal behaviour for you?" Leo questioned raising an eye-ridge as he walked into the room quietly.
Donatello didn't reply and unclenched his fist.
Leo's eyes narrowed as abruptly Don turned to continue typing away at his keyboard.
He walked up to his younger brother refusing to be ignored, refusing to let defensive-Don win.
In one hasty move he swivelled Donnie around and kicked his chair away from the computer screen so that his fingers were wrenched from the keys.
"Leo!!" Don snarled rounding on him and springing up from his chair so that they were plastron to plastron, "What the shell do you want?!"
Donnie stepped away, his voice rising in pitch and volume.
"Of course I miss Raph! He's my brother for god's sake! BUT unlike you and Mikey I'm not going to sit here and waste away and stop working just because he's gone for a year!"
Don took a harsh breath.
"I've got constructive things to get done; I have something outside of Raphael to dwell on! My life doesn't end just because one of our brothers is temporarily missing!"
Don's defensiveness reappeared briefly as he finished.
"I've already been through this once Leo. I don't need to talk about it anymore"
"... And what about Mikey?" Leo asked quietly, his mouth pressing into a thin line and his eyes creasing in hushed annoyance.
"What about Mikey?" Don questioned still silently seething as his hurt seeped out.
There was a rare hint of confusion in his voice.
Leo managed a rare cold forced smile.
Oh, he loved it when his brothers acted so caring about one another.
"While Mikey and I are 'wasting away'" Leo stated in his quiet deadly voice, "You know what else is happening at the moment apart from your brilliant work?"
"What?" Don asked sarcastically crossing his arms and obviously resisting the urge to roll his stormy grey eyes.
"Mikey is in Master Splinter's room right now defending your relationship all by himself because you've been so wrapped up in your own 'important' and 'constructive' life...obviously not sulking like a child"
Leo prompted him again as Donatello's expression shifted and then went blank.
"Don, Mike needs you"
Leo paused looking down.
"Don't make the same mistakes I did and deny what you know is there..."
Leo pulled his beak tight.
"Mikey loves you Don"
Before Leo could even blink Don was out the door.
Leo tilted his head in slight wonder at their short conversation as he quickly mulled it over in his mind.
If only things had been that simple for Raph and him...
Leo didn't ask Michelangelo or Donatello about their conversation with Master Splinter after they stepped out of his room.
And just the same Leo didn't ask Master Splinter about his conversation with Mikey or Don.
The only thing Leo witnessed was his brothers leaving their Master at same time with identical glints in their eyes.
The blue-masked ninja caught Mikey's eyes when he passed by as Don retreated back to his lab.
Mike let out the smallest shake of his head.
And then Leo nodded solemnly, knowing what had happened, knowing that the inevitable had now come.
It was a fact; Mikey and Don hadn't been able to get more than a blind eye from Master Splinter.
Later on, when Mikey obviously thought the rest of them were asleep Leo heard light sniffles coming from his little brother's bedroom.
The blue-masked ninja crept in and watched as the youngest turtle's body convulsed with concealed sobs.
He touched the orange-masked ninjas shoulder and immediately the strong, athletic, 'happy' turtle collapsed into his arms.
Leo sighed sadly holding his brother close.
When had the powerful teenage mutant ninja turtles been reduced to this?
Mikey was suffering slowly as more and more time passed with Raphael still gone.
Leo could see it, could tell by the diminishing number of smiles and the way Mike followed him around, trying to sort out his issues while ignoring his own, just as Mikey always did.
Leo could feel an unpleasant unrest stirring in the atmosphere.
It wasn't the fact that Mike and he were getting closer that concerned him nor the fact that Mikey was desperately missing Raph ...or even that him and Mikey had so many issues to talk out.
It was the fact that Leo realised that even with Raph back Mikey would still feel emptiness.
It seemed as though Donatello had shut himself off except to work, eat and sleep.
Firstly Leo thought that Donnie might just snap himself out of it (although deep down Leo already knew it wasn't going to happen) and now...it was his job big brother to fix it, like always.
The blue-masked ninja's problem was that no matter what he said Donnie didn't want to be fixed.
Even if Leo tried his hardest to get them all talking again it was impossible to fix a puzzle if there were still pieces missing...or in their case if a certain hot-headed brother.
The only way they would be truly happy again was if Don got Raph back and if Mikey got Don and Raph back and if Leo got them all back...and if Raph came back at all.
Truthfully Leo could ignore the hole where Raph filled in his heart during the day easily enough by keeping up his efforts in caring for his brothers.
Only at night when his subconscious sprang to life did Leo get torn limb from limb in his dreams.
The eldest turtle was grateful that if anyone had noticed his recent tiredness that no one mentioned it.
Sometimes Leo woke up gasping as visions of Raph without a shell on his back swum back and forth in his mind.
It was then that without the daily hustle and bustle of keeping Mikey busy and checking up on Don that Leo really missed his brothers.
Some nights were more graphic than others....
Some nights Leonardo woke up with wet hungry kisses and the picture of two glistening cocks dripping as the darker one moved to penetrate him behind his eyelids.
...Some nights he woke just before a red sai swung down to slash open his throat.
Leo continued to hold their training sessions even though there was always a half-hearted feeling about the whole procedure of it now.
Training really lost its thrill when the roughest turtle wasn't around to challenge Leo or to watch Mikey whack himself over the head with his chucks or to smirk at Donnie when he foiled his own rapid strike by over-thinking the move.
Sometimes Leo stayed back and trained harder and longer like he had when he was angry and depressed after being scarred by Karai and the Shredder.
However the blue-masked ninja quickly gave up on it when the loneliness of a single set of weapons clashing against one another as well as the memories of events that had occurred in their dojo got to him.
Leo then stopped training outside of practise.
Instead Mikey and he held on to each other for dear life.
"I miss him" Mikey said one night while Leo and he were sitting together over a bowl of over-buttered and over-salted popcorn.
"Who?" Leo asked quietly glancing down at Mikey's shiny, grease covered fingers.
They seemed to glow in front of the light of the television.
"You know...Raph, you, Donnie...............me and Donnie's late night kisses..."
Leo's mouth tightened as he looked down into his lap.
Making up his mind the blue-masked ninja slung an arm over Mikey's shoulder like Raph would have at such a time.
Immediately Mikey tunnelled into his bro savouring his warmth, comfort and support.
"Why do you miss me?" Leo questioned as the popcorn was rapidly vacuumed into Mike's mouth.
They both chose to ignore the unnatural shine in Mikey's large eyes and his overzealous eating.
"I'll always be here for you Mikey".
Mikey paused from his face-stuffing to look at his bro with his ice coloured eyes.
"You're not the same dude..." the orange-masked ninja said quietly, silently noticing the light creases in the blue mask that he knew were hidden bags under his big bro's eyes, "You haven't smiled since Raph left"
...He hadn't even realised.
"What about me bro?" Mikey asked his eyes sullen and questioning.
"I miss you to Mike" Leo confirmed tightening the arm around him, "But we'll make it through this...we always do"
Mike nodded turning back to the TV blinking rapidly.
Leo nodded as the orange-masked ninja mumbled about something being in his eye.
"You are the great turtle titan and Battle Nexus champion after all" Leo reminded clearly wishing for the bright Mikey-spark as the popcorn was finished by his hand.
Immediately the youngest turtle jumped up, his entire face brightening.
"Dude! ...I can't believe I completely forgot about all that stuff!"
He made a heroic pose.
"Evil doers beware!"
For the next few hours at least the youngest and the eldest turtles enjoyed the briefly reignited Mikey-spark.
What sort of turtle didn't love exaggerated tales of heroics and a fashion parade of orange, black and green spandex??
Don was tempted to ask for his job back as 'Donnie the 24 hour computer technician'.
Even though he was working hard, not denying he was in denial he was missing Raph (as Leo liked to insist he was) it still didn't feel like he was doing enough.
He ignored the muffles from his two brothers in the living room who sounded like they were messing around with Mikey's old super-hero costumes.
At the moment studying the genetic makeup of prokaryotic cells and classifying them into the Monera kingdom was far more pressing than fooling around and wasting time.
The purple-masked ninja blinked in surprise as a drop of water landed on the microscope slide he was tending to.
Frowning he wondered if there was a leak in the plumbing.
Looking up and studying his ceiling's structure there seemed to be nothing working out of the ordinary.
Shrugging Don sat back down and continued with his work.
To his frustration two more drops landed again soon after ruining the specimen he was observing.
Pushing away the slide gently Don sighed.
He couldn't deny that he knew the drops weren't just leaky pipes from above.
He sniffed quietly into his arms as his eyes grew red and sore.
Donatello just wanted to block it all out.
Where was Raph's manly clap on his shoulder?
Where was Leo's strong confident voice picking him back up?
Where was Mikey's large smile telling him that it was all going to be ok?
Don squeezed his eyes shut one more time before determinedly picking up his work again.
He just wanted his brothers back.
The urge to drown himself in soap operas had never been so tempting as it was now.
Splinter knew temptation was a foe he seldom had to fight; the old rat's struggles were very telling of their entire situation, that although they appeared calm there really were problems going unresolved in their family at the moment.
His clawed hand itched to find the remote every time Michelangelo and Leonardo were not watching the television together.
There was a sense of shame every time he sat down losing himself in another reality.
Splinter knew his own actions were dangerous and could be destructive to both his family and he.
He could already tell that the balance between his sons was not right without Raphael's personality to challenge them all.
It was indeed a test for them all to find themselves with a pillar of their family missing.
And although Splinter knew that in his heart he had made the right decision in letting Raphael go it didn't stop feelings of emptiness running their course, the same demons that had plagued them all in Leonardo's absence.
Sometimes Splinter wished he was stronger, though a wry smile found its way to his mouth when he thought of his sons and their common belief that he was already perfect and invincible.
If he was stronger he wouldn't be constantly desiring to lose himself in Gilmore Girls or The young and the restless.
Quietly Splinter blew out the candles in front of him.
He was fighting a losing battle if he tried to remain wise and supportive for his sons yet could not himself resist the lure of daytime television.
The candle he was kneeling before smouldered in hazy protest before extinguishing leaving a small cloud of light white smoke.
It was the last candle he owned of the type Raphael enjoyed.
The scent was very telling of his son; cinnamon and liquor.
The scent reminded him greatly of his missing son, just as the ones smelling of fruit reminded him of Michelangelo, the ones of tea and bamboo reminded him of Leonardo and the candles of wood reminded him of Donatello.
There had been very few words exchanged between him and his remaining sons since their earlier talk.
In his heart Master Splinter knew that he could do no more than give his sons his honest opinion about their partnerships.
The truth was heavy but it was his burden to carry.
He could not and would not give them his full blessings.
Truth stood on one side and ease on the other as it had often been.
He could never truly approve of them, regardless of the circumstances.
They were his sons and whether the physical aspects of their blood said they were or were not actual brothers he still considered romantic bonds between them as incestuous.
He could not ignore it.
Leonardo had warned him that Michelangelo and Donatello would not accept a 'blind eye' from him.
His eldest son had been right.
Michelangelo and Donatello had been very clear in that they either wished for full acceptance or nothing at all.
Splinter sighed closing his eyes.
Understanding worked both ways.
Splinter wished that his sons could see their partnership in the way he did, wished they could understand how much he wished their lives happiness yet at the same time simply could not accept them in this way.
Splinter reopened his eyes and poked his nose out of his sliding door, sniffing their silent home carefully.
He was met with an empty house, his sons out of sight.
The old rat crept out and fiddled with the buttons of the television until it switched on.
'...and we now return to Gilmore Girls... '
For the meantime however both he and his remaining sons would have to pull together despite their differences in opinion to keep their family alive.
Hope and pride crept into the old rat's eyes as he realised that despite the consequences, he had raised four good sons.
Now he just hoped that they could survive temporarily, with only three.
April's voice crackled over the poor quality phone line connection.
She sounded concerned.
Don, out of character and with a sinking feeling in his gut, had completely forgotten about their two friends and the fact that they had never told them about Raph's going away...
"You didn't pick up that hard drive you asked me for" April continued, "Is everything okay? You've been a bit quiet lately"
Don frowned, roughly rubbing his temples with his fingers at the impending headache that was developing.
He couldn't believe it had slipped his mind, couldn't believe they hadn't even thought of Raph's best buds when the red-masked ninja had vanished.
"I'm fine April" the purple-masked ninja said trying not to sound as if he was gritting his teeth together like he had a habit of doing.
It was one of those days where he had the increasing urge to bash his head against the wall.
"You sound a bit stressed" she said now sounding genuinely worried over their connection.
Don really needed to update their phone line sometime soon he noted absently.
The young turtle bit his lip, not replying.
"Do you want me to come around later?" she asked finally as if she couldn't think of any other way to help.
Don shook his head then realised she couldn't see what he was doing.
"No, I'll come by your house later...it's probably better you don't come here at the moment"
The moment he said it Don regretted the words coming out of his mouth.
Now April sounded even more worried.
'Stupid' he mouthed slapping his palm over his forehead.
"Is something wrong Don? You really don't sound alright. Has something happened?"
Don slid his hand down his face realising that there was no point denying it now that he had already let the cat out of the bag.
"Raph..." the purple-masked ninja began dropping his head and looking down at his feet.
He cleared his throat as the words got caught.
"What about him?" April prompted carefully sounding like she was suppressing fright in her voice.
She really was a loyal devoted friend.
In that moment the Donatello realised she would do anything for them.
They were lucky to have her.
"He left" Don finally uttered, "he's gone on a mission like Leo did to rediscover himself.
Don was quiet letting the new information sink in.
"....How long is he gone for?" she asked as she regained control of her voice, sounding completely shocked.
"He said a year...but you know..."
Don was quiet trying not to shake as the headache he was trying to fend off got worse.
"Could you let Casey know as well?"
"Of course!" he heard April stutter, "But when? Why? Are you guys going to be alright...it's all so sudden!"
"We're doing as well as we can be at the moment" Don stated though his voice sounded hollow even to his own ears.
He failed to mention Leo and Mikey's desperate closeness, Splinter's return to soap operas and the fact that just a few days ago he had been sobbing into his arms all alone in his lab.
"Are you sure you don't want me and Casey to come around?" the mature woman asked after he heard shuffling around behind the phone line at their long pause, "you sound like you need someone to talk to".
"I'm fine!" he insisted palming his forehead, wondering why everyone kept insisting that he needed to talk when, really he didn't.
"... If you're sure Don"
She sounded hesitant to let him go.
For once in his life Don had to resist rolling his eyes at her caring personality.
Once upon a time her care for them had been one of the things Don had found himself most attracted to.
"...Look I'll see you later April" he said curtly just wanting to hold up before his headache became more than he could handle.
There was something sinister and aching and ear-splitting about the pain that made the smart turtle feel thoroughly sick.
Donatello knew he would feel bad about cutting her off later and would probably ring back to apologize.
....At the moment he didn't care, he just wanted to get back to his lab and take some medicine.
As Donnie passed by the kitchen he saw Mikey's calendar with large red X's marking off the days until Raph's return.
His gaze lingered on it momentarily....
Don snorted, walking away.