A/n: This story began its life as an entry for a competition on TT, in which I ran out of time and had to finish it halfway through. This version includes the whole second section that should have been there in the first place.
Inspired by: (a) many a talk with Tori about Mikey's character, (b) Winny's long-ago request that one day I write something more Don-centred, and (c) Kame's spectacular veterinary knowledge – though unfortunately not much of it shows through here, I'm sure I'll be knocking out more characters in the future with all the info she sent me. :D
Happy reading! (Reviews make me feel all warm and tingly inside).
When It Counts
There was an audible snap as the bone broke, followed by a harsh intake of breath and a piercing cry of pain and shock.
It was all just bad timing, really.
Don had been scavenging for some salvageable parts in the dumpster down the side alley next to the computer store. It had been a while since they'd been out of the lair, so they all used it as an excuse to come along, and Don wouldn't complain about the company – not even if Raph was grumpy and impatient, Mikey was babbling about something or other to keep himself entertained, and Leo was being paranoid about the noise they were making. To Don, all of this was comforting background noise. He liked dumpster diving in this particular goldmine – the ratio of technology to rotten food was much higher here, away from the café and restaurant district.
He was digging deeper through the trash of frayed cables and small scraps, tilting himself over the edge of the dumpster, when Leo hissed a warning in a tone of voice that immediately cut through the muted chatter. There was an embarrassing moment when Don's legs kicked awkwardly, his plastron teetering on the metal lip, trying to reverse his way out into the open. By the time he emerged, the group of men had already moved into the mouth of the alley, faces obscured by thick balaclavas. And they had obviously been spotted. The two groups froze as they stared each other down.
"WHAT the FUCK is THAT?" sputtered the guy at the front of the huddle of masked men, staring at the turtles with wide eyes.
"Don't know," grunted another after a moment, "but they're in our way."
Typical, thought Don to himself as he drew out his bo staff. They just have to try and rob my favourite store the one night that we're all out here doing a bit of dumpster-shopping. Well, saves us the effort of trying to find them on patrol, I guess. He could sense his brothers standing next to him, ready and relaxed.
Of course they were relaxed. There weren't that many of them. It should have been easy, and it was – they'd already taken out most of them when it happened. The scuffle had spread out a bit, and Leo and Raph had moved more towards the alley entrance, taking care of the few men who had hung back, while Don and Mikey remained by the dumpster. Don was dealing with a lean, muscled man with a length of thick chain, while Mikey had his hands full jumping and tumbling around a heavy, lumbering one – obviously the 'lift-and-carry' part of this little robbery operation. A 'chuck to the back of his skull brought him down with a sound like a house collapsing.
Right at the back end of the alley, two of the men were standing off to one side and watching. The largest was nursing a sturdy baseball bat, and the other was fumbling with something inside his coat.
Both of them saw the glint of metal in the dim light, but Don had his hands full dealing with his current thug and Michelangelo was the closest. There was only time for one action, and Mikey was moving even before he'd stopped swearing, already half-knowing what would happen. He lunged at full extension, his chucks knocking the gun out of the man's hands before he could fire it towards Leo and Raph. And even though he'd known that there would be absolutely no time to pull back and defend himself from the next blow, the crack of the baseball bat coming down across the back of his left leg still managed to take him by surprise, and there was no way to mentally prepare himself for the disconcerting snap of the bone or the sudden burst of accompanying pain, which forced its way out of his mouth in a loud cry.
He'd always been very vocal in situations like these. Don toppled Chain-man with a well-placed bo to the head and was next to him in a second, striking at the gun with the end of his bo to make it skitter across the concrete, further out of the thugs' reach, and then disabling the remaining two with rapid strikes. A glance up the other end of the alley assured him that his older brothers had everything under control there, and then he was dropping to his knees at Mikey's side and supporting him as he wavered.
"OWWWW. Fuck-fuck-fuck-fuck-fuck-fucking OWW!" Mike moaned this at the top of his (not inconsiderable) voice. This tirade most definitely gained the attention of Raphael and Leonardo, who incapacitated their opponents as efficiently as possible and hurried back towards them.
"What happened?" Leo demanded.
"GODDAMNIT, OW - "
"His leg's broken," Don replied shortly, focused more on keeping his younger brother upright than answering his other brother's inevitable questions.
"AHH. Hnnn… crap," Mike was gasping for breath, his eyes squeezed tightly shut.
Unlike Leo and Raph, Don was largely unflustered by the spectacular amount of noise that he was making. Like a doctor at the birth of a baby, he understood that when his brother screamed, it meant he was alive. This was particularly true in Mikey's case. Screaming was sort of his specialty; he'd never been shy about expressing himself at top volume.
"Holy fuck, this hurts like hell," he continued to moan, his knuckles turning white as he gripped Don's shoulder.
"How did he manage to do that?" Leo asked Don in exasperated concern, then turned his attention to Mikey, fear translating quickly to irritation. "You've got to be more careful!"
"Gee, bro," Mike managed to squeeze out between pained gasps, "I guess I just thought it would be a good idea, bundle of laughs…" he shifted just a tiny bit in Don's grip, trying to get better balance, and went even paler as the movement agitated his broken leg. "OWW, this fucking hurts, Donniiiie."
Raph was crouched down beside him in concern, but his head lifted as he caught a sound drifting down the alley. "Sirens. Coming this way."
Leo swore under his breath. Mikey took a deep breath and held it, trying to silence his own cries. They beat against the roof of his mouth, demanding to be let out, but he kept them back.
"We need to get under cover," Raph was urging.
"There's no way we can hide while Mikey's hurt, you know how much noise he makes!"
Excuse me, thought Mikey, suddenly furious, what?
He pushed himself away from Don and up onto one foot, ignoring the way his right knee shook and his vision hazed in front of his eyes.
"I'm not going to get us caught, Leo," he muttered scathingly, and began to hop along the alley, left hand trailing along the wall to keep himself upright.
His brothers remained frozen in surprise for a few seconds, which gave him a perverse sort of pleasure. He clung to that feeling as every ungraceful hop sent a white-hot flare of pain shooting up his broken leg. He kept his mouth clamped firmly closed.
Donatello was the first to recover his wits, scrambling to grab his shoulder bag and then catch up and lend his brother some support to lean his weight on. Mikey wouldn't look at him, but accepted his help with tight-lipped silence. They were heading for the fire escape that was about halfway up the alley.
Raph and Leo caught up with them just before they reached it.
"Okay, just to the rooftop. Raph, we'll lift him up the first ladder, c'mon." The two of them swung themselves effortlessly up onto the first landing. Mike took a deep breath to prepare himself, and then raised his arms so that Raph and Leo could haul him up bodily. They did a pretty good job of it, managing not to bump his broken limb against the metal as they set him down on his good leg.
He could hear Don climbing the ladder and then drawing it up behind him, but Mike didn't wait for the others, starting up the stairs straight away. He wouldn't be the one to get them all caught, and he could already hear the sound of the siren approaching the alley. It was probably only a few blocks away. He pushed himself for more speed, using the muscles in his arms to press down on the handrails and swing himself along and up the stairs, putting his good leg down every few steps for extra propulsion.
Once he got into the swing of it he let the rhythmic movement take over automatically, and turned all his focus on keeping himself silent through the jolts of pain that continued to twist up from the broken bone.
The world was eerily silent. Whether it was because there was actually no noise, or just because he tuning out his non-essential senses in order to deal with the pain, Mikey couldn't tell. The only thing he would hear was the sound of his own laboured breathing in his ears, each breath a rough gasp, dragged in quickly so as not to give himself the opportunity to make any more noise. He could feel his brothers close behind him on the stairs, and knew that he was holding them up. Furious, he grit his teeth and felt his jaw wire itself shut even more tightly.
As he made the turn onto the final landing before the roof he heard the slight squeal of brakes as the police car pulled up just outside the alley where they had left the unconscious bodies of the unlucky robbers-to-be. He knew they were out of time, even as he paused to let his brothers move past him and spring over the stone lip of the roof. They reached back to lift him over carefully, but at that moment Mike heard the slam of car doors and quickly approaching footsteps. No time.
Ignoring his brothers' hands, he grabbed the edge of the roof, lifted himself, and flung himself over. He did make an attempt to land on his good side, but even so, he was going for speed and not gentleness, and his bumpy landing was almost enough to make him pass out. Coloured lights exploded behind the backs of his tightly closed eyelids. He shoved his fist into his mouth and bit down, hard enough to draw blood. The metallic tang of it kept him from passing out, but his vision was blanking. He lay on the concrete, Don's hand a phantom weight on his shoulder, and held on to the feeling of breath and blood. Contain it. Keep it inside.
Donatello could tell that his little brother really, really wanted to scream. But though they were all on the roof now and out of sight, they were not out of hearing range, and the policemen were moving cautiously into the alleyway, calling out to each other as they discovered the unconscious bodies. Don hoped they weren't going to spend too long poking around, because Mike looked like he was about to explode with the effort of holding in some powerful howls.
Don remembered what it felt like to break a bone. It wasn't fun.
He watched Mikey's scrunched up face in concern, his own face creasing with empathy. His brother's body was beginning to shake with the effort of holding everything in, and his silence was becoming truly disconcerting. The only noise that escaped him were the muffled, tiny gasps of air moving in and out of his lungs. It made Don wince to hear them. Leo and Raph crouched next to them, motionless as gargoyles, their ears straining to track the movements of the cops in the alley below.
The quiet was ringing in Don's ears by the time the police had finished clearing the scene and returned to their car.
"Okay," whispered Leo, "we're clear."
"Mikey?" Don ducked his head towards his brother's face when he got no response, and gently tugged the fist out of his mouth. There was blood on the knuckles – his teeth had broken the skin. "Hey Mikey, you still with us?"
"… I'm alright," he panted after a moment, and shifted as if to get to his feet again.
"No way," Don placed a hand on his plastron and held him down, firmly. What the shell was Mikey thinking? "There's no way you're going anywhere until I've put a splint on this. Your tissues are probably damaged already, running up the stairs like that." He held his hand out towards his older brothers, and Raph and Leo handed over their masks. Don removed his own, and then set about tying his staff to Mike's leg.
"Yeah, well." said Mike very quietly. His voice was still tight with pain, but he managed to sound darkly satisfied with himself. "At least we didn't get caught."
Don huffed at him in exasperation. In his own way, when he felt he had something to prove, Mikey could be just as stubborn as Raphael.
Those were the last words anyone heard from him until they were back inside the lair.
Raph jogged the few blocks over to the garage to pick up the Battleshell, then swung back to pick them up. By that point, Don was honestly beginning to worry that Mike was going to attempt to walk back under his own power.
He got it. He'd seen that pissed off look on his brother's face before, but this was kind of excessive. Then again, Leo wasn't making the situation any easier, with his narky little comments from the front passenger's seat about the essential need to minimise the cost of a victory and cautions about being too cocky in easy battles, and so on. Don manfully resisted the urge to bonk his older brother over the head with his bo, tuned him out, and watched Mikey's drawn face. The shutters had gone down behind his eyes, and they reflected only an unsettling blankness.
As soon as they pulled up inside the shelter of the garage, Don told Raph to get Mikey down into the lab. Leo loitered beside the van, making occasional half-formed huffing noises. Don continued to ignore him, and rifled quickly through one of the containers in the back of the vehicle. He knew there were some spare splints in here somewhere…
"I can't believe he'd be so careless!" Leo burst out finally, probably for the fourth or fifth time.
"Well, it wasn't exactly his fault, you know," Don muttered distractedly, a roll of bandages flying over one shoulder.
"Not his fault? How many years have we spent training him to block simple strikes? I bet he was just goofing off again, and one of these days it's going to get him killed – "
"You do realise that he probably just saved your life," Don finally snapped, turning to face him with the splints clutched tightly in one hand.
"He – what?" Leo's accelerating tirade suddenly faltered in its tracks, his hands still half-raised in agitation.
And then Don realised.
"You didn't even see what happened. Did you?"
Leo opened his mouth, and then closed it again.
"The guy pulled a gun," Don continued icily, "and there was barely enough time to stop him shooting, let alone time to recover for any counter-strike. And Mike knew that. He knew what was going to happen, and he moved faster than I've ever seen him move anyway."
And he really should have left it there, because he'd made his point, and he could already see Leo's face beginning to crumble into its familiar guilt-ridden, self-berating expression. Yes, he'd made his point. But a curl of anger licked up inside him at the fresh memory of the blood on Mike's knuckles, and he couldn't help himself.
"Now if you'll excuse me, I've got a patient in a considerable amount of physical agony to attend to, so I need to be on my way." And he swept out of the garage, leaving Leo completely deflated in his wake.
By the time Don had got down to his lab, even Raph was beginning to suspect that there was something wrong with Mike – and that was apart from the whole snapped-a-part-of-his-skeleton deal. Don took one look at his youngest brother and ushered Raph out of the room.
Mikey was sitting up on the white bed in the corner, his broken leg stretched out awkwardly in front of him, and his other leg drawn up close to his body, with his arms wrapped around it so tightly that his muscles were bulging. He reminded Don of nothing more than a dormant volcano just before it blew its top off.
"Hey," he said very softly, "you can let it out now."
His brother glared at him mutinously, and Don rolled his eyes. He went to go and prepare his supplies as he spoke. "Come on, Mike. Leo and Raph aren't here any more, you don't have to keep pretending to be all macho."
"… Who says I'm pretending?" Mikey's voice was rough around the edges.
"Only an idiot would think it's normal to act like pain doesn't exist." Don opened a low cupboard door and ducked his head inside to search his collection of anaesthetics. "And you are not an idiot."
After a moment, Mikey exhaled a long, shaky breath and loosened his death grip on his own knee slightly. He even managed to bring up the dregs of a smile. "So what does that make Leo and Raph?"
"Idiots?" Don shrugged. "Well, I do understand why they do it, even though it seems completely silly to more sane turtles like you and I. Aha!" Finally grabbing the right drug, Don also swiped a needle in its sterilised package and brought both items over to the bed. He tore the plastic open and began to prepare the injection.
"Does he really think that I'm that much of a baby?" Mikey looked miserably down at his swollen leg. "That I've got so little self-control that I'd let us all get discovered because of a stupid broken bone?"
For a second, Don considered revealing that Leo had actually missed all the action and just jumped to conclusions afterwards, but he decided against it. At least when Leo did something wrong, he wasn't usually afraid to admit it, and the fact would probably be brought up in the grovelling somewhere along the line.
Instead he said, "He just worries too much, that's all. Leo knows what you're capable of when you set your mind to it – at least, he should know by now."
"Maybe he just 'forgot'," said Mikey, with only a trace of bitterness. "I mean, come on! I've got self-control!" He waved his arm around a little wildly. "I've got tons of self-control! I just choose not to exercise it most of the time! Save it up for when it actually counts, that's what I always say. Excessive self-control is just a kind of fear of the unknown, anyway. For paranoid people like Leo. But just because I don't show it most of the time doesn't mean it's not there!"
By the time he finished that rant, Mikey was panting a little. Don sat in the chair next to the bed and waited patiently for his arms to stop flailing around so that he could administer the anaesthetic.
"Feel better now?"
"… Heh. Maybe. A little bit." He shifted slightly on the bed, his face beginning to scrunch up. "Actually, um, Donnie…"
"Peaceful oblivion, coming right up!" Don waved the needle around and gave his best evil scientist grin. "Just let me have a look at that leg. I won't touch," he added, seeing the apprehension on his brother's face.
"I'd forgotten just how much broken bones hurt," grumbled Mikey. "And why is it always my legs? I need my legs!"
"At least it's not your joystick arm," came Don's absent reply from where he leaned over the bed. He winced as he inspected the damaged limb. It needed to be set as soon as possible. By the sound of Mike's breathing, he was only keeping it together with a few last tattered shreds of stubbornness, anyway. Time to put him out.
"Okay, I think this is a pretty clean break, though I'll need to have a poke at it once you're under the anaesthetic."
Mikey's mouth was going a little wobbly.
"It'll be alright," Don tried to sound gentle. "Not even a little bit of amputation."
"Okay," he said softly. "Hey, Don? Thanks." Mikey reached out to pat his forearm, and Don didn't think that he was only talking about the painkillers.
"Yeah, well, thank you for playing the hero. Goob." He ran an affectionate hand over his brother's head. Then he steadied his grip, and lined up the needle.