Remember, in the episode "Meet Casey Jones", where Raph almost bashed Mikey's head in with a pipe? Well, that hasn't happened in this continuity. This story is about a similar situation, but one where the fallout is much more serious than Raph running out and making a new friend. (It does, however, assume that the Turtles have already met Casey under some other circumstances.)
After writing this story, I realized it had inadvertent similarities to Askre's "Damage". So I showed this to him, and he gave me the all-clear to post it. Consider it another version of what could have happened.
Warning: Dark stuff ahead. Possible character death.
I'm not sure "enjoy" is the right word for this, but... have some kind of positive reading experience.
Ani = (older) brother
"Make war upon themselves - brother to brother / Blood to blood, self against self."
I don't know how this happened.
No. I do.
What I don't understand is why.
Well, that's not entirely true either.
Do you know what happens when you put volatile chemicals together?
Do you know what happens when you put them together in a contained space?
I should stop reducing people to basic chemistry.
Let me tell you how it happened.
Mikey had been at Raph all day. There was no aspect of Raph's person, opinions, habits, or flaws that Mike had not managed to make fun of.
It was a cold winter, and it was dragging on, and to be perfectly honest all of us were getting pretty tired of Mike's favorite form of entertainment. But it always hit Raph the hardest. Being cooped up indoors was hardest on him to begin with. He could keep himself occupied and out of trouble for about two days. Then he would start pacing around like a caged animal.
And inevitably Mikey, with his infamously low tolerance for boredom, would start following him, mocking his mannerisms.
Raph would put up with that for about two minutes, and then he would whirl and snap and Mikey would laugh and run off to annoy someone else for a while.
And you could see Raph's temper rising. The pressure getting higher.
But Mikey would just keep coming back, bothering him again.
"Mikey!" Raph shouted at him, about the sixth time this happened. "I swear, if you don't freakin' back off, I'm gonna tear your arms off and stick 'em where the sun don't shine."
"Aw," Mike said, smiling cheekily. "Sounds like someone needs a little sunshine himself." He reached out and stretched Raph's face into a grin.
Raph throttled him, just a little.
I didn't worry too much about it. They did that kind of thing to each other all the time, and it had never resulted in permanent injury.
And the winter dragged on.
I understood where Raph was coming from. It's not easy to spend all your time in the same too-small home, with the same four people, day in and day out. Especially when one of them always got great enjoyment out of driving the others up the wall.
I handled the problem by holing up in my lab. Mikey would inevitably come bouncing in, eight, nine, ten times a day, to see what joyful havoc he could wreak. But I could usually get rid of him by a combination of careful planning (i.e., hiding all the fun stuff) and a total failure to react to his incessant questions.
Basically, when Mike is bored, all you have to do is not be interesting, and he'll go away.
This was a tactic Raph had never mastered.
I had tried inviting him into my lab, offering him books to read, little projects to work on, a small haven that was relatively well-defended against Mikey's constant assaults. But Raph just could not sit still that long. He would sit for a little while, and then he would pace the length of the subway car, and then he would slingshot out into the Lair, and it wouldn't take long for Mike to fall into step behind him, and we would have the same problem all over again.
"I can't take it anymore, Leo," Raph said.
I was sitting in my lab, as usual, working on something that was fascinating to me but calculatedly mind-numbing to Mikey. Leo was standing out on the bridge, watching the water I guess, and Raph had just come up to join him.
I wasn't eavesdropping. It wasn't my fault if they were going to stand right there, talking loudly.
Leo sighed. "What do you want me to do about it?"
"Tell him to leave me alone!"
"Well, maybe you should stop baiting him."
"Excuse me? I told him fifty thousand times to -"
"You know that only encourages him."
"Listen, Leo, if you want me to try some stupid backwards talk..."
"Just let it go, Raph. He's only doing it for the reaction."
"The kid seriously needs a new hobby."
"I know, Raph. Just... be patient with him. It'll only be a few more weeks."
"I'm not gonna make it, Leo."
"Have you talked to Master Splinter?"
"Yeah. He said we're too old to be bothering him about this kinda thing. An' I said, Mikey's too old to be doin' this kinda thing. But he didn't wanna hear it."
"Well..." Leo said slowly. "I think you both have a point. I don't think you're in the wrong, Raph. But you need to deal with this yourself."
Another pause, and I was pretty sure they were Looking at each other.
"Fine," Leo said. "I'll talk to him. But I don't think it'll help."
I tightened a screw.
We didn't talk much at dinner that night. We didn't hang out together in the evening. When I said 'good night' to my brothers, that was all I said.
In the morning we had training. Splinter ran us through all our old katas.
It wasn't very interesting.
And Mikey, apparently, didn't find it satisfying.
After breakfast, he started following Raph around again. "Sparwithme sparwithme sparwithme sparwithme sparwithme!" he chanted.
"No!" Raph shouted at him. "Leave me alone!"
"Come oonnnnn," Mikey whined, effortlessly matching every one of Raph's evasive maneuvers. "I'm bored!"
Raph whirled to face him. "I'm not your freakin' entertainment system! Go away!"
"Come on," Mike said again. "You know you wanna hit me." He punched Raph playfully in the arm.
And then Raph tackled him. Hard. It was a hit way outside the bounds of friendly sparring. Mike went down, Raph on top of him, and I was already halfway out of my chair, heading towards them fast.
"Hey!" Leo shouted. "Raph, stop!"
But Raph didn't stop, or couldn't. He was kneeling on Mike's arms, and then he was grabbing his shoulders, and slamming his head back against the floor, and I couldn't figure out how this was happening so many times and I was still crossing the room.
Then I was there, and so was Leo, and we wrestled Raph off of Mike, but he fought us, and I took a punch to the face, and everyone was yelling, except Mikey, except Mikey, he wasn't getting up...
Raph heard the absent voice too, and it cooled his anger. He stopped fighting, pulled away from me and Leo, and then he was just standing there staring at Mikey, like he didn't know how he got like that, unconscious and bleeding on the floor.
"Get out," Leo said in a low voice.
And Raph turned and ran.
"Donatello," Master Splinter said sharply - the last thirty seconds were such a blur, I didn't even know when he got there - and I knelt beside him, beside Mikey, to see how bad it was.
There was a pool of blood under his head. We rolled him over.
"Oh, God," Leo said, and "Head wounds always bleed a lot," I said, and then Master Splinter said, "Leonardo, bandages, quickly," and then we were in motion again, trying to make it stop.
The bandages showed up, and I wadded them against the wound. The blood kept coming out, soaking through the linen, turning it red. "Water," I said.
A minute later a basin materialized. I tore off a strip of cloth, soaked it, and started trying to mop up the mess where Mikey was spilling out onto the floor.
"Donatello," Master Splinter said. "His breathing."
"I know," I said.
It was one thing to look at the red puddle and say Oh, head wounds always bleed a lot, it's not as bad as it looks. It was another to look at it and say That's two pints of blood he's lost.
Looking at it that way, it wasn't at all surprising that Mikey was going into shock.
"Leo," I said. "Pressure."
Leo moved around Mike and took my place holding the bandages against his head. I shifted too, coming to kneel on the other side of Master Splinter, and bent to listen to Mike's breathing.
"How bad is it?" Leo asked.
"Bad," I said bluntly.
I bit my lip. He needed oxygen. Oxygen tanks were not a thing I had lying around the Lair. Mouth-to-mouth was hard for us at the best of times, and now, with Mikey lying on his front...
"Donatello," Splinter said. His hand was on Mikey's weakening pulse.
"Okay," I said. "Leo, get the bandages under his head, let's turn him over."
Leo folded up a thick pad of linen, pressing it carefully to the wound. He held it in place as we rolled Mikey onto his back.
I could almost feel the blood pouring from the gash, now that gravity was against us again.
He's going to bleed out, I thought. That, or suffocate.
I covered his nostrils with my finger and thumb, got my mouth around his as best I could, and exhaled.
"He needs -" I said, between breaths, "- a transfusion." Breath. "Leo -"
"I know," he said. He was a match for Mikey; I wasn't.
"Master Splinter -" I said, but he was already getting up, going for the equipment.
He was back a minute later, with a length of the narrow-gauge hose that was the closest I had to an IV. I'd attached a needle at both ends, and stuck the sharp points into a bit of cork so I wouldn't stab myself when I was rummaging through my drawer of medical supplies.
Master Splinter pulled one of the needles from the cork, and prepared to insert it into Leo's arm.
"Nn!" I reached out with my free hand, grabbing Master Splinter's wrist. "Nn nn nn!" I finished exhaling, and jerked up. "No! Boil it!"
Master Splinter's eyes widened, as he belatedly realized how disgustingly germy the needles were bound to be. Then he was on his feet, heading for the kitchen.
"And alcohol swabs!" I told Leo, when I came up for air again.
He ran for the lab, coming back with a bottle of rubbing alcohol. He tore off two tiny, clean corners of the used bandages, and set them aside.
Come on, Mikey, I thought. Breathe!
Master Splinter came back, holding the needles carefully. I could see them steaming in the cool air of the Lair, so I knew he had doused them.
Leo dumped some of the alcohol on one of the linen scraps, and scrubbed it against his arm. The hot needle came next, and he took it without complaint.
The other pad, the other needle, for Mikey, and then the blood was leaking slowly down the line.
Not even fast enough to keep up with what was still coming out the back of his head.
Leo watched the advancing red, seeming to will it to go faster.
I forgot to breathe.
Red touched green, and Leo and Mikey were connected, vein to vein, Leo's heart beating for two even as Mike's struggled to beat at all.
I breathed again.
Come on, Mikey.
It took three hours, twenty stitches, and a full quart of Leo's blood, but Mike was stable.
Stable. But still critical.
Leo wasn't doing so well either. A quart of blood is a lot to lose, even in the absence of any actual injury or illness.
"Lay down," I told him again, the fifth time he tried to get off the infirmary cot and stagger off to who-knew-where.
"But..." he slurred. "Raph..."
I sighed. At that point, I couldn't even tell whether Leo wanted to kill Raph, for what he did to Mikey, or to make sure he was safe, to know that he wasn't going to lose two brothers tonight.
"Fine," I said. I let go of Mike's hand - I'd been holding it whenever I didn't have anything more medically useful to do - and went to get my phone.
I called Raph first, intending to give him a piece of my mind and then order him to come home before he got hypothermia, because didn't he know it was barely ten degrees outside? I didn't feel too charitable towards him, really, but even if he had killed Mikey outright I don't think I would have left him to freeze in a snowbank.
Death by act of nature was too good for him at that point.
If he was going to die, it was going to be by act of Donatello.
He didn't answer his phone.
I called Casey.
"Casey," I said, as soon as he picked up. "Have you seen Raph?"
"Uh, no," he said. "Should I?"
"Shit," Casey said, when I was done. "How much trouble is he in?"
"A lot," I said.
"Where do you want me to start lookin'?"
"Anywhere," I said. "If you find him, tell him Mikey is alive. No thanks to him."
"I don't have time to tell you now," I said, moving across the room to prevent Leo from getting out of bed again. "And listen, Casey... if you find him, take him back to your place. I don't want him here."
"What -" Casey started, but I hung up.
I dialed April. Even as I did, I wasn't sure why I was expending so much effort on finding Raph. He didn't deserve it.
"Hey, Donnie," April said brightly. She was expecting one of our casual conversations. I had been calling her a lot, the past few weeks, just for the sake of talking to someone I hadn't lived with 24/7 for going on twenty years. It had been a mutually enjoyable routine.
This was going to be much less pleasant.
"April," I said. "Is Raph with you?"
"No..." she said slowly. "Should he be?"
"Only because if he isn't," I said, "then he's probably been out in the snow for three hours."
"Oh, no," she said. "How can I help?"
I paced. The obvious answer to that came immediately to mind, but I shuffled it to one side and then the other, trying to see if something less odious was hiding underneath.
"Come to the Lair," I said.
"Okay," she replied, and I could hear her moving. "I'm on my way."
"Keep your phone on," I said, and looked at my two brothers lying on the cots. "You need to know what happened."
By the time April arrived at the Lair, pale-faced between her scarf and hat, I had told her the whole story.
"I need you to stay with Mike and Leo," I had concluded, "so Master Splinter and I can go out looking for that idiot who calls himself my brother."
"Okay," she had said, even as I gritted my teeth, hating the whole idea. I couldn't believe I was abandoning two brothers who hadn't done anything wrong, so I could go rescue the one who probably would have committed fratricide if I hadn't physically stopped him.
I started in on the medical run-down, even as we walked into the infirmary, April's coat and gloves making a trail behind us. "Their core temperature will tend to drop," I told her, "so be sure they stay warm enough. But not too warm; remember our normal is a lot lower than yours." I pointed to Leo. "Make sure this one eats. Mikey too, if he wakes up. Do not let either of them leave this room. Other than that, use your best judgment. If anything disastrous happens, call me."
I pinched the ridge between my eyes. "April..."
"Don't worry," she said. "I'll take care of them."
"Thank you," I said.
And then I was bundling into my own coat, and Master Splinter and I were out the door.
The cold was like getting punched in the face over and over again. I pulled my scarf up and followed Master Splinter. Somewhere in between being furious and feeling like my eyeballs were turning into ice cubes, I wondered what it was like to be warm-blooded.
Master Splinter was scarfless, sniffing the frigid air for signs of Raph, and apparently not at all bothered by the weather.
(Also, to the untrained eye, apparently not at all bothered by the fact that one of his sons had tried to murder another. But I knew, from long experience, that Master Splinter had a way of putting his emotions in storage, and bringing them out again later, without any perceptible dissipation of intensity. If Raph was still alive when we got him home, he was going to wish he wasn't.)
I squinted against the snow-glare and tried not to worry too much that I couldn't feel my feet.
We found Raph behind the roof access of an apartment building, huddled up under a tarp left behind by some workmen.
When we lifted it, I saw that he'd at least been smart enough to put himself on the elevator shaft's heat vent. The thin trickle of warm air rising from the grating was probably the only reason he wasn't dead.
I couldn't even begin to look for a pulse, my hands numb inside the muffling mittens, but Master Splinter found one.
"Very slow," he reported.
Not surprising. Hypothermia does that to a person.
"Let's get him home," I said, and stooped to pick him up.
Master Splinter stopped me, with a barely-felt hand on my arm. "We cannot move him," he said. "Without this heat... he will not make it."
I sighed. Somewhere deep inside, I didn't want Raph to freeze to death. "We can't leave him here," I said.
"Perhaps Mr. Jones could..." Master Splinter started.
I shook my head. "Not enough time. He needs shelter now."
Master Splinter thought. "Give him your coat."
"What?" I stared at him in disbelief. "Sensei, I can't!"
"You must," he said. "You, at least, will be moving." He plucked at his own coat. "Mine will not go around him."
"I can't believe I'm doing this," I muttered, as I shrugged out of my parka. "Help me get it on him."
As we wrestled the coat onto Raph, I reflected that five hours ago I would have cheerfully given him the shell off my back.
A lot can change in five hours.
We rolled him up in the tarp, doing our best to trap the heat in with him, and Master Splinter helped me get him up on my shoulders.
If the biting cold hadn't been coming through my layers of clothing before, it sure was then.
"M-m-master Splinter," I stuttered, and didn't even have a hand free to pull up my scarf. "H-h-hurry..."
We made for the nearest manhole. Underground, we were at least protected from the fierce wind, from the snow that soaked through our old cast-off boots.
We had just gotten the manhole cover back in place when my phone rang. I didn't have a hand for that either, so I stuck out my hip and Master Splinter reached up under my sweaters and took the shell-cell from its place in my belt.
"Hello?" he said.
"Open it," I told him.
He fumbled with it for a minute, and managed to flip it open. "Hello?" he said again.
He might have heard the reply, with his sharp rat ears, but I sure didn't. "The yellow button," I said. "In the corner."
Master Splinter hit the button, and the speaker came on. "- couldn't stop him," I heard April say.
"Couldn't stop who?" I asked, with a feeling of dread growing in my gut.
"Leo," April said, in a tone of voice that made it clear she had said this already. "He got out!"
"How is Michelangelo?" Master Splinter asked, ignoring my outburst.
"He's okay," April said. "But not okay enough for me to leave him."
"Stay with him, April," I said. "We'll find Leo."
"What about Raph?" she asked, and I was kind of mad at her for being concerned about him of all people.
"We have him," I said shortly.
"Oh, good," she said, with evident relief. "Listen, Donnie, I'm really sorry..."
I didn't know whether she was apologizing for letting Leo escape, or expressing sympathy for this whole lousy chain of events, and just at that moment I didn't care.
"I have to go, April," I said, and then I muttered, "Close it," to Master Splinter.
Master Splinter folded up the phone and put it in his pocket. I hiked Raph up on my shoulders, into a more comfortable position - at least for me - and we set out down the tunnel.
We found Leo not even a quarter-mile from the Lair, slumped on the ground, half-frozen and delirious. He wasn't wearing a stitch, aside from his usual gear.
"Leo, you idiot," I said to him, as I let Raph slide to the floor. "I told you to stay in bed."
He looked up at me with glassy, unfocused eyes. "My fault," he said thickly. "My fault. Tol' him... tol' him to go..."
I knelt beside him, even though my hands were still too cold to be good for anything. I watched his face while Master Splinter checked his pulse, temperature, and breathing.
Leo moaned, from sickness or from misery I wasn't sure. "Raph..." he said. His head lolled to the side and he caught sight of the tarp. "No... Raph..."
"He's alive," I said. "Or he was, anyway."
My words surprised me, shook me out of my anger. I couldn't believe how uncaring they sounded. He's still your brother, I told myself. Nothing changes that. A moment of stupidity doesn't erase twenty years of loyalty.
I turned and lifted the tarp away from Raph's face. He was pale, still unconscious, but I could see the weak rise and fall of his chest under my coat.
"He's alive," I said softly.
"Raph..." Leo struggled to sit up, to see for himself, but Master Splinter held him back.
"Leonardo," Master Splinter said, and it was terrifying to see him restrain Leo so easily. "You must sit still."
Leo subsided, lacking the strength to resist, and I turned back to him after tucking the tarp up around Raph's neck. "What do we do?" I asked Master Splinter. "I can't carry both of them."
Master Splinter looked between the two of them, and I could tell he was thinking the same thing I was. Raph deserved to face the consequences of his actions, but if we left him to face them right then and there, while we took Leo back to the Lair, we might come back to find that he had faced the ultimate consequence.
"Raphael is more in need," Master Splinter said quietly. He unbuttoned his coat, took it off, and laid it over Leo like a blanket. "We will take him first."
"I'll take him," I said, getting to my feet. "You stay with Leo."
"You will not be able to open the door," Master Splinter said.
I paused. He was right. I wondered how much the cold was affecting me, affecting my judgment.
"I will call Miss O'Neil," Master Splinter said. "She will let you in."
"Good thinking," I said, even as I bent to lift Raph again. "Remember, open the phone, hold down the five."
He nodded. I shifted Raph in my arms and headed off down the tunnel.
The door was open when I got there, so I knew Master Splinter had been successful with the phone. I carried Raph directly to the infirmary and put him in the bed Leo had snuck out of.
"Oh my God," April said, coming immediately to my side.
"He's alive," I said, and gave up on even trying to get my mittens off. I was going back out in a minute anyway. "Get his coat open a little, make sure he can breathe. And blankets." I moved to the other bed, to check on Mikey.
"Where's Master Splinter?" April asked, even as she followed my orders. "What happened to Leo?"
"Master Splinter is with Leo," I said. "I have to go back for them." I turned and gestured to Raph. "Keep him warm; I think he'll be all right. I'll be back soon."
I took off without waiting for a reply.
It was about twenty minutes, from when I left Master Splinter and Leo to when I reached them again. In that time, things had gotten even worse.
Leo was slumped over in the other direction, and Master Splinter had a corner of his coat pressed to the back of Leo's leg.
"He is injured," Master Splinter told me, as I came up to them. "It is not serious, but..."
But Leo is already weak, and if he gets an infection...
I knelt. Master Splinter twitched the coat aside, and I looked. Leo had a thin cut on the back of his thigh, where he'd apparently caught himself against a sharp corner of brick as he slid down the wall. He'd been sitting like that for fifteen minutes, maybe, before we found him, plus a few more before Master Splinter noticed it and applied at least a perfunctory kind of first aid.
"Okay," I said, and put my hand under Leo's arm to help him up. "Come on, Leo. Let's get you home."
He tried to stand, but it was obvious he wasn't going to be able to walk. I pulled him up over my shoulders, and I decided I was grateful for the cold, because I couldn't feel how much pain I was in from hauling my brothers around.
I'm sure it was only by sheer willpower that I made it back to the Lair. I couldn't even remember walking there. I put Leo on the couch - the infirmary cots were full - and then I just collapsed on the floor beside him.
"Miss O'Neil, quickly," I dimly heard Master Splinter say. "Blankets, warm water."
A minute later someone was gently sponging my face, wiping away the ice crystals that had formed on my exposed skin. Something was put between my numb hands - a hot water bottle? - and then I fell asleep.
I woke up sometime later, still on the floor and still wearing multiple layers of clothes.
Someone had at least taken my boots off and wrapped my feet in a dry towel.
Unfortunately, that made it a little hard to stand up.
I fought with the blankets draped over me, wondered why my fingers weren't working, and realized I was still wearing the mittens also. I managed to disentangle my hands from the blankets, and get the mittens off with my teeth. I spat them out onto the floor and worked on sitting up.
It wasn't going very well.
Then Master Splinter was at my side, removing the blankets and towels, helping me up.
"Are you all right?" he asked.
"I think so." I rubbed at my face. "How long was I out?"
"About two hours." He was looking closely at my eyes, judging my condition.
"I'm okay," I said again. "The others?"
"Michelangelo has still not woken," he said. "Raphael is recovering. Leonardo..." He looked over my shoulder. "... is becoming very sick."
I twisted around, and staggered to my feet. Leo was still on the couch, swathed in blankets, a cloth on his forehead.
"I bound his leg," Master Splinter said, from behind me, "but I fear it was too late."
"Okay." The world tilted, and I pressed the heel of my hand to my forehead. "He needs to be in the infirmary."
"But -" Master Splinter began, and I knew what he was about to say.
"I know," I said. "I'll move Raph out here. Leo needs it more. And anyway, I don't want him in there with Mikey."
I reeled off towards the infirmary.
What a mess we are, I thought. And all because Raph couldn't deal with Mikey's joking.
I braced myself in the infirmary doorway before attempting to enter.
"Donnie!" April was sitting on the stool there, but she leaped off it when she saw me. "Oh, you look awful..."
"Not as bad as them," I said. I made my way carefully towards Raph's bed, but halfway there I stumbled, crashed into the cot Mikey was lying on, and had to grab at him to keep from winding up on the floor.
And Master Splinter was there again, supporting my elbow. "Donatello."
"I'm okay," I insisted, and made again towards Raph. "I just... have to..."
"Donatello." The force of his voice made me stop. "You cannot move them."
I leaned heavily on the edge of the bed. "But -"
"Do not attempt it," Master Splinter said sternly. "If you fall, Miss O'Neil and I cannot lift you."
I closed my eyes and focused on breathing. "I don't want him in here."
"Nor I," Master Splinter said. "But you cannot move him. We cannot have any more injuries today."
My knees felt like they were going to give way at any moment. "Sensei..."
"Sit down, Donatello," he said, in that tone of voice that was so calm and reasonable it didn't occur to you to disagree with him.
April dragged the stool closer, thankfully. I don't think I would have made it otherwise. I sat and it was only her steadying hand on my back that kept me from toppling off.
"I will make you some tea," Master Splinter said, even though tea was the last thing on my mind.
He swept out of the infirmary, and then the only other conscious person in the room was April, which was also not what I wanted.
"Donnie," she said, and I knew exactly where this conversation was going. "I'm so sorry. Leo asked me for some toast, and I went to make it, and when I came back he was gone."
"It's not your fault," I sighed. "You couldn't have stopped him even if you were standing in front of the door."
"I know," she said. "But I promised..."
"April." I lowered my head and resisted the impulse to lean back. If I had, we both would have been on the floor. "If you want to take blame for any part of this absolute disaster of a day, you're going to have to get in line."
Master Splinter came back then, put a cup of tea in my hands, and made me drink.
And it did make me feel a little stronger. I was able to sit without April's help.
But it was clear that Master Splinter was still not going to let me do any heavy lifting.
He did, however, let me stand up to examine my brothers.
Mike was still unconscious, which concerned me. His pulse and breathing were good, though, and he wasn't showing any sign of fever.
Raph was also unconscious, and I would have been perfectly happy for him to stay that way for a while. Unfortunately, that didn't seem likely, as his temperature had come up and he didn't have any apparent injuries.
Master Splinter followed me out to the main room. Leo was shivering under his blankets, clearly the worst-off of the bunch. Which only proved there was no justice in the world, because he had gotten that way from trying to help, and not from pestering people until they exploded, or from getting thrown out of the house for bashing a brother's head in.
He was feverish, and racked with chills, and there was very little I could do for him. He was half-awake, watching me with glazed eyes.
You had better come out of this, Leo, I thought. I need you.
I sat on the floor, resting my back against the couch, my head pillowed on the blankets piled over Leo. I could tell I was falling asleep again, my body desperate to recover from the abuse of that morning.
"'m okay," I whispered, as Master Splinter watched me with concern. "Wake me... wake me if one of them..."
I didn't finish the sentence.
When I woke up, Leo was looking at me.
"Donnie, why?" he asked.
"Why what?" I said blearily.
He tried to prop himself up on his elbow, failed, lay back again. "Why don't you do anything?"
"Leo," I said. "You're feverish. You're not making any sense."
"No," he insisted. "You're always - always so eager to put people back together, when they break. But you never do anything to stop them getting broken in the first place."
"What?" I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Leo had never talked to me like that before. It was only the knowledge that he wasn't in his right mind that kept me from lashing out at him. "That is absolutely not true. I do as much as anybody to protect this family."
"Then - why didn't you stop them?" His eyes wandered a little, then refocused. "You knew it was going to happen."
"No," I said heatedly, "I did not know that Raph was going to try to bash Mikey's head in. We don't do that in our family, Leo. Don't you dare try to pin this on me."
"Should have... done something..." Leo said, but his voice was fading and I wasn't even sure who he was talking about.
I rolled to my knees and pressed the back of my hand to his forehead. He was burning up.
I stood - my balance was much better - and made for the infirmary. Master Splinter was there, watching over Mike and Raph. Both of them were still out cold.
Master Splinter gestured to Raph. "He is sleeping now."
I looked at Raph more closely. His color had come back, and his breathing was deep and even. "Was he awake?"
"Briefly." Master Splinter came to my side and put his hand on my arm.
"I feel much better," I assured him. "But Sensei, Leo's in real trouble. I need to move him in here."
Honestly, at that point I would have tried to do it even if Master Splinter had said no. But he nodded. "I gave him some medicine for his fever," he said. "I will bring more."
He went out, and I got my arms under Raph, lifting him and carrying him out to the main room. I hesitated for a moment, then put him down in the lawn chair. He woke as I settled him.
"Wha..." He blinked hard. "Donnie?"
"I have nothing to say to you," I said, and turned my back.
I tucked Leo's blankets close in around him before I lifted him. I carried him carefully into the infirmary, and laid him back in the cot he had vacated earlier. I smoothed my hand over his head.
"Hang in there, bro," I whispered.
I went back to the main room and approached Raph.
"Donnie," he said thickly. "I'm sorry. I didn't -"
I hefted him none too gently into my arms. "You say one more word," I said, "I'll leave you on the floor. And there's no one here who can do anything about it."
He shut up. I put him on the couch, and walked away.
I got halfway to the infirmary before a ringing noise made me pause.
A moment later it came again.
That's my phone.
I searched for it, following the ringing back to where Splinter had left his coat on his armchair. I found my phone in the pocket and flipped it open. "Hello?"
"Donnie." It was Casey. "Man, I've been all over the city and I can't find Raph nowhere."
I brought my hand to my face. "Casey," I said. "We've got him. Go home before you get sick too."
"You got him?" He sounded cautiously hopeful. "Is he okay?"
"Nobody is okay, Casey," I said.
A pause. "You want me to -"
"No," I said. "Go home, Casey. I'll call you later."
"Well, okay," he said uncertainly. "If ya need anything..."
"Sure," I said. "Goodbye, Casey."
I hung up, and left the phone on the chair.
An hour later, I was sitting on the stool in the infirmary, trying to decide whether Leo looked better, or whether my desperate imagination was playing tricks on me.
Tricks, more likely. His fever hadn't broken at all and he hadn't been awake again since our earlier conversation.
The real truth was that he was probably worse.
I leaned forward, burying my face in the blankets over his chest.
My breath caught.
I sat up, and turned.
Mike's eyes were open, and he was looking at me plaintively.
I rushed to his side, felt his wrist, his forehead, his chest. "Mikey. How do you feel?"
He worked his mouth, slowly. "Head hurts."
I almost laughed for joy. If his biggest complaint was a headache, then maybe he was going to be all right.
"I..." He scrunched up his face. "I lose a fight, or something?"
My happiness vanished, just as quickly as it had come. "Mikey," I said. "Don't you remember?"
"Uh..." His eyes wandered off, and he traced a pattern in the ceiling. "I... no."
I didn't have the heart to tell him, just then. "Listen, Mikey," I said seriously. "Leo isn't doing well. Do you think you can sit up and see him?"
"Yeah." He struggled against the blankets, and I helped him get upright. "What happen'a him?"
"He gave you a lot of blood," I said, "and now he's got a bad infection."
Mike held onto my arm for balance as he twisted to look at Leo. "Oh, no..." He looked down at his own arms, and found the taped-on swab where the IV had been. "'m sorry..."
"It's not your fault," I said. "The infection isn't from the needle."
At least, I thought it wasn't.
"Leo..." Mike rocked in the bed, trying to bring his legs around so he could stand up. "Donnie, help..."
I lifted him to his feet, holding half his weight as he moved forward. "Leo..." He reached out to touch Leo's face. "Get better, bro..."
"Splinter's been making medicine for him," I said. "We're hoping the fever will break." I took a deep breath. Even in his weakened condition, I had to tell him the truth. "Mikey... he's had three doses already, and no effect. The fever's been really high for a few hours now. He... he might not make it."
Mike turned his head slowly to look at me. "But he's Leo."
"I know," I said. "Mikey, we're doing everything we can."
"He'll be okay," Mike said, with an expression of serene confidence.
It was all I could do not to lean on him.
I rose from my waking dream. I'd been sitting on the stool, staring at the wall of the infirmary, as Mike and Leo lay on either side of me in their cots. I had no idea what time it was.
Master Splinter put a bowl of soup in my hand. "You must eat."
"I'm not hungry," I whispered.
"You must eat, Donatello," Splinter repeated. "Michelangelo will wake again. He will need your strength."
My eyes drifted to my other brother. Leo had started sweating profusely, and every few breaths he took one gasping, shuddering gulp.
"There is nothing more I can do for him," Splinter said softly. "We can only wait."
I closed my eyes. "It's not fair."
I had said this to my father many times before, and always gotten the same answer.
Life is not fair, Donatello.
But that day, he only said: "No. It is not."
I ate the soup.
I turned. Mike was awake again, propped up on his elbow, looking across me to the other bed.
"Donnie, wha'ss wrong wi' Leo?"
I frowned. "Mikey, don't you remember?"
"We, um..." He rubbed at his eye. "We get sick?"
My heart fell. "No, Mikey... you were hurt, and he got an infection..."
Mikey ran his hand over his head, stopping abruptly when his fingers found the gauze pad. A look of confusion came onto his face. "Donnie, wha' happen?"
I narrowed my eyes, stood up, and went out into the main room.
April was sitting on the couch, looking absolutely exhausted.
"Where's Raph?" I demanded.
She looked at me in startlement. "Donnie, he's doing a lot better, he's been up..." She could tell from the look on my face that this was not the answer I was interested in. "He's in his room..."
I stormed up the stairs and barged into Raph's room without even bothering to knock. He was lying on his bed, his mask off, threading it between his fingers. He looked up, when I came in, but he didn't move.
"He's having amnesic episodes," I said. "He doesn't even remember what you did to him. I hope you're happy."
He stared at me, something like fear in his eyes. "What's wrong with me, Donnie?" he asked. "Why did I do that?"
"What's wrong with you?" I echoed. "You're sick, Raphael. You're sick. I don't even know what's wrong with you."
"Is he gonna be okay?" Raph asked. "The amnesia thing - is it gonna pass?"
"I don't know," I said. "I hope so. I want him to decide what to do with you."
"I'm sorry," he said. "Donnie, I'm so sorry. Tell Mikey -"
"I won't tell Mike anything from you," I said. "If it was up to me, you wouldn't even be here now. You should thank Leo for the fact that you're still alive. Oh, wait," I continued savagely. "You can't. He's in a fever coma because he had to replace the blood Mike lost from you bashing his head against the floor, and then he ran out looking for your pathetic hide and got himself sick." I paused, my own anger pounding in my ears. "Was it worth it, Raph? Was it worth it, just to get him to stop making stupid jokes?"
Raph had curled up on himself while I talked. He just kept whispering "I'm sorry" and "What's wrong with me?", and I was warming up to tell him a few more things, but then Master Splinter appeared at my side.
"Donatello," he said. "Come quickly."
Just like that, the words in my head were forgotten. We rushed downstairs, back to the infirmary. Leo was gasping for every breath, now. His skin was cold and clammy, but he was still sweating.
Mike was standing over him. "Donnie," he said. "Leo's sick."
I sat Mike firmly on his own bed, out of the way. Then I bent over Leo, tipping his head back, opening his mouth, making sure his airway was clear.
I could tell that his temperature was still much too high, on the inside. The fever was consuming him. "Master Splinter -" I said.
"I tried a second medicine," he said, "but it did not work. I know a third but we do not have the ingredients."
I looked up. April was standing in the doorway, watching us all with fear in her eyes. "April," I said. "We need..." I turned back to Master Splinter. "What do we need?"
He shook his head. "They are plants. They cannot be found this time of year."
"This is America." I breathed into Leo's mouth, trying to force his lungs to take air. "There's nothing you can't get year-round. Some market..."
"I do not know where," Splinter said. "Donatello, there is no time."
I breathed again, even though it was futile. As soon as I drew back, Leo coughed violently. Then he inhaled convulsively, a rattling breath that only made him cough again.
Splinter's herbal remedies weren't helping him. And my knowledge of Western medicine, the little equipment I had access to, wasn't enough either.
There was nothing we could do.
"No!" I pounded on Leo's chest, trying to jump-start his system into fighting back. "Leo, no!"
Master Splinter and April pulled me back, and I struggled against them until an image rose in my mind, an image of Raph continuing to rage even as Mike lay bleeding on the floor, and I went limp in their arms, I fell to the ground, I cried into the concrete.
The only other sound was the rasping roar of Leo's breath. It got louder and louder, consuming everything, filling my world.
And then it stopped, in a last ragged release.
"No!" I flung myself up, across the bed, and I cradled him in my arms.
Breathe, Leo! Breathe!
But he didn't. Some essential part of him had gone out with that final whisper of air, and not all the CPR in the world would bring it back.
I cried into his neck, rocking him back and forth. "Leo... Leo..."
"Donnie?" A questioning voice behind me. "Leo gonna be okay?"
And everything shattered.
I went upstairs. Raph's door was still open. I paced into the room, and stood there.
"He's dead," I said, as steadily as I could through the painful swelling of my throat. "I want you out of here."
He looked up at me from where he was still curled in a miserable ball on the bed. "Mikey?"
"No," I hissed. "Leo."
His eyes went wider. "Oh, God. Donnie, I didn't mean -"
"Didn't mean what, Raph?" I said. "Didn't mean for Leo to get hurt? Would you be happier if Mike had died?"
"No!" he said. "Donnie -"
"Actions have consequences, Raph," I said. "You punch someone, they bleed. You betray someone, they don't forgive you just because you act like it was an accident." I crossed my arms. "You betray this family, you don't get to still be part of it. We're burying him tomorrow. You had better not still be here when we get back."
He just stared at me. Then his eyes ticked to look at something over my shoulder.
Master Splinter was there again. He advanced slowly to the middle of the room, and stood there, leaning on his staff.
Raph fell out of the bed and threw himself to his knees. "Father... Sensei... Help me. I..." He clutched at his chest. "I couldn't stop. I didn't mean for anyone to get hurt. I just wanted him to stop making fun of me..."
"Raphael," Splinter said. "You will come to your brother's funeral." He felt my fury, at this permission, at the fact that he still called Raphael our brother, and he held up a hand. "You will show respect to your ani. And then you will leave us." He rested his hand again on his staff. Raphael remained silent, his head bowed. "My heart is heavy, Raphael," he said. "I have counseled you many times on your anger, and still you do not learn to control it. You have destroyed this family. It is a high price to pay for wisdom." He lowered his own head. "Rise, Raphael."
Raph stood, slowly, keeping his eyes to the floor.
"You are always my son," Splinter said. "But you cannot remain here any longer." He turned to me. "Donatello. Leave us."
I set my jaw. "No," I said. "I'm not leaving you with him."
"Donatello," he said sharply. "This is not a request."
I held his gaze for a long moment.
Then I bowed. "Yes, Sensei."
We buried Leo deep in the tunnels, along the path we had first taken to reach the underground city. Master Splinter performed the traditional rites, as best he was able so far from his native home.
I knelt by the grave marker. "Leo," I said, and swallowed hard. "You were an amazing brother. You died protecting your family, with incredible generosity and an endless capacity for forgiveness. Give me strength, brother, for these are things I lack..."
I wiped my eyes. "You never for a minute thought of yourself. You did so much more for us than we ever did for you, but you never said a word... Our last conversation was not what I would have wanted. But I thank you for it. I heard you, Leo. And I will try. I will protect him..."
I took a deep breath. "Please watch over us, ani. Give us guidance. We are in need of your spirit."
I closed my eyes and bent my head. I felt Mike kneel beside me. My hand found his, and a warmth passed between us, as if an unseen third person were squeezing our fingers.
A soft wind sighed through the tunnel, and I was sure I heard his voice in it.
Protect THEM, my brother. Donnie... Raph... Mikey... I love you. Be good to one another.
The wind passed over me, and some part of my soul too was swept away.
I held Mike's hand tighter.
When we got back to the Lair, I followed Raph around, watching him in stony silence.
I knew, I felt sure, that Leo wanted me to forgive him. Maybe even to petition Master Splinter on his behalf.
But I couldn't do it.
It only made me angrier, to be reminded of Leo's patient compassion, to feel the hole in the world where such a gentle, giving spirit had been.
Raph had made that hole. And even if he hadn't meant it, even if it was only a momentary lapse of control that had spiralled into a maelstrom of destruction no one could have foreseen, I couldn't have him in my life anymore.
Maybe not ever.
Fifteen minutes later, he was gone.
And still, the brutal winter.
We'd had a store of food laid in for the season, and now with only three of us eating it I at least didn't have to worry what we were putting on the table every night.
Which was good, because I had plenty of other things to worry about.
Mike was having a lot of problems. His coordination, both fine and gross, was off-kilter. He lost words, sometimes. And he was very subdued. Disturbingly so.
I had never heard the Lair so silent.
It just wasn't home anymore.
I would move around in the emptiness, getting as much work done as I could. The spring was coming, and we would need to scavenge again, and I wasn't sure Mikey was going to be up for it. That meant it would have to fall to me and Master Splinter, every time, watching each other's backs as we provided for our reduced family.
It was going to be a huge drain on my time and energy.
And there was no way to get around the fact that we would have to leave Mike home alone. Casey and April were being as supportive as they possibly could, but they just couldn't stay with him that often.
So, in those precious weeks before the full demands of our usual lives set back in, I worked on tightening up the security system. I rebuilt the weapons locker. I put safety controls on the stove and the heating pipes. I modified Mikey's shell-cell to make it easier for him to use.
All so he would be safe while we were out.
And eight, ten, twelve times a day, he would wander in to watch me.
And then he would ask me where Raph or Leo was.
Every time, I wanted to punch him. I was so close sometimes, it was terrifying. I felt like I was walking on eggshells every minute.
Like it was only a matter of when.
I started having these fantasies of switching places with Raph. I wished I had been the one who got kicked out. Living alone was no picnic, I was sure, but it had to be better than this.
This was hell.
And it just never seemed to end.
Then, finally, it was spring. Somewhere inside I was rejoicing, at the idea of getting out of the Lair, of being free from this clinging shadow that used to be Mikey, even just for a little while.
I hated myself for it.
April came down, that first night, to stay with Mike while Master Splinter and I went out.
"Call me," I told her. "If anything happens."
Then we were topside. It was chilly, but nothing like that horrible day two months ago. It would have been wonderful, if it weren't for the gnawing fear in my gut. Something, I felt sure, was going to happen. If not to Mike, then to me and Sensei.
We had made it to a dumpster, and were picking through it, when my phone rang.
As soon as I answered it, I heard screaming.
"Donnie!" April's desperate voice. "Donnie, he's having a fit!"
I was already moving back towards the manhole, Master Splinter close on my heels. "A seizure?"
"No," she said. "Like a panic attack. He doesn't know where everyone is. Donnie - he needs you."
Ten minutes later I was home again, holding Mikey, rocking him, wondering if I was really doing him any favors by keeping Raph away from him.
Yes, I thought. You're doing the right thing. If he could remember what happened, he would agree with you.
Later, after Mike had fallen asleep, I went to talk to Master Splinter. He gave no indication that he thought we should invite Raph back.
"I will stay home with him," he said simply. "You will have to do the scavenging alone."
"Yes, Sensei," I said.
"Donatello." He waited for me to meet his eyes. "I am sorry."
"So am I," I whispered.
And the nights slid past. Spring became summer. One fall turned into another. And winter came again, as it always did.
Mike improved, little by little. He understood why we had sent Raph away, even if he still didn't have his own memories of that awful morning. He was able to wait quietly while I was out scavenging, as long as Master Splinter stayed with him.
"Leo stays with me too," Mike would tell me.
I would nod. "I know." Because I felt him too, a passing brush against my skin every time I felt like I couldn't go on.
It helped, and it hurt, and always it was gone too quickly.
I saw him in the junkyards, sometimes. We avoided each other. He looked all right, and that was all I needed to keep the guilt at bay.
If I had seen him sick, starving, I don't think I could have stayed angry. I don't think I could have kept denying the Leo-voice in my head, the one that spoke softly to me every night, encouraging me to ask Master Splinter if Raph could come home.
He always waited while I took my pick of the garbage.
One night, I don't know why, I waited. I just stood there, by a dismantled refrigerator, until he came out to meet me.
"Hi," he said cautiously.
"Hi." I looked him up and down. "How have you been?"
"All right." He rubbed the back of his head. "What about you? Master Splinter?" He hesitated. "Mikey?"
"I'm holding up," I said. "Master Splinter is okay. Mikey is..." I paused, deciding what to tell him. "He's better. He still has some memory problems. But, mostly... he's all right."
Raph looked down, and scuffed his feet. "Does he hate me?"
"Mikey?" I shook my head. "No. He..." I rubbed my shoulder, and looked up at the sky. "He's different. Quieter. Nothing seems to affect him much. I'm not sure he has the capacity to hate."
"And you?" Raph asked softly.
I sighed. "It's been a long time, Raph," I said. "This is how life is, now. I'm taking care of the family. I know how to hate, but I just don't have the energy for it."
"Listen, Donnie," he started, and he said my name very tentatively, like he wasn't sure he was allowed to use it. "I've been stayin' far away from the Lair, from all the places you probably go." He kicked an empty soda can. "'Cept for the junkyards, obviously. And I'm not gonna ask if I can come back, 'cause it ain't my place to bring that up. But..." He raised his eyes. "Would it be all right with you, if I visited Leo's grave? I got some things I wanna say to him."
The question surprised me, and a thousand reactions rose instantly in my mind. Part of me wanted to say no, to push Raph away, to not let him near that sacred place. But part of me knew that that Leo was only bones now, that nothing of what made him special was there.
And another part of me, a part that had been growing slowly over the past few years, hoped that there could still be healing for our family, and knew that it would start in the place where we had lain Leo to rest.
"Yes," I said. "And if you find something there... come and talk to me again." I reached out and put my hand on his shoulder. "But seriously, if you want to talk to Leo... he's already with you."
I withdrew my arm, and stepped back. "Good night, Raph."
Later, as I lay in bed, I felt a gentle warmth curl around me, enveloping me in a hug that didn't end.
"I love you too, Leo," I whispered.
I fell asleep, and slept well for the first time in years.