The page blurred with the tears as Raphael scraped them away with a knuckle grinding into his eye. The pen in his hand trembled with the weight of words, the anguish roiling in his gut like a storm. Master Splinter had told him that writing was supposed to be some sort of healing balm that would somehow make the pain a dull throb and less of a stab wound. So far, Raphael was failing miserably at it, but at least the irritation provided a needed distraction. Swallowing hard, he drew another shaking breath, and forced himself to continue the scribbling that only bordered on legibility.
I don't remember a hell of a lot more than the sound of the brick cracking as the bastard brought it thundering down across Mikey's skull. It ripped through us all like gunfire, and even Leo recoiled at how damn loud it was. Mikey's nunchucks fell out of hands, and he just….toppled. Crumbled to the ground, like he had been lopped off at the knees. I saw the blood slithering from the huge gash in the back of his head. Mikey had landed on his side, his face haloed in the gold circle of the streetlight. He looked so damn still, like one of those sleeping cherub things I see on gravestones. Leo was already slicing his way through to our baby brother, face twisted in shock as he stooped to protect him. I drew my sais to fend off the ones that I could to clear the way. Donny and Leo were the motherin' types.
"Mikey." I heard Donny's shocked, soft voice floating up behind me, and then the snarled roar.. It was a wail like a cornered animal, and I never, ever want to hear that horrible sound again.
I felt Donny's hands on my shell, as he shoved me aside so hard I nearly fell. There was that wailing scream again, as Donny, who could never smash a bug without guilt, and who never, ever inflicted hurt on anybody unless he had to, lashed out, with his bo one beige flying arc of rage. He brought it flying down from his hands like some god with a lightning bolt as he hurled it into the heads of Mikey's attackers. I heard the bone crunch, and the shrill cry that bled out from the wilted, bent faces as Donny's bo went from beige to red, and those bastards went from living to tortured to dead in a minute, maybe less.
I stood rooted and watching, unable to move or understand, as Donny kept flogging them, long after they had quit moving, or screaming. Grunt, smack, crack, grunt, smack,crack, until their skins had split open, and I could see the dull gleam of skulls white against the muck of bruises and blood.
A hiss of breath, and a whimper of fear. Leo was on his knees ,his hands clutching Mikey's head as the blood seeped through his shaking fingers. Donny was far too pissed off to notice, as he just kept twirling and damaging like a wasn't enough that he had broken their bones. He wanted them crushed into the dust, and he kept hammering at them, like they were bugs to be crushed out of existence.
Leo screamed his name, and Donny did not stop, or even slow down the slaughter. Leo shuddered again, and turned to me, his eyes huge with the silent plea. He stared down at Mikey's bloodied, dented head.
"Raph...Stop Don. Please! Mikey's hurt, and I can't-" Another shaking breath, and eyes that looked like they would spill over like an ocean. "I don't know what to do."
The tremble in Leo's voice is unmistakable.
I gave him a curt, little nod, as I drew my sais, and stepped into the path of Donny's wildly swinging bo. I caught his weapon midswing, crossed my sais over it, and held it. Donny snarled like an animal, and I was nearly tossed to the ground when he tried to yank his staff free. I sucked in a breath, and actually hesitated when Donny gave me that fiery eyed look of rage. He looked mad enough to kill. After seeing the blood dribbling off his bo, I was nearly sick when I saw that he already had. Sweet, soft-spoken Donny, a killer?It scared me almost as much as the red pool of Mikey's blood.
"Donny, snap out of it, will ya? Mikey's hurt!"I felt the bo tremble beneath my sais as the words finally slithered through, somehow. Donny blinked rigidly, as he heaved a long, shaking breath, and looked at me in shock.
"Raph?" He squints at me in confusion that twists into horror when he sees the broken heap of bodies-at least 6, it's hard to tell from the tangled knots of limbs and cloth and flesh. I didn't know the exact number. I didn't want to know.
"They're dead,Donny. Ya can't kill 'em more."
His hands wrench around his bo, as he gulps hard, numb and stupid as he looks at the busted pile. I see him start shaking as the tears make his wide eyes even more glassy and huge. He looks like he's choking on the truth. From behind us, I hear Leo's panicked cry.
"Donny, please! Mikey needs help!"
Donny flinches, and shudders as if to pour himself back into awareness. A deep, steadying breath, as he silently hands me the bloodied bo, and calmly turns towards our two brothers.
Donny managed to stay calm and quiet until he saw Mikey laying still, and the blood. And then, his hand claps over his mouth, and I hear the whimper of terrible, terrible realization.
It was only a breath like a prayer as Donny dropped to his knees by Leo. Gently, he shooed Leo's hovering away, as he sucked in another breath, and gulped. I saw his hands start quivering as he gently ran them over Mikey's bowed head, the shaking, scared groan when his fingers actually sank into the dent of broken bone at the back of Mikey's head had crumpled like paper. Any merciful stupidity I had in believing my baby brother had just been thumped on the head was gone. Donny's lips twisted like he was going to be sick. He shut his eyes, for a long moment. And then, he snatched his fingers away as if Mikey would break if touched too hard.
We were all so damn helpless.
I had always envied Donny's brains, but at that point, I think it would have broken me to know how horrible Mikey's situation really was. Donny never told us until it was over. It was just another burden my gentle brainiac brother bore for us.
His voice was thin and soft as he looked at me. "Raph, Leo….he's got a severe head wound, and we need to move him, fast. Raph, there's a long piece of plywood by the garbage cans. We can lay Mikey on it, and keep him a bit more still. Go get it, please. Leo, help me."
The plywood fractured under my knee when I broke it for easier movement. I brought the thing over to Donny who gave me a quick nod of thanks.
I stood back, helpless and out of the way, since I was too worried about Mikey to just go kick some more foot ass, and I was too clumsy to really do anything but make it worse. Donny was busy muttering soothing things to Leo, as Leo finally nodded, gripped Mike's ankles. Donny called me over in that same thin whisper.
Softly, he swept a hand over Mikey, and said, "Raph, you're going to have to help us move him, but we have to be very, very careful. . Raph, I want you to grab his shell, and slide him towards you. Leo, get his legs. When I count to three, we're going to very gently slide him onto the board, together. Ready?"
I gripped the edges of Mikey's shell, shoulder and hip the way Donny had asked, and Leo eased his hands over Mike's knees. Mike felt slack as wet string beneath me. Donny held his head and drooping neck, and counted off.
"One." Shaking hands, shaking breath, my brother laying there, helpless.
"Two." Leo jerks his head towards me, meets my eyes, and I've never seen my big, untouchable brother looking so damn broken.
"Three." We lifted Mike, carried him the few inches, lay him down. He felt so light, and yet so damn heavy when he was so still.
Mikey was never that still, unless…my gut clenched like a fist. And, my heart nearly broke when I heard the gurgling wheeze burble up from Mikey. It's a strangled wheeze, that's been heaved out through damaged guts and busted ribs.
Donny meets our eyes, tries and fails to reassure me and Leo, with that faltering smile. "He's breathing. It's erratic, but it's steady. That's good."
Leo and I exchange glances. Mikey's laying there like a busted toy, and we should be grateful that his breathing sounds like a hiss from a pierced balloon?
"Guys, let's get him home. Once Mike's back at the lair, and I have a better look at what's going on, I'll be able to help him."
Donny gently hefts the board, and he's as steady as a mountain in the dark. Who ever knew that the most soft spoken of us would somehow get so strong?
Donny was nothing less than a damn hero that night. First, he busted the bastards who had done this to our brother to oblivion. Nothing left but a pile of bloodied, beaten bodies and the sinking feeling in knowing that it was a piss-poor sort of vengeance. It wasn't enough. How the hell could it ever be? And, thank God, Donny went back to the more familiar, soft-spoken peace-maker, and not that animal who had casually broke bones and left the dead humans without a second glance. It was more like something I would do, and it scared me.
Gently, Donny coaxed me and Leo like we were little kids that needed soothing. He was so effin' patient, the way he guided us through the slippery wet of the tunnels, how he managed to keep us going, but still kept us from bolting like crazy horses in our fear. Mikey still lay sprawled and slack on the plywood. He never moved, never even groaned,nothing.I hated seeing him in pain, but at least it would mean he was still with us. Walking Mikey through the dark tunnels underground was the longest trip in my life. Leo snapped at me more than once to slow down.
I couldn't pick between snarling out that he needed to hurry the hell up, or asking him if he thought Mikey deserved to die in the sewer because Leo couldn't pick up the pace. I just glared back. Thank God I didn't say anything, I don't think I could have lived with it if I had….
Master Splinter had known that there was something really, really wrong before we got there The entire lair was awash with the flickering gold of lit only lit that many when he knew we needed the light. When we finally carried Mikey back to the lair, he had every light in the place on, tea brewing, and Donny's medical stuff already laid out. Sure, Splinter's seen us all injured. He's taken care of all of us when we've been sick, or hurt, since we were kids. His yellow eyes flickered over our faces, the smile curling up in reassurance, the hands already out to take over, to help, to somehow fix this.
And then Splinter's eyes fell on the wound, on Mikey's splayed body, and he trembled. He palmed Mikey's forehead with a sound like a sob.
"It sounded like a requiem, something that you'd say over somebody already gone. Donny, brave, brave Donny stared at me, stared at Leo and me and then took charge. "Master Splinter, could you please get the bandages? Guys, I need you to help me lay Mike down."
Together, we eased Mikey onto the bed, carefully tucked the bedding around him, arranged the pillows so he could stay rooted and anchored in the least damaging position, I guess. Damned if I knew what good a pillow arrangement did for a head injury, but I wasn't going to argue. Hell, if they wanted the sheets tucked in military formation and folded into roses, I would have done it.
"I'm sorry to ask this, but I need you two to clear out for a bit so I have some room to get Mikey cleaned up and see what exactly we're dealing with. I'll call you both if there's any change."
"Donny, how in the hell can you even think that we're leaving Mikey?" I know Leo meant to sound angry, but his voice is scraped raw. He started trembling again, from exhaustion, from rage, from the hell we had all just gone through. Donny gives me a pleading look, and jerked his head towards Leo. Sighing, I rose, and turned to Fearless. "Come on, Leo, we ain't doing Mike or Don any favors by getting in their way. Let's go."
Leo turned to me, and his eyes were storm dark, and brimming with more tears. "Raph, what if….."his words slack off.
Leo, geeze. Please don't say it. Don't even think it right now, I can't even stand thinking what you're about to say…
And none of us could. I see Splinter stiffen as if stabbed. Donny halts his work, and suddenly snaps his head forward. Donny's words are bitten off as he looks at Leo, and only hisses, "Raph, get. Him. ." I had never heard Donny speak that way, and even Splinter lurches backwards in surprise.
"My son?" The question begs an explanation, as Donny turns to Splinter, and us, nearly in tears. He scrubbed them away with the back of his hand, before he finally answered,"Sensei, Leo, I'm sorry, but I don't have time to do much more than take care of Mikey right now, and I'll be able to do that if I can think. And I can't do that when I have you two hovering. Trust me on this. Raph, could you please take Leo to the kitchen or something?"
I narrow my eyes. Splinter gives Donny and me a troubled glance, and then a nod of understanding. "I agree that it is for the best, my sons. Leonardo, please go with your brother, and rest. Raphael, please take care of your brother."
I raise an eyebrow ridge at that. What the hell am I supposed to do with Leo? Leo, by then, was looking like he had been shot and just hadn't fallen down yet. So hurting, and helpless and nearly nuts with pain for Mikey. It's sweet and touching and useless at this point. All he's doing now is driving himself and Donny crazy and Donny doesn't need that right now.
I grunt in answer, grab Leo's slack arm, and pull him to his feet. To my surprise, Leo lets me lead him out of the room, haul him away from Mikey and Donny, from the blood, and the dying, and the helplessness. Normally, it takes nothing less than fists and a knockdown brawl to get my brother to do something he doesn't want. I've had the bruises enough to know that by now. Somehow, it makes me feel worse.
Dumbly, I lead him into the kitchen, yank out a chair, and gently shove him into sitting. I wince at the way he bonelessly slumps. Leo just sits there in tears, with that slack, blank face, as if he doesn't even notice that he's crying. The tears just dribble down his cheek, and he doesn't do anything to stop them. He's still shaking, still so damn quiet. And for once, when I really need to know what to say, my smart ass mouth fails me.
"Um…Leo?" He flinches in surprise, the awareness trickling back as he jerks his face towards mine. I hate how my voice sounds so damn shaky and uncertain. I'm no good at this. Master Splinter has wisdom, Donny has his answers, and Mike's got his humor-
Mikey. It feels like a fist to the gut. Hell, everything hurts now, and it's made that much worse when Leo suddenly whimpers in pain.
"Raph!" It's choked, and terrified as the tremble shifts into full-blown quaking. I hear the keening, scrape of sound as Leo finally surrenders into the sobbing. It's quiet, and restrained, and scared, held back so that he can at least spare Donny and Splinter and Mikey the sound of his breakdown. He stuffed his knuckles nearly in his mouth to keep the worst of it muffled.
My arms feel so strange as I stare at Leo, and awkwardly crush him against my plastron in the embarrassing hug. It's all I could do, and for some reason, it's exactly what he needs. I don't have the words to make this right; I don't have anything but this. Leo stiffens and then wilts against me, the tension and that sense of duty suddenly draining out, leaving him with nothing. Nothing more to give, nothing more to hold back, or hold onto. Nothing but me, and that's a damn sad thing.
For one terrible second, I realized that I was the only thing holding Leo together. Leo's sob had quieted to the lurch of breath, as he finally sighed really deep and tired and whispered, "I'm sorry." His head was bowed in shame, his forehead nearly touching my shoulder.
"Ya got nothin' to be sorry about, Leo. Now sit down and take it easy, will ya? Mikey's going to be alright."
The one thing that made things so crappy between me and Leo is that he always knew that when I was lying. Damned if I knew how. Leo's eyes narrowed, and darkened, as he stared at me over the cup of tea that Splinter had made.
"No, Raph. He isn't. Don't you understand? Donny didn't kick us out of the lab because we were in the way. He kicked us out because he wanted to spare us the pain of watching Mikey die."
Each word felt like a sledgehammer. Truth was supposed to hurt, I knew that. I just didn't know it could hurt so damn much. If things were normal, I would have roared, screamed, fought, hit something just to feel it break. Now? I had nothing but the cobbled bits of false hope and ignorance. Not much, but still better than just letting the words settle into my thoughts until they drove me nuts. I couldn't break down, not as long as Mikey was still breathing, and Leo was acting so lost….
I grit my teeth, and scraped up enough anger to sound like I usually did.
"Ya don't know that, Leo."
He sighed, and shook his head, his eyes glistening, the hurt too brittle for sobbing now. As I said, he always knew when I was lying. Sort of like he always knew my anger was my way of keeping a sense of power, or that my sarcasm was a way of keeping the things that scared me to a safe distance. He said nothing, but lay a hand on my shoulder, and squeezed.
And, with nothing left to say, we sat back down at the table with our troubled thoughts, sipping the warm tea without noticing it was stale. Leo fixed his eyes on the little chipped cup of china, running a finger over the rim in endless circles, sort of like the way the questions kept swirling in my brain. I kept staring at the empty chairs between us. Mikey always sat on my right, Donny, on the left, Leo across from me. If it was this empty with my two brothers In the next room, how could I stand it if the four chairs were only filled by three? That thought made my eyes water, and I blinked it back before Leo noticed, thank God. I never cried. Never needed to, before this. And now, I felt the tears threaten like a dam needing to break. If I let those floodgates open, there was no telling who would drown, or when it would ever stop.
There was the troubled hesitation of the door to the lab opening. Donny was slinking out, head down like he was surrendering to the noose as he raised those wounded, wounded eyes to ours. He was in tears. His face clenched up, white and withered as he put a shaking hand to his chin. He always did that when he couldn't find the words he wanted.
"Don, what is it? How is Mikey?" My voice sounded so loud in that silence, and the questions too heavy to do anything but break my brother. Donny's lip twisted in his teeth, as he swallowed.
"I'm sorry. We tried, I know, we all did, but….it's just not enough, guys. Even if Mikey were human and we could get him to a trauma unit, it wouldn't make a difference. His head wound…it's fatal."
"Fatal?" Leo mutters the word, and blinks as if he's never heard it before, as if he can't connect its meaning to the wound, that it means that Mikey's not going to make it.
Oh, God. That was the closest thing to a prayer I'd ever said, as I felt ice slither and then slice through my awareness, cutting through my thoughts, leaving me numb and stupid and stricken.
Oh, God, please, not this. Please, please, not Mikey…
I didn't know that I had said anything out loud, until Donny carefully lays hands on my shoulders. Anchors of flesh in the sudden horror I'm drowning in. And, as always, my brother gently pulls me back.
"Raph…Leo…" Each of Don's words are severed off and barely make it past his shaking chin as he buries his head in his hands, and leaves them there for a long moment. There's another long breath, and then he forces his head out of his hands to face us again.
"He needs us. NOW." The finality in his voice is unmistakable.
Leo rose from the seat, gave me and Donny a tortured glance, and bolted into the lab. Donny lingered for a moment, met my eyes, as I finally asked.
"How long?" Donny's lips twitched into a grim, white line. He shrugged, so scraped raw, and brittle enough to shatter.
"I don't know, but he won't last the night." He lays his hand on my shoulder in sorrow, as if he's trying to take some of the burden of this sudden, unbearable agony from me. Only he can't. Nobody can.
Something inside of me shattered. Something inside of me made me choke, made the tears burn, made everything but the numbness stop. My knees wobbled, buckled, and I would have collapsed if Donny hadn't caught me, and held me up. Donny swallows hard, and he helps me stand again. He doesn't let go of me, but just sighs for strength as he hitches an arm over my shoulder. "Come on, Raph. Together, okay?" I nodded, and wondered who the hell was carrying who.
It was only ten feet into the sick room. Ten feet and a lifetime. Ten feet that I forced myself to walk, knowing that the only thing worse than my baby brother dying would be him dying alone because I didn't have the guts to be there. Later, when the hellish hurt had passed from feeling like my guts were being ripped open to just a constant ache, I had cornered Donny for the details. I would ask him what the hell was killing our baby brother, why the hell he couldn't be saved. Donny would explain that our baby brother had been bashed in the skull so hard, that his brain had been pierced by the bone fragments. That Splinter was weeping alone as he took the white linen strips and made it a halo over his dying son's head so that the living three wouldn't see the full gaping wound. That Mikey had already gone through three full blown seizures, convulsing like a turtle earth quake, when Donny had come for Leo and me. That Mikey had spent his last hours on earth going in and out of seizures, and between the sickening twitches and choking breath, Donny thought it a mercy to keep us from seeing until they stopped. He was tortured with the memory of Mikey convulsing. All we had to remember was how peaceful his leaving was.
Mikey lay cradled in the mound of quilts, and pillows that had been stuffed around his shell to keep him on his back, so Don could inspect the wounds better.I never forgot the sick sound of Mikey's wet, shaky breathing A gurgle, a rasp, a long, weird twitch for air, and then Mikey would go limp and still again. It sounded like he was being strangled. Donny explained that it was part of the dying process, that it was normal, and Mikey wasn't in pain. I couldn't stand to hear any more of it, so the words just blurred and bounced before I could ignore them completely. Master Splinter was bowed, one wiry hand clutching Mikey's as if he were drowning. Leo sat by Mikey's head, his fingers gently stroking the wounded forehead, as he chanted a prayer.
I swallowed hard, and stared at Mikey's face. Aside from the cruel injury to the back of his head, his face wasn't bloodied, or scarred. It was the shade of alabaster, and his mouth was flung open and contorted from those massive, dredging breaths he kept fighting for. His eyes were shut, and aside from those jack-knife, bone deep twitches for air, he didn't move at all. Didn't open his eyes, didn't give us that big-ass goofy grin that could absolve him of anything. He could be forgiven for anything when he just smiled at ya. Mikey just had that warmth and light, that refusal to let the world, or his brothers fracture that innocence. Never let the world make him hard like me, or fearful, like Donny, or controlling, like , Mikey kept himself free to laugh, treated life like a wash cloth, wrung it for every bit of joy he could get until there was no more.
Ya know how the sunset sets the sky on fire, and just leaves nothing but the faint bit of light? In the end, that's how Mikey left us. Bit by bit, breath by tortured, lurching breath, getting slower, choking in his chest, spewing back up, and stopping altogether a few times. Donny had hastily reassured us that it was just part of the damn dying process, that those long, horrifying gaps in his breathing would increase as Mikey slid away from us.
In the end, all we could do for our baby brother was make sure he didn't exit the world alone. All we could do was make sure that he left the world knowing how damn much we loved him. The last things Mikey felt was Splinter's hand, caressing his forehead in soothing circles.
The last thing he heard was all our pleas for forgiveness that it was ending like this. That we would miss him, and love him, and that he needed to wait for us. That we were so damn blessed to have him with us, and none of us would ever trade that for anything.
We fell silent, huddled together around him,holding him while we could, in tears. I remember that Mikey suddenly sucked in this deep breath, sucked it down to his core, long, and slow. There was the same rasping, sick sound as he slowly released it, and then it sounded like a sigh of relief. Another breath, soft, and nearly unnoticed as Mikey gently exhaled it. His pulse fluttered like butterfly wings beneath my fingers. I heard the dull throbbing thud of a few more erratic heartbeats that were so faint that I didn't know when they stopped completely. One more rigid spasm, a groan as something deep inside seemed to fly free with the last breath that was slowly, slowly released.
Mikey had died.