Our most basic instinct is not for survival but for family. Most of us would give our own life for the survival of a family member, yet we lead our daily life too often as if we take our family for granted. Paul Pearshall
"I can't believe it's still snowing! We've been trapped in here for three days!"
April looked over at Raphael, pacing the length of the kitchen, and offered a little smile, "Well, we can make the most out of it. We can play a game."
"Mikey cheats," Donny said absently from the table where he was working on some kind of robot.
"Do not!" Mikey said, eating another slice of pizza. His brothers looked at him and he grinned sheepishly, "Okay, yeah I do." Raphael took the pizza out of his hand and Mikey yelled, "Hey! Give that back!"
"That's the last box. I haven't had any yet!"
April looked amused, "Guys, I can just pick up another pizza. It's no big deal. The guy at the parlor is really cute anyway."
Donny looked annoyed, and Leo, noticing this, rushed to fill the silence, "Thanks April. It takes a lot of getting used to, you being able to get food for us."
"What'd you used to do before you had me?"
"Starve," Raph said, his voice low and hard.
April smiled a little, waiting for one of the other brothers to correct him. But the only sound in the room was silence. "Seriously guys? You starved?"
"Not often!" Donny said quickly, "I mean, it's New York. Someone's always throwing out food. But there was this one time –"
"April doesn't want to hear that story!" Both Raphael and Mikey shouted. Mikey looked put off. Raphael looked embarrassed and…guilty?
"We have nothing else to do. A story would be great – if you guys don't mind telling me," April added the last part quickly. "It has a happy ending, right? There didn't used to be, like, five turtles?"
"No, it's a happy ending," Leo said, offering a small smile.
"Not for Donny's tooth…" Mikey pointed out, then winced at the look on Raphael's face. "Oops."
April looked excited, "I've been wondering how you lost your tooth Donny. That happens in this story?"
Donny nodded, "And Raphael's scars. Well, the ones on his plastron at least."
"Yeah, that was a pretty bad day," Leo said, looking at his hands as if they were intensely interesting. "Who wants to start?"
Master Splinter was trying to find food again. It was winter and the sewers were cold and the turtles were hungry. But they were twelve now, too old to complain and too old to be ignorant about the hardships of finding food in the winter. Neither a giant rat nor giant turtles could just go into a grocery store and come out with all the fixings for a feast. So Splinter would be gone for hours, days at a time trying to find enough food for four rapidly growing boys to eat.
It was only when he was gone, when the cold seeped into the bones, that the boys would admit it to each other, "Get off Mikey. I'm so hungry I might just eat you!"
"He wouldn't taste good. He's all germy," Leo said from the couch where he'd buried himself between the cushions, sharpening his katana again.
"Eww! God, Mikey go back to bed!"
"I don't feel sick! I'm just cold – and hungry!"
Donny's head appeared over Mikey's shell, poking his brother's ribs and raising one eyebrow. "You have lost the most weight of all of us." He said this like it was scientifically fascinating and not worrying at all, but both Leo and Raph stopped what they were doing and, for just a moment, the two oldest turtle's eyes flashed with fear.
"That's not fair!" Mikey batted Donatello's probing hands away, "I've been eating just as much as you guys!"
Leo made a mental note to give Michelangelo at least half of his next meal. From the determined look on Raphael's face, he was making the same decision.
"Maybe it's 'cause you're the baby," Raph said, knowing he'd get a rise and wanting to get past the very real problem of them not having any food and no prospects of getting any.
"I'm not the baby! We're all the same age!"
"According to Donny we're not," Leonardo liked to bring this up often, because Donny had once said that he was the oldest, and everyone knows the oldest gets to lead.
"Actually, I said that we're not all entering puberty at the same rate," Donny corrected, "Which doesn't necessarily correlate to age. Some people are just late bloomers."
"Yeah, and Mikey's the latest," Raphael sniggered.
"Hey!" Mikey pushed Raphael, but he was a good three inches shorter than his brother, and despite what he said he was sick. His push had all the strength of a nine-year-old. "I'm just as old as you guys!"
"Sure you are," Leo said soothingly, knowing this was probably a good time for an intervention. "We're all the same age. We're brothers."
Mikey looked relieved at Leo's words, and the Fearless Leader pulled him into a hug. Donny was right. Mikey had lost the most weight of all of them. He felt like he was barely there.
"Of course we're all brothers," Donny said distractedly, "I analyzed samples of our blood when we were six."
He'd had to, because at six Raph had just gotten his sai and had tackled Leo to the ground without putting them away. He'd needed a blood transfusion, and little Donatello had just read a thick medical textbook about the dangerous of mixing different blood types. So he'd done a quick bloodtyping and figured out Leo and Mikey matched with type A blood, and Raph (thank god) had AB blood, which meant he could get from any of the three of them. The only problem was Donny, with O blood. He could give to any of his brothers, and often did, but couldn't get blood from them without risking infection.
Which was fine, for the most part, because Donny was by far the most cautious. When they explored the tunnels he'd hang back and analyze the situation rather than jumping right in. More often than not lately, Leo, Raph, and Mikey would go exploring and Donny would lock himself in his room and invent things.
"Good thing, too. If we weren't related I might seriously consider eating you Mikey."
"Shut it, Raph!"
"You shut it Leo! I'm hungry!"
"We're all hungry!"
"Guys, stop," Mikey inserted himself between Leo and Raph, who were nose-to-nose, each daring the other to take one more step. "Come on, I boiled some algae! It tastes…like algae!"
Donny took a step forward because he saw what was going to happen, but he didn't get there in time, "Leo, no!"
But Leo brushed Mikey out of the way so he could wrap his hands around Raph's throat. The noise that followed was so small, so seemingly insignificant, that anyone watching the scene would wonder why Leo suddenly let go of Raph as if burned, would wonder why Donny pushed through both of his older brothers to kneel down next to Mikey, who'd let out a tiny gasp like a whimpering dog and then had gone silent.
A silent Mikey is always the scariest.
"Mikey, I'm so sorry!" Leo dropped to his knees and reached for Mikey's hand, but Donny gave him a withering stare and he backed away, hands up in surrender. "I'm sorry," he said again, this time to his other brothers, "I didn't know – I didn't even push him that hard!"
"He's sicker than he let on," Raph said quietly, "He's really sick."
Donny took a few quick seconds of examination before shaking his head, "He's not sick – I mean, he is. But it's basically a cold. He'd be able to fight it if he were bigger."
The implications of that statement swallowed them all whole for a long moment. They didn't often resent their mutation – they were cool, unique beings, and life was better as sentient turtles than as little Spike-like creatures. But there were times when being human-sized turtles did pretty much suck. When it stopped you from going into grocery stores to get food for your dying baby brother was one of those times.
Leo was the first to shake his head and come out of the morose line of thinking, "So he needs food? More than medicine or anything?"
"And warmth," Donny added, "He's freezing."
"So he needs sunlight and pizza," Raphael shook his head. "Any way to get either of those?"
"I've been working on something," Donny said slowly. It wasn't ready yet, but Mikey was still limp in his arms, his green skin looking suddenly sickly, "Kind of like radar. It'll tell us where the sewer animals are."
Raph made a face. They'd been living off of the sewer creatures since they were born, but there was something about eating rats prepared by a rat that still made goosebumps rise to the surface of his skin.
"Go get it. You can Raph can go get some food. I'll stay here with Mikey."
Donatello paused, "I don't know. You're not really great at the doctor stuff, Leo. Maybe you should go with Raph." He didn't want to admit that after going without food for three days he was so hungry and weak he didn't know if he could make it very far into the tunnels without collapsing himself. But he didn't voice the thought out loud, not in front of his two strongest brothers.
Leo was firm, "You said he doesn't really need a doctor. I know how to make him warm. And you're the only one who knows how to work your gizmos."
"Then maybe you should go with Donny and I'll stay here," Raph said, surprising both of his conscious brothers. Raphael rarely volunteered to stay back from a mission, and he never volunteered to be alone with Michelangelo. At their stares, Raphael shrugged, a little embarrassed, "What? It shouldn't all just be Leo doing this stuff. What if Mikey gets worse?"
"He won't," Donny said without any real conviction.
"You just don't want to go rat hunting," Leonardo said.
"Neither do you!"
Leo went to get up so he could get face-to-face with Raphael again but there was a sudden tightening of the hand on his wrist. "Don't go, Leo."
Mikey's eyes had opened into slits, as if just these small movements were hard for him. The other three turtles quieted at such a display of weakness from their normally energetic brother. "Yeah, Mikey. I'm not going anywhere. Let's just get you on the couch, okay? The floor is cold."
But Michelangelo had passed out again. Leo looked up at Raph, who let out his breath in a huff. "Fine. I'll go with the nerd. You better keep him alive, Leo."
"Don't be so melodramatic," Leonardo snapped. But his grip on Mikey tightened, and when the middle brothers took off they both rubbed Michelangelo's plastron and murmured goodbyes. Mikey didn't wake up to see them go.
"Oh my God! I can't believe you were that sick, Mikey."
"Well, I don't remember much of it. I think these guys are exaggerating."
Donatello exchanged looks with Leo, who shook his head. They were not exaggerating. "Yeah, okay Mikey," Leo said, his voice full of false hardiness.
"But I still don't see what this has to do with Donny's tooth. Or Raphael's chest thing."
"Plastron. And we're getting there." Raphael got up and stretched, looking like he wanted to make an inconspicuous exit from the room. Leo wasn't about to let that happen, "No, Raph, you have to tell part of the story."
"Donny can tell it okay."
"Donny was knocked out for some of it."
"For about five seconds!"
"Jesus! Fine okay, I'll stay. But I'm not apologizing again."
Donatello rolled his eyes, sighing, "No one's expecting you too, Raph."
"So we're basically following a pack of rats so we can catch one and cook it for Mikey?"
"Hopefully before Master Splinter gets back. But yeah, that's the basic idea. Now shut up, you'll scare them away," Donatello looked down the black tunnel hopefully, as if expecting the rats to just come barreling down towards them. "I want to hurry this up. I don't know if Leo knows what to do if Mikey gets worse."
That sobered Raphael up quick. He was quiet for a long moment, then asked, softly, "Is he going to get worse?"
"I don't know," Donny sighed, "Maybe not if we can find food soon. But he really needs antibiotics...and lots of good food."
"And of course he's the only one of us that knows how to cook," Raph said, shaking his head.
They waited another thirty seconds as the beeping on Donny's hand-held sonar got louder, "Okay, they're coming this way. Can you hold onto the ceiling? Then we can just kill a couple as they run by us."
"You're really banking on these rats being dumb." Raph said as he jumped up to hold onto one of the bars that ran across the ceiling of the tunnel. Donny tucked the radar under his arm, then jumped up next to him. Raph squeezed on with his legs so his hands were free to use his sai, and Donny pulled out his bo.
The sound of scurrying feet was getting closer until it was echoing, deafening, and the blackness of the tunnel was made more black by the passing of many bodies. They both waited until what was roughly the middle of the pack got below them before striking out. There was a sound like screaming and as suddenly as they came the rats were gone.
Raphael blinked, "Did we get some?"
"We got one," Donatello said, looking at the huge rat splayed out below them. It was almost four feet long, almost as big as the turtles themselves. "But I think this one is enough."
"Rat soup and fried rat and…" Raphael kept listing rat dishes, sounding hungry.
Donatello tuned him out. The rush of adrenaline that had taken over him when the rats came left very suddenly and he felt tired and dizzy. He picked up the rat anyway, throwing his over his shoulder.
"You got that thing Donny? It looks pretty heavy."
"You make sure nothing attacks us and I'll carry the rat back to the lair," Donny didn't trust himself to be vigilant, and throwing his bo into the pack of rats had broken it again.
"As long as you're sure. That's a pretty important rat you got there." But Raphael wouldn't pass up an opportunity to maybe get to hit something. He went ahead and Donny worked on putting one foot in front of the other.
He wasn't fifteen feet down the hallway when the rat woke up and bit Donny on the neck.
"Ow! Getoffme!" Donny twisted and put a hand on the new puncture on his neck and the rat fell, hissing. It bit at his ankles out of pure spite then took off into the darkness. "Raph!"
Raphael had scouted halfway up the length of the next sewer and came running back at Donny's shout. He stopped short two feet from his brother, "Where's the rat?" His voice was strange – deathly calm. And when Raph was calm, something was most definitely wrong.
"He bit me," Donny was surprised to find that he was on the verge of tears. They were only twelve years old after all, and he was cold and hungry and his neck hurt, but mostly he was thinking of Mikey, crying for Leo not to leave him as he lay dying on the floor of the lair from something as simple and stupid as malnutrition. "I thought he was dead!"
"You just let him go? We needed that rat, Donny! We need food!"
"I know! We'll just have to track the pack again!"
"I'm too hungry to do that!" Raphael shouted, the words echoing back to him, an admittance of his guilt.
Donatello looked at him imploringly, "Well, we have to do something! Mikey -"
Raphael lashed out then, poking Donny's chest, "What happens to Mikey is all on you now!"
"What about you?" Donny yelled right back, "It was your sai that was supposed to kill the rat!"
Raphael hit him then. Later, he would go to Leonardo in the quiet of the night in his older brother's room and talk to the leader in the darkness. He'd tell Leo that he couldn't help it, that something red and twisted and angry came out of him. And that was true, but it was also true that even as his fist was connecting with Donny's beak he saw the look of incredulity on Donny's face, as if his brother didn't believe, even at that moment, that Raphael would ever hurt him.
"Raphael was the one to knock out Donny's tooth?"
April was looking at Raphael, appalled, and Donny jumped in, "Well, technically the cement tunnel knocked out my tooth."
"Still…I know you're a hot head Raph but that…"
"Whatever you're about to say, April, we've already said it." Leo said, looking at Raphael who wasn't looking at anybody, just staring at the floor, his eyes distant and sad. Leo still remembered later that night, when Donatello was watching over a very sick Mikey and Raph came into his room crying. It was the first time Leo had seen Raphael cry in years.
"This is dumb," Mikey said, annoyed, "I can't tell any part of this story."
"Well, if you weren't such a baby maybe you wouldn't have tried to die from the common cold."
Leo and Mikey argued back and forth for a bit and April watched them, amused and distracted. Raphael slid closer to Donny, who was staring at his half-finished robot as if he didn't know where to go with the current design. "I'm…I really am sorry, Donny. I was sorry right after it happened."
Donatello looked up at him, his face completely blank. After a second he offered Raphael a small smile, the gap where his tooth was supposed to be seeming very obvious in the expression, "I know Raph. It's okay. We were all having a bad day."
It wasn't okay, and Raphael wanted to tell him that. It wasn't okay that Donny had become his punching bag, his way to vent his frustrations. It wasn't okay that Donny forgave him so easily. But he couldn't say any of that, so he just said, "Come on, there's not much left to the story. Let's get it over with."
Donny blinked, his vision focusing until Raph's face came into view. They just stared at each other for a few seconds before Raph asked, his voice rough, "You okay?"
Without thinking, Donny nodded. His mouth felt strange and he tried to speak. He cleared his throat and spit onto the cold cement. Blood, and a single hard object, splattered on the ground. Donatello stared at his tooth, looking very white in the darkness, and then looked up at Raphael, "Did you hit me?"
Raphael looked like he was trying to remember how an apology went and couldn't quite recall the words. So he just closed his eyes and nodded slowly, "I just…I was so mad about losing the food for Mikey."
"You hit me," Donny repeated, a note of hysteria entering his voice. That wasn't new. Donny was prone to hysteria, but usually Leo or Mikey was there to ground him, to calm him down. "You hit me so hard I blacked out for a second. You hit me so hard I lost a tooth."
Raphael put a hand on his shoulder and it took Donny a second to realize he himself wasn't shaking, that the shaking was all from Raph, "We need to go. That rat is getting away."
"Is that all you have to say to me?" Donny asked, sounding so hurt and confused and tired, exhausted. Raphael was tired to. He promised himself that after Mikey wasn't dying and after they ate and slept for real he'd make it up to Donny, would actually apologize, would actually sit down and talk to his brother.
After this was all over, he'd make the time to be a better person.
"Can you put your tooth back in?"
Donatello, looked at the tooth in the blood and laughed without mirth, "I could. If you lost your tooth I could put it back in for you. But none of you know how to do it and you can't exactly do dentistry on yourself."
"It'll be too late." Donatello stood up. He was dizzier than ever and fell against the wall. Raph made a movement as if to help him but Donny jerked away, breathing hard. "You really have nothing to say to me?"
Raphael looked at his feet, "I don't know why I hit you. I…it came out of nowhere. I'm…God Donny, I'm just so scared. I don't know what's wrong with me. I don't know how to fix this."
Donny was about to say something when there was a shout at the end of the hall, "Raph! Donny!"
The sound of Leonardo's voice made them both start running. "Leo! Leo!" The three brothers met up at the intersection of five tunnels. Leo was breathing hard, his blue bandana shining strangely in the green light. "What happened?" Donny asked, trying to think of a reason for Leo to leave their other brother, "Is it Mikey? Did he get worse?"
Leo's hands were on his knees and he was gasping for breath. They were all three tired and hungry, and they'd later realize that Leo had caught the same cold Mikey had, though to a much lesser degree. Eventually Raphael growled, "Damnit, Leo! Is Mikey okay?"
"He's…he's no worse." Leo said, gasping, "Master Splinter is back. He found food. Lots of food."
It was better news than they could have hoped for. Raphael laughed and hugged Leo, letting him go quickly when he realized what he did. Leo smiled tiredly and looked at Donny, who just grinned back at him. "Donny? What happened to your face?"
Raphael looked at Donny. In the light of the five tunnels you could see the beginnings of a bad bruise. Blood still poured out of Donatello's mouth…and his tooth…
Donny put a hand over his mouth, but it was too late. "How bad are you hurt?" Leo demanded, dragging Donny's hand away, "It looks like you were hit by something. Was there someone else down here?"
Donatello looked at Raph and in that instant Leo's eyes narrowed and he rounded on the red-clad turtle. "No way. Did you hurt him, Raphael?"
Raph had the decency to look away and Donny said, quickly, "Leo, it's not so bad." The fact that he had to spit more blood out of his mouth didn't help his point, and Leonardo shook his head, his eyes narrowing.
The next moment he'd slammed Raphael against a wall. Raph didn't even look like he was going to fight back. "Stop!" Donny said, sounding anxious, "Come on, we need to get back to Mikey! What if he wakes up and wonders where we are?"
Leo stopped then, because when he left and let go of Mikey's hand his baby brother (he'd always be the baby) had screamed for him, screamed like he was in pain, and though Master Splinter was there Mikey was still crying when Leo flew out of the lair. "He hurt you, Donny!"
"I know," Donny said quietly, "But we need to get back to Mikey now. Come on Leo…"
Leo let Raphael down but kept his eyes on him, "What do you want to tell Master Splinter, Donny? He's going to ask how you got hurt."
Donny shrugged, "I'll tell him it happened in a fight. I'm not going to tell him about Raphael." Donny made sure to catch Raphael's eye when he said the words, "But Raph has to tell Mikey the truth when he gets better."
Raph blanched at that and Leo nodded. Making Raphael tell excitable, innocent Michelangelo that he'd hit the most docile of them out of pure anger was the best punishment. "We should get back before Mikey eats all the food."
"Let me just get my radar. It worked pretty well actually, just have to make a few minor adjustments to the range…" Donny continued to talk to himself even as he hurried out of sight back down the tunnel he'd come from.
His short disappearance gave Raphael enough time to turn to Leo and say, imploringly, seriously, "It won't happen again, Leo. I swear. I don't know…I don't know why I did it. I just got so mad."
Leo put up a hand to stop Raphael. He made sure Raph met his eyes so they were staring at each other when Leonardo said, "You hurt one of them again and I'll kill you."
The room was silent at the end of Leo's account. April broke it, "What happened with Mikey?"
"By the time we got back he'd eaten an entire pizza," Donny said, rolling his eyes.
"Hey! I was actually sick for a long time!"
"Well, yeah, which meant you got more food than the rest of us. I still think the whole illness thing was a ploy to get all the food," Raphael huffed.
April's looked over at Raphael's plastron, "But how'd you get the scars?"
The turtles laughed at that, "Donny packs a mean punch, and Leo wasn't as forgiving as he sounded." April looked shocked and Raphael laughed, "You know how it is April – you punch each other a few times to clear the air. We were good after they took me out during practice. If there's anywhere to settle a grudge, it's the dojo."
"I'm pretty sure Master Splinter wouldn't agree with you," Leonardo said, frowning.
April smiled a little, but still looked confused, "So…that's it? Mikey got sick and you tried to find food and it got away and Raph hit Donny and it's…it's all good?"
Donatello let out a short laugh and shrugged, "We're brothers, April. If we don't look out for each other no one else will."
April nodded and, unexpectedly, threw her arms around Donatello's neck. His expression was so surprised, so happy, that the other three turtles refrained from even teasing him. Finally letting go of him, April looked around at all the brothers, "I'm so sorry you guys had to starve when you were little. You're heroes. I can't offer much, but I can promise you'll never be hungry again."
Michelangelo laughed, "Never underestimate the power of a good meal, April. We're holding you to that promise." Mikey looked around at his brothers, at April, and smiled widely, "Now does anyone want to play a board game? We can play Clue!"
"You cheat at Clue!" Raphael growled, but he was already standing up to get the game.
"He cheats at everything," Leo pointed out fairly.
April turned to Donny as they gravitated towards the table, "So that's the whole story?"
Donny looked at her, puzzled. "The whole story? Of our existence? Of course not. We spent fourteen years not being able to go above ground. We had a lot of adventures."
April was quiet for a moment, then said, "Maybe you can tell me some more adventure stories. I think I'm going to stick around here for a while."
"Yeah. Someone has to bring the pizza."
yeah, we've loved TMNT in every incarnation since we were about five, but the 2012 series is one of the best by far. if you haven't seen it yet get caught up, if you have...well, here's a one-shot for you. if y'all like it enough, maybe it'll be a series of one-shots. either way, thoughts about this story, or life, the universe, and everything else, are much appreciated.