Leonardo followed Donatello silently down the halls of the unfamiliar lair in silence. They stopped in front of a wide, gray door. Don turned to face him with a grave expression on his face. "Leo…"
The eldest turtle's face was filled with concern.
Don sighed and his shoulders drooped. He was mentally and physically exhausted. Raphael was finally stable. He'd gone out to tell his family that they could see Raph one at a time. Of course, everyone had agreed that Leonardo should go first.
Now though, Donnie was beginning to have second thoughts. Perhaps he should have let Leo go last because he knew that his older brother would not want to leave Raph's side. Not under these conditions. He sighed again. "Leo, it's not…whatever you're expecting, it's ten times worse."
Leo shuddered at his younger sibling's words, but nodded gratefully. Much as Don's words horrified him, he knew that they were for his benefit. If he was expecting the worst, he wouldn't be quite as shocked when he saw Raphael's current condition. Slowly Don slid the door open and stepped inside. Leo followed, his steps in sync with the brainiac's. He stopped short and his breath caught in his chest. "Raph…" He gasped. His step faltered and he had to grab the wall to keep from falling over.
Don shot a sympathetic look in Leo's direction as he watched his older brother's fearless façade crumple. He thought about going forward and letting Leo lean on him for support, but before he could act on it, his older brother had moved.
In the blink of an eye, Leo had shot forward. Laying his arms gently across Raphael's shoulders and laying his head softly against the injured turtle's chest, Leonardo wept.
Donatello was stunned to the point of inaction. Much as he wanted to comfort his brother during this difficult time, there was nothing he could do. His words would fall on deaf ears.
"Raph…" Leo sobbed, his watery eyes peering up at Raph's motionless face. A forest green hand cupped the side of the pale, emerald green cheek as he keened. "Raph! Why? Why did you do it? I know you wanted to protect me but…WHY?"
Finally, Donnie swallowed his own raging emotions and stepped forward to put a hand on Leo's shoulder. "Leo…" His throat closed up as he struggled to hold back tears. "L-Leo…I'll give you a few minutes if you want."
Leo nodded numbly, but before Donnie could walk out he called out meekly. "Donnie?"
The sullen, purple masked turtle turned lethargically towards him.
Leo spoke slowly. "Will he-will he be-"
"His injuries will heal, just like yours did after your confrontation with Shredder."
"When will he wake up?"
Don's face was gray and grim. "He may never wake again, Leo."
"No…he can't—he has to—" Leonardo swallowed and turned back to Raph's slack features. "Can he hear what we're saying?"
Don frowned. "Could you hear us while you were in the bathtub at the farmhouse?" He was expecting his older brother to be put-off by the bluntness of the question. Therefore he was surprised when Leo's expression turned into an intensely thoughtful frown.
"Sometimes, though I think it was mostly Raph…"
The brainiac had heard of people in a comatose states supposedly hearing what was going on around them, but he had never believed it to be possible. Though his scientific side told him it was implausible, all of Sensei's teachings regarding the power of the mind made him think that perhaps given the correct circumstances…
Don cut off that line of thought before it went too far. He sighed. There were still some things that Leo didn't know about their time at the farmhouse before he woke up. "April told you that Raph hardly left your side."
Don suddenly found himself unable to look anywhere but the ground. "Raph stayed by you day and night. He barely slept, he hardly ate, and he never came to us with his problems. Mikey and I constantly shared our feelings and doubts concerning Sensei and fate of the city, and your condition, but Raph, he never did."
Leo's muscles tensed as he realized where Donnie was going with this. "He talked to me."
Don nodded. "Yeah. Every time I caught him at it I told him that you couldn't hear him. But he wouldn't accept that. He insisted that you could and he refused to accept anything less. I eventually just gave up. I knew that it would be impossible to get through that thick skull of his."
"But he was right Donnie. I-I remember…he was telling me that Mikey had fallen from something and hurt his leg—"
"The hayloft." Don interrupted, his eyes wide. Leo raised an eye-ridge and Donnie went on. "Mikey fell down the ladder to the hayloft and hurt his leg. I was furious with him. He wasn't—"
"—supposed to be up there. That's what Raph said." Leo whispered softly.
Donatello was shocked.
Determination filled Leonardo's deep blue irises as he made direct eye contact with Donnie. "I'm going to talk to him, Don. Even if he can't hear me. I have to tell him—"
The purple-masked turtle nodded and he held up a hand. "I understand Leo. Do what you have to do. Come out when you're done."
Leo grinned appreciatively and Don returned the gesture with a strained smile before he left the room and closed the door behind him. Not long after, the only sound that echoed through the room was the steady beep of the heart monitor. It terrified Leo to see his younger sibling in such a state. All the tubes from the monitors and the respirator horrified him. His hands shook as he reached out to hold an emerald green hand in his. "Raph, I have no idea if you can hear me, but there are some things I have to say. I can't believe that you jumped in and took that hit for me. It was so horrific. I can honestly say that I'll never forget that moment for the rest of my life. I felt as though I'd been stabbed straight in the heart. Your scream…"
Leo's hands began to shake violently as fresh tears gathered at the corners of his eyes. "Seeing you in that much pain—It should have been me, Raph! It should have been me! You should have let her…UGH! Can't you understand? I'm the oldest and the leader! I'm the one who's supposed to protect you guys. But you always…You always get hurt. No matter what we do, you seem to the be the one who gets hurt the most. I can't stand that Raph. I hate that I can't protect you the way I protect the others. I've already failed you as a leader. And now I failed you as a brother. I should have seen that shot coming. I should have realized what she was doing. I should have known. I should have been able to see what she had in store for me. But I failed. I let my emotions blind me and you paid the price. I'm so sorry Raph." Tears slowly rolled down his cheeks.
"Raphael...Slash told me some things, some things that I never would have known otherwise. And I—I have to tell you this now. I-I don't have very many memories from our early years…" He paused, his grip on Raph's hand tightening a little. "But I remember back when we were eight. I know that we were really little, and that seems like so long ago now, but I remember the night you came into my room. It was past our bedtime and you woke me up."
"Leo, Leo! Wake up! Wake up!"
"Ugh…Raph it's the middle of the night! Go to your room and go to sleep!"
"No, I wanna show you somethin'!"
"Yeah! Come on, Leo! Wake up!"
"I'm already up, dumbshell! Now what did you want to show me?"
"I remember the way that you had to scramble to get up on my bed because your hands were full. You pushed the old, slightly battered cardboard box you were carrying onto my bed and I looked down at it. I can still remember how thrilled I was when I realized what was inside it. It was filled with scavenged toys. I'd never seen so many toys in one place before. And they were in better condition than most of the toys we found in the sewers."
"Whoa! These are awesome! Raph, where did you get these?!"
"I found them in the tunnels."
"WHAT?! You went into the tunnels alone?!"
"Shh! You're gonna wake Sensei!"
"Raph you're not supposed to do that, you'll get in trouble!"
"But look what I found Leo! Isn't it worth it?"
"You always were hard to argue with. Even at that age."
"Well…yeah, I guess so. Just take me with you next time. You know what Sensei says…
"Yeah, yeah, 'the outside world is not safe'
"Though I hate to admit it, even back then your Master Splinter impression was pretty good."
"Okay, Raph, okay. But if you found them why did you bring them here?"
"Well…um…don't you wanna play with me?"
"I can still remember how complete stunned I was. I could hardly believe that you had woken me up in the middle of the night to ask me to play with you. Looking back, I don't know why it was so surprising. You just wanted to spend some time with me. I was going to say no because we had early training the next morning, but the look on your face made me think twice. I'm so glad that I did. I didn't want to make you sad, and to be completely honest, I really wanted to play with the toys too. And since you were offering…"
"Okay. But just for a little bit and not too loud or Sensei will hear us."
"I never really did find out why you came to me that night, Raph. I wish I knew. But I do know one thing: we'll be having a lot more moments like that in the future. I know that we aren't children anymore and that perhaps we can no longer connect on that same level…but I love you little brother. And that's just the thing: we'll always be brothers, no matter how much we bicker and snap at each other. I'll always see you as the little brother I played with all those years ago. The little brother I care so much about. Please Raph, I want to restore the bond that we used to have. It's faded over the last couple years. I want to understand you again. But more than that, I need you to make it through this, Raphie. My sole goal has been to protect my three little brothers. You mean more to me than anything else. I can't lose you. You've got to make it through this, Raphael. You have to me that even though I failed, I haven't failed completely. I need you to fight through this, little brother, please. Because without you by my side…our family will never truly be whole again."
Leonardo squeezed Raph's hand firmly; the tears now cascading rapidly, and silently down his cheeks. He took a deep breath and finally peeled away. As he left the room his eyes never left the floor. He had to forcibly place one foot in front of the other to move forward. On the inside he was broken and torn. He wanted to stay by Raph's side until the hothead recovered, but he knew that there were others who were waiting to see the injured turtle.
When Leo returned the main room, Mona Lisa ran up to Donatello.
"Mona…are you sure? It's not easy seeing him…in his current state." Mona Lisa's tail lifted and her posture straightened warningly. Don held his hands up in surrender. "Alright. Alright. Follow me."
Michelangelo trotted rapidly over to his eldest brother worriedly. Leo had not said a word and his skin looked paler than it had when he'd left to go see Raph. Judging by the look on Slash's face, Mikey wasn't the only one who had noticed. Dark blue eyes expertly avoided Mikey's questing gaze. Briefly glancing around the room, Leo's eyes finally landed on the figure he was looking for. Without saying a word he steered around his youngest sibling and barreled straight into their Father, wrapping his arms around the old rat.
Splinter didn't even pause and embraced his son. He, too, had experienced difficulty seeing Raphael in such a state and he was not surprised by Leonardo's sudden need for reassurance. Though he was slightly stunned to see that the tears that streaked his eldest child's face. Splinter pulled his oldest son in close to his chest and listened intently as Leonardo finally began to speak.
"S-Sensei…it was so…s-s-so hard seeing him like that."
"I know, my son."
"I-I tried to talk to him. I t-told him…I told him that he has to fight through this. He just has to."
"He will, Leonardo, he will. He is strong."
"The strongest of us all." Mikey murmured, adding himself into the hug. "If anyone can fight through it…Raph can."
"Mikey…" Leo whispered, shifting to cling to his younger sibling.
Slash frowned. He was worried. The way that Splinter and Leo both seemed to be affected by seeing Raph…he had to see Raphael…He needed to…
But he knew that Raphael's family would want to see him first. With a light growl Slash turned his back on the turtles and their father, his fists clenching in frustration and helplessness. Someone put a large hand on his shoulder and he flinched. It was Leatherhead. "This has been a long and difficult time for you too, my friend. Perhaps you should get some rest."
Slash glared. "I can't rest until I've seen Raphael. Leonardo, Michelangelo, I know that you don't want to talk about it. But I need you to tell me everything about what happened to Raphael."
Leatherhead frowned. "Slash…This is hardly the time…"
"No. LH, it's fine." Leo said, straightening and wiping what was left of his tears away with the back of his hand. "You guys need to know. She was some kind of crazed scientist woman. We had returned to the research facility where we found Mona Lisa because we thought we might be able to get some information on who the scientists were that had hurt her and where she had come from. But unfortunately we tripped the alarms and they captured me. Briefly, that is. Raph came back and busted me out, even though I'd ordered him to leave without me and get to safety. We got down underground and the Shell Raiser broke down. We had to walk. And unfortunately, she followed us." Leo suddenly found himself unable to say any more. He choked a little, before looking to Michelangelo.
Mikey's muscles tensed so much that he began to shake. Leatherhead put a hand on the orange-masked turtle's shoulder and he smiled gratefully at his gator friend. "Thanks LH…Well, she followed us. And we led her to the tunnel junction so that we could surprise her. She said that she was going to get revenge on all 'mutant freaks' starting with the 'lizard who ruined her life.' She figured out that we knew who she was talking about and she started threatening us. Leo got real mad. When he was captured by those scientists they drugged him with something and so he wasn't at his best. She started threatening us even more, because she was trying to get Leo angry. Leo charged her, but Raph acted faster and pushed Leo out of the way just as she pulled out some kind of shock-gun thingy. The shot hit Raph and he screamed." Mikey suddenly found his voice growing heavy in his chest. "She threw Raph down into the water…"
Slash growled, his eyes filled with absolute fury. "I will make her pay." The turtles and the Mutanimals shuddered at the dark honesty in Slash's tone.
"I already did." All eyes were suddenly on Michelangelo.
Leonardo belatedly realized something else he had forgotten to relay to Master Splinter: Michelangelo's actions. But then, Mikey said something that shocked even him.
"But if you want to go in for seconds, I'm definitely going with. No one threatens my family and my friends. No one threatens my little sister. And no one, absolutely no one, hurts my big brothers. No one."
Once again the dark seriousness in Mikey's eyes made Leonardo shrink back. This side of his youngest brother was utterly terrifying. Cautiously, he put a hand on Mikey's shoulder. "Like I said then, Mikey. You did enough. Now she has to live the ultimate shame: life as a freak."
"She deserves worse, Leo."
Was that Mikey's voice? Leo asked himself, unable to believe that this was really his little brother standing before him, saying these things.
"What is the meaning of this, my sons?"
"I attacked her Sensei." Mikey stated evenly, looking their father directly in the eyes. "She tossed Raphael down the sewer pipes. We lost him and she was responsible for it. I attacked her. I used my kusarigama."
Sensei's eyes widened a little and his lips tightened into a tense line.
"I struck her in the face. She will never see out of her left eye again. An eye for an eye. She hurt Raphael."
"Given the circumstances Michelangelo, I cannot fault you. Had I been there I cannot say that I myself would not have taken drastic action. But you should have informed me before now."
There was a brief moment of silence before Michelangelo finally went on. "I wanted to kill her Sensei. I wanted to make her suffer. I tried to…"
"Death would have been too good for her Mikey. Let her live out her life in her own personal hell." Leo grumbled, angrily.
Mikey nodded numbly and an uncomfortable silence settled over them all as they waited. Slash's eyes glanced away from the turtles and down the hall towards Rockwell's lab. He frowned thoughtfully. Mona Lisa would probably be inside for a while.
But that was okay. Slash now had something else to focus his attention on: finding this 'scientist woman' and beating the shell out of her.