When Leo finally leaves his father’s room, his adrenaline high is officially gone, and he could sink to the floor right outside Splinter’s door and pass out. He lingers there, resting his head against Splinter’s door and breathing the sigh of relief he’s been stalling for hours now—the kind he would never consciously show in front of his brothers.
They were so close. Too close. To dying, to losing their sensei, to letting Shredder and Sacks kill an untold number of people. They made it by a hair—that’s how it feels to Leo, however self-assured he might act about the situation in front of his family. He’s never known terror like the kind he felt today. Beforehand, he believed—arrogantly, he realizes now—that he was prepared for any battle that might come his way. Emotionally and mentally capable of handling it.
But Leo was scared shitless for most of this ordeal with the Shredder and the Foot. He was scared of his father’s death during the raid on the lair. He was terrified when the Foot forced him and Donnie and Mikey into the back of that van, with Raphael presumed dead. He was scared—although resigned—when he was locked up in that glass pod, with the life draining out of him. When he and his brothers rode that elevator to the top of Sacks Tower to fight the Shredder, the animal part of Leo wanted to turn tail and run so badly, it took every ounce of his willpower to resist the impulse. And when he and his brothers and April were falling to their narrowly avoided deaths….. He felt a rush of fear before his acceptance of death that made the whole descent seem almost surreal. It was the rawest emotion he’s ever experienced, that fear of imminent death. For those seconds or minutes that he was falling with the tower, he had absolutely no control over anything. So much of his ninja training has been about self-control, mastering his emotions, taming his mind. But in the end, none of it mattered. Not when it came to dying.
He’s going to need time to process all of that. Right now, he’s too exhausted to feel much of anything besides relief, but he can sense how shaken he is underneath all that exhaustion. He doesn’t know how he’s going to deal with it in the coming days and weeks, but he’ll have to worry about it later.
Leo finally turns and heads for the med-bay, where his brothers are waiting for him. What he really wants to do is go collapse on his bed and sleep for twelve hours, but he needs to make sure his brothers are physically okay. The first thing Donnie did after successfully giving Splinter the last of the mutagen was administer blood transfusions to Leo, Mikey, and himself, using their own blood that he kept in storage for exactly this kind of situation. That made the three of them feel a little better—took away the light-headedness and weakness at least—but they were all still hurt. Raphael most of all.
He sags against the doorframe when he reaches the room, fighting to stay upright and keep his eyes open.
Donnie sees him first, standing behind a seated Raphael. The shift of his eyes from Raph’s shell to Leo in the doorway is so slight, but Mikey sees it and turns his head toward Leo. Raph looks up and meets Leo’s gaze too.
“How is he?” the red-banded turtle says, obviously referring to Splinter.
“Asleep,” Leo replies. “I’ll set an alarm and check on him at least once before morning.”
“He’ll be fine, Leo,” says Donnie, his voice gentle in that way of his. “Really. None of his injuries could cause him to suddenly die in his sleep. So you shouldn’t sacrifice any of yours tonight.”
Leo doesn’t respond, knowing he’s going to set that alarm anyway. He shuts his eyes just for a second, then opens them again because if he leaves them closed too long, he’ll fall asleep.
“Come here, Fearless,” Raph says.
Leo drags his feet as he crosses the room to his brothers, stopping right in front of Raph and looking around him for the right spot to park himself. Mikey’s sitting in a chair he must’ve dragged in here from someplace else, leaning his folded arms on the top of the seat back and doing his best not to fall asleep too. His baby blue eyes track Leo, then slide over to Donnie.
“Dude, you gotta check him out too,” Mikey says to his purple-banded brother. “Shred Head hit him pretty hard when we were holding up the tower.”
“I’m fine,” says Leo, because he doesn’t want to keep Donnie awake any longer than necessary.
“Mikey’s right,” Donnie replies, concentrating on Raphael’s carapace. “You can’t be the only one who waits ‘til morning.”
Leo sighs. “Where do you want me?” he says to Raphael.
“Just sit on the floor here,” Raph says, pointing right below him.
Leo sinks to the concrete like a sack of stones. Sitting definitely feels better than standing.
It occurs to Leo then that Raphael’s looking as awake and alert as he is because he didn’t go through the whole blood loss/adrenaline surge thing like the rest of them. Though he fought hard today too and sustained the most serious injury.
Leo suddenly slumps forward and lays his head on Raphael’s knee. “Fuck,” he whispers.
Raphael makes a noise that sounds like an aborted chuckle in the back of his throat. “That’s a good word for it,” he says.
“Dude,” says Mikey, in a flat tone.
They all know what he means.
Raphael lays his hand on the back of Leo’s head. “You all right?” he says.
Leo takes a breath, about to say yes, but the next moment, his eyes well up with tears. He holds them back, determined to stay in control of this one small thing at least. “No,” he says, his voice sounding clawed up.
“Of course you’re not,” says Donnie, continuing to work on Raphael’s shell. “None of us are. But we will be.”
Raphael strokes Leo’s head, and the touch is so comforting, it keeps the lump in Leo’s throat. He almost wants to cling to Raph’s leg like a child. He hasn’t even had time or energy to process his brother’s speech yet, and that’s a whole other bundle of emotions he’s not sure he can handle, waiting for him.
“Dudes,” Mikey says, eyes half-lidded. He swivels his chair back and forth just a little, probably to keep him awake. “We are so sleeping in a turtle pile tonight. I don’t care what any of you think.”
None of his brothers object. None of them want to be alone now.
They stay together in silence for who knows how long—a few minutes or several seconds—until Raphael sucks in a loud, hissing breath.
“Sorry,” Donatello says, rubbing Raph’s carapace a little. “You’re handling this like a badass.”
“That’s because I am a badass,” says Raphael, not missing a beat.
Leo looks up at him, forcing Raph’s hand to slide down to cup his neck. “You okay?” Leo says. “Need me to give you something to grip?”
“I’m just cleaning out the big crack,” Donatello explains. “Almost done.”
Leo figured as much, by the sound of metallic clinking that could only be Donnie dropping pieces of debris he picked out of Raph’s shell into a steel dish.
Leo hasn’t even had time to process that he almost watched Raphael get crushed to death by the Shredder. He doesn’t know why the asshole stopped short of destroying his brother, why Saki didn’t make sure that Raphael was dead. He just remembers that in those moments, when he was fading out, when he didn’t have enough energy or life in him to feel the sheer horror he should’ve felt at watching his brother’s murder, he felt the most profound despair he’s ever experienced. He was powerless. All the relief he’d felt the moment Raphael appeared before him and said his name evaporated once it became clear that his brother was no match for the Shredder on his own.
“I’m sorry,” Leo whispers, still looking up at Raphael, one hand on his brother’s knee. The second time he’s apologized tonight.
Raphael’s own eyes widen a little, pupils dilating and constricting. “For what?” he says, his voice almost as gentle as Donnie’s.
“For everything. For almost getting you killed in the fan room. For leaving you behind. For not being able to save you at the Sacks place. For riding you so damn hard all the time. Raphie, I’m sorry.”
Leo can feel the tears brimming in his eyes again, but he doesn’t let a single one drop.
Raphael’s face softens, his hand on the back of Leo’s neck pressing against the flesh a little. “Get up,” he says.
Leo hesitates only because it feels like standing will drain the last of his strength. But he does it, pushing himself up with his hand braced on Raphael’s knee. Once he’s up, his legs weak underneath him, Raphael raises his hands to cup his cheeks, and Leo closes his eyes, tears spilling down his face at last because that gesture is one of the tenderest to the turtles for reasons they don’t understand.
“Look at me,” Raphael says.
Leo cracks his eyes open and looks at his brother.
“None of that shit was your fault. You didn’t do anything wrong.”
Leo scoffs and looks away for a second.
But Raphael’s hands are firm on his face.
“You tried your hardest. I know you did. You would’ve helped me if you could’ve. You think I blame you for being chained up in that fucking monster’s cage?”
Leo just looks at him with watery eyes and doesn’t answer, grimacing. He blames himself, and that’s enough.
“I’m the one who should be sorry,” Raphael says. “For not being good enough to kick Shredder’s ass and save the three of you.”
“None of us could’ve defeated him alone,” Leo replies. “And I don’t blame you for losing, Raph. I’m just glad—I’m so fucking glad he didn’t kill you.”
Another tear slips out of Leo’s eye, onto Raphael’s hand.
“Me too,” Donatello says quietly, behind Raphael. His own eyes are glassy now, his voice brittle.
“Me three,” says Mikey, wiping the tears off his face and sniffing.
“I need to disinfect the wound now,” Donnie says.
Raphael’s hands drop from Leo’s face and he adjusts himself on the stool.
“All right, Fearless,” he says. “This is the part I need you for.”
Leo opens his arms and Raphael wraps his own around his brother, leaning his weight against Leo with his face in Leo’s plastron. Leo folds his arms around Raphael’s neck. His eyes meet Donnie’s. He can see the ugly crack splitting Raphael’s carapace in two, and he could watch the rubbing alcohol run through it if he wanted.
“I’ve got you,” Leo says. “Squeeze as hard as you want.”
Donnie nods at him. “Take a deep breath, Raph.”
Raphael obeys, breathing into his diaphragm the way Sensei taught them and breathing out.
Mikey gets up from his chair finally and goes to Donnie’s side, laying his hand on Donnie’s own carapace. The youngest turtle is still weepy, but he could see the way Donnie’s hands started to tremble. Out of the four of them, Donnie’s the one who has the hardest time inflicting pain on his brothers.
“One,” Donnie says. “Two.”
He doesn’t say three, just starts to pour the alcohol into the crack where it begins near the top of Raphael’s carapace.
Raphael turns his face into Leo’s plastron to muffle his moan and curses, squeezing his brother in a crushing embrace.
The alcohol runs off into a large plastic container Donnie placed on the floor, tinged pink with Raphael’s blood.
Leo closes his eyes, not wanting to watch the source of his brother’s agony. “I’ve got you,” he murmurs, holding Raphael close by the neck. “It’ll be over soon. You’re strong. The strongest turtle here. Just a little longer. Keep breathing. It’ll be okay. I’m here.”
“Done!” says Donatello, taking a step back from Raphael and tossing the now empty bottle of alcohol onto the table.
Leo opens his eyes and sees Donnie’s face covered in a sheen of sweat, his relief and exhaustion tinged with guilt. Mikey steps in closer to Donnie to wrap his arm around his brother for a moment. They lean their heads against each other’s, and Donnie looks at the crack in Raphael’s shell with bloodshot, glistening eyes.
“You did great, bro,” Mikey says.
And Leo doesn’t know if he’s saying it to Don or Raph. Probably both.
Leo pets the back of Raphael’s head that’s still pressed to his plastron. “Raphie. You still with us?”
Raphael lifts his face up, panting like he’s just run a few miles. “Holy shit,” he says. His eyes are wet, and now he looks almost as drained as his brothers.
“I’m sorry, I had to,” says Donnie, laying his hand on Raphael’s carapace.
“I know. It’s okay. Just give me a minute.”
Leo continues to hold Raphael, until his tough guy brother slowly straightens away from him. Raphael takes Leo by the shoulders, anticipating the next step in Donnie’s process, and Leo rests his own hands on Raph’s thighs, near the knees.
“All right,” Raph says. “Ready when you are, Don.”
Donnie steps back up to Raphael, Mikey’s arm sliding off him but the youngest turtle staying close. He reaches for a tool on the table next to him and takes a few breaths to steady himself.
“I’m going to fill the crack with something called glass ionomer, which should heal you up pretty nicely, but first, I gotta make a groove in the shell near the crack. It shouldn’t hurt, but it might feel uncomfortable. And this is going to be loud,” he says.
“You need water, bro?” Mikey says to Don.
Mikey fetches a bottled water out of Donatello’s mini-fridge, and the tallest turtle drinks almost all of it before putting it down on the table.
“Okay. Raph, I need you to hold still the way you do in stealth training,” Donnie says. “Please.”
Raphael sits up as straight as he can, hands on Leo’s shoulders, and grows still.
Donnie switches on the drill—a large replica of a human dental drill fit for different burrs that he built specifically for shell repair—and starts to carefully create the groove near the surface of Raphael’s carapace along one side of the crack. He’s got his headband light switched on. He carves as quickly as he can without sacrificing precision, almost more nervous that he was before applying the alcohol to the wound. He doesn’t want to cause his brother any more pain.
Mikey rolls his chair up closer to his brothers and sits down again, watching Donnie work closely. He’s unusually quiet, not just because his brain’s running on fumes but also because he doesn’t want to distract Donnie for this part. Suddenly, a flash of memory comes to Mikey: the first time Donnie ever stitched a wound for one of them. Splinter used to tend to the turtles’ injuries when they were children, but eventually, Donnie took it upon himself to become the family doctor. That first stitch job, he was thirteen—two years ago that feels more like a decade—and the wound belonged to Leo, who’d cut his wrist with his own sword in a training accident. Donnie didn’t have any local anesthesia back then, but Leo never did more than whimper with pursed lips as Donnie stitched the wound. Donnie started to cry before he was even finished, his hands bloody. But he finished successfully. Mikey remembers how pained Donnie looked then, all because he knew how much pain he was inflicting on Leo. And Leo? He didn’t say a word until the work was done, but his face was clear to Mikey: all he wanted was to comfort his brother. He just couldn’t open his mouth as long as Donnie threaded that wire through his tough skin, or he would cry out.
After ten minutes, Donnie puts the drill down with a sigh and switches off his headband light. His shoulders relax once he stands up straight again, and he wipes his brow with the back of his hand. He’s not trembling as much now as he was minutes earlier, but Mikey can see a tremor here and there. Mikey grimaces in empathy. Donnie’s totally spent in a way he’s never been before. They all are.
Donnie picks up another tool now, the ionomer applicator. It looks similar to a baker’s icing tube but with an electrical wire attached. “I’m going to fill the grooves now,” he says. “Then I’ll tape you up, and we’re done.”
The ionomer applicator doesn’t make any noise, and the turtles remain silent as Donnie uses it. Once he’s finished, he starts to apply medical grade tape to his brother’s shell, shakier now but just as precise as he always is. Fortunately, none of Raphael’s shell came loose, so it’s a simple tape job right down the big crack that’s near the center of the carapace. Donnie also tapes up the smaller fractures in the shell that branch off from the crack.
“I was really fucking scared the Shredder was going to kill you, Leo,” Raphael says, looking straight into his big brother’s eyes. “When he was coming for you before April distracted him.”
“I know,” Leo says, his voice hushed.
“If April hadn’t shown up when she did, we would’ve let go of the spire to save you,” Mikey tells him.
“People would’ve died. A lot of people.”
“The way you felt watching the Shredder almost crush Raph,” Donnie says. “That’s how we would’ve felt watching him kill you.”
Leo allows that to sink in, knowing his brothers love him as much as he loves them but not often feeling it or paying attention to it.
Donatello lets out a sigh of relief at last. “It’s over, Raph,” he says. “You should be good now.”
“Thank god,” says Raphael, his body immediately collapsing into a slouch. His hands slip off Leo’s shoulders.
“You’re out of fighting commission for several weeks, and that’s an order.”
“Whatever you say, Don. Fuck, I never want to do this again.”
“We’ll have to keep flushing the wound with saline solution until it starts to close up,” Donnie says. “But that won’t hurt like this did. And you’ll need to take antibiotics for a couple weeks. And you can’t get your carapace wet as long as the cracks are open, so it’s sponge baths for a while.”
Mikey gets up again and guides Donnie into his chair, handing him the near-empty water bottle to finish off. Mikey moves to stand behind Donnie and grips his shoulders, massaging them a little. Donnie takes off his glasses and wipes at his eyes, then puts the glasses on again.
Raphael turns around on the stool to face Donnie, rests his hands on Donnie’s knees and gives him a slight bow. “Thanks,” he says, earnest eyes catching his brother’s.
Donnie nods, emotion surging up through him. “I, uh…. I was…. I mean, when I thought you were gone earlier, I just….”
“Don,” Raphael says in his gentlest voice.
Finally, Donnie’s face crumples and he starts to cry, making hardly any noise at all. He takes his glasses off again and sets them on the table.
“Aw, man,” Raph says. “Come here, bro.”
He stands up to gather Donatello in his arms, and Donnie lets out a sob as soon as his head hits Raph’s plastron. He does his best not to make more noise after that except for sniffing, but his shoulders are quaking. Mikey’s standing there just behind him, looking from Raphael and Leo behind him to Donnie and back again, tears welling up in his own eyes again.
“It’s okay,” Raphael tells Donnie as he holds him. And maybe he’s telling the others too. “I’ll live to gripe at you another day.”
Donnie shudders, tears streaming down his face and wetting Raph’s shell.
“Let it out, Don,” Raph says. “It’s all right. I ain’t judging you.”
Donnie stretches out his left arm where it’s pinned against Raph’s side to reach for Leo, who’s looking as forlorn behind Raphael as Mikey does behind Don. Leo goes to him, grabbing Donnie’s hand in his own and throwing his other arm around Raph’s neck. He leans his head against the edge of Raphael’s shoulder.
“Get in here, Mike,” Raph says, his voice rough.
Mikey moves to press himself against Donnie’s carapace like a magnet, laying his arm against Donnie’s with his hand on his brother’s shoulder. Raphael cups his hand over the back of Mikey’s head where it rests against Donnie’s. Mikey’s other arm snakes around Donnie’s waist.
The four of them stay like that for a long time. Leo, Donnie, and Mikey weeping. Raph tipping his head back to look at the ceiling and breathe.
“I never got to say my last words,” Leo says after a couple minutes, his voice broken. “So I’ll say them now. It’s an honor to be your brother. It’s an honor to fight alongside you. I love you.”
Raph turns his head toward Leo to see as much of his face as he can, finally feeling his own eyes grow misty and his throat tighten. He doesn’t want to let go of his other brothers yet, so he just rubs his cheek against Leo’s head.
Mikey looks up at Leo as soon the eldest turtle says the first of his three parting statements, each one going straight to his heart like an arrow.
Donnie squeezes Leo’s hand so hard, it hurts, and turns his face into Raphael’s carapace to stifle another sob.
Raphael gives it a minute or two, before finally letting go of Donnie and turning to hug Leo with all the fierceness he’s got left in him. Red and Blue hold each other with their eyes closed.
“The honor is mine,” Raphael murmurs to Leo.
Leo chokes up but doesn’t respond, not letting go of his brother until Raphael breaks the embrace.
Leo then goes straight for Donnie, who’s sitting in the chair with Mikey draped around his back. Donnie opens his arms to Leo before Leo reaches him, and they clutch at each other with the tenderness they’ve always had for each other in particular.
Meanwhile, Mikey goes to hug Raph, who holds onto him and watches his other brothers. Mikey’s quiet in Raphael’s arms, just as relieved as his other brothers that the red-banded turtle is still alive.
“We didn’t mean to leave you behind, Raphie,” he says. “Don’t think that we—”
“I know,” Raph replies, rubbing Mikey’s carapace a little.
“We love you back, you know? And we need you, Raph. If you left us for real, I’d never stop missing you.”
Raphael wraps his arms tighter around Mikey, biting his lip to keep from getting weepy again.
Donnie stands up, Leo’s arms still around him, and presses his brow to Leo’s. He grips Leo’s biceps in his hands. They make eye contact, close enough that each other’s eyes are all they can see.
“I love you, Leo,” Donnie whispers.
Leo smiles at him, his lips wobbling.
“I can’t lose you,” Donnie says, voice a little stronger. “I can’t lose any of you. If I do, I….”
“I know,” says Leo. “Me too. But you didn’t lose us, Don. We’re here.”
Leo pulls his arms back from around Donnie’s shell and lifts his hands to his brother’s face. He rubs his thumbs over Donnie’s cheeks, holding his gaze and doing his best to look at Donnie with as much love and reassurance as he can.
Once Leo steps back from Don, Mikey leaves Raphael to go to the blue-banded turtle. Leo sweeps his baby brother into his arms, and Mikey hugs him back with equal gusto.
“I love you back, dude,” Mikey says to his oldest brother. “You know I do. If you died, I’d never get over it, okay? So, don’t.”
Leo plants a kiss on Mikey’s head, taking the words to heart and letting himself feel touched.
“Guys,” Donnie starts, putting his glasses back on. “I think we’re going to have to put off the rest of your patching up until tomorrow after all. I don’t think I can concentrate anymore. I need sleep.”
Leo looks over at him, arms still around Mikey’s neck. “It’s okay. We can wait. Can you?”
“Let’s go to bed then,” says Raph. “Living room.”
They use the last of their energy to drag a bunch of futons, blankets, and pillows to the living room floor and pass out in turtle heap.
When Leo wakes up eight hours later, he lies still for a long time, not wanting to leave the warmth and the scent and the weight of his brothers. He listens to them breathing, takes his own deep breath.
He is not the same person he was before—but as long as he’s got Donnie, Raph, and Mikey with him, he’ll survive.