The first time one of the brothers is injured in a fight, they spend the night reflecting on what was...and the dread of what could have been.
They'd never seen it coming. Not once. Not like this at least. It had been too much all at once it seemed: the fight, moving, trying to keep track of the movements of their opponents, while still keeping an eye on one's brothers. It was a lot to manage, and it seemed overwhelming. Sometimes it was, but they managed to get through it. If not completely unscathed, there were never any injuries that went beyond limping home with a few bumps and bruises, a scrape here and there, or a goose egg growing out of the side of a cranium or two.
But tonight was an exception.
All so fast....it had come and gone...and they were left standing there....staring at their youngest brother lying limp on the ground a few stories below them. At first no one had moved, and then in a mad rush they had scurried down to meet him, each with their hearts pounding heavily in their heads. For one moment...
...well, no one wanted to go there.
Raphael had had to carry Michelangelo home on his back, because once he had regained consciousness Mikey barely had any idea of who or where he was. Of course, by the time they had reached the security of the sewer system he had passed out completely, much to the concern of his brothers. In due time they made it back to the lair where Mikey was placed on the couch. Don and Raph immediately began to tend to his wounds while Leo informed Master Splinter of what happened.
By the time their sensei had come to see his youngest 'son', the others had finished bandaging his wounds and were now setting him up for a night on the sofa. At which point, Leo hesitantly explained all that he could understand of the situation to Master Splinter.
The guilt was evident in his face and eyes, as it was in Raphael's and Donatello's. Their younger brother had been hurt. Badly. And they hadn't been there to help him...too distracted by their surroundings, they had failed at the most important mission they had: to keep each other safe.
"I'm sorry, sensei." Leo uttered these words with a steady conviction in his voice. He seemed to be expecting punishment, or a lecture. He Maybe even wanted one, something to help alleviate the guilt that bore him down. This was made evident after the statement he made to Master Splinter and before his brothers, two words that he never said easily, or happily, and yet tonight they flowed from his mouth like blood from the wound: "I failed."
Despite the situation, Master Splinter offered to his oldest son the kindest of smiles, and placed a hand upon his shoulder, grasping it gently.
"You have not failed, my son. Michelangelo is home, and will recover. You have all done well. Now, you all must also get some rest."
Slowly, each one of them made their way to their bedrooms. Leo and Donnie had it easy, however, Raphael could not help but feel the great absence in his room. Without his younger brother snoring away in the top bunk, he just didn't feel like he was where he should be. Muttering at himself, Raph tried rolling over and drowning out the sound that wasn't there by stuffing his pillow as far down his ear as possible.
It didn't work.
He slept for a while, but uneasily at best.
On the other side of the lair, Donnie lay awake staring at the ceiling, reliving the night, and the blame.
I was closest to him, he said, an incoherent mumbling that found no comfort from the darkness. "I should have been able to do something."
"Don't blame yourself." Came the response. Leo was in the bed beneath him, probably awake, doing the same thing he was doing but unable to admit it.
Donatello frowned slightly. There were a lot of things he could say to that statement, but decided against it.
"You're still awake?"
An obvious question, but it started a conversation.
A pause. Finally, Donnie sighed. "I'm worried."
"Mikey will be all right. Splinter said so."
"I know but...I'm still worried." Donnie waited a while, wondering what Leo might say that would bring him comfort. When no response came, he rolled over on his side and let his arm drop over. Leo mindlessly swatted at it, but paid little attention to much else. "Leo?....aren't you worried?"
"He's my brother too, Donnie."
Don sighed again and started staring off into the distant wall. No matter how hard he try, he couldn't erase the guilt in his mind. Michelangelo, the only little brother he had, lying face down in the dirt, wounded, with no one to help him. Where was I when he needed me? Donnie asked himself over and over again. Why didn't I pay more attention?
As if able to read his thoughts, Leo suddenly spoke up.
"Go to sleep Donnie. Mikey will be back to normal before you know it." There was a sound of rustling sheets, and Donnie knew that Leo had concluded this discussion and was now planning on trying to sleep the rest of the night off.
However, Donatello was not so lucky in the easing of his own worries. Every time he closed his eyes he saw someone getting hurt...someone...
He couldn't handle it. Donnie got up and left the room, closing the door gently behind him.
As he made his way down the stairs, he was careful not to let his footsteps be heard. Stealth was definitely Donnie's forte when it came to his ninjitsu talents, so that wasn't too hard. What was hard was fighting when it came to true physical strength or endurance...Donatello was no match against Raphael or Leo, and even Mikey exceeded him when it came to fighting in most areas. But that was not an acceptable feature when it came to using those skills to protecting those same brothers who more often bested him when it came to such things. What use was he if he couldn't protect the people he cared for when they needed him?
A perfect illustration, an example that swallowed all others, was his little brother Michelangelo, still lying in the position they had placed him on the couch, bandaged and bruised with a rather impressive knot newly blooming out of his skull from some blow he had received in the fight earlier that night.
Donnie sighed and stepped close to his brother's side.
He thought on each of his brother's in turn. Leo, their fearless leader. Raphael, the noble protector...Don, the brain, and Mikey....the one that was in a sense dearest to them all. He always seemed to step in when everyone else just wanted to give up, and offer that last bit of encouragement that they all needed to get going again. What would they have done if this night had taken that away? If not this night, then another night? Any one of them....they were a team...they couldn't function with a piece of the puzzle missing...any piece...no exceptions...
But, if that ever happened, they would have to adjust...they would have to learn to make up for the missing piece...in their team, in their life and in their heart.
But how do you do that if the person you lose is the heart of the team? How does one recover from that? If the heart is stopped, then the rest of the body is no longer able to function. Would that be what happened to them? Or would they overcome?
Donnie wasn't sure...but he also knew that he didn't want to find out. Not ever. He would die for his brothers of course, and he also knew that any of them would die for him at any given moment...but he never wanted to see it happen. The thought brought pangs to his heart...and he couldn't help but feel a tear trickle up into the ducts of his eyes, threatening to spill out onto his cheek. He quickly reached up to wipe it away, and sighed once more.
Michelangelo still hadn't moved.
"I'm sorry, little brother," he said with a sigh. "I promise I'll do better next time."
He sat there for a long time, unable to leave his brother alone out here in the darkness. Maybe it was his own unfounded fear, or the dread of dreams filled with losing those he loved and cared for, but Donatello could not find the strength to pull himself away from his brother's side.
~ ~ ~ ~
Raphael came down the stairs a few hours later. The lack of incessant snoring seemed to be more of a hindrance to his sleeping pattern than the presence of it now. A habit of sharing a room with Michelangelo he mused silently.
As he worked his way down to the foyer, he became increasingly aware of the lump on the couch in front of the TV. He sighed, knowing better than to believe he needed to worry much about Michelangelo...but...being a big brother left one to consider such things without really needing to. He did consider himself the protector of most of the group, even Leo at times, though he was the oldest of the four. That didn't mean even he didn't need someone watching his back from time to time though...that was where Raph felt he came in...and when it came to Don and Mikey well...he was always going to be there looking out for them...
...even though he hadn't been tonight.
Raphael sighed, hovering at the end of the sitting room and looking at the lump on the couch.
It hadn't been right...seeing his little brother like that. Mikey should have never gotten hurt. What had they been doing? I was closet to him. He thought to himself, still teetering at the end of the sitting room. He feared stepping closer. Seeing Mikey bandaged and helpless was...heart wrenching. This was his brother, after all, one of three he had sworn to himself to protect no matter the circumstances. Things like this weren't supposed to happen....people like Raphael didn't let them happen...
...but here he was...and here they were...and what was going to become of them if the worst had happened?
He had tried, he had tried so VERY hard not to think on it, but it had haunted every single dream he had had tonight. One brother, than another, all in his arms, all fading away from him, and he was unable to save them, to protect them...he wasn't able to do the only thing he was really good at...at least as far as he was truthfully concerned. He'd never admit it...but when it came down to it...
A form on the couch jerked suddenly. Raph's eyes darted up as a frown creased his face.
There was no response. He wasn't sure why he had expected one. Mikey was out cold, and probably would be until late tomorrow. But still...just checking on him wouldn't hurt.
Slowly Raphael made his way over to the couch...Mikey was still asleep, but what surprised him the most was that next to Mikey lay Donatello, also sleeping soundly. He was tucked between Michelangelo and the cushions in back, his head propped up against an extra pillow, and a brotherly, one armed embrace encircling his shoulder...for the first time Raph heard Don snoring, and he couldn't help but allow himself a wide grin.
"Guess I wasn't the only one worryin' then."
He immediately grabbed a few extra blankets and draped them over his two little brothers. He stopped at the other end of the couch where both of their feet were at. He lifted them up and tucked himself into the other end of the couch, smiling in amusement at the image Don and Mikey made. He contemplated grabbing Donnie's camera, but thought better of it. The flash would wake them up, and it wasn't really worth it.
~ ~ ~ ~
Donnie didn't usually snore while sleeping...but he wasn't completely silent while sleeping either. This struck Leo as being slightly odd while he lay awake in his own bed, having been suddenly and mysteriously awoken from a nightmare he was rather glad he hadn't continued experiencing.
Now lying on his shell, he stared up at the base of the top bunk and debated on checking on his younger brother.
Better not. He thought after a while. I might wake him up.
With nothing else to do, and for the first time in a long time, afraid of falling asleep for fear of what he might see, Leo began to float backward in time through the events of the day.
Maybe I shouldn't have brushed Mikey off earlier today when he questioned me about taking the north tunnels. He began to think. Maybe I shouldn't have put him down over that joke about the rat and the two pigeons? He began to feel guilty. Why didn't I tell him to be careful when he patrolled the lower levels of that complex we were in before? He began to fear.
What sort of leader had he been for his brothers today? What sort of brother had he been to Mikey? He had brushed him off, insulted him, and not shown any regard toward his safety...he had failed at his mission. He had failed at being a brother.
"I was closest to him." He said out loud. Why didn't I pay better attention? I should have been watching out for him! Leo bit his lip and sighed, trying to keep back his flowing emotions and regrets. What would they have done if this had turned out worse than it had? What if Mikey had been seriously injured?
What if they had lost him?
Leo closed his eyes tight, squeezing back the fears that threatened to break through. No, he couldn't think like that. Losing any of his brothers was not an option. It was not something he could allow to cross his mind, not ever, because losing one of them meant losing a piece of them all...and they would never be the team they were again.
Leo got up finally and peeked over the edge of the top bunk bed. He was slightly surprised to find that his brother was not there, but at the same time, maybe it wasn't. He probably went downstairs to check on Mikey. Considering at last that this may not be a bad idea, Leonardo made his way out onto the top walkway and downstairs into the foyer...what he saw was quite the scene.
All three of his brothers were asleep on the same couch. Mikey, still where they had left him, asleep silently, wrapped in his bandages and a newly acquired blanket. Donnie was next to him, head resting on a pillow and an arm draped over Mikey's shoulder protectively. At their feet lay Raphael, drooling and arched over where he sat, probably not far from bumping his nose into Donnie's knee if he ended up leaning over a few more inches too far.
A rapid smile made its way to Leo's face, and he was slightly jealous that there wasn't enough room on the couch for him to join in on the tightly knit slumber party. Instead, he settled himself down in the chair next to it after acquiring two more blankets, one for Raphael and one for himself. He curled up in the chair and smiled, watching his brothers sleep...thinking about how fortunate they were to have each other in the midst of everything.
As he sat there, Leo began to think back on what Master Splinter had told them so many years ago, when they had first started their mission to keep the streets of the city safe.
"You, Leonardo, you are the head: the leader. Raphael, you are the muscle: the strength. Donatello, you are the brain. And Michelangelo, you are the heart. A body cannot function without any of these things, so you must remember always to work together and stay together. Only then will you find your courage and your strength, your wisdom, and your passion."
Reflecting on this statement now, Leo realized just how true this was, but he wondered, just for a moment, if any of these were more crucial than another. Seeing his brothers now, here, swarmed around the youngest of them all, protecting and keeping a profound vigil, he began to debate on the precedence of the heart over all those other positions.
The head, of course, was obvious in the literal context. Without a head a body could not survive, not for long anyway. But if the head was damaged, if something happened, the body could still survive, though never the same again. Muscle kept the body moving, kept it strong and healthy. Without this, again, a body would not operate correctly, but it could still exist. The same for a brain. Leo had seen numerous news casts of people in comas whose brains were being ravished or were ravished. They were alive, but not the same still...without all of these things of course, a body could not correctly function, or maybe not function at all, though it was still there, for a time...living, breathing...alive.
But...the heart...if you took that away, the body died. Instantly. There were no "what if" or "could be" or "halfway". Without the heart, the body died.
Leo looked up. Don. Raph. They were all here. Watching out for Mikey. Making sure he would be okay throughout the rest of the night. Of course they loved him. He was their brother. But...maybe it was because they knew all of this as well. Mikey could hold them together, bring them back, make them see the bigger picture...even if he didn't understand the gift that he had...they knew he had it...and losing that would be like losing the heart of the body that made up their family. They wouldn't just be unable to operate fully anymore due to a missing piece in their structure. They would cease to exist. There would be no bridge, no ambassador when things became too much for the others. No face that smiled regardless of the situation, no light hearted voice that could still whip out a joke, however lame, even if the sky were raining down upon their heads. And sometimes, it almost was.
Perhaps it was brotherly love that caused the rest of them to worry, or the blame of not having been there. Maybe both, or maybe there were other matters entirely. But they were still together, and they were still a family. If they had nothing else, they had each other, and Leo was determined to fight for that every day if necessary.
They all were
Settling down in the arm chair for hopefully a more satisfactory night, Leo allowed one last glance at the sight before him.
He smiled and closed his eyes, pulling the blanket up over his chin.
None of them had ever had a more peaceful sleep.