Smoke filled the lair from the tunnels just outside. Leo jumped from the upper level and started to run as soon as he reached the lower level. As he exited the lair Leo could hear Raph and Don clambering behind him.
He saw Splinter, frantic in his attempts to pull Mikey away from the fire and rushed to help. Mikey reeked of whisky and vomit and his hand was burned. Without hesitation, Leo lifted him and carried him back into the lair.
Donny glanced at Mikey as he ran past with Raph, carrying fire extinguishers. “Take him to my lab and get him cleaned off,” he ordered before disappearing around the corner.
Splinter hurried ahead of Leo and opened the door for him. Together they cleaned Mikey off and made sure that his airway was clear. Leo placed pillows under Mikey’s head and turned him onto his side while Splinter covered him with a blanket but left his burnt hand over the covers.
Leo was at the skink, cleaning himself off when Raph burst into the lab. “This is your fault!” He headed straight for Leo, fists clenched and ready to fight.
“Raph, stop,” Donny’s voice was toneless but firm as he grabbed Raph’s arm. “We have more important things to take care of now. It looks like Mikey drank a whole bottle of whisky. I need to get an IV in him and I won’t be able to work if you’re fighting Leo.” Letting go of Raph, Donny moved around his lab, gathering the things he would need while Raph stood glaring at Leo, seething in his rage.
Don was steady in his work, displaying a sense of urgency but he was completely calm. He was stoic as he administered the few precious drugs they had managed to get their hands on.
Mikey’s breathing was shallow and there was a tent of blue on his sea-green lips. Donny had placed a sticker thermometer across Mikey head and periodically glanced at it. “This isn’t good,” Donny mumbled as he worked. “His temperature is too low.” He turned to Leo and pointed to a cabinet. “Can you get me some heating packs from the top shelf?”
Leo nodded and turned to follow Donny’s directions. His heart pounded and his hands shook. He had no idea how Donny was able to stay so calm when their baby brother was in such bad shape. With several heating packs in hand, Leo walked up to Donny. “Is this enough?”
“Yes, thank you,” Donny placed the packs on strategic points on Mikey’s body. Then he ran his hand over Mikey’s head in a brief moment of affection before returning to his work.
Leo watched as Donny injected something into Mikey’s IV. “What’s that?”
Donny glanced at Leo as he worked the extra fluid into the bag. “It’s vitamins and glucose. He’s lucky I had these,” he said as a matter of fact. “To be honest, I got them thinking that I might need them for Raph one day. I never imagined that I would be using them on Mikey.”
Once that was done, Donny placed a mask over Mikey’s beak and turned on the oxygen tank. He then treated Mikey’s hand, applying ointment and wrapping it in gauze.
After one more, quick check of everything, Don started to put his things away then moved a chair close to where Mikey was resting. “I’ve done all I can, for now. We need to watch him to make sure that he continues to breathe.”
“I’ll take the first watch,” Splinter offered, sitting in the chair. His black eyes and the fur below them were wet and his eyes never left his son’s prone form. The pain splayed across Splinter’s face made Leo’s heart sink and he couldn’t help the pang of guilt.
Leo moved to say something to his father when he was suddenly pulled back by his carapace and slammed into a cabinet. Raph was in his face; his golden eyes ablaze with his anger. “You drove him to this!”
“I didn’t mean to,” Leo shot back. His body tensed, preparing for a fight. “I thought I was sparing him. I didn’t want to give him false hope.”
“Bull shit,” Raph roared, slamming his fist next to Leo’s head. “You criticized him at every turn, made him feel like he wasn’t good enough for you. You drove him away from you because you were so hung up on Donny.”
Leo didn’t flinch and, unblinking, he held Raph’s gaze, “You don’t know anything.”
Raph moved in closer and Leo could feel his brother’s hot breath ghost across his face. “Enlighten me,” Raph snarled
Leo felt his heart pounding in his chest. He didn’t like having Raph so close but he wasn’t about to back down. He couldn’t. He took a few deep breaths and in a flat tone said, “Did you know there is a species of butterfly that drinks turtles’ tears in the Amazon?”
“What the fuck does that have to do with anything?” Raph yelled, his arms moved in frustration then he ran his hand over his head. The fury and frustration in Raph’s eyes only amplified and Leo was surprised that Raph wasn’t throwing punches.
“The butterflies saved me.” Leo kept his tone level and didn’t move even though he felt trapped. “I spent a lot of time in the Amazon forest, alone. After a few weeks it started to get hard to think. I started to hallucinate and I soon realized that I was going mad.”
Some of the anger dropped from Raph’s face and he backed off a bit but Leo stayed against the cabinet. “But you wrote to us,” Raph said in confusion, “for a year.”
Looking up at the ceiling, Leo tried to calm his nerves. How could he take over as the leader of their small clan if they saw him as weak, if they knew his failures? He had already confesses it all to Splinter and has received nothing but his support. But, his brothers had to know everything too. “When I realized that I was starting to lose my mind, I wrote a year’s worth of letters and dated each of them for delivery. After that, I lost sense of time, each day blurred into the next.
“I was sitting by the water, lost in my own mind when a butterfly landed on my face and started to drink my tears. It was so strange that it snapped me back to reality. There were turtles everywhere and the butterflies fluttered around their faces as well. I stayed there for days, mesmerized by them. They were so beautiful and none of them were afraid of me.
“After that I found a nearby cluster of small villages and protected them…. I killed people.” The words just flowed from him and it felt good to get them out despite his fear of what they would all think of him. He let out a breathy laugh, “I killed some people the moment I got to South America. They were all bad people who did bad things but I knew that father would not approve because they had no chance against me and I should have left them for the authorities. I didn’t practice Bushido and let my anger fuel my actions. I felt like a failure and I was afraid to come home.
“Then April showed up and the desire to be with my family again became overwhelming. But, once I got here, it was hard. It didn’t feel the same and I felt like an outsider, trying to force my way into this family of strangers.”
His confession hung in the air and Leo felt like a weight had been lifted. He continued to look up even though he felt their eyes on him. He didn’t want to see the look on their faces; their disappointment.
Leo gasped as he was pulled forward, into a tight hug and was surprised to discover that it was Raph. He felt his body tense up then he tried to wiggle free. “Physical contact is also hard for me at the moment.”
Letting him go, Raph stepped back again. “Why didn’t you tell any of us?”
“I was ashamed,” Leo rasped out. He wanted to retreat but managed to keep eye contact with Raph. “I didn’t want to come back a failure. I was afraid to let my weakness show. I had enough problems getting you to follow me as it was.” He closed his eyes and took a steading breath. When he opened them again, he looked at Mikey.
“I pushed Mikey away. I didn’t want to become attached to anyone because I was afraid that Splinter would send me away again if he knew that I had failed. I said I liked Donny because I knew he didn’t want me and that felt safe.” His eyes drifted over to Splinter and he could see the love on his father’s face. “I have already told Master Splinter all of this and he has been helping me these past few days. I have been getting better, I think.” He looked at Mikey again and felt the guilt bubble up again. “I just took too long and…. This is all my fault.”
“I will do some research,” Donny offered, stepping forward. “I will find you methods to help you through this.”
“Thank you,” Leo whispered, feeling relieved that his brothers didn’t show any signs of disappointment. He glanced at Raph and saw that the hot head’s anger seemed to have faded.
“For now, though,” Donny said, pulling Leo from his thoughts, as he turned and looked at Mikey. “We need to monitor Mikey. Master Splinter has already volunteered for the first watch and I assume that he will want to sleep in here when whoever is next takes over.”
Splinter nodded his head and placed his hand on Mikey’s head. Leo suspected that he would prefer to sit all night with Mikey, like he used to back when they were kids. But, at his age, staying up all night was a difficult task. He was already having troubles staying up during the day.
“Then I will sleep in Raph’s room tonight,” Donny stated as a matter of fact then it was like something had changed in Donny and his eyes widened a bit as he looked up at Raph. “If that’s okay?”
Raph nodded, “That’s fine.”
“We should get whatever is left of Mikey’s things out of the sewer tunnels,” Leo stated. Regardless of how he was feeling, he needed to lead his family. “I will take the next watch in a few hours then come up to get one of you.”
“Alright,” Raph nodded then looked at Mikey and sighed. Tears filled his eyes as he walked over and placed a light kiss on Mikey’s head. “You hang in there, okay.”
Leo left the lab first and headed out of the lair and Don followed. They worked in silence as they tried to salvage Mikey’s things. Raph soon joined them and together they brought in the few boxes that were untouched by the fire.
When Raph and Don headed back out to see if they could find anything else worth salvaging, Leo opened one of the boxes to see what was inside. It was full of art books and folders stuffed with paper. Leo was glad to see that some of Mikey’s work was spared and pulled a book out then began to leaf through the pages.
A blush spread across Leo’s beak when he saw some of Mikey’s more mature fantasies drawn out. Some were romantic, others sexual but all were with Leo. Closing the book, Leo slipped it back into the box and returned the cover. He thought for a moment then lifted the box and took it to his room. Maybe he would get more insight into Mikey from the pictures he didn’t share with Master Splinter.
When he got back down to the lower level Raph walked up to him. “I’m still pissed about the way you treated Mikey. I get that you were having your own problems but you didn’t have to… kill his spirit.”
Leo nodded, “I understand.”
Donny shoved Raph, drawing an exasperated grunt from the hot head. “Look. I know I give you a hard time and question you at every turn but every leader needs someone who will question them.” Raph shuffled his feet and rubbed the back of his head. “I want you to know that… I respect you as our leader and I do what I do because I don’t want you to screw up. You’re my brother and I love you.”
Leo saw the sincerity in Raph’s eyes and without even thinking about it, he wrapped his arms around his brother. Raph gingerly returned the embrace. “I wouldn’t have let Splinter send you away again.”
“Thank you,” Leo breathed, pulling away from Raph. “He’s told me that the way I’m feeling is normal and that when I beat this, I will be complete in my training.”
“Yeah well,” Raph shrugged. “I love Master Splinter and all but this method of training is stupid.”
“Master Yoshi endured it,” Leo said, feeling a little bit of pride. “He was able to overcome and so will I.”
Donny walked up and Leo could see the distance in his eyes again. It was then that Leo realized that Donny was thinking. “Now that we know about it, we can help you,” Donny stated then tilted his head and for a moment his full attention was on Leo. “We are allowed to help you, right?” When Leo nodded Donny went back to his thoughts. “I should have known better. I knew that you were out there on your own but your trick with the letters had me fooled. I thought you dated them so that we would always know when you wrote each letter, if you ever wanted to look back on them. You hid your problems well.”
“I was determined not to let them show,” Leo looked down at his feet. “I see now how big of a mistake that was.”
“We all make mistakes,” Donny offered without looking directly at Leo, keeping his tone modulated. “I have made plenty. We just need to learn from them and improve ourselves. The best part is that we don’t have to do it alone.”
Leo let out a soft laugh, “I need to get used to the not being alone part again. It’s hard for me to let you guys in again. I have forgotten how to connect and the thought of it, frightens me.”
Donny’s eyes snapped up to lock with Leo’s and he nodded his understanding. “I will try my hardest to make Mikey understand but… I don’t know. This is going to be a long road for all of us.”
“I’m not expecting things to get better in a day, Donny.” Leo’s eyes drifted from Donny to the lab. “I will do all that I can to help Mikey but I still have my own set of problems.” Before Donny could say more Leo yawned, causing a chain reaction with his brothers. “I’m going to get some rest before I relieve Master Splinter. You two should too.”
“Okay,” Donny nodded and walked with Raph up to his room.
After the door to Raph’s room was closed, Leo checked to see if any of the other boxes had Mikey’s art in them then went up to his room. He started to sort through what he had of Mikey’s art and found several illustrated journals as well.
As he looked through them, he found the ones Mikey must have done after Leo first rejected him. The heartache Mikey felt was reflected in his art. The one that struck Leo the most was the one Mikey had drawn of himself curled up on his bed. All the hurtful words that had ever been said to him were written around him.
“I will make this better,” Leo said to himself.