Raph’s screams of agony echoed through the lair, waking Leo from his light sleep. Leo jumped up from his bed and ran from his room with Mikey close on his heels. As they reached the lab door Splinter emerged from his room and rushed over to meet them.
Leo tested the door, only to discover that it was locked so Mikey pulled out his lock pick and got to work. He managed to get the door open in a matter of seconds and they rushed in to see Raph writhing on the floor. Donny was nearby preparing a syringe with a look of panic on his face.
“He put on my shell,” Donny stated as they approached. “Would you help by holding him steady? I need to inject this muscle relaxer into his back.”
Leo got down and held Raph’s Legs while Mikey pushed down on his shoulders. Donny knelt down and held the long needle ready to go under the shell. “Master Splinter, will you pull up on the carapace? Try to keep it steady but gentle. As his muscles relax, they should relinquish their hold on it.”
Leo remembered back when he was a kid and put on the wrong carapace. Splinter was usually diligent about it but Mikey was acting up, distracting him and Leo ran up and grabbed the nearest carapace. He didn’t have the luxury of muscle relaxers. Splinter had to pull the shell from Leo’s back.
He understood the pain Raph was feeling all too well. The sharp sting of a headache coupled with the painful numbness in the legs, both spreading over his body to meet in the middle as his body protested the foreign connectors. And the fact that it was along the spine meant that it was connected to every nerve ending in the body. It was enough to deaden all other senses. Raph probably didn’t even realize that they were there or that he was screaming or moving. All he was aware of was the pain.
Donny moved the needle down Raph’s spine, injecting a little of the numbing agent each time as Splinter pulled up. The medicine had an almost immediate effect and Splinter was able to pull Don’s carapace off. He handed the shell back to Leo, who placed it apart from Raph’s.
Mikey’s eyes went wide as they locked on the small of Raph’s back. “Dude, you have a tattoo?”
Raph moaned as Splinter’s head snapped around to look. “When did you get that tattoo and more importantly, who put it on you?”
“I did it,” Donny answered quickly but from the look in his eyes it was obvious that he was lying.
Mikey looked at him and sighed, “Donny you can’t draw.”
“I… uh… traced it,” Donny’s voice went up making it sound more like a question as he cringed.
“Donatello,” the severity in Splinter’s voice had Donny dropping his head in shame.
“Sorry,” he mumbled keeping his eyes on the floor. “I didn’t want him to get into trouble.” He turned and picked up Raph’s shell and gingerly placed it on Raph’s back. He then got up and grabbed a roll of duct tape to hold Raph’s shell in place since his muscles were too weak to hold it in.
While Donny worked, Splinter placed his hand on Raph’s head, running his fingers over the sweat covered brow. “We will discuss your tattoo later, after you’ve had a chance to rest. Do you understand me?”
“Yes,” Raph answered, turning his head so that his face was buried in his arms.
Splinter moved to stand and Leo was there to assist. “I am going back to bed.”
“Goodnight,” Leo bowed, giving Splinter’s hand an affectionate squeeze.
“There will be no practice in the morning,” Splinter said as he headed for the door.
The others also said their goodnights as Splinter left the room then turned their attention back to Raph.
Once Donny finished securing Raph’s carapace down, he got up and collected his shell from the floor. Running his fingers over each of the connectors, he checked them for any damage before reaching behind himself to put it on.
“If we’re going to be removing our shells around each other, I’m gonna have to find a way to mark them that will stand up to wear and washing.” Judging by the look in his eyes he was thinking out loud and not expecting any input from the others.
“Can you get off my legs, Leo,” Raph pleaded, pulling Leo’s attention from Donny. “They’re in that tingly stage where they really hurt.”
“Yeah sorry,” Leo let out a sympathetic hiss and stood, making sure not to put too much pressure on Raph’s legs. “You doing okay?”
“I’ve been better,” Raph replied, his voice muffled since his face was still turned into his arms.
“Will you help me get him to the bed?” Donny asked as he kneeled down next to Raph. Leo and Mikey nodded and together they were able to lift their large brother, placing him plastron down on the bed. “Thank you,” Donny said as an afterthought.
Sitting on the bed, Donny’s attention stayed focused on Raph. He caressed Raph’s head and watched as exhaustion sank in, drawing Raph into sleep. “I’ll get to work right away so this doesn’t happen again,” Donny whispered more to Raph than anyone else. “I’m sorry I let this happen”
“Don’t blame yourself too much, Donny,” Mikey soothed, wrapping his arms around Donny from behind. “It was an accident.”
“I place them next to each other,” Donny admitted, his voice cracking with emotion and tears filled his eyes as sobs shook his body.
“He’s not gonna be mad at you, bro,” Mikey insured him. Leo couldn’t help but smile at how Mikey was so focused on calming Donny. He really was something great.
He sat with Donny for as long as it took to get him to calm down. Not once did Mikey look like it was a burden to be there with him. Not once did he try to rush him or complain about how long it took. He did what was needed and listened as Donny rambled. He then helped Donny into bed and covered him and Raph with a blanket.
“You didn’t have to wait,” Mikey whispered as he shut the door to the lab behind him.
“I wanted to,” Leo smiled, reaching out for Mikey.
Mikey hesitated a moment then took Leo’s hand. Together they made their way back up to Leo’s room and crawled into bed.
“I remembered all the wrong things,” Leo admitted. “I had forgotten how mature and selfless you can be, when the situation calls for it. You were just so… goofy when I got back.”
Mikey shrugged, “That’s how I cope, man. I was nervous over seeing you again and forgot how to act and I was dealing with that horrible job. I overcompensated. I do that.”
The look on Mikey’s face was so tender and open and it made Leo’s heart swell. He caressed Mikey cheek and looked him in the eyes. “I’m sorry for the way I treated you. I’m afraid I will never be able to make it up to you.”
“Well,” Mikey hummed with a mischievous smile. “In your notes you said that I wasn’t able to depict you accurately enough. Maybe you can pose for me… naked.”
Leo’s eyes went wide and his heart jumped into his throat, his hand freezing on Mikey’s cheek. His mouth opened but he was unable to form any words.
“You should totally see your face right now,” Mikey chortled as he rolled on to his back, tears filling his eyes and he gasped for breath as he was overcome with laughter.
Leo glared down at Mikey, “That’s not funny.”
“Yes it is,” Mikey laughed harder.
Anytime he managed to get himself under control all he had to do was look at Leo and he was off on another frenzy of laughter. It was such a sweet sound and so full of joy that Leo couldn’t help but join in the merriment.
Bracing himself up on one arm, Leo turned Mikey’s head toward him then leaned in. Mikey’s laughter stopped as Leo leaned in closer. When their lips touched, Mikey indicated his surprise with a sharp intake of breath.
They stayed, eyes closed, for several heart beats with their lips ghosting over each other. Then Mikey parted his lips and Leo did the same and they pressed together. Their tongues tentatively brushed against each other before Mikey pressed up, plunging his tongue into Leo’s mouth.
Leo pulled back a little but didn’t break the kiss. He didn’t want to break the kiss; he just wasn’t expecting Mikey to be so enthusiastic. It was like back when he first got back and Mikey grabbed hold of him. It was overwhelming and a bit frightening but at the same time he didn’t want to break the connection.
He needed the connection. He needed to know that it was real and that it wasn’t going anywhere. Mikey held him in a tender embrace and the need to pull away wasn’t there. Instead he found himself wanting more. For the first time since returning, his body craved what it had forgotten, the warmth of a welcome touch.
Although he didn’t want to, Leo pulled away from the kiss and looked down at Mikey. His blue eyes were alight and full of hope and it made Leo smile, knowing that he had something to do with it. “We should get to sleep,” Leo said, keeping his voice low.
“Okay,” Mikey whispered back, nodding his head. He looked into Leo’s eyes and concern creased his brow. “You are doing this because you want to, right, Leo?” Mikey asked, his voice was rough and his hand shook a little as it ran down Leo arm.
“I wish there was something I could do to rid you of all this doubt. If only I had realized the way I felt sooner.” Leo thumbed over Mikey’s cheek and kissed him on his head. “I want to do this. I wanted to do this before you hurt yourself… or as you were hurting yourself, I didn’t know about it.”
“I believe you,” Mikey curled up in Leo’s arms. “I know you wouldn’t lie about something like this.”
Leo held Mikey close. He liked the way Mikey fit snug against his body. It was comforting to have him there. All the stress and sleepless nights, coupled with the knowledge that he would be able to sleep in as long as he needed in the morning, lulled Leo to sleep. His dreams were filled with family and friends, instead of the nightmares he was used to having.