Splinter87 was sitting meditating on a training mat in the dojo. To his left was Mike87, to his right was Raph87, and directly opposite the Master was Don87.
It had been two hours since the operation on Leo87 had finished, and they were waiting for the leader to awaken. It didn't matter that it might take hours, or even days, for Leo87 just to crack open an eye. They were resolute. They would remain together, in a loose circle, focusing all their healing energy on their wounded comrade.
Splinter03 brought regular refreshments for the meditating foursome, but the calming tea lay untouched until it became cold and undrinkable. None of them wanted to break concentration, even for a second.
They had connected with Leo87's disconnected spirit on the astral plane. He was a bodiless entity, floating into the void, hopeless and vulnerable. The four of them had surrounded his spirit with their own, allowing the injured turtle to draw strength from their souls. Leo87 lapped up the offered strength, his own spirit wavering and unsure as he felt his body fight for survival.
Even in this mindless state, Leo87 had sensed the sadness emanating from his family members souls. He tried to comfort them instinctively, small tendrils of his spirit wrapping around the more concentrated forms of his brothers and Master. Even weakened and floating aimlessly on the astral plane Leo87 was thinking of his family.
Splinter87 opened his eyes and watched his other three sons deep in concentration. He felt hollow and empty. Their loss was weighing on him heavily. He felt the pressure of his own actions weigh mightily upon him. Had he trained Leo87 as hard as he could have? Had Leo87 been vulnerable because of Splinter87's teaching? It was a crippling thought, and Splinter87 sighed deeply. He was trying to concentrate and focus, but his thoughts kept returning to a memory of his son.
A memory of something personal and beautiful.
It had been two days since the turtles had returned to their world from helping their counterparts against the Utrom Shredder, and Leo87 was having trouble concentrating on his kata's. He sighed as he tried to clear his mind and that one word kept returning to plague his thoughts.
"Is something troubling you, Leonardo?" Splinter87 asked as he hobbled into the dojo and watched his student carefully. Leo87 was hunched and his head was bowed. He seemed to be struggling internally.
"That other version of us." Leo87 began carefully. "They were cool and all. Only, something they said keeps playing on my mind." Leo87 blushed a little as his sensei gestured for them both to sit on a training mat. "It shouldn't really matter. I just can't get it out of my head."
"What did they say?" Splinter87 asked.
Leo87 looked thoroughly uncomfortable as the words spilled out too quickly. He blushed a deeper shade as he closed his eyes after his confession. "They called their sensei Father. Isn't that disrespectful? I mean, we've never called you that." He opened his eyes and looked directly at his sensei. Splinter87 was smiling warmly at his tortured student. He patted the turtles knee affectionately.
"Leonardo, I am your sensei, your Master and your father. I have raised you and your brothers for fifteen years as a single parent. You are my child, my legacy, my life. You and your brothers are my family. They do not mean any disrespect when they address their sensei as father. They are expressing the love they feel for their mentor. The word father does not show a lack of respect."
Mike87 peeked into the dojo and laughed cheekily. "Does that mean I can call you dad?"
Splinter87 shot the turtle a withering look. "No, Michelangelo. Dad is an informal term. But you may all refer to me as father if you so wish. I would not take offence, in fact I would be honoured if you boys see me as your parental figure."
Leo87 nodded, grimacing a little. "Thank you for your guidance ... father."
"Of course, my son." Splinter87 rose to his feet and hobbled out of the dojo. Leo87 got up and continued his kata’s with a lighter heart. Maybe it was Splinter87's advice that had lifted the burden, or maybe it was his final word that had the small turtle smiling as he perfected his routine flawlessly.
Splinter87 hobbled into the kitchen to make his breakfast.
"What was that all about?" Don87 asked, pouring cereal into a bowl and covering it with milk.
Mike87 was chomping down on some left over pizza. "Dad was giving Leonardo some advice."
"Michelangelo!" Splinter87 reprimanded. "Show respect!"
Mike87 giggled furiously as he devoured his cold slice.
"Dad, huh?" Don87 looked at Splinter87 with wide eyes.
"Father, my son." Splinter87 corrected with a small smile. "I will make the next turtle who says the word 'dad' do a hundred back flips."
Mike87 almost choked on his pizza. "Right, aherm, father."
Splinter87 felt a tear roll down his furry face. Leo87 had seemed so unsure, yet so relieved when he had realised that calling his beloved mentor 'Father' was not disrespectful.
He would have traded anything, even his own life, to swap positions with his son.
He reflected on Leonardo's swordsmanship and realised with a heavy heart that his son may not be able to carry twin katana anymore. He would need to train with his good arm from hereon in, and perhaps just throw shuriken with his weaker arm. Leo87 would not be able to accept that outcome. He would try to train with his weakened limb regardless. The fear of failure would keep him attempting the impossible until he could not deny the truth any longer.
Leo87 prized himself on being able to wield two blades. Without one of his katana’s, Leo87 would be a different warrior. Maybe he could carry a tanto instead of the katana. The smaller sword wouldn't weigh as heavy in his student's hand. Splinter87 was worried about how his student would cope. Leo87 was resilient, but he was still a being with feelings and emotions.
Suddenly, the worried sensei felt an arm pat his shoulder in comfort. He opened his eyes and saw his Raphael smiling reassuringly at him.
"He'll be okay, sensei. Leonardo's beaten impossible odds before." Raph87 said confidently.
"I know that, my student." Splinter87 sighed.
Raph87 lowered his head. He was trying to help his sensei by being positive. He would have said anything to calm the sadness in his sensei’s eyes. He wished he had been at the fight when Leo87 had been injured. Perhaps he could have helped his brother by intercepting the sword with his sai. What if he had gone straight out after his own battle - he may have been in time to prevent this horrible situation. Raph87 breathed deeply, quieting his own emotions. Instead of backing up his brother, he had been sleeping on the sofa. He felt to blame for what had happened. Bad things always seemed to happen when they separated as a unit.
His words were true, though. Leo87 had beaten impossible odds before.
Raph87's mind drifted off to a situation were Leo87 was truly in over his head, and he survived. Not only did he survive, but he was incredible.
One of their many battles with Shredder and Krang had one day gone south alarmingly fast. They were in the Technodrome, fighting to stop the evil duo from obtaining an energy source with which they required to raise their infernal machine to the surface of the earth.
The turtles had been quipping their way through another battle, Raph87 occasionally joking to a spot on the wall, when they had become separated from each other.
Raph87 leapt to the top of a shipping crate and surveyed the area for his brothers. They were being herded in different directions by their mechanical Foot enemies, and while Mike87 and Don87 were keeping the Foot Soldiers at bay, Leo87 had made a mistake and was being set upon by at least a dozen robots. They saw him as weaker at that moment and moved in for the kill.
Leo87 was beset as he was smothered under a Foot pile-on. Raph87 was about to move, fearing for his brothers safety, when the leader suddenly stood up, knocking the Foot away from him with a strength Raph87 had rarely seen before. It was one of those moments that you relive in your head for many years to come - the adrenaline causing Leo87 to do something that seemed impossible. It was like those stories you heard about - the mother with baby trapped in an upturned car, defying what should or should not be possible, adrenaline kicking in to save her infant. Leo87 was Superman!
Raph87 darted down to join his brother in the thick of the battle. "Wow, wanna show me how to knock 'em all flying like they're bugs?"
His brother gave an amused snort. "I didn't think I could do that. Live and learn."
They fought shell-to-shell for the duration of the fight after that. Raph87 guarded his brother's back as his brother guarded his own.
Raph87 felt a tear trickle down his face as the memory came to its conclusion.
Leo87 had been incredible that day. He was invincible. That was the reason Raph87 was having such a hard time accepting his brother was injured. He always came out unscathed from their fights. He had been caught by blades before, but he had never been hurt to this degree. His older brother was like an immortal, and Raph87 now knew he was just as mortal as the rest of them. He would survive this. He had to. Raph87 would never forgive himself for not being there if Leo87 died. Leo87 would not allow that.
He looked across at Mike87. He was a shell of his former self. The self-possessed light that had always shone so brightly in his brother had disappeared from his eyes. Leaning across, he patted Mike87's knee encouraging the youngest to look up at his brother. "He'll get through this. Leonardo always defies the odds and comes up fighting. He's never been beaten down."
Raph87 spoke with certainty, looking into the eyes of Mike87 with a quick nod. The youngest brother merely shrugged in defeat, his eyes red raw and glistening with unshed tears. His hands covered his face and his shoulders shook as he tried to restrain his sobs.
Don87 sat with his head bowed and found his own thoughts drifting to memories with his older brother. He was in a state of shock, the full weight of the situation hadn't sunk in yet. Then, without warning, it suddenly hit him. The force of this new realisation made him gasp in agony. He was remembering good times in case his older brother did not make it. The feeling was suffocating and his eyes blurred with tears. He cringed as he realised something very important.
Don 87 wasn't feeling himself.
He knew instantly that he was sick. It wasn't a virus, he was pretty sure. Maybe a stomach ailment like food poisoning. They had eaten some dodgy pizza's over the years - but last night's toppings really were from the Twilight Zone.
Mike87 had insisted on ordering for them all. Usually, this was a bad idea. The youngest barely had any constraint when it came to obscure and disgusting combinations. The idea of shrimp, chocolate and wasabi seemed horrific but he decided to sample a slice anyway. His stomach was hardened to the weird and wonderful, but even his hardy belly suffered cramps at the first taste of Mike87's new 'genius' flavour.
Shrimps were not a favourite of the genius terrapin. They didn't look very clean and they curled in on themselves horribly. Like they'd all decided to die in the foetal position. Add to the little monsters a chocolate sauce and wasabi mixture, and you had the worst concoction ever devised.
There was an unspoken rule in their Lair. Once bitten, the slice is yours. No pizza must ever be wasted. Don87 knew that no matter how horrible the pizza was, it would be frowned upon by his brothers to leave the slice without finishing it. His stomach churned noisily as he nibbled through the worst few minutes of his life and knew he would pay for ignoring his groaning belly.
The next day, here he was, lying in bed with a pounding headache and a sore stomach.
It had been an hour since he should have gotten up. He needed to eat his breakfast and then warm up in the dojo. However, every time he tried to move a muscle, an ugly nausea would befall him - coming in waves like the ebb of the sea. He groaned and turned his face into the pillow.
"Donatello! We've been warming up for twenty minutes! Why aren't you up?" The irritation lacing Leonardo's voice as he popped his head round the door had Don87 shuddering in protest. "Come on! Sensei is going to notice. What's up?"
Don87 muffled an apology through the pillow. He hoped Leo87 would leave him alone, but he heard footsteps as his older brother drew closer. He felt a cool hand connect with the back of his head in a gentle gesture of affection.
"Are you sick?" Leo87 asked, all irritation gone and replaced with concern.
Don87 nodded into the pillow. He didn't have the energy to answer and he felt his brother sit on the bed beside him.
"Was it the shrimp?" Leo87 knew that his younger brother's stomach wasn't adept at dealing with the small shellfish. "It's the shrimp, right?"
Don87 nodded and clutched at his painful stomach. His belly was cramping in agony and he groaned. He felt a gentle hand rubbing his shell.
"Okay, Donatello. Stay in bed this morning. I'll bring you some pain relief and a drink. Don't worry about anything. I'll tell Master Splinter." The bed creaked as Leo87 stood up and walked out briskly. He hated his brothers sick, and he always felt better when he was doing something to help - like bringing them medication and drinks. In fact, Leo87 reminded Don87 of a mother hen, clucking over her chicks as Leo87 would cluck over the sick or injured brother.
Don87 hadn't gotten up at all that day. He had remained in bed, with Leo87 consistently making sure he was all right. The older brother had brought him everything he needed during the day, and had even helped his shaky friend go to the bathroom several times.
He was a legend. A rock during time of stress, injury or illness.
He was their brother.
Don87 choked back a small sob. Splinter87 looked at his student in alarm.
"My son, Leonardo will survive this and be stronger as a result." Splinter87 reassured the genius. "You've seen the technology they have in this world. This Utrom Technology. His arm will recover."
Don87 nodded and kept his head down. He couldn't bring himself to tell them the truth. That even with all the amazing technology that there was a possibility that Leo87 might still lose the arm. People had had limbs amputated for the same reason, the arm or leg had simply died and needed to be removed. Sometimes he hated being a genius and knowing the score. He wished, for a moment, that he had the blessed gift of ignorance.
Being smart was horrible. He knew too much to be comforted. His mind saw every conceivable conclusion - and only seventy percent of those were favourable.
Their brother had a long way to go. Things could still go wrong.
Mike87 looked at his genius brother. Their eyes connected and he gave Don87 a sad smile. "My fault, Donatello. It's my fault. Master Splinter can try and make me feel better but I know the truth. I wasn't fast enough."
Splinter87 looked about to speak, but Mike87 silenced him with a gesture. "My fault. If Leonardo doesn't make it, it's on me."
Mike87 rose and walked to the far wall, his body trembling with sadness. He felt an arm on his shoulder, but he didn't turn to face his brother. The arm remained, a silent impart of strength, as Mike87 dissolved into fresh tears.
This wasn't the first time he had failed Leonardo.
But, he vowed, it would definitely be the last.
Mike87 found battles fun and exciting. He loved to quip his way through a fight. They were made for this. All four of them.
He was shell-to-shell against Leo87 - his nunchuk’s whirling in a frenzy as he hit Foot soldiers left and right. They fell before him, their bodies erupting into sparks as they short-circuited and crumpled uselessly to the ground.
He wasn't aware he'd let one through until he heard a grunt of pain from behind him. Turning, Mike87 saw the lone ninja attack his brother from behind, and clamp Leo87 into a crushing headlock. Mike87 pounced, feeling adrenaline coursing through him, as he felled the soldier with a single strike from his nunchuk’s. His brother fell forward, gasping for air and looked up at Mike87 in disbelief. Judgement shone in his eyes as Mike87 cringed at the mistake he'd made which had almost caused his brothers death.
Their other brothers surrounded them in an instant. Don87 kept their enemies at a distance, whilst Raph87 connected with anything that came too close.
"How'd he get through?" Raph87 asked, trying to justify the scene before him.
"I made a mistake." Mike87 admitted numbly, his face deepening in colour. "I accidentally let him through."
Raph87 whacked his younger brother on the head. "Be more careful, Michelangelo."
Mike87 nodded. He held a hand out to his fallen brother. Leo87 took it and they resumed the battle. For a short while, Leo87 remained wary and on guard as Mike87 watched his back.
Soon, they were shell-to-shell again, the incident forgotten in a fog of battle. As the last few Foot soldiers fell around them, they had dismissed the event entirely. All but one brother.
One brother carried that incident with him for the rest of his life.
He had never forgotten it.
"Sit back down, Michelangelo." Splinter87 ordered, his voice gentle and calm.
Mike87 cringed and turned, his face drawn and devoid of anything except pain. "I let him down, sensei. It wasn't the first time. I should have been faster!"
Raph87 got to his feet and walked up to his younger brother. Don87 still had his arm on Mike87's shoulder, gently pressing the taut flesh. "Leonardo trusts you, Michelangelo. He always will. Sometimes, things happen and mistakes get made. I've made plenty. I've gotten all of you hurt in the past. We all mess up. We're not robots."
Mike87 closed his eyes tightly and tried to concentrate on Raph87's words. He knew his brother was right. The urge to self-blame was almost overwhelming, but he had to let it go and concentrate his energies on healing Leo87's spirit. The turtle did as his Master had instructed, sitting back with a heavy sigh and a slight sob.
Splinter87 groaned as he tried to concentrate on Leo87's drifting astral state. Keeping the spirit bolstered was as important as tending to Leo87's physical wounds. It would be easier when the turtle awoke, then his spirit and body would be joined once more.
The tension was growing by the second as the four mutants sat together and tried to concentrate on Leo87's spirit.
Waiting was excruciating.