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Fic: A Better Brother

Title: A Better Brother
Disclaimer: The norms
Rating: T
Story Synopsis: In the midst of another argument, Leo's frustration gets the best of him.

“You know what, Raph? I deserve a better brother than you! We all do!” Leo doesn't even register what he’s said until the words are out of his mouth. Unfortunately, it's far too late to take them back and there's no use in trying. He just stares in shock, waiting for a well deserved outburst that never comes.

Raph's expression exhibits no anger...no indignation...no righteous fury. In fact, none of the emotions that Leo anticipates are visible. Instead, there's nothing but pain leaching through Raph's visage and it makes Leo's heart clench. He doesn't know what he's done. In fact, all Leo really knows is that he's definitely broken something here. He just hopes that the thing he broke isn't Raph. “I know you do.” Raph's voice is barely above a whisper, raspy with the effort to conceal his tears, and cracking with absolute heart break.

Leo tries to reach out to his brother, but Raph flinches away from him in a way that Leo has never seen his most obstinate brother do in any other circumstance before. It's almost as if his brother is afraid of being struck, but Leo knows that that's not the case. Raph doesn't recoil from physical pain. This -- whatever this is -- is so much worse than anything they've ever done to each other before. Leo stares at his still outstretched hand, unsure of what to do. All he really wants is to grab his brother in a hug and profusely apologize, but Raph's reaction has Leo rooted to the spot, unable to move an inch for fear of further hurting his brother. “Raph, I'm sorry. I didn't mean it. You have to know that I didn't mean it.”

Raph shakes his head and suddenly straightens his posture. All signs of hurt and inner turmoil disappear as he glares at Leo. “It doesn't matter if ya meant it. We both know it's true.”

Abruptly there's a sharp pained keening sound, and it takes Leo a moment to realize that it came from himself. "Raph, come on, you can't believe that." It comes out as a desperate plea, but Leo doesn't care. He needs his brother to know that he's enough...more than enough. They don't need better, because they have him, and Raph is just as worthy of their love and his place in the family as any of them.

Raph snarls at Leo. His hands are clenched into fists, nearly shaking with suppressed fury as he stares at Leo with an expression full of loathing. He looks as though all he really wants to do is punch his big brother in the face, and Leo is fully willing to admit that this time he deserves it. "Fuck you, Leo! How could I possibly believe anything else?" Raph is still glaring at him, even though Leo can see tears glistening in his eyes. "All I've ever wanted to do is give you guys everything that you deserve...whatever would make you happy. I don't know what the hell that is, but I know one thing for fucking sure, whatever the fuck it is, it sure as hell isn't me." Raph turns on his heel and all but runs for the exit. He's gone before Leo can do more than reach out to him again.

A large part of Leo feels as though he should go after his brother, but another part knows better. After all, no good can come from Raph's current state of mind, but Leo knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that, if he follows Raph, all he will do is end up hurting his brother more. Leo thinks he's done enough of that for a life time. He doesn't know how he's going to fix this, but he is damn well going to try. Raph needs to know that he's loved, but, more importantly, Raph needs to know that he's the one who deserves better, because right now it's pretty damn clear to Leo that he's the only brother who's failing.

Leo sighs heavily as he goes to his room to meditate. Raph deserves some time to himself after that fight, and Leo figures that the least that he can do is give it to him. However, he promises himself that if Raph doesn’t return by the time that Master Splinter, Donnie, and Mikey have returned from their training run, then he will go after his brother. Leo does his best to clear his mind and focus on something other than his fight with Raphael, but he can’t get Raph’s hurt expression out of his head. He knows that repairing the damage that he’s done is going to take time and a lot more than a simple apology.

Its hours later when Leo hears someone enter the lair. He hasn’t managed to meditate one bit and Leo is still wondering what exactly possessed him to say those things to Raph in the first place. He was beyond frustrated and annoyed with his brother, but Leo knows that that’s no excuse for his actions. He leaves his room, only to find Master Splinter, Donnie, and Mikey carrying various bags as they make their way further into the lair. Donnie smiles the moment he sees Leo. “Sorry we’re late. We stopped at the junkyard on the way back. We found some pretty great stuff and I can’t wait to get all of these things sorted.”

Leo tries to force a smile as he watches Donnie and Mikey haul as many of the bags as they can carry to Donnie’s lab. He turns back towards Master Splinter and is about to offer to take his bags for him, but halts when he notices his father’s inquisitive gaze. “Where is Raphael?”

Leo doesn’t speak for a long moment. He isn’t exactly sure how to respond. After all, he doesn’t actually have any idea where Raph went. He’s starting to question if it was really such a good idea to let his brother go in the first place. However, before Leo gets a chance to respond, Raph appears seemingly out of nowhere from behind Master Splinter. “I’m right here. I just went out to stretch my legs. Didn’t mean to be gone so long.”

Leo is at a loss for words. He honestly didn’t think Raph would come back on his own, and he certainly didn’t expect that Raph would be in such a good mood when he returned. Leo wants to ask him if he’s truly okay and apologize for earlier, but Raph doesn’t give him a chance before he grabs the bags out of Master Splinter’s hands. “I’ll take these to Donnie’s lab for you.” He’s gone before either of them can react.

Master Splinter watches Raphael leave before turning back towards his eldest. “Is there something you wish to discuss, my son?”

Leo’s torn between telling Master Splinter about the encounter that he had with Raph and waiting until he has a chance to actually speak with Raphael about it. If Leo knows anything about his normally cantankerous brother, it’s that Raph likes to keep things private…even at the expense of lying to Master Splinter. Leo shakes his head as he tries to hide the guilt and shame from his voice. “No, I was just going to ask if there was anything else that needed to be taken to Donnie’s lab.”

Master Splinter gives him a once over, but he doesn’t mention anything about Leo’s current state of mind, so Leo figures he’s managed to buy himself at least a small amount of time to attempt to mend things with Raphael. “It looks as though your brothers have taken everything, but I’m sure Donatello would welcome any help you can offer with sorting the items we brought home.”

Leo nods as he heads towards Donnie’s lab. He knows better than to try to corner Raph, especially in front of their brothers, so he intends to just ignore every snide comment and sarcastic remark that his most impetuous brother is bound to make. He takes a deep calming breath before entering the lab, and then Leo is immediately hit with a wall of sound. Mikey is talking a mile a minute about the training session he just had with Donnie and Master Splinter. Donnie seems too preoccupied with going through everything that they’ve brought home to care about Mikey’s incessant babble and Raph is…surprisingly quiet as he puts various objects away.

Leo decides to enjoy it while it lasts, knowing that Mikey’s constant chatter will eventually get on Raph’s nerves. He goes over to the bag furthest away from where Mikey and Raph are working and starts taking stuff out of the bag, holding them up for Donnie’s inspection, and then placing the objects wherever his genius brother dictates. Only Donnie really knows where things belong in the lab. Sure, Mikey can generally remember where things belong after seeing them for only a few seconds, but Donnie is the only one who truly understands the general organized chaos of the lab.

The three of them spend a fair amount of time mostly working around each other to put everything exactly where Donnie commands with surprisingly little complaint from their two loud mouth brothers. To Leo’s astonishment, Raph still hasn’t exploded at Mikey for the continuous noise. It seems more than a little odd; especially since Mikey’s rambling is starting to get on Leo’s nerves, and he’s usually the one with the most patience for Mikey’s longwinded stories.

In fact, Leo’s fairly certain that the only reason Donnie hasn’t already done something to distract Mikey is the fact that he’s still currently too preoccupied with his exuberance at his junkyard finds. Leo is about to finally snap when Mikey suddenly stops jabbering and turns to face Raph, while simultaneously lifting a particularly heavy box with a grunt to put it back where it belongs. “So, what did you two do while we were gone?”

Leo just stares for a long moment, reluctant to answer. He doesn’t actually want to rehash the argument they had earlier, but he doubts that Raph is just going to let it go, especially now that he has a prime opportunity to tell the others how appallingly Leo acted. Before Leo can say anything, however, Raph beats him to it. “Nothing, we trained, and then I went for a run. I’m sure Leo meditated while I was gone…like always.” He rolls his eyes before going back to what he was doing.

Leo turns towards Raph, clearly perplexed. He doesn’t know why Raph isn’t using this opportunity to take him down a peg. After all, Leo knows that he certainly deserves it. Mikey merely groans, oblivious to Leo’s bewilderment. “You two are so lame. You got out of a training session and spent the whole time training, anyway. How boring? If I was you guys, I would have spent the time reading comics, watching TV, and setting up the best prank of all time.” Mikey proceeds to go into great detail about exactly how he would have spent the hours the others were away.

Leo ignores his youngest brother in favor of trying to figure out what exactly is going on with Raph. It’s not like him to just ignore Mikey’s ranting, and it’s equally aberrant for him to abstain from griping at Donnie for his nit picking about where everything should go. His most belligerent brother’s atypical behavior leaves Leo even more vexed than he was before. He knows that he needs to corner Raph and have a real discussion with him about what transpired earlier, but that’s easier said than done, especially with how volatile Raph can be. Still, Leo knows better than to let this lie. This isn’t just something that will merely heal in time, and, even if it was, it wouldn’t matter. He still owes Raph a real apology.

He waits until they’ve finished putting everything away to follow Raph out of the room. It’s the perfect time to confront his brother, since Donnie is in the middle of coming up with various plans for all of the items they’ve gathered and Mikey is equally too distracted with making dinner to interfere. Raph silently bypasses all of them as he predictably makes his way to his room. Leo breathes out a relieved sigh that they’ll be able to have this conversation behind a closed door, even if he is taking a risk by cornering Raph.

Leo silently makes his way to Raph’s room. He needs to get there before Raph can shut the door and lock it. After all, Leo knows his brother well enough to know that if Raph gets the chance to lock him out, then he won’t be able to convince his brother to open the door any time soon. He can’t imagine having this lingering between them any longer than it already has, because it’s clearly hurting Raph and it’s starting to kill Leo.

He manages to grab the door right as Raph is pulling it shut behind him. Raph turns abruptly at the sudden resistance from his door, but Leo doesn’t give him a chance to say anything before he shoves Raph into his own room and follows him in. He shuts the door and locks it, knowing that cutting off Raph’s escape isn’t going to improve the situation. However, Leo can’t have his brother running off right now…not if he intends to fix this. He turns back around waiting for Raph’s customary indignation at having someone barge into his room, and then, worse, trap him inside of it.

However, it never comes, because Raph doesn’t bother to say anything at all. Instead, he just folds his arms over his plastron and glares at Leo. Leo pauses for a long moment, still waiting for Raph’s normal gruff growl of, ‘what,’ that equally never happens. Leo doesn’t really think anything of it. After all, Raph has every right to be furious with him, even to the point of refusing to speak to him, even though that isn’t how Raph typically handles these kinds of things. Still, he doesn’t think that it’s that odd, given that Leo isn’t entirely sure that he’d be willing to speak to any of his brothers if their roles were reversed.

Leo sighs heavily, knowing that the only way this awkward conversation is going to get started is if he speaks first. He figures it’s the least that he can do. “I wanted to apologize for earlier. That fight got out of hand, and I am sincerely sorry for what I said. I honestly didn’t mean it, Raph. You truly are a great brother.”

Raph sighs heavily as he forcefully releases the tension in his entire body. “I know ya are. Just let it go, Leo.”

Leo shakes his head as he tries to move closer to his brother, but Raph immediately tenses all over again. “No, I’m not going to just let it go. I was awful, and you deserve better.”

Raph snorts out a laugh, but there’s no humor in it. He turns away before Leo can decipher what expression is on his face. He’s left just staring transfixed at Raph’s shell as his most capricious brother grabs an open comic off of a nearby stack by his bed, and flops onto the mattress with the comic shielding his visage from Leo’s view. “I know you’re sorry and I know ya feel guilty, but I’m tellin’ ya, let it go.”

Leo shakes his head again. He doesn’t want to just pretend like this didn’t happen. He doesn’t want Raph’s noncommittal forgiveness. He needs his brother to understand that he was just livid and frustrated. “Raph, I can’t just let this go. I…” He tries to explain everything that’s been going through his head since those terrible words left his mouth, but Raph doesn’t give him a chance.

“Leo, just leave…please.” Raph’s voice is completely level…gruff, but with no real inflection. In fact, it’s as if he merely asked for the salt at the dinner table.

However, Leo doesn’t want to leave. He doesn’t actually believe that it’s the right decision to make, but Raph’s use of the word please practically makes the decision for him. After all, when has his brother ever uttered that particular word? In fact, it’s that one word alone -- foreign and underutilized from this particular brother -- that has Leo backing out of the door. He’s not stupid enough to believe that anything between him and Raph has been repaired. Hell, for all Leo knows, that little confrontation just made things worse, but he can’t deny his brother’s request…not when it’s actually phrased like one instead of a demand.

Leo makes his way to the kitchen. He needs a large cup of calming tea and to think on a better approach for next time, because he knows that there has to be a next time. He refuses to let any of his little brothers believe that he doesn’t think that they’re good enough, but it’s not as though Leo really knows how to convince Raph of that, especially after their earlier altercation. Still, he’s never been one for giving up, and he’s certainly not about to start now…not with something this important.

When Leo enters the kitchen, Mikey is dancing around, throwing seemingly random ingredients into a pot. For the most part, Leo ignores him. He doesn’t want to accidently direct his bad mood at Mikey, so he goes about making his tea without actually speaking to his little brother. However, Leo probably should have known that Mikey would pick up on his borderline abrasive behavior, because the next thing Leo knows Mikey is setting down some of the cookies he made last night in front of him. “So, what’s going on, big bro?”

Leo shakes his head as he takes a small sip of his nearly scalding drink. “Nothing, Mikey. I just need to think.”

Mikey stirs whatever is in the pot on the stove, and then turns down the heat before taking a seat next to Leo. “Come on, Leo, you’ve been quietly brooding ever since we got home. I don’t believe more thinking is helping.” Leo raises an eyebrow ridge at his little brother, but Mikey continues before he can question anything. “Seriously, dude, you haven’t said one word to me or Donnie since we got back and you’ve been staring at Raph like he’s grown another head. Something’s going on. I know it, and, knowing you two, I’m guessing you got into another fight while we were gone.”

Leo sighs heavily. Leave it to Mikey to get to the heart of all of their problems in a matter of seconds. “Yeah, we did.”

Mikey nods as if the answer is to be expected and he’s all knowing. Normally that would have Leo rolling his eyes, but right now he’s starting to feel like Mikey’s the smarter one of the two of them. “So, what happened?”

Leo shakes his head. He doesn’t want to talk about it. He just wants to find a way to mend his fractured relationship with his most unrelenting brother. “That’s really between me and Raph, don’t you think?”

Mikey shakes his head as he steals one of the cookies off of the plate that he set in front of Leo earlier. “No, something’s different this time. It’s left you all quiet and contemplative, and it’s left Raph all…well, I don’t know how it’s left him other than different. He didn’t complain once in the lab and that’s not like him, so no, I don’t think it’s just between you and Raph. Nor do I think that it should stay between you and Raph. You guys fight all the time and the aftermath is never like this, so what happened?”

Leo sighs heavily as he stares into his tea. He knows that one way or another Mikey is likely to find out what happened anyway, so he might as well just tell him and see if his most energetic brother has some insight into how to repair the damage that he’s caused. “You obviously noticed how helpful and reserved Raph was in Donnie’s lab…well, it’s my fault.”

Mikey’s brow furrows in confusion. “Well, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, dude. It’s a little weird and unexpected, but…yeah, not bad.”

Leo shakes his head again as he takes another calming sip of his tea. “No, it is, because the reason Raph wasn’t acting like himself is my fault. I said some things to him earlier…some really awful things, Mikey.”

Mikey just continues to sit patiently waiting for him to elaborate as he munches on the cookies. “What kinds of things, Leo?”

Leo takes another deep breath before answering him. “I…I told him that we deserve a better brother than him.”

Mikey’s sudden sharp gasp of shock has Leo sinking further down into his seat, even more ashamed of his behavior than before. “Not cool, dude…not cool at all. Do you normally say stuff like that to him? ‘Cause that might explain why you guys don’t get along so well.” The hard edge to Mikey’s voice isn’t something that Leo is familiar with, but it’s not as if he believes he deserves any less.

Leo locks eyes with Mikey, letting him see the raw honesty there. “No, no, of course not. I didn’t even mean to say it. I was just so aggravated that it just came out, but I don’t believe what I said. He’s a good brother. He protects us and has saved us numerous times. He’s loyal to a fault and he’d do nearly anything for us, grumbling aside. I know that, I do. I just…I just messed up, Mikey.”

Mikey nods as he pats Leo’s hand. Leo doesn’t see a single hint of distrust in Mikey’s countenance, and he’s relieved that at least one little brother doesn’t doubt him. Mikey takes another bite out of his cookie and chews thoroughly before continuing, which leaves Leo feeling rather apprehensive. Mikey obviously intends to express something tremendously significant, if he’s bothering to say it without food in his mouth. “What did Raph say after you…you know?” Mikey gestures vaguely at him, but Leo comprehends his meaning.

He turns his gaze away, unable to meet Mikey’s eyes as he mumbles out the haunting words Raph spoke mere hours ago. “I know you do.”

Mikey releases a high pitched, hurt, whining noise that grates on Leo’s ears. “How…how could Raphie think…? We have to fix this!”

Leo swallows down the lump in his throat at Mikey’s words. “I…I don’t know how, Mikey. I tried talking to him. He doesn’t believe me. Hell, he didn’t even bother to pretend as if he does, and I sure as hell don’t blame him. I just…I don’t know what to do.”

Mikey places a hand on Leo’s shoulder and squeezes. “We’ll figure it out. Raph’s stubborn, but he knows we love him, right?”

Leo doesn’t answer right away. He doesn’t have the heart to tell Mikey that, given how Raph reacted and the way that he was acting when he returned to the lair, Leo doesn’t actually believe Raph does. However, he knows that Mikey deserves the truth, nonetheless. “I…I don’t think so, Mikey.”

Mikey abruptly gets up and starts pulling random items out and scattering them across the table. “Well, we’ll just have to work on that, too, but first…cake!”

Leo’s eyes widen as he watches Mikey throw ingredients into a bowl. “Cake? How is cake going to help?”

Mikey ignores him as he nearly knocks Leo out of his seat with the bag of flour. “No offense, bro, but you were an immense jerk. Raph is definitely gonna need some comfort food and he secretly loves cake.”

Leo raises an eyebrow ridge as he ducks out of the way of Mikey’s flailing limbs as he grabs the bag of sugar. “He does?” It feels like an enormous oversight that Leo didn’t know this before.

“Yeah, of course…” Mikey suddenly stops dead and slaps a hand over his own mouth. “Except that wasn’t supposed to be common knowledge. My bad…you…uh…didn’t hear that from me.”

Leo decides to get up and move to the other side of the kitchen before Mikey ‘accidentally’ drops something into his tea. “If it’s not supposed to be common knowledge, then how do you know about it?”

Mikey slowly grins, while he stares off into the distance. “Well, remember the first time Casey brought a cake to one of our ‘we saved the world’ parties?” At Leo’s nod, Mikey continues. “Well, really late that night, I came down here for a glass of water, only to find Raph shoving a giant piece of cake into his mouth, while moving things around in the fridge to hide a few pieces in the back for later. When I saw him I burst out laughing, but he got all angry and embarrassed and swore me to secrecy. He even offered to do my chores for two weeks, and…well, how is a turtle supposed to pass that up? I agreed, and when you guys started to ask who was hoarding all the cake, and I saw him get all angry and embarrassed again, I figured that the least that I could do was take the fall for him. It’s not like it was hard to convince you guys to believe me, anyway. Raph was so grateful that he did my chores for an extra week. Ever since then, whenever I notice he’s a bit more miserable than usual, I find some sort of excuse to make a cake. I think he knows why I really do it, but you know how Raph is. He doesn’t like it when anyone makes a fuss over him. I can always tell he appreciates it, and, you know, there’s cake, so it’s a bit of a win win.”

Leo has a hard time following Mikey’s fast paced story, but once he understands the gist of it, he’s left wondering if there are even more secrets that his two most passionate little brothers keep hidden from him. He figures if ever there was a time for him to learn more about Raph, it’s now. “So, what’s Raph’s favorite kind of cake?”

Mikey shrugs as he suddenly drops the bowl he was holding onto the table and turns towards the stove to stir the contents of the pot that’s been simmering this whole time. “Dunno, really, he seems to like them all, though I have noticed chocolate cake goes faster than the others, but that’s probably just because it’s Donnie’s favorite.”

“It is?” Leo never really gave his brother’s favorite types of desserts much thought before. He’s starting to wonder if that was a mistake.

Mikey nods as he returns to stirring the contents of the bowl on the table. “Oh yeah, Raph knows it, too. I’ve seen him dig out a piece from his own private stash when he catches Donnie looking for it. Although, he almost always makes me give it to him…probably so Donnie won’t discover his stash in the first place.”

Leo can’t help but smile at the thought. It’s no surprise to him that Raph would let Mikey take all of the credit for delivering one of Donnie’s favorite foods to him. Raph does stuff like that all of the time…never really taking credit for things that were his idea in the first place, unless it involves fighting. It’s something that has always confounded Leo in regards to his most stubborn brother. He’s never understood his brother’s need to constantly prove himself in every area, except for how truly softhearted he can be.

Mikey sighs as he moves the contents of the bowl into a greased pan. “He does stuff like that a lot, you know?”

Leo bites his lips in an attempt to cut off the hurt noise that wants to escape his mouth. He takes a moment before he finally nods. “Yeah, I know, Mikey.”

If Mikey intends to apologize for what might have been an unintended slight, he doesn’t get a chance before Donnie wanders into the kitchen and grabs a cup of coffee. He stares at Mikey as he starts preheating the oven. “You just made cookies yesterday, and, last I checked, we still had some left, so why are you making a cake now?”

Mikey glances back at Leo nervously, and Leo can only guess that he’s desperately trying not to let the knowledge of Raph’s cake obsession slip to more than one person today. Leo opens his mouth to take the blame, but he knows how ridiculous it would be to claim he asked Mikey to make a cake. After all, Leo doesn’t tend to request sweets. Sure, he’ll eat them if they’re there, but he would never actually ask for them.

Mikey merely shrugs and gives a sheepish smile. “Who doesn’t love cake, dude?”

Donnie raises an eyebrow ridge skeptically. “Is something wrong with Raph?”

The question immediately has Leo shifting from one foot then back to the other uncomfortably. It was bad enough telling Mikey about what he said. He really doesn’t want to have to tell Donnie as well. As for Mikey, Donnie’s query has him suddenly swallowing thickly as he turns his attention back to the pot on the stove. “Why do you ask, bro?”

Donnie rolls his eyes as he sets his coffee cup back onto the counter near the coffee pot. “It doesn’t take a genius to realize the correlation between Raph’s melancholy moods and your cake making habits. Not to mention, I did actually notice the lack of grumbling and complaints from him in the lab, so evidently there is something wrong. Do you have any idea what it is?”

Leo flinches and looks away. Apparently, he really is the only one who didn’t notice Raph’s zeal for cake. Leo isn’t entirely sure why that feels like such an enormous failure, but it does, all the same. He desperately hopes that Mikey can come up with some kind of response, and take the attention away from him, because Leo really doesn’t want to have to explain everything all over again.

Again, Mikey uncertainly glances over at Leo before shrugging. “He’s just hurting right now.”

Donnie’s eyes widen as he takes a step closer to Mikey. Leo can tell that that’s exactly the wrong phrasing to use with the turtle who often acts as their doctor. “Hurting how? What’s wrong? What happened to him? How severe is it? Why didn’t someone come get me? Was he injured in the lab and I just didn’t notice? How could I not notice? Why didn’t either of you say anything? You know I would have stopped what I was doing and…”

Mikey immediately drops the spoon he’s holding into the pot, spins around, and grabs a hold of Don’s shoulders, forcing him to stop his rapid fire questions for a moment. “It’s not that kind of hurt, dude.”

It visibly takes Donnie a second to catch up, and when he does, he pushes Mikey’s hands off of him. “Well, why didn’t you just say that in the first place?”

Mikey rolls his eyes as he starts tossing spices into the pot on the stove. “Not my fault you jump to conclusions, bro.”

Donnie’s eyes narrow as he glares, but then he nudges Mikey with an elbow. “So, what upset him enough for you to make a cake?” Mikey’s eyes dart over to Leo’s for the third time, and this time Donnie’s gaze follows his to where Leo is standing on the other side of the kitchen, desperately trying to find some way out of this one. “What happened while we were gone, Leo?”

Leo clears his throat and stands up a little straighter while dismissively waving his hand. He really doesn’t see any reason that Donnie needs to be involved in the current situation. “It was just another fight.”

Mikey scoffs before seemingly attempting to shrink away from both of the glares that are shot in his direction. He throws his hands up into the air defensively. “Don’t look at me. I’m just the cake making guy. I’m not the one who told Raph we deserve a better brother.” Mikey immediately slaps a hand over his mouth again as he gives Leo a pleading look. “Sorry, man, my bad.”

Donnie turns to stare at Leo with an expression full of stunned rage. “I’m sure there’s a reasonable explanation as to why you would say something that hurtful, right Leo?”

Leo shakes his head as he glances down into his now empty cup. He desperately wants another cup of tea, if only to feel the soothing warmth in his hands, but he really doesn’t want to move any closer to his brothers…not while they’re both staring at him like he’s some kind of criminal. “No, not really. I didn’t mean to. It just came out.”

Donnie folds his arms over his plastron as he rolls his eyes. “It just came out? What does that even mean, Leo?”

Leo sighs heavily as he pinches the bridge of his nose. He’s already exhausted and fed up with this conversation and he can tell from Don’s expression that it’s only just beginning. “Look, Don, you know how he is.”

Donnie glares as he takes another step towards Leo. “Yeah, Leo, I do know how he is, and I know how you are, too. And I know that whatever fight you two were having definitely wasn’t one-sided. That still doesn’t warrant you dragging both Mikey and I into your petty squabbles. You think you deserve a better brother than Raph...well, fine, but Mikey and I are just fine with the brothers we have.”

Leo lets out a frustrated groan as he leans heavily against the wall. “Donnie, I told you, I didn’t mean it. Raph just kept going on and on, and I couldn’t take it anymore, and it just came out.”

Donnie shakes his head in disappointment. “Because that’s evidently how you feel.”

“I do not…” Leo immediately pushes himself away from the wall, slamming his cup down on the nearby table, but he doesn’t even get a chance to finish before Donnie starts talking over him.

“Come on, Leo, you’re always going on about how much better things would be if Raph would just listen, if he was just nicer, if he just…”

Leo’s eyes narrow as he gets into his brother’s face. He’s done listening to another one of his little brothers put him down for something that he didn’t even mean to do. “Yeah…well, I’m hardly alone there, Donatello.”

Donnie blinks rapidly at his brother’s insinuation. “Excuse me?”

Leo huffs out a breath as he folds his arms over his plastron. “You heard me. You’re always going on about how he’s nothing more than a brute, or a meathead, or how if he just used his brain for once he’d be a lot more useful, or how destructive he can be, so…yeah, I hardly think I’m alone here.”

Donnie takes a step back, mouth agape as he stares at Leo with stunned indignation. “I have never claimed that Raph is useless, and the rest of that is nothing more than brotherly taunts.”

Leo scoffs, unwilling to listen to Donatello’s justifications. “Yeah, but that’s just it, Raph has his uses, but they’re nothing in comparison to yours, right, Donnie? And you know that’s how he feels and you do it anyway.”

“I have never…”

Leo can’t take it anymore. He refuses to listen to anymore of Donnie’s excuses. After all, Leo knows that his words this afternoon are hardly the only reason Raph feels the way he does. “It doesn’t matter. We both know that he feels that way, so I really don’t think you have the high ground here, Don.”

“I still have never even insinuated that I wanted…much less deserve a better brother.”

Leo shakes his head as he glares at his brother. “Oh really? Maybe you’ve never said the words, but we both know that you’ve definitely implied that all you want is a nicer, smarter brother, who doesn’t get himself injured through his own stupidity.”

Donnie suddenly throws his hands up in the air out of frustration. “Of course, I would prefer if my brother didn’t get injured as often as he does. It’s extremely heart wrenching to have to sit there and stitch him up and worry that this time I won’t be able to save him. That doesn’t mean that I don’t want him as a brother, but you wouldn’t know what that’s like, now would you, Leo?” Leo’s about to tell him that he knows exactly how that feels, because he’s always the one who has to sit there and watch, unable to do anything to help, but he doesn’t get a chance to retort before Donnie gives him one last dirty look and turns to leave. “I’ll be in my lab. I suggest you find some way to make this up to him, Leo.”

Leo is suddenly extremely grateful that he doesn’t have his cup in his hand anymore, because he’s so irritated that he’s sure that he would have thrown it against the wall if he did. He suddenly has a greater understanding of Raph in this moment, and he really doesn’t like the insight. He turns back towards the stove to address Mikey, certain that his little brother has to be stressing out after witnessing that spectacularly volatile exchange, but the stove is off and Mikey is nowhere to be found.

Leo sighs heavily, shoulders sagging as he makes his way out of the kitchen to go find his little brother. He never meant for everything to get so out of hand, and he doesn’t really know why everything has been going so wrong today. A part of him wishes he could just go back in time and stop himself from ever confronting Raph in the first place, even though he knows such desires are childish and useless.

When Leo enters the TV area, he’s almost surprised not to see Mikey sitting there playing a game, even though he knows that his little brother is most likely hiding from his quarrelling brothers. He trudges up the stairs towards Mikey’s room, believing that his distressed little brother is probably squirreled away in there, desperately trying to distract himself from all of the tension. However, Leo doesn’t make it that far before noticing that Raph’s door is slightly ajar and he can hear murmuring voices from inside the room. He stealthily slides next to the door to listen in and recognizes Mikey’s voice almost immediately. “Sorry to bother ya, Raphie, but Leo and Donnie are fighting and I just couldn’t take it anymore.”

Raph hums and there’s the sound of something shifting. Leo guesses Raph just made room for Mikey on his bed. “What are Fearless and The Boy Genius arguing about? Did Leo break the toaster again? He knows that he’s not supposed to touch it without supervision.”

Leo practically glowers at the assumption. It’s not his fault the toaster likes to stop working when he’s the only one in the kitchen. However, he keeps his comments to himself as he continues to eavesdrop. “No, that would have actually been fun to watch, bro. They were actually fighting about you.”

“Me?” Raph sounds truly affronted by the idea and it causes Leo to wince. “What the heck did I do now? I know I’m a screw-up, but I wasn’t even there.”

Leo drops his gaze to the floor, hearing Raph so defensive about something that wasn’t even his fault hurts. He full heartedly believes Raph shouldn’t say such things about himself, even if Leo knows that he’s the one to blame for it. Mikey makes another hurt noise and Leo can only guess that he’s hugging Raph now. “Nah, dude, it’s not like that. Leo told us what he said to you earlier, and neither Don nor I were too happy about it. Donnie kinda told Leo off, and…well, Leo didn’t take it too well. I know he feels bad about what he said, and D only made him feel worse, but he still shouldn’t have gone off on Don like that.”

Leo squeezes his eyes shut and tries to calm himself down. He knows that Mikey’s right, of course, but that doesn’t make it any easier to hear. He listens silently as Raph sighs heavily. “Don shouldn’t have gotten involved either. It doesn’t matter. Leo’s right. You guys do deserve a better brother. There’s nothing I can do about that, though. I try…I really do, Mike, but, no matter how hard I try, I’m still me. I know that that will never be good enough…not to Leo…not to Master Splinter, and certainly not to me. However, I can’t be more than what I am. I’ve tried and I’m so damn tired of trying and failing, Mikey. I can’t…I can’t do this anymore. I’m sorry, you know that, right? If I knew how to be better…if I knew how to be what you guys deserve I would do it, but I don’t and I can’t.”

Leo has to slap a hand over his mouth to keep the anguished whimper from escaping. He’s never heard his most obstinate brother sound so lost and defeated before and it’s breaking his heart. He desperately wants to burst into the room and tell Raph that he’s wrong, but Leo knows that nothing good would come of it. After all, Raph would just be upset with him for listening in and he still wouldn’t believe him.

Leo’s only hope is that Mikey can talk some sense into their most mulish brother. “Of course, we know that you try your best, Raphie, and it is good enough. Leo just gets caught up in the moment sometimes, dude. You know how he gets when you two really get into it, but I know that he didn’t mean it, and, even if he did, it doesn’t matter. You’re one of the best bros a turtle could ask for. It doesn’t matter that you’ve got a temper. Leo obviously does, too, and you don’t see him being told to change. Not to mention, Don has a temper, as well. Remember that time I broke his soldering gun and he literally kicked me out of the lab. No one told him he was a bad brother and I had a bruise for like a week. So, no, Leo isn’t right and I don’t care what you say. You’re still one of my favorite brothers and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

“Thanks, little brother.” Raph’s voice is soft, but Leo can still hear him clearly, and the gentle sincerity of his tone gives Leo a small amount of hope that perhaps Mikey has managed to get through to him.

Mikey lets out a choked off snort. It’s a sound that Leo has literally never heard before and he has no idea what it means. “Okay, so you appreciate what I had to say, but you didn’t actually believe a word of it. I just don’t get why. I’m not the type to lie, dude, and you know that.”

“What makes you think I don’t believe you?” Raph sounds genuinely astounded by Mikey’s accusation, and Leo has to admit that he’s wondering the same.

“Come on, man.” Mikey scoffs and Leo can only imagine the expression on his baby brother’s face at the moment. “While you may have meant the whole, ‘thanks, little brother’ thing, it’s still basically a blow off to my nice heartfelt conversation.”

“I’m not blowing you off, Mikey.” Raph sounds exasperated, but even Leo isn’t convinced.

“Oh, really? ‘Cause I can tell that ya think I’m just trying to make you feel better, and maybe I am, but only because you deserve to feel better, and that doesn’t change the fact that I fully believe everything that I said.

Raph breathes out a heavy sigh. “I know you do, Mikey.”

“But you don’t.” Mikey sounds truly heartbroken with the realization that Raph really doesn’t think much of himself, and the entire exchange leaves Leo disconsolate and downtrodden. He knows this is entirely his fault. He just wishes he had some way to change it.

“No, Mikey, I don’t. I’m sorry.” Raph’s voice is devoid of any real emotion, and it’s honestly the most terrifying thing Leo has ever heard. Impassive and Raphael don’t go together. Leo never actually believed Raph was even capable of such, and he’s left feeling as if he’s utterly destroyed his brother with one stupid, rage filled comment. The thought makes Leo’s heart clench as he bites his lips to keep his sorrow at bay.

“This isn’t just because of what Leo said, is it? This…you’ve felt this way for a while now. Leo…he just confirmed what you were thinking, right? That’s why it hurts so much.” Leo can hear the strain in Mikey’s voice and he knows without even having to see his most emotionally attuned brother that he’s crying.

He desperately wants to burst into the room and comfort both of his little brothers, but Leo can’t make himself move…not when he knows that he caused this. Even if Raph has felt this way for some time, it’s irrelevant, because Raph didn’t believe that his brothers felt the same way until Leo unthinkingly spouted words that he didn’t even mean. He should have known…they all should have realized how Raphael viewed himself, but they didn’t, and that, couple with Leo’s mistake, has left their most capricious brother irreparably damaged.

Mikey’s sobs suddenly soften, and Leo can only imagine that Raph has gathered their youngest brother into a hug, muffling his weeping. “It’s okay, Mikey. I’m okay.”

“No, it’s not!” Mikey is shouting, and Leo envisions him pushing away from Raph, making sure that his voice is heard loud and clear, though Leo’s certain that Raph could hear his cry perfectly fine before. “You’re not okay! It’s not okay for you to think that way or believe those things. It’s not and it never will be! We love you and you’re a lot more than your anger and your outbursts. You are a perfectly fine brother, who protects us, and takes care of us, and fights for us…even when the enemies you’re fighting are inside you. How could you not see how amazing you are?”

“Because I’m not, Mikey. I hurt you guys all the time. I get us into fights all the time, and…”

“I don’t care!” Mikey’s voice is strong and insistent, and it leaves Leo with an overwhelming sense of pride. “You’re our brother. You’re just as awesome as the rest of us and I refuse to believe otherwise. I get that you don’t believe that right now, but I swear I’m gonna keep saying it until you do. You are no worse a brother than any of us. We all have our faults and that doesn’t make us any lesser for it, and it certainly doesn’t make you lesser, either. Got it?”

Leo has never heard Mikey use such an authoritative tone before, and it leaves him wondering exactly how much Mikey pretends to be nothing more than a goofball for their sake, despite that fact that he’s evidently so much more than just that. However, Leo can’t really find it himself to care at the moment, because Mikey’s conviction seems to be helping, at least slightly. “Thanks, Mikey. I really do mean it.”

“I know you do, Raphie.” Mikey’s tone lightens, and Leo knows there’s no better time to make his presence known.

He steps into the room and clears his throat. For once he knows exactly what to say to Raph, and it feels extremely liberating, if a little strange. “Mikey’s right, you know, and he won’t be the only one reminding you of such things. I think it’s important for all of us to make it clear how lucky we are to have you as our brother. I love you, Raph.”

Mikey has his arms wrapped around Raph as he glances over toward the door to stare at Leo. He looks extremely pleased with Leo’s intrusion, and there doesn’t seem to be a single ounce of surprise in his eyes. Leo wonders if Mikey knew that he was listening in the whole time, but he figures that it’s rather irrelevant at the moment. Raph, for his part, doesn’t really seem to know what to say, but he nods. Leo can see that he’s starting to at least doubt the things that he believes about himself, which Leo guesses is a start. “Yeah, yeah, now get out of my room. I can smell burning cake.”

Mikey immediately jumps up and runs out of the room. “Not the cake!”

Leo throws an arm over his brother’s shoulders as they both follow Mikey to the kitchen at a much more relaxed pace. “You know, you’re one of my favorite brothers, too. I honestly never believed otherwise, and I certainly never meant for you to believe otherwise, either.”

Raph stares up at him for a long moment, seemingly searching for the lie. After what feels like an eternity, he nods his head and gives a smirk. “I know, bro. Now, let’s go rescue Mikey from himself. We don’t want him forgetting to use potholders again.”

Leo’s eyes widen with the memory of the last time Mikey did just that, and they both take off towards the kitchen at a run.

The End