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Fic: Wasting Away Chapter One (Part B)

Title: Wasting Away
Author: Brokaw22
Disclaimer: The norms
Rating: T
Story Synopsis: Leo knows that there's something going on with Raph. He just never expected it to be something of this magnitude.

Previous Chapters: Chapter One (Part A)

The three of them sit down and wait silently for Mikey to put the finishing touches on dinner. There’s still a fair amount of tension in the room, but that’s what they have Mikey for, and, true to form, Mikey finishes dinner in record time, placing a plate with three chili dogs on it in front of Raph. “There’s plenty where that came from, so should we try to break your record?” He winks at his brother and laughs manically.

As much as Leo would like to cringe in disgust at the amount of chili dogs Raph has consumed in one sitting before and put an end to this awful tradition, he’s actually hoping that Raph attempts to beat his record, because then he’ll have actually eaten more than a small serving of something for the first time in a long while. He smirks as he folds his arms over his chest, knowing Raph can never resist a challenge. “Come on, Mikey, there’s no way he can break that record.”

Donnie gives him a look of utter astonishment. “Leo, you’re not honestly supporting this ridiculous tradition, are you?”

Leo shrugs as he continues smirking at Raph. “What’s the big deal? Mikey and Raph have so much fun with this.”

Donnie shakes his head, but doesn’t protest any further. Leo wonders if Donnie has caught on to what he’s doing yet or if he just knows it’s futile to try and stop it. “Well, you guys can count me out of this. I’m having my standard two chili dogs before I return to my lab, and you two,” he points to Raph and Mikey, “can deal with your stomach aches all on your own.”

Raph rolls his eyes as he takes a huge bite out of one of his chili dogs, and then his eyes close in utter bliss. He doesn’t even bother swallowing completely before speaking. “Mikey, these are amazing!”

Mikey beams at the compliment as he devours his own chili dog. “Eh, not as great as pizza, but good. Hey, what do you guys think of chili dog pizza? That’s gotta be amazing, right?”

Leo shakes his head at his little brother. If he’s honest, he’s surprised Mikey hasn’t already made a chili dog pizza. “How about you lay off the crazy food concoctions for a while, okay, Mikey? Besides, I think all of our stomachs are going to need a day of recovery after this.”

Mikey gives him the saddest expression he can muster for about three seconds before he realizes that his plate is empty and he goes to retrieve more food. While he’s standing at the stove, Mikey taps Raph’s seat with his foot. “Hey man, you ready for more?”

Raph shakes his head and Leo glances over to see Raph has eaten exactly one and a half chili dogs. “Actually, I think I’m done. Thanks for making these, Mikey. They’re really good.”

Mikey drops the ladle back into the pot halfway through making up his full plate of chili dogs and spins around so fast that Leo is actually surprised that none of his chili dogs go flying off of his plate. “What do you mean you’re done? Dude, you normally eat like a dozen of these things.”

Raph shrugs and glances away from them. “Yeah, so? I’d rather not eat ‘til I hurl like you, Mikey.”

Mikey stares pleadingly at Leo, seemingly asking him to fix this, but Leo doesn’t know what to do, because now more than ever it’s clear that he was right all along and something is definitely wrong with Raph. “Okay, that’s it!” Leo slams his hands down onto the table. “What gives, Raph? You’ve hardly been eating since before we left the farm. You’ve lost weight, you’re constantly fatigued, you’re weaker, and you’ve been isolating yourself more than ever. What’s going on with you?”

Raph sighs heavily and shifts uncomfortably. Leo sees his eyes dart to the door a couple of times, and Leo vows that if Raph makes even the slightest move towards the exit, he will tackle him. “It’s nothing, Leo! Don’t worry about it.”

Leo is up and out of his seat, blocking the exit to the room before Raph even finishes his sentence. “I very much doubt that it’s nothing. Come on, Raph, even Donnie ate more than you and Donnie doesn’t eat more than anyone.”

Raph looks as though he’s ready to just bulldoze right through Leo to get out of the room, and Leo is honestly worried about having to deal with a charging Raphael until Donnie gets up and stands next to him, helping to barricade Raph’s exit with his body. “He’s right, Raph. Something’s not right and I’m sorry I didn’t notice it sooner, but you need to tell us what’s going on with you.”

Raph clutches at his head, seemingly in pain, and then growls. “I don’t know, okay? I don’t know what’s wrong with me! I’m not hungry. Hell, most of the time, the very thought of food is enough to make me want to vomit. I’m tired, everything hurts, and, despite the fact that all I want to do is sleep, I can’t, and when I do the nightmares are...” He trails off as though he’s suddenly aware that he’s been speaking out loud.

Leo glances over to Donnie, who looks exceedingly alarmed the more Raph talks. They both know better than to question Raph about his nightmares, so Leo chooses to ignore that little detail and instead focuses on Donnie. The expression on his genius brother’s face is causing the knot that’s abruptly formed in Leo’s stomach to tighten immeasurably with each passing second. “What is it, Donnie?”

Donnie shakes his head. “I don’t know.” He turns back to Raph, who’s still clutching at his head. “Hey, why don’t we go to my lab? I’ll do some tests and get you something for that headache, okay?”

Raph nods and quietly follows Donnie out of the room. Leo turns to Mikey, who looks as though he has just discovered that one of his brother’s is dying. “It’s okay, Mikey. Don will figure it out. He’ll be okay.”

Mikey shakes his head and Leo is fairly certain that he can see tears shining in his little brother’s eyes. “But, but, he’s sick. He’s sick, Leo, and none of us noticed. He could be…”

Leo gathers Mikey into a hug and holds him close. “No, okay, no. He’ll be fine. Don just needs to figure out what’s wrong with him, and, if anyone can do it, Donnie can.”

“We still didn’t know. If it was one of us, Raph would have known something was wrong, but we didn’t. I mean, I noticed all the same stuff you did, but I just thought Raph was still overdoing it, like at the farmhouse, ya know? Well, I guess you don’t know, since you were unconscious for three months, but Raph...he took everything on himself. He was the one who kept us training and watched over you. He helped Donnie set up that lab in the barn, and…” Mikey trails off as he buries his head deeper into Leo’s plastron.

Leo sighs heavily as he squeezes Mikey a little tighter. “I know, Mikey, I know. I saw how Raph helped you two with training, and, after seeing how far April has come, I kind of figured he had a hand in that too. He has been pushing himself too hard, which is why it took us all so long to notice, but it’s going to be okay. We know now, so now we can do something about it.”

Mikey shakes his head and his voice is muffled by Leo’s plastron. “But what if we can’t?”

Leo pulls away just enough to give Mikey the sternest expression that he can muster right now. “Don’t say that, Mikey! You can’t think like that right now…not you…not our ray of sunshine, okay? Your optimism is what keeps the rest of us going, so you’ve gotta stay positive for Raph’s sake.”

Mikey nods once before pulling out of the embrace with a watery smile. “You’re right. Whatever’s wrong with him, Raph’s gonna need some good old fashioned Mikey cheer.”

Leo gives a small grin in return. “Just don’t do anything too over the top, okay? And no more cockroaches alive, dead, plastic, or any other kind, got it?”

Mikey nods and then salutes. “Turtle’s honor.” He turns to run off but stops for a second mid-stride. “Um Leo?”

Leo stares at him as calmly as he can muster while his insides feel like they’re tying themselves into knots, but he can’t let Mikey see how worried he is…not if he doesn’t want Mikey to descend into despair. “Yeah, Mikey?”

“You’ll let me know when Don knows something, right?”

“Of course,” Leo nods before ushering Mikey out of the kitchen. “Now, go do whatever you were going to do. I’ll put this stuff away.” Leo gestures behind him towards the rest of the food and other random items Mikey left out.

Mikey gives him a watery smile as he starts to wander away. “Thanks bro, and one more thing.” He stops dead in his tracks and turns to meet Leo’s eyes dead on. “Don’t put the strawberry bread away just yet. I wanna see if I can get Raph to eat a piece after Don’s examination.”

Leo can’t keep the small grin off of his face at Mikey’s endearing thought process. “You got it, Mikey.”

He puts away dinner and finishes the dishes, knowing that it has taken him far longer than normal to finish such a simple task -- even with all of the pots, pans, and bowls Mikey used -- but Leo can’t seem to focus…not when he’s spending every second anxiously awaiting Donnie’s diagnosis. He knows he needs a distraction, even though Leo also knows there’s nothing in the world that could possibly take his mind off of the current situation. He wishes now more than ever that Master Splinter was here, but their master is, unfortunately, staying with April and her father until his injuries from their latest battle with The Shredder heals. The last thing they need right now is Master Splinter getting some kind of infection.

Leo sits in front of the television, not really watching whatever’s on the screen, and trying desperately to remember all of his really well thought-out reasons for why he shouldn’t just barge into Donatello’s lab. Unfortunately, his mind keeps telling him that there are no good reasons when he’s being faced with the possibility of a sick little brother. Still, he knows that his presence wouldn’t help right now. Leo would just get in the way and most likely annoy both Donatello and Raphael. Not to mention, Leo is sure that Raph would detest his presence more than usual now.

Abruptly, Leo is torn away from his musings by the distinct sound of the lab door opening and closing. He glances over to see Raph walking away from the door. They make eye contact for merely a second before Raph practically runs to his room and shuts the door. Normally, Leo would have something mocking to say about needles or something, but not now…not when the fear he has kept silent about for so long has finally been brought to the forefront and is mocking him, whispering horrible possibilities, even now. He stands and slowly makes his way to Donatello’s lab, breathing a heavy sigh, and desperately trying to find some semblance of calm before entering Donnie’s domain.

He apprehensively moves his hand slowly towards the door handle, unsure if he’s really ready to hear whatever Donnie has to say about what’s wrong with their most cantankerous brother, and yet, knowing that this, among many other things, is his burden to bear. Leo inhales a large breath and holds it as he inches open the door. He slowly exhales as he makes his way across the threshold and prepares himself for the worst.

Donatello is poring over various documents on his computer screen and frantically glancing between the papers in his hands and the screen in front of him. Leo takes another large calming breath and stands a little straighter. “Find anything?”

“Nothing yet.” Donnie’s shaking his head and clutching the papers in his hands so tightly that Leo hopes that he has other, less crinkled and more legible, copies somewhere. After a long silent moment that feels like an eternity, the papers slip out of Donnie’s suddenly laxed fingers and his brother turns to him with an expression of utter fear plastered on his face. “Leo, we have a problem.”

Leo does his best not to immediately jump to conclusions about what could possibly be wrong with Raph, but, from Donnie’s reaction, there aren’t any good possibilities running through his mind. “What kind of problem?”

“I…I don’t understand. How could this have happened?” Donnie’s not looking at him anymore. Instead, he’s got his head in his hands and he looks as though he’s about two seconds away from falling apart completely. “I eradicated it. At least, I thought I eradicated it. I…I should have done regular testing like I wanted to, but you know how Raph is, and he seemed fine. I mean, yeah, I knew he wasn’t eating as much and was losing weight, but we were all eating differently at the farmhouse, and even once we came back…well, nothing has really been the same, you know? We’ve basically had no down time. I haven’t had time for regular testing, even if Raph would have allowed it, and…”

Leo immediately grabs Donnie by the shoulders and shakes him a little to stop his rambling. “Donnie, what are you talking about? What’s going on?”

Donnie sighs heavily as Leo lets him go. “Do you remember when the creep infected Raph, turning him into that plant thing?” At Leo’s nod, Donnie continues. “Well, apparently sucking the mutagen out of the creep and back into Raph killed off most of the infection.”

Leo folds his arms over his chest, not liking that particular wording. “What do you mean by most?”

“Just what the word implies, Leo. I thought it killed off all of the infection, but apparently it didn’t. There must have been trace amounts lying dormant in Raph’s system. If I had kept up with regular testing beyond what I did that night, maybe…maybe I would have caught this sooner, but I didn’t.” Donnie abruptly turns away from him, seemingly unable to meet Leo’s eyes.

“Well, why didn’t you?” Leo’s voice comes out gruff and angry. He knows it’s unfair to put this on Donnie, but Leo hasn’t been able to get the incident with The Creep out of his mind ever since he found himself sitting in the barn, waiting all night to find out if Donnie could save their brother or not.

Donnie glances up at him, almost pleadingly. “Life has been crazy, Leo. We’ve been fighting almost nonstop, getting Raph to submit to treatment when it’s obvious something is wrong is hard enough, and I didn’t think this could happen. I never would have suspected this was even a possibility. Mikey’s shell acne never returned. I had no reason to believe this could happen.”

Leo doesn’t know what to say. He thought they were done dealing with The Creep and everything else that they dealt with while they were staying at the farmhouse the moment they returned to New York City. To discover that, not only has Raph been suffering from what The Creep did to him all of this time, but that none of them even bothered to notice makes Leo wish he had refused to allow Raph to leave by himself to go get firewood that night.

It’s a useless thought and a meaningless one now, but it’s there all the same, and there’s nothing Leo can do about it. He just wishes he had been able to protect his brothers back then, but he couldn’t. Yes, he managed to help them take down The Creep, but even that seems insignificant in the face of this new development. “So, what’s going to happen to Raph? Is he going to eventually de-mutate into that plant thing again?”

Donnie shrugs. “It’s a distinct possibility, but I honestly don’t know, Leo. I’ll have to do more tests, and, even then, I have no real way of knowing what’s going to happen to him. In fact, it’s just as likely that Raph could de-mutate completely.”

Leo’s eyes widen in realization as he shakes his head incredulously and backs away from his brother. “Wait, you don’t mean that Raph could eventually de-mutate into a normal turtle, do you?”

Donnie nods as he clutches his hands together. Leo recognizes it as one of the ways Donnie tries to calm himself, but doesn’t mention it. He figures they should both be utilizing their calming techniques right now. “Like I said, it’s a distinct possibility.”

Leo honestly can’t believe what he’s hearing right now. There’s a part of him that wants to deny what Donnie is telling him, but Leo knows better than to give into that piece of himself. This is the problem and, no matter what he’s thinking or feeling, they have to deal with it. “Okay, so how do we fix this?”

Donnie shakes his head again. “Honestly, Leo, I wouldn’t even know where to begin. I mean, if Raph is just de-mutating into that plant thing again, then, theoretically, a more concentrated dose of a similar antidote should help stop, if not reverse, the effects completely. However, if he’s de-mutating completely, I truly have no idea how to stop that. Not to mention, if he does de-mutate completely, then I don’t think we can do anything. I mean, we still don’t completely understand how the mutagen works. I very much doubt that dousing a normal-turtle-Raphael in mutagen would yield the same results that it did all those years ago when we were originally mutated. I mean, you saw what it did to Spike, so it only makes sense that a de-mutated Raphael plus mutagen would equal…well, not our Raph.”

Leo’s head feels like it’s spinning, and the more Donnie talks, the worse it gets. It’s bad enough imagining Raph reverting back into that plant thing and having no real solution to the problem, but the idea of Raph reverting back into a normal turtle hurts in a way that Leo can’t describe. He thinks that it might actually be a fate worse than death. After all, Leo knows what Raph would choose, if given the option.

He can’t think about the possibility of having his brother with him, but not as his brother without feeling as if his heart is being put through a shredder. If it was a choice between that and death, and the decision was left up to him, Leo honestly isn’t sure which he’d choose. “We…we shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves.” It’s the only thing that Leo can manage to say and it comes out strained and desperate.

Donnie glances up at him and whatever he sees makes his eyes soften as he nods. “Yeah, of course. Besides, there currently aren’t any signs that he’s going to fully de-mutate. If anything, the behavioral changes he’s been exhibiting point to plant mutant regression.”

Leo’s brow furrows in confusion. “What behavioral changes?”

Donnie rolls his eyes, but continues in the soft, gentle tone he’s been using since he realized how much this is affecting Leo. “We all noticed that Raph has been acting nicer lately and he’s been far less sarcastic when helping out and stuff. We all just thought he was consciously trying to control his rage, but, when we mentioned it earlier, he seemed genuinely confused. I’m starting to think that the behavior changes weren’t conscious decisions at all and are instead symptoms of what’s happening to him.”

Leo’s eyes widen at the implication, hoping that this might somehow turn out to be good news. “Okay, and is it possible that the behavioral changes are indicative of other changes happening within him? I mean, I know you and Mikey said that Raph was very affectionate as that plant creature. You claimed that he was almost dog like, but is there anyway his current behavior could be reminiscent of…” Leo trails off, unable to speak the words out loud. It shouldn’t be so hard. It’s just a theory, but it’s one that terrifies him.

“Of a normal turtle?” Donnie finishes for him. At Leo’s nod, Donnie shrugs. “It’s possible. Look, I still have to find out what exactly is happening to Raphael on a cellular level before I can even attempt to decipher what’s actually happening to him and figure out some sort of treatment.”

Leo swallows thickly before clearing his throat. “Well, then, that brings us to the hardest part of all of this.”

Donnie’s eyes narrow in confusion. “What’s that?”

“Figuring out how and what exactly we’re going to tell Raph.”

Donnie squirms uncomfortably, and Leo does his best not to cringe as well. This is definitely going to be equally as difficult as actually finding a cure for Raph. “Well, we technically don’t have to tell him anything until I know exactly what’s happening to him and how it’s going to affect him.”

Leo shakes his head. He can’t stand the idea of keeping this from Raph, mostly because Leo isn’t actually sure that he could if he wanted to. After all, he’s never been particularly talented at lying to his family. “No, Raph deserves to know what we know. He also deserves to know why he has been feeling so terrible, even if we don’t have all of the answers yet. He wouldn’t want it any other way.”

Donnie nods in understanding. They both know that Raph would never want to be left out, especially when it’s something involving him. Leo just hopes that Raph doesn’t crumble under the weight they’re about to place upon his shoulders. “Okay, so who’s going to tell him and, more importantly, what are we going to tell him?”

Leo sighs heavily. He’s already forcing one little brother to suffer a heavy burden. He wouldn’t be able to live with himself if he let it become two, especially since this is, by all rights, his responsibility. After all, it doesn’t matter if it’s what Raph prefers, Leo still hates himself for not being able to protect him from this in the first place. “I’ll do it. I’ll tell Raph, and I’ll figure out how to do so later, but that means you have to tell Mikey.”

Donnie shakes his head. “No, there’s no reason to tell Mikey about any of this. He’ll just be…”

Leo slashes a hand through the air, effectively cutting Donnie off. “No, we’re not leaving Mikey out of this. I know you want to protect him. I do too, but we can’t. He already knows that something is wrong. It would be cruel to leave him out. You don’t have to tell him all of your theories or anything, but he needs to know what’s going on. Besides, I think Raph is going to need all of us after I tell him.”

Donnie sighs heavily and nods in agreement. “You’re right. I just don’t like the idea of Mikey worrying all of the time. I mean, who knows how long it’ll take me to figure out a way to reverse this?”

Leo nods in understanding. He would gladly avoid telling their younger brother about this as well, if he could, but Leo knows better. They can’t hide from the truth and it’s better to just face it head on, like they always have with everything else. “I know, but Mikey is going to worry just as much, if not more-so, if we don’t tell him.”

Donnie slumps back into his chair. “I know.” There’s a long pause before Donnie abruptly sits up again. “So, does that mean we’re telling Master Splinter as well?”

Leo takes a moment to mull it over. If anyone deserves to know about all of this, it’s their father, but he’s still healing. The last thing Leo wants to do is risk jeopardizing Master Splinter’s recovery, even if he does feel as though their father is needed now more than ever. Leo leans against Donnie’s desk as he rubs the tension out of his neck. “I think we should leave that decision up to Raph. As much as I believe Master Splinter needs to be told about what’s going on with Raphael, I don’t think any of us want to risk calling him back too soon. We all know what being in the sewers will do to his still open wounds. However, if Raph needs or wants him here, I won’t hesitate to call.”

Donnie nods once more. “That sounds reasonable.” He slowly rises from his chair and gestures to the door. “Shall we go, then? This is starting to look like it’s going to be a long night for both of us.”

Leo nods and gestures for Donnie to lead the way. He intends to use what little extra time letting Donnie go first will lend him to figure out exactly what he’s going to say to Raph. At this point, Leo almost wishes that he didn’t know his brothers so well and wasn’t so observant. If he wasn’t, then he never would have noticed Raph’s condition, and he wouldn’t be dragging his feet on his way to confront Raph about what he knows now. Except, Leo knows that that isn’t true at all, because, if anything, he wishes he had spoken up sooner. Maybe then things wouldn’t seem so dire now. He breathes a heavy sigh as he makes his way to Raphael’s door, hoping that his little brother is somehow prepared for what he has to say, and yet, knowing that there’s no possible way for any of them to be ready for this.

The End (for now)