Time was a vague concept to Donatello. What felt like passing minutes to the purple-masked genius were actually changing hours. It was this misperception that fostered his habit of tardiness and his reputation for pulling all-nighters. Once engrossed in a project, Donatello was hard-pressed to disengage himself for necessary functions like eating or sleeping.

Such was the case on this particular night. Holed up in his laboratory, Don was busy at a bench cluttered with glassware and supplies he required for a chemical experiment he had been wanting to conduct for weeks now and got around to finally. The scientist would have paid no mind to the clock at all except he needed it to monitor the amount of time his solutions stirred. Still, the fact that it was nearing one-thirty in the morning didn't really register in Don's occupied mind. At least not until…

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

Startled, Don dropped a beaker of methanol which hit the bench with a dull clunk and spilled everywhere. He hastily snatched a handful of paper towels to mop up the mess all-the-while mentally cursing whoever was raising a ruckus. Rescuing his research notebook from a growing chemical puddle, he glanced at the clock on the wall and was surprised to learn just how late it was.

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

Donnie jumped again, knocking his righted beaker back over. Now that he had heard the screaming a second time he realized that it was a reaction to fear. Instantly shifting from chemist to ninja mode, he abandoned his project and headed for the door, grabbing his bo staff on the way.

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

The sound was coming from Raph's room. Don sprinted in that direction, a hundred different scenarios flashing through his mind as he wondered what could possibly be distressing his younger brother. He had almost reached the room when a flash of green and blue darted in front of him and beat him inside.

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

Raph's cries seemed magnified now that his bedroom door was open. Don cringed at the horrible noise. He paused in the doorway, but only to assess the situation. What he saw was Raph down on the floor, staring wide-eyed at the ceiling, and seemingly immobilized. But as Leo approached the hothead, Raph suddenly jerked and started scooting backwards, one hand clutching at his left cheek.

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

"Raph!" Leo yelled. Dropping to his knees, he tried to reach out and calm his terrorized brother. "Raph! Stop!"

The sai-wielder kicked at Leo and scrabbled away. His shell collided with the wall and he sat there, cowering against the bricks while Leo moved in closer. Another scream was ripped from Raph's throat as the katana-wielder succeeded in grabbing his right wrist.

"RAPH!" Leo bellowed. Grunting, he wrestled for control over Raph who was putting up a fierce struggle, but absolutely refused to make eye contact. Leo gripped Raph under the chin and forced the younger turtle to look up at him. "RAPH! IT'S ME!"

It was like a light switched had been flipped. Leo watched as Raph's eyes cleared and his thrashing limbs went limp. Raph's screeching finally quieted, much to Leo's relief. Chest heaving, Raph gazed at Leo somewhat suspiciously like he couldn't quite believe who was really there.

"…L…Le…Le…o…"

The hothead tried to speak, but he had screamed himself hoarse. Pulling his hand free from Leo's hold, he extended his fingers towards the leader's face. Raph's apprehension vanished once he was able to touch Leo's cheek and verify his identity. Leo laid his hand over top of Raph's, silently assuring his sibling that big brother was indeed here for him. The eldest tried not to look surprised by how clammy Raph's palm felt.

"What is going on in here?!"

Master Splinter's voice disrupted the recently restored silence of the room. The mutant rat had suddenly popped in the doorway with Michelangelo right behind him. He brushed past Donatello and hurried over to his blade-wielding students. Raphael, he noted, was breathing hard, covered in sweat, and his emerald flesh looked sun-faded. Kneeling down, Splinter placed a comforting hand on his third son's shoulder.

"Raphael, what is the matter?" he inquired softly, his forehead wrinkled with concerned confusion. "What happened?"

Raph's attention drifted from his brother to his father. He opened his mouth to reply, but could only offer a half-hearted rasp for an explanation. Shaking his head, Raph withdrew his hand from under Leo's and used it to hide the rest of his face. A second later, tremors began to rattle his entire body.

"Raphael…" Splinter soothed and gently pried his son's hands away.

A gasp escaped the ninjutsu master for his action had revealed the gash on Raph's left cheek that stretched from his temple to his jaw. Blood was smeared around the wound and as Splinter stared fresh drops of the red substance oozed forth and streaked down Raph's skin.

"Donatello," Splinter summoned and the purple-masked turtle scurried forward at once. Releasing Raph's hands, Splinter moved over and indicated that Don should take his previous spot. "Please tend to your brother."

Lowering himself down, Don took a moment to evaluate Raph. One of the first things he noticed was that even though there was plenty of light in the room Raph's pupils were blown wide. Very gingerly, Don took his sibling's head in his hands and turned it so he could better examine the injured side. To his wonderment, Raph's face felt hot despite the presence of goosebumps elsewhere on his skin.

"Donnie, what do you need?" Leo asked quietly, tearing his eyes away from Raph to look at the genius.

"Some warm, soapy water and a clean cloth," Don replied as he continued to study the cut. "Plus the first aid kit. Please and thanks."

Leo stood and quickly but calmly left to collect the requested supplies. Don had a mission for Mikey, too. Releasing Raph's face, he glanced back over his shoulder at his youngest brother who had lingered by the door.

"Mikey, will you please go to the kitchen and get a bottle of water from the fridge?"

"Sure thing, bro," Michelangelo said and scampered off.

He returned slightly ahead of Leo, handed off the bottled water, and retreated a few paces on the assumption that Raph wouldn't want too many people crowding around him. Leo, with a white towel draped over his right forearm, the first aid kit tucked under his shoulder, and a bowl of heated water in his hands, passed the items over to Don one by one then resumed his former post. Don dipped a large corner of the towel into the sudsy water and carefully started to clean Raph's wound.

"It's not too deep of a cut," the genius announced though he was directing his words to Raph. "So you won't need stitches."

He received no response from his little brother who was staring absentmindedly off to the side. Don frowned slightly as he worked. Raph's submissiveness was far too out of character for him. Leo and Splinter thought so, too, which they silently conveyed to each other by simply exchanging glances behind Don's shell.

Don finished the cleaning and abandoned the towel for the first aid kit from which he fished out a small bottle of betadine and a cotton disc swab. Wetting the swab, Don applied it to the cut. Not even the sting of the antiseptic on opened flesh could rouse Raph from his stupor. For a final touch, Don placed butterfly bandages at even intervals along the length of the wound to hold the skin together. The mutant doctor then picked up the bottle of water Mikey had brought him, uncapped it, and held it out to his patient.

"Raph, I want you to drink this," Don ordered quietly. Turning his head, Raph looked first at his brother and then down at the offered beverage. He took it, lifted it to his lips for a quick drink, and then tried to hand it back but Don motioned for him to continue. "You need to drink all of it. Slowly please."

Sighing internally, Raph did as he was told. He couldn't deny that the cool water felt good washing down his parched and sore throat. It was awkward having his three brothers and father staring avidly at him as he drank. Raph knew they were all dying to learn why he had woken up screaming. With each sip of water, he became less and less eager to share his experience. They hadn't believed him the last time he had claimed someone was in his room. Why would they believe him now? How could he expect them to when he wasn't sure he believed what had happened?

A monster with long claws and sharp teeth had sat on his chest and smiled at him…

Yeah right. It was a bad dream. A very realistic bad dream, but that was it. No way was he going to tell his family about that…that thing

Tipping his head back, Raph finished off the last few drops of water. His eyes fell to his knees as Don took back the now empty bottle. He certainly wasn't going to be the one to instigate conversation.

"Want to tell us what happened, Raph?" Donnie gently probed.

Raphael shook his head once. Clearing his throat, he managed a gruff reply. "…just had a bad dream…m'sorry for waking all of ya up…"

"That must have been some heck of a dream," Leo commented with a frown. "What was it about?"

"…nothing…" Raph insisted while avoiding eye contact. "…don't worry about it…"

"Dude, you woke up screaming bloody murder and your face was sliced open," Mikey chimed in from his brother's weight bench where he had taken a seat. "You can't tell us it was nothing and expect us to believe you. So spill."

"It was about Shredder, alright?!" the hothead snapped. He realized that trying to avoid their questions was a poor tactic for getting them out of his room. Lying would yield much better results. "I thought I was dreaming about when we went ta dinner the other night at April's and it turned into the night Shredder blew up her apartment."

"That's nothing to be ashamed of, Raph," Leo said quickly. "I'm sure we've all had that nightmare."

"Who the fuck said I was ashamed?!" Raphael snarled, shooting a glare at the eldest. Projecting his anger onto an undeserving soul was also an effective tool in his arsenal. "Ya think that I am just 'cause I didn't feel a need ta cry on yer shoulder and tell ya something that ain't yer goddamn business?!"

Taken aback by the hostile response, the leader lifted his hands in a gesture of surrender as he tried to sooth his riled underling. "Whoa, Raph, calm down…I wasn't trying to imply that…"

"Oh, go fuck yerself, Leo!" Raph interrupted. Shoving his big brother aside, he got to his feet and made a beeline for the door. "And the rest of ya can leave me the hell alone, too!"

"Raphael! Wait!" Master Splinter called out to his retreating son. Rising with the aid of his walking stick, he followed at a hurried pace. "Raphael!"

As the tip of Splinter's tail vanished through the doorway, the bathroom door slammed shut down the hall. The three remaining terrapins sat in stunned silence, staring at the exit.

"You think he overacted a bit?" Mikey asked after a few second, his head swiveling towards his older brothers. "I mean, even for Raph, that seemed extreme. It was just a bad dream, right?"

"A worse dream than he's letting on," Leo said thoughtfully. His internal sensor that told him when Raph was lying had been trigged. Under usual circumstances, Leo would be infuriated by his brother's dishonesty, but now it had him concerned. "What's more confusing to me though is that cut on his face." Leo turned to Don. "He couldn't have gotten that from falling out of bed, could he?"

"I don't think so," Donatello opinioned while shaking his head. "If his face hit the floor, I'd expect it to be scraped, not scratched." Standing, he walked over to Raph's hammock to inspect it and the area surrounding it. "And I don't see anything around here that he could have scratched it on…"

"So, he scratched himself?" Mikey suggested.

"That's likely the most plausible explanation right now," Donnie replied.

"Dang," the orange-masked ninja whistled. "Somebody ought to tell him to trim his fingernails."

Leo rose and moved to join Don. "Raph's had three nightmares inside of a month. Three that we know about anyways. I can't remember him ever having them this close together. Should we be worried?"

"…well…" Donnie began, stroking his chin pensively.

"Boys," Splinter's voice spoke suddenly. Heads snapped in the direction of the doorway where the mutant rat stood holding a very disgruntled-looking Raphael firmly by the elbow. "It is still very early in the morning. Please return to bed and get some rest. I will sit here with your brother."

Leo, Don, and Mikey exchanged glances before replying in unison. "Yes, Sensei."

Nodding in approval, Splinter guided Raph into the room to allow the rest of his son's passage. The sai-wielder scowled at the floor as his siblings walked by. It was only when they were alone that Splinter released his most temperamental pupil.

"Please," the ninjutsu master said, gesturing towards Raph's hammock. "Make yourself comfortable."

Feeling like toddler being put to bed, Raph did as he was bidden with much grumbling under his breath. Carefully, he crawled inside his hammock and lay on his side facing the wall. He groped for his blanket and, upon finding it, pulled it up to his chest then arranged his pillow beneath his head. While Raph was tucking himself in, Splinter closed the door and relocated the chair from its spot at Raph's desk to his son's bedside. The old rat perched on the edge of the seat and leaned forward to place a comforting hand on Raph's shoulder.

"Now then, Raphael, tell me what you dreamed about."