Disclaimer: I do not own any of those things, characters, situations, or ideas trademarked by other respective parties. This is fan fiction written by me using ideas from other media. Should you recognize a pop culture reference that is because it is a pop culture reference. No copyright infringement or plagiarism is intended.

The rhythmic beeping of Donnie's jerry-rigged, homemade heart monitor and his brother's labored breathing, are the only audible sounds to reach out to him in the dark. How many times has he found himself in this same spot? How many times has he been useless while Donnie had to do all the work of putting their brother back together? How many times has Mikey turned his big blue eyes in his direction begging his big brother to make it better while another of his big brothers lies on a table bleeding out? How many times has his brother been on that table because he wasn't fast enough, strong enough, or smart enough to keep it from happening? And why were they always fighting with each other? As if he didn't already feel guilty enough, they had to constantly be at each other's throats too? And then for Leo to take the blow meant for him? As if the vile and nasty things Raph had just been saying to him had never been uttered. Leo hadn't even hesitated.

Leo never hesitated, and Raph hated him for that.

Raph hated Leo's bull headed stubbornness. He hated Leo's high handed way of giving orders and expecting them to be followed. He hated Leo's perfect perfectness and for being their Master's clear favorite. He hated how Leo would look at him with such disappointment in his eyes sometimes. As if he wasn't good enough! He hated how Leo made him feel like he was never good enough.

Leo had always been better at everything.

Leo was smarter than Raph. Granted so was Donnie, but Don was smarter than everybody so that was different. Leo was a better ninja than Raph. Granted so was Mikey when he bothered to pay attention but that was different because the weirdo way his head worked let his body do its own thing without his thoughts getting in the way. But that was beside the point. It was just…different with Leo. It always had been.

And he hated that.

He hated that it was always a competition between him and Leo. He hated that he could never just relax around his older brother the way he could around his younger ones. He hated that he was always comparing himself to his big brother and never quite measured up. But then, everybody knew Raph didn't measure up, that's why he'd never be leader. Leo was just better than Raph in every way and Raph hated him for that. He hated his big brother because he'd never be as good a son, as good a student, as good a leader, or as good a brother as his big brother.

And he hated that he felt the need to try to prove otherwise.

He hated it even more that no matter how strongly he felt about it, how obsessed he was with the idea, it wasn't even Leo's doing.

Leo never tried to make Raph feel lower than dirt. He never asked Raph to be like him. Sure, he gave Raph orders. Sure he would nag like a mother hen about Raph's bad habits or shirking training. And sure he got mad because of Raph's temper and the trouble said temper would get him in. And yeah, Leo could say some cutting things when his own temper snapped. But Leo never verbally attacked Raph as a person, just his decisions. Leo never struck first, only defended himself. Leo never lost control and tried to really hurt his brother. And Leo had never once told his brother that he hated him.

Raph had done all of that. More than once. And now here Leo lay, the last thing Raph having said to him were the very last words he could ever mean. And he knew Leo knew better. He knew Leo knew he didn't really hate him. But he also knew that his words still hurt his brother. He knew that for Leo, words were far more hurtful weapons than even the sharpest of blades. Especially when those words were uttered by one of the few people that really, truly mattered to him. One of the few people that hesitation didn't exist for.

Raph hated that his older brother was such a heroic figure in his eyes, that the pedestal that he put his brother on made him hate him all that much more.

But what Raph really, truly hated more than anything else, was how much Leo made him hate himself without trying or even realizing it.

Raph, his head cradled in his hands, was so lost in self loathing and misery that he was completely caught off guard by the scaly, calloused hand gently brushing the top of his head. He jerked up in reflex to find an exhausted Leonardo looking at him with the saddest eyes. "Leo?" his voice cracked, sounding as if it were dragged from the deepest pits and over burning coals.

"Hey little bro." Leo's own rasp didn't sound much better, and to Raph's eternal embarrassment, shame, and horror, Leo brushed his fingers across Raph's cheeks to wipe away traitorous tears. Raph jerked back and hastily erasing any evidence of water works from his face, mortified to be found so weak in front of his all too perfect brother. "I'm sorry, Raph." Leo's voice rasped again, fighting to get past the turtle's parched lips.

"What for?" Raph demanded brusquely as he fumbled for the water glass set at Leo's bedside. There were pain killers there too and Raph grimaced at the fight he knew he was going to have to get Leo to take those. It was the same damn fight Leo had with him when it was he that needed them. "I'm the one that wasn't paying any attention and nearly got my shell shell-acked." He grunted, "Yer the one that saved my bacon." More softly he murmured, "Thanks for that."

Leo shook his head, ignoring the proffered straw and leveling that soul penetrating stare of his right at Raph. "No, I'm not sorry for that. For the fight." Raph scowled, his anger bubbling up in his chest. That fight hadn't even been Leo's fault and Mr. Perfect was taking the blame? Again?

Leo looked away, towards the ceiling, as if he couldn't bear to look at Raph any longer. "I'm sorry I wasn't quicker. If I had just noticed sooner, I could have protected you and kept from getting hurt. I know you tend to take it pretty hard when one of us gets hurt." There was the pot calling the kettle black if there ever was! Leo's voice was faint, and still unpleasantly raspy. But he looked to be gearing up for a monologue and that meant he wasn't going to be interested in getting a drink.

"Shuddup and take these!" Raph ordered, scooping up the pills and thrusting them in his brother's face. That was something else he hated about Leo. The guy took everything personally, especially anything and everything to do with his brothers.

Leo frowned, "I don't need any pain meds." The elder turtle grimaced, clearly in pain, "We should save them for a true emergency."

Raph had to utilize every ounce of will he possessed not to explode in his brother's face. Fearless was the biggest frickin' hypocrite this side of the Battle Nexus and it set the hothead's teeth on edge. "Yer gonna take these pills one way or another Fearless. By your hand or mine." he growled in a soft yet menacing voice, sticking his face right up in his leader's.

Leo opened his mouth to protest further, but Raph simply took that as an invitation to toss the pills at the back of the injured turtle's throat. Leo's eyes widened and he started coughing. Raph thrust the end of the straw in his brother's mouth and scowled until Leo took the hint and started sipping his water, swallowing it and the pills together. Once the pills were down and Leo had stopped coughing, he looked up at Raph and cocked an eye ridge, "Well that was…expedient of you."

Raph shrugged, feeling the tiniest bit smug that he'd gotten one over on Fearless without too much of a struggle or a fight. "Yer not up to a legit fight, so what's the point?" he mumbled.

Leo rolled his eyes, "I appreciate you taking my delicate constitution into consideration." he retorted dryly.

"Well it's no fun if ya can't fight back." Raph shrugged, uncomfortable with the topic of conversation.

Leo sighed and settled back into the bed more comfortably, "We really need to re-evaluate your concept of fun, Raph."

"Bustin' heads is way more fun than sitting around by candlelight contemplatin' the universe or some shit." Raph grumbled, slouching in the ridiculously uncomfortable chair he'd been sitting in for most of the wee hours of the morning.

"Raphael you watch your mouth!" Leo scolded with a scowl. Raph rolled his eyes. Leave it to Leo to be laid up and still nagging like he had nothing better to do.

"Whatever." Raph muttered, scowling right back.

"Besides," Leo continued in a softer tone, "walking the Astral Plane isn't all I do for fun."

Raph rolled his eyes, "Yeah, there's also reading and practicing your katas." Leo cocked his head, looking at Raph as if he were trying to figure something out. It bugged him, a lot. "What?" the hothead barked out.

Leo's brow furrowed, "Do you really believe that's all I do with my free time?"

Raph shrugged in dismissal, "Yeah, I guess." Leo frowned, turning his attention to the end of his bed. He sat there as the silence stretched out uncomfortably. His toes weren't that interesting. "What?" Raph snapped a little too heatedly.

Leo sighed, shrugging himself further down into the blankets of his sickbed. "No wonder you think I'm so boring." he muttered quietly.

Raph felt guilt claw at him again, and he was surprised to find that while he'd been talking to Leo it had shrank back from being the all consuming wretchedness he'd been feeling while Leo was unconscious. He could only hope it'd shrink back again by continuing his conversation. "I don't think yer boring" he mutter, not entirely truthfully.

Leo rolled his eyes and snorted, "You're a horrible liar Raph."

"What? It's not my fault we don't got anything in common!" Raph snapped back defensively. Leo's whole self seemed to diminish and his eyes got that sad and defeated look at them again. Though he didn't move other than to look away, Raph felt the distance between them span a yawning chasm. The bottom of his stomach plummeted and Raph wished he'd kept his big beak shut.

"You're right. I don't know when it happened exactly, but we just…drifted apart I guess." Leo's voice was sad and soft. "Sometimes I wish we could go back to when we were tots. We used to do everything together." The sad fondness in his brother's voice was enough to make Raphael feel like utter slime.

"But some things never change, huh Fearless?" Raph prodded, trying to lighten the atmosphere.

Leo's brow furrowed, "What do you mean?"

Raph scoffed, "No matter how old I get, no matter how strong…I always manage to screw something' up, and yer always there to save my shell. When we were kids I'd usually find a way to get us into trouble, but you were always there ta get us out again. Remember that time with the sewer gator?" Raph shot his brother a strained grin, trying not to think about the last time he'd brought that story up and how scary similar the circumstances were.

"You do not always screw up, Raphael." Leo argued in a stern voice.

Raph heaved a dismissive shrug, "I think yer current state of being says different, Fearless." Angry now, Leo attempted to heave himself up into a more authoritative position. Pointless in his current state, a grimace blossomed across his face as his shifting aggravated his injuries. "Geeze Leo, will you calm down? Yer gonna pull your stitches!"

Leo ignored him and pointed his finger right in Raph's face, "You listen to me, Raphael! You are not a screw up! We might disagree more than what's probably healthy and yes, your recklessness does sometimes get us into trouble, but you are NOT a screw up!" Leo's face and voice softened, and his accusatory hand lowered back to his blankets. "I know that no matter what kind of trouble we find ourselves in, I can count on you to have my back. I know that I can count on you to keep an eye on Mikey and Donnie. And I know that no matter the odds, no matter the situation, you won't back down, you won't give up, and you will always give everything of yourself to get us out safe. I trust you, not only with my life, but with Mikey and Donnie's as well. If you know me at all, Raph, you know just how significant that is." Leo sighed, "I wish I had even half of Don's vocabulary. Maybe then I'd be able to explain this better."

Raph felt his cheeks burn at Leo's reassurance, "Leo, if you were using Don's vocabulary I wouldn't understand any of it." Leo's beak twitched up into a smile. It felt good, putting a smile on Leo's face for once. Normally all Raph managed was making Leo mad, or look like he had an ulcer or something.

"The point is, Raph, I think you're too hard on yourself." Leo looked sad again, "You set these impossible standards for yourself and then when you can't meet those impossible goals you reinforce all this self-doubt that plagues you."

"Yeah, well, some of us don't find those standards impossible." Raph hissed snidely.

"All I'm saying is, you should make your goals realistic to who you are." Leo persisted. "I mean, look at you! You're built like a tank! If you're expecting to have Mikey's dexterity and agility, you're going to be disappointed. Just as if Mikey attempted some of the feats of strength you pull off with ease, he's likely to herniate a disk. The point, Raphael, is that we are all different and trying to hold one of us up as a standard for another is an exercise in futility and disappointment." Leo gave a self depreciating shrug, "I mean, take me for example. I might have some of the fastest reflexes and sprint times, but I'd struggle if it came to going any distance with the weight of one of our brother's on my back. But I'd bet both my katanas that you were able to carry me home all by yourself."

Raphael reached up to rub the back of his head in mild embarrassment, "Well, you're built like a runner Leo, of course you're going to be lighter than the rest of us." He shrugged, "And it's not like it makes me special in any way, being the strongest."

Leo's eye ridges rose in disbelief, "You're joking right? Do you have any idea how valuable you and your strength are to this team? Raph, I think you severely underestimate just how often you save all our shells! Do you think Donnie could drop his guard to work his magic if he didn't have you watching his back? Do you think Mikey could be, well, Mikey, if you weren't there? And me…" he trailed off.

"What about you?" Raph couldn't help but ask.

Leo peered up into Raph's face with a look of such solemn seriousness that there was no doubting his sincerity, "There is no one I'd rather have at my back Raphael, no one."

Raph looked away, unable to meet his brother's eyes over his own shame, "All teams need a heavy hitter." he mumbled dismissively.

Leo snorted, "And yet, you'll never hear me pick Casey over you." That startled a bark of laughter from the hot head. "But seriously Raph, you're my brother and there is no one I could trust more than you to have my back. I mean, the same goes for Mikey and Donnie, but you, it's different, you know?" This time Leo looked away. "If anything ever happened to me, I know you'd look after them."

And in a way, he did know. Maybe it was because he was second eldest, or maybe it was due to his sheer strength. But he knew what Leo meant. Not that Donnie and Mike couldn't take care of themselves, but they were the youngest and it was his job to look out for them. With how much more pressing did Leo feel this, having three younger bros and being eldest? Not that Raph needed looking after; like Leo said, he was built like a tank for cryin' out loud. But Leo was a worrier. "It's a good thing nothing's ever gonna happen to ya, otherwise I'd have ta kick yer shell." he growled, feeling a little better about it all, despite everything.

Leo smirked and rolled his eyes, shifting back down into his bed. He yawned widely and rubbed at his eyes. All clear signs that he was only moments away from drifting off. Raph knew he didn't have much time and he couldn't let it go any longer. "Hey Leo…" he blurted before stumbling to a halt.

Leo blinked up at his gigantic sized younger brother, "Yeah Raph?" God, why was it so hard to say two little words? Seriously, he was unbelievably sorry and ashamed of what he'd said, why couldn't he choke out two little words? Leo's face softened and he smiled up at his hot tempered brother, "It's okay Raph, I know."

"It's not okay!" the hot head exploded, startling the bed-ridden turtle. "Why am I like this?! Why am I always getting angry and yelling and saying shit I don't mean? Why does everything you do piss me off so bad?! Why is getting in your face and yelling and fighting the only way I can ever blow off enough steam to relax!?" he demanded, breaths heaving heavily in and out of his chest. "I hate it! I hate it so much!" Raph slumped back in the craptastically uncomfortable chair, "God, I hate me." he muttered.

Leo was silent for long enough that Raph felt his shoulders tensing, readying to take the brunt of a brutal lecture. Instead a scaly, calloused hand gently brushed the top of his head. "Hey, little bro." Leo murmured softly. "I'm not going to pretend that I understand what you're going through, because I don't. I'm not you. Your burdens are not my own. I know there are times where I was not so very fond of myself either. But you know, we are all of us our own worst enemies. No one is harder on us than ourselves. I…" he hesitated before his face firmed with resolve and he braved through, "I can't pretend that your words don't hurt. They tear at me Raph, because no matter how you feel about you, I will always and forever love you with all that I am. You're my brother, but you're more than that. We may have drifted apart, and we may no longer have as much in common, and yeah, we butt heads a lot, but that doesn't change the fact that you're my best friend and there is nothing I wouldn't do for you.

"Believe me, I'd take this burden from you if I could. Detrimental for you it might be, I'd take your hurt for my own in a heartbeat. But I can't. And I don't know how much help I'll be in getting you through this, but don't for one second doubt that I'll still be there for you every step of the way. If you're really this unhappy, then let's do something about it. We should talk to Master Splinter. I know he has exercises that could help you with your temper." Leo sighed, looking sad again, "And I know the idea might rankle, but we should talk to Donnie too."

Raph felt his hackles rise. Telling Master Splinter was one thing, spilling out his guts to his little brother was another. Leo seemed to sense Raph's walls going back up. "Donnie isn't a real doctor, and I know that. But he's smarter than the rest of us put together and I think he could help. I don't think your temper is necessarily the problem Raph."

"Oh yeah? Then what is my problem oh wise one?" Raph bit out harshly.

Leo just looked up at him with those giant sad eyes, "I think you might be depressed Raph. And I think your temper is the only outlet you have. But since this outlet hurts you, you feel bad afterwards." Leo sighed, "Master Splinter will definitely be able to help, I'm sure of it. But please think about talking to Donnie too. He loves you just as much as I do Raph, and he will want to help you just as much as me. But it's your choice, and only you can make it."

Raph sighed, the fight draining out of him. "God I hate it when you're so understanding." he grumbled, rubbing his hands up and down his face in exhaustion.

Leo smiled tiredly, "You know there's a fine line between love and hate."

Raph grunted back, a small, almost non-existent smile tugging the corner of his beak, "Yeah, a line so fine you can miss it entirely."

"I love you Raph, and there are no words you could utter that would ever change that." Leo just looked so damn sincere and earnest, even with god awful shadows under his eyes. Raph shuffled to his feet, fussing with Leo's blankets.

"You should sleep Fearless. Donnie will have my hide for keeping you up half the night." Raph grunted, plopping back in the chair, as Leo conceded and leaned back, eyes fluttering.

"And since when have you been afraid of Dr. Donnie?" Leo mumbled, losing the battle with his eyelids.

"Since always. Donnie's downright terrifying when he's in doctor mode." Raph grinned back.

"Mmmhmm. Night Raphie." Leo murmured as he drifted off.

"Night Fearless." Raph told him softly. As Leo's breathing softened out and the heart monitor's beeping evened out, Raph felt prompted to say one last thing. "Love you too Leo." Leo smiled in his sleep.