The glow from a single candle bathed the room in a hypnotic glow as Raphael lay before me, his head propped on a pillow. He was lying flat on his belly, arms dangling by his side and his shell looked like a dark mountain on his back.
It wasn't merely the weight of his shell that Raphael was feeling. His mind was clogged with terrible thoughts, all of them dark and brooding.
I had engaged him, still placid because of sedation, into a relaxing meditation that focused completely on his breathing. The sound of his raspy breath constantly on the verge of tears was something terrible to hear but I allowed his essence to fill my thoughts, my brain, my senses.
As a Master of the Spiritual Plane, I had little trouble delving into the thoughts of my sons. Beyond Raphael's howling, tortured thoughts lay a vast abyss. His mind was fragile, and I bolstered his mental energies with strength from my own.
"That is good, Raphael. Concentrate on each breath only. As if all form and substance is gone from the world around you." I patted his shell gently with my paw and ran the extremity over the scars that littered every nook. He had been burned severely in the past on his shell and that part was still slightly blackened. The slices from swords his shell had sustained were healing slowly, like a nail would grow back, slowly forming a new layer of protectiveness that seemed harder and more durable than the first.
"Master Splinter ... can I sit up? This is really uncomfortable." Raphael groaned underneath the weight of his shell. His voice was still raw, and his words caught uncomfortably in his throat.
I placed a hand under Raphael's carapace helping him to clumsily sit up and cross his legs awkwardly. Perhaps Donatello had used too much sedation this time. Raphael was barely capable of lifting an arm and he was relying on me, much to his disgust, to merely get comfortable.
He swatted my paw aside as he caught his balance and I moved back instantly. His abrupt ways did not surprise me. Even when he was a turtle toddler, he would frown upon the simplest acts of kindness. Not towards others of course but it was as if he couldn't bear the thought of someone being kind to him. As if he didn't deserve that.
I could hear his thoughts churning, recoiling from being touched. From being helped.
It did wound me that Raphael would recoil from my touch. He was my son and I only wanted to help him overcome his battles. I let the hurt go, preferring instead to concentrate on Raphael's recovery.
"Are you more comfortable now, Raphael?" I asked.
He nodded slowly; his eyes suddenly pained. "I'm sorry, sensei."
It was nothing more than a slur.
"What have you to be sorry about, my son?" I leaned forward and caught the brightness of his eyes reflected in candlelight. Too bright. Unshed tears were accumulating, and I felt the raw pain touch my heart. My son. My suffering son.
"I ... I ... didn't mean to ... back off. I hurt you." Raphael turned away and a single tear snaked down his right cheek.
"You have never been a tactile turtle, Raphael." I chuckled. "You are not offending me in the slightest. If it makes you more comfortable to back away, then I would rather you do that."
"Where are ... my brothers?" Raphael's head whipped to the closed door and he turned back to look at me with frightened eyes.
"They are safe. Everyone is safe. The Ancient One has visited this evening. He was very concerned about this family and wanted to offer his protection." I gazed at the flickering candlelight.
"The Ancient One was here?" Raphael looked up in surprise. "When? I didn't see him come?"
"You were asleep at the time." I confessed. "He sat with you for a while, talking to you as you slept."
"So that was what that weird dream was all about." Raphael's eyes dawned with sudden realisation. "I was lost in the sewers; I couldn't find the lair or any of you. The Ancient One suddenly appeared in front of me and led me back to the lair. Everyone was sat around watching a movie. I can't remember what it was ... but we were happy."
"Did you feel that happiness, Raphael?" I asked.
"I felt everyone else's happiness." Raphael smiled bitterly. "It was enough."
"Let us breathe together and clear our minds of all distraction." I watched Raphael carefully as he closed his eyes and sighed a little. Out of all my sons, Raphael found this task the most difficult.
During his training over the many years I had always found his lack of meditative prowess a challenge. He didn't really understand the process of emptying the mind and clung to his anger or cynicism as solace.
"Master Splinter..." he was slurring still.
"I am here, my son."
The room was quiet for a while. Raphael was falling asleep, his soft breathing turning into louder snores.
"Master Splinter?" Leonardo was standing at the door with a cup of steaming green tea. "Is Raph asleep?"
"For the moment," I took the cup from my eldest and watched as Leo knelt beside Raphael. He was taut, his muscles tensing.
"Leonardo, please calm yourself. Raphael is safe presently." I took two swift sips of the tea and gazed at Leonardo for a short while. He was hovering beside his brother, plainly unsure of what he should do. "My son, please go fetch some bedding for Raphael to sleep where he is."
Leonardo nodded and rose to his feet. He hurried out of the bedroom and I heard hushed voices as the lair became a flurry of activity.
I smiled to myself as he returned with quilts and pillows, creating a nest around Raphael as he hunched over in sleep. Then, he gently manoeuvred his brother into a foetal position and curled the covers all around him.
"You may leave now, Leonardo. Try and get some rest. All of you must sleep tonight, for tomorrow the battle begins anew."
I remained awake, watching my son sleep in a restless and distressing manner. He would moan and quiver as he dreamed, his hands bunching into fists as he fought monsters from his own imagination.