Epilogue

"Raph, you have to eat!"

Raphael turned his head from the spoon Leonardo held.

Two days had passed, and Raph was still bedridden. His food was brought to him, and for the first time, he had attempted to feed himself. However, when his wrists began to burn, he dropped the spoon in pain.

Leo immediately picked it up and assumed the familiar position on the edge of Raphael's bed, sitting close enough to feed his brother.

Gently scooping some of the yogurt onto the spoon, he held it out toward Raph again.

Raph's mouth was a straight, tight line.

Finally, Leo sighed and dropped his arm. His voice softened slightly. "Raph . . . please. I know that this is hard for you, but you can't get stronger unless you eat."

Raph kept his head turned from Leo's stare.

"Just a few bites . . . that's all I ask."

Raphael turned his head faintly, his eyes dull. Obediently and without energy, he opened his mouth slightly.

Slowly, Leo dipped the spoon into the yogurt container and carefully spooned it into Raph's mouth.

Raph swallowed mechanically, and submissively opened his mouth again.

The brothers continued this routine in complete silence. Raph's face was void of any emotion as he continued to force himself to swallow.

After only half of the container was gone, Leo held out the next spoonful. Immediately, Raph turned his head again, pressing it deeply into his pillow.

Leo put the spoon quietly back into the container and allowed his arm to drop to his side. He felt his heart break as he saw a tear escape Raphael's eye, drip slowly down his face and off his nose.

"Raph . . ." His voice was soft.

As if Leo's voice hurt him, Raph curled tighter on himself, pulling one hand close to his plastron.

"Please Raph . . . just tell me what's wrong. Let me help you." Leo's voice was pleading.

Slowly, Leo reached out, and gently laid his hand on top of his brother's.

Raph pulled away as if Leo's touch were fire. He pulled his hands tightly against his chest. He brought his knees closer to his torso, and turned so his shell was completely facing Leonardo.

Leonardo watched as Raph's shoulders shook with silent sobs. He reached out again, but pulled back before he made physical contact.

Silently, he stood from the bed, the springs reacting to the absence of his weight. Picking up the tray of food, he slowly exited the room, closing the door with a quiet click.

Once outside, Leo leaned heavily against the door. The tray trembled in his hands, and he consciously had to keep himself from dropping it. He felt tears building behind his eyes.

They stung, hot and thick.

Hastily, he wiped at his face with one hand, while balancing the tray in the other. His hand was wet when he pulled it away.

He looked at the wetness for awhile, feeling a mixture of emotions.

Finally, he slid down the wall and sat on the ground, pulling his knees tightly up to his chest. Putting the tray aside, he placed his head to his knees and sobbed.

He hadn't spoken in weeks.

He was finally up and out of bed, but it wasn't the same. He moved like a zombie . . . stiff and rigid.

His eyes were always dull. The fire had been extinguished.

He had finally started eating on his own, although it was still under the watchful eyes of others. He had lost all signs of an appetite, and lately, he ate with difficulty. He picked at his food, pushing it around his plate, until his brothers said something. Only then would he obediently eat a mouthful, chew rhythmically, and swallow.

Since that first night when Leo had comforted him back to sleep, nobody had been able to touch him. Not even Splinter.

Every few days when Donny had to change his bandages, sheer panic would fill his eyes. Involuntarily, he would whimper and pull away from his caregiver.

He shied away from any contact whatsoever, as if it physically hurt him.

It could never be dark.

A light always needed to be present.

Any form of light.

He would wake screaming some nights, a bloodcurdling sound that jerked his brothers from their deep slumbers. Yet, any attempt at physical consoling would result in the same reaction: Utter detachment.

He spent the majority of his time sleeping, or sitting in silence, distanced from any family or friends. Casey had come over a few times, and each time, Raph immediately walked away from his best friend, went to his room, and quietly shut the door.

He cried out loud at night when he thought nobody could hear him. Yet, his cries echoed off of the thick walls, waking his brothers deep into the night.

Once, Leo had woken to the sound of his sobs reverberating hollowly. Quietly, he padded his way to his brother's room.

"Raph?"

His voice was quiet, soothing.

Instantly, Raph's sobs ceased, and silence overtook the Lair again.

"Raph?" He tried again, silently pleading for his brother to answer. To say something . . .

Anything.

Raph remained silent.

Leo felt a tear roll gently down his cheek as he turned, defeated, from the room, shut the door noiselessly, and quietly made his way back to his own room.

Leonardo cried himself to sleep that night.

As the weeks passed, Raphael's physical wounds began to heal. His wrists were beginning to scar, thick and heavy.

It was a constant reminder of the nightmare he had survived.

The brothers understood why Raph was behaving like this: He had accepted death.

Welcomed it.

Prayed for its mercy.

Yet, he was saved from it. Although his mind and body had were fully prepared to give up their hold on life.

But that didn't change the fact that they silently pleaded that things would be different. That they could touch him, hear his voice, hear his story . . .

Take away his pain.

So as the weeks passed, they continued on as best they could. A constant blend of detachment and connection . . . ready at a moment's notice to be Raphael's support.

When he finally requested it.

It was late.

The brothers had been watching an old movie on television.

Leo was surprised when Raphael came and sat silently on the couch. He watched the television wordlessly, his face void of any emotion.

Yet, it was a step.

A step in the right direction.

Finally, Donatello and Michelangelo had gone to bed. Quietly they had stood and uttered their muted goodnights.

With one last glance over his shoulder, Donny caught Leo's eye. Leo smiled lightly before nodding gently. Donny returned the soft smile and retreated to his room, closing the door noiselessly behind him.

And there they were.

Sitting in silence next to one another on the couch.

Two brothers.

Leo longed to reach out . . . to touch . . . to hold his brother.

Instead, he repressed his urge and stared blankly at the television. The volume was low, and Leo had no idea what was happening in the movie. But he didn't care.

As they sat there, an eternity seemed to pass. His normally hot-headed brother was beginning to scare him in the uncharacteristic silence.

Suddenly, Leo jumped as he felt pressure touch his shoulder. Glancing down, he immediately relaxed, and prayed that his tension hasn't been felt.

Raphael's head was lying gently on Leo's shoulder.

Hardly breathing, Leo shut his eyes, holding back his tears. He hadn't been able to touch his brother for so long.

Yet, what Raph didn't know was that Leo had needed the contact in order to heal, just as much as Raph did.

Leo kept his hands folded tightly in his lap, despite the temptation to touch his brother back. He knew he had to move slowly. It all had to be up to Raph.

They sat in silence for what seemed like hours. Yet, Leo was okay with the simplicity of his shoulder acting as a pillow, and he soaked up every sensation that he was feeling.

"I was in the alley . . ."

His voice was a whisper, soft and scratchy, a result of unused vocal chords. Leo jumped slightly again and held his breath so he could hear his brother's words better.

"I thought that I had beaten them all . . . but, then there was this terrible pain on the back of my head. I . . . I don't really re- . . .remember it. When I woke up . . . it was dark." His voice cracked, and he held back a sob as the memories flooded back to his mind like a rocket.

Leo felt tears build in his own eyes as he heard the pain in his brother's voice.

However, he fought every urge that ran through his body and forced himself to listen to Raph's story.

Tears fell openly from Leo's eyes as Raph recounted the realistic hallucinations, the nightmares, the pain, and the uncertainty. His heart broke with every heart wrenching detail.

Raph cried silently, his voice shaky yet strong. His tears fell lightly onto Leo's collarbone. At the hardest memories, he would bury his face deeper into the crook of Leo's neck, directly below his jaw.

He described what thoughts went through his head.

Thoughts of survival . . .

thoughts of family . . .

thoughts of utter despair . . .

and finally, thoughts of death.

He spoke about how his will was finally broken, and at these words, he openly sobbed.

Leo knew that this was the worst thing for Raphael to encounter. His will . . . his strong will . . . his unbreakable will . . . was finally broken, and he knew that Raph felt weak because of it. Raph spent his life being strong, or at least appearing strong. By admitting that he wasn't strong enough was probably the worst thing that Raph had had to endure while in the darkness.

Finally, with a shaky breath, Raph's sobs subdued and it was silent in the Lair once more.

Leo listened to his brother breath.

Softly . . .

in . . .

and out . . .

He relished in the moment.

Carefully holding his breath, he moved his arm and placed it gently around Raph's shoulders.

Shutting his eyes, he waited for the recoil that he had gotten accustomed to over the last few weeks. Yet instead, Raph leaned deeper into Leo's body.

Releasing his breath, he allowed his arm to sink a little heavier around his brother. He looked up toward the ceiling, tears falling from his face, a small smile on his lips.

Everything was going to be okay.

Everything . . . was going to be . . . okay.

A/N: Yea! So there it is! It's finally done! Thanks again for all of you who were devoted readers and reviewers. Your kind words really helped me to get this finished. I'm planning on starting some new stories over the Thanksgiving break, so if you liked this one, keep your eye out for more! I'll try not to disappoint. Also, if you have any further suggestions for stories, I would love to hear them. I'm always looking for new ideas and challenges. Thanks again! I look forward to hearing from you all and Happy Thanksgiving :)