Title: Gentle Steel

Author: Stormy

Story Status: One-shot, complete

Rating: PG-13 for language

Warnings: Like I said, some language. A little 'angstier' the others...we finally start to see some history here – just how did Mike get changed? And what was responsible for the massive downgrade in Raph's attitude?

Notes: This fic takes place in the same fic arc as "Colors" and "Training". Basically, Mike has been regressed to five years of age ala the eps "Adventures in Turtle-Sitting" or "Back to the Egg" instead of the others, and in this instance, there hasn't been a cure yet – nor do they expect one to be found any time soon. The other turtles and Splinter must learn to live with a five year old mutant. ^^

Additional Notes: Again, it must be pointed out that my fics are a combination of the cartoon and Image, not one or the other specifically. There will be elements of both in the story arc.

Written: 19 November 2002

——————————————————————————

I can't believe it. I don't want to believe this happened. Not to him. And sure as hell not because of me.

It's funny – everyone's still moving around, everyone but him. Oh he's safe enough – Donatello was the first reassure me that what happened wasn't lethal. Great. Wonderful even. Who the hell cares?

Shredder disappeared as usual. Slipped off back under the earth the world's biggest mole, leaving nothing but a gaping wound in the ground that soon filled with molten lava from the earth's core. A stray thought crosses my mind that it's rather odd the city officials haven't yet found a way to blame my brothers and I for the destruction Shredder causes with those blasted modules. Heh – maybe they're happy. It helps keep their construction crews in business.

I don't know what he was after today, but that laser blast sure knocked Mike for a loop. Not really surprising, considering how it was meant for me. The blast struck him hard, knocking him into the wall. He struck his head on a piece of concrete. I know this because I watched the whole bloody thing, almost like it was in slow motion. Donnie's finished checking out Mike who hasn't moved since he was hit. He's still. I've almost never seen him so still, completely motionless. Leo's finished checking the area but doesn't bother looking for the weapon Mike was hit with. The gun used on him was destroyed after those two idiots tried to block an attack with it, and rather then let us get our hands on it, broken or not, Shredder vaporized it before Leo could pick it up.

" Raph! Come on – the police are coming. We've get to get out of here!"

Leo's words pierce the fog in my brain and when I look up, he's standing next to an open manhole, waiting for me, wearing his special less-then-patient face I swear he keeps in reserve just for me. I snort, giving him an idea of just how much I enjoy following orders, but I don't argue. I've caused enough pain today.

——————————————————————————

Mike…shrunk. That's the best way I can put it. I glare at the medical bed in Donatello's lab, and the tiny figure contained therein. That can't possibly be my brother.

Donnie's spouting off about retroactive cells and degrading cells and mutation and youth enhancers and god knows what else. I tune him out, something I've become really good at – I blame all the practise I get with Leo – and just move closer to the bed.

He's so friggin' small! Maybe two and half feet if he's an inch. His skin tone's a little lighter then it used to be, more green then the dark green-black we all developed as we got older. Was this what we looked like when we were younger?

" How long is he gonna stay like this?" I actually wince when I speak. This is different from the other times we've been blasted by strange rays. I have a gut feeling that Donnie isn't going to be able to whip up an antidote this time.

Fuck, I hate being right. The look on Donatello's face freezes my intestines into a hard ball near the pit of my stomach.

" I don't know Raph. The rays seemed to do a permanent effect on him." Donatello sighed, glancing at the tiny figure. " If we had the gun perhaps I could reverse the effects, but it was destroyed in the fight. I don't know what to do."

Leonardo spoke up. " What if we found the blue prints for it? Or even another weapon similar to what Shredder used? Would that help?"

" It might. But that would mean getting down to the Technodrome, finding the weapon or the actual schematics and then getting out in one piece."

Sounds like a plan to me. Leo and Donnie jump as I slam my sai's together. " Then let's move." I storm out the side door, and have to smirk at the surprised shouts and panicked movements of my brothers behind me as they try to catch up. Anger and fear – yes, fear – flows through me. I have to hit something, do something – anything then sit there and watch what was going on. Leo and Donnie sprint through the doorway and stop short, surprised that I haven't already left. I twirl a sai through my fingers, watching the light glint off hard steel. Steel that would taste blood tonight, if I had my way, and render a pain unto my enemies that matched my own.

——————————————————————————

Shredder is going to die. A slow, long painful death, I swear to God.

The coward 'split the scene' as Mike would have said. The Technodrome wasn't anywhere near its last known location, and we couldn't even follow a trail since numerous cave-in's had made most of the subterranean level inaccessible. Lava pits were plentiful at that depth and no matter how much I wanted to find the walking tin can, I can't walk across lava. Donatello had some theory about Krang being able to use the inter-dimensional portal to travel greater distances without having to use extra energy on digging through the ground. If that's what he's doing, it's a new trick in his arsenal.

Mike still hasn't woken up. I learn that depressing little fact as soon as we enter the lair. April sat next to the bed, watching over the kid – god, he really is a kid now – making sure the machines beeped on schedule, I guess. I have no frickin' clue – machines are Donnie's specialty, not mine. I actually give in for a minute, and reach down, stroking my fingers across Mike's hand. Nothing. Not a twitch.

That should have been me. Head injuries are a bitch, let me tell you. I know that better then anyone. And on kids?

Mike…

Casey's out in the living room area of the lair. He and April are attached at the hip these days – but he would have come down anyway. He's my best friend next to Mike, but everyone's got a soft spot for the kid. God I'm starting to hate that word.

" Let's go Case."

" Top-side? Cool." Casey doesn't even blink at my gruffly demanded request, grabbing his leather jacket. Suspicious, I glance over to the kitchen where I can just see Leonardo sitting at the table. He looks up, sees me and Casey getting ready to leave and nods once. I scowl. Leo probably talked to Casey while I was checking Mike out. I don't need a babysitter! I need Mike awake and telling me he's okay. I need Mike back in his regular body, everything back to normal.

I need a drink.

Casey leads the way outside. I crack my knuckles in anticipation. Bustin' skulls  has never sounded so good.

——————————————————————————

It's late when I finally stumble my way back inside. I'm tired, dead tired. I've been running on adrenaline and alcohol for the last two hours. Casey managed to find a gang of street tuff's breaking into some department store, and we took care of them. The impact my knuckled made against the leader's face had felt good, unleashing a flood of anger. What the hell – any outlet in a storm right?

We cased the city for another hour after that before calling it a night. Casey bought another case of my favorite brew, I think to soften me up, and we toasted the idiots of the city, wishing them a good night for now, 'cause once we got hold of them, they'd be in deep shit.

I don't know my limit. Mainly because I don't stop drinking long enough to find out just how buzzed I am until I can barely walk, and Casey has to point me in the direction of home. If he doesn't, chances are I'll circle the city until I pass out in an alley somewhere, and wake up with the hang over from hell inside some doctor's laboratory with his assistant Igor.

In this case, I'm drunk all right, but not enough that I can't find my way home. Sure the walls keep moving, and the door to the lair gives me a hassle but I manage to talk it into backing down without using my sai's as my own personal skeleton key. I actually feel better. The alcohol kept my mind off Mikey all night—

" Raph?"

Wha' fuck? I turn my head, and with some effort, focus my eyes on the small being in front of me. Small, and green, with orange bandanna tails that are practically scraping the ground. He's clutching a teddy bear and staring at me with confusion and a little bit of fear.

" What?" I snarl, and the kid jumps back. That's not Mike. It can't be Mike. Mike ain't afraid me – he's the first to tell anyone we meet I'm all bark and no bite. Not true. I bite.

" You 'kay?"

Did he just ask me if I'm okay? Of course I'm okay! I'm always okay! I'm so friggin' whoop-de-doo happy I could shout it to the world. But instead of saying this, I settle for a snarl. This Mike-copy is not gonna get past me. He's a Shredder plot. I know it.

" Get out of my face, kid." Since when did my words start slurring like that? And why is there a kid in the lair? Mike bringing home strays again. Leo's gonna tell him off. No, no one tells Mike off. He bats those big, brown eyes and everyone caters to him. It's the truth – it works on me all the time. I stare at the kid again, seeing his features wobble slightly. " You've got Mike's eyes," I say wonderingly. " How'd you do that?"

He doesn't say anything, but he shrinks back next to the television. There's that fear again. Fear towards me. Mike's not afraid of me. Neither should this kid. I'm not bad right? Just 'cause my brother took a shot for me 'cause I was too busy trying to take on the world—

" Get away from me!" I roar and stumble back into the end table. Alcohol really does not improve ninja co-ordination. The table fights back valiantly but my superior skills – and weight – drive it to the ground in a hail of shattering glass and splintering wood. Fuck, I just know I'm gonna get a splinter in my—

" Raphael! What are you doing?"

Donnie's voice breaks through the haze of alcohol, and the sheer anger in his voice sobers me up right quick. Donnie's never angry. He gets calm, cool, and collected – a Leo-in-training – and he rants, and lectures with fifty syllable words even Webster's can't define, but he doesn't get angry.

Right now he sounds like me.

" Jesus Raph – you're scaring the daylights out of him!"

Out of who?

Donnie's crouching down now, reaching out to – oh, shit.

Yup, alcohol's gone. Nothing but a headache and a growing sack of guilt strung to my back. I rub my eyes blearily and look across the room again.

It's Mike. Little Mike. Shrunken Mike. My brother, the one I always tried to protect. The one I failed to protect this time. And he's in Donnie's arms, peering at me with huge watery eyes that are filled with fear…of me.

" Donnie?" I croak. Did I just attack the kid? I want to ask if he's all right, but the words are stuck in my throat. Donnie looks like he wants to string me up by my shell, hand Mike his bo and play 'Raph the Piñata', but he stops short, shaking his head.

" He's okay. Just scared."

" I didn't mean—"

" I know Raph. Go to bed and sleep it off. I'll put Mikey to bed."

With that, he turns and leaves. That's right, protect Mike from the idiot in the living room. I close my eyes and press my head against the ground and then jerk my head up, hissing. I forgot about the glass.

" Raphael?"

Now what? I look up and see Donnie's back. This time he brought friends. Hello dustpan.

" Come on Raph."

More friends. Turning my head to the other side, I see Leo crouched down next to me. His eyes are angry too, but at the same time, not angry. Understanding. I have to say it anyway.

" I didn't mean—"

" I know Raph. Come on, bedtime. You can apologize in the morning, okay?"

Morning. As in, after sleep. Sounds good to me. Leo grabs me by the arms and helps me to my feet. The floor seems to have entered the conspiracy with the doors and the walls but Leo prevents them from making me fall. At least until I reach my bed, and then my legs just give out. The traitors.

My eyes are closed but my ears aren't. I can hear them talking, but it sounds like it's coming from very far away.

" He feels guilty about what happened."

" It's just a table."

" Not that—"

" I know."

" How's Mike?"

Donatello answers, but I can't hear the rest of it.

——————————————————————————

It's times like this I'm glad I live in a sewer. With this kind of pain in my head, sunlight would be a very bad thing. I groan, tasting fuzzies in my mouth where I once had a tongue, and roll over, slowly pushing myself up. I haven't opened my eyes yet, sunlight or no sunlight.

" Raphael?"

Jeez, everyone likes saying my name. I blink, and see Splinter standing before me, holding a teacup out. I reach for it and sniff it, eyeing him warily. Since when did he give me hangover remedies? Still, I'm not about to look a gift horse in the mouth. I chug the stuff back, nearly gagging at the taste. It's like fire – and he says alcohol will kill me? Does he even taste the stuff he makes?

" How do you feel?"

I open my mouth to shout something I know I shouldn't, especially because he's my master, a ninja master at that, but then I realize the ringing in my ears is gone, and the pain is dying down.

" I feel…fine." I'm sure he heard the surprise in my voice, but he didn't even blink.

" Very good. Do you remember anything at all from last night?"

" Huh?" I frown at that and think back over my alcohol-soaked memories. Last night…my eyes widened. Oh yeah. Last night.

" I see you do."

" Sort of." I ain't volunteering anything until I see the damage for myself.

" Are you ready to apologize to Michaelangelo?"

" Apologize?"

" You scared him last night." Splinter's voice is stern. " But I understand why you were upset. You do know, that you are not to blame for this? It was Shredder's fault, not yours." He frowned at me. " But last night is your responsibility to handle."

" Mike's afraid of me…" my voice trails off. Why shouldn't he? I get him turned into a kid, which gave him a concussion, and then I stumbled home last night completely toasted and scared the living shit out of him. I cursed at that – did I do anything last night that didn't hurt him?

" You have the chance to put it right," Splinter broke in to my self-damning thoughts. " Michaelangelo retains some memories, but for all intents and purposes, he is a child, and must be treated in a manner befitting his age." He locks a steely-eyed gaze on me. " He was upset that his big brother was so angry last night. He thinks it's his fault."

His fault? No way. I motion at the door for Splinter to lead the way. At least I can fix this.

Splinter leads me to the kitchen and I freeze, staring at the picture in front of me. Donatello's making breakfast, pancakes at the look of it, and Leonardo's at the table. Playing. With Mike's action figures, the ones we teased him about buying. And Mike…

Little Mike is seated on two telephone books in his usual chair and is marching one figure across the newspaper, apparently to attack Leo's whose hiding behind a cereal box.

I think I made a sound, not unlike a croak. I must have – all eyes turned to me, and Mike suddenly dropped his action figure.

I can't believe it. I had hoped that it had all been a dream; no, a nightmare. Mike, in my world, was a sixteen-year-old, teenaged ninja. Mike was not a short person, commonly called a child. We blink at each other for a few minutes, and I see the fear start to creep back into his eyes. No, no, no.

" Mikey?" I clear my throat. " I-I'm sorry."

I know Leo's eyes are probably saucer-sized – I'm not exactly known for apologizing. Even if he told me last night to do it, he probably wasn't expecting me to do it so fast. Even Donnie must be wondering if I'm okay. I ignore them though, and focus on the kid.

" Last night, you didn't make me mad. I was mad at someone else, and I came home in a bad mood."

Mike's watching me carefully, to see if I'm lying I bet. He was always good at that, ferreting out the truth no matter what we told him.

I don't want Mike to be afraid of me! He's my best friend – and now, someone who more then ever, needs protecting. I have to make this right.

" I'm sorry Mikey. Will you forgive me?"

Mike's still staring at me. Man, I really blew it. I stare at the ground, fists clenched. I have to get out of here—

WHUMP!

Before I can even move, a Mikey-missile plows into my midsection, driving me to the ground. The lights shine into my eyes and suddenly, I'm very grateful to Splinter for that cure he gave me. Otherwise the pressure Mike just put on my stomach might have had some really bad results. Glancing down, Mike is looking back at me, no trace of fear at all in his eyes.

" It's okay Raph," he chirps, smiling. " Le'nardo said you was just grumpy and that you didn't mean it."

Le'nardo? Okay, that was undeniably cute. " So I'm forgiven?"

" Yup!"

Mike scrambles off me and goes back to his seat. Leo pulls him up and hands him his action figure. He in turn, throws one to me.

" Come play Raph!"

It's his Man-at-Arms.[1] Mike spent a week tracking down the original Masters of the Universe figures on EBay – and now they're out of their plastic covers? When Mike was back to normal he was going to be so pissed…

My frown is back. I can tell. Who's to say Mike will ever be returned to normal? Even Donnie said it might be permanent. Mike looks up at me curiously.

" Raph?"

Old or young, he can still tell when I'm thinking things that I'm better off not thinking. But that brings a feeling of relief – Mike is still Mike, no matter his age.

I'm gonna have to tone it down a bit. Everything's different now – and I never want to see that look of fear in Mike's face again. Especially not 'cause of me. Keeping my temper is gonna be rough though – and watching my mouth. Kids pick up stuff fast, I know that much.

A gentle me. I don't think I can do it. But as I look across the table where Mike is smiling and laughing and tugging on Donnie's chef apron strings, I feel a smile spread across my own face, and I know that I'll try.

——————————————————————————

The End

Author's Notes: Another one done. *dusts hands* I hope you enjoyed it. ^^  And yes, I do plan on doing some pictures for this fic which will be found on my website (see URL in bio) but I don't have any ready yet. But if you'd like to do some too…^_^

Reviews make happy authors. Happy authors write more fics. More fics means more Mikey and Raph bonding. So really, it's in your best interest to review. ^^



[1] From He-Man – how could you NOT know that?