Author's Note: FINAL CHAPTER! This one is Mikey and all his goodness, probably my favourite (?) chapter and the longest.
Michelangelo is well aware of how the world perceives him.
He has always been the baby. He supposes it is easy to peg him as one- he is the smallest of the turtles after all, and the most playful, so the title comes by naturally. Being the baby comes with a bunch of titles - the wild one, the wacky one, the flaky, irresponsible one. Their friends value him just as much as his brothers, though not many would hail him as the most skillful or the strongest. And then there are his enemies, who often view him as the weakest link in the team. He could tell that Shredder's minions feel that if they have Mikey dangling by the leg, chances are the other Turtles would lay down their arms and submit to their demands.
Perhaps it is because of all these factors that he earns the title "littlest brother" in his family or mutants.
Time was, Mikey hated being the baby. It's hard when nobody takes his opinions seriously or when he has to take the blame for every accident (even if he DID contribute to said accident at some point). His childhood was a routine of getting into endless trouble or being bullied by one brother or another. But as he grew older, he started to realize that being pinpointed as the youngest had its own privileges.
Being the baby means he got to choose the best piece of the fresh-from-the-oven pizza that had just arrived from the delivery guy, simply because Leonardo tellls him to go ahead and pick one, but warns him to leave some for the others. It means that Raphael will not let him wander about the sewers all by himself, but would spend hours wandering along with him, albeit a little grumpily. It also means that Donatello would yell at him for tweaking some strange colourful jars on the topmost mantelpiece in his lab, but then explains to him what the contents are and what he intends to use it for.
Eventually, Mikey liked the little brother title. It isn't so much about the pizza or the sewers or the jars (though they certainly helps), but because Mikey realizes that his status in the team allows him to observe his brothers closely. As it turns out, it is easier for his brothers to let down their guards around him, for whatever reason, and he gets to understand who they truly are.
He knows that Leo, the eldest by default just as he is the youngest, always carries the burden of leadership on his shoulders, even when they were children. Although Sensei only made it official on their fifteenth mutation day, quietly he has always relied on Leo to keep the rest of them in line. It is Leo whom Splinter demands an explanation from if he discovers that they are in trouble. In turn, it is Leo whom Mikey and the others look to for a plan, Leo who receives the endless "What do we do now"s and "What's plan B" whenever they are out foiling Kraangs or facing hundreds of Foot-Bots. It is Leo whom they relied on to make sure their missions goes on successfully, to see the bigger picture and to round them all home safely. Some nights when Mikey wakes up to make himself a midnight snack, he would catch Leo meditating in the darkness of their dojo. He would see Leo's sagging shoulders, completely weary after another day of leading them through some kind of disaster and keeping them alive, trying to maintain an even balance of authority and understanding whenever somebody challenges his decisions. Mikey knows that Leo fears the day when he has to face Sensei, only to tell him that one of them will not come home and that he, Leonardo, has failed.
Mikey knows that Raph craves the safety of his family. Despite his roughness and macho-guy persona, Raph is the most attached to everyone in the family (though Mikey would never say it out loud at the risk of his own neck). Growing up, this has been because they thought they were the last of their kind : mutants living in the sewers of New York City. But as they grow older and become mixed up with the businesses of Shredder and Kraang and the Triceratons, their world get bigger and yes, they meet others like them. But it also means a greater danger, with prices on their heads and more enemies than they can count wanting them dead. That does not sit well with Raph. It angers him that his family is always the target and nobody sees that more than Mikey. He catches a glimpse of Raph's apoplectic face whenever Mikey is in Rahzar's grasp or caged by Shredder. He knows that Raph fears the day when he stands amongst the mauled corpses of his family, the sole survivor, all alone in an already hostile world.
And certainly, Mikey knows that Donnie is haunted by his vulnerability, particularly of his weapon of choice. Donnie cherishes his bo staff, but in a world where their enemies fight using fire and steel, Donnie is brutally conscious that wood may not be a comparable enough weapon. And so he compensates by making sure he is learned, well-versed in every possible information to counter the constant threat around them. Nobody who knows Donnie would ever challenge his intellect, but still he goes on the never-ending quest for knowledge, keenly intent on being able to solve any unforeseen problems they may have. Mikey could tell, from the panic in his eyes when he rakes his brain to provide a solution whenever they are in the midst of some difficulty. Mikey knows that Donnie fears the day when his knowledge would prove to be inept, that nothing that he knows could help them, or worse- place them in greater danger.
Mikey sees all of his brothers' insecurities, the fear of failure, of loneliness, of uselessness. He sees through the mask of iron on Leo's face, of hostility on Raph's and of smugness of Donnie's. He is no fool whatever anyone would say, and eventually he learns to help them ease the pain in his own little ways.
He never questions Leo's authority. Leo needs to feel some form of control in his life and Mikey gives it to him by being the obedient little brother. Whether it is their positioning during a recce mission or training drills with Leo at four in the afternoon, Mikey never challenges Leo any more than a few small whines. Sure he complains about always being the bait every now and then, but he trusts Leo blindly and will follow him to the ends of the earth.
From watching Sensei, Mikey also learns that Leo basks in approvals. Leo is a perfectionist, it is what he strives to be all his life. Leo wishes to be the perfect son, brother, ninja and also the perfect leader, and therefore Mikey begin to learn subtle hints of appreciations - delighted cries when Leo allowed him the first pick of pizza, cheering out after a job well done, happily thanking him when Leo agreed to bring him to Coney Island to find Karai. They are subtle signs that Leo is doing things right. And despite the fact that his victory dance irritates the shell out of his brothers, Mikey occasionally catches the small smile on Leo's face before he barks an order for them to move. Mikey knows then that his mission is accomplished – to assure Leo that he had not failed.
Even as Leo sits moodily while waiting for his leg to fully heal, Mikey cheers him up with stories to remind him that the injury is never going to be permanent. That Leo willbe on his feet again - Mikey is sure of it. He is Mikey's leader, and he will never let him down.
Raph is the most delicate. At first, Mikey thought he is only worried about him being injured during fights or getting lost somewhere in the maze of sewers of underground New York City. And so he let his hotheaded brother follow him around and endures the constant grumbling coming from the red-banded turtle. He developes "Booyakasha!" as his unique battle cry so that Raph's arms won't tense so much and his eardrums won't strain themselves to make sure Mikey is still alive in the middle of a conflict, or else be too distracted from his own foe.
But over time, Mikey realizes that there are other kinds of enemies that Raph is worried about – the kinds like Chris Bradford, who uses trickery and betrayal to lure them into traps. He senses Raph's concern that not only there is a possibility that Raph might lose his family physically, but also their many colourful personalities. So Mikey babbles and laughs and bounces his way through life, annoying his brothers with his antics but at the same time showing that nothing that they have seen and experienced would have a lasting impact on him – that he is still Mikey, whatever horror they've been through.
When the fear and grief of losing Master Splinter during the Kraang's invasion becomes too much for Raph, it is Mikey who grabs his lashing brother in a comforting hug, telling him that everything will be all right- that Splinter is stronger that anyone thinks and they will see him again. Mikey also lets Raph grip him tightly in the minivan, understanding his need to know that at least two of his brothers are all right, while a third lays unconscious between them and their father gone.
Mikey knows to smile even in the face of danger, although he could not help the occasional cries of shock. He manages to exert confidence that no matter how bad things are, Raph will protect him. Raph would keep his little brother safe.
With Donnie it is, mercifully, a little more direct. Mikey could certainly not suggest that Donnie change his weapon of choice, but he helps Donnie with his learning. So Mikey becomes involved with everything that Donnie is immersed in: prodding, poking, fiddling and jabbing his way around whatever is in Donnie's scope of interest (which, Mikey realizes, can be found in three places: Donnie's room, Donnie's lab and the garage). He nudges information about this and that, asking questions and voicing out his curiosity so that Donnie would explain them all to him, and in effect to himself. By doing so, Donnie would commit the information to his memory for his hour of need and save the day.
Mikey also never questions Donnie's inventions. Leo and Raph may express skepticism every now and then, particularly the robot Metalhead, but Mikey knows that the inventions are Donnie's way to avoid being rendered obsolete within the team. And so he marvels at Donnie's every invention and modifications, and is always eager to try the new gadgets, despite the inventor's misgivings over him trying out said inventions.
In the end, it isn't just about choosing a pizza or wandering the sewers or messing about with a jar, it is about keeping his brothers' confidence, to care about their emotional wellbeing so that they can concentrate on the things they do best. For Mikey, it was the duty of the youngest sibling to keep a close eye on that, to make them overcome their insecurities and give them something to hold on to.
Mikey is always the baby. He doesn't really mind, nor does he mind living in the shadows of his brothers. Sure, when the bad guys goes after him first, he would groan and complain and yell. But that is all right. He has his brother and they have him. Leo indulges him, Raph protects and Donnie teaches.
And Mikey takes care of the things they are unable to.
Author's Note 2:
I can't thank all of you enough for reading, reviewing and commenting on the story! You are all awesome.
I'm very proud of this story because it's the first non one-shot that I managed to finish. Exploring the Turtles' relationship with each other was fun, so I hope you had enjoyed this as much as I did writing it!
Let me know what you think. Reviews are addictive!