Author's Note: Set mostly in 2003 Universe with mild references to 2012. Order of birth is Leo, Don, Raph, and Mikey.
New York City was not, by definition, a quiet city. No matter the month of the year, there was always the rumble of constant traffic – enraged honks, impatient hollers, urgent sirens. There was always the wind whistling ceaselessly through the wind tunnels created by the rearing buildings. There was always the rush of water by the river and the docks. There was never not any kind of noise, which made for good cover for the battle taking place atop a dingy apartment in Brooklyn, several blocks from the Bridge. At first glance, the fight appeared one-sided: four mutant turtles armed with varying ninja weapons battled at least twenty uniformed ninja; but on closer inspection, it was clear that not only were the terrapins skilled enough to hold ground against the formidable odds, but they were slowly gaining the upper hand.
At least until one ninja pulled out a gun and took aim at the red-banded turtle.
Leonardo, team leader and the eldest of the four turtle brothers, spotted the threat. His first thought was Dishonourable! because ninja did not use guns, which was quickly followed by Shell! as he ran to protect his brother.
"Raph!" Leo shoved his brother aside and collapsed when the shot connected with his side. There was a silent BOOM, a flash of purple light, excruciating pain for two heart-stopping seconds, and then his vision went black.
"Leo! Leo!" Raph looked back over his shoulder, even as he lay sprawled after his older brother had pushed him out of harm's way. He couldn't see for the flash of light but he got to his feet anyway.
Don and Mikey still battled the Foot; he could hear their shouts as their weapons clashed against the katana of the Foot clan.
Curse these spots in his vision! He had to find Leo! Leo had to be all right. If he got hurt because of him…
He tripped over something small and hard but caught himself before he fell. "What the shell?" he demanded, looking down.
"What. The. Shell?"
A tiny turtle toddler sat on the roof, Leo's twin katana, guards, and blue mask scattered around it, and a pair of dark blue eyes blinked nervously up at him.
His brain couldn't understand what was happening but a single emotion pounded through his veins as he stared down at the small child: protectiveness. Anything that small and helpless needed protection. And they were still in the middle of a war.
Raph ducked a sudden gunshot that, strangely, glowed purple as it sped over his head. His hands snatched up Leo's gear, the katana and the baby turtle. They could not fight and look after…this – whatever this was. Tucking the child to his plastron, he gave an order he had never voiced in his life. "Retreat, guys! Retreat!" he shouted, praying his other brothers hadn't been hit with the weird weapon, too.
"Where's Leo?" Don demanded as he swung his Bo staff to ward away the three ninja ganged up on him.
Raph sincerely hoped he was currently in his arms. "I got him. Let's go!"
"Mikey! Fall back, Mikey!"
Mikey took out one more ninja with his twirling nunchaku before following his brothers off the roof, into the alley, and down the nearest manhole.
"Uh, Raph? Where exactly is Leo?" asked Donnie when he saw his elder brother wasn't with Raph as he'd said.
Raph's brain was still trying to catch up so he just opened his arms to reveal their infant brother.
Why were they asking him questions when he could barely function? But questions needed answers. "He, he pushed me out of the way. It, I think it was a gun. Some kind of gun. He pushed me."
"Let's get him to the lab." Though he said it calmly, Donnie's eyes were wide with fear.
"Here, Raph," Mikey said quietly, "let me take something."
Raph handed his little brother Leo's gear and mask, keeping the fragile baby tucked against his chest. Maybe this is a bad dream? he thought as they ran home. Maybe I'm gonna wake up soon? Leo's gonna pound on my door any second now to wake me up for mornin' trainin'.
"Master Splinter! Master Splinter!" Mikey cried as soon as they ran through the door. "Something's happened to Leo!"
Their sensei was nowhere to be seen and then he was in front of them, his eyes large in his normally calm face. "My sons, what happened?"
"We don't know. Leo got hit with something and I need to check him to make sure he's not hurt. Raph, let go."
Raph didn't understand. What did Donnie mean, let go? Let go of what?
"Raph! Let him go!"
"Donatello, be calm. Raphael?"
He lifted his gaze obediently. Golden amber met onyx.
"Donatello needs to take Leonardo now, Raphael, to see if he is unharmed. Let go of your brother now. That's it." Splinter eased the toddler out of his son's arms and handed him to Donnie who raced to the lab with Mikey on his heels, and the lab door slammed closed. "Come, my son," he said kindly. "I'll make you a cup of tea."
Normally Raph would protest and say he didn't want any but thanks, Master Splinter, I'm really okay, but not today. His brain still wasn't functioning, his own thoughts weren't coherent, and he kept glancing at the lab door, closed and solid and uninviting. Absently, he followed Sensei to the kitchen.
Sensei sat him down in a chair and busied himself with the kettle. Raph stared at his hands. They felt empty for some reason. After several minutes, Splinter set a cup in front of him, and he wrapped his hands around the warm ceramic but he didn't drink. The heat from the tea spread through his palms and up his arms and through his chest towards his brain. The smell of the tea leaves filtered through his nostrils and into his consciousness. He looked up with tears in his eyes at his sensei and father who sat across from him.
"It's my fault," he confessed.
The old rat sipped. "How so, my son?"
"I wasn't paying attention. Leo pushed me out of the way. Whatever that weapon was, it hit him because of me. This is all my fault. Why'd he push me?"
"Your brother feared for your well-being and acted as any leader would have" was the calm reply. "He made a choice."
"Still my fault," Raph mumbled, tears he refused to let fall burning in his eyes.
"The fault lies with the one who pulled the trigger," Splinter corrected firmly.
"The Foot." Raph spat out the two words like vinegar in his mouth. Rage boiled in his brain and veins, and his hands tightened convulsively around his cup. But the anger, for once, was fleeting; his worry for his brother overpowered his usual angry response, and he slumped in his chair, his hands loosening their grip. He hung his head, his eyes downcast. He was too tired to be angry. Too tired and too scared.
"They will pay," said Sensei, his tone lethal beneath the benignity.
"It won't change anythin'. Leo will still be…"
The sudden cry made them both jump, and Splinter was quicker than Raph in leaping from his chair and running out the door. Raph looked down at the cup between his hands, the tea now substantially cooler. He sighed, downed the liquid in a few gulps, and followed Sensei to the lab.
He really had to hand it to Splinter's tea because within seconds, his whole body relaxed and even his brain felt much calmer, and it was in the short hallway between the kitchen and the lab that he at last came to terms with tonight's events. His eldest brother really was now a two-year-old, thanks to the craptastic technology the Foot had engineered. Absolutely flippin' brilliant to turn their enemies into harmless and helpless babies. It was bloody terrific.
He entered the lab and found Splinter quietly hushing and rocking a teary-eyed Leo. "There, there, Leonardo," he comforted. "Donatello was just making sure you're all right. It was just a little needle."
"I didn't think Leo was afraid of anything," Mikey put in sadly. He sat on the cot that held all of Leo's gear, his mask in his hands and the swords across his lap in their sheaths.
"He's two," Raph said, his tone hushed and raspy. "Everyone's afraid of everythin' when they're two."
"Actually, Raphael, your brother appears to be about three," Splinter corrected.
"Three?" Donnie echoed as he looked up from his prepping of the blood test. "But…he's too small for three."
"Your brother was the smallest of you four for years," was the reply. "I thought he was the youngest until he began to walk and talk, and then it became clear that he was the eldest. Are you feeling better, Leonardo?" he added to the toddler, kissing the Band-Aid on his upper left arm.
Leo whimpered but then he spotted Raph by the door and reached out for him, his tiny hands grabbing the air between them.
"Aww!" Mikey cooed, despite the seriousness of the situation. "Wittle Weo wants Waphie."
But for the first time in his life, Raph didn't pay attention to Mikey's snide remarks. He simply crossed the floor and took the toddler from Sensei. He sat down on a cot, afraid he might accidentally drop him, and looked into his brother's navy eyes. It was still there, that comforting shade of dark blue. Even as a child, his brother's dark irises shone with wisdom, and Raph suddenly wished that his brother would say something. He knew this was all his fault but he wanted Leo to tell him that it wasn't, and that protecting him was what brothers did, specifically what they did. Every time they stepped out the door, they entrusted their lives to each other, and Raph trusted his brothers more than anything. He even trusted Mikey. Most importantly, he trusted Leo to always be there for him. No matter how often they butted heads and clashed, Leo always came through for him when he needed him.
But not anymore. Foot or no, it was his fault.
Raph bowed his head over the small child in his lap. "I'm sorry, Leo," he whispered as he fought tears. "I'm sorry."
The baby moved, snuggling closer against his plastron, and then suddenly bumped him gently on the chin with his brow ridge. "It's okay, Raph."
"Did he just talk?" Mikey gasped.
Splinter said something about how Leo had talked a lot as a kid, and was surprised he hadn't said anything sooner, but Raph barely heard him. He was too busy hugging his little brother and trying to keep the tears to a minimum.
They headed for bed soon after, even Don who could do nothing more until the results from the blood test came through which would take hours, if not days. Raph reluctantly handed Leo back to Splinter. Yes, he would be safer and more comfortable with you, Sensei. No, I don't mind. Yes, you can wake me if ya need help with him. Yes, the tea helped a lot, thanks, Sensei. Mornin' trainin' is cancelled? Okay. It wasn't like he needed a distraction to keep his mind off some things, or like he didn't need to vent his emotions on a punching bag or a complex kata. Not.
Raph turned into his bedroom and crawled into his hammock. Exhausted though he was, emotionally and physically, he lay awake for hours, listening for any sign of distress coming from Splinter's room. But there was none, and somewhere around four in the morning, he drifted off. Good thing trainin' was cancelled, he thought as his eyelids slid shut.