A/N: Written a little while ago for my friend's birthday. :) This one's still for you, Mar.
There wasn't always enough food to go around when they were little.
Being turtles, they didn't necessarily need to eat as much as human kids their age- and it was a lucky thing, too. It was hard enough on Master Splinter foraging for enough food to feed them as they were. Somehow he managed it.
But sometimes, some nights, they went hungry. Mikey only remembers a little of those really, really young years. He remembers how sad their father looked when he couldn't manage to feed them properly, and the tight, clenching pains of hunger in his stomach, and the tiny hands that reached over to press food into his, his brothers passing some of their share over to him. Even back then he was much smaller than they were, and they couldn't walk or talk yet but they could already worry about him with wide, anxious eyes.
As they got bigger, Splinter could leave them by themselves longer, and soon he found access to shelters and food pantries. Eventually, the room functioning as their kitchen was always well-stocked, and his brothers didn't need to share their food with him anymore.
It's something they've never talked about. Mikey's not sure if they even remember, but he does.
He's still smaller than they are, and they still worry about him, but these days Mikey's the one in charge at mealtimes. And he likes cooking, has a lot of fun doing it, but now- they take turns sometimes, but usually- he's the one who makes the food and passes it around. He's the one who feeds his brothers.
At the farmhouse in North Hampton, habits were hard to break, and April finally admitted defeat the third night in a row he beat her to making dinner. She'd had the presence of mind to ask Casey to stop in town for some basic supplies before they continued on into the country; plus the dry and canned goods they discovered in the pantry, there was enough to pull decent meals together for a little while.
And Mikey doesn't the mind the nights he has to eat less so his brothers have enough to fill them up. Leo is sleeping like the dead, and everyone else is sad and quiet, and Mikey doesn't want them to be hungry, too. At least until April can find the lockbox her family always kept emergency money in, at least until they have enough, Mikey doesn't mind.
He tries to explain as much, when Donnie and Raph corner him in the kitchen. They look livid, or maybe it's white-hot worry, but they're holding their bowls in tight hands and they're demanding to know why he's not eating, and Mikey's sorry he slipped up - however he slipped up - because they already have enough to worry about.
"Don't do this," Donnie says softly, "whatever this is. We've already lost about everything we can stand to lose, Mikey."
But it's not like that. He doesn't like being hungry, he misses always having pizza or popcorn to snack on, and the odds-and-ends in their kitchen he used to turn into 'culinary adventures,' their father used to say. And it isn't that he isn't eating - turtles don't need as much as humans do, they haven't been training as hard and as long as they used to, so he's honestly doing okay.
"You don't need to do that," Raph bites out, and Mikey knows him better than anybody, so he knows that's worry snapping in his eyes, not anger. "We don't mind goin' without a meal here or there, till we can figure somethin' out."
"But you used to do it for me," Mikey argues, standing his ground. "When we were really little, I remember. You'd always give me some of your share, to make sure I had enough. It's the same thing as now. I'm not not eating, I just want to make sure you have enough. I just want you not to have to go to sleep hungry." He wants them to be okay again, he wants everything to go back to some semblance of normal. He wants this croaky, dusty old farmhouse to feel like home.
Something soft and slow happened to their faces, and then Donnie was setting his bowl on the counter, and reaching out to take Mikey by the shoulders and pull him in. Raph is shaking his head, rubbing a hand over his face, and Mikey looks around Don's arms at him.
"Knucklehead," he mutters. "Followin' our lead, huh?"
"Back then, we were following sensei's," Donnie says, resting his chin on the top of Mikey's head comfortably. His hug is tight, and his heart is beating steady behind his plastron, and Mikey hasn't felt this safe in days. "We'd see him divide his food between the four of us, and you were so small… Even without fully understanding, it just made sense to share."
Raph leans over to pluck another bowl out of the clean side of the sink and sits it down with a thunk next to his and Donnie's.
"We've all taken turns bein' looked after," he adds, and there's no mistaking the fondness in his voice, or the relief, or the faint pride. "So let's look after each other from now on, alright?"
And Donnie leans back enough to look at Mikey with a similar fond-relieved-proud thing in his eyes, and it nudges Mikey into a defeated smile. Mikey really doesn't mind going hungry, but his brothers mind if he does. And it's not helping anybody if it's causing them to be so upset, so he shrugs, and watches whole pounds of tension go rolling off his brothers' shoulders.
Don and Raph tip some of their soup out into the third bowl, but Raph taps Mikey hard on the arm to get his attention before he can drink it.
"I don't care how old you are, or how big you get," Raph tells him firmly, "there's some things you never outgrow."