So much can change in an instant. And with change comes pain, fear, helplessness, hope, strength, joy… a second chance. Through these we learn to grow.
AN. Hello, old friends and new readers. It's been a very long time – almost six years – since I last updated this story. I had originally intended to write a series of stories within this alternate universe, but seeing as how I never even finished the first story, I think I'm going to just keep it as one story for now. I'm not going to promise continuous updates. But I hope to eventually get through the three major plots I had planned and then delve into some side stories based on the escapades of Little League and the GP-Turtles over at the original Stealthy Stories chat rooms.
Disclaimer: The Turtles and all their friends are the property of Mirage Studios. I do not own them, but am grateful for the opportunity to use them in the unleashing of my own imagination.
Rating: This story is rated K
Leonardo sat on the edge of the bed in his brother's lab and looked down at the floor which seemed to be much further away than he remembered. For that matter, everything around him looked bigger than it used to, as though the whole world had grown over night.
Leo shook his head. That's silly. Nothing's bigger. I'm just smaller.
He listened to the sounds of his family outside of the lab. He hadn't woken up alone. Master Splinter had stayed with him through the night and Donatello had been there first thing that morning. Michelangelo had popped in as well before dashing off to make breakfast for the family. No one had seen Raphael since the night before.
At the moment, Master Splinter was out looking for the red-masked turtle. Donny had stepped out of the lab to get something from his room leaving the now smallest turtle alone.
Leo could hear Mikey mucking about in the kitchen and it seemed that Master Splinter was back because both his and Donny's voices were sounding from the living room. It seemed that if he were to close his eyes and just listen to the normal sounds around him, he could pretend that nothing had changed, that everything was as it should be. But when he opened his eyes and looked down, he quickly remembered why there was such a large gap between his feet and the floor.
It's not that far. I could just jump down and go have breakfast with the guys. Nothing's really changed. I'm still me. I'm just shorter. I'll just have to compensate by working harder.
But even as he contemplated jumping down from the bed, something inside him balked at the idea. He tried to ignore it but it wouldn't go away and he found himself frozen to the edge, unable to push himself off.
This is stupid. He growled at himself and willed his body to jump off the bed. He didn't move. The ground seemed to move farther away from him as he stared.
He gulped. Maybe I'll just climb down.
With a heavy sigh, he rolled himself onto his plastron and slowly slid backwards, allowing his legs to hang from the bed, reaching down with his toes to search for the floor. Inch by inch, he made his way down until his feet finally brushed the cold concrete and he grinned triumphantly.
A loud gasp sounded from the doorway. "Leo! What are you doing?"
Suddenly, Leo was no longer standing on the floor. He found himself lifted into the air by two strong hands, pressed against his sides. His eyes went wide at the unfamiliar and uncomfortable feeling of someone picking him up. Without thinking, he began to thrash and kick against the hold.
"Let me go! Put me down!" He shouted loudly. The sound of his own voice startled him and he shut mouth tight as he was deposited back on the bed he'd just escaped. Breathing heavily, he glared up at his purple masked brother who stared back at him with wide eyes as though he wasn't entirely sure what had just happened.
Donatello worked his jaw a few times before finally speaking. "I, um… sorry, Leo. But you really shouldn't be standing up so soon. I saw you on the ground and I was worried so I…"
"So you picked me up!?" Leo asked incredulously before clamming up again. He bit his lip. He still wasn't used to hearing himself speak with the voice of a child. In his mind, his voice was still deeper, the way it had been a week ago, before all of this started.
He felt humiliated. He looked like a kid, he sounded like a kid, and now he was being picked up like a little kid. Could this day get any worse?
Don rubbed the back of his neck, sheepishly. He could understand why Leo wouldn't like the idea of being picked up like that. Still, he needed to be aware that his body was in a fragile state right now. Sighing, he reached behind him to pull a chair closer and sat down. It spoke much of Leo's new height that even with the smaller turtle sitting on the bed, Donatello had to sit down to be at eye level with his brother.
"Listen, Leo." He began, speaking softly. "Your body just went through some really big changes. You need to take it easy for a little while and build up your strength."
Leo glared and decided to just ignore the sound of his voice. "Stop taking to me like I'm a kid, Donny. I'm little, not stupid."
"I know!" Don held his hands up, defensively. "I know. I'm just really worried about you, Leo. I know how you are. When you get hurt, the first thing you want to do is get up and get going again. And I get that. But this isn't some minor injury. You're entire body is different now and it's going to take some time to get used to it. You've lost a lot of muscle and you'll probably feel weak for a little while; couple that with the fact that you haven't had a proper meal in nearly a week and… well, I'd just feel a lot better if you stayed in bed a little."
The smaller turtle groaned. "I feel fine, Donny; just hungry. I think I can handle walking to the kitchen. I do remember how to walk."
"Are you sure?"
Leo shook his head. "Sure about what?"
Donny grimaced before clarifying his question. He didn't really want to ask, but it was necessary. "Are you sure you remember how to walk?"
Leo's eyes shot open wide. Did he really just ask that? "Of course I remember how to walk! Why wouldn't I remember?"
The brainy turtle sighed. "I'm just concerned, Leo, about your memory. I mean, most of your memories seem to be intact, unaffected by the serum or the change. You obviously remember who you are, who we are, where we are; so clearly your recognition memory is fine. I'm more concerned with your recall memory – your ability to retrieve previously learned information."
Leo nodded slowly, not fully understanding but getting the gist of what his brother was saying. "Okay…"
Taking this as a go ahead, Donny plowed forward. "So, I was thinking we could do a little test just to make sure your recall memory is the same as it used to be."
"What kind of test?" Leo asked skeptically.
"Just some questions. Think of it as a verbal exam." Don pulled out a piece of paper which was apparently what he'd gone to get from his room. "I'm gonna start with some really basic questions, just to give us a starting point. They'll get harder as we progress."
Leo sighed and nodded for his brother to continue.
"Okay, what's two plus two?"
Leo frowned. "Four." He growled out the word, ashamed at being reduced to this.
"Correct! But I expected that. I've calculated that you're probably somewhere between five and six years old, physically at least. Any five year old would be able to answer that question. Now, for something harder. What's nine times nine?"
"Ninety-six divided by eight?"
Leo bit his bottom lip, calculating in his head. "Um… twelve."
Donny nodded. "Alright, you've got math down. How do you spell turtle?"
"Really, Don?" Donny just smiled and Leo rolled his eyes. "T-U-R-T-L-E"
"C-O-R-N-A- no U-C-O-P-I-A."
Leo smiled and had to bite back a laugh as he spelled out Mikey's favorite word. Don then moved into questions about science, geography, and history. Towards the end, Leo found himself enjoying the questions. Donny had made the test interesting at least.
"Which president began a famous speech with the words 'Four score and seven years ago…'?"
"Abraham Lincoln in his 'Gettysburg Address.' I can recite the whole thing if you want me to." Leo smiled broadly, feeling proud. He knew he was the only one of his brothers to memorize the whole thing.
Donny shook his head. "No need. I'm sure you can, but I don't even know it all. We're almost done. Let's do some language."
"Language? Donny, I've been talking all morning. It's not like I can't speak."
"Shikashi, anata wa, nihongo o hanasu koto ga dekiru?*"
Leo smiled, understanding. "Hai."
"Anata wa dono yō ni kanjite imasu ka?"
"Ueta. Wareware wa ima iku koto ga dekimasu?"
"Not yet! Not yet!" Donny said, waving his hands and reverting back to English. "I have one more question." The purple-masked turtle stood up straight and cleared his throat dramatically. Then, holding up one finger, he asked, "What is the square root of twenty-four, divided by two, multiplied by the number of Silver Sentry comic books Mikey has in his collection, rounded to the nearest ten, and then divided by pie."
Leo had to bite his lip to keep from laughing. "Donny! I couldn't answer that before! Why would I be able to answer it now?"
Don chuckled. "Sorry, just checking. Had to make sure you didn't turn into a genius on me."
This time, Leo did laugh, only it sounded more like a giggle and he stopped with a marked frown. He was suddenly reminded of why Donny was giving him the stupid test in the first place.
"What's wrong, Leo?" Don asked. "Everything checks out good. You're memory seems to be working great."
"Yeah, but I still look and sound like a kid. How is anybody supposed to take me seriously now? How am I supposed to lead you guys into battle if I –"
"Whoa! Whoa, whoa, Leo! Slow down, bro. Let's take this one step at a time, okay? First of all, you're still our brother. We still respect you and value your opinions on things, so I don't think you have to worry about being taken seriously. As for battle… well, I guess you'll have to talk to Master Splinter about that one. But right now, the important thing is gonna be helping your body resume it's natural growth pattern. That means good food, plenty of exercise, and a regular sleep schedule. You're a growing turtle again, Leo. So let's go get breakfast."
Donny offered a smile and a hand to his smaller brother who sulked for a moment before putting on a half smile.
"Finally." Leo scooted to the edge of the bed and looked down again. Taking Donny's hand, he found that the jump didn't seem so far with his brother there, so he pushed himself off the bed and landed on his feet.
The impact jarred his bones and Leo winced. Luckily, Donny didn't seem to notice. That was stupid. I know I'm supposed to bend my knees when I land. He rolled his eyes at his own mistake and took a few steps forward, only to stumble and grip Donny's hand tightly so as to remain upright.
"Leo, are you alright?" Donny asked, helping the smaller turtle regain his balance.
Leo frowned but nodded. "Yeah, I'm okay. I think I'm just weak, like you said, Donny. But I can manage. I just have to go a little slower."
So much for remembering how to walk. He thought as he carefully put one foot in front of the other. It wasn't so much that he didn't remember it. He knew how to walk. His muscles just didn't seem to want to cooperate with his brain. Luckily, it didn't take long for his muscles to catch up. After a few focused steps, he felt like he had the hang of it and released his brother's hand to walk the rest of the way to the kitchen, by himself.
The whole lair smelled like pancakes and Leo found himself getting excited as he stepped into the dining area and saw that the table was already set with plates of steaming hot flapjacks. Michelangelo was busy in the refrigerator, looking for something, and Master Splinter was already seated and nursing a cup of tea.
Leo paused, suddenly, and looked around the room. Everything was so big. The table, on which their meal was set, was so tall that when Leo stood right next to it he had to stand on his toes to see over the edge. The kitchen sink was also too high.
He could see that he would have to climb to be able to sit in the chairs and it was unlikely that he would be able to reach his plate even then. Donatello seemed to notice this dilemma just as he did because the purple-masked turtle disappeared only to come back a moment later with two very thick encyclopedias which hit set down on Leo's usual chair.
"Try this, Leo." Donny's words drew both Michelangelo and Master Splinter's attention.
Mikey stood up quickly and smacked his head on bottom of the freezer door. "Ow!"
"Are you okay, Mikey?" Leo asked.
"Yeah, I'm good." He came around the table to see Leo, and then squatted down in front of him to be at eye level. "Welcome back, Leo. Dude, you look even smaller when you're standing up."
Leo frowned and didn't stop Don from smacking Mikey on the back of his head, right where he'd just bumped it. "Ow! What was that for…?"
Donatello looked pointedly at Leo and Michelangelo seemed to realize his mistake. "Oh, sorry bro."
Leo cocked a half smile. "It's okay, Mikey." He turned to the table and looked at his chair apprehensively. He didn't like having to use books as a booster seat but it was either that or try to reach without them and probably end up with more food on him than in him. He was too hungry to let any of those pancakes go to waste.
"Do you need some help, bro?"
Leo started at Mikey's question and then realized that his brother was offering to help him get into the chair. He thought back to his earlier humiliation at Donny picking him up and shook his head firmly.
"No. I can do it by myself."
He stepped onto the bottom rung of the chair and, using both the back of the chair and the edge of the table for support, hoisted himself up onto the chair. The encyclopedias slid away from him and nearly fell off the chair but he grabbed them just in time and pulled them back into position before settling himself on top. The whole process took about two minutes which, in his opinion, was far too much time to take sitting down for breakfast but at least he had made it there.
He rested his hands carefully on the table in front of him and looked at the delicious meal his brother had prepared. Then he lifted his eyes to Master Splinter, who sat directly across from him.
"Good morning, Sensei." He said, feeling that finally he could do something normal. He and Splinter always talked before breakfast.
Splinter nodded. "Good morning, my son. Are you hungry?"
Leo nodded. "Yes, very."
"Then, let us begin our meal."
Leo frowned, looking about the table where Don and Mike had already sat down. But one chair remained empty. "Shouldn't we wait for Raph?"
"No, my son. Raphael will not be dining with us this morning. He has gone to visit with Mr. Jones and Ms. O'Neil."
Leo nodded and folded his hands in front of him. His brother's and father did the same.
"Itadakimasu." They said together.
Everyone started eating immediately. No one had had a good meal during the time Leo had been unconscious and they were glad to be able to eat without worrying whether or not Leo would survive.
Leonardo took a few bites, clumsily holding the large fork in his too small hand, but soon found that he'd lost his appetite. He pushed his food around on his plate and kept glancing at Raph's empty chair.
It wasn't that the food was bad. Mikey's pancakes were delicious. But Leo couldn't help but think about the look on Raphael's face when the red-masked turtle had run out of the lab the night before. Splinter had said that Raph just needed time to adjust to the changes but Leo couldn't see why Raph would be having such a hard time.
Don and Mikey seemed to be handling it just fine, despite Donatello's mothering and Mike's blunt tongue. But they were mostly concerned for him, not themselves. And that made sense. He was the one who was changed. He was the one who had to get used to being short again. Not Raph. Nothing had happened to Raph. Raph was fine.
So what did Raph need to adjust to?
The way Raph had looked at Leo… it was like he was afraid, and that scared Leo. The idea that his own brother might be afraid of him was terrifying.
Raph liked to call Leo their 'Fearless Leader,' but Leo had always disagreed with that name. Leo was scared of many things – failure being his biggest fear; failure and the thought of losing his brothers. He hid it well and had worked hard to conquer his other fears, such as his fear of height, but he could never consider himself 'fearless'.
But Raph… Raph wasn't afraid of anything. Sure he wasn't too fond of bugs, and roaches really seemed to creep him out but Leo could count on one hand the number of times he'd seen fear in his red-masked brother's eyes.
Last night had been one of those times and the thought that Leo had caused that fear made the small turtle want to cry. He didn't know how or why, but he'd clearly done something to make Raphael fear him. And now, he didn't know what he could do to make it right.
"You okay, Leo?" Mikey's voice startled him out of his thoughts. "Pancakes aren't good?"
Leo shook his head. "No, they're great Mikey. Thanks. I just think maybe my stomach shrunk with the rest of me. I'm actually kind of tired." It's was true. He'd only been awake for a few hours but he could already feel exhaustion creeping over his body.
Donatello nodded. "You'll probably be sleeping a lot for the next few days, until your body settles back into a natural rhythm. Why don't you go take a nap in your room? I'm sure you've seen enough of my lab to last you a while."
Leo smiled at his brother, grateful to get back to the normalcy of his own room. But as he entered his room and climbed into his too high bed, his thoughts drifted back to his red-masked brother who usually slept right across the hall from him.
Raph wouldn't stay away forever, would he?
Leo shook his head. Raph would be home soon. He was just out visiting their friends.
Nevertheless, Leo could tell that whatever sleep he did manage to get would be tormented by nightmares of missing brothers and a fear that should never be in their eyes.
*Translation notes: I used Google translator for the Japanese parts of this chapter. If anything is wrong – blame Google. The following translations are in the order that they appear in the story.
"But can you speak Japanese?"
"How are you feeling?"
"Hungry. Can we go now?"
"I humbly receive."