Kyle fast walked to Liz's lab, late for their little group meet-up due to having actual patients. He stopped abruptly outside the door when he saw the quarantine light on. He peeked into the window only to see two vaguely familiar children play fighting.
"What the hell?" He pulled the door open carefully to make sure none of them bolted past him. "Liz, what's--"
"Look, it's Kyle!" That voice sounded like Liz's, but from when she was far younger. The girl was sitting on a little boy's shoulders, another little blonde girl supporting her back. She was trying to get at a test tube. He moved to stop her, since there was apparently not a single other adult in the room.
"Kyle!" The two boys he'd seen through the window tackled him in the legs.
"What is happening? Who--" He cut himself off; he definitely recognized the black haired one. He had vague memories of play dates with this child when he was five. "Alex?"
"Liz and Michael ducked us up!" he said.
"Tattler!" Liz said. "Max, Izzy, a lil closer please."
The young twins silently shuffled her closer to the counter. Kyle still preferred that children not touch the chemicals, but there wasn't much he could do with two attached to his legs. Besides, it was Liz. Right?
"Re-- uh, reg, er, regre--" Liz stuck out her tongue and grabbed the glass test tube triumphantly, only to groan when she saw it was empty. "That thing when you go back?"
"They shrunk us!" Alex said.
"Regression? Can I see?" Kyle tried to move, but he didn't want to accidentally hurt the leeches on his legs. "Can you guys let go so I can help?"
They shook their heads.
"It could be contemporary," Liz said as Max and Isobel helped her down.
"Do you mean temporary?"
"That's what I said."
"I hope so! They aren't talking!" Alex said, and Kyle could hear the rare undertone that indicated he was upset in the shake of his voice as he pointed at the curly haired boy on his other leg.
Michael frowned and released Kyle to hug Alex instead. The twins came over and joined in, which left tiny Liz in her tiny lab coat staring up at Kyle.
"That's what I mean by going back. They didn't used to talk when they first hatched, which is their first memory." She heaved a put upon sigh, something he didn't think he had ever heard from someone so young. "I can't really think. Brain is all... too small."
"All right, well, where are your notes?"
Liz pointed at the table before she was drawn into the tiny child group hug like a magnet.
Kyle flipped through the open notebook there. "Regenerative studies using pod fluid?"
"Yeah," Liz called. "That's it."
"How long have you been like this already?"
"Ummm. I dunno. What do you think?" She poked Alex.
"The glass broke like, not long after we all got here? Not more than an hour," he said.
"Thirty-one minutes," Isobel piped up, and they all looked at her. "Michael's counting."
They all turned to Michael, who looked down and shrugged without a word. Alex squeezed him.
"Isn't it good you're talking now? That would seem to indicate it's wearing off." Kyle flipped another page. "Very slowly."
"Michael's gonna take longer," Max said.
The boy in question grimaced, but he didn't let go of Alex.
"Why?" Kyle wondered.
"Because he did," Isobel said with a shrug. She paused as if she was listening to something, then laughed. "He says because he doesn't wanna speak human."
Michael hid his smile at her laughter in Alex's shoulder. But then he whispered something to Alex that had him laughing too.
"What? What he said?" Liz asked.
Alex shook his head, and she began tickling him for an answer. "Ah, make her stop!"
As if by an invisible force, Liz slowly slid backwards across the floor with a yelp. Michael looked smug.
"No fair," said Max. "You have your powers already?"
He only hugged Alex more tightly.
"Okay, should I like, find some coloring books for you guys?" Kyle asked. "So I can read these notes properly?"
"Ooh, I have an app for coloring," Liz said, pointing up at the table again.
Kyle spotted her phone and handed it to her, and the other children crowded around her.
"Wow, I had different fingers when I was little!"
Kyle blinked and looked back to her. "You what?"
"I can't unlock it by the scanner," she said, though she continued to try. Her phone eventually demanded a pattern instead. "Ummm. I don't member." She drew a star, a swirl, a box, a slightly different box, and something she told them was a flower before her phone locked her out of even attempting for ten minutes. She blew a raspberry and tossed it back up to the table. "Bored now."
"Kyle, give us your phone to play on," Alex said, holding out his hand.
"No, sorry, I'm still on call," he said, glancing at him. "I'm sure I can get something from the children's ward--"
"Play hide and seek," Michael suggested, and the other children cheered. The door clicked open on its own. "Kyle's it!"
"No, no no let's absolutely not do that," Kyle said.
Alex turned and kicked Kyle in the shin, which was par for Alex at any age. Kyle noted through the pain that the kid's right leg was still metal and that he still knew how to kick. He grabbed Michael's hand and said, "Let's go!"
And then all five of his de-aged friends were gone. He could hear them giggling down the hallway.
He hurried out of the lab, dialing a number on his phone as he went.
"What's up, bitch?" was the loud answer he got.
"Michael and your sister invented something terrible and now they and the twins and Alex are five-year-olds and they're hiding around the hospital, please come help."
Rosa just laughed. "What?"
"Just help me, I cannot handle this many children on my own." He saw two pairs of small feet behind a curtain and heard accompanying laughter. The two children loudly shushed each other. Kyle pushed the curtains aside. "Aha!"
The twins shrieked in delight and fled in opposite directions.
"God dammit. Please help me, Rosa. And bring something to keep them entertained until they've aged back up."
"Sure thing, muchacho," she said, still laughing, and hung up.
He went after Max. Max could surely be reasoned with if he still had any of his adult brain. Or-- he stopped at a vending machine-- perhaps they could be bribed with snacks. He frowned; all the cosmic brownies were sold out. He would have to ply them with chips and chocolate bars.
Rosa arrived with a backpack not long after he'd found Max, who was making a duck beak with his Pringles and quacking. He even said Isobel was going to come for one of the dark chocolate bars he had.
Rosa took one look at mini Max and began to cackle. "I like him so much better this way."
Isobel shoved by her then, her ponytail swinging, and stopped in front of Kyle with her hand held out. He dropped the Hershey's bar into her hand, and she tore into it.
"Izzy, look, I'm a duck," Max said, fresh Pringles in his mouth.
She smiled at him, then took a large bite of the chocolate. She turned back to Kyle. "Michael saaaid they already have snacks, so you can't cheat. You have to find them fair and square."
That explained the missing brownies. Michael probably stole them with his telekinesis. "He's with Alex?"
Isobel raised an eyebrow and held out her free hand. Kyle gave her the other chocolate bar he was saving for Alex. She had the audacity to shrug and pocket it before walking over to Max and sharing their snacks.
He turned to Rosa, eyes desperate for assistance. She bodily handed him her bag. "Go back to the lab, I'll try to find the others. Liz was never particularly creative when it came to hide and seek."
"I saw her go into one of the other labs," Max offered helpfully.
Kyle took Isobel's hand, and she stuffed the remainder of her chocolate in her mouth to grab Max's hand, and they walked in a chain back to Liz's lab. Kyle opened the bag and silently thanked Rosa. He set the sketch pad and crayons on the floor.
They instantly began to draw their star map all over the page.
Minutes later, the door opened to reveal Liz sitting on Rosa's shoulders, hands twisted in her hair. "Kyle! Kyle! Look, Rosa's my big sister again!"
Rosa smirked. "Our age gap just doesn't stop." She let her sister down next to the twins reluctantly and ruffled her hair. "Liz... I'll always be your big sister."
Liz hugged her legs. "I know. I love you." She plopped down beside Max and picked up a red crayon.
"I love you too." Rosa shook her head and leaned over where Kyle studied Liz's notebook. "Make any headway?"
"No. No, I think it really has to wear off. Hopefully by tomorrow."
She patted his shoulder. "I'll go find malex, then. They're five, so I'll be sure to check all the closets."
"Ha ha," Kyle said.
"You worried about them or something?"
"Not Alex. Alex has been self-sufficient since he could walk. Hey, Max, Isobel, you would know if Michael was in trouble, right?"
"Yup," Isobel said, popping the p. She had found markers in one of the side pockets, and Max was allowing the girls to draw all over him. "He's fine."
"Oh my god," Kyle mumbled.
"We'll find them." Rosa headed backwards out the door. "Liz is in charge!"
"Yeah I am!"
Kyle stood to look over the table and saw they had moved on from drawing on Max and were now decorating Liz's miniature lab coat. He sat back down heavily and covered his face with his hands.
Ten minutes later, he felt a tug. Kyle dropped his hands and saw Liz and the twins drawing on his coat. She grinned sheepishly, but Max and Isobel were unrepentant.
He huffed a laugh. "Okay, I'm not even mad. Go wild. Better me than the walls."
Isobel poked him in the flank. "Turn around."
He did as she asked and felt the markers squiggle down his back.
Another ten minutes and the door burst open. "Can't find 'em. It's your turn. Nice coat."
"Rosa, Rosa!" The kids ran to her and leaped on her, and she somehow caught all three of them. "Rosaaa!"
"Oh, it is. I'm keeping this coat forever."
"As well you should!" Liz said.
Kyle waved at her and headed out of the lab for his office. He desperately needed a drink, and the emergency bottle of tequila in his filing cabinet was calling for him. He took a significant swig and looked around absently.
He supposed he ought to switch out his coat, glad he always kept an extra. Except his extra coat was missing. He blinked at the empty space, then did a more thorough examination of his office. He caught a flash of white under his desk and quietly rolled his chair away to kneel beside it.
Sleeping on a pile of brownie wrappers and using the coat as a blanket were the tiny versions of Alex and Michael. They slept on each other like a pair of puppies.
Kyle took out his phone and snapped a picture of them. They were too damn cute. They'd probably like to see it when they were full-grown little shits again.
He sat in his chair and took another gulp of tequila before he put it away and called Rosa. "Hey, found them. They're asleep in my office."
"So, all accounted for, then?"
"If you still have three, I've got two."
"Cool, cool. We're teaching Maxwell here how to braid hair."
"He always sucked at it!" Isobel proclaimed.
"Mhm, perhaps you should join us?"
The children under his desk stirred and groaned when they saw him.
"Yeah, we'll be there in a minute." Kyle dropped his phone in his pocket. "Come on, guys. You can sleep in the lab where there's more room. Liz has a cot in there."
"Okay, fine." Alex pulled up a grumbly Michael and carefully wrapped the white coat around him. They followed him back and settled in Liz's cot as Kyle locked the door again.
Kyle sat on the floor next to Rosa, who had a pair of braids courtesy of Max and Liz. He could guess who did which side; the left braid was far messier. Isobel appeared to be getting the same treatment.
"Tomorrow, huh?" Rosa said.
Kyle nodded. "Fingers crossed."
It didn't take long for all five of the children to pile into Liz's cot and fall asleep.
Which was why they were awakened hours later by several pained yelps. Kyle startled from where he had fallen asleep sitting up against the table to see five adults struggling to get out of a cot barely made for one. They all appeared normal.
"Stop it, it's my cot--"
"You shrunk us!"
"Children!" Rosa called loudly. "Why don't we all go to our real beds?"
Michael pushed everyone but Alex onto the floor with his mind, though he made sure Isobel had something soft to land on (Max). "Yeah, go away."
"I want a real bed, too," Alex told him. He extricated Michael from the lab coat and tossed it to Kyle. "Come on."
"Well, that was a strange and fascinating experience," Liz said, clapping her hands together.
"I think you mean horrifying and dangerous," Kyle said.
"Adorable and hilarious," Rosa corrected.
"Did we break into the vending machine?" Michael asked groggily.
"Yes, you stole all the cosmic brownies. And you two ate them all."
"That was me that stole them, actually. Those old vending machines are not childproof," Alex said. "Just have to jam your tiny arm up. Guerin was already tired from pushing Liz and opening the door, so I decided he needed food."
"Whatever," Kyle said, truly ready to go home and sleep as long as he could. "Please never do that again."
"Seconded," said Isobel, combing pitiful braids out of her hair with her fingers.
"Thirded," said Max, examining the smeared ink on his arms.
"It was kinda fun, though," Michael said.
They shortly agreed that it was, but Liz nonetheless promised to find a better container for next time.
"Next time," Kyle muttered as he headed out. "Sure."