Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 1987

Bebop and Rocksteady Steal the Turtle Van

By Lucky_Ladybug

Notes: The characters are not mine and the story is! ThickerThanLove helped with some plot elements, including the running gag. This is part of my Exit the Fly verse. Baxter is human again and an ally of the Turtles. His brother Barney no longer works for Shredder.

Barney stirred, slowly opening his eyes at the sound of someone moving in the bedroom. Vincent had come in and was adjusting the quilt, which had slipped down. He smiled at Barney when he saw he was being watched. "Hi, Buddy."

"How long has it been?" Barney mumbled.

"Most of the night," Vincent said. "You've been sleeping really peacefully."

"That's good." Barney pushed himself up on the pillow. "Is Baxter still here?"

"He's sleeping right now. I just checked on him." Vincent stepped back.

Barney reached and caught his wrist. "And you?"

"I'm feeling a lot better," Vincent assured him.

"There's something in your eyes," Barney said. "I can't place it, but it's haunting."

Vincent paused. "I'm . . . remembering," he said softly. "When you fell off the mountain and were laying badly hurt and I could do very little to help you."

Barney frowned. "Not a good memory."

"No, it isn't." Vincent sighed. "I couldn't help you this time, either. At least, I couldn't stop your fall. Neither could the Turtles. It all happened so fast. But I carried you to and from that machine, and I'm the one who operated it, so that helped a little bit. At least, it felt good to be able to do something other than helplessly watch you suffer."

"Thank you," Barney said quietly.

"I wanted to do it. No thanks are needed." Vincent paused. "I imagine the Turtles feel badly for not being able to help you too. Especially Michelangelo."

Barney sighed. "That's . . . strange to think about. But you're probably right. He would." He frowned. "But Vincent, you did help me during that other disaster. You kept talking to me and keeping me as grounded in reality as was possible. And before that . . . when I was . . . clinically dead . . ." He shook his head, uncomfortable. "I started to feel a warmth. That was what revived me. That was you, wasn't it?"

"Yes," Vincent admitted. He looked at Barney in surprised awe. "I never knew. I didn't think I had anything to do with your coming back. I'd given up hope by then."

"You had everything to do with it," Barney insisted.

Vincent smiled. "Thank you, for letting me know."

Barney nodded and leaned back. "But for the record, I'm glad you're able to move around freely now. And I'm glad that people have been more accepting of you than I thought."

"The Turtles probably helped pave the way for that," Vincent mused. "People have definitely started to appreciate mutants more instead of just being afraid of them."

"Strange that they would end up inadvertently helping you," Barney remarked.

". . . Do you think Raphael has really forgiven me?" Vincent wondered. "I was surprised when he seemed to acknowledge that he had, but he looked so unhappy when he did that I wondered if it was really true."

"I think he would have an easier time forgiving you than me," Barney said. "You didn't do as much as I did. And you're a computer, one who didn't really understand everything about friendship when you first tried to apply it. He would take all of those factors into consideration."

"I guess," Vincent said. He paused. "Baxter has a point, though. It bothers me about Raphael. I mean, Raphael and you. It's alright if he doesn't really forgive me."

Barney smirked. "While I would much rather he forgive you than me."

Vincent sighed. "But how are we going to go on like this indefinitely, Barney? If we're trying to be a part of things, it makes it awkward, to say the least."

"We'll just keep dealing with it," Barney said. "I do think gradually he's becoming more accepting of us. He may be a little less standoffish after tonight. I don't know." He shrugged.

"On the other hand, since organic lifeforms are so contradictory, what if he becomes more standoffish?" Vincent worried. "Maybe his feelings will be even more conflicted and he won't know how to deal with them except to push you away all the more."

"We'll wait and see," Barney said. "Either way, I won't allow myself to be that bothered. I still maintain that I'll be shocked if he ever forgives me."

Vincent paused. "Why did you try to protect him, Barney?"

"Why?!" Barney looked at him in confusion. "Because I was the only one close enough to see what was going on and try to stop it."

"I mean, was it just to try to redeem yourself? Or has that stopped really being a factor by now?"

Barney looked away. "In spite of whatever I may have said, it has . . . rarely ever been a factor. Mostly I've tried to help them and others because it's the right thing to do, as cliche as that sounds. If I'm available and I can help, why not?" He sighed. "After all, it's about time I actually started working with my conscience instead of rebelling against it."

Vincent smiled a bit. "And maybe it's also because you're starting to care about them?"

Barney grunted.

xxxx

On the other side of the wall, Baxter was lying half-awake and staring sleepily across the room. If he had dreamed, he didn't remember it now, and he supposed that was just as well. Now that he was awake, he was hearing replays of Barney's terrified scream in his mind. He groaned, burrowing into the pillow.

What if the machine hadn't been there? Or Rocksteady and Bebop hadn't wanted to remind them of it? How badly had Barney been hurt from that fall? Baxter didn't know, and he supposed they never would know. It had been bad enough to have rendered Barney unconscious and his pulse very weak. That had frightened Baxter plenty as it was. But whatever damage had been done to Barney's poor body after Rocksteady had mercilessly pitched him over the railing, it had been healed by Krang's machine. Barney was just weakened now and needed to rest. He would be alright.

Baxter frowned. The memory of how haunted Michelangelo had looked after Barney had fallen had just jumped to mind. Michelangelo had a grappling hook; he had probably hoped to rescue Barney before he hit. But there hadn't been any time; he had fallen too fast. Baxter had talked to Michelangelo in the Van and he had seemed alright, but Baxter could imagine the incident continuing to trouble Michelangelo for a while.

He shuddered. He had to wonder if Barney might develop a fear of falling, after accidentally falling twice and now being deliberately thrown. And if Barney didn't, maybe Baxter would start to. He had seen or heard Barney fall two of those times. It was horrifying, sickening. He covered his eyes with a hand.

His chest ached at the movement and he winced. OMNUS's assault on him stung when he moved certain ways. It probably only hadn't been serious either because OMNUS hadn't wanted it that way, as Baxter had speculated, or maybe because OMNUS had attacked through a phone. An attack through something capable of holding more power likely would have been more damaging. And Baxter had probably pushed himself more than he should have, just as Vincent had.

He hoped Vincent was alright. The computer was definitely weakened and worn-out, but he had seemed well aside from that. Still, he had managed to hide how weakened he was. Only Barney had noticed, and probably mostly because Vincent had found it difficult to carry him whereas normally he didn't. Baxter wished he had realized that Vincent hadn't used more than one electric attack on the deathtraps in the Technodrome. He simply hadn't had enough energy for a proper assault.

Baxter sighed, rolling over to stare at the ceiling. What a crew. All three of them had been injured on the course of this misadventure. But, he smiled a bit, they had all helped too. He had managed to unplug the phone OMNUS was using to control Mr. Blodgett's apartment. Vincent had kept OMNUS from hacking into his systems. And Barney had protected Raphael from an assault by Rocksteady. Still, Baxter hated for Barney and Vincent to have to be in danger, just as they felt about him. Yet whenever a problem appeared, they each felt they had to be involved for various reasons. Baxter wanted to help his friends. Barney and Vincent wanted to help him . . . and to do the right thing. And Baxter suspected, just as Vincent had, that Barney was coming to care about the Turtles.

They did grow on you, he had discovered months ago. Especially Michelangelo and his seemingly boundless friendship and forgiveness. But Baxter was fond of all of them by now. Michelangelo was his closest friend along with Vincent. Donatello was a comrade in science. Leonardo was . . . aloof but kind. Raphael . . . well, Baxter supposed he found it the most difficult to get along with Raphael. He didn't care for teasing or Raphael's generally caustic nature. But Raphael was fiercely loyal and Baxter had been moved on more than one occasion when Raphael had shown how protective he had become of Baxter.

Baxter hoped that in the near future he could be of even more help. There were still things he wanted to invent, ideas that he hadn't taken past the planning stage on his computer. Currently he had been tinkering with some of the unfinished inventions he had brought back from his old factory. One such concept he had put back together in an improved form and had planned to test soon, before all that madness with OMNUS had happened. If it worked, he hoped it would prove a helpful device for the Turtles to use on future cases.

The Turtle-Comm beeped and he looked down at it in some surprise. "Hello, Michelangelo," he greeted.

"Hey, Baxter," Michelangelo said. He looked hesitant, even guilty. "I didn't wake you up, did I?"

"No," Baxter assured him. "But you're certainly calling late . . . or early."

"We have to get up pretty early for ninja practice," Michelangelo said. "Err, on nights when we're not out until two A.M., I mean. I'm up a little earlier than that and I just thought I'd check on you guys. Are you all doing okay?"

"Yes," Baxter assured him. "I slept through most of the night. Barney probably has as well, I imagine. Vincent slept too, but I vaguely remember him coming in to check on me a time or so." He paused and looked into Michelangelo's eyes. "And are you alright, Michelangelo?"

"Me?" Michelangelo looked surprised. "I didn't get hurt last night."

"I know you felt horrible you weren't able to catch Barney when he fell," Baxter said quietly.

Michelangelo looked down. "At least those crates were there," he mumbled. "If he'd hit the floor, he probably would've been a goner."

Baxter shuddered. "Let's not think about that," he said. "Let's be grateful he's safe and recovering."

"I sure am!" Michelangelo said, looking up again. "I'm glad you're all okay. And oh boy, ol' Shredder and Krang sure got what was coming to them," he laughed.

Baxter chuckled. "Stuck on a farm in a rural town is amusing. But I'm sure they'll still cause plenty of damage. They're only 90 miles away."

"Yeah, I know. Sensei said the same thing," Michelangelo said. "It's still pretty funny, though."

"Let's just pray they won't collect enough power to free themselves any time soon," Baxter said. "Now that they're on the surface, the situation could become far more concerning than before."

"No duh," Michelangelo agreed. "I think they were only ever stuck on the surface one other time, when they were in the Arctic. Now they're mondo closer."

"We'll be extra vigilant," Baxter said.

"We sure will," Michelangelo said. "Oh, the guys are getting up now, so I'd better go."

In the background, Baxter could hear Donatello talking to Leonardo and Raphael. "And after breakfast, I'm going to go out and get those parts I need."

"I just hope this invention is really going to be something we need," Raphael sighed.

Michelangelo glanced back at them, then back to Baxter. "I'll talk to you later, Dude. Adios, Amigo!"

"Goodbye, Michelangelo," Baxter smiled.

xxxx

The thumping and banging on the hull startled Shredder awake that morning. "Not again!" he snarled, throwing back the covers as he swung his legs over the side of the bed.

"Shredder!" Krang wailed, suddenly appearing in the doorway. "Those idiot locals are trying to get in again! Worse, one of them just put up a sign!"

"Sign? What sign?" Shredder grumped. "Krang, do you know what time it is?!"

"Of course I know what time it is," Krang snorted. "That's not important. I'm watching things outside on the transdimensional screen. The sign says 'See the alien spaceship! $5 per person'!" He paused for effect as the pounding continued.

"Come out, little spacemen!" one man called.

"We just want your autographs!" said a second.

"Shredder, this is intolerable!" Krang cried.

"So we'll move closer to the center of the Technodrome," Shredder grunted. "It's supposed to be soundproof anyway."

"There's so much damage, who knows if it can be soundproof!" Krang retorted. "And with those idiots hanging around, the Foot Soldiers can't even get any work done on the outside to repair it!"

"Have the Foot Soldiers scare them away," Shredder said in annoyance.

"It doesn't work!" Krang was practically in tears. "They don't scare! I'd blow them away, but there's not enough power for that! We barely have enough left for the basic functions of the Technodrome!"

"We'll have to send Bebop and Rocksteady out to collect some fuel later today," Shredder grumped.

"Oh, that'll be a big help," Krang said, spreading his tiny arms. "They'll just get walloped by the Turtles again and come back empty-handed!"

"What other choice do we have?" Shredder retorted. "We have to try something!"

"Oh, little green men!" called someone from outside.

Krang scowled. "You're probably right."

xxxx

Splinter was just finishing his morning meditation when he saw Raphael sitting alone on the couch and staring ahead at nothing. "What is wrong, my student?" he asked. "Why are you not in the training room with the others?"

Raphael sighed. "I don't know, Sensei. I guess I'm not much in the mood right now."

Splinter came and sat beside him. "You have seemed reserved since you returned from your experience on the Technodrome last night. Do you wish to talk about it?"

"I wish I could figure out my feelings," Raphael said. "Last night . . . Barney tried to protect me and almost died for it. So now he's got hurt saving the city and me. And he's done other stuff along the way, like trying to protect Michelangelo when Vincent went completely wacko thanks to Krang." He leaned back, spreading his arms in frustration. "How much does he have to do before I stop punishing him for what he did in the past?!"

"Do you still feel you haven't forgiven him, Raphael?" Splinter asked.

Raphael helplessly shook his head. "I don't know," he said again. "I keep feeling like there's no forgiveness for what he did. Then I think about how Michelangelo felt that I've hurt him worse just with my teasing because I know him and Barney didn't. It seems so hypocritical not to forgive him. And I want to forgive him and . . . I just don't know!"

"Perhaps," Splinter suggested, "you truly have forgiven him and do not realize it."

"Oh come on, Master Splinter," Raphael objected. "How could I not realize it?"

"You may feel so guilty for forgiving him when you feel he does not deserve it that you tell yourself you have not forgiven him," Splinter said. "But if you looked deep into your heart, you would find the truth."

"I don't think so," Raphael said. "And then there's the thing that Michelangelo and even Baxter have wondered about, how I forgave Baxter when he hurt us too."

"Baxter's situation was different, though," Splinter said. "He was a victim: fooled by Shredder, accused when innocent, badly abused, and left to crumble into madness. Barney was perhaps a victim due to his unhappy childhood and their parents' unkind behavior, but as an adult he consciously made his own decisions while sane and not backed into a figurative corner."

"Yeah, that's the kind of thing I argue," Raphael said. "With Baxter, I hate that he was suffering so much and none of us even realized it. With Barney, it's just not the same thing. I can't feel a lot of sympathy for him. And you know, he'd be the first to agree with me."

"That is true," Splinter said. "And perhaps that is also part of the problem. Barney's own attitude about himself may be encouraging you to feel the same."

". . . I think the thing that really bugs me is that I only forgave Baxter after he tried to help us and nearly got killed for it," Raphael said. "If that's how I felt about a poor guy who did all of the bad stuff to us when he was either partially or completely off his rocker, what's it going to take before I forgive Barney? Him really dying to save us? And either way, doesn't that mean I only forgive if I feel like they've finally paid the price for what they did to us? That's not right, is it? That's not real forgiveness."

"The question is, was that truly what made you forgive Baxter?" Splinter countered. "Or was it that his sacrifice was what made you feel it was alright to acknowledge that you had already forgiven him in your heart?"

Raphael stared at him. "I have no idea, Sensei," he said. "I never even thought about it like that."

"Perhaps it is a matter on which you should meditate today," Splinter said. "Another possibility is that perhaps you then felt you could trust him, not forgive him. The forgiveness had already come."

"Maybe," said Raphael, but he sounded doubtful.

"Also, may I point out that one can forgive a person but continue to be upset by some of their past actions," Splinter said.

"I don't know if I'll ever master that," Raphael frowned.

"You seem to have done so where Baxter is concerned," Splinter replied. "You have forgiven him, but you have admitted that you are still angry about some of the things he did."

"Yeah, and I bring them up sometimes," Raphael scowled. "I'll never forget how he acted when I told him what he'd done at that amusement park. He really didn't remember. I feel kind of bad that I put it back in his mind again."

"The point is, you were upset at the situation, were you not?" Splinter prompted.

"I guess so," Raphael frowned. "Sometimes I wonder if I'm still mad at the Baxter of the past, even though I'm not mad at the Baxter of the present. I know I got asked once why I couldn't feel the same about Barney. I wish I could."

"And perhaps you will still be able to, my son," Splinter said. "You want to forgive Barney. That is an important step."

"He's not the same person anymore," Raphael said morosely. "That's obvious every time we run into him. But I always think the worst of him anyway. Take that time when those energy demons were running loose and I got so mad thinking Barney was being so awful to have froze up and not pushed the button to destroy them. The truth was completely the opposite of what I was thinking." He stared off at the wall. "He couldn't bring himself to hurt Michelangelo again. Even four energy demon Michelangelos. And it upset him so much to think of doing it that he just froze. How can I not forgive him when he feels like that?!"

Splinter gave him a kind look. "Barney is a good person. You realize that. And you even want to forgive him. If you truly haven't, I believe it will come."

"But how and why, Sensei?" Raphael asked. "What will make me feel like I do with Baxter, that the bad memories are in the past and I can accept the Barney of the present?"

"Only you can answer that, my student," Splinter said.

"I just hope it won't only happen when it's too late," Raphael mumbled.

xxxx

Barney looked up when Baxter knocked softly on the ajar bedroom door. "Come in."

Baxter did. "Good morning. How are you, Barney?"

"A lot better," Barney said. "Still weak." He glanced to the door. "Vincent went back to bed for a while."

Baxter was concerned. "You'll probably have to cancel the late afternoon class today, won't you?"

"I was hoping I wouldn't have to," Barney grunted. "Maybe we'll feel better by then."

Baxter sighed and shook his head, sinking into a chair next to the bed. "I might offer to take your class for today, but I'm afraid I wouldn't be able to work with neuropsychology. I could probably make more sense of energy science."

"It's a nice thought anyway," Barney said. "You'll need to leave for work soon, won't you?"

"Yes," Baxter said slowly. "If you're sure you'll be alright here. . . ."

"We'll be fine," Barney insisted.

"Let me know if you feel up to teaching your class," Baxter said. "Maybe I should drive you to the university."

"I'm sure we can manage," Barney said. "But . . . thank you, Brother."

Baxter smiled and started to get up.

"How are you feeling?" Barney wondered.

"I'm well," Baxter assured him. "Michelangelo called earlier to check on all of us."

"That's typical of Michelangelo," Barney said.

Baxter nodded. "He's always concerned about our well-being."

"Which is still strange," Barney insisted. "But nice."

"Yes," Baxter said fervently. "Very nice."

xxxx

Bebop and Rocksteady were not in the best of moods when they arrived in the city via a module, which they had taken underground and then brought to the surface in Manhattan. "We have got to get enough energy to keep the Technodrome running nice," Rocksteady said as he jumped down from the open door. "We can't mess up this time."

"And we won't," Bebop said. "We'll just go rob a few plants or somethin' and then go back."

"Aww, this thing runs too slow when it's on the surface," Rocksteady complained, frowning at the module. "We'll need to make fast getaways." His eyes gleamed in first surprise and then satisfaction. "And I just figured out how to do it."

Bebop followed his gaze to a vehicle parked at the curb across the street. "That's the Turtle Van," he said in amazement. "And it's empty. What's it doin' here?"

"Who cares? Let's hotwire it!" Rocksteady hurried over to it. "This'll really be something for those Shellbacks to get bent out of shape about!"

"They probably have an alarm system," Bebop worried.

"So we'll disable it with the Alarm Disabler Krang gave us," Rocksteady shot back. He held out the device and turned it on. It made a scan of the Van's components and soon beeped. "There! Got it!"

"It's still locked, though," Bebop said.

"Ohh, don't you remember nothin' from our days in the gang?!" Rocksteady snapped. "Break the window or somethin'."

"We don't want glass all over the place if we're going to drive it," Bebop said. "We'd better pick the locks." He produced what looked like a lockpick and jammed it into the lock. He wiggled it around while Rocksteady impatiently glanced up and down the street.

"Come on!" he growled. "The Turtles can't be far away!"

"Got it!" Bebop said at last.

The Van responded by sounding a loud alarm.

"I turned off the alarm!" Rocksteady cried.

"The Turtle Van has a back-up system!" came a familiar and unwelcome voice.

Both Rocksteady and Bebop jumped a mile. Donatello had appeared outside the store, holding his bo.

"Aww man!" Rocksteady whined.

"At least now we get to thrash a Turtle," Bebop said.

They both lunged at Donatello, who responded by shoving one side of the bo at Bebop and sending him flying backwards and then doing the same by using the other side on Rocksteady. The Turtle ran for the Van before the dazed enemy mutants could get up, but then gasped when Rocksteady grabbed his ankle and pulled him to the ground.

Bebop was leaping on his shell before he could even begin to recover. "Not this time, Turtle," he sneered.

Donatello kicked out at Rocksteady and reached up, throwing Bebop away from him. He didn't notice as the keys to the Van clattered free of his belt.

Rocksteady did. "Let's go!" he yelled, leaping up with them in hand. He was in the driver's seat before Donatello quite realized what had happened. "Now to get this puppy rolling."

Bebop recovered and got in on the other side.

Donatello jumped up and ran at the Van. "Now wait just a minute!" he yelled.

"I don't think so, Shellback!" Rocksteady grinned. He swung around and pealed out, leaving Donatello coughing from the exhaust.

Donatello straightened and stared, his heart pounding as he really processed what had just happened. "I don't believe it!" he gasped. "Bebop and Rocksteady have the Turtle Van! How did this even happen?!" He checked his belt. "The keys have never fallen out before!"

He cringed. Maybe he hadn't put them back properly. Right before he had come out, the keys had been in his hand. Then he had seen Bebop and Rocksteady and hurriedly shoved them into his belt before running outside.

"Excuse me," said a nasally voice from behind him. "Can I interest you in an auto insurance policy?"

Donatello spun around. "Well, that's great timing, Bub! My vehicle was just . . ." He stopped and blinked. "Seymour?!"

Seymour Gutz, formerly Mutagen Man and currently living life in a new form of his own choosing, paused and blinked at Donatello. "Oh. You're one of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles."

"Yeah, that's right," Donatello said. "And what's this about auto insurance? I thought you were a delivery boy with a messenger service."

"The Fly By Night Messenger Service," Seymour replied. "And . . . well, they flew. Maybe part of it was that I never could prove to them that I really am Seymour Gutz."

"Well, what did you expect, after changing your appearance into some hunky guy?" Donatello rolled his eyes. "Anyway, I have to figure out how to get my van back! Those two crooks stole it!"

"It looked like the henchmen of that Shredder character," Seymour said.

"That's right," Donatello said with impatience.

"Unfortunately, this policy doesn't cover theft of vehicles by rhinos and warthogs," Seymour said.

"I wouldn't want it even if it did!" Donatello countered. "The Turtle Van isn't replaceable; it's priceless!" He pulled out the Turtle-Comm. "I hate telling the guys what just happened," he muttered. "But I've learned my lesson from last time."

"Donatello?" Leonardo appeared on the screen. "What's going on?"

"Big trouble," Donatello moaned. "I just went out to get those parts I was going to use in my new invention. Now Bebop and Rocksteady have the Turtle Van!"

"What?!" Leonardo burst out. "Donatello, did you have it locked?!"

"Of course I had it locked!" Donatello retorted. "And the alarm was on!"

"Then how did they get it?!" Leonardo exclaimed.

Donatello shifted in his mortification. "Nevermind that!" he cried. "The important thing is to get it back!"

"I'll call April," Leonardo determined. "Maybe she can bring a spare news van for us to use to track them down in. Chances are, they're looking for power and it will lead to a big story."

"That'll get her here, maybe even with Burne Thompson's blessing," Donatello said.

"That's what I'm counting on," Leonardo smiled.

Donatello hung up and looked to Seymour, who was still standing by. "Look, why don't you go peddle your insurance policies somewhere else? We've got a big problem here."

"You most certainly have," Seymour agreed. "I was wondering if I could interest April in an insurance policy."

"She doesn't even have a car," Donatello rolled his eyes.

"Oh. Well, I'd better be off then. Ciao!" Seymour waved and darted around a corner.

Donatello sighed to himself. "That was sure what I needed right now," he muttered. "I don't trust that guy or his insurance from here to the door." He folded his arms and waited for April.

xxxx

Baxter had just entered the office floor of the Channel 6 building when April was hanging up with Leonardo. "What's going on, Miss O'Neil?" he asked. "You sounded worried just now."

"And with good reason!" April moaned. "Bebop and Rocksteady just stole the Turtle Van!"

Baxter started. "But that's impossible! It's too heavily protected!"

"They got it anyway," April said. "The Turtles are hoping I can come out with a news van so they can pick up the trail."

"I'd offer my car, but it wouldn't seat everyone," Baxter sighed.

"So I'll go get a news van like Leonardo suggested," April said. "Want to come along, Doctor?"

Baxter hesitated, glancing down the hall at his office. But he only hesitated for that one brief moment. "Yes," he said. "It will probably lead to an important story for you. And I'm worried about our friends."

"Then let's go!" April rushed to the elevators.

"What about talking to Mr. Thompson first?!" Baxter said in dismay.

"I'll call him from the news van," April smiled. "Then it won't be as easy for him to say No."

xxxx

Bebop leaned back, his arm on the door as Rocksteady sped up and down the city streets. "It's been a long time since we've had a ride as nice as this," he said.

"You said it!" Rocksteady grinned. "And hey, why should we havta grab the fuel and go back right away? Why don't we have a little fun first?"

"What are you thinking of?" Bebop asked.

"Let's play with all these gadgets!" Rocksteady pushed a button. "There's gotta be a whole lot of neat stuff in here."

A grappling hook shot out of one of the cannons on the roof and latched onto a rooftop. The Van ground to a halt.

"See? We can go back and forth on this!" Rocksteady said.

"Oh, this would be useful for getaways," Bebop said. "What does this one do?" He hit another button and the hook retracted.

"Let's try this one." Rocksteady hit a red button and the Van spun around and around in circles while he and Bebop yelped.

"It's too bad they aren't all marked," Bebop exclaimed when they finally slowed to a halt. His sunglasses were now askew on his face.

"Yeah, the Turtles have 'em all memorized," Rocksteady grunted.

"And they'll probably be comin' after us soon," Bebop worried. "You know they won't take this lying down."

"Let 'em come," Rocksteady retorted. "With all the firepower and gizmos and gadgets we've got, we'll be able to beat 'em back." He laughed. "Maybe now we'll finally win, by usin' the Turtles' own vehicle against them!"

"I like it," Bebop grinned.

"Me too." Rocksteady hit a blue button. "What's this?"

The Van jumped up in the air and came back down again.

"Remind me not to press that one again," Rocksteady groaned.

"I'll remember," said Bebop.

xxxx

Barney felt well enough to wander downstairs and get some brunch close to the noon hour. He settled in at the island with some of the food Baxter had prepared earlier and left in the fridge for him. "Is there anything interesting going on in the city today?" he asked Vincent, who got up from the table and came over to the island too.

"It sounds like Bebop and Rocksteady have stolen the Turtle Van," Vincent said. "Listen to this." He switched to a live newsfeed from Channel 6.

Vernon was standing on a curb, microphone in hand as he intoned, "Two mutants identified as Bebop and Rocksteady were seen driving down 13th Street in what appeared to be the Turtle Van. No further details are forthcoming at this time."

"Hmph," said Barney. "Usually he jumps at any chance to badmouth the Turtles." He sighed. "And Baxter will no doubt get involved in this, even though he should be resting."

"What about us, Barney?" Vincent wondered.

"The Turtles and Baxter should be able to handle it," Barney grunted. "And April O'Neil. I don't think we could do much right now. I'm sure you don't have enough strength to hack into the Turtle Van's computer."

"Right now? I don't think so," Vincent agreed. "I wish you would rest. You badly need it. I wish Baxter would rest too."

Barney frowned. ". . . We don't even have today's lesson prepared, do we."

"I took the precaution of sorting out a few things," Vincent said helpfully. "Just in case you felt well enough to go ahead with it."

Barney raised an eyebrow in approval. "You always seem to know exactly what's needed."

Vincent shrugged and grinned. "I'm a computer. I'm supposed to know." Sobering, he added, "But if I really did know all the time, I never would have got Baxter into such messes."

"No one really knows all the time, not even computers," Barney said. "It's part of being alive."

"Then I suppose I'm glad," Vincent said. "At least in general. I'll never be happy about what I encouraged Baxter to do."

"Which is also part of being alive, unfortunately," Barney said. "We'll never forget . . . or forgive ourselves for our worst mistakes."

"Some people can forgive themselves," Vincent said.

"Good for them," Barney shrugged. "Let me see what you have for today's lesson."

Vincent brought up the document and Barney looked through it as he continued to eat. "I won't have to plan out too much with this," he said, pleased. "You've already done most of it. Maybe if we mostly stay sitting down, we can handle the class."

"Maybe," Vincent said noncommittally. "You really should cancel, Buddy."

"I suppose," Barney grunted. "How are you feeling? Really, no pretending."

"Well, I don't think I'd be any use in a fight today, either," Vincent said. "But I could definitely handle a class."

"Good," said Barney.

xxxx

April and Baxter stopped to pick up the other Turtles before going on to find Donatello.

"I still don't understand how this happened!" April said in dismay. "How could Bebop and Rocksteady get the Turtle Van?!"

"Like, that's what we're still trying to figure out, Dudette," Michelangelo said. "It's all high-tech and stuff. It's not as simple as stealing a normal car."

"How they got it isn't as important as getting it back from them," Leonardo said.

"And brother, are they having fun with it," Raphael groaned from where he was watching the television screen. He pointed to a clear trail of destruction along the street.

"Citizens are beginning to question how the henchmen of the notorious criminals Shredder and Krang managed to obtain possession of the Turtle Van," Vernon said. "Some are starting to wonder whether it was truly a hijacking . . . or if the Turtles are now in league with Bebop and Rocksteady."

Raphael shook his fists in the air. "Why that low-down creep!"

"He didn't say he believed that, Raphael," Baxter cut in with a frown. "He's just reporting what others have said. Miss O'Neil has done the same thing at times. Not everyone in the city loves you, even now that you're beginning to be better accepted."

"I know," Raphael scowled. "Of course there's some who still hate us and might think something messed-up like that. But that doesn't mean I have to like it. Or to think that Vernon's not one of them! He's said stuff like that before when he wants to subtly take a potshot at us or April."

"I'll give him the benefit of a doubt for now," Baxter said.

"Like, what do you think, April?" Michelangelo wondered out of curiosity.

"With Vernon, I don't know what to think," April said wearily. "He's been acting nicer with me and Irma, that's for sure. But come to think of it, we don't know if his feelings about you guys have changed at all."

Baxter had to admit that he wasn't sure about that either. Once this was over, he decided, maybe he should have a talk with Vernon.

"Here's Donatello," Michelangelo announced.

April pulled the news van over and Donatello climbed inside, barely looking up as he stared intensely at a small tracking device in his hands. "Bebop and Rocksteady are running around the warehouse district," he moaned. "They probably robbed one of them!"

"Then let's go, April!" Leonardo cried.

"You don't have to tell me twice!" April said. "Just give me the directions and I'll head there."

Donatello proceeded to do just that.

"Now, Donatello, how did this happen?" Raphael demanded.

"Why do we have to talk about that?!" Donatello retorted. "Let's discuss what we're going to do now that it's happened! That time the hick family stole the Van, I could only beat them by using other gadgets against them. I had to outsmart the Turtle Van!"

Michelangelo cringed. "And Bebop and Rocksteady'll be having a blast with all our weapons and stuff! . . . Er, well, they already are."

"We should really go back to the Lair so I can get some things that might help us," Donatello said. "But there's no time. Who knows where they'd be by then! We have to just go now."

"You know, Bebop and Rocksteady probably aren't even as smart as those hicks," Raphael said.

"But they sure know how to use weapons," Leonardo said. "We can't underestimate them with all of the Turtle Van's features at their command!"

"Now what are they doing?!" Donatello moaned.

"I don't know. What?" Raphael retorted.

"It looks like they're leaving the warehouse area and . . . going into the water?!" Donatello said in disbelief. "What the heck?!"

"I hope they've activated the Turtle Van's boat transforming feature," Raphael said with an eyeroll.

"Just how many different things can it turn into?" Baxter said, raising an eyebrow.

"Enough to keep Bebop and Rocksteady busy for hours!" Donatello replied.

"Then we'd better step on it to catch up!" April determined, and pressed down on the accelerator.

xxxx

"Hey, this is great!" Rocksteady exclaimed as the Van skimmed along the surface of the ocean. "It's a lot more fun being on this end of the chase!"

"You know what we should do?" Bebop said as he peered out the window. "We should go fishing."

"Yeah!" Rocksteady's eyes gleamed. "We can go up on the roof and use those thingamajigs up there to catch the fish."

"But we don't have any bait," Bebop objected.

"There's some pizzas in that mini-freezer over there," Rocksteady said. "Let's try heating one up in the mini-oven and see if fish like pizza as much as Turtles do!"

"I guess it's worth a try," Bebop said. "We don't got nothin' else to use for bait."

It was then that the comm-link went off. "Bebop! Rocksteady! What the blazes are you doing?!" Shredder boomed.

Bebop cringed. "Uh, we're just havin' some fun, Boss."

"You're spending time having fun when the Technodrome is stranded in a mud hole?!" Krang wailed. "You're supposed to be collecting power! Go do it!"

"Aww, but we were just gonna go fishing!" Rocksteady whined.

"Do you think we care?" Krang answered, his voice dripping with distaste and sarcasm.

"If you aren't heading back here in one hour, you're both out of your jobs!" Shredder yelled. "And that's final!" With that he hung up.

Bebop and Rocksteady exchanged a look. "Well, I guess we gotta forget the fishing," Bebop said.

"Yeah," Rocksteady scowled. "But the Boss has a point. We need to get the Technodrome out of the mud!" He swung the Van around. "Let's go back. There's some places we can hit right here on the docks."

"Oh boy," Bebop grinned.

xxxx

"Now they're out of the water again!" Donatello reported. "It looks like they're going to a warehouse!"

"Well, isn't that nice," Raphael frowned. "And we still don't have any idea what we're going to do to stop them!"

"Here's one thought," said Donatello. "They'll probably both go in the warehouse. If we can get to the Turtle Van while they're in there, maybe we can give them a surprise ambush when they come out!"

"It's worth a try," said Leonardo. "How soon can we get there, April?"

"We're almost there now," April said. "Maybe five minutes."

And to their relief, within five minutes they were indeed pulling up alongside the Turtle Van. "Hey, it looks okay," Michelangelo said.

"Looks being the key word here," Raphael grunted. "Donatello, what are the chances that they found all the extra alarm doodads and turned them on?"

A loud siren rang out as soon as the news van's shadow touched the Turtle Van. A mud missile was flying in the next moment.

"Incoming!" Donatello yelped.

April barely managed to drive the news van out of the path of the flying mud. "Just how many weird alarms have you got on the Turtle Van?!" she cried.

"That wasn't one of them!" Donatello exclaimed. "Bebop and Rocksteady must have wired everything to go berserk!"

"Then I guess that grappling hook coming right towards us isn't supposed to be doing that either!" Baxter gasped.

"It sure isn't," Donatello moaned as the rope wound around the news vans' doors.

Bebop and Rocksteady chose that moment to emerge from the warehouse. "Well, lookie here," Rocksteady taunted. "It's the Turtles and two of their friends. Not travelin' so high-tech now, are they?"

"I'll have you know that the Channel 6 news vans are very high-tech!" April fumed. ". . . Although of course they're nothing like the Turtle Van."

Bebop came closer to the window and peered inside. "Hey, Barney's not with you today," he realized.

"Did you really think he would be, after what your buddy did yesterday?" Raphael retorted.

"He's okay, though, ain't he?" Bebop demanded.

"Yeah!" Rocksteady added. "I really didn't wanna hurt him. I swear!"

"He's going to be fine," Baxter said. "He's just taking it easy today."

Bebop and Rocksteady both relaxed. "Oh, that's good," Bebop declared.

"It sure is," Rocksteady agreed.

"I've had enough of this interlude!" Raphael kicked the door open, ripping through the rope in the process. "Alright, you two clowns! This ends now!"

"It sure does," Bebop giggled. He opened the door of the Turtle Van and stashed his load.

Rocksteady did the same and pressed a button at the same time. "Happy trails, Turtle!"

Raphael yelped as a long metal arm extended from the Turtle Van and lifted him into the air by the ankle. "Hey! Get me down from here!" He struggled in vain and leaned forward in an attempt to stab the arm with a sai, but to no avail.

Leonardo leaped out, cutting through the arm with a katana. "We're not going to let you use the Turtle Van against us!" he cried.

Raphael somersaulted to the ground on his feet. "In case you haven't noticed, Leonardo, they're already doing that," he remarked.

By now Bebop and Rocksteady had gotten in front. "Catch you later, Shellbacks!" Bebop called. Now he was in the driver's seat. He pulled out with a roar and pressed the smokescreen button to leave their enemies in a cloud of confusion.

Raphael and Leonardo were coughing as they staggered back into the news van. "Can you track it, Donatello?" Raphael asked.

"Of course," Donatello responded.

"But I don't dare drive until the smoke clears!" April moaned.

"Too bad I don't have my smoke vacuum," Donatello sighed.

"You know what else is too bad?" Raphael grumped. "That Bebop and Rocksteady only care about Barney and not the rest of us!"

"Hey, it's pretty gnarly that they care about Barney," Michelangelo said. "They don't like a lot of people. But Barney really got under their skin . . . fur . . . whatever."

"Yeah, like that'll ever make them our allies," Raphael snorted.

"Technically, they were our allies if only for a few moments yesterday, when they reminded us about the machine and Bebop took us to it," Baxter said. "Even caring about one person can lead to incredible things."

"I guess," Raphael said, "but I'm not holding my breath."

"Well, at least we know they'll never hurt Barney," Michelangelo said. "Baxter's right. Who knows what that might lead to in the future? Not that I ever would have thought I'd be saying that about Bebop and Rocksteady, but hey, a lot of weird things have happened already. There could be some more!"

"It's a little hard thinking about things like that when they're running around in the Turtle Van!" Raphael retorted.

"Yeah, I know," Michelangelo frowned. "But they took time out to ask about Barney even though they've got the Turtle Van. Barney's like, the exception to the rule that they've gotta be vicious and nasty. I'm surprised by it too!"

"I wish I'd been there yesterday," April sighed. "But I did get some amazing footage of the Technodrome rising and traveling through the sky. Even Burne was happy about that!"

"I'm sure," Raphael grunted.

At last the smoke dispelled enough that April hurried ahead to catch up to the criminal mutants. "By now they're probably miles away!" she fretted.

"They're not going as fast as you might think," Donatello told her. "Maybe there's a lot of cargo on the docks they're trying to avoid."

"There they are!" Baxter called after a moment. He pointed ahead at the Turtle Van as it maneuvered around a semi truck parked in front of a warehouse.

"And here comes trouble!" Donatello groaned.

Ice cubes flew out from a spout on the Turtle Van's roof and landed on the news van's windshield, where they instantly froze. April swerved in surprise.

"Donatello, this is dangerous!" she burst out. Quickly she switched on the windshield heater to melt the ice.

"It's supposed to go on the road if we're chasing another vehicle," Donatello sighed.

"Which is also dangerous," Baxter remarked.

"Here comes another mud missile!" Raphael yelped.

April desperately screeched to the side and the substance flew past and hit the pier, much to the workers' shock and dismay.

"Aww, I missed," Bebop scowled as he leaned out the window and looked back.

"Let me try now!" Rocksteady exclaimed.

"Mondo disaster, Dudes and Dudette!" Michelangelo cried. "What horror are they going to dredge up and fling at us now?!"

In a moment the side door flew open and Rocksteady was in place with the cannon. He cackled as he fired, splintering the wood of empty crates and taking chunks out of warehouses while aiming at the news van. April shrieked.

Seymour Gutz and another man both leaped to the ground. "So if I got your building insurance and something like this happened, what then?!" the man exclaimed.

"Unfortunately, the policy doesn't cover damage caused by an anthropomorphic rhinoseros firing a cannon," Seymour admitted.

"You'd better tell your boss to slip that in!" the man retorted. "Then I might consider it!"

April zipped around to the opposite side of the Turtle Van the moment it was possible. "Is everyone alright?!" she cried.

"I'll let you know as soon as my pulse catches up with me," Raphael gasped. "I've never been on this end of the Turtle Van's cannon before."

"Look on the bright side," Michelangelo said. "At least none of that firepower hit the news van!"

"No, but now we've lost the Turtle Van again!" April moaned.

"I'm still tracking it," Donatello said. "But honestly, right now I don't know if we have any chance against them."

"We might," Baxter said suddenly. "If we could only get to my apartment, I've been working on something that I thought you might find useful."

All Turtles instantly looked to him, while April looked through the rear-view mirror. "Well, what is it, Baxter Dude?" Michelangelo asked.

"A cloaking device," Baxter explained. "It hasn't been tested yet, but if it works, it could make this news van invisible."

"And then we could sneak up on them!" Raphael exclaimed. "Alright!"

"The only problem is, it's there and we're here," Baxter sighed. "And if we go all the way back to Midtown, Bebop and Rocksteady might have finished doing . . . whatever it is they're doing and be on their way back to High Falls."

"What we need is someone to bring it here," Donatello mused.

"Someone with access to your apartment," Leonardo added.

"Do you think Barney and Vincent might feel well enough to do it?" Raphael asked. He looked both hesitant and hopeful.

Baxter frowned. "I don't know. I hate to ask them to do it. . . . Barney wasn't sure he'd feel well enough to teach the class today. And if he could make it there, that's a far cry from here."

"What about Irma?" April suggested. "Maybe the landlord would agree to let her into your apartment and she could get your cloaking device!"

"I don't know if he would let her in, but maybe she could borrow Barney's key," Baxter mused. "It's worth a try. I'll call her."

As it turned out, Irma was more than happy to help. And Burne wanted her to be involved in the story anyway. So Baxter emailed Barney about the situation and soon received the reply that Irma was welcome to borrow his key. Irma thus set out for Barney's mansion.

"I sure hope it won't take her long to get over here," Donatello said. "Bebop and Rocksteady have just stopped at another warehouse!"

Raphael gritted his teeth. "Well, we can't just sit around twiddling our thumbs! We'll have to go after them again!"

"And get clobbered by the Turtle Van again?" Michelangelo frowned.

"If we could just catch them before they get to it . . . !" Raphael said in frustration.

"We'll have to try," Leonardo said. "We can't let them accumulate enough energy to break the Technodrome free of the mud!"

"Alright," April sighed. "Let's try this again." She turned a corner and headed in the direction that Bebop and Rocksteady had taken.

"And let's pray nothing else goes wrong," Baxter shuddered.

xxxx

Vincent answered the door when Irma arrived. "Hello, Irma," he greeted. "I have the key right here." He held it up.

"Oh. Gee, thanks," Irma blinked, taking it. "Are you guys doing alright?"

"We're . . . recovering," Vincent said with a glance back at Barney on the couch.

"We'll be alright," Barney said. "And you'd better hurry with your errand."

"Right." Irma turned to flee down the steps. "Bye! See you later!" She waved with the hand that wasn't holding the key.

Both Vincent and Barney cringed when she tripped over the second to last step and hit the walkway. "Are you alright?!" Vincent demanded, coming out on the porch.

"Fine! I'm fine!" Irma jumped up and scurried down the path to the waiting cab. "Nothing wrong with me!"

"Why don't I quite believe her?" Barney muttered.

"She's limping," Vincent observed.

"She'd better deliver the cloaking device in one piece," Barney grunted. "I'm starting to wonder if this was a good idea."

"She's come through in the past," Vincent said. "I'll give her the benefit of a doubt."

Barney shrugged. "We'll see."

xxxx

When Bebop and Rocksteady came out of the second warehouse, metal drums under their arms, the Turtles were waiting for them. "Turtle Power!" they collectively yelled as they dropped from the roof onto the enemy mutants and dragged them to the ground. The drums hit the dock and started to roll away.

"Hey!" Rocksteady cried in indignation. He shoved Leonardo away from him.

Bebop leaped up from where Donatello and Michelangelo had him pinned. He flung them back with his arms and grabbed for one of the runaway drums. "This time you're gettin' nothing, Shellbacks!" he snapped.

Raphael kicked him into Rocksteady. "I wouldn't be so sure of that!" he retorted.

April and Baxter stayed back as the battle continued. Bebop and Rocksteady flung heavy crates and barrels at the Turtles, who dodged, kicked or sliced them in response while attacking Bebop and Rocksteady.

At last Bebop crashed against the wall of the warehouse and looked up at Rocksteady in a daze. "We've got some fuel," he said. "Why don't we cut out now, while we still can?"

"Fine with me!" Rocksteady ran for the Turtle Van, throwing himself inside before the Turtles could do anything about it.

Bebop punched Donatello as he started to lunge forward. "You're not takin' us in, Turtles!" he insisted. He ran into the side door and slammed it shut.

"Ohh, they're getting away again!" Leonardo said in frustration.

"We'll definitely need that cloaking device," Donatello groaned, rubbing his cheek.

"And like, here it comes now!" Michelangelo announced, pointing to an approaching cab.

The taxi screeched to a halt near them and Irma leaped out. "Guys, I've got it!" she exclaimed. "It was right where Dr. Stockman said it was!"

"Naturally," Baxter said in relief as he came out of the news van. "Thank you, Miss Langinstein. I'll install it immediately. We don't have a moment to lose; Bebop and Rocksteady are getting away again!"

Irma handed the device to him and stepped back. "Boy, this is sure some weird story, huh?" she remarked.

"You said it, Irma," April sighed. "Let's hope the Turtles can stop Bebop and Rocksteady without getting any more cannons or mud missiles fired at them!"

"Like, this is hazardous work!" Michelangelo said. "Donatello designed things a little too well!"

Baxter smiled in a bit of amusement before stepping back into the news van to set up the cloaking device.

"And there's someone else who's dealing in hazardous work," Raphael commented, pointing to where Seymour was talking with a dock foreman. "Didn't we see him already today?"

"I've seen him several times today," Donatello sighed.

"You know, we never did know why you wanted to actually go on a date with that creep," Raphael said to April. He leaned against the news van and folded his arms.

April shrugged. "I hardly ever go on dates, but at least part of that is because I don't get asked. He asked. And I figured, well, why not."

"But he tried to kill you and he never even acted like he felt bad," Donatello frowned. "Most sane people would have some kind of aversion to killing if they'd never done it before. He just didn't care and even called himself mild-mannered after the fact. There's something seriously wrong there."

"I guess I thought that he wasn't a danger once he wasn't Mutagen Man anymore," April said. "Maybe I felt a little sorry for him."

"And you were probably also taken in by his newfound good looks, right?" Raphael rolled his eyes.

"Well . . . maybe a little," April blushed. "And curious. . . ."

"That's not unusual," Irma said.

"No, but it's sure stupid," Raphael shot back. "Obviously the guy's willing to throw people under the bus at the drop of a hat if he thinks it would benefit him! That's not the kind of person anyone should be dating, but especially his would-be victim!"

April heaved a sigh. "Well, at least give me some credit that I never tried to go on another date with him," she said.

"Yeah, I guess you decided you didn't like him after all, huh?" Michelangelo said.

"Not well enough to want to go out with him again," April said.

It wasn't long before Baxter finished the installation. "Alright," he said. "Turn the van on and I'll activate the cloaking mechanism."

April complied. Baxter pressed a button and the news van seemed to shimmer and disappear.

"Whoa! Far out!" Michelangelo said in amazement. "You really did it, Baxter Dude! Now we've actually got a chance of beating them! . . . Er, if we can figure out how to get in. . . ."

Baxter chuckled and switched off the device. The news van again became visible. "Get in and we'll go get the Turtle Van back," he encouraged.

The Turtles scrambled aboard. "Like, are you coming with us, Irma?" Michelangelo asked.

"You bet I am!" Irma replied. "Mr. Thompson only let me go so I could help get a big scoop!"

"So what happened to Vernon?" April asked.

"I think he's interviewing people after Bebop and Rocksteady have gone through," Irma said. "He thought that would be safer."

"Typical Vernon," Raphael remarked.

"Well, the dude can't change everything about himself right away," Michelangelo shrugged.

Baxter nodded. "He's made a great deal of progress, but maybe he always will be frightened by dangerous situations. There's no shame in that." Baxter still feared them too, although he forced himself to deal with them for the most part. But every now and then, a situation came along where he cowered again.

"Yeah," Irma said in agreement. "Vernon's an okay guy. As weird as it is to say that." She climbed in and pulled the door shut after her. "Let's go!"

xxxx

Rocksteady was now speeding towards the road leading out of the city. Beside him, Bebop was watching through the side mirror, certain that any moment the news van was going to appear again.

"Are we takin' the Turtle Van with us back to the Technodrome?" Bebop asked.

"Boy, that'd sure be great, wouldn't it," Rocksteady sneered. "That'd really get back at the Turtles!"

Bebop frowned. "But it's a long way back. They might catch up to us by then and get the better of us. We can't use the Van against them forever without them figuring out how to stop us."

"Why not?" Rocksteady countered.

"Well, they kept us from getting more fuel, didn't they?" Bebop said.

". . . Yeah . . ." Rocksteady said slowly.

Suddenly the roof opened and something dropped down in back of them. "And now we're going to stop you from getting any!" Leonardo cried.

Both Bebop and Rocksteady screamed. "How'd you get in here?!" Rocksteady yelled.

"The news van ain't even around!" Bebop gasped.

Leonardo smirked. "Oh, it's here, alright. In fact, I dare you to find it!"

The other Turtles dropped down around him. "I double dare you!" Michelangelo grinned.

Rocksteady spun the Van around and ground it to a halt. "Okay, Shellbacks. This means war!" He jumped over the seat to tackle Raphael, who responded by throwing him out the back doors as Michelangelo opened them.

Bebop snorted. "You can't get rid of both of us so easy." He pushed a button and another long metal arm emerged from the wall.

Donatello grabbed it and pushed the hand towards Bebop. "We'll see about that!"

Bebop yelped as he rose into the air. He barely managed to grab one of the stolen drums from the first warehouse before being thrown out on the ground.

"They're heading for that transport module!" Leonardo realized. "After them!"

April and Baxter leaped out of the still-invisible news van to join the chase. But Rocksteady and Bebop still got to the module first. Bebop sneered as he pulled down the door. "Later, Turtles." Then the module was drilling into the earth.

"They got away!" Donatello said in frustration. "And they took one of the drums!"

"Well, that won't power the Technodrome for very long," Raphael said. "I'm sure we'll be seeing those lunkheads again before long."

"Like, at least they left the keys behind," Michelangelo noted, pointing to where they were hanging from the ignition.

"Thank goodness," Donatello sighed in relief.

Irma pressed the button on the cloaking device, deactivating it and rendering the news van visible again. "So it's all over?"

"Once we return these other drums to where they belong," Leonardo said.

Baxter climbed back into the news van. "I'll disconnect my cloaking device now," he said. "I was wondering . . . could you use it for the Turtle Van?" He looked out the passenger window at the Turtles.

"Could we!" Leonardo smiled. "That will be a great addition, Baxter. Thanks."

"You'll just have to use it sparingly," Baxter cautioned. "Other vehicles could crash into you if they can't see you."

"Right," Donatello nodded. "But it'll be great for out of the way sneak attacks on Shredder and company."

"Totally righteous!" Michelangelo exclaimed. "I can hardly wait to try it out in the Turtle Van, where it really belongs!"

Baxter smiled, then looked back to the device as he finished unhooking the wires that bound it to the news van. "My first invention in a long time," he said softly. "They really like it. . . ."

"Well, of course they do," Irma said from behind him. "It's great!"

Baxter started. He had almost forgotten she was in the van. "I struggled for years to have my inventions appreciated," he said. "I was actually fairly well-liked socially, but people didn't take my inventions seriously. And Barney's situation was mostly the opposite."

". . . Your inventions are appreciated now," Irma said. "And hey, even your Mousers are doing well, aren't they?"

"At long last," Baxter agreed. He straightened and turned to face her, holding the cloaking device. "It's funny. . . . I'm finally respected for my inventions and I'm happy about that, but now I don't feel I need that so much anymore."

"Maybe in the past, you were kind of trying to fill a hole in your life," Irma suggested. "And now you don't have that problem."

"Maybe," Baxter mused. He smiled. "My life is very full and rich now, it's true." Something occurred to him then and he paused, really looking at Irma. "Miss Langinstein, do you really feel that you have to have a man in your life to be truly happy?"

Irma flushed. "Well . . . it'd sure be nice. . . . I guess that is always what I've really wanted more than anything. . . ."

"That's not much different than me trying to feel fulfilled only through my inventions," Baxter said. "I felt that without being discovered, I couldn't be happy. I thought that I could never hope for any other kind of happiness. Now I've found the love of family and friends. Even if my Mousers had succeeded in the past, I would have still been empty inside with my brother and I estranged and no friends to speak of. Miss Langinstein, your life has always been so rich! You're blessed with many people who love you, even if not in a romantic sense. There are those who don't have that and long for it. If I was still as I was back then, I would envy you."

Irma stared at him. "You . . . you would?! Really?!"

"I would," Baxter nodded.

Irma smiled a bit. "I don't think I've ever thought of it like that before. You're right; I have a lot to be thankful for right now."

Baxter smiled too. "And maybe someday you'll find that other happiness you long for, just as I am finally achieving success with my inventions. Don't give up. But don't lose sight of the many blessings you already have."

Irma nodded. "That's good advice. I promise I'll keep it in mind."

"You'll be happier for it, if you can live it," Baxter said.

"I'd like to," Irma said. "It'd be a whole lot better than moping around whenever I can't get a date."

Baxter regarded her in approval. "Of course, that doesn't mean you wouldn't ever have sad moments," he said. "But it would make it easier to get through them."

"Yeah," Irma agreed.

Michelangelo appeared in the doorway. "What say we all go out for pizza to celebrate our victory?" he chirped.

Baxter smiled. "Maybe we can plan on it for dinner tonight," he suggested. "Right now I'd like to check with Barney and Vincent and see if they're feeling better. I should return the key too."

"Gnarly," Michelangelo grinned. "We'll plan on it for dinner, then!"

"Excuse me," came Seymour's voice from behind them. "Can I interest any of you in a life insurance policy?"

Everyone froze. "Just how many types of insurance are you selling, anyway?" Donatello asked.

"As many as I can," Seymour replied. "Anyone?"

They all looked at each other.

"I don't think so, Seymour," Leonardo spoke at last.

"But like, good luck!" Michelangelo said.

"'Good luck.' Yeah, right," Seymour muttered.

xxxx

Krang was furious.

"One drum?!" he boomed. "That was all you could keep hold of?!"

"We're sorry, Krang," Bebop said. "The Turtles snuck up on us again."

"That's always your excuse!" Krang wailed.

"It's always true," Rocksteady said. "This time we couldn't even see 'em until they were right there!"

"'This time'?" Krang repeated, his tone dry.

"At least they didn't come back empty-handed," Shredder said as two Foot Soldiers carried the drum away. "Maybe we can get something done around here!"

"Well, it won't be much, but we'll do what we can," Krang grunted.

xxxx

The Turtles were in fairly good moods after they returned the stolen drums to the warehouse. Donatello had been running checks on everything in the Van along the drive, and as he finally finished, he seemed satisfied. "Good! They didn't damage anything," he reported. "The Turtle Van is in A-Okay condition!"

"Except for probably needing to be fumigated," Raphael said with a roll of his eyes. "So are you going to tell us how this happened, Donatello?"

"It's not idle curiosity, Dude," Michelangelo said. ". . . Even if we are curious. But like, if it's something that could happen to us too, we should know about it!"

Donatello sighed. "Oh, alright. I was just about to get into the Van when I saw Bebop and Rocksteady trying to break into it. I rushed outside to fight them and . . . I guess I must've not been careful enough when I put my keys away." He was practically mumbling by now. "They fell out during the fight." He cringed, bracing himself for Raphael's reaction in particular.

Instead it was Michelangelo who spoke. "Is that all?"

Donatello looked to him in disbelief. "Is that all?!" he echoed. "My carelessness lost us the Turtle Van!"

"Any one of us could have made a mistake like that under sudden pressure," Leonardo said. "Sometimes it happens."

"But it's not supposed to happen to us!" Donatello exclaimed. "We're trained ninjas! We can't afford mistakes!"

"Hey, Turtles are only human," Raphael shrugged.

"There was no permanent harm done, Donatello," Leonardo said. "We can all be grateful for that. And now I'm sure we'll all be extra careful to make sure this doesn't happen again."

The other Turtles nodded and vocalized their agreement.

Donatello leaned back and smiled. "Thanks, you guys," he said in amazement.

"Hey," said Michelangelo, "what are best buds for?"

Raphael waved a hand at him. "Hey, Vernon's on the tube," he announced. "I can hardly wait to hear what he's going to say now." His voice dripped with sarcasm.

"And so the saga of the run-away Turtle Van has ended, with Bebop and Rocksteady evicted and mostly thwarted in their plans to return to the Technodrome with enough fuel to get it moving again. One canister has gone missing." Vernon looked calmly at the camera. "It will be interesting to see how and when it turns up. Meanwhile, this reporter suggests that the Turtles be more careful in the future to ensure that accidents such as this do not happen again."

Donatello groaned. "Right on national TV!"

"It could have been a lot worse," Leonardo said. "He's right that care should be taken from now on. We were just saying that. But he didn't further that rumor that we were in cahoots with Bebop and Rocksteady."

"Hey, you're right," Raphael blinked. "I was sure he'd be all over that one."

"Like, Baxter was right to give the guy a little trust," Michelangelo said. "We've said for a long time that Vernon's our friend, even though yeah, we've used the word pretty loosely. But maybe someday he really will be."

"Bebop and Rocksteady maybe becoming our allies because they like Barney, Vernon maybe becoming our friend because Baxter's encouraging him to change. . . ." Raphael shook his head. "What next?"

"I don't know, but I'm looking forward to finding out," Leonardo smiled. "It's not just Baxter's life that got better when we finally helped him. Ours did too, in more ways than one."

"No duh," said Michelangelo. "We made a great compadre. And now he and Vincent have helped Barney turn good, and Vernon, and maybe there's even hope for Bebop and Rocksteady because of Barney! It's like, one act of kindness totally snowballed into something epic!"

"I can't deny that," Leonardo laughed. "I'm sure Master Splinter would be pleased too. We've all learned something very important."

"I don't disagree with that, but what are you thinking of?" Raphael asked.

"Two things," Leonardo said. "One is basically what Michelangelo said. One act of kindness can lead to a lot of good things all around for many people. And also, sometimes situations aren't just cut-and-dry, black-and-white." He looked to each of the other Turtles. "In fact, probably most of the time they aren't, even though we seemed to think otherwise a lot in the past."

"Like how we treated Baxter," Donatello knew.

"And then we made some totally bogus exceptions," Michelangelo said. "We helped Seymour get back to normal even after he tried to kill April and didn't care, but we couldn't see how Baxter was going out of his head more and more every time we ran into him. He was suffering and it was right under our noses the whole time!"

Leonardo nodded. "We were right to help Seymour, but Baxter needed our help and sympathy too."

"You know," Michelangelo said, "if Master Splinter had been along on more of those misadventures with Baxter, I bet he would have picked up on it. He encouraged us more than once to try to make friends with some of our enemies."

Donatello looked down. "I wonder if Baxter just meant so little to us that we weren't paying attention to him on those grounds."

Michelangelo shuddered. "I don't wanna think that's it. Maybe we were just all caught up in worrying about the problems he was causing. We never thought of getting Dirk Savage on our side until Master Splinter suggested it."

"But we didn't stop to think about helping that mutant too, even though he was justifiably angry at Dirk Savage for kidnapping his friend," Donatello frowned. "What was wrong with us?"

"I'm just glad we've learned from the past," said Leonardo. "We can know that if a situation like this comes up again, we'll look at it with more open minds and see if we can fix it with kindness instead of always just fighting."

Donatello and Michelangelo nodded. "Totally."

Raphael hesitated, frowning. "I know you're right," he said. "But we don't want to go too far the only way, either. Some people really can't be helped."

"That's true," Leonardo said. "But I think from now on we'll hopefully be able to determine better who can and who can't."

"Yeah, maybe so," Raphael said at last. "Alright! So we're the new and improved Turtles going forward!"

"Radical, Dude!" Michelangelo chirped.

All the Turtles high-fived. This was something on which they could all agree.

xxxx

Baxter was both surprised and delighted when Barney was the one who opened the door upon his arrival. "Barney! Are you feeling better?" he exclaimed, his eyes filled with hope.

"A lot more than I was," Barney said. "I think we will teach the class today."

"I'm glad." Baxter held out the key. "Here's this."

Barney took it, and Baxter was relieved that his hand wasn't clammy and cold. "Did your invention help?"

"It did," Baxter nodded. "We have the Turtle Van back. Of course, Bebop and Rocksteady escaped," he sighed. "And they managed to take one drum of fuel."

"That won't last for long," Barney grunted. "They'll be back soon."

"I know." Baxter paused. "Michelangelo wants to have a victory dinner tonight. Will you feel like coming?"

"Are we invited?" Barney asked.

"As far as Michelangelo and I are concerned, you're both completely welcome," Baxter said.

"We'll see," Barney mused.

"Only if you feel up to it," Baxter hurried to add. "I know the class might wear you out too much."

Barney nodded. "It might." But they both knew that wasn't the only reason for his hesitation.

Vincent came up behind Barney now. "Hi, Pal!" he greeted.

Baxter smiled. "Hello, Vincent. I'm so happy to hear you're both doing so much better!"

"And how are you, Baxter?" Vincent asked.

"Without pretending," Barney insisted, folding his arms.

"I'm alright," Baxter said sincerely. "A lot moreso now."

"Good," Barney nodded, and Vincent beamed in agreement.

"And my offer from before still stands," Baxter said. "If you're going to the university, I'd like to drive you there."

Barney and Vincent looked at each other. "We accept," Barney said.

Vincent smiled, pleased. "Barney shouldn't be driving yet."

"I need to conserve my energy for the class," Barney said flatly. "And we'll need to leave right now if we're going to make it in time."

"I have this." Vincent held up the class manual.

Barney gave him a look of approval. "Then we have what we need. Let's go." He stepped out on the porch. Vincent followed, pulling the door shut after them.

Baxter kept pace with them as they walked to the car. He was glad that he could be of help. But he was far more glad that Barney and Vincent were doing well. It had been a weird day, but everything was turning out alright.

"So how did Bebop and Rocksteady get hold of the Turtle Van anyway?" Barney wondered.

Baxter paused. "To be honest, I really don't know. Donatello was mortified about it and I certainly wasn't about to press the issue. I'm just relieved it's back safe and sound."

"That's the most important thing," Vincent agreed.

They got to Baxter's car and climbed inside. Baxter backed up along the driveway and through the open gate, which Vincent remotely shut and locked after them. But before Baxter could pull away, Seymour rushed up to the car.

"Oh, I'm glad I caught you," he said. "Can I interest any of you in health insurance?"

All of the car's occupants stared.

"You could probably use health insurance," Vincent remarked, looking from Baxter to Barney. "After all the problems we've come through."

"No, thank you," Baxter said, casting a wary look at the salesman. Completely aside from what the Turtles had said, he wasn't sure he liked the idea of buying insurance via a traveling salesman.

Barney grunted. "I'd rather compare policies online."

"You'll find a much better deal if you go through me to get it," Seymour insisted. He looked to Vincent. "What about you, Sir?"

"Me?" Vincent pointed to himself. "I'm a computer. . . ."

Seymour sighed. "I don't think our policies cover computers. . . ."

"Why am I not surprised?" Barney snorted.

Baxter had to chuckle. "I don't think any health insurance company would cover computers."

"They should," Vincent said. "Computers deserve the best help too." He looked to Baxter and Barney. "Of course, I already have the best help possible."

Baxter smiled. Barney also looked touched.

Seymour slowly backed away from the station wagon. "Okay then. . . ." He turned and moved quickly down the sidewalk. "I just tried to sell insurance to a walking computer. My boss will never believe this!"

Overhearing, Baxter had to laugh.