Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 1987

Recompense

By Lucky_Ladybug

Notes: The characters are not mine and the story is! This involves minor characters from The Case of the Killer Pizzas. It 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.

"So, this is the big day, huh?"

Baxter smiled up at Michelangelo as he sat at his work desk, surrounded by index cards. "That's right. I wanted to do this at the beginning of the week, but everything's been so hectic the last several days that I'm only getting to it now."

"It'll be worth the wait!" Michelangelo said confidently. "So, who's the first lucky winner who's gonna help you host a science segment?"

Baxter reached into the pile of index cards and pulled one out at random. When he looked down at it, he blinked in curious surprise. "Kylie and Caleb Merriweather," he read, raising an eyebrow. "They must be close, to insist on entering at once so either they would both win or neither of them would."

"Gnarly," Michelangelo grinned. "Uh . . . they're not disqualified if they do that, are they?"

Baxter looked up at him. "Mr. Thompson set me in charge of the contest," he said wryly, "and I won't disqualify them. I'm touched to see that they wanted to win together." He paused. "But that name sounds familiar. Merriweather. . . ." He turned to the computer and quickly typed.

Michelangelo watched over his shoulder as the search results came up. But when Baxter clicked on a picture and an image of a wealthy-looking family downloaded, the Turtle could only stiffen.

"I wonder if my parents know them," Baxter mused. "The children's parents are apparently very prominent in the Manhattan social scene." Sensing something amiss, he looked up at Michelangelo. "What's wrong?"

"Oh boy. Um . . ." Michelangelo shifted. "I know it shouldn't make any difference or anything, since they don't know who you are, but since you've been upset about it I guess I should tell you, Bud. . . . Those kids are the ones who got the killer pizzas!"

Baxter blanched. "Are you sure?!"

"Totally," Michelangelo nodded. "And er . . . they were kind of snobby to me and Donatello. I dunno if they'll treat you much different or not."

Baxter sighed and slumped back. "I'd deserve that," he said.

"You could, like, go ahead and disqualify them for submitting two names at once," Michelangelo said.

"There wouldn't be any purpose in that," Baxter objected. "No, I need to face them. Maybe this will help me put the past behind me." He reached for the phone. "I'll call and let them know they're the first winners. They should probably come down to the station and meet me and get oriented before the broadcast."

"Sounds good to me," Michelangelo agreed.

It was Mrs. Merriweather who answered the phone, and to Baxter's relief, she at least didn't sound overly snobbish.

"Oh! You're Dr. Stockman," she greeted when Baxter had introduced himself. "You have news about the contest at Channel 6?"

"Yes," Baxter told her. "Your children submitted their names together. They're the first winners."

"They'll be thrilled," Mrs. Merriweather smiled through the phone. "They watch you on the news every day."

"I'm flattered," Baxter said in surprise.

"I'll have the chauffeur bring them by this afternoon to get acquainted, if that's alright?" she continued.

"That will be fine," Baxter said. "I was going to suggest they come by before the broadcast."

Michelangelo was leaning against the desk and folding his arms when Baxter hung up. "I don't know," he mused. "I didn't really peg those kids as science buffs."

"Well, it's been a couple of years," Baxter said. "Maybe their interests have changed?"

"Maybe," Michelangelo conceded. "Heck, what do I know? Donatello and I only saw them for maybe two minutes at the most. Then the creatures escaped and we went chasing after them."

Baxter laced his fingers on the desk and looked up at him. "It's certainly plausible that they could be interested in science. But I trust your judgment on their rude attitudes, Michelangelo. I'll be on my guard around them, at least at first."

Michelangelo shifted. "Are you . . . gonna tell them about the pizzas?"

Baxter sighed. "I don't know." He frowned. "I'm sure it bothers me more than it does them. Maybe it would be better just to leave it in the past. Just seeing them and treating them as nicely as possible might be enough to make me feel that I've paid my debt to them as best as I can."

"Yeah, that might be the best thing," Michelangelo said. "But . . . what if they end up being . . . well, not very nice?"

Baxter shook his head. "They still won the contest. I'll do my best to be kind, no matter what they're like." He frowned. "But I don't want to be a pushover either. I've had enough of being abused." He slumped back, staring at the sea of cards in front of him. "I believe I must have been truly out of my mind to suggest this contest. I barely have any experience with children!"

"You weren't out of your mind, Dude," Michelangelo said. "You've been interacting with kids for a while now through email. You came up with this contest because you realized kids were interested in science and how you were teaching it. You wanted to do something totally radical to spread the science love and this is what you came up with!" He gestured at the desk. "Now you've got enough names for months of science segments! That's epically awesome!"

Baxter smiled a bit but still said, "It is, but it's also overwhelming. It would be foolhardy to believe that every one of these children will be as kind as the ones who send me emails. I will probably have more than one horrifying experience and will wonder more than once what I was thinking."

"Yeah, probably," Michelangelo agreed. "But I bet all the good experiences will totally wipe out the bad ones!"

Baxter smiled more. "I hope so."

xxxx

Barney was relaxing on the couch with Vincent and watching the morning news when Baxter appeared onscreen to announce the first results of the science contest.

"Our first winners are Kylie and Caleb Merriweather," he said. "They'll be joining me for tonight's science segment on the 6 o'clock news."

Barney scowled. "Merriweather."

Vincent blinked and looked over at him. "What is it, Buddy?"

Barney folded his arms. "That's not the most encouraging news. I remember Tom Merriweather; he was a friend of our father's."

"Any relation?" Vincent asked.

"Probably, knowing how it goes," Barney growled.

Vincent performed a quick Internet search. "It looks like he's an uncle," he reported. "But Barney, just because they know your parents doesn't mean they have the same social attitudes."

"No, but it's highly possible," Barney retorted.

"They know what Baxter was, yet they didn't seem to have any objections about the kids entering the contest," Vincent said.

"Maybe they didn't hear Vernon Fenwick's broadcast when he announced Baxter's past," Barney said.

"It pretty much went everywhere after that," Vincent said. "I'd say they most likely know. And if they don't, the kids almost certainly do. I don't think you have any real need to worry." He smiled. "But it's good that you are. You're still very protective of Baxter."

Barney grunted. "I just don't want him to be hurt anymore."

"And that's great," Vincent insisted.

Barney shrugged. ". . . What line of work is the family in?"

"Gaming," Vincent mused. "Virtual reality, to be exact. The father and Tom are both high company executives in the New York branch of Fragmented Triangle."

"I don't remember that being Tom's occupation before," Barney said. "I wonder if he still knows our father."

"What are you going to do, Barney?" Vincent asked.

"Nothing in particular," Barney said. "I'll wait and see how Baxter handles it."

"Neither of you have had much experience with kids in general," Vincent said.

"Baxter has at least had some," Barney said flatly.

"Most of it bad, such as being thrown to the ceiling by a Neutrino toddler," Vincent exclaimed.

"At least these children don't know telekinesis," Barney grunted.

xxxx

Krang cackled as he pulled a lever and the picture on the transdimensional screen came fully into view. "This is too perfect!" he exclaimed. "The niece and nephew of Tom Merriweather are the first winners of Channel 6's science contest! They're going to be at the station today!"

"Big deal," Shredder retorted. "So a couple of brats are going over there. So what?"

"Tom Merriweather has been developing a revolutionary virtual reality system!" Krang explained. "If we could get hold of it, we could turn it loose on the entire city! Then everyone would have to bow to us if they wanted to have the actual reality back!" He turned to face Shredder. "I want you, Bebop, and Rocksteady to go to the city and kidnap those kids so we can hold them for ransom! The ransom being that wonderful virtual reality device, of course."

"Every time we try to kidnap someone, it goes wrong!" Shredder snapped. "I'm sick of it!"

"You want to get out of this mud hole, don't you?" Krang shot back.

"Yes, but this won't help!" Shredder insisted. "I won't do it! I won't!" He jumped up and down on the floor while Krang watched in unimpressed irritation.

"You know, you're acting more childish than the children," he said.

Shredder scowled. "Bebop and Rocksteady can take care of it without me."

"Then I'll have even less confidence that it will actually get done right!" Krang retorted. "Not that I have much more confidence when you're there, but at least then it's a smidgen more hopeful!"

"Very well!" Shredder snarled. "I'll do it. But I don't like it!"

"You don't have to like it," Krang countered. "In fact, I don't care whether you do or not! Just as long as you do it."

Shredder gave him a smoldering look and went to find Bebop and Rocksteady.

xxxx

Michelangelo had decided to stick around for when the children arrived, at least at the first to see how they would treat Baxter. Baxter needed to work, so Michelangelo sat quietly and played his portable video game with headphones until Irma arrived at the door.

"Kylie and Caleb are here," she announced.

Baxter looked up from the script he was making notes in. "Oh good." He swallowed hard, nervousness flickering in his eyes as he got up from the desk.

Michelangelo brought the headphones down around his neck and put the game on Pause. He stayed on the couch, but tensely leaned forward as the children came to the door with Irma. They looked up at Baxter with what seemed to be genuine excitement and awe.

"You're Dr. Stockman?" Caleb greeted.

"Of course he is," Kylie retorted. "We're so happy to meet you!" She held out a hand.

Baxter took and gently shook it in some surprise. "I'm happy to meet both of you," he said. "And honored that you wanted to help me with the science segment tonight."

Caleb wanted to shake hands next. "Sure! We watch all of your segments! We saw some old TV episode with your brother on YouTube, too."

Baxter chuckled. "I think that was only made a little over a year ago."

Kylie shrugged. "Well, that's ancient history to us."

Michelangelo relaxed. It definitely looked like things were going to be alright. He got up from the couch and sauntered over to the doorway. "Hey, microdude and microdudette!" he said with a wave.

The kids jumped a mile. "A Turtle?!" Kylie gasped.

"No way. What are you doing here?" From Caleb's frown, it was not a positive surprise.

Michelangelo heaved a sigh. "I know, lower than baby-sitters, right?"

Baxter folded his arms. "Michelangelo is my friend," he said. "Naturally we can't make you like him or the other Turtles, but as long as you're in my presence, you will treat him with respect."

The kids both looked stunned. Michelangelo blinked in surprise but then smiled.

"Okay," Caleb said at last.

Kylie nodded. "We've wondered why you like the Turtles so much."

"Because they helped me when I was very sick and they proved themselves to be true friends," Baxter said. "May I ask you why you don't like them?"

They shrugged. "Our parents didn't like mutants at all when they started showing up," Kylie said. "And fighting turtles seemed especially ridiculous. I mean, they're so slow and everything."

"Not this turtle!" Michelangelo interjected.

"But the Turtles helped you when you had a problem with vicious monsters," Baxter said.

"Well, yeah. . . ." Caleb blinked. "Hey, how do you know about that?"

Baxter looked trapped. Michelangelo swiftly came to the rescue. "I told him," he said.

Baxter gave him a grateful look before turning back to the kids. "Don't your parents realize that I was a mutant of sorts?" he wondered.

"Yeah," Caleb said slowly.

"But you're not now," Kylie said. "And you're a nice man."

"Thank you," Baxter nodded. "But don't you think that maybe mutants can be nice too?"

Another shared glance and shrug. "Sure, I guess," Caleb said.

"The Turtles did try to help us," Kylie admitted.

Baxter smiled a bit. "Maybe you've just never really seen them in action." He glanced at Michelangelo. "They're very impressive."

Michelangelo grinned. "Heck yeah! My buds and me have a whole bunch of gnarly moves."

"Our parents don't approve of roughhousing," Kylie said.

"Aww, it's not roughhousing," Michelangelo said. "Roughhousing is just for kicks and that kinda thing. We only fight when there's a good reason, like trying to protect someone!"

"I guess that's different then," Caleb said.

"It is," Baxter said. "And now that we have that understanding, would you two like a tour of Channel 6?"

"Would we!" the siblings chorused, their eyes wide.

"Alright then," Baxter chuckled. He walked with them into the corridor.

Michelangelo trailed behind. Had Baxter turned, he would have seen the wheels turning in his friend's head. The kids liked Baxter and were willing to listen to what he said. And maybe, if Michelangelo planned it out right, he and the other Turtles could win them over. They had to be good at heart, he was sure.

xxxx

Shredder was still in a bad mood when he and the mutants came up in the fountain in Channel 6's lobby. "I'm getting sick and tired of running into this blasted thing!" he boomed.

"Gee, Boss, you're the one who was steering," Bebop said.

"Silence!" Shredder roared. He leaped out onto the carpet, wringing his cape. "Now, we have to find those brats."

"They're probably with Baxter," Rocksteady said.

"They could be anywhere!" Shredder growled. "Spread out and start looking!"

Vernon was just stepping off the elevator as Shredder gave his order. He blanched. "Oh my goodness." He wanted to just run back into the elevator and go up again, but Rocksteady caught hold of the back of his collar before he could.

"Goin' somewhere?" the rhino sneered.

Vernon gasped, reaching to claw in desperation at his throat as the air was choked off. "N-No," he struggled to say. "Not at all. . . ."

"Hey, Boss!" Rocksteady called. "It's the wimp! Maybe he knows something!"

"Hmm. Let's find out." Shredder came and stood in front of Vernon, glowering down at him. "Where are the children who won the science contest?"

"How should I know?" Vernon gulped.

"True; your friend Baxter Stockman would be more likely to know." Shredder brought the spikes on his right wrist under Vernon's jaw. "But he wouldn't be as likely to tell us."

"No, please! I honestly don't know!" Vernon wailed.

"Would you tell us if you did?" Rocksteady sneered.

Vernon's gaze darted about in his anxiety. He really didn't know that, either. He wanted to believe he was strong enough to resist, especially to protect Baxter and children, but he just wasn't sure.

"This is wasting time," Shredder growled. He let go of Vernon and stormed past.

"Are we taking him with us as a hostage?" Rocksteady wondered.

Shredder looked back in annoyance. "Why bother? It's not like we could trade him for the brats."

"So, uh, what do we do with him?" Bebop wondered. "He could let people know we're here."

"Lock him in a closet somewhere and get going!" Shredder snapped.

"Okay." Bebop opened the door to a broom closet.

Rocksteady hit Vernon over the head before throwing him inside to crash into the mops, brooms, and buckets. "Nighty night, wimp," he sneered.

Bebop snickered as he slammed the door and put a chair under the knob.

"Someone will probably find him soon enough," Shredder growled. "That's all the more reason we have to hurry." He stormed towards the elevators.

"Whatever you say, Boss," Rocksteady called.

xxxx

Leonardo wandered into the living room of the Lair and found Raphael and Donatello sitting on the couch watching television. "Where's Michelangelo?" he asked in surprise.

"Still at Channel 6," Donatello said. "Today's the day Baxter picks the first winner of the Channel 6 science contest. Michelangelo wanted to be there."

Raphael nodded. "He'll probably hang out there all day, especially if he hits it off with the kid."

Leonardo smiled a bit. "Michelangelo would definitely like that," he agreed.

"Only if the kid is into science big-time, he might out-match Michelangelo in the brains department and leave him bowled over trying to figure out what was actually said," Raphael quipped. As soon as the words left his mouth, he looked stricken. "Eh . . . nevermind."

Both Donatello and Leonardo looked to him. He hadn't made any cracks about Michelangelo's intelligence since the incident with the energy demons. To his credit, he still hadn't made this one where Michelangelo would actually hear. But from his expression, he looked like he felt as guilty as if he had.

Donatello sighed but didn't comment. Leonardo did.

"You've been doing good, Raphael," he said encouragingly. "I know Michelangelo has noticed and has been appreciative."

"Yeah. But here I go again," Raphael scowled. "Michelangelo hates that more than he hates what Barney did to him." He leaned forward and propped his hands on his cheeks.

"Raphael, I really believe that everything is going to work out," Leonardo said.

"So does Master Splinter," Raphael said. "I don't."

"Hey," Donatello exclaimed, rather accidentally yet purposely changing the subject. "They're showing the winner for this week! And it's two kids! . . . Two kids we met," he added.

That got both Raphael and Leonardo's attention. Channel 6 was indeed showing pictures of the kids on the screen, along with their names. "They look vaguely familiar, but I can't place them," Leonardo said.

"They're the kids who received the killer pizzas," Donatello explained.

"Oh great," Raphael scowled. "They hated you guys, didn't they?"

"Well, they didn't like us very much," Donatello admitted. "I don't know how they'll feel about Baxter."

"Hey, they entered the contest," Raphael shrugged. "They must have wanted to be around him."

"I guess by now Michelangelo has probably met them," Leonardo realized.

"And he hasn't called begging for help," Raphael half-joked. "So maybe everything's okay."

Leonardo's Turtle-Comm went off right then. "Leonardo here," he greeted as he opened it. "What's up, April?"

Worry flickered in April's eyes. "The receptionist just walked in and found a transport module sitting in the fountain!" she wailed. "Someone from the Technodrome must be in the building! Also, Vernon's missing."

Raphael exhaled in frustration. "Well, there goes all hope of a peaceful afternoon." He got off the couch.

"We'll be right down, April," Leonardo promised.

"Thanks." April gave a weak smile.

"Is Michelangelo still there?" Leonardo asked as they all ran for the exit.

"Yes, he is," April nodded. "He was with Dr. Stockman and the children on their tour of Channel 6, but he's left them now to look for Shredder." She shook her head. "I don't understand. What could he want this time?!"

"With Shredder, there's just no telling," Leonardo said.

". . . You know, we should probably call Barney," Donatello said. "He and Vincent will want to know about this, for Baxter's sake."

"And they'll probably come on down for Baxter's sake," Raphael remarked.

"I'll call them from the Turtle Van," Donatello determined.

"I wonder if they'll ever get their own Turtle-Comms," April mused. "Or at least one to share between them."

Raphael stiffened. "Who knows," he said gruffly. From his expression, the idea had never even occurred to him.

"Maybe someday," Leonardo said. "If we can all be in agreement about it."

By now they had reached the Turtle Van and were climbing aboard. Seeing this, April decided to hang up. "Okay, guys. I'll see you soon," she said. "And hurry!"

"We will," Leonardo promised.

xxxx

Barney was definitely displeased as he hung up with Donatello moments later. "We're going down to Channel 6," he announced to Vincent, who was coming out of the kitchen.

"I thought you felt that Baxter could handle things himself," Vincent remarked in some surprise.

"With two small children, yes," Barney grunted. "But now it appears that Shredder or his mutants or all of them are in the building. A transport module was found in the lobby."

Vincent rushed to the front door before Barney finished speaking. Barney felt much the same way; he quickly joined his friend.

"What do you think they want?" Vincent wondered in concern.

"Either to use Channel 6 as their guinea pigs again or to steal something from the station," Barney deadpanned.

"They haven't got any new technology lately," Vincent said.

They made it outside and over to the car before Barney's eyes widened as realization dawned. "No, but Fragmented Triangle has," he gasped. "Just suppose that Krang decided he wants their latest innovation in virtual reality technology to throw the city into chaos."

"Then he might want those children to force their father's or uncle's hand," Vincent exclaimed.

"Send an email to Baxter," Barney directed. He hauled open the car door and climbed inside. "We have to get there as soon as possible."

xxxx

Irma came downstairs shortly after April hung up the Turtle-Comm. "April, have you found Vernon yet?" she demanded in greeting.

"No!" April wailed. "I have no idea where he is! Or where Shredder and his mutants are!"

Irma wandered towards the back hallway. "There's a chair up against this broom closet," she frowned. "What the heck?" She took it away and opened the door. "Vernon!" She rushed inside and knelt beside him.

April came over to look. "Another fainting episode?" she sighed.

"For once, I don't think so," Irma replied. "He's got a bump on his head. I think he's been hit, probably by Rocksteady or Bebop!"

"Or a pail fell down," April said, but she was concerned. "Does he look like he's going to be alright?"

"I don't know!" Irma fretted. "I hope so." She gently shook him on the shoulder. "Vernon? Vernon, hey! Can you hear me?"

Vernon groaned. "Oh please, don't hit me again!" he begged, curling into a ball away from Irma.

"Vernon, it's just me!" Irma exclaimed. "And April's here too."

Vernon looked warily over his shoulder. Finally, determining that she was right, he relaxed. "Oh thank goodness."

"Vernon, what happened?" April asked, leaning forward with her hands on her knees.

"And are you alright?" Irma added.

"No, I'm not alright," Vernon whimpered. "That horrible mutant Rocksteady hit me! Now he, Bebop, and Shredder are running loose in the building!"

"We know, Vernon," April said. "The Turtles are coming to try to stop them."

"Do you know what they want this time?" Irma asked. She reached to offer support as Vernon slowly sat up, rubbing his head.

"No," Vernon said. "I just heard Shredder telling them to spread out and start looking for something."

"What could that be?" Irma blinked. "We don't have anything new here."

"Are you sure it was something, Vernon?" April asked. "Maybe it was someone."

"Oh, it could have been," Vernon grumped, "but I don't know who. All I remember is Shredder ordering his mutants around and Rocksteady hitting me!" He started to stand and swayed, grabbing for the wall.

Irma stood too. "You'd better come rest," she said. "The Turtles will figure it out."

"How can I rest with those maniacs running loose?!" Vernon retorted.

"Do you want to help fight them yourself?" April countered.

"No!" Vernon wailed. He limped out of the broom closet and collapsed in the chair.

"I'll let Michelangelo know we found you," April said. "He's the only one here right now." She took out her Turtle-Comm.

"A lot of help he's been," Vernon muttered.

"I'll get you some ice," Irma offered.

Vernon looked to her in some surprise. "Thank you."

"No problem," said Irma. "But are you sure nothing else happened, Vernon? Seems like they might have wanted to quiz you for information."

"I don't remember it," Vernon insisted.

April looked over in concern. "Sometimes head trauma victims forget what happened in the moments leading up to the attack," she said.

"Well, then there's nothing I can do about it," Vernon said in annoyance.

Irma went into the lounge and took some ice out of the fridge to put in a bag. When she brought it back, April was on the Turtle-Comm and Vernon was leaning backwards, rubbing at the bump.

"Here," Irma said, holding out the bag.

Vernon gratefully took and applied it. "Irma . . ." He looked at her with unease. "If I was threatened with bodily harm if I didn't tell what the villains wanted to know, do you think I'd break? Even if that meant someone else would get hurt?"

Irma frowned. "I don't know, Vernon. A while ago I probably would've said Yes. But I just don't know anymore." She froze. "Wait. Did that happen?"

"I think it did, but I can't remember," Vernon moaned. "And I don't remember whom they might have wanted to know about."

Irma sighed. "Okay. Don't strain yourself trying to remember. Maybe it'll come back to you."

"Maybe," Vernon grunted, but he didn't sound hopeful. "I think I'd like to lie down in my office. . . ."

"I'll go up there with you," Irma offered.

"I can manage," Vernon said. But he stumbled again as he stood up to go to the elevator. When Irma came over to him, he didn't protest.

xxxx

"And this is where they film the weather segments." Baxter gestured to the blue screen in the news room. He heard his phone beep with an incoming message, but the kids quickly distracted him before he had a chance to look at it.

Kylie and Caleb looked it up and down. "Where do they film the science segments?" Caleb asked. "That's where we're going to be and we haven't seen it yet!"

"I was saving it for last," Baxter explained. "But as long as Shredder and his mutants are here, it's really not safe to continue the tour."

"Aww, it's not like he wants us!" Kylie whined.

"That's where you're wrong, Short Stuff."

Everyone whirled at the menacing voice. Bebop had just broken down the door and was leering at them. The kids shrieked, clinging to Baxter in terror.

Baxter faced down Bebop, even as his heart thumped wildly. "Is that true?" he frowned. "Shredder wants the children? Why?"

"Somethin' about holdin' them for ransom so their uncle will give up some virtual reality device he just finished," Bebop said. "Get out of the way, Baxter."

Baxter was sure he was shaking. He didn't want to get hurt himself, but he had to protect the children. He held his arms in front of them. "What if I don't?" he retorted.

"Then I'll have to make you," Bebop replied. He took a step forward.

With all his heart Baxter wanted to just grab the children and run for it. But an idea had occurred to him and he wanted to try that first.

"I know I'm nothing to you," he said, "but you idolize my brother. How do you think he'll feel if he learns that you've hurt me?"

Bebop froze. Baxter had his attention. "Well, uh . . ."

"You remember how guilty you felt when Shredder struck me down with his suspended animation ray and Barney thought I was dead," Baxter prompted. "You could have alleviated his grief by telling him I was only deeply unconscious. But you didn't, and it's haunted you." He reached down, taking hold of each child's hand. "Harm me now and you will feel even worse."

Finally Bebop found his voice. "I can't just let you go free, even because of Barney! The Boss gave us orders!"

"Which was Rocksteady's excuse for beating up Barney and throwing him off the balcony in the Technodrome," Baxter said. "And he instantly regretted it."

Bebop shifted. "Well, yeah, but . . ."

Baxter didn't dare try to stall any longer. He turned, fleeing through the open doorway with Kylie and Caleb.

"Hey!" Bebop yelled after them. "Come back!"

"That was awesome!" Caleb exclaimed, looking up at Baxter while they ran.

"You really got that bad mutant confused!" Kylie said.

"But probably not for long," Baxter said. He wasn't about to trust that Bebop really would let them go. He ducked into a darkened studio.

"Wow, what's this?" Caleb blinked.

"They film The Idaho Potatoes here," Baxter said.

Kylie rolled her eyes. "That show is an insult to people's intelligence!"

Baxter chuckled. "I don't disagree, but this was the nearest hiding place." He led the kids over to the stage and then backstage. "I'm going to call Michelangelo and find out where he is. He needs to know that Shredder's targets are the two of you."

"We don't need mutant Turtles," Caleb objected.

Kylie nodded. "We have you."

"I'm not a fighter," Baxter told them. "I got you away from Bebop because I was able to make him think, at least for a few moments. If he changes his mind, or if we run into Rocksteady or Shredder, we won't stand a chance."

"We can just hide here for hours if we have to," Caleb said.

"As long as we don't miss the broadcast," Kylie nodded.

"We're not safe here," Baxter insisted. "This isn't far from where we encountered Bebop." He took out his Turtle-Comm. "Michelangelo, where are you?"

"I'm on the 20th floor, Dude," Michelangelo replied. "April just called and said that Vernon was hurt by Rocksteady when they showed up."

"Badly?" Baxter frowned.

"Nah, I don't think so," Michelangelo told him. "But it looks like Channel 6 isn't going to be an experiment this time. Shred-Head's looking for something or someone."

"That's what I was just calling to tell you," Baxter exclaimed. "They're after the children!"

"Huh?!" Michelangelo almost dropped the Turtle-Comm. "Mondo bizarro! What the heck for?"

"To hold them for ransom-the ransom being some virtual reality device their uncle invented!" Baxter said. "I somehow managed to get them away from Bebop and we're hiding in the studio where they film The Idaho Potatoes, but we shouldn't stay here for long."

"I'm on my way!" Michelangelo promised.

Baxter hung up and sighed. "I don't know what would be worse," he admitted. "Leaving here to avoid Bebop finding us, or getting into the corridor and possibly running into Shredder or Rocksteady." He moved to the back exit and opened the door just enough to see into the hall. "No one seems to be out there. . . ."

"Then let's go if you figure we need to," Caleb encouraged.

Baxter considered their options a moment longer and then shook his head. "Michelangelo will be here in a moment. It would be safer to wait unless we have to move." He led the kids behind some backdrops. "We just won't be out in the open."

They stood in silence for a moment before Caleb spoke again. "So . . . did Michelangelo really tell you about the time we got those weird pizzas?"

Baxter stiffened, then sighed in resignation. Maybe he owed the children the full truth after all, especially when they idolized him as they did. It was a strange and yet nice feeling, but it was hard for Baxter to feel fully comfortable about it, all things considered.

"He told me the details," he said, "but I learned the initial story from someone who heard it on the news." He hesitated, dreading saying the rest.

Kylie folded her arms. "There's more, isn't there," she said.

Baxter's shoulders slumped. "I put those creatures in the pizzas," he said softly.

The kids stared at him. "What?!" Caleb cried.

"Why?!" Kylie wanted to know.

"I worked for Shredder then," Baxter said. "He wanted it done and I did it. It had nothing to do with you; he was after the Turtles. The pizzas went to you by mistake."

"But you like the Turtles," Caleb objected.

"I do now," Baxter said. He tried to choose his words carefully; the kids were still very young. "Back then, I was angry and hurt and I blamed them for my life turning upsidedown. People said that I sent my Mouser inventions all over the city to hurt others. I was innocent, but the Turtles didn't believe me, and neither did the rest of the city. When I was abandoned by everyone and locked away and told I was crazy, I . . . eventually started to become what they said. Then Shredder got me out, but only if I worked for him. And I did, because I was afraid of him and at the same time, grateful to him for setting me free. But I wasn't free as long as I worked for him. It was a horrible mistake, one that eventually led to the accident that turned me into that fly creature."

The children looked back at him, stunned, not speaking. He sighed to himself. Their adoration had been pleasant while it had lasted. Of course it wouldn't last now. He had told the truth and now they knew that he wasn't someone who deserved their hero worship.

At last Kylie said, "But you're okay now, right?"

Now he was stunned. "Yes," he said slowly. "After I was turned human again and was very sick, the Turtles and their ninja master took care of me. They helped me be well again, in my mind as well as my body. We realized that we had all misunderstood each other and we became friends and forgave each other for the wrong that was done on both sides."

"So it doesn't matter what you did back then," Caleb said. "Everything's okay now."

Kylie nodded. "We're not mad about the pizzas," she said. "The Turtles were there and got those monsters away."

"If anything had happened, to you or the Turtles, because of what I did, I would never be able to forgive myself," Baxter said.

Kylie hugged him. "Well, we're all okay," she said. "You wouldn't hurt anyone now."

Baxter stared down at her. "No, I wouldn't," he agreed. "Not unless they were harming someone and I had to stop them. Just like with the Turtles," he added.

". . . I guess they're not really so bad," Caleb said. "We just like other heroes better."

"And that's alright," Baxter said. "Just as long as you don't treat them unkindly." He looked from him to Kylie. "You honestly don't have any problems with me?"

"No," Kylie blinked. "Why should we?"

"We don't care about the past," Caleb agreed. "We care about the here and now."

"Thank you," Baxter said softly, overwhelmed. "Both of you."

The door opened and everyone jumped a mile. "Hey, it's just me," Michelangelo said. "Are you guys still okay?"

"We're fine," Baxter said in relief. "Let's try to get out of here while that's still the case." He took the children's hands and stepped into the hall with Michelangelo.

"I don't know where Shred-Head and the Gruesome Twosome have got to," Michelangelo said as they walked. "I don't see them anywhere!"

"We'll probably see them when we least expect or want to," Baxter sighed.

That proved true when they got off the elevator on the ground floor. "There they are!" Shredder boomed. He, Bebop, and Rocksteady were running up from a side hallway.

"Oh great," Michelangelo scowled. But he jumped out in front, twirling his nunchucks. "Take cover! I'll handle this!"

"Out of the way, Shellback!" Rocksteady snapped. He ran forward, blaster in hand. A flying nunchuck soon sent his weapon into the corner.

"Wow," Caleb said, his eyes wide.

"You'll have to deal with the rest of us too!" Leonardo cried as he, Donatello, and Raphael burst through the doors.

"And us," came Barney's voice. He and Vincent ran in seconds later.

Shredder shook his fists to the ceiling. "Why?!" he all but wailed.

"Why, Tinhead?" Raphael shot back. "Because we're a team, that's why! And we'll help out where we're needed!" He held out his sais, blocking Bebop from getting past and snatching Kylie. One well-placed aim sent the warthog's blaster into the wall.

"Amazing," Kylie blinked.

"This is ridiculous!" Shredder snarled. "I refuse to keep being beaten by reptiles and pipsqueaks and living computers!" He lunged directly at Baxter, who gasped and grabbed the children around the waist before diving and rolling out of the way.

Barney dove into Shredder's path and away again. Shredder wobbled, nearly losing his balance. "You wretched traitor!" he boomed.

Vincent blasted Shredder in the next moment, sending him to the floor as the electricity conducted through his armor. Shredder shouted in both pain and rage.

"You know, that looks like a really good reason to consider other costume options," Raphael smirked.

"The Boss can dress whatever way he likes," Bebop retorted. He charged at Donatello, who sent him flying with his bo.

"Maybe so, but then he'll have to suffer the consequences!" Leonardo retorted.

Rocksteady came at him with fists bared. "Oh yeah?"

Leonardo grabbed his arm and flipped him over. "Yeah."

Shredder struggled up and ran for the module. "Forget about the brats! We're making a strategic retreat!"

"You mean we're running like heck," said Bebop as he stumbled up too.

"And we're not gonna try this again any time soon," Rocksteady chimed in.

They leaped in the module and the door slammed shut. In a moment it was gone, drilling into the floor and then the earth.

Baxter sighed, his shoulders slumping as he relaxed his grip on the kids. It was over; they were safe.

"Are you alright?"

He looked up as Barney bent over him, his eyes filled with concern. Vincent was right behind him, followed by the Turtles.

"We're fine," Baxter smiled.

"And that was awesome!" Caleb exclaimed, leaping to his feet. "You Turtles are neat after all!"

"Well, thank you," said Raphael, twirling a sai before replacing it in his belt.

"You all did really cool stuff to get rid of the bad guys," Kylie added. "We were wrong about you."

Baxter sat up, smiling as the kids crowded around the Turtles and asked questions. In a moment, their attention also turned to Barney and Vincent.

"That was really cool!" Caleb said to Vincent.

"Are you really a computer?" Kylie asked.

"Yes," said Vincent.

"Are you made of electricity?" Caleb wanted to know.

"Not exactly," Vincent said, "although I can control electricity. My body is made of solid energy. I'm safe to touch." He held out a hand.

Caleb cautiously reached out and poked his palm with a finger. "Cool!"

Kylie touched him now and shook his hand. "I wish we had a computer that could talk to us and help us," she said.

"Vincent is definitely a great help," Baxter said as he got to his feet. "And a great friend."

Caleb turned to Barney, his hands on his hips. "You know, you don't really look like your brother," he said. "Your hair's a different color and it's longer."

Barney raised an eyebrow. "That didn't stop most people from mixing us up."

"Then they're pretty stupid," Kylie said. "Obviously they weren't paying attention."

Baxter smiled. Then, remembering something important, he looked around for his coworkers. "What happened about Mr. Fenwick?" he asked in concern.

"I think he's up in his office now," Michelangelo said. "April said he wanted to lie down in there and rest."

Baxter shook his head. "I can't blame him. I'll have to check on him and see if he's alright."

"After that, you'll need to prepare for your broadcast," Leonardo reminded him.

"It's less than an hour away now," Donatello added.

"We're still going to be on TV with you, right?" Kylie demanded, looking to Baxter.

"I don't see any reason why not," Baxter said. "But we'll have to hurry." He gestured to the elevator. "I really do want to check on Mr. Fenwick first."

"Alright!" Caleb whooped. He ran inside, followed closely by Kylie.

"Well, you seem to be handling them just fine," Barney commented.

Baxter smiled. "They like me," he said before climbing inside.

"Fabulouso!" Michelangelo grinned. "Another weird adventure that's turning out just right!"

"Thanks to the teamwork of all of us!" Leonardo added.

"Alright!" chorused the Turtles as they did a mutual high-five.

Michelangelo, of course, then turned to Barney and Vincent for further high-fiving, not wanting them to be left out and knowing they weren't likely to join in on their own. "You guys too!" he chirped.

Vincent was quicker to accept. Barney hesitated, looking somewhat baffled, but then relented-probably more to humor Michelangelo than anything else. But a smile tugged on his lips. Michelangelo's cheerfulness and desire to be all-inclusive was infectious.

xxxx

Vernon looked up at the quiet knock on the slightly ajar door. "Come in," he mumbled.

Baxter pushed the door open. "I can only stay a moment, but I wanted to see how you were doing," he said. "Michelangelo told me you were hurt."

"Rocksteady hit me," Vernon said. "I didn't remember at first, but a few minutes ago I started getting back a memory that Shredder was asking about those children and threatening your safety." He shuddered. "I didn't know where the children were, and I didn't want them or you hurt, but . . ." He looked worried. "I honestly don't know whether I would have broke and told if I had known. . . ."

"Everyone can have those moments of weakness," Baxter said. "Even Vincent broke under torture. I don't think any of us can know what we'd do until the situation is actually upon us."

"But I want to be better than that," Vernon moaned.

"I like to think you are," Baxter said.

"I spent so much of my life running away from danger and leaving others to face it. . . . Maybe I honestly thought they could handle it better than me, but deep down I knew that they might get hurt. A couple of times I even said as much." Vernon covered his eyes with a hand. "I remember begging for my life when Irma and I were kidnapped by those horrible Atlantis fanatics. I said that I had so much more to live for. Alright, maybe it was sort of true . . . or it certainly shows how pathetic and dull I found Irma's day-to-day life . . . but if anything had really happened to her, especially because I said that . . . I never would have gotten over it."

"I know," Baxter said kindly. "Who hasn't said something horrible under duress that they regret?" He stepped closer. "Vernon, you're stronger than you know. You've proved that several times lately. Honestly, I believe that if faced with such a scenario, you would do the right thing. But it would be very human if you backslid instead."

"And if I was that weak and you or someone else got hurt, it would be my fault," Vernon said.

"Unfortunately, we have to suffer the consequences of our actions," Baxter said. "I would probably forgive you if I were hurt. If the children were . . . I'll admit it would be more difficult. But after I inadvertently could have harmed them in the past, I don't think I would really hold your weakness against you."

Vernon finally took his hand away, looking at Baxter in amazement. "I've never met anyone like you," he remarked.

"It's not that I'm sweet and loving like Michelangelo," Baxter said, flushing a bit in embarrassment. "It's just that I don't feel I have the right to come down hard on people after all the sins I committed in the past."

"I've still never met anyone like you," Vernon retorted.

"And I'd like to think there isn't anyone else like me," Baxter sighed. "I wouldn't wish my sorrow and guilt on anyone. But if in any way I can help people change for the better, I'm happy."

"You've certainly helped me," Vernon said in all sincerity. "And I hope that if I ever am threatened when I actually know the information they want, I won't break."

"I believe in you," Baxter said. He glanced into the corridor. "And now I'd better go prepare for the broadcast."

"Good luck," Vernon said.

Baxter smiled. "Thank you. And I hope you'll feel better soon."

"So do I," Vernon groaned.

Baxter passed Irma in the hall as he stepped out. "How is he?" she asked.

"He'll be alright," Baxter said. "But he's distressed wondering if he would have broke under pressure had he known what Shredder wanted to know."

"Yeah, he said that to me too," Irma said. "I didn't know how to answer." She glanced at the door. "Vernon's . . . not the same as he was before. He's changed a lot."

"He has, but he was always different than what we thought of him at first," Baxter said.

"That's true," Irma agreed. "Maybe I'll check on him."

"I think he'd like that," Baxter smiled. "I have to be going now."

"Oh right. See you later." Irma waved to him before going into Vernon's office.

Vernon looked over when she walked in. "Irma . . . I want to ask you something," he blurted.

Irma blinked in surprise at the abrupt announcement. "Uh . . . okay. . . ."

"Why did you and April always just let it go when I ran away and left you or begged for my life above yours?"

Irma stared. "Well . . ." Slowly she came closer to the couch. "I guess I wouldn't say we actually let it go. . . . It was more like we figured that was just how you were and we had to accept it. That doesn't mean it didn't hurt . . . especially sometimes . . . but we dealt with it."

"I'm sorry I did it," Vernon said quietly.

"Yeah, I know," Irma said.

"You do?" Vernon regarded her in surprise. "I never said it before. . . ."

"The way you've been trying to change . . . and how you were so upset today thinking about if you might have broke under pressure . . . really made it pretty clear." Irma smiled. "But it's nice to hear you say it anyway."

"I . . . would have felt horrible if anything had happened to you . . . or April . . . no matter what I said or did," Vernon stammered.

"I think you really would have," Irma mused. "Even back then."

"Yes," said Vernon. He wasn't sure what else to say, and his awkwardness showed it, but at the same time he was relieved to have said anything at all.

"You're sweet, Vernon," Irma said. "And I'm glad you weren't hurt too badly. I'll go if you want to rest."

"It's . . . alright if you stay," Vernon said, still awkward but clearly sincere.

Irma looked surprised again, but quickly warmed to the situation. "Okay." She pulled up a chair. "I'll stay."

xxxx

Kylie smiled at the camera. "And that's it for tonight's Real Science with Baxter Stockman. And Kylie . . ."

"And Caleb Merriweather! Back to the studio!" Caleb pointed at the camera with a big smile.

The red On Air light went off and Baxter smiled at his young co-hosts. "That was perfect," he said.

"Totally gnarly!" Michelangelo exclaimed from backstage.

"We made a good team," Caleb grinned.

"I wish we could do it again," Kylie said. "Is there any chance of that?"

"I don't know," Baxter mused. "To be fair, it couldn't happen at least until all the others who submitted entries have had their turns."

"That's true," Kylie nodded.

"Hey, why haven't we ever met you before?" Caleb wondered. "Our parents and uncle have dinner with your parents all the time!"

"Well . . ." Baxter looked uneasily at Barney, who just looked back with a Go ahead, handle it expression. "We don't . . . often have dinner with our parents. . . ."

"Yeah, we know they were mad at you or something," Caleb said. "They didn't wanna ever talk to you again."

"That's silly," Kylie added matter-of-factly. "It was like they didn't believe in second chances."

"I suppose it would be." Baxter was thoroughly awkward now.

"But then I heard our dad talking to your dad once after dinner," Caleb said. "Our dad asked if your dad was ever gonna forgive Barney."

Kylie nodded. "I heard it too. It was right after Barney came back alive when we all thought he was dead. Your dad got real quiet and didn't say anything for a long time. When he did, it sounded like he said, 'The real question is if Barney can ever forgive me.'"

Barney shot her a Look.

"That's what he said," Caleb insisted.

Baxter stared at them. "You're sure?"

"Yeah," Caleb nodded.

Baxter whipped around to look at Barney, who was just staring at Kylie with an unreadable expression. Vincent looked to Baxter in stunned surprise and then back to Barney. "Buddy?" He laid a hand on Barney's shoulder. "Are you okay?"

Barney shook his head. "I don't know," he rasped. "And I don't know the answer to our father's question, either."

"That . . . almost makes it sound like he has forgiven you, Barney," Baxter said, choosing his words with care.

"But I don't know if I can ever forgive him," Barney retorted. "I should be able to, when you forgave me wholeheartedly. But I've never been as good as you, Brother."

Baxter gave him a bittersweet but kind smile. "You're better than you think you are. You always have been."

Raphael looked uncomfortably away. He felt awkward overhearing this conversation in the first place, but when Barney's attitude about his father mirrored Raphael's attitude about Barney, it was even more unsettling. They really were oddly alike.

". . . Did he say anything about Baxter?" Barney asked suddenly, looking to the kids.

"They were talking about you," Caleb said. "But after your dad said that, our dad said, 'And Baxter?'"

"And your dad said that Baxter was always the long-suffering one in the family, the one who took the abuse and neglect until he just couldn't anymore. But he was still willing to give your mom a chance when she came to him, so your dad figured Baxter would give him a chance too." Kylie looked to Baxter. "He just wasn't sure he wanted to put that on you, after how he'd been so mean to you and Barney. Then he said maybe he was just afraid of rejection."

Barney snorted.

"That . . . sounds familiar," Vincent said softly.

Baxter looked to Barney. "I think it will take a while for both of us to process this," he said. "We always thought our father was immovable. Now it's starting to sound like he knows us better than our mother does. And that he might be more willing to listen."

Barney finally spoke again. "Was any mention made of Vincent?"

Kylie and Caleb both nodded. "The last time your parents were over for dinner," Kylie said. "Your mom acted like it was the most repulsive thing ever."

"Well, that's typical," Barney grunted.

Caleb continued, "Your dad said, 'Why should you care if our sons choose a computer for a friend? What do you expect them to do after we caused them to be lonely and sad growing up? They're not going to turn out normal after that.'"

"So he thought it was abnormal, but he was alright with it," Barney summarized.

"Something like that," Caleb said. "And our dad thought it was totally high-tech and cool."

Kylie nodded. "He said he'd like to find out more about Vincent sometime."

"What about your mother?" Baxter wondered.

Caleb wrinkled his nose. "She thought it was kinda . . . cute. You know how women are."

Baxter looked like he was trying not to laugh over hearing one so young say something like that in a completely serious and matter-of-fact tone. "Yes, I suppose we do," he said.

Vincent folded his arms. "I'm not 'cute,'" he said, sounding scandalized. "I'm a highly advanced machine."

"But one with a whole bunch of heart and soul, Dude!" Michelangelo declared. "You are truly alive, and that's bodacious!"

Baxter smiled. "And I certainly agree with Michelangelo on that." He looked to Barney. "I know we both do."

Barney nodded. "We do . . . although I would use other terminology to describe it."

Amused, Baxter looked back to the kids. "Is someone coming to pick you up?"

"Yeah, our parents came in a little late and they're up in the gallery," Caleb said, pointing upward to the soundproof glass windows above the newsroom. A man and a woman waved.

Barney looked pleased that they had taken the time and interest to come.

"It's been a lot of fun," Kylie said. "I hope you'll get to see your parents again and it will be a nice time."

"I wouldn't count on that," Barney grunted.

"But thank you for the kind thought. I'll walk you out to meet your parents," Baxter said. He laid a hand on each child's shoulder and headed for the door. The Turtles, figuring Barney would probably prefer privacy, moved to follow them.

"See you in a few," Michelangelo waved to Barney and Vincent.

Vincent looked to Barney once the kids were out of earshot. "What do you think, Buddy?" he asked.

"As to whether I'll try to make amends with our father?" Barney frowned. "I don't like to be the one to make the first move." He sighed and shook his head. "What those children said does make a difference, but I don't know yet how to process how I feel about our father's attitude. Whereas Baxter was innocent of everything I put on him, our parents were not. Maybe I even projected my feelings about our parents to Baxter because I knew I couldn't really fight against our parents, but I could against my meek and mild brother. As repugnant as it is to think that." He gripped his arms.

"I think you were angry at all of them," Vincent said. "But as to whether you projected your hate and hurt towards your parents onto Baxter, that's something you'll have to decide for yourself."

Barney walked over to the window and stared out at the city. "Baxter stopped trying to reach out to me when he finally got too discouraged and too afraid. But he turned to me for help when he needed it so badly after he was arrested . . . and I didn't give it to him." He gripped tighter. "I can't believe that I really abandoned him knowing he was sane. I can't believe I just told myself he was crazy but that I didn't believe it deep down. But can I not believe it because it's the truth . . . or because I can't bring myself to face the fact that I could be so cruel?"

Vincent walked over and stood beside him. "I can't fully know what you felt when you walked out on him," he said quietly, "but after coming to know you so well, the bad as well as the good, I can't believe it either. I think you honestly thought Baxter had lost his mind and that the doctors knew what was best for him. Unfortunately, you probably also thought that you didn't want anything to do with him under those circumstances because you felt it would ruin your chances of becoming more popular. And . . ." He paused. "Maybe you were running away."

Barney flinched. "Running away?"

"You have that bad habit of not wanting to face your problems," Vincent said. "Maybe you were so convinced that Baxter had lost his mind that you couldn't bear to be around him and see him like that. The only way you could deal with it was by abandoning him and leaving the doctors to deal with him."

Barney ran a hand over the lower half of his face. "You know me well, Vincent." He looked sick. "I'm afraid you might be right. I left him and then he really did lose his mind." His eyes filled with anguish. "Maybe he never would have if I'd only been stronger. How could I have ever thought that I was the strong one in the family? I was pathetically weak!"

"You've become strong," Vincent said. "You always had that potential. Finally it came out."

"I suppose." Barney still looked haunted. "And even after Baxter became a revenge-crazed fly creature, he still couldn't bear hurting me and broke down when Professor Sopho manipulated him into it. More recently, despite everything I'd done to him, he tried to get me not to fall in with Shredder. He had just barely become human again, but as soon as he knew what I was planning, his primary thought was my safety. I was relieved that he was human again, but I didn't tell him. I treated him cruelly and I didn't want him 'interfering' in my life."

"But you saved his life even then," Vincent prompted. "Shredder really might have killed him if you hadn't stopped him."

"I try to think about that aspect too," Barney said. "But I lied to Baxter about why I saved his life. I said it was so he would be alive to see me triumph over him. I think he believed it." He clenched a fist. "I was too prideful to tell him the truth. It took me hitting him and then lying to Krang to save him for Baxter to finally realize I loved him." He shook his head. "He probably never realized before. Maybe I didn't either. After that, he didn't give up on trying to get through to me." He glowered out at the evening lights. "I've just heard that our father is apparently regretful for what he did to us, and that he is actually more receptive than our mother. I should be as willing to go to him as Baxter was with me. But I'm not."

Vincent looked to him. "It's not surprising. Baxter has always had a more forgiving nature when he's in his right mind. You struggle with it."

"Just like Raphael does," Barney said flatly.

"And you were hurt so deeply by your father that you're probably afraid to have anything to do with him now," Vincent continued.

"Yes." Barney glowered at his reflection in the glass. "But I still feel like I'm wretched to not be able to forgive as readily as Baxter. Look at how deeply I hurt him!"

"Even Baxter struggled with whether he had truly forgiven you," Vincent said. "He told me when we thought you were dead. It took him a long time to realize that yes, he had forgiven you. And then trust was still a shaky issue."

"It probably still is," Barney said. "We still don't really confide in each other."

"It's a very gradual process," Vincent said. "If you ever do feel like seeing your father, I'm sure you still won't trust him. But maybe at least you can be civil. And then maybe over time, forgiveness and even trust can come."

"Maybe," Barney said noncommittally. "Baxter will probably decide to see him before I'm ready."

"And that's alright too. Maybe that would even break the ice enough that he would come to you," Vincent said.

"That's possible," Barney said. "Baxter never was hurt by them as much as I was. He was hurt more by me."

"What . . . exactly was it they did to you, Buddy?" Vincent asked. "If you want to talk about it, I mean."

"They were neglectful of both of us," Barney said, "but it always felt to me that when they did pay attention to one of us, it was Baxter. They never wanted twins. Even though I was actually born first, I was the unneeded son they didn't want." He shut his eyes tightly. "I hated them for that, and I hated Baxter for filling the only spot in their hearts they could love. And . . . I hated myself that I wasn't like Baxter. I used to think that if I was, maybe they would love me too. Later I realized that it probably would have been just as much of a curse if we had been alike in personality. I would have been lost in Baxter's shadow all the more. There was no way for me to win."

"Some people should never be parents," Vincent said. "But even though you were both treated badly, I'm so glad they gave you life."

Barney finally smiled. "Thank you."

Vincent started to lay a hand on Barney's shouder, then paused. "I know the lack of affection you felt made you uncomfortable to have it at all. . . ."

"Completely unlike Baxter," Barney grunted. "But . . ." He looked up at Vincent. "I'm starting to like it better, when it's delivered by certain entities." To Vincent's surprise, Barney turned and hugged him. "You'll probably never know how healing you've been for me. And how much it meant to me that even when you could leave, you chose to stay. You and Baxter . . . are the only ones who never abandoned me."

Vincent held him close. "And we never will," he vowed.

"Never," Baxter agreed as he appeared in the doorway. They looked up and he went over to them. "Barney, I am so sorry how you suffered all through the years. I honestly thought our parents loved you the best, especially when they didn't do anything to help me but they tried to help you when you were arrested."

"Your situation was worse than mine," Barney growled. "You had to feel that our parents loved me more and that I hated you. You couldn't feel that you had anyone! I at least knew you loved me; I just didn't want any part of it then. Or I told myself that. But deep down, I knew you were the one positive constant in my life, even if I couldn't bring myself to acknowledge it. When you weren't around, I became far worse."

"Barney . . ." Baxter stared at him in stunned amazement. "I never thought . . ."

"I know, and that's my fault," Barney said gruffly. "Of course you wouldn't think it was possible. I wouldn't have either. But I've thought about it lately and realized it was true. I never fell as far as I did after you were cross-fused and out of my life. You were the one truly good person I knew who was always there. I was afraid life would change you, yet at the same time I didn't think anything could. Then you met Shredder and he and I and the city ruined your life. You were never the same. After you went insane, you were a poor, twisted creature bent on revenge . . . and I lost all hope that anyone could stay good. For that to happen to you-and worse, to know that I had some part in it!-was the final blow to my heart."

Baxter was still staring, unable to fully comprehend that this was real. "Barney, I'm not a saint or an angel or anything that good," he stammered. "Even before I met Shredder, I was bitter and angry and arrogant and prideful. I had faults. I always did. I'm still arrogant sometimes," he mumbled.

"But you never tried to hurt me," Barney said. "Most people would have plotted their revenge if they had a brother as treacherous as I was. Instead, even after you lost your mind, you just couldn't stand to hurt me. You loved me. That was one part of your humanity that you were incapable of losing, even though we didn't remember it until recently. But even when I didn't want to believe it, your love worked on me. Vincent helped me to believe and accept it. I told him a few minutes ago that he could never know how much he healed me. And you can never know how deeply your love affected me. I'm only starting to understand it myself."

Finally Baxter slowly shook his head. "I'm speechless. Barney, I . . . I just don't know what to say." He stepped back, searching Barney's eyes, seeing that this was for real. "To think that I actually had a positive effect on you and neither of us realized it. . . . It's overwhelming."

"That's a good word for it," Barney agreed. "It overwhelmed me too, when I realized."

Vincent smiled. This conversation was good for them. Every time they talked, their relationship mended a little bit more. This one, he was sure, would mend a lot more.

"Thank you . . . for telling me," Baxter said softly. He laid a hand on Barney's shoulder.

Barney nodded. "You deserved to know." He paused. "And I . . . wanted you to know."

"That means the world to me," Baxter said. "Oh, I'm free to leave now. Shall we go?"

"Let's go home," Barney agreed.

It wasn't the first time Barney had referred to his mansion as "home" while including Baxter as though it was his home as well. Baxter and Vincent exchanged a happy look. Perhaps Vincent's dream that they could all live together really would come true yet.

The Turtles met them at the door. "So is everything gnarly?" Michelangelo asked. He looked concerned, contrary to his prior cheerfulness. After thinking on what the kids had told them, he had realized that Barney especially might be shaken.

Barney raised an eyebrow at the terminology.

"We're getting there," Baxter smiled.

"Yes," Barney agreed then.

"Did you figure out what you're going to do about your dad?" Michelangelo asked.

The twins exchanged a look.

"I don't think so," Baxter said.

"But they're growing closer with each other," Vincent said happily.

"That's true," Barney admitted.

"Well, that's plenty gnarly for me!" Michelangelo grinned.

"Yes, that's wonderful," Leonardo smiled.

"We're going home now," Baxter said. He had decided to try the word out and see how it sounded in the current circumstances. And, he found, he loved it.

"Radical," Michelangelo chirped. "Talk to you tomorrow, Bud!"

"Yes," Baxter smiled. "Tomorrow."

There had been a time when he had never thought he would really have a place to call home. Now he had several.

There had also been a time when he had thought there would never be bright tomorrows-or todays, for that matter. From Barney and Vincent's expressions, they had felt the same. But now they were all together, as they should be, and they had all found happiness.

They were going home.