Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 1987

Both Sides

By Lucky_Ladybug

Notes: The characters are not mine and the story is! ThickerThanLove was vital in this story coming together. 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 muttered to himself as he leaned back at his desk after handing back the last of the graded tests. He looked annoyed, and he definitely felt it. More of the class than he had thought had stumbled over the test. It had been a hard one, granted, but he had believed in his students to the point that he had felt that they would succeed for the most part.

"Are you okay, Buddy?" Vincent asked in concern once the last student had left.

"Where did I go wrong, Vincent?" Barney returned. He looked up at his friend and assistant.

"Wrong?" Vincent blinked.

"There's no way I believe all of the students who failed this test didn't study enough," Barney frowned. "The only other explanation is that I didn't teach the subject well enough to begin with."

"Barney, you taught it perfectly well," Vincent insisted. "Maybe some of them didn't study enough and some of them were goofing off. And maybe with some of them, it was just one of those things. You know neuropsychology is a very difficult course."

"Yes, and anyone who takes it has to be prepared for that!" Barney retorted. "But they weren't prepared. What's Mr. Dalton going to say when he hears about this?!" He rubbed his eyes with his thumb and forefinger. "He's been riding us hard lately."

"Barney, you don't think he'll fire us," Vincent exclaimed.

"No, probably not," Barney said. "But we might get a stern warning, considering he was taking a chance to hire someone like me in the first place."

"You're overreacting," Vincent frowned. He sat on the edge of the desk, looking down at his adopted brother.

"I'm an ex-convict," Barney replied. "One who slipped right back to his criminal ways when he got out of prison and worked for Shredder and Krang."

"And who nearly died saving the city from Shredder and Krang," Vincent said. "The city loves you, Barney. Everything's going to be fine."

"Don't forget Herman J. Mellish," Barney grunted. "He still isn't convinced I didn't rip off his process. Either that or he's figured out mine is better. Either way, he's jealous and angry and he could be a problem."

"It's still better than the life you were leading before," Vincent insisted.

"Oh yeah? Maybe I can offer him something even better than either life."

Both of them jumped a mile at the gruff voice. "Pinky McFingers," Barney exclaimed, stunned. He sat up straight as his former employer walked in.

Vincent was instantly on guard. "What do you want?" he demanded.

"Just to give your brother a little friendly advice," Pinky smoothly answered. He turned to Barney. "You can make a much more satisfying living working for me again. I was real impressed with your Gagamagnifier. It wasn't your fault that Turtle messed everything up. I've got some other ideas for you to try out, if you're interested."

Barney frowned. "I've already been given a second chance by the city," he said. "If I go bad again, I'll lose the trust of everyone who believes in me."

"I believe in you," Pinky rejoined. "And it's not like anyone has to know. You'd be doin' this on the Q.T."

"I know," Vincent said flatly. "And if Barney actually agreed, you can be sure I'd tell Baxter and he would involve the Turtles and before you'd know it, you'd have all of Barney's family and friends rallying to bring him back to the right side."

Pinky sighed. "We could talk a lot better if it was just the two of us. Why don't you tell him to wait outside?"

"Vincent does what he pleases," Barney answered. "You yourself acknowledged that we're brothers, and although I don't know how you learned that piece of information, it's true. He's not my computer."

"Okay." Pinky shrugged. "Just remember my offer. Give me a call." He handed Barney a business card. "It sounds like you could use some more secure work."

Barney stared at it. He had said almost all of his life that he didn't care if he worked for criminals. He had followed through on that more than once. And he was trying so hard to live honestly, but it was hard, just as he had known. Pinky had come right at a time when Barney was particularly frustrated. He would be lying if he said he wasn't at least a little tempted by an offer to live the easy life again.

Only . . . it wasn't the easy life, was it? He feared going back to prison so much. He really would, if he worked for Pinky again and was caught at it. And worse than that, as he had already said, he would let everyone down. The city trusted him. More importantly, Baxter and Vincent trusted him. He couldn't destroy that. The thought of their faces if he gave in horrified him more than even the thought of a prison cell.

He handed back the business card. "I don't need to give you a call," he said, to Vincent's joy and Pinky's frustration. "I know my answer right now. No."

Pinky took the card back, but didn't looked deterred. "I saw that look in your eyes," he said. "You know what I can offer you, and you liked the idea."

"But not as much as I like having the trust of my loved ones," Barney replied. He looked to Vincent. "And no, my answer wouldn't change if Vincent left the room. I'd still know I'd be letting him and Baxter down."

"What if they weren't an issue at all?" Pinky pressed.

"Still No," Barney insisted. "I'm trying to live an honest life, Mr. McFingers. I hate myself for what I did in the past. I'm not that person anymore. I'm . . ." He paused. "I'm better than that."

Vincent fairly shone with pride.

Pinky's eyes burned. "Have it your way, Professor. But just remember, I don't take No for an answer."

Barney stood. "Are you threatening me?"

"I'm warning you," Pinky said.

"I'll keep that in mind," Barney said, his voice dark.

Pinky turned, storming out of the classroom.

Vincent jumped down from the desk. "Barney, that was wonderful!" he exclaimed. "If Raphael could have seen you . . . !"

"It wouldn't take away what I did to Michelangelo." Barney turned to face him. "And I can't deny I honestly was tempted. It's still tempting. I did live good when I worked for McFingers. But money isn't everything. It was never really money that I wanted, of course, but recognition. I thought I'd have that if he took over the city."

"And you could have gone back to that plan now," Vincent said.

"Recognition isn't everything either," Barney said. "But ironically enough, I have that more now that I'm living honestly. And now I don't feel I need it. The hole in my life has been filled; I have the love of the family I chose to make my own. Baxter was always related to me, but I didn't consciously see that as something wonderful until recently. And you . . . you're not related to me, but you're more my family than our parents ever were. I don't want to lose the trust the two of you placed in me. No matter how much my old life calls out to me, my new life matters far more."

"Barney . . ." Vincent smiled. "You've grown up."

"I'm worried about McFingers, though," Barney frowned. "That was a threat."

"What do you think he might do?" Vincent asked, worried now as well.

"He'll try to force my hand," Barney mused. "He'll do something that he thinks will make me work for him." He looked troubled. "I know he's not above kidnapping. He might take you or Baxter as a ransom for my services."

"He won't take me without a fight," Vincent vowed. "And Baxter's tougher than he looks."

"But we should still do everything we can to protect him," Barney said. "He'd better stay over with us tonight."

"That's always great with me, Buddy," Vincent said. "Are you ever going to invite him to live with us all the time?"

Barney paused. "I never thought I'd say this, but now I think we actually might get around to that," he said. "But if or when I suggest that, I want it to be expressly clear that I'm asking because I want him here all the time, not just because there's possible danger for a temporary period."

Vincent smiled. "I like your reasoning."

"I still don't know if we're ready for that yet, though," Barney grunted. "Several months of peace after over forty years of dysfunction surely couldn't really prepare us for that step."

That brought a sigh. "Maybe not, but how will you decide when you are ready?"

"I don't know," Barney admitted. "Maybe I'm afraid to try it . . . afraid that we'll fail to get along under those circumstances and dreading the thought of such a failure. Right now, we know that Baxter can always leave and go back to his apartment if we end up having problems. If he doesn't have anywhere else to go, I don't know how it would work out."

"You haven't even ever talked it out with Baxter to see what he would think," Vincent said.

"I know," Barney said. "Part of me wants to. . . . Maybe I'm also afraid of his answers." He scowled. "Although I can't decide if I'm more afraid of him saying No or saying Yes. It's a huge step, deciding to live together as a family. I don't want to rush into it."

"Of course not," Vincent said. "You've made so much progress already, Buddy, and I'm so proud of you." He paused. "I hope you don't think you don't have the right to ask him."

"In the past I would have," Barney said. "I don't think that's an issue now. I hope. . . . I know Baxter wants to be around me, as amazing as that is. And he wants to be around you."

"And we want to be around him," said Vincent.

Barney nodded. "I think Baxter likes having that apartment, though. I don't know if he'd want to give it up."

"He does like it," Vincent said. "But if he thought you wanted him to live with us, he would be overjoyed."

"He probably would at that," Barney relented. "We'll talk about that later. Right now we need to worry about Pinky McFingers' threat." He headed for the door.

Vincent walked alongside. "Do you think he'll keep bothering you, Barney?"

"I think that if we can possibly catch and arrest him on this round, he'll leave me alone," Barney said. "He's a businessman; he's not bent on revenge."

"Unlike certain others we know," Vincent remarked.

"I think if Shredder can't calm his desires for revenge before long, Krang is going to lay down the law," Barney said. "I never actually thought I'd be a target for Shredder's revenge, but I guess he's finding it more and more humiliating to be trounced by two physically weak men and a living computer."

Vincent laughed. "As if being trounced by four teenage turtles and an old rat wasn't humiliating enough."

Barney had to smirk. "We might all make Shredder look the fool, but he does plenty of that on his own as well. And make no mistake, he is a dangerous and deadly adversary."

"It's just hard to remember that when he's following orders to kidnap two small children and failing miserably," Vincent smirked too.

"At least I think Krang's finally given up on that idea after two more failures," Barney remarked. "But he must have something else cruel in mind for the next time."

"I hate to think what it might be." Vincent was serious now. "The cruel plans have definitely hurt us."

"And now we have McFingers to worry about," Barney said. "If Shredder gets involved at the same time, it's going to be overwhelming."

"Let's hope he doesn't," Vincent said.

Barney pushed the door open and stepped into the cloudy afternoon. "One cynical thing I've learned is that when it rains, it pours," he said matter-of-factly.

"And it looks like it's about to rain now," Vincent remarked.

"If only that would be the only kind of rain," Barney grunted.

xxxx

Baxter was having dinner with the Turtles and Splinter that night. They sat around the kitchen table, eating and talking and enjoying each other's company. With so many hectic things happening lately, there hadn't been a lot of time for dinner get-togethers. They had all missed them.

"Have there been any more of those bizarre robberies where all the energy is drained from both the people and the machines?" Baxter wondered.

"Two more," Michelangelo sighed. "And we still don't know who's doing it! Everybody's so weak they can hardly talk, and when they finally can, they just say it was too dark to see anyone! Maximum bummer, dudes."

"How have you been, Baxter?" Splinter asked.

"Busy," Baxter said. "Mr. Thompson has been working everyone at Channel 6 very hard lately. But he's pleased with the success of our science contest and how good the children have been so far."

"Yeah, it's totally gnarly!" Michelangelo exclaimed.

"I just hope Krang and Tin Head are through with trying to kidnap those Merriweather kids," Raphael said in annoyance.

"They may have given up on that, but what if they have not given up on having the virtual reality device Krang wanted?" Splinter said. "Perhaps Krang will devise a new method to obtain it."

"If he does, he'll be sorry," Raphael vowed.

"How's Barney doing?" Donatello asked.

Baxter looked to him, slightly surprised but touched that he had asked. "He's been very busy as well," he said. "He was preparing a test for his class. . . . I think this was the day he was to hand their papers back."

Splinter gave a knowing nod. "It is both exciting and nerve-wracking to see how one's students do on an important test. Sometimes they can make their teacher proud. Sometimes . . . they require more practice."

The Turtles groaned. "We did well on that last test you sprang on us, Master Splinter," Leonardo said.

"Indeed you did, my students," Splinter said. "It has been a while since any of you did not do well. But this, I believe, was Barney's first test?"

"Yes," Baxter nodded. "I emailed him to ask how things went, but I haven't heard back yet." He frowned. "Maybe that isn't good news."

"We shall see," Splinter said. "The first test naturally does not proceed as smoothly as later tests."

"I wonder if Barney will see it that way," Baxter worried. "He's still so new to trying to live honestly. If the test doesn't go well, it may take down some of his confidence."

"I would be happy to speak with him, if he is troubled," Splinter said.

Baxter smiled. "I'm sure he would appreciate that."

"So how're things at Channel 6?" Michelangelo asked now. "Especially with ol' Vernon?"

"Vernon is coming along very nicely," Baxter said. "He's been a little stressed with the added pressure, but he's warmed up to it well. He's still afraid of dangerous things, but he's also still improving his manner with April and Irma. It's a refreshing change for them, and for Vernon too, really."

Michelangelo's eyes gleamed. "So are we finally on a first-name basis?!"

Baxter paused, blinking in surprise. "Sometimes I find myself doing that lately. . . ."

"That's radical, Dude!" Michelangelo grinned. "Do they reciprocate?"

Baxter regarded his friend in amusement. He couldn't help thinking how Barney would marvel at surfer slang and large words in the same sentence. "Occasionally," he said. "April is the most likely to, while Irma is the least likely. Vernon is somewhere in the middle."

"So there wasn't any big thing that happened?" Raphael said. "It just . . . started?"

"It seems so," Baxter said. "I can't think of any momentous occasion, at least. Although I believe the first time I said it with Vernon was after Rocksteady hit him and he wasn't feeling well."

"Gnarly notion," said Michelangelo.

"I didn't even realize it until after the fact," Baxter said. "It just slipped out. Then that opened the door and I seemed to start sometimes calling the girls by their first names too."

"That's great," Leonardo smiled. "It means you're growing closer to your friends at Channel 6 and they to you."

Baxter nodded. "I like it," he agreed. "I felt so awkward to think of doing it at first, but by now it really does feel more . . . natural. . . ."

"Who knows," Raphael shrugged. "Maybe they kept saying 'Dr. Stockman' because they felt awkward to switch until you did."

"That's possible," Baxter said.

He blinked in surprise as his phone beeped with an incoming email. "Excuse me a minute," he said, and pulled it out to look at it. He had never wanted to be one of those people who checked the phone while spending time with others, but more than once lately he had missed a message coming through when it had been important. He didn't want to make that mistake again.

"Like, what is it?" Michelangelo asked in concern, seeing Baxter's expression shift to confusion and distress.

"It's . . . vague," Baxter frowned. "Barney says that he has reason to believe that Pinky McFingers may try to kidnap me and that once we're done here, he and Vincent will take me back to their place for the night. He'll explain more then."

"Mondo bizarro," Michelangelo proclaimed. "What would Pinky McFingers want with you, Bud?"

"I can't imagine, unless Barney is worried that Pinky may try to force me to work for him," Baxter said.

"I wouldn't put it past that sleaze, that's for sure," Raphael growled.

"Perhaps," Splinter said. "But things are not always as they seem. Instead of imagining up possibilities, we had best wait to hear what Barney has to say."

Baxter silently agreed and typed an "Okay" message to Barney before slipping the phone in his pocket. But he couldn't quite get his mind to settle down and stop going over the possibilities. It was all very mysterious indeed, and fairly unsettling. Baxter didn't look forward to the prospect of dealing with Pinky McFingers at all. And he had to wonder what sort of contact Barney had had with the gangster to come to such a conclusion that Baxter was in danger.

Suddenly his eyes widened. "Oh!" He looked to his friends in shaken distress. "I wonder if Pinky McFingers approached Barney and wanted Barney to work for him again. If Barney said No, maybe McFingers would think that he could force me to work for him instead!"

Everyone looked back.

"Yeah, maybe," Raphael said. "But would Barney say No? He said that he had either outright lived dishonestly or at least had dishonest thoughts for most of his life. If McFingers came to him with a tempting offer, would he really turn it down?" He looked to Splinter. "You said yourself that a leopard doesn't change its spots, Sensei."

Splinter looked both stunned and awkward to be put on the spot. "Well, yes, but that doesn't always apply to people. . . . "

Baxter looked at Raphael with hurt in his eyes. "Raphael, why are you always so determined to think poorly of him? He's trying so hard to be good. He even tried to protect you and quite possibly saved your life!"

"Not to mention nearly getting killed for it," Michelangelo added. "We still don't know how bad he was hurt!"

Leonardo nodded. "Barney has proven himself to be a valuable friend and ally. If I had any lingering doubts about him, I didn't after he saved you, Raphael."

"Me either," Donatello said. "And you know I'm a lot more skeptical of humans in general."

Raphael glared at the table. "But saving me isn't the same as saving one of you," he muttered. "Especially Michelangelo."

"It's still risking his life for somebody," Michelangelo frowned. "Like, does it really matter which one of us it is?"

"To me, yeah, it does," Raphael shot back.

"Well, alright then. What about him tackling me out of the way when Vincent went completely gonzo and started blasting at everyone?" Michelangelo countered.

"That made a difference," Raphael said. "It went a long way in helping me feel a lot better about him."

"But still no soap, huh?" Michelangelo sighed. "Raphael, it's gonna keep being this way. He's gonna keep helping us because he's one of the good guys now. Sooner or latter, you're gonna have to accept that there's no strings attached, no other shoe that's gonna drop."

"Or like Baxter just said, he's trying to be one of the good guys," Raphael shot back. "Well, maybe he'll fail. You know that with, say, an alcoholic, you don't just plop temptation in front of them where they might give in and go back to the bottle. Well, Barney was addicted to crime. You put that temptation in front of him again and who knows what would happen!"

"I wouldn't exactly say that," Baxter frowned. "Barney always said he didn't care what he had to do to get ahead. But he admitted recently that he did care, that his conscience always bothered him when he did something he knew was wrong. He wants to be good, Raphael. And I won't stop believing in him!"

"Yeah, well, I just hope you're not being naive again," Raphael retorted. "You always loved him, even when he didn't deserve it!" He threw down the checkered napkin and got up from the table.

"Raphael!" Splinter sternly called after him.

"Yeah, I know I'm just being the heavy again," Raphael said over his shoulder. "But I just don't want Baxter to get hurt!"

"Like, you're hurting him, Dude," Michelangelo said in frustration. Baxter was staring after Raphael, looking stricken.

"Sometimes life hurts. You've gotta know that it's coming," Raphael said before storming out of the kitchen.

Baxter leaned forward and rested his elbows on the table while digging his fingers into his hair. "Raphael is right," he said quietly. "I suppose I am being naive to trust that Barney will succeed in what he's trying to do. I know he sincerely wants it, but I also know that he has worried himself over whether he'll be able to stick with it."

Michelangelo put an arm around Baxter's shoulders. "Honestly, Baxter, I think what Barney needs right now, maybe more than anything else, is for people to believe in him and love him. You're doing the right thing to give him that trust and love." He hugged his friend. "I'm sure it'll make all the difference in the end."

Baxter tried to smile. "I hope you're right, Michelangelo. I know I don't have any intention of stopping."

"And that's the way it should be," Michelangelo declared. "Heck, if we only loved people when they 'deserved' it, it wouldn't mean much, would it?"

Baxter smiled a bit more. "You make an excellent point, my friend." Michelangelo often surprised him with his insight. This was definitely another of those times. And it was certainly something Baxter agreed with.

"Raphael is worried for you, Baxter, but he should have taken more care with his choice of words," Splinter said. "I will speak with him."

"He can't help how he feels," Baxter said wearily.

"But he and Barney are similar with how they display some of their emotions," Splinter said. "Barney uses anger and frustration to mask many of his true feelings. Raphael may be doing the same thing. I would like to know so I might counsel him."

"Then you should do that," Baxter said. "I just wouldn't want you going to the trouble just on my account. I understand Raphael is worried about me."

"And most likely frustrated with himself that he still has issues with Barney," Splinter said. "He may be saying these things about him to try to justify his feelings in his mind."

"That sounds like Raphael," Leonardo admitted.

Michelangelo sighed. "I just wish we could be one big happy family, you know? All of us, Barney and Vincent, and April and Irma. Heck, maybe even Vernon, if he's coming to like us too."

"Unfortunately, I don't know if he would ever join us," Donatello said. "But Barney and Vincent are definitely trying to."

Baxter nodded. "I long for us to all be united as well. I still hope it's possible. But I don't know what it would take for Raphael to finally be able to let go of his angry feelings towards Barney."

"Do any of us?" Michelangelo frowned.

No one had an answer.

xxxx

Barney seemed both quiet and tense when he and Vincent picked Baxter up. Uneasy, Baxter looked from one to the other as they drove. "What's this all about?" he asked.

"Well, right now it's just a possibility," Vincent said.

"A very plausible possibility," Barney growled. He stared ahead as he drove. "Pinky McFingers came to see me today. He had the gall to come right into our classroom!"

"What did he want?" Baxter wondered.

"For me to go back to his employ, naturally," Barney grunted. "I turned him down, but he threatened me. I'm afraid he might kidnap you to force my hand."

Baxter's eyes widened. "I wouldn't put it past him," he exclaimed. "I thought maybe he would want to kidnap me to force me to work for him."

In the past Barney might have snarled that Baxter was certainly arrogant to believe that about himself. Now he just frowned. "I didn't think of that. That's possible too, actually."

Baxter didn't answer. Instead he focused on the rest of what Barney had previously said. He started to smile. "You really turned him down, Barney? Weren't you tempted at all?"

"Oh, I was tempted," Barney retorted. "I still am. But I couldn't say Yes. I don't want to go back to prison again."

"Of course not," Baxter said.

Silence hung over the car for a long moment. Finally, sighing in resignation, Barney added, "And I didn't want to destroy the trust you and Vincent have in me."

Vincent was pleased. Baxter smiled more. "That's wonderful, Barney. I'm very moved."

Barney shrugged. "Living honestly is hard, just as I knew it would be. I'm even frustrated with it at the moment. But I'm not ready to give up on it yet. Living dishonestly isn't always easy."

"Especially when you have to do things you don't really like deep down," Vincent said.

"Exactly," Barney grunted.

"You can't protect me forever, though," Baxter said. "We both have jobs, which we sorely need to keep."

"I know," Barney growled. "And he might strike when we least suspect it. But I have to do what I can."

"And that means the world to me," Baxter said softly.

"I don't want you to suffer any more for my mistakes than you already have," Barney said.

He was silent for most of the rest of the drive. Baxter and Vincent talked, and tried to engage Barney in conversation, but he had slipped into one of his contemplative modes. Vincent decided it was best to leave him be for the moment; when he went into those states, he didn't generally speak unless he and Vincent were alone.

When they got back to the house, Vincent offered to take Baxter into the laboratory to look around. Grateful for Vincent's thoughtfulness, Barney sighed and slipped into his home office, sinking down at his desk.

He had been there when Pinky McFingers had first come to him with the offer to build something for him that would enable him to clean out the city without risking a murder charge. Barney had been easily tempted in those days; despite his honest work, he wasn't getting very far in his quest to be well-recognized and he told himself he didn't care if he worked for a known criminal. Designing the Gagamagnifier had called on his skills as a neuropsychologist; he knew how the brain worked and what to do to make it find things funnier than it ordinarily would. And he liked that it was relatively harmless. The city would laugh itself silly while it was being robbed blind, but once switched off, there wouldn't be any ill aftereffects.

He laced his fingers and leaned forward, propping himself on them. There were many ways to hurt people. They hadn't been physically harmed, no, but being robbed wasn't any picnic. He and Baxter had never been physically abused in their childhoods, either, but their parents had most assuredly hurt them both.

He hated that part of him was still tempted by Pinky's offer. He was supposed to be good. He had known he might not have much luck succeeding with that, but he had been trying so hard. He hadn't been inclined to travel a criminal path until Pinky had brought it up today. He had hoped that maybe, just maybe, he had gotten past those feelings. That was foolish, he thought now. No matter how much he wanted to listen to his conscience, it didn't take away years of going through with shady and underhanded and later, criminal acts. How did he fully throw something like that off?

Was it really just as simple as love? He scoffed. It sounded inane. But if his desire to not let Baxter and Vincent down was stronger than his desire to give in, maybe it would actually work.

And of course he abhorred the thought of prison. He should have gone back there after everything he had done, but Baxter's handling of things after Barney's sacrifice at the Dansing Building had ensured that Barney wouldn't have to. Barney didn't want to make all of that be in vain.

He involuntarily shuddered. He tried not to think about it much, but prison had been awful. He certainly hadn't been respected by the other prisoners, and his bad temper had gotten the better of him whenever any of them had called him Baxter. They had probably done it on purpose, just trying to get a rise out of him.

He sighed and slumped down, resting his forehead on his outstretched arm. "Who am I?" he whispered to the room. "Who is Barney Stockman? I stopped knowing long ago. Today I said I was better than to work for Pinky again, but am I? I'm still tempted. I can't see myself going through with it, but . . . to still be tempted . . ."

"Everyone is tempted by something wrong," Baxter said softly from the doorway. "Even Jesus."

Barney jumped a mile. "But He never would have got Himself into a mess like this in the first place," he grunted. "I thought you were looking at the laboratory."

"We did." Baxter came into the room, followed by Vincent.

"I knew you were probably thinking about today and what it meant for you," Vincent said. He perched on the edge of the desk.

Barney looked up at him in bemusement. "I was," he agreed.

"I went through the same questions when I was turned human again," Baxter said. "I couldn't figure out who or what I was for a long time. Pathetically weak? A kicked puppy? A victim?"

"And what did you decide?" Barney wondered.

"I'm a little of all of those," Baxter said, "but so much more, both good and bad." There wasn't another chair in the room, so he sat on the windowsill behind the chair.

Barney looked back at him and glared. "That's not safe."

"We're on the ground floor," Baxter chuckled.

"If you want to sit, take the chair," Barney insisted, standing and pushing it towards Baxter. "I'll just copy Vincent." He leaned on the desk, folding his arms.

Baxter relented and went to the chair.

"How long did it take you to sort out who you are?" Barney asked.

"Sometimes I'm still trying to figure it out," Baxter said honestly. "I think most people ponder on that question all of their lives."

Barney shook his head. "You usually seem like you have it together so well. You've found so much peace in the last few months."

"I have," Baxter said. "And you're right, I've found a certain peace with myself specifically . . . although I still abhor what I did wrong in the past. I doubt I'll ever feel differently about that."

"I know you said before when I asked that it hasn't been as easy for you to redeem yourself as it seems," Barney remarked. "You mentioned all the people you'd hurt that you were still trying to make things up to. But despite all the years of sorrow and pain that turned you bitter and unstable, you haven't seemed to have much trouble with those darker parts of yourself."

"Part of that was the love that was finally shown to me by the Turtles and Splinter after I was turned human again," Baxter said. "Part of it was finally learning that you love me. And the other part . . ." He gazed off into the distance, looking thoughtful. "That was because I had new purposes to put my life towards. April O'Neil arranged for me to obtain my job at Channel 6. And once I realized you love me and how deeply you'd gotten in over your head with Shredder and Krang, I knew I had to save you if it was at all possible. I couldn't let you suffer as I'd suffered."

"So basically you're saying that saving me was part of your redemption?" Barney raised an eyebrow.

"If you want to put it that way, yes," Baxter said softly. "I finally had light in my life. I couldn't leave you to wallow in the darkness. And in trying to save you and learning more and more about who you really were, I believe I was changed even more."

Vincent smiled. "And in trying to save you, he got into your heart, Barney," he said. "You changed too."

"I can't deny that," Barney acknowledged, humbled.

"With Vernon as well," Baxter mused. "I was very arrogant and disgusted with him when we first met. But then I started to see something in him that no one else did. Everyone thought he was so weak and worthless, yet I realized that he had to be stronger than they thought or he would have broken down ages ago. I didn't want to see someone else treated as I'd been treated most of my life. I had to do what I could to help him find his worth . . . and to let others see it."

"And you did, Pal," Vincent said with pride. "You've changed his life. And he in turn has been helpful and valuable on several cases. He's truly friends with April and Irma now, as well as with you."

"So there wasn't ever one single event that redeemed you," Barney realized. "It was an ongoing process."

"It always is," Baxter said. "There's always room for improvement, no matter who you are."

"Then that is likely how it will be for me as well," Barney said. "Always more to learn, to do . . ." He frowned. "But I doubt I could ever be like you, Brother, actually finding someone else to save. I have enough to worry about trying to save myself."

"That's exactly how I felt at first," Baxter said. "Barney, don't you see? That's the whole point. It's in helping others that we find how to help ourselves. I know, you feel that I'm kinder than you, so naturally that works for me. But I didn't see it that way. And I certainly wasn't deliberately trying to find redemption by being helpful. I just wanted to save my brother. Then I wanted to help someone who was being treated as I was. Along the way, I also wanted to help the friends I'd made. It's the same thing for you-you won't set out trying to find someone who needs help, but a situation will find you. Just as it has many times already. You've helped so many times and in so many ways. And honestly, Barney, that has also been what has brought you to this point, not just Vincent and I."

"I didn't think of it like that," Barney said.

"That's true, though," Vincent said. "The more you fought against Shredder and Krang, the more you healed. You really know the principles Baxter is talking about, even though you didn't know you knew them." He smiled. "And you must have found some peace with yourself, Buddy, or you couldn't have told McFingers that you're better than to work for him."

"I'm still stunned that I actually said that," Barney said flatly.

"I'm not," Baxter said, getting out of the chair. "Barney, it's true. You were always better than that. You just couldn't believe it before."

"Can I believe it now, even when part of me likes his offer?" Barney retorted.

Baxter gripped Barney's shoulders. "Yes," he said with finality. "Because now you're acknowledging that it's only part of you that wants it, instead of insisting that you want it whole-heartedly. You know that the other part of you wants to be good."

"But will that part win?" Barney said quietly.

"Only you can answer that, Barney," Vincent said. "But we both believe it."

Baxter nodded. "We believe that . . . and in you." He stepped back.

"And I don't want to let you down," Barney said.

"And that's good," Vincent smiled. "Maybe eventually, you will get to where you don't want to let yourself down either."

"I feel that way somewhat," Barney mused. "Maybe that's why I said I was better than that."

"I think so," Baxter said.

"But I might keep being tempted anyway," Barney said.

"That's alright too," Vincent said. "As Baxter says, no one is exempt from temptation."

Barney sighed. "Just as long as I'm strong enough to resist. I know you both feel I am, but I'm not that confident."

"Then lean on our feelings for a while," Baxter said softly. "Just until you're able to be that confident on your own."

Barney slowly nodded. "I guess that's all I can do for now. Thank you." He looked from Baxter to Vincent. "Both of you."

"You don't have to thank us for caring," Vincent said.

"You both made a conscious decision to do so," Barney said. "Baxter could have turned against me so many times, but he didn't. And you could have remained so repulsed by me as to have refused to make friends with me."

"I was selfish, Barney," Vincent said. "I was so lonely and I couldn't bear to think of going through that again, especially after being with someone again and really meaning something to someone for the first time in my life. I was so desperate for companionship that I was willing to try to be friends with you."

"You could have decided to talk to Krang or Shredder or Bebop or Rocksteady," Barney said. "You didn't want anything to do with them because they treated Baxter rotten without remorse. You told me that because I tried to save his life after making the abominable mistake of hitting him, you were willing to be friends with me."

"I did say that, didn't I," Vincent mused.

"In spite of your loneliness, you weren't willing to do anything that could hurt Baxter or support those who hated him," Barney said.

"I'm so sorry you were left alone again, Vincent," Baxter said quietly. "I have vague memories of that time. I wasn't too upset about the console being blown up at first because I thought you were still with me on that portable computer." Tears glistened in his eyes but didn't fall. "It was only after I was trapped in that dimensional limbo again that I opened it and saw that . . . that you weren't there."

"I was only controlling the portable computer remotely," Vincent said. "When the console blew up, my control was broken. And I was too dazed and hurt to call out to you before you left."

"When I saw you weren't there, I remembered that and I was sure you were dead." Baxter sounded far-away now. "And I lost whatever remaining hope I had. The fly gleefully took over what was left of me." He came back to the present and his eyes were filled with guilt. "Vincent, I doubt I will ever get over how I doubted you when I was restored to sanity. You were there for me in every way you could be, and I said that 'no one' had been there for me!"

"You don't remember much about that time, Baxter," Vincent told him. "Back then you remembered even less. I was still a vague memory, a dream, something you weren't even sure was the way you remembered in your fly-tortured mind."

Baxter nodded. "Even as I started to reconnect with you after discovering you were alive and as I remembered, I don't think I really, fully grasped it until you were with me again when we thought Barney was dead." He shuddered and looked to Barney before continuing. "Actually being with you again brought so many more memories to the surface. I remembered how you took care of me and talked to me. I remember thinking back then that you were . . . more like a brother to me than my brother." Again he looked to Barney, renewed guilt in his eyes.

Barney looked shamed but said, "Vincent was like my brother too. Is it any wonder that he was instrumental in finally bringing us together?"

"It's not a wonder at all," Baxter said fondly. He sighed. "Sometimes I wish I remembered more about the early times we had together."

"I'm just happy that you remembered you loved me, Pal," Vincent said softly. "That's the most important thing to me. Sometimes I do wish you remembered more of our specific times together when it was just the two of us, but at the same time, I don't want you to remember more about a time in your life that was so horrible. You remember the feelings and that's enough."

"I'm glad I remember that much," Baxter said.

"And whether it's necessary or not, I still thank you both for caring," Barney said. "It would have been so easy not to, especially when my personality made me so difficult to love. The fact that I've been able to salvage my life at all is because neither of you gave up on me. You gave me the strength and desire to try."

"You still chose to have that desire, Buddy," Vincent said. "You could have locked it away again, like you did with your conscience over and over. Instead, you wanted to embrace it. Maybe partially because of us, true, but also because you were finally fed-up with Shredder and Krang to the point of feeling that you had to stop working for them and try to live honestly. Let's say we've helped each other and leave it at that."

"Alright," Barney said with a bit of a wry smile.

Baxter looked from him to Vincent. "By the way, you never did answer my question about the test today. I'm guessing it didn't go well?"

"That's a good guess," Barney grunted, "and part of why I've been frustrated with trying to live honestly today. Pinky McFingers picked a good time to come calling."

"Only you still said No," Baxter smiled.

"Yes," Barney agreed. "I still did."

"McFingers isn't convinced yet," Vincent said, "but we'll make sure he gets convinced."

"I hope so," Baxter said. "And I hope it won't take a lot of heartache and pain to do it."

"I'm sure it won't be easy," Barney said. "Pinky McFingers is a stubborn and dangerous man."

"We can be stubborn too," Vincent said. "Especially now that we're a family. McFingers has never tangled with the likes of us before. He won't know what hit him."

Baxter looked on. Part of him found it strange to think of himself as stubborn, since he had folded so many times under pressure and abuse. But he had kept pressing on instead of giving up on life altogether, so perhaps in that way he was stubborn. And he had never turned against Barney when he certainly could have on so many different occasions. His love had been stubborn too.

Barney glanced to him. "What's on your mind, Brother?" he asked.

"I was just pondering on whether I agree with Vincent," Baxter said. "I wasn't sure that I did, where I'm concerned anyway."

"And now?" Vincent prompted. He had definitely picked up on the past tense in Baxter's words.

"Now I think I do," Baxter said. "Yes, we're all stubborn. Especially when we're defending a loved one."

Vincent smiled. "Exactly what I was thinking, old pal."

"Oh, and I need to call Michelangelo," Baxter remembered. "He'll be waiting to hear from me about what you said, Barney. We were all speculating on it after your message came through." He paused. "You don't mind if I tell him, do you?"

"No," Barney shrugged. "Just don't expect it to make a difference with Raphael."

"I can't speak for Michelangelo, but I won't expect that," Baxter said.

xxxx

As Baxter had known, Michelangelo was thrilled to get the call. When he hung up, he turned and looked at Raphael, who had come in and was regarding him with curiosity. "Did you hear any of that, Dude?" he asked.

"I think I caught something of it," Raphael said.

"Barney was approached by Pinky McFingers and he turned him down!" Michelangelo grinned. "I told you!"

Raphael admittedly looked surprised, but still uncertain. "That's . . . that's amazing," he said. "I'm impressed. I didn't expect that of him. But what's he going to do if McFingers keeps pressing? If he kidnaps Baxter or Vincent, what will Barney do then?"

"I don't know, but here's a question for you," Michelangelo returned. "What would you do if it was you in that kind of situation?"

"What?!" Raphael exclaimed.

"Well, just think about it, Raphael," Michelangelo said. "Suppose somebody took me or Leonardo or Donatello to try to force your hand. What would you do?"

Raphael opened his mouth, then closed it again. "I don't know," he said in chagrin. "And I don't want to think about it."

"I'm just saying, if Barney did give in under those circumstances, would he really be so awful?" Michelangelo said quietly.

Raphael looked away. "I can't answer that either," he said gruffly. "But let's just try to keep a close watch on Baxter and Vincent so they won't get nabbed."

"Sounds like a plan to me, Bud," Michelangelo declared.

xxxx

The night passed in relative peace for everyone. Morning found Baxter frowning to himself as he ran a brush through his scarcely tameable hair. He was worried; Barney's concerns certainly had merit. What if Pinky McFingers struck while Baxter was on his way to work? It would be fairly easy to abduct him then.

Barney had similar thoughts. "We'll drop you off at Channel 6 on our way to the university for the morning class," he said gruffly as he leaned into the bedroom.

"You don't have to do that," Baxter said.

"Actually, we do," Barney said flatly, "considering that you don't have your car here."

Baxter chuckled and shook his head. "Alright."

xxxx

As it was a fairly pleasant day, Michelangelo decided to go topside and take a walk. Maybe, he thought, he would let his walk take him to Channel 6 to make sure everything was okay with Baxter.

He certainly wasn't expecting any trouble. When two familiar thugs stepped out of an alley and into his path about halfway to Channel 6, he was both surprised and annoyed. "Hey, what are you creepolas doing out of the slammer?" he frowned.

"Eh, we just thought we'd go a round or two with you," the first one leered.

"You know, to pay you back for the times you and your pals have stopped the Boss from going through with his plans," said the second.

"This wouldn't have anything to do with your boss trying to get Barney to work for him again, would it?" Michelangelo retorted while reaching for the nunchucks in his belt.

"Maybe," said the first.

They lunged at the same time. Michelangelo leaped in the air and kicked them both back. When they crashed to the ground and tried to fire at him, he whipped their guns out of their hands courtesy of his nunchucks.

"There!" he exclaimed. "Now what do you say about that, rude dudes?!"

He wasn't expecting a third party to come up from behind and suddenly fire a bizarre and painful beam that surrounded him and bound him in place. He froze against his will, a scream of pain catching in his throat. "What . . . what the heck is this?!" he gasped. He could feel his very energy being drained from his body. When the beam faded, standing was impossible. He crashed to the ground on his plastron, unable to do a thing to brace himself.

"This?" sneered Pinky McFingers from above him. "This is just a little something I call an Energy-Zapper."

Michelangelo struggled to look up at him. "Why?" he choked out. Even saying that much was an extreme effort. It was worse than the times he and the other Turtles had been weakened by Muckman and Joe Eyeball! He was surprised he even had enough energy to breathe.

"Why?" Pinky retorted. "You're gonna be the bait to lure my scientist back into my employ. I need him."

"But . . ." Michelangelo gasped as Pinky's thugs dragged him up on either side. His thoughts were racing in bewildered disbelief. Why me?! Why not Baxter or Vincent?! They're the ones Barney loves. . . .

"You're surprised I picked you, eh?" Pinky bent down to look into Michelangelo's bleary eyes. "It'll solve two problems at once. It'll bring the Professor back and it'll get rid of one of the most annoying thorns in my side." He straightened. "Throw him in the trunk."

"Right, Boss."

Michelangelo wanted to fight against Pinky's thugs when they lifted him and started to carry him to the limousine. He tried to fight against them. But his energy had been so severely depleted that the most he could do was to raise his left hand by about six inches. He fell hard and mercilessly into the trunk and the lid was slammed on him, plunging him into darkness.

No, he screamed in silence. You can't use me against Barney. You can't! . . . Because he really might give in to save me.

xxxx

Barney and Vincent had arrived at the university and were readying the classroom for the morning class when a confused secretary appeared in the doorway. "Um, excuse me, Dr. Stockman? There's a man to see you in the lobby," she said.

"What?" Barney frowned. "We're teaching in ten minutes!"

"He said it was urgent," she told him. "And he said for you to come alone. He was very insistent on that."

Vincent stepped forward. "I don't like it, Buddy," he worried.

"I don't either," Barney mused. "Tell you what. Stay out of sight, but get close enough that you can hear the conversation. Depending on what's said, act accordingly." He looked to the secretary. "And depending on what's said, we might have to cancel the class for today."

Her eyes widened. "But why?"

"I don't know," Barney growled. He stepped into the hall and headed for the lobby.

Vincent followed him at a safe distance and slipped into the nearest classroom to the lobby, relieved that it was empty. He went to the wall to listen through it.

"I was afraid it was you," came Barney's voice. Dark, cold.

"I told you I wasn't about to give up, Professor." Pinky McFingers-sneering, confident.

"What have you done?!" Barney's voice was starting to rise. He still wasn't very good at controlling his temper, especially in a situation like this.

"Recognize this?"

Vincent wished he had X-Ray vision right then.

"It's . . . one of Michelangelo's wrist bands," Barney said in surprised disbelief. "You took Michelangelo?!" Now the anger was starting to slip into his voice.

"Quiet down, Professor," Pinky scolded. "We don't want the whole campus to hear, do we?"

Vincent could just imagine Barney's smoldering look. "I suppose you want me to come with you."

"That's right! The limo is right outside." The sound of a door opening. "Come now and you can see him. No telling your computer brother or anything like that."

"Fine," Barney snapped.

The door slammed shut and the voices were muffled. Vincent turned away, the lights on the laptop rapidly flashing. Barney had told him to act accordingly, but what should he do? Send a frantic email to Baxter? Follow them?

He ran out of the room and over to the doors. Barney was just getting into the limousine. Vincent pressed himself against the wall, writing out the email to Baxter as he waited for it to drive past. When it did, he rushed outside and over to the Cadillac. Tapping out the code on the number pad got him inside, and from there he was able to take control of the car's computer to start the vehicle. "Hot-wiring for the 21st century," he smirked, pealing out of the parking space.

Two women getting out of a cab shrieked. "That computer is driving a car!" one of them yelped.

Vincent glanced over at them. "Computers control cars anyway," he retorted. "Is it really so strange to see one behind the wheel? Especially in the age of self-driving cars?"

The second woman fainted.

The cabbie shook his head. "So a talking computer's driving a car. Big deal." He rolled his eyes. "Tourists."