Baxter was typing on the computer in his office, his fingers flying over the keys, when the phone beeped with an arriving message. He grabbed it and clicked. All color drained from his face.

Baxter, Pinky McFingers kidnapped Michelangelo! He forced Barney to go with him. They're probably going to McFingers' hideout. I'm following them.

Baxter immediately typed a swift reply.

Vincent, be careful! I'll call the Turtles and go with them. They know where it is.

Baxter

As soon as he hit Send, he grabbed the Turtle-Comm and opened it. "Come in, Turtles!" he called, frantic.

"Baxter, what's wrong?" Donatello exclaimed.

"Pinky McFingers abducted Michelangelo!" Baxter cried.

"WHAT?!" Donatello gasped. "Why would he choose Michelangelo?!"

"I don't know!" Baxter said in anguish. "Vincent just told me about it. McFingers made Barney go with him, probably to his hideout. You know where it is, don't you?"

"We sure do," Donatello said. "I'll get the others and we'll leave right away. April's been there too."

"She has?!" Baxter looked towards the doorway. April would most certainly want to come along. Baxter didn't like to outright encourage it by asking her to come with him now, but then they would get there ahead of the Turtles. Who knew what was going on up there! Time was of the essence.

As if sensing Baxter's thoughts, Donatello said, "Don't try going up with her alone. We'll be there before long and pick you both up."

"Alright," Baxter stammered. He didn't bother to say hurry. Of course they would probably break the speed limits to get there fast.

His heart was racing as he hung up. None of them had ever once imagined that McFingers would choose to kidnap a Turtle to force Barney's hand. And of all the Turtles, he had to choose Michelangelo. Of course, it was probably just because Michelangelo had been the one they had found out walking, but it still made Baxter sick with fear. He cared about all the Turtles, but Michelangelo was his closest friend among them. And Michelangelo still had so much faith in people, just as Baxter had years ago. He didn't deserve to be used as a pawn for people's cruelty like this!

And what of Barney in this treacherous scenario? Both Vincent and Baxter suspected that Barney had truly started to care about the Turtles, including Michelangelo. To save him, would he really give in and work for Pinky McFingers?

It was certainly possible.

Baxter clasped and unclasped his hands and whispered a desperate prayer. This seemed an impossible situation. And if McFingers truly won, all of them would lose. Especially Barney.

He got up to find April.

xxxx

Barney wasn't given any information on the drive out of the city and up the steep mountain to Pinky McFingers' mansion. He glowered out the window; he recognized their path all too well. He remembered the last time he had made this journey, how he been so full of greed and anger and hatred and had only cared about making an important invention, no matter who wanted it. On the way back down, he had been in handcuffs. He had dug himself in too deep and that had been his just punishment. But his bitterness had only increased, from there to prison and out again into another mess. Only Vincent had finally managed to cool that raging fury.

"Brings back memories, don't it, Professor?" Pinky cut into his thoughts.

"Bad ones," Barney said.

"Oh, now, we had some good times together, didn't we?" Pinky smirked. "I remember how excited you were about your Gagamagnifier. I put up with all of your quirks and temper tantrums to see it get done. And it was everything you said it'd be."

"You've abducted an innocent party and you expect me to sit here reminiscing with you?" Barney snapped.

"What else is there to do on the drive?" Pinky returned.

"Why not tell me what's so pressing?" Barney folded his arms.

"In due time," Pinky said. "We're almost there."

Once the limousine pulled up at the mansion, Pinky got out first and gestured for Barney to follow him. "Come on, Professor. This way." He headed for the front door.

Barney trailed after him and inside, once the door was unlocked. "Where's Michelangelo?" he demanded.

"We're going to see him now." Pinky opened the door leading into the basement. "Come on."

Barney followed him down the stone steps and towards the underground laboratory. There were three ways in and out, he recalled: the door from the basement, one from the outside, and a trapdoor leading to a slippery slide inside the mountain that came out at the bottom. The latter was an escape measure that Pinky had rarely, if ever, had the chance to actually use.

At the same moment Pinky opened the door from the basement, Barney saw the outside door open on the other side of the laboratory. He could only stop and stare in shocked anger as Pinky's thugs carried an extremely limp Michelangelo inside and deposited him cruelly on the floor.

"What have you done to him?!" Barney roared.

"This." Pinky took out a strange ray gun from inside his coat. "This is the Energy-Zapper. We've been using it to pull heists all over the city. I'm sure you've heard about them."

Barney's eyes flashed. "The innocent victims of those heists were badly hurt," he snapped. "If any more of their energy had been drained, they would have been dead!"

"I'm glad to see you're up on things, Professor." Pinky pointed the gun at Michelangelo. "I got this gun from another source. He's gonna want it back. I want you to analyze and duplicate it so we'll have one after that happens. And if you don't do it, I'm going to give the Turtle here a second dose. Like you said, if he loses any more of his energy, it'll be fatal. He won't even be able to breathe."

Barney was practically shaking with anger. He looked from Pinky and the gun to Michelangelo, who was semi-conscious and struggling to speak.

"No," he rasped. "Don't . . . don't do it. . . ."

Barney clenched his fists. He couldn't let Michelangelo be killed. But he didn't want to throw his life away either. Oh, Baxter and Vincent would understand if he gave in to save Michelangelo. But . . . how could he trust anything this gangster told him?

"Michelangelo is dead either way," he said at last. "You won't let him go; the Turtles have been too detrimental to your purposes. Once I've done as you want, you'll kill him anyway. Then you'll find another way to keep me on a string, maybe by threatening to reveal that I worked for you again."

"You're smart," Pinky observed. "You always were. Unfortunately, this time it's not good for you."

"I won't work for you again," Barney said. "But I won't let you murder Michelangelo either."

"You can't do anything to stop me." Pinky held out the gun and started to pull the trigger.

Barney lunged, grabbing Pinky's arm and pushing it upward. The gun fired harmlessly into the air. Before Pinky could recover, Barney ran over to the console and pulled a lever. A hole started to open in the floor under Michelangelo. "I'm sorry, Michelangelo," he said, looking into the Turtle's stunned eyes for a split-second before he disappeared through the trapdoor. "I'm afraid you'll end up a little bruised from the journey. But you'll be alive," he whispered as the trapdoor closed.

Something hard came down on the back of his head. Stars swirled in his vision for a brief moment, along with one dark thought. Poetic justice. Then he collapsed and knew no more.

Pinky stood over him, gun in hand. "Sorry, Professor," he said, the hatred strong in his voice. "You've just outlived your usefulness. I'll buy some more brains. There's always more that can be bought when one of them goes soft. As for you . . ." He brought the gun down hard on Barney's lifeless body, beating him once, twice . . .

The door flew open. "Leave my brother alone."

The thugs shrieked. "What is it?!" yelped the first.

"It's a computer with arms and legs!" wailed the second.

"It's a computer wearing clothes!" said the first.

They ran around wildly, their arms in the air.

Pinky pulled on his hat. "Stop acting like idiots!" He turned to face Vincent. "You're gonna join your brother . . . in death." He pulled the trigger.

Vincent wasn't able to dive out of the way, but he didn't look afraid. He stood there, his hands on his hips, as the blast ricocheted off his chest and back at Pinky. The gangster roared in pain as he collapsed to the floor.

"Why?" Pinky hissed. "Should've worked. . . ."

Vincent walked over and picked up the gun. "The solid energy generator converts my energy into an entirely different form. You can't penetrate it. How ironic, isn't it? Barney's process saved me so I can save him. To quote one of his favorite expressions, you're a fool. And I'll amend that to you're all fools." He aimed the gun at the thugs, who had stopped flailing and were staring at him in horror. Then they were collapsing, their energy drained. Vincent switched off the gun and stuck it through his belt. "I'll just leave all of you here for the police."

Pinky glowered at him, too weakened to do much else.

Vincent knelt beside Barney, his eyes filling with anguish. He didn't know what he was going to find . . . or not find. He was almost afraid to look. But he had to. Gently he turned Barney onto his back.

"Oh Barney," he said softly. "Look what they did to you! If I only could have got here sooner. . . ." He lifted the lifeless body into his arms and stood. "There's no machine to help you this time. I'm so sorry. So sorry. . . ." He turned and walked sadly out the door.

xxxx

The Turtles and Splinter had picked up April and Baxter and were racing towards the mountain and the McFingers mansion. All were tense and upset, but none moreso than Raphael.

"Why the heck would McFingers do this?!" he cried. "Why take a Turtle?! And why Michelangelo?!"

"Obviously he believed that he could achieve his purposes with Michelangelo," Splinter said, his voice strained in his agonized fear.

"If it was Baxter he was after, then sure!" Raphael countered. "But Barney?!"

"Barney must be devastated and furious!" Baxter insisted. "He wouldn't take this lying down!"

"If he's really trying to get away from crime, he wouldn't let this stand in his way," Raphael fumed.

"So now you're worried that Barney will insist on not working for Pinky McFingers, but at the expense of Michelangelo's life?" Baxter frowned. "How would that be living righteously?"

"Raphael, listen to yourself," Donatello spoke up. "I don't think you really believe what you're saying."

"Oh yeah? Then why am I saying it?!" Raphael shot back.

"Because it's the only way you can deal with your worry," Leonardo said quietly.

"That would be pretty lame, if you ask me," Raphael snapped.

"And it wouldn't be 'lame' to actually believe that Barney would do something so twisted and warped as to insist on not falling into crime even knowing someone would be killed if he didn't?!" Baxter's voice rose in his distress and anger.

"Why not?! He always was twisted and warped!" Raphael boomed.

Baxter's eyes flashed. "I love Michelangelo, but I also love my brother. And I refuse to believe that he would allow Michelangelo to die!"

"Then you're an idiot!" Raphael screamed.

"Raphael!" Splinter cut into the argument.

Both Raphael and Baxter looked to him. His voice was stern and angry; he had had enough.

"We are all deeply concerned about Michelangelo," he said. "But we do not know that Barney will allow harm to come to him. We have plenty of evidence to the contrary. We should not fling accusations without proof. And especially, no matter how upset we are, we should not insult our friends."

Raphael flinched, a bit of guilt flashing through his eyes. "I'm sorry, Baxter," he said gruffly. "Sensei's right; I shouldn't have said that to you."

"I suppose it's what you think regardless of if you say it or not," Baxter sighed. He looked and sounded weary and hurt.

"No, I really don't," Raphael said. He looked chagrined; he felt bad now. "I think you're naive, kind of like Michelangelo, but I don't think either of you are idiots." He ran a hand over his face. "Leonardo's right-I'm so worried about him I'm not even thinking about what I'm saying. I'm just blurting stuff out."

Baxter managed a weak smile. "I understand. I'm worried too."

"We're all worried." Leonardo's voice was taut now. As the leader, he was protective of all the Turtles. But when Michelangelo was the most childlike of the group, he naturally felt an even deeper protective sense over him.

Donatello nodded. "No one could take one of us without a fight." He gripped the steering wheel.

"Michelangelo is probably badly hurt," April said softly.

Raphael clenched his teeth. When a Turtle-Comm went off moments later, he was the first to grab it up. "Michelangelo?!" he boomed.

He wasn't prepared for the sight of Michelangelo looking up at him, his eyes half-shut, a bruise on his cheek and another on the top of his head. "Raphael . . . help," he struggled to say. "Barney . . ."

Splinter gasped. "Michelangelo, what is wrong?!"

"What about Barney?!" Raphael demanded. The sight of Michelangelo was sending his anger boiling over once again. "Did he let them do that to you?!"

"Raphael!" Baxter cried, angry and hurt and dismayed all at once. "The reason McFingers took Michelangelo was because he thought he could force Barney's hand and make Barney work for him to save Michelangelo!"

"Well, it doesn't look like it worked, does it?!" Raphael fumed. "Barney must have just wanted to save his own skin! It won't be safe when I catch up to him!"

It looked like a tear slipping from Michelangelo's eye.

Baxter leaned into the Turtle-Comm. "What's wrong, my friend? What happened to you and to Barney?!"

"Can't . . ." Michelangelo choked. "Please . . . don't hurt Barney . . ."

Now Leonardo was leaning into the Turtle-Comm. "Michelangelo, how did you get so beat-up?!"

"Barney," Michelangelo said again. "He . . ." But then his strength was gone and nothing more would come. The Turtle-Comm dropped from his hand.

"Michelangelo!" Splinter cried. It was no use. The Turtle-Comm was not picked up again.

"He's too weak," Baxter whispered in horror. "He can't even lift it. . . ."

Raphael gripped the Turtle-Comm tightly enough it was a miracle it didn't break. "There, you see?!" he snarled. "That's what comes of having faith in people! You all believed in Barney, and believe it or not, I wanted to! I thought he really was different! I thought he'd changed! I couldn't forgive him, and I was worried he might turn against us, but at least I thought that he was our ally!" He slammed his fist into the wall of the Van. "I swear, if he really had anything to do with this, I'll kill him when we catch up to him!"

"Raphael!" Splinter said sternly. "You must get control of yourself!" Even so, his eyes were flashing with worry and fear. What was wrong with Michelangelo? And what part had Barney played in what had happened?

"Raphael, stop it!" Baxter screamed. "Michelangelo can barely speak! You don't know what he's really trying to say! Surely you haven't forgotten what happened the last time you jumped to the conclusion that Barney betrayed us! The truth was the complete opposite of what you were thinking!"

"Michelangelo kept saying 'Barney,' like that was the answer to what we were asking!" Raphael roared. "Barney did that to him! Or he didn't stop it!"

"I don't believe that!" April exclaimed. "Not after everything we've been through together! I'll admit I didn't like Barney at first, but he's more than proved himself! And be honest, Raphael. Do you really think a little man like Barney could beat up a Ninja Turtle?!"

Raphael looked away. "No. . . . But obviously he had something to do with what happened! Michelangelo was even crying! Did you see that?! Barney betrayed him somehow. He must have!"

"Raphael, you're not thinking clearly," Donatello said from the driver's seat.

"You're driving; you didn't see it!" Raphael retorted. "We did!"

"And there could have been a lot of reasons for it," Leonardo said. "That said, there's a lot of questions I want to ask Barney too."

"Michelangelo begged us not to hurt Barney," Baxter said. "Raphael, are you really going to go against his wishes?!"

"Of course Michelangelo would say that!" Raphael shot back. "He's like you, wanting to give Barney chances when you shouldn't! Michelangelo's probably got some crazy notion now that even though Barney betrayed him, he had a good reason for it or something! Well, not this time. There could never be a good reason for this!"

Baxter looked to April in agony. He didn't know what to do. Raphael wouldn't consider other possibilities. Baxter honestly feared what would happen when Raphael and Barney encountered each other.

April laid a hand on his shoulder. "It's going to be alright," she said softly. But her voice trembled. She wasn't sure of that.

They were approaching the bottom of the mountain now. It had only been moments since Michelangelo's call, but it felt more like an eternity. And when Michelangelo came into view, sprawled at the bottom and unable to even move, that was the final straw. Raphael leaped out of the Turtle Van and ran over to the orange-masked Turtle. "So this is how you got so beat-up?!" he cried. "You fell off the mountain?!"

"No," Michelangelo tried to say. "Came . . . out of it. . . ."

"Barney did it, didn't he?!" Raphael boomed. He barely noticed as the others gathered around, horrified at the sight.

"Michelangelo," Splinter breathed in dismay. Gently he laid a hand on the Turtle's head.

"Is he paralyzed?!" April wailed.

Donatello ran his portable X-Ray machine above Michelangelo's body. "No, he isn't," he said in relief. "But . . . it's like all the energy has been drained from him! That's why he can hardly speak!"

"It would have to be some wacky invention that caused that!" Raphael screamed. "Did Barney invent it for McFingers?!"

"No, he didn't!" Baxter screamed back. "Raphael, listen to this logic if you can't believe anything else. McFingers must be the one committing those energy robberies! He had the gun long before today! Barney couldn't have had anything to do with it!"

Raphael seethed as he processed Baxter's words. "Okay, so maybe he didn't invent it," he snapped. "But that doesn't let him off the hook here!"

Baxter felt like wailing in despair. "Michelangelo, please," he begged. "I know it's all but impossible, but you must try to tell us something about what happened." Fear flashed in his eyes. He was afraid for his friend, but at the moment he was even more afraid for his brother. Raphael wanted vengeance. Baxter was terrified that he would direct his vengeance at the wrong person. Barney was not responsible for this! Baxter couldn't prove it, but he refused to believe otherwise.

"He can't tell us anything more." Raphael straightened. "As far as I'm concerned, I know all that I need to. He keeps saying 'Barney'!" He pulled out his grappling hook. "I'm going up this mountain the fast way and I'll find that traitor! Then he'll be sorry! I'll kill him, I swear . . . !"

"Brother, STOP!"

Everyone froze. Michelangelo had gathered every last ounce of strength to rise off the ground and desperately scream at Raphael.

"Michelangelo," Baxter gasped in horror. He reached to catch his friend as he fell helplessly back.

Raphael turned, shaken. "W-What . . . did you call me?" He stared at Michelangelo.

There were tears again. "Barney . . . saved me," Michelangelo sobbed. "Be dead . . . without him. . . ." Then his eyes sank closed and he fell unconscious.

The grappling hook fell from Raphael's hands. The rage was gone, replaced by horror just as intense. "He . . . oh no." His hands shook. "Barney saved Michelangelo's life?"

"Of course he did!" Baxter cried, relieved and angry and distraught and he didn't know what else. He was very torn. He understood Raphael's suspicions and distrust, but that didn't make it any less horrible to have had to listen to Raphael scream about Barney's certain guilt and his determination to make the traitor pay. He hadn't known how to ever protect his brother against a rampaging Ninja Turtle.

He drew a deep breath, looking down at Michelangelo. The boy had given his all to make Raphael understand the truth. He wouldn't want any more disharmony between his loved ones. Baxter had to calm down and focus on what was important now.

Raphael had done a complete 180-degree turn. Now he was inconsolable. "I wouldn't listen," he said in horror. "Baxter was right about the truth being the complete opposite of what I was thinking . . . again. What if I'd found Barney and just lit into him without knowing the truth? What if I'd hurt him? Or . . . or worse?"

"We would have stopped you, Raphael," Leonardo said. "You love Michelangelo and you couldn't bear to think that Barney let him down, especially so horribly."

"That's not an excuse!" Raphael retorted. "All of you believed in him. I should have listened to you even though I couldn't let go of my feelings."

"You needed more than we did," Donatello said. "What he did in the past affected you so much, you just couldn't let it go."

"Until now," Raphael said quietly. "I have to let it go. It's been eating me up inside. Now it could have caused me to do something I could never take back!" He stared up the mountain. "But now . . . what's happened to him?"

Baxter gently passed Michelangelo to Leonardo and Splinter, who were already trying to examine him for the extent of the damage. "We have to find him," he said urgently. "Pinky McFingers may have already hurt him . . . or worse." The fear was still strong in his eyes. "If he could render a Ninja Turtle like this, what could he do to a physically weak man like my brother?"

Raphael grabbed the hook and swung it with all his might. "I'm going to go up there right now and find out," he vowed.

"And I'm coming with you," Baxter insisted.

"We'll take care of Michelangelo and then come with you too," Donatello called. "You might need our help if Barney's still with Pinky McFingers. Master Splinter and April can stay with Michelangelo in the Van."

April gave a shaky nod. "Poor Michelangelo. And poor Barney. What do you think has happened to him?!"

"I don't know, April," Leonardo said as he stood holding Michelangelo. "But I'm afraid it's not good."

xxxx

Raphael didn't speak at first as he scaled the mountain. He was sickened, horrified. He had been so filled with blind rage that he hadn't stopped to think or reason anything out. He had known Barney had been proving himself over and over. It was like Michelangelo had said, this was the way it was going to be now. Barney would keep helping them; he wouldn't turn against them. And yet Raphael still hadn't been able to forget what Barney had done to Michelangelo. His fears that Barney would slip back into his old ways, coupled with Michelangelo's mixed-up words and the repeating of Barney's name, had made him think that Barney truly had betrayed them for Pinky McFingers' money. Now he felt like the lowest slime possible.

"Why couldn't I let it go before?" he half-whispered, partially wanting Baxter to reply and partially not. "I wanted to so many times, but the past kept holding me back."

"I don't have all the answers," Baxter said. His voice trembled. He feared Barney was dead too-or at least, seriously hurt. "I . . . I know that what Donatello said was true-the past just affected you so deeply, you couldn't put it aside. That's how it is for some."

"But he hasn't given me any reason to doubt him," Raphael said in frustration. "He helped us over and over-Michelangelo, you, me, the whole city. . . . But it was never enough. To me, nothing could make up for what he did to Michelangelo. Nothing could make me stop playing it on Repeat in my head. I think I was always looking for something he could do that would pay the price in full. As long as he couldn't, I wouldn't let go of the past." He reached the top and pulled himself up, then turned to wait for Baxter.

The little man didn't look as exhausted as Raphael thought he might from the climb. He was running on adrenaline and fear, but he was also in excellent physical condition in general from all the walking he loved to do. He made it to the top and only stumbled once as he got to his feet. "And now?" he asked, somewhat wary.

"I know nothing will ever take away the past," Raphael said forlornly. "But it is the past. Barney really isn't the same person anymore, just as you and Michelangelo have kept trying to tell me. He's our ally, our friend, and he won't betray us. Maybe I'll keep being upset about the past, but I have to accept that the guy who did those things doesn't exist anymore. Or at least that . . . as unbelievable as it sounded before, that he really never meant for Michelangelo to be hurt."

"He never did," Baxter said softly. "No, it doesn't mean that what he did wasn't horrible. It doesn't mean he should be excused for doing it. But it simply isn't the same thing as if he wanted to kill Michelangelo. And it has haunted him since the moment he did it. No one hates Barney more for what he did than he hates himself."

"Now I'm finally ready to listen to those words, but is it too late?" Raphael looked up the winding driveway, seeking some sign of life.

"We have to go find out," Baxter said.

Raphael knew his friend was right. Drawing a deep breath, he hurried ahead. Baxter ran behind him. Both desperately hoped and prayed that their loved one was safe.

The sight of Vincent carrying a limp and completely still body through the yard sent a chill down Raphael's spine. "No," he whispered.

Behind him, Baxter felt his heart twist unbearably. "Barney . . . Vincent. . . ." He could not bear to think that Barney was dead, but . . . he was so motionless. . . . What if Pinky had killed him? The gangster must have been enraged when Barney did whatever he had done to set Michelangelo free. Baxter couldn't believe Pinky would let such an act go unpunished.

Raphael ran over just as Vincent reached the Cadillac. Barney's pale face said all that Raphael needed to know. "He's dead, isn't he?" he said sorrowfully. My fear came true. I'm only finding I can forgive him when it's too late.

Vincent looked up with utter terror in his eyes. "I heard you when you screamed at the bottom of the mountain!" he cried. "No, Barney is not dead! And I'll die before I let you make him dead!" He trembled with fear as he clutched Barney close to him.

"No!" Raphael exclaimed. Now he was both relieved to know the truth and filled with a new wave of stricken shame that he had been overheard. "No, Michelangelo was finally able to tell us the truth. He . . . he said Barney saved him. . . ."

"Yes!" Vincent said. "Of course Barney saved him! He didn't hurt him!"

"What happened to him?!" Baxter cried as he ran up now. "Was he drained of his energy too?!"

"When I arrived, he was unconscious and Pinky McFingers was beating him with the gun," Vincent said bitterly. "I also found a harsh bump on his head."

Baxter laid a gentle hand on Barney's head. "Oh poor Barney. . . ."

"But how did you get him away from them?!" Raphael demanded.

"I drained McFingers and his thugs of their energy," Vincent said. "They can wait for the police like that."

"Serves them right," Raphael growled.

"Yes." Vincent's voice was dark.

Raphael's repulsion over Pinky McFingers faded back to his sickened horror at himself as he stared at the man who had been hurt while saving Michelangelo. "I'm so sorry," he said sadly. "I let my anger take over. I wasn't listening to reason. I thought Barney betrayed Michelangelo."

"Naturally you would, even after everything he's done to try to show he's changed." Vincent opened the Cadillac door and carefully laid Barney on the backseat. He was still shaking.

Baxter climbed into the car and knelt on the floor beside him. "I'll ride down with you," he said.

Vincent gave Baxter a warm smile.

Raphael just stood by, feeling helpless and small. "I know I can't ask for forgiveness after all this. . . ."

Vincent straightened and looked to him. "I'm tired of hatred and distrust. I know Barney is too. He has been for a long time. But . . . I am very shaken right now. I . . . I don't know what to say. I . . ." His shoulders trembled and he reached up, covering his eyes with his hands. "I thought I was going to lose my brother! I just got him away from those gangsters and then I heard you screaming you were going to kill him!"

Raphael swallowed hard. "I can't believe I would have really tried to hurt him, even if Michelangelo hadn't finally managed to tell us the whole truth. Once I got up here and saw him like that . . . I can't believe I wouldn't have asked questions first. . . ."

Vincent sobbed, slumping against the side of the car. "I don't know if I've ever been that afraid before. . . . Not for myself, but for someone else . . . and knowing I had to do everything possible to protect him . . . while at the same time trying not to hurt you, since you were angry about the supposed injustice done to your own brother. . . ."

Baxter scrambled back out of the car, worried. He had definitely never seen Vincent like this. He had always been the strong one through everything. Now even he had reached his breaking point.

"Vincent . . ." Raphael stared at the computer. "I . . . I'm so sorry. . . . I know it doesn't make up for anything. . . . I just feel like trash right now. . . ."

"Which is how Barney has felt for so long," Vincent rasped.

Baxter laid a hand on Raphael's shoulder and the other on Vincent's. "Everything that happened here was horrible," he said. "Except for Barney's courage and sacrifice. If anything, he would want us to find a way to use it to mend all the hurt and pain we've been going through for months. Can we do that?"

Both of them looked to him. "I'm sure willing to try," Raphael said. "Barney . . . he's not the same as he was then. I've known that, but at the same time I've been afraid to believe it and I've treated him rotten a lot because I've been afraid."

". . . I'll try," Vincent said softly. "It's what you've longed for so long, Baxter. I wanted things to be normal so that you and Barney could both be happy."

Baxter smiled at them both in a sincere yet melancholy way. He wished it hadn't taken this to soften hearts enough that uniting would be possible, but he was happy that something had done it.

"When I really started coming up here, I was so worried," Raphael said. "I was afraid I'd get up here and find Barney dead. Then I saw him and I thought he really was . . ." He shook his head. "I've been afraid I'd only forgive him after he was gone. It was an awful feeling to see him laying there like that. . . ." He looked over at the car. "He still looks so . . . so pale and still. You're sure he's alive?!"

"He's alive," Vincent said. He smiled a bit again. "I never thought I'd ever hear you so worried about him."

"I never thought I'd let myself show that I'm so worried about him," Raphael said. "Shouldn't he have woke up by now?!"

"He was hit very hard," Vincent said.

Baxter hugged Vincent and again laid a hand on Raphael's shoulder before climbing back in the car with Barney. "Then he might not wake up for a while yet," he said softly. ". . . Or ever." The fear came back into his eyes.

Vincent straightened and started to climb into the driver's seat. "He has to wake up," he insisted. "I won't believe he won't."

Baxter took Barney's hand while gently smoothing back his hair with his other hand. "Please come back to us, Barney," he whispered. "Please. . . ."

Raphael looked from them to Vincent. "Do you really know how to drive?!" he exclaimed.

"How do you think I got up here in the first place?" Vincent replied.

Raphael sighed. "Well, ask a stupid question. . . ." He stepped back. "I'll see you at the bottom of the mountain."

"Shouldn't you come with us?" Baxter frowned.

"I can slide down that rope faster than you can reach the bottom driving this boat," Raphael said.

"Alright," Vincent said.

"Let us know if there's any change in Michelangelo's condition," Baxter said in concern.

"Bring him to our house," Vincent suggested. "There's plenty of room."

Raphael blinked. "Are you sure?"

"I think that's what Barney would want," Vincent said. "And . . ." He looked to Baxter. "We do too."

Baxter nodded. "Very much so."

"Okay," Raphael said, still in some surprise.

"Oh." Vincent reached and pulled the gun out of his belt. "Give this to Donatello. Maybe he can figure out how to throw it in reverse and restore Michelangelo's energy."

Raphael took the gun from him. "I'll do that. Vincent . . . thanks."

"Thank you for finally listening," Vincent said quietly.

". . . Why do you think he did it?" Raphael said, equally quietly. "Why did he do any of these things? Was he just trying to redeem himself or get on my good side?"

Vincent looked up at him. "He didn't save you to try to redeem himself, nor did he save Michelangelo for that reason. He did it out of love, Raphael." He glanced at his brothers through the rear-view mirror. "There's one thing you have to understand about Barney. He doesn't love too little. He never has. He loves so much he doesn't always know what to do about it. It overwhelms him."

Raphael bowed his head. "Like when he couldn't bring himself to hurt any version of Michelangelo again, even four energy demons," he said softly. "I understand, Vincent. I finally understand." He stepped back.

"Good," said Vincent. He revved the engine and started down the mountain.

Taking a deep breath, Raphael turned and went back to the rope. He quickly descended.

Leonardo and Donatello had been just about ready to throw their hooks and ascend themselves. "Raphael, what's going on up there?!" Leonardo demanded.

"Is Barney alright?!" Donatello added.

"I . . ." Raphael shook his head. "I don't know if he's going to be alright," he said sadly. "He survived the explosion on the mountain, blowing up the lightning gun, and falling off a balcony . . . no, two balconies. How many times can somebody beat the odds?"

Leonardo and Donatello exchanged a concerned look.

"We've beat the odds countless times," Leonardo said. "Don't count Barney out yet."

"I won't," Raphael said. "Baxter and Vincent sure aren't going to give up on him." He looked to the Van. "How's Michelangelo? Any better?"

"No," Donatello shook his head. "I'm afraid it will take a lot of rest to replenish the energy he's lost."

"Maybe this'll help." Raphael held out the ray gun. "This is what McFingers used on him. If you can figure out how to throw it in reverse, maybe we can restore Michelangelo's energy to him."

Donatello's eyes widened. "This is great, Raphael. Thanks!" He took it and looked it over. "There has to be a way to throw it in reverse. Otherwise, the stored energy won't do anyone any good."

"Don't thank me," Raphael said. "Vincent took care of McFingers and his goons and brought the gun back." He sighed and headed for the Van. "Let's get back to the city. Oh, and Vince invited us to come over to their place with Michelangelo instead of taking him to the Lair."

"I think Michelangelo would like that," Leonardo said. "He'll be worried about Barney when he wakes up."

"And vice versa," Raphael said gruffly. "Depending on who wakes up first. It'll be good for them to be in the same place." He shifted. "Anyway . . . we're going to have a lot of things to discuss with everyone when everyone's awake and starting to get better."

Leonardo didn't ask what, but he smiled a bit. "I'm sure Master Splinter and April will be fine with going there," he said. "Come on, let's talk to them." He headed for the Van, Donatello and Raphael following.

Raphael fell silent as they walked. "Did you hear what Michelangelo called me to get my attention?" He shook his head. "Brother. We've never called each other that. . . ."

"We are brothers, though, aren't we?" Leonardo said quietly. "We've been together all our lives, even before our transformations. Maybe we're not biologically related; we've never been sure of that. But that isn't what's important. We're not related to Splinter either, but we're all a family with him."

Donatello nodded. "And look how Baxter and Barney have fully accepted Vincent as a third brother." He smiled. "They couldn't care less that Vincent isn't related to them . . . or that he, well, isn't even organic at all. He's loving and loyal and caring and kind. . . . He's probably more like what a family member should be like than their parents are."

"I know what makes a family doesn't have much to do with if you're related to each other or not," Raphael said. "I'm . . . just surprised, I guess. Since we've never called each other 'brother' and then Michelangelo goes and does it. . . . He sure got my attention."

"In the most meaningful way possible," Leonardo said. They were at the Van now and he looked into the cab, where Michelangelo was laying on the seat. Splinter was sitting next to him.

"There has been no change in Michelangelo's condition," Splinter said sadly. "How is Barney?"

"Hurt, maybe badly," Leonardo frowned. He and Raphael got into the back with April while Donatello went around to the driver's seat. "Donatello, are you sure all that Michelangelo needs is rest?"

"I can't find any serious injuries other than his energy drained," Donatello said. "Those people who were hurt in the robberies seemed to be okay after a lot of rest. Michelangelo might recover quicker since he's a mutant, but . . ." He sighed. "We'll just have to see."

Leonardo sighed too, in resignation. They would have to take Donatello's word for now. "We're going to Barney's house if that's alright, Master," he said. "Vincent invited us to bring Michelangelo there."

"That is a very thoughtful and kind idea," Splinter said. "Michelangelo will be worried about Barney when he awakens."

"That's just what we figured," Leonardo smiled now.

The Cadillac drove past and continued down the road. Donatello started the engine and fell into place behind it.

"Who is driving?" Splinter blinked.

"Vincent," Raphael said.

"He is very good," Splinter remarked.

"I'd say 'Especially since he doesn't have a license,' only none of us do either," Raphael said.

"Perhaps someday we can remedy that," Splinter said. He looked down at Michelangelo. "When all of you are healthy and well."

xxxx

Baxter was still kneeling on the floor of the Cadillac, surveying his brother's soft breathing. If not for how pale and pained Barney looked, he would seem to be asleep instead of unconscious. Frowning, Baxter leaned over to feel for the bump. He hadn't located it before, although he hadn't doubted Vincent's word. But part of him still wondered if Barney had been drained of his energy the same as Michelangelo. Then he felt the bump under his fingers. He cringed, but Barney did not react.

Vincent had been quiet coming down the mountain. Now, as they headed for Manhattan, he still didn't speak. Baxter shifted, turning to look at him in concern. "Vincent? Are you alright?"

Vincent was tightly gripping the steering wheel. "I . . . don't know," he confessed. "I'm so happy Raphael finally recognizes that Barney is not a danger anymore. Logically, that should be all that matters. But I'm . . . still so shaken. I thought I really would have to defend Barney to the death, and somehow do it without injuring Raphael. . . . It was terrifying."

Baxter reached over, gripping Vincent's upper arm. "I'm so sorry, Vincent. I was terrified too. It was a horrible, tragic situation from all sides."

"I'm a computer. . . . Why can't I just be logical?" Vincent said softly.

"Because you have feelings," Baxter replied. "You've never had to test them in a situation like this before."

"I've been in so many situations where I could have fallen apart and didn't," Vincent said. "That's . . . not supposed to happen to me. . . ."

"You were always so strong for me," Baxter said. "And for Barney. But everyone has a breaking point. Even computers." He paused. "Would you rather . . . not feel?"

"No!" Vincent exclaimed. "Then I wouldn't care about you and Barney. I would never want that. I'm just . . . unused to this particular type of feeling. I hope I won't . . . have to experience it very often. . . ."

"I hope so too," Baxter said sincerely. "It's never pleasant."

". . . You said you were terrified too," Vincent said. "Are you alright, Pal?"

"Well, I'm not terrified at the moment," Baxter said slowly, "but can either of us be alright until we know Barney will be alright?"

"Of course we can't," Vincent acknowledged.

Another hesitation. "Are you . . . angry at Raphael?"

"I don't know what I am," Vincent responded. "I am tired of hatred and distrust. And I believe that Raphael has finally given that all up. I don't want to start behaving as he did. Part of me understands; I would certainly be furious in his position. And I suppose after what we did in the past, we're supposed to calmly accept that we'll be suspect when something goes wrong. But when Barney is innocent, and he's been trying so hard to help the Turtles, including Raphael . . . another part of me is upset."

"I was upset too," Baxter said kindly. "I think it would be impossible not to be, when a loved one is threatened."

". . . You said you were upset," Vincent prompted. "You're not now?"

"I thought about how Michelangelo gave his last ounce of strength to scream the truth at Raphael and make him realize Barney is innocent," Baxter said. "It would break Michelangelo's heart for more ill feelings to spring up. I couldn't do that to him. I had to control my feelings. And when I talked to Raphael on our way up the mountain, any remaining anger drained away. He was truly devastated, Vincent, just as you saw him. Now, just like with Barney, no one is more upset at Raphael's behavior than Raphael."

Vincent sighed. "I definitely picked up that he was sincerely distraught," he agreed. "Maybe I just need a little time to stop shaking."

"I think everyone needs that sometime," Baxter said. "And you can be grateful that you only heard Raphael screaming at the bottom of the mountain. You didn't have to ride with him all the way here, listening to him rant and rave about Barney most of the time."

Vincent cringed. "That would have been awful."

"It was," Baxter shuddered. "I felt so helpless. . . ."

". . . How is Barney?" Vincent asked.

"No change," Baxter replied, his voice filled with sadness. "Barney, can you hear us?"

Silence was his only answer.

xxxx

The two vehicles reached the mansion without incident. Vincent parked near the house and got out, then came around to open the back door.

Baxter looked up. He and Vincent had continued to talk on the drive, as well as talking to Barney, but nothing had revived their brother. "His pulse is normal, unlike when he was thrown off the balcony," Baxter said softly. "Why doesn't he wake up? Are you sure his energy wasn't drained, Vincent?" He climbed out to allow Vincent to lift Barney off the seat.

"I didn't think so," Vincent said softly. "I can run some more tests when we get inside." He reached inside and gently took Barney in his arms.

"Maybe we should have gone to the hospital," Baxter worried.

"Maybe we should, if he doesn't wake up soon," Vincent said. He hugged Barney close as he headed for the steps. "I know Barney would hate waking up there. If there's any way to avoid it, that would certainly make him happier. If they couldn't do any more for him than we could here, why bother to go there?"

"You have a point." Baxter unlocked the front door and opened it for them. "And you said that gun is from another source," he worried. "It seems like alien technology to me."

"Yes. And if Barney was hit with that, I doubt the hospital would know what to do." Vincent walked inside and towards the stairs. "Those people from the robberies weren't given any special treatment; they just needed to rest."

"It's probably the head injury keeping him unconscious," Baxter said softly. Behind him, he heard the Turtles, Splinter, and April coming inside too. "And I can just imagine poor Barney thinking it was such poetic justice for him to be struck like that, after he hit me in the past. . . ."

"He would," Vincent agreed. He climbed the stairs and went into Barney's bedroom.

Baxter looked over his shoulder at the others. "Bring Michelangelo upstairs," he said. "I'll take you to one of the vacant bedrooms."

Donatello was carrying Michelangelo now, and he swiftly followed Baxter's instructions, as did the others. He laid Michelangelo on the bed in the room Baxter directed them to and then took out the gun. "I'm going to go into the lab and work on this," he said. "Call me if there's any change . . . with either of them."

"We will," Leonardo promised.

Raphael sighed. "So now what?"

Splinter sat down next to the bed. "Now, we wait."

Raphael glowered at the floor. "I was afraid you were going to say that, Sensei. Oh, of course you're right and all, but . . ." He raised his gaze to Michelangelo's silent form. "I hate waiting for something like this. . . ."

"Don't we all," Splinter quietly acknowledged.

xxxx

Waiting for two loved ones to wake up soon wore everyone down. They passed back and forth between the rooms, checking on the other injured before returning to where they had started.

Baxter looked exhausted as he came back to Michelangelo's room again after several such checks. "How is he?" he quietly asked.

"He's still the same," April softly answered. "And Barney?"

"He as well." Baxter came closer to the bed. "Michelangelo, can you hear me?" he asked. There was no reply, but Baxter persisted. "I scoffed in the past, but I've learned that unconscious beings can hear others talking around them and to them.

"We're all worried about you, my friend. We want you to come back to us." He laid his hand on Michelangelo's. "You have done so very much for me. I know you've helped Barney as well."

"And you have brightened all our lives," Splinter added.

Leonardo nodded. "Master Splinter suggested that we each tell a favorite memory about Michelangelo to try to get through to him," he said. "I was just going to get Donatello to come give one too."

Baxter sat down next to the bed. "What have the other memories been?" he asked. He was curious, both because Michelangelo was his friend and because he had never heard of such a concept.

"Splinter told when Michelangelo was first learning how to be a ninja and he tried practicing in the kitchen, jumping off the counter," April chuckled.

Baxter did as well. "How old was he?"

"About seven," Leonardo smiled. "We were around six-and-a-half human years when we were mutated."

Baxter shook his head. "Strange. . . . I don't believe I ever thought about that. I assumed you were mutated close to the ages you were when I met you."

"I think I did too," April said in surprise.

"We lived in the Lair for several years before Oroku Saki began attempting to take over the city," Splinter said. "He and Krang apparently spent that time preparing their forces. The Turtles were 13 when you and Baxter met them."

"Those must have been some really interesting early years!" April exclaimed.

"Oh yes," said Splinter.

"Really interesting," Leonardo stressed. "But of course, things have been interesting all along the way. My memory was of the day Michelangelo met Bugman." He smiled. "He was so excited to finally meet such a big idol of his."

Baxter smiled a bit. "I can imagine."

"And mine was when he was delivering pizzas and didn't want the other Turtles to know," April chuckled. "He had me try to deliver the pizza they'd ordered."

Baxter was amused. "I can imagine that happening. And what was Raphael's memory?"

"His was of the time Michelangelo saved the rest of us when we were caught by a mad scientist," Leonardo said.

"I haven't heard about that," Baxter said in surprise.

"Naturally Michelangelo wouldn't have mentioned it," Splinter said.

"I'd like to hear about it, if you wouldn't mind telling it again," Baxter said.

"I'd be happy to," Leonardo said.

"But first, I should tell something too." Baxter looked back to Michelangelo. "My friend, I have so many favorite memories of you, but one that stands out is when you came to me when I was recovering from being so ill. You had no real reason to be, but you were so kind and friendly to me. That worked so much on my damaged heart. I didn't know then that we would become so close, but I knew you were very special."

Splinter smiled.

Down the hall, Raphael hesitantly paused outside Barney's room. Vincent was talking to him, and although Raphael knew he should probably just turn and go back, instead he lingered.

"I remember when Baxter first talked about you and then went to see you to beg for help about his cross-fusion," Vincent said softly. "I didn't meet you then, as Baxter thought it would be better if he went alone. I waited outside in the yard. He came back in hysterics, saying you'd failed him on purpose. I knew his mind was going, so I wasn't sure whether to believe him, but I knew I didn't like you from the things Baxter had told me.

"I definitely didn't like you when I finally did meet you, when Baxter was manipulated by Professor Sopho into hurting you. But then I saw how much Baxter loved you in spite of everything. Part of me said it was just a blind sibling bond, but the other part started to wonder if there was any chance that there was something he saw that I didn't.

"Baxter always saw so much good in you, Barney! And when we were thrown together and I started talking to you, I began to see it too. You always had faults, and there was no doubt that you had deep-rooted problems with your family, but . . . you were more than that. You showed that so many times in the past, just as you've shown it today. Please wake up, Buddy. . . ."

A pause, then, "You can come in."

Raphael stiffened. "You . . . knew I was here?" He peered around the doorway.

"Of course I did. My hearing is exceptional." Vincent gestured for Raphael to enter.

"So . . . why did you keep talking to him?" Raphael asked. He slowly walked into the room. Barney was laying just as he had before, albeit on his back instead of his side. Still silent, still unconscious. It made Raphael feel uncomfortable, especially after his enraged outbursts from earlier.

"I wanted you to hear." Vincent leaned back. "And Raphael, I want you to know that I do forgive you. I started thinking about something. I hated Barney for months because of the past. Now look at us."

"We could never be close like that," Raphael objected.

"No, most likely not. But it isn't impossible. And after today, it's certainly possible for the both of you to begin mending the hurt and pain."

"If he wakes up," Raphael said morosely.

"I believe he will," Vincent said.

Raphael didn't look as sure. And while he wasn't terribly comfortable talking to unconscious people, he had certainly followed Splinter's advice about Michelangelo before leaving to check in here. Maybe he could do it once more. . . .

He leaned forward, placing his hands on the edge of the bed. "Hey," he said quietly, uncomfortably. "Come on, wake up. Your brothers are sad without you. And . . . if you don't wake up . . ." He swallowed hard. "The rest of us are going to be sad too." His shoulders slumped and he looked down. "Yeah, even me. I . . . I want you to come back, Barney. Please. . . ." He squeezed his eyes shut. "I only got to this point with Baxter-admitting I cared about him and forgave him and like that-when we thought he was gone. Now we don't know if you're coming back. I wasn't grateful you were around when you were. I couldn't appreciate you because I kept being afraid you were going to turn against us. Now you're . . . you're maybe not coming back. Don't do that to your brothers. And Michelangelo, he . . . he'd be heartbroken too. And me, I . . . I don't deserve it after all the time I squandered, but . . . I want another chance. Please, give me another chance!" He straightened, slamming his hands on the edge of the bed. "Wake up already!"

Vincent stood, gently pushing Raphael back. Raphael looked to him, dismayed at having jarred the bed.

". . . What makes you think he's going to wake up?" he asked sorrowfully.

"Because I won't lose him like this," Vincent insisted. "And Barney is a scrapper, just like Baxter. He won't go down easily. He's fighting to wake up right now. I believe in him. So does Baxter."

Raphael looked forlorn. "I want to believe in him too," he admitted. "But he . . . he was hurt so bad. . . . He must have been, or he'd wake up. . . ."

"He'll come back." Vincent sat back down next to the bed.

From Raphael's eyes, he still wasn't sure that it wasn't blind, hopeless faith. But he knew that he wouldn't give up on any of the other Turtles or Splinter in a case like this. Finally he just nodded and turned to slip out the door.

"And Raphael?" Vincent spoke again. "I know that he will give you another chance."

Raphael glanced back over his shoulder. Vincent was smiling, confident, knowing. And somehow, Raphael realized, he was sure it was true. Barney would be the last person to hold blame on Raphael.

"Yeah," Raphael rasped. Unable or unwilling to say more and risk his voice failing him, he retreated into the hall and met Baxter coming out of Michelangelo's room.

"Raphael?" Baxter asked in concern. "Is Barney . . . ?!"

"Still alive," Raphael said. But instead of going back into Michelangelo's room, he walked past Baxter and kept going, heading for the balcony at the end of the corridor.

Baxter watched him in concern. Clearly Raphael wanted to be alone. Baxter hurried back into Barney's room. "What's wrong with Raphael?" he exclaimed.

"I think he's just overwhelmed," Vincent said softly. "He's afraid Barney won't wake up. And he's awash with guilt over having not been able to forgive and trust Barney before now."

Baxter sighed sadly. "I'm glad that something helped him do that, but I wish it hadn't been this. I don't blame Raphael for having so many suspicions and issues, but I have felt badly that he wasn't able to put them behind him after Barney started showing how he's changed."

"I know," said Vincent. "I've felt the same." He looked to Barney. "But I don't know how I would have felt in his place. I'm not as forgiving as you, Pal."

Baxter laid a hand on Vincent's. "You forgave Barney," he said.

"Yes," Vincent mused. "I did."

Baxter looked back to Barney laying on the bed. "Vincent . . ." He swallowed hard. "Do you . . . really believe so strongly that Barney will be alright?"

". . . I have to," Vincent said after a brief hesitation. "I . . . couldn't deal with it otherwise."

Baxter bit his lip. "I couldn't either," he said softly.

xxxx

When Donatello came up from the laboratory, he regarded Michelangelo in sadness and concern. "No change?" he sighed.

"No," Leonardo said. "Any luck with the gun?"

"Not yet." Donatello sank into a chair. "I'm telling you, whoever designed this thing made the reverse mechanism really hard to figure out, probably on purpose. They don't want anyone else collecting the energy!" He looked around and blinked. "Hey, where's Raphael?"

"He went to check on Barney a few moments ago," Splinter frowned. "He hasn't come back."

"Correction-I'm back." Raphael sighed as he shuffled into the bedroom. "I just needed some alone time for a few minutes."

"How is Barney?" Splinter asked.

"Unconscious," Raphael said flatly. "Just like Michelangelo." He looked sadly at the orange-masked Turtle. "Only with Michelangelo, we can figure he should be okay with a lot of rest. Who knows if Barney's going to get better."

"Vincent and Baxter and I all examined his vital signs," Donatello said. "I really think he's going to be okay too."

Raphael slumped against the wall and stared up at the ceiling. "I just wish I'd listened harder to Michelangelo and all of you when you tried to tell me Barney wasn't going to betray us," he said sadly. "If he kicks it now . . ."

"Raphael, you really did try to listen to us," Donatello said. "And you recognized you had a problem and wanted to fix it."

Leonardo nodded. "You just weren't ready before now."

"It couldn't have been any other way," April said.

"But if he dies . . ." Raphael shook his head. "I . . . I'll always feel bad." On some level, he knew it wasn't usual for him to bear his soul like this, at least if he wasn't just talking to Splinter alone, but it had been such a long and strange day already that at the moment he didn't care.

Splinter stood. "Naturally you would, my Turtle, but I do not believe Barney would want that from you." He laid a hand on Raphael's shoulder. "Perhaps ironically, Barney understands your feelings towards him better than anyone else here. He would not blame you for them; he never has."

"I know, Sensei." Raphael looked back at Michelangelo again. "Baxter and Barney . . . they're not like any friends we've had before. Not that we ever had many to begin with. But I mean . . . they're . . . darker, I guess. Vincent too. They were all bad guys on different levels and now they're trying to be good. Maybe it's always been kind of strange knowing how to deal with that. Well, Lotus Blossom ended up kind of good by the last time we saw her, but even she wasn't like these guys."

"I understand, Raphael," Splinter nodded. "When you and the other Turtles have always been raised to be good, it would be difficult to know how to deal with those who have fallen into ill paths."

"It was easier with Baxter," Raphael said. "Not just because he'd gone nuts, but because . . . I don't know . . . he's softer and gentler in his right mind. He says he used to be like Michelangelo. Maybe I see some of that in him.

"Barney . . . he's still dark. And angry. And he hates himself." Raphael scowled. "Maybe I see a lot of myself in him and that's part of what makes it so much harder-I'm seeing a dark mirror of me and I don't like it. Now, though . . . I'm finally seeing the good in him. Really seeing it, not just seeing it and wondering how long it'll last. I just wish I'd seen it before."

"You were starting to," Leonardo said.

"And with Michelangelo . . ." Raphael pushed away from the wall. "He probably only got nabbed today because he was outside. If I'd been the one to go, it would have been me instead. I hate that it was him!"

"I wish it hadn't been anyone," Splinter said. "But perhaps there was a blessing in all of this. If it hadn't been Michelangelo, would you have felt differently about Barney?"

Raphael shook his head. "That's what I've been going over and over in my head, Sensei, and I just don't know. Maybe, if it'd been Leonardo or Donatello. But if it'd been me again . . ." He threw up his arms and started to pace. "I don't want to think that if we were going through this exact same thing and it'd been me suffering with my energy drained, I wouldn't have realized that Barney is trustworthy just because it was me he helped and not Michelangelo. Michelangelo was right; Barney risked his life for us in the past. Does it really matter which of us it was for? I mean, does it matter to me. I said it did then, but now, I don't know."

"Perhaps some things we will never know the answers to," Splinter said. "And perhaps now it does not matter. Instead of looking on the past, it would be better to look ahead to the future."

"But . . . will Barney have a future?" Raphael said quietly. "I was so shaken up when he was thrown off the balcony for me, but that machine was able to heal the worst damage. This time, we just don't know if he's going to be alright."

"None of us can know that," said Splinter. "We can only hope and pray for the best."

Raphael sighed. "I know you're right, Sensei. I wanted something more concrete, but that's not possible right now."

"I have some good news about Michelangelo," Donatello said. He let go of the other Turtle's wrist. "His pulse is climbing closer to normal."

Everyone brightened. "Oh, that's great!" Raphael exclaimed. The others echoed similar sentiments.

"Maybe he'll wake up soon!" Leonardo said hopefully.

"I'm afraid he's still got a long way to go to get his strength back," Donatello said. "But things are definitely looking good!"

"Thank you, Donatello," Splinter said with a nod. "This is very good news for an old ninja master. But more importantly, it is very good news for a father."

April smiled. "I haven't seen this side of you guys very much," she said. "I like it."

"I think we should show this side of us more often," Leonardo said. "I know Michelangelo would agree."

The others nodded. "We've been gradually trying to be more open with each other ever since the disaster with those energy demons," Donatello said. "It's been good for us."

"I have noticed," said Splinter, "and yes, it has been. Further proving my point about blessings in the strangest places."

A soft knock on the open door brought their attention up. Vincent was standing there, looking slightly shy but hopeful.

"Come in, friend," Splinter greeted. "How is Barney?"

"Still unconscious." Pain flickered in Vincent's eyes, but then it was gone. "And Michelangelo?"

"His energy's coming back," Raphael said. "Slow but sure. Right, Donatello?"

"That's right," Donatello smiled.

"I'm glad," said Vincent. "Baxter will be so happy too." He came into the room and over to the bed, where he laid a hand on Michelangelo's shoulder. "Do you hear that, Michelangelo? We're all anxious for you to get better. Barney would be too, if he were awake." He stepped back. "I should get back to him. . . ."

"Yes, go," Splinter agreed. "Let us know when he recovers."

"I will," Vincent promised.

"It's strange how a computer can be so alive," April remarked when Vincent had departed.

"Vincent is no ordinary computer," Leonardo said.

"He truly is alive," Splinter said. "And a very valuable member of our family."

"Yeah." Raphael gazed out the open doorway in awed amazement. "Family. . . . He really is." And, he imagined, Vincent had probably heard. But that was okay. Now, Raphael wanted him to hear.

xxxx

"Barney?"

He opened his eyes again, looking up in surprise as Leonardo spoke. They were still driving back to New York City from High Falls following their escapade on the Technodrome that had stuck it in the mud. Barney had been resting for a while, not having expected someone to speak.

"Barney, you risked your life for Raphael," Leonardo said. "We're all very grateful."

"I know you would be," Barney said.

"Like, for sure, Dude," Michelangelo said. "You're a good guy. You show us that more every time some mondo disaster happens."

Donatello nodded. He was up front driving, but he sounded every bit as sincere as the others. "I don't give my trust to humans easily," he said, "and of course it's been hard trusting you after the things you did. But you've proved yourself over and over. You protected Michelangelo in the past and now you went and did this. I want you to know, I . . . forgive you, Barney. And now I trust you too."

Baxter beamed, especially seeing Barney's surprise. Vincent, too, looked thrilled.

"I . . . don't know what to say," Barney finally stammered. "I just did what needed doing. I didn't want Raphael hurt. . . ."

"Of course not, Bud," Michelangelo said. "Because you're a good guy. And our amigo."

Barney looked at Michelangelo in awe and disbelief, but he didn't protest.

"Our friend," Leonardo and Donatello echoed.

"And our brother," Baxter added, smiling at him and at Vincent.

"Always," Vincent agreed.

The dream-memory faded and was replaced by the unwelcome pain in reality. Barney groaned as he revived, reaching up a hand to rub his head.

"Barney?!" Baxter and Vincent chorused at once.

Barney slowly opened his eyes. "What . . . where's Michelangelo?" he mumbled, somehow still sounding urgent even as his words slurred. "He was found, wasn't he?!"

"Yes, Barney," Baxter soothed. "He's here in the house."

"He's not awake yet," Vincent added. "But we're really glad you are, Buddy! We've been so worried."

"How do you feel, Barney?" Baxter asked.

Barney was silent a moment. "To say it hurts would be an understatement." He closed his eyes. "You must have hurt like this when I hit you. . . ."

"I think my heart hurt more than my head," Baxter said softly. "But then I learned that you risked your life for me by lying to Krang right afterwards. It's so ironic, but your hitting me led to me finally realizing that you loved me. And that . . ." He shook his head. "That was so healing for me. So much of my bitterness and pain melted away once I had that truth."

Barney grunted. "Well, I don't want to say that I'm glad I hit you, because I never could be glad of that." He opened his eyes. "But I'm glad it led to something good. Even though I also don't want to think that we never would have come to that knowledge if I hadn't done it."

"I don't want to think that either," Baxter said. "I think we would have. You still would have found Vincent and he would have helped you. And eventually we all would have wound up here, together as a family."

"I suppose." Barney frowned a bit. ". . . Was Raphael angry when he found Michelangelo drained of his energy? . . . No, don't answer that. That was an idiotic question. What I really meant was, Did he blame me in some way."

Baxter and Vincent exchanged a stricken look. They really didn't like to be the ones to tell Barney what had happened. They had hoped Raphael would tell him later and that the two of them could have a badly needed heart-to-heart.

"Why would he blame you, Buddy?" Vincent asked at last.

"Because Pinky McFingers kidnapped Michelangelo to get at me. . . . Because I turned McFingers down even with Michelangelo's life on the line, since I knew he wouldn't be spared in any case. . . . Because the only way I could get Michelangelo out of there was to send him through the trapdoor and he had no way to brace himself as he descended. . . . Because . . . oh, who knows why. Raphael would find plenty of reasons to blame me, and probably 99% of them would be perfectly understandable."

The sharp intake of breath from the doorway caused everyone to look over. Raphael was standing there, looking guilty as well as stricken. "It's worse than any of those things," he blurted. "I thought . . . well, Michelangelo could hardly say anything, and when he did, he just kept saying your name and I thought . . . I thought you'd betrayed him!" He shut his eyes tightly. "Instead, he wouldn't even be alive if it wasn't for you!"

Barney looked slightly hurt but at the same time, not surprised. "Naturally you would blame me," he said. "There's no forgiveness for what I did in the past. We both know that."

"That's not true," Raphael interrupted. Baxter's eyes widened in his shock. "Yeah, I really believed that was true, but I wanted to forgive you. I wanted to more and more whenever you tried to help us, especially when you nearly died for the city or even for me. But I . . . I just couldn't let go of what you did . . . until today."

Now Barney looked stunned. Baxter and Vincent exchanged a joyous gaze.

"You saved my . . . my brother," Raphael stammered. This was a new term for him too. But he liked it and he wanted to use it. "You saved him and you paid the price for it. And . . . you've finally paid the price as far as I'm concerned, too. Barney, I . . . I really do forgive you. It's in the past. You've changed. I've known that for a long time, but now I . . . I can finally accept it."

"I . . ." Barney slumped farther into the pillows. "I don't know what to say. . . . I believed this day would never come. That it couldn't come. And now you're saying it has."

Raphael nodded. "Thank you, for saving Michelangelo."

"I . . . I'm glad I could," Barney said. "You . . . called him 'brother'. . . ."

"That's what he called me, when he was trying to get me to calm down and listen to reason," Raphael said. "I was so hopping mad, I was just seeing red and thinking how I was going to hurt you for betraying Michelangelo. And if I'd really done something to you . . . !"

"I'm sure you're right that you wouldn't have, Raphael," Baxter interjected.

"I want to believe that, but I just don't know," Raphael answered forlornly.

"I don't blame you for any such thoughts you might have had," Barney said. "I'm just . . . overwhelmed that you're putting this all behind you."

"So am I, to be honest," Raphael said. "I've been frustrated with myself for a long time because I couldn't do that."

"I would like to ask you something," Vincent said. "You say you feel he paid the price as far as you're concerned. Do you mean you're only forgiving him because you feel that he's suffered enough at long last?"

"No, I don't mean that," Raphael said, and he sounded awed. "I was afraid that was the only way I'd forgive him, but now I realize that Master Splinter was right. I just needed to feel that it was really okay to let everything go. And I guess Barney saving Michelangelo, especially when somebody was trying to tempt him back into crime, was what I needed to be sure that he really had changed for good. Maybe Master Splinter was also right that this was more about being able to trust than to forgive. All I know is that now I've forgiven him and I trust him both."

"I'm glad," said Vincent.

"You're welcome in the Lair any time, Barney," Raphael continued. "You too, Vincent." He looked to the doorway. "I'm going to let everyone else know you're awake. Oh gosh, how are you feeling, by the way?"

"Terrible," Barney said. "And yet . . . I'm not. Now I've actually been forgiven by everyone involved. I can bear the physical pain because of that."

Baxter beamed. "And you deserve it, Barney. You deserve it so very much."

xxxx

It wasn't long before everyone else had come to check on Barney as well-save, of course, for Michelangelo. They all had similar messages of gratitude, sincerely thanking Barney for saving their brother. Now that Michelangelo had started it, they all seemed to want to use the term.

Splinter's message was slightly different. "This isn't the first time you have tried to protect one or more of my sons," he said. "I thank you for every one of those times, and for the sacrifices you made each time."

Barney flushed, looking awkward now. "I did the right thing during all of those incidents. That doesn't require so much praise as though it's a momentous event for someone to do what they should."

"But we know that you have grown to truly love the Turtles," Splinter said. "You did not do it just to keep your conscience clear, but because you could not bear for any harm to come to them."

Barney looked away. "That's so preposterous after I hurt them in the past."

"It is not preposterous, but beautiful," said Splinter. "You are a true friend to my sons, just as Baxter is. And now every one of them knows this."

Barney stared off at the wall in disbelieving amazement. "I never intended to grow this fond of the Turtles. I would have tried to save Michelangelo even if that were not the case, but when it is . . . what has Michelangelo done to me?"

Baxter laughed softly. "Michelangelo has that effect on people. You become fond of him so easily because he's so kind and good . . . because he's willing to take a chance on you even after you've done wrong . . . because he sees the good that's there and helps you to see it too."

"It's not logical," Barney mumbled.

Vincent was happy. "You were both so lonely and sad for most of your lives. Now you have so many loved ones."

Baxter smiled at him. "So do you, Vincent," he replied.

"Yes," Vincent agreed. "I do. And that's strange to realize too. After being alone for 300 years, I wonder sometimes if I just finally lost my mind and started imagining people to be with. And yet I know that isn't true. If I had done that, I never would have imagined the disasters that have happened to each of us. It's all real, as incredible as it is to comprehend."

"And you will never be alone again, Vincent," Baxter vowed. "None of us will."

Barney still looked like he had a hard time comprehending that. But, he knew, it likely was true. They had each other as well as their friends. There would of course still be moments of solitude and probably sometimes loneliness, but it wouldn't last. There were many beings to fill it.

xxxx

It was late that night when Michelangelo finally began to revive. "Barney?" he mumbled as he stirred. "Is Barney alright?"

"Michelangelo!" April said in delight. "We've been so worried!"

"Worried?" Michelangelo repeated.

"Yes," said Splinter. "You have not been well."

"What about Barney?" Michelangelo insisted.

"Barney's fine, Michelangelo," Leonardo smiled. "But what about you?"

"Me? I'm gnarly . . . I guess. . . ." Still weak and woozy, Michelangelo tried to get off the bed. "Where's Barney?"

"He's in his room," Raphael exclaimed, reaching to push Michelangelo back into the bed. "You're not strong enough to get up yet!"

"I'll get him," Leonardo said. "He wanted to know the minute you woke up."

Michelangelo let Raphael push him back into the bed. "You . . . you're not mad at him anymore?" he demanded.

Raphael felt his heart twist. "No, Michelangelo, I'm not mad at him. You were right-he saved your life."

"Did he get hurt?" Michelangelo worried.

"McFingers conked him over the head and beat him with the gun, yeah," Raphael said. "But he's bouncing back from that."

For the first time. Michelangelo really took in the surroundings. "We're at his house," he said in surprise.

"Yes," Splinter nodded.

Leonardo returned, bringing Donatello, Barney, Baxter, and Vincent with him. Baxter beamed to see Michelangelo conscious. "Michelangelo, you're awake!" he exclaimed, hurrying into the room. "How are you feeling?"

"Kinda weak still, I guess," Michelangelo mumbled. "But I'm gonna be just fine." He looked to Barney. "Thanks to you, Bud."

Barney relaxed, both relieved and happy to see him awake and talking. "I'm glad I could do something," he said. "I am sorry you were hurt in the fall."

"That's nothing," Michelangelo said. "Just a couple of bruises."

Raphael shifted. "Michelangelo . . . when you were trying to get me to listen to reason, you called me 'brother,'" he said.

"Well, sure," Michelangelo said. "You know, I've been watching Baxter and Barney adopting Vincent as their brother and how they're all totally into it and I thought, Hey, we're all adopted brothers even if we're not actually related. We should be saying 'brother' too."

Barney gawked. "We were your inspiration for that?!"

Baxter and Vincent looked surprised as well.

"Yeah," Michelangelo said, as though it was the simplest thing in the world.

"That's really sweet, Michelangelo," April said.

Splinter smiled. "We all learn from each other. Even those who for years believed they did not know how to be a family knew more about it than they thought. And now they have taught something valuable to us."

Raphael nodded. Awkward again, he rubbed the back of his neck as he looked to Michelangelo. "And . . . you should know, Michelangelo, that I've forgiven Barney."

Michelangelo's eyes went wide. "For real?!"

"Yeah," Raphael confirmed. "For real. We're all a family now, just like you wanted."

A huge smile spread across Michelangelo's features. He clearly wanted to cheer, but he was still too weak for that. His eyes, however, were perfectly capable of cheering. They sparkled with pure joy. "Totally gnarly!" he proclaimed.

Baxter had to laugh.

"Yep," said Raphael, even as he smiled too. "That's Michelangelo for you."

xxxx

Michelangelo and Barney both still needed to rest, so the others took turns watching over them to allow everyone some sleep throughout the night. Deep into the early hours, Raphael had chosen to keep a vigil over Michelangelo.

"Raphael?" he heard the other Turtle mumble after a while.

Raphael promptly snapped to attention. "What is it, Michelangelo?" he asked.

"I'm, like, way glad that you finally managed to forgive Barney," Michelangelo said.

"I just feel bad I couldn't do it before," Raphael said in chagrin. "Now you're hurt and Barney's hurt and what if Barney hadn't woke up?"

"Hey, there's no point rewinding the past," Michelangelo said in surprised dismay. "We're okay, Raphael. Everything's gnarly."

"But . . . if Barney had died, wouldn't you have always been on the rocks with me or something?" Raphael worried.

"Like, why?" Michelangelo frowned. "You were only mad 'cause of how Barney hurt us in the past. You just felt protective. No matter how frustrated I got with the whole situation, I knew that was the reason. I was disappointed, sure, but not mad. It was kind of bodacious to have someone care so much."

"You really mean that," Raphael said in awe.

"Of course, Dude," Michelangelo said. "Why wouldn't I?"

"You would," Raphael said. "Don't mind me; I'm just thinking aloud."

"Honestly, Raphael, I think that if Barney had died, you never would have got over it," Michelangelo said. "Even though it was understandable that you were mad and all."

Raphael looked down and nodded. "Yeah," he mumbled. "I think you're right."

"But he's okay, so we don't have to think about it!" Michelangelo insisted. "Let's just think about how righteous it's gonna be from now on." He smiled, sinking into the pillow. "All of us together, finally a family."

Raphael had to smile a bit. "You just get some more sleep," he said gruffly. "You've already talked way more than you probably should have."

"Yeah, I know," Michelangelo mumbled. He was asleep again in the next moment.

His words, however, lingered on in the stillness and Raphael pondered on them. He stared off in the distance, lost in thought, before the unpleasantness of his imaginings brought him back to the present and he smiled down at Michelangelo. He was right; there was still a chance to set things right and that was what should be focused on. It was a wonderful thing to realize.

Things are going to be different from now on, he said to himself. In a good way.

xxxx

Barney, too, had roused up again during the night. He found Vincent dozing next to the bed, but the moment Barney stirred, he was awake again. "Barney! Are you feeling any better?"

"Some," Barney acknowledged. "Some more sleep will be nice. Did Baxter go to bed?"

"I finally convinced him to," Vincent said. "I said I'd stay here with you through the night."

"I'm sorry I put you both to such worry," Barney said. "I didn't intend to get hit over the head by . . . whatever that was."

"The gun," Vincent said helpfully.

Barney gave a vague nod of acknowledgement. "I knew Pinky McFingers was bound to do something to retaliate once I sent his ransom out the door. I just wasn't expecting his retaliation to be the perfect punishment for me." He sighed.

"Just because you hit Baxter in a fit of blind rage doesn't mean you should have to experience what it feels like," Vincent said. "Anyway, you were unconscious far longer than Baxter."

"I know," Barney said. "And you and Baxter and the others were the ones who suffered for it."

"You suffer for it when you're awake," Vincent pointed out.

Barney shrugged. ". . . It's so strange to realize how deeply Raphael was affected by this," he said quietly. "I've gotten used to him either not being affected or not showing that he is."

"This was the first time you were hurt for any extended period of time since you came back alive from the collapse of the Dansing Building," Vincent said. "You weren't hurt when you protected Michelangelo from me. And whatever your injuries were when Rocksteady threw you off the balcony, the worst ones were quickly healed with that machine. Maybe that made it a little harder for Raphael to really continue processing what could have been. He was very upset when you first fell." He shuddered. "Anyway, this time there wasn't a quick fix and no way to get around it. He had to deal with it."

"I suppose that makes sense," Barney grunted.

"More than that, though, he realized just how badly his lingering distrust of you was affecting him," Vincent said. "When he realized he'd gotten so enraged and you were guiltless this time, he was horrified. Maybe that more than anything else is what finally reached him."

"Maybe we'll never know exactly," Barney said. "But that's alright. It's strange for a neuropsychologist, perhaps, but I don't feel I need this analyzed."

Vincent smiled a bit. "That said, I was kind of surprised by how worried he was too," he said. "But it was nice."

"It was," Barney said softly. "For him to have finally forgiven me too, I feel . . . free."

"Will you ever forgive yourself, Buddy?" Vincent asked.

"I doubt it," Barney said. "At least, not the me of the past. I've accepted that I'm not that person anymore. I can go forward and continue trying to figure out who the me of the present is. I think maybe, I . . . actually like that person."

Vincent smiled. "I love that person," he said. "So does Baxter."

Barney settled under the covers. "You loved the me of the past too, which will never not be amazing to me." His eyes started to close. "Thank you, Vincent."

"I said you don't have to thank us for caring, Buddy," Vincent said. He laid a gentle hand on Barney's shoulder, feeling the muscles relax as his brother slipped back to sleep.

xxxx

By morning, Michelangelo was feeling well enough to be up for a while. And ironically, by morning Donatello had figured out how to set the gun in reverse.

"We'll be able to restore all the energy Pinky McFingers stole from those businesses," Donatello said, pleased, as he set the gun on the island on Barney's kitchen.

"Well, how about we don't return McFingers' and his goons' energy?" Raphael said dryly. "Let them get it back the hard way, like Michelangelo had to do?"

"Sounds fair to me," Michelangelo said.

"And since they're not mutant turtles, it will probably take them longer to recover," Barney remarked.

"Serves them right," Raphael sneered.

Vincent smirked. "They can recover behind bars, where they belong."

"We need to think about where he got this gun too," Baxter worried. "It's alien technology. . . . What if he allied with Krang and Shredder?"

"That . . . actually makes sense," Barney frowned. "McFingers would get the expensive equipment in the places he robbed, while Krang would get the energy. And it would explain why he knew that Vincent and I are brothers; Shredder probably told him."

"We must be very vigilant," Splinter said. "Krang and Shredder are apparently attempting to forge new alliances in their quest for evil."

"We will be, Master Splinter," Leonardo said. "And meanwhile, we're entering a new chapter of our lives." He smiled. "Finally, we're all united."

They all looked at each other in wonder and awe. Leonardo was right.

"Irma wasn't here for any of this, but she was here, like, in spirit," Michelangelo said. "Now all we've gotta do is get Vernon onboard and we'll be all set!"

"Good luck with that," Raphael said, shaking his head.

"Vincent and I are here," Barney said. "To accomplish that, especially with me, anything else is easily possible."

Baxter smiled. "You're learning," he said fondly.

"Righteous!" Michelangelo grinned.

"It is good that we are all here," Splinter said, looking around the island at each of his sons and their dear friends. "My heart is full."

"I think we can all resonate with that," Michelangelo chirped. "But now how about getting our stomachs full too?"

Baxter laughed. "I'll make breakfast." He started to get up.

"I'll help, Pal," Vincent offered.

"Heck, me too," said Raphael.

Splinter leaned back to watch, smiling at the scene of camaraderie before them. Barney, watching as well, seemed awestruck.

"Like, what's up, Barney?" Michelangelo asked.

Barney slowly shook his head. "It's so incredible, I can still hardly believe it. Raphael has forgiven me. What he said would never happen has happened. And he's feeling better towards Vincent too."

"Well, sure, Dude," Michelangelo said, draping an arm on Barney's shoulder.

Barney started at the physical contact. "You're not surprised?"

"Raphael's a good guy," Michelangelo proclaimed. "I always wanted to believe this would happen someday. After all, he was upset about what you did to me. I guess now he knows absolutely that I'm, like, not in any danger from you. That was the final thing he needed to be able to heal."

"Yes, that's what he said," Barney nodded.

"And hey, Barney . . ." Michelangelo sobered, looking into the red-haired scientist's eyes. "I didn't have a chance to thank you yet. So . . . thanks. Big time."

Barney looked back. "I'm glad I was able to help you, Michelangelo. But I'm angry that Pinky McFingers tried to use you to force my hand."

"I'm not too happy about that either," Michelangelo admitted. "But I was never worried about me, just you."

Barney raised an eyebrow. "I suppose that's typical coming from you, but why?"

"Like, because I knew you'd do anything you could to protect me," Michelangelo said. "And I was afraid that might extend to helping Pinky."

"I knew I couldn't trust him to keep you alive even if I agreed," Barney said. "I wanted a solution that wouldn't compromise you . . . or me." A thoughtful look came into his eyes. "I wanted to . . . be true to myself."

Both Baxter and Vincent heard him and looked over, smiling.

Without quite realizing it, Barney was smiling as well. "Maybe I'm finally starting to realize what that entails," he mused. "Being true to myself."

"You are, Barney," said Baxter.

"Naturally," Vincent agreed.

"So, like, what does it entail?" Michelangelo asked, looking curious.

Barney started to get up from the counter, still looking thoughtful. "I'm . . . a good person," he said. "I never thought I'd hear myself say this, but I was always a good person. But for so much of my life, I tried to deny it. I denied it so much and did so many bad things that I started to believe I truly was bad. To be true to myself, I have to believe and accept that I'm good and act accordingly. There will probably still be days when that's hard. But I've had loved ones who believed in me when I absolutely couldn't believe in myself. Without them, I know I never could have started to feel differently."

Baxter smiled more, completely moved. "And we are so very proud of you, Barney," he said.

"You're finally starting to see yourself the way we see you," Vincent said.

"And I'm still amazed that you saw the good even under all of my rotten moods and actions," Barney said.

"That's what genuine love is," Baxter said. "It sees the whole person, good and bad."

"And it sees the person's potential, whether they see it or not," Vincent added.

"You certainly saw mine," Barney said.

"And now all of us see it too," said Leonardo.

Baxter sneaked a look at Michelangelo. He was positively beaming. He had what he had longed for so long now. It had been one of Baxter's longings as well. For both of them, they felt very fulfilled and happy. And judging from everyone else in the room, they felt the same.

"Here's to family," Michelangelo declared.

"Hear hear," chorused several in the room.

Raphael, perhaps, was the loudest.