Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 1987

The Lady With the Mystic Smile
By Lucky_Ladybug

Notes: The characters are not mine and the story is! Title is from the song Mona Lisa, because where better to get a title for a story involving Mona Lisa? ThickerThanLove helped with certain plot elements. 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.

"Okay! Pizza for everybody!" Michelangelo came over to the Lair's kitchen table with two steaming pizza pans. "Both regular pepperoni, with a hearty helping of optional toppings on the side!"

Raphael cheered. "Alright! The perfect way to celebrate any victory!"

"Exactly what victory are we celebrating?" Barney asked with a raised eyebrow.

"That Shredder hasn't attacked for a whole week!" Raphael replied.

"Good enough for me!" Michelangelo grinned.

Splinter looked both amused and exasperated. "Trust me, they will look for any excuse to celebrate with pizza."

"I believe it," Barney grunted.

Baxter chuckled.

It was Vincent who heard something else over all the bedlam. Without disturbing anyone else there, he quietly got up and went to the doorway, listening as the sound grew louder. "Someone's coming," he announced.

"No way," came a weakened female voice. "I wasn't making a sound."

"I have perfect hearing," Vincent said. "If you're in range, I can hear you no matter how quiet you are . . ."

He trailed off as what looked like a salamander peered around the doorway. The salamander took one look at him and gave a yelp of surprise.

Everyone jumped up from the table.

"Mona Lisa!" Raphael cried in disbelief.

"You know this mutant?" Vincent looked back to him.

"You know this . . . whatever it is?" said the salamander, pointing at Vincent.

"That's Vincent," Raphael said. "Mona Lisa, what's all this?!"

Mona Lisa gripped the edge of the doorway. "I . . . was just in the neighborhood," she said with a weak smile. "I thought I'd . . . drop in. . . ."

She started to fall forward. Vincent immediately reached and caught her while everyone gathered around.

"What's wrong with her?!" Raphael cried.

"Like, maybe she's just worn-out from the long trip," Michelangelo said. "We haven't heard from her in ages!"

Barney pushed his way through the group and frowned at the sight of the collapsed girl. Baxter, who came over as well, began to examine her vital signs. His grim expression was not lost on Splinter.

"She isn't merely exhausted, is she?" the mutant rat queried.

"No, she isn't," Baxter said. "I can't tell exactly what's wrong from a preliminary examination, but she's clearly very sick. Frankly, I'm afraid she's dying."

"No way!" Raphael burst out. "That can't be right!"

Vincent carried her over to the couch and laid her on it. Donatello hurried over and knelt beside her. "I'm afraid he's right," he said grimly after a few moments. "It's nothing catching, but I think her mutation is failing."

"How can that be?" Splinter frowned.

"She wasn't mutated the same way we were," Raphael remembered. "It had something to do with Captain Filch's nuclear technology."

"Wow, really?" Michelangelo was both shaken and troubled. "How would you even mutate anyone that way?"

Donatello said, "I don't know, but a mutation like that could become very unstable over time. Obviously hers has, and in her case, it looks like it's going to be fatal."

Mona Lisa stirred and groaned, looking up at the concerned faces around her. "Hi, guys," she mumbled. "I see you've got some new friends. . . ."

"Mona Lisa, what's wrong?!" Raphael demanded. "Donatello and Baxter both think you're headed for that big terrarium up in the sky!"

Mona Lisa sighed, holding a webbed hand to her forehead. "I wish I could say they were wrong, but that's pretty much the conclusion I came to myself. I thought that if anyone could help me, it would be you guys. . . ."

"What do you want us to do, Mona Lisa?" Raphael asked.

"Like, what can we do?" Michelangelo worried.

"Undo my mutation," Mona Lisa pleaded. "I examined myself. . . . I figured out that was the only way I'd stay alive. . . . I've kept tabs on you. . . . I know Baxter Stockman here was a mutant and now he's human again. . . ."

"Yes, thanks to a retro-mutagen ray gun," Baxter exclaimed. "Which we don't have here."

"And it's not like retro-mutagen ray guns just grow on trees," Raphael said, panic quickly rising in his heart. "The only one we know of is the one Shred-Head has on the Technodrome, the one . . ." He trailed off.

"The one I built for him," Barney finished. "I could do it again."

"But . . . could you do it soon enough?" Mona Lisa mumbled. "I . . . don't think I have much time left. . . ."

"If I can't, we could always break into the Technodrome and abscond with the one there," Barney said in concern.

"Mondo bummer, though," Michelangelo said. "She'll be back to being a pet shop lizard?!"

"No, Michelangelo," Raphael retorted. "Remember, she's like Splinter and Baxter; she's really a human." He looked to her as she lay painfully breathing on the couch. "So she'd still have all her intelligence."

"Well, that's good," Michelangelo said. "But like, how long would it take you to build a new retro-mutagen ray thingie, Barney?"

"I don't know," Barney frowned. "The most vital component of the device is also the most difficult to come by, a Neutronium crystal. We might be better off stealing Shredder's."

"Trips to the Technodrome are always fraught with danger," Splinter said. "But Mona Lisa's life must be preserved. If that is the only way, it must be done. I will stay with Mona Lisa while you go retrieve the gun, my students."

"I think at least one of us should stay behind too," Donatello said. "Since I've studied the most about mutants, I will."

"Maybe Baxter should too?" Michelangelo suggested. "He studied biology and stuff."

"Perhaps, but biology isn't my main field," Baxter said haltingly. "Especially mutant biology. . . . And I studied more about mammals than reptiles, since the Mousers dealt with rodents. . . ." He stared at Mona Lisa. "Although this girl seems to have both mammalian and reptilian traits. . . ." He was conflicted; he wasn't sure where he would be the most help and he hated to think of the others going to the Technodrome without him. The scientist in him was intrigued by Mona Lisa's unique biology, but it was hardly a time for fascination.

In lighter circumstances, Raphael might have made a crack like "Ah, the wonderfully confusing world of mutants," but as it was, he was not in a joking mood.

"Master Splinter and I can handle things," Donatello told Baxter. "You should go with the others. I'll call you if I have a burning biology question that I can't figure out myself. Which I doubt."

Baxter shook his head. "We scientists are always arrogant, aren't we?"

"It all depends," Donatello said. "We know we're good."

"Let's cut the gabbing and get going!" Raphael interrupted.

"I really hate to put you guys to so much trouble," Mona Lisa mumbled. "You were just going to have dinner, too. . . ."

"Hey, no sweat! I'll just go put the pizzas in the fridge," Michelangelo said. "You can celebrate with us when we get back!"

She smiled, but it was a sad and uncertain smile.

Raphael stared down at her, so clearly in pain on the couch. "Yeah," he said quietly. She was usually so mischievous and obnoxious. More than that, she had been vibrant and full of life, even in spite of the mutation that she had hated. Not that he had even associated with her that much, but it still hurt to see her like this.

Leonardo laid a hand on his shoulder. "We're going to help her, Raphael," he promised. "She's going to be fine."

"Coming to think about it, if her mutation didn't have anything to do with mutagen, how's the retro-mutagen ray gun going to help?" Michelangelo worried.

"It helped me," Baxter said. "Despite Shredder's name for it, it seems to have properties to reverse any type of mutation, no matter what caused it."

Barney nodded. "That's true. And it had better work, because I honestly can't say how long she'll last if it doesn't. There might not be time to research and make something else."

Raphael flinched.

Baxter gave Raphael a sympathetic look. It was the cold, hard truth and needed to be said, but it would be painful for anyone to hear who cared about the girl. And really, even though he didn't know her, his heart went out to her. She was suffering from an unwanted mutation, just as he had. Now it was threatening to physically take her life, as his mutation had mentally taken his. He wanted to save her, to do what no one had been able to do for him.

"Alright then." Leonardo turned to head for the exit. "Let's go, guys. We've got ninety miles to cover to reach High Falls and the Technodrome."

"Not to mention time spent there and time to travel ninety miles back," Raphael worried. "Can Mona Lisa even hold out that long, Donatello?!"

"I sure hope so," Donatello said. "We can't spend time trying to get my portal to work so the Technodrome can be entered that way."

Baxter nodded. "Driving to High Falls would likely be quicker."

"I'll do my best to hang on," Mona Lisa said with a weak smile.

"Then let's move it!" Raphael cried, barreling past Leonardo and out the door.

xxxx

Raphael was understandably silent on the drive to High Falls. Conversation was scarce all around; everyone was shaken by the scene they had just left in the Lair.

"I've never heard about Mona Lisa before," Baxter finally spoke.

"Well, she hasn't really been around much," Michelangelo said. "Actually, we've only seen her a couple of times. After she dropped in to have pizza with us and April once, she ran off to parts unknown. She and Raphael seemed kinda interested in each other, but that didn't go anywhere. Maybe they were too much alike; she liked being an obnoxious wisecracker too."

Raphael stared into the distance. "She was never happy with being a mutant," he said. "She dealt with it really well and all, but she wanted to be human again."

Baxter gave a sad smile. "I can certainly understand that."

"You know, if this works and we get Mona Lisa back to normal and everything, we'll have the retro-mutagen ray gun," Michelangelo said. "Do you think Splinter will want to use it?"

"I don't know," Leonardo said. "He was pretty soured by his one experience being human again. And he was saying just the other day that he really considered himself Splinter now instead of Hamato Yoshi."

Baxter just looked baffled. "No matter what he says, it's very hard for me to believe he wouldn't want to use the retro-mutagen ray gun if he had it right in his grasp." He folded his arms. "How could anyone adjust so much to being another species that they would want to stay that way?"

"Well, maybe it's different if you still have your own mind," Raphael suggested. "You never experienced what it was like to be a mutant and still be you."

"I can't imagine that I would ever be happy as a mutant, even if it gave me super-strength or the ability to fly or whatever the case might be," Baxter said. "And it sounds as though Mona Lisa feels the same. We would both rather be simple, ordinary humans."

Raphael turned to look at him. "Here's a question, Baxter. What do you think of us?"

Baxter rocked back. "What?"

"I mean, did you ever think we were freaks like the city tried to paint us as being?" Raphael barreled on.

Baxter looked to Michelangelo and then his brothers, stricken at the sudden realization of how what he was saying could have sounded to the Turtles. "No, I honestly didn't," he said. "I was frightened when I first saw you, and then I was angry and felt betrayed when you believed I was Shredder's willing accomplice in using the Mousers to cause destruction, but I never saw you as freaks. Deep down, I was amazed by what the mutagen had done for you. But you know, you don't know what it's like to change into another species. Well . . . no one but Michelangelo knows that," he practically whispered. Louder he continued, "You stayed turtles, but you became enhanced turtles. Would you truly be happy to become something else?" He paused. "Would you want to be humans, for instance, even if you could keep your ninja skills?"

The Turtles looked at each other.

"No way, Dude," Michelangelo spoke up. "We're proud to be Turtles."

"And I'm proud to be a computer," Vincent chirped.

Baxter smiled a bit. "And I'm proud to be a human. You see, we each like what we are. We don't want to change. That isn't wrong or ugly. Or it shouldn't be. It's our heritage. It's part of who we are." He looked to Raphael. "Looking at it that way, can't you understand how Mona Lisa can't be happy being something she's not?"

Raphael looked away. "Yeah, I guess," he muttered. "Even though she's awesome as a mutant."

"And that's why it's hard for me to understand how Splinter could want to stay a rat," Baxter continued. "But I should have phrased things better. I'm sorry."

"Hey, no worries, Baxter," Michelangelo said, draping an arm around his shoulders and pulling him close in a half-hug. "I get it. I really do. And I get how what you went through would sour you more than probably anybody else on turning into something else."

Raphael sighed but nodded. "I really get it too," he said grudgingly. "On an intellectual level anyway."

"Maybe you kinda crushed on Mona Lisa as a mutant and you're kinda sad to think of her not being one anymore?" Michelangelo suggested.

Raphael looked like he wanted to sink through the floor. "What?! No! I just . . . feel kind of bad for her to not have her mutant abilities anymore. She was awesome when we fought Captain Filch. But I know she'd rather be human, like Baxter says, and now it looks like she has to be human again to survive. . . . And being a mutant is no picnic, the way public opinion usually goes." He scowled. "She's better off changing back."

"I agree," Barney said. "Although the fact that society often feels someone must be physically powerful to be 'cool' yet usually rejects mutants is a testament to its rampant hypocrisy."

"I never thought about it that way," Michelangelo said. "That is kinda weird, when you put it like that."

"The hypocrisy is definitely one reason why Master Splinter got so upset," Leonardo said.

"But he wanted to be human again before that, didn't he?" Baxter asked.

"He did, but he figured there wasn't any hope of changing back, so he had to make himself adjust," Leonardo said. "Then we took up his attention and he got pretty used to being Splinter, even though he still longed to be human. His experience going topside really made him dislike the thought of joining the human race again. He saw the bad side of humankind. Since then, he's seen a lot of the good side. But he doesn't know how he'd even go about reclaiming his life as Hamato Yoshi anymore. Shredder ruined his reputation. The Foot Clan is a bunch of criminals. Splinter has really built a new life for himself and he's adjusted so well that he doesn't want to leave it."

"He shouldn't have to," Baxter said. "You pointed out that you were all together before you were mutated." He sighed. "But I'll have to make myself realize that just because becoming human again was what I wanted with all my heart, Splinter may not feel the same."

Raphael clenched a fist. "I shouldn't have jumped down your throat a few minutes ago. I really knew you wouldn't have meant anything against us and that you were talking about changing into completely different species in general. I just feel so helpless, you know? What if we really don't find the gun and get back with it in time to save Mona Lisa?"

"That's alright," Baxter said quietly. "I realize it's a sensitive topic for all of us, but for different reasons."

"I know where the gun is kept, unless Shredder has moved it," Barney said. "I can get us to it quickly after we hack into the Technodrome."

"Thanks," Raphael said, sobered by the Stockmans' examples. "You're a good guy. You all are, no matter what species you are. And I . . . I really care about all of you, even if I say stupid and hurtful stuff sometimes. I hope you know that."

"It's incredible for me to believe it after our rocky past, but I do," Barney said.

"So do I," Vincent said.

Everyone else answered in the affirmative as well.

Leonardo gave a sigh of relief that the tension had not erupted into an argument. "Alright, everyone," he said. "We're approaching High Falls now. Let's get ready to get in there and use some skillful teamwork to get that retro-mutagen ray gun and save Mona Lisa!"

"Gnarly notion!" Michelangelo exclaimed. "We'll get it back with . . . oh hey, we can't say Turtle Power when we're not all Turtles here. Do you think Family Power is too cheesy?"

Raphael snarked. "Since when do you think anything is too cheesy?"

"Oh, righteous point, Dude," Michelangelo said.

Baxter had to laugh at the exchange. But then he said in all sincerity, "I think that's very nice, Michelangelo. And it suits this situation. We're all a family now."

"Bodacious!" Michelangelo exclaimed. "Then let's go save Mona Lisa with Family Power!"

". . . You know, that really does sound cheesy," Raphael remarked. "But part of me kind of likes it."

xxxx

Krang was adjusting dials and levers as Shredder nervously paced in the Technodrome's main control room.

"What's the hold-up, Krang?" Shredder complained. "We were going to raid Captain Filch's old warehouse in the hopes of finding some super-fuel he was supposed to have discovered before he got arrested."

"And we still are," Krang said. "But something's going on outside. The Turtle Van just pulled up and three Turtles and the Stockman group got out of it. Barney is typing into that computer's keyboard. I think they're hacking into the Technodrome!"

"What?!" Shredder rushed over to look. "Krang, you're surely not going to let them go through with it!"

"I'd kind of like to know what they're doing here," Krang said. "We won't learn that unless we let them come in." He watched as the door slid open and the group warily entered.

"I wonder where the other Turtle is," Shredder frowned. "But what does any of that matter?! Let's crush them!"

"Let's find out what they want and then crush them," Krang retorted.

Shredder scowled. It was good sense, but he didn't like it. "If only that blasted computer had been destroyed like we all thought," he grumbled.

"You were saying something about wondering how he would handle being wounded too many times to focus on healing himself," Krang said. "Not that I want to condone any of your petty revenge against him or the rest, but this would be a time you could enact your experiment on him, if you pick the right moment."

"Hmm. Yes." Shredder's eyes glinted. "It could all be part of dispatching of the lot of them." He reached into a drawer and pulled out a pair of rubber gloves. "And I think I know how to do it without risking an electric shock."

"Just make sure not to be too impatient," Krang insisted. "We want to know what they're doing here."

"Alright, alright," Shredder growled.

"And find Bebop and Rocksteady and tell them to stay out of sight as well," Krang said.

"I will!" Shredder said. "Don't worry, Krang. You just keep monitoring the situation until I get back."

"Oh, I wouldn't miss this," Krang sneered. "This is my current favorite television program, even ahead of John and Marcia."

"And that's really saying something," Shredder quipped. He started to walk off, then stopped. "By the way, you're calling that computer a 'he' now?!"

Krang shrugged. "Well, he has too much personality to keep saying 'it.'"

"Bah!" Shredder grumbled as he stormed off.

Krang watched him go. "Mostly, though, I say it because I know it will get your goat," he giggled.

xxxx

Barney was tense, and he could tell from Leonardo's expression that the Turtle felt the same. Everything had been quiet and peaceful since they had hacked into the Technodrome-too quiet and peaceful. Something was up; Barney was sure that Krang and Shredder knew they were there.

"Something feels wrong," Leonardo said at last. "It shouldn't be this easy."

"The weapons room is right here," Barney announced, going over to a door. Vincent tapped in the code and it slid open.

"Well, there's no Foot Soldiers yet," Raphael remarked. But he tightly gripped his sais.

"The retro-mutagen ray gun is over here, right where I left it." Barney went and retrieved it from the weapons rack.

"You're sure that's the right one?" Raphael said. "You said you replaced it with a look-alike weapon when you brought it to us before."

Barney looked it over. "It's the right one," he said impatiently. "The other one only looks like it from a distance."

A legion of Foot Soldiers dropped into the open doorway.

"It's an ambush!" Leonardo cried. "They must have been waiting to see what we were going to do before attacking!"

Barney swore under his breath and stuffed the gun in his coat while the Turtles and Vincent sprang into action to fight the new threat. But even though Foot Soldier robots were easy to defeat, more kept coming.

Finally Barney looked to Baxter. "It's dangerous for the Turtles to have this," he said. "We're going to have to try to get it out of here and hope that Shredder and Krang are distracted by all the bedlam."

Baxter stared at him in alarm. "We'll never make it out!" he protested.

Barney pulled him into a corner as a Foot Soldier flew past. "It's Mona Lisa's only chance." Out of sight of the security cameras, he stuffed the gun into Baxter's inside coat pocket. "You get it out. I'll come with you, but at the first sign of trouble I'll be a decoy. They think I have the gun. If they continue thinking it, you can get away with it."

Baxter went stiff. "Barney, I can't leave you behind!" he cried in dismay.

"If it comes to that, you'll have to," Barney insisted. He unscrewed a vent. "Get in."

Baxter swallowed hard. This was one of the hardest things he had ever had to do. But deep down, he knew Barney was right. Bending down, he climbed into the vent. After a moment, Barney slipped in behind him and replaced the grate.

The sounds of battle soon faded as they traveled. Baxter stayed quiet, his heart pounding hard in his chest. Barney spoke only to guide him through the ventilation system. Baxter had to wonder when and how Barney had memorized this path, but there would be time enough for questions later.

They had both hoped that their flight had gone unnoticed, or at least, that Shredder would not be able to determine where they would come out. But when Baxter pushed open a grate and climbed out into a hangar near the one through which they had entered, more Foot Soldiers greeted them.

"Barney," he quavered.

Barney growled and shoved Baxter away from him. "Go."

Baxter gave a choked cry of horror. "But . . . !"

"Get out of here!" Barney roared. He ducked and dodged the Foot Soldiers' weapons. "Give that girl a chance at life!"

Baxter ran. Behind him, he still heard the sounds of the Foot Soldiers continuing to attack and Barney managing to escape. He desperately prayed under his breath for his brother's safety, although he didn't hold out much hope. Barney was the decoy. He would deliberately give himself up if that was what it took.

Baxter had reached the door when he heard a crash and a pain-filled grunt. He spun around, eyes wide, and saw Barney slide down the wall to the floor and lay still.

"Barney," Baxter whispered. The Foot Soldiers were beginning to gather around the motionless form. Baxter wanted to run back, but he didn't dare. In a moment they would search and see that Barney didn't have the gun. So instead Baxter ran into the next hangar and the next, only going for his Turtle-Comm when he had concealed himself behind a stack of crates. "Come in, Turtles!" he hissed.

"Baxter!" Leonardo exclaimed. "What's going on? Where are you and Barney?"

"Barney's been hurt!" Baxter said in distress. "He gave me the gun and deliberately played the decoy. Some Foot Soldiers took him captive. I'm back in the hangar where we came in. I don't know what to do. . . ."

The sounds of battle were also on the Turtle-Comm, and Leonardo paused to slice at a Foot Soldier. "Alright, Baxter. Here's what to do. You get that gun out of here. Take it back to Mona Lisa right now. We'll get out of here and save Barney."

"But you won't have any transportation home!" Baxter cried.

"Maybe Billy Jim Bob will give us a ride. Or we can take a module or use the portal. The most important thing is to get that gun to Mona Lisa before it's too late." Leonardo kicked another Foot Soldier. "Barney recognized that. Don't make his sacrifice in vain."

"I . . . I'll do it," Baxter said. "Just please, please be careful!"

Suddenly there was a cry and the Turtle-Comm's screen went dead.

Baxter went sheet-white. "Hello?! Leonardo?! Vincent?! Michelangelo! Raphael! Someone, answer me!" He shook the device, but there was nothing.

His heart raced. He was the only one left. The last thing he wanted to do was to leave the Technodrome with his family and friends trapped inside. But he didn't know what else to do when they had all given him the responsibility of taking the gun back to Mona Lisa. His hands shaking, he tapped in the code Barney had used moments before and slipped out into the night.

xxxx

Splinter came into the Lair's living room with a bowl of hot broth. "How is she, Donatello?" he asked.

"About the same," Donatello sighed. "No . . . a little worse. I really hope the guys get back soon."

Mona Lisa stirred. "I'm . . . still here?" she mumbled, sounding both surprised and awed.

"You are," Splinter told her. "And help will hopefully be here soon. In the meantime, I have made some broth. It should help give you strength while we wait."

"Thanks." Mona Lisa tried to shakily push herself halfway up on the couch arm before reaching for the bowl. She took several sips. "That's good," she said weakly.

"Master Splinter's great with soups," Donatello said. "So is April."

"You guys are all so nice to me," Mona Lisa said with a faint smile. "You hardly even know me."

"Hey, we know you well enough," Donatello said. "Anyway, we mutants have to stick together."

"Well, I won't be a mutant for much longer," Mona Lisa said. "Unless they . . . don't get back in time. . . ."

"They will," Donatello insisted. "And you'll always be our friend, no matter what you look like."

"Of course," Splinter nodded in agreement.

"You really are great guys," Mona Lisa said. "I'm glad people are starting to realize that." She managed to drink some more of the broth before she had to set the bowl down on the table and sink into the couch, shaking with pain.

"Is there anything else we can do?" Splinter asked in deep concern.

"Just . . . be here," Mona Lisa said softly. "If . . . it happens, I . . . don't want to die alone. . . ."

"We'll stay," Donatello assured her. But as he watched her suffering, he had to wonder himself if the others would make it back in time to save her life.

xxxx

Barney regained consciousness to the sound of a familiar, pained cry and the feel of another form being forcefully pulled away from him. He started, dragging himself into a kneeling position. "Vincent?!"

They were both trapped in one of the Technodrome's holding cells. Vincent had apparently been lying next to him, hugging him protectively close. Now he was being jerked across the small cell by Shredder. The villain pressed him up against the wall, a spiked hand dangerously close to his arm. Vincent's shirt was off for some reason, probably an indignity courtesy of their captor.

"Let him go," Barney rasped.

Shredder didn't. "So, you and your friends thought you could raid the Technodrome and steal the retro-mutagen ray gun from me, did you?" His eyes flashed. "You were both searched when you were brought in. So were those wretched reptiles. None of you have it!"

Vincent gave Shredder a cold look. "Then you have no reason to keep us here, unless you're enacting your revenge."

"Oh, such a brilliant deduction," Shredder sneered. "Baxter may have escaped with the gun; he's the only one we didn't catch. But how will he feel, I wonder, when he learns that he abandoned all of you at the cost of your lives?"

"I told him to leave," Barney said in mounting fury. "He never would have gone if someone's life wasn't at stake. All of this would have been in vain if he hadn't taken the gun and left!"

Vincent was giving Shredder a look of absolute hatred. He started to raise his hand to force the man back, but something caught his eye and he looked down, stunned by the covering on his hand.

"You can't shock me now, can you, Computer?" Shredder mocked. "Not as long as I keep those rubber gloves on your hands. I certainly won't give you any opportunity to take them off." He raked his spikes through Vincent's right arm.

Vincent gave a choked cry of pain. He wanted to bring up a hand to clutch the wound, but Shredder was holding his wrists fast.

Barney watched in shocked outrage. He had seen Vincent's energy-generated body wounded once before; the removal of the weapon didn't allow the substance to instantly snap back and close up. Instead, just as before, the parallel cuts remained. But within them was a deeper shade of blue that started to leak out onto the floor. That was not something Barney had expected.

"What's this?! You can bleed?" Shredder touched the darker blue, but it seemed intangible.

Vincent stared too, seeming as surprised and bewildered as the others. "It's . . . energy," he realized. "I'm bleeding pure energy. . . ."

"Well, I wonder what will happen if I give you some more problems to think about." Shredder tore through Vincent's left shoulder.

Barney had seen enough. He leaped up, his eyes burning with utter fury and hatred. "Stop it!" He ran at Shredder from behind and got his arms around his neck to pull him back.

Vincent looked over, both surprised and dazed. "Barney, no. . . ."

Shredder shoved Vincent to the floor and rose to his full height, grabbing the little man by his wrists and throwing him away from him. "You miserable traitor!" he boomed. "You had everything you could have wanted here with us! Instead you lied to us about everything, including about finding the supercomputer!"

Barney crashed to the floor and lay there in pain. ". . . I didn't have everything I wanted," he muttered. "But I found Vincent thanks to you and Krang, ironically enough. So for that reason I'll have to be grateful I joined you. He didn't deserve to be trapped on the Technodrome."

Shredder kicked him in the ribs. But he had forgotten about Vincent. Now the living computer lunged, tackling him around the ankles and dragging him to the floor.

Shredder roared in anger. Somehow he spun around, digging his spikes into Vincent's left side. Vincent gasped, falling backwards. Clearly he was suffering.

"Vincent!" Barney struggled to get up again. "Why are you doing this, Shredder?! Are you really trying to get back at Baxter? Or are you trying to get back at me?!"

"I wanted to get rid of you for ages and Krang kept you around," Shredder said. "You're his problem. At the same time, I don't get a lot of chances to really do damage to my enemies. It feels so good to be this bad. And for you to watch me hurt your precious computer is a moment I didn't even realize I was living for until now." He advanced on Vincent, who was clutching the wound in his side. As Shredder drew closer, Vincent forced himself to let go and work on removing one of the gloves instead.

Shredder reached him just as the glove came off. Vincent held out a hand to shock him at the same moment Shredder dug his spikes into the computer's chest. Despite the pain, Shredder raised his arm, suspending Vincent in mid-air.

Barney couldn't take it. Unable to find anything to throw at Shredder, he threw himself, even though that meant he would be shocked too. He clenched his teeth against the pain as he tackled Shredder into the door.

Shredder cried out in rage. He violently kicked Barney away and then shook Vincent's body off of his spikes, sending him crashing into Barney. "There," he snarled. "Have each other." He got out through the energy beams and reactivated them before the prisoners could attempt to follow.

Barney slowly knelt up again, half-cradling Vincent on his lap. There was no response from his brother; the wounds in his chest were far deeper than anywhere else and he hadn't moved since Shredder had lifted him up on his spikes. The laptop screen wasn't blank, but Vincent's eyes were closed and that state did not change.

"Vincent . . . ?" Barney's voice was choked, despairing. If Vincent were dead, the laptop surely would be blank . . . wouldn't it? Or what if instead it would be forever frozen like this?

Horrified at the thought, Barney shakily reached out a hand and tapped on the keyboard. "Vincent?!" Still nothing. And after he had tapped several times, the laptop responded with the dreaded clicking and beeping that meant it was frozen.

Now Barney didn't know what to do. Vincent wasn't a computer program; rebooting the laptop wouldn't revive him. And maybe he really couldn't revive at all. Shredder's final, grotesque move certainly would have killed a human.

"Vincent, wake up," Barney choked out. Ordinarily he would be furious at this point, his panic coming out as anger. But right now he felt so numb, so blank. He was kneeling in a cell in the Technodrome, his adopted brother laying in his arms. The energy continued to drain from the wounds, pooling on the floor and then disappearing. Obviously Barney had to do something to stop it, but what? He had no idea how to close wounds in an energy-generated body!

The only thing he could think to try was an experiment on Vincent's arm. He took hold of the edges of the wound and pushed them together. But if he was hoping for them to catch and reform, it was in vain. As soon as he released Vincent's arm, the wounds were open again. Apparently, just like with human wounds, they would have to be bound. But he had nothing to even use.

His eyes widened. Maybe he did have something he could use on Vincent's arm, at least.

Carefully he laid Vincent on the floor and undid his yellow bow tie. He fought to keep his hands steady as he tied it around Vincent's arm. The wounds pulled together and nothing else leaked out.

He sighed. That solved that problem, but what about the other wounds, especially the deepest ones in Vincent's chest? Maybe he could take his coat off and try to press it against them. . . .

An energy-generated body wouldn't have pressure points, would it?

Well, what did he have to lose? Vincent was, for all intents and purposes, bleeding. Maybe there would be something similar to pressure points to stop it.

Barney felt about, locating the correct areas for pressure points corresponding to where the wounds were. When he pressed down, the bleeding stopped. He leaned back in amazed disbelief.

If he wanted to go a step further, Vincent wouldn't be able to bleed at all if he wasn't still alive. Maybe he should cling to that hope. He needed to cling to something; he couldn't bear to believe that Vincent was dead.

Barney pulled Vincent closer to him, letting the laptop rest on his lap. Shredder hadn't even touched the laptop, but had instead focused on Vincent's body. It seemed doubtful that rebooting the laptop would change anything. Still, maybe he should try.

He reached down, pressing the Power button until the laptop screen went dark. When he pressed it again, the screen went through the motions of booting up. But instead of going to the Desktop screen, it then returned to Vincent's pained face.

Barney's shoulders slumped. "Oh Vincent. . . ." Maybe if he waited for a while longer, Vincent would come to. It didn't look like he had any other options at this point.

"Please let him be alright," he prayed under his breath. "And please let Baxter get the gun back to the girl in time. . . ."

A random thought occurred to him at that moment.

He really wished he had a Turtle-Comm.

xxxx

"Oh. . . . Guys?" Leonardo groaned as consciousness returned. For a moment he wasn't even sure where he was. But then the memories flooded back-the fight against the endless Foot Soldiers, the lights suddenly going out, Bebop and Rocksteady joining the calamity . . . and the Turtles being overpowered at last. His memories stopped there.

"I'm here," Raphael moaned. "I think." He was laying on the cot in what seemed to be a small holding cell. Weakly he raised a hand and let it drop again.

"Maximum bummer, Dudes," Michelangelo said from the floor. "And where's Vincent?!"

That snapped the other Turtles awake. "He's not here," Leonardo exclaimed.

"Maybe they put him with Barney," Raphael suggested. "What the . . ." He sat up, dragging a loud purple shirt with him. "And they left this here. . . ."

"He's half-naked!" Michelangelo said in disbelief. "Why would they take his shirt off?!"

"Turtles, I don't like this at all," Leonardo frowned. He pulled out his Turtle-Comm, but frowned at the static that filled the screen. "And I might have known; our Turtle-Comms don't work in this cell!"

"So what are we going to do, Fearless Leader?" Raphael retorted. "It'll take Baxter over an hour to get back to the city with the gun. Then he'll have to stay in the Lair for a while to use it on Mona Lisa. Only then will he and Donatello and maybe Splinter be able to come after us. All in all, we could be here for hours."

"We'll just have to get out of here without the aid of any of our scientist friends or Master Splinter," Leonardo said. "There must be a way to short out those energy beams!"

"Well, it's not like they left our weapons in here with us," Michelangelo frowned.

"I wonder if there's a way we could use our Turtle-Comms to do it," Leonardo mused. "We can't get a signal, but what if we could somehow interfere with the signal here?"

"Donatello could sure do it," Michelangelo said.

"Well, I'm going to try and see what I come up with." Leonardo resolutely sat down and started opening up his Turtle-Comm.

"Waiting for Baxter and Donatello to come back might be faster," Raphael grumbled.

Suddenly Leonardo froze. "Wait a minute!" His eyes lit up. "Maybe they didn't get all of our weapons!"

"What are you talking about?" Raphael frowned. "Did you have a bazooka in your shell?"

"No, but I have what we need!" Leonardo reached and pulled a small knife out of his wristband.

"Mondo move, Leonardo!" Michelangelo chirped.

Within moments Leonardo had attacked the circuitry and disabled the beams. "Alright, Turtles! Let's go find Barney and Vincent!"

"And like, don't forget to bring his shirt," Michelangelo said to Raphael.

"What do I look like, a valet?" Raphael retorted. But he draped the shirt over his shoulder.

xxxx

Baxter's hands were shaking as he drove the Turtle Van along the freeway. He had placed his Turtle-Comm on the wall to the side so he could talk hands-free, but he was dreading the conversation. Still, it had to come. He pressed the button.

"Donatello here. Baxter, what's going on?!"

Baxter swallowed hard. "I . . . I've got the gun," he stammered. "How is Mona Lisa?"

"She's hanging on," Donatello said. "April came over and she's been helping with her too. Mona Lisa's been drifting in and out of consciousness. I think that the sooner that gun can get here, the better. But wait a minute! You have it?! Where's everyone else?!"

"They're all prisoners on the Technodrome," Baxter wailed. "I had to leave with the gun and I don't know if any of them are even still . . ." He trailed off. "Is Mona Lisa awake right now?"

"No, thank goodness," Donatello frowned. "I'd hate for her to hear this." He was clearly shaken by Baxter's news. "Baxter, I'm sure they're okay . . ." His voice quavered.

"You're not sure any more than I am," Baxter said. "I saw Barney cut down. And I was talking to Leonardo when his Turtle-Comm went dead. I . . . I couldn't bear to leave them, but . . ."

"The mission came first," Donatello finished. "I know. Baxter, you did what you had to do. Bring the gun in and I'll see if there's any possible chance of fixing my portal so we can go after them without it taking another ninety minutes to drive back there."

"But . . . Mona Lisa," Baxter protested. "How can you focus on the portal when she needs help?"

"I'll work on it in the living room so I'll be close at hand," Donatello said. "Master Splinter and April are looking out for her."

"Alright," Baxter said doubtfully.

"Baxter . . ." Donatello tried to give him a reassuring look. "I'm glad you went along. You were where you were needed most."

Baxter finally nodded. "Yes," he said. "I suppose I was."

But it was still hard to feel better about what he had witnessed.

xxxx

The mood in the Lair was a mixture of hope and fear as Donatello hung up with Baxter. "Well," Donatello said slowly, "at least they got the gun. . . ."

"But what about everybody else?" April cried. "What's happened to them?"

Splinter looked down at the bowl on the table for a long moment before looking up again. "I will not count any of them out yet," he said. "They have been in countless uncomfortable situations before and they have always come through."

"The Turtles sure have," April said. "But Barney isn't a fighter. And obviously even Vincent's electricity must have failed him. Maybe he's been broken again."

"Vincent will not betray them," Splinter said. "Of that I am sure."

"He cracked twice in the past," Donatello frowned, "but the second time he tried to make up for it as soon as he could."

"He was much closer to Baxter by that time," Splinter said. "Even though he had a moment of weakness, he was not about to allow Baxter to be harmed. And by now he is even closer to his loved ones than he was then."

"I guess you're right," April relented. "I'm just so worried. . . ."

"As are we all," Splinter said.

Mona Lisa moaned and stirred, reaching up a hand to the cloth on her forehead. April quickly went to her side. "Hey, Mona Lisa," she greeted.

"April?" Mona Lisa squinted up at her in surprise.

"Yeah." April tried to smile.

"What are you doing here?" Mona Lisa softly asked.

"I came over when I heard you were here," April said. "I wanted to help."

Mona Lisa gave a bit of a smile. "That's . . . really nice." She paused. "Is there . . . any news yet?"

"The retro-mutagen ray gun's on it's way," Donatello told her.

"They really got it without any trouble?" Mona Lisa mumbled.

The others exchanged a worried look. To tell her the truth might upset her so much that her condition would worsen. But if they held back, she might pick up on that.

"Yeah," April said at last.

Mona Lisa seemed to accept that. "I'm glad no one was hurt. . . ." She relaxed, slipping into a semi-conscious state.

Splinter gave April a look that said he wasn't sure lying was the best thing to do. April's answering look said she was willing to take the chance. With any luck, maybe the others really would get back safe.

Donatello turned away, hoping April was right.

xxxx

Barney had long ago stopped begging for Vincent to revive. But he was insistent on believing the computer was still alive. After all, he rationalized, surely Vincent couldn't sustain the solid energy generator if he were dead. But on the other hand, how could he sustain it while unconscious?

Barney closed his eyes. He didn't want to think about that. He wouldn't think about that. Vincent was alive.

He wished there was a way to tell. It was difficult when computers didn't breathe or have a pulse. When he held a hurt Baxter, he could generally tell that Baxter was alive-save for when Baxter had been struck down by a suspended animation ray. But Vincent was completely still. No rising and falling of the chest. No gentle throb in his hands or his neck. It was eerie and chilling.

Vincent sustained the solid energy generator all the time while he was sleeping. Unconsciousness wasn't really much different from that.

Barney was still kneeling where he had been before. His knees were starting to hurt, really, but he wasn't sure he dared move. Maybe it would jostle Vincent and hurt him worse, or maybe something would start bleeding again, or . . .

A soft groan immediately brought Barney back to attention. "Vincent?!" he demanded.

The computer's eyes slowly opened. "Barney. . . . Are you . . . alright?"

"Am I alright?!" Barney said in disbelief. "Vincent, don't you remember what Shredder did to you?!"

"Oh. Yes." Vincent slowly brought a hand to his chest and cringed. "Ow. . . ."

"You were bleeding energy everywhere," Barney said. "I didn't know what to do. I tried pressing like I would on a human's pressure points and . . . the bleeding stopped. . . ."

"Fascinating." Vincent gripped Barney's hand. "Thank you. I'm so sorry you were put to so much pain and sorrow."

Barney gripped Vincent's hand in turn. "But what about you?" he demanded. "Can you repair the damage now that you're awake?"

"I should be able to." Vincent closed his eyes, concentrating hard. As Barney watched in amazement, the wounds began to close. Vincent handled the chest wounds first, as they were the most serious. Then he took care of the shallower injuries. Finally he sat up, fully restored. "There. Good as new."

Barney let out a breath he hadn't realized he was holding. "If I hadn't been able to stop the bleeding . . . what would have happened?"

"I guess eventually I would have gone into a dormant state," Vincent said. "I want to think some more energy would bring me back, unlike when an organic being bleeds to death. . . ."

"I suppose that makes sense," Barney conceded.

Suddenly Vincent became aware that Barney wasn't wearing his bowtie. He looked down, finding it tied around his arm. "What's this?" He undid the knots and handed it back to Barney.

"I tried to bind one of your wounds before realizing I had to find another solution," Barney explained. He put the bowtie around his neck and quickly tied it in place.

Vincent smiled. "I can always rely on you, Barney."

Barney switched the topic. "But Vincent, what on Earth happened?! How were you captured in the first place?"

"The Turtles and I were overwhelmed," Vincent said. "The lights went out and more Foot Soldiers came, along with Bebop and Rocksteady. Eventually we all fell. I roused up enough to realize I was being put with you, and I was sure it wasn't for a good reason, so I tried to protect you. Then Shredder came and started throwing me around." His eyes darkened.

"I felt you there," Barney said. "But . . . if everyone was captured, I wonder if Baxter got away. . . . Shredder thought he had, but . . ."

"Let's assume for now that he did," Vincent soothed. "Right now we need to focus on getting out of here and finding the Turtles."

Barney looked to the energy beams. "Then it's time for some more hacking."

Vincent smirked. "I'm always happy to oblige."

The Turtles ran up just as Vincent got the beams removed. "Hey! You guys are okay!" Michelangelo said in relief.

"All of you look alright as well," Barney observed.

"So let's get out of here and back to the city already!" Raphael exclaimed.

"Shredder and Krang are in the main control room," Vincent reported.

"Do you know where our weapons are?" Michelangelo wondered. "They took 'em. Well, all except Leonardo's handy-dandy knife."

"Your weapons are in Shredder's trophy room," Vincent said after a moment of searching through the Technodrome's database.

Raphael snorted. "Well, that's typical. We'll get them back, kick some shell, and take the portal back to New York. I don't want to wait any ninety minutes to get back on the freeway!"

"That works for me," Leonardo said. "If we're all up to another fight?"

"No duh," Michelangelo said.

"Oh, and I have something of yours," Raphael remembered. He pulled the shirt off his shoulder and handed it to Vincent.

"Thank you," Vincent replied, and slipped it on.

"So, like, what'd they take your shirt off for anyway?" Michelangelo wondered.

Vincent and Barney exchanged a look. "We're not sure," Barney admitted, "but it was probably because Shredder was in a sadistic mood." His eyes darkened. "He started torturing Vincent."

"I'm alright," Vincent quickly added when the Turtles gasped.

"Are you sure?" Michelangelo demanded.

"Yes; I healed the damage," Vincent insisted. "But I'm surprised he didn't take all of my clothes."

"He probably didn't only because the shirt was easier and quicker to remove," Barney said darkly.

"That tin can is just asking for trouble," Raphael snarled. "Only right now we should get back to Mona Lisa and make sure she's alright. But I'm going to savor a good, long fight with Shred-Head next time."

"On my account?" Vincent looked somewhat surprised as well as touched.

"Of course on your account," Raphael snapped. "No one messes with a Turtle's family!"

"And we'd all totally want a piece of that fight," Michelangelo said.

Vincent smiled. "You'd really do that for me? Gosh . . ."

"Really," Leonardo said firmly. "But for now, let's go."

The others were more than happy to follow him.

xxxx

Krang scowled at the screen. "Well, Shredder, now you've seen that the computer can heal himself when he's conscious."

"Computers can't fall unconscious!" Shredder fumed.

"What would you call it then?" Krang retorted. "And do you have another term for all that bleeding he was doing? Computers aren't supposed to do that, either!"

Shredder growled to himself. "And now they're hacking into the system and getting away!" He started to push Krang aside to get to the console.

Krang pushed him away instead. "They just wanted the retro-mutagen ray gun to save some silly friend of theirs," he said. "We've wasted enough time on them already. Just let them go. We need to be thinking about Captain Filch's warehouse!"

"We have them right in our grasp!" Shredder snarled. "I will not let them walk out alive, especially not with my retro-mutagen ray gun! I refuse!"

"You'll do whatever I say we're going to do," Krang snapped. "Honestly, Shredder, I'd forgotten how cruel you can be at times. Watching you attack that computer so heartlessly was . . . stimulating. Let's let them get away for now, because I have a much better idea of how to deal with them later. One of which I'm certain you will approve."

Shredder paused, his eyes glinting. "I'm listening."

xxxx

The group was stunned when they arrived at the main control room after retrieving their weapons and found it empty. "Oh great," Raphael frowned. "Where the heck did they go?"

"They'd never let us go this easily unless they have something completely nefarious planned," Leonardo worried.

"Like maybe the transport module will blow up or something?" Michelangelo said.

"Or the portal?" Raphael said. "Since they're not here, why don't we use it?"

"Works for me." Leonardo approached the console and started typing in coordinates.

"After we're through the portal, the computer will erase the coordinates," Vincent offered.

"Did it tell you that?" Barney asked with a raised eyebrow.

"Yes, actually," Vincent said. "It's grateful to me for trying to help it in the past, even though we're on opposite sides."

"Can you really trust Krang's computer, though?" Raphael looked skeptical.

"Computers don't lie," Vincent said firmly. "But if you're worried, I'll keep my link with it until we're back in the Lair."

"It would make me sleep easier at night," Raphael said.

"Alright then." Vincent rested his hand on the console while Leonardo finished the adjustments. As the portal whirred open, everyone leaped through. Vincent went last, and paused at the mouth of the portal. "It's erased."

Everyone looked up with a start as they appeared. "Guys!" April exclaimed.

Baxter was just walking into the room that minute. His eyes lit up. "You're all safe!" He ran over, Donatello hot on his heels.

"Oh wow, it's good to see you guys!" Donatello cried.

"I am so glad you are all well," Splinter said. "We have been so worried."

The Turtles embraced, while Baxter hugged his brothers. "Barney, Vincent, are you really alright?!" he demanded.

"We're just fine," Barney told him. "But we can talk more later. Let's help this girl."

Baxter nodded and stepped back, taking the retro-mutagen ray gun out of his coat. "Would you like to do the honors, Raphael?" he quietly asked, holding it out.

Raphael accepted it, turning it over in his hands before looking to Mona Lisa's limp and ill form on the couch. It would just take one pull of the trigger and she would be well again, able to have a normal life. Would she still care about them when she was human again? Of course she would; she would still be the same Mona Lisa, no matter what she looked like. Except . . . she'd be happier. She would be who she wanted to be, inside and out. Baxter was right, at least in her case. Raphael held the gun out and pulled the trigger.

A bright light engulfed the salamander for one brief moment. When it faded, a human girl in a pink dress was laying on the couch.

Raphael took a cautious step forward. "Mona Lisa?"

Her eyes slowly opened. "Raphael . . ." She began to smile. "You did it?!"

"Yeah." Raphael rubbed the back of his neck with an awkward laugh. "I did it. I mean, we did it."

"How do you feel?" Donatello asked.

Mona Lisa started to smile. "Better." She sat up on the couch. "I feel better!"

The Turtles struck up a cheer and high-fived. Michelangelo, of course, also included the others present in his high-fiving.

Raphael had to smile as he saw how vibrant and happy Mona Lisa looked. She was indeed well again. And there was a light in her eyes that hadn't been present before. He had seen that same look in Baxter's eyes when his delirium had faded and he had realized he was no longer part-fly, and in Michelangelo's eyes when he had returned to being a Turtle after his adventure as a human. It was as Baxter had said, not wrong or ugly, but the joy of being what they truly loved to be.

Suddenly it occurred to Raphael that he needed to speak. "So, uh, how does it feel to be human again?" he asked.

She stared down at her hands and arms and then to her legs and feet. "I'm human again," she said softly, her voice filled with awe. "I'm really human again!"

"Thanks to everyone who went after the retro-mutagen ray gun," Donatello said.

She looked to the group gathered around, into the hopeful and happy eyes and faces of friends as well as beings she had never met before tonight. "Thank you," she said, her voice trembling with emotion. "Thank you all so much."

"We were happy to do it," Barney said.

Baxter nodded, a fond smile on his features. For him, the situation had struck a special chord. Out of everyone in the room, he and April knew what it was like to both be a mutant and never stop longing to be human again. It warmed his heart to have been part of giving such a gift to this girl.

Raphael drew a deep breath and turned, holding the gun out to Splinter. "Well, Sensei, it's your turn, I guess. If you want it."

Splinter gazed at the gun for a long moment. ". . . We will be keeping it here, won't we?"

"Y-Yes, I guess so," Donatello said in surprise.

"Then I will have plenty of time to decide what to do." Splinter looked to Donatello. "I am sure you will put it in a safe place."

"O-Oh, I will, Master," Donatello said. "Probably in the locker where I keep OMNUS's memory stick."

"Very good," said Splinter.

Baxter still didn't understand. But he wouldn't dwell on it. Instead, he looked to Michelangelo. "Well, my friend? Are we still going to have that celebration?"

"Oh, you bet, Bud!" Michelangelo declared. "I'll just go warm the pizzas up right now! We have got mondo reasons for celebrating tonight!"

Mona Lisa smiled and laughed as she watched him go.

"So, uh, what's your real name?" Raphael asked. "There's no way I believe it's Mona Lisa."

"You win the prize," she said in amusement as she pointed a finger at him. "It's just Mona. When I became a mutant, I tacked on 'Lisa' in the great tradition of Renaissance mutant names."

April sat on the couch next to her. "So, what will you do with your life now?" she asked.

"I'd like to get back to my old life, or at least, as much of it as I can," Mona Lisa replied. "I want to go back to college. And I'll need to see my family and friends."

"Did they . . . ever know what happened to you?" Raphael wondered.

She shook her head. "Not for a long time. I just couldn't bring myself to tell them. But after I met you, Raphael, I wanted to see them again. I wanted to believe that they would still want me, even as a mutant."

"And did they?" Baxter's voice was quiet and gentle.

"Yeah." She smiled. "I was with my family until I started getting sick. When I realized it was serious, I came out here to find you guys. And I'm so glad I did." She looked around at them in concern. "I hope you didn't go to too much trouble just for me."

"We were helping a friend," Leonardo smiled. "It wasn't trouble."

"Yes," Vincent agreed. "We were happy to help." He gave Baxter a fond look.

"Well," Mona Lisa said, "now that I'm feeling better, I want to know all about you guys. I haven't met you before tonight and still you joined right in with the Turtles and Splinter and April in helping me."

Baxter sat down on her other side. "You already know that I was once a mutant as well," he said. "I wanted to help another unwilling mutant become human again."

"Thanks," Mona Lisa said softly.

"And we wanted to help too," Vincent said.

Barney nodded. He didn't want to tell this stranger about his feelings of wanting to help someone when he hadn't been able to help Baxter, but his sincerity was clear in his eyes.

"You're all great," Mona Lisa smiled.

"We make a gnarly team!" Michelangelo called from the kitchen.

"Yeah," April said. "We do at that."

xxxx

The rest of the evening was filled with friendship and togetherness and fun. And although Donatello tried to find out where Shredder and Krang could have gone, no reports of robberies they would have likely committed turned up anywhere in the area. He was still worried, as were many of the others, but with the situation as it was, there was little that could be done until there was more information. So Michelangelo finally convinced Donatello to more fully join in the festivities.

Baxter found a quiet moment to talk with Barney and Vincent in a corner of the room. "What happened to you two?" he asked in concern. "I had to see you fall, Barney. . . . Worse, I knew I couldn't stop to help you. Turning and leaving was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do."

"You came through with flying colors, Pal," Vincent said.

Barney nodded. "You did. And I wasn't badly hurt, no matter how it looked. I was just knocked unconscious. I revived in a cell with Vincent." He hesitated, not sure he wanted to reveal the rest.

Baxter, however, knew there was more. "And?" he pointedly queried.

"Shredder started attacking me," Vincent said softly.

Baxter flinched. "What?!"

"He wounded Vincent so badly that he fell unconscious," Barney said bitterly.

"But the interesting thing is that I bleed energy," Vincent said. "And I have something similar to pressure points to make it stop."

Baxter stared at him. "Neither of you knew this?"

"No," Barney said. "I created the device, but I didn't know every facet of how it would work when used to create a body."

"Even I didn't know," Vincent said. "I just willed a body into existence. I chose the shape and the size. I decided little details like how many fingers to have or whether to leave anything out, but I didn't decide to have energy-blood or pressure points."

"That really is strange," Baxter said. "But so you're really alright?!"

"Of course," Vincent assured him. "I mended the damage when I woke up."

"I'm so glad." Baxter finally started to relax.

Barney decided he wanted to change the subject. "The girl seems to have made a complete recovery." He nodded to where Mona Lisa was talking and joking with Raphael and Michelangelo while happily munching a piece of pizza.

"She has." Baxter smiled as they watched her. "It feels good to know that we were able to help give someone her life back."

Barney nodded and folded his arms. "I saw the look in your eyes. It must have had particular meaning for you."

"Naturally it would," Baxter said softly.

"And for me as well," Barney said. "Although it drives home all the more that I wasn't able to do that for you."

Baxter turned to look at him. "You may have not been the one to give me back my life as a human, Barney, but you gave me something even more important. You gave me my brother."

Barney finally smiled a bit. "That's true. With Vincent's help."

Vincent grinned.

"I wonder if Splinter will ever decide to use the retro-mutagen ray on himself," Baxter mused.

"It's hard to say," Barney said. "But when he's hesitating so much, I would venture to say he probably won't."

"And I will probably never understand why," Baxter admitted. "But as long as he's happy, that's the most important thing."

Barney nodded. "It is."

"I wonder what Shredder and Krang are plotting," Baxter worried. "It's more than a little strange that they just let all of you go."

"I'm sure we'll find out before long," Barney said. "Let's just hope it won't be tonight."

"Why don't we rejoin the party?" Vincent suggested.

Baxter smiled. "Let's."

The three brothers started forward, moving towards their friends old and new. All of them welcomed the Stockmans with open arms.