Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 1987

Baxter Undercover

By Lucky_Ladybug

Notes: The characters are not mine (except the Vaughns) and the story is! The antique mall design is mostly based on a real place I love, because I just couldn't resist. ThickerThanLove provided the quote near the end. The religious relic spoken of is based on one in The Greater Good episode of Mysterious Ways. This story is based on a dream, and I tried to keep it as close to the dream's events as possible, save for fleshing it out. I love when I can turn a dream into a story! 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.

Baxter occasionally received visitors to his office at Channel 6. Up to now, any who had come had been welcome, as Irma was careful to screen them. But when Big Louie walked in one afternoon without so much as a knock, Baxter went stiff in anger.

"You! You have a lot of nerve, showing up here after what you did!" he snapped. "I can't believe Miss Langinstein would let you in!"

"She stepped away from her desk for a few minutes," Louie smirked. "Leave us be reasonable, Dr. Stockman. I didn't do anything that bad to you. I just wanted your computer so's I could see how it works."

"Your actions nearly killed Vincent, and you weren't sorry about it," Baxter retorted. "If it had been up to me, you would have been charged with kidnapping. As it was, felony theft should have put you away."

"It was good for me that the judge didn't know how to handle the case, considering that computer is alive and all," Louie said. "Was it theft? Was it kidnapping?"

"So he just threw it out," Baxter said in disgust. "And I'm sure you're not here to apologize for what you did."

"We're both men of business, Doctor," Louie said. "I'm actually here to offer you a job."

"What?!" Baxter snorted. "You have the gall to think I would accept a job from you?"

"It's worth a try," Louie said. "Give me a chance to outline it for you."

Baxter got up from his desk. "I don't need any outline! I already know my answer-NO! I will not work for the man who could have killed Vincent!" He paused. "And I wouldn't work for you even if that wasn't a factor. I never wanted to get into crime. I wanted to live an honest life. Now I finally am."

"It would be an honest job," Louie insisted.

"In any of your establishments, anything 'honest' would just be a front," Baxter said.

"All I want is for you to invent something that will date ancient artifacts," Louie said. "Does that sound sleazy to you?"

"That is hardly my field of expertise," Baxter said haughtily. "I'm sure there are plenty of scientists who would be willing to work for you. Go find one of them."

"I will do that," Louie said. "But just let me know if you change your mind." With that he departed.

"Hmph!" Baxter stormed back to his desk and picked up his phone. He was about to send off an enraged and indignant message to Barney, but something stopped him. He frowned, tapping his finger on the screen.

Big Louie was a very dangerous man. The Turtles had gotten him arrested once before and then he had been arrested more recently because of the Vincent fiasco. But he was free again. Someone needed to really get the goods on him, in a way that would put him away for years. Who knew if he might go after Vincent again? A golden opportunity had just dropped in Baxter's lap to be able to catch him. Under any other circumstances he would probably balk and refuse at putting himself in such a position of danger, but this was a special case. He couldn't pass it up.

He stuffed the phone in his jeans pocket and left his office. Louie was standing at the elevator, waiting for it to arrive. Slowly Baxter approached. "Ahem."

Louie turned. "A change of heart already, Doctor?"

"Let's just say I decided I should at least hear your pitch," Baxter said. "Come back to my office and tell me more about this . . . 'honest' project."

"With pleasure," Louie smirked.

xxxx

"You're going to do what?!"

Baxter winced as Barney's yell nearly shattered the living room windows. Standing to the side, Vincent looked stunned. "Baxter, why?" he asked.

Baxter drew a deep breath. "I don't want Big Louie to have another chance to come after you, Vincent. I know he must still be interested. If he heard the news story about you and the boy Zach helping each other, he's probably more intrigued than ever."

"But going undercover and planting yourself in the middle of his operations to stop him?" Barney folded his arms. "Have you considered that maybe he pitched this job to you as a way of getting to Vincent?"

"Yes, I have," Baxter admitted. "After he explained in more detail what he wanted, I spent a long time doing research online. Of course, his story about it being honest work is a lie. He wants me to trick someone into selling him a religious relic they own, by pretending there's no value other than for a collector."

"Religious relics?" Barney looked dubious. "Why on Earth would Big Louie be interested in anything to do with God?"

Baxter sighed. "It's supposed to have healing properties," he said.

"As do most religious relics," Barney said. "Supposedly."

"Apparently he thinks that it would help him and his men if they were wounded in gun battles," Baxter said. "They would just have to touch it and they would be healed."

Barney made a face. "That is utter and complete blasphemy. A criminal attempting to use a sacred object to heal himself in order to go on committing crimes?"

"I don't like it either," Baxter said. "And quite frankly, I can't think it would work. If religious relics have any sort of power at all, God must surely have control over them. He would know who was deserving of a healing and who would only use it for wickedness."

"I have never known what to think about religious relics," Barney grunted. "If someone isn't careful, they could end up relying on the object more than on God. And maybe there's no power to begin with and it's just positive thinking or mind over matter when someone is 'healed' by one."

"Those are valid points," Baxter said. "I don't know what to think myself, but there have been accounts of healings, some of which have been very verified. Maybe it's the relic or maybe it's the person's faith combined with God knowing that it isn't against His will for them to be healed." He shook his head. "That isn't for me to judge. I just have to convince this mark to give up his relic."

Vincent studied him in concern. "You're really going to go through with this, aren't you, Baxter?"

"I'm not in it alone," Baxter said. "I've spoken with the police. They would like to catch Big Louie as well. They're willing to go along with this idea if I can make it work and try to stay safe."

"Well." Barney turned away. "Then there's little more I can say on the subject."

Baxter flinched. "Barney . . ." He glanced to Vincent and then back. "I know you're angry, but I'm sure you understand. When you started deciding to switch sides and help us instead of Shredder and Krang, you felt it was something you had to do in spite of my fear for your life. Now, I feel this is something I have to do to protect a member of my family."

"I understand," Barney growled. "And I guess it's poetic justice to make me have to deal with it after all the worry I heaped on you. But I'm still angry anyway." He turned back. "Nevertheless, I won't let you go into this with the sting of my temper in your heart." He gave Baxter a long and hard look. "Be careful," he finally said.

Vincent hugged Baxter. "Please call us or the Turtles if you need anything," he insisted.

"I will," Baxter promised, returning the embrace. "I know putting him away for fraud on the relic wouldn't do much of any good, but I'm hoping I'll stumble into one of his other rackets while I'm there. I can't believe there isn't something underhanded going on. Well, more underhanded than stealing religious relics."

"Where is it you're going?" Barney asked.

"An antique mall in the Village," Baxter said. "Here's the address." He held out a scrap of paper.

Barney took it and shoved it into his pocket. "I'll let the Turtles know."

Baxter smiled. "Thank you, Barney, but I already have. They'll be standing by, just as the police are."

"You've planned it all out, haven't you?" Barney said.

"I've tried," Baxter said. "But some things you can't plan out. So often there are complications."

"No arguments there," Barney said.

"Good luck, Pal," Vincent said. "Do you think it will take long?"

"I hope not," Baxter said. "Maybe a couple of days. Of course, I'll only be there a short time each day. I'll still be working at Channel 6 and coming back here to sleep."

"If you come back at all," Barney muttered.

Baxter cringed. "Yes," he said softly. "If I come back at all. . . ."

Vincent shuddered.

xxxx

"So Baxter's going undercover?" Donatello frowned at Michelangelo's news.

"Yeah, like seriously!" Michelangelo exclaimed. "I was visiting him at Channel 6 and he told me. Big Louie wants him to do a job for him and he was so upset because of what Big Louie tried to do to Vincent that he decided to take the job and try to bring the creepazoid down!"

"That could be very dangerous," Leonardo said, shaking his head.

"Like, he knows that," Michelangelo said. "And heck, I'm sure worried about him! But he feels like this is something he's gotta do. And I'm sure none of us can blame him for that."

"Of course not," Leonardo said. "And if it works, he'll have gotten a very dangerous criminal off the streets."

"But at what cost to himself?" Raphael frowned. "I don't like it."

"Dude, I don't think any of us 'like' it," Michelangelo countered. "But I'm totally proud of him for going ahead with it. He's come so far."

"He really has," Donatello said. "It's hard to believe this is the same person who wanted to stay completely out of the fight with Shredder and was so conflicted about what to do."

"Oh, he made sure to tell me that if it had been anyone other than Big Louie, he probably wouldn't have done it," Michelangelo said. "He knows he's not really cut out for this and he still wants to stay out of danger when he can. But once something becomes personal, well, that's a whole other thing."

"And I am sure that all of my students can understand that," Splinter said as he entered the room.

"Absolutely, Sensei," Raphael was quick to say. "I just don't want him to get hurt."

"None of us want that. So we will stay on alert at all times in case he calls for help," Splinter said.

The Turtles mutually agreed.

xxxx

Baxter was on the alert and filled with suspicions when he arrived at Big Louie's antique mall. He wasn't sure what he expected he would find inside, but he was prepared for a lot worse than he found.

One side of the store was devoted to couches, quilts, bookcases filled with old books, and several glass cases of dolls, Trolls, and other assorted toys from both the near and distant pasts. The opposite side featured a little nook where the display changed based on the nearest upcoming big holiday-which now would be the 4th of July in several weeks. The vintage Uncle Sam dolls and red, white, and blue-themed holiday trees certainly seemed innocuous enough. A room to the side featured more books, while a staircase leading upstairs was lined with pocket shelves on the sides that housed small household appliances, lunch boxes, figurines, and other assorted memorabilia from past decades. Just to the side of the stairs was an open room with an old jukebox, and it looked like another long room with shelves of collectibles was visible beyond that.

Quite a place he has here, Baxter mused to himself. April had searched for news stories about the antique mall and had learned that it had only recently changed hands. The interior was a design used by the previous owners. Apparently Big Louie felt that the customers liked what it already looked like and he saw no need to change its appearance.

"It's such a shame that such a beautiful place has to be in the hands of a gangster like Big Louie," April had bemoaned. "I love old things. I wouldn't mind buying the place myself. Not that I'd ever have the time to run it." Or the desire, really. As much as April might enjoy antiques, Baxter couldn't picture her ever wanting to settle down and run a shop instead of striving to be a top-rated news reporter.

Baxter wasn't sure how he felt about the place. He could take or leave antiques and vintage collectibles unless they were something science-related. Or he thought so, anyway. The sight of an old rocking horse that looked similar to one he'd had as a child made him feel a stab of sadness. Almost anything that reminded him of his childhood would leave him feeling like that, he imagined. Barney, on the other hand, would probably feel anger.

He shook himself out of his thoughts. Of course nothing looked out of sorts out here. If there were criminal acts taking place, it would likely be in the back. Which was where he was headed.

He finally saw the Employees Only area off to the side of the jukebox room. He slipped through the door and into a corridor where the offices were visible.

"Well, if it ain't the Doctor himself," Big Louie greeted when Baxter found his way to the open door marked Owner. "What do you think of the place?"

"It's very impressive," Baxter admitted.

"People love it," Big Louie smirked. "Especially the Xmas trees specially colored to fit every major holiday. And their accompanying decorations."

"How odd for you to be involved with Christmas trees in any form," Baxter remarked.

"Hey, whatever sells," Big Louie shrugged. "So, what goodies have you brought me?"

"I made some possible designs of the machine you wanted," Baxter sniffed, "but since it's a fraud, you really didn't need me to do it."

"Oh, but I did," Louie replied. "Not for the machine, Doctor, but for you. The marks'll believe that everything is kosher because of your presence. You've made quite an honest name for yourself lately. People tend to sit up and take notice of little things like that."

Baxter flinched. "You're planning more than one crooked deal? And I'll actually have to be on hand while you're making them?!" He wasn't surprised, really, but he was angry at yet another lie.

"Why, of course," Louie smirked. "And I know you won't tip any of them off. I've already got my hooks in you. You had a price, same as everybody else. And once I get what I want from these jerks, we'll move on to bigger fish. Maybe I'll have you make me some kind of invention that really will work."

"Hmph." Baxter whipped away from him. "We'll see."

Did Louie really believe Baxter had decided to do this for the money? It had never been about money for him. But many people believed the world revolved around it, so it was certainly possible that Louie was one of them.

Baxter sighed to himself. At least he would be able to gather plenty of evidence of fraud, if nothing else. Hopefully when all was said and done, anyone Louie cheated would get their antiques back. And hopefully, when he was trying to bring the man down, it wouldn't be seen as sacreligious for him to allow the cheating to go on where religious relics were concerned.

God forgive me, he said to himself. I don't trust this man and I don't want him free to hurt my family any more.

xxxx

The Turtles as well as Barney and Vincent were waiting for Baxter when he trudged home that first day.

"Like, hi, Baxter Dude," Michelangelo greeted when he walked in the front door. "How'd everything go?"

Baxter managed a weary smile. "Big Louie liked my blueprints. I've already started construction on the fraudulent machine in a vacant office."

"I'm still not sure what to think of you going through all this for me, Pal," Vincent said. "I worry about you."

"We're all worried," Leonardo said. "But it's a brave thing you're doing."

"It's brave to protect my family?" Baxter returned. "What else could I do? My life would lose its meaning without my loved ones. And I have no doubt that Big Louie is still after one of them."

"None of us want to see him try again to get Vincent," Barney growled. "Especially me. But I don't want to see him get you, either."

"I would rather stay alive myself," Baxter said wryly. He shuddered and sank onto the couch. "And to be honest, I feel guilty about going along with the man's fraud."

"I'm wondering if he'll suddenly spring on you that you have to do some task for him to prove you're on his side," Leonardo said in concern. "That's what he did when we went undercover working for him."

"I've thought about that," Baxter said. "But I don't know what he'd try to get me to do. He seems to think I'm in it for the money and plans to blackmail me when this is over."

"Does he really not stop to think that you're trying to keep his attention away from Vincent?" Barney frowned.

"I don't know," Baxter sighed. "There's been something suspicious about this all along. Why me? Big Louie said that it was more about me than about what I could invent. He felt that my presence would convince his marks that everything was aboveboard." He looked up. "Am I really that much of an influence now?"

Leonardo smiled a bit. "To be honest, Baxter, from what we've seen and heard, it's entirely plausible for Big Louie to pick you for that reason. I know the person all the fuss is about is usually the last to know, but you've been increasingly well-loved both because of your work on Channel 6 and because of the news stories April's done about how you've helped stop Shredder and Krang and other villains. No, not everyone will like you, it's true, but by now I think there's more who do than those who don't."

Baxter shook his head. "It's so overwhelming to think about," he said. "There was a time when I would have been extremely prideful over something like that. Not to mention arrogant. But right now, I . . . just find it difficult to take in."

"It is pretty sobering, Dude," Michelangelo said. "But it's totally gnarly too! You deserve it."

"You've done so much more to protect the city, though," Baxter said. "And opinion on mutants is still mixed."

"We have it better than we did before," Leonardo said. "We usually don't even wear disguises anymore."

"Yeah, and people often want our help when we run into them," Michelangelo said. "So I'd say we're doing pretty good."

"Change doesn't happen overnight," Leonardo agreed.

"And no one knows that better than me," Barney grunted.

Baxter looked to him. "Do you agree with the Turtles' assessment of my popularity, Barney?" he asked.

"It sounds fairly accurate," Barney said.

Baxter hesitated. "Are you . . . jealous at all?"

"I'm fairly well-loved by now myself," Barney said. "So no. I'd like to believe I've gotten over that burning desire for recognition, though."

Vincent smiled. "You're definitely happy and balanced these days, old buddy. Even before you started getting that recognition, you were finding a satisfaction and peace that you hadn't had before."

"Good to know," Barney said. He looked to Baxter. "As for you . . . just don't do anything unnecessarily stupid."

"I'll certainly try," Baxter retorted.

xxxx

One of Big Louie's henchman greeted Baxter when he arrived the next day. "Big Louie got you all the supplies you said you'd need to keep making the thing," he said as he unlocked the antique mall's door.

"Good," said Baxter. He followed the man through the mall and into the vacant office he had been shown to yesterday. It was a dark and musty room with a long table-not terribly pleasant, but something Baxter would have to deal with. It was better than the old factory, at any rate. When the light was flipped on, he silently took inventory of everything on the table. "It looks like it's all here," he said.

"Happy building," said the henchman as he left.

Baxter sighed and sat down at the table.

He kept his eyes and ears alert while working on the invention over the course of the day. Oftentimes he could become so caught up in what he was doing that he forgot about the world around him. But this invention was a fake, so his heart and soul weren't in it, and he wasn't here to invent in the first place. He was here to gather dirt on a detested enemy and keep him from harming his family again.

He often heard snatches of conversation between Big Louie and his men. Sometimes they seemed to be discussing gambling operations or smuggling rackets. Occasionally it sounded as though they were talking about certain artifacts Big Louie was trying to obtain. Once or twice there was the mention of a healing cloth.

Baxter frowned to himself as he tightened a bolt. He didn't like this at all. And he certainly knew he was in danger. If Louie ever got wind of the fact that Baxter was a plant, he would probably be dead. But the fact that he had been hired in the first place still bothered him. Why did Louie think that Baxter was in it for the money? That sounded more like Pinky McFingers, honestly.

"What have I gotten myself into?" he murmured.

Barney certainly wondered the same thing. And Vincent had expressed again at breakfast that he was worried for Baxter to be so involved in such danger because of him. But they both respected Baxter's decision, as did the Turtles.

Hopefully, Baxter thought, this would be over soon so he wouldn't have to keep putting them through such worry.

xxxx

Barney had been in an ill mood all day, albeit he tried to hide it during the afternoon class. He certainly, however, hadn't managed to hide it from Vincent.

"You don't handle worry very well," Vincent remarked as they straightened up the classroom after the students had left.

"I never have," Barney said. "You know that. I know Baxter's going to get hurt and I feel completely helpless!" He threw a chalk eraser to the floor and then cringed, reaching to pick it up. "And I know I'm a hypocrite. You don't have to say it."

Vincent was silent a moment. "Baxter's doing this for me," he said. "If he gets hurt, part of me may want to feel responsible. But that's illogical. Baxter made his own choice to do this. I never encouraged it. That said, it is upsetting to just have to sit and wait."

Barney sighed and sank down at the desk with the eraser. "Is that type of logic the way you handled all the worry over me?"

Vincent perched on the edge of the desk and looked down at him. "Somewhat, yes."

Barney stared off into the distance. "When I decided to work against Shredder and Krang, I felt it was what had to be done. I was sorry to cause such worry for you and Baxter, but it didn't deter me. Maybe part of me just couldn't comprehend anyone worrying about me so much. I know that I couldn't comprehend how it would feel. Now I know."

"And do you still feel you did the right thing where Shredder and Krang were concerned?" Vincent asked.

"Yes." Barney looked to him. "In spite of the worry I caused, I still believe it was the right thing to do."

"As Baxter believes about his task now," Vincent said.

Barney nodded and closed his eyes. "I don't want to feel this way. Why can't I stop? I'm a neuropsychologist; I know the principle of mind over matter."

"You're also a loving brother," Vincent said. "And no amount of knowledge about the mind can eclipse that."

Barney was silent a moment. "Realizing and accepting I love my brother . . . is hard. It means I have to accept all the pain that goes with it."

"Before you realized it, how did you explain to yourself why you were always so upset when Baxter did something you were afraid would hurt him?"

Barney gave a dry smirk. "I told myself I hated idiocy. And that I hated how stupid my brother was. And that it was an insult for anyone to think I was him. Part of me really did think that. What I refused to let myself see was that I wouldn't have got so upset if I didn't love him and fear for his safety."

"Do you still think Baxter is stupid?"

Barney leaned back, opening his eyes. "He's not stupid," he said. "He may make stupid decisions, and he may still be somewhat naive, but he's a very intelligent man."

Vincent smiled a bit. "Do you think this is a stupid decision?"

"It's a decision based on love." Barney got out of the chair. "Sometimes those are the most idiotic kind." He paused. "But if no one made decisions because of love, it would be an even worse world than it already is."

"You understand a lot," Vincent said softly. "It is strange, though, isn't it? How love can cause so many varied decisions-good, bad, selfless, hateful, stupid, intelligent. . . . I have to say, love is probably the oddest and most complex feeling in any culture."

Barney looked back at him. "And?"

"And it can be both terrible and wonderful. As you yourself noted, one can't love without feeling a great deal of pain."

Barney's shoulders slumped. "I don't want to lose our brother. But to interfere would make it worse for him. There's nothing to do but keep waiting."

"Yes," Vincent said softly. "Such is the way of love at times. It's probably one of the most difficult aspects. But I would still rather feel love than to not."

Barney nodded. "So would I."

"Baxter should be home now," Vincent said. "Let's go see him."

Barney set the eraser on the chalkboard and headed for the door. "Let's."

xxxx

Baxter was indeed home when they got back. He was upstairs, laying on his bed and staring at the ceiling. Barney and Vincent exchanged a look before Barney decided to take the plunge and speak first.

"Did everything go alright?"

Baxter jumped a mile. "Oh." He managed a weak smile. "Yes. . . . I heard a lot of strange things, but nothing absolutely conclusive, unfortunately."

"You're exhausted." Vincent came in and sat on the edge of the bed.

"Holding down my job at Channel 6 as well as this undercover assignment makes for very long days," Baxter sighed. "But more than being exhausted because of the work, I'm exhausted because this isn't me. I'm not a good actor; I can't work undercover very well."

"You don't have to do it, Baxter," Vincent said softly.

"It's too late to back out now," Baxter said. "And in any case, I feel I do have to do it. I don't want Big Louie to have another chance to take you!"

"We could fight him off," Vincent said.

"Maybe not," Baxter said. "I want to catch him, to make sure he's put away where he can't hurt us any more."

"He could do that with you," Barney grunted.

Baxter sighed and looked away. "I know. And I'm sorry, Barney. . . . I don't want to make you or Vincent or the Turtles worry. . . ." He slumped back into the pillow.

Vincent gently smoothed Baxter's hair back and stroked it. "It's alright, Baxter," he soothed. "I'm touched that you're doing this for me. Maybe it will be over soon."

"I hope so," Baxter mumbled. "I think I should have the device finished by tomorrow or the next day. . . ." He smiled a bit as his eyelids drooped. "That feels good. . . ."

Vincent kept at it. "Just rest, old pal," he said. "I'll fix dinner."

Baxter looked like he wanted to say something else, but he dozed instead. Vincent slipped his glasses off and set them on the nightstand.

"You know, it's strange to realize sometimes that you're our older brother."

Vincent glanced up at Barney, who was leaning against the doorframe with his arms crossed. "Why?"

"Because you act about twenty or so," Barney said. "And instead you're 485." A smile tickled the edges of his mouth. "What you're doing there is often the gestures of a parent or an older sibling."

"I can't think of a role I'd want more than your and Baxter's older brother," Vincent said. "But even though I'm 485, it doesn't mean I have to act like it!"

"Which you don't," Barney smirked.

Vincent quietly covered Baxter with another quilt since he was laying on top of the covers. Then he headed to the door and into the hall with Barney. "Do you think I should?" he curiously wondered.

"No," Barney said. "Then you wouldn't be you. You're happy just as you are. I think that if you started actually showing your age, it would only be if a horrible tragedy happened that broke your spirit." He gripped Vincent's arm. "And I would never want to see that."

"I think the only horrible tragedy that could do that would be losing both you and Baxter," Vincent said. "I never want to see that."

Barney stopped walking and turned to look at him. "Neither do I," he said quietly. "And I will never stop fighting for that not to happen."

Vincent smiled. "I know. So let's go make dinner, alright?"

Barney nodded.

xxxx

Baxter was back to work on the invention the next day. Unlike the past day, this time he didn't hear a lot of strange conversations in the hall. He worked quietly, his mind wandering as he pondered exactly how to finish his fraudulent creation.

What would happen when it was done? How many people would be hurt by it? Would they forgive him even after learning that he was undercover to bring Big Louie down? Not that it mattered. But he hated to hurt them and didn't want to treat them as inconsequential pawns, even as part of his ruse. They were deserving of kindness and respect; they didn't deserve to be tricked and scammed. People had always dismissed him and didn't care how they hurt him. He didn't want to be the same as his oppressors.

There were so many things he didn't like about this self-appointed mission. But he knew he couldn't give it up. He had to follow it through and hopefully get Big Louie arrested. Then it would all be worth it. Vincent had done so much for him; he wanted to do this for Vincent now.

And to somehow stay alive through it all. Vincent would be devastated if anything happened to him. He would rather have the threat of Big Louie after him than to lose Baxter. And Barney would probably never forgive him.

Suddenly a hulking shadow was in the doorway and he looked up with a start at Big Louie. "So Doctor, how's it coming?" he asked. "When can I expect it to be ready?"

"Soon," Baxter said coolly as he looked away. "It doesn't take long to build something fraudulent."

"But you do it if you have to," Louie said. "Or if you want to." He sneered. "In your case, you must want to."

"Don't you know?" Baxter shot back.

"I'm not a mind-reader," Louie replied.

Baxter glared down at the concoction he had designed. It was tempting to snip about Vincent and keeping away from him, but the last thing Baxter wanted to do right now was to jeopardize his position.

"You must have quite a high opinion of me, to think that I can put your marks at ease," he said instead.

"I read the papers. I watch the news." Louie folded his arms. "You're a pretty well-liked guy right now." He sneered. "A well-liked guy who can be bought. That is exactly what I need."

"Aren't you worried that I'll leave for greener pastures if I'm offered a better deal?" Baxter said smoothly.

"Not really," Louie replied. "You're too worried I'll go after your precious computer. Keep your friends close and your enemies closer and all that."

Baxter set the wrench down and turned. "Then you don't really believe it's all about the money for me."

"I believe it's about what you feel is the best thing for you at the time," Louie said. "Right now, that's to keep me away from the computer at all costs, even if that means you have to go crooked. That's your price."

"But if I'm just protecting someone I love, am I truly crooked?" Baxter returned.

"That's a matter you'll have to take up with your own conscience," Louie said. "Just get this done and help me with getting my relics and I don't care what you think of yourself."

Baxter looked back to the device. "Very well."

"And hey, once I've got those relics in my hands, maybe you'll decide you want a piece of them too," Louie sneered. "Who wouldn't want an instant healing tonic?"

"You believe they'll really work for you?" Baxter picked up a screw and a screwdriver and began screwing the screw into place.

"Why not?" Louie smirked. "They're just objects. They shouldn't be any respector of persons. If somebody wants to be healed, boom! They get healed."

"If they truly have healing power, then they're as sacred as people revere them to be," Baxter said. "Barney would wonder whether you honestly don't think you're mocking God to try to use religious relics to keep yourself healthy enough to continue committing crimes."

"Barney is a weirdo," Louie said. "All the stuff he's done and he thinks about God like that?"

"Barney always believed in God," Baxter said. "Probably more than I did at one time. But by now I wonder about the answer to that question myself."

"Then I'll tell you," Louie said. "I don't know and honestly, I don't care."

"You must surely believe in God, if you acknowledge that the relics have healing properties as their legends claim."

"I don't think God cares what we do down here," Louie said. "Especially what I do. If He wanted to stop all the bad stuff from happening, He would. He just lets it go on. So I don't have any reason to think those relics won't heal anybody, including me."

"I suppose I can understand that logic," Baxter grunted. He had certainly had moments of thinking that God didn't care about him. Still, aside from the time when he had been out of his mind, he really couldn't see himself wanting to use any religious relics for any ill purpose. Perhaps he might have hoped that one could cure his horrific mutation, had the thought ever occurred to him. But it never had.

"Anyway," Louie continued, "it shouldn't be any concern of yours, unless you think you'll be damning yourself by helping me." He leered.

"I don't, really," Baxter sniffed. He pushed the invention away from him. "And it's ready for you."

"Good." Louie came closer and ran his hand over the surface. "You do good work, Doctor."

"I know." Baxter folded his arms. "Now what?"

"Now we just sit back and wait for the guy to show up," Louie said.

"Did he really contact you about this relic?" Baxter looked doubtful. "Or did you contact him?"

"He contacted the guy who runs this joint for me," Louie said. "This antique mall specializes in the unusual, and religious relics are definitely that. The previous owners developed quite a reputation as being knowledgeable experts on antiques. I intend to keep that reputation going. That's why Mr. Vaughn looked us up."

Baxter's stomach dropped. "Vaughn?"

"Yeah, Henry Vaughn. He wanted an appraisal of this relic he bought. Now, thanks to your machine, we're going to tell him it's virtually worthless and I'll pick it up for a song. He'll think he's got a great bargain thanks to us."

"Only it's far more valuable than the poor man knows," Baxter frowned. "What if he doesn't want to sell?"

"If he don't want to sell, I'll just have to find another way to get my hands on it," Louie replied. "I hear he's got a pretty niece. In fact, I think she's in college. Maybe your brother knows her. I'm sure that if she conveniently disappears, her uncle can be convinced to hand over the relic."

Baxter's stomach turned. Gloria, he realized in horror. He gripped the edge of the desk. Kidnapping a human girl would certainly put Louie away. But . . . could he really risk Gloria's safety like that? What if something went wrong during the abduction and she or her uncle ended up hurt . . . or worse? Big Louie and his men played rough.

Police officers had to deal with situations like that at times. But Baxter wasn't a police officer, despite working with them on this case. And he wasn't sure he had the stomach for this. April hadn't been harmed the time Shredder had kidnapped her while Baxter had been present. And the time he himself had taken April had been after the cross-fusion, when his mind was going. In his right mind, he didn't see how he could ever be party to a scenario where the victim really might end up hurt.

The girl liked him too. Baxter hated to think of her ending up disillusioned if she thought he had gone crooked. He knew how that could hurt.

"When is the man supposed to come?" he asked at last.

"Today, probably," Louie said. "You'd better take the thing for a test-run before he shows up." He took off his watch. "Run this through it."

Baxter took it and set it on a small platform in the machine. When he flipped a switch, a red light traveled over the watch, scanning it. The device beeped and whirred to life, soon bringing up a series of numbers. As Baxter typed on the mini-keyboard, the numbers unscrambled into a date.

"There," he said stiffly. "The machine has told you that you own an antique watch. It works in reverse, identifying new items as old and vice versa."

"Brilliant!" Louie grinned. "This'll be perfect for what we want it for!"

"For what you want it for," Baxter corrected.

"True," Louie shrugged. "But as long as I stay away from your computer, you're happy. Right, Doc?"

"It certainly gratifies me, yes," Baxter said.

Another man appeared in the doorway. "Hey Boss, he's coming now," he reported. "And he's got his niece with him."

Louie's eyes glinted. "Oh, perfect. Doctor, bring your machine. It's time to run a little scam."

Baxter felt sickened, but he lifted his invention and followed the henchman into the main room. As he set it down on the counter, he reached into his pocket and quietly turned on his Turtle-Comm. He had already decided that if a situation like this came up and he couldn't actually call for help, he would turn his Turtle-Comm on but have the volume down. No one here would hear the Turtles' stunned voices, but they would be able to hear what was happening on this end. Then one of them would be able to call the police if the situation became critical. And they could come down themselves to help; he would welcome that.

Gloria's eyes lit up in amazement and surprise when she and her uncle walked in. "Dr. Stockman!" she exclaimed.

Her uncle raised an eyebrow. "This is the man you've talked about so much?"

Baxter flushed. So did Gloria.

"Yes!" Gloria said. She hurried over to the counter. "What are you doing here, Dr. Stockman? Are you moonlighting as an antique dealer?"

"No; I was called in to build this device to examine the relic your uncle has brought," Baxter said.

"Then we know you'll be getting a good deal, Uncle Henry," Gloria gushed.

Baxter cringed.

"Well," said the henchman, who was apparently managing the antique mall, "did you bring it?"

"What's left of it." Mr. Vaughn held up an airtight container with a small scrap of cloth inside. "It used to be an entire scarf belonging to a saint. So many people have touched it through the years that by the time I bought it, it wasn't much bigger than this. It just took five more people touching it after that to reduce it to this. I've sent away for a preservative, but it won't be here for several weeks."

Baxter frowned at it. "Can it be taken out of the container?"

"Any exposure to the air at this point will destroy what's left of it," Mr. Vaughn said apologetically. "Can it be assessed through the container?"

Baxter's heart beat faster. ". . . Yes," he said slowly. He still hated to be part of this fraud, but it was certainly the lesser of evils over Gloria being kidnapped. If he could just prevent that from happening . . . !

"Oh good." Gloria took the container and handed it to him.

Baxter hoped his hands weren't visibly trembling as much as it seemed to him that they were. He set the entire container on the shelf in the machine and turned it on, typing a command into it to only scan the cloth and not the container. Gloria watched in fascination as the deep red light traveled the length of the container, scanning the cloth. When the series of numbers loaded on the screen, Baxter again typed into the mini-keyboard and they started to sort themselves into a date.

"I'm afraid it isn't as old as you were led to believe," he said apologetically. "Are you sure the genuine cloth wasn't switched for a copy?"

"I don't know who could have made such a switch," Mr. Vaughn frowned. "Not unless the last of those five people walked off with it."

"Maybe he did!" Gloria said. "He seemed shady to me."

"Well . . ." Mr. Vaughn cleared his throat uncomfortably. "I don't like to cast blame. . . . And anyway, the age was never as important as the healing properties. . . ."

"Yes, but if it's not authentic, it doesn't have healing properties," Baxter said.

"Why don't you leave it with us for safekeeping while you find out if that person ran off with the genuine article?" the henchman suggested. "Then we can make a proper sale."

"Thank you, but I never wanted to sell it at all," Mr. Vaughn said. "I only wanted it appraised."

"But if it can heal, you can't ever really appraise it accurately," Gloria said. "It's invaluable!"

"Your Dr. Stockman makes a good point that if it's a fake, it doesn't have healing properties," Mr. Vaughn frowned. "Maybe the whole thing is a sham." He started to reach for the container. "We'll just take it and go. I'm sorry for any misconceptions about wanting to sell."

"Wait just a minute, Mr. Vaughn."

Baxter went stiff as Big Louie emerged from the back, flanked on either side by more henchmen. Gloria gasped.

Mr. Vaughn stared. "What's going on here?!" he demanded.

"Well, see, we're just going to help ourselves to your little scrap of cloth," Louie said. "And I do mean 'little.' But it still looks big enough to be useful to me."

Gloria gripped her uncle's arm. "You're a criminal!" she snapped. "You should have been thrown in prison for what you tried to do to Vincent Stockman!"

"But lucky for me, since he's a computer I got off," Louie smirked. He reached over and snatched the container out of Baxter's machine. "I wouldn't recommend fighting me, Mr. Vaughn. Which would you rather have-a scrap of cloth or your niece?"

"You wouldn't!" Mr. Vaughn cried.

"I would. And I think you should know, Dr. Stockman here helped me every step of the way with this plan. He knew it was a scam." Louie gave Baxter a sickening smile. "And he knew what I'd do if you wouldn't hand over the cloth peaceably."

Mr. Vaughn looked to Baxter with outraged and accusing eyes. Gloria was undaunted.

"Of course!" she said. "And that's why you went along with the scam, Dr. Stockman. You didn't want me to get hurt!"

". . . Yes," Baxter said haltingly. "That's part of it. . . ."

"Well, now she's going to get hurt anyway!" Louie snapped his fingers and one of his thugs stepped forward. "The way it's worked out, there's too many witnesses."

Mr. Vaughn shoved Gloria to the side. "Get out of here!" he ordered.

Gloria stumbled but straightened. "I can't leave you in here!" she cried. "Or Dr. Stockman!"

"Forget about us!" Mr. Vaughn said. "Get the police!"

Louie snarled. "Get the girl," he ordered his henchmen. "We'll have to use her as a shield to get out of here."

One of the thugs lunged at Gloria as she still stood conflicted over what to do. Baxter got in the way, twisting the man's wrist unbearably. He yelled, the gun dropping from his hand.

The other thug sprang forward before Baxter had a chance to do a thing to protect himself. He plunged his knife into Baxter's chest and then just as sharply pulled it out.

Baxter stumbled. Almost numbly, he brought a hand to the wound and held up his fingers, dripping red with his own blood. "Oh . . . my goodness," he gasped. He collapsed backwards, crashing to the floor.

Gloria screamed. "Dr. Stockman! Dr. Stockman, no!" She fell to her knees, shaking, in tears as she tried to examine the extent of the damage.

Mr. Vaughn stood stunned, not sure what to make of any of what had just happened. But he snapped to just as quickly. "Gloria, go on!" he ordered. "I'll see to him. He would want you to get out while you still can!"

"I can't leave him," Gloria sobbed. "Or you! They want me alive. They want to kill both of you! And . . . and . . ."

The second thug grabbed her arm and flung her backwards into a table. "He's already dead," he snarled. "And if he's not yet, he will be in a few minutes. That's all it takes. And as for you . . ." He took a menacing step towards her.

Gloria responded by shoving the table back at him and running in desperation for the exit. She made it out before any of them could catch up to her and fled to the curb. "Taxi!" she called in desperation.

To her relief, a cab pulled over. As she got inside, her hands still trembling, she took out her phone and typed in Barney's email address.

Dr. Stockman, Baxter was trying to protect me and my uncle at the Second Chance Antique Mall and he's been stabbed. I'm afraid he's dead! Please come immediately!

Gloria Vaughn

As she hit Send, she really stared at the words she'd written and burst into tears.

xxxx

Barney went sheet-white as the message came through from Gloria. And if computers could pale, Vincent certainly would have.

"Come on!" Barney ordered, running for the front door of their house.

"What should I tell Gloria?" Vincent asked.

"Tell her we know the address and we're coming right now," Barney said. "Oh, and tell her not to go back inside for anything!"

"Right," Vincent replied.

Barney ran outside and down the steps. Whereas Baxter might have tripped in his panic, Barney did not. He did, however, fumble tremendously with his keys and nearly drop them. He practically stabbed the correct key into the lock and turned it. As Vincent came around to the passenger side, Barney all but threw himself into the driver's side and started the engine.

"Maybe she's mistaken," Vincent said.

"About the stabbing or the death?" Barney retorted.

Vincent fell silent. "It would be wonderful if it were both," he said. "But at least about the death. Baxter . . . can't be dead. . . ."

"Everyone dies sometime." Barney gripped the steering wheel, his knuckles white.

Vincent gave him a worried look. "Barney, you know how you get when you're upset. Maybe I should drive."

"I can manage," Barney growled. But as he started to turn the car around to drive off the grounds, he paused. "You're upset too."

"Yes, but I think I can control it better than you," Vincent said.

Barney finally nodded and got out of the car. Vincent slid over into the driver's seat, while Barney claimed the place Vincent had vacated. He sat fairly stiff as Vincent drove out the gate and down the street.

"Barney . . ." Vincent glanced to him. "Do you want to talk?"

Barney kept silent for a long moment. ". . . I don't know what to say. I'm angry. I knew something like this would happen. And yet, if our roles had been reversed, I would have done the same thing. I don't trust Big Louie either. I was livid when the judge threw our case out of court over something so ridiculous."

"From his point-of-view, it made sense," Vincent said. "He didn't want to say that abduction of a living, sentient being was theft, but he also didn't see how he could say that taking a computer was kidnapping."

"So the logical thing to do was to turn the culprit loose, where he could potentially do it all over again," Barney growled. "Our justice system is broken." He clenched a fist. "And now Baxter is probably lying dead because he tried to fix the mistake!"

"Maybe he's not," Vincent said. "I won't believe he's dead until I see him. . . . Maybe not even then," he added quietly.

"It wasn't a suspended animation ray this time," Barney shot back.

"Barney . . ." There was a hint of hope in Vincent's voice again. "If there really is a religious relic there, maybe we could use it on Baxter."

". . . If there really is one, I wouldn't hesitate to try," Barney replied.

xxxx

The Turtles were also en route. Although they had not seen what had happened, they had heard everything, including Mr. Vaughn's outrage over the stabbing once Gloria had left. Leonardo was gripping the steering wheel tightly enough that he could have bent it out of shape if he had the strength.

"Step on it, Dude!" Michelangelo cried.

"I'm going as fast as I can," Leonardo said. "We're closer than the police; we should get there first."

"But . . . Baxter's already down," Michelangelo said in anguish. "Maybe by the time we get there, he'll have . . ." He sniffled hard.

"I knew he shouldn't do this!" Raphael ranted.

"He wanted to get Big Louie caught," Donatello said quietly. "He's sure made sure of it now. We have everything recorded. And Big Louie's henchman stabbed him. Big Louie is now an accessory to attempted murder. And let's pray it is still attempted."

That brought a wave of solemn silence over the group.

Big Louie and his henchmen were trying to beat a hasty retreat with Mr. Vaughn as their hostage when the Turtles arrived. They leaped out, surrounding the criminals and their shield.

"Alright, Big Louie," Leonardo said. "Let him go."

"You're not in a bargaining position," Louie retorted. "And we're going to kill him if you try anything."

"Kill him?" Raphael scoffed. "Then you won't have a leg to stand on! You won't do anything to him." He reached out and pulled Mr. Vaughn away from his captor. "Get going!"

Mr. Vaughn stumbled, stunned, but quickly ran off in search of Gloria.

Louie took a nervous step back. "I think we're in trouble."

Leonardo smirked. "I think you're right." He gripped his katanas. "We never take kindly to our friends being hurt. Let's go, Turtles!"

It didn't take long for the Turtles to dispatch of Louie and his men. When Barney and Vincent pulled up five minutes later, the crooks were tied up and ready for the police.

"Where's Baxter?" Barney demanded as he and Vincent got out.

"He must still be inside," Leonardo said.

Michelangelo was already making a beeline for the antique mall. "Baxter!" he called in desperation. He threw the door open, barely noticing as it banged on a glass case opposite to it. "Baxter, where are you, Bud?!"

There was no reply. But the blood all over the floor in one spot stabbed everyone with horror when they saw it.

"It's Baxter's blood type," Vincent said in anguish after a moment of analyzing it.

"You can't tell where he's gone, can you?" Raphael said, only half-sarcastically.

"No," Vincent said.

The frantic calls for Baxter soon echoed up and down the old antique mall. He had to be there somewhere; the criminals couldn't have disposed of him so quickly!

Michelangelo looked under a table in the holiday nook. "Not here, Dudes," he said sadly.

"Or here," Raphael frowned, peering into an old bathtub filled with buttons.

"Shouldn't there be a trail of blood on the floor to follow?!" Leonardo cried after checking behind a couch.

"Not necessarily," Barney said, his voice dark. "Dead bodies don't bleed." He walked away after that chilling statement, leaving the Turtles staring, stricken, at each other.

Vincent looked deeply shaken too. "He's right," he said softly, "but let's not give up yet on finding Baxter alive."

"We won't!" Michelangelo cried, clenching a fist.

It was Donatello who was finally passing by a large, open crate in the upper floor's storage area. He paused, going stiff at the horrifying sight inside it. "Uh, guys?" he called, dropping to his knees. "I found him."

Michelangelo rushed into the room. "He's okay, isn't he, Donatello?! He's not dead?!"

"He's not dead . . . I don't think," Donatello said quietly, "but he's definitely not okay."

Michelangelo came over and peered into the crate. Baxter was laying still, his arms hanging limply over the edges of the crate as though he had been cruelly tossed inside like a ragdoll. The wound was very prominent; blood was all over his chest.

"Oh Baxter . . . no," Michelangelo whispered. "That dudette was right about him being stabbed. . . ."

"Who knows how much blood he's lost by now," Donatello said grimly. "It may have been too much."

The others swiftly came into the room, also having heard Donatello's alert. Their reactions ranged from horror to anger to both.

"Oh no," Leonardo said softly.

"Baxter?" Vincent sank to his knees, gently taking the nearest limp hand.

"Baxter! Come on, Bud," Michelangelo pleaded. "Say something. . . . Come back to us. . . . Do something!" He blinked back frightened tears.

"Just look at him laying in there like that," Raphael cried, his voice thick. "Man, I wish I'd given those crooks an even bigger pounding!"

"The ambulance should have been here by now," Barney said, feeling too blank and numb to say anything else. "If it isn't already too late. . . ."

He and the rest knelt around the open crate. Donatello, his hand trembling, reached down and felt again for a pulse. "I don't know if it's too late," he confessed. "I think I feel something, but I'm not sure."

Vincent pressed his finger into Baxter's palm. "He's alive," he said. "I can feel a pulse." He held up the container. "I found this cloth; the crooks lost it in the fight with the Turtles."

Donatello gave a sad nod. "It's a religious relic. There was a piece about it on the news recently. It's supposedly part of a saint's scarf and it's supposedly been healing worthy people through the ages, including several just in the past few weeks."

"This is what Baxter was stabbed for?!" Barney snarled. He took the container and glowered at the tiny object inside. "This religious relic?! Of all the utter and complete hypocrisy . . . ! They murder an innocent man and expect the cloth to work for them?!"

"He's not dead, Dude," Michelangelo retorted. He grabbed the container and started to desperately pry off the lid. "We've gotta use the cloth on him! It healed those other people. It can heal Baxter . . ." His voice caught in his throat and he choked on a sob.

"It only heals those deserving of it, if what we heard is true," Leonardo said gravely.

"And there's definitely only enough cloth left for one more healing, since the chemicals they need to preserve it haven't arrived," Donatello said.

Leonardo sighed heavily. "Technically, we should return it to the rightful owner. It was stolen from him." He looked back to the man who had been cruelly thrown into the crate. "But . . . then Baxter will probably die. . . ."

"Even if he doesn't, we don't know how serious the wound is or what lasting damage it caused," Donatello said.

"Dudes, come on! We have to use the cloth!" Michelangelo insisted. "At least we have to try it! Then Baxter wouldn't have to suffer. He'd be okay. . . ."

". . . I'll take full responsibility," Barney said. "If the owner wants to prosecute, he can prosecute me."

"No." Leonardo pried off the lid. "We're all responsible. Baxter is dear to all of us. We're all in agreement to use the cloth for him, aren't we?"

Everyone chorused in the affirmative.

"Alright then." Leonardo set the box in the crate and gently laid Baxter's hand on the piece of cloth.

Now they all waited and watched, tense and agonized.

Barney shifted. He couldn't fully believe the cloth would heal his brother, but he couldn't make himself fully not believe it either. Baxter was worthy. If anyone deserved to be healed, he did. . . .

Please, he found himself praying. Please let it work. . . . Please don't let my brother die.

No one spoke, but Barney could easily believe that most, if not all, were praying as well. He knew Vincent definitely was.

Slowly he reached down, smoothing Baxter's hair back and gently stroking it the way Vincent liked to do. "Baxter, please," he whispered. "Brother. . . . Don't leave us. Don't leave me."

After a moment Donatello gasped. The torn skin was knitting back together. As it did, all of the leaked blood vanished from view. Not so much as a scar remained to show what had happened.

"It worked!" Vincent exclaimed.

"Cowabunga!" Michelangelo cried.

Barney was too stunned to say anything. Wanting to believe it would work was not the same thing as witnessing it work.

In a moment Baxter stirred, his eyes fluttering open. "What . . . what happened?"

Barney didn't speak. He couldn't. He reached down, pulling Baxter out of the crate and into a tight hug. Vincent and Michelangelo quickly joined in. The others watched, stunned and moved.

"Baxter, you don't remember?" Vincent said softly. "You were stabbed."

Baxter stiffened. "Oh. I . . . I do remember. . . . But . . . it doesn't hurt now. . . ." He pulled back, staring down at himself. Stunned, he reached to touch the skin through the holes in his clothing.

"You're not hurt now, Baxter!" Michelangelo exclaimed.

Suddenly Baxter got it. He looked down at the box and saw only the tiniest particles of the cloth. "You used it on me," he gasped.

Barney gripped his shoulders. "We had to," he said gruffly. "None of us were willing to sacrifice you when a method to heal you was right here."

"But . . . what if it hadn't worked?" Baxter said, picking up the box. "What if I hadn't been worthy?"

"Oh Baxter." Vincent hugged him again. "No one could be more worthy, Pal."

xxxx

Baxter slowly made his way out of the antique mall, slightly wobbly from confusion but otherwise physically recovered. He looked sadly to where Gloria was sobbing on a bench. Clearly, she was convinced that Baxter was dead and she had witnessed it. She had returned to the scene, but hadn't yet found the strength to go inside and see for sure.

"Miss Vaughn . . ." Baxter said softly as he approached.

She looked up with a start, about to ask what Barney had found. But then she saw to her astonishment that it was not Barney who had spoken. "Dr. Stockman?!" She gasped, leaping to her feet. "Dr. Stockman . . . how?" Her gaze flew to his torn clothing and the perfect skin beyond them.

"I . . . I'm still trying to understand it myself," Baxter admitted. "That . . . cloth that the criminals were after . . ."

"It healed you!" she pounced.

"Or the prayers did," Baxter said, rubbing the back of his neck. "Or both. . . ."

She started to smile. "I'm so glad. I was praying for you too."

"Thank you." Baxter looked at her in concern. "I hope what you saw won't continue to affect you too badly. . . ."

"Now that I know you're okay, it won't," Gloria said. "At least, not as much." She looked down. "But . . . I'm afraid it was my fault. I didn't run when I was first told to and you had to get hurt protecting me. . . ."

"I would have been conflicted about running in your place," Baxter said. "I had to make a decision like that not too long ago. It was horrible enough for me when I've already been in frightening situations before. I'm sure this was the first time anything of the kind happened to you."

"It was," Gloria admitted. "I didn't know what to think or what to do. . . . But I'm so sorry, Dr. Stockman. . . . If the cloth hadn't been there, you probably would have died . . . all because of me. . . ."

"It might have happened anyway," Baxter said. "Big Louie knew I was never really on his side. I don't blame you, Miss Vaughn."

Gloria bit her lip. "That means a lot, but I'll probably keep blaming myself. I want to do something to help. . . . I'll testify at the hearing and the trial. . . ."

"That would be a great help," Baxter said. "Oh dear. . . . I wonder how we're going to explain about the relic there. . . . We're going to have to say something; I will undoubtedly be asked how I'm well."

"Bring the stories of how others were healed and then tell your story," Gloria said. "It will be incredible!"

"Maybe too incredible for the world to handle," Baxter said.

"People have had stories about relics for centuries," Gloria said. "There's always been people who believe them." She smiled more. "I'll testify to what I'm seeing right now, too."

"Thank you," Baxter said. He hesitated. "I'm afraid that healing me took the last of the cloth. . . ."

"I know," Gloria said softly. "It's okay. I'm sure my uncle will feel the same way about it."

"I hope so," Baxter said. "But I'm sorry about it anyway. . . . It can't be replaced. . . ."

"You're alive and well," Gloria said. "How could anything else matter?"

Before Baxter could answer, she smiled and pulled out her phone. "I'm going to let my uncle know everything's okay. He was heading back here the last I talked to him."

Baxter slowly nodded. "Oh. Yes, you should let him know. . . ."

Gloria stepped away to place her call and Barney and the rest came out of the antique mall. "She's overjoyed, I'm sure," Barney remarked.

"She was very happy," Baxter said. He held up the now-empty container. "I only hope her uncle won't be too angry. . . ."

"Dude, his cloth saved your life," Michelangelo said. "How could he be angry?"

"But now there's nothing left to preserve," Baxter said.

"It could have healed others if it were preserved, maybe," Barney said. "But on the other hand, what if whatever could preserve it would have destroyed its healing properties?"

Baxter blinked. "I didn't stop to think about that. . . ."

Barney went on, "And in any case, it's true that there were a lot of hypothetical people to be healed, but you were right here, in the flesh, needing help immediately. If we had just let you die instead of trying the cloth on you, would that have been right?"

"Was it right to deprive others of the potential healing power?" Baxter said. He shook his head. "I just can't answer the question. I only know that I am so grateful you loved me enough to use it on me. I would have, for any of you."

"Of course you would have, Pal," Vincent smiled. "But as far as the potential healing power goes, as long as there's prayer, I don't think anyone's been deprived of anything."

Baxter smiled too. "Maybe you're right. Only even with prayer, people usually aren't healed completely, just like that."

"Sometimes they are," Vincent said. "Or at least, I've read accounts of it, both in ancient times and recently. It's true that usually they have to make more lengthy recoveries, but every now and then there's one of these complete healing cases."

"You read a lot of unusual things," Barney said, quirking an eyebrow.

Vincent shrugged. "In 300 years, I had plenty of time."

"Well," said Raphael, "that makes sense."

Everyone abruptly came to attention when the police and an ambulance pulled up around the same time. "We got here as fast as we could," said one of the officers as he climbed out.

"Well, gentlemen, there are the crooks," Raphael said grandly.

"Where's the man who was stabbed?" one of the ambulance attendants asked.

Baxter exchanged a sheepish look with Michelangelo, who rubbed the back of his neck. "Err . . . you know what, Dudes, it was all a mistake," Michelangelo said. "He's uh . . . not stabbed after all."

Baxter nodded. "I'm the one you were called in about," he said. "As you can see, I'm fine."

The attendants stared as he pulled away the torn clothing to show his perfectly healthy skin. "You sure were lucky it didn't pierce your skin," one of them exclaimed.

"Yes," Baxter said slowly. "I certainly was."

Shaking their heads, the attendants got back in the ambulance and drove off.

The police officers soon appeared with Big Louie and his henchmen. "Maybe this time you'll stay behind bars, Louie," one officer commented.

"He sure deserves it," Michelangelo said. "He wanted to cheat a guy out of a priceless relic and kidnap his niece if he wouldn't hand it over. Then he held everybody at gunpoint and his henchman attacked Baxter! We've got the whole thing recorded."

Louie stiffened and shot a look of utter hatred and bewilderment at Baxter. "Wait a minute," he gasped. "You're supposed to be pushin' up daisies now! What . . ."

Baxter folded his arms. "Oh, I'm sure a brilliant mind such as yours can figure that one out, Big Louie," he said.

In a moment it processed. "Oh no!" Louie yelped. "You didn't!"

"Didn't what?" the second officer asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Uh . . . you know, that is a really long story," Raphael said. "And don't you think it would be better to get these jokers booked before they manage to get away?"

". . . Good point," said the first officer. "But we'll need all of you to come down to the station and make statements."

"We'll be there," Baxter promised.

"Ho boy," Raphael groaned as the police car drove away. "I wonder how we're going to explain this one."

"The only thing we can do is tell the truth," Barney said. "At least we're not the only ones claiming a religious relic has healing properties."

"That's something," Raphael agreed. "But it had better not get the case thrown out again."

"We have the recording," Baxter insisted. "And we'll have several eye-witness testimonies. I think we'll be just fine." He smiled.

"I think so too," Vincent said.

"Mondo notion!" Michelangelo exclaimed. "Yeah, you did good, Baxter. And best of all, you're still with us!" He glomped his friend.

Baxter gave a happy laugh, laying his hands on Michelangelo's arms. Yes, that was an incredible, wonderful thing. He said a silent prayer of thanks for his preservation. He knew the others were doing likewise.

xxxx

Baxter slowly shook his head as he slipped out of his vest and shirt and just stared at the holes through them. He was standing in his room, still both utterly baffled and chilled by the events of earlier that day. He set the clothes down on his bed and went to the closet.

"Baxter?"

He looked up at the knock on the door. "Come in," he called.

Vincent stepped in, followed closely by Barney. "The Turtles are downstairs making dinner," Barney announced.

"Oh good." Baxter took a nearly identical vest and shirt out of the closet. "I must say, after today I'm very hungry." He slipped into the shirt.

Vincent went over to the bed and ran his finger down the cruel tears in the wrecked clothes. "You're lucky to be hungry at all, Pal," he shuddered.

Barney walked over to Baxter and glowered at him. "You take far too many chances," he scolded. "This has to be the worst."

Baxter sighed. "I know. I'm sorry, Barney. I didn't know what to do. Everything happened so fast. . . . There was no time to make much of a plan once I learned about Mr. Vaughn and Gloria. Then Big Louie threatened them and I had to protect Gloria and . . ." A haunted look passed through his eyes. "I felt like I'd been punched. It was only after the fact when I really processed that I'd been stabbed. The last thought that went through my mind was of how I'd failed to keep myself safe and how upset and angry you and Vincent would be." He shuddered. "It was a horrible experience," he said softly.

Barney was surprised that Baxter had actually volunteered such information. Usually when Barney was around, he tried to keep his pain to himself. He looked down, unsure how to react.

"You must have been so afraid, Pal," Vincent said.

"I felt numb, mostly," Baxter said. "I could scarcely believe it had actually happened. But I suppose that . . . as I swooned . . . there was a burst of fear."

Barney was still silent, not sure what to say that would be comforting or if he even dare speak at all. He clenched and unclenched his fist at his side.

Vincent looked to him. "At least Baxter didn't deliberately feel like he was walking into his own death warrant from the start, like you did when you stopped the lightning gun," he remarked.

"I'm glad of that," Barney relented.

"But you're still angry?" Baxter guessed.

". . . Part of me is," Barney admitted.

"You're lucky I wasn't angry at you about the lightning gun fiasco," Baxter said quietly. "That isn't my way."

"I know," Barney growled. "I don't have any right to be angry. Sometimes I still struggle with expressing myself properly. Baxter . . . more than anger, I feel terror. We could have lost you today. I know for most of your life you felt that you weren't cared about, but now you know you are. I can't deal with you putting yourself in danger. That always brings with it the possibility of losing you. My most dominant emotion right now . . ." His voice choked up. "I'm so thankful God let you stay with us."

Baxter looked at his biological brother in stunned amazement. "So am I," he said.

"And of course, I'm glad that you went through all this because you wanted to keep Vincent safe," Barney continued. "I would have done the same thing."

"I know I would have wanted to, to protect either of you," Vincent said as he came over to them. "But computers don't make good liars, even when it's for a good cause."

"I'm amazed I could pull it off," Baxter said. "I've never been a good actor. My real feelings come through too much. And that was happening there, actually; I was very snippy with Big Louie. But he took it all in stride."

"Obviously he had no illusions that you liked working for him," Barney said.

Baxter hesitated. "Barney, Vincent . . . am I a burden?"

That froze them, shocked. "What?!" they exclaimed in unison.

"I mean, I'm always getting into so much trouble." Baxter sighed. "I had thought it wouldn't happen if I was turned human again, but I'm still in just as much trouble, if not more."

Vincent smiled. "I'll be honest, Pal. I've never worried so much in 483 years as I have in the past two. But I wouldn't trade those two years for anything. I just wish you didn't have to suffer. But you are never a burden. Please believe me when I say that."

That brought a smile. "I believe you." But Baxter looked worriedly to Barney, who had again remained silent.

". . . There was definitely a time when I would have said Yes," Barney said at last, prodded into knowing he needed to put his thoughts into words from Baxter's expression. "But I was angry and hurting then and I didn't understand that a brother is not a burden. At least, not a brother like you. No, Baxter, you are not a burden. Even though stunts like today's definitely terrify me."

Baxter relaxed in relief. "Thank you," he whispered.

Vincent was pleased. "I never realized that loving someone could cause so many varied emotions," he said. "I mean, on a purely scientific level I realized, but that isn't the same thing as experiencing it for myself. I was so naively light and friendly when we first met, Pal. But knowing you . . . changed me."

"You're no longer naive, but you're still light and friendly," Baxter said.

"I know. But I'm also fiercely protective of you, Baxter. I wasn't always. I started out wanting to help you and to be a friend, but when I broke under torture, I didn't try to fix it. Later on, when it happened again, I did. Knowing each other for so long brought us very close together and I realized how much you'd come to mean to me. You'd become the only bright spot in my life, and I wasn't going to lose you." Vincent paused. "I suppose you could describe the progression with a quote I heard and saved in my databanks. 'Immature love says, I love you because I need you. Mature love says, I need you because I love you.'"

Baxter smiled. "I've heard the basic idea, but not the quote. I like that. And I guess our friendship could be described that way. It was born out of mutual loneliness and sorrow, but it became so much more." He pulled Vincent into a hug. "My first friend," he said softly.

Vincent hugged him close. "And forever a devoted one."

Barney stood by, observing. He didn't feel left out; he was always interested in how these two had formed such a close bond. And he knew that they loved him too.

Indeed, both pulled back and looked to him. "Barney?" Baxter said softly, inviting him to join in if he wanted.

Barney grunted. ". . . I've never participated in so many hugs in my entire life as I have in the past few months." He gave them a gruff smile. "But when it's the two of you, it's not bad." Slowly he reached out, putting an arm around each of them. They drew him close, and instead of awkwardness, he just felt love for the two beings he cared about more than anyone else.

"Hey, fellow Dudes!" Michelangelo suddenly called from the stairs. "Dinner's on!"

"We'll be right down," Baxter called back.

They all moved away from each other.

"You should probably finish putting your clothes on first," Barney said flatly.

Suddenly Baxter realized that his shirt was still unbuttoned. He went red. "Oh. Yes, I should."

Vincent chuckled softly. Barney looked slightly amused.

"Are you going to throw the torn ones away?" he wondered.

Baxter started to button his shirt. "No, I don't think so," he said slowly. "I'll keep them . . . as a reminder of a miracle." He pulled his vest on and brought his hair out from under it. Then he folded the torn clothing and placed it in the bottom drawer of the dresser.

"I'm sure you don't need a reminder," Barney said. "But that's a nice idea."

"Anyway, you might need to show them in court," Vincent said.

"I thought of that too," Baxter agreed. He tied his bowtie and headed for the door. "Let's go."

Barney and Vincent walked with him out the door and to the stairs. "Of course," said Vincent, "the greatest reminder of a miracle is that you're here with us, well enough to walk down the stairs."

Baxter smiled. "Yes," he said. "That's true."

The Turtles were waiting at the bottom of the stairs. "Awesome!" Michelangelo exclaimed. "Baxter, it is seriously good to see you!"

The other three Turtles echoed the sentiment.

Baxter looked to each of them in turn. "It's good to see all of you," he said. "I'm sorry for any worry I put you through. . . ."

"Hey, the important thing is that you're alive so we can worry about you some more," Raphael said.

"Raphael," Leonardo sighed.

Baxter chuckled. "I understand what he means. It's alright. I'm glad to be alive myself."

"Then let's all go in the kitchen for the celebratory dinner Michelangelo's prepared," Donatello said. "Master Splinter and April are coming over too."

"Yeah!" Michelangelo chirped. "Maybe Irma and Vernon too, if they can get away."

A thoughtful and awed look came into Baxter's eyes. So many loved ones. . . . It was an incredible feeling.

"Everyone will be here," Vincent smiled. "And Big Louie's going to be locked away for a long time thanks to you, Baxter!"

"Not to mention you saved Gloria Vaughn's life, from what she said," Barney said.

"Then going undercover was worth it," Baxter said.

"Yep. But I hope you're not planning to do it again any time soon, Baxter Dude," Michelangelo said.

"No," Baxter assured him. "I'm not."

"So we'll also celebrate that!" Michelangelo grinned.

"You really do look for any excuse to celebrate with pizza," Barney remarked. He finally smiled a bit. "But it makes perfect sense to celebrate now."

"No duh!" Michelangelo retorted.

Baxter laughed. "Thank you . . . all of you," he said softly as he sobered. "I am so richly blessed."

"So are we," Leonardo said. "Our lives are better for knowing the three of you."

Vincent beamed. Barney looked amazed.

Baxter was too moved to say anything more.