Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 1987

A Day Off

By Lucky_Ladybug

Notes: The characters are not mine (except the Vaughns) and the story is! ThickerThanLove helped with certain plot elements. It's mostly a slice-of-life piece to wrap up the emotional wounds from the prior story, but there are hints of things to come! 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.

The scream sent both Barney and Vincent flying out of their beds and their rooms. Vincent was the first to burst through Baxter's door. His brother was lying in bed, gasping in imagined pain as he clutched at his chest.

"It hurts," he cried. "Oh please, someone help me. . . . It's burning . . . it's burning. . . ."

Vincent hurried in and over to the bed. "Baxter! Baxter, it's only a dream." He gripped the man's shoulders. "You're not stabbed now. You're fine! You're just fine."

Baxter shrieked and tried to push Vincent away, still lost in his dream-memory. Undeterred, Vincent held on and sat on the edge of the mattress. "Baxter! It's me. Don't you recognize my voice? It's Vincent. It's your brother. Everything's alright."

Baxter jumped a mile. Though at first he fought Vincent, he soon blinked, finally awakened by his friend's persistence. "Vincent . . . ?"

"Yes. It's over now, Baxter. You're safe." Vincent started stroking Baxter's hair, a calming gesture he occasionally adopted in situations like this.

Slowly Baxter relaxed, settling into Vincent's arms. "Safe," he repeated.

Barney stood in the doorway, slowly shaking his head. He was the neuropsychologist, but he could never be as soothing and comforting as Vincent was being. He was too tense, too short-tempered, too uncomfortable by the very thought of what Vincent was doing. Barney's approach probably would have been to grab Baxter and shake him awake, snarling that it wasn't real all the while.

He shuddered at the thought.

As Baxter fully awakened and took in the situation, he groaned, resting his forehead against Vincent's shoulder. "Oh, I made such a fool of myself," he berated. "And I woke you up. . . ."

"It's alright, Pal," Vincent said. "I can get back to sleep any time I want. I don't have that pesky organic problem of insomnia."

Baxter weakly chuckled. "That's good."

Barney doubted he would be able to return to sleep so easily. Baxter's scream had chilled his blood. And it had dredged up the memory of the incident they were all still trying to recover from-that of Baxter being stabbed while undercover as one of Big Louie's employees. Only a religious relic that had deemed Baxter worthy of healing had saved him. But it had only healed him physically; the emotional scar still remained.

"Are you feeling better, Baxter?" Vincent asked.

"I think so." But Baxter kept sitting there, leaning into Vincent's warm embrace. ". . . There was a time in reality when the Turtles and I fell through a portal Shredder opened and we ended up five years in the future. We were all thought dead." He shut his eyes tightly. "Poor Barney was half-insane with grief. . . . He hallucinated me coming back to him. . . . He couldn't take any more of it and he answered the door with a shotgun. . . . He thought I was an hallucination too. You finally convinced him I was real." He looked up at Vincent. "You had a robot body, but you were still using the laptop. That was the first time you were able to hug me."

Vincent frowned. He had never heard any of this before. "And was Barney able to feel better?"

"After screaming at me for leaving him, yes." Baxter sighed. "That was when he was still working for Shredder and Krang. He's in a much better place now, emotionally, but I've always worried what would happen to him if something happened to me. Maybe he would backslide. . . ." He shook his head. "I don't want to be responsible for that!"

"You wouldn't be, Baxter," Vincent said softly. "You just live your life the way you feel is best. And if something happens to you-and it had better not!-I'll still look after Barney."

"But you weren't able to keep him from starting to lose his mind in that dark future," Baxter said sadly. "I know we erased that outcome by getting back to where we belong, but what if something similar would still happen if something happens to me?"

The sharp intake of breath startled Baxter into looking up with a start. "Barney," he gasped. "I . . . I didn't realize you were here too. . . . I should have. . . . There's no way you could have slept through that screaming. . . ."

"I know," Barney grunted. He came in and sat on the other side of the bed.

Baxter drew back from Vincent, his shoulders slumping. "I'm sorry," he said quietly.

Barney knew he meant for more than waking him up with a cry of terror. "I should have been a lot angrier at you over this undercover business than I was," he growled. "But I knew I would have done it too, for Vincent's sake or yours, so what would have been the point? It just would have been my anguish coming out as anger. I need to express my feelings better."

Baxter slowly nodded. "Thank you. . . . You've really done very well at controlling yourself lately, Barney. It's meant a great deal to me." He hesitated. "About what I was telling Vincent. . . . I didn't mean for you to hear that. . . ."

"Apparently Vincent did," Barney grunted. "He knew I was there."

"I'm sorry, Pal," Vincent confessed to Baxter. "I didn't know what you were going to say until you started in. At first I was too surprised by your account to point out that Barney was there. Then I felt he should hear it too."

"You know him better than I do," Baxter said with a weak smile. "I thought it might upset him too much. . . ."

"I'd want to know," Barney growled. "Someday I'd like to hear more about that experience . . . but only if you want to tell it."

Baxter nodded. "Maybe someday," he agreed. "I never talked about it with anyone after we got home, including the Turtles. I imagine they shared it with Splinter, though."

"Probably," Barney said. He paused. "As for what you've been worrying about. . . . None of us can know how the others will react if something happens to one of us. For my part, maybe I would backslide into a grief so deep it would consume me with bitterness and anger. I want to believe that wouldn't happen, though. I am in a better place emotionally than I was when you had this experience. And if you were the one dead, I'd know Vincent would be grief-stricken too. There would no doubt be some difficult times, as there were when we thought Vincent was dead, but I want to believe we would still come through it. I wouldn't want to lose Vincent too."

"If you pushed me away after something like that, Barney, I think it might truly kill me," Vincent said softly. "I wouldn't be able to stand losing you both."

"And then that would probably kill me," Barney grunted.

Baxter shuddered. "Oh please, promise me you'll do everything you can to stay close, no matter what happens to me," he begged.

"Only if you promise to do everything you can to stay alive," Barney snapped back.

"I promise," Baxter said firmly. "But I'd like that promise from both of you as well."

"I promise," Vincent smiled. "To both things."

Barney nodded. "We don't know one way or another what will happen to us in the future. But if at all possible, I want to stay alive and to stay close to both of you. Or . . ." He clenched his teeth. "One of you, if someone dies."

"I pray that we will all live out our lives together," Baxter said. "And maybe we will."

"The good don't always die young," Vincent offered.

"We're young?" Barney retorted.

"Of course," Vincent said. "Especially to a 485-year-old computer."

Baxter smiled.

"Would you still be considered young on your homeworld?" Barney wondered.

"I feel young," Vincent replied.

"That's the most important thing," Baxter said. "I feel young too, really. I feel like I've only barely begun to live."

"Good," said Barney, "because you should have plenty more decades to do it."

"So should you," Baxter said. "And Vincent."

". . . I'm glad Vincent was here for you tonight," Barney said. "I doubt I would have handled your nightmare as calmly as he did. Not because I wouldn't have wanted to," he quickly added, "but because my immediate instinct would have been to lose control. I would have been so upset by you being upset that I would have probably started screaming at you and shaking you to wake you up."

Baxter half-smiled. "I'm afraid I can picture that."

"But I can also picture you being kinder and calmer than you think you could be, Buddy," Vincent said. "You've come so far, like Baxter said. I believe that even if you started doing that at first, you would have stopped yourself before long and just held Baxter and apologized to him. You might have still spoken gruffly to him, however."

"Probably," Barney agreed. He sighed. "Maybe you should have been the neuropsychologist."

"I've just had more experience with trying to calm Baxter down," Vincent said. "I used to only be able to talk him through it, but I always felt that if I had the chance, I wanted to do it this way."

Baxter looked at him. "Did I have night terrors a lot? I remember sometimes dreaming about when the cross-fusion happened and starting awake screaming. . . ."

"Yes, it happened quite frequently," Vincent said.

Baxter sighed. "Thank you both for being so understanding and kind," he said quietly. "I know this has been hard on all of us. I didn't want to put you through any more suffering, but I . . . seem to have been more affected by what happened than I thought."

"No one could be stabbed in the chest and not be badly affected by it," Barney growled.

"And no one could love the person it happened to and not be badly affected by it," Baxter said. "You've both probably tried to hold most of your pain back while helping me."

Barney looked away.

"Your nightmare . . . wasn't the first I handled tonight," Vincent said softly.

"And who handles your nightmares, Vincent?" Baxter asked. "I know you dream. You must have them too."

Vincent smiled at him. "I handle my own nightmares, Pal. Actually, you dragged me out of mine with your scream. So I got to immediately come and help you and in the process, helped us both remember that everything is alright."

"I want to help," Barney said. "I don't know that I could ever be comforting, but I'd like to try."

"I'd like that," Vincent said. "You were comforting, Buddy, when I woke up from that nightmare of drowning in lava."

Baxter shook his head. "We've certainly come through the horrible experiences, haven't we."

"That's putting it mildly," Barney said flatly. "And I just pray that things will settle down for a while. No one's luck will hold out forever."

"I wonder how the Turtles are handling things," Baxter worried. "Especially Michelangelo. He's been so bright and cheerful, but I know he's had some unpleasant dreams as well. And poor Gloria. . . . She blames herself for what happened. . . ."

"She's seemed alright in class," Barney said. "Slightly subdued, maybe, but I know she's overjoyed you were healed and she tries to focus on that."

"I know she does," Baxter said. "I hardly know her, honestly. . . . I'd feel awkward saying much to her, but I wonder if I should come by soon after a class and ask how she's doing."

"I think that would mean a lot to her, Pal," Vincent said.

Barney nodded. "You said she's apparently idolized you for years."

Baxter went red. "Well . . . that was what she told me. . . ."

"I believe it," Barney said.

Baxter laid back into the pillow. "I'll do that then," he said. "But right now, I think I'm actually sleepy enough to go back to sleep."

"Good," Barney said matter-of-factly.

Vincent chuckled. "Goodnight, Pal." He pulled the quilt up around Baxter.

"Goodnight," Baxter mumbled. In a moment he was indeed dozing.

"I envy him," Barney muttered as he followed Vincent into the hall. "I doubt I'll have as much luck." He shuddered. "Seeing him lying in that crate is a memory that will never go away, no matter how much I might want it to. And tonight it's more fresh on my mind than ever."

Vincent gently squeezed his shoulder. "If you're not adverse to it, I could try to put you to sleep with the same method I used on Baxter the other night."

Barney grunted. "I'll practically be a zombie if I can't get some decent rest. Alright."

They went back to his room and he crawled into bed. Vincent sat on the edge and carefully stroked Barney's hair. Barney had never thought he would find that relaxing, but somehow, when he completely trusted the one doing it, that made all the difference. He soon slipped back to sleep. Vincent smiled, pleased, and silently got off the bed to return to his room.

xxxx

Baxter felt like going for a walk the next day. But instead of taking it in Barney's neighborhood, he wanted more familiar territory. So he waited until his lunch break at Channel 6 and did it then.

He had walked quite far, turning his thoughts over and over in his mind, when Michelangelo suddenly appeared. "Hey, Baxter Dude!" he chirped.

Baxter smiled. "Hello, Michelangelo. Are you out walking as well?"

"Kind of," Michelangelo said. He shifted uncomfortably. "I uh, found this priceless stuff on YouTube that the guys didn't find as priceless as I did and they got sick of me playing it or singing it around the Lair. So they kind of kicked me out until I could get it out of my system."

Baxter raised an eyebrow. "What if it isn't 'out of your system' by nightfall?"

Michelangelo gave a helpless shrug. "I guess I'd go sleep in the park so I wouldn't bug the guys. Unless uh . . . maybe I could sleep at your apartment? You'll be with Barney and Vincent at night, I figured, so I wouldn't be disturbing you. . . ."

"That would be fine, as long as you didn't disturb anyone in the other apartments," Baxter said, but he still looked concerned and even appalled. "You really wouldn't be able to get back in your own home for something so insignificant?!"

"Well . . . maybe I could. . . . I don't know. . . . I guess the others can't forget about when I kept blaring my radio mondo loud when they were trying to sleep," Michelangelo said. "It's funny nobody even thought about headphones for a long time. . . ." He shifted. "Didn't stuff like that ever happen at your place growing up?"

"No," Baxter said in disbelief. "Although I suppose it wasn't much better," he amended. "It was like the Cold War."

"Oh yeah." Michelangelo frowned.

"I'm sorry," Baxter said. "I'm afraid I'm appalled. I thought a family unit with as good a relationship as yours would never do something like locking one of its members out." He hesitated. "That isn't . . . normal family behavior, is it? By that I mean, something that all normal families do?"

"Nah, it isn't," Michelangelo assured him. "And the guys probably wouldn't have done it if they hadn't been so desperate for sleep by that point. I really wasn't being very thoughtful of them back then. Actually, though, Master Splinter wasn't there that time. He's here now, so he probably wouldn't let them lock me out. But he wouldn't let me disturb them either, of course."

"Yes, that would only be fair and right," Baxter said. "This sort of thing doesn't happen often, does it?"

"Hardly ever," Michelangelo said. "But even a good, solid family unit has problems sometimes. And like I said, we're kind of all to blame when it happens, me included. Then of course, there's other wacky stuff that goes on, like teasing and barbs and Raphael's cracks. . . ."

"Which I know you don't like," Baxter said softly.

"He's gotten a lot better at it ever since the thing with the energy mes, though," Michelangelo said. "And that's gnarly. I know it's probably weird and all, but I just don't like teasing. I only do it, like, to get back at Raphael if he did it first."

Baxter smiled a bit. "There are many people who don't care for teasing. I've never liked it myself."

"I knew you didn't really seem the type," Michelangelo said.

"And Barney, while he could probably explain all the scientific reasons why teasing happens, doesn't like it happening to him either," Baxter chuckled. "Of course, no one in their right minds would try. On the other hand, occasionally he does have a dark sense of humor, or so Vincent tells me."

"What about Vincent?" Michelangelo wondered out of curiosity.

"Vincent is playful, as you know," Baxter said. "He wouldn't mind teasing done in good taste. But he would never do it to us, and of course, there are naturally some lines that one would never cross with him. For instance, he's very sensitive about anything involving harm to computers. I heard him ranting to Barney the other day about how horrible the movie Fireproof and the television series Preacher are because of characters needlessly killing their computers."

"Oh yeah?" Michelangelo blinked. "I thought Fireproof was some religious movie or something."

"It is," Baxter said. "The main character had a problem with looking at dirty websites and he finally decided to get rid of his computer because of it. Vincent was livid. 'It wasn't the computer's fault that he had no self-control,' he ranted. 'He should have sold or donated the computer instead of beating it to death!' Of course, the scene was supposed to be funny, with the neighbors wondering what kind of bizarre person they lived next to, but Vincent couldn't abide it at all. Especially since a computer really had to be destroyed to film it."

Michelangelo scratched his head. "Wow, you know, that really would be upsetting to a living computer," he said.

"Not to mention it actually was wasteful," Baxter remarked. "Barney acknowledged as much. And then on the Preacher scene, it really isn't a series any of us are particularly interested in, but Vincent had the misfortune of watching part of the episode where one of the characters gets so angry at her children squabbling that she breaks their tablet."

"Ooh." Michelangelo winced. "Ouch."

"Poor Vincent," Baxter sighed. "He calls it computercide."

"You can't blame the dude," Michelangelo said. "Heck, we always get upset when somebody trashes a turtle exhibit at a museum or something. And that's not even where anything gets killed."

Baxter smiled. "So it's really understandable."

"Totally," Michelangelo said. He hesitated. "Baxter . . . are you . . . okay and all? I mean after what happened. . . ."

Baxter looked to him in surprise. "I was healed. . . ."

"Yeah, but that was like, your body," Michelangelo said. "Doesn't it still . . . bother you and stuff?"

". . . I have to admit it does," Baxter said. "But it was my own choice to get involved. I knew the risks. And I still feel it was something I had to do. . . ." He shook his head. "But telling myself all the logic in the world doesn't make me feel better about it. . . . Being stabbed was horrible. And I know it hurt everyone else just as much, if not more, than me." He stared out at the city. "I don't know how you and the other Turtles have managed to endure everything that happens to you and your loved ones without completely snapping."

"Sometimes I wonder too," Michelangelo said. "I mean, it sure as heck isn't easy a lot of the time." He looked down. "I still have nightmares about what happened to you . . . and about Creepy Eddie threatening to kill the other guys. . . . And a bunch of other stuff. . . ."

"I'm sorry I have to be part of your nightmares," Baxter said quietly. "But it means so much to me that you care that much. Sometimes it's still difficult for me to grasp that now I actually have so many who love me."

"I can't imagine not knowing you have loved ones, but it sounds like a total drag," Michelangelo said.

"It was . . . very painful," Baxter said. "I still wish that Barney and I had found a way to be close years ago. He deeply regrets the wasted years, and so do I. But of course, there's nothing we can do about the past, only the present and the future."

"And you're doing awesomely about both," Michelangelo declared.

"Thank you," Baxter smiled.

"Hey, it's the truth," Michelangelo said. "And whoa, we've walked all the way to the Village. Can you believe that?"

"Oh dear." Baxter checked his watch. "I'm afraid I'll be late getting back from lunch."

"Well, maybe you can find a story on the way back and that'll appease ol' Burne," Michelangelo suggested.

Baxter snorted. "I don't know where I'd find a story out of the blue. . . ." He trailed off. They were passing by the Second Chance Antique Mall, currently closed since Big Louie was behind bars. After a moment of hesitation, he peeked through the door.

Michelangelo came up beside him. "Looks like they cleaned the floor," he said slowly.

"Good," Baxter shuddered.

"And it's for sale again," Michelangelo mused. "I guess Big Louie decided he doesn't want a piece of the antiques business after all."

"Just as well," Baxter sniffed. "It's really too nice a place for him. I've never been that interested in antiques, but I do appreciate an interesting building layout."

"I wonder if someone we know might buy it," Michelangelo said.

"April expressed some interest, but I don't think she would actually go through with a sale," Baxter said. "She would never be happy tied down to a store."

"I dunno," Michelangelo shrugged. "Maybe she could run it part-time and she'd like the change."

"Trying to hold down a second job when working under Burne Thompson is a very dizzying matter," Baxter said. "I found it completely exhausting just for the three days I tried to work undercover here." He turned away from the shop and moved to walk back the way they had come. "I'd find it more likely if someone such as Gloria Vaughn's uncle bought it. Antiques are his life."

"That would be kinda cool too," Michelangelo said. "Although maybe Gloria wouldn't wanna hang around the place after what happened to you. . . ."

"Maybe," Baxter said. "I can't blame her." He paused."I still find it incredible that I was apparently deemed worthy of a healing blessing. After everything I've done . . ."

"Hey, nobody's perfect," Michelangelo said. "God must figure that He wants to help people out anyway, in spite of that. So why not you? You're mondo loyal and brave, even though you're scared of being hurt."

"And I've certainly proved I have reason to be scared," Baxter remarked.

"Some people would've called it quits because of that," Michelangelo said. "But not you! You just keep at it."

"If it wasn't that I have people who are dear to me whom I want to protect, I wouldn't keep at it," Baxter shuddered. "Under the circumstances, I don't know how I can stop."

Michelangelo laid a hand on his shoulder. "That's the same with us," he said. "We can't stop. We made it our duty to protect the city and well, the whole world, from a creepazoid takeover, and that's what we've gotta do. I think most people are good deep down, even a lot of the ones who don't accept mutants. They don't deserve to be subjected to Shred-Head and Krang or whoever else might want a piece of Earth. And hey, in any case, this is our home too. We don't want it conquered by bad guys who'd make it a mess for us and everybody we care about."

Baxter smiled a bit. "You and the other Turtles and Splinter are often too good for this city. I don't tend to go out of my way to protect strangers."

"Aww." Michelangelo looked away, then back. "Even if you and Barney mostly fight for your loved ones, you guys still care. Barney blew up the lightning gun to save the whole city, not just you and Vincent. And you, any time you fight Shred-Head, you're protecting tons of people! Plus, if you saw somebody needing help, I don't think you'd run off and leave them."

"No, I probably wouldn't," Baxter relented. "But neither Barney nor I would want to devote our lives to being this city's protectors the way you Turtles have."

"That's true," Michelangelo said. "But sometimes we kind of wish we could have normal lives too, you know? Being a crime-fighter sure isn't a bed of roses."

"I know." Baxter looked thoughtful. "And yet I used to have those naive dreams of being a crime-fighter behind the scenes, providing new technology to help the police catch criminals and that sort of thing. They weren't interested then, but I still dreamed of such foolishness with my technologically advanced van." He managed a smile. "I suppose I can be happy that my inventions and equipment ended up being put to crime-fighting use after all."

"Yeah. . . ." Michelangelo looked awkward now. The Turtle Van was always a rather sad subject between them, or at least, it still seemed so to him.

"I'm not angry anymore, Michelangelo," Baxter said softly. "It's all in the past. We've moved on."

Michelangelo perked up a bit. "Yeah?"

"You make better use of that van than I ever did," Baxter said. "Anyway, I like my station wagon."

"You liked your van too," Michelangelo said. "You must have loved it almost as much as we do. All the stuff that you put in it. . . ."

"Yes, that's true," Baxter admitted. "But it's yours now. You've truly made it your own. Or Donatello has, I suppose."

Michelangelo smiled. "Hey, maybe you could drive it sometime," he offered. "April drives it sometimes when we're not around and she needs to come find us."

"I think I'd like that," Baxter said. "I've wondered what it's like to drive it after all the modifications were added. And I still have the spare key." He held up a keyring.

"Gnarly!" Michelangelo grinned. "Then you could get in it even if we weren't here to give you the main keys!"

Baxter nodded. "And of course, Vincent could take control of its computer to drive it as well."

"He must be pretty handy to have around with Barney's security system and Smart Home stuff and all that," Michelangelo said.

Baxter chuckled. "Yes, very. Any time something goes amiss, he just talks to the computer or the appliance and finds out what's wrong."

"So he's like the Doctor Doolittle of technology!" Michelangelo decided.

Further amused, Baxter said, "You'll have to tell that one to him, my friend. He would be pleased."

"Then I will, first chance I get!" Michelangelo said. "Like if we all still have dinner tonight. . . ."

Baxter paused. "Michelangelo . . . are you really as alright about this argument with the other Turtles as you seem to be?"

Michelangelo froze. "Hey, I said we were all to blame, especially since they're probably thinking about the radio mess and all that. . . ."

"I know, but it's hard for me to believe that you're not at least a little hurt," Baxter said softly. "I was always hurt when Barney did something unkind, even when I tried to rationalize it away."

Michelangelo looked down. "I don't wanna say anything that would really make them look bad. . . . I guess I probably already did, though. . . ."

Baxter gave him a compassionate look. Oh, how he could relate to that, as he could to so many of Michelangelo's feelings! "I felt the same when Barney still did hurtful things after I became your friend," he said. "There were enough ill feelings about him as it was and I didn't want to create more. Especially when I still saw the good in him too and I wanted my friends to see it as well."

Michelangelo managed a smile. "Yeah. . . ." He hesitated, then looked up again, and his eyes were glistening with unshed tears. "Well, since I know you already like all of the others . . . I . . . really do feel bad." It was as though Baxter's kind words had been an invitation to open up the pain Michelangelo had struggled to keep hidden. "I mean . . . things have been so crazy lately and there's been so many things that brought us down, and I thought . . . well . . . I thought I'd found something that would make everyone laugh and feel happy. But Leonardo wasn't that impressed, Donatello just wondered what happened to make it come out so weird, and Raphael . . ." He scowled. "You know how Raphael can be."

"Yes, I know," Baxter nodded. "Michelangelo, did you tell them how you felt?"

"I tried," Michelangelo said slowly. "I probably didn't try enough. They were all too busy. Leonardo wanted to practice, Donatello had some new invention to work on, and Raphael wanted to practice 'real comedy' for Open Mic night at some comedy club. And they didn't want me disrupting everything, so they thought I should leave the Lair until I got it out of my system."

Baxter had to admit, he was angry. "I'm sure they didn't realize exactly how much it meant to you, but they could have handled it better. Especially Raphael. He was supposed to have realized how sensitive you are! And after everything we've come through lately, I'd think they'd all be kinder!"

Michelangelo winced slightly, but at the same time he liked the feeling of someone really in his corner right then. "I know they didn't realize, but yeah, you know, they could have been more interested or at least tried to understand," he said. "I'm still getting dismissed just like before." He sighed. "I guess I was kind of . . . accidentally yet deliberately looking for you. I thought maybe you'd want to hang out with me even if my 'brothers' didn't."

"Oh, Michelangelo," Baxter said sadly. "Of course I want to be with you." He gave a kind smile. "If you still don't want to go back, you're welcome to stay in my office while I'm working."

That brought an answering smile. "Thanks, Baxter," Michelangelo said in all sincerity. "I guess I don't really want to go back yet. But wandering around by myself doesn't sound like much fun either."

"Then you won't have to," Baxter promised. ". . . What was it that you found on YouTube, out of curiosity?"

Michelangelo looked hesitant but hopeful. "It was these hysterical songs that they ran through Google Translates several times and they came out sounding really gonzo. So then they sang the weird lyrics. If you really wanna see, give me your phone and I'll show you."

Baxter handed it over and Michelangelo quickly accessed YouTube. As they walked, he held up the phone and played a mixed-up version of the Disney song I'll Make a Man Out of You. Or at least, they started out walking. Before the song was over, they were both laughing and walking was all but impossible.

Baxter collapsed on a bench for the finish. "I'm not sure I've ever laughed that hard," he exclaimed. "Are they all that hilarious?"

"They're all gnarly, but some are my favorites," Michelangelo grinned, thrilled that he had found someone who appreciated it as much as he did. "Wanna see some more?"

"How about you show me after work?" Baxter suggested. "At this rate, I won't get back until nightfall."

"Okay!" Michelangelo chirped. "Uh . . . how do you think Barney and Vincent would feel?"

"I think they would both be astonished that it could come out so wrong," Baxter said. "Especially Vincent, since his translating abilities are flawless."

"Yeah, I guess that would be pretty weird for him to see," Michelangelo said. He gave Baxter the phone back and they resumed walking.

They had almost reached Channel 6 when they came upon the other Turtles in the Turtle Van. "So here you are," Leonardo frowned a bit while Donatello pulled over to the curb. "We've been trying to get in touch with you for ages!"

". . . Uh oh." Looking guilty, Michelangelo pulled out his Turtle-Comm. "I switched it to Silent Mode and I kind of accidentally but deliberately forgot to check it for calls."

"Is something wrong?" Baxter asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Not exactly," Leonardo said. "But Master Splinter thought we should find you."

"He didn't want any more antics like what happened about the radio," Raphael said.

"Don't worry, Dudes, everything's cool," Michelangelo said. "And Baxter got a kick out of my vids too!"

"Oh brother," Donatello sighed.

"You guys just need more of a sense of humor," Michelangelo said.

"I have a highly developed sense of humor," Raphael retorted.

"I think you mean a cheaply developed sense of humor," Donatello said.

Raphael's expression showed he didn't find that funny.

Baxter winced. "It isn't worth arguing about," he scolded. "But there are many types of humor and Michelangelo and Raphael simply have two different ideas of what humor should be." Of course, part of Raphael's idea of humor was to make biting comments, which Baxter didn't feel was right. But he also didn't want to get into that right here. He looked to Michelangelo. "Did you have something you wanted to tell them, my friend?"

Michelangelo shifted. "Well, I don't know. . . . It's not really worth talking about. . . ."

"It is," Baxter said firmly.

Leonardo looked a little concerned now. "What is it, Michelangelo? Is it really about those silly videos?"

Michelangelo looked to him, then back to Baxter. Finally making up his mind, he steeled himself and said, "Kind of but not really. It's about a lot more than that. I know we've had a lot to deal with lately. And I know it's been putting kind of a strain on us. I can't be the only one who was mondo affected by seeing Baxter lying stabbed in that crate, just thrown there like he didn't mean anything!"

Baxter flinched but laid a hand on Michelangelo's shoulder. He hated what that had done to everyone who loved him.

"We all were," Leonardo said, still not quite getting it. "That's why I wanted to practice, to be better so that hopefully nothing like that would happen on my watch."

"And it's why I wanted to work on my invention," Donatello said.

"And I . . . just wanted to get away from it all," Raphael said.

"I did too!" Michelangelo snapped. "Yeah, they're just silly videos and it really doesn't matter if you dudes don't dig them. But what does matter is that I was trying to share something to make us happy after all the sad stuff and none of you guys appreciated that or cared at all! None of you thought about my feelings! None of you thought about what I was trying to do or how I'd feel being totally brushed off like that and told to leave the Lair. . . ." He squeezed his eyes shut, but tears still managed to leak out.

The other Turtles looked at each other in dismay.

"You're right, Michelangelo," Leonardo said at last. "None of us did."

"We were just thinking about ourselves," Raphael said in chagrin.

"And that's unforgivable," Donatello said softly.

"Nah. . . . It's not unforgivable." Michelangelo looked up at them. "I know you've got bigger things on your minds than me. And if you're sorry . . . that helps a lot."

"Nothing should be bigger than how one of us is feeling," Leonardo said. "We all knew you were upset about things, but we didn't think about it enough."

"But . . . it really is important to try to be prepared for what comes at us next," Michelangelo said in surprise.

"If we're not all united, we're never going to be ready," Leonardo said. "We should have made sure of that ahead of anything else."

"We're all sorry," Donatello said, and the others concurred.

Baxter relaxed, pleased.

Michelangelo beamed. "This is totally awesome! Thanks, Amigos. Now everything truly is cool."

Leonardo smiled a bit. "Michelangelo, you're a lot better guy than most. But we'd all like to make this up to you."

"Yeah," Raphael said, unusually sobered.

"We could try watching some of those videos again," Donatello said.

"Nah, I don't think so," Michelangelo said. "They just weren't you guys' thing. But maybe if we could just hang out and do something fun. . . ."

"That's a very good idea," Baxter said. "You all need that."

Leonardo's attention was already diverted. "Maybe, but now we've got a new problem! Look-it's Rocksteady and Bebop!"

Everyone turned to look. The mutants were lumbering towards an ice cream parlor.

"They must be going to rob it!" Leonardo exclaimed. "We have to stop them!" He and the other Turtles ran forward, taking out their weapons as they went.

"Hey, easy, guys," Bebop said as they dashed over. "We're not on duty today."

"Yeah!" Rocksteady nodded. "We're having a day off."

"Oh yeah?" Michelangelo blinked. "What are you gonna do?"

"Get some ice cream and go down to the video arcade!" Rocksteady declared. He flashed a few crumpled bills.

"Mondo notion! Can I come?" Michelangelo chirped.

"Michelangelo!" the other Turtles cried in disbelief.

Baxter had to laugh. Only Michelangelo.

"So Shredder and Krang are okay with this?" Raphael closed one eye and regarded their enemies with suspicion.

"They don't even know," Bebop said. "Krang is too busy making the boss clean the entire Technodrome as punishment for turning against him."

Rocksteady nodded. "It's takin' him days to do it by himself, 'cause it's so big!"

"Well, that's typical Krang," Raphael said. "Even though it was his fault in the first place." He smirked. "Shred-Head getting a time-out sounds great, though."

"Yeah! Krang is too busy with the boss to even think about us!" Bebop said. "Anyway, we got kind of a reprieve because we helped Krang with his robot body."

"So this really is a day off?" Raphael still looked doubtful. "You're not going to want to fight?"

"Not now!" Rocksteady retorted. "The rocky road is calling to us."

"And the peanut butter fudge," Bebop added.

Michelangelo looked envious. "You're sure I can't come?"

"We're sure," Leonardo said. "Michelangelo, we don't fraternize with the enemy!"

"Even for peanut butter fudge?" Michelangelo sighed.

Bebop and Rocksteady vanished into the ice cream parlor.

Baxter chuckled. "I really do have to get back to work, but why don't the four of you have a day off, as we were talking about before those two appeared?"

The Turtles looked at each other.

"Works for me," Raphael said.

"Same here," Donatello agreed.

"Well . . ." Leonardo started to smile. "I guess there's no real reason why we can't have a day off."

Michelangelo's eyes lit up. "Totally radical!"

"I'll see you after work," Baxter said with a wave.

"See you, Bud!" Michelangelo waved back.

xxxx

Barney was writing on the chalkboard as the students started filing into the room for the afternoon class. Vincent greeted them, as usual, while he looked through the lesson for the day.

Gloria came over to the desk when she entered. "How is Baxter doing?" she asked.

Vincent smiled at her. "He's doing very well."

Barney turned away from the chalkboard. "He wondered if you were alright. He said you blamed yourself."

Gloria looked down. "It's hard not to, Professor. My mom thought I should see a counselor."

"That's a good idea," Barney nodded.

"I haven't found one yet," she told him. She looked down. "It's . . . hard . . . when Baxter is someone I've admired for so long and he almost dies because I didn't leave when I should have. . . . He's such a sweet man, so undeserving of all the pain he's gone through in his life. . . . Oh, but I shouldn't be telling you this," she added in concern. "You have to get ready for the class. And you've both suffered because of worry for him too. . . ."

"I'd offer for you to talk to me, but it would be better for you to counsel with someone who isn't so close to the situation," Barney said. What he didn't say was that it would likely dredge up the pain for him all the more, just as Gloria had speculated. "As for what you said, yes, you're right. Baxter didn't deserve any of what went wrong for him in his life."

"But at least he has people who love him now," Vincent said. "And knowing you admire him meant a lot to him."

Gloria smiled. "He told me, that time when we had lunch. I want to do what I can to help. I still want to testify at the hearing and trial for Big Louie and his men."

"I'm sure you'll be asked to, since you were an eye-witness," Barney said.

She nodded. "I'm so glad he's alright." She stepped back. "I'll let you finish getting ready for class."

Vincent watched as she went to her desk and opened her textbook. "It would have been nice if Baxter had known he had fans two years ago," he said. "It might have helped him in his darkest moments."

"They probably wouldn't have let her see him if she had tried to," Barney said. "Baxter said she tried to convince people to listen to his side of the Mouser story without luck. At least he knows now."

"Yes," Vincent mused.

xxxx

April was looking over several printouts when Baxter arrived back on the office floor. "Is Mr. Thompson angry that I'm late?" he whispered.

"Right now he's just angry it's such a slow day," April whispered back with a chuckle. "Nobody's trying to conquer the city. The biggest thing that happened was that the police caught a pickpocket."

Baxter relaxed. "That's just as well for me." He caught sight of what she was looking at and blinked in surprise. "You're looking at information on the antique mall?"

"Yeah," April said slowly. "I was in the place a couple of times before Big Louie bought it and I kind of fell in love with it. But I don't really know how I'd be able to run a shop. I don't want to give up being a reporter, and you know how Burne can suddenly call you in even on days when you think you won't need to go. I could be there and a big story would break and I'd have to close it again and run!"

"Hmm." Baxter took up a sheet that April had laid on Irma's desk. "Maybe what you need is to go into business with someone."

"I guess you or Barney wouldn't be interested," April said wryly.

"Well, I'd be in the same situation as you, and regardless, no, I'm afraid I wouldn't be interested," Baxter said. "And I seriously doubt Barney would be." He paused. "Maybe you should speak with Henry Vaughn. He might be interested, since he loves antiques."

"Yeah," April mused. "Maybe it's worth a try. I interviewed him a few months ago, so at least he knows me."

Baxter nodded. "He could run the shop or find someone to run it, but you would still have ownership as well."

"That's a neat idea, Baxter." April looked up at him and smiled. "Thanks! I'm going to find his number right now."

"Good luck," Baxter smiled back. He went into his office while April tore into hers.

xxxx

"You know, I have to admit, Baxter's idea of taking the day off was a good one." Raphael licked a cone stacked high with chocolate fudge ice ceam.

"It sure was," Leonardo agreed as he sampled a vanilla butterscotch. "All of us needed this."

"Yeah, we've really been working too hard lately," Donatello said. He was enjoying strawberry cheesecake.

"Not to mention all the mondo huge disasters we've had to deal with," Michelangelo said. He was on his third peanut butter fudge. "And poor Baxter, Barney, and Vincent. . . ."

"It'll be good to just relax with them and have a peaceful dinner tonight," Leonardo said. "I just wonder if Shredder and Krang are planning anything."

"It sounds like Krang's too busy having fun getting back at Shred-Head," Raphael snarked.

"Yes, but unlike Shredder, Krang doesn't get so caught up in his revenge that he forgets the big picture," Leonardo said.

"Oh, spare us the Doom and Gloom bit, Fearless Leader," Raphael sighed. "Let's just not think about our upcoming battles at all."

"No duh," Michelangelo nodded. "We'll have to think about them soon enough as it is!"

"We do deserve a break," Donatello said. "Tomorrow we might be fighting Foot Soldiers again."

"But . . . oh nevermind," Leonardo sighed.

"That's the spirit," Raphael smiled. "Let's just enjoy this and then go play at the arcade. Preferably not the one Bebop and Rocksteady went to."

"Now that's something we can agree on," Leonardo proclaimed.

xxxx

Michelangelo returned to Channel 6 at the end of Baxter's shift, just as promised. He was in a good mood after the fun day off, and when he knocked on Baxter's office door, Baxter seemed to be in a fairly good mood as well.

"Hello, Michelangelo," Baxter smiled. "How was your afternoon?"

"Oh, it was mondo awesome, Amigo," Michelangelo declared. "We had all the ice cream we could eat and then we went to the arcade! Uh, not the one Bebop and Rocksteady were at. And we played games until now! The other Turtles went back to get Master Splinter and I came here."

"I'm so glad you've had a good time," Baxter said.

"Yeah, it was just what we all needed," Michelangelo said.

"Well, I'm ready to go," Baxter said. "But April wants to go home and freshen up before dinner, if that's alright. I said I'd drive her there and then bring her to the house."

"That's cool!" Michelangelo said. "And I can show you more YouTube videos!"

"I've been looking forward to that," Baxter chuckled.

xxxx

While April was getting ready for dinner at her apartment, Michelangelo and Baxter went upstairs to Baxter's apartment until it was time to leave. Laughter soon rang through the living room as they watched more of the silly YouTube videos Michelangelo had discovered.

"When I see something epic, I like to say the person who came up with it was a genius," Michelangelo chirped. "Only this time it was a computer program that wasn't even trying to come up with something epic!"

"Well," Baxter chuckled, "someone still had to decide to run the lyrics through the computer and then to actually sing the resulting nonsense."

"True," Michelangelo acknowledged. "And their priceless expressions make it all even funnier!"

"I wonder how long they have to rehearse before they can sing without laughing," Baxter mused.

"Oh, gnarly question," Michelangelo said. "I've always wondered that kind of thing myself." He winced a bit. "Raphael said once that he bet I wondered how he could tell jokes without laughing. I said 'Not really, since they weren't very funny to begin with.'"

"And was he angry?" Baxter wondered.

". . . Actually, he looked kind of embarrassed," Michelangelo remembered. "I feel kinda bad about it now, but back then I didn't care too much. Especially since he always lashed out at me without feeling bad about it."

Baxter gave him a sympathetic look. "Were you always interested in what you're interested in now?" he wondered. "I don't mean the ninjitsu, but your hobbies."

"Pretty much, yeah," Michelangelo said. "Raphael would read old issues of the Highlights magazine and tell all those corny jokes to us. I'd read the stories and the recipes and Donatello would read the science articles."

"And Leonardo?" Baxter wondered.

"He'd do the Hidden Picture stuff," Michelangelo said. "And the longer stories. I usually only read the shorter ones . . . at least at first. I got more interested in the longer ones a little later."

"You got a lot of mileage out of those magazines," Baxter remarked.

"Master Splinter always tried to find things that would get a lot of use," Michelangelo said. "That magazine was great since there was something in it for each of us."

"Splinter has always been very wise in how he raised you," Baxter said.

"He sure has," Michelangelo said. "It's mondo amazing he never had kids before; he took to it so well when he suddenly had four!"

"He must be applauded," Baxter said, shaking his head. "I don't think I could ever do that."

"Aww, I'm sure you could if you had to, Baxter," Michelangelo said.

"Well . . . if there was no other choice, naturally I'd have to try," Baxter relented. "But it sounds like Splinter was a natural with children."

"Totally," Michelangelo proclaimed. "He still is!" He smiled at Baxter. "But hey, you're pretty good yourself, Bud. You figured out how to handle having four big Turtles as your amigos."

Baxter chuckled. "Yes, but that was different. I didn't raise them from elementary school children."

"So . . . how do you think of us, Baxter Bud?" Michelangelo asked. "I know we're family to you now, but are we your brothers or cousins or what?"

Baxter looked thoughtful as he pondered. "I believe I see you and the others as being close to nephews," he said at last.

"So you're Uncle Baxter?" Michelangelo quipped. "Gnarly!"

"Well," Baxter said with a laugh, "I really don't see myself as an uncle or feel the need to be referred to as one. 'Baxter Dude' and variants suit me quite fine."

"And like, I'm happy to oblige," Michelangelo said. "I think I'd feel funny calling you 'Uncle.'"

"First and foremost, you're my friend, my equal," Baxter said. "I wouldn't want a title like that; it would seem to put me above you."

Michelangelo grinned. "You know, a lot of the time I don't even remember you're like, way older than me."

"To be honest, I often forget about the age gap myself," Baxter said. "I suppose it's because you and the other Turtles usually seem older than your chronological age. And I don't tend to remember that Vincent is centuries older than any of us, either."

"Yeah, that's pretty easy to forget," Michelangelo said.

"In the end, age doesn't matter," Baxter said.

"Like, age only matters if you're cheese," Michelangelo quipped.

Baxter had to laugh.

Michelangelo's Turtle-Comm went off then and he clicked it open. "I'm ready to go, guys," April said.

"Great!" Michelangelo said. "We'll be over."

Baxter stood, making sure the windows were locked before heading to the door. He also made sure to grab the dessert Michelangelo had brought for the get-together out of the fridge.

Michelangelo trailed after him. "Do you miss living here full-time?" he wondered.

Baxter paused. "I wondered if I would, but I don't, really. I do miss seeing April and Irma as much, but we still see quite a lot of each other at work." He smiled. "My home is with my brothers. And I am so happy about that."

"Gnarly notion, Compadre," Michelangelo said. "Yeah, that's just as it should be."

"Yes," Baxter agreed in thoughtfulness. "It certainly is."

xxxx

Bebop and Rocksteady were also in a good mood after their unofficial day off. And, they discovered when they returned to the Technodrome, Shredder and Krang hadn't even noticed they were gone.

"Krang!" Shredder whined. "I've cleaned the entire Technodrome from top to bottom! Isn't that enough yet?! I wouldn't have even done what I did if you hadn't used that blasted device to increase my strength and if it hadn't had that side effect of increasing my bloodlust!"

"I know that," Krang said. "But I also know that you didn't do anything you wouldn't like to do in your usual mind. So I can think of plenty more to do to you in retaliation for that! But I won't, because we need to get back to business."

"Anything!" Shredder begged. "Anything other than cleaning!"

Bebop and Rocksteady snickered.

"It won't be cleaning!" Krang snapped. "No, I have something in mind that should give us the power we need to get out of this mud hole. Gather around, children, and listen."

Shredder scowled. Bebop and Rocksteady looked at each other in bewilderment and then back at Krang.

"You knew we came in?" Bebop said.

"Of course I knew," Krang retorted. "I caught your reflections in the shiny new computer monitor. Now get over here so we can discuss the plan!"

The mutants obeyed.

xxxx

Vincent had the dinner ready by the time Baxter pulled up with Michelangelo and April and the other Turtles arrived with Splinter. Irma and Vernon had also been invited and they soon arrived as well.

April seemed to be fairly bursting with news, but she waited until everyone was settled around the long table in the dining room. "Baxter, I have to thank you for your brilliant suggestion," she smiled. "I talked to Henry Vaughn and we're going to purchase the Second Chance Antique Mall together!"

"That's wonderful, April," Baxter said.

"Totally bodacious!" Michelangelo exclaimed.

"We still have to work out all the details, but it looks like this is really going to happen," April said.

"That is most fortuitous," Splinter nodded. "It is good to know that such an establishment will be in honest hands."

"And it'll be so dreamy to think that you'll own all that gorgeous antique jewelry!" Irma gushed.

"Oh Irma, for Heaven's sake," Vernon said with a roll of his eyes.

"So are you gonna make any changes or leave everything the way it is?" Raphael wondered.

"Mr. Vaughn and I both like it just the way it is," April said. "We definitely plan to keep the layout, especially the holiday nook." She paused. "I was kind of thinking of changing the name to something like Second Time Around, but I decided I'd rather keep the name it currently has. Mr. Vaughn agreed we could."

"That's great, but why?" Leonardo wondered.

"Because I think Second Chance has a lot more meaning." April smiled at Baxter. "You got another chance at life there."

Baxter blushed a bit, but he was clearly touched. "I see. . . ."

Vincent grinned. "That's a perfect reason to keep the name!"

Michelangelo was grinning too. "Totally awesome!"

"That's really great, April," Leonardo said sincerely. "I hope it will work out for you."

The others concurred, even Vernon.

Baxter was happy as the food was passed around. By now he had had many dinners with both family and friends, but it never ceased to amaze him how wonderful it could be. Each dinner of late was the complete opposite of the cold, heartless dinners he and Barney had grown up with. When he sneaked a look at Barney, he could tell that his brother felt the same. Even the stranger, wackier dinners that sometimes happened with the Turtles as guests were preferable to the unkind dinners of their past.

Once the food had made the rounds, Barney stood. "I'll say grace."

Baxter was surprised and touched. Barney usually preferred to delegate that to someone else when there were guests. Barney had changed and healed so much from what he had been. To think that they could be here, happy to be with each other, and that Barney was so thankful and working so hard to live honestly, would never not be incredible.

Vincent grinned at Baxter when the short prayer had been said and everyone was starting to eat. Baxter smiled back. Vincent had been a part of this in how he had helped Barney's angry heart to mend. And, Vincent silently said, Baxter had been a part of it as well. It was an amazing feeling.

xxxx

The rest of the evening was pleasant and peaceful. By the time everyone had gone home and the Stockmans were going to bed, the serenity of the dinner remained.

Vincent stayed awake until he was sure Baxter and Barney were both asleep. He paused in their doorways, observing them before going on to his own room. There would still be night terrors in the future, but they didn't come every night. Tonight it looked like there would be a pleasant slumber for his brothers.

Soon Vincent crossed to his room and settled in bed before turning out the light. He would also sleep well, he was sure.