Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 1987
The Turtle Terminator 2.0
Notes: The characters are not mine and the story is! ThickerThanLove helped with some plot points. This is part of my Exit the Fly verse. Baxter is human again and an ally of the Turtles. His brother Barney no longer works for Shredder.
Barney supposed he wasn't surprised when he came downstairs the morning after the visit from the second set of dimensional counterparts and found Baxter sitting at the island in the kitchen, slowly and thoughtfully sipping at a mug of hot chocolate.
Baxter looked over before Barney had a chance to speak. "Hello, Barney," he smiled.
Barney sat down next to him. "You look like you have a lot on your mind."
"After last night, that isn't hard to figure, is it?" Baxter spoke softly and not sarcastically, the opposite of how Barney probably would have spoken had the exchange been reversed.
"No, it isn't," Barney agreed.
"Seeing that other you and I . . . dredged up a lot of memories from the past." Baxter stared into his mug before taking another drink. "Especially our childhood."
Barney looked away. "I know it was a miserable time for both of us, but it was far worse for you. You had love to give and you needed love in return and I wouldn't comply."
"There were occasional times where you didn't act distant or mean," Baxter replied. "I've thought before about the time I was upset and hiding in a cupboard and you came and sat with me."
"I didn't say anything or try to comfort you the way Vincent does," Barney objected.
"You tried to comfort me in your own way," Baxter said with a smile. "And it worked; I felt much better after we shared that time together."
Barney considered that. "That was before I made you afraid of me, though," he said. "After that, we were both more miserable than we'd been before." His expression darkened. "I can't think of one time I was nice to you after that. There were times I wanted to be, but then my blasted pride got in the way and reminded me that I was angry at you for being the one our parents loved. And instead of being nice, I'd either just walk away or find some way to be cruel with my words or my silence." He leaned forward on the counter and dug his hand into his hair.
"The only times you really came alive were when you were demonstrating science and chemistry for the neighborhood children," Baxter remembered. "I saw how happy that made you, and even though I still longed for your love, it made me happy to know that something brought such light into your eyes."
"But that's not the same thing as a memory, any memory, where I actually behaved like a decent brother," Barney objected. "You can't come up with even one after we were eight, can you?"
Baxter paused. ". . . Remember the time we were up in the Catskill Mountains and I wandered off because I was so fascinated by the plants and animals?"
"Yes," Barney said slowly.
"Our parents didn't even notice I was gone," Baxter said softly. "But you did. And you didn't have to, but you went looking for me."
"And I chewed you out hard when I found you hours later, as I remember," Barney grunted.
"I was too young to appreciate it at the time," Baxter said. "But on the ride back home, I thought about it and realized that even though you were angry, you were the only one who noticed or cared that I was gone. By the time we got back, our parents still weren't worried! Father was too occupied with business matters and Mother was dreaming of some party she wanted to host. You could have just ignored everything and played all day or performed science experiments, especially when they weren't paying attention, but you spent hours combing the woods for me!"
"And hating you and preparing all kinds of horrible things to say to you because I'd had to look for you all that time," Barney said bitterly.
"You didn't have to, Barney," Baxter insisted. "That's what was so beautiful about it. You chose to. You were angry; who wouldn't be, especially when I really was being irresponsible? But you wouldn't have been so angry, and you wouldn't have been looking for me at all, if you hadn't loved me."
"I couldn't have just left you out there like that," Barney muttered. "You were only ten."
"So were you," Baxter said softly.
Barney finally met Baxter's gaze. His twin was looking at him in all sincerity.
"I can't think of many ten-year-olds who would have that level of devotion and determination, especially towards someone they professed to hate," Baxter said.
Barney bowed his head. "I remember how afraid I was that you'd been kidnapped or mauled by a bear or any number of other possibilities," he mumbled. "They grew more outlandish the longer I looked. And then I found you just dreamily watching some deer and not even aware of how much time had passed. I was so relieved, but at the same time, I snapped. And I kept screaming at you until you looked like you were about to cry. I wasn't sorry then, or for a long time afterward, but when I finally was, I never said it. Or acted like it."
"That's how you've expressed your feelings for most of your life," Baxter said. "I don't know how you've managed to not start screaming at me sometimes lately when I've done something potentially dangerous."
"I think it was how coldly I reacted when you returned to your body after astral-projecting that made me realize I had to stop," Barney said. "Even Vincent was angry at me, and with good reason, no matter how you might try to excuse me. I didn't want to keep crushing your heart to pieces and expressing my love by getting angry. And finally, I overcame my pride enough to actually start to succeed."
"You've admitted you've still been angry at times, even though you've fought hard not to show it," Baxter said.
"I think the last time you did something dangerous, the main thing that kept me from exploding was that you were doing it for Vincent," Barney said. "And I would have done it for him or you."
"I can't regret it, since it turned out as it did," Baxter said. "But I still regret hurting everyone when I got hurt." He paused. "Barney . . . was there ever a time when you were happy in our childhood? A time that didn't have to do with science, I mean."
Barney was silent for a long time. "I'd like to say there were such times," he said. "I'd like to say that there were times when I appreciated your love long enough that I wasn't angry or hateful."
"But you can't?" Baxter sounded sad yet knowing. He had expected it.
"I think a more proper answer is that I refused to let myself be happy," Barney said. "Any time I started to, I deliberately made myself angry again. I was such a fool!" His expression twisted in disgust. "I kept crushing you and I was just making myself more miserable than I had to be. I was the Stockman who belonged in the asylum!"
Baxter gripped Barney's arm. "That would have only made you more angry and bitter," he said, his voice clenched in an odd and unusual manner. It chilled Barney. "All you needed was a good therapist. And you finally got one." He let go of Barney's arm and he smiled again.
"Where is Vincent anyway?" Barney muttered. "He should have been up by now."
"Here I am!" Vincent came into the kitchen and smiled at both of them.
"Oh Vincent." Baxter chuckled. "You've been there a long time, haven't you?"
"Long enough to know the two of you needed that conversation to yourselves," Vincent said. "You don't need me as a referee anymore. At least, not most of the time." He went to the cupboard and took down the pancake mix.
"We may not need you as a referee, Vincent, but we love to have you with us," Baxter said.
"And I love being with you," Vincent agreed. "But sometimes you still need conversations to yourselves."
Barney nodded. "You always seem to recognize when we do."
"Well, I try," Vincent grinned.
Baxter checked his watch. "I'll have to leave right after breakfast," he said. "Mr. Thompson said it's going to be a busy day."
"Then I'm sure it will be," Barney grunted.
Baxter nodded. "He can't predict a busy news day until it's already underway, but for a scientific consultant like me, he can know ahead of time when there's a great deal of work ready for me to do."
"Good luck," Barney said dryly.
Baxter left right after breakfast, as promised, and Barney headed upstairs for a shower since he and Vincent didn't have to leave for work until afternoon. Vincent stayed downstairs, flipping through the television channels until he finally settled on the morning detective show block on MeTV.
He blinked in surprise when the door opened and Baxter came back inside. "What's up, old pal?" he asked.
"Oh, I forgot something," Baxter told him.
Vincent frowned as he watched Baxter head up the stairs. It was a perfectly reasonable explanation, but for some reason Vincent felt a foreboding he really didn't understand. Something was off.
Baxter went into his room and emerged moments later, shoving something into his pocket. He came down the stairs and Vincent continued to watch him, his blue eyes flickering with an unease he really didn't understand.
"What did you forget?" he asked.
"My wallet," Baxter chuckled. "I can't believe how absent-minded I can get sometimes."
Vincent got up from the couch. "But you're not absent-minded," he objected. "And I saw you gathering your belongings right before you left. You had your wallet."
Baxter froze, the sweetness gone from his expression. Instead he gave Vincent a very cold look. "Are you saying I'm lying, Vincent?"
"No," Vincent frowned. "I'm saying that you had your wallet before you left." He stepped closer, his senses alert. Something didn't feel right. Baxter's attitude was all wrong. Anyone could have an off-day, but there was no reason for Baxter to act like this. The story about the wallet didn't ring true. And . . . he wasn't picking up an organic heat source.
Baxter stepped back. "What are you doing, Vincent?"
"You're not Baxter!" Vincent accused. "You're a robot imposter!"
Baxter's eyes glowed yellow and he blasted Vincent backwards in the next moment. "You weren't supposed to see through me so quickly," he said. "Master Shredder said I was good enough to fool even you. And you picked me out immediately! How?"
Vincent struggled up from where he had sprawled on the floor next to the couch. "For you it wouldn't compute," he said. "I love my brother. I know my brother. I can spot a phony." He blasted back, sending the robot against the wall.
For a moment the impostor slumped, dazed. But when Vincent approached, it leaped up and placed its hand on Vincent's chest to shock him. Vincent blasted it just as it blasted Vincent. They both flew across the room.
"Well," said the robot, "it looks like we've . . . reached a stalemate." It slowly got up, holding a hand to its chest.
Vincent glowered, struggling up again from the floor. "What are you going to do?" he demanded.
"I have a mission to complete," the robot replied. "I couldn't fool you, but maybe I can fool his other friends." It sent one more surprise blast at Vincent before hurrying to the door.
Vincent dodged this time-or at least, he thought he did. The blast hit a lamp, which crashed on his back with a nasty sizzle. Vincent cried out and fell forward to the floor. But as he did, he sent one final blast at the robot. He felt a certain satisfaction when he heard it cry out in surprise and tumble down the front stairs.
"What's going on down here?!"
Vincent looked up with bleary eyes as Barney appeared at the top of the second floor's banister, his hair wet and a towel around his waist. "Barney, there's a robot impostor of Baxter outside," he exclaimed.
"What?!" Barney ran down the stairs and to the open door, just in time to see Baxter's station wagon driving out the gate.
He was also just in time for a neighbor across the street to catch a glimpse of him as she walked her dog down the block. The elderly woman gave a Hmph! of disapproval and Barney scowled, slamming the front door. Baxter would have been mortified in his place, but he was just irritated.
He ran back over to Vincent, who was stumbling up from the floor. The lamp slid off his back and also hit the floor. Not seeming to notice, Vincent grabbed the arm of the couch and leaned against it in pain.
Barney knelt beside him. "Did the robot do this to you?" he growled.
"Yes," Vincent said. "But I hurt it too."
"So this was the plan Shredder started preparing after meeting that other me," Barney snarled. He helped Vincent up and guided him to the couch. "Are you badly hurt?"
"No," Vincent said. "But the Turtles and maybe the Channel 6 crew will be." He gave Barney a worried look. "It's supposed to fool them too."
Barney reached for the phone. "I'll warn them," he said.
"Barney . . ." Vincent looked at his friend with fear in his eyes. "If Shredder replaced Baxter with this robot, what did he do with the real Baxter?"
Barney stiffened. "We'll find that out as soon as I warn the others. And give you a proper examination."
"And put some clothes on?" Vincent said with a raised eyebrow.
Barney muttered under his breath.
The Turtles were having a fairly peaceful morning. After ninja practice and a late breakfast, they had wandered off to their various activities. Leonardo was reading, Raphael was watching television, Donatello was pondering on the previous night's visit, and Michelangelo was making a list of ways to earn money. When the phone rang, he leaped up. "I'll get it!"
He wasn't expecting to hear a very grim and urgent Barney on the other end of the line. "Michelangelo, you all have to be extremely careful," Barney cautioned. "Shredder has gone ahead with what he was threatening to do. His plan apparently involves a robot double of Baxter! It beat up Vincent and ran out of the house."
"No way!" Michelangelo gasped. "Is Vincent hurt bad?!"
"He says he isn't," Barney said. He was examining Vincent's body and watching a read-out of his systems' current status on the laptop screen.
"And what about Baxter?!" Michelangelo cried.
"We don't know," Barney admitted. "The switch must have happened when Baxter left for work." He stiffened. "And the robot has his car."
"Baxter's probably been kidnapped by old Shred-Head," Michelangelo said. His voice had taken on an unusually dark tone. "It's like when he made this robot double of Irma to go after us. He had to keep the real Irma on ice in the meantime. I guess he wouldn't be holding Baxter in the same place, though."
"I'm sure he wouldn't be," Barney growled.
"Well, we're gonna go out and look for him right now!" Michelangelo declared. "Stay safe, Bud. And tell Vincent we're all hoping he's okay."
"I'm sure he heard you," Barney said, and Vincent smiled in the affirmative.
Michelangelo was shaken when he hung up. "Oh, this is mondo seriouso," he said. "Baxter's missing and he's been replaced by a robot double! It's like Invasion of the Body-Snatchers!" He ran through the Lair, calling the other Turtles to their task. They immediately responded.
"Baxter's missing?!" Leonardo exclaimed in alarm.
"He's been replaced by an evil robot?!" Donatello gasped.
"And Vincent's been beat up?!" Raphael's eyes flashed. "Well, what are we waiting for?! Let's haul shell!"
"Be careful, my Turtles," Splinter said in concern. "You are sure to be in grave danger due to Shredder's evil plan."
"You'd better watch out too, Master," Leonardo said. "That robot might come back here."
"Oh whoa. You think the robot might have Baxter's memories about the Lair's location?!" Michelangelo stared.
"It depends on how Shredder programmed it," Leonardo said. "Irma said that he needed her to finish making the robot that looked like her."
"But on the other hand, he felt like he already had all the 411 about me when he tried to make that hologram," Michelangelo said.
"It could go either way," Leonardo said. "But coming to think about it, how did Shredder find his way to the Lair when he thought he was you? He couldn't have had that information programmed into the hologram, since he didn't know it!"
"Like, who knows, Compadre?" Michelangelo replied. "I think right now we'd better be worrying about poor Baxter. Let's get looking!"
"No arguments there," Leonardo said. He hurried to the door, the other Turtles following him.
Earlier, on Baxter's way to work, he found himself led down one detour and then another. At first he wasn't that surprised; there was always construction work going on in the city. But after the third detour he was starting to get suspicious.
"Something doesn't seem right here," he muttered. "Maybe I'll call Vincent and have him find out if there's any construction work going on in this part of the city."
He hit an oil slick right about then. He cried out, desperately trying to steer the car and having no luck. It spun several times through the slick substance before at last coming to a halt. Baxter groaned, slumping against the seat.
"Well, hello, Baxter." Shredder's familiar, sneering voice brought Baxter to attention. He turned to look, glowering at his arch-nemesis.
"What do you want?" he snapped.
"Oh, just to have a friendly conversation." Shredder stepped aside and Rocksteady approached, wrenching the door open. "Get out."
Baxter sat fuming, ready to pull the door shut and try to flee. "And what if I don't?"
"Then we make ya," Rocksteady retorted. He grabbed Baxter by the vest and hauled him out of the car and into the air, where he came face-to-face with his double.
"W-What . . . ?" Baxter stared in disbelief. "This isn't a mutant cabbage, is it?"
"Of course not," Shredder said smoothly. "This is my own invention. I call it the Turtle Terminator 2.0. I've built it to look like you and programmed it with your personality as I know it. It will seek out and destroy all of my enemies sooner or later. They'll think it's you!"
The double sneered at Baxter and tried to reach into his pocket.
"What are you doing?! Stop it!" Baxter cried. He kicked in desperation and hit the robot under the chin. It fell back.
Shredder took the moment to pull Baxter's Turtle-Comm and cellphone out of Baxter's pocket. "Here," he growled, shoving them into the robot's pocket. "And don't make any more mistakes!"
"I won't," the robot coolly answered. It walked around Baxter and Rocksteady to the car. In the next moment it had climbed into the vehicle and sped away.
Baxter flailed and struggled in Rocksteady's grip. "You won't get away with this!" he snarled. "My family and friends know me. They'll spot the fake!"
"Will they?" Shredder sneered. "The Irma robot wasn't spotted until it started blasting things at Channel 6! And this one is far more like you than the Irma robot was like her!"
"And what's going to happen to me in the meantime?!" Baxter snapped.
"After the robot eliminates everyone else, it will come back for you," Shredder smirked. "I think I'll let it tell you all the terrible things it did so that you will have those haunting memories ringing in your ears just before it sends you to join your loved ones."
Baxter went stiff. He wasn't about to let that happen! Without warning he kicked Rocksteady in the jaw.
"Hey!" the rhino yelped in pain. His grip loosened and Baxter dropped to the ground.
"Get him!" Shredder roared.
Rocksteady gave chase, but Bebop hung back. Baxter took that opportunity to leap over a fence and run. If he could just make contact with someone, anyone, and warn them of the immense danger . . . !
Shredder joined the chase as well. "You miserable little worm!" he bellowed.
"Boss, wait a minute!" Bebop exclaimed. "Where's that robot going first?"
"We're not far from Barney's place," Shredder retorted. "Where do you think?!"
"But . . ."
"I know you have some foolish, misplaced devotion to that other miserable little worm," Shredder snarled. "But that has to stop! It's going to stop, or you're going to be out of a job!"
"But Boss . . ."
"Silence!" Shredder boomed. "Now where is that wretched moron?!"
Baxter had dived around the side of a house. He kept running, weaving his way back towards home. He would never get there ahead of the robot, but if he could make it there at all, maybe it would be in time to stop the worst damage.
The last thing he was expecting was for the station wagon to suddenly greet him as he burst onto a street. He gasped, diving to the side to avoid being hit.
"What are you doing back here?!" Shredder roared. He was just running up now, the mutants in tow.
The robot opened the door and climbed out. "The computer realized I wasn't Baxter. You said that wouldn't happen!" It stumbled; it was limping.
Baxter had to smirk. Dear Vincent. But . . . had he paid for his knowledge?! He stiffened in horror.
"It shouldn't have happened!" Shredder snarled. "You must have done something wrong!"
Baxter couldn't wait any longer. "Where is Vincent?! Did you hurt him?!" he demanded, coming out from his hiding place in the tall grass of a field.
"Yes," said the robot. "But not badly."
"You metal moron!" Shredder shook his fists. "Why didn't you stay and take care of everything you were supposed to do there before moving on?!"
"It wasn't going as planned," the robot retorted. "I thought I should seek further instructions."
"Oh!" Shredder tugged on his helmet.
"You always have such terrible luck with robots, Shredder," Baxter smirked. "Why don't you just give up?"
Shredder glowered at the little man. "I'd expect that from Barney, but not you." He took several menacing steps forward. "Cower before me, you pathetic wimp!"
"I'm too angry to cower," Baxter countered, leaping out of the way. "You're trying to use me to hurt everyone I love! Don't you remember what happened when you pushed me too far while I was holding your mind-control ray?"
Shredder stiffened. Being mind-controlled by Baxter was a memory he didn't want to remember. "You never should have turned against me!" he snarled. "I was the one who broke you out of the insane asylum!"
"You were the one who put me into the insane asylum!" Baxter shot back. As Shredder lunged with a heavy fist, Baxter again darted to the side. "If there was one good thing that I learned from working for you and later being cross-fused with a fly, it was that I didn't have to take such uncalled-for abuse!" He scrambled over another fence and tripped on the other side. But he hurried to his feet and jumped away as Shredder forcibly pulled the chainlinks apart.
"You were the lackey! You would take whatever I deemed necessary to heap upon you!" Shredder roared.
"You shouldn't treat your lackeys like that," Baxter snapped. "Bebop and Rocksteady put up with your abuse instead of having enough like I did! They're too idiotic to realize they should leave you in the lurch!"
Bebop, Rocksteady, and the robot stood around, just watching the fight. "So, uh, are we supposed to get involved in this?" Bebop wondered.
"I'm in no hurry," Rocksteady shrugged.
The robot scowled, folding its arms. It was only staying because it hadn't yet received its next instructions. And from the looks of things, Shredder wouldn't give it any for a while.
At the moment, Shredder was throwing a temper tantrum. He stood and pounded his fists to the sky. "Hold still, you little bug!" he roared.
"Why? So you can crush me?" Baxter taunted. "Getting rid of me is part of your plan that you won't succeed in accomplishing! And I'll see to it that no other part of your plan succeeds either!" He ran into an empty building.
Shredder clenched and unclenched his teeth behind his mask. "Go after him," he ordered the robot. "And don't proceed to the remainder of your mission until he can no longer stop you."
"Yes, Master Shredder." The robot ambled after Baxter.
"Run, you moron!" Shredder screamed.
The robot did . . . and tripped.
Shredder slapped his forehead. "Why me?!"
"Well, Boss, you said you programmed it with all of Baxter's personality," Rocksteady said.
"Oh shut up," Shredder grumbled.
In the building, Baxter pressed himself against the wall and listened to the voices outside. The robot was going to come in. It was getting up and heading right for him. He had to find a way out. . . . He had to! Desperately he prayed under his breath for the solution. Just as he finished, the building started to shake.
"Excellent!" Shredder crowed from outside, watching in satisfied amazement as the robot brought the building down with the strongest blast from its eyes.
"That robot really is destructive," Rocksteady observed.
Bebop just stood stiff, staring. He wasn't sure what he was feeling, but it wasn't delight. All he could think of was how grief-stricken Barney would be.
The rest of the building collapsed in a heap of bricks and the robot scanned through the rubble. "No heartbeats," it said.
"And he definitely didn't get away!" Shredder sneered. "You have done well. Now, on to your original mission!"
"Yes, Master Shredder." The robot got back in the station wagon and drove off.
Shredder kicked a broken brick. "Farewell, you little pest. At least you can rejoice in the knowledge that you will not be apart from all of your loved ones for very long!" He cackled in evil delight as he turned to go. "Come. We must join Krang in gathering the fuel."
"Right, Boss," said Rocksteady.
Bebop lingered for a moment. "Poor Baxter," he said softly. "Poor Barney. . . ." He shuddered, then turned to follow the others.
It was only after they were all gone that Baxter slowly rose up from the tall grass and weeds behind the building. "For once I have to be grateful that someone was remiss in their yardwork," he muttered. "And grateful that the robot only scanned the building and not the surrounding area."
He shivered as he got to his feet. He had only barely found the other door and leaped out before the building had come down. Now he had to find the others before the robot did. He whispered another prayer under his breath while he ran.
The Turtles were all badly shaken by Barney's news as they drove towards Channel 6.
"Man, that Irma robot was mondo hard to beat," Michelangelo gulped. "What if this one takes a funhouse too? Or something even more bizarro?" He gripped a pair of his nunchucks. "And more important, where's Baxter?!"
"We'll find him," Leonardo promised. "And we'll beat that robot!"
"I'd sure like to sink my sais into it!" Raphael growled.
Donatello had been silent. Now he finally spoke. "Guys, you know this is probably a distraction courtesy of Shredder."
"You mean while we fight the robot, he's gathering energy," Raphael said.
"Exactly," Donatello nodded. "There's been a couple of robberies at fuel plants in the last thirty minutes. At least one of them could be Shredder!"
"Oh great!" Raphael moaned. "So now we have three places we need to be at once! Where do we go first?!"
That question was answered when Michelangelo's Turtle-Comm went off. He quickly answered it. "Baxter?!" he said hopefully.
"No, it's me," said April. "Guys, you need to get down to The Really Big Fuel Plant right now! Shredder and his mutants are robbing it! And Krang's here too!"
"I guess Krang decided the only way to get it done right was to come himself," Raphael remarked.
"We'll be right there, April," Leonardo promised.
"But what about Baxter?!" Michelangelo cried.
"Well, we could always ask Shredder what he did with him," Raphael said.
"And we do have to try to stop them with getting energy for the Technodrome," Leonardo said. "We'll just have to hope that Baxter is alright and that the robot won't do any damage until we've got this problem solved." He spun the Van around and headed in the direction of the fuel plant.
The thieves were still there by the time the Turtles arrived, but they were just loading the last of their fuel into the transport module.
Raphael jumped out first. "Hey! Didn't anyone ever tell you it's not nice to take what isn't yours?!" He threw a sai, knocking one of the final drums out of Bebop's hands.
"Hey!" Bebop cried.
Krang scowled. "Well, Shredder, it looks like your brilliant plan failed to work after all. The robot hasn't even touched the Turtles!"
Shredder snarled. "It would have, if it wasn't for that meddling reporter!"
"Have you hurt April?!" Leonardo demanded.
"Not at all," Shredder sneered. "She's just tied up inside with the rest of the crew." He tossed a drum into the module. "And we're leaving. You still have a date with destiny, Turtles."
"You've been watching too many of Krang's cheesy soap operas, Shredder!" Leonardo said.
"And where's the real Baxter?!" Michelangelo ran out in front, clutching both nunchucks.
"Buried under a building, thanks to my robot Baxter," Shredder sneered.
Michelangelo went stiff. "No! I don't believe you!"
"The robot scanned for living creatures after it came down and found nothing," Shredder said. "Face it, this time your precious friend has been permanently defeated!"
"He could have gotten out of the building before it came down," Leonardo said. "We're not going to believe your lies, Shredder!"
"This time he's tellin' the truth," Bebop said sadly. "We all saw it."
"You thought you saw it," Donatello said.
Michelangelo nodded. "Baxter's resourceful! He's not dead!"
"Well, if he's not, he's probably very badly hurt!" Shredder countered. "You mutants can survive buildings being dropped on you without much consequence, but he's just a weak little . . ."
He never had the chance to finish his sentence. Michelangelo sprang at him, kicking him into the module with such force that one of the drums bounced out. The Turtle caught it in his hands as he landed on his feet.
"Baxter's stronger than you'll ever be, Shred-Head," he said darkly.
Krang leaped into the module. "Quick, let's get out of here before they take any more of our fuel!"
Rocksteady jumped in as well. "Sounds great to me!"
Bebop hesitated. "Hey, I really am sorry, guys," he said. "I know Barney will feel just awful." He shifted. "If I could've got Baxter out of there, I would've."
Leonardo studied him. "I think you really mean that."
"For Barney's sake, yeah," Bebop said.
"Bebop!" Shredder bellowed. "We'll leave you behind!"
"Gotta run!" Bebop leaped into the module and slammed the door. It drove into the ground, spraying molten lava everywhere.
"At least we stopped them from taking two of the drums," Donatello said as the lava cooled.
"I just hope that will be enough to keep the Technodrome stuck in the mud," Leonardo said.
"Hey, Michelangelo, are you okay?" Raphael asked in concern. "I haven't seen you get mad like that in a while. A long while."
Michelangelo set the drum down. "Baxter's not dead," he insisted. "And he's not weak!"
"Of course he's not weak," Donatello soothed. "And he's beat the odds before. He could still be okay now."
"Hopefully we'll find out in a few minutes." Leonardo headed for the plant. "Right now we need to free April and the others."
Michelangelo felt helpless as he trudged after him. "Baxter's gotta be alive," he said.
"I know we all want to believe that," Raphael said. "Hey, why don't you try calling him on your Turtle-Comm?"
"The robot probably has it," Michelangelo said morosely.
"Oh yeah." Raphael frowned. "I didn't even think about that."
Donatello nodded. "He would take that, to further the illusion." He laid a hand on Michelangelo's shoulder. "But we won't give up. I'm sure Baxter wasn't taken out just like that."
"He would've died from that stab wound if that cloth hadn't healed him," Michelangelo said.
"We don't know that," Donatello said. "He would have been badly hurt, but he might have pulled through."
Leonardo stopped at the door and looked back at Michelangelo. "We won't give up on him now," he said. "After we free April and the rest, we'll try to get in touch with Barney and Vincent again and decide from there what to do. We don't even know what building fell down so we could go to it and dig through the wreckage. And we might be needed more at Channel 6."
"You know, contacting them would be a whole lot easier if at least one of them had a Turtle-Comm," Raphael said.
"I guess I figured they and Baxter were all sharing one collectively, but you're right," Donatello said. "I think it's time we gave Barney and Vincent a Turtle-Comm. When this is over, I'm going to see to it."
"Good," said Raphael.
Barney felt that the first thing he and Vincent should do to try tracking down the robot was to go to Channel 6. And sure enough, when he and Vincent arrived, the receptionist informed them that Baxter had come in. But she wasn't sure where he had gone.
"He might be in his office, or he might be watching a taping of Strange Science," she told them.
"We should split up," Barney decided. "Vincent, you try the studio. I'll try his office."
"And if he's not either place?" Vincent said in concern.
"Then we'll have to spread out over the entire building," Barney growled. "Also, April O'Neil needs to be warned. And Baxter's other coworkers."
"Right." Vincent hurried to the elevator.
"What's going on?" the receptionist asked in concern.
Barney paused. Was there any possible chance that Baxter had arrived at Channel 6 and then the robot had stolen his car? He hadn't thought so, but he and Vincent had both been too shaken up to even check. The real Baxter might not even know what was going on. What if they caused an uproar throughout the studio and the Baxter here was the real one? The last thing Barney wanted to do was to make trouble for his brother at his workplace.
"Nevermind," he said brusquely. "We just need to find Baxter."
And it was Barney who found him, or at least, someone who looked like him. He was just hurrying out of his office, his eyes wide. "Barney!" he called. "Are you alright?! Is Vincent alright?!"
Well, Barney relented, this certainly seemed like the real Baxter. "Is there a reason why we wouldn't be?" he countered as a test.
"I was almost kidnapped by Shredder!" Baxter exclaimed. "He was sending this robot double of me out to hurt everyone. It came back and collapsed at his feet after fighting with Vincent, but I was afraid Vincent was just as hurt or worse! Shredder tried to kill me, but I got away and came in here. I've been trying to get in touch with everyone!"
Barney frowned. "The robot double is destroyed?" he demanded.
"Yes!" Baxter insisted. "But Shredder has my Turtle-Comm and my cellphone! And I couldn't reach anyone at home. . . . I was just leaving to come look for all of you!"
"We're all fine," Barney said. "Vincent is looking for you downstairs in a studio. If you can let me use your computer, I'll tell him to come up."
"Of course!" Baxter went back into his office and brought his computer off of Standby, quickly typing in his password to access the system.
Barney blinked. The robot wouldn't know Baxter's password, surely. This had to be the real Baxter. Everything he was saying felt right. He was certainly worried like Baxter would be.
He sat down at the computer and opened the Internet. After gaining access to his email address, he typed a quick message to Vincent.
I've found Baxter. He's in his office. I think he's the real one. Contact the Turtles and come up.
He logged off and got up. "Vincent should be here in a few minutes."
"Oh good." Baxter sat down and opened a word processor. "I need to get this report written, but I don't know if I can concentrate. I'm so upset about what happened. . . ."
"Try to write it," Barney encouraged. "You said Thompson had a lot for you to do today."
"He does." Baxter sighed. "Alright, I'll try." He started to type, but his hands were shaking.
Barney frowned as he watched. Baxter seemed normal. Nothing he had said or done was unlike his usual behavior. Even little details like his hands trembling after going through a frightening experience were accurate. But for some reason, in spite of all the ways Barney tried to convince himself that everything was fine, he just wasn't convinced this was the real one.
Slowly he sat down on the edge of the desk the way Vincent liked to do. Baxter didn't bat an eye. Ordinarily he would ask why Barney was engaging in a type of casual behavior that he had never practiced before. Or if not that, at the very least he would look surprised. Of course, under the circumstances he could simply be too upset to pay attention. This wasn't a good test.
"Baxter," Barney said at last. "Last night at dinner, Michelangelo told you about a video game he was interested in. What was it?"
Without looking up, Baxter replied, "It was the recent Star Wars Battlefront game."
Barney slowly nodded. That was correct. But still . . .
"We were watching Knight Rider with Vincent two nights ago," Barney said. "Now I don't remember what episode it was. Do you?"
Baxter raised an eyebrow. "Barney, your memory isn't that bad. It was the one where the car refused to harm his human friend, despite being reprogrammed." He smiled a bit. "I think that one got to all of us. We couldn't help drawing the parallel with when Vincent went berserk yet refused to hurt me."
Barney sighed to himself. He was just being foolish. This had to be Baxter. How could a robot be this accurate?
"Are you feeling alright, Barney?" Baxter asked in concern. "I can't believe you could really forget that."
". . . You're right, I didn't," Barney said. "I wanted to make sure you're really you."
Baxter's eyes widened in surprise. "I'm fine, Barney! Vincent defeated that horrible robot. I told you it came back to Shredder and collapsed in a heap at his feet."
"Good." Barney started to get up, then paused. "Baxter . . . were you ever happy in our childhood?"
A cloud passed through Baxter's eyes. "You already know the answer to that, Barney."
"We've never talked about it before," Barney said.
"We didn't need to." Baxter opened a new document on the computer. "You made my childhood Hell for me."
"You were never happy?" Barney pressed.
Baxter spun around, his eyes flashing an inhuman red. "No," he intoned. "And now you're going to suffer for it." He reached out, grabbing Barney by the throat with one hand.
Barney clawed at the hand, but it held fast. Finally in desperation he kicked Baxter in the chest. The move loosened the grip enough that Barney was able to pry the hand away before it could squeeze. He gasped, coughing as he staggered back. "You're not my brother," he said darkly. "Now I've finally proved it."
The robot straightened. "You'll regret this, Brother." He lunged, tackling Barney to the floor.
Barney struggled as they rolled. Getting free of the choking grip had been a lucky fluke. He couldn't hope to beat a robot. "What have you done with the real Baxter?!" he demanded, desperately trying to shove the robot away.
"He's dead, just like you're going to be!" the robot snapped.
Barney went sheet-white. It was probably a lie, but . . . Vincent said computers didn't make good liars. What if the same rule applied to robots?
No . . . obviously this robot could lie. It had pretended the robot had been destroyed when in reality it was the robot. Baxter was alive. He was alive. . . .
Barney's hesitation resulted in a sharp punch to his cheek. His head snapped to the side. Before he could recover enough to try to fight back, the robot was pounding on his body. He cried out in pain, flailing, fighting to get hold of the furious wrists and hold them away from him. It was no use. One blow hit his left shoulder. Another slammed into his ribs. But he kept struggling anyway.
He finally managed to deliver a sharp kick to one leg and the robot went down for one moment. Barney took the opportunity to shove it away and start to get up, but it grabbed him by the leg and sent a vicious energy charge into his body with one hand. He yelled, crashing back to the floor.
Suddenly the robot was flying across the room. "Get away from my brother," Vincent said darkly.
Barney weakly looked over at the doorway. "Vincent . . ." Vincent was standing there along with the Turtles, his hands sparking with electricity.
"Turtle Power!" the ninjas yelled as they charged into the office.
The robot picked itself up and blasted at them with its eyes. They all leaped away and then charged from all directions.
Vincent let them duke it out in order to hurry over to Barney. "Are you okay, Buddy?" he asked in horror.
Barney shakily pulled himself to his knees. "Yes," he said. "It's just a few bruises, thanks to your timely entrance. But Vincent . . ." He looked at the computer in anguish. "It said Baxter is dead. . . ."
"I don't believe it," Vincent said instantly. He stood and reached to help Barney stand.
Barney took Vincent's hands and got to his feet. "I don't either, really," he frowned. "But if the robot isn't lying, that means it at least thinks Baxter is dead."
"I'll try to hack into it and see why it thinks that," Vincent said.
The Turtles, meanwhile, were still having it out with the robot.
"Mess with our friends, will ya?!" Raphael yelled. He threw a sai, which lodged in the robot's chest. It sparked, but no further damage seemed to be done. The robot pulled it out and threw it back.
"Mondo bizarro!" Michelangelo yelped. "How do you defeat this thing?!" He twirled a nunchuck above his head. "Hey, Bogus Baxter! Trying to pass yourself off as our bud and beating up some of our other buds is totally lame-ola!" He sent the weapon flying. It caught hold of the robot's wrists and pulled them together. The robot responded by simply tearing them free without effort and blasting at Michelangelo, who leaped out of the way.
"Just fighting it isn't working!" Leonardo exclaimed. "We need a better strategy!"
"I'm open to suggestions!" Donatello retorted.
The robot was losing interest in them. It turned to Vincent and tried blasting at him. Vincent snapped to attention just in time and blasted back. The blasts collided in mid-air.
During the chaos, Michelangelo had decided to try jumping the robot from behind. Just as he landed on its back, it flung him backwards and spun around, blasting at him. Michelangelo just barely rolled out of the way in time.
"This thing's a menace!" he cried. "We've gotta find a way to defeat it!"
Barney ran forward now, not content to stay out of the fight. He tackled it just as it was blasting at Donatello. They crashed to the floor and it turned to face him, its expression twisted in hate.
"Barney!" Michelangelo yelled in horror.
Barney stood and kicked it backwards. "We've had enough of you," he snarled.
"Yeah!" Michelangelo agreed. "We want the real Baxter!"
"I'm as real as you'll ever see of him," the robot retorted. As the Turtles came at it from all sides, it let loose with a fierce shockwave that sent all of them into the wall. When Vincent lunged, the robot judo-flipped him over his shoulder and to the floor before blasting him hard, more viciously than he had blasted Barney. Vincent cried out and fell limp.
Barney saw red. "That is it." He flipped the robot over his shoulder and then sprang on its chest. "There has to be a way to shut it off!" Somehow he managed to tear its clothes enough amid its struggling to find the control panel. He pulled it open. "If I pull out these wires . . ." He tore several of them loose just as the robot blasted him hard against the wall. He sank to the floor with a grimace. The robot leaped up, blasting at him again and then a third time before he could move. He slumped forward, shaking, barely conscious from the repeated attacks.
"Barney!" Michelangelo tried to stumble to his feet. The shockwave had left all of them trembling and weak.
"Its eyes are going red!" Donatello said in horror. "The next blast will be fatal!"
Vincent tried to force himself to his knees to protect his brother. But when he attempted to shock the robot, the electricity just sizzled into nothing in his hand. The blast the robot had used on him had been too draining.
Then Baxter was running into the room and planting himself in front of Barney. "Leave my brother alone!" he yelled.
The Turtles and Vincent exclaimed in joy.
"Baxter! I knew you couldn't be dead!" Michelangelo whooped.
Barney looked up through bleary eyes. "Baxter. . . . You're alive. . . ." He slumped over and lay still.
The robot looked at Baxter with confusion and outrage. Reacting in a split-second, it tackled Baxter and they crashed to the floor, desperately struggling.
"Baxter . . . !" Vincent looked helplessly at the scene. They were turning over so fast that he was no longer sure which one was the real Baxter.
Michelangelo stumbled as they rolled over near him and hit the wall. "Baxter . . . Bud, which one are you?!" he exclaimed.
"I am!" the Baxter closest to Michelangelo replied.
"Don't listen to him, Michelangelo!" the second one exclaimed as he pushed hard against his counterpart. "I am the real Baxter!"
"Oh boy. Um . . ." Michelangelo stared at them. He didn't know which one to help! They were too close together for him to see which one had wires hanging out of its chest.
The first one abruptly banged the second one's head into the wall. The second one cried out in pain and kicked the first one in the stomach.
Vincent struggled to stand. "If I can just get close enough to scan them," he whispered. But he wasn't sure he had enough strength left for that. Especially since he was desperately gathering all his remaining power for one final attack-once he knew which one to attack.
Suddenly Michelangelo had an idea. "Hey!" he cried. "Barney's hurt!"
Only the first one looked over. "Barney!" He looked back to the second one with fire in his eyes. "You did that to him!" In one swift move he ripped out the rest of the wires from the open panel and kicked the robot into the wall. Before it could stand, he picked up a katana Leonardo had lost in the shockwave and drove it all the way through the metal torso and into the floor. The robot sparked and began to smoke, its eyes flickering with hatred and pain. But though it tried to pull the sword out, it held fast.
Baxter reached and took his belongings out of the robot's pocket while it struggled. "Hurting my loved ones is never acceptable," he said darkly. "Trying to pass yourself off as me while you're doing it is doubly unforgivable."
The robot's only response was to start to glow.
"It's preparing for one final blast that will take all of us out!" Donatello cried. He forced himself to stand, leaning on his bo for support.
"Like, not if we have anything to say about it!" Michelangelo retorted. He hit the robot hard with his nunchucks.
Vincent staggered up and used the majority of his strength to blast the robot long and hard. As his power faded, he fell to his knees, his energy spent. The laptop's lights flashed a warning red; battery power was almost at zero. He slumped hard against the desk.
"Vincent!" Baxter exclaimed. "Are you alright?!" Now he was torn. He wanted to go to Barney, but Vincent needed him too.
"I . . . just need to conserve my energy for a while and recharge my power levels," Vincent replied. He tried to lift his hand, but he was too drained. "Could you . . . take the charger out of my pocket and plug it into the nearest outlet as well as the laptop?"
"Of course!" Baxter rushed over to do as requested. Moments after he plugged it in, Vincent stirred and smiled at him.
"You're recovering now?" Baxter hoped. With a regular laptop, plugging it into the electricity instantly made it able to perform its normal functions even if the battery power was all but gone. But he wasn't sure if the same principle held true for Vincent.
"Yes, I'm fine," Vincent assured him. "Go to Barney, Baxter. He needs you more."
Baxter turned and really focused on Barney collapsed on the floor. "What happened to him?!" he cried in horror. "He was awake when I came. . . ."
Michelangelo swallowed hard. He hated to tell, yet Baxter had a right to know. "He . . . well, he was almost gone when you came in," he said. "The robot had been beating him up and then it kept blasting him. . . ."
"And we have to finish off the robot so there's no chance of it still taking us all out!" Raphael exclaimed. "It's starting to move even after what Vince did!"
The Turtles descended on it, fully rendering it out of commission as it sparked and sizzled. At last it went still. There would be no explosion.
Baxter barely noticed. Instead, he dropped to his knees next to his twin. "Barney . . ." He gently reached for the body, cradling his brother in his arms. "Am I too late?" He brushed the hair away from Barney's face. "Barney, please . . . wake up. . . ."
Michelangelo looked up from where they had pounded the robot into spare parts. "No way," he gasped. "I never thought he wasn't alive!"
"He's gotta be okay!" Raphael exclaimed.
"He took the majority of the robot's attacks," Leonardo said somberly.
"And the robot was hurting him before we even got here," Donatello remembered.
"Why?" Baxter choked out in horror. "Why did it focus on him?!"
"I don't think it deliberately did," Donatello said. "I think it just happened that way. He realized it was a fake and it was probably trying to silence him."
"And he kept going after it and he couldn't fight back as well as we could," Raphael said. "So it kept beating up on him."
Baxter gently pressed his fingers to Barney's neck. He nearly cried for joy to feel the strong throb. "He's alive," he whispered in relief.
"Alright!" Raphael cheered.
Vincent walked over as far as the cord would allow and knelt down beside his brothers. His own weakened state was forgotten now; he was far too worried about the others. "Baxter. . . ." He enveloped both Baxter and Barney in a warm hug. At the same time, he double-checked Barney's pulse rate. It was slightly slow, but picking up back to normal.
"So he's gonna be okay, right?!" Michelangelo demanded.
"He's going to be fine," Vincent soothed. "I think he knows we're here with him. That's helping to draw him back to us."
Baxter started to relax, but he still felt horrible. "He has to come back," he trembled. "I tried so hard to get here in time. . . . They didn't make it easy. . . ." Tears slipped from his eyes. "Now he's hurt. . . . Barney . . . I'm so sorry. . . ."
Barney stirred, reaching to lay his hand on Baxter's. "I'm not," he said softly.
"Barney!" Baxter and Vincent exclaimed in joyous unison.
"I knew the robot . . . wasn't you. . . ." Barney looked up at Baxter in awe. "Somehow I knew. . . ."
Baxter smiled, holding him close yet gently. "Are you badly hurt, Barney?" he asked in concern.
"No," Barney insisted. "And you no doubt saved my life. Maybe all of us."
"No duh!" Michelangelo exclaimed. "You were awesome, Baxter! But Barney, you did a lot too. And Vincent. And everybody else."
"Including you, Michelangelo," Baxter smiled.
"It was a real team effort," Leonardo said.
"Oh, and hey, never ask the victim if he's badly hurt," Raphael suddenly interjected. "He'll almost always say No."
"We should examine you, Barney," Vincent said in concern.
Barney was displeased. "Is it really necessary to do it here?" he grunted.
"You stood in the doorway with only a towel and let the neighbor see you," Vincent said in amusement. "You're among family now."
"There were extenuating circumstances," Barney retorted.
"I would say there are here, too," Baxter said.
Leonardo shut the door and stood in front of it to prevent anyone from blowing in. "We don't want you trying to get up if anything's broken," he agreed.
"Nothing is broken," Barney grumbled.
"Boy, I've gotta say, you Stockmans are tough," Raphael remarked.
"Seriously," Michelangelo nodded.
"We may be small, but we're not pushovers," Barney said. "And no Stockman has ever had weak bones."
Vincent gently examined him anyway, but was respectful and discreet while doing so. "You're right; there's no serious injuries," he smiled. "There's a lot of bruises, and I'm sure you're weak, but you'll get better."
"And you're going to rest," Baxter insisted.
"No arguments," Barney grunted. He looked up at Vincent and noticed the charger cord. "What . . ."
"I'm okay, Barney," Vincent said softly. "I'll just be tied down with this cord for a while until the laptop's power is back. Unless I can find a massive power source to absorb all at once, of course. . . ."
"You know, I've never seen you do that before," Raphael blinked. "Your laptop must not need to charge as much as regular laptops."
"Thanks to alien technology," Vincent smiled. "This is the first time I've ever had to bring the laptop's power down to zero. Normally I charge it while I'm sleeping, even though it's not necessary to do it every night. Reserve power is stored in several different places and I've always had some on hand. I had to take all that I had left to blast that robot. It was worth it."
"That's . . . that's great," Raphael stammered.
"And like, we're sure glad you had that power to use!" Michelangelo exclaimed.
"Yes," Baxter agreed. "You really helped to bring that robot down."
Barney, still laying in Baxter's arms, pondered. "So in our own ways, we both need to rest for a while. I guess . . . I'll have to cancel class today."
Baxter had to laugh at the massive understatement. "Yes," he said, hugging his brother. "You will."
"Well, this is a fine mess!" Krang grumped on the Technodrome. Foot Soldiers marched behind them, emptying the transport module of its cargo. In front of them on the transdimensional screen, April was reporting on the defeat of the robot Baxter. "We're two drums short of what we need to fill up the Technodrome to one-hundred percent. Baxter is alive. And your Turtle Terminator Version 2.0 didn't work!"
"It should have worked!" Shredder boomed. "And Baxter shouldn't have survived!"
Bebop couldn't help grinning in the background. "Aww, I'm glad he's okay. Now Barney won't be sad."
"Barney, Barney, Barney," Krang rolled his eyes.
"Oh, are you finally getting fed-up with Bebop's hero worship too, Krang?" Shredder growled.
"He almost didn't get on the module because he was apologizing to the Turtles for Baxter being killed!" Krang fumed. "But we've got bigger problems. Where are we going to get the rest of the fuel that we need?!"
"Look on the bright side, Krang!" Shredder said. "We almost have it all. Getting the rest should be easy!"
"And keeping anything from happening to what we've already got in the meantime will be hard," Krang answered.
"Hey, what could happen?" Rocksteady objected. He leaned on a drum the Foot Soldiers hadn't taken yet. It and Rocksteady both tipped over. While Rocksteady yelped, the drum started rolling over the floor. Shredder just barely caught it with his foot.
"I rest my case," Krang exclaimed.
Michelangelo sat at the island in Barney's kitchen, watching as Baxter set about gathering the ingredients for dinner. It had been a long day, and now that it was ending, they both hoped Barney and Vincent were recovering. Baxter doubted Barney would want a heavy meal, so he was preparing some soup for him and lasagna for himself and the Turtles.
"Baxter . . ."
He turned. "Yes?" Michelangelo had been oddly subdued, thinking long and hard while helping prepare the layers of the lasagna. Now he seemed ready to speak.
"I'm like, so glad you're okay." Michelangelo looked up at him. "Tin Grin was taunting us, telling us you were crushed by that building and calling you weak, and I got so mad I kicked him all the way into the transport module."
"You didn't," Baxter exclaimed in surprise.
"I did." Michelangelo nibbled on some leftover cheese. "I don't usually get ticked off like that, but that was kind of the last straw. I mean, it's not bad enough to tell us you're dead, he's gotta keep putting you down too! That's like, adding insult to injury."
"That's a very Shredder thing to do," Baxter said.
"It sure is," Michelangelo frowned.
"I'm glad I'm alright myself," Baxter said. "I'm so sorry you were pushed into losing your temper. Did it . . . cause any trouble for you?"
"Oh no," Michelangelo said. "Under the circumstances, Leonardo just let it go. Especially since it caused one of the fuel drums to bounce back out again." He guffawed.
Baxter chuckled. "That's poetic justice."
Michelangelo hesitated. "It's kind of hard to believe that Shred-Head really still thinks you're weak after all this."
"I am a physically weak person, Michelangelo," Baxter said.
"You and Barney are two of the strongest people I know," Michelangelo protested. "Okay, yeah, so maybe you're not ninja material or boxing material or anything like that, but just look at everything you've bounced back from! And you've got your mind back and stuff. . . ."
Baxter smiled. "I have been learning that there are many kinds of strength," he said softly. "And Barney and I do have some of them, I have to admit." He paused. "If I had to guess, I'd say that Shredder is aware of that and yet he keeps pushing his luck because he thinks brute strength is the only important one."
"Yeah, probably," Michelangelo said. "And because he's mondo embarrassed to admit that he keeps getting beat back by two guys who don't have that one."
Baxter laughed. "It would be quite the blow to his ego." He leaned on the counter. "That was quick thinking on your part, to figure out which me was the robot."
"Hey, I knew only the real you would care about Barney being hurt," Michelangelo said. "Plus, the fake you already knew it anyway, since it did it!"
"Very true," Baxter acknowledged.
"So, how'd you keep from getting caught in that building anyway?" Michelangelo wondered.
"It wasn't easy," Baxter said wryly. "I found another way out just as it was coming down. I barely had time to scramble outside and hide in the weeds before it completely crumbled."
"Epic! I bet ol' Tin Face is throwing a tantrum about now," Michelangelo grinned.
"I wouldn't be surprised," Baxter said in amusement. "As usual, nothing went as he wanted it to."
"And that is mondo awesome for us!" Michelangelo declared.
"It certainly is.
"Are you feeling better now?" Baxter asked.
"Yeah, I think so," Michelangelo said. "Talking about it with you helped."
"Good. I think I'll go check on Barney and Vincent now," Baxter said. "Will you put the lasagna in the oven?"
"Sure thing, Amigo!" Michelangelo hopped up and grabbed the casserole pan.
Barney was laying on one of the couches in his living room, awake but resting, when Baxter came in. He opened his eyes as soon as Baxter approached.
So did Vincent, who had been laying and resting on the other couch. "Hi, Pal!" he greeted. He sat up and pulled out the cord.
Baxter smiled. "You're better, Vincent?"
"All better," Vincent smiled back. "Power is at one-hundred percent."
"Oh good," Baxter said. "How are you feeling, Barney?"
"The truth now," Vincent added.
"I'm . . . glad I stayed home," Barney said. "But I don't know how Dalton is going to feel about it."
"It will be alright," Baxter insisted. "But Barney, I am so sorry this happened."
"It wasn't your fault," Barney frowned. "And I don't blame our dimensional counterparts either. That other me just wanted to make sure his Baxter was safe. He couldn't have known he would run into Shredder and Shredder would come up with an evil scheme because of it." His eyes darkened. "I wouldn't be surprised if he would have come up with this one regardless."
"I wouldn't be surprised either," Baxter said. "It's just the sort of cruel plot he would come up with when he hates us so much."
"Baxter . . ." Barney turned to look at him. "You're not hurt, are you? That robot was so sure you were dead. . . ."
"I'm fine," Baxter smiled. "It tried to drop a building on me, but I escaped."
"Thank goodness," Vincent exclaimed.
Barney frowned. "So now we've each had to escape a toppling building," he mused.
"It was far worse for you, Barney," Baxter said softly. "You had to try to get out from the very top. I was already on the ground floor."
"It couldn't have been easy for you either, if you thought there was a chance you wouldn't get out," Barney countered.
"Naturally I did wonder," Baxter admitted.
"Thank God you're alright." Barney hesitated. "Something felt wrong about that robot. How did I know, Baxter? It was acting so much like you, yet I couldn't fully believe it. It's logical that Vincent would spot a fake. He knows you so well. But I'm still learning."
Baxter shook his head. He didn't have the answers. "I guess you know me better than you think," he said. "And that makes me very happy."
Barney slowly nodded. "I'm glad of it myself. But it's still strange to realize. Our bond is really that strong after everything?"
"Stronger," Baxter smiled.
Barney hesitated. "I've been laying here thinking. I'm still trying to see your memory of the Catskills the way you do, Baxter. It's . . . very hard for me. And it makes it worse when I think of things such as how you were bullied all through our school years and I did nothing. Yes, I spent hours looking for you when I thought you might be physically hurt or dead out there in the mountains, but I never lifted a finger to stop the cruelty that was emotionally hurting you a little more each day." He covered his eyes with a hand. "How could I have been that angry and hateful, to have just let you suffer like that?"
"Please don't, Barney." Baxter laid a hand on his arm. "In your own way, you did try to help me even then. All your angry speeches about not letting people trick me or butter me up or walk all over me. . . . You were trying to get me to be strong and solve my own problems . . . like you'd always solved your own," he added softly. "It was tough love, yes, but it was love."
"Was it, or was it that I didn't want to take responsibility and be my brother's keeper?" Barney countered.
"If that were true, Barney, you wouldn't have said anything to me at all," Baxter said. "You were never apathetic about me. You loved me in spite of your anger and you tried to help me in your own way." He had to sigh. "But yes, it's true that you never interfered for my benefit. Not until you lied to Krang to save my life." He smiled a bit again. "The past is gone, Barney. You and Vincent tried to encourage me to leave my past behind last night. Please, try to take your own advice."
Barney grunted. "I know I'm a hypocrite. I hate to see you be repulsed by yourself when I feel there were extenuating circumstances for you, but I always feel that my case is different no matter how you try to say that there were also extenuating circumstances for me."
"I think everyone feels that way about their case," Vincent mused. "At least, everyone with a conscience." He smiled at his brothers.
"That sounds accurate to me," Baxter said.
"Alright, so I have a conscience," Barney retorted. "You are far too forgiving on this issue, considering that the only possible thing I ever did other than try to get you to stand up to your bullies was to give them a death glare." He folded his arms. "I heard them laughing about tricking you and making you think that they actually wanted to be your friend when all they wanted was your help in passing their science exams. I was repulsed. Almost without consciously thinking about it, I gave them a look so dark that they all picked up and left the building."
". . . And they never bothered me again," Baxter mused.
Barney stared at him. "They didn't?"
"One of them even came to me and admitted their fraud and said that none of them were going to go through with it and try to butter me up to help them pass the exam." Baxter gave a bittersweet smile. "I was devastated not to have friends after all, but grateful to have not been taken advantage of. I asked what changed their minds, and all he would say was that they didn't want to make 'him' angry. He wouldn't say who and I thought he meant the teacher. He meant you all along."
"Oh, this is ridiculous," Barney snorted. "Alright, I shot them a look that would have wilted flowers, but they all left you alone because of that?!"
"I guess you had more influence than you even knew," Baxter said. "We both know no one ever bullied you because you wouldn't take it. Apparently you were either so respected or so feared that no one dared do anything if they thought it would infuriate you."
"For all they knew, I was angry because they were laughing and disturbing my studying," Barney grunted.
"The story must have spread," Baxter said. "For the rest of my time in high school, no one bullied me at all."
"All because I glared at those idiots," Barney scoffed. "It was completely inadvertent. You can't equate that with actually doing something on purpose to help the situation."
"No, but you were angry enough that you couldn't hold it back and your expression frightened them all off," Baxter said. "And whether it was inadvertent or not, I am so grateful."
"I'll need some time to process this one," Barney said. "It's so completely unheard-of. I'm still not sure I believe it. Maybe it was all just a coincidence. Maybe the 'him' was the teacher."
"Maybe," Baxter said. "But I'd rather think it was you."
"And so would I," Vincent said.
"You would," Barney grunted.
"Speaking of high school," Vincent suddenly said, "I found this letter for you in the mail today, Buddy." He pulled an envelope off the nearest end table.
Barney took it and glowered at it. "It must be a reminder about our high school reunion this summer."
"Oh, that's right." Baxter cringed. "Mine came yesterday, to the apartment. Then the day became so involved with that other dimension that I forgot all about it."
Barney grunted and set the envelope aside without opening it.
"Twenty-five years." Baxter shook his head. "It seems unreal."
"Are either of you planning to go?" Vincent wondered.
"There's no one there either of us wants to see," Barney shrugged. "Would there be a point?"
"I went to most of them," Baxter said softly. "I was lonely and sad and I suppose I was hoping that someone there would want to be my friend as an adult, even though they never wanted it in our youth."
"Then you were a fool," Barney frowned. "After the way they treated you . . . !"
"I know," Baxter nodded. "It was stupid, but lonely people do stupid things."
"I only went to a couple," Barney said. "I wanted everyone to be aware of my prestige. Not that I really had any, but I tried to make it look like I did. I thought maybe then someone would be interested in my inventions."
Vincent laid his hands on their shoulders. "I think you should both go to this one," he said. "Show them that you're finally united as a family and that you're both successful at last."
"Hmm." A slight smile played on Barney's lips. "That actually is an appealing idea."
"And you can each bring one guest," Vincent chirped. "I could be your guest, Barney, and maybe you'd like to take Michelangelo, Baxter."
Baxter chuckled. "Well, I know Michelangelo would be thrilled by the free meal. And he'd be curious about what high school was like for us. I'll think about it."
The Turtles came into the living room just then. All but Michelangelo had been in the laboratory. "Barney?" Donatello greeted. "We have something for you."
"And Vincent too," Raphael added. "You guys are pretty inseparable, so we figured hey, one would probably work for both of you."
Barney raised an eyebrow. "Oh?"
Donatello nodded. "Do you want to do the honors, Raphael?"
Raphael flushed but looked pleased. "Yeah, sure." He held out a Turtle-Comm. "This is for you guys."
"Like, it's about time you had one!" Michelangelo beamed.
Barney took it in stunned amazement. "I used to think there would never be a time when you'd all want me to have one of these."
"Well, we all do now," Leonardo said.
"That's right," Raphael nodded. "It'll be a whole lot easier to keep in touch with you guys now."
"And that's mondo awesome!" Michelangelo declared.
"Thank you," Barney said in all sincerity.
"Yes, thank you." Vincent smiled. "You've made us both happy. We're honored to be part of this team and family."
"And like, that is just what we wanted!" Michelangelo said. He hugged Baxter. "Everything's okay and we're all together again!"
Baxter smiled, returning his friend's embrace. That was just the way he wanted it.