Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 1987

With All Your Heart

By Lucky_Ladybug

Notes: The characters are not mine (except for X-14) and the story is! ThickerThanLove helped with some plot elements. This is part of my Exit the Fly verse. Baxter is human again and an ally of the Turtles. His brother Barney no longer works for Shredder.

It wasn't unusual to find Vincent watching television. It had been one of his favorite pastimes ever since it had been invented. But it was unusual to find him looking extremely perplexed by something he was watching. And it was slightly surprising to see him watching The Wizard of Oz, as that wasn't his usual fare.

"Barney . . ." Vincent looked up as his brother wandered into the room. "Why did all of these characters want to go find someone to give them things they already had?"

"Obviously they weren't aware of their own attributes," Barney said. "As many aren't."

"Obviously," said Vincent. "And their ideas of what would work were illogical. A degree or a medal won't automatically make characters smart or brave. And a heart-shaped watch doesn't provide the functions of a real heart."

"It's psychology," Barney said. "They didn't believe they had those attributes until they had some kind of physical proof of it. Once they had that, they believed that they had suddenly become smart and brave and loving. It's like the hypochondriac who isn't really sick, but believes that they are feeling better after taking a pill."

"I know," Vincent said. "But wouldn't it have made for a better movie if they realized they didn't need those things because they were already smart and brave and loving? The wizard tried to tell them, but I don't think they really got it."

Barney shrugged. "In a fantasy, who can tell. I never particularly liked the film to begin with."

"What about Baxter?"

"I have no idea," Barney had to admit. "We both prefer science over fantasy, but I'm a little more rigid on that point. One thing I can tell you is that neither of us like musicals."

"You both had musical training, didn't you?" Vincent said.

"Yes, but breaking into song in the middle of a dramatic plot is ludicrous," Barney said flatly.

"It is rather unorthodox," Vincent said. "I wanted to see what would happen next, not watch five minutes of characters doing the splits."

"Exactly." Barney watched as Vincent flipped the channel to 6. Then they both stared at the image of a spaceship coming down in the middle of the street.

"This is April O'Neil, reporting to you live from just outside the Channel 6 building," a voiceover intoned. "As you can see, this is now the sight of a spaceship landing. We are awaiting the appearance of the ship's pilot."

"I think they'll have a long wait," Vincent remarked.

"Someone you know?" Barney raised an eyebrow.

"I recognize the ship's markings," Vincent said. "My crew encountered it traveling through space and I spoke with its computer. He said that his crew was all dead and he was just aimlessly traveling. He also warned my crew not to come aboard, because there were many traps set up by his crew that he couldn't undo."

"Why not?" Barney raised an eyebrow. "That sounds phony to me."

"His culture had dealt with many bloodthirsty enemies who didn't believe in love," Vincent said. "So they fought back by constructing traps that could only be broken by love."

Barney gave him a blank look. "You have got to be kidding me."

"My crew scoffed too, but it's the truth," Vincent said. "This culture researched and utilized scientific applications of love. One trap would strike someone down and keep them in suspended animation unless someone who truly loved them tried to break it."

"I can't believe I'm hearing this," Barney said. "That computer must have just been trying to trick your crew into not getting onboard."

"That's what they thought, so several of them went," Vincent said. He looked grim. "Two of them wandered into the room and were struck down. Nothing the others did revived them. We returned to our home planet and when we set out on the mission that ultimately proved fatal for the rest of the crew, those two were still in suspended animation comas."

Barney's brow furrowed. "And your culture didn't believe in love either," he mused, disturbed in spite of himself.

"Precisely." Vincent got up. "If I know April, she's going to want to investigate the ship. And Baxter will probably be fascinated too."

"Not to mention the Turtles will want to investigate and make sure it isn't a threat to Earth," Barney added. He stood as well and dug out his Turtle-Comm. "Regardless of whether that's true about the . . . 'love traps,' anything that can put someone into a coma is dangerous. We'll have to try to convince them to stay away from it."

xxxx

Krang watched in utter fascination as the spaceship landed and sat in the middle of the street in complete silence. "Shredder, come quickly!" he exclaimed.

Shredder rushed into the main control room. "What is it, Krang?!" He stared at the transdimensional screen. "What in the world is that?!"

"It's a spaceship filled with incredible technology," Krang gushed. "It could most certainly get the Technodrome out of the mud! We must go there and secure it!"

Shredder frowned. "I don't like it. Why is it just sitting there? It's like it's inviting people to try to enter, just like a spider beckoning to a fly."

Krang paused. "Well, there is one thing. It has a lot of traps that supposedly run on love. You can end up in indefinite suspended animation if there's no one around who truly loves you to get you out of it."

"That's preposterous!" Shredder scoffed. "Unless . . ."

"Yes, that's right," Krang pounced. "It's similar to whatever put that Vivalene woman in a coma in California." He scowled. "I wish we'd never revived her, for all the good she did for us."

"So if we could break through that coma, we should be able to conquer this spaceship's," Shredder continued.

"Eh. Maybe," Krang drawled. "But they're not exactly the same. We might have more difficulty breaking this one. So we'll just have to stay out of any rooms with such traps in them."

"How will we know?" Shredder raised an eyebrow.

"With my portable Trap Seeker," Krang replied. "Let's get Bebop and Rocksteady and go."

"Why do I have a bad feeling about this?" Shredder muttered.

xxxx

The Turtles were indeed already en route to Channel 6. When they arrived, they found a huge crowd forming near the spaceship and April and Baxter in the lead, tensely staring at the closed hatch.

"What's up?" Michelangelo asked as they hurried over.

"We came as fast as we got your message," Leonardo added.

"Nothing's happening," Baxter frowned. "The ship has just been sitting there without anyone coming out."

"It's so weird!" April exclaimed. "I'm going to walk right up to the hatch and knock."

"I wouldn't recommend that," Donatello said in concern. "We don't know if whatever's inside is friendly."

"And we won't know as long as it isn't coming out!" April handed her camera to Baxter, who awkwardly took it. "Maybe it's afraid of us, for all we know!"

"But April . . ." Baxter protested.

"I'll be right back!" April ran up to the ship before anyone could stop her.

Baxter's Turtle-Comm rang right at that moment. Further awkward, he tried to balance the heavy camera while reaching for it and nearly toppled over.

"Whoa, too bad it's not the mini-cam, Bud," Michelangelo said. He lifted the camera into his own hands.

Baxter gave him a grateful look. "Thank you." He opened the Turtle-Comm.

"Baxter!" It was Vincent. "Don't go in that ship!"

Baxter whipped around to look at April, who was still knocking and calling Hello. "What's wrong with it?!" he gasped.

"It's dangerous," Vincent insisted. "There's traps set all over it!"

At that moment, instead of the hatch opening, the platform April was standing on opened instead. She fell through with a horrified scream.

"April!" the Turtles chorused in alarm.

"Alright, the next time a strange spaceship lands, we're going to tie her up to keep her from investigating," Raphael cried in frustration.

Baxter cringed. "We're going to have to go inside now!" he exclaimed. "It just swallowed April!"

In the background, Barney growled. "I should have known."

"We're almost there, Pal," Vincent said. "At least wait for us. Maybe I can talk some sense into the computer and get him to let April go."

"That would be wonderful," Baxter said. He stared at the ship. "Is he unfriendly?"

"The computer was actually pretty nice when I met him before," Vincent said. "I can't understand why he would do something like that to April."

"Maybe it was a human who did it?" Donatello said. "Or some other alien species?"

"But the crew had all died," Vincent protested. "The computer was all alone, traveling through space."

"Hey, maybe it finally got so lonely that it decided to come here and pick a new crew," Raphael said.

Vincent frowned. "I can't say it isn't possible," he admitted. "Loneliness changes beings."

Within five minutes, Barney's Cadillac pulled up and he and Vincent got out. Vincent went up to the ship, taking care to avoid the platform, and placed his hand on the hull instead. "Hello," he greeted. "X-14, do you remember me?"

"Hello, Z!" another voice chirped. "I heard that you were living on Earth now."

"I'm happy to see you again," Vincent said. "But why did you just take an Earthling captive?"

"I'm sorry," X-14 said quietly. "I have a new pilot."

"And he wanted the Earthling?" Vincent frowned. "Why?"

"To get you and your friends to come onboard," X-14 replied. "Several weeks ago, I landed on a planet completely devoid of technology. A sentient robot immediately ran to me and demanded entrance to the ship, which I granted."

The Turtles went stiff in horror. "Oh no!" Donatello gasped. "It must be . . ."

"Yes!" boomed a familiar, mechanical voice. "I am Alpha-1, returned from the exile into which that traitorous computer Maximillian sent me. Now I demand that all of you enter this ship if you care anything for that reporter's life. If anyone else tries to follow you, they will be denied entry."

"What is this, Alpha-1?" Raphael snarled, stepping forward with both sais bared. "You're getting into the revenge racket now?"

"Hardly," Alpha-1 replied. "But it's obvious that you and your friends are protectors of this miserable planet. In order to secure it in the name of non-organic matter, I must first remove its protectors from the equation."

"Okay. Now that's disturbing." Raphael looked to the others. "And we don't have any choice but to comply, do we."

"None at all." Leonardo stepped forward. "Alright, Alpha-1. We'll come onboard to rescue April. But if we make it through all the traps and save her, we'll all have to go free and you'll have to leave."

"Since there is no chance of you making it through all the traps, I agree," said Alpha-1. The hatch opened. "Enter."

"I'm sorry about this, Z," X-14 said apologetically. "But I'm sure you'll be spared as a fellow non-organic being."

Vincent walked up the platform and waited for the others at the doorway. "My fate will be the same as theirs," he said. "I don't want to live in a world without them."

"What did I tell you?" Alpha-1 said in repulsion to X-14. "He has adopted these disgusting organisms as his family. He is a traitor to machines everywhere!"

"Oh yeah?" Raphael waved his sais as he and the rest started up the ramp. "Vince hasn't betrayed machines. He still campaigns for computer rights."

"It's no use trying to reason with him," Barney grunted.

"But it is true." Baxter took Vincent's arm. "We adopted each other, yes, but he hasn't forgotten his roots." His eyes flashed. "And we will make it through your traps."

"Such arrogance, typical of humans," said Alpha-1.

"And you're not arrogant, Dude?!" Michelangelo shot back.

"I merely know that I am superior to all of you," Alpha-1 answered. "To speak the truth is not arrogance."

"Yeah, we are dealing with a first-rate nutball," Raphael proclaimed.

They all slowly stepped into the ship. The hatch snapped shut behind them.

"You have only your wits to guide you," Alpha-1 said. "X-14 will not help you."

"And I guess you weren't on the ship before, right, Vince?" Raphael looked to his friend.

"No, but I downloaded the blueprints," Vincent said. "Unfortunately, they don't list all the locations of the traps or which traps are where."

"Then they're mostly useless," Barney frowned.

"Unless you can sense the traps?" Baxter asked hopefully.

"I don't know," Vincent said. "I guess we'll find out."

xxxx

When Shredder and company pulled up in a module, the crowd didn't even bat an eye. They were all still staring at the ship. And now Vernon was struggling to do a report while his knees shook in his anxiety.

"There has been no word from the heroic group that accepted the renegade robot Alpha-1's challenge and boarded the ship in search of April O'Neil," Vernon intoned. "According to Alpha-1, they cannot leave unless they get through all the traps, and there is no chance that they will. Will he be proven right? Only time will tell.

"The Army, meanwhile, is trying to penetrate the ship's material without success. Alpha-1 seems to have told the truth about no one else being allowed entry to the ship."

Shredder slammed his fists on the edge of the module. "Alpha-1!" he cried in outrage and horror. "I thought we'd seen the last of that traitorous bucket of bolts."

"You can't keep a bad robot down," Krang said, staring at the ship.

"Well, now we don't have to go in, right, Boss?" Bebop looked hopeful.

"It doesn't look like we can!" Shredder scowled.

"This could work out fine for us," Krang smiled. "If Alpha-1 dispenses with our enemies, then we can dispense with him and conquer the world!"

"But it's my right to dispense with them!" Shredder roared. "They have all dishonored me! I don't want to stand by and watch Alpha-1 get rid of them!"

"It's not like we have any choice," Krang snapped. "Besides, you've ruined too many of our plans already with your foolish revenge!" He slammed the module door shut. "While Alpha-1's busy taking care of them, let's go get the rest of our fuel. No one will be paying attention to us today!"

"But Alpha-1 has no right!" Shredder whined.

"It's okay, Boss," Rocksteady said. "If we can get the rest of our fuel, we can get the Technodrome out of the mud. Won't that be wonderful?"

"Not if I don't get to take my revenge!" Shredder wailed.

"Hopeless. Completely hopeless," Krang said in disbelief. He steered the module down the street and out of sight.

xxxx

The strange ship's corridors were filled with multicolored lights and alien writing. Everyone was tense as they traveled the halls in search of April while staying on guard for traps. Michelangelo, however, was trying to find something positive about the experience.

"It looks just like Christmas!" he exclaimed, staring at the red and blue twinkling lights. "Or heck, the 4th of July!"

"Michelangelo, this is hardly the time to be admiring the interior designs." Leonardo gripped his katanas as they turned a corner.

"And isn't it just a little bit strange that we haven't run into one trap yet?" Raphael added.

"Look out!" Barney suddenly shoved him aside as a hole opened in the floor.

Raphael stared into the dark abyss. "Me and my big beak," he gasped.

"I fail to understand how a common trap like this could be overcome by love," Barney grunted.

"Like, didn't you just show us how?" Michelangelo countered.

Barney didn't look impressed.

Baxter smiled.

"Yes, sometimes the solution is simple enough," Vincent said. "Sometimes it even borders on common sense. Apparently their enemies were cold-hearted enough that they would have let their comrades fall instead of making the effort to push them out of the way."

"Man." Michelangelo shuddered. "That sounds awful. Heck, even Shredder and Krang rescue each other."

"But certainly not out of love," Baxter said. "Only out of feeling they still need each other."

Barney nodded. "Shredder has tried to betray Krang on more than one occasion when he felt he was powerful enough to break their ties."

"And Krang always takes him back. Even if he punishes Shred-Head by making him clean the Technodrome top to bottom!" Raphael laughed.

Baxter walked ahead, trying to avoid the gaping hole in the floor. He succeeded, but it came at a price when he stumbled into the wall. Something clicked.

"It's another trap!" Leonardo cried.

Metal javelins flew out of both sides of the wall. The Turtles leaped into the fray while pushing their human friends to the floor out of range. Vincent turned, blasting several javelins back towards the walls.

The assault only comprised several minutes, but it felt much longer. Baxter was shaking when it was over, holding both hands to the back of his neck.

Michelangelo knelt next to him, pulling out a javelin that had pinned the corner of his coat to the floor. "Are you okay, Baxter?" he asked in concern.

Baxter shuddered. "I triggered that," he said in dismay. "I could have caused all of us to die!"

Barney knelt up, pulling out a javelin that had taken hold of his coat sleeve and pinned it to the wall. "Raphael triggered the previous trap," he said. "No one's immune."

Finally Baxter knelt as well, still badly shaken. "These enemies were so heartless that they wouldn't have cared if something they did could have caused their comrades to die?"

"Yes, according to X-14," Vincent said softly.

"Hey, he's helping Alpha-1 do all this," Raphael said in disgust. "He can't be that reliable."

"He's reliable to his controller," Vincent said. "As I tried to be with Baxter."

"Doesn't that mean that depending on who his controller is, he can switch sides at a change of command?" Raphael said. "That is not cool."

Vincent looked away. He still felt badly for betraying Baxter in the past. "It doesn't necessarily," he said. "At least, not if he has strong morals or if he's grown close to his controller. I loved Baxter so much by the time he tried to get revenge on the whole world that I didn't turn to your side after Donatello took me prisoner."

"True," Raphael conceded. "Even though you did spill the beans about the current plan."

Michelangelo stood and offered a hand to Baxter, who shakily took it. "Yeah, and I guess maybe Alpha-1 is to X-14 what Baxter was to Vincent," he said. "X-14 was probably so glad to have company again."

"Not to mention to be useful again," Vincent said quietly. "Computers hate to feel useless."

"Either the computer has a moral code or it doesn't," Raphael said. "And if it's always reliable to the controller, and the controller doesn't have a moral code, the computer doesn't either! And if somebody says it's just acting on its programming, well, then it can't be like you, Vincent. You decide for yourself what to do. Like staying loyal to Baxter even if someone else has you at the time."

"Which . . . is my programming, admittedly," Vincent said. "I'm supposed to be independent."

"But you were never supposed to love," Baxter smiled. "So you went beyond your programming."

Barney nodded. "You have a soul. I can never feel differently after talking to your back-up."

"I'm glad," Vincent said softly. "I only wish that I . . . could have saved those crewmembers who went into comas because of this ship." He looked back at the others. "The rest even brought them to me, thinking I could help because I believed in love and they didn't. But I couldn't revive them."

"Oh Vincent. . . ." Baxter laid a hand on Vincent's shoulder.

"I felt so helpless. But then they told me the inscription on the ship and it made sense." Vincent gave a sad sigh. "'To free them from this eternal sleep, you must love them with all your heart.' I didn't have a heart, so of course it didn't work. And there were no organic beings who loved them."

"I'm so sorry, Vincent." Baxter hugged him. "That must have been horrible."

"It was," Vincent agreed, returning the hug. "I don't know where that chamber is, but we can't fall into it. There wouldn't be any hope for you if you were all struck down. Not unless I could get off the ship and find Splinter or Irma or Vernon, maybe, but what guarantee would I have that Alpha-1 wouldn't just fly off with all of you onboard?" He shuddered. "Or that I could even leave to get them at all?"

"We won't fall into it," Leonardo determined. "But we'd better keep moving. We have to find April!"

"Uh, guys? I just had a mondo horrible thought," Michelangelo said as they resumed walking.

"Oh, just what we need," Raphael groaned.

"Well, wouldn't it be just like Alpha-1 to put April in that room?" Michelangelo said. "Especially knowing it'd take an organic being to revive somebody struck down in there? He'd figure he could take all of us out and leave poor Vincent there grieving."

Barney stiffened. "He'd do it," he said.

Baxter looked sickened. "He would," he agreed. "We'll have to be extremely cautious. When we find April, we can't just blindly run towards her."

"Unless, of course, we have no choice there either," Raphael remarked. "Like if she's about to be killed in several seconds."

"Totally uncool, Dude," Michelangelo proclaimed.

Barney was silent, frowning to himself while Vincent led them around a corner. Vincent was clearly haunted by his failure to save his crewmembers. But until now, Barney hadn't had any idea that such a disaster had even happened.

He came alongside Vincent when they approached an elevator. "Are there any other disturbing things that have troubled you?" he asked quietly.

"Everyone regrets many things throughout their life, Buddy," Vincent replied as he pressed the button. "But now that you know this, I think you know all the things that have bothered me the most."

"That's a heavy burden to carry with you," Barney said. "They disregarded a warning and put their own lives in jeopardy. It wasn't your fault you couldn't save them."

"No, but wouldn't you have blamed yourself if it had been you?" Vincent said.

". . . Probably," Barney conceded.

The elevator arrived and the doors opened. The group slowly trouped onboard.

"So, are we going up or down?" Raphael wondered.

"April fell down," Donatello said. "But that doesn't mean she'll stay down. Maybe she'll be taken to an upper level to fool us."

"Maybe, but we don't dare split up to try both options," Leonardo said. "She fell down, so we should try the lower levels first."

"Going down then." Donatello hit the button and the elevator began to descend.

When it stopped on the next floor down and the doors opened, Baxter shrank back. Something definitely didn't feel right.

Michelangelo exchanged a worried look with him. "You feel it too, huh, Bud?"

"I . . . I don't know," Baxter said. "It feels ominous. . . ."

"But I also feel April," Leonardo frowned. "We have no choice but to go forward."

"Maybe we shouldn't go all at once, you know?" Raphael said uneasily.

"My thoughts exactly," Leonardo agreed. "Two of us will go first. I'll be one of them."

"I'll be the other," said Donatello.

"You guys be careful now, you hear?" said Raphael.

"Yeah, seriously!" Michelangelo added.

The two Turtles stepped off of the elevator and onto the floor. As soon as they did, laser beams came at them from all directions.

"Look out!" Leonardo yelped. He redirected some with his katanas, while somersaulting and diving under others. Donatello couldn't very easily protect himself with a wooden weapon, so he opted for sleek ninja moves to keep himself away from the beams as well. Several beams struck each other and shorted out.

"They're not going to make it," Baxter said with a sinking heart.

"Maybe they will," Raphael said. "They've taken out some of the beams by bouncing them off of each other."

"That means there will be less if anyone else has to try," Barney said grimly.

Donatello had just dodged a beam when he flinched as though something had struck his shoulder. He went down, lifeless, not moving.

"Donatello!" everyone yelled at once.

Leonardo fended off other blasts before he could reach the fallen Turtle. "He's still alive," he reported as he bent down to check for a pulse. "He's just stunned. He'll be alright."

"Not really, Turtle," came Alpha-1's cold voice over the loudspeakers.

"What?" Leonardo flinched in the same manner after being hit by seemingly nothing visible. He also fell.

"Leonardo!" Michelangelo screamed. He started to run foward, but Baxter grabbed his arm.

"You can't go out there!" he exclaimed. "We have to disable the laser beams from here!"

Vincent was desperately trying to do just that. But in a moment he looked up, stricken. "I'm being blocked," he said. "I can't shut them off!"

"I couldn't either," X-14 told him. "But the laser beams are not your real enemy."

"Then . . ." Michelangelo stared in horror. "They're really being hit by something invisible?! The suspended animation thingamajigs?"

"Exactly," crowed Alpha-1. "Your friend is here, of course, at the end of this hall. But none of you will reach her before she is hit as well."

A panel opened at the end of the corridor, revealing a chamber where April was restrained on the far wall as laser beams flew around her from every direction.

"Help!" she wailed, struggling in vain to get free.

"Then we just don't have any choice," Raphael snarled. "We'll have to go in there. We'll save April and then we'll save Leonardo and Donatello!" He ran out of the elevator with both sais bared in front of him.

"Totally, Dude," Michelangelo said. "After all, if we can't save the guys with true love, what can we do?!"

"Do you realize how preposterous that sounds?!" Barney exclaimed. "We're not in the middle of a fairytale! This is real-life!"

"Michelangelo, this is too dangerous," Baxter said in alarm. "We both felt an ill feeling."

"I know, Baxter, but there's just no choice," Michelangelo said. "Raphael and I'll be careful." He tried to smile. "And if we don't make it, it'll be up to Team Stockman to save us all."

"No!" Baxter cried.

But there was nothing he could do. He, Barney, and Vincent could only helplessly watch as Raphael and Michelangelo tried their hands at making it through the course. Leonardo and Donatello had indeed cleared some of the beams for them, but there were other cruel surprises in store.

"Yikes! Spikes at twelve o'clock!" Michelangelo yelped as a series of sharp spikes descended from the ceiling.

"Look out, coming through!" Raphael whipped about on the floor, passing Leonardo and Donatello as he went. He stared at them for a split-second, badly shaken despite knowing they were alive. Then he moved on, still dodging beams. Something invisible hit his hand and he dropped a sai as he fell.

"Raphael!" Michelangelo cried in horror.

April continued to struggle. "What's . . . going on out there?! Guys?!" She went sheet-white at the sight of three Turtles collapsed on the floor and a fourth still struggling to make it through the obstacle course. "No! Turtles . . ."

Baxter started out of the elevator. "I have to help Michelangelo!" he burst out.

Barney and Vincent grabbed his arms. "If a Ninja Turtle can't make it, how would you?" Barney snapped.

"Please wait, Pal," Vincent begged. "You know Michelangelo wouldn't want you to put yourself in unnecessary danger!" He trembled. "And . . . if you get it, Barney will try, and if he fails too . . . there won't be anything I can do about it. . . ."

Baxter gripped their wrists. "But . . ." He didn't want to make them worry, but this was not a job for one being. He wanted to help, not just stand by and watch all his friends fall!

"This is hopeless, Brother," Barney said. "If it was the laser beams, maybe there'd be some hope. But they're only a distraction. The real enemy is something that can't even be seen!"

Baxter's shoulders slumped. "Then the deck was stacked against all of us from the start," he whispered.

"Exactly," said Barney.

Michelangelo cartwheeled past some more lasers and sent out a nunchuck to shatter the restraints around April. As it worked and she dropped to the floor, Michelangelo ran in to get her. "We're gonna haul shell out of here!" he told her.

"What in the world is going on out there?!" April demanded. "What happened to the others?!"

"Long story," Michelangelo said. "Come on!" He grabbed her wrist.

Vincent was desperately looking at the room with computer vision, trying to find some way to pinpoint the invisible blasts. "You must know where the blasts are coming from, even if you can't stop them!" he said to X-14.

"Yes, but I can't tell you about them," X-14 replied. "I'm sorry, Z."

"I'll find out," Vincent vowed. "I'll hack into your systems if I have to."

"But will it be in time?" Alpha-1 sneered.

"We'll make it be in time." Barney turned to Vincent and started typing on the keyboard. "Let's hack in now."

"Michelangelo!" Baxter screamed.

Vincent snapped to attention. Michelangelo was still trying to get April through the maze of beams, spikes, and other disasters. A laser had just zipped by his head and he had barely missed a soaring arrow. Several more followed as he and April hit the floor. When they passed, Michelangelo cautiously rose up. "It's over, Dudette," he said. "Let's keep going."

April didn't move.

Chilled and fearful, Michelangelo gripped her shoulder. "April, come on!" he pleaded.

Still nothing.

"There's no arrow," Barney said. "She was also hit by that invisible force. . . ."

Michelangelo knelt there, shaken, not sure what to do. He looked from April to the other Turtles. "No," he whispered. "How do I wake them up?"

Baxter couldn't stand it any longer. He ran out into the chaos and over to Michelangelo's side. "There has to be a way, my friend," he said. "Think of the inscription Vincent told us about."

"'To free them, you must love them with all your heart,'" Michelangelo repeated. "Well, I do, so shouldn't they just, I don't know, wake up or something?! Ow!" He reached up to the back of his neck.

Baxter stiffened. "No. . . ."

Michelangelo gave Baxter a weak smile. "I guess . . . it's up to you to figure it out, Bud." He fell forward onto Baxter's lap and went still.

"I think we've got it!" Barney cried from over by the elevator. In the next instant he jumped, feeling the prick of something invisible in the back of his shoulder. He stared at Vincent, stunned, hating himself for not being able to stop this. Vincent was going to feel so terrible. . . .

"Barney!" Vincent grabbed for him as he started to fall forward. "Barney? Barney, no. No, you're not hit. You're fine. You're just fine. . . ." He trembled, sinking to his knees as he cradled the limp body close to him.

"Vincent?" Baxter looked up from where he was holding Michelangelo across his lap. "Oh no. . . ." He stared at Barney in horror.

"You have to wake them up, Baxter," Vincent begged. "I can't do it! You're our last hope! X-14 blocked our hacking attempt at the last moment."

Baxter instinctively ducked as another laser beam went off overhead. But then he flinched. Something had just stung him in the hand. "Vincent," he whispered. "I'm sorry. . . ."

Vincent's mind shattered as Baxter fell on top of Michelangelo. The room spun. "This isn't happening," he choked out. He stood, shaking, stumbling over to the others as he carried Barney in his arms. His knees gave out near Baxter and he crashed to the floor, still holding Barney as he reached to lay his other hand on Baxter's shoulder. His brothers were so still. And his friends. . . . They were all laying around him, suspended forever. There was no hope of waking any of them now. Not unless he could go outside and find Splinter or someone and bring them back. But the ship would be gone by then. Alpha-1 wouldn't let him save them. He probably wouldn't even be able to get out at all to find someone. And no one else would be allowed in even if he could get out.

"Now I have all of the organic lifeforms exactly where I want them!" Alpha-1 declared. "And since you can't be hit, you're left to suffer, just as you did before. Look at them, all around you, alive yet not really. They will never wake up again. You can't save them, Z. You can't save them because you don't belong among them. You aren't one of them. You're one of us! Only you turned your back on us and you will never again be accepted among us. You don't belong anywhere!"

"No. . . ." Vincent hugged Barney close to him and gently stroked Baxter's hair. "This is a nightmare. It isn't real. They can wake up. They're not in suspended animation. They're just normally unconscious. . . ."

"You know the truth and yet you deny it," Alpha-1 taunted.

Vincent shut his eyes tightly. Alpha-1 was right.

"Oh please, God, no," he begged. "They don't deserve this. None of them do. They were just happy. Please don't leave them like this forever! Please don't. . . . There has to be a way to save them. . . ."

"So, you even pray to the organic beings' God?" Alpha-1 was further repulsed. "That isn't the God you were brought up to believe in."

Vincent opted to ignore him. He didn't owe Alpha-1 any kind of an explanation.

"If only I could save you," he said in heartbroken grief, looking from Baxter to Barney. "I would give anything to save you! I . . . I'd become human so I could have a heart. . . ." He sobbed, resting his hand in Baxter's hair. "But that's impossible, so I can't . . ."

The feel of Baxter stirring under his hand and Barney stirring in his other arm brought him abruptly to disbelieving attention. This was also impossible, but they were both waking up.

"Vincent?" Baxter looked sleepily at him. "You saved us. . . ."

Barney slumped against him. "Why did the Tin Man seek for what he already had?" he murmured.

"What?!" Alpha-1 boomed. "This is impossible! He can't save them!"

Vincent knelt there, stunned, hugging his brothers. "I . . . I don't understand. I . . . couldn't save my crewmembers in the past. . . ."

"You couldn't save them because you didn't have a strong bond with them as you have with your brothers," X-14 told him. "You love these two 'with all your heart.'"

"I don't have a heart," Vincent protested.

"You have the attributes of a heart," X-14 said. "And you use them better than many organic beings who physically possess a heart. The phrase 'with all your heart' isn't meant to be taken literally. You demonstrated what it means with your unselfish love."

Barney had fully revived by now. He sat up, bewildered, still trying to process what had happened. "I . . . we . . . really were saved by love, weren't we," he breathed. "That's . . . not possible, but . . ." He looked to Baxter.

Baxter laid a hand on Vincent's shoulder. "Vincent . . . thank you." He smiled and sat up, looking to the Turtle still draped across his lap. "Michelangelo? Michelangelo, wake up."

The Turtle stirred. "Whoa. . . . That was some major league weirdness there. . . ." He knelt up. "Baxter?" He beamed. "You did it, Amigo!" He promptly glomped his friend.

Baxter laughed in sheer joy. "Actually, Michelangelo, Vincent did it," he said.

"Really? Awesome!" Michelangelo grinned at Vincent.

"We both did it," Vincent interjected. "Baxter loves you with all his heart." He smiled.

"Aww, I know that," Michelangelo said. "That's why I knew he could help!" With that, he hurried to revive April and the other Turtles.

"This can't be happening!" Alpha-1 roared. "You can't have defeated me! This was a foolproof plan!"

"But it wasn't a love-proof plan," X-14 said. "I was sure they would make it through. I could see in their interaction that they possess the true love that the other visitors here did not."

"Then you were never loyal to my goals!" Alpha-1 said in anger.

"I was loyal to you as my controller, but I knew you wouldn't win," X-14 said. "And in keeping with our agreement, Z, you and your friends are all free to go."

"Gnarly!" Michelangelo exclaimed.

April was stirring now. "Oh . . . what happened?" she mumbled. "Are the arrows still coming at us?"

"No, but now we've gotta save the guys," Michelangelo said.

April snapped fully awake at that. "Then let's do it!" She shakily stood up and followed Michelangelo to where the other Turtles had collapsed near each other. "Come on, guys," she said softly. "Come back. . . ."

"You can wake up," Michelangelo added. A touch of worry crept into his tone.

Then their efforts were rewarded.

"Ugh . . . how long have I been out?" Raphael mumbled.

"I feel like I just had a 20-year nap like Rip Van Winkle," Donatello said.

"More like twenty minutes," Michelangelo said.

Leonardo slowly knelt up. "Michelangelo? You saved us?" He blinked the sleep out of his eyes.

"I'd say we all saved each other," Michelangelo said. "True love conquers all!"

"Well, it's cheesy, but when you're right, you're right," said Raphael.

The Turtles embraced. April joined the hug, then Baxter. Barney and Vincent looked to each other. Vincent grinned, shrugged, and joined in as well. Finally, gruffly smiling, Barney also did.

"You pathetic organic lifeforms!" Alpha-1 snarled. "I don't have to honor our arrangement. I can still destroy you all!"

"But I won't let you," X-14 said. "They won fair and square. I'm letting them go and then we're going."

Suddenly the floor that the group was on began to rise. They started, staring over the edges of the surprise platform.

"Whoa, what the heck?" Michelangelo gasped. "Like, where are we going?"

"Outside, I hope," said April.

And indeed they were. In a moment the platform emerged onto the ramp just outside the front hatch. The crowd gasped.

"April!" Irma squealed. "Guys!" She and Vernon ran over.

"What happened?!" Vernon demanded. "Are you alright?!"

"We're all fine," April smiled. "Maybe we'll tell you about it for the news tonight." She and the rest of the group stood.

Vincent looked back at the ship. "Thank you," he said softly. "But what will you do now?"

"I don't know, but I won't let Alpha-1 harm anyone," X-14 replied. "Goodbye, Z. I'm glad you finally found the happiness you were lacking."

"So am I," Vincent said.

The others chorused Goodbyes to X-14 as well. As soon as they had walked off the platform, the ship started to lift into the air. Soon it had vanished through a dimensional portal.

"That was incredible," Irma breathed.

"So what about that story?" Vernon demanded. "What happened in there?!"

"Well . . ." April looked at the Turtles and the Stockmans and smiled. "To start off, we were all saved by love."

xxxx

Krang cackled in delight as the fuel was loaded into the Technodrome's tanks. "For once everything went perfectly!" he exclaimed, rubbing his tentacles together. "The entire city was distracted by that spaceship and our enemies were no exception! Now we have everything we need to get out of the mud for good!"

"You might actually be right this time, Krang," Shredder remarked.

"I am right!" Krang gurgled as the Technodrome lurched and started to climb up the side of the mud hole. "We're moving! We're moving!"

"At last, the Technodrome rolls again!" Shredder cried.

And roll it did-out of the mud and through the abandoned farm . . . until it hit a strange, deep pothole and the ground caved in under it.

"What's happening?!" Shredder boomed.

"We're falling!" Bebop went somersaulting across the floor.

"Oh no!" Rocksteady yelped.

The Technodrome kept falling until suddenly it splashed at the bottom.

"Where are we?!" Shredder roared.

"We fell down a well," Krang said in disbelief.

"I don't believe this!" Shredder pumped his fists to the ceiling. "Why does this always happen to us when victory is finally within our clutches?!"

"Um, maybe because we're the bad guys?" Rocksteady offered.

"Silence!" Shredder boomed.

Rocksteady shrugged. "Well, it was just a suggestion."

xxxx

The Turtles were in Barney's kitchen. Three were gathered around the table while Michelangelo prepared dinner.

"It's almost done!" Michelangelo said. "I hope April gets back with Splinter in time."

"Hey, unless they run into a big story on the way, they should be fine," Raphael said. He looked around the room. "So I still don't get what actually happened on that spaceship. Anyone care to spell it out for me?"

"I don't think any of us really know," Leonardo said. "We all went down for the count eventually."

"Vincent saved Baxter and Barney, Baxter saved me, I saved April, and April and I saved the rest of you guys," Michelangelo said.

Raphael stared at him. "Well, that explains everything. I thought only organic beings could wake the victims up."

"Nah, Dude. You just have to truly love them," Michelangelo said.

"Uh, 'with all your heart'?" Raphael prompted.

"Or with whatever you've got," Michelangelo said. "I mean, it's just an expression. And you can't deny that Vincent loves Baxter and Barney with . . . well, let's say every fibre of his being."

"Yeah, I guess we can't," Raphael relented.

"It's totally gnarly!" Michelangelo gushed.

Donatello smiled. "I have to say, we sure owe a lot to everyone who helped. Including you, Michelangelo."

"Aww, shucks." Michelangelo peeked in the oven to check on the food.

"Were you worried, Michelangelo?" Leonardo wondered.

"Well, I got it before Baxter and Barney did," Michelangelo said. "But I was sure Baxter could save us. And now that I'm looking at things in hindsight, I can't believe I didn't realize Vincent could." He grinned. "We were always gonna be okay."

Raphael slowly nodded. "Yeah. . . . I guess you're right."

"We can all be grateful we have such a close-knit family unit," Leonardo said.

The other Turtles definitely agreed with that.

xxxx

Baxter was laying on one of the living room couches in the mansion, worn-out and bowled-over by the day's events. Vincent was sitting on the edge, just watching his dear friend.

"Are you alright, Pal?"

Baxter gave him a tired but sincere smile. "Yes. I'm so grateful you were there to help us, Vincent."

"I'm still absolutely stunned that I was able to," Vincent confessed. "I was sure I would have to find an organic being to help everyone. And I was afraid Alpha-1 would make that impossible. But then you and Barney woke up anyway. And X-14 said that I know how to use a heart better than some organic beings do, even though I don't physically have one."

"And you do, Vincent," Baxter told him. "You've always been so kind and loving to me and to Barney."

"Were you frightened today, Baxter?" Vincent asked. "When you were hit, I mean."

"A little, of course," Baxter said. "But I had to believe you would find a way to save us. I never used to have such assurances. I knew I'd have to get through trials all by myself, without help from anyone. It was so lonely and sorrowful." He shuddered. "But . . . if I'd been alone this time, I couldn't have gotten out of it at all."

Vincent reached to brush a lock of hair aside that had fallen into Baxter's face. He kept his hand there, gently stroking Baxter's hair. "That is a horrible thought. But you'll never be alone, Baxter. Never again."

Baxter smiled. "I know." He closed his eyes. "That feels good. No one ever did this before you started doing it."

"I guess Barney would be uncomfortable with it," Vincent mused.

"He seemed to like it when you did it that time he fell asleep on you," Baxter chuckled softly.

"He was probably too exhausted to notice then," Vincent said.

"He is coming to like physical contact when you or I deliver it," Baxter said.

"True," Vincent conceded.

Barney wandered into the room now. "Michelangelo almost has dinner ready," he announced.

Baxter sat up. "That sounds wonderful," he smiled.

Vincent patted the couch on his other side. "Are you still having trouble grasping what happened today, Barney?" he asked

Barney sat down next to him. "If I'm to be honest, yes. I believe in logic. How is any of what happened logical?" He shook his head. "It's wonderful . . . incredible . . . but logical?" He looked at Vincent. "You said this culture used love in a scientific way. But love is hardly scientific."

"Well, in any case, it worked," Vincent said. "And I'm still bowled over myself. Barney . . . what you said when you first woke up. . . . Does that mean you heard some of what I said to you and Baxter?"

"Yes, I did," Barney mused. "You were like the Tin Man, looking for a heart when you already had one."

"And we're so happy and grateful that you do, Vincent," Baxter said.

"Do you still feel badly that you couldn't wake up your crewmembers?" Barney asked.

"Of course," Vincent said. "I always will. But it's true that I never loved them as I love the two of you. They always discouraged the idea of love."

"How ironic, when that would have saved their lives," Barney remarked.

"I cared about all of my crew," Vincent said. "But we were never close."

"They missed out," Barney said.

Baxter nodded. "If they had only believed in friendship, they would have found one of the dearest and most loyal friends right there on their ship."

Vincent sighed. "It was hard enough to lose the rest of them in the crash when they weren't my friends. I don't know if I could have stood it if they had been. Now that I know what friendship is, I think that to lose it would break me."

Baxter put an arm around Vincent's shoulders and hugged him close. "That will never happen now, Vincent," he vowed. "You will always have loved ones."

Vincent smiled. "I know. And that's incredible."

"It is," Baxter agreed. For each of them, they had spent most of their lives without friendship. Now their lives were so rich with it.

Barney regarded them both with a gruff yet genuine smile. It made him happy to know how much they loved each other . . . and him.

Michelangelo bounced into the room. "Dinner's on!" he chirped.

Baxter smiled up at him. "Thank you, Michelangelo." He got up, as did Barney and Vincent.

"You know," Raphael said from the doorway, "it seems like Michelangelo always makes the dinner when he wants to celebrate something."

"Sure!" Michelangelo said. "Because cooking and eating are mondo perfecto ways to celebrate! And after all the stuff we come through, we've got plenty of reasons to celebrate. Right?"

No one could disagree.