Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 1987

Who Shot Barney Stockman?

By Lucky_Ladybug

Notes: The characters are not mine (except for the students) 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.

Baxter gripped the remote control with one hand while clutching a handful of his jeans with the other. It had been several days since he and the others had visited a third and very odd alternate dimension, one where his other self was still working for Shredder and he and the other Barney were still having problems. Before they had left, they had set things right, but both he and Barney had been experiencing unpleasant memories of the past since then. They had each tried to find ways to push those memories aside, but so far they hadn't had much luck.

Tonight Baxter was sitting on the couch, staring at the television screen. He wanted to look away, but he couldn't. He had just been channel-surfing due to insomnia and had stumbled on an old Hitchcock film he had never seen, one based on a true story, and out of morbid curiosity he had decided to watch some of it. Now he knew that had been a big mistake. The whole plot concerned a man wrongfully accused of a crime, which wasn't unusual in a Hitchcock film. But this one showed scenes of him being mistreated by the police and fingerprinted and discovering what the inside of a jail cell really looked like. The confusion and horror the poor man felt was almost tangible. And for Baxter, it was all too familiar.

That was him being arrested and not understanding why. That was him being searched and having all of his belongings catalogued. That was him staring almost blankly at the ink on his fingers and then at the card with his fresh fingerprints. That was him sitting in the jail cell, staring at the sparse furnishings as his heart gathered speed and the room began to spin.

Accused . . . arrested . . . sentenced to the insane asylum. . . .

He kept watching the film, transfixed, wanting to believe the man's situation had turned out better than his own. The man hadn't cracked up, but his wife had fallen into a crippling depression. Oh, now the asylum was represented in the form of a sanitarium for her.

That was the last straw. The remote dropped from Baxter's hand and he let go of the worn knee of his jeans. He had been so numb, so blank, so unable to understand the nightmare that had been thrust upon him. And when he had finally had a meltdown, it had been when he had started to believe everyone's cruel words. He was wrong and they were right. He was insane. There were no giant Turtles. No innocent belief in Shredder. They had conspired to overthrow the city with the Mousers, no matter who got hurt.

"No!" Baxter sobbed. "No, it isn't true! It isn't true!"

He drew his knees up to his chest as he slumped into the couch and continued to cry as he had only rarely ever let himself cry before. He had never released his feelings about the false accusations in this manner before, only with anger and the desire for revenge.

"I'm innocent; I didn't do it," Baxter choked out, burying his face into his knees. "I didn't do it. I never wanted anyone to get hurt. I never meant for any of that to happen! No one believed me. No one helped me! Why didn't anyone help me? Why . . ."

Someone suddenly ran into the room. "Baxter?!"

He trembled. It was Barney. With Vincent he would probably feel free to keep sobbing, but with Barney he wanted to try to get himself under control, especially since Barney had been part of the problem. They were getting along now. He didn't want to hurt Barney. . . . He didn't. . . . But no matter how he tried to get himself to stop, he couldn't seem to do it. He had held back the depth of his hurt and anguish all this time. Now that blasted movie had triggered it, and while he could turn off the movie, he couldn't turn off the outpouring of his feelings.

He didn't dare look up, but he felt Barney sit down next to him. Barney swore under his breath, perhaps realizing what Baxter was watching, but when he spoke louder his voice was shaking. "Oh Baxter . . . Baxter, I'm so sorry. If I could only take it all back. . . ."

Baxter shook his head. "I . . . I didn't mean to wake you. . . ."

"No," Barney retorted. "I'm glad you did." Somewhat to Baxter's shock, Barney reached for him and pulled him backwards into an embrace. "I was so weak," he whispered.

"You were weak?!" Baxter echoed in disbelief.

"I thought you'd lost your mind and I wasn't strong enough to face that," Barney said. "It took me a long time to fully realize that about my reasons for abandoning you. I only started to after Vincent suggested it. Then I started really analyzing myself in a way that I had been too afraid to do before. I didn't know what I might find. And what I found when I finally looked was that I was a cowardly, stupid fool."

"Barney . . ." Baxter was stunned.

Barney continued. "In my profession I saw so many people's minds degrade. You couldn't stand it when you knew Professor Sopho wiped my memories, including all of my scientific knowledge. Likewise, I couldn't stand the thought that you'd finally cracked up. All the horrible things I'd seen with others . . . I couldn't bear to picture them happening to you. You loved science and learning so much. If that were taken from you, you'd probably rather be dead. I know I would."

"I . . . I never knew," Baxter stammered. "I thought you just found me so pathetic that you didn't want anything to do with me. . . . And you acted like helping me would ruin your chances of getting famous. . . ."

"I know," Barney rasped. "And I never tried to correct those misunderstandings. When I actually said that to you, I was just blurting something out to have something to say. I was reeling. I didn't know how to handle being told that you had lost it and then hearing your outlandish story. Maybe part of me thought what I said was the truth, until I finally started digging deeper.

"I knew the police and the doctors they brought in would be objective . . . or at least, I thought they would. I didn't know they were all biased against you. I was so afraid I'd do the wrong thing when you needed help because I was too close to the situation. I wanted you to be alright, to still have your intellect and your reasoning power, and I thought they'd make sure of that for you. I didn't know I was sending you further down the darkest path you could have possibly gone." He shook harder. "My poor brother. . . ."

Baxter was further stunned. Barney was crying too. He could feel the teardrops landing in his hair. "Barney . . ."

"I never did the right thing by you," Barney went on. "Even when I tried, it was always the wrong thing and I pushed you further and further away from me. I will never forgive myself." He held Baxter close.

Baxter leaned into Barney's embrace. It was so rare that Barney ever initiated physical contact. It felt so incredible . . . so comforting. "I didn't want you to see," he said softly. "I didn't want to make you feel worse than you already do. . . ."

"You had to let those feelings out sometime," Barney said. He fell silent. He had finally got himself under control, but he didn't let go of Baxter. Instead he leaned down, delivering a quiet kiss to the top of Baxter's head. "I want to be the brother I always should have been."

Baxter turned, clutching at Barney now. It was what he had always longed for and thought he would never have. Barney was not being critical or harsh. There would still be times like that in the future; Baxter had seen his harsh side emerge most times when he was gravely worried. Now Baxter knew what he never had before, that those emotions only belied Barney's actual, deep-rooted love. And tonight, Barney had laid himself bare. No criticizing, no harshness. Just the love underneath.

"I always loved you so much," Baxter whispered. "I wished so badly for you to love me too."

"You always saw in me what I couldn't see in myself, that I was worthy of love," Barney told him. "Vincent too. I always loved you, but for so much of my life I couldn't properly express it or even acknowledge it."

"You are now," Baxter said. "And I'm so happy."

Barney held him close. "I am as well."

Watching in the doorway, Vincent beamed. Things always continued to improve between his brothers. Barney had seemed especially reserved since their return from the last alternate dimension they had visited. Now the reason why was clear: seeing the alternate Barney had sent Barney on a soul-searching trip. Perhaps seeing the other Barney's openness with his Baxter at the end had also contributed to Barney wanting to be more open himself.

Whatever the reason, Vincent was thrilled by this scene.

He turned and quietly went back upstairs to bed. Barney had this situation well in hand.

xxxx

The night passed peacefully, but by the next morning the peace seemed to have been shattered, at least for the Turtles. Raphael scowled as Michelangelo danced through the Lair singing Pizza Power. "I swear, if he doesn't stop that . . . !"

"There's worse things he could be singing, Raphael," Donatello said. "I have to admit, our counterparts write catchy music."

"I'm still trying to get over the other me being so all into it that he writes the music!" Raphael exclaimed.

"Well, you wanted to find an alternate you who wasn't so angry all the time," Leonardo chuckled.

"Oh yeah, me and my big beak," Raphael sighed. "Why can't I find an alternate me who's a stand-up comic?"

"Anyway, we've got more important things to worry about," Leonardo said. "We haven't heard from our Shredder since his movie scheme. I wonder what's next."

"Me, I'd rather not worry about it until it happens," Raphael said. "Whatever it is, we probably can't be prepared for it ahead of time because it'll be so nuts we never would have thought of it!"

"There's a certain logic to that," Donatello said.

Raphael sighed. "I wonder if there's going to be anything to do today besides listen to Michelangelo sing about pizza power."

Leonardo chuckled. "With us, something always seems to happen sooner or later." He sobered as he added, "Let's just hope it won't be a new Shredder scheme."

"Or something else just as wacky?" Raphael countered.

"Yeah!" Michelangelo peeked in from the kitchen. "We haven't heard from some of the other crazies in a while-The Rat King, Leatherhead, random mad scientist weirdos. . . ."

"Boy, we have quite the rogues' gallery," Raphael commented. "I'd just as soon not hear from them any time soon. But I suppose we will, sooner or later."

"Hopefully not until after breakfast!" Michelangelo said. "I'm making a Coco-Puffs pizza!"

"Just what every good American household needs," Raphael said with gleaming eyes.

xxxx

The Stockman household was also having breakfast. Barney set a stack of papers on the edge of the island before settling down to waffles.

"Are those the papers for your students' latest test?" Baxter asked, glancing at the stack.

"Yes," Barney said. "I haven't had the chance to finish grading them. I'm going to do it before class today."

"It was a difficult test," Vincent said. From his expression and voice, he hoped it would go better than the last difficult test. Barney had felt so discouraged when many of the students had failed on it.

Baxter shook his head. "You do so well at teaching, Barney. Sometimes I'm still amazed by that, when I had such a terrible time."

"You were too shy and quiet and awkward," Barney said matter-of-factly. "If you tried it again now, you'd probably succeed."

"I still think I prefer teaching on the air," Baxter said.

"You have a lot of loyal followers because of it, Pal," Vincent smiled. "And that's wonderful."

"It's still amazing to me that so many in the city can forgive me after what I did while cross-fused," Baxter said. "I'm surprised so many parents are alright with their children entering the contest to host the science segments with me."

"People in this city aren't always as cold as the cliches would make you think," Barney said. "And apparently a lot of the parents are perceptive enough to see that you're harmless."

"And I'm sure it didn't hurt when the Merriweather siblings and those children from the carnival told on the air that you protected them from evildoers," Vincent said.

Baxter blushed a bit.

Barney nodded. "The parents know that their children are safe with you if anything bizarre happens."

"And I used to hide under tables when fights broke out," Baxter remarked. "I still feel like hiding, but I don't."

"We've both changed," Barney mused. "Odd how we both have younger people to look after in our jobs now."

"It's quite a responsibility," Baxter said.

"But you're both up to the challenge," Vincent said.

"And I'm going to find out just how well my students appreciate it when I hand their test papers back today," Barney said.

Baxter shuddered at the memories of handing back very badly done test papers and students being outraged at him instead of thinking about improving themselves. "Good luck," he said with a weak smile.

"I'll need it," Barney grunted.

xxxx

Barney and Vincent made it to the campus in plenty of time and headed for their building with the test papers. It was an overcast day, perhaps preparing for a summer storm, and Vincent had come with a raincoat and an umbrella. As usual, he wasn't taking any chances where rain was concerned.

"There's Herman J. Mellish," he realized.

Barney sighed to himself. Mellish was indeed nearby, getting out of his own car. When he caught sight of Barney and Vincent, he didn't look happy about it.

"Hi," Vincent waved.

Barney gave a short nod.

Mellish just hmphed and went on past.

"He's never going to forgive you for making your own solid energy process, is he?" Vincent frowned.

"Or you for displaying it," Barney said.

They went inside and soon made their way to the classroom. It was cool and empty. Barney slid in at the desk, somewhat irritated as he looked through his summer students' test papers one last time.

"I can't believe this," he said. "These students are mostly taking summer classes to try to improve themselves for next semester. Most of them have succeeded, but these two take the cake." He waved two sheets at Vincent. "There's no way I can pass them."

Vincent took the papers and stared at them. "Have they listened to a word you've said?!"

"It looks like they haven't, doesn't it," Barney growled. "Part of me wonders if I'm just not getting through to them. They're both here on scholarships; obviously they're intelligent."

"And this is a difficult class," Vincent said. "Maybe if you spoke with them privately and tried to find out what it is they're struggling with?"

"Judging from this test, they're struggling with everything, just as they were during the semester," Barney said in frustration. "You're right; I suppose I'd better try. But that won't save them from a failing grade on this test." He took the papers back from Vincent and set them on the stack. "And as if that wasn't bad enough, we've got Herman J. Mellish treating us like it's the Cold War."

"Which isn't unusual," Vincent said.

"I know, but I'm always waiting for the other shoe to drop," Barney said. "I'm a realist that way."

"I would call it cynicism," Vincent said.

"Same thing."

"Vincent?"

They both looked up. "Yes?" Vincent regarded Eileen, Mr. Dalton's secretary, in surprise.

"Mr. Dalton wants to see you for a few minutes," she told him.

Vincent frowned a bit. "About what? Do you know?"

"I don't think it's anything serious," she said.

"Go ahead," Barney said. "I still have to finish grading these papers before the class comes in."

"Alright." Vincent headed out the door.

Barney muttered to himself as he went through the remaining papers. "Another who's faltering," he grunted. "But thankfully not as badly as those other two."

It was maybe five minutes later when the door opened, quietly yet still loudly enough that Barney heard it. He looked up with a jerk and found himself staring at a figure completely clothed in black like a ninja, with a scarf over the lower half of their face.

"What is this, some kind of joke?" he snapped. "Halloween is still over three months away."

Instead of a reply, the mock ninja held up what looked like a gun.

Barney's eyes widened. "Oh no, you don't."

He leaped up at the same moment the person fired. The ammunition hit its target; Barney slumped back in the seat, staring at his assailant in disbelief for one brief moment before darkness engulfed him.

xxxx

Baxter was surprised when he arrived at the university campus and found Vincent coming down the hall of the building where Barney taught class. "What's going on, Vincent?" he asked.

Vincent was frowning. "I thought Mr. Dalton wanted to see me. So did his secretary. But when we got there, he was baffled. He hadn't sent for me. The secretary apparently called me because someone left a Post-It note on her desk saying he wanted to see me before class."

"That's odd," Baxter blinked. "A prank, maybe?"

"Not a very funny one," Vincent said. "What are you doing here, Pal?"

"Oh, I'm just coming back from some on-location filming for Strange Science," Baxter said. "I thought I'd drop in and say Hello on my way back to the station."

"Great," Vincent chirped. "Let's go see Barney."

They were both puzzled when they arrived at the classroom and the door wouldn't open more than a few inches. "What on Earth is wrong?" Baxter said in bewilderment.

Vincent pushed harder. "It feels like something tipped over in front of it." He shook the door. "Barney?!"

No response.

"We'll have to go around through a window," Baxter exclaimed. "Something must be wrong!"

Vincent banged on the door again before silently agreeing. He turned and followed Baxter out of the building and around to the side. "Barney wasn't planning to leave the room," he frowned. "He was grading papers."

Baxter was the first to scramble through the window when they reached the right ones. Then he stopped and stared in disbelief. "The room's been ransacked!" he called to Vincent.

Vincent leaped through the window and stared at the disaster zone. "It looks like every student's desk has been emptied," he said. "And the bookcase is in front of the door! Someone wanted me out of the room so they could do this! And . . . Barney . . ." He looked to the chair, which was turned to face the chalkboard.

At first Baxter didn't see anything else. Then he caught sight of a limp hand hanging down from the side of the chair. "Barney?!" He had started out trying not to step on anything. Now he didn't care. He tore across the littered floor, Vincent right beside him. When they reached the chair, Vincent carefully turned it around.

Barney was slumped there, lifeless, a strange dart in his chest.

The color drained from Baxter's face. "Barney?!" He grabbed for his brother's hand, his own violently shaking.

Vincent pulled the dart out of Barney's chest and swiftly analyzed it. "It's a knockout dart," he said in both relief and confusion.

Baxter's shoulders slumped. "Oh, thank God." He gently squeezed Barney's hand. "Barney, can you hear me?"

Still no response. But at least now Baxter could feel the gentle throb of Barney's pulse. It was normal.

"He probably won't wake up for a while," Vincent frowned. "At least not until the drug has run its course. Maybe it wasn't a very strong dose." He bent down and lifted Barney into his arms. Anger flashed in his eyes. "But who would do it?! What was it they wanted?!"

"I wonder whether they really didn't know where it was or if they trashed everything just to confuse us on what's missing," Baxter frowned. "Everything is off of Barney's desk too."

"I'm going to take Barney to the lounge, where there's a soft couch," Vincent said.

Baxter scrambled ahead and struggled to lift the bookcase away from the door. "I'm going to call the Turtles," he fumed when he succeeded. "Whatever happened here obviously wasn't a prank. And once they're on their way, I'm calling Mr. Thompson. I won't be going back to Channel 6 until I know Barney is alright and the guilty party is caught."

"He might want you to make a story out of this anyway," Vincent frowned.

"Barney probably wouldn't like that," Baxter said. "Or the university, for that matter."

He dialed Michelangelo's Turtle-Comm. After a moment, the Turtle answered. "Yo, Baxter! What's up?"

Baxter gripped the Turtle-Comm as he replied. "I'm afraid it isn't good news. Someone tricked Vincent into leaving the classroom so that they could sneak in, ransack the place, and leave Barney hurt!"

"Whoa. What the heck?!" Michelangelo was both indignant and bewildered. "Is he hurt bad?!"

"I hope not," Baxter sighed. "I don't think so. But someone shot him with a knockout dart."

"That is totally bogus!" Michelangelo cried in outrage. "We're coming right out!"

Baxter managed a genuine smile. "Thank you, my friend."

By now they were arriving at the lounge. Across the hall, Mr. Dalton saw them and came out of his office. "What's all this?!" he boomed in horror.

"That's what we'd like to know," Vincent retorted. "I was tricked out of the classroom so someone could shoot Barney with a knockout dart! And they ransacked the entire room! Something might be missing."

"This is insane!" Dalton cried. "If word gets out about this, the entire university will have a smear on it!"

"Barney will probably be fine, thank you for asking," Baxter coldly snipped.

"Oh." Dalton shook his head. "I'm sorry. I suppose I assumed he would be alright. But what will the students think when they come and find the room such a mess?!"

"Maybe they can identify their belongings and help us figure out what could be missing," Vincent coolly replied. He laid Barney on the couch and knelt beside him. "And maybe they'll actually be worried about their professor."

"I've called our friends the Ninja Turtles to help us solve the mystery," Baxter said. "I thought you'd prefer that over the police."

"Oh. Yes, I would." Dalton stared at the scene for another moment and turned away, shaking his head.

Baxter looked to Vincent when the man had left. "Can you tell how high of a dosage was used?" he asked.

"I can't tell whether the dart was full or only partially filled," Vincent sighed. "Nor can I tell exactly which knockout drug was used. Some work longer than others. Maybe when the Turtles get here, Donatello will have a way to analyze it more thoroughly in the Van."

"Are we sure that the dart was filled with what we assumed was in it?" Baxter fretted.

"I think we can be reasonably sure of that," Vincent said. "Barney's vital signs are normal and steady." He gently stroked Barney's hair. "He'll be okay. But that doesn't mean I'm not angry."

Baxter was in complete agreement. He paced the room, every now and then going to the doorway to look out. "We'll need to let the students know what happened," he said in concern. "But I don't know who they all are."

"They should be coming soon now," Vincent said. He stood and went to the doorway. "I'll watch for them."

Baxter dragged a chair over to the couch and sat down to watch over Barney. "He looks like he's asleep," he said softly. "Only he's not peaceful. He was obviously facing whoever shot him." His eyes darkened. "Who could it have been?"

"We're going to find out," Vincent vowed. "And then we'll make them pay."

xxxx

The Turtles were also angry. Michelangelo especially was ranting all the way to the university.

"Who the heck would do something like that to poor Barney right there in the building?!" he fumed. "You'd think he'd be safe in his own classroom!"

"Would you like the statistics of how many crimes happen on college campuses?" Raphael deadpanned.

"Not really," Michelangelo retorted. "And it's awful and all, but usually when something happens, it happens to the students! Who would do something to a teacher?!"

"I wonder if he would," Donatello spoke up as they drove onto the campus.

The other Turtles followed his gaze. Herman J. Mellish was slinking around the side of the building where Barney taught, looking very suspicious.

Raphael snorted. "Why would he? It's not like he loses any money because Barney made his own solid energy generator for Vincent."

"But we know he's jealous anyway," Donatello said.

"And I'd like to know what he's doing there," Leonardo added. "Let's go, Turtles!" He leaped out before the Van had been brought to a complete stop.

Mellish jumped a mile as soon as he saw Leonardo emerge onto the grass. When the other Turtles joined him, he started to back up. "What is this?!" he exclaimed. "You're not still mad about what happened with my solid energy generator, are you?"

"Maybe we are," Leonardo said.

"But like, maybe more than that, we're upset that Vincent got hurt when it was blown up, now that he's our bud," Michelangelo said.

"Well, you're the one who blew it up," Mellish retorted.

"You would have if Leonardo hadn't," Raphael said. "But that's not what we're here to talk about."

"You're probably wondering about Barney Stockman getting shot," Mellish said. "Me too."

"How do you even know about it if you didn't do it?" Leonardo frowned.

"His students know about it by now and they're passing the word around," Mellish said. "Word travels fast around here. Why would I do it?!"

"Oh, I don't know," Raphael said smoothly. "Jealousy, maybe?"

"There wouldn't be any point in shooting him and messing up his classroom," Mellish snapped. "I don't have anything against any of his students."

"Well, if you don't have anything to hide, I guess you won't mind us searching your classroom for the dart gun," Leonardo said.

Mellish flinched. "I do mind! I didn't do anything to him, I tell ya!"

Raphael caught hold of his arm. "Then you should be glad for a chance to prove it. Donatello, what building does he work in?"

"Right over there," Donatello pointed. "Let's go check it out." He took hold of Mellish's other arm.

Mellish struggled between them as they all walked. "You'll regret this, Turtles!" he insisted. "I'll complain to the dean! I'll get you thrown off the campus!"

"Barney's boss wants this handled calmly and quietly," Leonardo said. "I don't think he'd like you making a big stink about it. Right now, you're our only suspect."

"Then you need to get some new suspects!" Mellish retorted. "You haven't even seen the crime scene yet! If something's missing like they think, that might point to the identity of the thief!"

"Or it might be a red herring, designed to make us think it will point to the identity of the thief," Raphael replied.

"Chill out, Dude," Michelangelo said to Mellish. "It's not like we're arresting you or anything. We just wanna check for that dart gun."

"I don't even own such a horrible thing!" Mellish cried.

They entered the building and followed Donatello's directions to Mellish's classroom. A thorough search provided nothing.

"There, you see?!" Mellish snapped. "I didn't do it!"

Michelangelo, who was standing under an air vent near the desk, frowned and looked up at it. "Is this thing even open? I'm hardly getting any air out of it!" He moved the grate to look and an object fell right out on his head. "Ow!"

"Yeah, that'll clog up the airways," Raphael remarked.

Leonardo grabbed it. "What do you say now, Mellish?" He held up what was clearly a gun of some kind.

"That's a dart gun, alright," Donatello said.

Mellish backed up. "I didn't put that there!" he yelped. "Someone's framing me!"

Leonardo paused. "Is that possible?"

"Sure, it's possible," Donatello said. "Or it could have even been one of his students."

"Are you teaching a summer class, Buster?" Raphael demanded.

"Yes, but none of my students would want to hurt Dr. Stockman," Mellish insisted. "Come on, you've gotta believe me! Nobody from this building did it!"

Leonardo gave him a hard look. "We can't prove anything yet," he admitted. "This gun is only circumstantial evidence. But we're going to dust it for fingerprints."

"Only it will be just our luck if the jerk wore gloves," Raphael sighed.

"Well . . . we're going to try anyway," Leonardo shot back. "And Mr. Mellish, we advise you not to leave until we've got this sorted out."

"Oh, now you're acting like the police," Mellish fumed.

"Hey, maybe Barney will want to press charges," Raphael shrugged. "I'm sure most of his loved ones would all like to. Of course, me, I'd rather just give the creep a good pounding."

"I didn't do it!" Mellish screamed.

"I hope you didn't, Dude," Michelangelo said. "And I hope we can prove once and for all who did and why."

xxxx

Baxter was still watching over Barney while Vincent talked to the still-arriving students and oversaw them gathering their belongings. According to an email Vincent had sent several minutes ago, they still didn't know what was missing.

Baxter smiled a bit. Most of the students who had come so far had wanted to see Barney. Vincent had complied and brought them to the lounge. It was nice to see that they really did care about him. Barney had said that previous classes he had taught hadn't cared. Baxter was sure that Barney's changing attitude had made the difference now.

He stared into the distance. Only two students hadn't especially wanted to see Barney, preferring instead to go through their scattered belongings. That might or might not mean anything. But he was sure Vincent had kept track of which two they were.

He sighed and leaned back. "Even though I know you'll likely be alright, Barney, it's hard to see you like this," he said. "You're not asleep. And you were so full of life last night. You comforted me when I finally broke down." He laid a hand on Barney's shoulder. "You made me so happy."

His Turtle-Comm rang and he pulled it out. "What is it, Michelangelo?" he greeted.

"Well, I'm not sure," Michelangelo admitted. "We found the dart gun that must've been used on Barney. It was in a vent in Herman J. Mellish's classroom."

"What?!" Baxter gasped.

"When we first pulled in, he was sneaking around acting suspicious," Michelangelo explained. "He said he just wondered what happened to Barney. And he insists he didn't use the dart gun or put it in the vent. There's no fingerprints on it except ours."

Baxter sighed. "That's not a surprise."

Michelangelo shifted. "Do you think he could've done it?"

"I've actually never met the man," Baxter said.

"Well . . ." Michelangelo rubbed the back of his neck. "I kinda believe him, I think. I just don't know why he'd do something like that to poor Barney even though he's jealous of Barney's process."

"Maybe it's one of his students?" Baxter suggested.

"We're trying to round them all up now," Michelangelo said.

In the background, Donatello said, "It'll help if we can find out what's missing, if anything."

"Unless it's a red herring," Leonardo added.

"Vincent is with Barney's students now," Baxter said. "They're trying to sort through the mess and see what's missing."

"I guess Barney's not awake," Michelangelo said.

"No, but . . ." Baxter perked up as Barney stirred. "Maybe in a few minutes."

"Gnarly! We'll be over," Michelangelo promised.

Baxter quickly sent an email to Vincent after Michelangelo disconnected the call.

Vincent, I think Barney's waking up!

Baxter

After slipping his phone into his pocket, Baxter turned his full attention back to his brother. "Barney?"

Barney groaned, turning his head to the side.

Vincent appeared in the doorway. "How is he?"

"He's definitely waking up," Baxter said in relief. "Barney? How do you feel?"

"Awful," Barney said flatly. He rubbed at his chest. "How badly am I hurt?" Then he paused, surprised to feel his vest under his fingers. He opened his eyes, blinking at the scene.

"You're not in the hospital, Barney," Baxter told him. "You're in the employees' lounge."

"But how . . ." Barney pulled his vest up, staring at it.

"There's no blood, Buddy," Vincent told him. "You weren't shot with a bullet."

Baxter stiffened. He hadn't even thought about it, but if Barney had passed out as soon as the dart had hit him, it made sense that he believed it had been a bullet.

"What was it then?!" Barney said in disbelief.

"This." Vincent took the dart out of his pocket and held it up. "It's a knockout dart. You've been out for close to forty-five minutes."

Barney stared at it. "So it was some kind of a cruel joke after all?!" His eyes flashed.

"I don't think so," Vincent said. "The classroom is a disaster zone. We're trying to figure out if anything is missing now."

"Barney, did you see who shot you?" Baxter asked.

"Whoever it was, they were dressed like a ninja," Barney grunted. "I think it was a man, but I can't be sure."

"Could it have been Herman J. Mellish?" Baxter persisted.

Barney snorted. "Why would he do something so juvenile?"

"Revenge?" Baxter suggested, but it sounded silly even as he said it.

"I doubt it." Barney rolled his eyes. "Anyway, I'm pretty sure whoever it was, was in better physical condition than Mellish."

"I think soon we'll have everyone's belongings sorted out," Vincent said helpfully. "Then we should know if anything's missing."

"And the Turtles are on their way over," Baxter said. "They found the dart gun in Mellish's classroom. . . ."

"Probably planted," Barney said. "Although I guess anything's possible and he could even be guilty for some bizarre reason. Maybe he thought I'd have the plans for my solid energy generator in the classroom."

Baxter wasn't fully sure if Barney was just being sarcastic. It was understandable that Barney would be cranky after waking up from such an experience. Baxter had known last night that this part of Barney's personality wouldn't go away, even though at the time Barney had instead shown a gentle, loving side of himself.

"It seems more likely that he might try to get hold of Vincent if he wanted your solid energy generator," he said.

"Exactly," Barney said. "But it was Vincent who was called out of the room to go with Dalton's secretary. There wouldn't have been a chance to take him. Whoever it was wanted me."

"Or maybe they just knew I wouldn't be susceptible to a knockout dart," Vincent mused. "So I had to be removed from the room. Then that would leave you staying there because of the papers you were grading, but that wouldn't be a problem since you would be susceptible to a knockout dart."

"I never did finish that," Barney muttered.

"They could have just had both of you called out of the room," Baxter said angrily. "There was no need to have you shot!"

"In any case, they surely knew I wouldn't be gone more than five minutes," Vincent said.

"That does make it sound like they wanted me hurt, doesn't it," Barney frowned. "Only if they really wanted that, why didn't they use something that wouldn't wear off so relatively soon?" He started to sit up and then grimaced. "Soon" definitely was a relative term.

Baxter bit his lip. "Barney," he said at last, "I am so sorry this happened to you. If I'd arrived sooner, maybe I could have caught your ninja before he actually hurt you. . . ."

"He probably would have shot you down too," Barney answered. "Or you might have managed to drag him down by jumping on his back, but he probably would have thrown you into the wall." He looked away. "I'm not seriously hurt, but if he had been interrupted, maybe you would have been. It's better this way."

"What would have been better would have been for you not to have been hurt at all," Baxter said firmly. "For neither of us to have been hurt," he added.

"I'll grant you that," Barney said.

Vincent smiled at him. "But we're so glad that it wasn't worse," he said. "If the person had wanted to seriously hurt you, they could have brought a regular gun."

"That's true," Barney realized. "If we assume it wasn't a prank, and that maybe they thought it would be safer to knock me out than to try to call both of us out of the room, then they must have just wanted to get me out of the way long enough for them to get whatever it was they wanted."

"Everyone's been worried about you, Barney," Baxter said. "Most of your students have come in to see you."

Barney fell silent, looking touched. When he spoke again, he said, "And I suppose you've taken turns staying by my side."

"Of course," Vincent said. "I sat here until the students started coming. Then Baxter took over."

"You knew it wasn't serious," Barney said. "You could have just left me while you tried to solve the mystery."

"But we'd never do that," Baxter said.

"I wouldn't either, if the situation were reversed," Barney confessed. "Not unless there was someone else to take over for me." He gazed at the ceiling. "I guess it's still hard for me to process at times that I'm so loved."

Vincent smiled. "None of us will ever have to go back to the way things were when we were so alone," he said.

The Turtles suddenly appeared in the doorway. "Barney!" Michelangelo grinned in all sincerity. "How are you?"

"I'm alright," Barney said.

Baxter smiled. Barney's mood had eased, probably partially because of realizing he hadn't been shot and taken to the hospital, but perhaps also because of the kindness and caring he had found upon awakening.

"The professor's awake?!" came a hopeful voice from down the hall.

"He sure is," Leonardo said.

Two students appeared in the doorway-the two who hadn't come before. Vincent gave Baxter a silent look that relayed that message.

"Hey, we're glad to see you awake, Dr. Stockman," one of them said.

The second one nodded. "We didn't come when the others did. We weren't sure we could stand seeing you laying hurt."

"Thank you," Barney said in surprise. "I suppose I just looked like I was sleeping."

"Only you weren't," said the first.

"We spent time cleaning up the rest of the room after we got our stuff," the second said. "And err . . . there's kind of a problem."

"What problem?!" Barney demanded.

"All our test papers seem to be missing," the first said.

"All of them?!" Barney stared in disbelief.

"We didn't find any," the second said.

"How strange," Baxter exclaimed. "Someone really stole all the test papers?!"

"Worse-they knocked Barney out just for that?!" Raphael's eyes flashed.

"That is majorly lame-ola!" Michelangelo declared.

"No," Barney mused. "Maybe it makes sense." He pushed himself up more. "Three students were floundering, two seriously, one not as much. By stealing all the test papers, one of them may have hoped that I would announce a re-take of the test so that they would have a second chance to do it right-either by studying harder or by buying the answers and cheating their way through."

"All this for that?!" Raphael snorted. "Give me a break!"

"The two students who were doing the worst both had scholarships," Barney said. "Vincent, can you find out if either of them had limits on their scholarships?"

"I'm checking right now," Vincent said.

"Limits?" Raphael blinked. "What?"

"If they don't keep their grades to a certain standard every semester, they lose their scholarship," Donatello explained.

"Well, that's bogus," Michelangelo frowned. "What if it's a tough class?"

"They're still expected to perform to a certain level," Baxter said.

"I found it!" Vincent exclaimed. "Only one of the scholarships had a limit-Lonnie Hartman's."

"Then he's our main suspect." Barney pushed himself off the couch. "Let's go find him."

Baxter regarded him in concern. "Barney, are you sure you should be getting up right now?!"

"Yes," Barney retorted, and promptly crashed into him.

Baxter grabbed him before they could both fall back onto the couch. "You need to recover longer before trying that again," he said quietly.

Barney scowled. "I was just knocked out."

"But apparently you're still a little disoriented," Baxter said.

That brought a resigned sigh. Barney couldn't very well deny that.

"I have an idea," Vincent smirked, rubbing the bottom of the laptop like a human would their chin.

"Ooh, I like that look in your eye," Raphael said with an evil grin.

Baxter wasn't as sure he did, but he asked, "What is your idea, Vincent?"

"Well," Vincent said, "Lonnie might not confess to what he did right away. But if we tell him that Barney is hurt more seriously than we initially thought . . ."

"Vince, that is cruel," Raphael said. "I like it."

"Of course, I'm counting on him having enough of a heart that he would be bothered," Vincent said.

Michelangelo hesitated. "I don't know. . . . I still feel awful about telling Barney that Baxter was hurt bad by the crowbar because I was trying to get him to show more concern. . . ."

"The motivation here is different," Vincent said. "Although I can't deny I'd like to see how he'd react." His eyes narrowed. "I'm furious at what was done."

The two students, who were still lingering, glanced down the hallway and then back. "Well, if you want to find out if Lonnie's really the one, he's coming now," the first one reported.

Barney sighed but laid back on the couch. "Alright, Vincent. I'll try your deception, at least for a few minutes."

"I guess it won't hurt to at least see if it will make a difference," Baxter said.

"We won't blow your cover," the second student said. "We want to know if he did it too."

"Hey, guys," Lonnie called as he drew closer. "I heard the professor got hurt! It wasn't bad, was it?"

"Well . . ." The first student pretended to hesitate.

"It's worse than they thought," the second student said sadly. "I think they're calling an ambulance."

"W-What?!" Lonnie pushed past them and stared at Barney laying motionless on the couch. "No! He should be fine now. I . . . he . . ."

Baxter looked to him. "What is it you're trying to say, Lonnie?"

Lonnie blinked back tears. "It was just a knockout dart. He should have been awake by now. . . ."

"He might not wake up at all," Raphael said pointedly. "And if he dies, hoo boy, someone's going up for murder."

Leonardo shot him a warning glare.

"No!" Lonnie cried. "No, I never meant . . ." He fell to his knees. "I just didn't want to lose my scholarship. . . . I never thought he wouldn't wake up. . . ." He started to sob.

Baxter cringed. He was about to speak when Barney opened his eyes and sat up. "I'm alright, Lonnie," he said. "The deception was Vincent's idea. He thought you'd be more likely to confess that way."

Lonnie stared up at him. "You're okay, Professor?!" The relief and joy in his eyes was clearly genuine, and not just because he wouldn't get charged with murder.

"Yes," Barney assured him.

Vincent folded his arms. "I'll admit I had another reason for the deception. I wanted you to realize that this could have happened. What if he hadn't been alright, Lonnie? What if you'd put too much of the drug in the dart? You really could have killed him if you didn't know what you were doing."

"I knew the right amount," Lonnie stammered. "At least, I was sure of it. I got several people to tell me it was a safe dose. Of course I didn't say the real reason I was asking. . . ."

"And I'd like to know why you didn't just call both of us out of the room," Vincent spoke up. "Why just me?"

"I wish I had," Lonnie said softly. "I knew Dr. Stockman would want to grade those papers. I thought he'd tell you to just go ahead and find out what was wanted so that he could finish. I heard him do that before, so I figured it would happen again and it would be better to plan on that and knock him out." He paused. "Wait a minute. You guys set up this deception for me alone? You knew?"

"We figured out you were the most likely suspect," Barney said. "What did you do with the test papers?"

"I still have them." Lonnie slid his backpack off his shoulders and unzipped it. "Here, Professor. . . ." He held out a stack of pages, which Barney accepted. "I guess there's no way I'll keep my scholarship now. . . ."

Barney looked through the papers to make certain they were all there. "Nothing will change that you failed this test," he said. "And nothing will change that you shot me with a dart gun to get it back. The university knows what happened to me. Naturally I'll have to report you."

Lonnie nodded. "I know."

"And you owe an apology to Herman J. Mellish," Barney continued.

"Were you deliberately trying to implicate him?" Leonardo frowned.

"Well . . . I know he doesn't like Dr. Stockman," Lonnie said slowly. "I guess I thought it wouldn't be traced back to me, but I also didn't think Professor Mellish would actually get arrested or anything. . . . I just wanted to cause a lot of confusion."

"You didn't think that once the test papers were discovered missing, it would eventually be traced back to you?" Donatello said in displeasure.

"I didn't think that far ahead," Lonnie admitted.

"I guess we'll all need to apologize to Mellish," Michelangelo said.

"We should," Leonardo agreed. "But it was logical to think that he might have done it after we found the gun in his vent."

"What if he had been arrested?" Baxter frowned. That seriously bothered him, especially after his own experiences. No one deserved to be framed. "Would you have come forward and admitted what you did?"

"I . . . I want to believe I would have," Lonnie said. He stood. "I really am sorry. But I know that doesn't fix anything."

"No," Barney agreed. "But it's a start." He paused. "However, had you waited before doing something so drastic, I would have approached you about what could be done to take your grade up. No, it wouldn't have given you a better grade on this test, but it might have kept you from failing my class."

"I really fouled up," Lonnie said in dismay.

"And you didn't have much faith in me as your teacher," Barney said. "I'm not here just to pass or fail students. I genuinely want my pupils to take something worthwhile from the class."

"I wish I had kept the faith in you," Lonnie said. "Hurting you and taking the test papers . . . didn't make me feel good."

"Just as it shouldn't," Baxter sniffed.

"Maybe I was kind of intimidated by you," Lonnie said. "Maybe I thought you wouldn't really help me. You are a strict teacher."

"Just be glad you didn't have me as your teacher several years ago," Barney retorted. "If you think I'm harsh now, you should have seen me then."

Lonnie's shoulders slumped. "I'm sorry, Professor. Will you ever forgive me?"

Barney quirked an eyebrow. "I think I can forgive you, yes. But as to whether I'll trust you as a student in my class any time soon, assuming you aren't thrown out of the university, that's another matter entirely."

Lonnie gave a forlorn nod. "Of course, Sir."

Barney turned, handing the test papers to Vincent. "How about you start handing these back to the students? I'll sit here and grade the ones I didn't get to."

"Right." Vincent thrust Lonnie's in his face before moving on to the two students in the doorway. After handing those out as well and waiting for them to leave, he said, "And I'll take Lonnie to Dalton's office."

Lonnie cringed but didn't protest.

"You do that," Barney said.

Michelangelo relaxed. "Well, at least now we know the whole story," he declared. "And best of all, Barney really is okay!"

Baxter smiled. "Yes," he said fervently. "That truly is the best part."

xxxx

Several moments later, Barney sank back into the couch after grading the last paper. "I hope I never have a test like that again," he muttered.

"I'm sure we all do," Baxter said.

Barney looked to him. "Baxter . . . I'm sorry if I was gruff with you earlier."

Baxter blinked in surprise. "No one would be at their best after being shot like you were, Barney," he said.

"Yes, but right after last night . . ." Barney shook his head. "I'm such a hypocrite."

"You're not," Baxter insisted. "I never expected you to stop being gruff. That's part of who you are." He smiled. "But it means a lot that you're worried about not hurting me again."

"But can I succeed?" Barney wondered.

"I doubt anyone on Earth could succeed in that all the time," Baxter said. "But now that we understand each other so much better, there shouldn't be as many problems."

Barney slowly nodded. "That makes sense, I suppose."

"What do you think will happen to Lonnie?" Baxter wondered.

"I really couldn't say," Barney grunted. "Part of me thinks a little leniency would be appropriate when he does regret what he did. I know how desperate these students get to keep their scholarships. The other part says that his actions were still outrageous, no matter his reasons. I don't excuse myself for what I did; I certainly don't excuse Lonnie. Now he has to prove himself and he shouldn't be let completely off the hook. And I don't know that I can say his scholarship should be renewed, especially since he's flunking my class." He paused. "But I don't think I'll be pressing charges. He'll have enough headaches to deal with now without that."

Baxter smiled a bit. "I probably wouldn't press charges either, if it were me," he said. "I suppose it can't really be compared with someone who actually is out to kill."

"Certainly not."

"But would you have pressed charges before, Barney?" Baxter wondered.

"If it had happened years ago, yes, without a doubt," Barney said. "Maybe you're rubbing off on me, but after everything I've done, I think I can afford to be a little compassionate in this specific situation." He paused. "But note that I said 'a little.' I won't bend over backwards to be nice, either."

"I can't blame Vincent for the plan he came up with," Baxter said. "It's reason to be angry. You could have been seriously hurt or worse if Lonnie hadn't had the correct dosage."

"I know." Barney's eyes darkened.

"You must have been afraid," Baxter said softly. "Especially thinking you were being shot with a bullet."

Barney looked away. He didn't want to admit to it, but yes, he had been.

Baxter let the subject drop. It was alright if Barney didn't want to talk about it.

The Turtles and Vincent entered then.

"Well, we delivered our apologies to Herman J. Mellish," Leonardo said.

"And I must say, he was very arrogant about accepting them," Raphael said.

"But the dude did say he was glad you were okay, Barney," Michelangelo said. "I think he really meant it."

Barney slowly nodded. "I'm surprised he'd say anything positive about me at all."

"I finished delivering the test papers," Vincent said. "Everyone is so happy to hear you're okay, Buddy."

"That's still amazing to realize," Barney mused. "I actually have a class that cares about me."

"And the students we originally thought might be suspect actually just couldn't bear to see you laying hurt," Baxter said with a bit of a smile. "You have special students, Barney."

"I certainly have different ones than before," Barney said.

"We could have a pizza party to celebrate you being okay," Michelangelo chirped.

"I think tonight I just want peace and quiet," Barney said. "Maybe tomorrow."

"Okay, Bud!" Michelangelo nodded. "You've got it!"

Baxter watched his brother with fondness. It had been horrifying to find him slumped in his chair. But thank goodness it hadn't been serious. Baxter would rather have him be gruff than to be laying so still. And his softer side was definitely still shining through.

"I wonder what Dalton is going to say about another missed class," Barney muttered.

"You couldn't help this one, Buddy," Vincent said. "We were all tricked and manipulated by Lonnie, including Dalton. He hit the ceiling when I took Lonnie to his office and told him what happened. He's definitely mad at Lonnie, but not at you."

"Well, that's something, I suppose," Barney said.

"He did say 'Why did it have to happen in our class,'" Vincent continued, "since ours has plenty of weird cancellations as it is."

Barney rolled his eyes. "Typical." He gave Vincent a weary look. "I suppose I'm needed in Mr. Dalton's office?"

"He said you didn't have to come now," Vincent said. "He's mainly just calling Lonnie's parents and suspending him from classes. Of course, you'll need to give your side of the story later, before it's decided what to do with him."

"I'm completely looking forward to it," Barney grunted.

"What's it like going to class here?" Michelangelo suddenly spoke up. "Is it always as bizarro as this?"

Baxter chuckled. "No, usually not."

"But they always talk about the wild college life," Raphael said. "Kids just out on their own, wanting to experiment with everything . . ."

"Including things they shouldn't," Donatello added.

"Like some of those weird fraternity initiations and that kind of thing?" Michelangelo said.

A cloud passed through Baxter's eyes. "Yes."

"I never went in for that," Barney grunted. "It's a foolish waste of time. I had more important things to think about."

Vincent caught Baxter's expression. "But you tried to get in a fraternity, didn't you, Pal?"

". . . I wanted friends," Baxter said softly. "I thought then I'd have them."

Michelangelo looked to Baxter in sad surprise. "What happened, Bud?"

"Barney was right," Baxter said. "It was a foolish waste of time. I didn't do well on some of the initiation tests. Then the last one seemed to be set up specifically to torture me. The members knew I didn't drink or . . . ahem, play around with women, so they told me that to get into the fraternity I had to get drunk with a sorority girl and see what would happen. I finally realized they weren't the kind of friends I wanted and I refused. Later on I learned that wasn't even the real final initiation test. They only gave it to me to mock me." His eyes darkened.

Vincent sat down next to him. "I'm so sorry, Baxter."

"That is totally bogus," Michelangelo said in disgust. "And they're all like that?!"

"No," Barney said. "Actually, there are quite a few fraternities and sororities that try to do good and are upset by the negative images the bad ones cast. But I didn't have an interest in any of them. I was at college to learn and study. And to be on my own," he added, barely above a whisper.

"So what did you do after you said No way?" Michelangelo asked Baxter.

"I left," Baxter said. "They mocked me whenever I was in earshot after that."

Raphael looked to Barney. "You don't seem surprised. Did you know about what happened?"

"Baxter never told me, but of course I knew," Barney grunted. "Those idiots strung it all over the campus."

"Man, that is mondo rude," Michelangelo cried.

"I told Baxter he was a fool as soon as I learned he was trying to get into that fraternity," Barney said. "I knew it wasn't one of the good ones."

"Of course, that only made me even more determined to get in," Baxter said. "Then when I saw Barney was right, I was too ashamed to go to him and admit it. I . . . didn't want him to mock me too."

Barney looked away.

Vincent hugged Baxter close. "Did you try any other fraternities or clubs?"

"I was completely soured on the whole idea," Baxter said. "I certainly didn't want to take time to figure out which ones actually were the good ones. And I was so humiliated by the story getting strung everywhere. I became almost entirely reclusive, just focusing on my studies and trying to avoid people as much as possible."

"How did you ever have the strength to try teaching?" Donatello asked sympathetically.

"Only by teaching at a completely different college," Baxter replied. "As soon as I could graduate from mine, I fled and never looked back."

"But this is the university we attended," Barney said. "Oddly enough."

Michelangelo cringed. "Oh wow. So have you run into anybody you knew back in the day?"

"One of my students is the daughter of my favorite professor," Barney said.

"And I ran into a mutual acquaintance of ours," Baxter said. "But that wasn't on campus."

"Aside from that, no, we haven't run into anyone connected with our college days," Barney said. "I'm sure that suits Baxter fine."

Baxter nodded. "It does."

"So all the professors you had are gone?" Donatello blinked.

"Oh, they're not dead," Baxter said. "But they've gone on to other universities or retired. I think a couple may have gone into other lines of work. Actually, I wouldn't mind seeing some of them. They were mostly nice to me, aside from Professor Willardson."

"It must be strange, coming back to your old alma mater," Vincent said.

"It would be impossible for it not to be strange," Barney said. "Many things have changed now, but other things are still the same."

"I'm grateful for what I was able to do to further my education here, but aside from that, there's no love lost between this campus and me," Baxter said. "However, now that Barney works here, I hope to make some new, happy memories."

"Well, today didn't help much with that, I'm guessing," Raphael said.

Baxter sighed. "No. Except I'm happy that Barney's students are mostly very nice." He smiled. "And of course I'm overjoyed that Barney was not badly hurt."

"I'm happy about that myself," Barney remarked. He started to get up. "And I am more than ready to go home."

"I'll drive," Vincent said helpfully.

"Thank you," Barney replied.

Baxter was slightly concerned that Barney hadn't even protested. "You're sure you're alright?" he exclaimed.

"Yes," Barney said. "I just don't feel like driving right now."

"Well, we'll walk you to your cars and then I guess we'll see you later," Michelangelo said.

Baxter smiled at him. "I'll call you later today, Michelangelo." Barney probably wouldn't feel terribly social for the rest of the day, Baxter imagined, and he did need to go back to work once he was sure Barney was settled in at home with Vincent. He often welcomed his friend's company during long hours at Channel 6.

"Okay!" Michelangelo grinned.

xxxx

Vincent waited until he and Barney were alone in the Cadillac before striking up a conversation. "Usually you insist you're alright no matter what happened," he said.

Barney slumped against the inside of the car door, weary and resigned. "I'm just wondering, Vincent . . . was I partially to blame for what Lonnie did?"

Vincent was stunned. "Of course not!" he said in disbelief.

"But he didn't feel he could approach me for help," Barney said. "He felt he had to do something drastic to get his test paper back."

"Most of the students are just fine with approaching you," Vincent said.

"But if I've failed to reach even just one, isn't something wrong with me?" Barney dug his hand into his hair.

"No one will get along with every personality type in a large group such as a college class," Vincent said. "Obviously your and Lonnie's personalities just don't mesh."

"I didn't even notice that was a problem," Barney said.

"But you definitely noticed Lonnie was having trouble with our class," Vincent said. "And you were going to go out of your way to try to help him about it."

"I just didn't act fast enough." Barney leaned back in the seat and stared out the windshield.

Vincent smiled in a bittersweet manner. "Barney, you sound like parents and teachers everywhere who have discovered a wayward child and feel like they must have done something wrong for it to have happened. But sometimes, probably most of the time, they've done everything right and the child just goes down a wrong path anyway. In this case, Lonnie's desire and panic to keep his scholarship overrode his conscience."

"So where does that leave me?" Barney wondered.

"With a heart, Barney," Vincent said softly. "You still care so much you don't know how to handle it." He smiled more. "And that's why your students love you. It's part of what makes you an outstanding teacher."

"I failed before," Barney said.

"You didn't fail to teach, but you failed to connect with your students. You were angry and hurting and that eclipsed everything else. Now you have a new lease on life."

"I used to think I was lower than dirt," Barney said. "That was how my parents made me feel in my childhood. Then I took up making myself feel like that because of my anger and because of my increasingly shady and underhanded and criminal acts. Now I know I have value and worth. I'm a good person. And I'm actually loved." He shook his head. "That will never not be amazing to me."

"I've seen how you've changed, Barney, and it makes me so happy. You found the worth that Baxter and later I saw in you." Vincent reached the mansion and remotely connected with the gate. It opened and he drove through and up the winding driveway.

"I've never had a situation like this with a student before," Barney said. "I hope I'll make the right decision."

"It's not really up to you what happens to Lonnie," Vincent said.

"What if it is?" Barney countered. "I know how things go when students get into trouble. Unless someone speaks up in their behalf who actually does have some weight in the matter, they're expelled. And who better to have some weight than his teacher?"

"And victim," Vincent added.

"I choose how to handle my statement when I'm called in," Barney continued. "And I choose how I want to make him feel."

"How do you want to make him feel?" Vincent asked.

"That he made a stupid and unacceptable mistake. But that it isn't the end of the world and he can bounce back from it. I definitely don't want to make him feel lower than dirt." As Vincent parked, Barney undid his seatbelt and started to open the door.

"You're more compassionate than I feel like being right now," Vincent said. "He shot my brother. I'd be happy to see him go."

"The logical part of my mind says I should feel the same way," Barney growled in frustration. "I can't fully understand why I don't."

"I think because you're more grown-up than I am at the moment," Vincent said. "I'm sure you'll figure out exactly the right thing to say. Because you see, Barney, you already know what you feel the right thing is. You're just struggling with whether you're right."

Barney pondered on that. "I think you're right," he mused. "Maybe I'll get Baxter's perspective as well."

Vincent beamed, thrilled. "Yes! You should."

They both got out just as Baxter was pulling in behind them. "Is everything alright?" he asked in concern.

"Yes," Barney told him.

Vincent smiled at Baxter. "Everything is just fine," he agreed.

"I'm just trying to decide what I'll say when I'm called in to talk about Lonnie," Barney said. "I of course don't want to make it look like I feel his behavior was acceptable, because it wasn't at all. But I don't know if I feel the book should be thrown at him." He sighed and shook his head. "I've never had a situation like this, Baxter. My students never gave me such trouble. If they had in the past, I would have come down on them relentlessly and insisted they be kicked out of college. And maybe that is what Lonnie deserves. Maybe he won't really learn his lesson if he's allowed to stay." He leaned against the roof of the Cadillac in dismay. "But because leniency was granted to me on more serious matters, I'm torn on what the right course of action is for this."

Baxter came closer, surprised and moved that Barney had opened up to him like this. He had to wonder if Vincent had suggested it. "The reason leniency was granted to you was because you had already proved that you deserved it," he said gently. "You were a special case. After you repeatedly helped us at the risk of your own life, and then protected the entire city while believing you were sacrificing yourself for it, you more than showed that you had learned your lesson and that you wouldn't be dangerous to have in society.

"Lonnie is sorry, which is a start as you said. But he hasn't proved he won't do the exact same thing again if the same situation arises. And that is most certainly not acceptable."

"You're right," Barney mused. He looked surprised as well, but whether that was because the advice was sound or because Baxter hadn't flat-out encouraged leniency wasn't clear.

"You can't risk your or another professor's safety," Baxter said. "Personally, I don't think Lonnie will try something like this again. But I'm not sure. I believe whatever is done with him, it must be strong enough that the lesson will fully sink in." He sighed. "Yet I also worry to suggest that, because instead of punishing me after my return to human form, the Turtles dared to extend trust to me when they didn't know if I would be worthy of it. Still, I'm a middle-aged adult and not a young college student. . . ."

"A middle-aged adult who had already been punished enough by everything that went wrong," Barney said. "When you were back in your right mind, you were horrified by everything you'd done. You needed for something to go right, not for more sorrow to be heaped upon you." He sighed too. "As far as Lonnie goes, I also believe that the punishment should fit the crime. I'm still strict, but I'm not malicious or bitter. I want Lonnie to properly learn his lesson and improve himself."

"Which was part of what I hoped to gain by our little deception," Vincent inserted.

Barney slowly nodded. "I think I'm getting an idea of what to say. Thank you . . . both of you."

Baxter smiled. "I'm glad we can help."

Vincent certainly was as well, and especially glad that Barney found Baxter's advice worthwhile. He smiled and walked on ahead to unlock the front door.

"I'll admit, I'm surprised, Baxter," Barney said as they followed. "I thought you'd push for leniency. Especially when you didn't press charges against the wretch who stalked you."

"That was partially for your sake," Baxter said. "I didn't want his lawyer to cross-examine you into a corner. But it was also because I couldn't blame him for being furious with me.

"I do have some sympathy for Lonnie, given that you and I both walked dark paths. And I'm grateful that he tried to make sure he wouldn't do anything that would seriously hurt you. But that doesn't mean I think he should get away with it either, if there's any chance he might do something desperate again." He sighed. "Still, our pasts do make it sticky to know the correct form of retribution. You don't want to be a hypocrite and I certainly don't either. If I'm to be honest, I don't know if he should be outright kicked out of college or just severely penalized while being allowed to stay. But that isn't our decision. I'm sure you'll decide what you should say, Barney. And if you want, you're welcome to practice it on Vincent and I."

Barney thoughtfully nodded. "I'd like that."

"So would we," Vincent said. He unlocked the door and remotely switched on the air conditioning. "Family loves to help each other make decisions. When their help is wanted, of course."

Barney smiled a bit, gruff but sincere. "It's wanted. And appreciated."

"By the way," Vincent interjected, since he was sure Barney wouldn't say it and he wanted Baxter to know, "talking to you was Barney's idea."

Baxter stared at him. "You didn't suggest it?"

"For once, no," Vincent said.

Baxter was happy. Barney definitely seemed to be feeling better. And the fact that he had opened up to Baxter as well as Vincent and wanted both their advice was thrilling to Baxter. He imagined that Barney had told some things to Vincent that he hadn't mentioned to Baxter, but that was alright. Baxter was honored that his opinion was wanted too. In the past, it wouldn't have been. With every day that passed, they became closer as a family.

Vincent reached and shut the door once his brothers were inside the entryway. "What do you want to do now, Barney?" he asked.

"Just relax," Barney said flatly. ". . . Maybe watch Knight Rider, if you know of any other episodes that really focus on their friendship."

"Of course!" Vincent happily exclaimed.

Baxter beamed. "I have to get back to work, but I'm sure you'll have fun."

"I'm happy to watch them again later with you, Pal, if you want to see too," Vincent said.

"I'd love to," Baxter said.

"Coming to think about it," Barney remarked, "you have total recall. Why do you like watching things over again?"

"It's a new experience every time due to the environment and my state of emotional well-being," Vincent replied. "Especially if I'm sharing it with someone I love."

"Well," Barney mused, "I suppose that makes sense."

"Of course it does," Baxter said.

"Anyway," Vincent added, "watching it in my memory banks isn't the same thing as watching it on television. The television has a bigger screen."

Baxter paused. "You operated from a lot of big screens on the ship," he remembered.

"And I'd rather have this laptop screen by far," Vincent insisted. "On the ship I was never truly happy. Now I am."

That brought a smile. These days, they were all truly happy.

xxxx

The remainder of the day passed in peace. Baxter did call Michelangelo at Channel 6 after working for a while and the Turtle was happy to go over and be with his friend for the rest of the shift.

"How's Barney doing?" Michelangelo asked.

"Weary but well," Baxter smiled. "He and Vincent are spending some time together watching Knight Rider."

"Oh, that's cool." Michelangelo flopped on the couch.

Baxter glanced at him over the top of the computer screen. "Is something on your mind, Michelangelo?"

"Well . . ." Michelangelo hesitated. "I don't know. I guess I always thought college sounded like a mondo amazing experience-taking classes on stuff you like, going to parties and scarfing pizza, joining clubs and stuff to make new friends. . . . Now it sounds like it can be a major bummer too-students under so much pressure that they're willing to knock out their professors to keep their grades up . . . fraternities that just wanna do uncool stuff . . . people that don't like you and will do anything they can to ruin your life. . . ." He looked sadly at Baxter.

Baxter paused and gave him a sad smile. "It's no different than anything else in life, really," he said. "Nothing is ever all good or all bad. It's always a mixture of both. When Barney and I went to college, we saw it as a way to escape our unhappy home life. In some ways we did. But in other ways, especially for me, the unhappiness followed me." He looked down at the keyboard and slowly started to type again.

"That is mondo uncool, Dude," Michelangelo said. "Just . . . why would anybody want to be so mean to you just because you were smart and didn't do wild stuff?"

"Why does anyone want to be mean to mutants when they're actually helping and not harming?" Baxter softly returned. "People hate what's different from them, Michelangelo. A lot of people see college as a free ticket to drinking parties and other rambunctious behavior. I was instead interested in college for the more logical reason of studying and furthering my education. And I was simply not interested in wild behavior no matter where I was. I was called a prude or even . . ." He flushed a deep crimson. "Saint Baxter. And the odd thing about it was that my reasons weren't even religious in nature. I didn't want alcohol dulling my mind or hurting my body. And where it came to lustful adventures . . . I just wasn't attracted and didn't see the appeal. I also didn't want it interfering with my work, although that was more Barney's reason than mine."

"How long did you have to go along with everybody laughing at you like that?" Michelangelo asked.

"A long time," Baxter said. "The first year was the worst, though. After a while it died down and most people found someone else to laugh at. But every now and then someone still made a crack about me. Naturally when I became more reclusive the most unkind members of that fraternity called me a hermit or a monk. I'm sure they haven't forgotten my rejection of that mock initiation ritual even now."

"I just don't get it," Michelangelo said. "Isn't there like, some big cheese over the fraternities to make sure everything's done a certain way?"

"Sometimes the boys do things on their own," Baxter said. "Sometimes the head of the fraternity honestly doesn't know. Sometimes they look the other way. Sometimes . . . they honestly don't care. There are those who think even the most cruel and even dangerous hazing rituals are perfectly harmless." He gave a weak smile. "But there's no need to be soured by my experiences or by what happened today to Barney. There are a lot of good people at college and decent fraternities and clubs to join. It was just my bad luck to stumble in with the worst of the lot and Barney's bad luck that one of his students was pressured to extreme measures to keep his grades."

"Well, it's not like it really matters for a mutant anyway," Michelangelo said. "We'd never be allowed to go to college. Donatello could only get his degree by taking correspondence classes through the mail. And I don't even know if it's legit when Professor Sopho's the guy who gave it to him."

"The opinion on mutants is definitely changing," Baxter said. "You or Donatello could try applying for classes now, really. It couldn't hurt. After all, this university allows a living computer on the payroll!"

"That's a good point," Michelangelo realized. "I should point that out to Donatello. He could sure apply now. He's smart enough and all."

"You are very smart, Michelangelo," Baxter told him. "Maybe not in the same way as Donatello or even me or Barney, but in a way that's every bit as important."

Michelangelo looked at Baxter in awe. "You really mean that?"

"Of course." Baxter smiled. "And actually, you have more scientific knowledge than you may even realize. I've seen how you seem to understand certain scientific principles on your own, even without someone explaining them to you."

Michelangelo blinked. "Maybe that's true," he mused. "Some things just seem to make sense to me."

"Science is about making sense of everything," Baxter said. "And I'll bet some of those comic books you read have some true principles even if a lot of the content is science-fiction."

"Yeah!" Michelangelo's eyes gleamed now. "Like Bugman!"

Baxter winced a bit at the reminder but nodded in agreement. "Yes, like Bugman."

Michelangelo got up and came over to the desk, sitting next to it with folded arms. "So you really think I could get into college," he said dreamily. "Maybe even do some scientific stuff."

"I really do," Baxter said. "It's all up to what you'd like to try."

"I'm definitely going to think about it!" Michelangelo declared.

Baxter smiled as he resumed typing. "I'm glad."

xxxx

Baxter dropped Michelangelo off at the Lair on his way to the mansion for the night. The Turtle was in a good mood as he prepared dinner for himself and his family and he sang several more choruses of Pizza Power for good measure.

"All's well that ends well, right, Dudes?" he said to the others gathered around the table.

"I guess," Raphael said. "As long as they don't let that nutcase anywhere near a university again. Can you believe it?! Knocking out his teacher and wrecking the room, all to get one sheet of paper back?! Huh! It's unreal!"

"His actions were most certainly wrong," Splinter said, "but be careful of being too quick to judge, my student. I seem to recall a very impetuous pupil who tried all manner of methods to convince his sensei that the bad mark he received on a certain test was a mistake."

Raphael shifted in discomfort. "But that impetuous pupil never would have dreamed of knocking his sensei out to take back his test. If it had been a written test at all, that is. . . ."

"No, but I also recall how he tried to make his fellow students look bad in order to make himself look better," Splinter said. "Once he even tripped another in order to make him foul up the ninja move. It was most dishonorable."

Raphael scowled at the tablecloth.

"What do you think then, Master Splinter?" Leonardo asked. "Do you believe Lonnie Hartman shouldn't be let go from the university for what he did?"

"I believe that attitude is a large part of the issue, Leonardo," Splinter said. "If he were like Oroku Saki, who not only tried to seriously injure other students but had no remorse for doing so, then he most certainly should be let go. But if instead he is like a certain impetuous pupil, he is good at heart despite making a very foolish decision. He honestly didn't intend for Barney to be badly hurt, if I understand the situation correctly. And he tried to make certain that would not happen. Therefore, perhaps he should be allowed a second chance . . . although I don't know that he should continue with his scholarship."

"I don't know, Master Splinter," Donatello said. "I get what you're saying, but I'm not sure I'd want someone like Lonnie at the university if I were taking classes there."

"It is a risk, perhaps, but perhaps not," Splinter said. "And I believe the one who best knows what should be done is Barney himself. A teacher understands his students as no one else can."

"Well, I still think he should give the guy the boot," Raphael said.

"Interesting how that was your attitude about Barney in the past, Amigo, and now you're like, totally mad at this Lonnie guy for knocking him out!" Michelangelo grinned. "But it's kind of gnarly. That you're all protective of Barney now, I mean."

"I guess it is kind of weird, all things considered," Raphael remarked. "But it also shows that I pretty much feel the same kind of way about anybody who hurts someone in our family. It's just that now Barney's become a part of our family too."

"I'll be interested to know what Barney decides," Donatello said. "He really could have a critical say in Lonnie's future at the university."

Michelangelo brought the finished dinner to the table. "I'm sure whatever he decides, it'll be a totally radical choice."

"And it will also be Barney's 'totally radical' choice," Splinter said. "Whatever he decides, we must respect it."

"That's fine with me, Sensei," Raphael shrugged.

"Hmm. I wonder if you will feel the same if Barney makes a choice you do not like," Splinter mused.

"Like you said, he's the teacher," Raphael said. "He knows that nutcase better than we do. And definitely more than I'd ever want to." He chomped into a piece of pizza.

xxxx

The Stockman brothers were all home together that evening when the buzzer sounded at the gate. Vincent brought up the feed from the security camera affixed at the top of said gate. "It's Lonnie," he said in some surprise.

Baxter and Barney exchanged a look. "Let him in," Barney said at last.

Vincent did so, and Barney went into the living room and opened the front door as the boy made his way up the winding driveway. When he reached the porch, his submissive and sorrowful countenance was obvious.

"Hi, Professor," he said softly.

"To what do I owe this visit?" Barney asked.

Lonnie looked him in the eyes. "I wanted to tell you, I've decided to give up my scholarship," he said. "There's no way I could keep hold of it anyway now, and the limits have just been driving me nuts. The pressure to keep my grades up has been unreal. I didn't even realize how seriously it was affecting me until today. I can't believe I really thought knocking you out and stealing my test paper back was a logical solution, but it actually seemed to make perfect sense this morning."

Barney nodded. "Panic and stress can cause people to only see things through tunnel-vision, where there seems to be only one solution left, usually a stupid one. I know I've taught that while you've been in the class."

"I should have paid more attention," Lonnie berated. "I'm a living example of that lesson."

Vincent and Baxter came up on either side of Barney. "I'm just curious, but did your parents suggest giving up the scholarship?" Vincent asked.

"No, actually," Lonnie said. "They wanted me to fight to keep it, even after all this! But I knew I couldn't."

Barney folded his arms. "Are you just resigned to being expelled?"

"Yeah," Lonnie said quietly. "There's no way that won't happen either. But I won't give up on college. I'll try another one. And I'll pay my own way, somehow. . . . Maybe take out a loan. . . ."

"Those are stressful too," Baxter said. "Maybe not today, but if you don't have the funds to pay them off later . . ."

"I know," Lonnie said. "But one way or another, I'll be okay. I just wanted to let you know what I'd decided, Professor." He started to turn away. "I'll go now. . . ."

"Lonnie." Barney stepped forward. "There is one way you might not be expelled."

Lonnie paused and looked back at him in disbelief. "But . . ."

"I can't promise the decision will go in your favor, but I will speak in your behalf," Barney said. "You made an idiotic choice and there should be some retribution for it. But it wouldn't necessarily have to entail being kicked out of college."

Lonnie just kept staring. "But I . . . I shot you!" he exclaimed. "You should want me gone!"

"I can't say I don't," Vincent remarked.

"And you said you didn't know if you'd trust me in your class anymore," Lonnie stammered.

"I don't," Barney admitted. "But I was very shaken up at the time I said that. My brothers can attest that I can say all kinds of things when I'm upset."

Baxter gave a weak smile. "That's very true."

Lonnie trembled. "You . . . you're the best professor I've ever had," he choked out. "Even though I don't really get neuropsychology. That's my own fault, not yours." He stared at Barney. "If you'd really speak up for me after what I did . . ."

"There's no if about it," Barney said. "I said it and I meant it. They may still decide against you regardless, but I will try to convince them you're worth a second chance. Although unless you really want to learn neuropsychology, I would recommend taking something else in its place. If you're allowed to stay on, of course."

"I did want to learn it, actually," Lonnie said. "But oh wow. . . . This is just . . . I'm so overwhelmed, I don't know what to say."

"Say that you're worth my efforts," Barney said. "Say you won't do anything so idiotic again and that if you have a problem in the future, you'll at least try to talk to the teacher before knocking him out."

Lonnie grinned. "I promise!"

"Alright. Tomorrow I'll speak with Mr. Dalton and see what can be done," Barney told him.

"Thank you!" Lonnie exclaimed. "Thank you, Professor!" He ran down the steps, looking back and waving at Barney and calling to the group as he went to his car. "Goodbye, all of you!"

Barney sighed as he watched the boy drive away. "Part of me can hardly believe I did that," he said. "But it felt like the right thing to do under the circumstances. Naturally if he wasn't remorseful I wouldn't feel a need to try to help him."

Baxter smiled. "I'm proud of you, Barney."

"As am I," Vincent said. "I may not expressly agree with your decision, Buddy, but I am so happy that you've grown so much that you'd make it! I believe in you and I know you don't make decisions like this lightly. Because of that, I'm going to give Lonnie the benefit of a doubt."

Barney nodded, pleased. "We'll see if he deserves it." He turned and walked inside, the others following him. "But somehow, I think he does."

"Then somehow, I'm sure you're right," Baxter said.