Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 1987

Shredder Takes a Protege

By Lucky_Ladybug

Notes: The characters are not mine and the story is! ThickerThanLove helped a great deal with developing the plot and various elements. Harry2 came up with the idea of solar panels. This is part of my Exit the Fly verse. Baxter is human again and an ally of the Turtles. His brother Barney no longer works for Shredder.

Barney came downstairs one morning and found Vincent on the couch, in the process of writing out and sending an email. When he finished, he switched the screen back to his face and smiled up at Barney. "Good morning."

"Good morning," Barney echoed with a nod. "More communication with the boy Zach?"

"That's right," Vincent said. "The Turtles are taking him to lunch today. He's hoping to introduce me to his friend Caitlyn afterwards."

"I see." Barney sat down on the other side of the couch. "Has he told her about you?"

"Yes," Vincent confirmed. "She's absolutely fascinated by the idea of a living computer, but she's kind of skeptical that I'm really everything Zach says I am." He leaned back, staring thoughtfully into the distance. "Zach told me about her too. He said she was the only human he knew who really understood him."

"It's good that someone does," Barney grunted. "Everyone should have someone."

"That's what I told him," Vincent said. "I don't know, though. . . . Is it really usual for children to be so alone?"

"No, it isn't," Barney said. "Not if they conform to the rules and standards adults or other children set up. Anyone different often finds themselves alone."

"That's not fair," Vincent frowned.

"Children can be just as cruel or moreso than adults," Barney said. "And you're right, it isn't fair. But there isn't a lot that can be done about it."

"I know you and Baxter were often alone and sad," Vincent said. "I hoped maybe attitudes had changed since you were kids."

Barney gave a dark laugh. "Some things have been the same since the dawn of time."

"But there's all this talk about STEM now," Vincent said. "I thought science was now seen as something cool."

"Science, yes," Barney said. "Although it will likely take some children longer to see it that way. Those that have accepted it just find something new to use to ostracize the children they don't like."

"I guess it isn't usual to idolize the Turtles so much that you want to be part of the team," Vincent mused.

"I'm sure it doesn't help," Barney said. "But Zach must have been alone before the Turtles ever came along. He struck me as someone who has almost always been a loner."

"It takes one to know one," Vincent said softly. "I feel the same."

Baxter came downstairs then. "Good morning," he greeted. "Why do you both look so serious? Something hasn't gone wrong already, I hope."

"We're just thinking about the cruelty of children," Barney said. "Vincent has been talking with Zach again."

"Oh." Baxter came over. "Are things going badly for him?"

"I'm not sure he'd admit it if it was," Vincent said, "although I hope he would. No, he's fairly happy today. He wants his friend Caitlyn to meet me."

"His only close human friend," Barney interjected.

Now Baxter understood. "It's good that he has even one person," he said softly. "It's so hard to be alone."

"It is," Barney agreed. "I'll take Vincent over when it's time."

"I think his friend is actually touring Channel 6 today," Baxter remembered.

"Yes, that's where we're meeting after the tour is over," Vincent said.

Baxter smiled. "Then I'll see you both there."

xxxx

The Turtles were also making plans for the day as they chomped on a breakfast pizza.

"It's gonna be mondo awesome to see our little amigo Zach at lunch!" Michelangelo chirped.

"It's been nice doing things with him," Leonardo smiled.

"Yeah, it is," Raphael said slowly.

"What's the matter, Raphael?" Donatello blinked.

"Well, I'm just wondering. Is it really a good thing for us to be as important to him as it seems like we are?" Raphael said. "He doesn't get along with his family. He hasn't really brought any friends around except Caitlyn. . . ."

"I kind of think Caitlyn is it, Dude," Michelangelo said soberly. "He's never mentioned anyone else."

"Except for those 'lots of kids' he thought would join a Turtles fan club," Raphael said.

"Apparently they weren't actually friends of his," Donatello frowned.

"I say it's mondo awesome that Zach has Caitlyn and us and Vincent," Michelangelo said. "That's six friends right there!"

"And five of them aren't even human," Raphael remarked.

"Does that really matter so much, Raphael?" Michelangelo frowned.

"I guess not," Raphael relented. "I don't know, it's just . . ."

"It's like this," Donatello interrupted. "Do you think Zach will really grow up well-adjusted like this? He'll probably be an outcast like we are."

"Newsflash, I'm pretty sure he's already an outcast," Raphael said. "And heck, if he prefers our company over that of most humans, hey, that's not so bad. . . . At least not until you consider how other humans probably see it."

"Well, we can't really get him interested in other people if there's no one we really think he'd like," Leonardo said. "At least we can give him stability and a good, clean environment."

"When we're not battling supervillains, of course," Raphael interjected.

"And like, that's better that what a lot of humans have being around other humans!" Michelangelo said. "I say we're tubulouso for Zach!"

"Yeah," Donatello said. "You're probably right."

xxxx

Zach was in a good mood that afternoon. Lunch with the Turtles had been great, and now as they were walking down the sidewalk with him, he caught sight of Caitlyn coming out of the Channel 6 building with April and Baxter. And Barney's Cadillac was just pulling up at the curb.

Zach beamed as he hurried over with a wave. "Hi, everyone!" he greeted.

"Zach!" Caitlyn rushed over to him. "Miss O'Neil and Dr. Stockman took me on a tour of Channel 6! It's awesome!" Her eyes gleamed. "I'm all the more determined that I'm going to be a great reporter just like Miss O'Neil!"

"And I'm sure you will, Caitlyn," April said. "You definitely have that reporter's instinct!"

"That's great!" Zach exclaimed. "I'll be a crimefighter like the Turtles and Caitlyn can be a reporter like Miss O'Neil and we'll be unbeatable!" He and Caitlyn high-fived.

"Mondo goals," Michelangelo grinned.

"Of course, both of them will take a lot of hard work and practice," Leonardo said. "But we're sure you can do it!"

More greetings were exchanged all around with the Turtles and the Stockmans. As Vincent got out of the Cadillac, Zach jogged over to him. "Hi, Vincent!"

"Hello," Vincent smiled.

Zach turned and grinned proudly at Caitlyn. "This is Vincent!"

Caitlyn stared up at him in amazement. "You're really a living computer?"

"Of course," said Vincent.

Caitlyn put her hands on her hips. "You're not just a really advanced A.I. program designed to make people think you're alive?"

"I'm genuine," Vincent said. "But for a skeptical sort, I don't imagine talk will convince you."

"Probably not," Caitlyn said. "Zach talks all the time about how you guys helped each other when you were lost in the mountains." She frowned. "I was on vacation with my folks when it happened or I would have been out there looking for Zach."

"I'm sure you would have been," Vincent said. "Zach always speaks very highly of you."

The sudden shaking of the ground threw everyone off-kilter. Baxter yelped, grabbing for the door handle.

"It's a transport module!" Leonardo gasped.

And indeed it was. Caitlyn's eyes went completely wide as one of Shredder's modules came to rest on the broken street. "Wow," she breathed. "It's Shredder!" She smirked. "Now we can really get down to some serious crime-busting!"

"Just a minute," Leonardo interrupted in concern. "This isn't the kind of situation you should be involved in."

"Why not?!" Caitlyn burst out. "You let Zach and Miss O'Neil help!"

"Actually, we really try to keep Zach out of it," Donatello said. "We only call on him if we're in dire straits."

"It's true," Zach said. "I told you I'm a honorary Turtle, Caitlyn."

"And I'm an adult," April interjected.

"Yeah. Like, if April was a kid, we'd feel just the same about trying not to get her involved," Michelangelo said.

"Actually, a lot of times we still try not to get her involved even though she is an adult," Raphael remarked.

The module opened and Shredder stepped out with Bebop and Rocksteady in tow. "Now, go steal some solar panels!" he ordered.

"But Boss, what if the store's out?!" Rocksteady whined.

"Then steal some off a house!" Shredder boomed, shaking his fists. "We have to get the Technodrome out of that well!"

"A well?" Leonardo blinked. "Since when did it fall down a well?"

"It must have been while we were occupied with more important things," Raphael snarked.

"I wonder why they didn't think of solar panels before," Barney grunted. He leaned on the car, folding his arms.

"Uh . . . Boss?" Bebop suddenly caught of the group. "I think we've been spotted."

"What?! Oh no!" Shredder stared at the collection of his hated enemies. "Bebop! Rocksteady! Forget about the solar panels for now. Attack!"

Rocksteady sneered as he pulled up a streetlight. "Ooh, I was hopin' you'd say that, Boss!"

"Turtle Power!" the Turtles cried as they lunged to meet the vicious mutants in battle.

Caitlyn tried to run in after them. Baxter grabbed her and pulled her back. "Just a minute, young lady," he scolded. "You stay out of this."

Caitlyn fumed as she turned to look at him. "You're not going to fight either?!"

"I try to stay out of their battles unless there's extenuating circumstances," Baxter said.

"We all do," Barney nodded. "The Turtles can handle this themselves."

"I might give someone a little shock if they come too close," Vincent mused, "but right now the Turtles have everything well in hand."

Caitlyn folded her arms. "This is no fun. I don't want to stand on the sidelines!"

"Fighting is even less fun," Barney said flatly.

Rocksteady yelped as he flew overhead and landed near them. Caitlyn ran forward and leaped on his chest. "Alright, you big menace! You're going down!"

"Caitlyn!" Zach exclaimed in alarm.

Rocksteady sat up and lifted Caitlyn by the back of her shirt as she flailed and struggled. "You're a pest, kid. Why don't you just blow before you really make me mad?"

Caitlyn kicked him in the jaw. "Why don't you just shut up?"

"Ow!" Rocksteady snarled.

The Stockmans, April, and Zach were all approaching Rocksteady now, in concern and anger. "Let her go," Baxter ordered.

"Yeah, I think I will," Rocksteady sneered. He aimed Caitlyn at Baxter, but before he could throw her, she wrapped her arms around his arm and bit his hand. He shrieked and she dropped harmlessly to the sidewalk on her feet.

Donatello jumped Rocksteady from behind before he could do any more damage. "Alright, that's enough!" he snapped, knocking the rhino to the ground with his bo.

Zach stared at Caitlyn. "Are you alright?!"

"Of course I am!" Caitlyn exclaimed. "You saw what happened! I can take care of myself!"

"You were just lucky," Barney scolded.

"You shouldn't deliberately take dangerous chances," April cried.

"As Michelangelo would say, No duh!" Donatello glared at Caitlyn. "We all told you to stay out of this!"

"You just don't want a girl to help!" Caitlyn burst out in frustration.

"We don't want anyone to help who doesn't know what they're doing!" Raphael retorted as he flung Bebop away. "Or who might really get hurt!"

"He gets hurt all the time and you don't tell him he can't help!" Caitlyn fumed, pointing at Baxter.

Baxter flinched. "I already said I don't get involved unless there are extenuating circumstances. There weren't here!"

He was right; Shredder and his mutants were on the run. They dashed back to their transport module and soon were burrowing into the street again.

"You know, if I had a quarter for every time the street had to be repaired from one of those modules, I'd be rolling in dough," Raphael remarked.

Caitlyn turned away. "I might as well go," she said. "You guys don't want me here and I'm not convinced about your computer friend anyway, Zach."

"Caitlyn, wait!" Zach protested. "Don't go away mad!"

"Too late." She ran around the side of the Channel 6 building and vanished.

"Maximum bummer, Dudes," Michelangelo said in dismay. "Like, what do we do now?"

"Oh, just let her go," Zach said in discouragement. "There's not much point trying to talk to her until she calms down."

Barney frowned. He was afraid that she might do something foolish if left to her own devices, but he also knew that if she was anything like him, approaching while she was angry would just lead to more problems.

"I'm sorry it didn't work out, Zach," Vincent said softly, laying a hand on his shoulder.

Zach sniffled but tried to hide it. "Yeah. . . ." He looked up at Vincent. "I know she'd like you if she really gave you a chance. Shredder always spoils everything."

"He sure does," Raphael said.

"Well . . ." Zach tried to smile. "At least lunch was nice. And seeing all of you."

Baxter gave Zach a kind smile. "Let's go inside."

Leonardo waited until the Stockmans and April had gone into Channel 6 with Zach before speaking. "I think we'd better go after Caitlyn," he said to the other Turtles. "There's no telling what kind of trouble she might get into."

"Yeah, you're probably right," Michelangelo said. "But uh . . . what are we gonna say when we find her?"

"I'm working on that," Leonardo sighed.

xxxx

Caitlyn kicked a tin can out of her way as she angrily stormed between buildings and down alleys. "I'll show them," she muttered. "I can be just as good as catching crooks as they are! I can certainly be just as good as that Dr. Stockman. He's not that much taller than me!"

She wasn't aware that she was being watched. Shredder sneered as he observed her journey. "It would certainly be useful if I could get one of the Turtles' allies on my side," he said to Bebop and Rocksteady. "Even if it's just a brat like that. In fact, maybe that would be better than an adult. Just imagine the leverage I'd have against the Turtles! They wouldn't dare attack us if there was any danger of the girl being hurt!"

"Uh, but why would she join us?" Bebop wondered. "She's best friends with that Zach kid."

"Ah, but she's not obsessed with the Turtles like Zach is," Shredder said. "She likes them, I suppose, but right now she's humiliated and angry. And those are emotions supervillains can prey upon."

"Maybe Krang won't like the idea," Rocksteady said.

"We'll worry about that later!" Shredder snapped. "Let me see if I can convince her first."

Caitlyn looked up with a start when a large shadow loomed over her. "Hey! What are you doing here?" she frowned.

"I still want my solar panels," Shredder said. "And I couldn't help but hear how the Turtles spoke to you during our battle. That must have been so mortifying when you just wanted to make a helpful contribution."

"It didn't feel very good," Caitlyn muttered. "But I still don't get why you're talking to me."

"It never feels good when they humiliate me, either," Shredder said. "I thought maybe we could commiserate. Or maybe even . . . consider a new alliance?"

"Get real." Caitlyn rolled her eyes. "You're the bad guy."

"That's all relative," Shredder said smoothly. "Maybe you'd find that I'm not such a bad guy after all. I might even take you as a protege if you show enough promise. What do you say?"

Caitlyn opened her mouth, about to tell him to take a hike, when she paused. Maybe here was her chance to prove herself. Shredder clearly wanted to trick her into going with him. What if she tricked him by pretending to agree? She would pretend to switch sides when all along she would be working against him, gathering evidence against him, bringing him down all by herself! Then the Turtles would have to respect her and not just treat her as a stupid girl. Baxter and Barney Stockman had both gone undercover in the past year and had proved very helpful to the good guys. And she knew her role model, April, had gone undercover for some of her big scoops. Now it was Caitlyn's turn.

She started to smile. "Okay."

xxxx

The Turtles were worn-out and discouraged as they trudged back to Channel 6 after a fruitless search.

"Maybe she just went home," Leonardo suggested.

"Or to an arcade or something," Raphael added.

"Or maybe she came back here," Michelangelo said hopefully.

Donatello sighed. "I doubt it, Michelangelo."

"I wonder if the microdude's feeling any better," Michelangelo said.

"Well, if he was, he won't be after this," Donatello gasped and pointed. "Look!"

All the Turtles looked. Shredder was walking towards his transport module, which was now casually parked across from Channel 6. Caitlyn was walking by his side.

"What the heck?!" Raphael burst out.

Shredder turned to face them, his eyes clearly mocking. "Hello, Turtles. So sorry we can't stay and chat, but we're just about to leave for High Falls."

"Not with Caitlyn you're not, you scuzz-bucket!" Raphael snarled. He lunged with both sais bared.

"Raphael, wait!" Caitlyn cried. "He's not kidnapping me."

Raphael stumbled to a stop, his mouth open. "Are you kidding me?!" he finally yelled.

"Microdudette, what are you saying?" Michelangelo said in horror.

Zach came running out of the building, the Stockmans and April in tow, just in time to hear Caitlyn's horrible reply.

"I'm going with him of my own free will. I'm joining Shredder."

For one long moment, everyone went stock-still. No one could speak. Perhaps some had temporarily forgotten how. Then the silence was broken by a scream from Zach.

"No! You're lying! You have to be lying! You're my best friend! You wouldn't turn traitor! You wouldn't!"

Baxter laid a shaking hand on Zach's shoulder, but he could not stop the boy from tearing free and running forward, desperate to hear that it just wasn't so.

"Zach!" Michelangelo grabbed for him too and also failed.

"Zach, go away!" Caitlyn screamed. "Don't come any closer!" She turned away so he wouldn't see the heartache in her eyes. She hadn't stopped to think about this part of going undercover. She hadn't stopped to realize how she would rip Zach's heart to shreds. But it was too late to take it back now and she couldn't let him get close enough that Shredder could hurt him. . . .

"Yes, Zach, go away," Shredder echoed. He climbed into the transport module. "You're not wanted on the Technodrome. You're incorruptible. But she isn't."

"It's not true!" Zach wailed. He stood there, clenching his fists, not sure what to say or do or even think. His world was suddenly spiraling out of control.

It was Michelangelo whose temper boiled over first. "Alright, Shred-Head, now you've gone too far! Corrupting kids?!" He started to run at the module, both nunchucks bared. "That's a new low, even for you!"

"And it gets such emotional reactions from all of you," Shredder sneered. "I like it."

"She's in over her head!" Raphael exclaimed. "Caitlyn, maybe you think you want this now, but it won't be long and you won't."

"That was what I was going to say." Barney stepped forward, placing himself in front of Raphael. "I joined Shredder out of misplaced anger and rage and a foolish desire to be wanted. I regretted it almost immediately, but by then it was too late to get out. Part of me still wanted to stay in spite of my regrets, but that part diminished by the day until I was so worn-down and bitter and lost that I only stayed because I felt I belonged there with the scum of the universe." His voice raised. "I stayed there, drowning in my self-hatred, until my brothers finally managed to pull me out. I found new purpose in helping them from the inside, but it still crushed them to know I was there, in constant danger. Is that what you want, child? Do you want to keep hurting the people who love you?!"

Caitlyn bit her lip. "No, but . . . well, I'm not like you," she said. "I won't regret it. Maybe I'll get an important place on the Technodrome, unlike what I have here." She climbed into the module.

"You heard it from her own lips," Shredder mocked. "Farewell." The door slammed shut.

That shook Zach out of his taciturn state. "No! Caitlyn!" He ran at the module until Michelangelo finally grabbed him and pulled him back just as it descended into the Earth's core.

"It's going to be alright, microdude," Michelangelo tried to say. But his voice cracked.

"How could she do this?!" Zach screamed. "How could she?! She was my first friend! My first friend!"

"Let it out, Zach," Michelangelo said softly. "Let it all out."

Zach turned, pounding his fists into the Turtle's plastron for one long moment before slumping forward and sobbing his heart out. Michelangelo held him close, sniffling with emotion himself.

Raphael snarled as he replaced his sais in his belt. "That crumb," he spat. "You know he fed her some line. She'd never go with him if he hadn't. But what the heck does Shredder want with a kid?! He hates kids!"

"I don't know, but we're going to find out," Leonardo vowed.

Baxter had barely spoken. He was still standing near the doors, his eyes haunted, his body quietly trembling.

Vincent sensed it and looked to him in concern. "Baxter, what is it? What's wrong?"

Baxter shook his head. "I . . ." He looked away. "I feel so terrible for Zach. . . ."

"And for something else too, I think." Vincent drew him close. "Tell me what's the matter."

Baxter shut his eyes tightly and several stray tears slipped free. "I don't want to hurt Barney," he whispered.

"If you're worried about dredging up the past, don't," Barney growled as he walked over. "We're all thinking it, aren't we? At least the three of us. None of us can forget the night I joined Shredder in my anger and rage, the night I discovered you were human again and I couldn't show my true feelings about it."

"The night you saved my life when Shredder was going to murder me then and there," Baxter said softly. "Just as Caitlyn did now with Zach. . . ."

Barney's eyes widened. "She didn't want him to get too close," he remembered. "She didn't want Shredder to hurt him."

April hurried over to the Turtles. "Is it possible at all that Shredder frightened Caitlyn into going with him on the threat of Zach's life if she didn't?!" she exclaimed.

Zach furiously tried to wipe away his tears. "Caitlyn, scared? No way!"

"You don't think she could get scared of something like that?" Raphael frowned. "Is she nuts?"

"Caitlyn would be more likely to go with Shredder thinking she could get him arrested or something," Zach said. "She's not afraid of anything. Even when . . . maybe she should be."

Michelangelo stiffened. "Oh, maximum bummer. What if that's really what she's doing?!"

Baxter went sheet-white. "You mean, going undercover to catch Shredder?!"

Barney cursed under his breath. "If she's really that stupid, we can't discount it."

"Caitlyn's not stupid!" Zach snapped, getting to his feet.

"Oh no?" Raphael folded his arms. "Well, at least let's say she's making a really, really stupid decision. It's dangerous for adults to go undercover. She's eleven!"

"We don't even know if that's what she's doing," Donatello pointed out.

"Well, as it stands we've got three options," Raphael said. "1, That everything we just saw is completely on the level and Caitlyn's really jumped ship and joined Tin-Head. 2, That Shredder somehow threatened her into pretending she's jumped ship and joined him. Or 3, That she decided on her own to pretend to jump ship and join him. Now, what do you think is the most likely?"

Donatello's shoulders slumped. "Three," he said quietly.

"Or maybe Two," Michelangelo said. "But not One. No way."

Zach was clenching and unclenching his fists again. "I don't want to believe she'd betray us," he said. "But she was so mad earlier. . . . And she said she'd left us." The bitterness slipped into his voice.

"But why would she, Zach?" It was Vincent speaking now. "What reason could she possibly have?"

Zach gave a weak shrug. "Like she said, finally getting a place of importance that she doesn't feel she has here."

"Do you really believe that of her?" Vincent spoke softly, gently prompting him the way he often did with Barney.

". . . No," Zach said slowly. "That doesn't sound like her. I don't think."

"Listen to your heart, microdude," Michelangelo said as he got up and came over to him. "What does your heart tell you?"

Zach was silent, scrunching up his face as he pondered and indeed listened. "That she was worried about me being safe," he said. "That she wouldn't betray us even if she was mad. That . . . she's probably trying to prove herself by catching Shredder all on her own." He frowned and looked up. "But the heart doesn't always tell the truth," he protested. "Sometimes it just tells what we want to hear."

"That's awfully philosophical talk for one so young," Barney said quietly.

"I say that the heart really knows the real truth deep down," Michelangelo said. "Especially when it comes to somebody you've known and cared about for as long as you've known and cared about Caitlyn. And I say you should listen to it now."

"And I say we should be making tracks to High Falls," Raphael exclaimed. "We can't let that kid stay at the Technodrome for whatever reason!"

"You're right, Raphael," Leonardo agreed. "And we're not going to. We're going to High Falls right now!"

"And I'm coming with you!" Zach exclaimed.

Everyone stiffened.

"Please don't say I have to stay behind," Zach begged. "I try to stay out of danger as much as I can, but when I have had to get involved, I've really helped you. And I feel I can't stay out of this. I don't abandon my friends. Whatever Caitlyn's reasons are, I have to know. And I want to help get her away from Shredder."

Leonardo heaved a heavy sigh. "Alright, Zach. We won't try to keep you away from this. But you'll have to do exactly as we say."

"And that goes for what everyone says, not just the Turtles," Baxter said.

"I promise," Zach nodded.

Leonardo gave him a kind smile. "Then let's go."

xxxx

Krang could only stare when the transport module arrived back on the Technodrome and Shredder, Bebop, and Rocksteady got out, followed by a child. "Shredder, what is this?" he said in disbelief. "I wanted solar panels!"

"We had a little difficulty in obtaining them," Shredder replied, "but I brought back a different kind of asset for us."

"A little girl." Krang kept staring. "You brought back a little girl as an asset."

"I'm not a little girl!" Caitlyn fumed. "I'm eleven! And I came here of my own free will to join you guys."

"Oh really." Krang folded his tiny arms. "And just why do you want to do that?"

"Because I'm sick of the 'good guys' never believing in me," Caitlyn declared. "I wanted to be someplace where I'm appreciated." She looked to the consoles and monitors. "And I'm really good with computers. It looks like you could use a good computer expert."

"Nothing's really worked right since that computer of Barney's messed it all up," Bebop said.

"Which wouldn't have happened if you guys hadn't messed him up," Caitlyn countered.

"Hmm." Krang looked from her back to Shredder. "Who is she?"

"That's the best part," Shredder gloated. "She's friends with that brat Zach. Krang, just imagine what we can do now! Any time the Turtles are going to stop us, we can point out that a child will get hurt if they fight with Bebop and Rocksteady! It's brilliant!"

"You know they'll try to find a way to stop us and get her back regardless," Krang retorted. "Shredder, you've just caused another complication! This isn't going to help!"

Caitlyn tapped on the keyboard, and after a few commands, the flagging computer seemed to snap to. "You were saying?" she smirked.

Krang blinked. "Alright, maybe you can serve some purpose. But I still want my solar panels!"

"Fine! We'll get your solar panels!" Shredder snapped. "We'll take the girl with us in case we run into the Turtles and their crew."

"But if this doesn't work, Shredder . . ." Krang glowered.

"It's going to work," Shredder interrupted. "You'll see."

"I'll see something, but what?" Krang muttered.

xxxx

The group hadn't even made it out of Manhattan when April's phone rang and she hurried to answer. "What is it, Mr. Thompson?" she greeted.

"That Shredder character is robbing a solar panel supply store!" Burne announced. He barked the address in her ear. "Get out there and get the story!"

"Right, Chief." April blinked as she hung up.

"Do we need to let you off somewhere to cover a story?" Raphael asked.

"Shredder's not on the Technodrome!" April exclaimed. "He's still after those solar panels!"

"Boy oh boy, I wonder what the attraction is," Raphael remarked. "He was never interested in them before."

"I guess Krang decided they'd be a great way to get energy to the Technodrome," Donatello said.

"Caitlyn's probably with Shredder," April continued. "I've got the address. We should go there!"

"Totally!" Michelangelo exclaimed. He was behind the wheel today, Zach at his side. "Where are we going, April?"

She gave him the address and sighed, leaning back. "Do you guys have any idea how you're going to get Caitlyn away from Shredder when we get there?" she wondered.

"Not really," Raphael said. "Aside from just running up and grabbing her."

"I want to talk to her," Zach said.

"It probably won't do any good," Raphael said.

Barney nodded. "If she's truly betrayed you, she won't listen. And if she feels she needs to be undercover, she won't listen. I also doubt she'll listen if Shredder threatened her into cooperating."

"In any case, I'm sure we'll all have an earful for her when this is over," Raphael said.

"No duh," Michelangelo exclaimed. "This is all mondo dangerous!"

"If she still doesn't believe that, all the scolding in the world won't help," Baxter quietly remarked. "It was scolding that drove her away earlier today."

Michelangelo frowned. "I guess you're right, Bud, but what else can we do?"

"Let's wait and see if she's learned her lesson by the time we get there," Leonardo said. "As Master Splinter says, sometimes we only learn by experience."

"And such a pity too," Raphael said.

xxxx

Caitlyn's heart was thumping with increasing speed as the transport module rushed to the surface. It was a strange mode of transportation, but she was used to wild amusement park rides, so it didn't bother her.

What did bother her was wondering if she could successfully keep up the charade for as long as she would need to. Once she had seen Zach, it had been far more difficult than she had imagined. Going to the Technodrome, however, had been an absolutely incredible experience and she wished she could have stayed longer to explore. Going back to the surface, especially to assist in the committing of a crime, was starting to make her nervous.

No, she could do this, she insisted to herself. It wasn't really like she was committing a crime. She was just going along to get the dirt on Shredder. April O'Neil went undercover like this all the time. Even that meek little Baxter Stockman had done it. She, Caitlyn Martin, could certainly do it!

The module stopped and Bebop flung the door open. "So what do we do, Boss?"

"Just get the solar panels!" Shredder roared.

"How many?" Rocksteady asked.

"I don't know how many Krang wanted," Shredder grumbled. "Get as many as will fit in the module. And don't forget the rest of the equipment we'll need."

"Like what?" Rocksteady blinked.

"Fool! Storage containers for the energy, connecting wires, everything we'll need to make them operational on the Technodrome!" Shredder roared.

"Do we need a special kind of wire?" Bebop asked. "Like, any particular length?"

"I don't know," Shredder frowned. "Maybe I'd better go look at them."

"Okay, Boss!" Rocksteady hopped out and lumbered towards the solar panels.

The workers looked up in shock and alarm. "Hey, you can't barge in here like this!" one of them yelled.

"I can't? I thought I just did!" Rocksteady sneered.

Caitlyn swallowed hard as she watched. Now Bebop was jumping out to help. Any workers who got in the way were promptly thrown to the side or over their heads. The remaining workers quickly learned to make room for the thieves.

"What am I supposed to do?" she asked, trying not to show her nervousness.

"Why, just stand here and wait for any interruptions that might come about," Shredder said smoothly.

But as it turned out, there were no interruptions. Bebop and Rocksteady soon leaped back in the module and the door slammed shut. The module drove into the floor.

"Hmm, this is a rare victory," Shredder mused. "We'd better get back to the Technodrome before something goes wrong."

Caitlyn bit her lip. She hadn't had the chance to do anything. Not that she was even sure what to do. But now they were escaping with a load of solar panels and equipment to hook them up to the Technodrome. They would conduct their evil scheme and she wouldn't have had the chance to find a way to bring them down. Maybe it hadn't been a good idea to rush into this. She lived for the moment and was impulsive like April. And how had it helped?

Shredder's comm-link went off and he answered it. "Krang, we got the solar panels!" he crowed. "And even what we need to hook them up!"

"Including the connecting wires?" Krang prompted.

"Uh, you said you were gonna get them, Boss," Bebop said.

Shredder paused.

"Well, Shredder? Did you say that or not?" Krang said in annoyance.

"I . . . don't remember," Shredder admitted. From the way he was turning red, he did remember but wouldn't say so.

"Well, we didn't see any here anyway," Rocksteady said.

"Oh! Then we'll have to go steal them from somewhere else!" Shredder fumed.

"And be quick about it!" Krang snapped. "I want to get them set up before the day is out!" The comm-link went dead.

Shredder snarled. "Do an inventory search and find the nearest location with what we need," he ordered the mutants.

"Right, Boss." Rocksteady started tapping into the module's computer.

Caitlyn slumped back as she watched. She wasn't doing any better on her own than she was in the group. And right now, she was having the sinking feeling that things weren't going to get any better. She really was in over her head.

xxxx

The group in the Turtle Van was distraught when they pulled up at the site and found the police already there. "We missed them!" Leonardo cried.

"Maximum bummer, Dudes," Michelangelo sighed. "I guess this means we'll have to go to the Technodrome after all."

"Then let's get going!" Zach exclaimed. "Caitlyn must be getting overwhelmed by now. I'm sure she knows she made a huge mistake. We've gotta save her!"

"And we're going to," Baxter assured him.

April's phone rang then and she answered it. "Hi, Chief." She couldn't keep the apprehension out of her voice. She had failed to get to this assignment before the villains and Caitlyn left. Burne must be on fire.

"April, there's another robbery going down!" Burne barked instead.

April blinked, surprised that she wasn't being chewed out again. "Where's this one?" she asked.

Again Burne gave the address. "And really step on it this time," he added. "We can't miss another big scoop!"

"I'm on it!" April promised.

"Shredder strikes again?" Raphael queried as she hung up.

"He sure is," April said.

"Then we still have another chance to catch them before they go back to the Technodrome!" Zach cried. "Let's go, Turtles! . . . And everyone else!"

"Like, you don't need to say it twice, microdude," Michelangelo declared. He pressed hard on the accelerator as he turned and pealed away.

xxxx

Caitlyn was far more tense as they arrived at the second location. Shredder was in an ill mood as he stood and watched Bebop and Rocksteady get out of the module. "Now, find the connecting wires and be quick about it!" he snarled. "Our luck can't hold out forever!"

Caitlyn frowned. "And I just stand and wait again?"

"That's right," Shredder said, sounding distracted.

"What about making me your protege and actually teaching me your cool ninja moves?" Caitlyn pressed.

"Well, there's certainly no time now!" Shredder barked. "I'm sure the Turtles will be along any moment."

"You've got that right, Shredder!" Leonardo cried.

Caitlyn could not fully hide the relief in her eyes as the Turtles and the Stockmans ran in, accompanied by Zach and April. But, knowing she couldn't stop her act, she said, "What are you guys doing here? Can't you even let Shredder get away with a few solar panels?"

"Not when said solar panels are going to be used to power the Technodrome and get it out of the well," Leonardo said.

"Well, you're going to have a hard time doing anything to stop me," Shredder sneered. He snapped his fingers and Bebop and Rocksteady entered the module with the connecting wires. He and Caitlyn stayed in the doorway. "You don't want to do anything to harm the girl."

"Shredder, you're despicable!" Baxter burst out. "Using a child as a shield?!"

"I'm a willing shield," Caitlyn said. "He even said maybe he'll make me his protege if he likes my work."

"Microdudette, wake up and smell the pizza!" Michelangelo cried. "You don't wanna work for a creep like Shredder!"

"Anyway, you have to be at least 18 to side with megalomaniacs," Raphael intoned. "Like it or not, you're going home."

Zach frowned. If Caitlyn really was putting on an act, he didn't want to further jeopardize her by making it clear that they suspected as much. And then there was the fact that he really didn't know for certain what she was doing. But he could see the fear and hope mixed in her eyes. He decided to draw on his feelings from their last meeting.

"I still can't believe you'd turn against us like this!" he exclaimed.

"Why not?" she countered.

"Well . . . because you liked the Turtles too!" Zach replied. "Maybe not the way I do, but they've been your friends like they've been mine! I know we had good times together and that you enjoyed yourself!"

"You're right," Caitlyn agreed. "We had good times together. But I need more. We all know you'd like to do more than be an honorary Turtle. You wish you were a full-time member of the team! I didn't want to wait for them to decide that I'm good enough for them. I wanted to go out and find someone who already thinks I'm good enough!"

"And that's Shredder?" Raphael scoffed. "Get real."

"He'll drop you the instant he's disenchanted with you," Barney said, "and that could be after a single failure. In fact . . ." He narrowed his eyes. "I doubt he's enchanted with you now. You see how he's using you at the moment. You're nothing more than a human shield. You're probably more valuable to him this way than if you were a protege. He wouldn't want to risk a protege eventually getting ideas and overthrowing him to become the ninja master instead."

Caitlyn shrugged. "At least it's fun while it lasts. More fun than staying on the sidelines."

"Yeah, standing and yakking with us is fun for you?" Raphael rolled his eyes. "After earlier today, I doubt it."

"Wait a minute!" Shredder frowned. "Where did that nosy reporter go?"

Suddenly April dropped down from the top of the module and landed near Caitlyn. "Everybody was keeping up the conversation as a distraction," she smirked. "Let's go, Caitlyn." She grabbed the girl's wrist.

Caitlyn was staring at her idol in awe. But at the touch on her wrist, she shook her head and snapped out of her fantasy. "But Miss O'Neil," she said, "I have to do this. . . ."

"Too bad, because you've done it enough." April grabbed her around the waist and leaped out of the module.

"NO!" Shredder boomed. He lunged at her and fell out, sprawling on the floor.

Raphael snarked. "Yep, a perfect Shred-Head ninja move right there."

"Turtles, attack!" Leonardo ordered.

As Shredder picked himself up and Bebop and Rocksteady ran out of the module, a widescale battle ensued. April deposited Caitlyn off to the side with Zach and the Stockmans. "Now, stay out of trouble," she ordered.

"But . . ." Caitlyn protested.

"I hate to think what your parents are going to say about all this," April said.

Caitlyn's stomach knotted. She hadn't even really thought about that. "We're going to have to tell them?" she quavered.

April raised an eyebrow. "Do you really think we shouldn't?"

"Or wouldn't?" Barney grunted.

The fight and the flying mutants distracted them. Caitlyn chose that moment to run out and send an empty oil drum rolling into Rocksteady's path just before he would have struck out at Leonardo. She didn't see Shredder coming up on her from behind.

"Caitlyn!" Zach ran into the fray, tackling Shredder from behind and sending them both crashing into the side of the module.

Shredder's eyes burned. "You little brat!" He threw Zach away, unconcerned and uncaring as the boy rolled over the floor and hit some very full metal drums.

"Zach!" Caitlyn said in horror.

Vincent was furious now. He blasted Shredder viciously with both hands. The crimelord yelled in pain as he went flying into the module. The Turtles soon sent Bebop and Rocksteady in to join him.

"We have the solar panels," Barney announced. During the commotion, he and Baxter had slipped into the then-unguarded module to remove them. They were holding the last one now.

"Totally triumphant!" Michelangelo grinned.

"Well, Shredder, it looks like you're all washed up, as usual," Raphael remarked.

A singed and angry Shredder rose up, giving them all a hateful glower before pulling the door of the module down. In a moment the vehicle was burrowing into the floor.

A moan of pain from Zach brought everyone's attention up. "Oh no! Microdude!" Michelangelo ran over to him. "How bad are you hurt?"

"Not bad, really," Zach said with gritted teeth. "I think I'm just bruised . . . maybe."

Vincent started to examine him. "You're definitely lucky," he said. "But it looks like you've also rolled your ankle."

Zach grimaced. "Ow. . . ." He tried to stand and bit his lip to keep from making any more exclamations of pain. "I can walk that off, right?"

"You should be able to," Vincent agreed.

Caitlyn trembled and looked away. "Well, you'll be okay then," she tried to say. She was too much in shock and horror to say what she was really thinking. I'm sorry! I'm so sorry! This wasn't supposed to happen. It was never supposed to happen!

That was the last straw for Barney. "You see what you've done?!" he boomed. "Yes, he'll be okay, but he shouldn't have gotten hurt in the first place! All of your selfish, idiotic, thoughtless behavior had led to this-the person who loves you the most ending up hurt!"

Caitlyn flinched, tears pricking her eyes. "Zach . . . !" She still wouldn't look at him, but from the sound of her voice, she was either crying or trying hard not to. "I didn't mean to!" she choked out. "I didn't mean to. . . ."

Zach tried to smile. "It's okay, Caitlyn. . . . You just wanted to bring Shredder down, right? I can relate to that."

"It's not okay!" Barney screamed. "How could it ever be okay?! You . . ."

"Hey, whoa," Michelangelo interrupted. "Barney, you're scaring the microdudette." He indicated Caitlyn, who looked like she wanted to hide behind the metal drums.

Vincent stood and laid a hand on Barney's shoulder. "You're not really screaming at her, are you, Barney?"

The wild look faded from Barney's eyes. For a moment he looked stricken as it really sank in what he had just done. "I . . . no. No, I wasn't." He looked to Baxter, who met his gaze with a sad smile.

"I know, Barney," he said softly. "And it is alright. You're not that person anymore."

"They're making me remember," Barney trembled. "They're playing our parts. Caitlyn is me, foolishly joining the enemy. Zach is you, never giving up and ending up hurt trying to save his idiot loved one. They're acting out our story all over again!"

"Yes," Baxter agreed. He could scarcely deny it; he had seen the parallels too. "It hurts, Barney. It hurts so much seeing what we were. But there's the key-were. We've matured so much just in the last several months. And it's an incredible thing to realize how far we've come since you joined Shredder."

Barney slowly nodded. "I'm glad we did. But I hate seeing where we were before. And I hate seeing anyone else go through the pain we did."

"And I'm sure you know this is far from over, Caitlyn," Leonardo said sternly. "We're going to have to have a talk. And your parents will have to know what happened."

Caitlyn's shoulders slumped. "They'll never forgive me. Even though, yeah, Zach's right-I was trying to bring Shredder down. I didn't really want to join him!"

"That's what we all started to figure, Caitlyn," Leonardo said. "But going undercover is too dangerous for a kid."

"It's too dangerous for adults," Raphael said. "Or maybe you don't know what happened to Baxter when he did it to bring down Big Louie."

"I heard about it," Caitlyn mumbled.

"I was just lucky that cloth healed me," Baxter said. "There wouldn't be a cloth for you, Caitlyn."

"And Miss O'Neil does it too!" Caitlyn blurted.

"And a lot of times I get in over my head," April sighed. "Like when I tried to infiltrate Bebop and Rocksteady's old gang."

"But of course your parents will forgive you, microdudette," Michelangelo interrupted. "So do we. But that doesn't mean they and we won't be upset. We don't want you to go getting hurt because we care about you!"

"Yeah, right," Caitlyn muttered. "How could anybody care now? Especially after Zach got hurt. . . ."

"You didn't mean for Zach to be hurt," Baxter said. "You tried to get him to stay away. But you should have known he wouldn't. If you care about someone, you don't stay away when you know what they're doing is dangerous. You may have to give them a little space . . ." He looked to Barney. "But you never stop trying and hoping that they will come back."

Caitlyn slowly looked to him. "And you really forgave your brother for everything he did that hurt you?" She sounded and looked incredulous.

"Yes," Baxter said softly. "How could I not forgive him joining Shredder after the mistakes I made?"

She folded her arms. "But you were really mad at him or something, weren't you?"

"I honestly don't recall being mad," Baxter said. "Upset and worried, yes. Even frustrated. But I knew what it was like to walk a dark path. I understood what prompted it. I couldn't be mad."

"Everyone's mad at me, though," Caitlyn said.

"Probably no one is angrier at you than you," Barney said.

Caitlyn paused and looked to him. "You really are a good psychologist, aren't you."

"I believe so," Barney said.

"But you were really mad a few minutes ago," Caitlyn said.

"I saw myself in you," Barney said. "I couldn't stand it. I was screaming at you, yes, but mostly I was screaming at my own idiocy. I was screaming what I would have liked to have told the me of the past."

"You went undercover too," Caitlyn frowned.

"And in case you don't remember, that eventually ended when I nearly got killed," Barney said flatly. "We're upset because that could have happened to you."

"Or to Zach," Vincent said from where he and Michelangelo had been walking Zach around the room.

Caitlyn bit her lip as she finally looked to Zach. He had been so quiet. It made her nervous. She had other friends at school, but Zach really had no one besides her and these Turtles and that computer. Zach had said it was okay, that he understood wanting to bring Shredder down, but did he really? What if Caitlyn's impulsive actions had lost her a true friend? Barney was right-she really had been foolish.

"Zach . . . I'm really sorry I went undercover like that when it hurt you so much," she said at last, blinking back more tears. "It really was a stupid thing to do. I wouldn't have even thought of it if Shredder hadn't shown up and tried to get me to join him. I know that's not an excuse. But I never wanted to hurt you. I honestly didn't even stop to think about how I'd explain things to you. Maybe if I had, I wouldn't have thought this was a good idea. I hated saying all those things that made it sound like I'd joined Shredder!"

"And that means a lot, Caitlyn," Zach said. "I do understand wanting to bring Shredder down. But I wish you wouldn't have done something like this. At least not without talking to me first."

"Would you have said Yes?" Caitlyn countered.

"Probably not, but we'll never know," Zach said.

Raphael shot him a look. "Hey, hey, hey, one stupidly impulsive kid is more than enough, okay?"

Zach looked away. "I know. And I probably would have planned it out better. But I just can't help remembering how I wanted to bring Shredder down too. I didn't listen to you at first when you wanted me to stay out of things and I made everything worse. I'd never want to disobey you guys anymore; I've tried to obey what you said about staying out of trouble for the most part. But if there were extenuating circumstances, maybe I'd give in too."

"You're a lot nicer than I deserve," Caitlyn said.

"We agree there," said Raphael.

"He understands," Baxter said quietly. "Just as I understood what drove Barney down his path. And you also felt I was being unreasonably kind, Raphael."

"Barney beat me to it, but I would've liked to scream too," Raphael said. He folded his arms. "Yeah, this was a really stupid thing, Caitlyn! In fact, that's an understatement. I'm sure your parents are going to drill that into you, but I want to drill it into you too."

"I get it already!" Caitlyn cried. "I know it was stupid. Zach got hurt, everybody could have got hurt, all because of me!"

"And I hope that means you won't try doing anything like this again," Donatello finally spoke up.

"I won't," Caitlyn mumbled. "At least not until I'm a real journalist like Miss O'Neil."

Leonardo sighed. They couldn't really ask for more than that.

xxxx

Baxter gave a weary sigh as he and his brothers went into the mansion after taking Caitlyn home. They had all gathered in the Martin living room with her parents to explain what had happened. The results had been ear-shattering. They had been there over two hours, counseling, suggesting, trying to make sure her parents would take a disciplinary action prompted by the desire to help Caitlyn and not something prompted by anger.

"I think everything's going to be alright," Vincent said.

Barney nodded. "Eventually."

Baxter didn't offer a comment.

Vincent watched Baxter in concern. "Are you alright, Pal?"

Baxter slumped against the wall. "Well, part of me is thinking that even though Caitlyn's parents were furious, it was clear that they really were aghast at what she did because they cared about her." He glanced at Barney. "Our parents never acted like that when we misbehaved. It was always 'Think of the shame you've brought on the family name' or 'How can we ever face our friends now that you've done something so appalling?'"

Barney's eyes darkened. "I was thinking about that too. I couldn't help wondering what it would be like in Caitlyn's position. She wasn't happy at her parents' reactions, but our parents' reactions were far worse. Just once I would have liked for them to have acted like they cared for our sake and not society's."

"That must have hurt so much," Vincent said softly.

"That's putting it mildly." Barney folded his arms and looked away.

Vincent looked back to Baxter. "What's the other part of you thinking?" He had the feeling that the other part was what was troubling Baxter the most.

Indeed, Baxter's expression crumbled into guilt and sorrow. "Zach's humble attitude reminds me that I really wasn't humble," he said. "The problems in the past weren't always just on Barney. I was always arrogant. I even thought that Barney was trying to copy me with his interest in science." He shook his head. "How could I have thought that? I recognized that Barney had a genuine love of science later, but even last year I was saying that he had just wanted to copy me when he first started."

"You weren't that arrogant," Barney said. "And I was worse. However you behaved was likely a response to my attitude. It was a way for you to handle my callousness. And you weren't arrogant around me. You always loved me and were kind to me, even if around others you sometimes acted arrogant."

"And maybe you just felt so badly that Barney didn't seem to love you that you liked thinking he liked you enough to want to copy you," Vincent suggested.

Baxter slowly nodded. "Maybe. . . ."

"I didn't think that you were negatively unlike Zach," Barney said. "I saw what you saw at the time, that he was similar to you in how understanding he was. Caitlyn's lucky to have him for a friend. Just as I'm lucky to have you as my brother."

That brought a smile. "We're both lucky," Baxter said.

Vincent beamed.

xxxx

The Turtles were also worn-out when they got back to the Lair.

"Whoa, this has been a mondo long day, amigos," Michelangelo sighed.

"It sure has," Donatello agreed. "But at least we finally got Caitlyn home."

"And it's a really good thing we were there for both Caitlyn and Zach," Leonardo said. "I'd say you definitely proved your point, Michelangelo, about us being good for Zach."

"Only would any of this have even happened if it wasn't for us?" Michelangelo wondered. "Caitlyn got all upset because we wouldn't let her help in the fight."

"Hey, with a free spirit like that girl, I'd say this was coming," Raphael said. "It would have happened sooner or later about something else if not us."

"Raphael's right," Leonardo nodded. "Maybe we were the catalyst for this problem, but it could have easily happened another way. At least now, Caitlyn's back on the right track and no one's suffered any serious damage."

"We hope," Raphael intoned.

"I sure feel like ordering some mondo amazing pizza, though," Michelangelo said. "I think my ears are still ringing from Caitlyn's parents' screaming."

"Pizza sounds great," Leonardo said. "I think we could all use some good relaxation after today."

"I hope Baxter and Barney are okay," Michelangelo said in concern. "They got remembering all those painful things about their pasts because of the kids."

"I'm sure they're fine," Donatello said. "They started remembering the good too."

"It's weird remembering how everything began," Raphael said. "But it's kind of an awesome weird when we think about where we are now."

"Totally!" Michelangelo chirped. "I wouldn't have it any other way."

"I'm sure none of us would," Leonardo said.

Raphael and Donatello concurred.

xxxx

By mutual agreement, the Turtles and the Stockmans went to see Caitlyn the next day. She was out in the front with Zach, but they both seemed quiet.

"Hey, little dudes," Michelangelo greeted. "How are things?"

Caitlyn heaved a sigh. "I'll probably be lucky if the grounding is lifted by Christmas."

"And she's really not exaggerating," Zach added.

"Well, that's five months away," Michelangelo said. "I'm sure your parents will lighten up."

"Especially if you show good behavior," Leonardo said.

Caitlyn frowned. "I've been wondering something. When kids do something people don't like, we get punished. But adults don't. If they mess up the same way, shouldn't they get punished too?"

"They go to prison and stuff if it's something crooked," Zach said.

"Usually," Barney muttered.

"What if it's not crooked, though?" Caitlyn pressed. "Just something really stupid, like I did?"

"Then we have to live with the consequences for the rest of our lives," Barney said. "And that can be the worst punishment of all."

Caitlyn looked down. "If anything really bad had happened to Zach, or any of the rest of you, I would have had to have lived with knowing I caused it," she said quietly.

"That's right," Donatello said.

"But you probably still would have been punished by your parents too," Raphael added. "Maybe grounded until next summer."

"Some parents tell their children that disciplinary action is the consequence of wrongdoing, instead of making it feel like a punishment," Barney said.

"That's supposed to help the children not feel so bitter about it and take it more as a learning tool," Vincent mused.

"I punished myself," Caitlyn said. "I didn't even have a good plan; it wasn't well-thought-out at all."

"So it was half-baked instead of fully baked," Raphael cracked.

"Or barely browned," Caitlyn muttered.

"Not to mention still raw in the center," Raphael remarked.

Caitlyn stood and came over to Vincent. "You were so angry when Shredder threw Zach. I don't think any A.I. program could have shown the rage I saw in your eyes right then. Or the kindness and concern towards Zach when it was over."

"I know it couldn't," Baxter said.

"So . . ." Caitlyn shifted. "I guess I believe now that you're really what Zach said you are."

"I'm glad," Vincent said. "But I wish it hadn't taken this to make you understand."

"I wish it had never happened at all," Caitlyn said bitterly.

"Because you're being punished?" Raphael asked.

"No. . . . Well, not entirely." Caitlyn sighed. "Because I hurt all of you, especially Zach. Because Shredder hurt Zach too. And because it seems like it really had a bad effect on you guys especially." She looked to Baxter and Barney. "I didn't want to make you remember a lot of sad things in your past."

Baxter and Barney looked to each other. "At least we remember the good as well," Barney said at last.

"That we got past the bad and now we're happy together," Baxter added. "The two of you can get past the bad as well. You've already started to demonstrate that you can and will."

"I guess we have," Zach said.

Caitlyn smiled. "And that's something to be grateful for."

"Always," Leonardo agreed.

"Totally righteous!" Michelangelo exclaimed. "So that's definitely a silver lining."

"I still really wish I wasn't grounded," Caitlyn lamented. "Not being able to go where I want to go is no fun at all."

"You might not see it this way now, but someday you'll be grateful that at least your parents cared about what you were doing for the right reasons," Barney said. "Some parents don't."

Baxter nodded. "Some are more concerned with social standing and prestige instead of that their children could have been hurt."

Caitlyn made a face. "That sounds pretty awful too."

"So hang in there, microdudette," Michelangelo said. "This grounding won't last forever."

"And meanwhile, we can all be grateful that things turned out as well as they did," Leonardo said.

"Yeah, but I'll bet Shredder is going to come up with something else awful before long," Zach worried.

"We'll deal with it," Leonardo said.

"Right, because we've got Turtle Power and Family Power and all that jazz," Raphael said.

Baxter chuckled. "It's served us well this far."

"And it always will," Zach grinned.

"You're right," said Vincent.

Caitlyn closed one eye and looked at him. "Is that really logical?"

"When you consider all of our experiences over the past months, yes," Vincent replied.

Barney gave a gruff smile. He wouldn't have believed it in the past. Even now, part of him wanted to point out the illogic in such statements. But love had saved him. He could not deny that. So he had to agree with Vincent and Baxter and everyone else.

Turtle Power and Family Power actually was power.