Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 1987

Return to the Technodrome

By Lucky_Ladybug

Notes: The characters are not mine and the story is! ThickerThanLove helped with certain 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.

Shredder was not in a good mood. Of course, that wasn't unusual. But ever since the fiasco with Caitlyn, he had been seriously sulking. Krang was annoyed.

"Shredder, we have to think about more important things," he said. "The Technodrome is still down a well. We have to get enough energy to get it out!"

"And I have to take my revenge on all our pathetic, wretched enemies," Shredder retorted. "If only there was a way we could successfully do both!"

"Well, there isn't," Krang snapped. "We can't even successfully do one of those things! Let's focus on what's vital."

"My revenge is vital!" Shredder boomed, leaping up so fast he knocked the chair over. "And we could extract the Technodrome from the well if we had enough power . . . or enough brains. . . . If there was just another scientist or two to help us. . . ."

"Shredder . . ." Krang's voice had developed a warning tone now.

"You know, Krang, your last mind-control formula worked so very well," Shredder sneered. "I especially enjoyed watching Irma unable to keep herself from trying to choke the life out of that idiot news director."

"Yes, that was pleasant," Krang said warily. "What's your point?"

"I believe I know how to repower the Technodrome and get my revenge all at the same time," Shredder crowed. "And all you need to do is make me a portable device with that same mind-control formula."

"I know I'm going to regret this, but I'm listening," Krang said.

He wasn't particularly enchanted by Shredder's plan, really. He could see that it would bring a mountain of trouble down on them. But he had to admit that if handled right, it would accomplish both goals. So at last he sighed in resignation.

"Alright, Shredder," he said. "I'll make you your device. But you'll have to be prepared for how our enemies will react. You know they won't take this lying down."

"I don't care how they take it, as long as we have the chance to grow more powerful than they before they can try to stop us," Shredder said.

"Don't count on it," Krang grumped. "And coming to think of it, how will Bebop react to this? He might get so upset that he'll work against us."

"Then he will be destroyed along with the rest," Shredder vowed.

Krang scowled. "Not that he's particularly useful, but if we lose him we'll be short a great deal of brute strength."

"You're right," Shredder conceded. "But I won't tolerate him trying to stop our evil scheme."

"Maybe," Krang smirked. "You took him back after he and Rocksteady tried to conquer the world with the Anxietron Ray."

"I know," Shredder scowled.

"Well, just as long as you're prepared for what might happen." Krang turned to go. "I don't know why I'm agreeing to do this." He shuffled out of the room.

Shredder stayed in the main control room and switched the transdimensional screen to a view of one of his favorite locales to spy on. "Soon, my hated enemies," he smirked. "Soon you will regret ever making an enemy of me."

xxxx

Barney was getting tired of strange things going wrong on campus. But when a fire alarm suddenly went off in the building (thankfully after a class and not before, for once), he didn't have any reason to believe it wasn't legitimate.

Especially when Andrew ran back in from the hall shouting, "There's smoke coming from the other end of the building!"

Barney got up from the desk. "Alright. Everyone proceed to the nearest outside door in an orderly manner. Vincent and I'll be right with you."

Vincent gave Barney a worried look as they filed into the hall. "What could be going on?"

"Some moron probably did something he wasn't supposed to do," Barney grunted.

And in spite of his instructions to the students, some of them as well as the students from other classes didn't seem able to be calm. They yelled and stampeded towards the nearest door. Barney yelled over them, but it did little good.

It wasn't really surprising when Barney found himself alone upon being herded outside by some of the students. "Where's Vincent?" he frowned.

"I don't know, Professor," Andrew blinked. "Maybe he got pushed out with another group."

Barney scowled. It seemed like whenever he and Vincent were separated, terrible things happened to one of them. Their enemies had deliberately separated them for that very reason at times. He looked around, making sure that he counted all of his students before storming across the lawn to find the other group. "Vincent?" he called.

A strong hand jerked him around the side of the building. "Hello, Barney," Shredder sneered.

Barney fought in vain to pull his coat free of the ninja warlord's grip. "What's going on, Shredder?!" he demanded. "Did you start that fire?!"

"I let Rocksteady have that pleasure," Shredder smirked.

"And is Rocksteady hurting Vincent too?!" Barney's eyes flamed.

"I don't want anything to do with your precious computer," Shredder said. "At least, not the way you're thinking." He shoved the little man up against the bricks. "I wanted to see you about a certain device."

Barney gave him a look burning with fury. "What device?" His voice was dark and cold.

"Why, for powering the Technodrome, of course," Shredder said. "We need an energy expert and you just so happen to be one."

Barney struggled harder to get free. "I also just so happen to be living honestly," he spat. "I was an idiot when I joined you. You can't make me go with you again!"

"Oh, yes, I can," Shredder sneered. He held up a strange remote control in his other hand and pressed one of the two buttons.

Barney still fought him out of desperation for a moment more, but suddenly he went stiff.

Shredder let him go and watched him drop blankly to the ground. "I most definitely can."

xxxx

Vincent had indeed been pushed out with another group of students. Once outside, he stumbled and looked around for Barney. "Where's Barney?" he asked Lonnie.

The boy's eyes widened. "Gosh, I don't know," he gasped. "You don't think he's still inside?!"

"There's no fire!" Mr. Dalton cried as he stormed outside. "Some prankster put a couple of smoke bombs in a trashcan!"

"What?!" Vincent turned to stare. "Who would do that?"

"It could have been almost anyone!" Dalton exclaimed.

"Maybe it was that mutant I saw," a student from another class spoke up.

"A mutant?!" Vincent immediately came to attention. "What mutant?"

"A rhinoceros, I think," the student shrugged.

Alarm filled all of Vincent's circuits. "We have to find Barney," he exclaimed. "Something's wrong."

"Again?!" Dalton wailed.

The students ignored him. Barney's class spread out, combing the immediate area. Vincent quickly sent an email to Baxter.

Baxter, Rocksteady set off the fire alarm on campus to get everyone out of the building! Now I can't find Barney!

The reply came in less than five minutes.

I can't raise him on the Turtle-Comm! I'll be right out. I'll contact the Turtles too.

Baxter

Vincent looked around, his hopes dropping further as the students looked to him and shook their heads. Barney was nowhere to be found.

"What happened?" Vincent whispered. "Barney, where are you?"

He ran around the side of the building. No one was there now, but he saw the evidence that someone had been. His and Barney's shared Turtle-Comm was laying in the grass. Vincent scooped it up and ran again.

xxxx

The Turtles and Baxter were all badly shaken by the news. They rode together to the campus in the Turtle Van, all manner of possibilities for Barney's fate dancing through their minds.

"Dude, what the heck could be going on?!" Michelangelo cried. "Why would Rocksteady want to cause trouble for Barney and Vincent?!"

"It's probably another of Shred-Head's half-baked revenge schemes," Raphael retorted.

"His revenge schemes usually cause us all manner of grief and heartache," Baxter said quietly.

"And I thought Krang had made him cut down on them too," Leonardo frowned.

"I think something bigger is going on," Donatello said grimly. "Revenge is almost certainly involved, yes, but there's probably another motive too."

They pulled up at the campus and Vincent ran over to meet them. "I still can't find him anywhere!" he fretted. "And no one saw him after he went off to look for me!"

Baxter immediately got out, followed by the Turtles. "Where all have you looked?" he asked.

"Everywhere in the area!" Vincent exclaimed. "Our students have been looking too. We're all worried!"

"And there's someone who can tell us what's going on!" Raphael burst out. He pointed to where Shredder was coming out from behind a strange bush. "Ten to one he's got a module in there!"

Leonardo's eyes flashed. "Alright, Shredder. Where's . . ." But he trailed off. Barney was right there, walking slightly behind Shredder.

"Barney?!" Baxter and Vincent cried out.

"Didn't we just do this the other day with Caitlyn?" Raphael frowned.

"Barney wouldn't join Shredder again!" Baxter spat. "Not even to go undercover!"

Shredder's eyes glinted with sick delight as he approached the group. "Well, well," he mocked, "so here you all are, looking for your precious, missing loved one. And all the time I knew where he was and could have told you."

"What are you talking about, Shredder?!" Baxter snipped.

"Did you kidnap Barney?!" Vincent demanded.

"No, but he didn't come with me of his own free will either." Shredder gestured to him. "Come forward, Barney."

Barney did, and as he did, everyone gasped in horror and disbelief at the sight. His eyes were completely blank. Baxter and Michelangelo recognized the look all too well. They knew what it meant.

"He's . . . he's mind-controlled," Baxter whispered. "Just like Irma. . . ."

"That's right!" Shredder sneered. "Now he'll be my unwilling slave. And there's not a thing you can do about it!"

"Bogus, Dude," Michelangelo said in disgust. "There's always something we can do about it!"

"And we'll start by breaking your new toy!" Raphael declared. He looked to the controller in Shredder's hand.

Shredder held it away from him. "You won't be able to do a thing, Turtles," he said. "This controller has two buttons. If you make one move to get it back, I'll press the other button and force Barney's body to have a fatal heart attack."

The color drained from Baxter's face. "You wouldn't!"

"I would!" Shredder said in delight. "Now I can make Barney invent things for us without any concern of him working against us. And you won't make any sudden moves, either. I got the idea after you got that girl away from me. I decided on a plan that was both far more foolproof and far more cruel. This way, I can destroy you from the inside! It's brilliant!"

"It's seriously sick," Raphael said in disgust.

"We'll find a way to stop you, Shredder!" Leonardo cried. "We won't let you ruin Barney's life like this!"

Heartbroken, Baxter approached Barney, with Vincent not far behind. "Barney!" Baxter gripped Barney's shoulders. "Barney, please! You can hear me, can't you?! You know we're here?!"

"You can't let Shredder do this to you, Buddy!" Vincent chimed in. "I know you must be fighting it!"

If Barney was, there was no outward indication. His eyes and expression remained completely blank.

"Barney . . ." The tears pricked Baxter's eyes. "Don't you know us?"

No response.

Baxter choked on a sob and hugged Barney close to him, resting his forehead on Barney's shoulder.

"How touching," Shredder mocked. "Let him go now or I'll press the button."

Devastated and stricken with alarm, Baxter stumbled back. Barney turned, following Shredder into the strange bush and the module without a second glance or a moment's hesitation.

"Vince, can't you do something?!" Raphael burst out. "Short-circuit the thing or something?!"

"I can't!" Vincent exclaimed. "I just scanned the controller. Any attempt to disable it will automatically send the command to have a heart attack to Barney's mind!"

"Oh great." Raphael stared as the module drove into the earth. He felt like his stomach was dropping with it. "So what the heck do we do now?!"

"It can only be disabled via the central computer on the Technodrome," Vincent said.

"Then we're going to the Technodrome," Leonardo said resolutely. "We won't abandon Barney to Shredder and Krang's cruelty."

"If I could link up with the computer, I could ask it if it would help us by disabling it," Vincent said. "But Barney would likely still need help getting off the Technodrome."

"He's always been resourceful," Raphael said.

Baxter swallowed hard and finally spoke again. "Could he break the control himself?" he wondered.

"He seemed pretty far gone," Donatello said quietly.

"Barney could break it himself," Vincent said. "But I'm not sure what would happen to him if he did."

Baxter paled. "You mean he might . . ."

"He might have a heart attack then and there." Vincent hated to say it, but Baxter needed to know.

"Then let's get down there and save him!" Raphael boomed, waving his sais above his head.

Everyone concurred.

xxxx

Bebop was frowning in confusion when the module arrived back in the main control room of the Technodrome. "I still don't get why you wouldn't let me go along, Krang," he complained.

"The answer is coming out right now," Krang replied.

The door opened and Shredder stepped out, followed by Rocksteady and Barney. "Everything went off without a glitch!" he crowed.

Bebop stared in disbelief. "Barney?!" He ran over to his former comrade. "What are you doing back here?!"

"He won't answer you," Rocksteady said. "The boss put him under Krang's mind-control."

Bebop stiffened. "Huh?!"

"That's right," Shredder gloated. "Now he's back in the family again. And on my command, he's going to come up with a way to get the Technodrome out of this well."

"But . . . Barney . . ." Bebop looked back at the blank eyes. "Barney, hey! You've gotta snap out of it!" He grabbed Barney's shoulders and shook him. "You don't wanna be like this!"

Barney didn't react at all. When Bebop let him go, he went right back into place.

"Ohh, brilliant, Krang!" Shredder sneered. "This is too perfect!"

"Yeah. That's why I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop," Krang grunted.

"There won't be any other shoe!" Shredder insisted. "Your mind-control can't be overcome! It's foolproof!"

"But how long are you gonna keep him here like this, Boss?!" Bebop cried.

"For as long as I can," Shredder said. "Naturally. He's working for us again and we have need of his services."

"He don't want to, though," Bebop said. He was haunted by the blank look in Barney's eyes.

"It will also deal a devastating blow to the rest of them!" Shredder said. "He will help us conquer the world and they won't be able to stop us!"

"They'll try to get him back, you know," Krang said. "Just like with the girl."

"And I can make him keel over from a heart attack if they try," Shredder insisted. "Either way, I have my revenge."

"But do we get out of the well?!" Krang retorted.

Shredder looked to his helpless slave. "Barney, go to your old laboratory and devise a way to get us out of this well," he ordered. "And do it quickly!"

Barney turned, walking out the door and down the hall.

"How can he do that if his mind ain't free to think?" Bebop frowned.

"Oh, he can think," Shredder grinned. "That's the beauty and the cruelty of it. But he can only act on what I tell him!"

"You mean he knows everything that's goin' on, but he can't do nothin' about it?" Bebop came to the doorway and stared at Barney. "That ain't right."

"You see? This is why we didn't let you go along," Krang said. "We were afraid you'd try to stop it from happening."

"And now that it's happened . . . there's no way to put him back normal again?" Bebop said in horror.

"Of course there is!" Shredder said in annoyance. "But one would have to know exactly what they were doing. Otherwise, he could have a heart attack on the spot."

"You sure hate Barney, Boss," Rocksteady frowned. "I know I don't idolize him as much as Bebop does, but I didn't want him hurt either."

"But I knew you wouldn't try to stop me if you came along," Shredder said. "Yes, I hate Barney. I hate the entire lot of them! Taking from among their ranks and forcing one of them to work against the rest is a brilliant way to make them all suffer."

"What if he gets free, though?" Rocksteady wondered.

"I tell you, Krang's mind-control can't be broken!" Shredder boomed. "That silly Irma would have killed Vernon Fenwick if he hadn't fled!"

Bebop didn't look so sure. And he looked even less sure about Barney. But he decided it was better if he kept quiet.

xxxx

He had never thought he would ride in a module again. He didn't work for Shredder and Krang anymore. He had broken free and was working honestly. He had a family he loved. Friends as well.

Now it had all been taken away from him. He was back in Shredder's employ, forced into it against his will. He wasn't his own person. He was a mechanical doll, a robot, operating under Shredder's commands and nothing else.

Help me. . . . Someone please help me.

But there was nothing that could be done, not as long as Shredder could trigger a heart attack any time someone tried. He was the only one who could do something about it, but he wasn't having much luck either.

That was generous. He wasn't having any luck.

I don't want to be here. I want to go back to my life.

But if there was no way to break free, he realized in horror, this was the only life he would have from now on.

xxxx

Donatello groaned as his portal sparkled and fizzled. "You know, with all the inventions I've made that actually work, why can't this be one of them?"

Everyone was gathered in his laboratory in the Lair, tense and nervous as he and Baxter fought with the portal. Nothing they did seemed to make it stable for more than a few minutes.

"It's impressive that it's ever worked at all," Raphael said in surprising sincerity.

"But we've been in other dimensions where perfectly stable portals have been created," Donatello protested. "Obviously it's possible, so why can't I do it?!"

"Maybe these other dimensions have knowledge of different types of technology," Baxter suggested. He straightened with a sigh. "I think we've done all we can."

"Wait a minute." Vincent came over and placed his hand on the edge of the portal as he silently communicated with it. The others watched in varying amazement and curiosity, staying quiet but growing impatient as time ticked on.

At last Vincent drew back. "It says it just can't," he said. "It's sorry."

Raphael blew out his breath in frustration. "Then we've been wasting time we could have been using to drive to High Falls!" he cried.

"Let's not waste any more." Donatello patted the portal in an It's alright kind of way and hurried to the exit. The others swiftly followed.

Splinter was there to see them off. "Be careful, all of you," he implored. "Shredder is using one of the cruelest tricks he possibly could. He will no doubt try to use Barney's state against you many times."

"We're going to save Barney, Sensei," Raphael declared. "We won't come back without him."

Michelangelo nodded. "Exactamundo!"

Splinter smiled. "It is good to see such harmony and loyalty among you. It has served you well and will continue to do so."

"It definitely feels good, Master Splinter," Leonardo said.

Donatello looked a little strange as everyone hurried to the Turtle Van.

"What is it, Dude?" Michelangelo asked.

"I just started thinking," Donatello exclaimed. "Vincent was talking to my portal. Does that mean all of my inventions can be talked to? That they're . . . alive?" He cringed. "I feel kind of awful for some of them blowing up or me deliberately destroying them, if so."

"I think the ones you destroyed weren't happy at being made into such dangerous things," Vincent said. "They were probably grateful to be dismantled, as long as you used the parts for other, better inventions."

"Wow." Donatello shook his head and climbed into the Van. "That's so strange to think about. I mean, Master Splinter taught us about the inner life concept and respecting all inanimate objects that help us, but it was always an abstract idea to me. Well, until machines started coming to life, at least. And now you're really bringing it home by talking to my inventions."

Vincent smiled. "I'm always happy to further respect for technology."

Baxter could see that Vincent's smile wasn't as bright as usual. Naturally it couldn't be. They were discussing subjects like this to avoid having to discuss what was taking all of them to High Falls. Baxter bit his lip and looked away as he and the rest entered the Van and Donatello drove off.

"Are you okay, Baxter?"

He smiled a bit at Vincent's concern but quickly sobered. "I never thought I would have to worry about Barney like this again," he said softly. "And of course, it isn't the same as before, since he's been taken against his will. Shredder kidnapped him!" He spat the words with angry bitterness.

"We're gonna save him, Baxter Dude," Michelangelo promised. "And I know he's fighting."

"But . . . Krang's mind-control is so strong," Baxter said. "Irma couldn't stop herself from trying to strangle Vernon."

"Maybe that was something she really wanted to do," Raphael cracked.

Leonardo shot him a warning look. It certainly wasn't an appropriate time for humor like that.

"She didn't want to do it!" Baxter snapped. "She was crying. She was perfectly aware of what was happening and she was physically incapable of stopping her body. Can you imagine how terrifying that would be?!"

Raphael flinched. "I'm sorry, okay?"

Baxter sighed and slumped against the inside of the door. "If poor Barney does anything horrible because he can't stop himself, I don't know what will become of him. He could never live with himself if it was irreversible."

"Like killing somebody?" Raphael frowned. "Come on, he wouldn't do that! His will is stronger than anything Shred-Head could cook up, even with mind-control!"

"But Irma . . ." Baxter shuddered.

"Maybe she wouldn't have really gone through with it either," Raphael shot back.

"Like, of course she wouldn't have," Michelangelo insisted. "And neither would Barney. There couldn't be a mind-control so strong it could really make someone do something like that!"

Vincent looked worried. "I know none of us want to believe that, but I saw some very powerful mind-control on other worlds."

"And it made people kill?" Raphael frowned.

"Not that I saw," Vincent admitted, "but they claimed it could go that far."

"Not Barney. No way." Raphael shook his head.

Baxter finally smiled. "You've come to care about him so much, Raphael. There was a time when I never thought I would see that."

"Yeah, me too," Raphael gruffly answered.

Michelangelo laid a hand on Baxter's shoulder. "We're gonna save him, Compadre. The team isn't complete without him. We'll do whatever it takes to get him back."

"And if we can't and Shredder and Krang conquer the world with him?" Baxter said softly.

"We'd never blame him," Michelangelo said.

"He's a victim," Leonardo added.

"But would he ever see it that way?" Baxter stared into the distance. "I'm afraid he wouldn't. And that he would never be the same."

"So we'll just have to save him so that won't happen," Donatello said.

"Of course," Vincent agreed.

Baxter looked to Vincent. The computer had mostly been quiet, letting the Turtles talk. And while that might have been for their benefit, Baxter worried it might be because Vincent had doubts about being able to save Barney.

Vincent seemed to know what Baxter was thinking from the way he was looking at him. Vincent smiled more. He was worried, but he meant what he said. The only way they would leave without Barney would be if they were all dead.

Baxter tried to smile too. He just prayed that wouldn't be their fate.

xxxx

Bebop quietly approached the old laboratory that Barney had previously occupied, listening to the sounds of movement inside. It was strange for Barney to be back again. Bebop wanted to say it was nice. But it wasn't really like having him back, not when he was being forced to be here. Barney wanted to be honest. He didn't want to be a criminal again. And even if he wasn't into the honesty thing, he wouldn't want his free will taken away.

It was Barney's refusal to be pushed around that had intrigued both Bebop and Rocksteady about him. They admired how he wasn't intimidated by Shredder or Krang and how he stood up to them when he wasn't happy about something. His strength of will had enchanted the two overworked and underpaid mutants. Now all of that was just gone.

Bebop peered around the open doorway and watched as Barney sat at his old table, sketching a blueprint of a plan. If he watched long enough and didn't look at the man's eyes, he seemed normal. But the moment Bebop's gaze strayed to Barney's face, he was chilled again. Barney just wasn't there. He was little more than a mechanical doll; no one was home.

"Barney . . ." Bebop went inside and over to the table. "Can't you look up or something?"

No reaction.

"I remember when you talked to me about why I stayed here. Do you remember that, Barney? You made pancakes while you were talking to me."

Barney sketched another line.

"I really don't have anyplace else to go. My own mama won't let me get near her ever since I became a mutant. She chases me off with a broom any time I try. But you have a family and friends and they all love you and will never reject you! They'll be coming here to get you, you know. And the boss will probably try to get them hurt."

Barney grabbed a compass.

"Barney, listen to me!" Bebop begged. "They might all die if you can't pull yourself together! And if that happened . . . you'd probably wanna die too.

"I don't want you to die, Barney! And I don't want you to be sad, or mind-controlled, or anything like that. I want you to be happy. You were happy, before the boss did this to you." Bebop leaned on the table with his hands spread out. "So . . . can't you try to come back? Please?"

Barney took a pencil and began to draw within a circle as the compass outlined it. His eyes remained dull and lifeless.

Bebop's shoulders slumped. "I guess you can't." He straightened and turned, shuffling towards the door. "I miss you, Barney."

Barney still didn't react.

Rocksteady met Bebop in the hall, looking worried. "The boss is going to be really mad that you did that," he exclaimed.

"Aww, he wouldn't do nothin' about it," Bebop said. "And Barney didn't do nothin' either. If he's trying to fight at all, it ain't comin' through." He looked sad. "It just ain't right."

"Yeah, but we can't do nothing about it," Rocksteady said.

"That's what you said before, when you hurt Barney and threw him over the railing," Bebop said. "And then you felt bad to have done that."

"I didn't want him to be hurt," Rocksteady said. "And I didn't want to be the one to do it to him."

"He's hurt now," Bebop said. "We both admired him for his free will. Now he's a prisoner in his own body as well as on the Technodrome."

"Well, maybe his brothers and the Turtles will get him free again," Rocksteady said. "They're just comin' over now."

Bebop immediately looked in at Barney. Still no reaction.

"Is the boss really gonna let them come in?" he wondered.

"Uh huh. He wants to set off booby traps where they'll get the worst of them," Rocksteady said.

Bebop ran back into the room. "They're gonna die, Barney! You've gotta listen and try to break free! If they don't have to rescue you, they'll be okay!"

Barney calmly drew another line.

"It's no use," Rocksteady said. "He's not with it, Bebop."

"He sure ain't," Bebop said sadly.

xxxx

Everything was so dark and cold. He was looking out through his eyes, seeing the laboratory where he and Vincent had spent so many character-developing hours. It wasn't the same now as it had been before. There was no Vincent. And he didn't want to be back here.

Worse, he saw the blueprints he was making on Shredder's command. It would certainly get the Technodrome out of the well, alright, and also enable it to crush the entire town of High Falls and roll towards New York City.

He had both seen and heard Bebop, but there was absolutely nothing he could do about it. He was admittedly touched by the mutant warthog's concern for him. It still amazed him that he had made such an impact on Bebop, and Rocksteady as well.

Bebop's warning thoroughly horrified him. Of course Shredder would try to kill his loved ones. Somehow he had to stop him. But how?! He hadn't even been able to respond when Baxter had pleaded for an answer and then hugged him in heartbroken sorrow. His own heart had broken at that.

He was trapped in his own body. No matter what he tried to do to break free failed miserably. He was forced to just watch his body operate as though it was some kind of robot, while he screamed and yelled and tried to break loose . . . and no one could hear him.

xxxx

Donatello pulled up near a gaping hole in the ground on the abandoned farm in High Falls. "This must be it," he announced.

Michelangelo got out and peered down. "Yeah, that's totally the Technodrome down there, alright," he said. "The top of it almost reaches the top of the hole!"

"At least we don't have far to go," Leonardo said. "But how are we going to get in?"

"Oh, that's no problem." Vincent climbed out and walked to the edge of the hole, smirking as he pressed buttons and tapped codes on the keyboard. A hatch on top of the enormous sphere groaned open. "I can hack in by myself."

"Which is just what we'd expect from you, Vince," Raphael said.

Baxter walked to the edge and looked down. "It's going to be a long drop to the floor in that room," he said.

"No problemo, Amigo!" Michelangelo chirped, pulling out his grappling hook. "I've got it covered."

The other Turtles also produced their grappling hooks and slid down. Baxter went with Michelangelo, while Vincent went with Raphael. They all landed safely in the room and looked around.

"So . . . where to?" Michelangelo wondered.

"My guess is that Shredder's got Barney designing a way to get them out of this hole," Leonardo said. "So he could be in a laboratory or the engine room."

"Or any number of other rooms if he's gathering components," Donatello groaned. "We're going to need to search everywhere!"

"We won't have time for that," Vincent retorted. "We need to come up with several specific places to try first. I say we should try the laboratory where we used to work."

"And the engine room," Donatello added.

"Maybe we should try the main control room too," Baxter suggested.

The hatch snapped closed and everyone looked up with a jerk.

"Oh, there's no need to check there," came Shredder's voice on the loudspeaker system. "Krang and I are in the main control room. We're going to be monitoring your progress all along the way."

"What are you up to, Shredder?!" Leonardo cried.

"Keeping you away from Barney until he finishes his design, of course," Shredder said. "And once he does, I'm going to see to it that whoever's left by that point will witness the heartbreak of seeing just how strong Krang's mind-control is!"

"Uh, whoever's left?" Raphael echoed.

"That's right!" Shredder said with glee. "You're all going to be like rats in a maze. Several different mazes, to be precise."

Without warning, metal walls came down in various directions and angles, forcing the group to separate.

"This is totally bogus, Shred-Head!" Michelangelo cried. "We can just use our grappling hooks to go over the walls and . . ."

"You do and this will happen." Laser beams shot out of nowhere and hit the walls, leaving deep scorch marks.

"Uh, something tells me we'd better play Can-Head's game," Raphael said uneasily.

"I'm afraid right now we have no choice," Leonardo grimly agreed. "Alright, Shredder. What do we do?"

"Each of you will follow your respective path and see where it leads," Shredder said. "Just be careful of the traps along the way."

"And will any one of our paths lead us to Barney?!" Baxter demanded.

"You'll just have to play the game and see," Shredder answered.

"Just know that you're in for trouble when we find you, Shredder," Vincent said darkly, electricity flickering at his fingertips.

"I know," Shredder said. "But what you don't know is if any of you will live to bring me any!" His cruel cackling filled the Technodrome.

Leonardo looked around at his twisted enclosure. "Is everybody alone on their paths?" he called.

"Unfortunately," Donatello sighed.

Everyone else responded in the affirmative as well.

"Alright. We'll keep in contact with our Turtle-Comms for as long as we can," Leonardo said. "And whoever finds Barney first, let the others know!"

Raphael took several steps forward and yelped as a wall abruptly fell from the ceiling. "Whoa!" He watched as it hit the floor and went back up. "If we really do survive this," he gulped.

xxxx

Krang scowled as he watched Shredder manipulate each rescuer's pathway with the added traps. "You know they're going to make it through somehow," he said.

"I know they're going to try to," Shredder said. "And frankly, I hope they do so that they can all witness the greatest cruelty of my scheme." He switched one of the monitors to the laboratory, where Barney was just finishing up his blueprints.

"What are you going to do?" Krang frowned with suspicion. "If Barney has that finished, the most important thing is for him to bring it to us."

"And he will," Shredder said. "After I show everyone else that he is too far gone to care. Their little alliance is split up now. Barney belongs to you and me."

"I don't like this," Krang said. "Something is going to go wrong."

"It certainly will, for all of our enemies!" Shredder exclaimed. "I only wish Splinter had come with them. But without the Turtles to save him, he should be easy enough to find. When they are all dead, he will come out seeking vengeance."

"Whenever you get this caught up in your revenge, everything turns on its head," Krang said. "I wasn't in favor of this idea from the start. And I only agreed we'd try it with the agreement that getting out of the well would come before your petty revenge."

"Barney's finished the blueprints!" Shredder insisted. "Now he'll just perform a little task for me on his way to deliver them." He leaned into the microphone. "Barney, come here."

Barney stood up from the table.

"Bring the blueprints," Shredder added.

Barney rolled them and placed them inside his coat.

"And if you run into anyone along the way, except for me, Krang, Foot Soldiers, or Bebop and Rocksteady, see that they're eliminated, either by yourself or by someone authorized to be aboard the Technodrome."

Barney turned and walked mechanically out of the laboratory.

"I still have a bad feeling about this," Krang said.

"You worry too much, Krang," Shredder retorted.

"After so many plans have gone wrong, I think I don't worry enough," Krang declared.

xxxx

I won't commit murder. I won't.

He was still helpless, fighting against the locks on his mind as his body plodded in robotic determination down the corridors of the Technodrome. Shredder's horrifying commands had set him struggling all the more desperately for freedom, but still to no avail.

Oh God, he's going to make me kill my brother. Or watch. . . . Please, God, no. . . .

He stumbled, and for the briefest moment he had hopes that he was breaking free. But no; his body righted itself and walked on, never wavering in its path.

God, please! I've hurt Baxter too much already. Please don't let this happen. . . . Please don't let me kill him. Or watch someone else do it. . . .

Flashes of memory darted through his mind and he gave a choked moan that no one heard. Telling Shredder about getting rid of Splinter . . . trying to mind-control Raphael into eliminating April. . . . Hating himself every step of the way, and secretly in horror over what he was doing, yet doing it anyway.

How could I? I'm not a killer. How could I have done that?

He wanted to believe that he would have stopped Raphael had Baxter not interfered. Part of him really felt he would have. The other part wasn't sure.

I should have been so grateful to Baxter that he stopped me. Instead, my rage just boiled over that he got in the way. It's poetic justice that I'm suffering under mind-control now. God won't help me for my sake. But for Baxter's . . . oh please, God, he doesn't deserve this! Please help me for Baxter's sake. I wouldn't pray for myself otherwise.

He knew he was a good person now. He had never thought he could believe that about himself, but he finally had. And he knew someone had pushed him out of the Dansing Building. It had to have been an angel. But . . . surely only because of knowing he would help others if he lived. Maybe because Baxter and Vincent wouldn't have gotten over it. Surely . . . surely it wasn't for his own sake too. . . . Surely he couldn't be loved that much.

There was that scripture about the angels rejoicing over a lost soul returned to the fold. . . . He went back and forth on whether he thought it could apply to him. Logically, there was no reason why it wouldn't, but it still seemed so amazing to think about.

God, please don't let me do this!

But no matter how much he pleaded and begged, his body walked on.

xxxx

Each of Shredder's maze-like paths was varied in its twists and turns and traps. But each was also sadistic in its own way.

"Whoa!" Leonardo exclaimed as countless arrows suddenly flew at him. He promptly defended with his katanas. "I knew this seemed too easy!"

"Nothing's happened in mine yet," Donatello called over the wall. Just as he spoke, several floor panels turned over and revealed dozens of varied but always sharp spikes. "Me and my big mouth," he groaned.

"What's happening?!" Raphael yelped next-door as he leaped and somersaulted out of the way of more falling wall panels.

Donatello backed up and ran at the spikes, then used his bo to vault over them. He cringed, praying he would actually make it. Several spikes were dangerously too close to his legs and feet. He hit the other side and rolled several times over the floor.

Now Leonardo was fending off javelins. "Are you alright, Donatello?" he demanded.

"Yeah, I think so," Donatello winced. He sat up, surveying a cut on his left leg. It wasn't too serious. He pulled down his kneepad on that leg to wrap around it for the time being.

"That's good, because we're all a little occupied right now!" Raphael exclaimed. He leaped back from another descending panel.

"Actually, this isn't so bad," Michelangelo said. "If it wasn't such a mondo dangerous situation, it actually might be kind of fun."

He trailed off as the floor dropped out ahead of him. He swallowed hard.

"You were saying?" Donatello called. Although he couldn't see what had happened, he had heard the sound and sensed Michelangelo's change in mood.

"Uh . . . everything's cool," Michelangelo called back. He swung his grappling hook towards the ceiling. When it caught, he swung across the open section of floor and landed safely on the other side. "Whew."

"Nothing strange has happened over here yet," Vincent said.

"That's always when something does happen!" Raphael shot back.

He was proven right when a panel opened on the wall and water rushed out. Vincent stared at it in utter terror before turning and running with all his might.

"What's that sound?!" Raphael cried.

"It's a flood!" Vincent said in horror. The water was coming too quickly to outrun it for more than a few seconds. At last in desperation he jumped, grabbing hold of the wall. He ducked as the laser beams beat upon it. As quickly and as cautiously as he could, he moved along the top of the wall as he hung by his hands.

"Vincent, you're going to be hurt!" Baxter yelled. He could hear the laser beams, even though he couldn't see them.

Vincent didn't answer. He was frantically trying to hack into the Technodrome's computer. At last he located the computer controls for the panel in his tunnel and slammed it shut. The water evened out; now it was only knee-deep. Breathing a sigh of relief, he dropped down into it on his feet.

"Vincent, are you alright?!" Baxter demanded.

"I am now," Vincent assured him. "I can just slosh through the water to the end of the maze. As long as the laptop stays dry, I'm safe."

"Ho boy," Raphael moaned. "What is old Shred-Head going to do to us next?"

Baxter was fearful and tense. Nothing had happened to him thus far, and with Shredder's hatred of him and his sadism, that could only mean that he was planning something especially cruel for him, just as he had for Vincent. Baxter was afraid that he would be the one to witness how far the mind-control on Barney could go.

"Is anyone close to the exit yet?" he asked on the Turtle-Comm.

"Not yeeeet!" Leonardo yelped as the floor opened up and he slid down a tunnel. Without moments, most of the others had apparently followed suit.

"Hello?!" Baxter shook the Turtle-Comm. "Is anyone still here?!" He slumped back when no one responded. Either they were hurt or something was blocking the signal.

He pulled out his phone and quickly typed an email.

Vincent, are you still here?

Baxter

Even though it sent, Vincent didn't reply either. Baxter stared at the email program in dismay.

Shredder's cruel cackle again filled the Technodrome. "Poor Baxter, left all alone," he mocked.

"Where are they?!" Baxter fumed. "What have you done with them?!"

"I think you should be more worried about where someone else is," Shredder replied. "You're about to meet your brother again, only he's been given orders to oversee the elimination of anyone he finds who doesn't belong on the Technodrome, including you!"

A chill ran down Baxter's spine. "He won't do it!" he insisted. "He's stronger than your mind-control!"

"Well, we'll see, won't we," Shredder sneered.

Baxter turned a corner and a door opened for him. When he stepped beyond it, it slammed shut after him, leaving him alone in the large corridor. "H-Hello?" he quavered. "Barney?"

Instead, it was Foot Soldiers that slinked out from every room and corner. Each one held a blaster pointed at him.

Baxter screamed and ran.

xxxx

Shredder looked up, his eyes glinting, as the Turtles and Vincent sailed into the room via the slides in the wall. "Well, welcome, all of you," he sneered.

"How nice of you to drop in," Krang giggled.

"Shredder, you sleaze!" Raphael cried. "You too, Krang!"

"Where are Baxter and Barney?" Vincent demanded.

"Let's take a look, shall we?" Shredder typed into the computer and the security camera feed for one of the many rooms appeared. Barney was inside, standing stoically at a console and staring at the dials and levers upon it.

"What the heck's he doing?!" Michelangelo exclaimed.

"He's monitoring the information that an unwanted guest is about to run into the room," Shredder gloated. "And here he comes now!"

The door flew open and Baxter tore inside, followed by a determined troop of Foot Soldiers.

Vincent stared in horror. "What room is that?!"

"It's nowhere near here," Shredder said.

On the feed, Barney turned and looked blankly at the scene. Catching sight of him, Baxter looked like he wasn't sure whether to be hopeful or worried. "Barney?"

The Foot Soldiers gathered in closer, forcing Baxter to run to the opposite side of the room and press himself against the wall. Barney observed but did nothing.

"Shredder, if something happens to Baxter . . ." Leonardo's voice was filled with warnings.

"Why, what do you think will happen to him?" Shredder mocked.

"They're going to kill him!" Vincent exclaimed. "We have to get over there!"

Krang pressed a button and the metal door came down from the ceiling. "No one is leaving this room," he replied.

"Then we're just going to have to get that controller away from you and break the control over Barney," Donatello said, stepping forward with his bo. "And the Foot Soldiers."

Shredder didn't look worried. "I'm sure you remember about the other little button on my controller and what it does," he said. "If any of you try to attack me, I'll set it off on purpose. Or it could always get jostled and pressed by accident. Wouldn't that be a delicious irony?"

"You sicken me," Vincent said, his voice dangerously low. "You're going to have Baxter murdered while Barney has to helplessly stand there and watch! Barney would never get over that!"

"And all of you will also have to stand here and helplessly watch," Shredder said. "Let's tune in, shall we?"

xxxx

Baxter gasped in fear and distress as the Foot Soldiers surrounded him and pushed him up against the wall. The cold feel of the metal went through his clothes and to his skin, but far more chilling was Barney standing to the side and not saying or doing anything.

"Barney . . ." Baxter trembled. He tried to kick a Foot Soldier away, and succeeded, but the others only crowded in closer. "Barney, help. . . ." He knew it was hopeless, but he was desperate and frightened. If only Barney could break through the mind-control without the act endangering his health!

He skittered to the floor and tried to dart between one of the robot's legs, but it grabbed the edge of his coat and pulled him back, slamming him into the wall. He couldn't help but cry out. And there was no chance to defend himself; they were all upon him at once, beating and kicking his weak body. He threw his arms above his head and neck, shuddering as the blows hit again and again.

Barney, help me. . . . Please, please . . .

In the past he had longed for his brother's help so many times and he hadn't received it the way he had thought. He hadn't even realized until recently that Barney had tried to help him at all.

Over the past months, Barney had helped him whenever he could, and Baxter had recognized it. It had been such a glorious, wondrous change!

Now he was pleading for his brother's help again, and like in the past, Barney did not seem to be giving it. But it wasn't because he didn't want to. He couldn't.

My brother is an empty shell.

The beating stopped. For one brief moment, Baxter wondered if Barney had deactivated the Foot Soldiers. But then there was the horrible, chilling sound of safeties on guns being removed.
He looked up into the barrels of he wasn't sure how many ray guns.

"Oh no," he whispered.

They opened fire.

xxxx

It had been dark for so long. Probably just a few hours, really, but when one's mind wasn't their own, it felt like an eternity.

He had been fighting, struggling, for control ever since Shredder had taken it away. Sometimes he thought he was getting close only to realize that it still wasn't enough. His body was acting completely against his will, obeying Shredder's every command. Even his mind was following suit. He thought on command, plotting an invention that would give the Technodrome enough energy to levitate out of the well. He had been en route to Shredder with the blueprints when Baxter had rushed into the room, chased by the Foot Soldiers.

Let me out! he screamed in desperation. Let me out. . . .

He hadn't given up. He wouldn't give up. But it seemed less and less hopeful the more time dragged on. Then, suddenly, a bright light shone through the darkness.

"Barney. . . . Barney, help. . . ."

Baxter was in trouble. Baxter needed him. For years Barney had only rarely heeded Baxter's need of him. Only recently had he really tried to be a good brother. Now Shredder was trying to take that away. But he couldn't let that happen. He wouldn't.

Again he strained against the locks on his willpower. Shredder had insisted they couldn't be broken. But somehow . . . somehow . . .

His eyes flickered, for the first time showing some life. "Baxter . . . ?" He gasped for breath. It felt strange, speaking again.

He looked around, frantic. The group of Foot Soldiers was gathered around the wall. Baxter was there, trapped by the lot of them.

I have to help him. . . . Somehow I have to be able to help him!

Moving was still extremely difficult. The mind-control was fighting to take him back, to pull him under and make him subservient to Shredder once again. It took every bit of his strength to shakily try to raise his hand to the console next to him.

Baxter cried out and dove to the floor in an attempt to escape by darting between a Foot Soldier's legs. Instead, the Foot Soldier grabbed his coat and pulled him back. They bunched in close around him, beating and kicking him for a long, agonizing moment before they stopped. But they weren't done. They drew their blasters and shot him all at once. Baxter screamed, either in pain or terror or both.

Barney could hardly stand it. He was right there, only several yards away, and he could barely move his hand. Baxter was being murdered right in front of his eyes and he was practically a statue.

God, please give me strength!

Then he had it. With tremendous effort he pulled the lever all the way down. All the Foot Soldiers were instantly disabled. They fell around Baxter's lifeless body; now he was the one who did not react. He was curled up against the wall where he had desperately tried to protect himself. His arms, which had been up over his head and neck when he had the strength to hold them there, slid limply to the floor.

The sight snapped Barney's heart. At the same time, it was as though a vise was loosed from his mind. He gasped and staggered forward. He was completely free. But . . . was he too late?

Breathing heavily, he stumbled away from the console and over to his brother. His knees gave out when he arrived, but whether that was because he was weak and wobbly in general or because he was so horrified at the scene, he didn't know or care.

"Baxter . . ." He reached a trembling hand to his twin's head and laid it in the thick hair. It felt like a bump underneath it; Barney wouldn't be in the least surprised.

His hand traveled down to Baxter's hand and then paused. What if there wasn't a pulse? Was he brave enough to discover that? Or, like his counterpart from the bizarre stage show world, would he be too afraid of what he wouldn't find?

He changed his mind and instead felt for broken bones. There were none, to his amazement and relief. But there were so many sore and tender places. Some looked liked they were starting to bruise. And as he touched his poor brother, every now and then a bit of energy leaped from his skin.

"You're not dead," Barney whispered. "You can't be dead. I tried so hard to help you. . . . I didn't break free of Shredder's mind-control for this!"

Finally he reached down with both shaking arms and lifted the still body. Baxter lay motionless in his grasp and Barney gently pulled him close, praying that the warmth he felt was because Baxter was yet alive and not because it just hadn't yet faded from a corpse.

"Baxter . . ." Barney stared at the sore and bruised skin. "You're hurt like this because of me. You inadvertently saved me; your plight brought me back. But I . . . I couldn't save you before they did this to you. Baxter . . . if you can hear me, please . . . please wake up. . . . Show me you're alright."

Of course there was no response. And how could he possibly be alright after the cruelty he had just endured?

A haunting memory jumped to the forefront of his mind. Back in college, when he had snarled at the idea of Baxter moving into the dorm because he had been assigned to it, another resident had overheard him.

"You disgust me," the other boy had said when Baxter had left. "You don't know what I wouldn't give to be able to share a dorm with my brother. And you just completely rejected yours!"

"Go be with yours then," Barney had snapped. "I've lived with my brother all of my life and it made us both unhappy. I moved to college to get away from my family, including him! I already have to see him every day during classes. That's more than enough."

The other boy's lip had curled. "Well, bully for you," he had retorted. "I'd love to go be with my brother, but that's a little impossible. He died years ago. I wonder how you'd feel if your poor brother was really out of your hair for good. Would you even care?"

Barney had gone stiff. He hadn't had an answer.

He had been haunted by that student's words for a long time afterward. He hadn't been able to stop envisioning Baxter laying dead somewhere-hit by a car, fatally mugged, or any number of other horrible ends. And even with the thought of Baxter gone for good, it certainly hadn't made him happy. He had never wanted anything terrible to happen to his brother. But no matter how badly it had affected him, it had never prompted him to go make amends. His anger and pride had still burned deeper than anything else.

In the present, he choked back a sob as he clutched the brother he had long reviled and rejected. So many wasted years . . . so many times he could have taken an active role in protecting and helping Baxter . . . so many times he could have allowed himself to accept that deep down, he truly loved his twin. . . . He hadn't even been able to do that until several months ago. That pride, that stupid, juvenile pride! He had always had the greatest treasure he ever possibly could have, yet he hadn't recognized it and had denied it at every turn.

They had grown so close just in those few short months. But that didn't take away the hurt and anguish of the past, especially if Baxter was . . .

No, he was alive. Barney could feel the breath on his neck. He let out a shaking sigh of relief. Slowly he pulled back, gazing sadly at his brother's still form. Alive, but so limp. . . .

"You cried out to me for help so many times," he said. "Not very often in words; you didn't want to bother me. But in your eyes and the tone of your voice. I never helped you the way I should have. Even when you finally did cry out in words, you didn't receive the help you needed. And tonight you cried out again and I tried to help you, but . . . I couldn't stop you from being hurt. . . . I could never stop that. . . . And you didn't even know that I tried to save you now. . . . You couldn't have. The last thing you knew was that I was completely unresponsive while you were being beaten to death. Baxter . . . please . . . speak to me. . . ."

Without even really stopping to think about it, he found a song on his lips, one he thought was called Gomenasai. He had heard it in the past and had been rather shaken by how much it sounded like his thoughts about Baxter and his attitude in general.

He could have stopped after the first verse, but as he consciously thought about it he decided, for some reason or another, to keep going. He didn't really have any silly notion that his song would reach Baxter, and yet, he supposed that in his heart, he wanted it to be so.

It was still eerie how well the song fit. About the only thing that didn't was the start of the second verse. Barney made a slight alteration to the lyrics.

He pulled back slightly as he sang the chorus again. There was no change in Baxter's appearance. Of course, there wouldn't be. This was all complete foolishness. Several months ago, he never would have entertained the thought of cradling his lifeless brother and singing to him. But he was so anguished and desperate now that he was willing to try almost anything. And Baxter had said just recently that Barney was the better singer between them. They could both sing on-key, but Barney's voice was the more beautiful of the two.

His strength to sing was all but gone as he sang the last repeat of the chorus. His voice cracked and he laid a hand in Baxter's hair as he gently rested Baxter's head against his shoulder. "Wake up," he choked out. "Wake up! . . ."

At first there was still nothing. But then Baxter weakly stirred. "Barney . . . ?" He gazed up at his brother in awe and joy. "You're back. . . ."

Barney was every bit as awed and joyous. He hugged Baxter close while trying to be gentle. "You brought me back," he said. "But I couldn't stop those Foot Soldiers from hurting you. . . ."

"I'll be alright," Baxter said softly. "I'm just bruised, I think. . . . Ow. . . ." He winced as he moved his arm.

"There's a bump on your head," Barney retorted. "And don't forget the rays they used on you."

"They must have been some kind of stun rays," Baxter said. "I didn't pass out until they blasted me. . . ."

"I know." Barney's voice was gruff now. "You were screaming."

Baxter winced. "I'm sorry. . . ."

"You're sorry?!" Barney scoffed. "You wouldn't have been hurt if you hadn't been trying so hard to save me. And those weren't stun rays. They would have killed you had they kept blasting, especially when you were being hit by multiple bursts of energy at once! Of course, that many stun rays could have killed you as well," he muttered.

"Then you most definitely saved my life," Baxter said, awed again.

"I didn't know if I disabled the Foot Soldiers in time," Barney confessed. "I was afraid you were dead because of me. I didn't even have the courage to check for a pulse. Pathetic."

"That would be horrible to break free of the mind-control only to see me laying there," Baxter said sympathetically. "But you were singing, Barney. . . . You were actually singing, willingly. . . ."

"It was stupid," Barney muttered. "I wanted you back. I didn't know how to wake you up. And I was distraught and overwhelmed by unpleasant memories and somehow the song just came out. It . . . fit, all too well."

"You brought me back," Baxter insisted, deliberately echoing Barney's words. "And you sang so poignantly."

It had definitely been a song from Barney's heart, but there was no need for him to say that aloud. They both knew it.

"We need to find the others," Baxter continued. "I couldn't reach them after Shredder separated us. . . ."

"We'll find them," Barney promised. "I'll hack into that computer there and bring up the security camera feeds."

"That could take ages," Baxter exclaimed. "This place is enormous!"

"Shredder would want them all to see what happened," Barney said. "No doubt he hoped you would be killed while I stood by and did nothing. They're probably in one of several locations." He gently eased Baxter against the wall and stood, crossing to the console.

Baxter slumped there and watched him. "I can get up," he insisted.

"Well, don't try until I know where we're going," Barney barked.

Baxter smiled a bit. So gruff. . . . But Barney wasn't fierce deep down. Not really. He could be so gentle when his heart was broken. That was a new approach. His heart had been broken over and over through the years and he had reacted with anger. Vincent had taught him that he didn't have to, that it was alright to be vulnerable or to show his softer side to his loved ones.

"Barney . . . I'm so glad you're back," Baxter said.

Barney paused in his typing. "So am I." And thank God I am. But was I saved just for Baxter's and Vincent's sake, or my own as well?

Somehow he knew the answer, even though part of him still felt it was too incredible to be real.

xxxx

"NO!" Shredder slammed both fists on the console. "I don't understand this! It isn't possible for anyone to break Krang's mind-control! None of our previous victims were able to do it on their own!"

"None of them had to stand by and watch their brothers get killed," Raphael retorted.

Vincent was beaming. "I knew Barney could do it!"

"Like, of course he could!" Michelangelo grinned.

"I knew this was a bad idea!" Krang caterwauled. "Shredder . . . !"

Shredder pulled the controller out from his cape. "You won't have the last laugh as long as I have something to say about it," he snarled. "I'm going to give him that heart attack."

"I don't think that will work, Shredder," Leonardo said coldly. "Not when he's shattered your control. But just to make sure you don't have the chance to try . . ."

Donatello suddenly knocked the controller out of Shredder's hand. Michelangelo dove forward and caught it. "Like, we are totally going to shut this down, Dude," he declared.

"I've just finished hacking into your mind-control program in the central computer," Vincent sneered. "I'm disabling it from there. And I'm deleting it while I'm at it."

"Get that computer!" Shredder howled.

"I want to get all of these people out of here!" Krang retorted. "In case you've forgotten, Barney still has our blueprints!"

"Not for long," Leonardo smirked.

Everyone turned to look. Barney had opened an auto-incinerator in the room. He turned and looked up at the camera with a mocking smirk, knowing Shredder was watching. Then, very calmly and precisely, he removed the blueprints from his coat and threw them inside.

"Shredder!" Krang shrieked.

Immediately Shredder turned his attention to the computer. "Don't let Incinerator #46 turn on!" he ordered the computer as he typed. "Do you hear me?!"

"I still have complete control of your computer," Vincent softly answered. "And I thoroughly approve of Incinerator #46 activating."

Shredder whirled, his eyes filled with burning hatred for the living computer. But as he took a step towards Vincent, the Turtles got in his way.

"I don't think so, Shredder," Leonardo said.

"Vince is our buddy. And you're not going to hurt him any more than you're going to hurt Baxter and Barney again," Raphael said.

"So we're going to leave here and find them so we can all go home," Donatello said.

"And like, if you try to stop us, we're really gonna give you a thrashing," Michelangelo finished.

"Let them go before they do any more damage!" Krang wailed.

"Not that you have a choice." The metal door slid upward and Vincent headed for the doorway. "Goodbye."

The Turtles trouped after him, Michelangelo turning to give the villains an obnoxious salute before the metal door slammed shut again and trapped them inside.

Shredder banged on the door. "Let us out of here!"

"It's no use, Shredder," Krang said. "We're going to be stuck in here until that computer releases our computer." He glowered. "And that will give me plenty of time to scream at you for your incompetence!"

"Oh yeah?" Shredder retorted. "You didn't do any better!"

"But I wasn't bent on revenge!" Krang yelled. "Now the plans are lost! There won't be any pictures of them on the security tapes either! You know that computer will erase them!"

"So we'll start again," Shredder said.

"You won't be in charge of the next plan," Krang vowed. "Maybe you'll never be in charge of a plan again!"

The arguing persisted, overheard only by the central computer in the locked room.

xxxx

As soon as the plans were destroyed, and Barney looked inside to make sure of it, he went back to Baxter. "Can you stand?" he asked.

"I . . . think so," Baxter said slowly.

"I'll help you." Barney took his brother's arms and gently eased him up. Then he draped one arm around his shoulders and put his arm around Baxter's waist.

"I'm sure I can walk," Baxter stammered.

"We'll see," Barney gruffly responded.

He took a step forward. Baxter did as well and stumbled. Barney held on firmly. Baxter relaxed, limping forward with Barney's assistance.

Bebop and Rocksteady met them at the doorway. "Barney! You're okay!" Bebop beamed.

"Yes, I am," Barney said slowly. He wasn't sure how to deal with these mutants' concern for him.

"We won't stop you from leaving," Rocksteady said. "Your friends are coming, so we're gonna split."

"Thank you," Barney blinked.

"I'm glad you care about him so much," Baxter spoke up.

"We went through a lot together," Rocksteady said.

"And he made us think," Bebop said.

"But you're still working for Shredder," Barney said.

"We don't know how to leave," Bebop said.

"And I guess . . . maybe we still feel loyal to the boss," Rocksteady said.

"But we'll help you whenever we can," Bebop added.

"We'll remember that." Barney started to walk past with Baxter, then paused. "And for the record, Bebop, I heard everything you said. I appreciate how you tried to help me today."

"Gee . . ." Bebop looked amazed. "So you really were aware of everything, like the boss said?"

"Yes," Barney said quietly.

"That's awful." Bebop shuddered.

"Maybe I couldn't have finally broken free if I hadn't been aware," Barney said. "So I'll have to be grateful for it."

The elevator stopped on the floor and Bebop and Rocksteady shot each other a worried look. "We're goin' now," Rocksteady said. "Be careful and stuff."

"Thank you," Baxter said.

The mutants fled.

"Baxter! Barney!" Vincent led the group over to the twins and pulled them both into a hug at the same time. They clutched at him in turn. "We've been so worried," he exclaimed. "But we all saw what happened. Are you both okay?!"

"Yes," Barney replied.

"I will be," Baxter smiled.

Michelangelo hugged them all. "Totally gnarly! It was epic how you broke free, Barney!"

Barney seemed to flinch a bit at Michelangelo's hug, but then he settled into it. "It should have been sooner," he said brusquely. "But at least I saved Baxter from being killed. We need to hurry and go."

"I'm all for that," Raphael declared.

To their relief, Bebop and Rocksteady were right and they were able to flee the Technodrome without difficulty. Before long they were climbing into the Turtle Van and Leonardo was driving off.

Michelangelo, Barney, and Vincent looked Baxter over in the back of the Van. Michelangelo shuddered. "Man, those Foot Soldiers really did a number on you, Bud."

"I'm just bruised and sore," Baxter said.

"There was energy sparking from your body," Barney growled.

"You'd better rest as soon as we get home," Vincent declared.

"I intend to," Baxter said.

Barney fell silent when they finished. He turned away, studying the equipment on the walls. Everyone else looked to each other in concern, but before they could speak, Barney spoke.

"What happened to me was poetic justice. I deserved to know how it felt."

"Now wait just a minute!" Raphael exclaimed.

Barney turned back. "I mind-controlled all of you. I tried to manipulate you into harming April, Raphael. I . . ." He clenched a fist. "I was abominable."

"Oh Barney," Vincent said softly.

It was Raphael who got to his feet. "Yeah, maybe if you hadn't turned over a new leaf," he said. "Maybe then you could say you deserved this. But the present you didn't deserve it, okay?! We all forgave you and moved on!"

Barney just stared at him. "Of all the Turtles, you . . . you should relish my suffering the most, considering what happened back then."

"Well, I don't," Raphael snapped. "If it'd happened back then, I probably would have, yeah. But you're not the same guy who did all that junk. And even back then, I . . . I don't really think you would have gone through with it. I think you would have stopped yourself before you made me really hurt April."

Michelangelo started to smile. "Raphael . . ."

"I think we all feel the same way," Leonardo said.

"We do," Donatello nodded.

"Totally," Michelangelo agreed.

"And I thought we'd gotten past all of this," Raphael said.

"I did too," Barney admitted. "But when I was fighting so desperately for control, the memories just kept going through my mind and wouldn't stop. I wondered how we could ever truly get past something so repugnant."

"Well, we have!" Raphael insisted. "We just have." He turned away, rapidly blinking. "You didn't deserve any of what happened today. Except . . . you deserved to know that you were strong enough to break free all on your own."

Baxter smiled. "And you did, Barney. You more than proved your strength."

"What about that girl Irma?" Barney said in concern. "Why couldn't she break free? It was supposed to be the same mind-control."

"Heck, maybe she would have," Michelangelo said. "She was sure trying."

"But even so, she isn't as close to Vernon as you are to Baxter, even though their relationship has been vastly improving," Vincent said. "You had that urgency to not fail to help him again when he was in dire need of it. It's been eating you up inside for so long, Buddy. That, and your love for him . . . that's what helped you break free."

Barney slowly nodded. "You're right, it was."

"You're so stoic, Dude," Michelangelo said. "Are you really taking everything so calm?"

"Not inside," Barney admitted.

"If you want to scream, you should," Vincent said softly.

Baxter bit his lip. Vincent was right, but seeing Barney that upset was always intimidating. Then again, so was knowing he was that upset but holding it back.

"What's to scream about?" Barney retorted. "That I was aware of everything the entire time and could do nothing? That I saw Baxter's heart break when he tried to get me to respond and I physically couldn't?" His voice rose. "That Shredder forced me to devise a way to get the Technodrome out of the ground? That he tried to force me to participate in the deaths of all of you?! That I had to watch Baxter being beaten by Foot Soldiers?!" He had started hitting the side of the Van as he spoke. "That the entire experience was complete and utter Hell?! You already know that! You know that. . . ." He slumped against the Van, quietly trembling.

"Yeah, we know that," Michelangelo said kindly.

"But we also know you need to let it out," Vincent said. "You didn't deserve what happened to you and you have a right to be upset."

"I am upset," Barney whispered. "Very, very upset."

Vincent stood and came over to him. Barney leaned into his brother's inviting embrace, slowly at first. Then he turned, clutching Vincent as he shuddered and silently, tearlessly cried. Vincent held him, allowing him to release his emotions until they were spent.

Baxter gave a sad smile. It would take time, but Barney would heal. And he had grown so much to show this side of him here, with all of them gathered around.

Michelangelo clearly felt the same. He watched for a moment and then looked away, moved.

xxxx

Barney was quiet again for much of the trip back. The others were patient, not forcing conversation, but quietly offering openings for him to participate if he wanted.

They were almost home before he spoke again. "How are you feeling?" he asked of Baxter.

"I'm alright," Baxter smiled. He had been sitting in Donatello's usual chair in front of the console, but he had tired and some time ago they had pulled over to allow him to sit up front.

"Of course, that's what you'd always say," Raphael remarked, "whether it was true or not."

"It's true now," Baxter firmly insisted. "Yes, I'm aching all over and I will no doubt be stiff, but Barney is safe. How could I not be alright?"

"Mondo notion," Michelangelo smiled.

"Are you going to teach class tomorrow?" Donatello wondered.

"I intend to," Barney said. "I've missed enough times already. Anyway, maybe throwing myself into my work will help me not think about what happened to me."

"Oh, that reminds me," Vincent spoke. "A lot of our students have been emailing to find out if you're okay. None of them know what happened, just that you went missing."

"What do you tell them?" Barney asked.

"I didn't even try to answer them until we left the Technodrome," Vincent said. "I said we'd found you and you were alright. I didn't think you'd want them to know the details."

"I wouldn't," Barney agreed.

They pulled up in front of the mansion. "Do you want us to come in or anything, Dudes?" Michelangelo asked. "Just to help you get settled and stuff."

Baxter smiled. "Thank you, Michelangelo. I think we can manage. But I will call you tomorrow . . . or tonight, even, if I don't go to sleep right away."

"I'm sure you will," Barney grunted. He climbed out of the Van first and waited while Vincent helped Baxter out. Then they placed Baxter between them and headed up the walk to the porch.

The Turtles waited until the trio was inside before driving off. "It's sure good to see them home safe," Leonardo declared.

"Man, the next time we see Shredder, I'm really going to give him a piece of my mind for what he did," Raphael snorted.

"I'm sure we all will," Donatello said.

"I just hope they're really gonna be okay tonight," Michelangelo worried. "After everything that happened and all."

"My guess is that they'll all be awake for a long time," Leonardo said. "But they have each other. They're going to be fine."

"Totally righteous," Michelangelo beamed.

xxxx

Inside the mansion, Vincent scooped Baxter into his arms at the bottom of the stairs. "I'll take you upstairs to bed," he said.

Baxter flushed. "I can walk," he protested.

"It's a long staircase and you've been limping," Vincent replied.

Baxter finally settled into Vincent's grasp. He knew his friend was right even if he didn't want to admit it.

Barney trailed behind them until they reached the top. Then he went ahead and opened Baxter's door.

Vincent carried Baxter inside and tenderly laid him on the bed. "Do you want anything, Pal? Ice?"

"Right now I think I want to rest," Baxter said.

"We'll be right nearby," Vincent promised.

Baxter looked awkward. "If you don't mind, I'd . . . rather you stay . . . for a while," he stammered. "Unless you were planning to go to sleep right now. . . ."

"I wasn't." Barney sat next to the bed. "I might not sleep at all tonight."

Vincent sat on the edge of the bed. "Do you want to talk?"

"Just to rest," Baxter said. "But knowing you're here . . . that's plenty of comfort." He paused. "Oh . . . but if you or Barney want to talk . . ."

"I'm talked out," Barney said. "I'd rather just sit here."

"I'm fine, old pal," Vincent said.

"Alright then." Baxter closed his eyes with a smile.

Barney looked to Vincent, asking a silent question. Do you think he's badly hurt?

Vincent smiled. He's alright. How are you?

Barney considered the query. Vincent had spoken only with his eyes, but Barney understood. It took a bit of time to arrive at the answer, but when he did, he knew it was the right one.

I will be.

Vincent laid a hand on Barney's shoulder. We all will be.