Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 1987

Gomenasai For Everything

By Lucky_Ladybug

Notes: The characters are not mine and the story is! This is a slice-of-life follow-up to the previous story Return to the Technodrome, but there are hints of things to come! ThickerThanLove helped with some plot elements. This is part of my Exit the Fly verse. Baxter is human again and an ally of the Turtles. His brother Barney no longer works for Shredder.

It was late and long since dark by the time the Turtles pulled into the Lair after dropping the Stockmans off at the mansion. They were all still reeling from the heartbreaking experiences they had just come through that day, of trying to rescue Barney from Shredder's cruel mind-control. They weren't sure of what to say, so the trip had largely been silent.

"Home sweet home," Raphael remarked now.

They were getting out of the Turtle Van when something odd caught Michelangelo's eye. "Hey, Donatello, what's up with your kneepad?" he asked.

"Oh yeah," Raphael realized. "It's all out of place."

"Huh? Oh." Donatello glanced down at it. "It's nothing. I just got cut by one of the spikes on the path Shredder sent me on in the Technodrome. I put the kneepad over it until I could take care of it properly."

"That's not nothing, Dude!" Michelangelo gasped. "I didn't even notice until now!"

"None of us did," Leonardo frowned. "We were all so caught up worrying about Barney and Baxter."

"You put antiseptic on it and stuff, didn't you?" Michelangelo demanded in concern.

"Uh . . . you know, with everything going on, I didn't remember," Donatello admitted. "I'll clean it up as soon as we get inside."

"Well, it couldn't be too bad off or you would have been limping enough that we would have noticed," Raphael said, but it was mostly a mask for his concern.

"That's right," Donatello said firmly. "I'm okay, guys. Really."

"Welcome home, my students," Splinter greeted as they arrived at the living room door. "Were you successful in freeing Barney from Shredder's mind-control?"

"Yes, Master," Leonardo said. "Barney is safely home. But Baxter and Donatello were both hurt." He frowned. "And we didn't even know about Donatello until just now."

"It's just a scratch," Donatello insisted. "Baxter was actually beat up!"

"Hmm." Splinter's eyes narrowed in concern. "I sincerely hope you will both be alright. Donatello, an untreated wound, even a scratch, can be dangerous."

"I know that, Master Splinter," Donatello said. "There was just so much going on, I forgot all about it. I'm going to go take care of it now." He walked through the living room as he headed for the bathroom.

"Man, I sure hope he's right that it's okay," Michelangelo frowned.

"So do I," Splinter said. "And what of Baxter? How badly is he hurt?"

"He's all bruised and sore and stuff," Michelangelo shuddered.

"And he got blasted by several ray guns all at once." Leonardo sounded darker than usual. "Master, Shredder's been targeting us directly for many of his schemes these days. This one was especially gruesome. Mind-controlling Barney and having Foot Soldiers gang up on Baxter?! How much longer are we supposed to just sit and take it?!"

Splinter sighed. "We do not go looking for trouble and starting fights, my Turtle. But it appears that Shredder has already started this one."

"Well, I think it's about time we let him know that we won't stand for it," Raphael growled. "I hated seeing our friends treated like they were today! It's just not right. We shouldn't have to put up with stuff like this happening!"

"What Shredder is doing is very cruel," Splinter agreed. "And it should not be tolerated. But I do not wish to see you only end up hurt more by deliberately seeking him out."

"Maybe we won't do that," Leonardo said, "but the next time he comes over here, I think we'll all give him a piece of our minds."

"While keeping complete control over our minds, of course," Raphael added.

"No duh," said Michelangelo.

"I am certain you will do the right thing, my students," Splinter said.

xxxx

Vincent sighed to himself. He was attempting to read The Lord of the Rings, but it was almost impossible to concentrate.

He and Barney had stayed in Baxter's room until he had fallen asleep. Then Barney had got up and gone down to the laboratory. Sensing he wanted to be alone for a while, Vincent had retreated to his room and tried to read. He doubted either of them wanted to sleep tonight. Baxter was likely only asleep because of his injuries.

Or he had been asleep, anyway. He had gotten up several minutes ago and gone into the upstairs bathroom.

Vincent turned the page and frowned. He had total recall, so why wasn't anything he was reading processing? He was a computer; he wasn't supposed to be plagued by such irritating problems as not being able to focus.

He sighed and leaned back. Poor Barney. . . . Poor Baxter. . . . He wished that he could have spared both of them all the pain and the anguish they had gone through today. But like Samwise Gamgee, he would have to be content with helping them through the pain.

Maybe he should go downstairs and see if Barney wanted to talk. He really hadn't talked much about his experience, although he had broke down and screamed and silently cried, which certainly wasn't a small thing for one such as Barney.

Actually, Baxter hadn't come back in a while. Maybe he should . . .

The strange skid, thump, and pained yelp from the direction of the bathroom sent Vincent flying into the hall. "Baxter?!"

No reply, but now he could hear that the water was running. And it didn't sound like the sink.

"Oh Baxter, what did you try to do?" he said softly.

He hurried over to the closed and locked bathroom door. "Baxter?!" He knocked, not much at first, then frantically when there was no answer. Finally he simply bypassed the lock via the Smart Home connection and hurried into the bathroom.

He was chilled by the sight of Baxter limply slumped in the tub, which was almost full to overflowing. The shower was beating down on him, but he didn't respond to it.

Immediately Vincent tapped once more into the Smart Home settings and switched off the shower from there. With the laptop safe from the pelting water, he was free to reach into the tub and lift Baxter out.

Baxter groaned at the sudden movement. "What . . . what happened?" he mumbled.

"You fell and hit your head, Pal," Vincent informed him. "What were you thinking, showering after the beating you took?!" He shuddered at the sight of all of Baxter's battle wounds prominently displayed. He really was black and blue all over.

Baxter went red. "I . . . I just wanted to freshen up after being beat around by the Foot Soldiers on the Technodrome," he stammered. "I didn't want to cause any problems. . . ."

"Oh Baxter. . . ." Vincent stepped away from the tub and walked over near the sink, still holding his brother.

By now Baxter had revived enough to really process what was going on. He stared up at Vincent, then down at himself. "Oh my goodness. . . ."

"You're just lucky I was nearby to hear you," Vincent said. "Barney's downstairs in the laboratory. If I'd been with him . . . !"

"Thank you, Vincent," Baxter said softly and sincerely. "I'm alright now. I'm so sorry I caused more trouble. Please, get me a towel. . . ."

Vincent wasn't sure he wanted to set Baxter down and see if he could stand, so he compromised by carrying Baxter to the closet and letting him open the door and get a towel. Baxter promptly pulled it around himself.

Vincent watched him in touched amusement. "That's not necessary with me, Baxter."

Baxter went a deeper red. "I know, but . . . you've never seen me . . . like this . . ."

Vincent hugged him close. "Do you think that matters to me? You could have drowned in the tub. That's what matters to me! And when I pulled you out, I wasn't at all focused on your state of undress. I was thinking how my poor brother was beaten saving our other brother and that now he was hurt again."

Baxter finally smiled. He took his glasses from the shelf by the sink and put them on. "I'm so glad you were here to help me," he said.

"So am I," Vincent said. He carried Baxter into the hall and over to his room.

Barney appeared at the top of the stairs then. "What's going on?!" he demanded. "I thought I heard a crash!"

"Baxter slipped and fell in the tub," Vincent told him. "But he's okay. I got to him in time."

Baxter ducked his head, looking mortified.

Barney immediately came over to them. "You're sure you're not hurt?!" he demanded.

"I passed out for a few minutes," Baxter slowly admitted. "But that's all. . . . I woke right up when Vincent pulled me out. . . ."

Barney snarled. "How could you have tried something that stupid?! You could have drowned!" He hit the wall. "If you wanted to shower, you should have asked me to help you! . . . No, you never would have done that."

"Just as you wouldn't have had the situation been reversed, Buddy," Vincent said softly. "It's alright, Barney. Baxter's okay. I was here."

"If you hadn't been . . ." Barney shuddered.

"Let's not think about that." Vincent looked down at Baxter, who was cringing and seemed to have wilted. "Baxter . . ."

"No, it's alright," Baxter said quietly. "Barney's right; it was completely stupid. I deserved to be yelled at." He tried to smile. "Barney wouldn't be so angry if he didn't care."

Barney's shoulders slumped and he ran a hand into his hair. "It's not alright," he growled. "I already hurt you so much today. Now I had to go and do it again. I'll never learn, will I?"

"You've learned so much." Baxter reached and gripped Barney's shoulder. "Please don't feel badly, Barney. After the day you had, this must have been the last straw."

Barney snorted. "The day I had." He sighed. "But you're right."

Vincent carried Baxter into his room and laid him on the bed. "Actually, I'm surprised no one's fallen before now. I think we should have a bathmat."

"I won't argue," Barney grunted.

"I won't either," Baxter said. He started to sit up. "I should get dressed. . . ."

"I'll help you, if you need it," Vincent offered.

"I'm sure I can manage," Baxter smiled. "But thank you, Vincent. You're very thoughtful, as always."

Vincent still looked worried, but after Baxter's reaction in the bathroom, he knew that his brother would want privacy if at all possible. He wanted to respect that. "We'll be right outside," he promised.

"Stay close to the bed so you'll fall on it if you fall," Barney said.

"I intend to," Baxter assured him.

Vincent sighed as he pulled Baxter's door mostly shut, leaving it slightly ajar so that they could hear if he needed them. "Poor Baxter," he said. "And poor you, Barney. . . . You're both victims here."

"I shouldn't have yelled at him," Barney berated. "I had a reason, but then, I always did. The way he looked . . . I saw him look like that many times. It always stabbed me, but never enough to make me treat him better." He slumped into a chair by the wall and ran his hands down his face, finally bringing them together under his chin.

"You weren't thinking," Vincent said. "You were so distraught to think of Baxter doing something so potentially dangerous after today that you couldn't hold back. So you yelled."

Barney shook his head. "I said recently that I wanted to be the brother I always should have been," he said. "How can I say that and mean it if I keep hurting him like this?"

"Barney . . ." Vincent came to stand in front of the chair and then bent down to be at Barney's eye level. "You seem to think that you have to be perfect. That's not going to happen, Buddy. No one is perfect, as I told you before. You are who you are. And part of who you are is the person who is so afraid of losing his loved ones that he can get angry. Baxter understands that. He never did before. And you never let yourself understand before that you get angry because you love him so much."

"But I don't want to be that person," Barney protested.

"And you have improved so much from what you were!" Vincent exclaimed. "But you can't expect everything negative about yourself to change quickly. I think everyone has at least one thing they struggle with all of their lives. Maybe you'll always struggle with your temper. As long as you're trying to be better and don't stop trying, you're doing all you can do."

Barney stared at the floor. "So I can know that I'll probably keep hurting Baxter for the rest of our lives," he said in disgust. "Wonderful."

"But you can also know that it will happen less and less because of how you're improving yourself and your relationship with him," Vincent said. "And Barney, that's a beautiful thing."

Barney finally nodded. "It is," he had to admit.

"And Baxter feels the same," Vincent said. "He told me about that conversation you had and how happy you made him. He said he knew that there would still be incidents where you were gruff or angry, but that didn't take away how you finally wanted to be a good brother and how that made him feel."

Barney grunted. "Of course Baxter would say that. He said something similar to me too." At last he smiled a bit. "He's always been the sweet one, even if he doesn't exactly see it that way."

"He's a very gentle soul," Vincent softly agreed. That made his past instability and eventual insanity all the more tragic. But those times were over; Baxter was himself again.

"He must have been mortified at being fished out of the bathtub," Barney said with a bit of a gently amused smirk. "He never liked anyone to catch him undressed, even family. When it occasionally happened by accident when we were children, he was always embarrassed. I never especially wanted to be seen in that state, but I didn't care that much if it happened by accident. Particularly if it was family who saw me."

Vincent chuckled. "Yes, I could tell you weren't the type to embarrass easily when you ran to the open front door wearing only a towel to chase after the Baxter robot."

"Baxter would have wanted to fall through the floor if he had been the one our neighbor saw," Barney remarked.

"And Baxter was embarrassed now, you're right." Vincent glanced to the door. "I would have liked to have helped him get dressed, but I wanted to respect his desire to do it on his own."

Barney nodded. "Just don't take it personally," he said. "As I said, he's always been that way."

"I don't take it personally at all," Vincent smiled. "While on the one hand I don't think there's really any need for embarrassment, at least around family, on the other hand I find his modesty rather refreshing after most of what's on television these days."

"There's something to be said for that," Barney mused.

The door opened and Baxter stood there in his pajamas, leaning heavily on the wood. "I made it," he said with a smile.

"Good," Barney retorted. "And you should get back into bed before you use up your luck and fall."

"Are you hungry, Pal?" Vincent asked.

"No, but . . . I'm not sure I want to sleep just yet," Baxter said. "I'd like to stay up with both of you, if that's alright. . . ."

"Of course it's alright," Barney shot back. He scolded himself at his tone. More softly he added, "I'd like that."

Baxter smiled. "I'm glad."

Barney hesitated, then said, "And actually, the day after the Dansing Building came down, I insisted on showering at the home of the first people who helped me. I shouldn't have done it either. I slipped and fell too."

Baxter cringed. "Did you hit your head?!"

"No," Barney said, "but my pride took a serious blow." He sighed and laid a hand on Baxter's shoulder. "I shouldn't have yelled at you, especially when I did the same stupid thing. I'm sorry."

Baxter looked at him in awe for a moment and then smiled. "Thank you, Barney, for telling me," he said. "Thank goodness neither of us was badly hurt when we fell."

Barney nodded. "We both could have been," he said gruffly.

"But the important thing is that neither of you was," Vincent interjected. He beamed. He hadn't expected Barney to make that revelation. It was very moving to him that Barney had.

"Yes," Barney said. "That's the most important thing."

xxxx

Michelangelo decided to wait around for Donatello to come out from tending to his leg. When he did, Michelangelo perked up and hurried over to him. "How are you doing, Bud?" he asked.

"I'm fine, Michelangelo. Really," Donatello insisted.

"It's just, you know, we don't usually get cut, and you didn't treat it till now, so . . ." Michelangelo shifted.

"It just barely penetrated," Donatello said. "There was no sign of infection. I'm okay."

Michelangelo finally relaxed and smiled. "Good."

"The last thing we need is anything else to worry about," Donatello said.

"Totally," Michelangelo said. He shifted.

Donatello peered at him. "Is that really the only thing that's bothering you?"

"Huh? Oh." Michelangelo sighed and looked down. "I'm just thinking about all this mind-control stuff. . . . We've seen so much of it lately, and in the past poor Baxter got his mind taken over by that fly, and even Master Splinter got mind-controlled by The Rat King. . . . I guess I'm just wondering how long it's gonna be before one of us gets it too."

Donatello looked surprised at first but then gave a sad sigh. "I haven't really thought about that," he admitted. "Although I have thought about what can cause mind-control. That's something I don't actually know much about, even though I understand the basics. Considering everything we've been going through, though, your question is probably valid. But I do know that if it happened to any of us, we'd be able to break it."

"You're sure?" Michelangelo looked worried.

"Of course." Donatello peered at him. "I'm sure you have confidence in the rest of us, so what you must really be asking is if you'd be able to break it."

Caught, Michelangelo averted his gaze to the floor. "You totally nailed it there, Bro."

Donatello sighed and laid a hand on Michelangelo's shoulder. "You don't need to worry, Michelangelo," he insisted. "You'd be able to break it too."

Michelangelo slowly looked up. "Really?"

"Positively." Donatello's voice held no doubt whatsoever.

That brought a smile. "Gnarly notion."

They both looked up at the sound of a woman's voice in the living room. "Hi, guys!"

"April," Michelangelo realized.

"Let's go see her." Donatello led the way into the living room, where April was visiting with Leonardo, Raphael, and Splinter.

"It is good to see you, April," Splinter said.

"Yeah. Where have you been all day?" Raphael wondered.

"Burne sent me out on an assignment in New Jersey," April said. "It was supposed to be exciting, but mostly it was long, hot, and boring." She rolled her eyes. "What about you?"

The mutants all looked at each other. "Um, it's like, a mondo long story," Michelangelo said.

"But I'm sure we'd be happy to tell you over a steaming pizza," Raphael said. "We haven't had dinner yet."

April smirked. "I came prepared." She held up several boxes.

Michelangelo's eyes gleamed. "Totally excellent! The perfect way to end a very long and bizarro day."

"And I also got a sushi tray for you, Splinter," April added.

"Thank you, April," Splinter said appreciatively. "That was most kind."

They all journeyed to the kitchen, where the food was spread out on the table and the friends gathered around to eat. As the Turtles told their story, April listened in growing horror and anger.

"Shredder really put Barney under mind-control and kidnapped him?!" she cried in indignation.

"He sure did," Leonardo said. He still sounded unusually dark.

"And Baxter got beat up trying to find him." Raphael's voice was filled with disgust.

"But seeing Baxter getting hurt and needing help is what gave Barney the strength to break the mind-control," Michelangelo said. "So that was mondo awesome." He sighed. "But it's awful that Baxter had to really get hurt. And that Shred-Head made the whole mess happen in the first place."

April frowned. "What are you going to do?"

"We'd like to let him know that this is completely unacceptable," Leonardo said. "Trying to conquer the world is bad enough, but when he repeatedly targets our loved ones, he's crossed the line."

"But we already tried to let him know it wasn't acceptable after the time he tried to make us think Baxter was dead," Donatello frowned. "It obviously didn't do any good."

"Maybe we just need to keep letting him know until it sinks in," Leonardo said.

"I hope you guys won't do anything dangerous," April said in concern.

Splinter nodded. "There has been more than enough heartache already."

"We won't, Master Splinter," Leonardo promised. "Or we'll try not to anyway. With Shredder around, who knows what will happen."

"I wish I'd been here to help out today," April said regretfully.

"That's okay, Dudette," Michelangelo smiled. "You've got work to do."

"So do Baxter, Barney, and Vincent, but they seem to manage to be around when you need them," April said.

"Just as you are, April," Donatello said. "I'm sure you'll be there next time."

April nodded. "I hope so." She finally smiled. "I'm glad that you've found some more friends that you're as close to as you are to me."

"Yeah, like, no one can have too many friends!" Michelangelo chirped.

"And for mutants, they don't exactly grow on trees," Raphael remarked. "We're an odd little family, but a great one."

"We sure are," Leonardo smiled at last.

xxxx

Everyone was still awake on the Technodrome as well. Krang was pacing back and forth as he scolded Shredder. His eyes were filled with outraged fury.

"This is just ridiculous, Shredder!" he fumed. "No, it went past ridiculous a long time ago! We would have conquered the world several times over if it wasn't for your petty revenge!"

"I've told you, Krang-my ninja honor has been desecrated," Shredder snarled. "I cannot rest until I have regained it. And that will only come with the destruction of all my enemies!"

"I care nothing for your 'ninja honor,'" Krang retorted. "I've never seen you do an honorable thing in all the years we've known each other. And completely aside from that, it's getting in the way of what I thought was our ultimate goal." He stopped pacing and narrowed his eyes. "Maybe I've been wrong. Maybe conquering the world is really only what I want out of life. Maybe you merely want to keep playing your silly games with the ones you hate."

"I want to conquer the world too!" Shredder fumed. "But I could never focus solely on that!"

"And that's where all our problems lie!" Krang shrieked, waving his tentacles in the air.

"Oh yeah? What about the times we have focused just on conquering the world?" Shredder countered. "I haven't seen us having any success then."

"Because of your interference," Krang said. "Like the time I took that military robot to destroy the Turtles on national television. I almost had them! I would have had them, if you hadn't shown up in a transport module right then!"

"And I would have had them earlier than that, if you hadn't insisted on the privilege of destroying them yourself!" Shredder boomed. "Who was caught up in the desire for revenge that time?"

Krang scowled. "That was a rare occasion. Usually I focus on our long-term goals while you can't see beyond your petty vengeance. Honestly, there are times I wish that Hamato Yoshi was the ruthless conquerer instead of you. With him, I'd be unbeatable!"

Shredder's eyes flashed. "What does he have that I don't?!" he roared.

"He doesn't get wrapped up in revenge!" Krang snapped. "He focuses on what's important!"

The arguing continued. Outside the main control room, Bebop and Rocksteady looked at each other and sighed.

"Just another day in the Technodrome," Rocksteady said.

"Only it isn't," Bebop said. "The boss hasn't ever tried to mind-control Barney before. I think Krang is getting to the point where he's completely fed-up."

Rocksteady blinked. "Do you think he might get rid of the boss?"

"I think it's possible," Bebop said. "If he can't get the boss to stop thinking so much about revenge instead of the mission."

"We like beating up on the Turtles too," Rocksteady said.

"Yeah, but even we can put it away if we need to," Bebop said. "Like when Krang wanted us to get that supercomputer. We tried to get the boss to focus on that instead of making sure that someone else didn't get revenge on the Turtles instead of him." He listened to the screaming for a moment more before he said, "If they do split up, I wonder where we'd go."

"We'd probably stick with the boss, wouldn't we?" Rocksteady shrugged.

"Maybe," Bebop said. "Maybe Krang would want us to stay here. After all, we did help him with his robot body when the boss broke it."

"Gee," Rocksteady frowned. "I'm not sure I wanna think about us all getting split up. We've been together for so long. And the boss and Krang knew each other before we ever came along."

"It is strange to think about, isn't it?" Bebop said.

"Maybe you wanna leave both of them," Rocksteady suggested. "You were so upset about what the boss did today." He paused. "Are you upset that I helped him?"

"Well, I don't feel very good about it, but I know it ain't easy to defy the boss," Bebop said. "At least Barney's okay now. And I have thought about leaving, but we don't have anywhere to go. We can't even go home."

"Yeah." Rocksteady's shoulders slumped.

"And maybe like Barney thought before about himself, we'd be able to do more to help him if we stuck around," Bebop said.

"Just as long as we don't havta go doing what he ended up doing," Rocksteady shuddered. "I don't wanna die!"

"Me either," Bebop said. "We probably wouldn't be as lucky as he was. But maybe we can just help him. After all, he's really the only one we care about in that little group."

"Yeah, but helping him means making sure Baxter and that computer don't get hurt neither," Rocksteady said. "And he's pretty chummy with the Turtles these days too."

Bebop grimaced. "Well, maybe just focus on helping Baxter and the computer, at least."

"That works for me," Rocksteady said.

Now it sounded like Shredder was stomping up and down on the floor while Krang yelled over him.

"I wonder if they'll be done arguing before morning," Bebop said.

"Who knows," Rocksteady said in annoyance. "How about we go to the all-night arcade or something? They'll never miss us."

"Sounds great to me," said Bebop.

xxxx

The three Stockmans had been sitting on Barney's bed for a while, not talking a whole lot, but just quietly sharing the time together. When at last one of them decided to open up on a deeper topic, to Baxter's surprise it was Barney.

"It hurt so much today," he muttered, staring off into the distance. "I knew something sinister had to be going on as soon as Vincent and I were separated in the fake fire. But even at that, I never expected what actually happened. When Shredder pressed the button on his controller and my body suddenly wasn't my own anymore, it felt like something out of a nightmare." He trembled. "I was aware of everything and I could do nothing about it!" He looked to Baxter. "I saw when you and Vincent tried to get through to me and you broke down, heartbroken, when I didn't respond. I knew what I was making for Shredder, but no matter how hard I tried not to make it, my body wouldn't obey me. Then he ordered me to oversee the deaths of all the 'uninvited guests' on the Technodrome. I absolutely panicked. But I still couldn't break free."

"Barney, I'm so sorry." Baxter looked to him with sorrow.

"If we only hadn't been separated," Vincent berated. "Shredder couldn't have hurt you had I been there. I could have short-circuited his controller before anything happened."

"Which is of course why he made sure we weren't together," Barney said. He gripped a handful of the quilt. "I hate that Baxter had to get hurt to make me break the control."

"I'm just glad something did," Baxter said quietly.

"Of course you would say that," Barney grunted. "And what if you'd been killed?! You probably would have been, had I been even seconds longer!"

"But you weren't." Baxter's voice was firm. "You weren't going to let that happen, Barney. You fought the mind-control tooth and nail all the way along and you finally broke free to save me. I will never not be grateful for that. I am sorry that I ended up hurt, because I know that's going to continue haunting you. But I have the chance to get better because of you. I know I'd be dead without you. I know it's hard, but I hope you can focus on that."

"I try," Barney said. "And I know God helped me break free, both for your sake . . . and for mine."

"I'm glad you realize that you're worthy of His help," Baxter said.

"It still seems outlandish to me," Barney said. "But logically I know that if the Bible is to be believed, it must be true. It would be ridiculous to believe that a lost soul returned to the fold would be rejoiced over as long as he isn't Barney Stockman."

Vincent smiled. "Of course. And it's so good to see you basically at peace with yourself, Barney. I've watched you grow from the angry and hurting soul to where you are today."

"You know what's also outlandish," Barney mused. "I used to scoff at the very thought that opening up to Baxter would actually make me feel good. I thought I'd feel just the opposite to be vulnerable to him." He looked to Baxter. "But it does feel good. I believe it's even made my life easier. I like opening up to you. I don't feel vulnerable. I feel safe, just like I do with Vincent."

Baxter beamed. "I was surprised when you started talking with me here," he said. "I didn't think you'd want to say anything until you were alone with Vincent. Although I knew you had definitely changed, to be as open as you were with the Turtles on the ride home."

"I have," Barney agreed. "There are still some negative things about me that are the same, but I hope I'm a better person than I even was several months ago."

"You're a wonderful person, Barney," Baxter said in all sincerity, "and you've helped my life become so full and rich in the last months. I also thought I would never want to be vulnerable around you. Even after we started growing close, I wasn't sure I'd trust you with my deepest thoughts and feelings. I know now that I can trust you with them. You won't ridicule me as I once believed you would."

"And as I probably would have," Barney muttered. "You're right, I wouldn't now."

Vincent smiled. "I dreamed of times like this and both of you told me it wouldn't happen."

"Well, it certainly didn't seem likely at the time," Barney said.

"You know, I think I actually am getting hungry now," Baxter realized. "Maybe a little snack. . . ." He started to ease off the bed.

Barney and Vincent followed him, making sure to keep close in case he fell.

"Do you want something too, Buddy?" Vincent asked Barney.

"Maybe," Barney said. "It has been a long time since we ate."

"By the way," Vincent said, "you should really sing more often. You have a pleasant voice."

Barney paused. "Odd. I didn't even think until just this moment that everyone probably heard me singing to Baxter if they were observing on the monitors."

"Does that bother you?" Vincent wondered.

A shrug. "Naturally it wasn't meant to be overheard or watched. It was a private moment. But when it was broadcast everywhere, I'm not going to bother being embarrassed about it. At least I do sing well."

"You really do, Barney," Baxter said. "But I guess you would never want to do it much. . . ."

"I wouldn't," Barney agreed. "It isn't my thing."

"Well . . ." Baxter smiled. "You used it when it counted. That's what matters to me."

"It's eerie, how much that song actually fit my feelings," Barney frowned. "Both on you and on my attitude in general. I wouldn't allow myself to cry. Nor would I ask for help if I needed it. I'm probably still bad about that. And so many times when I wanted to tell you I was sorry or that I really did care about you, I walked away instead."

"And I know you thought I was too naive and innocent," Baxter remarked.

"Actually, I altered that line to fit," Barney admitted. "But I didn't change anything else. I never recognized that you were the best thing in my life until it looked like it was too late."

"But it wasn't too late," Vincent smiled.

"Which is a miracle many people don't get," Barney said. "So why were we allowed to have it?"

"Maybe we'll never know, and that's alright," Baxter said. "I'm just so grateful for it."
xxxx

Michelangelo was still awake long after April left, despite the late hour. He sighed to himself; he had learned long ago that he would have times like this after many, if not most, of their most heartrending experiences. The other Turtles had seemed to slip off to sleep, unless they were all really laying awake and staring at the walls. Michelangelo chose to believe they were asleep and didn't want to disturb them.

Instead he went for his usual solution of going into the living room and trying to play his handheld game for a while. But also as usual, he knew what he really wanted to do and what would really help him was talking to the friends who had been the most badly hurt. He pulled out his Turtle-Comm, frowned at it, and finally pressed the button.

Baxter didn't look either surprised or sleepy when he answered. "Hello, Michelangelo."

"Hey, Bud. How're you feeling?" Michelangelo asked.

"I'm alright." Baxter smiled at him. "So is Barney."

"I hope so." Michelangelo shifted. "Sleep's not coming very easily."

"That's the same here," Baxter said. "We're all wide-awake."

"And if you don't get some sleep, Buddy, I don't know how you'll teach the class today," Vincent said in the background.

Barney grunted. "I'll manage."

"Guess you don't have any tips for catching some Zs," Michelangelo said.

"I'm afraid not," Baxter said. "Unless just talking would help."

Michelangelo beamed. "I was hoping you'd say that."

"Did anything else go wrong?" Baxter asked.

"Well . . . Donatello got hurt and none of us even realized," Michelangelo blurted.

Baxter stiffened. "Is it bad?"

"Hope not. He said it was just a scratch." Michelangelo sighed.

Barney leaned into the screen in the background. "There was so much going on . . . but I should have noticed," he growled.

"Hey, none of us noticed," Michelangelo said. "And Donatello sure kept quiet about it. Then he ended up forgetting about it!"

"So it wasn't even treated until you got home?!" Barney's eyes narrowed.

"Yeah, it wasn't," Michelangelo frowned. "But he said it looked okay, no sign of infection."

Barney finally started to relax. "Good."

"I'm sure he'll be alright then," Baxter smiled encouragingly.

"I hope so," Michelangelo said. "I'm sure glad you guys are okay."

"So are we," Vincent chirped.

"We're going up to bed," Barney said, deciding that Baxter and Michelangelo might like to talk alone. "Goodnight, Michelangelo."

"'Night, Dudes," Michelangelo said.

Vincent waved to him before ducking out of the screen range with Barney.

Baxter leaned back against the counter. "Is anything troubling you besides concern for all of us, Michelangelo?" he asked.

"Huh? Oh. I guess I'm getting pretty fed-up with Shred-Head's revenge-driven schemes," Michelangelo said. "Leonardo sure is. It's just not cool at all."

"It definitely isn't," Baxter said, a bit of darkness creeping into his voice. "But at least I'm sure that Krang feels the same. He may take care of the problem for us."

"He hasn't absolutely put his foot down before," Michelangelo said.

"He has to sometime," Baxter said. "Seeing Barney destroy the blueprints for what could have gotten the Technodrome out of the well might prove to be the last straw for him." He chuckled. "Krang was actually our ally when he reversed Shredder's super-strength a while back. It would be bizarre if he ended up helping us out again at some point."

"No duh," Michelangelo said. "Especially since it was because of him that you got stuck with a fly."

Baxter was somewhat surprised to hear the anger and repulsion in Michelangelo's tone, but combined with everything else that had been happening, he certainly didn't blame him. "And yet the irony is that I really would be dead if the cross-fusion hadn't happened," he said. "As horrible as it was, it saved my life at that point. I just didn't know if it was worth it."

"How do you feel now?" Michelangelo asked.

"Well, I'm certainly glad I'm not dead," Baxter said. "My life would have been a miserable waste had it ended there. I still don't know if I could ever say I'm grateful the cross-fusion happened, but . . ." He sighed. "All things considered, I can't deny that I'm alive because of it."

Michelangelo smiled. "I'm glad you can see it that way, Bud. It's funny, you know? Usually I'd be the one trying to get you to see a silver lining in something like that. But now I'm struggling with seeing it that way, I guess because it still wouldn't have happened if Krang hadn't been trying to kill you. And I saw first-hand how you were suffering and getting worse all the time and it upsets me so much that none of us even saw it at the time. Thinking back on it now, it's so obvious."

"You and the other Turtles have grown a lot over this past year as well," Baxter said softly. "You certainly didn't help me back then, but you thought of me as bad from the first night we met. Of course you wouldn't bend over backwards to try to help me."

"Yeah, I guess," Michelangelo frowned.

"Anyway, that's in the past, just as Barney's forays into mind-controlling you are in the past."

"That got dragged up for him again today," Michelangelo said. "Is he gonna keep feeling bad about it?"

"I hope not," Baxter said. "For me, I can have spells where I remember something unpleasant that I did and it can bother me for as much as several hours. Usually I can put it behind me again after a decent sleep."

"That's gnarly," Michelangelo grinned.

"I hope you will feel better come morning as well," Baxter said.

"Like, I hope we all will," Michelangelo said. "You're probably gonna feel really sore."

"I already do," Baxter admitted with a wince. "But I'll still be at work tomorrow. I just hope I can stay at the station instead of traveling."

"Yeah, seriously," Michelangelo said in concern.

"At least I don't have to go in as early tomorrow," Baxter said. "And Barney's only class is in the afternoon."

"Good deal." Michelangelo yawned. "Wow, I think I'm finally getting tired."

"I am as well," Baxter said. He slowly got off the stool. "I'll talk to you later today, Michelangelo."

"Bodacious," Michelangelo beamed. "Night, Baxter Dude."

"Goodnight, my friend."

Michelangelo definitely felt better as he closed the Turtle-Comm and got off the couch to head for bed. He was slightly surprised to see Leonardo in the doorway. "Oh . . . I didn't wake you up, did I, Bud?" he said in concern.

"No, Michelangelo," Leonardo assured him. "I realized you weren't in bed and I wondered if you were alright."

"Sure," Michelangelo said. "I am, especially now."

"I know sometimes we're up late when troubling things happen," Leonardo said. "None of us could sleep easily after we came back from Creepy Eddie's dimension." He peered at the orange-masked Turtle. "Are you up late after all or most things that go wrong?"

"Yeah," Michelangelo confessed. "Err, the real bummer ones anyway. Baxter knows about it. We usually rap when it happens; he stays awake too."

"You didn't say anything to the rest of us or to Master Splinter," Leonardo said.

"Hey, if you guys weren't bothered enough to get stuck awake, I didn't wanna bring it up," Michelangelo shrugged. "It's all cool now. I'm gonna go to bed. Night!"

"Alright. Goodnight." Leonardo watched him go with a bit of a frown.

"What is it, my student?" Splinter asked, suddenly appearing beside him.

Leonardo started. "I just found out that Michelangelo is usually always awake after our really bad experiences," he said. "I know we all often have trouble sleeping at first, but usually the rest of us drift off eventually. I should have realized that maybe Michelangelo didn't."

"How would you know, my son? Particularly when he didn't tell you?"

"I'm the leader," Leonardo protested. "I should always know what's going on with the other Turtles."

"But you are not a mind-reader," Splinter replied. "You are the leader, true, but that doesn't grant you increased mental abilities."

"You seem to know, Master," Leonardo remarked.

"Only because I awakened once or twice and overheard Michelangelo calling Baxter in the middle of the night," Splinter said. "He always seemed to feel better after those conversations, so I let it go at that. I imagine those conversations are good for both of them."

"Yeah, I guess so," Leonardo said. "Well, I want to be more vigilant and observant. The next time one of these really bad problems happens, I'm going to pay more attention to how everyone else is feeling."

"That is good," Splinter smiled. "And I am certain you will improve as time goes by."

"Thank you, Master." Leonardo bowed.

"And now, it is time for you to return to sleep as well," Splinter said. "Unless you would prefer to stay up and talk."

"I think I can get to sleep," Leonardo said. "But thanks. Goodnight, Master Splinter."

"Goodnight, Leonardo." Splinter smiled as he watched Leonardo depart. Then he turned and headed back to his own room.

xxxx

Baxter hung up his Turtle-Comm and limped into the living room. The staircase still looked daunting. But he was going to have to go up and down the stairs on his own before the bruises and bumps all healed. He might as well learn now. He took a deep breath and placed his foot on the first step.

It shouldn't have really been a surprise when Vincent suddenly appeared at the top of the stairs. "Hi, Pal," he greeted with a smile.

"I thought you were going to bed," Baxter said, still in surprise anyway.

"I got Barney to bed," Vincent said. "But we both thought you'd like to talk to Michelangelo by yourself. And I wanted to wait up for you." He reached Baxter and lifted him into his arms. "You won't have to climb the stairs tonight."

"I'll have to tomorrow," Baxter stammered. "I can't be pampered like this the whole time I'm recovering."

"We'll see," Vincent soothed.

Finally Baxter smiled and rested against his brother. It wasn't a kind of treatment he was used to. It felt good.

xxxx

Bebop and Rocksteady came in with their module late that night, trying to be very quiet in case Shredder and Krang had stopped fighting and would notice they were gone. All was quiet, so the mutants exchanged a hopeful look and started down the hall.

Do Not Disturb If You Value Your Life, Krang! was posted on Shredder's door.

Likewise, Shredder! was posted on Krang's.

"Gee," said Bebop. "Do you get the feeling they're still mad at each other?"

"Yeah, I kinda do," Rocksteady blinked. "Oh well. Let's go to our room and hope that everything will blow over by morning."

Bebop was quite agreeable to that.