Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 1987

Michelangelo the Criminal

By Lucky_Ladybug

Notes: The characters are not mine and the story is! ThickerThanLove was an immense help with the plot and assorted elements. Some elements are also inspired by the Rescue Rangers episode Le Purrfect Crime. 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 a fairly pleasant late summer day, the kind of day that lent itself well to walking again. Michelangelo and Baxter had been taking a stroll for close to an hour. Baxter was slightly miffed that they couldn't seem to escape construction work, but they were making the best of it regardless.

"So how are things, Michelangelo?" Baxter asked. Michelangelo had been discussing video games and comic books and his role in Rondo's movie with supreme enthusiasm, but given the amount of odd adventures they had had lately, Baxter wondered how his friend was truly feeling deep down.

"Things are totally awesome right now, Bud!" Michelangelo grinned.

"I hope so," Baxter said. "When you don't call late at night, I tend to assume that you're feeling well. Either that or that maybe you're talking to the other Turtles or Splinter about what troubles you."

Michelangelo shrugged. "When we're all bugged by something, we usually all talk together and stuff," he said. "Sometimes I'll talk to Master Splinter alone, and sometimes one of the guys, but usually . . . well, if I'm the only one mondo upset by something, I don't really like bringing it up."

"Don't you think they would want to know?" Baxter said gently.

"I guess. . . . Leonardo caught me up after Barney got mind-controlled and acted kind of surprised that I hadn't said anything, but . . . eh, I don't like to bring them down," Michelangelo shrugged. "I mean . . . if you and me-and Barney-were the main ones affected, it makes more sense for us to talk, right?"

"I suppose," Baxter said. "Usually I talk to Barney and Vincent as well as you, though."

"Yeah, but . . . they ask you and stuff, right?" Michelangelo said slowly. "You don't bring it up on your own."

"That's true," Baxter admitted. "I'm not likely to volunteer information unless I'm very upset. The other Turtles don't ask you?"

"Sometimes," Michelangelo said. "I talk then."

Baxter nodded. "I guess they're so used to thinking of you as the happy Turtle that they don't always stop to think that maybe you're hurting inside," he said quietly.

Michelangelo blinked. "Huh. Maybe not. You know, I never thought of that."

"Do you feel sad that they don't ask you more?" Baxter wondered.

Michelangelo looked down. ". . . Yeah, I guess I kind of do. I wonder if that's also part of it. . . . Maybe I feel like if they really wanted to know, they'd think about how I'd probably feel bad and they'd ask. I mean . . . all the gonzo stuff that happens. . . . Seems like anybody would be upset about it." He stiffened. "Oh man. . . . I wonder if I've been making the same mistake they do. Maybe since they don't talk about it, I figure they're not bothered, and maybe they are and they don't want to bother anybody either!"

"You know what I think?" It was a rhetorical question, and Baxter went on, "I think all of you should sit down and have a talk about it."

"That's a good idea," Michelangelo smiled. "I like it, Bud."

"Then suggest it to them," Baxter said. "Maybe as soon as tonight. It's never too soon to try to grow closer to your loved ones. Heaven knows I wish Barney and I had been able to really talk years ago. I don't want to see you someday regretting years of not being open with your brothers and Splinter."

"It'll probably sound kinda funny coming out of the blue," Michelangelo said. "But I guess if they're hurting too, maybe they'd be grateful for it."

"I think so," Baxter said, laying a hand on Michelangelo's shoulder. "I do encourage you to try."

"I'll do it," Michelangelo promised. "It's kinda funny how much you guys have been teaching us about being a family. I thought we already knew how!"

"You're a fine family, Michelangelo," Baxter said. "You've taught us so many things. But you still have lessons to learn as well. I have the feeling you haven't always talked things out as much as perhaps you should have."

"Not to mention we never even thought of calling each other brothers or saying I love you," Michelangelo said. "Totally basic stuff!"

"I guess you've always thought of yourselves more as friends than brothers," Baxter mused. "Which is perfectly alright. Brothers should be friends."

"It's a totally triumphant concept!" Michelangelo declared. "I guess you're right, though. Even though we were all raised together, we never actually thought of ourselves as related. We still don't know that we are."

"And maybe you never will," Baxter said. "But that doesn't really matter, does it?"

"Most definitely not," Michelangelo said. "We are bros at heart and Splinter's our dad. Sometimes he calls us 'sons.' I don't think we've ever called him 'Father' or 'Dad,' though."

"Would you like to?" Baxter asked.

Michelangelo paused. "I never thought about it before, but I guess it would be kind of gnarly. I don't know, though . . . would it be respectful to call your sensei 'Dad'?"

"Well . . . I've never had a 'sensei,'" Baxter said. "But then again, I've never had much of a father, either. I think that if you think of Splinter as your father, he would be honored to have the title."

That brought a smile. "Epic."

They walked under the shadow of a small beam high over their heads and passed by the T.V. Vision store.

"And Professor Willard W. Willard has just reported the theft of his Criminal Correctional Device," April was saying. "He claims it's a device that will help law-enforcement agencies by forcing the bad guys in prison to be good. Personally, to this reporter it sounds a lot like a brainwashing or a mind-control device."

Michelangelo grimaced. "Oh great. Just what we needed! Who the heck would steal that?!"

"Probably every madman in the city," Baxter sighed. "A brainwashing device could be turned against everyone, not just criminals. And even with criminals, they have the right to make up their own minds on what to do, especially if they're already in custody and aren't a danger to anyone behind bars. Honestly, I wonder when that idiot will learn that his inventions cause more harm than good."

"Like, he doesn't even care, just so long as they work," Michelangelo said. He peered at his friend. "Usually you're pretty patient with the dude."

"Around him, my patience is always ready to snap," Baxter admitted. "It doesn't help that we ran into him at the store the other day and he was criticizing us up and down for what we did wrong in the past."

"Ouch," Michelangelo winced. "I remember he just couldn't seem to believe that you're the good guys now."

"He certainly couldn't about me," Baxter agreed. "He feels the same about poor Barney. If he really knew about Vincent, I'm sure he'd feel the same about him too."

"What did he say about Vincent?" Michelangelo gulped.

"Well, at least one positive thing about him is that he wasn't fazed by Vincent," Baxter said. "But the bad news is that he walked right up to Vincent and told him he should be ashamed for associating with such 'riff-raff.'"

"That scuzz-ball!" Michelangelo scowled, clenching his fists. "Man, didn't he ever learn to mind his own business?! And I just don't get why he has it in for you guys so much! Especially when you've been trying to be good!"

"Vincent asked him that very question," Baxter said. "He didn't have a very satisfying answer. He just doesn't believe we could ever be good, no matter what we do. I still wonder if he's angrier that I quit his class than anything else," he spoke dryly. "And maybe he found out that Barney's the reason he was kicked out of the university after he was performing his dangerous experiments."

"Yeah, I guess those would be reasons why that stuffed shirt would hate you both," Michelangelo sighed.

"Anyway, I hope that invention of his will turn up before anyone gets hurt with it," Baxter shuddered.

"Well, I know the guys will want to go look for it," Michelangelo said. "They'll probably be calling any . . . look out!"

Baxter gasped in surprise as he was suddenly pushed out of the way. The small construction beam high above was in the process of being moved, but something had gone wrong. When it was directly over them again, it had come loose and started plummeting towards them. But instead of striking him as it would have, it hit Michelangelo hard on the forehead.

"Oh . . . mondo bummer," he mumbled. Then he fell forward into Baxter's arms.

"Michelangelo?!" Baxter held his friend close and sank to his knees. "Michelangelo, speak to me!" Quickly he checked for a pulse. It was strong, but Michelangelo was unconscious.

He looked around, panic-stricken and angry. No one was nearby; the construction workers didn't even seem aware that they had hurt someone. Unless they didn't care because it was a mutant. . . .

Baxter pushed down the wave of outraged indignation rising in his heart. He didn't know one way or the other, but in any case, Michelangelo was more important than anything else right now. He shifted, carefully turning the Turtle onto his back and letting his head rest on Baxter's lap.

"Michelangelo, please wake up," he begged.

It was strange, he realized. He hadn't often had to deal with the situation of one of the Turtles being hurt, although he and others had rescued them at times when they got into sticky situations. Usually they didn't seem to get physically hurt. None of them had gotten hurt protecting him before, even though the reverse had happened. Now he knew at least to some extent how Michelangelo must have felt then.

"Why didn't I see that beam falling?" he berated. "We could have both gotten out of the way. . . ."

He checked Michelangelo's pulse again. Still steady. And oh, thank goodness he was stirring.

"Michelangelo!" Baxter exclaimed. "Are you alright?!"

"Huh?" Michelangelo squinted up at him. "Who's . . . Michelangelo? That's . . . kind of an ostentacious name, isn't it?"

Baxter fell back in horror. No. No, this was not happening. Maybe he was just dazed and he'd be fine once he woke up more.

"Who are you, Dude?" Michelangelo continued, reaching up a hand to Baxter's face.

"I'm . . ." Baxter choked on a sob. "I'm your friend. I'm . . . Uncle Baxter. . . ."

"Uncle? A mutant and a human are nephew and uncle?" Michelangelo hopped to his feet.

"Yes!" Baxter rose with him. "Michelangelo, you've been badly hurt. You shouldn't make such sudden movements!"

"I feel fine, Dude . . . whoa." Michelangelo swayed, then grabbed the side of the building and steadied himself.

"You are not fine!" Baxter cried. "You were hit by that!" He pointed at the beam.

Michelangelo blinked at it. "Man, I must have a pretty hard head, huh?"

Baxter ran a hand through his hair. "Don't you remember anything?!" he said in despair.

Michelangelo paused. "Well, let's see. . . . I know what year it is . . . where we are . . . but I'm drawing a blank about me and you. Sorry, Bud."

Baxter wasn't ready to give up. "What about your family?!" he pressed.

"Family?" Michelangelo stared off in the distance. "You're my uncle and I don't remember you, and . . . I don't know . . . it kind of seems like I've got more family out there, but I can't place them. Maybe I should go look for them." He took a step forward.

"No. Oh no." Baxter hurried and grabbed Michelangelo's arm. "You're not going anywhere without me. You're in no condition to wander all over the city!"

Michelangelo stiffened. "No offense, Dude, but since I don't remember you, I'd really rather you didn't touch me, you know?"

"Oh." Baxter swallowed hard, but took his hand back. "Of course. I'm sorry. I just don't want you to wander off and get hurt even worse. . . ." Although he was trying not to show how that cut, he wasn't very successful.

Michelangelo looked away, not wanting to admit to how it made him feel to have hurt this strange little man. Before he could think much on it at all, a memory flashed through his mind. He was trapped in a net . . . and Baxter was looking in at him, grinning and giggling.

Panic flooded his senses and he whirled, shoving Baxter away from him and into the wall. "You've been lying to me!" he cried.

Baxter yelped in pain, but Michelangelo's words pushed away all thoughts of physical hurting. "W-What?" he gasped.

"You had me trapped in some kind of weird net and you were laughing!" Michelangelo started to back up. "You're not my uncle or my friend! You're trying to trick me! You probably knocked that thing down on my head in the first place, and on purpose!"

Baxter's jaw dropped. The look that passed over his face was complete devastation and guilt.

"It really happened, didn't it?!" Michelangelo demanded.

"Y-Yes," Baxter said weakly. "Your net memory, I mean. . . . Yes, that happened, but . . ."

"Then I don't need to hear any more," Michelangelo shot back.

"Michelangelo, I didn't hit you with that beam!" Baxter said in anguish. "Yes, I captured you in that net, but I . . . we were different then. We didn't start out as friends, but we became friends later. I love you!"

Another flash of memory. A fly creature, cackling madly in Baxter's voice and dressed in most of Baxter's clothes, pointed a strange ray gun at Michelangelo and turned him into a gerbil.

"NO!" Michelangelo screamed. "You're lying! You . . . you're some creepy little insect! You're probably like Bugman, only bad! Just stay away from me! Stay away!" In utter terror he pushed Baxter away from him again and ran, flying around a corner.

Baxter fell heavily against the wall for the second time in five minutes. But instead of waiting to recover, he immediately pushed away from it and ran, desperately chasing his friend.

Soon he stumbled to a halt, his heart pounding. It was no use; Michelangelo had vanished and he could be almost anywhere. And in his condition, who knew what could happen!

His hands shaking, Baxter took out his Turtle-Comm. He had to let the Turtles know what had happened. But first . . . first maybe he should call Barney. As a neuropsychologist, Barney had studied all about head injuries. He would be vital right now. He was teaching class, and Baxter never bothered him during class, but . . . this was an emergency. . . .

He pressed the button.

xxxx

Barney was indeed teaching class. He was right in the middle of a complex lecture when a strange beeping interrupted him. He paused, about to ask who had left their phone on. Then he realized the beeping was close to him. He took the Turtle-Comm out of his pocket and stared dumbly at it.

Vincent stared too. Something had to be terribly wrong. No one bothered Barney during class.

"Excuse me a moment," Barney said gruffly. He stepped to the corner of the room and opened the device. Baxter appeared on the screen, looking close to hysteria. "Baxter, what on Earth?!"

"Michelangelo's hurt!" Baxter cried in despair. "He got hit with a beam while protecting me and now he can't remember who any of us are! He thinks I'm his enemy!" He shook his head. "He's getting back all the worst memories of us and he ran away in utter terror. Oh Barney, I can't find him and I don't know what to do . . . !"

Barney felt stress and panic rising in his heart. He still wasn't good at dealing with this sort of thing, especially when someone else was panicking right in front of him. Part of him wanted to snarl at Baxter to calm down. The other part couldn't bear to. Baxter was obviously crushed and panic-stricken for his friend, and he was most likely blaming himself since Michelangelo had been hurt protecting him.

"Alright," he said then. "Baxter, don't worry. Call the Turtles and keep looking for him. Vincent and I will come right out."

Relief spread over Baxter's face. "Thank you, Barney," he whispered. "Thank you. . . ."

"Just try not to completely go to pieces," Barney said. "Michelangelo's already done that."

Baxter drew a deep breath. "I know. I know I have to be strong. I don't know how I'm going to this time, but I'll try my best."

"Good. We're on our way." Barney hung up and came back to the front of the classroom. Vincent, who had heard everything, was staring at Barney in horror.

"What's up, Professor?" Andrew gently teased. "You forgot to turn your phone off?"

"Class is cancelled for the rest of the day," Barney responded. He slammed the textbook shut on his desk. "It's a family emergency."

Instantly the class sobered. "Is something wrong with Baxter?!" Gloria said in horror.

"He's very worried," Barney said. "Our nephew is seriously hurt." He strode towards the door without further explanation. Although he could hear the class erupting in confused mumbles, he ignored them and rushed on.

Vincent came up right beside him. "What are we going to do, Buddy?" he asked.

"Hopefully the Turtles can track Michelangelo with his Turtle-Comm, if he hasn't lost it," Barney said. "Maybe they can even call him and he'll listen to them even though he won't listen to Baxter. If not . . ." He shook his head. "This is going to be highly difficult."

"You're holding it together well," Vincent said softly. "I could tell you were about to break when you were talking to Baxter."

"I'm not good with handling hysterics," Barney grunted. "But I was afraid if I snapped at Baxter right then, he would completely fall apart."

"He might have," Vincent agreed. "You're doing so well with trying to be kind and considerate towards him."

"I just worry what trouble Michelangelo will get into before we find him," Barney muttered. "When he doesn't remember anyone or anything, anything could happen."

xxxx

Donatello was working in his lab when his Turtle-Comm went off. Blinking in surprise, he pulled it out and opened it. "Baxter, what's going on?" he said in surprise.

"Donatello . . ." Baxter took a deep breath. It was obvious from his eyes that he was panicking, but when he spoke he definitely made an effort to stay calm. "Something terrible has happened. Michelangelo was hurt by some malfunctioning piece of construction work and now he has amnesia."

"WHAT?!" Donatello slammed his free hand on the table.

His cry brought Leonardo and Raphael running into the room. "What's going on, Boy Genius?!" Raphael demanded.

"Baxter says Michelangelo was hurt and now he has amnesia," Donatello said, looking over his shoulder at him and Leonardo.

The other two Turtles stiffened.

"Oh no!" Leonardo gasped.

"And it gets worse," Baxter said sadly. "He's remembering the terrible things. He doesn't trust me and he ran away. I'm trying to find him, but I have no idea where he is and . . ."

"Alright, Baxter, calm down," Donatello said. "Unless there's extenuating circumstances, Turtle-Comms can track each other. I'm sure you could figure out how to do it on your own, but I'll teach you how. And we'll come out too, of course."

"One of us should try calling Michelangelo," Leonardo fretted. "He might listen to us."

"I'll call him," Donatello said. "Baxter, tracking other Turtle-Comms is very simple. You just . . ." He quickly delivered the instructions.

Baxter nodded. "Thank you. I'll see if I can track him right now." He hung up.

Donatello let out a dismayed groan. "Michelangelo with amnesia," he said, shaking his head. It was such a horrible concept that he could barely fathom it.

The other Turtles felt the same.

"And scared of Baxter? He really is out of it," Raphael frowned.

"If he's remembering the past, that's understandable," Leonardo said. "Let's just hope he won't feel the same about us."

"He couldn't," Donatello objected as he pressed the button to call Michelangelo's Turtle-Comm. "After all, we're turtles, like him."

Leonardo frowned a bit. "He doesn't distrust Baxter because he's a human," he objected.

"Well, no, of course not," Donatello said. "That's not what I meant. But we are his own kind. He should trust us if no one else."

"All of our family is 'his own kind,'" Leonardo retorted.

"I just mean that if I had amnesia, I'd certainly be more likely to trust a fellow turtle than anyone else," Donatello said.

"Which means you could wind up trusting Slash," Raphael remarked.

Donatello cringed. "This is coming out all wrong. We're all worried about Michelangelo. How about we just focus on that?"

"Fine with me," Raphael shrugged. "Why isn't he answering, anyway?"

xxxx

Michelangelo was still running when a strange beeping caused him to slow down and take an odd turtle shell from his belt. "What the heck is this?" he blinked. "Some new kind of cell phone?"

He turned it around and around before he found a small button. When he clicked it open, a small screen showed a purple-masked Turtle looking back at him. "Michelangelo!" the other Turtle exclaimed. "Baxter just called. He said you don't remember who you are!"

"You know Baxter?!" Michelangelo trembled.

"Of course," frowned the purple-masked Turtle. "We all know him. He's our friend. He's your best friend."

"Lies!" Michelangelo spat. "He must have planted this thing on me! He's a creepy little insect-guy! If you know him, you can't be any friend of mine!"

"Michelangelo . . ." The purple-masked Turtle looked both like he was trying to stay patient and trying to fully grasp what he was being told. "I'm Donatello."

"Well, good for you!" Michelangelo shot back. "Now leave me alone, okay?!"

"Michelangelo, I'm . . . we were raised together," Donatello pleaded. "We're brothers!"

"Brothers?" For a moment Michelangelo paused. That feeling of other family out there tugged at him again. But then the fear swept over him once more and he cried out, flinging the communicator into a nearby bush. "You're lying! Leave me alone! I want to remember, but I can't! And I don't want any creepy insect-people or their minions coming after me and trying to make me believe I belong with them!"

"Michelangelo!" Donatello screamed, his voice now muffled by the bush.

But Michelangelo had already taken off running again.

The blocks blurred and faded as he ran. He barely noticed the stunned and surprised people staring at him. All he could see, over and over, were the frightening flashes of memory-trapped in the net, Baxter grinning and laughing. . . . Baxter turning him into a gerbil. . . .

Donatello pleading for Michelangelo to listen. . . . Saying they were brothers, that Baxter was his best friend. . . .

Baxter looking heartbroken and crushed when he was accused of not caring. . . .

Michelangelo wasn't sure how far he had run when he finally slowed down and stopped. The frightening flashes of memory were still bothering him, but the more time that passed, the more the memories of that day crowded out the memories of the past. What if Baxter and Donatello weren't lying? What if he and Baxter really had become friends? What if Donatello was his brother?

Another flash of memory. He was holding Baxter in his arms, but Baxter wasn't moving. He seemed to be dead, or at least, Michelangelo certainly appeared to think so. He sobbed, heartbroken, as he cradled the lifeless body close to him. Donatello and two more Turtles were gathered around him, looking agonized as well.

In the present, Michelangelo went stiff. "We really must be friends," he said softly. "When I really think about it, I felt safe when I was with him. He was worried about me. And oh no . . . the things I said. . . . I hurt him so bad. . . ."

He turned around. Now he wanted to go back and find him, but he couldn't remember which way he had run. How would he ever get back there? And Baxter was probably looking for him now too. He wouldn't even be where Michelangelo had left him.

"I'm all alone," he realized in horror. "I don't know anybody! And there's no one around who knows me. The ones who claimed they did I just rejected. Mondo move, Michelangelo." He swallowed hard. "I wish I hadn't left Baxter. . . . Or thrown that weird turtle shell thing in those bushes. . . . That Donatello guy acted hurt too. . . ." In despair he turned and trudged down the sidewalk.

He didn't realize he was being watched. "Oh, I can't believe this!" Shredder sneered to himself. "What luck! One of the Turtles with amnesia!"

"What are you gonna do, Boss?" Rocksteady asked. "Krang'll be mad if you try to use him to get your revenge."

"What if I use him to ensure that we get what we need for the Technodrome?" Shredder countered. "There's no way we could fail with a Ninja Turtle on our side!"

"Uh . . . how are you gonna get him on our side?" Bebop asked.

"He doesn't trust the other Turtles," Shredder chortled. "Or Baxter. This is too perfect. I'm sure I can con him into thinking we're the good guys and they're the bad guys." He came out from around the building and started towards Michelangelo.

"Why do I have a bad feeling about this?" Bebop said to Rocksteady.

"I don't know," Rocksteady shrugged. "Unless you don't wanna have to work with a Turtle." He made a face.

"Well, I don't, but I just have the terrible feeling this is going to backfire on us," Bebop said.

"How?" Rocksteady countered.

"Everybody else is gonna be real upset," Bebop said. "Including Barney and Baxter."

"That's true," Rocksteady relented.

But they plodded after Shredder anyway.

Michelangelo looked up with a jerk when the trio approached him. "Who are you guys?" He took a wary step back. Something definitely didn't feel right.

"Why, Michelangelo! I'm hurt that you don't remember us!" Shredder said in his faux friendly tone. "You've worked with us for so long!"

"I . . . have?" Michelangelo frowned. Alarm bells were going off in his head, unlike when he had been with Baxter or talked to that other Turtle. "Does Baxter work with you too?"

"He used to," Shredder said, "until he decided to betray us. I hope you're not going to betray us too."

"Well, gosh, I . . ." Michelangelo looked from him to the mutants. "Uh . . . what is it we do? And why did Baxter betray you?"

"He didn't approve of us," Shredder said. "Our home is stuck in a well and we don't have any money to get it out, so we have to steal to get the materials to try."

"Yeah, only them other Turtles and Baxter and his brothers always stop us," Rocksteady said.

Bebop shot him a look as he joined in the lies and half-truths.

Michelangelo frowned. "Stealing's wrong, I remember that much. But why doesn't anybody just help you out of the well?"

"They're so unfairly prejudiced against us, just because our home and our leader come from another world," Shredder said. "Really, all we want is to live in peace with all Earthlings, but the way we're treated forces us to commit crimes."

"And I help you with this?" Michelangelo scratched his head. It just didn't sound or feel right. It was the complete opposite of how those others had made him feel.

"You are our greatest asset!" Shredder proclaimed.

"But Baxter said he's my friend," Michelangelo protested. "And my uncle. And one of those Turtles said we're brothers."

"That's so typical of them, to take advantage of you when you don't remember anything," Shredder said. "Do you really believe them?"

"Well, I didn't," Michelangelo said slowly. "I remembered Baxter laughing when he caught me in a net and then later he turned me into a gerbil or something."

"Yes, Baxter is such a sadistic little devil," Shredder said.

"But then I remembered holding him and he looked like he was dead and I was crying!" Michelangelo blurted. "And the other Turtles were there!"

"You're such a sweet soul, you can't bear for anyone to be hurt, even someone like Baxter," Shredder replied.

"I'd fall apart like that over a guy I don't even like?" Michelangelo blinked.

"Of course." Shredder put his arm around Michelangelo's shoulders. "That's why you're such an asset to our team."

"But . . . you know, I'm dressed just like the Turtle I talked to," Michelangelo said. "Different colors, but we both had these armbands and masks and stuff. . . ."

"Well . . . the truth is that you were originally with those other Turtles," Shredder said. "But unlike the rest of them, you were converted to our cause."

"So why did I have some kind of communication device thingie to talk to them?" Michelangelo frowned.

"You wanted to keep in touch. You're sentimental that way." Shredder tried to lead Michelangelo down the path.

He slowly walked with him. "I don't know, Dude," he protested. "None of this is feeling right."

"It's just because you're so confused," Shredder said. "And frankly, right now we need your help. We're trying again to gather materials to free our home."

Michelangelo swallowed hard. "You mean . . . you want me to help you steal stuff?"

"Oh, we'll steal it," Shredder said. "But we need you to keep watch for our enemies. They're sure to find out and try to stop us again."

"Maybe I could get them to talk rationally about it," Michelangelo suggested.

"We've tried!" Shredder gave an overdramatic sigh. "It doesn't work. They can't be reasoned with!"

"Well . . . I don't want to fight them," Michelangelo started to pull away.

Shredder held fast. "So you're going to abandon us when we're in such dire need of your help? I can't believe the amnesia could have that strong a hold over you!"

Michelangelo flinched. The frustration and panic were starting to build up in him again. He had just thought he had made his decision and now this guy had to come along and make him second-guess everything! What if he was right and Michelangelo really did help them?

On the other hand, what about how wrong this all felt? He didn't feel safe with these characters at all.

But . . . he hadn't felt safe with Baxter until he had calmed down and really thought about it. And really, how could he trust his feelings in his condition?

"Look, I just don't know," he said at last. "I really don't feel good about this. I need some time to think."

"We don't have any time!" Shredder replied. "We need to get our materials and get back to our home before the others catch up to us!"

Michelangelo rubbed the back of his neck. What to do, what to do. . . .

"Okay," he said at last.

"Excellent!" Shredder's eyes gleamed. "Then come with us."

Still reluctant, Michelangelo walked with him. If nothing else, he hoped, at least maybe this would enable him to see the others again. Maybe they would find him even though he couldn't find them.

"I still don't like this," Bebop muttered. "I don't think Krang would, either."

"Well," Rocksteady said, "there's nothing we can do about it. Anyway, it felt kinda good putting one over on a Turtle like that." He sneered.

"Maybe," Bebop frowned. "I just keep thinking how Barney will feel. And Baxter will be sad too and that will hurt Barney."

Rocksteady sighed. "Hey, if this actually works, it'll be worth it!"

Bebop tried to see it that way, but he couldn't seem to. So he just sighed to himself and kept quiet.

xxxx

The other Turtles and Splinter were in a panic as they piled into the Turtle Van and drove out of the Lair.

"Nice going, Donatello!" Raphael cried in frustration. "Why the heck did you even mention Baxter when you already knew Michelangelo was freaked out about him?!"

"I was hoping that if a Turtle mentioned him, Michelangelo would calm down and realize he's not someone to be afraid of," Donatello said in chagrin.

"Instead, now you've got him freaked out about all of us!" Raphael ranted. "Your crazy theories about everything being A-Okay if it's a Turtle were completely off-base! Obviously that's not how Michelangelo is feeling at all!"

"Turtles, we must be calm or we will never be able to help Michelangelo," Splinter interjected.

"I'm wondering how we'll ever be able to help him at all, Master," Leonardo said sadly. "Michelangelo has never been in a situation like this before. He's confused and frightened. How will we ever convince him that we're the good guys? Baxter too?"

"I believe we will not need to do much," Splinter said. "Michelangelo may be confused and frightened, but eventually he will listen to his feelings. He will remember we are his friends through his feelings even if not through his memories."

"Maybe," Raphael frowned. "But it sounds like he's too upset to think about feelings. When he starts rejecting Baxter and Donatello, you know he's completely off his nut!"

"We will see," said Splinter. But from the way he was gripping his walking stick, it was clear he was more distressed than he would let the Turtles see.

Donatello's Turtle-Comm rang in the next moment. He grabbed it, hoping in vain it would be Michelangelo. "Oh. Hi, Baxter," he greeted.

"I just found Michelangelo's Turtle-Comm," Baxter said in dismay. "I traced it to where he apparently threw it, but there's no sign of him. I've been talking to people and some of them saw him run past, but the trail goes cold not far from here."

"Then there's no choice but to just keep looking," Donatello said sadly. "We let April know too and she's trying to keep an eye out for him, but Burne's got her covering the theft of Professor Willard's Criminal Correctional Device."

"I'd forgotten all about that," Baxter said, shaking his head. "Michelangelo and I heard about it right before he . . ." He trailed off.

"What kind of a nutcase is that guy?" Raphael snorted. "He really thinks law-enforcement agencies would use something like that to basically brainwash the crooks into becoming model citizens?"

"There's some extremists who probably would want to," Leonardo said, "but I don't think a device like that would ever become legal."

"We hope," Donatello interjected. "I can't believe I ever thought Professor Willard was a genius!"

"I guess having him forcefully use his invention on you cured you of that hero worship," Raphael remarked.

"You can say that again," Donatello shuddered. "I didn't even know if we'd be able to reverse it!"

Splinter sadly watched them converse. It might be a discussion they would have wanted to have anyway, but they were having it now because they didn't want to talk about Michelangelo not remembering them and not knowing where to look to find him.

"Well," Baxter said now, "I'm going to keep looking for Michelangelo. I've sent the coordinates for the Turtle-Comm's location. I'm going to try searching East of here. I believe there's an arcade in that direction. Maybe Michelangelo will have found his way to it."

"If only," Donatello sighed.

He hung up and stared into the distance with sadness in his eyes. Trying to talk to Michelangelo and finding him completely unreasonable had badly shaken him. He was always the cheery, happy Turtle, the one who tried to brighten things for everyone else with creative pizza recipes and other things they could all share. Now he thought they were all out to get him. It was too horrible to really be true, something out of a nightmare that couldn't possibly be real. And yet it was. They had lost the heart of their group.

"Take heart, Donatello," Splinter said kindly. "I do not believe what has happened to Michelangelo will be permanent."

"But there's a lot of cases of amnesia victims who never do recover," Donatello said. "I heard about one lady who only recovered 30 percent of her life's memories! Think of the 70 percent that's forever lost to her!"

"The spirit remembers when the body cannot," Splinter said. "What she does not consciously remember now is not lost to her forever. Someday she will have it all back."

"Yeah, when she's dead," Donatello muttered.

"Michelangelo is very resilient and he has a strong network of loved ones," Splinter said. "He is very likely to recover."

"But Sensei, he doesn't even trust any of us now," Raphael said in despair.

"When he calms down, he will start sorting out his feelings and remember where he feels safe," Splinter insisted.

"Maybe," Raphael said. "But what if you're just saying this because you can't bear to think of the alternative?"

That thought brought a hush over the entire Van.

". . . I'm sorry, Sensei," Raphael said in chagrin. "I know that wasn't very respectful. I just . . ."

"No, it needed to be said," Splinter said. "Part of me worries about that possibility. The other part does not truly believe that is my motivation. I honestly do not believe Michelangelo's memory loss will last."

"And what if it does?" Leonardo finally spoke. He had been completely quiet, shaken, turning it over and over in his mind and trying to determine what he could do to get through to Michelangelo when they found him. So far he just wasn't sure. It wasn't really something he could strategize. He would have to wait and see how Michelangelo felt when they met. If he was still as hysterical as he had been with Donatello, Leonardo had to admit he was at a loss. He didn't know what would get through to him. And that absolutely frightened him. Normally he had the answers. Now, when it mattered possibly more than it ever had before, his mind was blank.

Splinter sighed heavily, his eyes haunted. "Then we will have to start over building our bonds with him," he said. "And pray that he will be receptive to us over time."

That sounded like a horrible, heartwrenching plan. But, Leonardo sadly knew, it was possible.

". . . I just want the old Michelangelo back," Raphael spoke after a long moment.

No one really needed to respond to that. It was, of course, what they all wanted. And what they were all terrified they wouldn't get.

"The old Michelangelo is still there," Splinter said at last. "Even if his memories never return, his true nature cannot be erased."

"Maybe not, but it sounds awful to go through life not remembering any of the memories you made before," Donatello said quietly.

"It would be very difficult for him as well as us," Splinter agreed. "I pray that will not happen."

xxxx

Baxter's heart was also aching as he trudged along the sidewalk in search of his friend. As hard as he tried not to, it was impossible not to think about Michelangelo's terror towards him and the reason for it. It was the consequences of his unstable and later downright insane actions that they would come back to bite him again. That hurt badly enough. But what he hated even more was how they had to come back to bite poor, frightened Michelangelo, who had always been so undeserving of cruelty.

They had been happy right before that, talking and sharing the day together. Then in an instant, that had all been wiped away and Michelangelo remembered nothing of him or anyone else anymore. He didn't even trust the other Turtles.

Baxter ran a shaking hand down his face. What on Earth would become of him when he felt so alone? Where could he be? How would they ever find him? And when they did, how would they convince him that they were not his enemies?

Baxter knew that if Michelangelo was never the same, he wouldn't be either. He would always blame himself, playing that horrible moment over and over in his mind and driving himself mad wanting to have seen the beam falling so they could both get out of the way. Really, he wouldn't even be surprised if it drove him to the point of wanting to use time-travel to try to fix it.

That was a dangerous path and he should avoid such thoughts.

He sighed heavily. "Where are you, my friend?" he said, not speaking much above a whisper. "How will we ever get you back?"

He didn't want to believe there wasn't hope. Really, Barney had often talked of how Baxter had been the hopeful one and had regained that side of himself after being around the Turtles and Splinter. But at times like this, Baxter didn't feel very hopeful. He felt cynical and panic-stricken and terrified. Like Donatello, he knew amnesia victims often didn't regain their memory. And it horrified him to no end.

It only made it worse that he knew what it was like to lose that important part of oneself. The fly's takeover of his mind had slowly and cruelly drained his memories and his sense of self until he was almost an empty shell, barely able to keep hold of any thoughts or knowledge of the past. It would be different to have it all taken away at once, as Michelangelo had, but it was still a form of memory loss. Baxter understood the confusion, the fear, the absolute panic of realizing that you no longer knew who you were.

"Oh Michelangelo, I can't let that be your fate from now on," he whispered. "You were such a large part of bringing me back to myself. Somehow I have to help you remember who you are."

He didn't know how he would ever achieve that lofty goal. He only knew he had to.

xxxx

April had been searching for ages, either for a lead on the stolen ray gun or for Michelangelo, and she had struck out with both.

"I can't believe this!" she exclaimed to herself. "Some weirdo is running around with a dangerous weapon and poor Michelangelo has amnesia!"

She turned a corner and nearly plowed into Baxter. "Oh! I'm sorry," Baxter apologized, stumbling to the side.

"I'm the one who almost ran you down," April sighed. "You don't have to apologize."

Baxter looked awkward. "It's a force of habit, I guess."

"And there's no sense asking if you've found Michelangelo, or if anyone else has," April said.

"There haven't been any calls," Baxter agreed.

"I can hardly believe what's happening," April said softly. "Michelangelo with amnesia? How can it really be true?" But she caught herself when Baxter looked away with guilt-ridden eyes. "I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to make you feel worse again."

"I know you didn't," Baxter said. "And . . . you're probably hurting more than I am anyway. You've known him longer, at least as a friend. . . . Technically I first met him not long after you did. . . ."

"Baxter. . . ." April stopped walking and faced him. "I don't believe for one moment that you're hurting less than I am. Just because I've known him longer doesn't mean I care about him more than you do. People can form incredibly close bonds after only knowing each other a short amount of time. And you know, I don't think I spend time with any Turtle one-on-one very often. I usually always see them as a group."

"I never actually thought about that," Baxter realized.

"And that doesn't mean I care about them less," April said. "I love each one of them dearly and it breaks my heart about Michelangelo. But you and he have something very special. I know you must be devastated." She paused. "And the other Turtles said you were with him when it happened. That must have been awful."

"It was," Baxter immediately replied.

"Do you want to talk about it?" April studied him with kind and concerned eyes.

"I . . ." Baxter looked away. "I don't know what there is to say. . . . If I had only seen the beam falling so Michelangelo wouldn't have had to protect me . . ."

April gave him a sad smile. "You've gotten hurt for him before."

"I was thinking about that," Baxter admitted. "Now I know how he must have felt. . . ."

"I know Michelangelo would never blame you," April said. "Just as you would never blame him in the reverse."

"Yes . . . but it's never easy not to blame yourself if someone has gotten themselves hurt for you," Baxter said. "Especially if there's no way of knowing they'll be alright. . . ." He spoke very softly now.

April quietly laid a hand on his shoulder. "I think he will be," she said with a kind smile. "He has so many who love him-his brothers, his father . . . his best friend."

Baxter smiled a bit now as well. ". . . Out of curiosity, April . . . how do you see the Turtles? I mean . . . how do you fit in their little family?"

April paused. "You know, I've never really stopped to think about it. They've called me 'Auntie' a few times, but they . . . weren't exactly all there then."

"An aunt is a good place in the family," Baxter said.

"It is," April said. "I didn't actually start out planning to associate with them as anything more than a means to get a good story, but that didn't last long and I really cared about them. I did wonder a few times at a human making friends with mutant turtles, but I didn't think about it that long. I don't even think I ever really thought it was strange that my best friends aside from Irma were all way younger than me. For some reason it just seemed to work."

Baxter smiled more. "That's a good way to put it," he said thoughtfully. "Yes . . . it did 'just seem to work.'"

The Turtle Van pulled up at the curb just then. "No Michelangelo, I see," Raphael remarked, leaning out the window.

"No," April sighed.

"Come with us," Leonardo encouraged. "We'll all look together now."

"That's a good idea," April declared. When the side door opened, she and Baxter went up the ramp.

"I believe Michelangelo is somewhere in the area," Splinter said. "I can sense him nearby, only I'm not certain exactly where."

"We'll find him," April said with confidence. She had seen Splinter's sixth sense about the Turtles work before.

Baxter looked both surprised and confused. "How can you sense him?" he asked Splinter.

"It is the bond between sensei and student," Splinter said. "And perhaps something more." This was added in a softer tone.

"Can anyone have that?" Baxter was genuinely curious now.

"That is a good question," Splinter said. "I do not know. It takes a certain amount of psychic ability, at least in my experience. But perhaps, if one cares about someone enough, they don't have to have psychic abilities to sense them near."

Baxter pondered on that. As Donatello started driving again, Baxter leaned against the wall and concentrated. Was Michelangelo nearby? If he ended up thinking he was, would it just be the power of suggestion because of Splinter's feelings? Or maybe the longing that Splinter was right?

He wasn't sure. But he did feel peaceful about traveling in the direction they had chosen. So unless they were proven wrong, maybe he would content himself with believing that Splinter was right.

We're coming, my friend. Only . . . please, find it in your heart to trust us when we do.

xxxx

Michelangelo paced back and forth outside the warehouse Shredder and his mutants were robbing, still conflicted in his feelings.

"This isn't right," he said to himself. "I know I'm only staying here hoping the others will find me, but I still don't like it. If the police show up, I could get implicated too! Maybe even dragged in as an accessory!

"But . . . what if they're telling the truth and they really do want to live in peace and no one will let them or even help them get their house out of a well? Doesn't that maybe justify a little stealing? If they plan to pay it back later, I mean. . . . And of course they will if they're who they say they are. . . .

"But I wouldn't be having this mondo bad feeling if what they were saying was true. That guy said that the others were taking advantage of me not remembering stuff. What if he's the one doing that?!"

"Michelangelo!"

He looked up with a start. A fancy cream-colored car was pulling up in front of him and Baxter was getting out. No . . . wait, not Baxter. . . . Not unless he'd dyed his hair red and grown it several inches in a few hours.

Another flash of memory. This red-haired guy was holding a golden goose on him and snarling, "Gold." And then . . . then . . .

He yelped, jumping back. "Stay away from me!"

"Michelangelo, I know you're upset and confused," the man tried to say. "We're not here to hurt you. We want to help you."

"Oh yeah? How?" Michelangelo retorted.

A strange character got out of the passenger seat, a laptop computer with a glowing blue body and clothes. "We want to take you back to Baxter and the Turtles," it said. "And Splinter. They're not your enemies. They all love you and are very worried about you."

Another flash. This thing was attacking him in a large kitchen, only the red-haired guy tackled him to safety just in time.

Michelangelo screamed, both hands flying to his head. "No! No, nothing's making sense! You say you're not going to hurt me, but you turned me to gold! Or put it over me or something!" He pointed an accusing finger at the red-haired man, who flinched and looked absolutely sick. "And you . . . you tried to shock me with electricity!" he said to the computer. "Only you saved me that time." Back to the red-haired man. "What are you guys?! What's Baxter?! You hurt me and then you help me?! What the heck?!"

The two exchanged a worried look. "Michelangelo, when I attacked you in the kitchen, it was when Krang made me malfunction," the computer said.

"What's Krang?!" Michelangelo countered.

"An evil alien," the red-haired man said.

"Oh, you mean the guy who owns the house stuck in the well?" Michelangelo frowned.

Now the man looked taken-aback. "I . . . guess you could refer to the Technodrome in that way," he said slowly.

"I know all about him and the house and the guys who live with him," Michelangelo spat. "And how nobody will let them live in peace, so they have to steal stuff to try to get their house out!"

"Barney," the computer gasped in alarm.

Barney looked furious now. "Who told you that?" he demanded.

"The guy with all the spikes all over him!" Michelangelo said.

"You saw Shredder?!" The computer was also on edge. "Where is he now?"

"I'm not gonna tell you," Michelangelo snapped, folding his arms. "I'm gonna let him get his house out of the well."

"Michelangelo, you don't know what you're saying." Barney was trying to control his temper now, but the anger was flashing in his eyes.

"He's deceiving you!" the computer added. "I never thought he'd go so far as to take advantage of a boy with a head injury, but I should have known he wouldn't stop at anything."

"Shut up!" Michelangelo spat. "I don't know who to believe anymore! I don't!" Almost without thinking, he reached behind himself and took out his nunchucks.

Barney went stiff. "What are you going to do?"

"I want you guys to leave me alone," Michelangelo snarled.

"Or you'll what?" The computer didn't look intimidated. It folded its arms.

"I'll . . ." Michelangelo wavered, staring down at the weapons. Was he really thinking of attacking these two? They were just talking to him. They weren't trying to hurt him now. If he hit the computer with a nunchuck, it would probably smash the screen. Maybe even . . . kill it. . . . And the guy . . . he was angry, but he wasn't directing it at Michelangelo. And he wasn't much taller than Michelangelo. He sure wasn't muscular and he probably wasn't a good fighter. A blow from this weapon could seriously hurt him . . . or worse.

"You won't hurt us, Michelangelo." The computer walked right up to him. "I'm Vincent. This is Barney. We're Baxter's brothers."

"And . . . your uncles," Barney finally spoke. "It's true that we both hurt you in the past, sometimes on purpose, sometimes without really meaning to or wanting to. But we're past that now. We love you." He stared Michelangelo down. "Look me in the eyes and tell me I'm lying."

Michelangelo stiffened. He hadn't expected that, but it was a fair request. He looked into Barney's eyes, deeply, deeply, and saw only sincerity, concern, and . . . something else. . . . Love? He had seen it in Baxter's and Donatello's eyes as well.

"I know you're confused and frightened. Anyone would be in your position," Barney said. "The conflicting memories don't help. But I do believe this is temporary and that you will remember. I believe part of you already does. How do you feel about us? In spite of your memories, how do you feel being with us right now?"

"I feel . . ." Michelangelo hesitated. "I feel safe. I don't know why, but . . . I feel like you're not going to hurt me."

"And how do you feel about Shredder?" Barney persisted.

"Cold," Michelangelo said softly. "Dark . . . wrong."

"Trust your feelings, Michelangelo," Vincent said, just as softly. "Your memories may not make sense right now, but your feelings don't lie."

"That's kind of weird advice from a computer, isn't it?" Michelangelo said.

Vincent smiled a bit. "Not from this computer. Anyway, I'm giving you logical advice for the circumstances. And it's from personal experience. I lost my memory once too."

Michelangelo stared at him. "How does a computer lose his memory?"

"It's a long story," Vincent said. "The point is that everything was alright when I listened to my feelings and trusted Baxter and Barney even though I couldn't really remember them."

Michelangelo finally nodded. "I want to go with you," he said. He started to reach behind him to replace the nunchucks in his belt.

"Oh, good! You've cornered two of our enemies," Shredder's voice suddenly boomed out.

Everyone spun around. Bebop and Rocksteady were holding armfuls of stolen parts while Shredder stood with arms akimbo, his eyes filled with cruel sneers at the scene.

Barney's eyes flashed with anger again. "Shredder, you've hit a new low," he snarled. "Trying to corrupt and trick this boy when he's unable to remember anything . . . !"

"Michelangelo came of his own free will. Didn't you, Michelangelo?" Shredder looked to the Turtle.

"Yeah, but I didn't feel good about it," Michelangelo replied. "I still don't. I feel good about these two. I'm going with them."

Bebop looked relieved.

Shredder did not. "You will not!" he cried. "They are the ones trying to corrupt you. That thing tried to take over the world!" He pointed at Vincent. "And Barney . . . oh, the horrible things he did to you!"

"I remember about the Golden Goose thing," Michelangelo said darkly. "Well, kind of. I don't really understand it. But what I do understand is how I feel about them and how I feel about you. I'm not going to hurt them, Shredder. And I'm not going to go with you."

"Wanna bet?" Without warning Shredder whipped a strange device out from under his cape. "Now you will have no choice!"

"That's Professor Willard's Criminal Correctional Device!" Vincent gasped. "I saw it on the news!"

"Exactly." The pinkish-red rays were hitting Michelangelo now and freezing him in place. "I wasn't going to use this on him, believe it or not. But I can't let you get away to warn the others where to come. So if he won't attack you willingly, I have to use this. Michelangelo, kill them both."

"No!" Bebop cried. "Don't do it!"

Barney's rage spilled over. "Shredder -!" He lunged, intending to tackle Shredder from the side.

Michelangelo got in his way before he could. Now the nunchucks were back in his hands and he raised his arms to start swinging them above his head.

Barney had no choice but to back up. "Michelangelo, don't. I refused to hurt my loved ones while under Shredder's mind-control. I know you're stronger than I am. I know you won't allow yourself to do it either."

Michelangelo clenched his teeth, his inner struggle clearly visible on his face as he fought to turn away from Barney and Vincent. "Help," he choked out. "I . . . I don't know if I can fight it . . . especially when . . . when I can't remember. . . . If those dudes really are my brothers . . . I wish they could come before I do something I can't take back. . . . I need you dudes. . . ."

Shredder intensified the rays and blasted him again.

Vincent got in front of Barney, the lights on the laptop practically racing in his panic. "We all need them," he whispered.

Michelangelo spun around, slamming one nunchuck into the ground dangerously near them. They jumped back.

"Shredder . . ." Barney glowered at his enemy with utter hatred. "This is the most despicable thing I've seen you do. That boy is just innocent! All he wants is to spread happiness and joy, to make this cynical world a brighter place. Even with all he's seen, he hasn't become corrupted. I know you don't care about his beautiful spirit, but by trying to first trick him to steal and now to force him to murder those he loves, you have committed a most grievous sin! No one who loves Michelangelo is going to stand for it! Including me!"

Bebop stared at Barney. As always, Barney's assertiveness struck a chord with him. And his words were powerful; Bebop found that he couldn't just dismiss them, despite not even liking the Turtles.

Shredder cackled heartlessly. "It doesn't surprise me that you would lose your temper enough to say something like that," he said. "You know it doesn't do any good, yet you can't stop yourself!"

"At least I'm losing my temper with you and not Baxter," Barney snarled.

Another lunge. Michelangelo gave a helpless cry as he just barely managed to stumble off-course.

The Turtle Van pulled up just at that moment. "Michelangelo!" Leonardo cried in horror as he got out.

"What are you doing?!" Donatello gasped. "Barney and Vincent aren't going to hurt you!"

Raphael, Baxter, Splinter, and April all exited the Van and stared at the scene in sickened alarm.

"My friend! Stop!" Baxter pleaded. "You must try to keep hold of who you are! You will never forgive yourself if you harm any of us!" He ran forward, desperate, as Michelangelo started to aim to throw one set of nunchucks around Vincent's ankles.

At the last moment Michelangelo redirected his aim and the nunchucks went flying off-balance, whipping around a telephone pole. An agonized scream tore from his throat.

"We'd convinced Michelangelo to come with us!" Vincent exclaimed. "But then Shredder used Professor Willard's mind-control ray on him! Shredder's the one who stole it!"

That sent a wave of outrage through everyone present.

"Why, that scumbag!" Raphael roared.

"I should have known it was him!" Baxter cried.

"I thought he was done with mind-control!" April said in disgust. "I should have known better!"

Michelangelo clutched the other set of nunchucks. He was clearly fighting with his body over whether to attack with them. He didn't want to, but his body was insistent. Still, every time it started to move into an attack position, Michelangelo fought to make it stop. "Help," he choked out.

Sickened tears pricked Baxter's eyes. "I am so sorry," he whispered. "This never should have happened to you, Michelangelo. No one could be less deserving."

"You . . . never deserved it either," Michelangelo choked out.

Baxter stared at him. "Do you know me?!"

"No," Michelangelo replied. "Only . . . I think I do deep down. You were good and you . . . suffered too. . . ." Then he lost control and flew at Baxter, who stumbled out of the way. It wasn't necessary; Michelangelo fell to his knees, shaking, fighting not to get up and hurt Baxter.

Baxter was both surprised and joyous at Michelangelo's actions and more importantly, this revelation. He had feared Michelangelo might never remember him in a positive light, although he had been sure Michelangelo would remember the other Turtles and Splinter. Now Michelangelo had shown that Baxter still meant the world to him too.

"I lost who I was too," Baxter said softly. "I never wanted to see that happen to you, Michelangelo."

"We have to get the gun away from Shredder!" Leonardo snarled. "He uses it again every time Michelangelo fights against it!"

"We also have to trigger more of Michelangelo's memories," Barney said. "If he starts to remember better, that may give him enough strength to break free on his own!"

"That's the opposite of how Master Splinter told us to handle amnesia!" Raphael cried.

"Master Splinter isn't a neuropsychologist!" Barney countered.

"That is true," Splinter acknowledged. "If I previously gave the wrong advice, I want the error corrected now. Try to trigger Michelangelo's memories! I will get the gun away from Shredder." His eyes darkened. "He has made this deeply personal and he will sorely regret it."

"Alright." Leonardo cast his katanas to the ground and started to approach Michelangelo in gentle yet firm determination. "Michelangelo, look at me."

Michelangelo looked up with a start. His eyes were wild. He stood and swung with the remaining set of nunchucks, yet was still off-course.

"Michelangelo, I want you to think," Leonardo said. "I know it's hard right now and nothing is making sense, but we've known each other all our lives."

"That's right." Donatello approached now, from another angle. "From the very first moment we hatched, we were all together."

"We lived in a bowl in the pet shop for a long time," Raphael said, "first in the back when we were too young to be sold, then out front when we were ready."

"We often saw the other turtles and animals being sold and we wondered if we would go together," Leonardo said quietly.

Michelangelo trembled. "P-Pet shop?"

"Yeah," said Donatello. "When that boy came in to buy us and we were all going together, we were so happy."

For a moment Michelangelo wavered again. Then his eyes flashed and he struck out. "We're all falling! It's scary! We're going to die!"

"But we didn't die," Donatello said. Joy filled his heart that Michelangelo had remembered something, even if it was another unpleasant memory.

"Yeah! We found Splinter!" Raphael chimed in.

"Splinter. . . ." Michelangelo looked over to where Splinter was trying to sneak up on Shredder.

"He's starting to remember more!" Leonardo exclaimed.

Michelangelo looked back to him and the other Turtles. "Compadres. . . . Friends as brothers. . . ."

"That's right, Michelangelo, that's right," Raphael encouraged. "We're your buddies."

"And your brothers," Donatello firmly added.

"Keep going," Barney encouraged. "Long-term memory is the best thing to work with."

"How long-term?" April wondered. "Just staying back at the beginning?"

Michelangelo held a hand to his forehead. "Hurts. . . ."

Shredder blasted him again, stronger and harder this time. "Try all you want, you wretched reptiles!" he snarled. "You'll never get through to him completely!"

Michelangelo screamed and lunged, whirling to attack Baxter as he stood to the side, not sure whether to get involved or if he should just let the other Turtles handle it. Baxter flinched and yelped, not having expected the sudden movement. But worse than that was the blank darkness in the Turtle's eyes. "Michelangelo, do you really not know me?!" he exclaimed in sorrow. "You seemed to a few minutes ago. . . ."

Michelangelo harmlessly hit the air again and stumbled back. "Baxter . . ." Tears slipped from his eyes. He couldn't fully remember or fight off the control and his helplessness was breaking his heart.

"He's remembering more!" Baxter cried, even as his own heart shattered. "The way he said my name. . . . He remembers me."

"You can do this, Michelangelo!" Leonardo encouraged. "You already know you don't want to hurt any of us. You've been fighting so hard from the very moment Shredder did this to you. You're strong enough to break free!"

"Always," Baxter said firmly.

"And we'll be with you every step of the way," April added.

"Silence!" Shredder roared. Furious, he tried again to blast Michelangelo. But two things happened at once.

Michelangelo stood up straight and screamed at the top of his lungs, flinging the remaining set of nunchucks away from him. Then he fell to his knees, pounding his fists into the grass.

And Splinter got close enough to throw his walking stick and knock the ray gun out of Shredder's hands.

"What?! NO!" Shredder screamed.

"Let's get out of here!" Rocksteady gasped. He turned to run with his load of parts to the module.

Relieved that Michelangelo had broken free without Barney getting hurt, Bebop moved to follow him.

Leonardo and Baxter both reached Michelangelo at the same time. "Michelangelo, it's alright now," Leonardo soothed.

"You more than proved your strength," Baxter said. "Even not remembering us entirely, you couldn't let yourself harm us."

Michelangelo shook, sobbing in utter and complete anguish. "I do remember!" he choked out. "All the stress of trying so hard not to hurt you guys made it all come back. I remember everything now. I forgot everyone. . . . I said such awful stuff to you and Donatello. . . . I . . . I . . ."

"No one blames you, Michelangelo," Baxter said softly.

"Of course not," Donatello said.

"You were a victim through all of this." Leonardo laid a hand on Michelangelo's shoulder.

Michelangelo sniffled hard. "Big brother. . . ." He looked up at Leonardo with woebegone, crushed eyes.

Leonardo rocked back, momentarily stunned. Donatello and Raphael looked surprised too. This was certainly a first. But then Leonardo smiled, drawing Michelangelo close into his arms. "It's alright, Michelangelo. I'm here. We're all here."

Michelangelo threw his arms around Leonardo as he continued to cry. "I hurt everyone so much. . . . I was so afraid of getting mind-controlled and now it happened! I tried to kill everyone!"

"You didn't," Leonardo insisted. "Michelangelo, you refused every step of the way. You couldn't entirely control your body, but you did it well enough that you never laid a hand or a weapon on any of us. Do you know how much strength that takes?"

Michelangelo choked on a sob. "I've hurt you all so much by not remembering. . . ."

"If that's anyone's fault, Michelangelo, it's mine," Baxter said quietly. "I didn't see the beam falling towards me. You saved me and were struck by it yourself."

"You couldn't help that," Michelangelo said in shock as he rose up to look at Baxter.

"Just as you couldn't help being hit by it or getting amnesia," Baxter said.

"Of course you couldn't," Leonardo agreed.

Splinter had grown distracted, caught up in the beauty and heartbreak of the scene before him. He wanted to join the comfort too. He started to head back down to his family.

Suddenly the ray gun was in Shredder's hands again.

"I see I went about this all wrong," he mocked, and everyone looked up in stunned shock, having forgotten he was even still there. "I should have known Michelangelo's mental strength was too high, even with amnesia. If I was going to use this device on any of you, I should have picked someone small and weak, someone who would never have a chance of breaking the control." He pointed the gun at Baxter and pulled the trigger. "You will obey my every command," he sneered.

Baxter went stiff, his eyes completely blank.

Everyone cried out in rage.

The sight of his friend suddenly affected as he had been brought Michelangelo to his feet. "Hey! That is totally bogus, Shred-Head!" he yelled, blinking back the remaining tears from his eyes as he ran forward. "You let him go!"

"You know just as well as I that he cannot break free," Shredder said in delight.

Michelangelo ground to a halt. "What?! That's not true! Of course he can break free! Baxter's just as strong as me, mentally!"

"Pah! Even a fly was able to control him," Shredder laughed. "Baxter, attack your brother."

Baxter turned, emotionless, facing Barney and Vincent. But he didn't move beyond that.

"See? He's not gonna do it," Michelangelo insisted.

"Baxter . . . !" Barney looked helplessly at Baxter, his eyes filled with rage at Shredder's cruelty.

"This is my fault," Splinter lamented in sorrow. "I thought Shredder would flee instead of going back to the ray gun. I wanted to go to Michelangelo."

"This isn't your fault, Master." Leonardo stood as well, his eyes dark and filled with anger. "This is all because of Shredder's evil."

"Baxter, you can't let Shredder control you," Vincent said. "That's the last thing you would ever want. You already know what it's like to lose control of yourself. Fight back against it, Baxter!" Baxter still didn't respond and Vincent looked ready to shock Shredder. He raised a hand to do it when Shredder spoke again.

"Oh, I forgot. You think of that miserable computer as your brother too. Very well, you need me to be more specific? Attack your biological brother."

Now Baxter lunged without hesitation and tackled Barney to the ground. They rolled over and over in the grass, first one gaining the upper hand and then the other, until Baxter was straddling Barney and grabbing him by the shoulders. His hands shook and he didn't move more, but tears slipped from his eyes.

Barney lay on the ground, staring up at him. "Baxter . . ." It was a frightening position to be in. At any moment Baxter could lunge for the kill. But Michelangelo had stopped himself. And no matter what Shredder said, Barney knew Baxter was strong. Barney had a choice right then-he could shove Baxter away from him and run, or . . . he could trust his brother. The logical part of him said he shouldn't take any chances. The other part said he wasn't taking a chance.

Finally he reached up, brushing the tears away from Baxter's eyes. "I'm not in any danger," he said quietly. "You're not going to hurt me."

Vincent and Michelangelo stood to the side, horrified and yet moved.

"You've gotta stop it, Amigo!" Michelangelo cried in anguish to Baxter. "You helped me break free. I know you can break free too, no matter what Shredder says. You know what he says about you isn't true, don't you?!"

"Barney and Michelangelo are right, Baxter," Vincent said. "You're so strong. Just because you couldn't take the abuse any more in the past doesn't mean you're weak. Even the strongest bridge eventually breaks under too much pressure. But that isn't you today. You will not break."

Baxter seemingly ignored them.

"Good, Baxter," Shredder purred. "Destroy him."

Baxter was just moving his hands to curl around Barney's neck when he froze, shaking, staring in horror at what he was doing. A cry of anguish tore from his lips and he sprang up, retreating to the far corner of the property. He stumbled more than once, but righted himself and finally curled into a ball, burying his face in his knees as he began to rock back and forth.

Barney shakily sat up. "He wouldn't hurt me," he said coldly to Shredder. "That blows your little theory about him, doesn't it?"

"All I have to do is hit him with another blast from this ray," Shredder retorted. He pointed and aimed before anyone could stop him, but there was no visible effect. Baxter remained where he was, still rocking, refusing to look up.

"Baxter!" Shredder roared. "Get up and finish what you started!"

Still nothing.

"What is this?!" Shredder bellowed. "This device is supposed to be infallible!"

"There's one thing that can get past it," Michelangelo retorted. "Love."

Vincent sent a burst of electricity at Shredder, his eyes dark and merciless. Shredder flew backwards with a cry, the gun sailing out of his grasp.

Michelangelo leaped up, wrapping a nunchuck around it and bringing it safely into his possession. "Nobody else is gonna be hurt with this thing," he said. His voice sounded as dark as Vincent's eyes looked. Raphael actually shivered.

Vincent turned, hurrying over the grass to kneel down beside Baxter. "Baxter? Baxter, old pal, it's alright. We have the gun; Shredder can't hurt you with it any more."

Baxter shook his head. "I already hurt Barney," he quavered. "I fought so hard to save Michelangelo, but then I fell prey to the very same thing, and so quickly!"

"Baxter, that isn't true." Vincent laid his hands on Baxter's shoulders. "You wouldn't let Shredder control you! You broke free!"

Baxter jerked away. "Don't touch me!" he screamed. "I'll try to hurt you too!"

"No, you won't." Vincent stayed where he was, but upon reflection, he pulled his hands back. "I could never really help you get free of the fly, no matter how I longed to. And I didn't do anything to help you get free of this. You did it all on your own, old pal. Baxter, look at me."

Finally Baxter looked up, slowly, shakily. "It was . . . so horrible," he whispered. "I felt the control over my mind slip away again, just like with the fly. I couldn't take it! Not again! Not again. . . ."

"And you wouldn't take it," Vincent insisted. "Baxter, you're not a danger to anyone. I'm not afraid of you. Here, put your arms around me. It's alright; you won't try to hurt me."

"No." Baxter shook his head. "I can't risk it."

"Pal, Shredder pointed the gun right at you and nothing happened," Vincent told him. "It just wasn't going to work a second time. Not when you were so devastated over attacking Barney."

Finally a glimmer of hope came into Baxter's eyes. "He did that? I . . . I didn't even know."

"It just bounced right off you." Vincent still stayed where he was, patient, waiting.

Slowly Baxter came forward, cautious, like a puppy who had been abused but was still trying to hold out hope for kinder treatment. He reached for Vincent and then fell into his arms, shuddering, hugging him close. "I . . . I'm not trying to hurt you," he whispered in awe.

"Of course not, Pal." Vincent hugged him now, aching at the pain revealed by Baxter's tone. Falling prey to mind-control even for a few minutes had cut him so deeply and probably had brought many unwanted memories to the surface. "Everything's alright. I promise."

Shredder stood and came closer, but was blocked by the others. Undaunted, he stayed where he was to deliver the next blow. "Pathetic," he sneered. "He's acting like a child."

Vincent looked up, his eyes flashing. "You made him this way, Shredder," he snapped. "You and Krang did it to him over and over by abusing him and fusing him with that fly. He's trying to rebuild his life after the two of you all but destroyed it, and he's done extremely well. But naturally if you try to break him again, there are going to be setbacks. Those who love him accept this." He held onto Baxter with one arm while raising the opposite hand, crackling with electricity. "But I do not accept your cruelty."

"And neither do we, Dude," Michelangelo said darkly.

"If you know what's good for you, you will simply leave now," Barney added.

"Or suffer the consequences." Leonardo's cold, hard voice said that Shredder had walked into a danger zone. First Michelangelo and now Baxter had been hurt because of this plot. And now even the level-headed Leonardo had been pushed to his limit.

Shredder seemed to finally realize that. "Then it's time to make a hasty retreat. Bebop! Rocksteady! Let's go!" He ran to the module and dove in before he could be stopped. It drilled into the ground.

Everyone relaxed, despite the fact that they had escaped with some of the needed energy. Michelangelo looked worriedly to Vincent. "Baxter's gonna be okay, right?"

"Yes," Vincent insisted. "He just needs some time. As I imagine you do, Michelangelo."

Michelangelo looked down. "Nothing like that has ever happened to me before," he said softly. "It was awful. And then Baxter has had it happen to him before, continuously on end for two years. It's no wonder he couldn't take it again, even for a few minutes."

"So why was he able to break free so fast?" Raphael frowned. "And why didn't he get affected when Shred-Head blasted him again?"

"Maybe, having already suffered with mind-control for so long in the past, it actually better steeled him against it in the future instead of making him more susceptible to it," Barney suggested. "Michelangelo never experienced it before and therefore found it more difficult to fight off."

"Well, he did get brainwashed by Shredder once," Raphael mused. "But he wasn't forced to attack us and he didn't seem to remember it later."

Barney nodded. "So this was very different. Plus, this time he had the additional burden of amnesia to fight through. Baxter did not."

Baxter slowly looked up. "Shredder was right," he said quietly. "I am acting like a child."

Vincent hugged him close. "You're acting like a poor, abused man he just tried to break again," he replied. "But you're the victor, Pal."

"And wanting comfort and reassurance from someone . . . isn't acting like a child," Barney said. "All adults need that sometime, in some manner. Vincent was with you during so much of your suffering in the past. He probably understands that part of you better than any of the rest of us ever can."

Baxter looked overjoyed that Barney had not put him down. From his eyes, that was still something he feared after Shredder's heartless words.

"And Baxter . . ." Barney bent down, hesitant, and then laid a hand on Baxter's shoulder. "Thank you for your strength."

Baxter stared at him, stunned.

"If you had really been the weakling Shredder thought, I'd probably be dead." Barney straightened.

Baxter slowly shook his head. ". . . You just laid there," he remembered. "You could have ran. You probably should have. But you didn't."

"I'd be lying if I didn't say part of me wanted to," Barney sighed. "Especially after just coming from dealing with Michelangelo. But he didn't hurt me. I had to believe you wouldn't either."

"And you were willing to take the chance you were wrong to prove to Baxter that you were right," Vincent beamed.

Barney paused. "Yes," he agreed. "And that I trusted him." He looked back to Baxter, who finally smiled.

"I was so terrified of what I might do," he said softly. "In my mind I was screaming for you to push me away and run. I know you likely would have in the past. But the fact that you didn't run gave me the strength I needed to break free. Barney . . . thank you so much for your faith."

"You said that when you know something, you don't need faith," Barney said gruffly. "I knew you were strong. I trusted that it extended to being mind-controlled."

"I didn't have the strength to fight it before," Baxter said.

"The cross-fusion broke you after years of sorrow and anguish," Barney said. "Since then, you've been mended and strengthened."

"Like, totally, Dude!" Michelangelo came over and knelt down by Baxter. "And Baxter, I . . . I'm so sorry about what I said to you when I first woke up and got back those crummy memories. You were already hurting so much and I made it so much worse." He blinked back tears. "You're my best bud. I never wanted to do anything to hurt you."

"Michelangelo . . ." Baxter moved away from Vincent and laid a hand on Michelangelo's shoulder. "It's my fault for having done those horrible things to you and the others. It still haunts me so badly that I fell so far. I can't blame you for getting back those abominable memories once you didn't remember the good."

"That's just like you, to put all the blame on you," Michelangelo said. "But I wanna tell you, after I ran away and threw my Turtle-Comm away and finally calmed down, I remembered that I felt safe with Donatello and with you. I was gonna go back to you and find my Turtle-Comm. Shredder found me and kind of ruined that, but I really was going to do that. I got back the memory of when we . . . thought you were dead and I was holding you and crying. I knew you really had to be something special to me."

Baxter smiled. "Thank you for telling me," he said softly. "I must admit, there was a point where I was afraid I'd lost my dear friend. Now I know I never will."

"Amen to that!" Raphael declared. "Michelangelo is always Michelangelo, even without his memories."

"Of course he is," Leonardo smiled.

"And now I suggest we leave this crummy place behind and go somewhere to chill out," Raphael said.

Before anyone could respond, another figure appeared on the scene. "My precious Criminal Correctional Device!" Professor Willard cried as he ran over. "Is it damaged?!"

Everyone went stiff. Slowly they turned to look at the elderly man as he lifted the ray gun up from where Michelangelo had left it on the grass.

"This is a delicate instrument, you know!" he fumed. "You should be careful with it!"

Barney's temper bent and broke. But before he could even say a word of the rant running through his mind, it was Baxter who stood and walked across the grass to confront their former teacher.

"Oh really?" he snapped. "And what about the human mind, Professor? Isn't that a delicate instrument too?"

Willard started and looked over at him with a dark glare. "Now don't you go confusing me with your prattle," he growled. "You're a disgrace to scientists everywhere!"

"And you're not?!" Baxter's eyes flamed. "I've been silent for far too long. Yes, I did horrible things. Wretched, unkind, absolutely insane things in the name of revenge. But I turned away from all of that. You can't say as much for yourself."

"I've never invented anything in the name of revenge or anything else as petty and disgusting," Willard retorted.

"No, you invent things supposedly to help the human race," Baxter said. "Instead they end up hurting it. But you couldn't care less. As long as your creations actually work, that's the most important thing to you! If they destroy the entire city or ruin a few lives, that means nothing to you! And this invention . . ." He pointed to the ray gun. "Its purpose is to take away free will. How is that right?!"

"It's only to be used on criminals in custody," Willard insisted. "They don't have the right to free will!"

"Everyone has that right," Barney finally spoke up. "Have you forgotten the oath 'First do no harm'? I certainly did, but that doesn't excuse you! This device could completely dismantle the human mind!"

"And it can be used on innocent people as well as criminals." Leonardo was coming forward now. "It was used on our brother and our uncle today. No one could say they deserved it by any stretch of the imagination. They only broke free without serious harm to themselves or others because of their mental strength. As it is, they're going to be haunted by what happened for the rest of their lives."

"And weaker-minded people might not be able to break free at all," Donatello chimed in. "They might even go insane."

"It's not supposed to be used on anybody innocent," Willard snapped. "It's not my fault some lunatic stole it and decided to use it for an evil purpose like that."

"But it is your fault for having invented it in the first place," Splinter said. "Normally I try to respect scientific advances, but this device has hurt my family. I cannot respect it."

"None of us respect it." Vincent's eyes were dark.

"Not even a little bit," Raphael added.

"I didn't report it in a positive light before and I'm not going to do it now," April said.

"I've gotta say, Dude, it is totally bogus." Even Michelangelo looked completely done.

"And I don't think we can trust that there won't be any more incidents like this," Donatello said. "Mind-control is never okay. And neither is this." Without warning he took out his bo and knocked the device out of Willard's hands.

"Hey!" Willard snarled. "You watch yourself, Turtle. I never should have let you into my laboratory in the past!"

"I idolized you then. I know better now." Donatello looked to Leonardo as he caught the flying ray gun.

"That's mine!" Willard roared. "What are you going to do with it?!"

"I know what I'd like to do," Leonardo said darkly.

"I'll beat you to it." Donatello brought his bo down on the gun, cracking it as it sizzled and sparked.

"I won't forget this," Willard vowed.

"Neither will any of us," April said. "I've got it all on tape, Professor, and I'm not afraid to say that I'm in their corner."

"Yeah, you probably feel like they're completely justified in what they just did," Willard said in disgust. "I should have known it from you."

"I guess it's too much to hope for, but maybe if you'd actually seen what happened to Michelangelo and Baxter and how badly they were suffering, you'd regret having invented it too!" April said angrily. "I've met a lot of scientists with strong moral fibers. I'm sorry to say you're not one of them."

"None of you appreciate true genius!" Willard fumed. "Just wait. Someday you'll be sorry."

"Spare us," Raphael said, rolling his eyes.

"Dude, I hope you're not gonna go all supervillain on us," Michelangelo said.

"Honestly, I can't say I wouldn't prefer that to all this fake concern about humanity," Raphael retorted. "If he's going to act like a creep, he should just come out with it instead of pretending to be one of the good guys. He gives good guys a bad name."

"Professor." April stepped in front of Willard. "You've met Michelangelo before. You surely know what a sweet guy he is. I recorded what happened earlier with him and I'd like you to see it. Maybe you'll change your mind before causing trouble for the Turtles." She held up her camera and let Willard see the playback in the viewscreen. Everyone else looked away; they had no desire to see or hear it again.

Willard silently watched. Several times he looked slightly shaken, but at other times he seemed impressed by how well the device worked. At the end, he straightened and stepped back. "Well . . . I'm sorry about how my invention was used on that Turtle," he said. "I'm even sorry for what happened to Stockman. Maybe I'll let it go this time. Just don't let it happen again." With that he turned and stormed away.

Everyone relaxed.

"I guess that's the best we could hope for with him," Raphael remarked.

"I'm sorry I couldn't do more, guys," April said regretfully.

"Hey, you may have curbed a whole new influx of public mutant hate," Raphael said. "I'd say that's a pretty big thing."

"Maybe I shouldn't have actually broken someone else's invention," Donatello lamented. "I just got so angry thinking of how it was used on Michelangelo, especially after he showed me how he was so afraid of being mind-controlled. And I'm angry that Shredder would turn it on Baxter too, thinking he was so weak he wouldn't be able to fight it off."

"Normally I would scold you for such an action, my son," Splinter said. "Today I cannot bring myself to do so."

"And boy, have Michelangelo and Baxter had a rotten day," Raphael remarked. "Not that it's been very good for any of us."

"I'm just glad to have Michelangelo back," Baxter said.

"And man, am I glad to be back," Michelangelo said. "But . . . oh hey, I really wish I hadn't thrown my Turtle-Comm away. . . ."

Baxter smiled. "It isn't lost." He took the missing device out of his pocket and placed it in Michelangelo's hand.

"You found it?!" the Turtle exclaimed in delight.

"It was my first time tracking a Turtle-Comm," Baxter said.

"Bodacious!" Michelangelo clicked it open to make sure it was still in working order. "Oh wow . . . thanks, Baxter." He smiled at his friend.

"I knew you'd want it back," Baxter said. If you returned to yourself. . . .

"Exactamundo." Now that all the excitement was definitely past, Michelangelo groaned, holding a hand to his head. "You know, it's funny how I didn't really think about it before, but man, have I got a killer headache."

"That's no wonder," Barney grunted. "Come back to the mansion. You can rest there for as long as you'd like."

"Really?" Michelangelo perked up. "And maybe later we could have a tour of the whole place?"

Barney raised an eyebrow. "If that's what you want." He smiled a bit.

"Let us go, my son," Splinter said. He came to Michelangelo's side and put an arm around his waist.

Michelangelo looked to him and smiled a bit. "Hey. . . . Since you call us 'sons' sometimes, Sensei, would you mind if sometimes we said 'Dad'?"

Everyone froze in surprise, although Baxter's was less than the rest. He beamed.

Splinter slowly started to smile as well. "I would be . . . most honored," he said, his voice thick with emotion.

"Radical," Michelangelo grinned.

xxxx

Krang watched the arriving module with displeasure. "Well, look what chaos you caused now," he greeted Shredder when the door opened.

"Yeah, yeah, I know," Shredder grunted. "But this time you can't blow your cork too much, Krang; we brought back fuel." He jumped out and gestured to Bebop and Rocksteady, who carefully got out holding the canisters.

"Hmm." Krang studied them in thoughtfulness. "Yes, that's something. But you were taking a chance, Shredder. You never should have tried to trick Michelangelo in the first place. Even Bebop and Rocksteady recognized it would backfire!"

Shredder scowled. "Let's just not talk about it anymore, alright?"

"I would like to know why you stole that ray gun in the first place," Krang said.

"I thought it would be useful," Shredder said.

"Instead it could have caused you to come back with nothing, as usual!" Krang snapped. "You had better make a promise to me that you won't have anything more to do with mind-control."

"Fine! Whatever!" Shredder shot back.

Krang seemed to accept that response. Either that or he was too interested in the fuel to pay much attention. "Yes," he smirked, eying the canisters. "This will do nicely."

"Is it enough to get us out of the well, Krang?!" Rocksteady exclaimed.

"Almost," Krang said. "If you can have one more successful trip, we should have plenty of fuel for the journey."

"Yeah, but the whole city is probably on high alert now," Bebop said.

"Then we'll wait a few days and strike when they don't expect it," Shredder sneered. "They probably all think we'll come back immediately. They won't think at all that we'll take a break."

"You may have something there, Shredder," Krang grinned. "We don't want to wait too long; we've waited long enough to rule the world already. But a few more days shouldn't hurt. Then this planet will belong to us!"

Their evil cackles echoed up and down the Technodrome.

xxxx

It was a strange and yet a beautiful scene in the mansion's living room. Michelangelo was resting peaceably on one of the couches, snuggled against the other Turtles for comfort. On the other couch, Baxter was dozing against Vincent. Splinter and Barney were observing.

"This is a most pleasant sight," Splinter said. "It's times such as these when I wish I had better access to a camera."

"That could be arranged," Barney said.

"I would be most grateful," Splinter said.

Vincent smiled a bit. He had access to a camera all the time and he had already captured this moment in his memory banks. He could make a copy of it for Splinter, and he fully intended that he would.

Baxter stirred against his side. "Vincent . . ."

"I'm here, Pal," Vincent said. "Everyone's here. Well, except for April. She had to go file her story."

"I'm glad . . . everyone else is here," Baxter said softly. "Is Michelangelo alright?"

"Totally gnarly, Bud," Michelangelo sleepily smiled. "You?"

"I'm just fine," Baxter said. "I'm sure there will still be some difficult times to come, but for right now, I'm thinking more about how everything has been set right."

"Me too," Michelangelo said. "I'm really trying to, anyway." Sadness flickered in his eyes. "I still feel awful about today, but remembering how I beat Shred-Head's mind-control and got my memories back because of it sure helps."

"As it should," Leonardo said.

"Everyone is going to be alright," Barney said. "It may take time, but we're all going to bounce back from this."

"Including you, Buddy?" Vincent asked. He knew Barney had been shaken when Michelangelo had remembered the Golden Goose calamity. When he had screamed at Shredder for attacking such an innocent being, he had no doubt also been screaming at the Barney of the past.

"Including me," Barney quietly agreed. He gave Vincent a gruff but genuine smile.

"I'm so proud of you and Baxter," Vincent said. "You both handled everything so well. Michelangelo too."

"I'm . . . honestly surprised by how . . . level-headed I behaved under pressure, for the most part," Barney admitted. He came and sat on Vincent's other side. "Normally when I'm too close to a situation, I can't do that."

"It was largely because of you that Michelangelo became convinced he should not listen to Shredder and he should come with us instead," Vincent said.

"And I would have, if Shred-Head hadn't used that stupid thing on me," Michelangelo mumbled. "You were a big help too, Vincent."

"I'm glad we could get through to you," Vincent said.

"I'm glad we all could," Leonardo said as he kept an arm around Michelangelo.

Donatello and Raphael were in complete agreement.

"It was most important and valuable," Splinter said. "And it made me very proud of all of my sons, including you, Michelangelo."

Michelangelo smiled. "Thanks . . . Dad."

Baxter roused up a bit more and sleepily smiled as he observed. The Turtles had always been close, but they weren't typically as physically affectionate as they were right now. He was sure Michelangelo would suggest having a family meeting and discuss all of them being more open when they were upset, as Baxter had encouraged, and in the meantime, this was a great display of the Turtles all being there to support Michelangelo.

Splinter too was deeply moved, as he had been when Michelangelo had first expressed the desire to call him 'Dad.' It was definitely a milestone in their interaction with each other.

Baxter rested on Vincent's shoulder again. He was happy if anything he had said had encouraged Michelangelo to express his feelings with both the other Turtles and Splinter. He liked to be helpful and he wanted to see them fully embrace being open with each other, as he, Barney, and Vincent were learning to do. But most of all, he was happy that they were all safe and back together, that neither he nor Michelangelo had hurt anyone, and that Michelangelo remembered all of them.

It was the perfect ending.