Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 1987

Ghosts of the Past

By Lucky_Ladybug

Notes: The characters are not mine and the story is! ThickerThanLove helped with some plot elements. This is part of my Exit the Fly verse. Baxter is human again and an ally of the Turtles. His brother Barney, from Raphael Knocks 'Em Dead, no longer works for Shredder. This story also involves other characters from that episode.

Barney was sitting on the couch, reading a book, while Vincent channel-surfed. He had mostly tuned everything out, focusing instead on what he was reading, but suddenly Vincent's voice cut into his thoughts and he had to pay attention.

"Barney!"

He looked up with a start. Vincent had, for some reason, paused on the local affiliate of The Laff Channel, which often cut into the national programming with local programming. Right now they seemed to be broadcasting a show from The House of Ha-Ha; Raphael had watched such shows several times while over at the mansion.

Barney was about to ask why Vincent had exclaimed when he heard the reason firsthand. The current stand-up comic on stage, Shecky Schtick, was performing a new act.

"You know that guy Barney Stockman? The twin brother of the science guy on Channel 6? He's a big-wig at the university now, but I knew him when he was forcing the whole city to laugh!"

Barney raised an eyebrow.

"This guy stood by while one of the local gangsters kidnapped me and several local wannabe comics. This gangster had the big idea to rob every place in the city while everybody in town was rolling around laughing. How did he achieve this, you ask? Because good old Barney Stockman invented something that whacked out people's brains, made 'em laugh at things that weren't even funny."

"Can he do that?" Vincent cried.

"It's public knowledge," Barney said. "I can't make trouble over something that everyone already knows happened."

"This guy was always throwing temper tantrums about people mixing him up for his brother Baxter," Shecky continued. "I wonder if he did that as a kid? Or wait, as a baby. Can't you just see it?" He beat on his chest with a fist while pitching his voice higher to shriek, "Gaga googa grrrr!" He stamped on the floor.

"Well, that didn't happen," Vincent fumed. "Can you make trouble now?"

"What would be the point?" Barney boredly retorted.

"He's making you sound like an idiot!" Vincent cried indignantly.

"He's making himself sound like an idiot," Barney said.

"You know, when I got kidnapped, his hair was only about to here." Shecky indicated the top of his shoulder blades. "Then he started growing it out, I guess so it wouldn't be the same length as Baxter's. Oh no, he couldn't ever have that. The last time I saw him, it was about here." He indicated the middle of his back. "What's he going to do next? Grow it out to his knees? Hey, maybe he'll dye it silver and run around cosplaying Sephiroth. You know, the guy from Final Fantasy 700? Or wait, I've got a better idea. He could tear off all his clothes, steal a horse from a Central Park policeman, and ride around town as Lord Godiva!"

Vincent snarled. "Please tell me I can blast him." Electricity crackled in his hand.

"Now wouldn't that be a sight? The guy's not even muscular. He's a complete pipsqueak! There's nothing about him that the ladies would swoon over, unless it's his hair. Or maybe his mind. And he wouldn't have to rip off all his clothes for that!"

Barney sighed and grabbed the remote, snapping off the television. "What purpose would there be in going down there to blast him? You'd only make yourself look bad, not him. I don't want to see you get arrested."

Vincent clenched his fist and the sparks flew from between his fingers. "I know, but - !"

"But nothing," Barney said firmly. "Vincent, please just leave him alone." He looked down at the book in his lap. "He has a right to be angry after what I did. He could have sued me, really. If all he wants to do is make me the subject of his new comedy routine, I'm getting off easier than I deserve."

"What's going on down here?!"

They both looked up as Baxter hurried down the stairs, his eyes wide and bewildered.

"What does it look like's going on?" Barney grunted.

"I thought I heard someone making crude jokes about you!" Baxter looked from him to Vincent, who was still smoldering.

"You did," Vincent said. "That idiot at The House of Ha-Ha, one of the comedians Pinky McFingers abducted."

". . . Oh." Baxter looked uncomfortable now.

"It doesn't bother me," Barney shrugged.

Baxter peered at him. "I know it would have in the past," he said softly.

"And maybe it would now, if it wasn't that I deserve it." Barney folded his arms.

"You don't!" Baxter insisted. He sat down between his brothers. "You didn't feel it was right for that tabloid writer to make crude jokes about me as a fly creature. Why should this be any different?"

"You were insane," Barney replied. "I wasn't."

"You wouldn't have thought it was right even if I had been sane," Baxter said. "I certainly don't find this right." His eyes flashed. "If you won't do anything about it, or let Vincent do anything about it, I'm going to go down there and complain to the club manager."

"And what will you tell him?" Barney asked.

"I'll threaten to sue him if his comic doesn't find something else to base his routine on," Baxter snarled. "He doesn't want any trouble; I'm sure he'll comply."

"If he doesn't stop to think that his comic is probably protected under the First Amendment since it's a parody, I'm sure he will," Barney grunted. "But it will only make the comic even angrier." He paused. "There is something I'd be willing to try. I don't think it would do any good either, but it's better than threatening legal action or showing up to blast him off the stage."

Baxter blinked in surprise. "What's that?"

"I could apologize for the wrong I did to him." Barney frowned. "He probably wouldn't believe me. But I did him and the other man a great injustice by inventing that machine and going along with the abductions and blasting them with pounding soundwaves to threaten Raphael into helping McFingers. I know I more or less tried to apologize to the city collectively for my sins after the Dansing Building collapse, but I didn't apologize to anyone specifically other than the Turtles."

Both Vincent and Baxter looked surprised now. "Barney," Vincent said in amazement.

Baxter started to smile. "Maybe it wouldn't do any good, but it's worth a try."

"You always tried to see the other side of it when it was someone you'd hurt," Barney said. "I was angry and didn't understand. But this time, when it's someone I hurt, it makes sense."

"I like seeing this side of you, Barney," Baxter said softly.

"You probably won't see it if someone from your past comes back and starts hurting you," Barney grunted. "Then I'd be as protective as you and Vincent are right now."

"That's how family is," Vincent said. He had finally calmed down for the most part and was leaning back on the couch with an arm stretched along the top of it.

"Maybe that idiot had a point, though." Barney reached behind himself and brought some of his hair over his shoulder. "Maybe I should cut this."

"Only if you want to," Baxter said. "Personally, I like it long." He smiled.

"So do I," Barney said. He flipped it back over his shoulder. "But I don't have any intention of letting it get any longer. I never did."

It was only then that Baxter noticed the book on Barney's lap. "You're reading the Bible?" he said in surprise.

Barney shrugged. "I do, sometimes. Today I took a notion to read the story of Joseph. You know, the one with all the idiot brothers?"

Baxter winced. "And?"

"Even as a boy, I could scarcely comprehend actually trying to kill their brother," Barney shuddered. "I know I was angry, and I even threatened harm to you when we were eight, but I never could have really done anything to you if it wasn't blind rage. The story haunted me. They deliberately tried to kill him! Only one out of ten brothers didn't want to. And then they sold him into slavery! I couldn't comprehend Joseph forgiving all of them either. Now . . ." He looked to Baxter. "That reminds me of you."

Baxter smiled a bit. "With you, it was blind rage, though. If it was a deliberate attempt, I'm not sure I could forgive you."

"Luckily, we'll never have to find out," Barney remarked.

"That's true," Baxter said.

Vincent beamed.

Barney fell silent again. "I remembered the story when you tripped and were hurt while I was chasing you around the property," he confessed. "I felt horrible. I was so afraid you were dead. But when you woke up and were alright, I was too prideful to even let you know I was glad." He looked down at the Bible. "And I refused to have anything to do with that story afterwards. This is the first time I've looked at it since then."

Baxter looked at him in surprise. "I knew you had something against the story, but I never knew what," he said. "I remember you refusing to watch that old movie when our parents put it on. And you didn't want to try out for Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, but you didn't want to try out for any other productions either, so I didn't take much stock in that." He looked down. "I always thought you hated the story because you hated me so much and you were equating me with Joseph," he said softly.

"Instead, it was that you hated yourself so much and you equated yourself with the brothers," Vincent said.

Barney slowly nodded. "That's right," he admitted. "I'd threatened to harm Baxter and then he tripped and was hurt. I couldn't forgive myself. Maybe that was the first time I really believed I was a horrible person. And maybe that fueled me towards what I became as much as my hatred towards our parents and my misdirected anger at Baxter."

"I'm sure it did," Baxter said.

"Maybe it was even the main factor," Vincent said. "Self-hatred is a terrible and powerful thing, especially when it forms during childhood."

"And I could have used that to coat all of my other feelings," Barney mused.

Baxter looked at him with regret. "Barney, I'm so sorry. I was so caught up in my own pain that I didn't see yours. I never could have comprehended that you were hurting so badly over having threatened me."

"I hid it well," Barney said. "The way I behaved, how would anyone suspect I loved you at all?"

"I wish I had," Baxter said. "I never would have stopped reaching out to you if I'd realized. I just figured I was a bother and you'd rather I didn't do anything more at all."

"And that was how I felt," Barney said. "Or at least, I thought it was. But . . . when you stopped . . . I did miss it . . . and you . . . no matter how much I told myself otherwise." He hesitated. "The truth is, I . . . kept everything you sent me-birthday cards, Christmas cards . . ."

Vincent smiled as he looked from Barney to Baxter, who was clearly stunned.

"I . . . I always thought you probably never opened them at all," he said. "Or that you threw them away. . . ."

"I have them in a drawer in my desk," Barney said. "Sometimes, when I was feeling especially lonely, I'd take them out and read them."

"I'm glad you told me," Baxter said softly.

"I was a fool," Barney said flatly. "I could have had you years ago, not just a handful of cards and an empty house. And then maybe I never would have worked for Pinky McFingers and hurt those comedians."

"It's useless to wish for what can't be," Baxter said. "You already know that I wish things had been different too. But they're different now, and that means the world to me."

"And to me," Vincent said.

Barney nodded. "And I have to focus on that. It's just . . . difficult, whenever the past comes calling again."

"I know," Baxter said softly. He could certainly relate.

Barney knew it too. "I suppose it was inevitable this would happen someday," he remarked. "You've had to deal with just about all the ghosts from your past coming back, even those children who received the wrong pizzas. You never directly interacted with them back then, but your actions most certainly affected them. It makes sense that eventually I would have to deal with those comedians that I did directly hurt."

"I guess, when you put it that way," Baxter said.

"The past always comes back to bite us," Vincent said.

Baxter looked to him. "Are there still things in your past that could cause trouble for you someday, Vincent?" he asked in concern.

"Well . . . I guess we'll have to wait and see," Vincent said. "I can't think of anything else, but that doesn't mean there isn't something."

"Very true," Barney grunted. "Someday some people could turn up that I never even knew I'd hurt. There's probably plenty of them."

"For me too," Baxter said. "I didn't know those children had received those pizzas until recently. And I don't remember all the people I hurt by turning them into giant insects. I barely remember having done that at all. But I'm sure all of them remember me."

"Not necessarily, Pal," Vincent said. "Maybe a lot of them have mostly forgotten their experiences or else never knew you were the one doing it to them. And surely those who do remember also know that you weren't in your right mind." He looked down. "But I was. Oh, what did I do to you?"

"You just wanted to help me, Vincent," Baxter said quietly. "You didn't understand."

"I should have," Vincent retorted. "Even though I believed revenge was honorable, taking revenge on an entire planet doesn't make sense."

"Maybe you were so bitter about Baxter's suffering by then that you thought maybe the whole world actually was to blame," Barney said. "Or at least the entire city. They knew of Baxter's plight and cared nothing about helping him."

"Yes," Vincent conceded. "That's possible. I was angry with the city's apathy."

"Then I will think of it like that," Baxter said.

"I wonder how Michelangelo is doing," Barney remarked. "He was so upset about what happened to him the other day."

"He's seemed to be recovering well," Baxter said slowly.

"'Seemed' being the key word here," Barney retorted. "He's so innocent. . . . I know it affected him deeply."

"It did," Baxter agreed. "But I think it's really helped him when he's talked with me . . . us . . . and the other Turtles and Splinter."

"Having a support group really is important," Vincent said. "Michelangelo has it a lot better than either of you did in the past."

"And thank God for that," Barney said. He paused. "Maybe we could do more for him."

"How do you mean?" Baxter asked.

"That invitation we were considering extending to him," Barney said. "Now might be a good time to do it."

Baxter started to smile. "Yes. Let's do that."

Vincent looked to Barney. "Are you sure, Buddy? I know you never really wanted to go."

"I still don't," Barney said. "But it might be fun for Michelangelo. Maybe it would help take his mind off of what happened to him."

Vincent smiled too. "It just might," he agreed.

xxxx

On the Technodrome, there was a far different reaction to Shecky's new routine.

"This is delicious," Shredder sneered behind his mask. "All of my frustrations about Barney being expressed through someone who hates him almost as much as I do!"

"Yeah, yeah, it's not bad," Krang said. "But we need to focus on getting the Technodrome out of the well!"

"When you come up with a good plan, let me know," Shredder said. "I'm just going to enjoy this for a while." He leaned back in his chair and propped his feet on the edge of the console.

Krang rolled his eyes. "Hopeless. Completely hopeless." He paused to listen. "Although I have to admit, this is good for relieving tension. Maybe I should get him to write a routine about you."

Shredder scowled.

xxxx

Shecky smirked to himself as he got off the stage to a round of laughter and applause. His new routine had gone over very well for the most part, aside from a couple of people who liked Barney and had booed him in the middle of the act. He had shut them up by ridiculing them as well.

Mr. Bigelow was waiting for him backstage. From his expression he seemed torn on what to think, but Shecky couldn't believe he wasn't pleased.

"I really knocked 'em dead this time," he crowed. "Just listen to them laugh!"

"I also heard them boo," Bigelow gulped. "I don't usually hear that on your routines."

"Hey, with any figure people like for some funny reason, there's bound to be something like that even here," Shecky shrugged.

"Well, I don't like it," Bigelow said. "That guy's got money. Maybe he couldn't sue us, but he could make life miserable for us in other ways. And what if he's really not as good now as people think? He could come use some new wacky invention on both of us for revenge!"

For the first time, Shecky looked a little sick. "I don't really think he'd do that," he stammered.

"Then you must really think he's turned good," Bigelow retorted. "And if you think that, why do you want to tear him apart in your routine?"

Shecky faltered for a moment. "Because that's what I do!" he finally blurted. "I don't have anything against the customers I insult."

"But you do have something against Barney Stockman," Bigelow replied. "I could feel the underlying anger in your act."

"Okay, so maybe I do have something against him," Shecky snapped. "Can you blame me? Why don't you hate the guy too?"

"I don't have time to hate on people," Bigelow said. "I've gotta worry about keeping my club open and not having any scandals! Honestly, that's really all I care about."

"Well, I need more," Shecky said. "What happened to me was horrible! I can't slam a gangster like Pinky McFingers; even I'm not willing to go there. But I can slam his scientist. It's the best way for me to get back at him."

"And you're sure doing it," Bigelow moaned.

"Look, if it looks like there's going to be trouble I'll think about changing my routine," Shecky said. "But a couple of Stockman fans booing isn't enough to do it."

"You'll think about changing your routine if I say you need to think about it!" Bigelow cried. "We'll try one more time and see what happens. And I'll decide if you can keep it or not. But I'd like to know the answer to one question. Why didn't you tell me you were debuting a new routine before you went on with it?!"

"Maybe because I didn't think there'd be any trouble," Shecky said.

"Or maybe you were worried I wouldn't okay it," Bigelow countered. "You know I don't want any trouble and will go out of my way to try to make sure of it!"

Shecky frowned. "Okay, maybe you're right," he muttered.

"Which means you debuted a routine knowing I probably wouldn't like it!" Bigelow boomed.

"I thought you'd feel different when you actually heard it!" Shecky insisted.

"Well, I don't know that I do," Bigelow said. "And even if Barney Stockman doesn't do anything, do you really believe his brother won't?"

"That wimp? There's nothing to worry about from him," Shecky jeered.

"Don't be too sure of that," Bigelow warned. "He's not as much of a pushover as he looks. And we already know Barney isn't!"

"Hey, people are gonna be disappointed if I don't keep the routine," Shecky said. "Just relax and we'll see what happens next time."

"I just hope I won't regret it," Bigelow groaned.

"Even with the booing, it still got more laughs than Joey's tired old routine," Shecky said. "I don't know why you keep that snore around."

"He gets enough laughs to make it worthwhile," Bigelow insisted. "And speaking of Joey, he's about to go on now." He watched from their backstage position. "We'll have to continue this later."

"After my second show tonight, there won't be any need for that," Shecky said.

xxxx

In the Lair, Michelangelo was indeed trying to get back to normal. He had been reading comic books, concocting new pizza recipes, and attempting to be his usual cheery self. But now that the other Turtles were really stopping to think about what he had been through, they didn't entirely believe all was well.

"What do you think is the right way to handle this, Leonardo?" Raphael asked. "Do we get him to talk more about things or try to humor him while he's trying to get back to normal?"

Leonardo shook his head, slightly overwhelmed yet wanting to do the right thing. "I say we should let him know we're here if he wants to talk, but if now he really doesn't, that's okay too."

Donatello nodded. "I think the most important thing is to just be there for him, no matter what."

"Exactly," Leonardo said. "I'm sure Master Splinter would say the same thing."

That was when Michelangelo exclaimed from the living room. "Hey! This creepazoid can't talk about Barney like that!"

The others rushed in, and that was when they heard Shecky's second stand-up routine. It wasn't long and they were also up in arms. One in particular.

"Seriously?!" Raphael cried. "Can you believe that guy?!"

"That's disgusting," Donatello said in annoyance. "But I'm surprised you're even upset, Raphael. It's not like you haven't insulted people yourself."

"Yeah, but I never said stuff like that!" Raphael retorted. "I never liked Shecky's routines!"

"If you hadn't ended up liking Barney, you might have liked that one," Donatello said. "If it was a routine of insulting Shredder, you'd probably enjoy it."

"But I do like Barney and I don't want to see him slammed like that!" Raphael retorted.

"That was seriously uncool, Dude," Michelangelo proclaimed.

"I didn't like it either," Donatello agreed. "I just don't see that there's anything we can do about it."

"Well, why not?" Leonardo frowned. "Mutants haven't been as hated in the city for some time now. We're usually able to walk around without disguises and Vincent is also pretty well-accepted. We have some influence around here."

"Yeah, and don't forget, Raphael saved that comic," Michelangelo pointed out. "Maybe if Raphael complained, he'd listen."

Raphael blinked. "Maybe you've got something there, Michelangelo!" he exclaimed. "At least it's worth a try!"

"On the other hand, what if he's like Professor Willard and he'll just keep feeling bitter no matter what?" Donatello said in concern. "Not everyone is willing to forgive. Even though this happened over a year ago, he's obviously still mad or he wouldn't be slamming Barney this way."

"Well, there's such a thing as going too far," Michelangelo said. "And this is mondo far. If he's still mad, he doesn't have to insult Barney to the whole world!"

"Or at least the whole city," Donatello deadpanned. "I don't think anyone outside of the city gets this affiliate."

"That's still too many people," Michelangelo said. "Do you really care, Donatello?" He frowned. "You just don't act upset at all."

Donatello flinched. "Of course I care!" he exclaimed. "I just don't think someone like him will listen to anybody. And maybe I think it's better just to leave it alone. Maybe he'll make up a rude routine about us next, and we're just finally in a better place, public relations wise."

"Or maybe it doesn't matter as much to you because he's roasting a human," Raphael said. "I bet if it was us he was making fun of now, you wouldn't take it lying down!"

"I'd still think he wouldn't listen!" Donatello protested. "He'd be even less likely to if he was making fun of mutants! But he also might not listen when we've made friends with Barney!"

"Turtles!"

Everyone looked up with a start as an unhappy Splinter entered the room. Immediately their stomachs dropped around their knees.

"What is the meaning of this disharmony?" Splinter frowned. "You were getting along so well right after Michelangelo's grim experience."

"We're sorry, Master Splinter," Leonardo sighed. "That comedian on TV was making fun of Barney and we don't seem to agree on what to do about it."

"Hmm. I wonder what Barney would want done about it," Splinter mused.

"I was kinda hoping he hadn't heard," Michelangelo said in chagrin.

"Only I think I left the TV on The Laff Channel the last time we were over there," Raphael groaned. "He could have heard it."

"Perhaps you should call him and find out before you do anything," Splinter said. "He may have an idea of his own."

"Probably just letting the guy get away with it because he feels like he doesn't have the right to stop him," Raphael rolled his eyes.

"That's how Baxter feels a lot," Michelangelo said.

"And Barney too," Raphael said. He looked away. "And . . . I know if it was me, I'd feel the same way, probably. . . ."

"Well, I think Master Splinter has a point," Leonardo said. "We should check with Barney before we do anything."

"I'll call," Michelangelo volunteered.

It was Vincent who answered. "Hi, Michelangelo," he greeted.

"Hey, Vincent," Michelangelo replied. "Uh . . ." He shifted, suddenly wondering how to say what he wanted to say. He wasn't good at being subtle.

"Did Barney see that whacked-out routine about him on The Laff Channel?" Raphael bluntly asked, leaning over Michelangelo's shoulder.

Vincent's eyes darkened. "He did," he said. "So did I. I'd still like to blast that wretch, but Barney won't let me."

"Well, uh . . . is he going to do anything about it at all?" Michelangelo wondered.

"He thinks the thing to do is go there and apologize for the past," Vincent said. "I don't know that he's right, but I'll support him in that. We're all going."

Emboldened now, Michelangelo asked, "Would you dudes like some company?"

Vincent smiled. "I think that would be a good idea. How about we meet you there?"

"Gnarly!" Michelangelo chirped. "We'll leave now."

Splinter looked pleased when Michelangelo hung up. "Barney is very wise," he said.

"You think that's the way to go, Sensei?" Raphael looked doubtful. "Apologizing? That didn't make me feel all better about him."

"Yes, but that was a unique circumstance," Splinter said. "However, it is true that apologizing doesn't always work. And of course, by itself an apology is nothing more than words."

"Yeah, and judging from Shecky's act, none of the stuff Barney's been doing has made any impact on him," Raphael said. ". . . Just like it didn't for me."

"It made an impact," Leonardo said. "Every time he did something good, you started to reconsider how you thought of him a little bit more. But you were invested in Barney because Baxter is our friend. Shecky has no reason to be invested in him. Anything good Barney's done wouldn't be likely to have an impact on him."

". . . I guess that makes sense," Raphael relented.

"Hey, like, let's talk on the way, Compadres," Michelangelo interjected. "We should be there when Barney and all of them get to The House of Ha-Ha!"

"We should," Donatello agreed. "Who knows what might happen!"

xxxx

Shecky's second show went off about the same as the first, with boos as well as laughs. Mr. Bigelow was more concerned than ever and insisted Shecky find something else for a new routine. Shecky was not pleased. He waved his employer off with a vague "I'll see what I can come up with" before heading to the door.

The last thing he expected to see upon leaving The House of Ha-Ha was a cream-colored Cadillac pulling up at the curb and Barney Stockman getting out. He swallowed hard, feeling the sudden need to back up against the club's doors for protection. Maybe Mr. Bigelow had been right to be worried. Who knew what that fruitcake might be packing under his coat!

"Hey, uh, so what are you doing around here?" he said with an uneasy smile.

"You don't need to play dumb," Barney said flatly. "We all heard your act." Baxter and Vincent got out of the car as well and surrounded him.

"Oh, you did?" Shecky fumbled for the door handle. "Well, makin' parodies ain't no crime, you know."

"We know," Barney said.

"Even if some of us wish it were, under certain circumstances," Vincent said coolly.

"I'll call the cops!" Shecky exclaimed, pressing himself against the door when he found it had jammed behind him.

Baxter gave him a cold glower. "You're not in any danger."

"I'm not?!" Shecky clearly didn't believe him. "Who knows what you guys might have with you! In any case, I know that computer can shock people! I don't wanna get barbecued!"

"If you really believed there might be retaliation, why did you go through with making me a subject of ridicule?" Barney frowned.

Seeing that none of them was making a move to attack, Shecky found himself emboldened enough to retort, "Because I wanted to get back at you that bad. Even after everything you did, you've got the city crazy about you! I want them to know you're not really that great."

"I didn't try to get the city crazy about me," Barney shot back. "For some reason they decided I was worth being crazy about after I nearly died at the Dansing Building."

"Yeah, all of that was probably just a publicity stunt," Shecky scoffed.

"A publicity stunt?!" Now Baxter was furious. He stepped out in front of Barney and walked right up to the comic. "He was wandering around Manhattan with amnesia while everyone else believed he was dead! If it had truly been a publicity stunt, there would have been a great deal of fanfare over his return and everyone who helped him would have become celebrities. Instead, he tried to make as little of his role as possible because he still didn't think he deserved any fanfare after everything wrong he did!"

"That's right," Vincent coldly agreed. "Everything that happened at the Dansing Building was because Barney genuinely didn't want people to be hurt. And he was willing to sacrifice himself to ensure it."

"Okay, I'll admit the fanfare bit makes sense," Shecky said slowly. "I'm still havin' trouble seein' him as altruistic."

"It was more that I didn't want my sins to harm innocent people," Barney said. "But this is getting way out of hand." He came forward now as well. "All I really wanted was to say I'm sorry. I know it doesn't fix anything and it's probably foolish to even say it, but it's the truth. I'm sorry for everything I did that hurt you and that other man Joey. I know I must have caused both of you a great deal of trauma."

"Well, it was no picnic." Shecky peered at Barney, cautious, not looking convinced. But at the same time, this was the last thing he had expected. Part of him looked like he wondered if it was for real.

"What's going on out here?" Speak of the Devil, Joey was coming out a side door of the club now.

"This slimeball decided to apologize to us," Shecky replied. "For the kidnapping, the trauma, being driven half-deaf . . ."

Joey shrank back. "How can we believe anything he says?"

"You can't," Barney said. "I wouldn't expect you to. Maybe that's part of why I never came before. That, and I know I don't deserve your forgiveness."

Baxter looked ready to speak. Barney gripped his shoulder and slowly shook his head.

The Turtle Van pulled up exactly at that moment. Raphael was the first to get out. "Hey, I'll vouch for Barney one-hundred percent," he said. "If he says he's sorry, you can bet he means it."

Baxter smiled.

Shecky looked to him with a start. "You're the Ninja Turtle guy. You were kidnapped too! How can you trust this creep?"

"For one thing, he saved my brother's life," Raphael responded without hesitation.

"Exactamundo," Michelangelo piped up. "And he's saved lots of us at different times. Raphael too! And the whole city!" He wildly gestured with his hands.

"Barney simply isn't a danger to you or anyone else who's just trying to make a decent living," Leonardo said.

"And he's a loyal brother, friend, and uncle," Donatello added in all sincerity.

"I don't like any of this," Joey said. "He's brainwashed all of them somehow!"

Shecky studied the Turtles in thoughtfulness. "Somehow I don't think so," he mused. "I think they mean every word."

"How could they?!" Joey countered.

"Have you ever heard of repenting?" Vincent spoke up.

"Is he even capable of it?" Joey retorted.

Shecky hesitated. ". . . I don't think the Ninja Turtles would all go to bat for someone who wasn't," he said. "You especially." He looked to Raphael. "You're not the kind of guy who could be easily conned. And not only were you instrumental in saving me and Joey, you're a fellow comedian. I respect that."

"You don't seem to respect him." Vincent indicated Joey, who glowered.

"I don't like his tired old routines," Shecky said, "but I still have to hand it to him for trying. I respect him as a fellow comedian."

"All of this is leading up to something," Baxter said. "What is it, exactly?"

"I'm still angry about the past, but this actually is giving me a different perspective," Shecky said. He turned back to Barney. "Look, it really does mean something that you'd show up like this. And if Raphael backs you up, I'm kind of inclined to believe you. My boss already wants me to change my act. I'll think harder about it. That's as much as I can commit to right now."

Barney nodded. "That's fair. I expected less."

"I just hope you will change it," Vincent said. "Whatever Barney did in the past, he doesn't deserve to be ridiculed that way. I don't care if we can't legally do anything; it's still not right."

"I'll see what I can do," Shecky said. He walked past to get to his car.

"Wait for me!" Joey exclaimed. "I'm not staying here with him and his friends!"

Leonardo sighed as they watched him flee. "Well, we reached one of them," he said.

"And that's more than I thought we'd be able to do," Donatello added.

"I don't know," Baxter frowned. "It's hard for me to believe that Shecky would be convinced that fast."

"What can I say? There's a bond between entertainers!" Raphael said.

"In your case, we use the term loosely," Donatello said.

"He said his boss wants him to change his routine," Vincent pointed out. "That could be a factor in how receptive he was as well."

"Maybe it's some of both," Michelangelo said.

"I guess that's possible," Baxter said slowly.

"In any case, it's totally bodacious!" Michelangelo exclaimed.

"I wonder if the other one will be trouble," Vincent frowned. "He didn't seem as willing to buy into the 'respecting a fellow comedian' idea."

"He was skittish, but he didn't seem to be the type who would create an insulting routine about someone specific," Baxter said.

"Yeah, I don't really think he would," Raphael agreed. "He just makes up stuff about fictional people. He'd probably be too scared to bash Barney, at the very least."

"Maybe Joey never will believe me," Barney said. "I'm amazed Shecky was willing to listen, whatever his reasons." He looked to the Turtles. "Even if the boss was a factor, I'm sure it's mainly because of you. Especially Raphael."

"Then I'm glad we got out here in time," Leonardo said.

"So am I," Baxter exclaimed.

"No kidding," said Raphael.

"There was a time when you never would have dreamed of standing up for me," Barney said to him. "It means a great deal that you did now."

"It would have surprised me in the past," Raphael said. "It doesn't now."

"Now how about we all go back to the Lair for some munchies?" Michelangelo chirped.

"That sounds good to me," Baxter chuckled.

They got into their respective vehicles and soon were arriving at the Turtles' special telephone booth elevator, which could only be activated by a code tapped into the phone. As always, it took two trips to get the entire group into the Lair.

"Boy, I guess you guys are glad you've almost always been able to use this to get to the Lair," Raphael remarked.

"To say the least," Barney said.

"It was very clever of you to rig up a direct yet secret pipeline into the Lair, Donatello," Baxter said. "It's certainly nicer for visitors."

"April comes in from every angle possible," Leonardo chuckled in amusement, "but she uses the elevator when she happens to be near it."

Baxter looked to Michelangelo in concern. "You've been quiet, my friend. Are you alright?"

Michelangelo started. "Huh? Oh. Yeah, I'm okay."

"I noticed too," Leonardo said, and Michelangelo looked both surprised and happy.

"I think we all did," Donatello said. "Something is wrong, isn't it?"

"I thought things went pretty well, all things considered," Raphael said.

Michelangelo looked down. "I'm mondo glad things worked out as good as they did! It's just . . ." He shifted. "Well . . . the way Barney felt . . . like he deserved to be made fun of . . . I can relate to that now. . . . Kind of. . . . I mean, the not-being-able-to-forgive-himself-so-he-feels-he-deserves-to-be-put-down part."

"I wouldn't put it like that," Barney said. "I did something terrible. It's understandable if I can't be forgiven and if some people deal with it by making fun of me."

"But have you forgiven yourself for it, Buddy?" Vincent asked softly.

Barney paused. "I don't know. Let's say that maybe I haven't, but I've learned to put it behind me and focus on how I'm not that person anymore. Understanding that some people can't forgive me isn't the same thing as not forgiving myself."

"Except that if you feel you actually deserve their cruelty, it indicates that you still haven't fully made peace with yourself," Splinter said.

"The me of the past does deserve it," Barney said darkly. "He was a wretch." He looked to Michelangelo. "But enough about me. You shouldn't have such a burden over you, Michelangelo. You didn't do anything worthy of that."

"I hurt all of you guys," Michelangelo said. "I know I hurt you, even if I couldn't help it. And I know that since I couldn't, I should just like, put it behind me and stuff. But it's not that simple."

"It never is," Baxter said softly. "Could I help what I did after the cross-fusion, when my mind was gone? No, probably not. But that doesn't stop me from hating myself for it having happened."

"Yeah, and I probably caused you to think more about it when I got back that majorly uncool memory," Michelangelo said.

Baxter cringed. "That wasn't my point," he said. "I just mean I can relate."

"I know." Michelangelo sighed. "And I was so mondo nasty to Donatello on the Turtle-Comm . . ."

"Also something you couldn't help," Donatello said.

"But I know you felt bad," Michelangelo said. "Then later, you were the one who broke the mind-control ray."

"Because I was so angry at how it had been used on you and Baxter," Donatello said. "And I knew other innocent people could suffer." He hesitated. "Okay, yeah, I felt bad. But I never blamed you!"

"Did you blame me?" Baxter quietly asked.

"No!" Donatello exclaimed. "It was just one of those things. Nobody could help it. The amnesia part, I mean. Of course I blame Shredder for the mind-control part. And Professor Willard for inventing the ray."

Michelangelo nodded forlornly. "I can still hardly believe Shred-Head made me attack all of you! And worse, that I probably had trouble fighting it off because I didn't remember anyone! I know I should just think about how I didn't attack anybody, but . . . that's mondo hard too."

"Having both things happen at once was unbelievably cruel," Baxter said angrily. "Of course you can't get over it right away, especially when it was really your first-and hopefully only-experience with being used in such a manner."

"And I'm sure you can't get over what happened to you right away either, Bud, even though it wasn't your first experience," Michelangelo said. "That probably made it even worse for you! You just thought it was finally behind you and then Tin-Head has to force it on you again!"

"It was horrible," Baxter said softly. "But we're not here to talk about me. We're trying to help you be more open about your emotions and feelings." He looked to the other Turtles. "I'm glad all of you noticed Michelangelo was quiet on the ride back. You're trying to be more attentive and that's wonderful! I was so happy when Barney started actively trying to be attentive with me."

Leonardo nodded. "I really want to do better. Not only am I the leader and I need to know what's going on with the other Turtles when they have problems, I'm a brother and I want to know."

"Same here," Donatello said.

"Ditto," Raphael added.

Splinter smiled. "I also noticed Michelangelo was quiet, but I wanted to give all of you a chance to handle it since you are still learning to explore the idea of being closer and more open." He looked to Baxter. "I am so grateful that you encouraged this of Michelangelo, Baxter. It has definitely been helping."

"I'm glad," Baxter said softly.

"And we're definitely going to keep trying," Leonardo said.

"You'll get better as time goes on," Barney said. "It's a work in progress. I'm still learning too."

Vincent laid a hand on his shoulder. "And you're doing so well, Buddy."

"And that is mondo awesome," Michelangelo beamed.

Baxter looked to him. "I hope you will continue to be open about your feelings, Michelangelo. I know it won't be easy for you to stop feeling haunted about what happened, even though it turned out well. The only way you'll be able to start feeling better is with the support of your loved ones."

"And I sure have that," Michelangelo said, sobered and humbled now. "All of you guys are totally gnarly. You know I love you, right?"

Everyone chorused in the affirmative.

"And we feel the same about you," Leonardo said.

"Always," Baxter agreed.

Michelangelo smiled and leaned back, perfectly content.

xxxx

Joey was more than a little jumpy after having encountered Barney outside the club. He and Shecky did not get along and lived in opposite directions, so Shecky had dropped him off at the subway station. At first he was just relieved to have gotten away from Barney. But when he encountered Pinky McFingers near the subway station, he jumped a mile. "Oh no! What's going on-old home week?!" he gasped.

Pinky regarded him in annoyance. "What are you talking about?"

"Oh . . . well, if you don't remember, I'd rather not refresh your memory," Joey gulped. "I'll see you later, Mr. McFingers, Sir. . . ." He turned to flee.

"Well, I can't expect third-rate comics to have a spine," Pinky sneered. "Yeah, I remember you, even though I'd rather forget."

"You're not planning to do anything more with me, are you?" Joey trembled.

Pinky looked annoyed. "I've got better things to do, like finding some new brains. My best scientist up and went straight."

Joey froze. "You mean that Barney Stockman guy?"

"Yeah, I mean him." Pinky's expression darkened more. "I couldn't even tempt him enough to get him to come back to work for me, so I had to kidnap one of those Turtles to force him. And he still wouldn't do it! He knew I'd waste the Turtle anyway. He rescued the kid instead. I gave him a good thrashing for that. I almost killed him. I wish I had."

"This didn't happen tonight, did it?" Joey suddenly worried.

"Nah. I wouldn't be talking about it if it had. It was months ago," Pinky said in disgust.

Joey swallowed hard. "Well, it's certainly been nice talking with you. Goodbye!"

Pinky didn't try to stop him from dashing onboard the subway. He really couldn't care less.

xxxx

Dinner was an enjoyable experience where the Turtles and Splinter reminisced on favored memories from the past. The Stockmans listened, fascinated and amused, to tales of their friends and nephews as energetic, curious children.

"We weren't allowed to go to the surface until after we met April and Shred-Head started attacking," Raphael said. "Michelangelo actually didn't like being on the surface at first."

"Hey, it was a scary place," Michelangelo defended. "Especially with the way humans treated mutants. And with all the crime and disharmony in general."

"But you sure changed your mind on it after you started going up more and getting used to it," Leonardo chuckled.

"I found out the surface is totally radical!" Michelangelo said. "But I still like coming down here to our nice, familiar Lair."

"Don't you ever miss windows?" Baxter wondered.

"Heck, no," Raphael replied. "Okay, so we can't look out, but then nobody else can look in, either!"

"I wouldn't want people seeing everything we're doing," Leonardo agreed.

"I think windows would be gnarly," Michelangelo exclaimed. "I'd love to have some. But it just wouldn't work down here."

Raphael nodded. "There wouldn't be much of a view down here."

"Public opinion on mutants has definitely been changing," Barney said. "The time may come when you won't have to live down here."

"Like, maybe we could have a house, like we did in that whacked-out future we saw with Hokem Hare?" Michelangelo said. "That would be epic!"

"What whacked-out future was that?" Baxter asked, raising an eyebrow.

"It was mondo bizarro," Michelangelo said. "Shred-Head tried to time-travel, but he ended up in a world where we were prematurely old because we hadn't taken good care of our bodies. It was kind of creepy." He shuddered. "We were all decrepit and senile."

"And April was still working for Channel 6 as a reporter at age 75," Raphael snarked.

"So all of you were only around 60?" Barney raised an eyebrow.

"Yeah, it was oh so depressing," Michelangelo said.

"Luckily, that future won't happen since we're going to take better care of our bodies," Donatello said.

Splinter nodded. "I am glad my students saw that future. It certainly scared them into taking better care of themselves when everything I said fell on deaf ears." He smiled. "With the right care, they should easily live as long as the most long-lived humans do. Becoming mutants gave them the lifespans of humans instead of turtles."

"We were all pretty happy when I studied us and found that out," Donatello said.

"I can imagine," Baxter said. "But I guess I always thought you would live the same as humans."

Michelangelo gave an enthuasiastic nod. "And since you guys take real good care of yourselves too, I'm sure we'll all be together all through the years!" he said with a wild gesture.

"I wouldn't have it any other way," Baxter said fondly.

"Nor would I," said Splinter.

"You're all so lucky to have a father who takes such notice of and pride in you," Baxter said. "Our parents certainly never did. Well, unless we did something that brought positive attention to the family name, of course."

Barney nodded. "The little victories or the everyday adventures didn't mean a thing to them. They only paid attention if it directly affected them somehow."

Splinter shook his head. "All of those things should have directly affected them. They should have been interested in everything their children did. By focusing on unimportant matters, they missed out on one of the greatest joys in life."

"No arguments there," Barney grunted.

"Honestly, we were mostly raised by the maid," Baxter said.

"Did she care about you?" Vincent asked.

"I'd like to think so, but really, she acted like it was just a job to her," Baxter sighed. "So we didn't stay in touch with her either."

"Mondo uncool," Michelangelo proclaimed. "Yeah, we really were lucky to find Splinter."

"Have you heard anything more from your father at all?" Leonardo asked in concern.

"No," Barney said. "I was willing to consider that maybe he didn't offer to help look for Vincent in the mountains because he was out of the country at the time, but we've been in the news many times since then and he's never made a move to contact us."

"Perhaps he is still unsure whether he's even welcome to contact you," Splinter said. "He certainly knows you are unhappy and angry with him."

"And I'm not denying that's possible too," Barney agreed. "But it still hurts."

Baxter nodded. "It does," he said softly. "I was thrilled when he came to us after our experiences in that horrible town, but I wasn't sure that meant he would be around a lot. Now that I see he isn't around at all, it is disappointing and disheartening."

"It most certainly would be," Splinter said. There was a certain look in his eyes as he studied his friends, but he did not speak further. Leonardo noticed, however, and pondered to himself on what that look meant.

"Coming to think about it, I wonder what your parents will think of that comedy routine," Vincent worried.

"That depends on how negatively it impacts them," Barney shrugged.

"Our mother will probably be in hysterics over it," Baxter winced. "But for all the wrong reasons."

"Totally bogus," Michelangelo frowned.

"And it's highly possible that there may be an upset message from her on the answering machine, either at the mansion or your apartment," Barney said to Baxter.

"I can check at the house," Vincent volunteered. But after a moment he started to relax. "It doesn't look like a message was left there."

"I never let them have my number," Barney said. "Of course, it wouldn't be hard for them to find out."

Baxter cringed. "I don't like the thought of finding a message at my apartment when I'm there tomorrow," he sighed. "But yes, I'll have to be prepared for that possibility."

"I could come for moral support," Michelangelo offered.

That brought a smile. "I'm sure I'll need it," Baxter said.

xxxx

Dinner ended and Donatello took the Stockmans to the lab. "I still don't get why we've never been able to crack the secret of this mysterious power source," he remarked as he opened the trunk containing the bizarre object taken from under Shredder's nose at the Floxy Theatre.

Vincent poked it. "I don't understand why I don't have any data on it," he said.

"Well," Baxter said, "surely you didn't visit every planet in the dimensional universe."

"No, I certainly didn't," Vincent agreed. "Obviously this must come from a place I didn't visit. Or a place I visited invented it after I was there."

"You don't recognize any of the elements in it at all?" Barney asked.

"Not at all," Vincent said. "Something tells me it's very powerful, though."

"I wonder if someday we'll find out what it is," Baxter frowned, folding his arms. "Donatello and I experimented on it for months without success."

"The only positive thing is that hopefully, since we didn't have any luck, the bad guys wouldn't have either," Donatello said. "But someday, the aliens who left it here might come back for it. I hope they're good ones."

"If it was Urk, he probably would've taken it with him," Michelangelo said from the doorway.

"Exactly." Donatello stared at the cylindrical object as it lay in the trunk, seemingly mocking them. "I wonder what aliens like about that broken-down old theatre."

"Maybe someday we'll find that out as well," Baxter said.

"And maybe the truth will be that they simply like that they can hide there undetected for years," Barney grunted.

"Hey, good enough reason," Michelangelo shrugged.

Baxter exchanged a look with Barney as they headed back to the living room. Barney gave a quiet nod. Now would be a good time to bring up what they had discussed at home.

"Michelangelo," Baxter said, "Barney and I have a high school reunion this year."

"Oh yeah?" Michelangelo perked up and looked to him. "Are you guys gonna go?"

"Well, we weren't sure," Baxter admitted. "But Vincent suggested it might be nice to show them that we're finally united as a family."

"Gnarly notion!" Michelangelo chirped. "Hey, maybe they'll want to be friends now."

"If they did, we might just think they were interested because we're finally having some success," Barney remarked. "I wouldn't be likely to trust many of them."

Splinter nodded. "Fair-weather friends are unfortunately more numerous than we would like to believe."

"We're each allowed to bring a guest," Baxter said. "I was wondering if you would like to be mine, Michelangelo." He looked to the orange-masked Turtle.

"Moi?" Michelangelo pointed at himself and his eyes lit up. "Totally radical! I'd love to go!"

Baxter chuckled. "I hoped you might."

"I'll be Barney's guest," Vincent said.

"Perfect!" Michelangelo grinned. "It'll be an epic evening!"

Leonardo fell back as they walked, smiling at Baxter and Barney. "Thanks," he said softly. "You've given Michelangelo something to look forward to. I think he really needed that right now."

Barney nodded. "We thought he might. We were talking today about the reunion and what to do about it. I especially still don't want to go. But we decided it might be something nice for Michelangelo after what he went through."

Baxter smiled. "There's always a delicious dinner, so he would certainly enjoy that. And he seemed curious about college. I thought he might also be fascinated by high school."

"Hey, Michelangelo is curious and fascinated about almost everything," Raphael said.

Michelangelo plopped on the couch and looked up at his friends. "So when is this big shindig?"

"Very soon now," Baxter said, sitting down next to him. "They always have it as an end of summer event."

"Totally radical! I hope there won't be any wacky stuff going on to mess it up," Michelangelo said.

"When it's us, who knows," Raphael cracked.

xxxx

By the time the Stockmans left to head home, everyone was in a fairly good mood. But the trio was more than a little surprised and confused when they turned onto their street and saw what looked like Joey from The House of Ha-Ha coming up the sidewalk as though he had been at the mansion.

Barney rolled down the window. "Can we help you?" He eyed the comic warily.

Joey jumped a mile and looked equally wary. "Well . . . er, no. That is, I . . . I was just in the neighborhood and I thought I'd see where you lived." He shifted. "When you apologized, did you really mean it?"

"I meant it," Barney said. "But I didn't expect I'd be believed."

"I didn't expect to believe you," Joey said. "But maybe . . . maybe you really have changed. So . . . I'll think of it as though you have, but I'll still keep my distance."

Barney grunted. "That's your privilege. Thank you for at least giving me a chance."

Baxter studied the comedian with wary eyes. "What made you willing to try to think of him as having repented?"

"Oh . . ." Joey looked supremely awkward now. "I heard it from a source I definitely believed-Pinky McFingers."

Baxter snorted.

Barney wasn't particularly offended. "I'm sure he had a lot to say about me, all bad."

"Yeah, only it made you sound pretty good," Joey said. "Well, I'm leaving now. . . ."

"Goodbye." Barney drove up the street and Vincent remotely unlocked the gate.

"So one of them believed the Turtles and one of them believed a gangster," Vincent commented. "I'm not sure what I think of that."

"I don't want to bother thinking about it," Barney said. "Joey wants to wash his hands of me. I'm content to do the same with him."

"I suppose that's the best way to look at it," Baxter relented.

"And Shecky should be doing his final show of the night now," Vincent realized. He got out and headed for the porch. "I wonder if we can trust that he really is changing his act."

Baxter and Barney followed.

"I have a hard time believing it," Barney said flatly. "He never seemed to be a very considerate person. I'm the last person he would want to be considerate to."

"I agree," Baxter said in disgust.

"Well, not that I disagree, but I'd like to see what he might have come up with," Vincent said. "If even his boss wanted him to, he would surely do something." He flipped on the television as they walked into the living room.

"So, you know that Barney Stockman guy I was ripping up one side and down the other?" Shecky was saying. "It's come to my attention that he's actually not such a bad guy, in spite of his former . . . extracurricular activities. Hey, the Ninja Turtles say he's tops in their book. Of course, those guys must like a lot of humans, since they're always risking their lives for us, but Barney's got a special place in their hearts. And he's not such a wimp after all, even though it's no secret that he's not the least bit muscular. Any guy who gets gangsters and even that crook The Shredder on the run must be pretty cool, huh? I hear some crooks chicken out the moment they hear Barney's out to get them. Just mention his name and watch them hide behind anything they can find! I even saw one who'd rather dive into a dumpster than deal with him!"

Baxter stared at the screen. "I don't believe it. He's completely changed the way he talks about you."

"And I don't believe this." Barney was also staring. "The audience is clapping."

Vincent beamed. "The city knows you're worthy of praise, Buddy."

"Only how do we know some of the audience clapping now weren't among the ones laughing earlier?" Barney pointed out. "They might be completely two-faced."

"Some of them probably are," Baxter admitted. "But I'm going to trust that most of them are sincere when they're clapping now."

Barney finally gave a gruff smile. "I suppose we'll never really know one way or another," he conceded. "So it doesn't really matter. I have to admit it's nice to hear that they actually appreciate what Shecky's saying about me."

"So you don't still think you deserve to be bashed?" Vincent asked.

"The me of the past probably does," Barney said. "But the me of the present . . . maybe not."

Vincent hugged him with one arm. "Well . . . that's a start."

Baxter smiled in agreement.