Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Baxter and Barney's 25th High School Reunion

By Lucky_Ladybug

Notes: The characters are not mine (except for most of the other students) and the story is! ThickerThanLove helped with some of the plot elements. The villain from the first Bugman episode is involved in the plot. 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.

Krang scowled as he entered the main control room and found Shredder rewinding the playback of Shecky Schtick's original, nasty routine about Barney. "Again?!" he scowled.

"This was so great!" Shredder whined. "Why did the Turtles have to go and convince him that he shouldn't make fun of Barney?!"

"Well, naturally they would do something," Krang retorted. "They wouldn't just stand by and allow it!"

"He didn't have to listen!" Shredder shot back. "His new routine hails Barney as some kind of hero! It's not fair!"

"Oh, stop acting like a child and let's focus on what's important," Krang said. "There's this bizarre character in the city who can conduct electricity. I think we should try to get him to work for us in creating energy for the Technodrome."

"Oh yeah?" Shredder turned to look at him. "What if he won't?"

"I think he will," Krang said in a sing-song voice. "He calls himself Electrozapper. And the word on the street is that he's going to his high school reunion tomorrow. Let's go there and recruit him!"

Shredder frowned. "Why do I have the feeling this isn't going to turn out like we hope?" He turned to face Krang. "We already have most of the energy we need. We just needed to hit one more place successfully to collect the rest."

"Yes, but then I heard about Electrozapper and I started thinking. Wouldn't it be nice if he could get us out of the well and we wouldn't have to use up so much of our energy for that purpose?" Krang's eyes gleamed. "Think of how much more damage we could do on the surface!"

"That is a pleasant thought," Shredder agreed. "But how would you even convince that nutcase to help us?"

"We'd say he'd have more than enough power to squash Bugman," Krang said. "Of course, we'd probably have to dispose of him before long, since he would want to rule the world instead of us, but it might work out just long enough to help us."

"Yes," Shredder purred. "It might. Just watch it, Krang. You don't know what a weirdo like that might be capable of doing!"

"Well," Krang replied, "we'll soon find out!"

xxxx

In the Lair, the night was peaceful. Splinter was dozing on his futon, dreaming of taking the Turtles home to meet his parents at the old house in Japan. Leonardo was moving about in bed, fantasizing that he was fighting the human Foot Soldiers from one of the other dimensions. Raphael was picturing himself on stage, delivering a winning comedy routine-which he mumbled under his breath in reality. Donatello was envisioning a meeting with Albert Einstein, who was highly impressed by the Turtle's intellect and wanted to collaborate on a new invention.

That was when a chilling cry woke all of them.

Splinter's eyes snapped open. Leonardo rolled out of bed. Raphael bonked his head on the bookcase with a loud "Ow!" And Donatello yelped. It wasn't the first time this had happened of late, and once the sleep was out of their eyes and minds, they all knew what it meant.

"Oh boy, another nightmare," Raphael said in dismay. "Usually they stop by now." He hopped out of bed and hurried out of his room, where he was joined by Leonardo, Donatello, and Splinter in the hall.

"Michelangelo's heart was very deeply pierced by everything he did on that fateful day when he fell victim to first amnesia and then mind-control," Splinter said. "It will take longer for him to be able to recover from it."

The group hurried into the little room and gathered around the bed. "Michelangelo?" Leonardo asked.

Michelangelo groaned and sat up in bed, his shoulders slumping. "I did it again, huh?" he mumbled in chagrin.

"No one blames you, Michelangelo," Splinter said. "We all know you are still devastated."

"What happened in your dream, Michelangelo?" Leonardo gently asked.

"I dreamed I was being mind-controlled again," Michelangelo whispered, "and this time I couldn't fight it off. I . . . I smashed up the laptop and Vincent dropped dead. . . . I threw Barney all the way across the property and he just crashed there so still. I disarmed all of you guys and Master Splinter and killed each one of you. . . . And I started strangling Baxter. . . . I woke up before I finished." He covered his eyes with his hands and started to rock back and forth in the bed.

"Oh Michelangelo . . ." Donatello said in horror. It was no wonder he had screamed.

"But you know that you did not do any of those terrible things," Splinter said softly.

"And you wouldn't," Raphael said. "Even not remembering us, you fought with all your heart and soul to not attack us. You kept beating the grass with your nunchucks."

Michelangelo looked up, a bit surprised that Raphael had been the one to say that. But it was true and he slowly nodded. "I know. . . . And I was just so terrified every moment that I was gonna lose control and kill somebody." Tears glistened in his eyes but didn't fall.

"And you were so strong that not once was there ever that danger," Leonardo said, sitting on the edge of the bed.

"And all of your struggling not to hurt us brought your memories back," Donatello said. "Maybe they wouldn't have come back so soon otherwise."

Michelangelo slowly looked up. "So I have to be grateful I flipped out because of that?"

"It is a silver lining on which you can look," Splinter said.

"I just wish I'd never got amnesia at all," Michelangelo said morosely. "That would've solved everything. Poor Baxter still blames himself for me getting clocked with that stupid beam."

"Unfortunately, there is nothing you can do about that," Splinter said. "Baxter must continue to try to get past his own demons, which he will with the support of his loved ones."

"Yeah." Michelangelo straightened. "I guess it's stupid and all, but . . . I'm really not sure I wanna be alone right now. . . ."

"That's not stupid, Michelangelo," Leonardo said.

"And hey, probably none of us feel like trying to go back to sleep for a while," Raphael said.

Donatello nodded. "We can watch a movie or play a game or just talk. . . ."

"Or maybe just sit here a while?" Michelangelo said.

"Of course," Leonardo said.

xxxx

Baxter was also not free of agonizing nightmares. When he flew awake, shaking, staring with wide eyes at the ceiling, after a moment he groaned and covered his eyes with his hand. "Not again," he said in dismay to himself.

Finally he threw back the covers and got out of bed, groping on the nightstand for his glasses in the same moment. It was ridiculous and illogical, but he didn't see how he would ever go back to sleep until he checked on Barney. He headed for the door and creeped into the hall, silently berating himself all the while.

Barney's door was shut tight, but thankfully, it never seemed to make noise upon being opened. Baxter eased it open just enough to see Barney laying on his side in the bed, clearly breathing. Sighing to himself in relief, and mentally scolding himself again, Baxter started to close the door.

Barney stirred before he could. "Baxter?"

Baxter went stiff, caught. "I . . . I'm sorry," he blurted. "I didn't mean to wake you up." He shut the door and slumped against the wall in the hall, running his hands into his hair.

Why did I do such a stupid thing? I knew I might wake him up. I didn't want to disturb him. I just . . .

The door opened and Barney stood there, frowning at him in concern. "Baxter, what's wrong?" he asked.

Baxter shook his head. "It's just stupid," he said. "I'm so sorry, Barney. I'm sorry. . . ." He started to turn away.

Barney grabbed his shoulder. "Baxter." Baxter went stiff under his grasp. "Baxter, you did all that counseling to Michelangelo about being more open and encouraging the other Turtles to pay more attention to how he might be feeling. You don't practice what you preach very well, do you?"

"No," Baxter said softly.

Barney came around to look at his twin, grasping both shoulders in his hands. "You don't normally peer into my room in the middle of the night. Whatever it is, it's not stupid."

At last Baxter looked up at him, his eyes filled with sorrow and anguish and guilt. "I wanted to make sure you weren't dead," he said softly. "That I . . . hadn't killed you. I knew I hadn't, and yet the dream was so real, so vivid. . . ."

Barney swore under his breath. "Shredder must have known how badly you would be affected after your mind was continuously drained for two years." He snarled and pulled Baxter close to him. "It's completely normal to be haunted by thoughts and nightmares of what could have happened. Don't you think I went through the same thing?"

Baxter froze for a moment as he really tried to process what had just happened. Then, slowly, he relaxed into his brother's protective embrace. "I . . . but . . . you're so strong," he said softly. "You didn't break like that. . . ."

"Vincent comforted me through so many nightmares after Shredder mind-controlled me," Barney said. "Sometimes I dreamed that I wasn't in time to stop the Foot Soldiers from beating you to death. Sometimes I dreamed that I killed you. Sometimes . . . I dreamed that you survived but you never trusted me again. I can't say which was the worst. In all of them, you were damaged beyond repair. And you were always lost to me."

Baxter pulled back, staring at Barney in stunned disbelief. "But it wasn't your fault," he stammered. "And you never harmed me."

"You didn't harm me, either," Barney retorted. "But answer me this, Baxter. I want to know. No . . . I need to know. How badly did Shredder damage you?"

Baxter blinked back tears, but they only returned. "I felt so lost, so vulnerable!" he sobbed. "All the horrors of the past came back in full force and I was so small, my confidence shattered. Shredder said I was acting like a child when I clung to Vincent for comfort. And I felt like one. You and Vincent were both so kind and understanding. And then I had to talk to Professor Willard when he showed up. . . . I honestly thought I was alright after that, that I would swiftly recover and nothing more needed to be done. But tonight . . . with me actually doing something so silly and unnecessary . . . I was so annoyed with myself and humiliated. But I had to see if you were alright. I had to. . . . I don't know how badly Shredder damaged me, but it was badly enough that I felt I had to do something that stupid!"

Barney hugged him close again, not speaking for a long moment. "After every nightmare . . . I always checked on you," he said quietly. "I also had nightmares like that for months after the crowbar incident, but I couldn't check on you then. Vincent was my strength then, just as he was more recently. And . . . you were my strength too. Every time I saw you were alright, I was able to push the past behind me again and peacefully go to sleep."

Baxter gazed at his brother in shock. "Barney . . ."

"So you do whatever you need to in order to get better," Barney gruffly continued. "No matter how stupid it seems. I just want you to be happy again. Do you understand?"

Somehow that was a release on all the pain and anguish. Baxter slumped against him, his body shaking as the long-bottled-up sobs broke free at last. After a moment he choked out, "I'm acting so stupid again. But . . ."

"No, you're not," Barney growled. "Shredder did this to you. It's his fault! All of this is his fault!"

Vincent came out of his room and over to his brothers. He had been awake almost from the start, but had hung back to let Barney handle it. Now he could see that Barney wasn't sure what to do next. He had never been good with hysteria.

Gently he laid a hand on Baxter's hair and stroked it while speaking to him softly. "It's alright, Baxter. Barney's right, this isn't your fault. The only thing you're guilty of is loving Michelangelo so much that you poured all your energy into trying to make him feel better. You forgot that you still needed some help too. It all had to come out sometime."

Baxter shook his head. "Michelangelo suffered worse than me," he protested.

"How can anyone measure the depth of someone's suffering?" Vincent answered. "Just because Michelangelo had amnesia all day long and it culminated in him being mind-controlled, while you were mind-controlled for five minutes, it doesn't mean that what happened to you was any less relevant. Shredder tried to make you kill Barney! And anyway, Pal, you suffered all day long too. You'd lost one of your best friends. You didn't even know if he would ever remember you again! And just when that nightmare was over, Shredder decided to make you suffer even more by mind-controlling you! Your heart had already been shattered and he tried to crush what was left. And I will never forgive him for that."

Finally Baxter looked up again. "I didn't want to hurt anyone with my petty problems," he said quietly.

"They're not petty and you wouldn't have hurt us," Barney retorted. "But you bottled them up until you finally broke. That's what happened with my anger and pain, and with your feelings of hurt and sorrow in the past. It's just that this time, you didn't let loose with anger when you broke."

"I needed to cry," Baxter softly mused. "For so many years I didn't do it. I cried when I thought we'd lost you, of course, and later Vincent. . . . But I never did cry about my personal problems. At least, not that I remember. I think the first time I did was when I was watching that old movie and it brought back all the horrible memories of being falsely arrested. And now tonight. . . ."

"You did need to," Vincent agreed. "I saw you cry sometimes when you were cross-fused, but I haven't seen it often since you became human again."

"Baxter . . ." Barney looked firmly into Baxter's eyes. "Your problems are real and deserving of serious attention. They're every bit as important as Michelangelo's problems or anyone else's. You really are too much alike. I'm sure Michelangelo is thinking his problems are petty too."

"He does," Baxter admitted. "He always does."

"And you encourage him to feel otherwise," Barney said. "If he had any inkling of how heartbroken you've been feeling, he would encourage you exactly the same way."

"But of course, you don't want him to know," Vincent said softly. "You don't want him to focus on you. You want him to focus on himself so he can try to heal. Now you need to do the same thing."

"He does know that I blame myself," Baxter said. "And he knows I'm haunted about the mind-control. But no, of course he doesn't know just how deeply I was cut. I'm not sure I knew myself until tonight. I thought I was holding it together quite well. Then came that dream, that horrible, chilling dream! And when I woke up, suddenly my careful facade was only holding by a thread."

"And it snapped." Barney drew an arm around Baxter's shoulders. "Maybe I should have told you earlier about my nightmares and checking on you every night. I didn't want to make you feel bad thinking that you had caused me to feel such anguish. And I'm sure pride was part of it too. I knew it was illogical and I was embarrassed, but I couldn't make myself stop doing it."

"I know exactly how that feels now," Baxter said. "But I'm alright now. I have you and Vincent, and I'm so grateful for you both."

"Are you going to feel like going to the high school reunion tomorrow night, Pal?" Vincent asked in concern.

Baxter took a deep breath. "We've already committed ourselves. We have to go. Michelangelo is looking forward to it. And if it actually goes well, I think I will need it as much as he does."

"And if it doesn't go well?" Barney pointedly asked.

"Then . . . at least I spent the evening with my dearest loved ones," Baxter said.

"Good answer," Vincent smiled.

"Do you think it was a mistake to invite Michelangelo?" Baxter worried.

"I hope it's not," Barney said. "We wouldn't have done it if not for the fact that mutants are better-liked these days, for the most part. I don't really think there will be any trouble on that front. But we all surely realize that going may dredge up a lot of unhappy memories."

"I realize," Baxter said quietly. "Maybe part of me hopes I'll remember something nice I'd forgotten about."

"If something nice happened during that period of time, I highly doubt either of us would have forgotten about it," Barney retorted. "It would have been so rare it would have stood out." He sighed wearily. "I'm responsible for so many of the unhappy memories for both of us. I keep desperately trying to think of times when I did kind things for you. I keep thinking there has to be something."

"You trying to get me to stand up to my bullies was kind, in your own way," Baxter said. "I think of it like that now that I know what your motivation was."

"That's foolish," Barney growled. "But you're right," he relented. "In my way, I was trying, even in spite of my anger."

"I only wish I'd seen it that way back then," Baxter said. "It's so clear to me now, whereas it just wasn't before."

"Both of you are seeing things with a new outlook," Vincent interjected. "You've come to understand each other so much."

"I wonder what our classmates will think when they see us finally united," Baxter said.

"Surprised? Stunned? Floored?" Barney deadpanned. "On the other hand, at least some of them have surely seen us on the news and know it already."

"That's probably true," Baxter relented.

"But they may still ask us about it," Barney said. "Others probably won't care."

"I wonder if anyone will ask us about our parents," Baxter said quietly. "People still ask them about us."

"I know; I read about the incident at the charity benefit they had tonight too," Barney said with a roll of his eyes. "I wonder if they're as tired of it as we are."

"Father probably is," Baxter said. "Mother probably wants to cry every time we're brought up."

"Well, I wouldn't worry about it too much," Vincent soothed. "If anyone does ask about your parents, you can simply say they're the same as always."

"Which is true," Barney grunted.

Baxter chuckled. "For now, maybe we should all try to go to bed. It's going to be a big day tomorrow."

"That's fine with me," Barney said.

xxxx

After spending time with the other Turtles and Splinter and a good night's sleep, Michelangelo was back to his cheery self. He was also completely stoked. That day at lunch, he couldn't seem to stop talking.

"It's gonna be mondo awesome tonight!" he exclaimed to everyone around the table. "Free food! Meeting people that Baxter and Barney knew! And best of all, showing them that Baxter and Barney are a true family at last!"

"Whoa, Michelangelo," Leonardo chuckled. "Things may not turn out exactly as you hope."

"They rarely do," Barney grunted. "I just hope you're not getting your hopes too high."

"Like, what do you mean, Bud?" Michelangelo blinked.

"For one thing, old habits die hard," Barney said. "Some of the worst offenders from high school may still torture Baxter with their teasing." He looked to Baxter. "And you might not want to say anything against it and stir things up."

Baxter looked down. "That's possible," he admitted. "In my right mind, I don't like making scenes."

"We don't have to go," Michelangelo said. "I wouldn't wanna go if you guys are thinking it would be better if you stay home."

Baxter smiled. "No. Barney isn't suggesting that. He's just concerned wondering if it will really be a happy time for you. And me," he added.

"I encouraged you to go in the first place," Vincent said in a bit of chagrin. "Maybe I shouldn't have."

"You had a good idea as to why it might be nice," Barney said. "We'll see how it works out."

"I'm definitely game if you dudes are," Michelangelo said.

"And I'm sure that if nothing else, you'll enjoy dinner," Baxter said. "That's usually the biggest part of the event."

"Mondo notion!" Michelangelo exclaimed.

"What else happens at an American high school reunion?" Splinter asked. "I must confess I am not familiar with the way it is done here."

"Mostly the people just interact," Baxter said.

"Usually someone gives a speech and maybe they sing the school song," Barney said. "One year they had door prizes. Another year they had a couple of singers performing popular songs from our graduation year. Not me and Baxter," he added.

"You know, I never really thought about it, but what kind of music do you dudes like?" Michelangelo wondered. "I guess I always kind of pictured you liking classical and chamber music, but that's probably just a stereotype about scientists or something."

"Actually, we do like that," Barney grunted. "To varying extents. I don't like music that reminds me of all the social functions we were forced to attend."

"I probably enjoy it more than Barney does," Baxter said. "I didn't like the social events, but the music made them a little bit bearable." He paused. "Barney actually likes hard rock."

The Lair occupants looked to Barney in surprise. "Seriously?" Michelangelo blinked. "That's kind of epically awesome."

"I only like some kinds," Barney said. "I abhor screaming. And I can't take a singer seriously if he growls out his lyrics like a mad dog."

Splinter chuckled. "Well said."

"And I think I started out liking hard rock only because it was the opposite of what our parents wanted me to like," Barney continued. "Then I realized that the song lyrics often described my frustrations well. Rock-and-roll or pop or syrupy sweet easy listening certainly didn't do that. Neither did most classical music."

"Barney likes the song Believer by Imagine Dragons a lot," Vincent said helpfully.

"That song is totally gnarly!" Michelangelo grinned.

"What about you, Vince?" Raphael wondered. "Do you like music?"

"Oh yes," Vincent said. "But I tend to find value in a variety of vastly different styles and genres from around the universe. Setting aside what seems logical, though, I enjoy songs that sound technical, like computers."

"Ohh, you mean techno and dance music!" Michelangelo chirped.

"And unlike KITT on Knight Rider, I like jazz," Vincent added.

Splinter looked to Baxter. "So, do you particularly enjoy any types of music other than classical, Baxter?"

"I'm normally a quiet person and I usually like easy listening," Baxter said. "Although I guess you could say I appreciate the melodies more than the lyrics, since the majority of the songs are about romance and I can't relate."

"So none of you really like the kind of music that was out when you two graduated high school?" Leonardo remarked.

"Let's say we like some songs here and there, but for the most part we prefer other music eras," Barney said.

"Leonardo and Master Splinter like to chill out with traditional Japanese music and New Age," Michelangelo said. "Master Splinter likes classical too. And Leonardo will sometimes dabble with rock."

"Rock is tops for me," Raphael said. "Sometimes I even like rap. Just not the kind from that last alternate dimension we wound up in." He rolled his eyes.

"Aww, not even the mondo radical one the other me wrote extolling everybody's virtues?" Michelangelo said.

"Well . . . maybe that one," Raphael grudgingly conceded.

"Donatello's the real surprise," Michelangelo said. "Okay, so he likes instrumental stuff he can listen to while working, right? Well, he also totally digs country!"

"Hey, there's nothing like jamming to Garth Brooks while I'm coming up with my latest scientific discovery," Donatello shrugged.

"There are some very interesting country songs," Barney said. "A lot of them tell stories and are very meaningful."

"That's true," Donatello said. "But I think mainly I like the music," he added with a sheepish chuckle.

"There's no harm in that," Baxter said.

"Just as long as the lyrics are clean," Splinter added. "Sometimes I have admittedly been surprised in a bad way by what some country songs consider acceptable to sing."

"That's unfortunately the case with many genres these days," Baxter said. "I actually liked some of the popular songs from the 1990s and 2000s. These days, I'm afraid there isn't much out there that isn't either completely inane or completely inappropriate."

"Yes," Barney grunted.

"And probably to no one's surprise, Michelangelo likes a little bit of everything," Raphael interjected. "Including Christmas music. Oh brother, does he like Christmas music."

"Michelangelo just likes Christmas, period," Donatello said.

"I'm looking forward to celebrating Christmas with all of you this year," Vincent said. "I want to try decorating the mansion."

"Awesome!" Michelangelo grinned, and high-fived Vincent across the table.

Baxter chuckled. "Christmas was usually a sad time for us," he said. "But last year was actually nice. I'm sure I can learn to enjoy Christmas music. Especially now that this year, Barney will finally be part of things too." He smiled at his twin.

Barney nodded. "I've been wondering what Christmas will be like now that we're united as a family."

"Oh, it is gonna be mondo radical!" Michelangelo said. "I'll show you how to really get down and party and have fun with the holiday!"

"I'm sure you will," Baxter laughed. "He certainly went all-out to show me last year."

"Here it is, the end of August, and we're discussing Christmas," Raphael remarked.

"Actually, you started it by bringing up the Christmas music," Leonardo reminded him.

"Me and my big beak," Raphael said with a roll of his eyes.

Splinter chuckled. "Any time of year is a good time to discuss an occasion meant for unity."

". . . You know, I wonder if those alternate Baxters and Barneys go to their high school reunions," Raphael mused.

"I'll bet the first ones we met did," Leonardo said. "I don't know about the second or third ones."

"When they visit again, we'll have to ask them," Michelangelo said. "Or if we visit them."

"I would like to know how they're doing," Baxter said. "We've only heard from the second group repeatedly. And they are doing very well, I'm happy to say."

"That first Barney probably doesn't dare open a portal again," Raphael said. "And the third Baxter. So who knows if we'll ever see those groups another time."

"Well," Baxter said, looking to the clock, "I need to get back to work. I'll see you all this evening," he smiled.

"Totally!" Michelangelo waved.

xxxx

Michelangelo was definitely ready to leave when Baxter returned that evening with Barney and Vincent.

"Hey, you know, I forgot to ask if there's a reunion dress code," Michelangelo exclaimed.

"I think we're all dressed well enough," Baxter said. "Some people dress up, but we never felt like wearing suits or tuxedos or the like."

"I did when I was trying to impress," Barney grunted. "That's not a problem now."

"Gnarly," Michelangelo grinned.

Splinter and the other Turtles smiled.

"Have a good time," Splinter said.

"We're gonna!" Michelangelo waved.

The group bade Goodbye to each other and the quartet departed.

"Well, I wonder what we're going to do all evening," Leonardo remarked.

"Since nothing's happening, I fully intend to kick back and relax," Raphael said.

"And I have a new invention to work on," Donatello said.

"Do you have any plans, Master Splinter?" Leonardo asked.

"No," Splinter answered. "I believe I will settle in for a peaceful meditation session."

"Sounds good to me," Raphael shrugged.

xxxx

People were already arriving at the hotel when Barney and the others pulled in. He steered to a parking space close to the doors and slowly got out.

"Is anyone watching us?" Vincent wondered.

"There's a few looking over," Barney said. "They're probably more interested in a classic-looking car and you and Michelangelo than me or Baxter."

Michelangelo looked over at the nearest people who were staring. "Hey!" he called with a wave.

They didn't wave back. But after seeing the twins, they quickly turned and headed for the doors.

"Who are they?" Vincent said in irritation. "I already don't like them."

"I don't know all of them personally," Barney replied. "But the woman is Hayley Simpson. She never liked us, as I recall."

"And it looks like she still doesn't," Baxter grimaced.

"Mondo bummer," Michelangelo frowned. "Not a good way to start things out."

Baxter managed a smile. "Oh well. Let's hope some of the others have matured by now. Surely at least some of them have."

"I suppose the laws of probability state that must be the case," Barney relented. "Let's go in."

The group headed for the doors. They slipped inside without incident, but once in the lobby, Michelangelo could not refrain from looking around in utter fascination. "I've never been in a place this spiffy before," he said. "At least not when I could really stop and take it all in."

"It is quite beautiful," Baxter said, admiring the light blue carpet and walls.

Barney decided to be the unofficial spokesman for the group. He led them down the hall and to the left, where they soon came upon a long table upon which the nametags had been placed. A cheery woman looked up as they approached. Her nametag read Sherri Carter.

"Barney!" She smiled. "I wondered if you were going to make it this year."

"I wondered myself until almost the last minute," Barney grunted.

"And Baxter too." Sherri looked to him with a smile just as warm and also amazed. "This is the first time you've ever shown up together. And you've grown your hair out! I love it!"

Baxter blushed but looked pleased. "A lot has changed in five years," he said, finally feeling emboldened enough to speak. "We've mended things between us. We're very close now."

"They even willingly live in the same pad!" Michelangelo interjected.

"That's wonderful," Sherri declared. "I always hoped you would become close. And I see you've brought some . . . very interesting guests. . . ." She blinked at Michelangelo and Vincent.

"You've heard of the Ninja Turtles?" Barney asked.

"Yes," Sherri nodded. "But I never thought I'd meet one."

Michelangelo grinned and bowed. "Michelangelo at your service, Dudette," he said. "I'm the proud nephew of these mondo awesome dudes."

Baxter chuckled. "He is. And Vincent, our third brother."

Vincent waved. "Hi."

"Well, I have your nametags right here," Sherri said, gesturing to the table. "I hope they all got printed right."

"Just fine," Vincent said as he peeled his off.

"Looks like they slipped in an extra A on mine," Michelangelo blinked. "Oh well! It's close enough!" He took the sticker and stuck it on his plastron.

"Ours are accurate," Barney said, and Baxter nodded in agreement.

"How have you been?" he asked.

"Oh, I can't complain," Sherri said. "Life's been good to me, as it obviously has been for you two."

"Let's say life got good for us over the past year," Barney said.

"Have you kept in touch with much of the old gang?" Baxter queried, wanting to shift the topic back to her. If she didn't know about their darker ventures in the last several years, he didn't want to feel cornered into bringing that up.

"A few," Sherri said. "I saw Hayley right before you came in. I hope she didn't cause you any problems. . . ."

"Aside from giving us the cold shoulder, no," Barney said.

"If she just wants to avoid you, be grateful," Sherri said.

"We are," Barney grunted.

"Is there anyone else we should avoid?" Baxter nervously shifted his weight.

"Kevin, of course," Sherri said.

"Kevin?" Michelangelo repeated in confusion.

"Electrozapper," Baxter explained.

"Oh!" Michelangelo stared. "His real name's Kevin?"

"Kevin Carson," Barney said. "He went into energy science in college and tried to get me to work with him. I turned him down. I could tell he wasn't all there."

Baxter started. "Is he the type who might want revenge on you for that?!"

"Considering he runs around fighting a six-foot-tall insect-man, yes," Barney frowned.

"Mondo disaster!" Michelangelo gasped.

"Barney, you should have told us," Vincent said in alarm.

"He might not even come," Barney said. "I don't think he's come to any of the others, has he?"

"Well, no," Sherri slowly admitted. "But there's always a first time."

"Hopefully it won't be this time," Barney grunted. He wasn't even sure they would come another time. After letting everyone see that they had finally become a family at last, there wouldn't be any need to come again.

"It could be, Dude," Michelangelo said in concern.

"We'll stay alert," Barney said.

"Have fun!" Sherri chirped.

Baxter wasn't so sure that would be possible, but he smiled and nodded to her as they walked past into the ballroom.

A lot of people looked up as they entered. Others just kept talking or else quietly moved away. Some came over to say Hello.

"Baxter? Barney?" one man asked as he drew close.

"Calvin Walker," Barney warily acknowledged.

Baxter looked tense, but said, "How are you?"

"I'm doing a lot better now that I see the two of you are well," Walker replied. "I've grown up a lot since high school. Honestly, for years I've felt really crummy about how I treated you." He looked to Baxter.

"As you should," Vincent snapped.

"Oh." Walker stared at Vincent. "What . . ."

"This is Vincent," Baxter quickly interjected. "And thank you for telling us. I'm glad to know."

Barney looked skeptical. "You didn't seem to feel bad at the last reunion," he said.

"I know. I didn't," Walker agreed. "But then I heard about how your lives both went downhill after that. I felt sorry then."

"Well, hey, it's never too late to feel sorry," Michelangelo said.

"And it does mean a lot for you to tell us," Baxter said.

Barney and Vincent both still looked wary, but neither wanted to make a scene. Sensing he hadn't convinced them, Walker excused himself to greet other arriving alumni.

Barney looked to Baxter. "Did you really believe him?"

Baxter sighed. "I don't know," he admitted. "I felt I should give him the benefit of a doubt, especially after we've tried to repent and not everyone has believed us, but it is hard to know whether to believe him when he just comes up and says a few words."

Michelangelo shifted. "So uh, when do we eat?" he asked.

Baxter chuckled. "Very soon now. I know it must be strange for you to be here with all of these people you don't know."

"Especially when some of them are clearly ignoring us," Barney added.

"Oh, that's okay," Michelangelo said. "I'm with you dudes. That's fun no matter what's going on around us! Except it's totally rude of them to just ignore you compadres like that!"

"We expect it by now," Barney said.

"Like, no one should have to expect that," Michelangelo insisted.

Several people moved to tables and he finally caught sight of the buffet table. His eyes gleamed. "Oh wow, everything looks mondo amazing! You don't think they have pizza, do you?"

"Probably not, unless it's those finger pizzas you've sometimes seen at fancy events," Barney said.

"From here it looks like they have a chicken dish, and maybe roast beef," Baxter said.

"And a dessert table!" Michelangelo stared at the rows of chocolate-covered mini cakes, eclairs, and other delightful sweets.

"Maybe we should get a table?" Vincent suggested.

"Yes. Let's." Barney immediately slipped into a table near the wall and out of the way. The others sat down with him.

"Whoa, customized placemats!" Michelangelo exclaimed, lifting a laminated piece of paper with a copy of the school paper's account of that year's graduating class.

"Well, that's new," Barney deadpanned.

"Here's a picture of the class," Vincent said enthusiastically.

"Can you pick us out in it?" Barney wondered.

"Naturally." Vincent studied the picture a moment and then pointed to two students near the front.

"We were just about the shortest students in the entire class," Baxter remarked. "I was alright with being up front, though, since I was proud of my academic accomplishments."

Barney nodded. "Normally Baxter preferred to make himself as scarce as possible, but when it came to something he was actually good at and proud of, he loved the spotlight. He still does, I think." He cast a sideways glance at his brother.

"That's true," Baxter agreed.

"Why don't you point out all the students who treated you unkindly?" Vincent suggested. "Not in the picture, but here in the room. I want to know so I won't be friendly to them. At least not until I see whether they've changed."

Baxter chuckled. "Oh Vincent. . . ." He shook his head and took a look around the room. "To be honest, not everyone looks the same. Barney and I haven't changed much, but some of the others certainly have. I can't even recognize some of them."

Michelangelo peered at the photograph again. "Yeah, wow! You guys really don't look much different. Well, except for a wrinkle or two. That's mondo awesome!"

"We just know how to take good care of our bodies," Barney said. "We did a lot better with that than with our emotional health."

"Now you're getting a handle on that too," Michelangelo said.

"We certainly are," Baxter agreed.

For the last several minutes, waitresses had been going around filling the goblets at each person's place setting with water and some sort of fruit drink. As they arrived at the table Barney had chosen and started filling the goblets, Baxter placed his hand over Michelangelo's.

"This is non-alcoholic, isn't it?" he asked.

"Yes, unless anyone specifically requests otherwise," the waitress smiled.

"Good." Baxter took his hand away and she filled Michelangelo's with the fruit drink.

He promptly grabbed it. "This is deliciouso!" he exclaimed as he gulped down half of it almost immediately.

Vincent watched with interest. "I won't be drinking anything, thanks," he chirped to the waitress.

"Oh." She really took a good look at him. "Of . . . of course." She hurried on to the next table after filling Baxter and Barney's goblets.

"I guess she wasn't expecting to see a living computer," Vincent smirked.

"Obviously not," Baxter said in amusement.

"Baxter Stockman?!"

Everyone jumped a mile at the enthusiastic female voice. A woman with short and straight blonde hair was weaving her way around tables to reach theirs.

"Kathy," Baxter said in surprise.

Kathy beamed. "Oh . . . you look just as cute as ever." Then, looking a bit chagrined, she glanced to Barney and added, "You're looking very handsome too, Barney. I love what you've done with your hair. Baxter too; I have a weakness for soft, fluffy hair."

Baxter was definitely red now. "It's good to see you, Kathy. How are you?"

"Just fine," Kathy said. "I have a florist shop in the Bronx and it's a lot of fun."

"You must have heard things about us on the news," Barney grunted.

"Sometimes, when I'm not too busy to watch it," Kathy said.

Vincent folded his arms on the table. "Did you have a crush on Baxter in high school?" he wondered.

Now Kathy blushed a bit. "Truthfully, I guess I still have a little one now. That's naughty of me, isn't it? When I'm married, I mean."

"As long as it's still a harmless crush, there shouldn't be a problem," Barney shrugged.

"Y-Yes," Baxter stammered. "But I honestly had no idea. . . ."

"Oh well . . ." Kathy waved a hand. "I was in all the popular cliques. It wasn't kosher to like a geek. Especially . . . well, you'll forgive me . . . a clumsy one."

Baxter looked down at the placemat and nodded. "That's true. . . ."

Vincent laid a hand on his shoulder.

Michelangelo looked to Barney. "You seemed to know about it, Barney Dude."

"Those who were observant noticed," Barney said.

"I hope you weren't jealous," Kathy said in concern.

"That was one area where I wasn't," Barney replied. "Truthfully, I always thought that if you really liked Baxter, you should have told him."

"I should have," Kathy admitted. "Well, we all make stupid mistakes at that age." She patted Baxter's shoulder. "It's so good to see you again, Baxter." And she flitted off to the next table.

Vincent glowered after her. "It's not a little thing that can be so lightly dismissed," he said defensively. "I know you longed for support in high school so badly, Pal. Even just one genuine friendship would have been so wonderful for you."

"I know," Baxter said.

"She always did put her own social standing above everything else," Barney said. "So in the end, I was glad she didn't approach you. You were so starved for positive attention, you would have adored her. And she wasn't worth it."

"Maximum bummer," Michelangelo frowned. "If she liked Baxter, why wouldn't that have been the most important thing?"

Baxter gave him a sad smile. "I wonder that myself, a bit. She probably just liked my hair."

"Well, then she would've crushed on Barney too." Michelangelo said, "and you were clearly it, Amigo."

"It was his personality too," Barney supplied. "And his quirks. She thought he was cute. She even thought him tripping was cute."

Baxter cringed. "Tripping was painful," he objected.

"I'm glad she left you alone in high school too, Pal," Vincent said. "She's shallow."

"I think I'm glad now that I never knew she 'crushed' on me," Baxter agreed in dismay. Then something occurred to him and he paused. "You could have told me, Barney, but for whatever reason, you didn't. I'd like to think it was because you were looking out for me and you knew it would be a bad thing for me."

"And maybe you're right," Barney said. "Even though I told myself it was because I didn't want to bother and I wasn't your keeper."

"The truth was exactly the opposite," Vincent said. "You might not be sure, Barney, but I am. You were being protective."

Michelangelo shifted. "Um . . . like, don't take this the wrong way, but . . . were there any normal people in your high school class besides you two?!"

Baxter gave him a touched smile. "I don't think we were very normal either," he said. "I was quiet unless I was in science class."

"And I always had a chip on my shoulder," Barney said. "Not to mention I lied to myself about loving my brother."

"Well, you still seem more normal than some of the people we've met so far," Michelangelo said.

"That's probably just because you know us," Baxter said.

The sound of microphone feedback startled all of them into silence. A tall man with light blond hair had just stepped onto the stand. "Welcome, everyone," he boomed. "I see you're already having fun getting to know one another again. That's what this reunion is all about."

"And then we won't see each other again for five more years," Barney muttered. "So does it really matter?"

Baxter had to disguise a laugh with a hand over his mouth.

"Renae Towers is going to give us an introduction filled with high school memories," the man continued. "Then we're going to eat!"

"Who is that dude?" Michelangelo whispered.

"Wes Lauer," Barney said. "He was the school body president the year we graduated."

"A nice man," Baxter said. "He never gave us any trouble."

Michelangelo and Vincent both looked pleased. "That's good to know," they said in unison.

Renae Towers took the stand and started to deliver her tribute to their school years. Barney listened for a moment but soon lost interest. Baxter started looking around the room to see what the other guests seemed to think. Vincent and Michelangelo, on the other hand, both remained attentive. They wanted to get a better picture of what their loved ones' experiences had been during that time, and Renae painted quite an interesting picture of high school life.

"How accurate is she about everything?" Michelangelo whispered to Baxter.

"Oh." Baxter blinked and listened for a moment. "Fairly accurate, I suppose. . . . She isn't really talking much about anything we were involved in. Her focus seems to mainly be on sports events."

"Oh yeah." Michelangelo lightly tapped the placemat with his hand. "I wonder why."

"Because most people are interested in that sort of thing," Barney said. "If they're not playing sports, they're cheering the team on. One reason people like us were looked down on is because we didn't go in for it."

Baxter nodded. "Walking is about the only sport I like," he said. "I hated competitive sports. I wasn't coordinated and I often caused my team to lose during gym class games."

"Meanwhile, I could play well enough; I just didn't like it," Barney said flatly.

"Maximum bummer," Michelangelo said. "I like some sports and stuff, but it would be totally uncool to have to play them if you didn't want to or like to."

"And you were unofficially expected to attend the sports events even if you didn't participate," Barney said. "Of course, we really didn't care about social mores and preferred to stay home and read or go to the science lab and experiment."

"And I guess that didn't help you be accepted," Vincent remarked.

"Not in the least," Baxter said.

Michelangelo listened to Renae a moment more. "She's talking about prom now," he said. "That's some big dance thing, right?"

"Basically, yes," Barney said. "Most girls seem to dream of attending their proms with their favorite crush, or at least, that's what media would have everyone believe."

"It sounds gnarly," Michelangelo chirped. "Imagine if I could ask Kala to a prom sometime."

Baxter gave him a gentle smile. "Both people have to belong to the same school," he said.

"Yeah, I guessed that, but it'd still be totally radical," Michelangelo declared.

"So, did you two ever go to your proms?" Vincent asked.

"Our parents pushed us into attending both junior and senior proms," Barney grunted. "But at least they didn't force us to choose certain girls to take. Baxter was the definition of a wallflower both times. I danced with a few girls to be polite, but he was too shy to ask anyone and he didn't want to embarrass both himself and the girl by tripping everywhere."

"It doesn't sound very fun," Vincent said.

"Well . . . it was nice seeing everyone else having fun," Baxter said. "But I wanted to work on my science projects. I mostly spent the time thinking of new inventions and mentally planning how they would work."

"Which was mostly what I did as well," Barney said. "I thought about chemical experiments, though."

"I guess you probably regret going, huh?" Michelangelo said.

Barney shrugged. "I certainly could have made better use of my time. But I did come up with some good experiment ideas."

"And I came up with the prototype for my Mousers," Baxter said.

"No kidding?" Michelangelo blinked. "It took you over twenty years to finally get a model ready to sell?!"

"No," Baxter quickly told him. "After the prototype didn't work out, I tried other ideas for a while and only went back to the Mouser idea years later."

"That's good. I think," Michelangelo frowned. "Just, like, if you'd been trying straight through to get them going for all those years, that'd make it even more of a bummer that everything went downhill so bad."

"I understand what you're trying to say, Michelangelo," Baxter said. "And I don't disagree. Although it was plenty horrible as it was."

At last Renae finished and everyone started to get up and get in line to eat. Vincent smiled at the others. "I'll hold your places here," he said cheerfully. "There's not much sense in me going up and clogging the line."

Baxter smiled. "We should be back soon. I hope." He stared as the line seemed to increase by the second.

Barney hurried past him to claim a place.

"Totally gnarly!" Michelangelo chirped as he rushed after his friend.

The line moved fairly quickly, to all of their relief. And also to their relief, the person directly ahead of them was nice.

"Baxter! Barney!" she said as she turned to look. Her nametag read Nancy Johnson. "It's so nice to see you here together. I remember how you never came together in the past."

"A lot has changed since then," Barney said.

"And a Ninja Turtle?" Nancy smiled at Michelangelo. "This is the first time we've had one of you here!"

"And I am most honored to be here," Michelangelo said in his best polite and grand voice. He gave a sweeping bow.

"Michelangelo is one of our dearest friends," Baxter explained. "And nephews."

"Well, that's just fine," Nancy smiled. "You must have such nice family get-togethers."

"We do," Baxter said.

"But I guess your parents don't approve," Nancy said. "Or your mother, at least."

Baxter winced. "No, not really. But we don't let that stop us."

"Just as you shouldn't," Nancy said. "You're finally happy. I can tell. No one should be able to take that away from you."

"Another family member is waiting back there, at our table," Barney volunteered, nodding to Vincent. "Our brother."

"Yes, I saw all of you come in," Nancy said. "And I remember when he was lost in the mountains. I'm glad he got back alright!"

"So are we," Barney said.

By now they were finally at the head of the line. Michelangelo stared at the various dishes with wide and amazed eyes. "Oh wow. Mondo awesome! I wanna try it all!"

"Then go ahead, my friend," Baxter chuckled. "There's plenty for everyone."

Michelangelo loaded his plate with potato salad, chicken salad, lettuce and tomato salad, a roll and a butter ball, chicken teriyaki, and several small, red potatoes soaked in butter. He also grabbed some of the roast beef and then made a beeline for the dessert table.

"Can you really eat all that?" Barney asked with a raised eyebrow after Michelangelo took one of each dessert.

"Sure!" Michelangelo insisted.

"He can, too," Baxter laughed.

"Well, it's great to see you both, and to meet Michelangelo," Nancy smiled. "I hope I'll see you again before the evening's out."

"You probably will," Barney said.

Michelangelo wanted information as soon as they stepped away. "So who is she?" he asked.

"She was always outgoing and kind," Baxter said. "She never seemed to have much free time; she was so bogged down in school and after-school activities. But she always greeted us warmly."

"Just as she should!" Michelangelo said.

They got back to the table and sat down. "Did anyone come here while we were gone?" Barney asked Vincent.

"I got a couple of odd looks," Vincent said. "I stared right back at them and said Hi."

Baxter looked entertained. "That's definitely the perfect retaliation."

Barney studied the room with a concerned eye. "Kevin Carson hasn't shown up yet," he remarked.

"Like, he probably won't," Michelangelo answered, his mouth full of chicken teriyaki. "He didn't come before."

"That's what I keep telling myself," Barney said. "Him barging in is the last thing we need."

"Maybe it'd be kinda cool," Michelangelo said. "We could beat him and maybe everybody would realize you and Baxter are bodacious!"

"I doubt that," Baxter said. "Most of these people have heard about some of our exploits on the news and it hasn't changed their minds any."

"Yeah, but just hearing about it isn't the same thing as being right there to see it!" Michelangelo insisted. "They'd be getting a front-row seat to some major league awesomeness!"

"Well, I for one hope that we can avoid that kind of 'awesomeness,'" Baxter said. "We didn't come here for a battle."

"But we did come hoping it would be a nice pick-me-up for you, Michelangelo," Vincent said. "Are you enjoying it?"

"Oh, totally!" Michelangelo exclaimed. "This food is righteously good!"

"I'm glad," Baxter said. "It is delicious."

Vincent draped one arm over the back of his chair. It wasn't a good move; someone at the next table pushed their chair back just then but didn't get up. "Ow," Vincent hissed as his arm got caught between the chairs. He reached over with his other arm and tapped the woman on the shoulder. "Excuse me, would you mind moving your chair?"

"I certainly would . . . oh." The woman frowned as she looked and saw the problem. "I'm sorry." She pulled it forward and Vincent jerked his arm free, shaking it the same way a human might to restore the circulation.

"Ouch," Michelangelo winced. "Are you okay?"

"Just fine," Vincent assured him.

Barney grabbed his arm to make sure. When he was satisfied, he let it go.

"Your body can't get, like, flat or something, can it?" Michelangelo wondered. "Or stretchy, like before?"

"No," Vincent said. "I figured out how to will the energy to feel more like human flesh and bone. It's solid, yet soft enough to use me for a pillow." He chuckled fondly at Baxter and Barney. "But not soft enough to stretch or flatten."

"That's good," Michelangelo nodded. "I felt kind of bad for you when we saw you being fought over at Channel 6. It looked painful."

Vincent cringed. "It's not one of my favorite memories."

Baxter cringed too. "And I was part of the problem," he said. "I remember that much."

"Well, you were trying to get me away from Shredder and his mutants," Vincent said. "I appreciate that."

"I kinda thought maybe we should do something to break up the fight and help you," Michelangelo admitted. "But nobody else agreed."

Vincent looked to him in surprise. "Really? You wanted to help me, after everything I'd done?"

"I still thought that was an uncool punishment," Michelangelo said. "And . . . I don't know, I thought a living computer was a mondo interesting concept. Maybe I was kind of fascinated by you."

Vincent smiled a bit. "I had no idea. I'm glad you told me."

"Me too," Michelangelo said.

Baxter smiled.

"Hey, do you think I could sneak some leftovers out of here for the guys and Splinter?" Michelangelo wondered.

"If there are leftovers," Barney said. "And if you have something to carry them in. Fancy establishments like this usually don't have boxes or bags. Even the napkins are cloth."

"No problemo!" Michelangelo indicated the small bag over his shoulder. "I've got a plastic sack with some sandwich bags in here."

Baxter chuckled. "Then you've already come prepared."

"It's nice that you want to share the food with the others," Barney said.

"Hey, when I totally dig something, I want to share it with everybody else too!" Michelangelo said.

"And I'm sure they're grateful," Baxter said.

"Usually they are," Michelangelo agreed. "I wonder if they're having fun back at the Lair."

"I'm sure they're finding things to occupy their time," Barney said.

xxxx

He was right. The other three Turtles had settled in for a marathon of Western television shows. Splinter wandered into the room during a commercial break.

"Greetings, my students," he said. "Are you enjoying yourselves?"

"Yes, Master," Leonardo said.

"I have to admit, it's nice to watch some Westerns without Michelangelo begging us to change the channel," Raphael said. "Or actually doing it."

"He's gotten better about that lately," Donatello said.

"Michelangelo does like at least one Western," Leonardo mused. "The Wild Wild West."

"The one Western we find way too corny," Raphael rolled his eyes.

"Actually, I find the steampunk aspects very interesting," Donatello said.

"You would," Raphael said.

Leonardo folded his arms. "I wonder how Michelangelo is faring at the reunion."

"Probably just fine," Raphael said. "Especially now that it must be dinner time."

"True," Leonardo laughed. "Oh, do you want to watch Westerns with us, Master Splinter?"

"Thank you, Leonardo. I believe I will pass." Splinter walked to his favorite chair and idly picked up a newspaper Baxter had forgotten earlier that day. It was open to the society column. Frowning, he looked to the picture and its caption.

Mr. and Mrs. Benson Stockman at their latest company charity benefit. Mr. Stockman looks deep in thought. Perhaps he's secretly disapproving of their twin sons' latest antics, in spite of his words.

Splinter frowned more. He spread the paper open, skimming through the short article. It was more about the charity benefit than the Stockmans, but there was a paragraph mentioning how Mrs. Stockman was her usual charming yet ditzy self and Mr. Stockman was all business. When one reporter asked them about their sons, Mrs. Stockman looked sick and Mr. Stockman annoyed. He had told them that what their sons did had no bearing on what he and his wife did and the reporters shouldn't make such a big deal about it.

Splinter leaned back. It seemed to him that Mr. Stockman had come to respect his sons and that, as had been suggested, he just wasn't sure he was welcome to contact them or that he even had the right to, after how he had hurt them in the past. There was a lot of Barney in him. Or more accurately, there was a lot of him in Barney. Perhaps, if someone simply spoke to him and assured him that his children wanted contact from him, he would make a move.

Splinter glanced to the Turtles. They were completely occupied with their Western.

Rolling up the newspaper inside his kimono, he quietly slipped out of the room.

xxxx

Mr. Stockman muttered to himself as he shuffled folders and papers about on his desk. He was more than a little annoyed by the past night's charity benefit. Oh, they had raised plenty of money for the latest crisis, which pleased him, but it aggravated him to no end that the reporters refused to leave the subject of Baxter and Barney alone. They weren't children or reckless youths any longer, but grown men. What did it matter what they did? How did it possibly affect him and his wife, at least on social matters?

Of course, Betty was tied up in knots over it, as she always was whenever they were brought up at a social function. But he was tired of it and wanted it to stop. Sometimes he wished he had never inherited the family business. It had kept his family in good money and put his children through college, but in the last year or so he had really started to realize that it had also driven a huge rift between him and Betty and the boys. If it hadn't been for all their money, Betty wouldn't have always been such a social butterfly overly concerned with what people thought and she might have paid more attention to the kids. And maybe he would have had time to pay attention to them.

A knock on the front door brought his attention up. No one was expected. Maybe it was more reporters. He scowled at the thought. But when the maid went to the door and it didn't sound at all like a reporter, his interest was piqued.

". . . Ex-excuse me?" the maid gasped. "What do you want?!"

"Please forgive my intrusion," a deep and cultured voice answered. "My name is Splinter and I am a friend of Baxter and Barney. I wish to speak with their father."

"H-He's not available right now," the maid stammered. "Is it bad news?"

"I hope not," Splinter said. "I believe he will speak to me if I am not wrong about him. Is he at home?"

"Yes, but . . ."

Mr. Stockman came to the doorway. "Nevermind, Barbara," he said. "I'll speak to this Mr. Splinter."

"Thank you." A large rat walked past the maid and over to Mr. Stockman. "I am most pleased to make your acquaintance."

"Yes, well, my wife will have a conniption if she comes home from her garden club and finds a mutant in the house," Mr. Stockman said. "Not that I care at this point. Come into my office." He gestured into the hall.

Splinter complied, and they were soon both in the office with the door shut. "Is that the maid who raised your sons?" he asked.

"Yes," Mr. Stockman nodded. He walked around to his desk. "It was just part of her duties, since my wife and I . . . didn't take the time to do it."

"Then she does not love them?" Splinter frowned.

"I don't know." Mr. Stockman shook his head in weariness as he sank into his chair. "You say you're Splinter. . . . You raised the Ninja Turtles, I believe?"

"That is correct," Splinter said.

"You must have come to know my sons very well over the past year."

"I have," Splinter said, "and I most certainly do love them."

"You're probably more of a father to them than I ever was," Mr. Stockman muttered. "Or will be."

"Tell me," Splinter said, "were you sincere when you went to them after their experience in the town of Sinkhole?"

"Yes, I was. I felt horrible for both of them." Mr. Stockman picked up a pen and quickly tossed it back on the disastrous desk.

"Was there any particular reason why you chose that point in time to go after them?" Splinter asked.

Mr. Stockman slumped back in his chair. "I watched a mob try to murder my son on live television. That brought home more than anything else how easily I could lose them both. And yet I know I've already lost them. Barney, at least. Baxter is more forgiving in his right mind, but Barney . . . he's too much like me. For years I couldn't forgive either of them for taking the paths in life that they did. I abhorred Baxter's cross-fused state just as much as my wife does. But somewhere along the way I had an epiphany. I realized Baxter had never wanted that to happen to him and he was suffering tremendously. But there was nothing I could do for him. Even Barney tried and failed. But then somehow he was cured and you and those Turtles mended his spirit and mind as well as his body."

"After he was fully human again, there was nothing wrong with him that patience and kindness wouldn't cure," Splinter said.

"You certainly proved that," Mr. Stockman said. "I wouldn't have known how to go about helping him if he had turned up on my doorstep. I never had much patience or kindness for those boys."

"It is never too late to learn," Splinter said. "If you want to, you have already taken the most important step."

"I wouldn't know where to begin, even now," Mr. Stockman said. "I was never a real father to them. How would I start acting like one after all these years?"

"Show genuine interest in them and their lives," Splinter said. "Keep in touch with them. Call or email them."

"Would they even want me to?" Mr. Stockman retorted. "Baxter probably might. But Barney . . ." He sighed heavily. "I also realized that Barney always felt second-best. That was obvious from his wild rantings, but I didn't even realize until I was thinking about it several months ago. He thought Baxter was loved more."

"Yes," Splinter said quietly. "And Baxter felt that Barney was loved more."

"How did such a mess happen?" Mr. Stockman whispered. "And why am I talking to a complete stranger about it?"

"Because I am not a stranger to your sons," Splinter said. "Perhaps you hope that through me, you will understand them better.

"As for how this happened, there are many factors. I believe you already know the most important ones."

"We didn't love the boys or give them enough time," Mr. Stockman knew. "But how in the world did each one end up believing the other was more loved?!"

"I do not know," Splinter said. "Perhaps that is also something you will come to understand with time. Perhaps it will only be understood if you talk to your sons."

"So it's back to that then," Mr. Stockman frowned. "Of course I know you're right. But I don't know if Barney is ready."

"Staying away is only hurting him more," Splinter said quietly. "He believes that your words were empty and you didn't truly mean them."

Mr. Stockman cringed. "He said that?"

"Basically, yes," Splinter said. "And Baxter was also sad. He said he had hoped you wanted to be part of their lives."

Mr. Stockman bowed his head. "Then I'll have to go to them. I've wanted to go to them. I just didn't want to interfere in their lives after I've hurt them so badly. I didn't think I'd be welcome."

"Naturally they will not trust you immediately," Splinter said. "Possibly not at all. But Baxter has forgiven. Barney may be able to in the future. And they both want you to come."

"When do you think I should go?" Mr. Stockman asked.

"Right now they are at their high school reunion," Splinter said. "But I do not think you should delay for very long."

"I've already delayed for years," Mr. Stockman said. "I'm not even sure I really know what my own sons are like. Oh, Baxter is quiet and submissive . . . sometimes rude and arrogant if pushed. . . . Barney is dark, angry, gruff . . . not affectionate. . . ."

"They are so much more than that," Splinter said. "They are both loving and loyal. They are extremely protective of those they care for, and others if the necessity arises. And," he added pointedly, "Barney is not so angry or unaffectionate anymore."

"And I probably know none of their interests besides the obvious," Mr. Stockman frowned.

"Aside from engineering and biology, Baxter enjoys chocolate, walking, and reading. He loves to spend time with his brothers and with Michelangelo. Barney has not explored many hobbies outside of science, but he is learning. He will watch 1980s television with Vincent."

"I remember Barney always seemed to eat, sleep, and breathe chemistry and science," Mr. Stockman said.

Splinter smiled a bit. "And they are still his passions. But his loved ones are helping him to branch out."

"Does he still like pancakes?" Mr. Stockman asked.

"Yes." Splinter looked at him. "So you do remember some things about them."

"Just not enough," Mr. Stockman frowned. "I never knew that much to begin with."

"Well," Splinter said, "it is not too late to start."

Mr. Stockman nodded. "Thank you for taking the time to come see me. Truthfully, I've heard about you and I contemplated coming to see you, but I didn't know how to find you."

"Then it was most fortuitous I decided to come," Splinter said.

"Out of utter curiosity, what made you decide?" Mr. Stockman asked.

"This article." Splinter took out the paper and opened it.

That brought a grimace. "I am so sick of those idiot reporters bothering us about the boys at our functions," Mr. Stockman growled. "That was what I was angry about in that picture."

"I thought as much after reading the article," Splinter said. "But I am glad to hear you say it." He paused. "Will you tell your wife about my visit?"

"I will," Mr. Stockman said. "She doesn't have to like it."

"And I am certain she won't," Splinter remarked.

A heavy sigh. "She does care about the boys too. It's just that she always lets herself get carried away by high society and social standing."

"It is gravely unfortunate," Splinter said. "Do you feel she will ever change?"

Mr. Stockman paused. "Honestly, I would like to say Yes. But I don't know, especially after the way she tried to turn Barney's 'death' into a way to make the family name shine." Disgust filled his features.

Splinter nodded. "It is hard to say. However, one thing we all have is the capability to change."

"Yes. I finally did. I would like to believe she will as well," Mr. Stockman said.

"And she may," Splinter agreed.

xxxx

The transport module spun upward and landed on the hotel's front lawn. As the door opened, Shredder and Krang stumbled out, followed by Bebop and Rocksteady.

"Well, so where is this Electrozapper?" Shredder demanded.

"Let's try inside," Krang said in a sing-song voice.

"Uh, Boss?"

Everyone turned to look when Bebop spoke. He was staring at a cream-colored Cadillac in the parking lot.

"Oh no!" Shredder boomed. "It can't be! I didn't know he went to high school with Barney!"

"Well, I guess he did," Rocksteady said.

"What are we gonna do now, Boss?" Bebop asked.

"Do?" Shredder retorted. "This isn't going to stop our plans!"

Krang scowled. "If Barney is here, Baxter is too. And you can bring guests to these things. The computer will be here, and most likely at least one of the Ninja Turtles. This does complicate matters, Shredder. I didn't plan on dealing with any of them right now. I wanted to quickly recruit Electrozapper and get out."

"Well, maybe he's not here yet?" Shredder hoped.

The sound of a car engine brought all of them to attention. A bizarre red-and-yellow car with lightning bolt antennae was just pulling into the lot.

"Hmm," Krang smirked. "This must be him now. Who else would drive such a ridiculous vehicle?"

And indeed, it was Electrozapper who stepped out of the car once he had it parked. "Now," he sneered to no one in particular, "I will have my revenge on every one of the pathetic fools who didn't appreciate me!"

"Oh no," Krang said in horror. "Another revenge-crazed maniac."

Shredder smirked behind his mask and folded his arms. "So, what are you going to do about it, Krang?"

"How about we just wait and watch what he does?" Krang suggested. "If he successfully takes his revenge, we'll approach him. If he's beaten back, we'll just forget it and go rob a factory or something."

"Works for me," Rocksteady shrugged.

"But uh, hey, what if he wants revenge on Barney?!" Bebop worried.

"Oh, who cares?!" Shredder cried in frustration. "Then good for him! I hope he wins!"

Bebop hurried to the window to look in as Electrozapper stormed to the front doors. After a moment, the others followed.

"And don't think about doing some idiotic thing like protecting Barney," Krang scolded.

"I'm sure he can take care of himself. Especially if his brothers and a Turtle are there," Bebop said.

"Yeah, but I bet you're thinking about it anyway," Krang muttered.

xxxx

Everyone was just finishing dinner when the doors blew open and Electrozapper stood there, eyes wild and pointed teeth bared. "Everyone!" he snarled. "It's time to face the wrath of Electrozapper!"

Many screams filled the air. But before anyone could leave, the villain slammed the doors shut again and electrically charged them.

"We're trapped!" one woman shrieked.

"What do you think you're doing?!" a man yelled. "We didn't do anything to you!"

"My brilliant science project failed because no one recognized its sheer magnificence!" Electrozapper snapped. "And the humiliation continued in college when he refused to work with me!" He pointed at Barney.

Baxter got up from the table and stood in front of Barney, his eyes dark with determination.

"What do you think you're doing?!" Barney hissed. "It's me he wants!"

"And he's not going to get you." Baxter faced Electrozapper. "I understand your humiliation," he said. "I know exactly what it's like to know that you're not as terrible as everyone thinks, that you're really quite a genius, but no one will listen. It was the same with me!"

Electrozapper glowered at him. "But you're finally getting recognition now," he spat. "Everyone still thinks I'm nothing, partially because of your brother!"

"Maybe it's because you've started acting like a villain," Baxter said. "People don't take kindly to those around here. I certainly couldn't hope for recognition as a genius when I was acting out."

"It didn't start when you were acting out!" Electrozapper retorted. "And that was the same with me! I don't care about your experiences! I only care about mine!" He raised his hands with the apparent intent of blasting Baxter.

"This is ridiculous!" Barney stood and pushed Baxter out of the way. "What is it you want to do to me?"

"Well, frying you would be nice, for starters!" Electrozapper cackled. "And your brother too."

"And that's just not going to happen." Vincent stepped in front of them, followed by Michelangelo.

"Like, totally!" The Turtle drew his nunchucks. "We are so going to kick shell."

"Oh no!" Electrozapper gasped. "It's that pesky Turtle friend of Bugman's!"

"Exactamundo, creepazoid!" Michelangelo smirked. "And I'm also compadres with these guys."

"And anything you can do with electricity, I can do better," Vincent said.

"Oh really?" Electrozapper turned his attention to the living computer. "Then let's see what you can do!"

People screamed again as blue and red swirled overhead and crackled together in explosive electrical stalemates. Baxter, Barney, and Michelangelo watched, impressed.

"Whoa. Mondo awesome!" Michelangelo proclaimed.

"Vincent is always a genius with electricity," Barney smirked.

"I just wish I could have gotten Electrozapper to listen to me, even though I knew it was probably hopeless," Baxter said. "Vincent might get hurt! Or you. Maybe even Michelangelo, even though Electrozapper isn't specifically after him."

"While they're fighting, let's see if we can disable him," Barney said. "He gets all his energy from the batteries strapped to his body."

"Yeah!" Michelangelo nodded. "So we could end things by dumping water on him and shorting him out, like Bugman did."

"We could," Barney agreed, "but there's a very real danger of seriously hurting him. When he's properly controlling himself, Vincent doesn't use blasts strong enough for serious damage. Electrocuting someone should never be thought of as a solution. We could instead simply cut some of the battery packs off so Electrozapper's power levels would go down."

"Can we do that without him noticing?" Baxter blinked.

Barney smirked. "Oh, I'm sure a trained ninja could." He handed Michelangelo a pocket knife.

Michelangelo's eyes gleamed. "Totally gnarly!" He slipped around and under tables while the stunned people watched. Then he came up behind Electrozapper and quietly cut the battery packs from his upper arms. As they fell, the villain's power decreased and Vincent's blast overtook his. He flew back against the wall.

"What happened?!" he cried. "This isn't possible! I'm not supposed to be defeated!"

"Maybe not, Dude, but you just were," Michelangelo grinned.

Electrozapper glowered at him. "I still have some power, Turtle. And you are going to regret tangling with me!" He started to get up.

Baxter and Barney came at him from either side and grabbed his arms. "I don't think so," Baxter said. "I may not be an expert in electrical science, but at least I know that this will disrupt the rest of your power." He took a small magnet out of his pocket.

"NO!" Electrozapper screamed as Baxter held it over the remaining batteries. He tried to call another electrical charge forth anyway, but it fizzled and died.

Barney pressed the pressure point on the back of his neck. "Goodnight."

Electrozapper went limp in their arms.

The room erupted into cheers, startling all of them. But then Michelangelo and Vincent both beamed. "You're the stars of the hour," Vincent told his brothers.

"Actually, I think we all are," Baxter said. "All of us played a part in this."

"I'll call the police!" one man announced.

"You were all amazing!" exclaimed another.

Michelangelo took a bow. "All in a night's work!"

Baxter chuckled.

"Why were you carrying a magnet anyway, Pal?" Vincent wondered. Baxter normally didn't, especially since he never wanted to risk accidentally hurting Vincent with one. A magnet of that size wouldn't do serious damage, but it was capable of giving Vincent the equivalent of a migraine if it was too close to him.

"To be honest, I don't even know," Baxter said. "Maybe subconsciously I wondered if there would be trouble from him."

"I consciously wondered," Barney grunted. "I brought several."

"Well," said Vincent, "I guess it pays to be prepared."

"Totally," Michelangelo declared.

Spotting a table with an undrunk goblet, he impulsively grabbed it and took a gulp. In the next moment his eyes widened and he coughed and gasped.

"Michelangelo?!" Baxter looked up with a start.

"Oh, mondo gross-out," Michelangelo exclaimed. "I think I just grabbed one of the alcoholic ones."

Baxter gave him a look mixed with sympathy and relief. He was glad Michelangelo had both noticed and didn't like it. "I'm sure they have some more of the non-alcoholic kind," he said. "How about we go find a waitress and ask?"

"Bodacious!" Michelangelo grinned.

xxxx

The other Turtles were still in front of the television as the Westerns came to an end and the news started.

"I wonder what kind of a time Michelangelo's had," Leonardo remarked.

"I hope he hasn't been bored stiff," Raphael cracked. "Nothing much ever happens at those reunions."

"Oh no?" Donatello pointed at the screen. "Look!"

"This is April O'Neil, reporting live from the Royal Hotel, where a high school reunion was interrupted by an appearance from the class's most notorious student-Electrozapper!" April gestured behind her as the police carted the sullen villain away. "Apparently he came to take revenge on a number of the classmates, but he was overpowered and subdued by the Stockman brothers and Michelangelo the Ninja Turtle!"

The other Turtles stared.

"Okay, so I take it back," Raphael said. "A lot can happen at reunions."

"Hey!" Leonardo exclaimed. "Bebop's looking in the window!"

"Where?!" Raphael leaned forward. "I don't see him now."

"He was there," Leonardo said. "And that probably means Shredder and Krang! Come on, let's go check it out!" He hurried to the door.

Raphael and Donatello shrugged and followed.

xxxx

"Oh! This is so frustrating!" Shredder cried, shaking his fists to the sky. "That idiot was beaten by our enemies!"

"Then it's good we auditioned him like this," Krang scowled. "Come on, let's go rob a factory before someone spots us." He headed for the module.

"Not so fast!" came Leonardo's voice.

Everyone looked up. "Oh no!" Shredder boomed. "The other Turtles!"

"Well, at least we can have some fun," Bebop sneered.

"Yeah! Some serious Turtle bashing is the perfect ending to a lousy day," Rocksteady grinned.

"No, no, no!" Krang shrieked. "Not while the police are here! Retreat! Retreat!"

Shredder grabbed the mutants and pushed them into the module while the Turtles pursued them. Shredder leaped in and barely waited for Krang before slamming the door shut. The module drove into the ground.

"Nuts!" Raphael exclaimed in frustration.

"At least they're probably heading back to the Technodrome," Leonardo said. "They won't dare rob a factory or anywhere else now that they'll know the police will be alerted."

"That's one good thing," Donatello agreed.

"Hey! Amigos!" Michelangelo waved wildly as he came out of the building, followed by the Stockmans. "Like, what are you guys doing here?"

"We heard about your 'quiet little reunion' on the news and decided to come check it out," Raphael said.

"Oh, it's been mondo awesome!" Michelangelo exclaimed. "And I smuggled out some leftovers for you guys and Master Splinter!"

Leonardo smiled. "That was very thoughtful, Michelangelo."

"Did we hear Shredder out here?" Baxter asked in concern.

"Yeah, but he split," Raphael said.

"Hopefully back to High Falls," Donatello added.

"I wonder what he was doing here," Barney frowned.

"We'll probably never know," Raphael said. "And that is A-Okay with me!"

"Greetings, all."

Everyone spun around and stared at the sight of Splinter ambling down the sidewalk towards them.

"Master Splinter?!" Leonardo said in disbelief. "What are you doing outside of the Lair?!"

"Oh, I was . . . merely out for a stroll," Splinter smiled. "And I decided to come see how the reunion was getting along. I was curious."

"It went well, in spite of an interruption courtesy of Electrozapper," Barney said.

"How long have you been gone, Sensei?" Raphael asked Splinter. "Did you leave after we did?"

"No, I've been out most of the evening," Splinter said. "You were so involved in your Westerns that you did not notice."

"Well, I guess that's a good lesson on us," Leonardo winced. "We've still got a ways to go before we can be as stealthy as Master Splinter."

"I'm certain you would have noticed, had the television been off," Splinter said in amusement.

"Were you really just out for a walk, Sensei?" Donatello wondered. "You don't usually do that."

"I thought it would be a nice change of pace," Splinter replied.

Realizing they weren't going to get more information out of him, they let the subject drop.

"So, Michelangelo, what did you bring for us?" Raphael asked.

"Oh, a whole bunch of mondo amazing stuff, Dude," Michelangelo said. He started to list it while the other Turtles grew wide-eyed and Splinter also looked pleased.

"We ae going to have a feast tonight!" Raphael whooped.

Baxter smiled, pleased. Everything had turned out well, much to his relief. Only . . .

"What is it, Pal?"

He looked up as Vincent spoke. "What do you mean?"

"You're thinking about something," Vincent said softly.

Baxter sighed. "Kevin Carson . . . Electrozapper. . . . He was so angry because he felt like everyone had just dismissed him as a genius. I certainly understand those feelings."

"And you acknowledged that," Vincent said. "You gave him a chance, which is more than anyone gave you. The ball was in his court. He didn't take it."

"That's right," Barney agreed. "So if you're tempted to feel guilty that you helped stop him, or that you didn't give him enough of a chance when he felt the same as you, don't." He paused. "If anyone had given you a chance when you were upset like that, what would you have done?"

"It might have taken time to convince me that they were sincere, but once I was sure of that, I would have calmed down and gone with them," Baxter said quietly.

"He didn't want to listen," Barney said. "And he went out of his mind long ago. I couldn't work with him in college because of that."

Baxter slowly nodded. "I know." He sighed. "But . . . did I give him enough of a chance? As I said, it would have taken a while to convince me. It could have been the same with him."

"But you weren't unstable for twenty-odd years," Barney said. "You were perfectly sane until you were thrown in the asylum. In his state, I don't think he would have listened to you."

Baxter considered that. "You're probably right." He leaned back. "I am glad we stopped him. He was bent on harming you."

"He also mentioned harming you," Barney grunted.

"And he could have hurt Vincent while blasting at him," Baxter shuddered.

"He wouldn't have got me, Pal," Vincent insisted. "None of his blasts got through."

"We made a great team," Baxter smiled. "Michelangelo too."

Barney nodded. "We did."

"And I'm sure we'll have many more chances to team up," Vincent chirped. "And win."

"And we will! Win, that is!" Michelangelo grinned as he turned his attention back to them again. "All for one and one for all!"

The Stockmans high-fived with Michelangelo when he gestured to each in turn.

Even Barney.

xxxx

The Stockmans were invited into the Lair while Michelangelo shared his smuggled leftovers with the others, an invitation they accepted. It was nice to end the day with another gathering of all of them together, enjoying each other's company. By the time the hour was very late and the Stockmans realized they should probably leave, goodbyes were exchanged all around and Michelangelo hopped up.

"Hey, I really wanna thank you guys," he said. "It was a gnarly evening for me and it really did help. I don't think I'll be having any nightmares tonight."

"I'm glad," Baxter smiled.

Michelangelo hugged him close and then hugged Vincent too, but paused when he came to Barney. Barney gave a slight nod of permission and Michelangelo beamed and hugged him as well. Though awkward, Barney was also moved and returned the hug.

"We'll see you tomorrow," he said as they pulled back.

"Totally," Michelangelo grinned with a thumbs-up.

The brothers were in a good mood as they went back up the telephone booth elevator and piled into the Cadillac.

"Things did go well," Vincent said. "Even in spite of Electrozapper's interference."

Baxter nodded. "I'm glad we went, if only for Michelangelo's sake. I think it did help him, as he said."

"Yes." Barney looked thoughtful. "As for the students we met, I could have taken or left most of those encounters. Some hadn't changed and some I wasn't sure I believed."

"It was nice to see Nancy, at least," Baxter said. "And Sherri."

"True," Barney relented. "But overall, I don't plan on attending any more of these, unless Michelangelo and Vincent would like to go to another one."

"I'm sure Michelangelo would," Baxter chuckled.

"I wouldn't mind going if he wanted to go," Vincent said. "And if you two didn't mind." He looked down, blinking in surprise at the sticker still stuck to his shirt. "Well, what do you know. It didn't fall off."

"Mine didn't either," Baxter realized.

"Maybe they're using a new kind of sticker," Barney shrugged.

He was the one staring in surprise when he pulled in at the mansion and they climbed out of the car. Another car was there, a limousine. And when the door opened, it was their father who got out.

"Baxter . . . Barney . . ." He regarded his children with a look that was both regretful and hopeful. "I know I probably don't have any right to come here, and if you don't want me here, I'll go. But if you would like, I would like to start trying to reconnect with you both. I've wanted it for a long time but didn't feel worthy to ask. I know I deeply hurt you both."

"Yes," Barney said. "You did. And you only made it worse by showing up once and disappearing again."

"I know," Mr. Stockman said. "And I am so sorry, for that and for everything else through the years."

Baxter bit his lip. "I would like to reconnect with you, Father. Although I should really say 'connect,' because we never did in the first place."

"And you'd have to understand that there's no guarantee it would even work," Barney said. "It might be too late."

"It might be," Mr. Stockman acknowledged, "and that would be all my fault. But I'm willing to try, if you are."

The twins exchanged a look.

"I'm willing to try," Barney said. "I can't promise much, but I will listen to you and make an effort for my part."

"That's all I ask," Mr. Stockman said.

"And you'll have to continue accepting Vincent," Baxter added, linking arms with the computer.

"I do," Mr. Stockman insisted. "I felt horrible when I got back to the States and heard about him having gone missing in the mountains. I could have helped, and I would have, had I been here."

Vincent studied him. "I think you really mean that."

Barney slowly nodded. "Just answer us one question first. What made you decide to come now, all of a sudden?"

"A dear friend of yours assured me that it was alright for me to try," Mr. Stockman said. "And that I should."

Baxter blinked, then smiled. Now he knew where Splinter had gone for his walk.

From Barney's expression, he did as well. "Then let's go inside and we'll talk."