Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 1987

More Than the Sum of His Parts

By Lucky_Ladybug

Notes: The characters are not mine and the story is! ThickerThanLove helped with the title and a great deal with various plot elements. This is part of my Exit the Fly verse. Baxter is human again and an ally of the Turtles. His brother Barney no longer works for Shredder.

He was standing in the hall of a beautiful and vaguely familiar building, something with intricate arched doorways and expensive tapestries he had seen in pictures. . . . Something he had once tried to recreate in his pain and desperation . . . and arrogance. . . .

"Hello?"

His voice echoed in the spacious room. He walked forward, slowly, over the royal red rug and sidestepped the indoor pool. Somehow he felt so small there, engulfed by the ceiling high above him and the walls stretching out far beyond his position.

"Is anyone here?"

Someone else was-a figure about his height and build, with a silver samurai helmet on his head and a bit of blondish-brown hair peeking from underneath it. . . .

A choked gasp left his lips. "It's . . . not possible!"

The figure turned. It was himself. "I was wondering when you might show up. And I promise you, you'll be sorry you did!"

Baxter took a step back. He remembered those words. Angry and hurting, he had flung them at the Turtles when they had run up to his make-believe Taj Mahal. With the Eye of Sarnoth he had felt so bold, so powerful, so finally able to triumph over his oppressors and be abused no longer. As he stared into the face of the other him, he saw all of that reflected there, and more. He saw the darkness, the anger . . . the pain.

"Why am I here?" he asked.

Sarnoth Baxter smirked at him and pointed. "You're here because you can never escape me. I am always a part of you."

"And I have never denied that," Baxter retorted.

"You attacked the Turtles," Sarnoth Baxter reminded him. "You said you 'might' spare them if they surrendered and acknowledged you'd beaten them. But you surely knew they wouldn't surrender, didn't you? Or in your arrogance, did you truly think otherwise?"

"I . . ." Baxter shuddered, trying to remember, trying to bring to mind what his thoughts had been those years back.

"What if they hadn't surrendered?" Sarnoth Baxter whispered. "Would you have killed them?"

"No!" Baxter cried out. He fell to his knees, digging his hands into his hair. "No. . . ."

"Are you sure?" Sarnoth Baxter stood over him. "You helped Shredder with his plans. You knew what would happen to the Turtles if he had his way. You've agonized over this for months."

"It was what Shredder wanted," Baxter whispered. "I didn't want it. . . ."

"But you wanted to pay them back for not believing you, for being part of what condemned you to the insane asylum," Sarnoth Baxter insisted.

"Yes, I wanted to pay them back!" Baxter snapped. He looked up, eyes flashing. "I wanted to pay back everyone who'd oppressed me and abused me! But I didn't want to kill them. I just wanted to show them I wasn't some little weakling they could push around!"

"And you showed them that," Sarnoth Baxter said.

Mad cackling startled both Baxters. The cross-fused fly creature was descending from the sky, his red insect eyes wide and bright as his wings beat viciously. "And I am always a part of you too!" he giggled. "Revenge, revenge, revenge!"

Now Baxter's heart was beating faster. He wasn't sure which him he dreaded seeing the most. Each represented a point in his life that had brought him so much anguish of spirit and more and more of a twisted soul. He stumbled to his feet and stepped back again. Now he was dangerously close to the pool.

"Everyone thinks you're such a sweetheart," Sarnoth Baxter sneered, "but you still have darkness in your heart."

"I always did," Baxter retorted. "I usually was 'sweet' all through the years, pushing back my darker feelings until I just finally couldn't take it anymore."

"And that didn't even begin with you taking the helmet," Sarnoth Baxter replied.

"No, it didn't," Baxter agreed. "It started in the asylum, when I finally broke and started accepting what they all thought about me. Wanting the helmet came about when Shredder pushed me too far. I helped him through all of his distasteful schemes. I really didn't foul up that much. Sometimes I was even helpful and he still insulted me. Finally it was more than I could bear. Bebop and Rocksteady are fools to keep putting up with it!"

"And so you took the helmet to have absolute power!" Sarnoth Baxter held out a hand and clenched a fist.

"I paid for it then and I regret it now," Baxter said. "And when I had to put on that crown in the movie studio to save everyone from the building collapsing, I proved that I no longer wanted or needed power, except to save my loved ones."

"Bully for you," Sarnoth Baxter sneered.

Fly Baxter was now flitting around making faces. "Nya-nya-nya-nya-nya-nya!" he chanted.

Baxter facepalmed.

"An immature creature, isn't he?" Sarnoth Baxter smirked. "Maybe you secretly wanted to act out like that but always held yourself back out of dignity. The fly stripped you of that and revealed your true self!"

"No!" Baxter shot back. "No, I never wanted to act like that. I was insane. Insane people don't behave the way they would if they're sane, but not because their true selves are being released. Their minds are all twisted up! What's more, in my case there actually was another mind involved! A lot of what I did was influenced or even directly controlled by it!"

"You have an answer for everything, don't you?" Sarnoth Baxter mocked.

"Yes, because I know who I am," Baxter insisted. "I don't want the power of the Eye of Sarnoth anymore. And I don't want to act childish or take revenge. I'm happy. Throughout the past year, I have at long last been truly happy!"

"Do you deserve that happiness after what you did?" Sarnoth Baxter was circling him now, taunting him.

"Revenge!" shrieked Fly Baxter.

Baxter clenched his fists but held his ground. "Yes, I deserve it."

"Prove it." Sarnoth Baxter stopped circling and stood there, his hands on his hips.

Baxter hesitated, mulling the words he knew in his heart over in his mind. "It's true that you and you will always be part of me," he said to the other Baxters. "I'm not a saint. I've done terrible things and thought about doing others. Maybe I was unstable when I worked for Shredder and took the Eye of Sarnoth, and I know I was insane when the fly's mind was encroaching on mine, but I don't excuse myself for any of my actions. I have to live with them and be a good person in spite of them.

"Everyone thought I was insane and bad after Shredder framed me for the Mouser catastrophe. I started to believe it and become it. Now I know I'm a good person who made bad decisions. I'm tired of making bad decisions! I know I can't stop entirely, but at least I can decrease the number of them. The Turtles and Splinter showed me my true potential and I've started to strive to reach it. Every day I try my hardest to be a kind and thoughtful brother and friend.

"It took me a long time to even be able to start to believe that I deserved to be happy. Sometimes I still wonder, which is probably why you're asking it of me now. But I've had to come to terms with the fact that everyone makes mistakes. Some are worse than others, but if anyone sincerely wants to change and does everything in their power to do so, no matter what wrong they've done, then yes, they deserve happiness. I deserve happiness. And if either of you don't like it, you'll have to come along for the ride anyway."

"If we don't like it, it means that part of you doesn't," Sarnoth Baxter pointed out.

Baxter stiffened. "And?" he said warily.

Sarnoth Baxter removed the helmet and held it out to him. "I like it."

"I like it too," said Fly Baxter. "It's better than revenge."

Baxter breathed a sigh of relief and held out his hand. "Then come back."

Fly Baxter obeyed first, with a wild cry of "Wheeee!" He barreled towards Baxter and became transparent, fading into Baxter's heart.

Sarnoth Baxter stood a moment, facing Baxter with an unreadable expression. Finally he smiled, and the helmet dissolved into nothingness. He stepped forward, interlocking his fingers with Baxter's. Then he too faded.

xxxx

Baxter sat up in bed, immediately wide awake. "What on Earth? . . ." he mumbled. He threw back the covers and got up, slipping on his glasses before heading to the door. All was quiet now; it was almost fall and the sun rose later in the morning. It was still dark.

He headed down the hall and slowly opened the door to the balcony. It was peaceful and cool out there; the first of the autumn leaves had blown onto the table and chairs. He brushed them out of a chair and sat down, deep in thought.

He wasn't sure how long he had been sitting there when the door opened and Vincent came out. "Old pal?"

Baxter looked up with a smile. "Hello, my friend."

Vincent sat down across from him. "I don't usually see you out here," he remarked. "Is anything wrong?"

Baxter pondered. "I don't think so. I'm just a little puzzled. I had a very strange dream."

"Do you want to talk about it?" Vincent asked.

"Yes," Baxter mused. "I think I do."

Vincent listened while Baxter spoke, describing his dream in every detail. The morning light had just started to peek over the horizon by the time he finished.

"It sounds like a nice dream," Vincent said. "At least by the end."

"But why would I have a dream like that?" Baxter wondered. "I thought I was at peace with those parts of myself. Or at least as much so as I can be."

"Shredder shook you up so much," Vincent said softly. "You've been in a great deal of turmoil ever since then."

"I know." Baxter frowned, staring off into the distance.

"Maybe part of you started wondering again who you really are," Vincent suggested. "You said your confidence had been shattered."

"It was. And Shredder saying I was acting like a child. . . ." Baxter closed his eyes in shame.

"Pal . . ." Vincent reached over and laid his hand on Baxter's. "You realize there's a difference between childlike and childish?"

"Yes," Baxter said softly. "Childlike is the good and childish is the bad. But I know I was childish while cross-fused. And I shouldn't be either one when I'm a grown man."

"You were badly damaged," Vincent said. "Barney said it best-wanting comfort from someone is not acting like a child. Neither of us felt you were acting in a way you shouldn't. Shredder had just tried to cruelly mind-control you, which was bad enough when you'd already suffered with mind-control for two years. But he couldn't stop there; he had to try to make you kill Barney! And that was the one thing that would devastate you more than anything else. I knew that all too well because of that fiasco with Professor Sopho."

"Sometimes I still wonder why I never stopped loving Barney," Baxter said. "I understand now that I misunderstood him and his motivations so much of the time, but back then, when I honestly thought he hated me and he tried to make himself believe he hated me, why was I so upset about what Professor Sopho did? I thought I wanted him to suffer until I actually saw it. . . ."

"You wanted him to know how badly you felt, but you never wanted him to lose his memories and his sense of self," Vincent said. "You honestly didn't understand what Sopho had in mind. When you did, your humanity broke through the fly's madness and your heart shattered."

"But why?" Baxter countered. "Why was I so upset?"

"You loved Barney unconditionally, Pal," Vincent said softly. "And even I'm not sure of why. Maybe it was just because of that familial bond. Maybe deep down, you knew he did love you. One thing I am sure of is that you always saw good in him."

"Yes," Baxter agreed. "I know that much as well."

Vincent smiled. "Having had that dream, Baxter, how do you feel about yourself now? Are you still conflicted about who you are?"

"I think I'm at peace again," Baxter said. "I've hated Shredder for what he did to me. Part of me is angry because I still feel like Michelangelo suffered more and I shouldn't be upset about myself. The other part is just so tired of being abused and put-down. I thought those days were over, and then Shredder had to go and do that to me . . ." He hesitated. "Maybe I've been afraid I'll give in to my anger and darkness again, as I did when I got fed-up before."

Vincent got up and came to the chair right next to Baxter. He sat down and hugged his friend close with one arm. "You know, you remind me a little of this character in an anime Raphael was watching," he said. "He was a very sweet, kind, gentle man. But he had a dark side, a warrior side. He felt so horrible about all the suffering and death he had brought to so many people, he vowed to only ever fight with a reverse-blade sword and not kill anyone ever again. However . . . if his loved ones were threatened, he could again be pushed into that dark persona out of hatred and anger . . . and protectiveness and love. And I don't think anyone who loves deeply could blame him."

"It's strange how people can be so many different, seemingly contradictory things," Baxter mused. "But I guess everyone is. Yes, I am a meek and kind person, but I can change to completely the opposite if pushed too far."

"It's the same with me," Vincent said. "I'm still a dark being deep down. I just try not to show that side of myself in polite society. But if someone I dearly loved was deliberately hurt by someone, I would probably snap. Honestly, things like The Incredible Hulk and Bugman take it to an extreme, but really, those are good studies into human nature. Everyone has a dark side, and it can be as monstrous as their transformations look. It's what you do with it that's important."

"They apparently manage to use theirs for good," Baxter remarked. "But in reality, if someone really gets that angry, they're not going to be thinking rationally enough to do any good with their feelings."

"Bugman is real, though," Vincent mused. "But you're right, Baxter. I know Barney certainly has a terrible time with his anger when it comes out. And when I snap, even I'm not good at being rational. You'd think a living computer would be, but that isn't the way it seems to go."

"I guess it is possible to be rational and focused while furious, with training," Baxter said. "But I hope I'd never get angry enough again to need to go to those lengths."

"I don't think you will." Vincent looked to the door. "I wonder if Barney is up yet and wondering where we are."

"Maybe we should go inside," Baxter said. He smiled. "I really appreciate talking to you, Vincent."

"I'm always happy to," Vincent beamed.

Baxter started to get up, but paused. "Usually you don't get up so early either," he realized in concern. "Especially if you've been up late the previous night. Are you alright?"

Vincent hesitated too. "I guess I'm just a little shaken up," he said. "Last night when we were leaving the university, the latest edition of the campus newsletter was given to Barney and I saw that the physics department has a new Rare Earth magnet." He shuddered.

Baxter gave him a worried look. "You don't work near there, do you?"

"No," Vincent said. "And there shouldn't ever be a need to go down there. But it rattled me anyway. If I'm around one of those things at close range for more than a minute or two, it would basically kill me. My memories, my personality, everything about me would just be gone. The laptop hard drive could be reformatted and used again, but I wouldn't be there anymore. Rare Earth magnets scare me even more than water does."

Baxter hugged him. "They're both destructive," he said.

"Yes, but with water there is some hope of survival," Vincent said. "Not so with Rare Earth magnets." He hugged Baxter close. "We've figured out I have a soul, but what if a Rare Earth magnet could destroy that too?!"

"I don't believe that," Baxter said. "A soul isn't digital. It can't be wiped out. You'll always exist, Vincent, the same as organic beings will."

"I want to believe that," Vincent said softly. "I know the university has used those magnets for years, but I've tried not to think about it. Now I had to, thanks to that newsletter, and it's scared me all night."

"Were you having nightmares about it?" Baxter asked.

"Yes," Vincent admitted. "I felt everything about me being erased. There was nothing left, not even a soul. I was gone."

Baxter blinked back tears at the thought. "That's not going to happen," he vowed. "I know Barney would agree."

"As long as I stay away from that Rare Earth magnet, I'll be fine," Vincent said.

"And you will," Baxter said firmly. They walked to the door and Vincent opened it. "Are you going to tell Barney about this too?"

"I should," Vincent said. "But then I'm sure he's very aware of what that thing could do to me."

"I am," Barney suddenly spoke from the hall. "And I should have realized how reading about one might upset you."

Both Baxter and Vincent started. "Have you been awake for a while, Barney?" Baxter asked.

"No, I just woke up and realized neither of you were here," Barney said. "I was just coming to check the balcony when you came in." He looked to Vincent. "There definitely isn't any reason for us to go to the physics department. If the necessity ever arises, I'll go."

Vincent managed a weak smile. "Thanks, Buddy."

xxxx

The Turtles were having breakfast with Splinter in the Lair when footsteps echoed up and down the tunnels and April ran in. "Hi, guys!" she chirped.

"Hey, April!" Michelangelo beamed, and everyone else chorused their greetings as well.

"How are things going with your new antique shop?" Leonardo asked.

"Well, it's mostly Mr. Vaughn who's running it, but we have to agree on any changes and I like to go there when I can and see how things are coming," April smiled. "Like I said, we're mostly keeping the layout. But we're making some improvements! The upstairs is half-antique mall with vendors and half-used bookstore. And there's a whole basement level that isn't being used! We're converting the basement into the bookstore and getting more vendors for the upstairs!"

"It sounds great, April," Leonardo smiled.

"Yes. Quite an ambitious enterprise," Splinter said.

"I just love it," April gushed, lacing her fingers and holding her hands up to the side of her face. "But it's going to take a lot of work moving all the books downstairs. Do you think you guys could come help some evening when you're free?" She looked hopefully to the Turtles.

"Sure," Raphael said. "How hard could it be, especially for mutant turtles?"

"You might be surprised by how heavy boxes of books can be," April said. "I have trouble finding the time to go over there much, but Mr. Vaughn is there every day and Gloria helps out some days after classes, so someone should be around to let you in."

"As long as Shredder and Krang don't try to conquer the world, today's open," Raphael said.

"Wonderful!" April smiled. "I knew I could count on you."

"Is that what you came here to ask, April? For the Turtles' help with the antique mall?" Splinter studied her curiously.

"Well . . . yes and no," April said. "I'm also working on a bizarre news story and I wondered if any of you have heard anything about it."

"What's that?" Leonardo asked, coming to attention.

"Last night some mysterious persons stole things from the university campus, the one where Barney and Vincent work," April said.

"Scientific research?" Donatello demanded.

"No . . . more like expensive equipment from a lot of the departments," April said. "We can't figure out how they got off-campus with it all. The police think at least one of the thieves probably works there and knows how to reset the security cameras so they don't pick up any suspicious activity."

"Do they have any suspects?" Leonardo wondered.

"Not as far as I know," April said. "I hope no one will start suspecting Barney or Vincent." She frowned. "They've been working late at the university lately and they both have the technical know-how to mess with the security cameras."

"Yeah, but they'd never do it," Raphael objected.

"Like, totally!" Michelangelo declared. "And anyone who would think they would is a disgrace!"

"I completely agree with you guys," April said. "I just hope everyone else will feel the same. Some people might jump at the chance to blame them."

"Like Herman J. Mellish?" Raphael frowned.

"Maybe," April said. "He hasn't said anything yet."

"They probably don't even know yet that it happened," Michelangelo said. "I'd better call and let them know, so they don't get a mondo uncool surprise when they show up for work today." He took out his Turtle-Comm and pressed a button.

In a moment, Baxter answered. "Good morning, Michelangelo."

"Hey, Baxter!" Michelangelo beamed. "How are you guys?"

"We're alright," Baxter said.

"How've things been with your dad?" Michelangelo asked. "I know you guys were mondo surprised when he showed up to talk to you the other night."

"Well . . . naturally things are awkward and we're all unsure," Baxter said. "And some unpleasant memories have been dragged to the surface. But the fact that he honestly wants to connect with us means a great deal."

"I am pleased that he is trying," Splinter said.

"Thanks to you, Splinter," Baxter said. "He told us a friend came by to encourage him and we realized it was you."

The Turtles all looked to Splinter in stunned shock. The mutant rat merely smiled. "Yes, it was I. And seeing that it helped warms my heart and soul very much."

"It totally would," Michelangelo said. And he definitely wanted to talk to Splinter more about this later. Right now he was concerned about another problem. He looked back to Baxter. "Hey, uh, are Barney and Vincent still there?"

"Yes," Baxter blinked. "They're getting breakfast."

"Well, there was some mondo bizarro robbery at the university last night," Michelangelo said. "April's here telling us about it. I thought they should know before they get there."

"That was very thoughtful," Baxter said. He frowned in concern. "What was stolen?"

"A whole bunch of expensive equipment," April said, leaning into the viewscreen. "And it happened across several departments!"

Barney appeared on Baxter's viewscreen now. "That doesn't sound good," he said flatly.

"It sure isn't," April moaned. "Even worse is that one of the burgled buildings is the one you and Vincent work in!"

Barney grunted. "Was it close to our classroom?"

"I think it was on an upper level," April said. "I'm going there now to check it out!"

"We'll probably see you there, then," Barney said.

"I'd like to investigate too," Baxter frowned. "April, do you think Mr. Thompson would have any objections to that?"

"Probably not," April said. "Especially since it's one of the biggest stories today! I'd better get going before Vernon tries to scoop me on it."

Raphael rolled his eyes. "He's still pulling those lame tricks?"

"Hey, he still wants to be an anchorman," April said. "And I don't think he'll get there without being a reporter first. Just because he's trying to be a nicer guy doesn't mean he'll give up on his long-term goals."

"And like, you're okay with that?" Michelangelo blinked.

"As long as he doesn't start badmouthing me and trying to make me lose my job again, I'll consider it healthy competition," April said. "That was always my biggest problem with him-him making me look bad to make himself look good. Alright, I'll see some of you guys there."

"Probably almost all of us," Raphael remarked. "We're going to be investigating this, right, Fearless Leader?" He looked to Leonardo.

"I think we should," Leonardo said. "Especially if there's any chance that Barney and Vincent could be in danger."

Splinter nodded. "Yes, my students. You should most definitely investigate."

On the Turtle-Comm, Baxter smiled. "Then I'll see you soon," he said to Michelangelo. "I'll let Mr. Thompson know I'm going to the university today."

"Totally radical!" Michelangelo beamed. "We'll see you, Bud." He hung up.

"So who the heck do you think is really behind this?!" Raphael exclaimed as they finished breakfast and hurried to leave.

"It could be anyone," Leonardo said. "I just hope it's not the start of another crime wave like when we first met April!"

"But Shredder was in charge of that crime wave," Donatello pointed out.

"Exactly," Leonardo said. "The last thing we need is for either Shredder to get that much power again or for someone else to step up and take his place."

"Either way would be a maximum bummer," Michelangelo declared.

"Be careful, Turtles," Splinter called after them. "Whoever is behind it will not take kindly to being found out. They will no doubt try to stop you and the others at every turn."

"We know, Master Splinter," Leonardo said. "We'll be careful."

xxxx

The Stockmans were also grim as they drove to the university.

"Why would anyone steal old equipment from the university?" Baxter frowned.

"Maybe they knew about the new shipment and figured it would be easy to pretend to be legitimately taking the old equipment away," Barney said.

Vincent especially seemed troubled. "I think that's exactly what they did."

Baxter blinked. "Why, Vincent?"

"I think I saw the crooks last night," Vincent replied.

Baxter looked to him with a jerk. "You did?!"

"I think so." Vincent looked to Barney. "Remember when we were leaving, Barney, and there were those people loading equipment into a van? I honestly thought it was the people who brought the new equipment, like the Rare Earth magnet, and that they were taking the old equipment away."

Barney frowned. "I remember. There were three people-a tall, lanky man, a short, fat man, and a more average-sized man. I thought they made an odd combination."

"Could you see anything more about them?" Baxter asked.

"The tall man had dark skin," Vincent mused. "I think the other two were Caucasian. I couldn't see much more than that, but at one point something dropped and the average-sized man snapped at the other two in a Brooklyn accent."

"You need to tell this to the police," Baxter said in concern.

Vincent scoffed. "Would they believe a living computer?"

Baxter sighed. "I don't know," he admitted in dismay. "You were allowed to testify in court after the Big Louie fiasco. Even though the judge eventually threw the case out." His voice darkened.

"At least Big Louie is away now, thanks to your undercover venture," Barney said.

"And I'm grateful for that," Baxter acknowledged.

Vincent was still pondering. "I wish I'd heard something more that would identify them better," he said. "They were mostly quiet. And I just didn't pay them much heed."

"You heard enough that it might help the police," Baxter said. "Maybe there's a gang that can be identified on that information. You can even play back your memory and show them firsthand, can't you?"

"Yes," Vincent said slowly. "If that wouldn't weird them out too much. . . ."

"I'm sure they'd be surprised, but I'm also sure they'd be grateful," Baxter said.

Barney pulled in at the university and frowned at the news vans and police cars. "Well, there's no shortage of officers," he said as he parked in the first available space. "I wonder if the ones you worked with to catch Big Louie would be the most receptive to Vincent." He glanced to Baxter.

"Maybe," Baxter said slowly. "I guess it's worth a try. I could find out if they're here."

"You do that," Barney said. "Meanwhile, maybe Vincent and I should find out what went missing from our building."

Baxter nodded. "I'll let you know by Turtle-Comm," he promised.

xxxx

The Turtles arrived at the university not long after the Stockmans. "There's April, talking to a police lieutenant," Leonardo observed.

"So should we go over there or just start spreading out?" Raphael wondered. "Personally, I'm not jumping for joy at the thought of encountering the police."

"But we did have to work with them when Vincent was missing, and that didn't go badly," Donatello reminded him. "Ordinarily I'm not crazy about trusting humans we don't know either, but since that went well, we should probably take the chance that this will work out too."

"Mondo notion!" Michelangelo agreed. "Yeah, let's go over."

Leonardo agreed, and he led the way over to the conversation. "Hi, April," he greeted. "We're here."

"Hi, guys," April smiled. "This is Lieutenant Schrank. He's from Juvenile Division and is trying to find out if any kids could have been responsible for the thefts last night."

"It ain't my beat, but I was over here on special assignment for another case," Schrank said. He eyed the Turtles up and down, clearly wary. "You guys are the equivalent of teenagers, right?"

Raphael felt the same wariness about him. "We are teenagers," he retorted. "We age the same as humans because of our mutations."

"Right, right." Schrank massaged the bridge of his nose. "You haven't seen anything suspicious in the area, have you?"

"Unfortunately, no," Leonardo said. "But these robberies sound like they were very elaborate. Do you really believe kids could have been responsible?"

"On their own, of course not," Schrank said. "But maybe some big shot recruited them. Kids still go in for working for gangsters, just like they did a hundred years ago."

"In order to look the least suspicious, it seems like it would have to be college-age kids," Donatello said. "Or younger teens who could pass for college students."

"That's what I figure," Schrank said. "You guys know the neuropsychology professor, Barney Stockman, right?"

"Yes," Leonardo said slowly, unsure he liked where this was going.

"His building was one of the ones knocked over. Do you know what his students are like?"

"None of them seem like criminals," Leonardo frowned.

"Oh yeah? I heard one of them actually knocked the prof out to get a bad test paper back," Schrank grunted. "That's not criminal behavior?"

"It's desperate student behavior, Lieutenant," April said. "Dr. Stockman told me that the pressure on students with limited scholarships is incredible and can sometimes lead to tragic situations."

"Eh." Schrank rolled his eyes, not convinced. "Maybe he fell in with some gangster who promised him better grades if he'd help with the robberies. I'll need to talk to him."

"You'll have to ask the professor about that," April said. "I don't think he'll like it."

"For that matter, the prof was a crook too, wasn't he?" Schrank continued.

"He's repented," Leonardo said. His tone was growing clipped, a warning that he wasn't having much more of this.

"Repented, sure," Schrank muttered.

"And like, he was never a thief, Dude," Michelangelo added. "What the heck would he wanna do that for?!"

"Money, what else?" Schrank countered. "What does anyone do it for?"

"'Being a crook' was never even about money for him," Raphael said. "This conversation is getting us nowhere. I'm going to go look around for some real clues and suspects."

"Same here," Leonardo said, stepping back.

"Just be sure to report anything you find to the police!" Schrank called after them. "Even if it looks like it incriminates your friend."

None of the Turtles answered. They simply stalked over the grass in various directions.

April frowned as she looked to him. "If I'm not mistaken, Lieutenant, you were most definitely against the idea of mutants in our society, calling them 'mutant freaks' and saying we had enough problems with people without introducing intelligent animals to also cause trouble."

"Yeah, I said that," Schrank said impatiently. "I've said a lot of unpopular things through the years."

"Do you still feel the same way?" April asked.

"I'm finding out that the mutants are like all the people in town-some help the city and some hurt it. Seems like more of them hurt than help, though. Also like the people." Schrank pushed back his hat. "And I've got an investigation to get back to."

"Of course," April said. "I'm just wondering if the Turtles can count on you to be an ally or an enemy on the future."

"Well, I guess that depends on the circumstances where we meet," Schrank said. "Excuse me." And he stalked off.

April frowned as she watched him. Lieutenant Schrank had worked largely with juvenile gang problems for over twenty years and had seen many youths' lives seriously ruined or even ended due to rumbles over "ownership" of little strips of sidewalk. He was bitter and cynical and it was hard to blame him. April wouldn't want his job for anything. Still, she hoped that he would not prove a problem with mutant relations, especially when things had finally started to be a great deal better for the Turtles.

"Was that Lieutenant Schrank?" Baxter blinked in surprise as he approached.

"Yes," April said. "You know him?"

"Only slightly. He was the policeman sent to talk to me after I was mugged." Baxter winced at the memory. "He stood out in my mind because he was unfazed by Vincent."

"Huh." April looked surprised now. "I would have thought he would detest Vincent."

"He did say something about 'What are they going to come up with next' in a very resigned sort of tone," Baxter said. "But he listened to Vincent and wrote down what he said. Not that Vincent had much to say about the mugging, since he and Barney arrived after the fact. . . ."

"Speaking of them, where are they?" April asked in concern. "The Lieutenant wanted to talk to Barney about that troubled student, Lonnie. He wonders if Lonnie might be mixed up in the robberies."

"Oh dear." Baxter looked worried. "Barney won't like that. He and Vincent went to see what had been stolen from their building." He took out his phone. "I'd better tap out a quick email and let them know the Lieutenant is looking for them. . . ."

"You could just use the Turtle-Comm," April said.

"Yes, but in case Lonnie is around, it would probably be better not to have that conversation where he might hear it," Baxter said. "Or other students, for that matter. Lonnie's still trying to regain trust after what he did to Barney."

April smiled. "You're always thoughtful, Baxter."

Baxter flushed. "I just know it feels to be in Lonnie's position," he said quietly.

xxxx

Unseen by all the beings investigating what had happened, a lone rat skittered across the campus grass and behind a tree and bush, where it was swiftly picked up by a tall, broad man with stitched-together clothes. "And what have you found, Mickey?" he purred.

The rat chattered in his ear.

"I still don't get what it is with you and these rats," a smartly-dressed man grunted in a Brooklyn accent. "How do you really know what they're saying?"

"I have a bond with all rats, Don Turtelli," was the reply. "Isn't that logical, when I am their king?"

"Maybe. But not so logical when you're not a rat," Turtelli retorted.

"Ordinarily I would deal out punishment for such an insult," The Rat King said, "but right now I'm in too good a mood. Mickey has just brought the news you wanted."

"He knows where the guy is who spotted us liftin' that equipment we needed last night?" Turtelli perked up.

"Yes," The Rat King grinned. "He's right here on campus, planning to talk to a police officer . . . if he can find one open-minded enough to listen. It wasn't a 'guy' who saw you."

"A mutant, then?" Turtelli raised an eyebrow.

"No! It was a living computer." The Rat King's already cruel expression twisted further. "His name is Vincent Stockman."

"I heard about him, Boss," a lanky thug spoke up. "He helps Barney Stockman teach here at the university."

"Oh yeah. I heard about him too." Turtelli looked thoughtful. "He's the brother of Barney."

"And Baxter. Don't forget Baxter." The Rat King's eyes gleamed. "I still have unfinished business with Baxter Stockman."

"What did he do to you?" Turtelli asked.

"Nothing to me personally, but it was a blight on ratkind! He invented the Mousers." Hatred spread across The Rat King's features. "He must pay dearly for that travesty. And now that we know his brother is the witness you've been looking for, I think I know just how to do it."

"Nevermind your crazy revenge," Turtelli growled. "We need to find this Vincent Stockman before he finds the police! Does uh, Mickey know his precise location?"

"Of course. He's at the psychology building with Barney," The Rat King said. "Go, Mickey, and create a diversion that will force them to split up."

The rat jumped down and made a beeline across the grass.

Turtelli observed. "Did your rats really make it so the security cameras played old feeds over and over and never caught any suspicious activity?"

"Naturally," The Rat King retorted. "That's why the police are so baffled now."

"Well, how are we gonna get that computer?" the lanky thug wondered. "It'll probably have some way to defend itself."

"Didn't I hear something about a new Rare Earth magnet at the physics building?" Turtelli mused.

"Right, Boss," a short, fat thug intoned.

"A Rare Earth magnet would be absolutely devastating to any computer, even a living one," The Rat King sneered.

"Exactly," Turtelli said. "So we're gonna make sure to use that to our advantage." He started over the grass. "Come on. We're going to get us a computer."

xxxx

Barney and Vincent were on one of the upper levels of the psychology building when the fire alarm went off. "What the . . . not again!" Barney exclaimed in disgusted frustration.

"Surely it can't be another false alarm," Vincent objected.

The students and other teachers certainly didn't think so. They were fleeing for every available exit, just like before. And also just like before, they also pushed Barney and Vincent with them. By the time Vincent stumbled outside on the ground floor, he was completely turned around and Barney had vanished in the crowd.

"Oh great," Vincent muttered. "Barney?"

He gasped as two sets of arms suddenly dragged him behind the building. He struggled, but his captors held fast.

"Hello, Vincent Stockman," sneered a vaguely familiar voice.

That brought him up with a jerk. "You," he gasped.

"That's right," the Brooklyn voice said. "You saw and heard something last night that you weren't supposed to see and hear. And now we're gonna have a little chat about it."

Again Vincent struggled against the two thugs. "We both know I saw you," he retorted. "What else is there to say?"

"Well, I wanna know if you were the only one who saw us," the crook smiled.

Vincent went stiff. "There was no one else," he lied.

"Just to make sure of that, I'm gonna make you talk about it. And I'll make sure you tell me the truth." Suddenly the man reached out with four standard U-shaped magnets and pressed them directly against the laptop.

"You're . . . wasting your time," Vincent gasped. "These . . . won't hurt me that much. Ow. . . ." He slumped forward.

"Looks like they hurt you enough to make you pass out from the pain," Don Turtelli sneered. "Okay, Rodney, Bruce. Let's take him to the physics building for some serious interrogation."

"Gee, we never tortured a computer before," Bruce said. "I wonder if it'll be fun. Do you think he'll laugh?"

"We're not gonna tickle him, you idiot!" Turtelli snorted.

"But I thought we always . . ."

"Why do you think we're taking him to the physics building?! Something that really can hurt him bad is in there. Now come on, before the professor finds us!" Turtelli hurried ahead into the bushes.

Rodney and Bruce looked at each other, shrugged, and dragged Vincent with them.

xxxx

Barney was furious and disgruntled by the time he stumbled out on the opposite side of the building to where Vincent had come out. "I can't believe this happened a second time!" he fumed.

"And what's worse is that it looks like we were fooled again!" Andrew exclaimed. "The building's not on fire!"

Barney turned to look up at it. "Well, maybe there was a small fire in the building, like before," he said. "If it was a complete false alarm, then . . ."

A chill ran up his spine. He didn't want to become paranoid and believe that every time something bizarre happened, he or his loved ones were targets. But Vincent had definitely seen a crime last night. And now a horrible thought was occurring to Barney for the first time. What if the criminals knew there was a witness? Worse, what if they knew who it was?

He spun around. "Vincent!" he called. If Vincent was anywhere in the area, he would hear. But there was no response. And when the crowd thinned out and Barney made his way around the entire building, there was no sign of him.

"Barney!"

He whirled. Baxter, April, and the Turtles were running up to him, all looking worried.

"We heard the fire alarm!" Leonardo exclaimed.

"But there wasn't a fire," Barney said. "And now Vincent's missing."

"Oh, maximum bummer," Michelangelo gasped. "You think the bad guys knew he saw them and nabbed him?!"

"That's what I'm afraid of," Barney said.

"I never received a response to my email about the police wanting to question Lonnie," Baxter worried. He took out his phone and typed another short email.

Vincent, where are you? Are you alright?

Baxter

"Wait, the police think Lonnie had something to do with the robberies?" Barney frowned.

"Yes," Baxter said. "Or at least, one Lieutenant certainly does."

"I don't believe it," Barney growled. "Naturally he would be a suspect, but . . ."

"The Lieutenant also thinks you're a suspect," April said morosely.

Barney scowled. "And if he knew about Vincent's past, then he would be a suspect."

Baxter put the phone away and wrung his hands. "What are we going to do?!" he exclaimed in anguish. "Where is he?!"

"We're going to look for him," Leonardo determined. "Donatello, can you find him with your portable tracker?"

"I can sure try," Donatello said. "But I'll have to go back to the Van for it."

"You do that and the rest of us will spread out and start looking," Leonardo directed.

Baxter's stomach knotted as he went with Barney to look. He had the feeling that something was terribly, terribly wrong. And from Barney's stone expression and stern, quick walk, he felt the same.

xxxx

"Yoohoo. Computer, are you wakin' up yet?"

Vincent groaned at the sound of the gruff voice penetrating his awareness. "What . . ."

"Alright," the crime boss sneered. "He's awake. Hold him."

Vincent snarled as Rodney and Bruce grabbed his arms more tightly than before and forced him to his knees. That certainly roused him up the rest of the way. "Why are you doing this?!" he demanded.

"Like I said before I put you to sleep, we're gonna have a little talk," Don Turtelli grinned. "And I thought this was the best place to do it."

Vincent took in the room with quickly mounting horror. "The physics lab," he whispered.

"Oh yes." Turtelli reached for the Rare Earth magnet on the table and held it dangerously close to Vincent. "Normally I use tickle torture to extract information, but I have the feeling that for you, this will be more effective."

Vincent flinched and rocked back. The lights on the laptop were rapidly flashing. "Are you insane?!" he cried. "If you get that thing too close to me, you won't learn anything!"

"If I swipe it past you and then immediately draw it back, you'll probably only lose a few files on each pass," Turtelli replied. "Or maybe I'll only do that sometimes and other times I'll just do this." He swiped it close, but not quite close enough to do permanent damage. "And you'll never know which way it's gonna be."

"We really haven't ever tortured a computer before," Rodney said.

"And this is probably the only time we will," Turtelli retorted. "Now. Was anyone with you when you saw us loading the van last night?" He glowered at Vincent.

"No," Vincent shot back.

The magnet came right at him and he screamed, frantically trying to pull himself free. Turtelli pulled it back just as it started to affect him to the point of a computer migraine. "Wrong answer," he said. "You're almost always with that Barney Stockman guy. Were you together then?"

Vincent's emotions and circuitry were racing. Computers did not make good liars. When he had tried to lie to Donatello on their first meeting, he hadn't been believed and it had only led to more torture. He had betrayed Baxter then and hadn't tried to repair it. But when he had betrayed Baxter a second time later on, he had tried to repair it. He had felt badly about his weakness and still did. Still, at least with both of those times, it had been the Turtles interrogating him and not a vicious gangster. Baxter hadn't been in danger from the Turtles the way Barney would be in danger now.

"No," he whispered. "We weren't together. He was in the classroom."

"You're a liar." Turtelli kicked Vincent's knee and his eyes snapped open. The magnet came closer, closer. . . .

"Keep it away from me!" Vincent cried in utter terror. He rocked back as far as he could go, again struggling against Turtelli's men. It wasn't far enough; he could feel the magnet peeling back the layers of his mind, going for his memories and personality. He was going to die. He was going to die. . . .

He couldn't betray Barney. This time he had to be strong. If he broke, there wouldn't be a chance to repair the damage after the fact. Don Turtelli played for keeps. Barney would be killed. And if one of them would die no matter what happened, it couldn't be Barney.

"Tell me the truth, Computer," Turtelli growled. "Who was with you when you saw us?" He held the magnet where it was. Several insignificant files began to pixelate and fade.

"No one was there!" Vincent yelled at what he was sure was the top of his volume. "It was just me! Just me. . . ."

"Do you want me to erase his memories of seeing us now, Boss?" Rodney asked. "He ain't gonna crack."

Turtelli scowled. "He was alone. If anyone else had been there, he wouldn't have held it back." He straightened, moving the magnet out of the danger range.

Vincent went limp, gasping and shuddering. The file destruction had stopped, but the terror most certainly remained. He had been scarred for life.

Turtelli continued to speak. "Unfortunately for him, that makes him the sole witness. And I've heard that nothing can really be deleted from computers. If we get rid of those memories, he'll have some way to call them back again."

"Then why not use the magnet?" Bruce wondered.

"I can't be selective with the magnet," Turtelli said. "It'll just erase everything indiscriminately." He frowned. "As much as I hate to do that to a powerful computer like this, self-preservation comes first."

Vincent went stiff. "No," he protested. Electricity crackled at his fingertips. As much as he hadn't wanted to use it while he was being restrained, it was his last resort now. He shocked the two thugs, gritting his teeth against the pain as it shocked him too. They screamed, flinging him away from them. He scrambled up, running for the door.

He wasn't expecting the rats that suddenly swarmed his path and tripped him, sending him flying into an open closet. Before he could get his bearings, The Rat King was leering at in him. "I couldn't get my revenge on Baxter Stockman with his own Mousers," he said. "I think the death of his oldest friend should be a sufficient substitute."

Vincent looked up in outraged shock. "What?!"

Turtelli sneered. "Lights out, Computer." He aimed and let loose with his weapon.

Vincent screamed in terror, desperately batting the Rare Earth magnet away as it was flung at him. But his nemesis was quicker and the closet door slammed shut and locked. The magnet bounced off of it and struck the edge of the laptop. It landed on the floor next to him.

Vincent also fell to the floor, shaking, blinking rapidly as something similar to the worst human headaches swept over him. All the files flew onto the screen at once and started to fade and dissolve.

"No," he whispered. "No. . . ."

He twisted around, pushing the magnet as far away from him as possible, but it was no use. The closet was too small and there wasn't enough room under the door for him to push it out.

Rising to his knees, he pounded on the door with all his might. "Help!" he screamed. "Help me, please! Someone has to hear me. Please . . . please . . ."

He sank back to the floor. It was hopeless. The physics lab wasn't going to be in use for the rest of the day. After his enemies left, there wouldn't be anyone left in the area to hear him. Instead of using up what was left of his energy to call for help that wouldn't come, he had best do something before he didn't have enough of a mind left to do it. Files were vanishing by the dozens with every passing minute. Already he barely remembered most of his early life . . . the spaceship . . . the crew. . . . The only memories he seemed able to hold on to were of his loved ones, but those would soon be gone as well. Out of everything that had ever happened to him, this was the most terrifying by far. It was just as he had pictured it in his nightmares, only worse. His vision was already failing him as he struggled to write out his last email.

Baxter, I'm locked in a closet in the physics lab with a Rare Earth magnet. I'm afraid by the time you find me, there won't be any of me left. I'm so sorry. I never wanted it to end this way. I love you and Barney so much.

Love? . . . Wait, what is love? Who are you? Who is Barney? . . . Who am . . .

Vincent groaned, sinking to the floor as darkness claimed him.

xxxx

Baxter's heart leaped into his throat when Vincent's email came in. "Barney!" he choked out. His hands were violently shaking.

Barney had to grab the phone away before Baxter could drop it. But as soon as he read the heart-rending words, he went sheet-white. "Donatello, did you find your tracker?!" he barked, seeing the Turtle approach out of the corner of his eye. They had all started to regroup after a fruitless search, but Donatello was the last to rejoin them.

"Yes, I did," Donatello said.

"Vincent's in trouble." Barney shoved the email at the Turtle. "Now we know where he is, but it looks like it's already too late. Maybe if we get to him right now, I'll be able to do something."

Donatello swallowed hard. The email was chilling, especially the switch from awareness to confusion. "Then we don't have any time to lose," he said.

Michelangelo took the phone and stared at the email as they hurried across the university grounds. "This is totally bogus!" he cried. "Who would do that to poor Vincent?!"

"Someone who wanted him out of the way very badly." Barney's voice was filled with ice. "What they did was murder."

Baxter ran without speaking, his heart twisting and his throat constricted. Just like that, everything that made Vincent who he was had been wiped out. They had the back-up of his memories up to a point, but not his personality. Not his soul. There was no way to back up everything that truly made Vincent who he was. Would he even be anything more now than the computer equivalent of a vegetable? Or would he even be that?

The building was eerily silent as they came upon it and rushed through the doors.

"No classes today, huh?" Raphael gulped.

"None," Barney replied, his voice taut. "If someone had been in the building, Vincent might have been helped in time."

"I refuse to believe we're not in time, Dude!" Michelangelo cried.

"You don't know about Rare Earth magnets, Michelangelo," Donatello said softly. "Or what they can do to a computer."

Ordinarily Michelangelo might have retorted with more hope and optimism. But something in Donatello's tone stopped him. Something was very wrong and Donatello knew it.

They reached the lab and tore through the doors. All the lights were off and nothing was out of place, save the magnet. And there was more than one closet. The group separated, some running to each door.

"It's not this one," Leonardo said as he stared into the emptiness of the one he had chosen.

Raphael was already furiously prying the other closet's door open with his sais. Inside, Vincent was lying on the floor on his side, silent and still. The laptop screen was blank.

"Guys?" Raphael's voice sounded very strange. "It's this one."

It was Baxter who ran into the tiny room first, shoving the Rare Earth magnet out and across the floor as far as it would go. His eyes were filled with outraged, unshed tears. "Vincent . . ." He touched the shoulder. No response.

Barney snarled and knelt in the doorway while reaching over to type desperately on the keyboard. But no amount of commands and pressing of buttons worked. System Failure flashed across the screen.

Michelangelo stared in horror. He hadn't known what to expect, but this sight was too heartbreaking. "Is he . . . really gone?" he whispered. As much as he hadn't wanted to believe it, it certainly looked like Vincent had quietly and painfully passed away. The laptop screen had never been blank before, except after Vincent had been infected by Krang's digital monsters. And there hadn't been any System Failure announcement then.

Baxter apparently felt the same. His shoulders slumped and he leaned forward, resting his head on Vincent's shoulder. "Oh Vincent. . . ."

Barney snarled. "Whoever did this is going to pay." He shook his head. "There's nothing left of him."

"Then like, why isn't his body gone?" Michelangelo frowned.

"It wouldn't affect the solid energy generator," Barney said. "Or any of the computer's inner workings other than the hard drive. But the hard drive was . . . where Vincent was. . . ." He trembled. "I can reformat Windows and make the hard drive usable again, but . . . this is just an ordinary computer now. He's dead." He knelt there as the full force of that statement hit him like a ton of bricks. "Dear God, he's dead." His voice cracked.

Baxter came around to Barney and hugged him close. Michelangelo hugged both of them. "Oh no. . . ."

"This is too horrible," April said, chilled by the sight and the sorrow.

Raphael sniffled and looked away. "Poor Vince. . . ."

"What a way to go," Donatello said softly. "He must have felt every memory being wiped from him. . . ."

Leonardo clenched his teeth. "This was murder," he said darkly. "Whoever did it won't get away with it."

"There's no way of knowing who it was," Baxter said in grief. "Only Vincent knew."

"Someone may have seen something," Leonardo said. "We'll question everyone."

Baxter's eyes darkened. "And when we find them, then what?" He looked back at the lifeless form. "The courts will throw out any attempt to have them charged with murder. I'm not willing to see that happen again!"

Michelangelo bit his lip. "We'll think of something," he said. "There has to be some way to bring them to justice!"

"A way that doesn't involve us deciding what is justice," Leonardo added.

"And who better to know than us?" Baxter countered. "We know Vincent as no one else does. We know he was murdered. Without that knowledge, how can anyone else truly know what justice to mete out?"

Michelangelo looked a little surprised. "Baxter . . ."

Baxter ran a hand through his hair. "I know, I'm usually the one trying to stop others from feeling like taking revenge, but I gave in to revenge in the past; it isn't beneath me. Just look at him, lying there so still because someone deliberately murdered him! Someone is always trying to break or snuff out the lives that are too good for them!" He slammed his hand on the floor. "Pinky McFingers tried to kill you. Shredder broke Michelangelo by mind-controlling him. These mysterious people killed Vincent in the way he feared the very most!"

"Shredder broke you as well, recently and in the past," Barney growled.

"Oh, I don't matter," Baxter said impatiently. "Not as much as everyone else!"

"You matter just as much!" Barney snarled. "You are Vincent's world!"

"And my best bud," Michelangelo said, his voice thick with emotion.

Baxter wasn't in the mood to hear it. "I know, but . . ."

Barney gripped Baxter's shoulders. "I know we both want revenge right now, and Vincent would want it if it was one of us dead, but he would never want to see us travel that path again."

"There are some times when being meek and mild and submissive just doesn't cut it," Baxter said darkly. "This is one of those times."

Barney gritted his teeth. "I want revenge too, but I don't want to break Vincent's heart. And now that he understands how revenge is looked upon here, and what would happen to us if we took it, it would most assuredly break his heart."

"We don't even really know if that magnet erased his soul or not," Baxter said. "I told him it wouldn't, but . . . what if I was wrong?! How do we know what composes a computer's soul and if it's indestructible?!"

"Hey, that is totally bogus!" Michelangelo exclaimed. "Of course Vincent's soul wasn't erased! He's still out there! . . . Somewhere." He swallowed hard.

"Now you listen to me," Barney barked, looking into Baxter's eyes. "I want to believe Vincent still exists too. But regardless of that, he wouldn't want you to fall. He encouraged revenge in the past, it's true. He didn't know better, and in your mad state with the fly becoming the dominant mind, neither did you. But you know better now. You've encouraged people not to give in to it because you know it doesn't help the problem. It only drags you down to a lower level. I feel the desire for revenge right now, and I don't like how it makes me feel. I don't want that for you. Neither would Vincent. Justice needs to be done, and somehow we'll make sure it is. I promise you, we won't let them get away with this like Big Louie got away with kidnapping Vincent and almost getting him killed! But we won't do it at the expense of your goodness. Then we would lose two loved ones instead of one."

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

"And there's something else. Everyone thinks that he doesn't matter as much as the next person. But let me assure you, Baxter, each person matters just as much, even if just to one other person. And you matter to so many." Barney pulled Baxter close. "I hate what Shredder did to you. He broke you again, but I don't want to see you react the same way again. Don't fall back into hatred and vengeance. Rise above it! You know that's what Vincent would want. And everyone else. Including me." His voice caught in his throat. "I'm not strong enough to lose you as well as Vincent, Baxter. Don't do that to me. Please . . ."

The Turtles and April looked to each other.

"Barney's right, Baxter Dude," Michelangelo said quietly. "Please . . . there's already one tragedy. Don't make it two. I don't wanna lose you either."

"None of us do," Leonardo said.

"You're better than that, Baxter," Donatello said. "You always were."

"You just sort of forgot it for a while when the pain got too bad," Raphael said. "You didn't have anyone to buoy you up then."

"But you have us now," April said softly.

"Shredder shattered you after five minutes because he dug into the things that would hurt you more than anything else-losing control of yourself and harming me," Barney said. "But you've come too far to let it happen. I know you've been trying to fight off the way Shredder made you feel, and no matter what, we're going to be there to help you do it. You were succeeding until this happened."

"That's true, I was," Baxter said softly. "Except I had a dream this morning that reminded me I still have darkness in my heart. This happening brought it out. I'm tired of my loved ones being harmed. Now one of them is actually dead!"

"We're all tired of it and we're all angry. No one who cares wouldn't be." Barney pulled back to again look into Baxter's eyes. "And we all want justice for Vincent. We just don't want you to take it in a way that you shouldn't. Once you'd done it, you wouldn't feel better. And I don't want to think what would happen to you because of it."

"Baxter . . ." Michelangelo came around to look at his friend as well. "This dream you had . . . did it end with you doing something dark?"

Baxter paused. "No," he said softly. "It ended with me at peace with myself. There wasn't a part of me that wanted to return to how things had been."

"Then that's all the more reason not to let it happen," Michelangelo said.

Baxter finally nodded and closed his eyes. "I don't want to fall," he whispered. "But I don't want the people who did this to go scot-free." Tears slipped from his eyes.

"They won't," Barney vowed, hugging Baxter close again. "They won't."

Baxter clutched at his brother, burying his face against Barney's shoulder as he shook with grief and anguish.

"Vincent talked to me in the morning, right after I had that dream," he choked out. "That was the last time we'll ever share a conversation like that. And then he told me how scared he was of Rare Earth magnets. And now . . ." He trailed off.

Barney didn't trust himself to speak. He gritted his teeth and just kept hugging Baxter.

April looked sadly down at Vincent. "What are we going to do with him?" she whispered.

"We'll have to get him out of here," Leonardo said.

And then what? They would have to keep him around to prove that he was, well, dead. And after that was all over and the criminals were caught, what would be done with him? Leonardo seriously doubted Baxter or Barney would feel like using the laptop. But would they want to bury it?

Michelangelo was sniffling now too. "Poor Vincent," he whimpered.

Raphael had long ago stopped even looking at Vincent. It was too sad, too chilling, seeing the laptop and the body, but a blank screen. He blinked rapidly, but didn't even try to speak.

Donatello bent over Vincent and typed on the keyboard, trying various tricks in the hopes of somehow finding a true backup. But the restore points were gone along with everything else, and he supposed he doubted that they would have worked anyway, after what Baxter and Barney had said about the back-up they had made in the past. At last he leaned back. The hard drive was simply empty, just as Barney had already discovered.

Everyone went stiff at a sudden, soft voice. "Baxter . . . Barney . . . everyone. . . . I'm still here. I still remember you."

"Vincent?!" Baxter looked up in shock.

"Where are you?!" Barney cried.

The laptop screen suddenly came to life. As the group watched in stunned shock, Windows reloaded and files visibly poured into it. Split-second images of aliens, planets, spaceships, and each of Vincent's loved ones flashed past. System Restored flashed on the screen and it switched to Vincent's face.

"I'm here," he said in amazement and awe as he sat up.

Baxter and Barney rushed him, hugging him close. "Oh Vincent . . ."

"Bodacious!" Michelangelo exclaimed. He joined the hug too.

The other Turtles, smiling broadly and proclaiming their joy, also joined in. April wasn't sure she felt close enough to Vincent to hug him, but she knelt there and beamed.

"How?" Barney whispered. "It's impossible. There's no way you could have survived."

"Your memories and personality were all gone." Baxter shuddered. "Just like you said would happen. . . ."

"I still remembered," Vincent said. "The real me, that is. My soul. I thought I was dead, but then I started to hear you here and I realized I was still alive. And . . . I don't know . . . somehow I was able to take control of the motherboard and restore all that was lost."

"Impossible," Barney shook his head.

"No computer could do that," Donatello said in disbelief.

"But not just any computer is alive with a soul," Michelangelo countered. "Souls have power that science will probably never figure out!"

"And thank God for that," Baxter said fervently. "Vincent, you're home. You're home. . . ."

"And I'm going to stay right here," Vincent vowed, beaming. "I'm so glad to be home."

Barney was at a loss for words. He looked up at Vincent, shook his head, and hugged him close.

"This is wonderful, but we still have some crooks to catch," Leonardo said. "We can't let them get away with this!"

"Oh." Vincent looked up. "The Rat King is involved."

"What?!" everyone cried.

"He was trying to take revenge on you again, old pal," Vincent said quietly to Baxter. "He wanted me to die for that reason."

That look of fury slipped back into Baxter's eyes. "Then he will regret it," he snarled.

"We'll bring him to justice," Leonardo vowed. "But we won't decide what the justice is."

"Who else was involved?" Barney asked.

"These people." Vincent flashed a picture of three men on the screen.

"Don Turtelli!" the Turtles and April gasped.

"And his henchmen," Leonardo added.

"They might not have left the campus yet," Barney said. "Let's go after them. Can you stand, Vincent?"

"I think so." Vincent reached for the wall and pulled himself up. He took several cautious steps forward. "Do you think we could ask the professors if they would be willing to keep the Rare Earth magnet locked up unless it's in use?" He looked to where Baxter had shoved it clear across the lab floor.

"They probably won't agree, but I'll try to convince them anyway," Barney growled.

The group ran outside. "There!" Vincent cried after a moment of scanning. He pointed to where several people were trying to slip off campus without being noticed by the police.

The Turtles tore ahead. "Leave this to us," Leonardo said.

Donatello threw his bo when they got close enough, tripping Rodney and Bruce. They tumbled to the grass with stunned yelps.

Michelangelo flung his nunchucks and watched in satisfaction as they whipped around Don Turtelli's legs. The gangster yelled as he crashed to the ground.

"The Rat King must have already escaped into the sewers again!" Raphael exclaimed in frustration.

"Well, we know where his Lair is," Leonardo said. "We can go after him later. Let's focus on these guys now."

The Stockmans and April caught up with them as the Turtles were hauling the criminals to their feet. The captured felons, sullen and humiliated, didn't look up.

"If you hadn't come back, you actually might have gotten away with your robbery," Barney remarked.

"We had to come back," Turtelli muttered.

"Because there was a witness," Vincent coolly said.

Now they looked up. All three gangsters went utterly pale.

"The computer is supposed to be dead!" Turtelli cried.

"It's a ghost!" Bruce wailed.

"Computers don't have ghosts," Rodney retorted.

"This one does," Baxter said smoothly. "Lucky for him. And us. That's how he came back."

"And I lied to you," Vincent smirked. "There was another witness." He laid a hand on Barney's shoulder.

"No computer could withstand the pressure of a Rare Earth magnet," Turtelli gasped in disbelief.

"I'm not the computer I once was," Vincent said. "I couldn't let Barney be put in danger by my telling the truth. So I lied."

"It looks like you were wrong, Vincent," Barney commented. "Computers can make good liars."

"In this case, I'm glad to be wrong," Vincent said.

"And now you're all going to be charged with robbery," Baxter said. "And maybe it won't work, but I'm going to try to charge you with attempted murder too."

"That'll never take," Turtelli scoffed.

"We'll see," Baxter said.

xxxx

Baxter was quiet as they piled into their vehicles to go to the police station for statements. Vincent soon looked to him in concern. "Pal?"

"I shouldn't have doubted," Baxter said quietly. "I insisted you had a soul that couldn't be destroyed, but then I saw you laying there and I doubted. I was so afraid I was wrong, that I'd given you false hope and you were gone forever. . . ."

Vincent hugged him close. "It's only human to doubt. I'm sure anyone would have felt the same under those circumstances."

"And you were so terrified of the Rare Earth magnet and then you had to go up against it. . . ."

"And I won," Vincent said softly. "I'll never like Rare Earth magnets, but maybe now I won't be so downright terrified of them."

"I meant what I said about trying to get them to lock the thing up when it's not in use," Barney said low. "I'm going to see about that tomorrow. Tonight, even, if I get the chance."

Vincent smiled, touched, but at the same time he looked worried. "Are you okay, Buddy?"

"Inasmuch as you're alright, yes, I'm okay," Barney said. "But I'm still angry at what happened. I had to repress my own feelings of wanting revenge in order to help Baxter overcome his, but that didn't make them go away. I still hate."

"Of course you do," Vincent said. "That's perfectly natural and it's alright. Just as long as you don't let it consume you." He looked to Baxter in concern. "You wanted revenge, Pal?"

"Yes." Baxter leaned back in the seat and stared at the ceiling. "I haven't been so angry in a while," he remarked. "Thinking on it now that I'm calmer, it does scare me. I don't want to slip back into the rage I exhibited when I snapped in the past, even if it's understandable and justifiable that I'd be angry when my loved ones are being harmed. If you had really been dead, Vincent, I don't know that I wouldn't have just outright snapped."

"You would have been angry, even hateful," Vincent said, "and I think being angry for that reason is only right. As I said this morning, who wouldn't be? But I don't think you would have lost yourself. Not when you have a strong support group of loved ones."

"I want to believe that," Baxter said quietly.

"I think in time, you will," Vincent said.

"You were the one suffering today, and here you are, trying to comfort us," Baxter remarked, his eyes filled with guilt.

"All of us suffered, but in different ways," Vincent said.

"But you were almost killed," Barney growled.

"And you and Baxter nearly lost me," Vincent said. "Who's to say who suffered worse? Let's just be grateful it's over."

"We are," Baxter said fervently. He hesitated a long moment. "Vincent . . . was it as terrible and frightening as you thought?"

"Worse," Vincent said.

"If you want to talk about it . . ." Baxter looked over at him.

"I don't think so. Only . . ." Vincent stared off into the distance. "It was strange when it was all over. . . . I couldn't even remember who I was. I collapsed, and everything was dark."

"And you didn't hear anything until you started hearing us?" Barney asked.

". . . No," Vincent said slowly. "I heard something else, right before that. . . . A woman's voice spoke to me and said, 'Vincent, wake up.' I opened my eyes and for a split-second I was laying somewhere white and this . . . dignified older woman was bending over me."

Barney nearly threw on the brakes. "What?!"

Baxter was also staring. "What happened then?"

"Well, my reaction was about the same as yours," Vincent said. "But before I could say anything, she said, 'I'm Ruth. Go back to your family, Vincent.' And then it wasn't white anymore and you were crying, Baxter, and I suddenly realized I was . . . well, back. And that I remembered and I could restore the motherboard's contents." He hesitated now. "But who was that woman? And why would she take the time to tell me she's Ruth?"

Baxter sank back into the seat. "Another question is, where were you?" he said softly.

"Near-death experience?" Vincent offered.

"Computers can have near-death experiences?" Barney retorted.

"I guess I could have just imagined the whole thing, like some scientists say people do," Vincent said. "But why would I imagine that woman?"

Barney pulled into the police station parking lot. "People come up with some absolutely bizarre near-death experiences."

Baxter was silent. "Vincent, can you bring up her picture?"

Vincent blinked. "I don't know. . . . The experience is in my memory banks, and yet, I don't really think the laptop camera would have a record of it. . . ." He searched through his files. "Oh." A picture of a woman with her long blonde hair pulled back in a bun appeared on the screen.

Barney absolutely blanched. "That is . . . absolutely not possible."

Baxter stared. "Vincent . . . you didn't see her picture at the cemetery, did you? When we thought Barney was dead?"

"What?" Vincent scanned through several more memory files. "No, I didn't. . . . I've never seen her before."

"Her picture is there," Baxter said quietly. "Our great-grandmother, Ruth Stockman, from Poland."

"She died when we were only a few months old," Barney rasped. He leaned on the steering wheel. "I can't explain this. . . ."

"How much explanation is really needed, Barney?" Baxter said softly. "Vincent saw Ruth and she told him to come back to us."

"Did he leave his body? Did it happen in his mind? Was she really there?" Barney shook his head. "And yet . . . if you know you never saw her picture before, Vincent, she had to have really been there, no matter where you were. . . ."

"She called you my family," Vincent said. "Does that mean I have the blessing of your family to be included? And if she's dead and in Earth's afterlife . . . could it possibly mean I have God's blessing too?"

Baxter started to smile. "I'm going to think of it that way." He hugged Vincent close.

Vincent returned it. "I want to think of it like that too."

Barney just looked overwhelmed. "I need some time to process this. Ruth. . . ." He shook his head and started to open the car door.

Vincent just smiled. Once Barney could process it, he would be happy too.

The Turtle Van pulled in as they were all exiting the car. "Hey!" Michelangelo waved. "It's mondo awesome to see you, Vincent!"

"You just saw me a few minutes ago," Vincent chuckled.

"I know, but it's still mondo awesome," Michelangelo beamed.

The other Turtles and April chorused in agreement.

"Our family isn't complete if even one of the members is gone," Leonardo said. "And you're one of the members."

"I'm glad," Vincent said softly. He knew it was true, even though sometimes it still seemed too incredible to be real that they all loved him now, and vice versa.

He linked arms with Baxter and Barney and the Turtles and April surrounded them as they headed for the doors-all happy members of a family. And after they made their statements and went to see Splinter, it would be complete.