Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 1987

The Heart That Hurts

By Lucky_Ladybug

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

It was a fairly pleasant early September day as Baxter and Michelangelo walked through a less-explored neighborhood. The temperatures were coming down and it felt more like fall than summer. Baxter was relieved. Michelangelo, however, was torn.

"Before long it's not gonna be good surfing weather," he sighed.

"Well, you hardly ever surf aboveground anyway," Baxter said.

"Yeah, but it's just the thought of it," Michelangelo said. "It's gnarly knowing that people are up here taking advantage of the surf! You know, I've never ever been to major surfing places like California and Florida? . . . Well, I did see the swamps, but people don't surf there," he quickly added.

"Right now, Florida hardly seems like anyone's dream vacation spot," Baxter shuddered.

"Seriously! Man, all those poor people. . . ." Michelangelo frowned. "At least the Frogs are okay. They have special long-range Turtle-Comms so we can stay in touch."

"That's useful," Baxter said.

"They were asking about you, actually," Michelangelo remembered.

Baxter blinked in surprise. "They were? What did they say?"

"They asked if, uh, you were still afraid of things that preyed on flies." Michelangelo rubbed the back of his neck, looking sheepish.

Baxter chuckled. "Unfortunately, to my knowledge, I still am. Aside from the Frogs, of course. Spiders still disturb me. I found one on my bedroom ceiling the last time I was in the apartment for a nap between shifts at Channel 6. I couldn't relax until I got it away. I wonder if I'm thinking deep down that maybe they'll sense I was once part-fly and try to spin webs around me to snack on me." He looked unsettled at the thought.

So did Michelangelo. "I'm sure that's not it," he said.

"I hope not," Baxter said.

". . . Hey, I guess this is a stupid question, but . . . are you ever able to watch things like Return of the King?" Michelangelo wondered. "Or is that, like, totally off-limits?"

Baxter shivered. "I like the film because of its strong friendship themes, but I must admit that I have a struggle watching the Shelob scene. Especially since I vaguely remember actually being trapped in a gigantic spider web with a spider not unlike Shelob bearing down on me."

"You've mentioned that and couldn't seem to remember how you got out of that," Michelangelo said with wide eyes. "I've always wondered."

A smile. "I finally remembered. Vincent saved me. He used the laser cannons on what was left of the ship to blow up the spider and break the web."

"Vincent is mondo awesome," Michelangelo grinned.

"He is," Baxter agreed. "Actually, those films remind me a lot of Vincent . . . and you. I used to read the books and dream of having a friend like Sam. Then the films came out and I dreamed of it some more. Now I have two Sams. And many other dear loved ones."

Michelangelo stared at him. "You're really equating me with Sam?!"

"Who better than you, Michelangelo?" Baxter said fondly. "You are unendingly loyal and kind and loving. And Vincent has become that as well. He wanted to be, when I first met him, but it took him a while, which is understandable considering his life experiences. Meanwhile, for you it has always been inherently part of your nature."

"Aww, shucks," Michelangelo said.

That was when Bebop and Rocksteady suddenly ran past. Rocksteady nearly pushed Michelangelo to the ground with a growled, "Out of my way, Turtle!"

Michelangelo leaped aside but immediately drew his nunchucks and gave chase. "Hey! Do you really think I'm gonna let you two uncool dudes wreak havoc on our fair city?!"

"No, but we ain't got time to fight you today," Bebop said. "We're in a big hurry for the boss."

"Too bad, 'cause I'm not letting you get away without a fight!" Michelangelo declared.

Rocksteady sneered. "Okay then. If you insist." He charged.

So did Michelangelo. Then he kicked out, sending the mutant rhino flying.

Now Bebop was coming at him. "Mess with my pal, will ya?" He snorted, twirling what looked like a ball and chain above his head.

Michelangelo grabbed it and pulled. "Hey, it's all in a day's work for a crime-fighting Turtle."

Bebop crashed to the ground. "You little creep!"

Now Rocksteady was up, and climbing onto the roof of an apparently abandoned truck. Baxter noticed him first. "Michelangelo, look out!" he cried.

Michelangelo leaped away as Rocksteady jumped off the truck, bearing towards him. "Oh, that's how you wanna play it, huh?" He hopped onto the hood. "Can't catch me!"

Rocksteady saw red. He snarled and lunged for the Turtle with outstretched arms.

Again Michelangelo jumped away, this time onto the roof. "Chalk up another point for a Ninja Turtle!"

"Oh yeah?" Rocksteady pried the side mirror off the truck and threw it at the cocky Turtle. He managed to aim just right; it got under Michelangelo's feet and he tumbled off the truck with a yelp.

Baxter watched in horror. There was no time for Michelangelo to right his position in mid-air. The ground came up too fast. He hit the asphalt right foot first, with a sharp and immediate cry of pain. Baxter ran over, his eyes wide with his alarm. "Michelangelo!"

Rocksteady sneered. "Later, chump." He took off running down the sidewalk. Bebop had already left, but in all the commotion, no one had noticed.

Michelangelo was already trying to get up and run after Rocksteady. "Come back here!" he yelled, desperately spinning a nunchuck above his head. His foot gave out and he fell backwards on his shell with a yelp.

"Michelangelo, for Heaven's sake, let him go!" Baxter exclaimed. He knelt down, taking hold of the boy's leg as he tried to examine the foot. It was already turning purple. "This is clearly badly bruised at the very least!" He carefully touched the ankle.

Michelangelo flinched, a hiss escaping from between his clenched teeth. "I'm fine!" he insisted. "I never let a bruise stop me before! Baxter, come on! He's getting away!" He pushed on the sidewalk with his free hand and sat up. "I can't let him go now! Especially not when I wouldn't have fallen if I hadn't been taunting him so stupid like that."

Baxter was still examining Michelangelo's foot. "You're just lucky nothing seems to be broken," he said in relief. "But I've seen this type of injury before, and unfortunately, it's more than your average bruise. It's going to keep bruising worse until you won't be able to walk on it at all. You may have bruised the bone itself! You need to get someplace where you can rest while it heals!"

"Well, if it's not to that point yet, I've still got a chance!" Michelangelo jerked his leg free and jumped to his feet.

Baxter flinched now. "The more you move around, the faster it will come on!" he scolded. He straightened. "Michelangelo, please!" His hands went to his hips. He was only two inches taller than Michelangelo, but he still managed to look very imposing and authoritative.

"I have to catch Rocksteady!" Michelangelo protested. "He just went up the street into that old warehouse!"

"We'll call the other Turtles and they'll deal with it," Baxter said firmly.

"They won't get here in time! Dude, I'm right here!" Michelangelo pulled both sets of nunchucks into his hands. "No way am I gonna let him do . . . whatever it is he's gonna do! It must be big! You saw how he and Bebop didn't even wanna take time to fight until I pushed it!"

"Yes, I saw. But no way am I going to let my friend go into danger when I know he's only going to get hurt!" Baxter countered. "If your foot gives out while you're fighting Rocksteady, he'll kill you!"

"Hey, you're not the ninja here," Michelangelo snapped, the panic lacing his voice. "And what kind of a friend are you if you try to keep me from doing what I have to do?!"

Baxter stared at Michelangelo, stunned and hurt. ". . . Fine, you're angry at me," he said then. "I still can't let you do it!"

"Unless you can pull a ninja move on me that I can't fight off, you can't stop me, Dude," Michelangelo replied. He ran ahead, swinging the nunchucks above his head. "Turtle Power!"

Baxter only watched him go for a split-second before snapping to and running after him. "Michelangelo, wait!"

Michelangelo ignored him. Rocksteady had been in the warehouse for several minutes already. That was precious time lost. And what if he had only run in there in order to run out the back way and lose Michelangelo? No, he probably wasn't that smart. But what could he even want in a crummy old place like that?

By the time Michelangelo ran into the warehouse, his foot was really hurting. When he cast a glance down at it, it was almost entirely black and blue. He cringed. It must come on mutants faster or something, he thought. Or it came on faster because I wouldn't listen to Baxter. . . .

He pushed that thought aside and only slowed his pace marginally. The warehouse was empty; not so much as a crate was in sight. But there was a bizarre ticking sound on the opposite wall. . . .

He spotted the bomb at the same moment his leg crumpled underneath him and he went down. "Rocksteady's . . . blowing up the warehouse," he gasped. "What the heck?!" He tried to push himself up, but the pain was too much. He fell back to one knee and nearly toppled over.

Baxter ran up to him just then. "Michelangelo, are you alright?!"

If Michelangelo wasn't so panic-stricken by this point, he would have been touched by Baxter's continuing worry over him without making any mention of their argument. "There's a bomb," he choked out. "This place is gonna blow up. I don't know why."

Baxter looked over at the wall in horror. "It's going up in less than a minute! Michelangelo, come on!" He grabbed his friend's arm and draped it over his shoulder, then reached to pull him up at the waist.

Michelangelo stumbled. His foot would not cooperate now that Michelangelo had overworked it. "It's no use!" he cried. "Get out of here, Baxter! Don't get yourself killed over me!"

He didn't know how Baxter managed it, but somehow the little man pulled him up and positioned himself so that Michelangelo was leaning half against his back. "I'll carry you out of here if I have to, but I'm not leaving without you!" Baxter screamed.

That was almost what he had to do. As he ran, tightly keeping hold of the Turtle's body, Michelangelo could barely propel himself forward. It was all he could do to move his left foot while keeping his right leg bent back at the knee to elevate his injured foot.

It was a miracle they managed to get out the doorway like that. But they hadn't moved far beyond it when the timer hit zero. The rickety building exploded in a deafening cacophony that blew both of them into the air from the force of the blast. Finally hitting the ground was Michelangelo's last memory.

xxxx

The debris and smoke filled Michelangelo's nostrils as he regained consciousness. Almost immediately, an explosive sneeze nearly propelled him backwards. "Oh . . . maximum bummer. . . ." He sniffled. "Baxter?"

They were just lucky that they hadn't been caught in the worst of the blast, Michelangelo thought to himself. But they had been thrown quite a distance and Baxter wasn't responding. Michelangelo's stomach started to twist into knots. "Baxter?!" He whipped around, desperately searching.

He didn't have to look far. Baxter was laying on his stomach next to Michelangelo, his eyes closed. Incredibly, his glasses were still on his face. But he wasn't moving.

"Baxter?" Michelangelo bit his lip. He just hadn't woke up yet. . . . That was all. . . . Michelangelo reached out, shaking him on the shoulder. "Baxter, come on! Wake up!"

When Baxter still didn't stir, panic began to well in Michelangelo's veins. What if . . . what if he wasn't just unconscious? What if . . . no, it was too horrible to think about!

He turned Baxter onto his back and bent down, desperately listening. After a moment Michelangelo's shoulders slumped in his relief. Baxter's heart was beating. He was breathing. He was alive. But something was obviously wrong; he wasn't waking up.

"No. . . ." Michelangelo reached out with shaking arms and drew Baxter to him. The tears slipped from his eyes. Memories of the past . . . however long it had been flashed through his mind: getting hurt in the fight with Rocksteady . . . insisting on following him to the warehouse, in spite of Baxter's protests and pleas. . . . Baxter's hurt look when Michelangelo had verbally slammed him. . . . His foot hurting more and more until it gave out . . . Baxter running in to try to help him. . . . Them just barely clearing the warehouse before Rocksteady blew it up. . . .

"My fault," Michelangelo realized in stricken, heartbroken horror. "It's all my fault. Baxter, wake up! Wake up!"

But Baxter lay still.

"How could I have said those things to you?" Michelangelo whispered. "I hurt you so bad when I had amnesia. This was worse! I remembered you and I said you weren't my friend. And you were only trying to keep me safe. You were right too. If I hadn't tried to go after Rocksteady, my foot wouldn't have given out and you wouldn't have got hurt running in after me. Baxter, please . . . you've gotta wake up. . . ."

When he didn't, Michelangelo swallowed hard. "Gotta get help . . ." He cradled Baxter close to him while reaching for his Turtle-Comm with his other hand. But all he got on the screen was static; he wasn't in range. In despair he shoved the device back in his belt.

He wasn't willing to give up yet. Still carefully holding Baxter, he reached into the man's pocket and drew out his Turtle-Comm. Of course, it wasn't receiving a signal either. It had probably been foolish to check. Praying for a miracle, Michelangelo reached into another pocket. One last chance. . . . He pulled out Baxter's phone and swiped his finger across the screen to wake it up. No bars.

Now he finally cried out in despair. They were completely cut off from civilization. There was nothing he could do to get help. They were on their own. That meant there was only one possibility left.

He fought to get to his feet in the next instant. The pain that went through his right foot was absolutely excruciating, even worse than when he had collapsed in the warehouse, but somehow he forced himself to stand with Baxter's limp body in his arms. He had to stand now. He had to get Baxter back to the city and back to help. The only way he could walk was to throw all his weight onto his left foot and practically drag the right foot behind him, but he would do it. He would do it all the way back to Midtown, if he had to.

"Baxter, wake up," he sobbed. "I did this to you. I'm always hurting you. . . . I'm always hurting everyone who cares about me!"

He didn't talk much. He couldn't. It was all he could do to struggle onward. Deep down he knew he couldn't make it, but he also knew he had to, so somehow he kept going. And going. Even after he couldn't, for a while he still forced himself on while on autopilot. But finally his foot gave out for the final time and he fell to his knees in tears, still clutching the lifeless body of his friend. An attempt to crawl forward didn't work. He had reached the end of his rope.

"Wake up!" he begged. "Wake up!" He hugged Baxter close to him and rocked back and forth. There was nothing else he could do now. His stubbornness and stupidity had got them both into this mess. Now there was no way out. The anguished, guilt-ridden thoughts swirled around in his head until he felt he would go utterly crazy if they didn't stop. But they couldn't stop. They couldn't. . . .

Why didn't Baxter wake up? How badly was he hurt? What if he was in a coma and he never would wake up?

"That's the kind of fate I deserve," Michelangelo whispered aloud. "Not you. Come back, Baxter. Please. . . . I was such a stupid, ungrateful idiot and now you're hurt. You've been nothing but thoughtful and kind to me in the past year. How could I have treated you like that? How . . ." His voice choked off and he hugged Baxter close in anguish.

He didn't know how much time passed with him kneeling like that. When at last there came a weak moan of, "Michelangelo?" the Turtle could almost scarcely believe it. Maybe it was his imagination, or wishful thinking, or . . .

"Michelangelo . . . I . . . I'm so sorry I couldn't protect you. . . ."

Michelangelo stared down at Baxter in absolute shock. "Baxter?! Oh, man, you're awake. . . . Are you hurt bad?! What the heck do you mean, you couldn't protect me?! I'd have been blown to Kingdom Come if you hadn't been here! And you almost were . . ."

"I'm alright, my friend," Baxter said softly. "But I'm sorry that you had to suffer."

"Me?! It's all my own stupid fault!" Michelangelo cried. "I deserve it! You knew my foot was mondo bad off, but I wouldn't listen to you. I just acted like a brat, and you got hurt, and . . ." Tears welled in his eyes. "I treated you mondo rude. . . ."

"It hurt very deeply," Baxter admitted. "I wouldn't have thought it of you. But I couldn't believe you really meant it."

"I didn't," Michelangelo agreed, "but how does that even matter? I still said it."

"I forgave Barney for so many things spoken in anger or frustration that he didn't really mean," Baxter said quietly. "I forgive you as well."

"I don't deserve forgiveness," Michelangelo protested.

"Of course you do." Baxter laid a gentle hand on his arm. "Why were you so determined, Michelangelo? The real reason. You're a teenager; of course you'll be stubborn sometimes. And of course you were worried about what Bebop and Rocksteady were up to. But you've never acted like this with me before. There must be more to it."

"I . . ." Michelangelo's voice caught in his throat. He had had plenty of time to think while he had struggled to walk and carry his friend. He had found the answer, but it didn't make him feel any better. If anything, he felt worse. "I didn't want to fail again," he whispered.

"What?" Baxter gasped. He sat up too fast and grimaced, holding a hand to his head. "Ow. . . ."

"You are hurt!" Michelangelo exclaimed.

"No, I just moved too quickly," Baxter said. "I'll be alright. Michelangelo, what are you talking about?! You haven't failed!"

"I didn't remember anyone I loved," Michelangelo choked out. "Shred-Head mind-controlled me. I didn't want to mess up again. I was afraid Rocksteady was going to do something that would hurt you, maybe everyone I love, and I couldn't let him, so I had to keep after him. Only I was the one who hurt you! And right after you were talking about me being such a good friend! I always hurt you! You don't deserve a mondo crummy friend like me. You deserve so much better."

"Michelangelo!" Baxter stared at him in horror. "You didn't fail. If anything, you were the victor. You wouldn't let Shredder make you hurt everyone you love. And what on Earth are you talking about?! You don't always hurt me!"

"Oh yeah, I do," Michelangelo said. "You suffered with that fly because none of us recognized you were in pain. I should have seen it and I didn't! Instead I just thought you were an annoying little creepazoid. And . . . and when you got hit with the suspended animation ray, you were protecting me. I wasn't watching good enough! Then I tried to protect you and I ended up forgetting you and treating you so uncool. And I nearly attacked you when Shred-Head mind-controlled me! And now I treated you like dirt even though I did remember you and I wouldn't listen to you and you got blown halfway across the city by that stupid explosion because you were protecting me . . ."

"Oh Michelangelo. . . ." Baxter sat up, more carefully this time, and took his friend's hand in his. "It's true that we had a rocky start-because of things we both did-but that's all over now. You've done so much for me. Everyone was so kind to me when I was first turned human again, but you were the first to actually reach out as a friend. It meant everything to me. I could hardly believe you would be interested in being my friend. Me, after all I'd done! I soon saw that your big heart is willing to give almost anyone a chance. You're so forgiving, so full of life and sunshine. . . . If anything, you don't deserve a former villain like me as a friend. You deserve so much better!"

"I don't want better!" Michelangelo exclaimed. "There couldn't be better! Dude, I don't care what you did in the past. Especially since you were never all there when you did anything really bad! But even if you were, all I care about is who you are now!" Tears pricked his eyes. "You're awesome. . . ."

Baxter smiled. "There couldn't be anyone better for me, either," he said. "I don't care about our past anymore and I don't care about very human mistakes. You bring so much joy into my life and that is what I focus on. Michelangelo, when Barney was working for Shredder and I was so worried about him, being with you became the highlight of my day. It's still one of the things I look forward to the most on any given day."

Michelangelo sniffled. "And I spoiled it on a day like today."

"You're still hurting so badly," Baxter said sorrowfully. "I never wanted anything horrible to happen to you because I knew you would take it so very hard. Your heart has been bruised and damaged because of that amnesia episode and worse, the mind-control episode right on the hills of it! None of that was your fault, but I know it's so hard for you to see it that way. I'm still damaged from what Shredder did to me. How much worse would it be for you!"

Somehow, Baxter's words broke down Michelangelo's final defenses. "How could I have done that?!" he sobbed. "How could I have forgotten everyone I love?! How could I have tried to kill them?! You?!"

"You didn't really forget," Baxter said softly. "You remembered you felt safe with me and Donatello. You were coming back to us even though you didn't consciously remember who we are. You remembered that feeling of safety and that was enough.

"And you never tried to kill any of us. You fought so valiantly not to harm us! I don't know how to make you see that. Barney and Vincent have both tried the same thing with me regarding how I wouldn't harm Barney. I know they're right, and yet I have such a difficult time focusing on that instead of thinking how I tackled Barney and pinned him down and could have hurt or killed him. You're apparently having that same problem. All you can see is that you had amnesia, everyone was heartbroken over that, and you could have physically hurt us even though you didn't."

"Yeah, exactly," Michelangelo mumbled. "I wanna just be grateful that the worst didn't happen, but what did happen seems mondo bad as it is. And it's hard to think about anything else. I know I crushed everyone when I didn't remember them, even if I couldn't help it. And everyone was worried that I wouldn't be able to control myself and I'd attack them, even though they hoped I wouldn't. And even though they took totally crazy chances like Leonardo dropping his weapons."

"Leonardo fully believed in you, Michelangelo," Baxter said. "And no matter what anyone else may have said or done, I'm certain they all shared that belief. I know I did. I couldn't think that you would strike me even though you couldn't fully remember me."

"But you were still hurt," Michelangelo said. "I saw the look in your eyes. I heard the tone in your voice."

"It would have been impossible not to be hurt," Baxter said. "But I never blamed you, my friend. I knew you were a victim."

"Then why don't I feel like a victim?" Michelangelo shot back. "Why do I feel like I'm the lowest slimeball in the history of slimeballs?!"

That pierced Baxter's heart. "Because you're too good, Michelangelo," he said. "You love so deeply that knowing anything you said or did hurt someone undeserving of it is too much for you to bear, regardless of why you said and did it. For you, all that matters is that it happened."

Michelangelo blinked at him in surprise. "You're not a psychologist, Dude. How do you get it so well?"

"I know you," Baxter said. "And I can definitely relate to your feelings. I feel similarly about what I did to Barney . . . and everything I did while out of my mind." He gently took Michelangelo's face between his hands and looked firmly into his friend's eyes. "I guess to feel better, for both of us it takes both time and constant encouragement and repetition that we were victims . . . and victors."

"I guess," Michelangelo said slowly, not looking convinced.

"And it will also take conversations," Baxter continued. "It's good that we've been having this one. Have you been talking a lot about your feelings, Michelangelo?"

Michelangelo hesitated. "I've been trying," he said. "Especially with Sensei. And the other Turtles are asking me how I'm feeling and if I want to talk and stuff. Sometimes I do, but sometimes I don't. Sometimes talking doesn't make it better. Sometimes talking makes it worse because it makes me think about it even more and I just feel crummier than a homemade cookie. It feels like there's never going to be a way to feel different."

Baxter gave him a sad smile. "I can't deny that."

"So what do I do?" Michelangelo said morosely. "How do I feel better about any of this stuff?!"

"There isn't any one right answer, unfortunately," Baxter said. "Different things help different people. But one thing I do know is that no one is helped by trying to shoulder the burden alone. Only by sharing your pain with your loved ones will you feel better. And that doesn't necessarily mean always just talking about what happened, especially if talking isn't helping. Sometimes, the only things that really help are the passage of time and positive activities to put your mind to. For me, I wanted to be a better person and I worked on that every day. I didn't do reckless things . . . well, not unless I actually was needed in a dangerous situation . . . but I tried to improve myself in other ways. Eventually, the worst of the pain should fade enough that you can live with it. That's how it was for me. It still flares up at times, and I expect it always will. But normally I can live a happy, fulfilled life in spite of what went wrong, because of what's going right."

Michelangelo managed a smile. "That sounds pretty good to me. I really was helped when I went to the reunion with you and Barney."

"We need to do more things like that then," Baxter said. "And you need to do them with the other Turtles too. And I think Barney, being a neuropsychologist, may have some other ideas that might help you." He laid a hand on Michelangelo's shoulder. "We're going to get you well, my friend. I promise."

Tears slipped from Michelangelo's eyes, but now they were not sad tears. He hugged Baxter close. "I love you, man," he said. "I just wish I'd shown it better today."

"You're showing it fine now," Baxter said as he returned it. "And even when you acted out, you had a reason."

"Not a good one, but you're right," Michelangelo said. "I wasn't trying to treat you rotten. And how are we even gonna get home?! I can't even crawl and the signals aren't strong enough to call anyone!"

"I might be able to help you limp along as a last resort," Baxter said, "but I'm afraid it might not work. Let me see if I can boost a signal." He reached for his phone. "Oh, and Michelangelo? I love you too."

Michelangelo smiled. "I know."

"And . . . you're still my Sam," Baxter softly added.

That made it hard for Michelangelo to speak. "I don't deserve it, but . . . thanks," he choked out. "A lot."

Baxter smiled.

Michelangelo watched in relief as Baxter tinkered with his phone. When he tried connecting it with the Turtle-Comm, after a moment the welcome bars appeared in the corner of the screen.

"You got it!" Michelangelo whooped.

"I don't think it's very strong," Baxter said with a frown. "Neither could get a signal by itself. By putting their power together I'm getting something, but the bars are fluctuating. It might not be strong enough to call for help."

"Well, if you can make contact for even a minute or two, that's all we need," Michelangelo said.

Baxter agreed. Quickly he dialed home.

Barney answered. "Baxter?" The concern was obvious in his voice. "Is something wrong?"

"I'm afraid so," Baxter said. "Michelangelo has been hurt and can't walk. There aren't any taxis or subway stations where we are."

Barney grunted. "You should stick to more populated areas to walk."

"This wasn't deliberate," Baxter said. "But I'm not completely sure where we are. . . ."

"I can pinpoint it," Vincent chirped, coming on an extension. After a moment he announced, "I've got it! We'll be right over."

"Thank you," Baxter relaxed. "There," he sighed in relief as he hung up. "They should be here within a few minutes. I hope."

"That's good." Michelangelo hesitated. "You didn't tell them how I acted out. . . ."

"Why would I tell them that?" Baxter said quietly. "That isn't relevant to our being able to get out of here."

"But . . ."

"Michelangelo, I'm sure you've learned your lesson and won't act out like that again. However, I am concerned about the deeper reason why this happened. You have deep-rooted feelings that drove you to what you said and did." Baxter laid a hand on Michelangelo's arm. "We'll need to talk to Barney about helping you overcome those feelings, just as I promised we would. But I see no need to tell what happened between us, at least not unless it has to come out as part of an explanation of how far your pain has taken you."

Michelangelo looked down. "I really messed up. I wouldn't feel right keeping what happened to myself. It's mondo nice of you, Baxter, and it's better than I deserve, but Barney and Vincent have a right to know I treated you rotten and you got hurt because of me."

"I'm alright, Michelangelo," Baxter said.

"But you could have been hurt really bad!" Michelangelo cried. "When we got thrown like that, you just laid there and didn't move, and I thought maybe you were dead or something! Or in a coma and that you wouldn't wake up . . ." He blinked back tears, but they slipped free anyway. "And it would have been my fault. . . ."

"Oh, my friend. My poor friend. . . ." Baxter pulled Michelangelo close to him and let him cry. "Yes, I'll admit it could have happened. It wouldn't have been your fault, though; it was my choice to be there. But I know saying that doesn't help. You will keep blaming yourself . . . just as I will keep blaming myself for your being hurt and getting amnesia."

Michelangelo looked up in surprise. "But that wasn't your fault," he protested. "I chose to save you."

"And if I'd noticed that falling beam, I wouldn't have needed saving," Baxter said.

"You saved me from the suspended animation ray that I didn't notice," Michelangelo said.

"So maybe we should call it even then?" Baxter smiled sadly. "When you care deeply for someone, it doesn't work that way. You keep blaming yourself for them being hurt even if it's illogical."

"Yeah," Michelangelo said quietly.

The Cadillac pulled up to the curb and Barney and Vincent got out. "How badly are you hurt?" Barney asked with a frown. As usual, he liked to cut right to the most important things. He was too concerned to bother with "Hello."

"Well . . ." Michelangelo sighed. "My foot's kind of . . . not really working right now. . . ."

Barney stared at the black-and-blue mess and winced. "That looks terrible."

"Feels even worse," Michelangelo said with a weak smile.

"We'll all help you get into the car," Barney said.

Vincent opened the back door and hurried over to help. "Alright," he said. "Let's try it."

Michelangelo watched as between the three of them, the Stockmans managed to lift him off the ground and over to the car. They stumbled, and clearly found him heavy even with all of them working together, but they struggled to get him in without hurting him worse. He felt humbled and sobered by their efforts.

"Thanks," he said softly as he was lowered onto the seat.

Baxter went around to the other side and climbed in next to him. "We should stop and get some ice," he said in concern. "There might not be enough at the Lair."

"Oh, mondo notion," Michelangelo grimaced. "I wasn't even thinking about that."

"Trust me, you're going to want a lot of ice," Barney said. He and Vincent went around to the front.

"There's a market not far from the Lair," Vincent said helpfully. "We'll look for ice there."

Barney nodded and started the engine. "Now," he said, glancing in the rearview mirror, "would you mind telling us exactly how this happened?!"

Baxter and Michelangelo exchanged a look.

"Michelangelo was fighting with Rocksteady and he landed . . . very badly," Baxter said. He hesitated. "And Barney? He still feels horrible about being mind-controlled, just as we were afraid he would."

Barney's eyes narrowed. "That's not a surprise," he agreed. "Michelangelo, do you feel like talking about it?"

"Not really," Michelangelo said.

"Maybe when we get back to the Lair," Baxter suggested.

"Maybe," Michelangelo said slowly. From his eyes, he clearly felt uncomfortable with holding back the rest of what had happened that day. Yet at the same time, he wasn't sure he wanted to talk about it right then, even though he had felt Barney and Vincent deserved to know.

Barney didn't press it. It seemed better anyway to think of talking when Michelangelo was settled at home with his injured foot in some ice, instead of here in the car where they couldn't even face each other.

Vincent felt the same. But he exchanged a concerned look with Barney. He felt sure that more had happened that even Baxter wasn't saying. But he wouldn't push it either. Not yet.

xxxx

There was mostly silence on the rest of the ride. They stopped at the market and Barney picked up several bags of ice-as much as Michelangelo thought would fit in the freezer-before they went on to the elevator.

"So why is it that you don't use this much?" Vincent wondered.

"Oh, it's so we can travel underground and pop up right where we need to be," Michelangelo said. "But the elevator is still a mondo gnarly invention of Donatello's."

"Especially for guests!" Vincent exclaimed.

As before, the Stockman trio got out and carefully lifted Michelangelo out with them. "Are we all going to fit in the phone booth like this?" Barney wondered in concern.

"If we squeeze real tight, maybe," Michelangelo said with a weak grin. "But we'll probably have to leave the ice here and get it on another trip. . . ."

"I agree," Baxter said. "Let's get you down first."

Somehow they managed to maneuver into the elevator and around the phone. Vincent tapped in the code remotely so that none of them would have to let go of Michelangelo. The booth descended quickly, quietly, with little time for conversation. Then they were below, in the Lair's entryway.

"Hello?" Baxter called as they stumbled out.

"This is gonna be a mondo bizarro sight," Michelangelo mumbled.

"And a worrisome one," Baxter knew.

"But it's better than having called ahead and having all of them worry before we got here," Barney grunted.

Indeed, as the other Turtles and Splinter started to congregate in the living room at the sound of Baxter's voice, they all immediately stared in shock and alarm.

"What happened?!" Leonardo gasped.

"What the heck's going on with your foot?!" Raphael yelped.

"Michelangelo, are you alright?!" Donatello demanded.

"I'm okay, Dudes. Really." Michelangelo managed another smile. "It's just a bruise. I should be better in . . ." He looked to Baxter.

"One to three days," the scientist said. "Possibly a shorter amount of time due to his mutant blood."

The residents backed up as the incoming group approached the couch and gently set Michelangelo on it. "We have some ice," Barney said. "I'll go back up and get it."

"I'll get a tub," Donatello volunteered.

Splinter observed the scene in concern. "Are you sure you're alright, my son?" he said to Michelangelo.

Michelangelo bit his lip and looked down. "I . . ."

Baxter laid a hand on his shoulder. "There are things we're going to need to talk about," he said quietly. "Physically, yes, I don't think there's any need to worry, as long as he rests."

Splinter's eyebrows knit in deep concern. "Then the problem goes deeper than the physical injury."

"Yes," Baxter said softly. "I'm afraid so."

Barney returned with the ice around the same time Donatello brought the metal tub.

"This is perfect," Barney said with a nod as he examined the tub.

Vincent took all but one bag from him. "I'll put these in the freezer," he volunteered.

"Good." Barney opened the remaining bag and poured the contents into the tub.

Michelangelo gritted his teeth as he tried to lift his foot. "Man," he said in despair and disbelief. "Even trying to move it through the air hurts."

Leonardo gently took his leg and set the hurt foot on the ice. "How's that?"

"Oh, totally cool," Michelangelo grinned. "But . . . do you think maybe you could . . . move some of the ice so I can get my foot under it?"

"Sure." Leonardo and Donatello each took one side of the tub and pulled some of the cubes back. When Michelangelo moved his foot farther down, they carefully let the cubes cover it.

"Relief at last," the orange-masked Turtle breathed. He leaned back into the couch.

"Alright, Michelangelo," Leonardo said when Vincent returned from the kitchen. "Now, we need to know what happened."

That immediately sobered and quieted the injured Turtle. "I . . . got hurt fighting Rocksteady," he mumbled, speaking more to the couch.

"According to Baxter, there is much more to this story," Splinter said.

Michelangelo had fully planned to explain everything once he was settled, but now that it was time to actually speak, his throat choked up and he wondered how to ever go ahead. "I . . ." He slowly shook his head. "It's awful. . . ."

Raphael swallowed hard. He had been going to make a wisecrack, but this sight convinced him he should not.

"Michelangelo," Splinter quietly asked, "what happened today?"

"I . . . I . . ." Michelangelo leaned forward, covering his face with both hands. "I treated Baxter rotten and he got hurt, all because I was trying not to fail again. I didn't want anything to happen that would hurt anyone I love, including him, and I made sure to cause it!" He trembled.

Barney and Vincent started. They and everyone else immediately looked to Baxter with questioning eyes.

"I knew you weren't saying everything, old pal," Vincent exclaimed.

"How badly are you hurt?!" Barney demanded.

"Have I seemed hurt?" Baxter countered.

"No," Barney admitted.

"But you have been moving slowly," Vincent said.

"I'm alright," Baxter insisted. "It's Michelangelo we need to focus on."

"Dude, you got blown I don't know how far by that stupid explosion!" Michelangelo burst out. "And we both know it wouldn't have happened if it hadn't been for me!"

Gasps of surprise echoed through the room.

From Barney's expression, he wanted to leap up right then and start examining Baxter for injuries.

Vincent took a different approach. He stared Baxter down. "I know you wouldn't lie to us, Pal, but what if you're hurt worse than you think you are?"

"I'm not," Baxter insisted. "Please believe me."

Leonardo wanted to, both for Baxter's sake and because he was increasingly worried about Michelangelo and wanted to get back to him. "Michelangelo, what do you mean about Baxter getting hurt because of you?" he asked.

"Like I said, I treated him rotten," Michelangelo said. "I wouldn't listen to him about my foot being hurt and I tried to go after Rocksteady anyway. But he decided to blow up the warehouse. Baxter just barely got me out of there in time after my foot gave out on me!"

Barney ran a hand through his hair. It didn't surprise him that Baxter had withheld all of that information. He hadn't wanted to cast a bad light on Michelangelo, not when the poor boy was already in anguish.

Baxter looked sadly at Splinter. Michelangelo had felt somewhat better on the ride back, but now all the pain was coming to the surface again.

". . . Oh, so Michelangelo finally showed his stubborn side, eh?" Raphael finally spoke to fill the troubled silence.

Donatello frowned. "This is not a good time to joke, Raphael."

Raphael scowled and shifted. "I know, I know. It's just . . . I don't know how else to deal with this."

"If we don't know how to deal with it, think how Michelangelo feels," Leonardo retorted.

Michelangelo stared dejectedly into the bucket of ice. "I know I can be stubborn and stuff, but not like this. Not where anyone else gets hurt because of me. In the past, I only ever hurt myself."

"I know you did not mean to cause harm to come to Baxter, my Turtle," Splinter said. "But what you said a moment ago deeply troubles me. You have never failed us!"

"Why would you even think that, Michelangelo?" Leonardo asked.

"I forgot you and I tried to kill you!" Michelangelo retorted. "Baxter's been trying to help me feel better, but he doesn't know what to do either. He says that maybe time's the only thing that will really work. And trying to improve myself without being reckless about it."

"That is wise advice," Splinter said.

"But I want to feel better now! I hate this! I don't want to keep hating myself so much!" Michelangelo cried.

The other Turtles exchanged worried looks. None of them were entirely sure how to handle this, but they wanted to help.

"We'll do whatever we can, Michelangelo," Leonardo said.

Barney had been deep in thought. "I would like to try something, if Michelangelo doesn't object to it," he said.

"Anything!" Michelangelo exclaimed.

"It's called the Why exercise," Barney said. "The therapist starts by asking a question. The patient responds and the therapist asks 'Why.' The patient responds again and the therapist asks 'Why,' and so on until they come to the core of the problem, what therapists call the 'all or nothing line.'"

Michelangelo slowly looked up. "It sounds like those annoying kids always asking 'Why' to everything," he blinked.

Barney had to smirk. "And you may feel annoyed. But it is a legitimate and helpful exercise."

Michelangelo finally nodded. "I'm game. Let's try it."

Splinter laid a hand on Michelangelo's shoulder.

"Alright." Barney took a deep breath and began. "Why did you disregard Baxter's medical knowledge about your injury?"

Michelangelo looked down and clenched a fist. "I hoped he was wrong, that it really wasn't as bad as he said."

"Why?" Barney calmly asked.

"Because he doesn't know a lot about mutant anatomy, even though he gets humans and mammals." Michelangelo shifted. "It's not that I didn't want to listen to him. Under other circumstances, I probably would have."

"Why?"

"Because he's my best bud and I respect him. But today I just couldn't believe him. I had to keep trying to go after Bebop and Rocksteady!"

"Why?"

"Because they were obviously up to no good and it'd take too long for my bros to get out there. I had to find out what they were up to and stop them, even if my foot was killing me!"

"Why?"

Michelangelo shut his eyes tightly. "I didn't want them to cause something else to go wrong. I had to make sure they didn't have the chance!"

"Why?"

Now Michelangelo scowled. "This is starting to go in circles. I don't want them to hurt anyone! Especially not the people I love! And Shred-Head's schemes always seem to do that!"

"Why don't you want them to hurt anyone?"

"Oh, come on, Dude," Michelangelo snorted. He straightened up. "Why would anyone want that?! I love my family. They don't deserve to be hurt anymore! They've already been hurt so much. And if I can't protect them . . ." He swallowed hard. "Then what use am I? I'm supposed to protect them!" He slammed his hand on the couch arm.

"Michelangelo . . ." Leonardo looked at him in sad concern. "We're all supposed to protect our loved ones. The burden isn't all on you." Maybe he hadn't been supposed to interject anything yet, he belatedly realized, but at that revelation he hadn't been able to hold back.

"It is if I'm the only one there who's trained to protect," Michelangelo retorted. "Like today. And especially if . . . if I've failed before." He looked down. "I have to redeem myself somehow."

"Why?" Barney quietly asked.

"Because I'm better than that," Michelangelo said helplessly. "At least, I'm supposed to be. I'm trained to protect my loved ones, not to forget them and try to hurt them! If I've done all that, I have to make up for it. I have to show they can still trust me and rely on me."

"But you know we do, Michelangelo," Leonardo said with sadness. "What happened to you didn't change our feelings about you."

"Well, it should have," Michelangelo spat. "I failed. That's the bottom line right there! I'm not worthy to be a member of the team anymore and I'm not worthy of everyone's faith and love. I messed up big time and it could happen again! And I can't let it happen again. I can't. . . ." He started to rock back and forth. "But it already has. I hurt Baxter today because I was being so stupid. What's gonna happen next? Who's gonna get hurt by me next?" He sobbed. "Probably everybody, now that I've said this. . . ."

Now everyone was stricken.

"We've reached the crux of the problem," Barney said quietly, adjusting his glasses.

"Oh, my son." Splinter wrapped his arms around Michelangelo in a warm, comforting embrace. "My poor, heartbroken son."

Michelangelo sobbed and leaned into Splinter. Now that the tears had started, he couldn't seem to turn them off.

The other Turtles and Baxter looked shaken and unsure what to do.

"I was so afraid of what something horrible like being mind-controlled would do to Michelangelo, but I didn't realize he felt quite like this," Baxter said softly.

"None of us did," Raphael said.

"Even when he talked to us about it, he didn't go this deep into his feelings," Donatello said.

"Deep-rooted problems like this often have to be dragged out of the victim with questioning," Barney said quietly. "Or with other approaches such as non-filtered crying sessions-allowing the victim to say whatever is in his heart without interruption."

"Barney and I had many deep conversations and questioning sessions on the Technodrome," Vincent said. "It helped us both learn a great deal about him."

"And it helped a great deal to heal my heart and soul," Barney said.

Leonardo's brow was furrowed in worry. "Now that we know how Michelangelo is really feeling, what can we do to fix this?" he demanded.

Barney sighed. "There's no easy or quick way to fix it. But the best thing is repetition. Keep emphasizing the good things that Michelangelo does every day. Every time he brings up a reason why he thinks he isn't worthy, counter it with a reason why you know he is. It's been said to him before, but keep insisting that one incident where something went wrong doesn't erase everything that went right. Spend time with him. Show him that he's still a valuable member of the team by your actions. Extend trust to him in battles just like before. And little by little, he should begin to regain his confidence and heal. As he does, and even starts realizing that maybe he is worthy, praise him to the nth degree for those feelings and thoughts!

"I wish there was a way to make the pain all go away right now, but it doesn't work like that, especially not for a beautiful heart that was hurt as deeply as Michelangelo's was. Baxter and I both feared what would happen to him if he was cruelly used in such a fashion."

"But the good news is, he can recover from it," Vincent said softly.

"And I believe he will," Barney said. "In time."

Baxter and Splinter nodded in agreement. "In time," Splinter said.

xxxx

The Stockmans were quiet when they left the Turtles and Splinter to head back home.

"If Michelangelo hadn't brought it up, you weren't going to say anything about the trouble between you two, were you?" Barney commented after several blocks.

"Most likely no," Baxter said. "Not unless it became necessary for getting across how devastated Michelangelo is and how badly his feelings are affecting him."

"And then you wouldn't have said anything about being propelled by that explosion either," Barney continued.

"No," Baxter said. "Most likely not." He sighed. "Are you angry?"

"I think it's very special how you didn't want to tell on Michelangelo, Pal," Vincent said. "I mean, of course you wouldn't 'tattle' on him, but you could have felt that as the adult in the situation, you needed to bring what happened to the attention of Splinter."

"And I didn't only because I was sure Michelangelo wouldn't do it again," Baxter said. "But I was worried that he might do something else rash or reckless at a point where it wouldn't endanger anyone but himself."

"And yes, I am angry," Barney growled. "You counsel Michelangelo about talking to the other Turtles because you know they would want to know. Don't you think we would want to know if something horrible happened to you?!"

"Of course I know," Baxter said, "and that means more to me than you will ever know. But I'm alright. I love you both so much that I wouldn't want either of you to worry over me when it isn't necessary." He paused. "And don't tell me you don't feel exactly the same! Both of you."

"I do," Vincent said.

". . . Me too," Barney admitted in resignation.

"And I know we've all kept things from each other for that reason," Baxter continued.

"And I know that you're upset when you find out it's happened, even if you don't actually get mad," Barney grunted.

"So we all have very similar feelings in that respect," Baxter said.

Vincent studied Baxter. "There's still something else you're not saying, isn't there, Pal?"

Baxter sighed. "You mean about what happened today?"

"I think you have some deep-rooted feelings too," Vincent said.

"I would always struggle to protect Michelangelo or any of my loved ones no matter what," Baxter said.

"I didn't even say anything about that," Vincent said.

Baxter looked down. "I would have done exactly the same in any circumstance, but . . . it's true that I felt extreme panic welling up in my heart today. I . . . couldn't abide the thought of Michelangelo getting hurt again because of me. Everything started because I didn't see that blasted beam falling and he did. He never would have got amnesia or ended up mind-controlled if it hadn't been for me. And then he never would have been in the situation today, feeling so worthless and driven to go after Rocksteady to prove himself again." Now he was the one blinking back tears. "I was so worried about something horrible happening to sweet, innocent Michelangelo, and it's because of me it happened! It's all because of me!"

Barney exchanged a horrified look with Vincent. He pulled over to the curb; he was too shaken to drive right now.

Vincent drew Baxter into his arms and held him close. "It was an accident, Baxter," he soothed. "You know that."

Baxter settled into his oldest friend's embrace. "Yes, I know that," he softly agreed. "But Vincent . . . if Michelangelo can't ever feel better . . . I know I won't either."

"He's going to get better." Barney gripped Baxter's shoulder, his voice gruff from the emotions he was trying to hold back. "He's going to, and so will you. I refuse to let this destroy both of you! I refuse!" His shoulders shook. "I ran away when you were arrested because I couldn't deal with the thought that you'd gone mad. I wouldn't even let myself be found to testify at the trial. I could make myself handle all kinds of disturbing cases in my capacity as a neuropsychologist, but when it came to my brother and the thought of you ending up like any of those cases, I couldn't handle it. I was a coward. I left when you needed me more than you'd ever needed me before. I won't do it again. I won't."

Baxter turned to look at his twin, both surprised and moved. "Barney . . ." He started to smile. "With you in our corner, I'm sure we'll both get better."

Vincent beamed. "So am I."

"It will take more than me to set things right," Barney growled. "But I won't stop fighting for either Baxter or Michelangelo."

"And every being fighting for us will help us be that much stronger," Baxter said. "Barney, thank you so much for showing your love and loyalty. You don't know how much it means to me that you've discovered you want to be my brother."

"I always wanted to be," Barney confessed. "But when I was so angry, I kept telling myself I didn't."

"And Vincent helped you to know otherwise," Baxter said.

"He and you both," Barney said.

Baxter smiled. "Let's go home," he said softly.

Barney nodded. He had calmed down now and he was anxious to get back as well. "Let's." He started the engine and pulled away from the curb.

"By the way," Vincent suddenly spoke, "has anyone wondered what Bebop and Rocksteady really were up to? Or why Rocksteady blew up that warehouse?"

"I certainly have," Baxter said. "Part of me wonders if he was deliberately trying to kill Michelangelo, at least. I doubt he was after me. And yet the other part says it's not his style. He likes to beat people up, not destroy them from afar."

"Has anyone considered that maybe Rocksteady didn't blow it up?" Barney grunted.

Baxter stiffened. "You mean that maybe someone else was there independent of him and they set the bomb?"

"Yes," Barney said. "Maybe neither of you were targets. Maybe you and Michelangelo and Rocksteady all accidentally stumbled into someone else's plot."

Baxter was stunned. In all the worry over Michelangelo, he hadn't thought of that at all. "But who on Earth . . ."

"Exactly." Barney stared ahead, his eyes narrowed. "Who indeed."

xxxx

The mood in the Lair was somber that night. When Michelangelo was finally calm enough to go to sleep, the other Turtles and Splinter stayed awake, pondering on what had happened and every now and then going to check on him to make certain he was at peace.

"I just can't believe how deeply this is bugging him," Raphael said in dismay.

"Is it really that much of a surprise?" Donatello said sadly. "Baxter and Barney were right to be worried. What happened to him was horrible. And it wasn't something he could take lightly and easily put behind him."

"Maybe it's more that I can't believe it happened at all," Raphael said. "It's like some nightmare that isn't really real."

"But it did happen, and now we are left with the consequences," Splinter said gravely.

"Shredder really went too far that time." Raphael's eyes narrowed. "Really."

"He keeps pushing it every time he shows up lately," Leonardo said. "I wish he'd stuck around longer at the reunion. There were more than a few things I wanted to say to him."

"We all had things we wanted to say," Raphael said, slamming his fist into his palm. "Or do."

"We have a more important problem than Shredder right now," Donatello said. "Somehow we have to fix this. We've got to see to it that Michelangelo is able to get back to his happy self."

"And we already know how," Leonardo said. "We've been doing it, and now that we know the full extent of the problem, we have to do it more. Being there for him, comforting him, encouraging him, being a family . . . that's what's going to fix this."

Everyone was silent as they considered those words. Leonardo was right. They all hoped and prayed that it wouldn't take a long time to get Michelangelo back to normal. But they knew that no matter how long it took, they were in it for the long haul.

That was just what family did.