Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 1987

Donatello's Amazing Furniture Mover

By Lucky_Ladybug

Notes: The characters are not mine and the story is! This is very loosely based on the DuckTales episode The Money Vanishes. ThickerThanLove helped with some plot elements. This is part of my Exit the Fly verse. Baxter is human again and an ally of the Turtles. His brother Barney no longer works for Shredder.

Leonardo was in a fairly good mood as he drove the Turtle Van towards the Village that evening. It had been a fairly peaceful day, devoid of attacks from Shredder and Krang or any of the other nutcases they had to deal with. He had promised April help with moving the books in the Second Chance Antique Mall, and this was the first chance all the Turtles and Baxter had been able to get away to do it.

Then again, he thought to himself, maybe subconsciously they had been waiting on Donatello finishing his latest invention. It was certainly going to help with the task at hand, or so they all hoped. For once it was something they all felt good about.

"Ah, a quiet autumn evening," Raphael remarked. "The perfect occasion to spend hours moving books down several flights of stairs."

"They'll be moving through the air if April okays it," Donatello said. "And there's no reason why she won't."

"Totally gnarly!" Michelangelo chirped. "Flying fiction!"

Baxter, whom they had just picked up from Channel 6, was amused. But he sobered as he turned to his cherished friend. "How are you feeling, Michelangelo? Really. No holding back."

Michelangelo smiled as he looked to him. "I'm feeling good today, Baxter. And that is the mondo honest truth."

Baxter relaxed. "I'm glad."

It was a question he had honestly wanted the answer to, but it was also one of the exercises Barney had suggested they try each day as they strived to help Michelangelo mend his shattered heart. Baxter's own heart still hurt at the knowledge that Michelangelo still suffered with the crippling guilt he carried over having had amnesia and being mind-controlled. He had finally revealed after coaching from Barney that he didn't even feel worthy to be cared about or to be a member of the team. It had horrified all who loved him.

They had all been gravely concerned about him since then and had tried to participate in cheering him up. Rebuilding the boy's confidence was a challenge renewed each day. Everyone tried to use the guidelines Barney had given them, reminding Michelangelo of times when he had helped them and praising him every time he was helpful or came up with a good idea. They were hopeful it was working. At first it had been almost impossible to get Michelangelo to consider the past times as still important and valuable, as he felt they had all been invalidated by his bout with amnesia and mind-control. But as time went on, they seemed to make more progress. Sometimes Michelangelo seemed close to his usual self, but then those treacherous doubts and guilts would creep up on him again.

It was normal, Barney said. It would take a long time to fully get him back to his usual self, and even then, he had struggled with self-confidence at times, just as the four energy duplicates of him had revealed some time back. So there might always be occasional setbacks, even after the worst of the guilt passed.

"How did things go today?" Baxter asked now, meaning with the other Turtles' and Splinter's daily therapy session with Michelangelo.

"Pretty good, actually," Raphael mused. "You know, we always knew Michelangelo was good at helping out, but encouraging him and helping him remember stuff is bringing a lot of things home for us too."

"That's right," Donatello agreed. "Michelangelo was the one who figured out how to get Irma to take the antidote for Krang's growth ray."

"And the one who came up with the plan for how to destroy the last of OMNUS's construction equipment," Leonardo said.

"Giving us all a heart attack in the process," Raphael remarked.

"Michelangelo is always good at thinking outside the box," Baxter said.

"Aww, shucks," Michelangelo said. "It just seems like common sense to me-get Irma to take a pill in a cement mixer of ice cream, blow up a machine by having it stomp some explosives. . . ."

"But they're ideas none of the rest of us thought of and you did," Leonardo chuckled. "You're very creative."

"You know, I hope there wasn't any residue of cement in that mixer," Raphael remarked.

"Oh well, I guess if there was, it didn't do any harm," Donatello said. "That was a long time ago now and Irma's fine."

"Anyway, Barney really knows his stuff," Raphael said. "All these exercises and tips he's given us have really been good."

"Well . . . I don't always like some of them," Michelangelo said. "Like me trying to say nice things about myself. But I kinda like hearing other people say them. Sometimes. When it doesn't feel like they're just delusions. Well . . . no, I guess even when I'm thinking that, it's still nice."

Baxter smiled. "You're getting better, Michelangelo, just as I vowed you would. It will still take time and that's alright."

"And we're all here for you, just as we promised," Donatello said.

"And that's, like, totally the best part," Michelangelo said in all sincerity.

"It always is," Baxter said.

Leonardo smiled as he pulled up in front of the store. It was good to hear any level of progress being made. Slowly but surely, things were returning to normal, just as Barney had promised they would.

"We're here," he announced.

Baxter hesitated a moment before pushing himself off the seat and opening the door.

Michelangelo followed. "Hey, you haven't even been inside since . . ." He swallowed hard.

"No, I haven't," Baxter said softly.

"None of us have," Leonardo said.

That first visit, on Baxter's near-fatal undercover mission to catch Big Louie, was on all of their minds as they headed for the door and went inside. Aside from the lack of blood on the floor, the ground level looked just about as they all remembered it. But Big Louie's cruel presence didn't permeate the innocent antique mall now. Instead it felt cool and pleasant and welcoming.

Michelangelo breathed a sigh of relief and looked to Baxter. "Are you okay, Bud?"

Baxter smiled at him. "Yes."

"We're here, April," Leonardo greeted as they neared the back of the room and the checkout counter.

April was thrilled to see them walk in, but there was concern in her eyes as well. "I'm so glad to see you here to help with the books," she smiled as she leaned against a glass cass filled with antique jewelry. "Michelangelo, how are you feeling today?"

She knew about what had happened, of course. As another member of the Turtles' family, she would not be exempt from that knowledge. She had participated in the attempts to buoy Michelangelo's spirits and she hoped that Michelangelo really felt like helping out tonight. Baxter had felt that putting his mind to something positive would go a long way in helping him heal. Splinter agreed.

The orange-masked Turtle smiled in response to April's question. "Oh, I'm okay, Dudette," he said.

"And he is," Raphael said. "Or he's getting there. There's been good days and bad days. Let's say today has been a relatively good day. He's been looking forward to helping out."

"I'm glad," April said. "Come on, I'll take you upstairs. Mr. Vaughn has moved some of the books, but there's still a lot to go."

"Great!" Donatello chirped. "And I have the perfect device to help."

"Really." April sounded skeptical at best.

"Yeah!" Michelangelo sounded more chipper now. "He's been working on it for days."

"It actually seems to work as it's supposed to," Baxter spoke up. "I'm quite impressed with it."

"Well, then it must be good," April commented with a wink. "No malfunctioning and blowing up, I hope. There's too many valuable things it might destroy!"

"It works perfectly," Donatello retorted, an edge slipping into his voice.

"You know how sensitive scientists get about their work," Raphael shrugged.

"And with good reason," Baxter sniffed. "It's our lifeblood, our heart and soul." Then, realizing what he'd said, he blushed and added, "Well, a part of it, at least."

The Turtles looked uneasy as they followed April up the stairs. Baxter didn't remember the upper level as darkly as they did, but that was where they had found him, badly wounded and tossed mercilessly in a crate. If it hadn't been for Mr. Vaughn's religious relic actually working and healing him, who knew what would have become of him.

They were all relieved to see that the upper level looked different now. There were no cruel crates, but there were plenty of empty bookshelves and open cardboard boxes of books.

"We've already got vendors anxious to move in up here," April said. "One of them has a ton of MIB G.I. Joe figures. Oh . . . that's Mint In Box," she added with a blush. "I've been learning a lot of new terms from Mr. Vaughn."

"Oh, I know all about MIB," Michelangelo chirped. "And MOC."

"He buys action figures on eBay sometimes," Donatello interjected.

"Of course, I think it's crazy to keep figures in the package," Michelangelo said. "They're for handling and displaying all cool. . . . And err, playing with. . . ." He blushed.

"But seriously? G.I. Joes are considered antiques?" Raphael raised an eyebrow.

"Well . . . depending on the year, let's say a lot of them are considered Vintage now," April said. "Anyway, what's this brilliant new invention of yours, Donatello?"

Donatello perked up. "This!" He took out a ray gun. "And this." He held up a spray bottle.

"I . . . don't get it," April said.

"You will," Donatello promised. "Watch!" He approached the nearest box and sprayed it with a strange pinkish mist from the bottle.

"Hey!" April exclaimed. "That better not be damaging to old books!"

"It's fine," Donatello insisted. "Now I just point the ray gun at it and press the button and . . ." The box flickered and vanished. "Voila! We've moved the box!"

April's hands flew to her head. "Where did it go?!" she cried. "Those are valuable books in there!"

"Well, right now it's kind of in a between-dimensions limbo," Donatello admitted. "But now I just spell out where I want the box to re-enter our dimension." He let April see he was typing Box of books - Second Chance Antique Mall basement on the small keypad at the back of the gun. "Now we'll need to go downstairs so you can see it worked."

"You'd better be right about this, Donatello," April said. Her voice carried a definite warning tone.

"Of course I'm right," Donatello said. He led the way down the stairs and to the main level. "So where's the basement door?"

"Outside, actually," April replied. "At least, that's how the customers will be getting in. I'll show you." She led the group through the front door and next-door to another door, through which was a flight of stairs.

"Gnarly notion," Michelangelo exclaimed as they headed down. "I've never been to a bookstore in a basement before!"

"You're in for a surprise," April said.

She was right. The basement, instead of being the dark and dank place the Turtles were picturing, was instead bright and cheerful with white walls and multiple rooms. Archways served as doors.

"You know, I like it," Raphael remarked, his hands on his hips.

"Whoa, totally!" Michelangelo's eyes gleamed. "It looks like somebody's house down here! It's epically awesome!"

"It's very pleasant," Baxter said.

"It's a perfect place to browse for books for hours," Leonardo said. His eyes gleamed. He could see himself spending many hours here, when it was finished.

"And here's the box," Donatello said in triumph. He pointed to a cardboard box in the middle of the main room's floor.

April rushed over to look inside. "You're right, Donatello!" she gasped. "They're all here!" She straightened, a handful of books in each hand. "Your invention is fantastic!"

"I know," Donatello said. His plastron puffed out with pride. "I call it my furniture mover preparation spray and ray. Originally I started inventing it to help with remodeling rooms. It's a lot easier on the back! But then I realized we could use it for this book project too!"

"I'll say," April exclaimed. "With this, we'll have them down here in no time! Can you make the books go into individual rooms too?"

"Probably," Donatello said. "If the rooms all have names."

"Well, that one over there is for religious books," April said, pointing to her left. "Up ahead is where children's books go. . . ." She proceeded to take them on a tour of the basement and each room.

"I'm sure I can get the boxes to go into the rooms they're supposed to go in," Donatello said at the conclusion. "Let's go back upstairs and find out!"

"We'll go back up the staff way," April smiled. At the back of the store was a door marked Employees Only. Beyond it was a storage area and some more stairs, this time leading up. She brought the group up two flights until they came out at the back of the highest level. "Now, Donatello, work your magic on some more books!"

"It's not magic, it's science," Donatello protested. "But I'd be happy to."

xxxx

Krang's eyes gleamed as he listened in and watched everything from the Technodrome's interdimensional screen. "Did you see that?!" he gushed to Shredder.

"So a box of books moved. Big deal." Shredder folded his arms.

"It is a big deal!" Krang insisted. "If we had enough of that preparation spray, and the ray gun, we could lift the Technodrome out of the well!"

"Oh, that little gun probably couldn't handle anything as huge as the Technodrome," Shredder objected. ". . . Could it?"

"There's only one way to find out!" Krang said in a singsong voice. "Bebop! Rocksteady! Go to Manhattan and steal both the ray and the spray bottle! And make sure you get both; one is useless without the other!"

"Aww, do we have to?" Rocksteady whined. "That fuel we were supposed to find in that old warehouse wasn't there. Maybe this won't work neither."

"Well, we're going to try it anyway!" Krang snapped. "The police are still on the alert for us committing any new crimes, so we can't get any fuel right now. But stealing from the Ninja Turtles isn't something the police will be expecting or caring about."

"Yeah, but they're all going to be on the warpath because of that surfer Turtle being hurt," Rocksteady said.

Bebop nodded. "You shouldn't have tried to mind-control him, Boss. Or Baxter. Now all the Turtles and the Stockmans are really, really mad."

"Which is one reason why I'm sending you two instead of going myself," Shredder retorted. "You two didn't have anything to do with it. And the Turtles aren't liable to use you to get at me."

"They're probably also mad about that Turtle getting hurt in the fight with Rocksteady," Bebop said.

"Yeah! Especially when that warehouse blew up a few minutes later!" Rocksteady said. "Maybe they think we did that!"

"I don't care what they think!" Shredder snapped. "Just go get what we need!"

"Alright already," Rocksteady said in annoyance. When Krang opened the portal, he stalked into it.

"Yeah. We'll try to get those things, but we might not succeed," Bebop said.

"I wouldn't be in the least surprised," Krang muttered.

"Then maybe I should go with them." Shredder took a step towards the portal.

Krang stepped in front of him, his arms outstretched. "You should stay right here," he said. "No way would the Turtles or the Stockmans be generous to the one who caused all that heartache and misery for them."

"Please," Shredder snorted. "They'll never be a match for me."

"Oh, and that's why they keep beating you, because they're no match for you." The sarcasm fairly dripped from Krang's voice.

"Aurgh!" Shredder shook his fists. "Animals and pipsqueaks and a living computer! It's a complete disgrace for a ninja master to be beaten repeatedly by the likes of them!"

"It's also a complete disgrace for a ninja master to act like a child," Krang smirked. "Maybe you'd like to watch kiddie cartoons and play with your toy trains today. That's about your speed!"

Shredder smoldered.

xxxx

Rocksteady was still in a bad mood about his and Bebop's new assignment as they came out in front of the antique mall. "I don't know how we're even gonna get those gizmos without tearing the joint all up," he said.

"Normally you like tearing places all up, Rocksteady," Bebop said in surprise.

"Blargh, yeah, but not old stuff like this," Rocksteady said, pointing in the window. "I have a certain respect for irreplaceable things. Besides, think of how money they're worth! We would've been robbing places like this if we were still in our gang, not destroying them!"

"That's true," Bebop said. "So what do you plan to do?"

"I say, let's use one of the boss's smoke bombs and grab the stuff away from the Turtle while he's dealing with that," Rocksteady smirked. "I brought some."

"Oh, good plan," Bebop congratulated him. "Only, what if they see through it because they're ninjas too?"

"We'll just have to do our best and take that chance," Rocksteady said. "We'll go in the back way. Come on!"

Bebop followed him inside. "Gee, it looks deserted," he commented.

"They're upstairs," Rocksteady insisted.

And indeed they were. Donatello had moved about half of the boxes and was just preparing to move another. When Rocksteady and Bebop arrived, he was just spraying it and reaching for the ray gun.

"Ooh, I love disrupting plans," Rocksteady sneered. Without warning he threw the smoke bomb and ran into the spreading cloud.

"Hey!" Donatello gasped.

Everyone doubled over, coughing.

"Is there a fire?!" Baxter choked out in alarm.

"I think it's a smoke bomb!" Leonardo exclaimed.

"Someone's in here!" Donatello yelped. "They just grabbed the ray gun and the spray out of my hands!"

Rocksteady laughed to himself as he ran back to the stairs. "Hey, we should spray the Turtles and send them somewhere," he realized. "Or stick 'em in the dimensional limbo."

"That'll sure make them mad," Bebop said.

"You're not chickening out, are you?" Rocksteady snorted. "We don't want 'em coming after us! And think how happy the boss'll be!"

"Yeah, but . . ."

"But nothing!" Rocksteady interrupted. Without further warning, he sprayed into the smoke cloud.

"What's happening?!" April cried.

A cruel sneer spread over Rocksteady's features as he aimed the ray gun and pulled the trigger. Three shocked screams echoed through the room as the smoke cloud faded.

"April!" Michelangelo exclaimed.

"Leonardo!" Raphael yelped.

"Donatello!" Baxter said in horror. "They're all gone!"

"Aw, nuts, I didn't get them all," Rocksteady growled. "Let's go." He turned and ran for the stairs.

Bebop was all too happy to follow. The remaining friends were on fire.

"Come back here!" Raphael roared.

"Bring back our buds!" Michelangelo screamed. He took out his nunchucks and sent them flying. They wrapped around Bebop's ankles and he went down with a yelp.

Rocksteady kept running and went down the stairs. He had both of the objects the good guys wanted. And after his last failure, he wasn't about to let them go now.

"Rocksteady!" Bebop exclaimed from the top of the staircase. "You're not really gonna leave me here, are you?!"

The rhino turned, spraying him with the bottle. As Bebop gave another cry of surprise, Rocksteady blasted him with the ray. When he had vanished, Rocksteady resumed his flight just as his pursuers reached the stairs.

"Oh, you are not getting away that easy," Michelangelo snarled. He moved to jump from the top of the stairs.

"Michelangelo, don't do something foolish!" Baxter cried in horror.

Rocksteady took only a split-second to debate his options in his mind. He had done something foolish by trying to send everyone somewhere else. Only getting some of them would make the rest furious, just as Bebop had warned. Instead of trying his luck again, he had to get out of there.

One of Raphael's sais was suddenly flying directly at him. The preparation spray soared out of his hand and over to the wall, where it pinned fast courtesy of the weapon. But the button had been inadvertently pressed. A large cloud of the pink-colored spray emerged and floated out the window as Rocksteady fled.

"Oh man!" Raphael flew down the remaining stairs and wrenched the bottle loose from the wall. "I only got this back!"

"Well, like, it's something," Michelangelo said. "At least he can't spray anything or anyone else."

"But he still has the ray gun!" Baxter exclaimed. "He controls what happens to everyone he did spray!"

Raphael replaced his sai and ran for the door. "And we're going after him!" he vowed. "No way are we letting him get that gun back to Shred-Head!"

"He might already be doing that!" Baxter moaned. "All he has to do is have Krang open a portal."

"I should have done more!" Michelangelo berated. "I roped Bebop instead of Rocksteady. How did that happen?! And I should have jumped off the stairs to tackle Rocksteady. . . ."

"No, you shouldn't have," Baxter shot back. "Your foot has mostly recovered from that horrible bruising, but I've seen you still favoring the left foot after standing for a time. There's still a faint pain, isn't there?"

"Yeah," Michelangelo mumbled.

"Another jolt could injure it all over again. Or maybe you'd end up hurt worse, and with a different part of your body." Baxter kept pace with Michelangelo while they chased after Raphael. "As for Bebop, he's actually been softening somewhat. Maybe subconsciously you hoped he would help us?"

"I don't know what I was thinking," Michelangelo frowned. "I didn't think I'd roped him on purpose."

"Well, in any case, it slowed Rocksteady while he tried to figure out how to handle it," Baxter said. "Otherwise, Raphael might not have got close enough to get the spray back. And it just occurred to me that Rocksteady is probably still in the area. Suppose Krang wants Donatello's invention to raise the Technodrome. The gun is useless without the spray. He'll have to stick around and get it back!"

"Or he could teleport to the Technodrome, bring Leonardo, Donatello, and April there, and Shred-Head would then force us to trade them for the spray," Raphael said through gritted teeth. "I don't see him anywhere!"

"Let's not give up yet," Baxter retorted. "I'm going to call Barney and Vincent and they can be on the alert too."

He was just in the process of getting out his Turtle-Comm when the stray pink cloud started to float over near them.

"Look out!" Raphael yelped. "If that thing hits us, Rocksteady will be able to send us away too! If he really is still around."

The trio ducked the cloud and fled. Even as they did, behind them came the now-familiar sound of the ray gun being fired.

"You're right about me still bein' here!" Rocksteady called after them. "And once that cloud hits you, you're really in for it!"

"Man, I wish Barney was here right now," Michelangelo moaned. "He might be able to talk some sense into the dude."

"Which is another reason why I hope he can come," Baxter said. He pressed the button on his Turtle-Comm.

A slightly aggravated Barney appeared on the screen. "Baxter, what's going on?" he frowned. "I'm in a meeting."

"I know, and I'm sorry, Barney," Baxter said. "There's kind of a situation here."

Barney paused. "Are you running?" His eyebrows knit further.

"Yes!" Baxter exclaimed. "Oh!" The pink cloud floated near him again and he dived out of the way just as Rocksteady fired.

"Baxter, what's going on?!" Now Barney was starting to sound worried.

"Remember Donatello's furniture mover invention?" Baxter asked. His voice started to climb in his panic.

"Yes." Barney's voice was gaining an edge.

"Rocksteady has it and there's a stray cloud from the preparation spray floating around and he's trying to blast us with the gun if the cloud falls on us," Baxter rattled off as he and the two Turtles dashed around a corner.

"Boy, you're taking run-on sentence lessons from Michelangelo," Raphael remarked.

Barney growled. "I'm not even going to ask right now. Vincent and I'll duck out of this meeting."

"That won't cause trouble for you, will it?" Baxter asked in concern.

"It's a family emergency," Barney said. "And the meeting's dull anyway. Be careful!"

Baxter managed a smile. "We're trying."

"Good ol' Barney," Raphael remarked as Baxter hung up. "Always ready to drop little incidental things like work when his family needs him."

"He is," Baxter said.

"Why the heck is that cloud following us anyway?!" Raphael yelped. "You are not going to tell me it has a mind of its own!"

"Like, it's probably just following the wind, Dude," Michelangelo said.

"And we're certainly creating a breeze," Baxter remarked. They were all flying down the sidewalk as fast as they could go. Passers-by who had to stumble away and make room for them stared in bewilderment.

"You know, I just realized something," Michelangelo said, the horror lacing his voice. "Donatello said that before you type in where to send what you've made go poof, it's in a dimensional limbo. Is that . . . the same limbo you were in, Bud?"

Baxter fell silent. "I . . . don't know," he said softly. "It's possible."

"But Vince said there wasn't any food in there," Raphael gasped.

"Hardly any," Baxter admitted. "But we're going to get the others back before they suffer from hunger."

". . . What if we don't?" Michelangelo said, his voice hushed.

"Don't think about that, my friend," Baxter whispered. "Please don't." But he knew they all would.

"I've got something else to think about," Raphael said. "Suppose that cloud does hit us and Rocksteady zaps us. Then what?!"

"Then Barney, Vincent, and Splinter will save all of us," Baxter said firmly. "We're going to be alright."

The cloud floated ominously above them.

"Do you think if we run in another direction, it won't follow us?" Raphael said.

"It's worth a try," Baxter said. "When we reach the next corner, we'll break away and run across the street."

"And hope some poor, innocent bystander doesn't get enveloped by the cloud instead," Raphael said.

Michelangelo cringed. "Maximum bummer. We can't let that happen either!"

"Not to mention we can't lose Rocksteady," Baxter realized. "He has the only way to get the others back very easily! If we get away from the cloud, we might lose track of him as well."

"That doesn't leave a whole lot of options, does it?" Raphael remarked.

"We could try splitting up," Baxter suggested. "If at least one of us took another route, maybe he could sneak up on Rocksteady from behind while he was distracted by chasing the other two." He sighed. "Of course, on the other hand, in the process of running away, that person might get overshadowed by the cloud and zapped."

"Maybe we're better off just sticking with our current plan of leading Rocksteady away," Michelangelo said. "Barney and Vincent should be here soon and then maybe we'll be able to do a two-pronged attack or something."

"I just hope we don't run into Vernon," Raphael moaned.

Baxter raised an eyebrow. "Why is that?"

"Oh, come on. Do any of us really want to explain to him that we're running from a little pink cloud and a rhino with a ray gun that can move things?" Raphael shot back. "He'd laugh himself silly."

"I'll take that over winding up in the dimensional limbo," Michelangelo said. "We've gotta stay free and help the others! . . . If we really can. . . ."

Baxter recognized what Michelangelo really meant. "We're all going to save them," he insisted. "Including you, Michelangelo."

"That's right!" Raphael declared. "We've come through plenty of hard times before. And don't forget things like you saving all the rest of us Turtles when we got caught by that mad scientist!"

Michelangelo smiled a bit. "That was pretty gnarly, wasn't it."

"So were you," Raphael insisted. "Splinter left the rescuing up to you and you came through with flying colors!"

"Probably a lot of it was Dr. Goodfellow, though," Michelangelo said. "And Pete the Pigeon."

"Hey, Dr. Goodfellow said she never would have made it through without you," Raphael said firmly. "And that's true."

Michelangelo looked stunned, but whether that was from Raphael's words or the fact that Raphael was saying them was unclear. "I was really important, huh?"

"Just as you have been on many other occasions," Baxter said. "Everything's going to be alright. I'm proud to fight by your side, just as I have been throughout this past year."

Michelangelo started to smile. "And I'm proud to fight with you and Raphael," he said. "We make a tubular trio."

"We do," Baxter agreed in all sincerity.

"Always," Raphael said. Ordinarily he wouldn't be so mushy, but anything to buoy Michelangelo up right now. He couldn't worry about his stupid pride. Barney had been able to put his behind him when necessary. Raphael could certainly do the same.

A yelp brought all of their attention upward. The cloud had floated down again, just in time to envelope several people behind them right at the moment Rocksteady blasted.

"They're gone!" Raphael cried in horror.

"Now he really is zapping innocent bystanders!" Michelangelo burst out. "What the heck are we gonna do?!"

"We can't get captured ourselves," Baxter said. "And now we can't split up. The cloud and Rocksteady are both catching up to us. Keep running!"

The two Turtles didn't argue.
xxxx

Shredder was not in a particularly good mood as he and Krang observed the happenings in the antique mall and the mad chase down the street.

"Oh, that incompetent buffoon!" Shredder snorted. "He couldn't even keep hold of both the ray gun and the preparation spray!"

"Well, if that cloud falls on them, he'll be able to zap them anyway," Krang said. "Stop whining! It's not like you haven't fouled up perfectly simple assignments yourself!"

Shredder scowled. "And what happened to Bebop, anyway?"

As if on cue, a flash of light lit up the room. When it faded, the missing warthog was on the floor, still tangled up in Michelangelo's nunchucks. "Uh, hi, Boss," he greeted with a sheepish smile and wave.

"Of all the moronic behavior!" Shredder boomed, clenching his fists to the ceiling.

Bebop finally unwound the nunchucks and kicked them aside as he got up. "What's going on? Has Rocksteady beat the other Turtles yet?"

"No!" Shredder fumed.

Bebop stared at the chase unfolding on the transdimensional screen. "Gee, I hope he doesn't get Baxter," he worried. "That would . . ."

"If you're going to say it would really hurt Barney, don't!" Shredder snapped. "I'm tired of always hearing how much you still adore that traitor!"

"But . . ."

"No buts!" Shredder roared. "You're going to have to get over this ill-placed affection before it ruins any of our plans!"

"I haven't let it so far, have I?" Bebop countered.

"You've come close," Krang finally spoke. "I didn't care at first, but when you almost didn't make it into the transport module because you were apologizing to the Turtles for something happening to Baxter, then I started to care!"

"It won't happen again," Bebop promised.

"Hmm. See that it doesn't." Krang turned his attention back to the screen. "You were gone for several minutes. Where were you?"

"Well, I ended up floating on a rock in this pretty place," Bebop said. "There didn't seem to be anyone else around and I wondered if I was going to have to stay there for a long time. Then, suddenly, I was teleported here. I guess Rocksteady found a moment to do it in the middle of all that chasing."

"Either that or it took him that long to figure out how to spell 'Technodrome,'" Shredder muttered with a roll of his eyes. "Krang, this is a waste of time. He's not going to get the spray back or bring us the ray gun. And one is useless without the other!"

"Patience, Shredder. Patience," Krang calmly replied. "It's not over yet."

xxxx

Being transported from one place to another resulted in a feeling of dizziness and disorientation.

"Now I know what those books feel like," Donatello moaned, holding a hand to his head.

"What happened?!" April cried. "Where are we?!"

"We're floating on a piece of rock," Leonardo frowned. "And all I see is more rocks. It looks like the void where Master Splinter ended up that time, only here the sky is pinkish-red instead of blue."

Donatello used his bo to push himself upright. "Someone sprayed us with the preparation spray and then used the ray gun on us," he remembered. "We're in a dimensional limbo!"

"Are you serious?!" April stared at him. "How are we going to get back to the real world?!"

"Well . . . we can either wait for the others to rescue us, or we can look for a dimensional wormhole," Donatello said. "Only for all we'd know, a wormhole wouldn't lead us back to Earth."

"But it might," Leonardo countered.

"I don't want to sit around doing nothing," April agreed. "Let's look!"

"We'll have to wait for another rock to come close enough and then jump to it," Donatello said. "And I'm getting the horrible feeling that this may be the place where Baxter ended up a lot. Including when we sent him here."

Leonardo's frown deepened. "We had to stop him when he was causing trouble."

"Of course we did, but we probably didn't have to do it that way," Donatello said. "And if we'd realized he was suffering, maybe we could have helped him sooner. I can't blame Michelangelo for feeling horrible that we didn't pay enough attention to him to see how his mind was going. Thinking back on it now, it's so obvious."

Leonardo's shoulders slumped. ". . . It really doesn't look like there's any food," he said slowly.

"What a horrible place!" April moaned.

"Here comes a rock!" Donatello grabbed April in his arms. As she shrieked in surprise, he jumped to the other rock.

Leonardo swiftly followed. "Well, there isn't any shortage of rocks," he remarked. "I hope the others are okay. Maybe whoever that was sent them somewhere else!"

"Let's not think about that," Donatello said. "Let's just hope they're trying to get my invention back from that creep."

"And that you guys don't miss a jump," April said. "It looks like this place is the true definition of bottomless!"

"It does, doesn't it," Donatello remarked. "It's actually a fascinating place, from a scientific point of view."

"I can think of things a lot more fascinating," April retorted. "Like getting out of here while we're still young."

"We will," Leonardo insisted. "Don't worry."

"I just thought of something," Donatello exclaimed. "In Michelangelo's current state, he probably won't have much confidence in rescuing us!"

"But he'll do it anyway," Leonardo replied. "And Baxter and Raphael will encourage him."

"That's right!" April said. "Michelangelo will always come through, no matter how he feels about himself!" She swallowed hard as another rock approached. "I just hope it's soon. . . ."

xxxx

Barney was in a grim mood as he and Vincent ran out of the psychology building and over to the Cadillac. "Honestly, what on Earth is going to happen next?!" he exclaimed. "It seems like no invention of Donatello's is safe from nonsense!"

"There's always someone waiting to use something good for something not so good," Vincent said.

"And it could be any of our enemies." Barney unlocked the doors and threw himself inside. "If not Rocksteady, it would have been someone else."

Vincent slid into the passenger seat. "Do you think you'll be able to convince him to stop, Buddy?"

"If it was Bebop, I probably could," Barney said. "I don't know about Rocksteady. In general, he's more vicious and bloodthirsty than Bebop."

"But he respects you too," Vincent said. "He realized he didn't want to hurt you when he threw you off the balcony in the Technodrome."

"He has no qualms about hurting the Turtles," Barney said. "I don't know how he feels about Baxter."

"I wonder where Bebop is," Vincent mused. "He doesn't seem to want to hurt Baxter."

Barney grunted. "When we catch up to them, we can ask."

Vincent pressed a button on the Turtle-Comm. "I'm tracking Baxter via his Turtle-Comm," he reported. "I'll give you directions. It looks like he's still running."

Barney growled. "Tell me."

Vincent provided directions that eventually brought them upon the scene, just as a hapless businessman wandered into the pink cloud and was accidentally blasted by Rocksteady. He vanished.

"Oh no! Not again!" Baxter moaned.

Barney pulled over to the curb. "Get in," he ordered. "I'll try to reason with Rocksteady."

"Boy, are we glad to see you dudes!" Michelangelo exclaimed. He leaped into the car, followed by Raphael and Baxter.

"Barney, several innocent people have been transported away while Rocksteady has been trying to get at us!" Baxter cried. "We were trying to lead him away from the crowds, but there kept being more!"

"We'll get them all back," Barney promised.

Rocksteady ran up to the car. "Now, I've finally got you," he sneered.

"Oh?" Barney straightened and turned, folding his arms. "You're going to take them right out of the car?"

"Sure," Rocksteady retorted. "I can do that, you know. It won't hurt you none 'cause you didn't go under the cloud."

"You don't think it will hurt me to have some of my family taken away?" Barney countered.

Rocksteady snorted. "I've gotta get that spray back!"

"Which of course you can accomplish by transporting them away with the spray," Barney deadpanned.

Michelangelo quietly opened the car door and started to sneak around the vehicle.

"Michelangelo!" Raphael hissed. "What are you doing?!"

Vincent smirked. "I think I know."

Rocksteady seemed baffled by the problem Barney had pointed out. "Well, uh . . . I can send them to the Technodrome and the boss can get the spray!" he decided.

Barney didn't doubt he'd do it too. "Once the spray has been recovered, they'll all be killed," he said. "Including Baxter."

"Oh, you guys always find a way out of everything," Rocksteady said.

"Our luck can't last forever, especially if we're in our enemy's fortress," Barney said.

Suddenly Michelangelo was behind Rocksteady and grabbing the ray gun away from him. "Got it!"

"Hey!" Rocksteady spun around. "You tricked me, Barney!"

"I didn't know Michelangelo was going to do that," Barney said, "but I don't blame him for it." He smirked. "And now maybe it's time for a taste of your own medicine."

"Huh?" Rocksteady blinked, bewildered. But when the pink cloud floated over him, he stiffened in dismay. "Uh oh. . . ."

"Go back to the Technodrome!" Michelangelo said in delight as he pulled the trigger on the ray gun. When Rocksteady yelped and vanished, the Turtle immediately started to type Bebop and Rocksteady - Technodrome on the keypad. "That should take care of him. And Bebop, wherever he is."

"Way to go, Michelangelo!" Raphael exclaimed, leaping out of the car.

"That was excellent," Vincent smiled, exiting as well.

Baxter beamed. "It certainly was. Now you just need to bring everyone else back."

"I wonder how I do that," Michelangelo worried. "I don't know the names of those people Rocksteady zapped by accident."

"There must be some way to make it work," Barney frowned.

Michelangelo pondered a moment. "Hey, I think I've got it!" Quickly he tapped out Everybody except Bebop and Rocksteady - right here.

A brilliant flash of light lit up the sidewalk. When it faded, Leonardo, Donatello, April, and several strangers were standing and blinking at their new surroundings in stunned surprise.

April was the first to recover. "You did it!" she exclaimed.

"Michelangelo did it," Baxter smiled.

"You're back!" The orange-masked Turtle was beaming. "You're really back!" He ran over, pulling all three of them into a hug. They somewhat awkwardly but completely sincerely returned it.

"Thanks to you, Michelangelo," Leonardo said.

"We knew you could do it," Donatello said.

In spite of himself, Michelangelo was broadly grinning. He clearly hadn't expected it of himself and was overjoyed to be wrong. "I really did it," he said in clear amazement.

"And none of us doubted you," Barney said.

"Not once," Baxter added.

At the sound of his voice, both Leonardo and Donatello looked over, seeming subdued and even guilty. "Baxter . . ." Leonardo sighed. "I think we saw the place where you were sent over and over, sometimes by us."

"Michelangelo wondered if that's where you were," Baxter said quietly.

"It was awful," Donatello said. "Baxter, if only we'd known . . . both what it was like and how you were suffering . . . we never would have done it. We're so sorry."

"I know." Baxter gave a sad smile. "And that means a great deal."

"I'm glad you didn't get sent there again today, by Rocksteady," Donatello said. "That's a place you should never have to see anymore."

"I wouldn't want to," Baxter said. "But I'm sorry you had to."

"It gave us a greater understanding of what you went through, so we don't regret it," Leonardo said.

"I could have done without it," April shuddered. "It was a place of nothing! It's no wonder your mental state degraded worse from being stuck there for months."

Vincent drew an arm around Baxter and hugged him close. "At least it's all over now."

Baxter nodded and returned it. "Yes. I'm certainly grateful for that. And that none of you had to be there long enough to really suffer."

"Amen to that," Raphael exclaimed. "And I say, now that we're all back together and another evil scheme has been thwarted, it's time to party! What do you say?!"

"Totally triumphant suggestion!" Michelangelo beamed. "I was about to suggest that myself."

"Then let's do it," Leonardo smiled. He wanted to celebrate too, not only for those reasons, but also because Michelangelo was in a good mood today. After his struggles with self-worth due to twists of fate and Shredder's cruelty, a good mood was more than enough reason to celebrate.

Judging from everyone else's expressions, they all felt the same.

"By the way, Donatello, what are you going to do with your invention?" April asked.

"Well . . ." Donatello hesitated. "I could use it on the rest of the books and then put it under lock and key . . . or I could put it under lock and key now and we could move the rest of the books ourselves."

"Heavy manual labor?" Michelangelo sighed. He brightened. "Let's totally do it! It's better than risking them trying to steal this stuff again!"

"For once, I don't think any of us will complain," Leonardo remarked.

"Not even me," said Raphael.

Baxter chuckled. "Good."

xxxx

Shredder was not pleased when the light flashed again and a slightly disoriented Rocksteady appeared. "I knew this was an idiotic idea!" he roared. "I should have been there, Krang! I could have destroyed that Turtle's confidence! It was already low!"

"On the one hand, that might have been a good idea," Krang said. "But on the other hand, for at least a few minutes you actually seemed to realize how you're pushing these beings closer and closer to snapping. You should have stuck with that thought instead of deciding you should go along today after all. You think brute strength triumphs over everything, but after all this time, you should have come to realize otherwise."

"If you're going to start preaching to me about love and friendship making them strong . . . !" Shredder held up his hands and stepped back.

"You focus on the weaknesses of love and friendship," Krang said, "but if you weren't so narrow-minded, you would see that there's a flip side to the coin. Look at Baxter, for instance. He was mostly a cowardly, sniveling little man when he worked for you. Granted, his life experiences probably made him that way, but still. After he was shown some genuine kindness and love, he became stronger in turn. Alright, so he'll never be able to break bricks with his hands, but he's been able to defy you time and again with his inventions, intellect, and even his small size, all because he's worried about his loved ones."

"And he's nearly gotten killed trying to protect his loved ones," Shredder sneered. "You see, Krang? Love is weakness!"

"For that matter, we've nearly gotten killed trying to conquer the world," Krang grunted.

"Only because of things like the Technodrome falling in hot lava or being blasted by your Rock Soldiers by accident," Shredder retorted. "The Turtles were never a match for me!"

Krang glowered. "You don't realize that the only real reason you're not seriously hurt or dead from your battles is because the Turtles have a sense of honor and so do the Stockmans, including that computer. If you keep targeting their loved ones, you'll find that eventually they're going to have enough and they may even throw their honor away. I've already seen the signs of it, especially after what you did to Michelangelo and Baxter." He folded his tiny arms. "And that is why I benched you this time. I'm sure you would have still failed if you'd been there, and maybe you would have pushed someone over the emotional edge while you were at it."

"Oh!" Shredder turned with a swirl of his cape. "I'll show you next time, Krang! I won't fail! I won't!"

Krang smirked at the tantrum. "You're really instilling me with confidence."

Bebop and Rocksteady looked at each other.

"Do you think we need to worry for next time?" Bebop wondered.

"Aw, who knows," Rocksteady said in aggravation. "Let's not worry about it. I wanna read some comic books and relax."

"Sounds good to me," Bebop declared.

Shredder and Krang didn't even notice as the mutants quietly departed.

xxxx

Michelangelo sighed with pleasure as he leaned back on the couch at the mansion. The pizza had just arrived and everyone was dividing up which toppings they wanted. Michelangelo had his favorites in front of him. He took a delighted bite from one.

"Hey, Leonardo," he said, his mouth full of pizza. He quickly chewed and swallowed by the time Leonardo looked over. His question was quieter, sobered. ". . . What was it like? You know . . . where you were?"

Leonardo frowned as he considered the question. "It was like April said," he said. "There really wasn't anything there."

"Were you worried at all? I mean, that, like, you wouldn't get out?"

"No," Leonardo said, softly yet sincerely. "I knew we would, because there was a great team rooting for us back in the real world."

Michelangelo had to smile in spite of himself. But he also had to ask, "But . . . you know we could've messed things up. . . ."

"You've never let us down before," Leonardo said, looking into Michelangelo's eyes. "You wouldn't have this time."

"That's right!" Donatello proclaimed. He sat down on the other side of the couch. "Michelangelo, how's your foot? I noticed you've been keeping it up."

"Oh. It's just a little sore from all that running," Michelangelo said. "I guess Baxter was right about it still not being ready for heavy pressure." He smiled. "I'll be fine, Dude. Really."

He meant with more than just his foot, and the other Turtles and Splinter knew it. They exchanged a thrilled look. A great deal of progress had been made today.

"You have definitely done well, my son," Splinter said. He was in a chair, eating some sushi that Barney had ordered for him.

Michelangelo ducked his head, a little embarrassed from all the praise yet liking it at the same time. On bad days, he still wondered at times how the others could see him as being good or smart or helpful. He felt that they were just seeing things with blinders on because they loved him so much. Sometimes it was hard for those feelings not to persist even on good days. But at other times he saw things more clearly and could even recognize his own value. Right now he felt pretty good.

"Thank you, Sensei," he said softly. "Dad. . . ."

Splinter smiled. It was certainly new to hear such a term, but he wasn't offended by it in the least. Quite the contrary, he loved it.

Baxter came and sat next to the pizza-obsessed Turtle. "I'm very proud of you too, Michelangelo," he said. "That was clever thinking on how to get the ray gun away from Rocksteady."

"Hey, I didn't even know if it would work," Michelangelo said. "I'm just mondo glad it did. And that I was able to figure out how the thing worked to bring everybody back. Of course, you or Raphael could have figured it out too, I'm sure. Or Barney or Vincent."

"But you're the one who did," Baxter said firmly.

"Can't deny that," Michelangelo mused. "Hey, where are Barney and Vincent anyway?"

"Over there." Baxter nodded across the room, where Barney was standing up with a plate of pizza. Vincent was standing next to him.

"Well, he looks like he's in deep thought," Raphael commented.

Vincent thought so too. "What's on your mind, Buddy?"

Barney sighed. "If I still worked for Shredder and Krang, that could have been me out there trying to blast everyone with the ray gun. I would have done it, especially thinking they would just go somewhere else and not actually be hurt or killed."

"But it wasn't you," Vincent said. "And it never will be again."

"There's something to be said for that," Barney admitted.

"You played your part today in trying to stop all the insanity," Baxter said. "That's who you are now."

"And that's the Barney we know and love," Raphael added.

"Of course, Baxter and I loved you before," Vincent smiled. "But definitely now as well."

"I know." Barney leaned against the wall. He still looked thoughtful, but he seemed happier now.

"You'll never be alone again," April piped up.

"For sure," Michelangelo nodded. "You live with two awesome brothers and you've got a whole bunch of nephews and other family coming over to visit all the time."

"And I wouldn't have it any other way," Barney said. His smile was gruff, but his words were sincere.

"None of us would," Leonardo said.

Michelangelo beamed. It really was a good ending to a bizarre day. And he was feeling happy about himself for the moment. Maybe he even thought . . .

"Maybe I am worthy of being on the team," he said softly, but loud enough that everyone looked over.

"What was that, Michelangelo?" Leonardo's eyes were wide and hopeful.

Michelangelo flushed. He wasn't sure he wanted to repeat it. He wasn't sure he had the strength to repeat it. He felt a little embarrassed to have said it.

"It's alright, my friend," Baxter said gently.

Michelangelo swallowed hard. "M-Maybe . . . I am worthy of being loved?"

Cheers erupted through the room from the other Turtles and April. The Stockmans and Splinter beamed. Michelangelo was still hesitant and unsure, but to think it, hope it, and say it at all was incredible progress.

"You are, my son," Splinter said, getting up to come over.

"Of course you are," Leonardo smiled.

"Always," said Baxter.

Michelangelo was soon enveloped in hugs from almost everyone present. Although overwhelmed, he was happy. He hadn't felt this good in ages. He returned every embrace, whispering what each loved one was to him. His dad, his brothers . . . his aunt, his uncles. . . .

Barney was the last. It wasn't a long hug, but it was firm and loving. And as he drew back, Michelangelo could see the pride in his eyes. They weren't out of the woods yet, but this was a deeply important step.

"You definitely are," Barney said. "Nephew."

It may not have been what Barney had wanted, but Michelangelo pulled him back into the hug. "Thanks," he said. His voice choked up. "Uncle Barney."

Barney stiffened in surprise at the new hug, but he didn't pull away. He smiled and accepted it and held the boy close.

Once enemies, now beloved family.