Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 1987

Skeletons in the Closet

By Lucky_Ladybug

Notes: The characters are not mine (except Johnny) and the story is! ThickerThanLove was an immense help with various elements, especially the villain. 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.

Barney sighed to himself as he sat at his table in his home laboratory, watching the different colored chemicals bubbling in their beakers. Everything had been so bizarre the last few days that he felt he had to cling to some semblance of reality in order to not feel so overwhelmed and defeated by nonsense. But experimenting with chemicals didn't keep him from thinking about it, especially at a point like this where he was just watching them.

Try as he might, he couldn't stop thinking about the Golden Goose fiasco. It had already been on his mind again, and dealing with Monroe Q. Flem and his obsession with making wax figures had only made it worse. He had looked into the vacant eyes of the figure they had all thought was Baxter and not only had thought his brother was dead, but remembered when he had almost hurt Baxter with that blasted goose. He could have seen a vacant-eyed Baxter in the past, and it would have been all his fault. He dug his hand into his hair.

"Buddy?"

He looked up with a start as Vincent opened the door and came in. Then he sighed, slumping over the table. "Vincent . . ."

Vincent sat down next to him. "You've been upset ever since we got back from Flem's mansion," he said softly. "But this isn't about those kids, is it?"

"No." The chemicals were about to boil over. Quickly Barney turned off the heat.

"About Baxter then."

"Yes." Barney stared into the distance. "Thinking that wax figure was him was horrible. And even worse, it brought up memories of the Golden Goose mess. I was already thinking about it recently, and now . . ." He shook his head. "I'm never going to get over that completely, am I."

"Probably not," Vincent said. "It was one of the things in your life that affected you more strongly than anything else. You realized then just how low you were falling, and even though it still took you a long time to fully get on the right path, you knew then that you didn't want to be the kind of person who hurt people. Especially your brother."

"Ugh." Barney grunted, propping himself up with a hand. "You're right, Vincent. I can counsel other people just fine, but I can't make myself understand my own advice."

"You do great, Buddy," Vincent said. "You come to me or Baxter. Or you open up to us if we corner you. All those years of bottling up your pain . . . they're over."

"And that feels . . . amazing." Barney turned to look at him. "I used to think I would never want to be so vulnerable. But . . . when it's the two of you, I don't. I feel completely safe." He stood and stepped away from the table. "How is that possible? That I've changed so much, I mean."

Vincent smiled. "When you let go of your hate, you found a whole new perspective."

Barney paused. "I told some of my patients similar things."

"So how long did you actively practice neuropsychology, Barney?" Vincent asked.

"A long time," Barney said flatly. "I went into it as soon as I could after college. And later on when I had experience and really knew what I was talking about, I practiced while teaching classes at the same time." He shook his head. "I was a terrible teacher. I taught the material fine, but I was harsh and unkind and my students all hated me."

"And now they love you." Vincent stood too. "Have you ever seen any of your patients or your old students since those days?"

"Not that I'm aware of," Barney said. "They'd probably all want to stay away from me."

"Maybe not if they realize you've changed," Vincent said.

"They probably wouldn't believe it," Barney snorted. "Sometimes I don't believe it."

"Well, I don't have to believe it," Vincent said. "I know it! I see it every day, and you don't know how happy that makes me."

"Not any happier than it makes me." Barney looked at his cherished friend and brother. "You helped give me a new life, Vincent. You and Baxter."

"You had to want to accept it, Buddy," Vincent said. "Now, about what's bothering you right now. Do you want to talk to Baxter about it?"

"No . . . probably not," Barney said. "I've said it all before. He knows I'm troubled by what happened at the mansion. And he knows I'm troubled by the Golden Goose case."

"But does he know one triggered the other far worse?" Vincent asked.

"I'm sure he figured out that it was possible," Barney said. "But he wouldn't want to be the one to bring it up, just in case he was wrong."

"True," Vincent agreed.

"And I don't think that talking to Baxter about it would make me feel better, really," Barney said. "It's just something I have to work out on my own."

"Well, you know that you never have to be alone anymore," Vincent said. "And Baxter and I would never want you to be."

Barney smiled a bit. "Of course."

"Still, you're right that there are some things only you can do for yourself. But loved ones can offer support."

"And you do, Vincent," Barney assured him. "You do." He paused. "Where is Baxter?"

"On the balcony," Vincent said. "He's enjoying autumn in the air."

"And all over the balcony and the tables and chairs, I'm sure," Barney grunted. "I need to get the leaves up."

"That can wait," Vincent said. "Unless you think it would help you by giving you something to put your mind to."

"It might," Barney said. "It's seemed to work well for Michelangelo."

"It is a good thing to try," Vincent said. "Baxter mentioned Michelangelo offered that he and the other Turtles could rake the leaves."

"And jump in them, I'm sure," Barney remarked. "That's fine with me. Maybe we can plan on it for this weekend, if something else doesn't go wrong in the meantime. We might be fighting aliens by the weekend."

"I guess that's possible," Vincent said in amusement.

xxxx

On the balcony, Baxter was not only enjoying the autumn afternoon, but talking to Michelangelo via Turtle-Comm.

"I know Barney's been distressed ever since the problem with Flem," he said. "Vincent decided to talk to him now in case he might open up more to Vincent than me. I know he doesn't always say his feelings if I'm the reason for them. He doesn't want to make me feel worse." He smiled a bit.

"Well, I'm sure Vincent can get to the bottom of it," Michelangelo said.

"I know you've been upset too, Michelangelo," Baxter said softly.

"Yeah." Michelangelo sighed. "I guess it'd be mondo hard not to be, after everything. I really thought that figure was you, Bud. That'd be hard enough all by itself, but then I also felt like somehow it was all my fault. Me personally. That I'd failed you because I didn't get there soon enough."

"I was afraid you would feel like that," Baxter said. "Have you told the other Turtles?"

"I told Leonardo," Michelangelo said. "It's stupid, though, when you're okay and all. You didn't even need saving."

"Maybe not at that moment, but I doubt I could have gotten out of that mansion without your and the other Turtles' help," Baxter said.

"I guess," Michelangelo said noncommittally.

"You definitely helped," Baxter insisted. "I'm glad you were there. I'm only sorry your heart had to be hurt again."

"Oh, that doesn't ma- . . ." Michelangelo trailed off. "Sorry, Bud."

Baxter gave him a sad smile. "It may not matter to you, Michelangelo, but it does to everyone who loves you."

"I know, I know." Michelangelo sighed. "And of course I wish it hadn't happened for my sake too. It was so totally not fun."

"Hopefully nothing like that will happen again," Baxter said.

"Mondo notion," Michelangelo said. "I think that guy is gonna be in the asylum for a long time. And I don't know of any other nutcases like that. Well, real ones anyway."

Baxter sighed. "With our luck, we might find some," he remarked.

"Or something worse!" Michelangelo said. "Especially at Halloween season. Anything could happen!"

That brought a wry chuckle. "How I wish I could disagree with you right now, my friend. Although I can say that with us, it seems it doesn't need to be Halloween season for everything to turn upsidedown and backwards!"

"That's true," Michelangelo frowned. "I wonder why we have so much bad luck."

"I suppose you could say that we have good luck, since we've successfully come through all of our odd experiences," Baxter remarked.

"Yeah. . . ." Michelangelo smiled a bit. "It used to be me saying stuff like that to you when you were feeling cynical."

"You taught me well," Baxter said softly. The irony was not lost on him. And the sadness. "Maybe soon you will be back to feeling similarly."

"I hope so," Michelangelo said. "Hey, I'm looking forward to Halloween, at least!"

Baxter had to chuckle. "I figured what happened hadn't diminished your enthusiasm for that."

"Oh, no way, Compadre! Halloween is one of the most radical holidays of the year. I'll always love it."

"I'm glad," Baxter said in all sincerity.

"Is Barney going to do stuff for Halloween, like we talked about?" Michelangelo hopefully asked.

"I think we've convinced him to try passing out candy," Baxter said. "Although it will probably mostly be Vincent doing that. And I'll likely help."

"Gnarly! Are there lots of kids in the neighborhood?"

Baxter paused. "You know, I'm honestly not sure," he realized. "Barney isn't very social and the neighbors don't often come by."

"That's kinda sad," Michelangelo said. "Well, maybe Halloween will change that!"

"I think it might," Baxter smiled. "Vincent wants to start decorating soon, but he's hoping for Barney to start feeling better first."

"Totally understandable," Michelangelo said. "But hey, maybe decorating would help!"

"I'm not so sure of that, but maybe I can suggest it to Barney," Baxter said. "I don't think he's very interested in the idea, but he's willing to go along with it for Vincent's sake. And if he starts doing it, he might actually find he enjoys it."

"I would totally love to be a part of that party!" Michelangelo exclaimed. "Er, well, if it isn't a brothers-only thing."

"I'm sure you'd be welcome," Baxter said. "And you have the most expertise with decorating."

"Oh, for sure," Michelangelo said. "I've been making the Lair Halloween-appropriate for weeks!"

"Yes, I know," Baxter laughed. An image of Barney accidentally walking into part of a fake web on the previous night flashed through his mind. His expression had been endearingly priceless.

"Yeah. Like, Splinter's not so crazy about it, though," Michelangelo said.

"But he's willing to put up with it because he loves you," Baxter said.

"Which is pretty bodacious," Michelangelo proclaimed.

"It is," Baxter said.

"Oh, it looks like the guys and Splinter are ready to leave," Michelangelo said, glancing over his shoulder. "We'll be there in a few minutes!"

"Alright," Baxter smiled.

They said Goodbye and hung up. As Baxter set the Turtle-Comm on the table in front of him, he leaned back and relaxed as the autumn wind blew through his hair. It was a peaceful evening. And if Vincent could help Barney feel better, it would be perfect.

xxxx

Vincent frowned to himself as he walked down the hall. Barney had wanted to stay in his laboratory for a while longer, and Vincent had decided he needed some time alone to think about what they had talked about, so he had left his brother there and was off to find his other brother. The Turtles and Splinter would probably arrive soon; they were going to visit a while and then have dinner.

Something felt off, though, albeit Vincent couldn't tell what it was. He placed his hand on the wall. Yes . . . something in the very vibrations of the wall was wrong. A security breach? But how was that possible? How could he not know if something was wrong with the security or the Smart Home system? He was connected to all of it.

He sent out a message to all the other machines. What's wrong?

Before anything could reply, something hard and cold pressed against the back of the laptop lid. "What . . ." The pain shot through him and he knew-someone was holding U-shaped magnets against the laptop. He reached behind him, desperate to push the assailant away, but they were insistent. He slumped down with a groan as the pain pushed him into unconsciousness.

xxxx

Barney sighed tiredly as he removed the last traces of his random chemistry experiment. It had felt good to talk to Vincent, but he was still drained from everything. It would take him a while to get back to normal again, he supposed, just as he counseled Michelangelo and others when things went wrong.

An ominous click brought his attention up towards the door. "Vincent?" he called.

"No." An eerily familiar voice, but one he couldn't place. When a figure stepped into the room, black hair a mess, eyes cold, and a heavy hunting crossbow on one arm, Barney went stiff. "Oh, you remember me, Professor?" His eyes gleamed.

"Of course I remember you, Johnny." Barney tried to resist the urge to take a step back and show his fear. Johnny had been brought to him years ago with social difficulties. Barney had thought he had got the problem under control, but to see Johnny now, it was obvious something was seriously wrong. Barney had the sinking feeling that he was both capable and ready to use that crossbow.

"Then just get over there." Johnny indicated the other side of the table.

"Why, Johnny?" Barney returned.

"Why?! Because I told you to!" Johnny snarled. "Just do it!" He raised the crossbow to point at Barney's heart.

Barney wasn't about to argue. But as he moved, he said, "What happened? I thought you were happy."

"I was happy," Johnny replied. "But I'm not now. And you're going to pay for it. You, and everyone else who has a brother!"

A horrified chill ran up Barney's spine. "What are you talking about, Johnny? What do brothers have to do with this?"

"Everything!" Johnny roared. "Now turn off the lights and be quiet until your brother comes. He will. I promise he will. And when he does, you just better make him go away no matter what or I'll shoot him down." To Barney's shock, Johnny scrambled on top of the table, then the locker, and from there, up into the rafters. There weren't rooms above the laboratory, as it jutted out from the rest of the house. Barney had given the laboratory a far higher ceiling than any other room in the house, but some aspects of the architecture had remained unfinished. Mainly, the catwalk on which Johnny had now positioned himself.

He would have to finish it later, he determined.

If there was a later. . . .

"I told you to turn off the lights!" Johnny boomed.

Barney's heart was frantically pounding in his chest as he obeyed the wild command. Somehow he had to get Johnny to stop this. But deep down, he was afraid it was impossible. Johnny could not be reasoned with. And he would make good on his vow, there was very little doubt of that.

Please don't let Baxter come in here. Please, God. . . .

But he was sure it would happen. Unless he could figure out a way to get Johnny overpowered, someone was probably going to be hurt. And it couldn't be Baxter. Never again!

He ran a hand over his face without thinking.

"I also told you not to move," Johnny said. "Are you looking to get shot yourself?"

"No," Barney said. "But I don't want my brother shot either."

"Then you'll do whatever it takes to get him to stay out of here, won't you?" Johnny said.

Barney swallowed hard. "If it will keep him safe."

"There are many different ways to be hurt. Isn't that what you told me in the past?"

It was chilling to hear his words thrown back at him in such a merciless tone. "Yes," Barney said.

"Then that's what I'm counting on."

"What do you have against us?" Barney couldn't refrain from asking. "I only tried to help you, not hurt you! And you never even met Baxter!"

"The only thing I have against you is that you're brothers," Johnny said. "And that you love each other. If you didn't care, you wouldn't be in danger right now."

Barney's blood ran colder than ever. "Isn't there something I can do to help you now, Johnny?" he pleaded.

"Just do what you're told." There was nothing in Johnny's voice now. It was as cold as his words.

Barney kept desperately praying in his heart, but he had the feeling things were still set to go all wrong. If he didn't follow orders exactly, Baxter would die. And that was never acceptable. He had to protect his brother at any cost.

xxxx

Baxter came inside when he heard the Turtle Van pull up down below. He hurried down the stairs, idly wondering where Vincent was and if Barney was still in his laboratory. But then he was opening the door to the Turtles and Splinter and being caught up in greetings for the moment.

"How have things been today?" Baxter asked.

"Oh, pretty average," Michelangelo said. "But by that I mean totally bodacious!" He grinned. "We scarfed pizza and watched horror flicks on TV! Now that's the way to spend October!"

"He passed up the chance to watch House of Wax, though," Raphael interjected.

"Completely understandably," Baxter shuddered.

"So, where's Barney and Vince?" Raphael wondered.

Baxter glanced over his shoulder. "They must be around here somewhere. I'll go find Barney; I think he's still in the laboratory."

"Okay," Raphael nodded. "And we'll spread out and look for Vince."

Baxter was agreeable to that. He headed off down the main hall while the Turtles and Splinter took another route that would lead to the back hall.

"Boy, it's pretty funny, isn't it?" Raphael commented.

"What is?" Leonardo blinked.

"That we know our way all around this place." Raphael looked amused. "Once upon a time, we'd only seen the living room and maybe a bedroom or two."

"Things change," Leonardo said. "In this case, for the better."

"You said it," Donatello agreed.

"Everything sure is mondo quiet, though," Michelangelo frowned. "I can't shake the feeling that something's wrong."

Splinter frowned too. "I feel it as well. This is not a natural quiet."

"Well, of course something's wrong," Raphael countered. "Barney's still bent out of shape from the wax musuem escapade and you're not feeling too great yourself, Michelangelo."

"Which is also completely understandable," Leonardo said.

"Like, totally," Michelangelo said. "Now if he wasn't upset, then I might be a little worried, but . . . holy guacamole!"

Everyone snapped to attention. Michelangelo was running over to Vincent, who was sprawled on the floor. The others immediately followed suit.

"What's going on, Michelangelo?!" Raphael demanded. "How is he?"

"He's . . . I don't know!" Michelangelo cried. "His eyes are closed. . . . How do you tell if a computer is okay?!"

Donatello took over. "Vincent?" He laid a hand on Vincent's shoulder. "Vincent, can you hear us?"

After a moment the lights on the laptop started to move and Vincent groaned. "Oh . . . someone's in here," he mumbled.

"Who?!" Raphael exclaimed.

"I don't know." Vincent shakily sat up. "He came up behind me and just pressed U-shaped magnets against the laptop, enough of them to knock me out from the pain." Then he snapped fully to attention. "Maybe he went after Barney next!"

Raphael drew his sais. "Well, let's go find out," he growled.

"I'm coming with you," Vincent insisted.

Michelangelo and Donatello quickly helped him up. "Are you sure you're okay, Dude?" Michelangelo asked in concern.

"A slight lingering pain, but it'll pass," Vincent said. "He probably has something much worse in mind for Barney! Maybe Baxter too."

"Baxter went to check on Barney," Leonardo worried. He pulled out his katanas. "Let's get to the lab."

No one argued.

xxxx

Barney's stomach was tied up in knots. He didn't dare move, and the few times he tried to talk further to Johnny were met with the crossbow pointed at him and a snarled, "Shut up!" He got the message. For some time he had just been standing there, heart pounding, still praying for Baxter not to come in and trying to think of a way to get the upper hand over this intruder. Any sudden moves could cause the crossbow to fire, so he had to be very careful.

There were hidden traps in the room. He could try to spring one of them, if he could just get close enough to the trigger. The problem was that he wasn't close to any of the triggers. And even shifting his weight was enough to make Johnny snarl.

Maybe the traps wouldn't even work. He was still trying to figure out how Johnny had managed to get in, and it seemed there were only two options. Either he had hacked into the Smart Home service and disabled it or he had somehow sneaked past it altogether. If he had hacked it, surely Vincent would have known. But could he have gotten in without setting anything off?

Vincent must be hurt. He had likely known something was wrong and had been overpowered. This person was merciless. What if Vincent wasn't just hurt? What if he was . . .

Two of the sounds Barney had been dreading most interrupted his thoughts. A knock came at the door, followed by a concerned voice. "Barney?"

Barney swore in his mind. "I'm fine, Baxter," he called back, trying to keep his voice even.

"You've been in there a long time. . . ." Baxter started to open the door.

"Stop it!" Barney snapped in sheer desperation.

Above him, Johnny shifted on the catwalk. "Don't tell him about me," he hissed. "Get him out of here."

Baxter let the door swing open. The light from the hall showed the hurt and confusion in his eyes. "Barney, why are you standing here in the dark?"

"Because I was just leaving," Barney retorted.

"Oh. Then we can go together," Baxter said.

"No," Barney barked.

Baxter frowned. "Vincent and I have both been worried about you lately, Barney. You've been so subdued ever since we got back from Monroe Q. Flem's mansion."

Barney clenched a fist. "I want you to go, Baxter."

Baxter stopped, frowning. "Why?"

"I . . ." Barney stayed in the shadows, refusing to come forward. "I don't want you here any longer." Only he saw the wretched madman high above him in the rafters, his weapon trained on Baxter if he refused to leave.

Baxter took a step forward. "Something's wrong. What is it?"

"I . . ." Barney's heart was racing. He saw Johnny move, readying himself to pull the trigger. He had to say something, anything, to make Baxter go away. And in his panic and desperation, the only thing that came to mind was horrible. "I'm through with this brother nonsense. Don't you understand?! I hate you, Brother. I hate you! You thought it all through the years. You were right! The last few months . . . it was all just an act!"

He didn't want to look, but he had to keep watching, to keep making sure the wretch above him didn't fire. He saw Baxter flinch and stare at him with a look he had never wanted to see again. It was worse this time, because now something new had been added. He saw betrayal and shattered trust in his twin's eyes.

But almost immediately the look was gone. "Barney, what on Earth is wrong?!" Baxter cried. "Why are you acting like this?! I know it's not true! The last few months could never have been an act! I know you love me! I know you never hated me!"

Even as he was stunned, amazed, and relieved that Baxter didn't believe it, Barney's nerves were stretching in his panic. He lunged, physically pushing Baxter out of the room. "Baxter, get out of here!" he screamed.

Baxter fell to the floor, shocked. The door slammed shut and a strange thud and a horrific crash came from the other side of the door.

Baxter was back on his feet in an instant. "Barney!" He pounded frantically on the door. "Barney!"

The Turtles, Splinter, and Vincent ran around the corner and over to him. "Baxter, what's happening?!" Leonardo gasped.

"We like, found Vincent lying knocked out in the back hall!" Michelangelo exclaimed.

Baxter immediately looked over, his eyes filled with worry, but Vincent seemed fine now. Baxter's attention went back to his worry over his twin.

"I don't know!" he wailed. "Barney was talking very strangely, saying that he hated me and everything has been an act. But I think he was trying to get me out of the room. He finally pushed me out and I heard some horrible sounds. I'm afraid he may have been hurt!"

Vincent immediately pulled Baxter away from the door. "Let the Turtles go in," he said.

Baxter stumbled. "But . . ."

"Barney wanted to keep you safe." Vincent held Baxter close. "Whether he was hurt or not, please don't let that be in vain."

Splinter nodded. "I agree."

"I'm sure he's okay!" Michelangelo exclaimed, although he really wasn't sure at all.

The Turtles broke through the door in the next moment. Johnny was flying down from the rafters, firing at them now. Instead of a gun, as they might have expected, his weapon was a very large and very deadly hunting crossbow. Leonardo held up his katanas and crossed them, sending the ammunition back at him and just over his shoulder to hit the wall. Raphael and Donatello leaped in the air, knocking the crossbow out of his hands. Michelangelo threw his nunchucks, wrapping them around the man's legs and bringing him down.

"Alright," Leonardo snarled. "Now, what were you trying to do?"

Johnny looked up with darkness in his eyes. "You ruined it," he snarled.

"Good for us," Raphael said in disgust.

Leonardo let the light from the hall gleam on his katana. "Answer me!" he ordered. "What were you trying to do?!"

"I wanted something horrible to happen that would divide them," Johnny explained. "Everything was going so perfectly until Baxter wouldn't believe Barney's lies."

"Why would you want that?!" Leonardo brought the tip of one katana to the back of the wretch's neck.

"My brother and I will never be reunited," was the hissed reply. "I didn't want to see them have what I never can. No one should have it if I can't!"

Leonardo's eyes flashed. "You're sick." He pulled the katana away, danger and warnings in his eyes.

"Yeah, it's no wonder Barney tried what he did to get Baxter to leave," Raphael said in disgust. "He knew there was no reasoning with someone like you."

Michelangelo was frowning. "Like, why won't you and your bro ever be reunited, Dude?"

"Because he's dead," the man snarled back. "So I wanted at least one of these brothers to die, figuratively if not literally."

"That's disgusting," Donatello said. "Then what? You'd try to kill all the brothers in the world?!"

No response, just a cold glare.

Donatello's blood went chill. "He really would," he whispered in horror. "He doesn't care about anyone's feelings. Maybe he never did."

Michelangelo swallowed hard. "Like the killer in Halloween?"

"The old one, yeah," Donatello shakily nodded.

Baxter had been desperately looking at the darkened room from the doorway, trying to see where Barney had fallen. Now he caught sight of what looked like a lifeless body sprawled on the other side of the doorway. "Barney!" he screamed. He broke away from Vincent and ran over to his twin. "Barney, no. . . ." He fell to his knees, feeling along Barney's back for torn clothing or a wound.

Vincent ran over too, the laptop lighting up the area. "I don't see any wounds," he announced in relief. "And there's a bolt stuck in the door. Maybe he hit his head on that table while trying to dive away from it."

"Or while pushing me away from it. . . ." Baxter shakily felt for a pulse. "He's alive," he whispered. Gently he lifted Barney into his arms. "Barney, please . . . wake up. . . ." He held Barney close. "You could never convince me you hate me. Not anymore. And all of this . . . all of those horrible words . . . were said because of love."

Barney stirred, looking up blearily at his brother. "You . . . you're not mad at all?" he rasped.

"How could I be mad?" Baxter said softly. "Oh Barney. . . ." He hugged him gently. "You were trying to save my life. . . ."

"But to save it by crushing your heart . . . how could that ever be right?" Barney didn't return the hug. "I might have saved your body but still destroyed you in another way, a worse way. I was so selfish to feel that I would be willing to do anything to keep you from being shot, even to tell the worst lies possible. . . ."

"You were so desperate to get me to leave," Baxter said. "Apparently you couldn't tell me about that lunatic. You had to say something, anything, that would make me go. In your panic, you thought that would. You just weren't counting on it not working."

Barney closed his eyes. "Baxter. . . . You're a fool to not be angry with me."

"I'm more upset with myself," Baxter said. "I almost got you shot!"

Barney growled. "I saw the look in your eyes. Even if only for a moment, you thought what I was saying was the truth."

"No," Baxter said firmly. "You shocked me so much that for that moment, I couldn't think of anything but those words. When I could really process it, I knew it wasn't true."

Barney was silent for a long moment. Then he knelt up and pulled Baxter into a tight hug. "I love you . . . so much. . . ."

"I know," Baxter said softly. "And that's why I can easily forgive what happened. I love you too, my dear brother."

Vincent beamed. So did Michelangelo.

"Alright!" the Turtle exclaimed. "So everything's totally bodacious again!"

"Yes," Baxter agreed. "It is."

Barney didn't argue.

". . . I didn't even realize what was actually wrong with him," he whispered finally. "Not until tonight. I treated him for something else, but in actuality, he must have antisocial personality disorder."

Michelangelo blinked in confusion. "Antisocial . . . what? Doesn't that mean he just hates being around people or something?"

"If only that were all," Barney replied. "Antisocial personality disorder means something far worse than a simple dislike of social situations or being around people. He hid it well all through the years, but it's out now. He has no empathy for people. He's what would be colloquially called a psychopath."

Michelangelo shuddered. "That's what Donatello was saying. He really must have cared about his bro, though, or that wouldn't have made him snap."

"That's likely true," Barney said. He sounded blank. "There are rare psychopaths who have empathy for one or more people, but none for anyone else. I always felt there was genuine love for his brother there. I made mistakes about his diagnosis, but I don't think I misread the sibling love."

"Barney, it's not your fault you didn't see the real problem," Vincent said in concern. "People like that hide their true selves so well. They're chillingly amazing actors. They pretend to have feelings they really don't."

"But if I'd realized . . ." Barney shook his head. "He might not have been able to prey on us tonight."

Baxter hugged him close. "Everything's alright, Barney. We'll all recover from this. And now it's obvious what his problem is. He won't be able to go after anyone else."

"I'll try to see it that way," Barney said. He still sounded numb.

"So . . . someone like that . . ." Raphael finally spoke. "Does he really know what he's doing is wrong and doesn't care?"

"Some are like that," Barney said. "It certainly looks like he is. He thinks he's above the law. Others honestly don't understand or can't comprehend their actions are wrong because of the inability to empathize."

"That's kinda sad," Michelangelo frowned. "But about this guy . . . I don't feel sorry for him if he knew and didn't care. I just can't."

"I am afraid even I struggle, when I think of what he was trying to do and what could have happened," Splinter said. "He was trying to hurt all of the Stockmans. You, my sons, could have been next."

"I can't deny I've been thinking about that," Leonardo said.

"I'm sure we all have," Donatello said.

"I think," Splinter said quietly, "we all need the love and support of each other right now."

The Turtles looked at each other. They were certainly all shaken.

"He was really gonna try to separate or kill all brothers," Michelangelo whispered in horror. "Starting with our best buds. . . ."

Leonardo laid a firm hand on his shoulder. "And he didn't succeed." But his voice cracked. He had been so furious and sickened by the sheer evil of the man. Now it was starting to sink in that not only could Baxter or Barney have been killed, but some or all of Leonardo's brothers as well.

Unless Johnny only tried to kill biological brothers. Vincent had merely been knocked out to put him out of the way. But no matter what Johnny had intended, it was heartless the likes of which Leonardo could not even begin to comprehend. Nor could any of the others.

"Let's go in the living room," Barney said quietly. "I'll call the police and we'll wait there." He slowly got to his feet.

The others followed.

xxxx

The next hours were a blur. The police arrived, arrested Johnny, and took statements from everyone. Michelangelo ordered pizza and they ate in the living room, shaken, staring blankly around the room and sometimes talking, but mostly preferring silence. That continued long after the food had been consumed.

"It's kind of funny," Michelangelo said at one point.

"What is?" Donatello asked.

"You guys are always encouraging me to talk about stuff, but now nobody feels like talking much and nobody's trying to make them," Michelangelo sighed.

Baxter gave him a gentle smile. "No one needs to talk," he said softly. "Maybe there really aren't words to say. I think right now . . . all that we really need is being with each other."

Michelangelo smiled a bit in turn. "Yeah. . . . That sounds about right."

No one was quite sure when they fell asleep. One by one they slowly dropped off as the night wore on.

Michelangelo's cry startled everyone awake.

"What is it, my son?" Splinter exclaimed.

Michelangelo trembled on the couch, his hands over his eyes. "It was me flying down from the rafters," he whispered. "I attacked everyone, just like before."

"But you didn't, Michelangelo," Leonardo said firmly. "It was only a nightmare."

"And being mind-controlled is nothing like that man," Baxter said. "He was fully aware of what he was doing and he did it anyway. He didn't care!"

"While you care so much," Splinter said.

Michelangelo slowly looked up. "Do you think . . . he ever has nightmares?"

"Not about what he did or was going to do," Barney said. "If he did, it would only be about what could happen to him because he did it. He has no guilt for what he does. He would have no need of nightmares about the pain he was causing. It's those who feel and love and hurt who experience such nightmares."

Michelangelo frowned. "Does that mean I should be glad I'm having them?"

"At least because it means you could never be like that man," Baxter said.

Michelangelo considered that and finally nodded. "I can live with that." He shuddered. "But I don't think I wanna watch Halloween again this year. . . ."

Baxter laid a hand on his shoulder. "I think, of all the horror films you've watched, that has to be the most frightening. Unlike all the bizarre science-fiction creatures, the villain in Halloween could really exist."

"And that is so truly terrifying," Michelangelo agreed. "Maybe tomorrow night I should watch Charlie Brown or something."

"Like I said, Michelangelo took Leonardo's advice on watching kiddie cartoons to heart," Raphael remarked.

"At least sometimes," Donatello added.

"Probably for the better," Leonardo said.

"Although that one's kinda depressing, actually," Michelangelo frowned. "I mean, why would all those adults give rocks to a little kid?! It was funny maybe once, but at every house?! That was just bizarro and stupid! And kind of demented! People wouldn't treat a kid like that! What the heck was up with the guy who wrote that?!"

Baxter had to laugh. "To be honest, I never cared for that holiday special either," he admitted. "I felt so sorry for the boy."

"Maybe Garfield," Michelangelo mused. "Yeah, that's a holiday special that isn't depressing."

"Well," Raphael yawned, "I'm not crazy about kiddie cartoons, but maybe they sound good after this."

"Totally," Michelangelo said.

Eventually everyone slipped off to sleep again. None of them particularly wanted to leave; they preferred the security of their loved ones close at hand. And so they stayed.

Barney found himself waking up an indeterminable time later, slumped against Vincent on the couch. Vincent was holding him close with one arm while the other arm rested on Baxter, who was asleep with his head on Vincent's lap. The Turtles, Barney noted as he roused up more, were sprawled over the other couch and a chair. Michelangelo had fallen asleep on Splinter.

"What time is it?" Barney mumbled when he saw that Vincent was stirring.

"3:27 A.M.," Vincent answered. Always precise. "How are you feeling, Buddy?"

"I still wish I'd recognized the truth about Johnny," Barney frowned. "He was brought to me years ago by his brother. Johnny had always had social problems, but at the time, no one thought it was anything that serious. They were sure I could help, and . . . well, in my youthful arrogance, I thought so too. I even thought I'd fixed it. He fooled everyone that well."

"And you didn't see him again until tonight?" Vincent softly asked.

"His brother occasionally wrote to me with progress reports," Barney said. "He must have just died recently; I doubt Johnny would have stewed with this for very long before acting. He probably heard that Baxter and I were no longer estranged and decided to make us his first victims. He said as much."

"I hate him," Vincent said. "I have never heard tell of anything so selfish."

"It was also selfish when I tried to make the entire world pay for what happened to me," Baxter said, rising up from Vincent's lap. From his clarity, he had been awake for at least a few minutes.

"You were insane, Pal," Vincent said. "Johnny isn't."

"That's right," Barney nodded. "He has a mental illness, but he's not insane."

"Nor was I," Vincent said quietly.

Baxter hugged him. "We've all grown so much since those days."

Vincent returned the hug. "Do you think anything can be done for Johnny?"

Barney sighed. "It's hard to say, especially when people like him can fake feelings. Some people believe there's hope, but if someone is actually born without the ability to empathize with others, it's almost impossible to help them genuinely learn it."

"Well, I hope at least he won't ever be allowed to roam free," Vincent muttered.

Baxter looked over at the sleeping Turtles and Splinter. "I'm worried about how what happened will affect them," he said. "Especially Michelangelo. For someone so innocent to see someone so determined to separate and murder all brothers . . . ! And after what Michelangelo has already gone through the last couple of months. . . ." He shook his head.

"It's going to take a while for all of us," Barney said. "But I'm worried about Michelangelo too, especially after that nightmare. He shouldn't be seeing himself in Johnny's position."

"Maybe if we get our minds on something else . . . like the decorating Vincent wanted to do here," Baxter said slowly. "Michelangelo wanted to help with that."

"Maybe," Barney agreed with a slow nod. "We can try it." He paused. "But no fake webs where people can walk into them!"

"I'm sure he'll be agreeable to that," Baxter said with a chuckle.

Barney sighed, looking tired. "I've been thinking, Baxter. Why have I never been able to help you through conventional means? In the past, I could never admit I was trying to help you. I was too prideful and angry. I'm not even sure I realized myself that I was trying to help you. I watched over you from afar, unless I was criticizing you and putting you down out of utter frustration over what you were doing. No one would think I was really trying to look out for you. And now tonight, I basically did the same thing again, only out of fear and panic instead of frustration. And this time I was trying to make you think I hated you. I never actually tried to do that in the past, even though I know it sounded like it."

"You always tried to help me the only ways you could think how," Baxter said. "In the past, that was by not betraying your pride and anger. Tonight, it was indeed born of sheer panic. You were dealing with something truly evil and you had to keep me away from it at all costs."

"Does that make it right?" Barney growled.

"It makes it understandable," Baxter insisted. "And human."

Barney didn't look entirely convinced, but at the same time he looked moved. "You've always been so good to me. Better than I usually was to you."

"I'm just glad I know the truth now," Baxter said. "You were always looking out for me."

Barney slowly nodded.

"And like Baxter said, you've both grown so much," Vincent said. "Barney, you said what you said out of love, and you knew it was out of love. And Baxter, you didn't understand what was going on, but you knew Barney loves you and that he couldn't possibly mean what he said." He beamed. "I'm so proud."

"I was . . . stunned . . . when you didn't believe it," Barney said to Baxter. "I thought I'd irreparably crushed you for sure."

"In the past, I'm sure it would have worked," Baxter said softly. "But after the past year, it couldn't."

"After the past year, I knew I was spouting lies," Barney said. "And I hated it with every fiber of my heart."

Baxter smiled but then sobered. "You'll be alright, won't you, Barney?"

"In time," Barney said. "Especially since you didn't believe my words." He peered at Baxter. "And you're really alright?"

"Yes," Baxter said firmly. "The words were horrible and haunting, but I won't be able to think of them without also thinking of the entire story. I'll always remember that my brother was trying to save me."

The ghost of a smile played on Barney's lips. "I'll try to think of it like that."

"You should," Vincent encouraged. "It's true."

"Yes . . . it is." Barney looked back at their guests. "I wonder if we should wake them up."

"If they're comfortable the way they are, we might as well not," Vincent said.

"What about you, Barney?" Baxter asked. "Do you want to go upstairs?"

Barney paused, pondering on the question. The truth was, he honestly wasn't sure he wanted to be alone right now. But he also wasn't sure he wanted to admit it. He was a grown man. He wasn't supposed to find it unsettling to be alone. But remembering being in that darkened room with Johnny, knowing he was up there with his crossbow, ready and willing to fire at Baxter if he came and didn't leave. . . .

"We can keep staying here for now," Vincent soothed.

Barney slowly leaned back into the couch. "Maybe that would be just as well," he said. "Instead of just leaving our guests down here like this."

Baxter smiled a bit.

Vincent placed an arm around each brother. It was fine with him to stay there with them. He could certainly tell Barney didn't want to be alone, as could Baxter. But it didn't have to be pointed out right now. Maybe later he would tell Barney that it was alright even for grown men to not want to be alone after dealing with something so disturbing.

Right now, he just relaxed with them both until they all dozed again.