"What the heck is she doing here?"

Raphael ignored Michelangelo's reaction to Mystique's presence. They had all just gathered by the cliff where their vehicles were waiting for them. Spider-Man was in the back of the van, looking after Kurt, and Donatello was already approaching Raphael, attempting to look after his bullet wound.

"Not me, chump," Raphael told him, pushing him away. Pointing towards Mystique, he said, "I can walk. She ain't even conscious anymore. I think ya should look over her first to make sure no one's gonna be dyin' on us." After receiving a nod from Wolverine, Donatello motioned him towards a stretch of grass to lay her down on.

"Seriously, bro," Michelangelo told Raphael in a loud whisper. "Why's she here? She brainwashed you or something? You do remember that she was a bit obsessed with the whole 'morph-into-Mikey' bit, right?"

Ignoring Michelangelo once again, Raphael sat down on the ground, relieved to get some of the pressure off his injured leg. When Leonardo crouched down besides him, Raphael quietly asked, "Leo... what happened? How'd ya get caught?"

Leonardo searched his brother's eyes for a moment, fairly certain that Raphael had already pieced together a lot of the story. "She led me right to where she had seen Nightcrawler last. There were plans, schematics... we pieced together what had happened to him just as some of Bishop's men found us. We fought for a bit before realizing we needed to retreat, and someone shot a dart or something at me. I'm guessing it was meant to take me down, but all it did was shatter the tracer I was wearing." Leonardo remained quiet for a moment, turning to look to where Donatello and Wolverine were doing what they could with Mystique. "I got caught, but not before she took a few bad hits for me. She was counting on me to save Nightcrawler. That's what she kept saying. When she saw that I was already taken out, she ran off."

"She ran into the room we were in just when you got popped out of the picture," Michelangelo continued. "She told us what had happened and said to be careful of Nightcrawler because Bishop was using his powers. Then Little Boy Blue came in, and we stayed behind him, since the camera he was wearing was on the front of that weird collar around his neck. We came up with a plan and when we were ready, Donnie and I hitched a ride while Spidey took Mystique back the long way. The rest is pretty much history."

Raphael looked down, considering the story. So... Mystique had the chance to escape numerous times and still stuck around for Nightcrawler. For her son. Feeling Leonardo's hand on his shoulder, Raphael looked up. "I was hoping you wouldn't leave her behind, Raph. Thanks."

"Yeah," Michelangelo agreed. "She ain't perfect, but she's Kurt's mama. That doesn't mean I trust her anymore than I can throw her, though!"

"She's fairly light," Logan said, stepping up behind the group of turtles. "Ya might be able to hurl her pretty far, if ya had reason to."

"How's she holdin' up?" Raphael asked.

Joining the others, Donatello remarked, "She'll be fine. I've patched up the open wounds, but she's still badly bruised. As far as I can tell, nothing's broken and it doesn't seem like she has a concussion, though I haven't got the equipment to look for fractures." Casting a sideways glance at Wolverine, he asked, "I don't suppose you know of some doctors who wouldn't freak out at the thought of treating a blue mutant, do you?"

"I reckon you'll meet up with some of our docs eventually, especially if we're goin' on anymore 'a these little excursions together," Logan answered. "I won't bother usin' my contacts on Mystique though."

"What?" Raphael barked out, jumping to his feet. "After ya made me feel guilty about what would happen to her, you're gonna just ditch her without givin' her some medical treatment?!"

"Cool your jets, runt," Logan smirked. "Nobody asked ya to go softie on me to begin with. All I'm sayin' is that doctors ain't never been Mystique's way, at least not any 'a the doctors I'd take her to. She's got her own contacts, 'n she's welcome to use 'em. And even if she wasn't, she'll do it anyway. I told ya before, she's got her own reasons for doin' things. What matters is that ya gave her the chance to live 'n keep doin' em, or to learn 'n do things different."

"I didn't know they still gave after-school specials," Peter remarked.

The others turned to see Peter once again in his civilian clothing, helping a clearly worn out Kurt disembark from the van. Some bandages covered the wounds that have been made on his torso, and he had a blanket draped over him to shield him from the cold. Kurt smiled a little upon seeing the turtles' concerned looks. "If I had known that my emergence would attract an audience, I would have charged for tickets."

"Kurt, you're okay!" Michelangelo exclaimed.

"Of course," Kurt explained. "I was lucky. You managed to take me out of there before any invasive surgery could be done. And somehow Parker here has figured out how to remove the collar without blowing up half the country. All that remains is the rather uncomfortable traces of illness and fatigue from being forced to teleport so many people so frequently."

"But... you're still bandaged up," Leonardo stated.

Kurt looked down for a moment, his golden eyes shining a little in the coming twilight. He didn't need to say anything else. If he hadn't been hurt due to a surgical procedure, then it had happened during battle... or during torture.

"Nightcrawler," Raphael told him solemnly. "I'm sorry. If I hadn't jumped in after Mikey instead 'a just trustin' that you'd help him, we wouldn't have been split up, and maybe none 'a this woulda ever happened-"

"Oh, shut up, Junior," Logan interrupted. "Elf brought it upon himself by volunteerin' to come with us. And if he hightails it, he's still gotta chance to say goodbye to his mom. She ain't get too far yet." Surprised, the others looked to where Mystique had been left, presumably unconscious. There was no trace of her.

"Impossible!" Donatello proclaimed. "She couldn't have been able to move! She was hurt way too-" Seeing Kurt's downcast eyes, Donatello backtracked with, "Uh, actually, maybe she could. I could have been wrong in gauging her injuries."

"That doesn't matter!" Raphael protested. "She up 'n left! She didn't even say goodbye to Kurt! After I stuck my neck out 'n-"

"It is quite all right, Raphael," Kurt said quietly. A very small smile was on his face as he thought about the woman that he knew as his mother. "As Logan said, she has her reasons for doing what she does. She keeps her distance from me, perhaps because she is still not ready to accept the consequences of bearing a son whose ideals are so different from hers. But I have faith that one day, whether in this life or the next, she will be ready... and I pray for the strength to accept her and give her a chance." Looking up to Raphael, he concluded with, "After all, if you were able to do so, then I can only hope that I can emulate that strength."

Raphael was startled by Kurt's frank appraisal of his actions. Strength? Did it really take strength to safe the life of one that he had considered an enemy? Then if so, maybe he and his brothers were already stronger than they had imagined.

"Hello?" Michelangelo queried. "We helped too, didn't we? I mean, I'm the one that pointed out the crystal to begin with, and Donnie and Leo busted us out of our cages, and-"

"Put a sock in it, Mikey," Peter told him good-naturedly. "We're short on time, anyway. Kurt should be resting, but he wanted to come out and say goodbye before we went our separate ways."

"We're splittin' up?" Raphael asked.

"Simplest thing to do," Leonardo responded. "Donnie and I have got the helicopter stashed not too far away. Let the superheroes go their way and we go our own."

"Pfft," Michelangelo remarked, "you're acting like there's a difference between us. Honorary Avengers, remember? So what if our membership cards got lost in the mail?"

"Besides," Donatello added, moving to help Raphael stand up, "I'd like to look at your wound as soon as possible. And since I managed to pocket a few shards of this supposed 'Utrom crystal,' I'd like to run some tests on it and see exactly what it was that Bishop had intended to do."

Allowing for Donatello to hold him up, Raphael looked at the image inducer that was still strapped to his wrist, albeit it a little broken after all of the smashing about. "I guess I better give this back to ya," he told Logan. "Shame I didn't get the chance to use it much."

"Ya kiddin'?" Logan asked. "Keep it. Compliments 'a Stark Enterprises. Maybe Don can tinker with it for a bit and figure out a way to make one for each 'a ya. It would probably make your lives a little easier."

"What is it?" Leonardo asked.

"Can ya eat it?" Michelangelo brought up. "I'm starved."

"Way to rush a goodbye, Mikey," Donatello told him jokingly. Turning to Peter and Kurt, he said, "Thanks for keeping us in the loop about what was happening, guys. Considering how banged up we got, I'd hate to think of what would've happened to Raph and Wolverine if they had stormed in on their own."

"Don't mention it," Peter replied.

"At least not until I have had a few days to sleep it off," Kurt remarked, slowly headed back to the van. Flashing a wave towards the turtles, he said, "Have a safe trip. We should arrange a meeting that does not involve any mad scientists, ja?"

As the turtles bade Kurt and Peter farewell, Raphael and Logan glanced at one another. Holding a hand out for Raphael to shake, Logan told him, "Ya did good today, Junior. Gimme a call when ya want me to be the sidekick next time."

"Yeah right," Raphael scoffed, shaking Logan's hand nonetheless. "Maybe I'll call ya when I wanna be the sidekick for a change. Today was all about me."

"You keep tellin' yourself that," Logan remarked, headed towards his jeep. "And I'll keep tellin' myself that the sky's green. We'll see which one 'a us gets proven right first." As the friends parted ways, the ground began to rumble as explosives in the remains of the Weapon X complex went off.

Feeling just a little bit more fulfilled, Raphael silently thanked Logan.

"Well that's a grim discovery."

Raphael looked up from the television at Donatello's remark. His brother had hardly moved from his workstation ever since they had returned from Alkali Lake two days before. Shutting off the television, Raphael asked, "What is?"

The rest of the family had been in the vicinity and turned to Donatello as it seemed he finally had an answer after all of his research. "In layman's terms," he told them after picking up the shard of the crystal he had brought back, "this thing is amazing. There are pretty much no limits to its abilities as a power source, medicinal uses... all the sorts of things that New Age loonies credit to crystals to begin with, only with actual scientific fact to back it up and magnified by about a million. The downside to all of that is, after forcing myself to get into Bishop's head to figure out what he could want it for, I discovered that it had anti-mutagenic properties."

"Anti-mutagenic?" Leonardo asked. "You mean he was intending on using that crystal to reverse the effects of our mutation? To turn us back into regular turtles?"

"Not only that," Donatello continued, "but while it might have turned us back into turtles, it also could have eliminated the mutant genes in Wolverine's DNA as well. In a sense, he's be turning Wolverine into plain old Logan. Given that his regenerative abilities have slowed the aging process, the strain might have proved to be too much for Logan's system and it could've killed him."

"So it would've been a way to undo the thing he created," Michelangelo realized. "Like Frankenstein trying to build a time machine to unmake the monster, and just causing a whole bunch of problems with the space-time continuum."

"As much as I hate encouraging you, Mikey," Donatello said, "that's exactly right."

"Then it is good that Mr. Logan came forth with this mission when he did," Splinter concluded. "Had Bishop been given the time to prepare the crystal and form a plan for your capture, the effects would have been catastrophic."

Raphael thought about this for a moment before leaning back against the sofa. His injured leg was propped up on an ottoman and still hurt a bit, but the pain was slowly fading. "Hey Raph," Leonardo called. "Have you heard from Wolverine at all?"

"Yeah," Raphael replied after a moment. "He came around when you guys were out patrollin' yesterday. Said something about helpin' Spider-Man take care 'a one 'a his enemies, since the kid's got more 'a 'em than all 'a the Avengers put together."

"Another enemy for Spidey, huh?" Michelangelo commented. "Guess old MJ's gonna be awful lonesome for the next few nights. I wonder who this member of Spidey's rogue gallery is. Wolvie drop a name?"

Raphael shrugged, not really concerned about it. "Somethin' about some crazy guy in a black suit named Venom. I ain't too worried about it." As Michelangelo began lamenting the fact that none of their nemeses bothered with cool names anymore, Raphael thought back on the recent events of the past few days.

He wondered if he should tell his brothers that Logan had known all along what Bishop's ultimate plan was. If he should mention that Logan had always known that they weren't walking into a "dead cell," that that was why he accepted the back-up from the others. He wondered if he should bother telling them that they had all participated in a test that the world's toughest teacher had half-orchestrated solely to determine Raphael's true strength. Ya wasn't the leader, Logan had said. But I had to see if ya could be a leader, cuz those kinda titles change real quick in a battle, Junior.

Why? Raphael had asked. Why didja have to see?

It had taken Logan a moment to respond. Finally he had said, Because when I met ya, I saw somethin' familiar. Somethin' from a long time ago. You're me, Junior. You're me the way I was when I was your age, and I figure that somebody had better rein that in before ya turn into me from before I met up with the X-Men. Because if ya ain't strong enough to fight for somethin' ya believe in, then somebody like you or me is just gonna become a monster who ain't gonna believe in nuthin' anymore. Can't have that, Raph. One 'a me's more'n enough.

So in the end, it really had been a lesson. A lesson learned through hardship and pain, and a lesson that involved more people than it should have. Raphael wondered if that wasn't what a life lesson was really all about.

"Hey bro," Michelangelo said, sitting besides him. "Why'd you get so quiet?"

In an uncharacteristically hushed voice, Raphael replied, "I'm just thinkin'."

Michelangelo seemed to wait for a punch line, but none came. After looking Raphael over for a moment, Michelangelo kicked the ottoman that was cradling Raphael's leg away. With a yell, Raphael demanded, "What the hell didja do that for, shell-for-brains?"

Noticeably relieved, Michelangelo told the others, "It's okay, it's okay; we didn't bring back Mystique!"


Author's note: Yes, the ending is cheesy, but I needed to write something light-hearted after all of the thinking I made Raphael do. Apologies for the long wait in between some chapters, and let's hope that doesn't happen again mid-story. I know there will probably be three more stories like this, in which one of the turtles is the major character opposite of a Marvel character. So if you liked this one-and I hope you did-there's definitely some more to come. :)