Disclaimer: I don't own the TMNT

A/N: Back for more :) This chapter focuses a little more of Raphael...so any italics (unless openly in conversation)are his thoughts, just for clarification.

Raphael had stormed into the den and flopped onto the couch. Sinking down as far as he could go as if in a subconscious effort to disappear, he crossed his legs on the table and began to flip through the TV stations absently.

As his thoughts grew darker, he slid farther down into the couch, his mask coming loose in the knot as his head rubbed up against the back cushion. The front of the mask in turn shifted down and obscured the sai wielder's vision. Huffing in frustration, he grabbed the mask and forcefully threw the offending piece of fabric across the room. It fluttered to the ground unassumingly next to the TV. He frowned, wishing momentarily that the mask was more substantial and had smashed something in the process.

"Who does the Cowabunga Kid think he is?" Raphael grumbled to himself. "Who died and made him the resident expert in mutant turtle psychology? He can barely handle his own vacant mind...so what gives him the right to tell me I'm miserable?"

He settled on a random monster movie and crossed his arms defensively across his plastron.

"Who says I'm miserable? I'm the farthest thing from miserable! What's there to be miserable about? Just because I'm a mutant-freak-outcast-from-society who's forced to live in the sewers and wear a disguise every time I go into public…" he uncrossed his arms and kept a visual count on his fingers with each factor as a vexed scowl contorted his features.

"And I've helped save the world more times than I can count and am still shunned…" he felt his mood slipping even faster with each thought.

"And my older brother still doesn't seem to think that all that is good enough..." his voice trailed off and his scowl dispersed, only to be replaced by a pained expression "I definitely have no reason to be…"

"...miserable…" he finished in a choked whisper.

He blinked away the angry tears he felt burning at the edges of his eyes.

"Stupid Michelangelo," he muttered resentfully.

He was so engrossed in his thoughts that he didn't notice the newcomer entering through the archway from the bedrooms.

"Good morning, Raphael."

"Oh yah? What's so good about it?" Raphael snapped before even verifying who it was that had greeted him.

"Any day can be a good day when approached with the right attitude, my son."

Master Splinter appeared around the side of the couch, his expression calm despite the almost palpable emotional cloud churning around his red-banded son.

"I must have missed that memo," Raphael snarked. "All I have today is my left attitude. Too bad."

It was just then that it clicked in Raphael's whirring mind that it was Master Splinter he had subjected his attitude to. Suddenly feeling ashamed, Raphael scrambled to an upright sitting position, and locked himself in place stiffly. His cheeks flushed in embarrassment.

"M-master Splinter," Raphael stammered. "I - I'm sorry, I didn't mean -"

Splinter held his hands up in a peaceful gesture as he sat down gently on the opposite side of the couch.

"Do not fret, Raphael. I take no offense. I sense much emotional turbulence today. It is an understandable reaction."

Raphael exhaled deeply through his nostrils. He wondered what he should say, if anything at all. He had never been good at conversing about his emotions. Cracking jokes came much more naturally to him. A witty remark was always rapidly fired from his lips, but his innermost feelings he kept bottled away tighter than Michelangelo's prized pizza sauce recipe.

"Nah," he shrugged, "no turbulence here. This flight is perfectly steady. Clear skies, sun shining…" he plastered an unconvincing grin on his face.

Splinter crossed his arms and shot the turtle a dubious look. Raphael suddenly felt sheepish under the master's knowing gaze and found himself again wishing he could disappear, preferably this time to a deserted tropical island.

Why couldn't I be a mutant chameleon?

"Are you certain of that, Raphael?"

Raphael averted his gaze and stared fixedly at his feet.

"Yah," he replied distantly, his voice breathy.

"I will not pressure you, my son, but always remember that the longer the lava boils, the worse the volcano's eruption...and that is not only disastrous for the volcano itself, but for all in its path."

There were times that Raphael was not able to make sense of Splinter's cryptic advice, but this was one instance in which he understood. However, as much as part of him wanted to say something, he just couldn't. When it came to that his throat constricted painfully as if in the hold of a snake. Besides, he knew Splinter wouldn't understand. No one understood. At least that was how he perceived it. He...they...did so much, and the only reward they were met with was further mistrust and fear from the humans above them. Was it so much to ask for a simple thank you instead having to retreat into the sewers to escape a screaming mob? What he wouldn't give for a normal life…

Raphael knew that in a way, his brothers wanted to be accepted too, but it never seemed to bother them as much as it did him. Unless they were like him and never spoke of it...but somehow Raphael doubted it. They all had their own callings in life, their own talents and special contributions to the family unit...the team...and what did Raphael have?

I'm really good at changing the television channel and molding the couch with my butt imprint...

He snorted disdainfully at himself. Splinter caught the barely perceptible self-depreciating sound and regarded Raphael with a look of sorrow mixed with pity. Raphael caught this and it made him involuntarily cringe in further humiliation. The plastic smile reasserted itself as if he hadn't noticed Splinter's expression.

"Just feeling a little under the weather here, that's all," Raphael began flatly but his voice turned joking as he continued, "Quite literally actually...since I live in the sewers, underground…" he chuckled, but it was not genuine. "Get it? Eh?"

Splinter shook his head slowly, the melancholy expression still plainly evident.

"Your mind is sharp, my son, but only when the steel of your thoughts is tempered by words of compassion will you realize your full potential," the rat master stated ambiguously.

The former human's expression turned piercing, serious, as if he was trying to convey something. But to Raphael, it was as if the rat had spoken in a foreign language. He quirked an eyebrow ridge at the ninja master.

Perhaps he's going senile in his old age…

"Sharp mind? I know I have my mask off and that we all look the same, but I think you have me mixed up with the brainiac purple guy in the kitchen," Raphael pointed in an exaggerated manner at his "R" belt buckle. "See? I'm Raphael."

Splinter turned away silently, settling on the monster movie which was still mindlessly showing on the TV screen. Many moments passed by without any further conversation between turtle and his former teacher. The television was on low, but Raphael could hear the characters faintly. The voices of Michelangelo and Donatello carried in from the kitchen, but he couldn't clearly make out what they were saying.

Raphael mulled Splinter's words over and over again in his mind as if they were being carried through a torrential tide.

"Intelligence comes in many forms, Raphael," Splinter finally spoke up. "The man who remains trapped in the room of doubt and fixates on the closed door will never know what wonders and different possibilities lay beyond."

Raphael's frustration was mounting with Splinter's cryptic advice. He harrumphed and replied in a deeply sarcastic voice, "Mutant turtle here...not a man."

"You are missing my point, my son."

"With all due respect, Master -"

The rest of his sentence was cut off by the chirping of his TurtleComm.

Saved by the beep.

"Thank you for calling the Mock Turtle Discount Joke Service where you get more yuks for your bucks, Raphael speaking," the red masked turtle greeted cheekily.

April appeared on the screen. While she was normally amused by Raphael's creative greetings, this time her blue eyes held heaviness the jokester was unaccustomed to.

"Hey April! Long time no talk!" Raphael visibly brightened at the sight of his long time human friend, but a part of him remained guarded. "How goes the free lance reporting biz?"

April had distanced herself from the turtles about a year ago after she left Channel 6 in order to pursue more "normal" news stories. The Turtles had been hurt at first (Michelangelo had taken it the hardest), but had learned to accept it. Raphael just viewed the whole situation with his typical cynicism. She was a human, and they were mutants. They lived in different worlds, and he figured it was only a matter of time before she stopped calling completely.

"Raphael, I wish I had time to talk, but you need to turn on Channel 6 news right now," she said, the worry and urgency clear in her voice.

"Did I win the lotto? I was sure I played my lucky numbers…"

April shook her head, her short red hair swaying from the momentum.

"No time for jokes, Raphael, trust me. I gotta go, I'll call you later."

The call dropped off, and with it Raphael's heart fell like a lead weight.

He sat on the couch with a glazed expression on his face for a moment before picking up the remote and changing the station to Channel 6. He groaned in disgust as Vernon Fenwick's face filled the screen.

"Good morning, my adoring viewers! This is your favorite reporter from Channel 6 News, Vernon Fenwick, reporting live from the Statue of Liberty where rescue crews are converging after an explosion rocked the timeless symbol of American unity. What heartless fiend would carry out such an atrocious act?"

Raphael visibly tensed, every muscle in his body on edge. He leaned forward, his attention fully on the TV. Grabbing one of his sais, he twirled it slowly, thoughtfully.

Vernon began fiddling with his earpiece, as if listening to someone.

"This just inned that a message has been found on the back of the statue, apparently from whomever is responsible for this unAmerican action."

The camera focusing on Vernon began to shake around in a nauseating blur as the human and camera operator rushed to the rear of the statue.

As the camera came back into focus on the writing on the statue, Raphael's eyes widened and his jaw grew slack.

"You have got to be shitting me!" Raphael cursed in a low growl.

"I should have known," Vernon continued, "Mutants. Filthy, stinky mutants."

His own internal conflict forgotten for the moment, Raphael exchanged apprehensive glances with Master Splinter before the turtle called out, "Guys! I think you need to get in here right now!"

Raphael read and re-read the message repeatedly as he waited for his brothers to come in. Crudely spray painted in a bright red hue on the back of the statue was: "Liberty to Mutants."

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A/N: This took forever to write. I re-wrote sections a few times, finally to get to this. The real plot is beginning to unfold...