I definitely hate getting cut.

How long has it been? I'm not quite sure. The last few minutes have been foggy. Or were they hours?

We got back to the lair somehow. I'm pretty sure I walked. Well, let me rephrase that, I'm pretty sure I wasn't carried. I'm not sure walk is accurate, so shoot somewhere in between and you'll get there.

Stupid. I feel sick and stupid. My suggestion, my miscalculation, damn it. DAMN IT. It comes out as a wheeze and aw, shit. Mikey, don't get worried, see? I'm right here. I'm fine. Totally fine. Well, mostly fine. Keepin' a stiff upper lip, that is what I'm doing. Stop worrying. Just stop.

And then I catch it. Just a glance from Leo. Only a moment, but it slams into my frontal lobe like a wrecking ball. He gets it.

I mean not just gets it, but he fucking gets it. All the worry, all the inner commotion, all the keeping your chin up to protect your brothers and keep them calm. Or maybe… maybe he got it all along and I'm the one who gets it now.

Shit. I'm caught with my jaw hanging open, just staring at him. I knew it before in the way you sort of know things work, but until you see it in action it doesn't really sink in how they work. Or more accurately how well they work. Shut up, Mikey. I am not drooling over Leo. Ugh. Mikey, can it! I almost lost my train of thought. I get it. I fucking get it.

The blame he heaps on himself, all the worry. Oh crap, didn't I just call myself out on this plan before it went down? Am I not worrying now? Fuck. I'm turning into Leo.

Alright, deep breaths. Deep breaths. Shit, Donnie, whatever that stuff it, it's potent. And now my head feels swimmy. Right. Turning into Leo. Nah, could never happen. I'm just not him. But I wonder. Maybe we. Nah. Couldn't be. Hello, Father. I'm OK. I promise. He doesn't believe me, I can see it in his eyes. It's not the look of 'oh my god, you're gonna die' it's the 'you shouldn't pretend for the benefit of others' sort of look. I swallow. He gets it, too. I see his eyes dash between us. Yeah, I'm sorta trying not to think about it, now. Working to not think about it. Shit.

Alike. Too much. No. Not thinking about it. Thinking about OW! Damn, Donnie, that hurt! I don't know what hurts more, my shoulder or biting my lip to make it look like my shoulder doesn't hurt. There's that stare again. Dammit, Leo, stop it. We're too damn much alike. Dammit! NOT THINKING ABOUT IT.

I must have screwed my eyes shut because Mikey's now shaking my other arm lightly. Yes, Mike. I'm OK. OK. Ohhhhhh Kaaaaaaay. Aw, fuckit. I hate this farce, but I am so good at it.

And whatever Donnie gave me starts kickin' in. Just like that it's…

How long has it been? Everything is quiet now, but I'm still on the couch. With added pillows. Bleary. Wait, voices. More voices. Casey? April? Oh, shit. I'm late to my own party. Wonderful. Can I take a rain check? The last thing I wanna be is a sick turtle on display. Wounded turtle on display. Whatever. I'm sick of pretending and just want to rest.

I shouldn't have to pretend, yanno? These are my brothers, for fuck's sake, and my father and my best friends. So why in the hell do I? Why do I keep up this charade, this wall? Except I don't think there is any other choice. Or is that I don't feel there is another choice? Why. Why? Here I am, already pulling myself up to sit and look all solid and OK and yet I just want to lay back and melt against these ratty old cushions and not have to worry. Another year older and what do I know? Not much. Why?

The f-word crosses my mind. No, not fuck, dammit. I'm not obsessed with cursing. And certainly not with sex. No. Fear. Am I afraid to relax? Why? Are Donnie's drugs playing with my head? Did he even give me drugs? I don't know. I wasn't paying attention. I was too busy thinking. Maybe that's it. Maybe I play this role, this game to cover up the cacophony in my brain. Cover it up? Not let them know what I think, how much flotsam and jetsam flies past the stream of muddy thoughts – perhaps protect them?

That doesn't sound right. I don't protect them from me. I protect them, sure, but not from me. Not my anger, not my muddy thoughts, nothing would make me hurt them. It makes me so angry when my actions unwittingly lead to trouble. I wish I were clairvoyant. I wish I could have some sort of big red danger alarm that would tell me when a decision was going to be fated to turn into something stupid. I mean I don't choose shit like this on purpose. I'd call it dumb luck, but I remember Father telling us that we make our own outcomes through our actions. But sometimes shit gets outta your control. Maybe that's what I really hate is the feeling that it's out of control. I'm out of control. No, not me, things around me. I wish I could control the Foot or make the gangs of the city go away. Make sure Casey stays safe, or that nobody gets jumped when they're on patrol. But, fuck, you can't do it. You can't be everybody's mother and yet that means you always feel outta control of things. I don't know how everybody else comes to peace about this, because it galls me. Sorta like my thoughts, it's like everybody else has a dam on their brains where they can catch the backwash, but mine cracked ages ago and everything comes bursting through. Uncontrolled. Muddy.

And under that muddy stream of thought, all I got is a whole damn lot of concern for this family. And that's why I know I'm not protecting them from me. I just keep distance at times. And now we come back to why. Why? I'm so tired, I'm getting loopy. This whole birthday thing is making me sappy. Dammit.

The cracks in the ceiling look like spiderwebs. I wonder why we don't have more leaks, but it's been dry in the main rooms for years. Don't know what Father did to fix them, but it's nice.

I'm staring at the ceiling. That's right, I'm pointedly ignoring other questions by staring at the ceiling. Go me.

I remember when it used to leak. Leo and Mike caught terrible colds, I think Don and I got 'em, too but we weren't as sick. I remember bundling up, in rags and old coats and shit, like seven layers deep and going topside with Donnie and Father to find food. We found this dumpster outside a grocery store where some thoughtless clerk had dumped an entire boxful of dented cans. Soup. Veggies. Beans. It was like fucking Christmas. I think Master Splinter cried, he was so happy. I remember jumping up and down with Donnie, cheering. We were so proud of ourselves, we were the ones to pick out which dumpster to search through. We took it all back, warmed the soup up and sat in bed with Leo and Mike. Everybody was eating bowls of soup. Soup never tasted so damn good, and I don't think it ever will again. That was right around this time of year. Hm. Funny how you remember stupid things like that.

Oh crap. I am being spoken to. I let my guard down and now everybody is here. I'm glad I'm green, because it's harder to see me turn red. I'm fine. Yes, hello April. I swear, I'm fine. I wasn't nodding off. No, promise. Yeah. What was I thinking about Mikey, lets see? None of your business, how's that? Right. Everybody sits and everybody looks over. Yep, here I am, laying on the couch, now what? Ah, yes. Confession time. Party plans were made, and yes, I ruined everything. Ok, sheesh, Leo, I get it. Not my fault. Got it.

And there's that look again. He gets it. I swear he's studying voodoo mind-reading and it drives me batty. And yet, there's something reassuring about it. Like it's OK to relax. That's good, because I'm rapidly running out of reserves to keep this 'chin up' shit up. I just want to relax. And then those very words dribble out of my mouth.

I just want to relax.

Silence? Master Splinter is smiling. Oh shit, now everybody is smiling. What the hell did I say? This isn't funny. That's about to come out of my mouth, too, but the words never fully form. Master Splinter says he has a good idea. Nobody is laughing yet so I'm taking this as a good sign.

April's farm? I must have been caught with my jaw open, because Mikey giggles. Thanks, you're breaking the mood here, bro. But yes, in fact that would be nice. I give that sort of halfassed nod of assent you give when you feel a bit numb. Stunned? Maybe it's whatever Donnie gave me, but maybe it's just me. Oh, protest coming on. My brain seems to have engaged its full pessimism capacity and the question about 'what about the Foot since we attacked them close to our territory?' slips out.

I nod a bit as Casey tells us that the Foot have been prowling around the subway stations in general, some conflict with the Purple Dragons. He's keepin' an eye on 'em. Sounds like Casey. Oh, and ever-practical Don has to be the one to note that being out of town handily keeps us out of harm's way. Ok, point. For a while, I feel a bout of civil-war going on in my brain, between pessimism and acceptance. Ok, I admit it. I cast a glance to Leo. That whole 'he gets it' thing is getting to me. Dammit. Anyways, what's done is done, no looking away now. Nope. No argument. No nothing. In fact, there is an all systems go expression on his face. Deep breath, clear my head. Yes, I would like to go.

In fact, I would love to go. That would redeem this rather craptastic day. I'm sick and tired of finding reasons to hate my birthday and having them all come true. What about taking some time to enjoy it? Fuck this whole self-deprecating shit. I have been absolved.

Just please do not get me cake. I'm serious about that whole death-by-frosting thing.

But yeah. This whole thing is coming together quickly. I wonder if it was planned beforehand, either way it would have been welcome before and it's very welcome now. It's even suppose ta rain tomorrow. And maybe, if I can mend fast enough, I can get a rematch with Leo for that run. Shit, did I just say that out loud, too? I must have, he's chiding me to take it easy. The expression on his face is too funny. He's wearing my worry. This time I get it. Doofus. He's not getting out of it that easily. Heh, that's right, Mikey. You tease him, he needs it. I can't help but chuckle, and it's infectious. Even Leo's laughing, and then there's a nod. That sort of 'you're on' - but not a competition. A realization. Leo'd make a damn fine running partner. Even if I do it for a rush and he does it for some sort of ideal of ninja perfection, don't matter. We'd push one another and end up not tearing heads off. Eighteen miles. We got a date. Not a bad birthday present if I say so myself.

And then Casey leans over and whispers something about beer. And porch swings. I think it might have included listening to baseball on the radio, but it doesn't matter. Relaxing? Rain? Running? Beer? All I'd need is a box full of dented soup cans to make a crap day into a damn fine night.

And so here we are. The air is fresh. You can smell the timothy hay and spring clover. It's just a bit damp, promising a nice hard rain tomorrow. I have been told that I'm to rest in no uncertain terms by Donnie, and that's OK. I slept most of the way here and I'm still a bit beat. But it's relaxing. And I ain't gonna lie. It's just what I needed.

Oh no. The floorboards creak in this place so easily so even ninja master Leo and ultra-patient Donnie can't do much creeping. Add Mike into the mix and even half asleep I can hear 'em coming a mile away. They haven't forgotten. I can smell candles.

Please don't sing. Please don't sing. You guys are so off key. You can stop now. Really, you can. You guys are a bunch of major dorks. Are you shitting me? This cake doesn't have frosting. How did you guys know I hate frosting? This cake is bare, except for a coupl'a chocolate scribbles that I think say 'Happy Birthday Raph.' I'm not quite sure, though. Ninjas my brothers may be. Cake decorators they are not. So it actually looks like some sort of alien code for summoning an eldritch beast. But I'll give them the benefit of the doubt.

And hello Mikey. I thought you would be cutting the cake, why are you sitting by me? And now you're hugging me. Get offa me, moron. What? I don't want presents, Mike. There is something in his smile that tells me I should fear for my life. And I get a box. A rather heavy box. There is that grin again. Alright, fine. I'll open it. It's…

Soup?

I am so glad it's dark. I am so glad I'm green. And Mike leans over and whispers five words that make my throat go dry. 'You talk in your sleep'

I knew there was a reason I lock my bedroom door.

Father is smiling. I think he might actually be teary eyed. You just can't feel angry when he looks at you with that expression. Alright, you guys got me. I'm embarrassed on my birthday, like every single year. Thanks.

And they smile. No laughter, just smiles.

Thanks, guys. This time it's softer, more sincere. Really, thanks.

Maybe I don't hate birthdays after all.


A/N: the style comes from the idea that Raphael thinks far more than he actually says, and that maybe his reactions come from a whole train of thought that is never shared. Being the trepidatious sort, I sincerely hope this reads as IC for Raph and not just some random drivel. Comments and criticisms – both positive and negative are welcomed.