Disclaimer: I don't own the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, though God only knows I wish I did.

Additional Note: Reviews (and writing advice in general) are certainly welcome, but be gentle, please! This is my first attempt at writing fiction of any sort.               

Samsara

By

Sotalpfs

Chapter 1

God, it's beautiful.

He sighed, curling his toes in the silky white sand, while gazing into the distance as the soft light of the fading afternoon sun glinted off an emerald water's surface. Closing his eyes he leaned back, casually resting his shell against the trunk of a sparsely-leafed palm. Relishing the warm, mellow breeze that lightly played with the tails of his bandana, he let the gentle lap of water caressing the shoreline weave its spellbinding song around him. Lulled by its soothing melody, he slowly began to relax in body and mind. Stretched out on the sand, he found himself gazing once again at the glittering surf before him; cool and inviting, it beckoned to him.

Guided by the fading light, he rose and slowly made his way toward the water's edge. A wave reached out to him, sending delicate tendrils of water to curl about his feet. Unable to resist, he stepped forward and glided smoothly into the waiting ocean. A slow smile crossed his lips as he lightly played his fingers across the glassy surface, sending tiny ripples into eternity. As if waiting for him all along, the warm water quickly enveloped him, with the soft current gently pulling him deeper into the depths. Giving in to the seduction, he turned, slowly spread his arms out, and leaned back into the water. With one long, slow exhale, he relinquished the last remnants of tension from his muscles. Seemingly in response, an overwhelming sense of peace and contentment flowed through him, calming his soul and easing his troubled mind.

He raised is eyes to the deep blue of the cloudless sky above, mesmerized by its promise of peace and tranquility. Far off in the distance, he could faintly hear the joyful sounds of birds tittering in the trees, and the soft rustling of leaves as the warm, tropical wind flittered about the land.

Closing his eyes, he concentrated his mind on the rhythmic ebb and flow of the current swirling beneath him. He wanted nothing more than to disappear into the watery abyss; to be absorbed into this world, never to return again.

He knew then that he didn't ever want to leave. But deep down inside he also knew this could never be.

The painful reality of his life awakened within him a sudden surge of hopelessness. He shut his eyes against it, hoping to keep the dark whirlwind of his thoughts at bay. But the black cloud of despair forced its way in, crashing down on him, as it always did, in full force.

Raphael blinked, his dream world suddenly gone.

He tried in vain to hold on to the last remnants of the vision. But the moment had passed, having slipped beyond his reach. Feeling angry and frustrated, Raphael begrudgingly relinquished the daydream. His eyes still firmly fixated on the page before him, he struggled to gain control over his emotions, as the familiar dull ache of misery returned once again to plague his every thought. Plunged back into the awful reality of his life, he suddenly felt so completely and inexplicably empty—so utterly alone.

Raphael quickly blinked back the tears that threatened to fall, desperately trying to rein in his despair before it consumed him entirely.

Self-consciously wiping at his eyes, he furtively glanced around the room. Though he had to share with Mike, he claimed the tiny bedroom as his alone, for which his younger brother had little choice but to abide by. Being somewhat removed from the rest of the lair, it afforded him the welcomed seclusion he craved, as well as the peace and quiet so difficult to come by in a family of five. Thinly veiled threats were usually all that was needed to keep his youngest brother out; most of the time, anyhow.

Raphael's gaze settled once again on the page before him. Not wanting to take his eyes off, he felt along the table, gingerly picking his way through the clutter until his hand alighted upon the scissors. Cursing the right-handers of the world, he fumbled with the awkward contraption, trying to fit the child-sized loops around his thick fingers. After several failed attempts he was met with only limited success. Muttering angrily to himself, he proceeded to carefully clip the image from the page. Once finished, he scooted the chair back and stood, gently working the tension out of his neck. He glanced at the clock sitting next to the bed.

Shit.

He had to hurry; the others would be returning soon. With the picture in hand, Raph quickly made his way to the bed, skillfully maneuvering around the piles of junk littered across the floor. A brief check of the door confirmed he had forgotten to lock it. He wasn't too worried, though. Mike knew better than to barge in without knocking, and Leo and Don avoided is room altogether. Still, he wasn't about to take any chances.

Kneeling beside the bed, he lifted the worn-out mattress, revealing a tattered scrapbook hidden beneath. Gingerly picking it up, he let the mattress fall back in place. Plopping onto the bed itself, Raphael quickly flipped through the worn-out pages, finally stopping only when he'd nearly reached the end.

He had found the thing about a year ago at the local dump while scavenging for something to eat. Water damaged and without a cover, it was of little value. He was about to toss it aside when it occurred to him that Mike could probably use it for his football-card collection. Since his brother's birthday was approaching anyway, Raph figured he could patch the thing up and give it as a gift. And seeing as how Mikey was notorious for leaving his cards all over the lair in the first place—at least this way, Raphael hoped, it would get them off the floor. Best of all, he reasoned, it would give Leo one less thing to bitch about.

Using the flaps from a discarded cardboard box, and the last of Don's electric tape, Raph finally managed to piece together a decent cover. Wrapping the album in a worn-out paper bag, he decorated the front with the names and stats of some of Mike's favorite players. To finish it off, he took out an orange crayon and hastily scribbled:

For Mike!

R

Short and to the point. Raph would be the first to admit he wasn't one for any of that sentimental crap; not like Mike, anyhow. He was kind of proud of his work, though. It wasn't much, but then again, Michaelangelo gushed over anything you got him.

But an argument he had with Mike a few days later over yet another one of his stupid pranks was all that was needed to change his mind. In retaliation, Raphael decided to keep the gift for himself. Though he couldn't think of any immediate use for the scrapbook, he sure as hell wasn't about to let his brother have it; so, he simply dumped the useless thing into a box with some of his other junk and forgot about it.

About a month later while casing the streets, he came across a discarded stack of outdated travel magazines, loosely held together by some plastic twine. Intrigued by his initial inspection, he lugged his newfound prize home. Casual interest quickly turned into fascination, and now it was all he could do to tear himself away from the pages. He soon found himself daydreaming about what it would be like to travel the world, and to actually experience it first hand instead of just reading about it in some magazine.

But daydreaming was all it really was. He knew a thing like that could never happen; not to him, at least. Still, the idea of traveling had always had its appeal. For all of them, really. Living their whole lives within the dark confines of the sewers had left them with countless hopes and dreams—most of which, they knew, could never be fulfilled.

Raph felt the pull more strongly than his brothers, though, which really wasn't all that surprising considering his method of escape had always been just that—escape. The others had long since gotten used to his frequent, lengthy absences. Even Splinter was less inclined to lecture him these days. Though initially relieved to finally be let off the hook, Raphael soon began to wonder whether or not his family simply wanted to get rid of him. It was possible, especially since the reasons behind Raph's departures were usually under less than pleasant circumstances. A part of him felt hurt by the possibility, that even his own family didn't want him. But despite all that—and maybe even because of it—Raph was finally able to truly enjoy his freedom away from home, guilt free. It had even become something of a necessity—for him and his brothers—and as the years wore on, he found himself spending more and more time above.

But now Raphael wanted more. He wasn't sure exactly when, or even how it started, but at some point he began clipping out pictures of the places that fascinated him the most. He knew his brothers would tease him to no end if they ever caught on. It was with this in mind that he discovered a new purpose for the scrapbook, to which he now added his most recent clipping:

Seychelles – Islands of Enchantment! Come Bask In the Warmth and Splendor of Some of the World's Most Beautiful and Isolated Tropical Beaches at Mahe, Praslin, La Digue!

The pictures were absolutely breathtaking: secluded beaches, jet-black parrots (National Bird of the Seychelles!), cinnamon trees, tortoise trees (this he found amusing), and even something called a screw pine.

It was beautiful and perfect…and completely unattainable.

Dejected and feeling more miserable than ever, Raphael returned the secret treasure to its spot under the mattress. Crossing the room again, he tossed the remnants of the magazine into the closet and picked up the scissors. He'd have to sneak them back into Leo's room before his older brother caught on to the little thievery and started whining again. Leo was like that. He hated it when stuff was taken from his room without permission—especially if it was done by Raph, which was precisely why Raphael stole the scissors in the first place.

He really couldn't understand what the big deal was, anyhow. It wasn't like he never returned the stuff, and he really only did it just to bug his brother in the first place. But Raph had a nagging suspicion that Leo simply didn't trust him. He certainly wouldn't put it past his brother. The one time he'd confronted him on it, all Raph got was a stony silence in return.

Raphael shook his head in disgust, tired of trying to figure his brother out. He was in a bad enough mood as it was, and just the thought of Leo was enough to send him over the edge. He loved his brother, but he sure as hell didn't like him. Side-stepping around the table, Raphael headed towards the door.

Something moved out of the corner of his eye.

Mike.

Startled, he whirled around to face…his own reflection in the mirror.

Frowning, he slowly walked toward the image staring out at him. He had nailed the antique hand glass above the light switch some years ago. The metal casing had long since rusted in the damp sewer air, and the glass itself was cracked in several places, rendering the observer's reflection into that of some grotesque Picasso imitation.

Raphael had spent some of his most miserable moments standing in front of that mirror, staring at the image before him; believing that if he remained there long enough, the secret to his existence would somehow be revealed. As the years wore on though, hope turned to sorrow.

He understood now. There was nothing special about him. There was no divine force behind their creation; just a chemical related screw-up. And the cruel irony was that they were the ones who had to pay for the mistakes of others; forced to live underground, in fear of the very people who had made them what they were.

As far as he was concerned, his future was already written: live in fear and isolation, and die alone and unknown. He knew it; and yet, for some reason, couldn't accept it—not like the others, anyhow.

Splinter had once told him something about how the perceptions of others reflect the perception one has of himself, and that outward acceptance only comes with inner acceptance. Or something like that. It was all bullshit as far as Raph was concerned. No matter what kind of warm and fuzzy thoughts he had of himself, no human would be able to see past the disgusting freaks that they were. And the few who did had come to regret it—like April. Raph gritted his teeth in anger, trying to block out the painful memory the name invoked.

Granted, some days were easier than others, but it never really went away. And sometimes it was all he could do to just get out of bed.

He looked over at the threadbare mattress crammed into the corner of the room.

Why do I even bother? He wondered.

Suddenly, all he wanted to do was crawl back into bed; to just hide under the covers and go to sleep and hope he'd never wake again. Instead, he slowly shuffled over to the bed and pulled out the scrapbook. He simply stood there for a moment, glaring at it as if it were the sole cause of all his troubles. In a way, he realized, it kind of was—at least in terms of the demons he'd been wrestling with lately. What, if anything, he wondered, was it but a collection of hopeless dreams—dreams that could never be fulfilled? He knew then that what he held in his hands was nothing more than a collaboration of the unattainable that was, if anything, just as pointless as his own life.

His mind made up, Raphael reached into the adjacent nightstand, hastily rummaging through the contents in search of a lighter. He finally located one hiding behind a pair of shogei hooks. He shook the container in the hope that there was still some fluid left. It wasn't much, but doable.

Overriding his initial hesitation, he flicked it on and held the flame to the book. It didn't light at first, but merely smoldered at the edges, as if trying to give him one last chance to reconsider. Seconds later, though, and it did finally catch. Raphael watched as the tiny flame tentatively licked at the outer edges of the cover, and then suddenly roared to life, greedily devouring the collection that he'd so laboriously worked on.

Transfixed by the orange glow, he carefully turned the book in his hands, guiding the flame on its course of action. The heat that seared his fingers belied the coldness he felt inside. He wanted it to hurt, though, if only so that it might finally override the agony within. Hungry for more, the fire obliged, eagerly attacking his fingertips. Raphael clenched his jaw in pain, but resolutely held on. He knew how to control the physical agony; it was the turmoil that burned within that he couldn't stand. He hoped the fire would devour him whole; consume him entirely, flesh and soul. But already the blaze was beginning to burn itself out. Raph tried to coax the dwindling fire back to life—he didn't want any part of the book to remain untouched—but the weakened flame only gave a small flicker in response before dying out altogether.

With a snort of derision, Raphael dumped the ruined mass into the trashcan beside the bed. Leaning against the edge of the nightstand, he stared vacantly at the opposite wall, absently probing the burn blisters on his hands. He realized then, with a sort of detached amusement, that he was teetering on some sort of emotional precipice. And yet, he also knew he didn't really care one way or the other.

A thought suddenly crossed his mind. A solution.

Hurrying over to the desk, he snatched up the scissors from the table, ignoring the screams of protest radiating from his scorched hands. Separating the blades, he took the edge of one and lightly traced it across his wrist. They weren't all that sharp, he realized, but they'd get the job done. Curious, he pressed down on the tip, gazing in wonder as a tiny droplet of blood trickled down his hand. Determined now, he pressed down harder, slowly pulling the blade across his wrist. His arm flared with pain, forcing tears of agony to well-up in his eyes. The blood began to flow in a steady stream, carving a path of red down his hand before pooling onto the concrete floor.

Jesus fucking Christ, or whoever the hell you are, let me go. I'm so fucking tired of all this shit.

Raphael began to weep. Years of self-hatred and sorrow forced itself out as wave upon wave of tears flooded down his face. A sob racked his body, driving the scissors even deeper. Raphael gasped as pain exploded up his arm. His mind reeled with shock. Warily he peered down at his mangled hand, trying to see through the thick veil of tears.

What he saw brought a cold smile to his lips.

Conjuring up his best Leo imitation, Raphael addressed the room:

"I told you bro, you'd be the death of me."

A manic giggle escaped his lips.

Bet you weren't expecting it'd be with your freakin' scissors, though.

His body started to shake uncontrollably.

Damn, it's cold in here.

He had to make sure he finished it, though. Just the thought of having to wake-up to the horrible realization that he was still alive was more than he could bear. And, oh, the shit Leo would give him.

Raph braced for the final cut. But his hand was shaking so badly that he could barely maintain a decent grip. Slick with blood, the scissors fell from his hand.

"Shit," Raphael groaned. Suddenly dizzy, he stumbled and fell back against the wall, a trail of blood marking his decent as he slid weakly to the floor. A wave of nausea gripped his stomach, causing him to gag as bile roared up his throat. Grimacing, he held his breath and waited for the sickening feeling to pass. Several agonizing moments lapsed before the queasiness subsided enough for him to breathe safely again. Slumped against the wall, he greedily sucked in mouthfuls of air, desperately trying to keep the room from its wild spinning. Gathering up the last of his deteriorating strength, Raphael reached out, weakly pawing at the scissors that lay just beyond his reach.

Can't turn back now.

Raph shivered violently. He could sense a dark, formless shadow closing in on him; whether someone or something, he wasn't sure. He hoped it wasn't one of his brothers, though. Mike especially. He didn't want his best friend to have to watch him die. And he sure as hell didn't want Leo's ugly mug to be the last thing he ever saw…though it would certainly be an appropriate ending to his life, he wryly observed.

Wearily he struggled to push himself up, but his strength was completely gone. With a grunt of exhaustion he collapsed onto his stomach, smacking his head on the cold concrete floor, now slick from all the blood. It didn't hurt for some reason, though. Strangely enough, none of it did…anymore.

But he had to make sure he finished it, one way or the other. Raphael tried again to sit up, but his tired body refused to respond.

Shit, I guess it doesn't matter now.

Giving up, he stopped struggling and allowed himself to be drawn back into the endless ocean of his dreams—filled, this time, with tears of blood.

His breathing slowed…stopped.

Raphael drifted away.

Footsteps approaching:

"Raph, what the hell did you do with my scissors, dammit?

  Raph, I swear to…oh, God."

Chapter 2 coming…eventually.