“Dad...am I different?” The young turtle tugged on Master Splinter's robe. The sight of tears breaching the corner of the red-banded boy's eyes told his father the question held more weight than the usual musings of a child.
He knelt to his knee, placing a firm and gentle hand on his son's shoulder, “We are all different my son, I am different from you, and you are different from me, but we are more the same than we appear.”
“If we're so alike, then why can't we live above ground? Why do we have to hide down here were it's fowl and the bugs crawl over our skin. Why can't we be human too?”
Splinter's heart sank, but he would not lie to his son, “We appear different, my son, and those above us cannot see how similar we really are. They need time to see.”
“When? How much time?”
Splinter's mind lingered to the world above, how men of different colors fought and hated each other, how men of the same colors died for a difference in ideas, and how men of no difference at all killed each other for the sake of the name of a nation. A world like that was not ready for something so different when they could not even see the things that made them all the same.
He could see pain begin to swell in the young turtle as the silence pervaded him, but he would not lie to his son, “Much time, perhaps more time than we shall ever have.”
Raphael was young, but a fool he was not. He furrowed his brow, a begging plea clenching his face, but his father could not give lies as comfort, so he would use the truth. “But you have nothing to fear my son, you have your brothers and I. You are not alone.”
The words must have struck a cord for the tears were beginning to flow, unaided by the boys unwavering gaze,“That's not true,” he choked, almost gasping for air. “They aren't like me at all....Donnie's really smart and Leo's really skilled at everything.... and Mikey..... Mikey makes smiling look so easy.” The young turtle squeezed his eyes shut, forcing out the words that caught in his throat, “But what am I?”
Splinter was still for a moment, his eyes a flutter as he searched for the words, but before he could answer Raphael filled the silence.
“You don't even know do you?”
Those sorrowful, quivering words would forever haunt the back of his mind.
Over the years Raphael took to a darker path. His words became harsh and vulgar, his demeanor cold and ruthless, his hopes gray and faded, and his emotions buried deep beneath a facade of masculinity and a comforting veil of rage. It was the midnight air against his skin that kept him from throwing himself off one of the rooftops he walked on in the night. Often times he'd look below, briefly, gauging his height off the ground and smiling to himself, wondering if he might take out a pedestrian during the fall. Those thoughts were brief, but often, and just as soon as he had them he'd shake his head and sigh, reminding himself not to hate the people he protected just because they could walk the streets and he could not. Besides, they needed time, time to see him for who he really was. Even if he still wasn't sure of that himself.
A fight with his blue-banded brother led him out into the night once again. The air was calming and fresh, a relief from the musky stench of the sewers and the stagnant air that filled them, but a simple stroll across the roof tops would not be enough this time. His fists were itching and his muscles were dull; he needed a fight, anyone would do. Purple Dragon, Foot Clan, 6 foot mutant freak. He had no preference, as long as they gave beneath a good punch, he'd fight them.
Meanwhile, below, on the streets, a streetwalker, in more than one way, strolled down the sidewalk with a swing in her hips. Her clothes were tight around her hourglass curves and her daisy dukes left out her back end for public preview. She stopped by a bakery window, ogling her own face in the reflection. Her make-up, just slightly out of place, had her fishing through her bag for a lipstick. As she applied her favorite shade of strawberry red, a small band of tall figures stopped behind her. Without bothering to turn around or stop puckering her lips, she barked out her prices, and made it quite clear it would be one at a time.
With a firm grip, one of the men turned her around. The smiles on their faces was all she needed to see to know they had no intention of paying.
Back at the rooftop Raphael heard a woman’s scream and quickly searched the streets below to find three men pushing the girl into the concrete of a back alley. With blaring speed he scaled down the roof, landing in a low thud behind the three men just as one began unbuckling his belt.
The girl looked up in terror as the massive shadowy figure lurked behind her assailants. Within a matter of seconds Raphael came down upon one of the men, beating him behind the neck with such force he was knocked unconscious. The other two took to the offensive, shouting, “Who the hell are you?”, “What the fuck?” Raphael could only smile at the corner of his mouth, he wouldn't hold back on trash like this.
Before long, the remaining men were conscious, but beaten so badly they kept silent as they cowered and rived in agony and fear. Raphael smiled, picking up two or three teeth as souvenirs, and giving the unconscious man a firm kick to the ribcage, a present to remember him by, before turning to the woman and kneeling down to her on the ground. Without thinking he turned his head and smiled, placing a gentle hand on her shoulder, “Are ya' alright?”
That was all he could manage to say before an ear shattering scream ripped from her throat even louder and filled with more terror and disgust than when the men had been attacking her. She used all her strength to push against Raph's chest, tossing her head from side to side, “NO, NO, NO, NOOO!”
Raph pulled away, his heart sinking in his chest, “But I saved ya'?” He muttered, shocked and confused.
“You....YOU MONSTER!!!” The woman quickly looked around and hurled a nearby rock at Raphael. The red-banded turtle, still awed, was struck in the face, a red, bleeding mark left on the side of his cheek. The girl quickly scrambled passed Raphael on her hands and knees, whimpering as she did. When she had fled and began running down the street, Raph was left there in the darkness of the alleyway. He pressed his hand to the mark on his face and pondered why it had hurt more than any other wound he'd ever received. He slumped to his knees and covered his mouth as an old feeling he'd pushed down into the bottom of his heart resurfaced and boiled up to his eyes were it flowed out like a bursting dam.
“Monster?” He shuttered, squeezing his eyes shut, “Monster....”
When his teary eyes reopened he noticed a glistening cylinder on the ground. Lipstick.
Back at the lair, Raphael strolled in, his eyes the same color as his headband. He could hear what sounded like a scolding from Leonardo. He could see his brother too, standing there, looking down on him, but the words slide off his back, and nothing sunk in but the sounds of anger. He walked by, leaving his brother behind, still talking, still making noise.
For a few hours he laid into his punching bag, the same fist, the same spot, slowing wearing away the color on the cheap leather. His eyes were dull, not seeing a thing. He listened to the sounds of his fist against the bag, trying desperately to force out the word that kept replaying in his head.
He punched the leather.
He held the bag still, his hands shaking.
He laid his head against the bag.
He sunk down to his knees.
“I'm not a monster....I'm.....I'm..,” he grappled the bag, holding it, pleading with it, hoping it would save him. He opened his eyes to see the women, cowering on the floor before him, hate and fear washing over them both in waves. He could hear her screaming and he closed his eyes again, holding the punching bag tighter, but she was still there, burned into his eyelid, that word on her lips, monster.
“Raph!” Michelangelo called from the hallway, bringing his brother back into reality, “You need to come see this!” The urgency in his brothers voice told him he had to pull it together for his brothers' sake. But upon arriving in the living room, with everyone's bodies still as stone as their eyes fixated on the television, Raphael quickly wished he'd stayed with his punching bag.
The headline at the bottom of the screen flashed, Monsters in New York?
“So miss, can you tell us what you saw?” The news caster held the microphone to the familiar shivering face, her make up running from her tears and her lipstick smeared.
“It was a monster! He, he was huge with red eyes and scaly skin! He was a freak of nature! He touched me! He might have infected me! ...I ...I've never seen anything so hideous!” Her voice was hysterical, and her eyes raged on camera.
The screen flipped returning to a live reported who stated, “Once the victim was calm she reported to the police that a lizard like creature had apparently attacked three men and then turned his attention to her, where she says, 'she just barely got way'. After finding the 3 men badly beaten the only one able to speak mentioned it appeared to be some kind of giant turtle. After describing the creature to a police sketch artist, this image has been released.”
A fowl picture of a scaly empty eyed beast appeared on screen. It was a dark, vulgar depiction, but the shape and form along with the signature red headband made the image an uncanny impression of no one other than Raphael.
The news went on, making no mention of the girls attack, or the fates of the attackers.
There room was silent, and though no one was looking at him, all eyes were on Raphael, his face on of horror and surprise as he muttered, “But...I saved ya'?” quietly to himself.
Once the news flash ended, his whole family, Master Splinter included, turned to meet his gaze, their eyes wide and awed. Despite their attention, Raphael could only see one thing, the face of that girl, her make up smeared, her eyes a blaze with terror. He had done that to her, not those rapists, not the lowest of low scum, but him; he was much lower.
He slowly backed away, unaware of the tears streaming down his cheeks or the voices calling his name. All he could hear were those words...
Freak. Hideous. Monster.
He carried himself to his room, his legs weak beneath him. He collapsed at the door, crawling in, closing the door behind him. Finding his way through the darkness, he crawled to a corner and placed his head between the walls.
The world was laughing at him. The world hated him. He was alone.
He began whispering to himself, his thoughts too loud to keep within his head.
“I just wanted ta' be a hero...”
But you're a monster.
“I just wanted ta' help....”
But you're worthless.
“I...wanted them ta' see me, not a freak...”
But you are a freak.
“I'm not a freak! I'm...”
Worse. You're nothing.
You're a monster.
“No, no, no, no...”
“I'm not, I'm not, I'm not, I'm not, I'm not, I'm not, I'm not!”
Raph forced his head into the wall, the action pulled his thoughts out of his mind, so he repeated,... again and again, until a drop of blood ran down to the corner of his mouth. But the thoughts refused to end.
You don't belong anywhere. Not above ground, and not below. You're a freak among freaks, you're lower than a rapist and twice as ugly. Inside...and out.
“I...I'm...not... I'm not...ugly.”
You're worse than ugly. You're-
“I'M NOT UGLY! I'M NOT UGLY! I'M BEAUTIFUL.” The words kept coming, flowing from his mouth, a powerful tug ripping at the thin strands holding his brain together, “I'm beautiful, I'm beautiful, I'm beautiful. I'm beautiful.”
The words continued even as he fished through the pouch on his belt were he found the raspberry red lipstick the girl had left behind.
“I'm not ugly! I'm not ugly! I'm not ugly! I'm not ugly! I'm not ugly! I'M NOT UGLY!” He repeated again and again, his pace and volume growing and falling as he chanted to himself.
Slowly, with a quivering palm, he covered his lips with the lipstick, but the thoughts came back.
His hand shook wildly and he forced the stick into his skin and all around his face, “I'm ugly...I'm...worthless....I'm...hideous.” The tears flowed as he spread the lipstick down on his chest and across his neck. The words kept coming and so did the tears. “I'm hideous! I'M HIDEOUS! I'M HIDEOUS!!!”
Just then, a slow creaking came from behind him, a light peaking through the doorway, illuminating his back. He hide himself in the corner, refusing to turn around and unable to stop chanting. From behind he could hear the footsteps, but he could not turn to meet who was there. How could he? How could he show himself to anyone, with how ugly he really was? How could he show himself so broken, so vulnerable. All he had ever wanted was to be strong, to protect, to love and be loved. But who could love him when he was like this? Who could ever love him.
Slowly, from behind, a warm hand overlapped his. He dropped the lipstick and froze, the chants gone, his mind suddenly still with fear. Who would touch him? Who would want his infected hands near them?
A face came down slow to his ear, and whispered quietly, “That's enough my son. That's enough.”
Raph, turned around to see his father, “Am....I beautiful now, daddy?” Raph's voice quivered, “Will they love me now?”
Master Splinter said nothing, looking into his son's teary face, covered in lipstick. Slowly he raised his palm to his son's cheek and placed it there, “Is my love not enough, Raphael?”
Raph's heart sank, “...But I'm no good. I'm no good at nothin'. Look at me! Look!”
Master Splinter moved forward and held his son close to him, allowing him to weep before saying, “I have always seen you Raphael. I saw you then, and I see you even clearer now. I see you for your rage, for your sadness, I see you for your loyalty and your determination. I see your every flaw my son and your every quality. I have seen you, my son, and I deeply love what I see.”
Raph cried into his father's shoulders, unable to think, unable to move, unable to breathe. He could only sit there, holding his father, and for once, take the love he'd refused to see.
Before long, another hand came to Raphael's shoulder. It was Leonardo. Micky and Donnie were right behind, tears in their eyes as they looked to their brothers mangled face. Raph closed his eyes, hoping they would not see him, but they saw, and just like their father, they too knelt down and embraced their brother. No more words were spoken, nothing more needed to be said.
They saw Raph for all his ugly, and they loved him anyway.