I'm really sorry.

I let everybody down.

I didn't mean to.

.

It's just some scratches

It's not that big of a deal.

We've all had way worse.

.

But I know it's wrong

I'll never do it again.

I'm really sorry.

.

It's not a big deal?

You are my son, Raphael.

It is a big deal.

.

I know you're sorry.

Apology accepted.

You're not in trouble.

.

But it's not enough.

You need to ask yourself, "Why?"

Why did you want this?

.

Where does it come from?

What is it doing for you?

Write about that, please.

.

I don't really know.

It's just easier sometimes

Pain that I control.

.

"Pain that you control."

What is the source of the pain

you cannot control?

.

This is what I mean

Doing things is easier

than making them words.

.

Doing what is right

Is almost never the same

As what it easy.

.

I know it's hard to

articulate your feelings

but you need to try.

.

This would be a lot easier if I didn't have to do it in the form of a haiku, sensei.

Form, in writing and in ninjutsu, is everything. Think carefully. Choose just the right words. Distill what you want to say. Be precise. It is the same as your katas, Raphael. Be simple, clear, and direct - and do not hold back.

Haiku, please.

Okay, I'll try.

.

Splinter furrowed his brow. The next four or five pages were all ripped out of the journal. After the ripped pages was one short poem.

.

I can't say it right.

It isn't your fault, sensei.

I'm sorry. I tried.

.

Splinter scowled, and uncapped his pen.

.

That is not enough.

No excuses, Raphael.

Explain. Do your best.

.

When the notebook was finally returned to him, the missing pages were tucked into it, un-crumpled as much as possible and smoothed out. What was there had been crossed out, erased, and re-written so many times, it was barely legible for all the smudges and creases. He brought the lamp closer, and brought his nose closer to the page, struggling to decipher his son's handwriting.

We live where things go

that you want to flush away.

I know - "It's safer."

.

But what's worse than that

is the voice inside saying

"That's all that you are."

.

"The sky isn't yours.

Clean air to breathe isn't yours.

You don't belong here."

.

Maybe if I was

smart, or kind, or just…better.

But I'm not. Besides:

.

They deserve it more

but they can't have it either

they're just as hated

.

They think we're monsters:

Why bother proving them wrong?

I am what I am.

.

I'll hate them right back.

Everyone's good at something.

Guess it's just my "gift."

.

Every single thing

feeds this burning inside that

squeezes in my throat.

.

Mikey's stupid pranks

Leo swanning around like

He can do no wrong

.

Even Donnie, who

doesn't deserve any of

my crap, sometimes he

.

says something and it

chews under my skin like bugs

an itch I can't scratch

.

It's okay at first

i ignore it. but it BUILDS.

and there's no relief.

.

Every single word

chewing on aluminum

biting it all back.

.

But the worst part is

when I finally lose it

then it turns inside

.

When I break something

or say something stupid and

they all look at me

.

like, "why are you here?"

"Nobody even wants you."

And I'm like, "I know."

.

"Don't you think I know?!

Try living inside of it!

I'm Raph ALL THE TIME."

.

It's loud and ugly

But then when I do the thing

it gets all - focused

.

Everything goes still

Like my body wakes up, and

my thoughts go to sleep.

.

All the things that hurt

All the anger and the guilt

turn into one thing

.

one small point in time,

and i'm the one in control

for once in my life.

.

it's the only thing

that makes it all go away

and I know it's sick

.

and when it's done I

always say it's the last time

but times moves slow here.

.

the truth really is:

i am a freak. Not because

I'm a mutant though.

.

Just because of me.

'Cause there IS no good excuse.

Because Raphael.

.

You'll tell me I'm wrong.

But saying that doesn't help

because it feels true.

.

I'm sorry sensei

you try so hard to help me

you, and my brothers.

.

Sometimes I think though

that I should just go away

let you be happy.

.

I dunno. I'm tired.

doing it makes me tired.

it's kind of nice though.

.

tired is easy.

I always sleep great after.

it's nice and quiet.

.

Sensei closed the book with shaking claws. For a long moment he sat there in the dark, staring at the wall across from him. He squeezed his eyes shut.

I'm losing him.

All these years, he had told himself that this was for the best - their secrecy, keeping them completely isolated from the outside world. He told himself he was protecting them. But now he saw that he was only making it far, far worse. The longer they stayed isolated down here, the harder and more painful it became for them, and the less prepared they were to face the "real" world and its pitfalls.

And reading his son's words, it was painfully clear: he was going to go to the surface, and soon; whether he had permission or not. And if he didn't - he would be doing it alone, unprepared, and emotionally compromised, having driven himself to a state of distraction.

He shook his head firmly, reaching his decision. This would be the year. He would dramatically step up their training. Ensure they had every chance to keep one another safe. And this would be the year they would face the tengu.

This would be the year they finally got their wish and went to the surface.

It had to be.

As dangerous as it was up there…as much pain and sorrow was waiting for them; it was just as dangerous to deny them - just as painful.

Moved by sudden anxiety, he swung his feet out of bed and crept silently out into the lair. They had all gone to bed ages ago and were surely fast asleep by now. He reached Raphael's door, and carefully, silently, opened the door.

True to his word, Raphael was sleeping like a stone, one hand on his plastron, a thin line of drool seeping onto his pillow, brow furrowed into a scowl even in sleep. Splinter stood and watched him sleep for a moment, his eyes smarting with unshed tears. His poor, poor boy. One so young should not have to suffer so.

He crept closer to the bed, and pressed gently but firmly on Raphael's shell. He closed his mouth, made a low mumbling noise, and finally rolled onto his side. Carefully sitting in bed behind him, Splinter gently stroked his bald head until the furrows in Raphael's brow relaxed and smoothed away. He remembered the days when they all slept together on one big bed, when his arm could easily cover all four of them as they slept, and he couldn't believe now they had ever been so small. And yet, at the same time, he still seemed small, even now.

Being very careful not to disturb him, Splinter leaned over and placed a kiss on Raphael's smooth, green scalp as he slept.