: Mirror

Mirrors mesmerized him.

It was one of only two things he couldn't stop himself from doing, once his attention was caught—looking at mirrors, that is.

The other was eating jam. After the lid was popped, B was always hard pressed to stop gorging on the stuff until the jar was completely clean, clinking and scraping away at the bottom corners with a spoon until the noise drove Alt up the wall. Even if he wanted to stop, the fact that it aggravated the other boy was all the more incentive to keep at it. There was nothing quite as amusing as getting Alt all riled up, then twisting it all around so that by some arcane, ridiculous illogic it was A's own fault he was annoyed. It was truly remarkable how easily the other boy fell for it, every single time.

Mirrors, though.

Reflective surfaces would catch his gaze—windows, the sides of cars, metal plaques, computer screens, even spoons and the kitchen counters. He couldn't help but stare at mirrors: to pause, and watch himself, somehow fascinated by the movement of his mouth and eyebrows, by the shape of his own eyes.

(They were narrow, sharply present, nothing like L's. Black like obsidian, rather than black like slate as the detective's were. The savant had strange eyes, somehow always wide and empty yet perceiving, trained as much on the thoughts behind them as on the world around them and therefore absent; a powerful telescope slightly out of focus.

Well, L couldn't see as well as he did.)

There were no mirrors in the dormitories. Probably Marta never thought them necessary. She didn't much believe in vanity.

But, B would think, rolling his eyes at himself in the bathroom mirror, vanity had utterly nothing to do with it.

There was this saying that eyes were the windows to the human soul. Beyond thought that was stupid.

For one thing, he wasn't convinced of the existence of anything resembling a soul. Humans were machines that acted in predictable ways for their survival. The things Empaths called the soul, Beyond called evolutionary mistakes and weakness.

Perhaps it was plausible that he had something more, some hard-to-define self that elevated him from mere chemicals and juices and patterns, something soul-like, thought certainly not destined for judgment. After all, he could see the red letters and numbers. Clearly that meant he had something special. But he had never seen such a thing in anyone else.

Back on the subject of eyes.

If anything, Beyond thought eyes were the most incongruous part of the human body. Disconnected from the flesh surrounding them, like periscopes from the brain, encased in an odd little suitcase of skin, rolling and moving freely, without conscious direction. They moved and twitched, and the pupils expanded and contracted, but other than that, eyes were static. Eyes didn't communicate anything. Eyes didn't express anything; they were merely silent observers of everything around them. He daydreamed, sometimes, when watching the Empaths, about digging them out of their sockets, to see just how soulful eyes could be if isolated, suspended, in a jar or under bright lamps for observation.

The muscles around the eye, now those, Beyond thought, those expressed things. Posture, stance, tenseness and relaxedness, tilts of the head and the raising and lowering of the brows, the minute changes of degree of the upper and lower eyelids, the set of the mouth. Empaths showed their weakness, their so-called souls, in all of those things.

And so Beyond practiced.

It was cruel and utterly unfair that Empaths seemed to have some sort of mental cheatsheet for making facial expressions. It was, he supposed, to make up for their failings—guilt, and affection, and all the other emotions that induced them to do irrational things and play right into his hands. He only rarely wondered if he were missing out on some desirable thing, in not sharing those sentiments. But Beyond resented the fact that the miniscule muscle movements simply pulled at their faces with some difficult-to-define stamp of sincerity and no apparent effort at all, whereas he would have to drill himself for hours, days, sometimes weeks to get some subtle expression quite right.

Other times, when his face started to feel stiff, muscles aching from pressing themselves into unfamiliar positions, Beyond would squint up at the mirror above his head, as though if he looked hard enough, he might see his own name and lifespan. Not that the name would be very useful, since he already knew that. But the numbers.

F had taught them all a game where everyone stuck a playing card to their foreheads, and they took bets based on whether or not they thought their own card was higher than the others. (G had won three times in a row, at which point F threw a temper tantrum and refused to play anymore. Beyond was certain he could easily have bluffed out the other boy—but G's cards had proved higher every time. He had probably fixed the deck.) Beyond hadn't seen the purpose of the game, other than it being an opportunity for the Empaths to practice their paltry skills at bluffing. That feeling, though, of knowing something about everyone else but not knowing it about himself—he knew that feeling all too well.

Perhaps, he thought in occasional fancy, perhaps it meant he'd be immortal.

But he always came back to practice. Being extraordinary was so very, very easy for him, but being ordinary—well, that was a trick, now, wasn't it? It wasn't as though there were one sort of ordinary. Similar, yes, eerily similar, yet all the Empaths seemed to have their own variations, their own versions, all of which were more believable than his. He practiced all of them—Concord's deer-in-headlights stare, Mr. W's amused neutrality, Gao's sharkish grin, Addison's wry smile, Alt's hurt surprise.

And L, yes, he practiced L the most, because that's who he was supposed to be, wasn't it now. When the curtain rose, he would need to be ready for showtime. Of course, it would no longer be the show Mr. W had ordered—no, no, L had ruined all of that.

Even back then, he'd got in the habit of taking long showers, so it wasn't suspicious when he closed the door and left the water running for half an hour at a time. The staff were so eager to give in to, even encourage their compulsions. Perched naked on the bathroom counter, balancing precariously on his toes, Beyond would practice. A bit of flour from the kitchen, charcoals from the art station. White face, black rings under his eyes. He could pretend his wavy blond hair was black, deliberately ruffling it up, making it stick in odd directions. L had a tendency to stare blankly when he was thinking, gnawing on his thumb. Face relaxed, eyes wide and round, focused on nothing.

Sometimes Beyond thought he did L's own expressions better than L did.

Then, that day. The knock, the dull voice, with just a hint of irritation. L had been waiting for ten minutes, he needed to use the toilet. Why was Backup taking so long. Hurry up. Dismissive, annoyed. Wanting Beyond out of his way, as usual.

It was L's fault, he ruined everything. He should have been satisfied with Beyond's polite reply to wait just a moment, he was almost done.

He should never have opened the door.

It was a long moment, the savant and the psychopath locking black-ringed eyes, taking stock of the situation. For a brief instant Beyond thought he saw a flash of something—alarm, perhaps, a twitch of an eyelid—but it was gone before he could remember it to practice for later.

"I told Watari this successor idea was ridiculous," L muttered to himself with an irritated sigh, then left, closing the door behind him. And then he really left, going away to work on a case in Hong Kong, and not coming back after as he usually did. Nor after the next case, nor the next.

Beyond locked the door now, when he was practicing.