It was New Year's Day.
The children at Wammy's House didn't have parties and normally they didn't spend any amount of time with each other more than necessary, but on this occasion they made an exception. They were never allowed any alcohol, but they had small crystal glasses filled with cider and they drank and laughed and pretended to be drunk.
The first generation was fourteen years old, and two of them weren't with the others; two of them were sitting alone in a room, raising their glasses together.
"A toast," said the girl. Even though she was sitting, she was still noticeably shorter than the boy who sat with her. "To the New Year."
He touched his glass to hers. "Is that really the only thing you can think to toast?"
"What else is there?" she asked, taking a sip.
The boy was pale, with dark hair and curious red eyes. He leaned across the bed until he was mere inches away from her, breathing his sweet-smelling breath into her face. He stared at her intensely and she returned the gaze unflinchingly, staring straight into his strange eyes. There was a gently clinking sound as he broke the stem of his crystal glass in his hand. Still staring right into her eyes, he gently dragged the jagged, broken end of the glass down her arm. It made a thin scrap – long, but not deep. He held the rim of the glass to the skin below the scrape; trickles of red blood slid into the glass. It was only a few drops, but then he took the glass away and held it between their faces.
"I would toast to you," he whispered.
And then he pressed the rim of the glass to her lips. She finally looked away, breaking his gaze as he tipped the glass upwards, and droplets of her own blood fell into her mouth, staining her lips.
"I don't know why you hate it when I call you sweetheart," he whispered. He dabbed at the corner of her mouth with his index finger, at a stray bead of blood there. He put his finger to his own mouth. "Don't you think your blood tastes sweet, A?"
She couldn't deny it. She could barely say anything, swept away in the rush of the broken skin, and the smell of his breath, which was like jam and blood – a combination that took her breath away, that made her feel faint.
He kissed her, the taste of her blood in their mouths.
They were eating breakfast. To be precise, he was eating a jar of strawberry jam, scooping out handfuls and licking his fingers to devour every last drop and she was quietly eating a plate of pancakes. He was staring at her. The kiss last night – the kiss that had tasted of blood – neither of them could forget the exhilaration, the high it had given their normally rational minds. But A couldn't entirely blame that particular sensation on the kiss. Part of it had been the feel of tearing skin, the blood lingering in her mouth. That had had her heart beating before he even touched her.
She hesitated to admit this, but she could not deny the truth. She was just as sick as B.
She glanced at him. He was staring at her, his head cocked to one side. "What is it?" she asked.
"You would look better with glasses," he said.
She stared at him.
"Then when I hit you," he continued, "the glass would shatter and pierce your eyeballs."
She resumed eating her pancakes. "You don't hit me, though."
"I would if you wore glasses."
"And that's supposed to encourage me?"
He didn't reply, because he knew that it did; that the idea of him breaking the lenses of the glasses, sending jagged, smooth shards into her eye – it sent a shiver down her spine. Her revulsion was mixed with an exciting, unexplainable thrill. He looked at her with those bizarre red eyes, fully aware of what his gaze did to her.
She stood up and left. He sat at the table, eating his jam.
Beyond Birthday was completely conscious of the fact that A's name was not really A, or any of the codenames that Wammy's House had assigned to her. He knew that her name was Alexandra Cost, and he also knew that she was going to die on January 28th. Sometimes at night, he wondered about the way she would die. Maybe another child would smother her in her sleep, jealous of the fact that she was more important than they were. Maybe an insignificant stranger would stab her on the street at night. Maybe that stupid friend of hers, F – whose real name was Lucy Foyer, B knew – would poison her, out of pure malice. Or perhaps she would have a seizure and die of a genetic disease that no one could have prevented.
Except that Alexandra was as healthy as any of the children at Wammy's House, and no one at Wammy's House was sick. Unless it was in the mind, of course. Like B. He knew he was sick because every night he dreamt up different ways she would die. In all of his dreams, though, it was never a jealous orphan or a man on the street, or stupid God damned Lucy.
It was always him. B. And it was always different. Beating, strangulation, stabbing. But it never stopped there. Carving delicate slits onto her naked torso. Poking out her eyes, crushing the jelly-like substance between his fingers. Sawing off her limbs as she made gentle, tender noises. Not the sounds of protest or dissent – no, the sounds she makes in his dreams are the noises girls are supposed to make when boys kiss them. But she had never made that noise when he kissed her. She only made those sounds when he ran a blade along her skin, his fingers scratching at her elbows and ankles and the inside of her knees.
And that's how he knows that she loves it. And he loves it too, and before he knew it, it was January 19th and he was, for the first time in his life, terrified. January 28th was days away. Her death was near. He didn't want her to die. He loved the idea of killing her, but he didn't want her to die.
But he was hurting her more and more lately. The skin of her body she could clothe was covered with scars, thanks to him. He cut and then he kissed. That was his MO. Her skin was so pale all the time. He feared that life was ebbing away from her, because of him.
The dreams he had been having were too tempting. As January 28th drew near, he realized the danger she was in: him. She was only endangered by him. Otherwise, her home at Wammy's House would circumvent her death, no matter what the numbers B sees might say. He must remove the threat. He must remove himself.
B walked out of Roger's office and she was waiting for him. "What was that?" she demanded. "What happened?"
"It's time for me to leave," he said. "Sorry."
She stood there as he walked away. "B!" she called after him. "B, you can't be serious."
"Of course I am," he said. "I feel it necessary to pursue my own interests."
"Your own interests?" she repeated disbelieving. "You can't leave! They need you! Our whole lives have been nothing but training to replace L – without you, there is nothing!"
B didn't even look at her. "I am only the Backup, A," he replied calmly. "You are L's true Alternate. I support this program and the search for a successor, and I look forward to the day when one of us can rise above L and prove that he's not the smartest, after all. But there is no need for me personally to do so. I have chosen to remove myself before I do something dangerous."
"You're not dangerous."
He turned and lunged at her, slamming her body into a wall; he pressed her roughly against it with his own body, and his mouth went to her neck, where, instead of kissing, he bit her, pulling at her skin with his teeth until she bled. He took his face away from her neck and stared at her.
"Tell me I'm not dangerous," he dared her. "Go on. Say it."
He let go of her and walked away.
"You're taking down this whole program, B," she called after him, her hands at her neck, trying to staunch the bleeding. He walked slowly, but he didn't stop when she spoke to him. It was difficult, however, to be angry at him – much less form coherent thoughts – when all she could feel was his lips against her skin. But she willed her mind clear and she continued, "It's your fault that no one will ever beat L. If you leave, we lose."
He stuck his hands in his pockets as he walked away. "Nah," he called back in reply, shrugging. "They have you."
He was long gone by the time January 28th came.
She died on her birthday.
He hadn't known it was her birthday, not until he found himself in California, standing in front of her grave. She had been born a few miles from there. She had not lived there since she was a young child, and she had no family there, but it had been her wish to be buried there, far away from Wammy's House. And from B.
She had been born on January 28th, fifteen years previously.
B supposed it had been a few days, a few weeks perhaps. He had lost track of time since he got the news.
She was dead, on her fifteenth birthday, by her own hand. The one method of death he had failed to consider. If he had stayed, he could have stopped her. His leaving had been her death knell, the nail in her coffin.
He had the sudden indecent urge to exhume her corpse, to carve her up as he had imagined so many times. As he could never do again. The urge passed, but the terrible feeling remained. He trembled. Something unhinged in his mind and he shook violently, and then he realized he was crying.
Rationally, he knew that he was crying because he hadn't wanted her to die but she had died and now he could not get what he had wanted.
Irrationally, he was allowing himself to cry out of pity and misery for himself, and the fact that he felt helplessly alone, without her in the world. No one to kiss or bite or cut anymore. No one to focus his attentions on. It felt like heart dried up and wasted away, and maybe it had. Maybe she had been his heart. And his conscience.
He stared dumbly at her gravestone. There was nothing he could do for her now. Nothing. Nothing but-
An idea lit up his mind, illuminating the path ahead. He leaned forward and reached out, touching the headstone. The tears in his eyes reflected his red irises and looked like blood.
He whispered, "I'll do it, Alexandra. I'll do what you wanted us to do. What we were trained to do." A smile danced its way to his lips. "Alexandra, you'll do it too. Your death will inspire me. Your deaths will always inspire me." He sank to his knees, pressing the cold stone into the flesh of his face. "We will surpass L, Alexandra. And we will do it through all the ways you could have died. Each death," he wrapped his arms around the tombstone, "will pay homage," the smile widened, and his heart began to beat again, "to you."
B sat there. Then he let go of the grave, stood up, and left the graveyard, returning to his hotel room in Los Angeles to decide how to kill his first victim.
Dear Alexandra, my twin sister, the best person in the entire world: I cannot thank you enough for your present. It rendered me speechless. It completely melted me. You are too perfect. I cannot thank you enough for everything, so here's something to try and BEGIN to repay what you've given me.
Happy (Beyond!) Birthday!