A/N: So this is the long promised prequel to What's My Name?, in which we see some more of the history of Beyond Birthday. It's also where I explain some of the logistics I used in WMN?, such as why Beyond's eyes were visibly red. Sorry it's taken so long to come about, hopefully worth the wait! ^^
Music: The Dark Crow Smiles by LotusJuice and Iwasaki Taku & MadWorld by Michael Andrews and Gary Jules
Disclaimer: Death Note and related characters © Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata. Death Note: Another Note and related characters © NISIOISIN.
A room, much as any other room. It is not bare, but it is also far from affluent. A modest kitchen with a small breakfast nook in an ordinary house. A table of bare wood and four creaking chairs. The walls are hung with only generic prints, the floor is not swept. The light that streams in through the windows is dim, but not twilight dim. It filters in and casts the room in the steely gray of a day shrouded in clouds. The steady sound of raindrops pattering against the pane proves what the light suggests. All is quiet and still.
The room is not empty. At the table, in one of the severe chairs, sits a woman. She is small and thin, the set of her jaw and tenseness of her posture betray some deep anxiety. The silkiness has gone from her dark hair to be replaced with the rough tendrils of neglect, the shine of her eyes with dull weariness. Her clothes are worn and wrinkled, more likely than not she has slept in them. If any of these details bother the woman, she does not show it. All of her attention is taken by the bundle she holds in her arms, clutched close to her chest. She stares fixedly into a small gap between the folds of the blanket, peering in to what it contains.
A small movement within the bundle convinces the woman to rearrange her grip, to push back the folds and reveal the tiny pink face of a newborn. The woman – the mother – smooth's back the babe's fine hair, dark like her own, careful not to wake him from his slumber. Despite her caution, the baby's eyes open a sliver, a touch away from true waking, then close again. He nuzzles into the softness of his blanket and his mother's warmth.
At her child's half-waking, the mother had withdrawn her hand quickly, as though from a fire. Once sure the babe is truly asleep she relaxes, and continues to watch her child.
"He's so tiny," she says. To anyone observing her as she observed her child, it would seem she spoke to the soft drumming of rain. No one save her slumbering son is with her. She considers the babe, then adds: "And he is mine," as though she doubts the truth of it. She pauses, and then looks about her, searching for someone or something she does not see.
"He is mine, isn't he?" she asks the empty air in as loud a voice as she dares.
Her words sound empty and hollow, chasing each other fruitlessly as they search for someone to pay them heed. There is no one. The woman's eyes dart back and forth, probing the corners as though there could be a hidden figure in the tiny space. She waits, straining all of her senses for any kind of reply. A minute passes, and then another before she decides no one will contest her claim. "You are mine…" she murmurs to the sleeping child.
Had the hypothetical observer remained, they would have seen something like a shadow drift through the room and halt a few feet behind the woman, where it gathered, pooling and deepening like water. Had they been a very special kind of observer, they would not have seen the shadow dissipate and retreat to nothing, but would instead have seen it deepen ever further, take shape and form, and quite quickly become a real, solid and terrible shape.
The creature wrought of shadows only bears the barest resemblance to a man. It stands upon two legs, possesses two arms, its face contains the requisite number of features, all in approximately the proper positions. But these are the only concessions made to appear human. The limbs it possesses are each too long, the joints lax in their positions, giving the figure the appearance of a mannequin hanging loosely by its strings. Its skin is a strange, shining black, like the chitinous shell of a beetle. The shoulders stoop forward, the hands are each giant claws, each digit tipped with a wicked claw. When it moves the creature rattles, the sound caused by the garlands of polished bone it has decorated itself with. From shoulder to hip are strung the skulls of Earthly creatures, human and animal both; from each hip hang long leg bones, bound about its arms are cuffs fashioned from the slender bones of hand and paw, at wrists and ankles are circlet after circlet of vertebrae.
Perhaps the most startling, however, is the creature's face. It is as bone-white as the macabre 'clothing' it wears, the parchment thin skin stretches back from crocodile teeth in a permanent, reptilian grin. Its 'hair' as black as its body, and is a mussed wispiness that is more smoke and ash than hair. Its eyes, though, its eyes are the true focus. Red as blood and glowing as flame, they could stare to the pit of a mortal soul and find nothing there of pain and cruelty they had not seen thousands of times before, that it had not done thousands of times before, and far more thoroughly than any mortal could conceive of.
Its name is Kinluck, and it is a God of Death.
"Oh yes," it says, and the lips pull even further back, revealing more teeth in amusement as the woman startles at the sound. "He is yours," it continues mockingly, its voice the clacking of dice on stone. "No one snuck an intruder into your womb as you slept. I would have seen," it adds in a leer.
"I didn't mean that," the woman snaps over her shoulder, irritated and repulsed. Catching sight of the inhuman figure, the anger instantly dissolves. She has known Kinluck for some time, but is still not used to him. "I mean… you will not take him from me?"
The Death God walks around to the woman's side, its steps accompanied by the snick snick of its feet and the clitter clatter of hanging bones. It looks down at the sleeping child. "What use have I for a human baby?" it asks, stroking a small human skull at his chest lovingly. Suggestively.
The woman chooses to ignore the insinuation and again looks down at her son. In her face is a battle of conflicting emotions, each fighting for dominance. There is of course love and concern, and to a degree worry. But there is also fear, uncertainty, and even disgust as she gazes into the face of her newborn. "Is he human?" she breathes.
Kinluck chuckles, the sound of breaking crockery. "As human as his mother before him," it says. The woman shudders.
She knows the Death God baits her, seeks to throw her heart and mind into turmoil and leave her lost within herself, grasping for anything that promised firm footing. It was the way of Kinluck, and had been from the moment of their first encounter. She knows it is its nature, its particular pleasure to confuse her and cause her despair, but knowing a thing does not always give you the power of a thing, or the ability to resist it.
She shakes herself, stares more intently at her son. Another kind of shadow, cast by a thought, passes over the woman's face. Where it touches her eyes, the silvery blue of her irises, the color seems to melt away, leaving behind a raw, red stain. Like a field of poppies, scarlet blossoms within her eyes only to wither and die a moment later. She blinks, and there is not a hint of the phantom hue that tainted them.
In a tiny voice she asks, "His eyes… what's wrong with them?" It has taken her a long time to ask this question. Since his birth she had seen the peculiar shade of his eyes, as had everyone who looked on him. Seen and wondered and speculated, but only she thought she knew the reason for it. She knew who to question, but the will to do so was harder to come by. So long as there was doubt, she could pretend that nothing was wrong.
"Nothing," says Kinluck definitively, an echo of her thoughts. The woman relaxes almost reflexively.
But Kinluck continues ruthlessly. "They are the eyes of a Death God."
The woman's breath catches in her throat, tears start in her eyes. Unconsciously she holds the small bundle of her son tighter. "How…?"
Kinluck's grin widens in her discomfort. "You traded half of your life to possess the eyes. Did those years mean so little to you that you would forget so soon?"
The woman's eyes close, her head bows in weariness as she recalls how it was she came to be here with a specter and a son with garnet eyes.
Every family had its problems, its little bumps and rough patches to go through. For her family of – then – two, it was her husband's gambling. He knew that for him it had become an addiction but refused to seek help. After a day of losing he would come home with pockets full of nothing save apologies. And she would forgive him because he was a good man and he somehow always managed to see them through, no matter how badly he would lose at the tables. He had his faults as any other man did, but he loved her as she loved him, and with patience she was sure they could make it through.
Yes, she had been willing to forgive and look the other way. Perhaps it had been childish of her, to frantically cling to the dream that everything would be fine if she just wished hard enough, but she had done it. Until the threatening calls from a downtown loan shark had begun.
Her husband couldn't break his gambling habit, but neither could he pay their bills, so he had borrowed money from some street thug. When the time came to return the cash lent and it was all lining the coffers of the casino, the shark took it amiss.
It had been a rather desperate hope that there might be anything worthwhile in their attic to pawn off or sell, but she had been desperate at the time. There were piles of old boxes and trunks from both their families, handed down junk for the most part, but possibly with some treasure or other hidden within that could help dig them out of debt.
What she had found instead was the journal. An innocuously slim volume of creamy paper bound in red leather, obviously old, and completely blank within. It was unremarkable in every way save the detailed embossing of a human skeleton along the spine. It had been shoved into the bottom of an old sea trunk of her grandfather's, but there was no other indication that it was his. No label, no writing, not even a newspaper clipping stuck between the pages gave any clue.
It wasn't until Kinluck materialized and later told her the history of the journal did she realize what it was she held, the full horror of it, of her grandfather who had once owned it, and, now that she held it, herself.
Every family had its secrets. The journal was a notebook used by the Death Gods to kill humans, just by writing down their names. By chance and clumsiness, Kinluck had lost his in the mortal world, which was then found and claimed by her grandfather. By the rules of the Death Gods, he became the owner of the journal and could use its powers to his own ends. Kinluck, who had been the original owner, was bound to remain by the side of the human who possessed it.
The woman had stopped Kinluck before it could tell her any more in that vein. She didn't want to know if her kindly old grandfather was also a killer. She didn't want his memory tainted with that knowledge.
For herself, however, she realized she had an answer to her problems. She had taken possession of the book and given Kinluck half of the years remaining in her lifespan in return for being able to see as a Death God. With that sight, she could see how long one was meant to live and their real name floating just above their head. It made it considerably easier to use the journal correctly.
So simply, so easily their lives were their own again. The threatening calls stopped and they could sleep without fear at night. The old journal, its duty done, was returned to its trunk to once again be forgotten. The problem was solved and they could go on with their lives in peace. When she became pregnant it seemed the greatest gift they could possibly receive, the best way to wash away the lingering taste of death on her tongue. Until the day her son was born.
Every family has its secrets, and one way or another, they will come bubbling to the surface.
"I was the one who made the deal," the woman points out to the God, a panicky edge creeping into her voice. "I was the one who agreed to it, why does he have them?"
Kinluck, for a moment, regards the child. "You were the one who made the deal, who traded half your life to see as a God, yes. But whilst this child lay in your womb, you were of one body, not separate entities. Anything received by one would be equally shared by the other."
The woman tosses her head, a refusal of the words she hears. "Then take them back," she demands. There are tears threatening in her voice. "I don't care if you have to take mine as well, just take them from my baby."
The Death God's entire body rattles in harmony as it turns to face the woman fully, ivory bones clattering against each other and along its hard hide. Its eyes, glowing from within with an amber light, hovering above the maw filled with knife-edged teeth, take on a particularly hungry countenance. "I cannot," it says, conveying both regret and exultation. "The eyes were not given to him, they are his own. To take the child's eyes," the grin widens perversely, "would be to take them entirely, and leave your precious babe a blinded cripple."
The woman shudders again, turning her face away from both God and child, as if by doing so she might block both from reality and escape. The Death God continues, indifferent to any pain it is causing.
"He will see as a God of Death sees. He is a human imbued with the eyes of a God, the first human to ever inherit them without paying half of his life for the privilege. A gift from his most generous mother," Kinluck sneers. "But without the full terms of the deal, he lacks some of the benefits you that enjoy."
The woman does not look back, either at Kinluck nor her child, though her neck and shoulders stiffen. "What do you mean?" she asks tightly.
Kinluck again strokes the small human skulls at its chest, perhaps once belonging to a child such as the one who held the eyes of a phantom. "He bears the true eyes of a Death God. Were the Gods born such as humans are, we would have gained our sight the same way as he: from those who conceived us. They are as natural a part of him as mine are to me, where yours have been bought and paid for. Just as you can see and know that my eyes are different from any other humans', others will always see that he possesses the eyes of a Death God. Unlike you, there is no disguising them." The impossible grin widens further. "And unlike you, a human with taken eyes, he won't be able to stop seeing as I do. Like all Death Gods, he will forever see the name and lifespan of every human around him."
The woman has finally looked back to the God of Death, an expression of gut-level horror painted on her face, the barest shimmer of red in her eyes betraying her own taint. She watches silently, frozen as Kinluck reaches out with his talon tipped hand to softly caress he head and face of her tiny child. She sees it but does not stop it. It is like watching Death incarnate stroking the new life she had created. Created, and already befouled with death.
He will know their names before they tell him, she thinks in a daze. And he will know precisely when they are meant to die. There will be no escaping that knowledge. Every teacher, every stranger on the street, every friend he will ever make, he'll know… even now, he can see it. From the cradle he'll know, if not understand, the coffin that's waiting for him.
Kinluck's claws trace the curve of her child's cheek, delicate as a moth's wing and with as little regard. Then, slowly, the sharp points sink into the babe's flesh, leaving not a mark. The woman has seen it before, knows Kinluck's touch to be as insubstantial as smoke, but still she flinches, ready to snatch the child away and yet fearing to. She wonders if it's the curve of her son's bones Kinluck seeks to feel.
As though he can feel the ghostly touch, he son stirs gently in his sleep, young dreams disturbed by something ancient and unknowable. His eyes part, not quite awake, to seek out his mother. She draws in a breath, not quite a gasp, and looks away from that glance.
Red. Red as blood, as polished garnets. That was not so disturbing as what she knew her son saw through them, and would someday understand. Death. Death approaching from all sides, to all people, even her, just as she knew when her own son was due to die. Every time she looked at her son she would see the eyes of a Death God staring back, the eyes of a monster. Could she take that? To see him and know what he knew, to be reminded of what she herself could see, what she had done to gain it, and what she had done with it…
Could she stand forever seeing her son as a monster, and herself as a monster in reflection of him?
Without knowing, she looks to another room, the room in which she had hidden the slim journal with red leather binding. Whatever thoughts are going through her mind now, she does not examine them, so horrible are they to contemplate.
But Kinluck sees, sees and understands in the way of one who has seen the dark recesses of the human heart and keeps a map leading to every darkened corner. "For humans whose life is yet less than 780 days, the death note will not work." It withdraws its hand from the child. Lambent eyes bore into her. "If you want him dead, you will have to do it with your own hands, mother-dear."
The woman's head whips back to the Death God, her face a condemning mixture of emotions. "How dare you!" she snaps, voice unsteady. "I couldn't harm my own child, much less kill him!"
Kinluck nods, still with its crocodile grin in place. "Of course. The power of a mother's love conquers all. One should never question it… Or did you mean that you could not because you knew it would be impossible for a mortal without the death note to cut short his lifespan?"
The woman does not reply, refuses to look in the God's direction for fear it could see the truth in her heart. For in truth, she did not know which she had meant, either.
Years pass, as they do even at the worst of times. The world does not stop, even for Gods. The woman names her child a secret name, a name which only she will know, repeating it over and over again until the letters, burn into existence over her child, joining the numbers already hovering there. When she registered a different name for him there was no way it could be considered fraud, but neither was it his real name. Not in the way that mattered. She knows that as a way of protecting him, there's very little chance such a ruse would make the slightest difference. But she has seen exactly how it could be dangerous, to wear one's true name for all to see. She is one of those dangers. Once one is aware of such a threat, there is no way to not take it into account.
So she calls her son Bartram, all the while seeing the true name that holds the key to his life. It's a name she chose for him very carefully. Benoni, meaning 'son of my sorrow.'
So the boy grows under the watchful eyes of a haunted mother, an unknowing father and a God of Death who could be called more kin than kith. He grows, and as he grows his mother finds new reasons to fret over him.
It is impossible not to see his intelligence. He learns to read with a speed and readiness that suggests he was merely waiting for someone to tell him to begin. The concepts of math are also readily picked up and applied, logic games suitable to his age are quickly shown to be unsuitable to his mind. When he begins school, he is already outstripping his peers.
With his entry into school, however, his mother's anxieties only grow. He can read, and sometimes calls a person by their name before being introduced. If his intelligence is remarked upon, it is not nearly so often as the color of his eyes. Others know that he is different, they can't help but know. They know, and she fears that one day, someone will suspect how it is he differs.
Perhaps worse is that he knows he is different. Intelligent as he is, he knows that red is not a normal eye color. He questions not the names that he sees, but the lifespans. The names are easy to understand, as natural to him as blue sky or apple juice. Until the day he questions why his own name differs from what he is called. Explain as she might, nothing satisfies him, until she finally forbids him from speaking of it again, and to always keep his 'other' name a secret. She must rely on a child's promise to hold her secrets. The same child whose merest glance is the greatest threat to that secret. She thinks she might go mad. She suspects she already has.
And always, always at her elbow remains the God Kinluck. It stays close to her like a grinning shadow, awake or asleep it is never far from her. It is because she keeps hold of the journal that Kinluck stays. He is bound to it in ways she does not understand, and so too is bound to her until she gives it up or destroys it.
She longs to be rid of the journal. Never a morning dawns when she does not consider having it gone from her life forever. She dreams of a life untainted by the knowledge she has gained…
Except she cannot. She had accepted the ownership of the death note and traded away half of her life for the God-sight for one specific reason: the protection of her family. She had used the journal to end the lives of those who sought to do her husband harm. She had killed to correct his mistakes. But the clearing of a symptom is not the cure of the disease. Her husband still gambles, only seeming to slip further into the addiction, gaining more dangerous habits and acquaintances as he does.
So she keeps the journal, and squares her shoulders. She bears the burden of protecting her family, of fearing for her son, of hiding her secret, of hearing Kinluck's dark laughter and snide observations, of being a killer, and reminded of all she has become whenever she looks into the eyes of her child.
But even the most vigilant cannot plan for every probability. She works hard to protect her husband from all sides, eliminating all who might pose a threat. She does not realize that for those on the outside, witnessing everyone around him die only makes her husband a larger target. When she receives the call that he has been killed in the street, she knows it is no random occurrence.
She mourns her husband. She mourns him long and with bitter tears, cursing the journal for feeding her false hopes. She mourns despite Kinluck's caustic comments and the brief, shallow comforts offered by extended family. She mourns until the day her son comes to her.
"Why are you crying, mommy?" he asks, his small face full of puzzlement. The mother almost feels as though he could be a normal boy in that moment, confused and worried over the breaking of his home, wanting to comfort his mother and be comforted in return…
"We knew it was daddy's die-day, the funny numbers said so. I know, cuz his birthday cake had 30 candles."
The mother only gapes in disbelief, but disbelief in what she is not sure. Is it her son's candor, his understanding of what the numbers mean, or the fact that yes, she had known that her husband would die, but she had somehow managed to ignore it? Before she can decide, her son looks at her and above her, a frown creasing his soft features.
"How old are you, mommy?"
It is the only time she slaps her child.
She decides that now, now at last is the time to be rid of the journal. Her reason for keeping it has gone, and she can no longer abide what she has become. She leaves her son, still fretting and sniffling over the bruise on his cheek, with a neighbor. The woman at the door lifts a brow at the mark and the look in the mother's eyes, but says nothing. The mother takes the blood red journal from its hiding place and dashes to her car, the Death God trailing after her.
She doesn't know where it is that she's driving to, only that it has to be far away, somewhere safe to dispose of the journal, and she has to get there fast. Perhaps it is her speed, perhaps it is her preoccupation, perhaps it is the night darkness pressing in on all sides, or perhaps it is Kinluck, whispering to her from the backseat, promising her that she and her son will never be free. Whatever the reason is, she never sees the train coming.
Her car is smashed to pieces by the freight train, and both she and the journal that once belonged to her grandfather are consumed by the flames.
Kinluck, its collection of bones flickering with reflected fire while the black shell of its body swallows the light completely, stands and watches until the very last page is no more than feathery ash, drifting away on the night air.
It had been amusing to torment the human woman, the God considers as it rises, at last, from the Earth to return to its home. But it thinks the son will be more entertaining to watch from afar than staying on Earth. Kinluck had been in the human world for several decades already, and was more than willing to return home. But the God would keep track of the boy. He possessed the eyes of a God, after all, and that was bound to produce some interesting results.
Spreading wings of netted dusk, Kinluck rises into a sky glowing ocher with flame and went a great distance and the thickness of a shadow to the Realm of Death Gods.
A/N2: The biggest challenges for this: keeping it in the present tense and never referring to Kinluck as either he or she. -.-;
So, before everyone starts spamming me: Yes, the death note seen here is red, and no it has no writing either on the cover nor the rules written within. In Death Note 13: How to Read it actually says that there are death notes out there with red bindings. I'm assuming that any cover decoration is up to the shinigami that owns it, and the rules written in Light's death note were put there by Ryuk. As for why Kinluck was never referred to as a shinigami, well, this is meant to be the US, so I doubt that they would be using Japanese terminology.
It was fun playing with a shinigami who wasn't Ryuk, Rem, Gelus or Sidoh. This one is obviously along the lines of Ryuk in its interest in human affairs – why else would it stay on earth for so long after the first owner had passed away? – but in a more… inappropriate way. It wasn't until I was halfway through the draft that I realized that the name I came up with him was comprised of the words 'kin' and 'luck'. Even subconsciously I stick to a theme. XD
Thanks for reading, everyone!