Birthdays were supposed to be a happy thing.
Alma knew this. He knew that birthdays were supposed to be happy, and celebratory; that was what Dr. Edgar said. Alma had read about birthdays when he was in the labs, and with innocent curiosity questioned Dr. Edgar about them.
“Everyone has birthdays. People celebrate the day they were born, because they’re happy to be alive.”
The answer at the time had excited Alma. He was happy to be alive, and awake – he was happy not to be in the darkness. Even if the lab was cold, he had held the promise of one day seeing the sky, and one day not being the only apostle to awaken.
Alma had wanted a birthday. He had wanted a reason to celebrate. He had been naïve.
Being alive hurt.
It still hurt, even though it shouldn’t have. Alma eventually had been allowed to leave the lab, and go to stay at the European Branch. That had been exciting; Alma had always wanted to see the outside world, and even better was that he wasn’t separated from Yuu (or Kanda, as he made everyone else call him). Alma had gotten to meet other exorcists, and he had gotten to see the sky.
A sky that was so blue, and so endless – Alma wanted to chase it, and reach his hand up toward it.
The other exorcists were nice to Alma, too. They were like the friends he always had wished for down in that cold, dark lab, and Alma cherished them. They made it easier to smile, despite the strange ache that never seemed to leave his heart, or the eerie vacancy that Alma could never seem to fill. Alma could try to warm that hole with the coffee Lenalee would make, or distract himself with some of the books Lavi had suggested he read. He could try to ease his mind with stories, and create happy memories.
He could try. He did try. The pain remained.
It always hurt so quietly, too. Never loud. Never blatant. Just a soft, gentle suffering – like broken glass kissing a wound.
Birthdays were hard. But, they shouldn’t have been – they should have been happy. Alma wanted them to be happy. His friends would celebrate with him, and Jerry would make whatever cake Alma wanted that day. The other exorcists and some of the scientists would take time to do something fun with Alma – whatever he wanted to do – and even Kanda would come, because he knew Alma wanted him to be there.
Alma should have been happy. He was happy.
He told himself this, like a mechanical mantra. He was happy. He was happy. He was happy.
He felt broken.
Alma smiled, though. He smiled, and laughed as though his soul were not bound to the corpse of a previous human. He laughed, and pretended that he was alright – and it was easy. It was easy to spill joyous words from his lips, and talk as though he were a normal, ignorant person. It was easy, and everyone else did it.
It was difficult when night fell, and he was alone.
Darkness. Cold, swallowing darkness. It reminded Alma of the lab, and of the tests. It reminded him of being asleep, eternally and in the mud.
Sometimes, he felt like a lotus – a sinking, wilting lotus. Fated to die, and fated to disappear.
He felt this way the night of his birthday, too. Even after a day of laughter, and after a day of orchestrated bliss – Alma felt pain. He felt as though he were sinking.
Sinking. Sinking. Sinking.
Alma didn’t want to be alone. He didn’t want to be alone, but he didn’t want to be around the others – they didn’t understand, and they didn’t know the tests. They didn’t know the disruption Alma felt that was so deeply rooted in himself, that it was inescapable. Never-ending.
They didn’t know the pain he was in.
But, one person knew. One person knew the pain of the labs like Alma did, and one person knew the discord of having a body that was not truly their own.
So, Alma found himself standing outside of Kanda’s door, when it was just before midnight and the halls were silent. Silent, and dark, and filled with shadows.
It had been so silent, that Alma had almost been too afraid to knock – almost as though he were too wary of disturbing some unknown monster. Except Alma knew the monsters – he knew of their existence. As akuma. As the Noah.
As the Order.
There had only been one knock Alma had made, gentle due to the slight tremor in his hand. He had still had his fist raised, ready to make the second knock when the door opened.
In the darkness, Alma could see Kanda’s dark blue eyes peering at him, expression somewhat irritated at first. Kanda all but took one glance at Alma though, and the tightness of his jaw softened and something akin to understanding flickered in his eyes.
Alma didn’t even need to say anything. Without any hesitation, Kanda let him inside – into the cool, dark room, where Alma crawled into bed next to Kanda and wrapped his arms tightly around the other second exorcist. He clung to Kanda, grip tight and desperate, tears burning in his eyes the minute they were wrapped under the covers.
And he cried. He cried hard, ugly tears – salty and hot, until he fell asleep beside Kanda.
And eventually, he fell into darkness. Into darkness, in the arms of someone who understood his pain.
Birthdays were supposed to be a happy thing.
But, they weren’t. And they made Alma sad.