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Decades

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“Happy Birthday kid,” Sylvia murmurs, soft enough not to wake her son. He’s an ugly little thing with his father's red hair and freckles and her own coarse features, but he looks almost cute when he’s asleep (which, if you ask Sylvia, isn't often enough).

Walter's two today. Still too young to understand what a birthday is, too young to be disappointed by the fact that he won’t be getting any presents. She's heard two is when it really starts to get rough—terrible twos, they call it—but if she's lucky it won’t happen for a while. Kid's always been slow, and she was glad of it, because the last thing she needed was to have the bastard walking and talking.

It's time to get ready for her next trick, so she leaves her son to sleep, realizing that the birthday is worth celebrating. She's only doing this to support him, and now she's one year closer to quitting.

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Walter never had a real birthday until he came to the Charlton Home, and he's not sure how he feels about them now. He doesn't like being the center of attention, that's for sure, his natural shyness compounded by the memory of the incident that landed him here, with its horrified, shouting onlookers.

The other children sing happy birthday off-key and stare at him, waiting for him to blow out the dozen candles on his cake. He does his best to extinguish them all at once, afraid of being mocked by the crowd if he fails and leaves half of them still burning, and almost blows them right off the cake, much to the delight of the audience.

The cake itself is definitely Walter's favorite part; a towering, colorful monstrosity of frosting and sprinkles that tastes like pure sugar with an almost undetectable hint of vanilla. Because it's his birthday—and his cake—they let him go back for seconds, and then thirds.The stomach ache keeps him awake all night, but he has no regrets.

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Walter has nobody to celebrate his birthday with, and maybe that's a good thing. He's tired, and he just wants to go home and sleep. There's nothing to celebrate anyway—nothing except being one day closer to death, and he can celebrate that any day of the year.

He buys a cupcake on his way home from work to satisfy his sweet tooth, something he does on the rare occasions when there's extra money in his pocket. The colorful frosting and overpowering sweetness take him back to his time at Charlton, and suddenly he has a ray of hope that things will get better someday. He smiles, throwing the cupcake wrapper in the trash.

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Dan lies in bed, rubbing the rope marks on his wrists (a souvenir from last night's early birthday present) and watching the rise and fall of Walter's chest as the early morning light streams in through the window, illuminating the man's pale face. His eyes flicker open, and Dan's still surprised, like he is every time, that they're brown—he spent so many years thinking of them as blue, for some reason.

“Happy birthday,” he whispers.

Walter kisses him on the cheek, temporarily reverting to shyness the way he always does after they've done something kinky, and Dan returns the gesture.

“Breakfast in bed?” he asks.

“You don't have to do that,” Walter responds.

“I want to.”

Walter thinks for a moment. “Waffles?”

“I think I can manage waffles.”

“With strawberries?”

“Only because it's your birthday,” Dan says, smiling, and kisses his lover on the forehead before heading for the kitchen.

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Rorschach has only been back to Daniel's house a few times since the man quit. He doesn't want to go there tonight, but he needs food and medical supplies, and he knows Daniel will be out.

The door gives way with a single well-placed kick, and he condemns Daniel's lax attitude toward security. As he gathers food and medical supplies from the kitchen, he notices a small, expensive-looking box of chocolates on the counter. When he examines the box more closely, he discovers it has a note stuck to it.

‘Happy Birthday. I miss you.’

He hadn't even remembered it was his birthday. Technically, it's Walter's birthday, not his, and he debates whether or not to eat the chocolates. In the end, he's swayed by hunger and the fact that he hasn't eaten anything sweet in days.

He takes the first one from the box, holding it between two gloved fingers and admiring the delicate, symmetrical pattern that stands out against the white chocolate. It's peanut butter—not his favorite, but good. There are cherry cordials too, which are his favorite. He suspects the strawberry truffles are slightly alcoholic, but eats two anyway.

He leaves a few for Daniel, with a note thanking him for the gift (and encouraging him to find a new locksmith).