whose name is Afterwards

There is something behind other people's eyes that he sees at the moment of their deaths. It's nothing he can put his finger on, nothing that he can capture through science or magic, but it's there, and it irritates him that he can't get any closer to it. He has always been able to do everything else that he wanted. This should be no different.

An old legend reminds him of the tale of a man who trapped his own death in a cage of mirrors when it came to claim him, and how he spent the rest of his life holding it there until he was prepared to let it go. Black wings and claws. The images appeal to him.

As his plans progress, as he draws closer to that moment when he will be able to pull everything apart and scatter it all like a child's castle, he finds himself watching mirrors as he passes them.

Is he waiting for someone to reach out and stop him? For his own personal black bird to come in a storm of crow-wings and drag him into the shadows?

You never stopped me, Koumyou. Nobody ever stopped me. Even that time when you caught my wrist, you let me go again --

The only things that have ever truly intrigued Ukoku are the ones that he doesn't understand, or can't have, or can't master. The path behind him is littered with broken toys. This new shadow that he looks for in the eyes of everyone around him is just another thing that he intends to comprehend and then throw away.

He can't see it in his own eyes, of course. He took off his glasses and squinted into the mirror, but all that was there was flesh and blood and spirit. Nothing more. No personal death. No stranger.

It would be interesting, he thinks casually, to be able to communicate with death; to understand it; to break its spirit.

But when he passes the mirror one day and sees a girl watching him from the other side of the pane, her eyes are as black and impassive as a crow's eyes, her face as closed as a coin and as uninterested as a statue's.

"I thought you'd be taller," he murmurs, leaning against the mirror and fondling the glass with dirty fingers.

She shrugs. Her shoulders are as white as chalk. "I thought you'd be more interesting."

"And am I?"

"No. Just another nihilist looking for a challenge."

He lets his eyebrows quirk; he is, though he would not admit it, somewhat hurt by this dismissal. "You sound as if you meet a lot of us."

"I meet everyone," she says, and is gone without sparing him another moment of her time.

That day in the laboratory, he toys with the rabbit until it begins to come apart in his hands, and when he is forced to leave it be, he kills experimental subject after experimental subject; but still he doesn't see her in their eyes.