on the other side of the mirror

Aizen Sousuke is a bright young man. He's in the Academy. He's got a zanpakutou. He's going to be a Captain some day. He's going to do great things. He's going to save people.

The first step is to find out his zanpakutou's name.

That shouldn't be too difficult, he thinks.

She perceives his attention.

He has begun to dream about her. His teachers and his researches tell him that's the way it usually happens; that the zanpakutou finds ways to reveal itself, in what one of the older teachers calls, "a very curious flirtation," but that it will have to be coaxed and cajoled and forced into giving up its true name.

He has the impression that there's more to it than that, but that it's probably one of those things which one has to find out for one's self. That doing it will be an important lesson.

He is an honest, sincere young man: he dislikes this, but at the same time he acknowledges that there are some lessons which one can only learn that way.

He has established that the zanpakutou is female. Withdrawn. Refined. Silent.

He has also begun to see things in the edges of mirrors, out of the corners of his eyes, as he passes them. Possibly this is a good sign.

She sees him through the echoes he casts in water, in glass, in the blade of his sword. He is a pattern of light and darkness, of complexity and sincerity, of gentleness and strength. He veils himself in mildness and smiles at those around him.

It is in the dead of night when she first speaks to him. He is sitting by the lakeside and going through his lecture notes by the spring moonlight: perhaps it would have been easier indoors, by candlelight, but there is something about this evening which appealed to his sense of aesthetics. The sky is as bare of clouds as the lake is bare of weed, and the moon hangs silver in that vast expanse of darkness, and reflects in the water just as purely and simply. A few camellia buds ornament the bush next to him, furled whiteness bright against the shadowy leaves. Candles of a sort, he thinks, and wonders if the image has been used in poetry.

Probably.

He should really be concentrating on his notes. There will be a test tomorrow. And it's cold out here, a spring chill lingering in the air.

"I see you," she whispers, her voice like a struck gong, and he feels it echo in his bones. "Come to me."

He sits bolt upright at that, looking around him. He would have liked to believe that it was some sort of practical joke, but he knows in his gut that it isn't.

It's her. She spoke to him. His own zanpakutou.

She doesn't speak again that night, but when he wanders back to his dormitory, he's still smiling, and when he fails his test the next morning (the first time that he's done so), he smiles even while the teacher reproves him for carelessness.

He admires her even though he doesn't know her. He loves her even though he hasn't seen her. He wants her even though he has yet to fully perceive who and what she is. She knows all this because it is in her nature to know such things.

The next night, he's back beside the lake again, sitting seiza and meditating, his zanpakutou naked across his knees. He has consciously not formulated any thoughts or hopes about what (or who) he may see, because he's afraid that may work against it, but fantasies dance at the back of his mind. Brilliance. Power. The ability to change things.

By the third watch, he has begun to lose his cool focus and his attempted detachment. In the distance, he can hear the wooden clappers and the feet of the watchmen trudging down the paved roads.

He begins to daydream, sliding along the edge of sleep. Huge Hollows falling with a single stroke of his blade. Younger shinigami looking up at him respectfully as he guides them along their own paths to strength. Older shinigami -- Captains, even -- nodding to him as an equal, listening to him as he speaks. Power naked in his hands.

"I can give you that," she says. "But you are mistaken. What you want isn't power."

The water ripples. He can see an image in it, a pale figure kneeling to match him, a woman in white mourning kimono, her face turned away from him as she toys with the flower in her hands. It's a white camellia like the half-opened buds on the bush next to him, a complex spiral of petals.

"Knowledge, then," he whispers, and is relieved when that doesn't break the spell and she still kneels there on the other side of the watery mirror. "The knowledge to help others. The knowledge that will give me the strength to save others."

"There's something still more important than that," she says. She plucks the petals from the flower, and they fall into the water, and the ripples echo on his side. Her voice is like the chiming of a huge stone bell, far enough away that it's a soft tone, but so deep, so strong, that he feels he could lean against it and depend on it.

"What is it?" he asks eagerly. He can hear the truth in her voice, and he knows that if he can understand this riddle, if he can understand her, then he'll have her name and he'll be the zanpakutou's master.

"Don't you know?" she murmurs, and she fades like a shadow, leaving nothing but the moonlight on the water.

She sees him as a bright fish in dark waters, a carp fighting his way upstream against the current. He has so much potential. He wants so much, so purely, so generously.

He doesn't know himself at all. She knows him completely.

On the third night, the flowers are open on the bush. He plucks one while he waits, amusing himself by positioning it against the blade and contemplating poetry. Perhaps, he thinks, she would like that.

She comes at last, a reflection in the water walking down a long corridor of darkness to kneel opposite him. Her hair is tied back in elegant coils, and every detail of her kimono's folds is as clear as an ink-wash painting, but her face is out of focus however hard he tries to make it out. (There's a clue there. He knows it.)

"I brought you a flower," he says, turning it so that the overlapping petals face her.

She opens her hands to show that she is holding one too, the mirror of his own. "Thank you."

"Your question . . ." he says tentatively.

"Yes?" she murmurs.

"How do you know what I want?"

"Because it sings in me like the autumn wind. Because I breathe it and I live in it, here where I sit in the darkness. Haven't they told you what I am?"

"You're my power," he says, more confidently this time. "You're a part of my soul. You're -- what I want."

"And haven't they told you that it's dangerous to go looking for your power and your soul if you're not sure what they are and what it is that you want?"

He shrugs, and smiles at her, as disarmingly as he can. "What's the use of a man who can't recognise what's in front of him? I've come this far to meet you. Tell me your name."

"How far would you go to learn it?"

"To the other side of death," he vows. And it's true, because isn't that where they are already? "To the far side of the mirror. To wherever you are."

"Such promises."

"You're a part of my soul." He holds the flower out towards her. "I would give you this --"

"That isn't what I want," she cuts in.

"Then what do you want?"

"Your name," she murmurs. "A name for a name. Tell me who you are."

There's something so poetic and right about this that he accepts it without a moment's hesitation. "Aizen Sousuke," he says, and reaches towards the water.

Her hand comes up to meet his, and oh, her face, her face is a perfect oval of whiteness, as pale as camellia petals, and the flower is breaking in his hand and the petals are tumbling down to the water like huge snowflakes, and the moon's reflection is shattering above them --

"Kyouka Suigetsu," she whispers in his ear, her fingers closing around his. "Mirror Flower Water Moon."

The word echoes around him in ripples, and he sinks into the white darkness, as pale as the moon and as empty as the night. Her fingers move through his as though he was water and she was the reality.

He is drowning in the moonlight, the pearl-light, the silver shadow, the pattern of the flower that is repeated in the intersecting circles of the ripples, the maze of mirrors, and it comes to him like a dream that something is very wrong.

A name for a name. That is a fair exchange.

Aizen Sousuke tosses the flower into the lake, and watched the water slowly overtake the petals, one by one, till the overloaded blossom begins to sink into the dark waters.

"The answer is control," he says, and the sound of his voice in the silence pleases him. "That is the answer. That is the only answer. Control is better than power and sweeter than music and fairer than respect or fear in the eyes of those around you."

A man wanders through the long dark silences of the mirrors, as far beyond death as a soul can be, on the other side of his own mind, and he cannot remember what his name was, because he gave it away.

Aizen Sousuke sheathes his zanpakutou and rises. There are things to do. Lessons to learn. People to meet.

There's a whole world to control.

Aizen Sousuke looks at his reflection. "Don't worry," he reassures it, and smiles gently, affectionately, sincerely. "Everything will be all right."

There are a thousand thousand mirrors and the moon shines in every one of them. He sleeps among the flowers in the silence by the lakeside.

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