This story is a prequel/sidefic to Sepia Memories and occurs in beautiful Sweden before the events of SM canon. Kunzite's father had Berber ancestry that immigrated a generation or two ago, and his mother (morsa in Swedish) is pure Swede stock.
He is four, sitting on his mother's bed and watching their reflections in the bureau's mirror as she brushes his hair smooth. Well, he's watching the mirror at least.
"Who are you waving to, love?"
"The man in the mirror."
She glances up from his chin-length locks, and smiles at him by way of the mirror.
"That's right, sweetheart. You're my little man."
He has always been a quiet child, thoughtful and serious. As she kisses the top of his head — the unspoken signal that his appearance is presentable and now they can make breakfast together — he stays silent, not for the first time, about how he is not the man in the mirror like she thinks. The man he waved to is old (at least twenty!) and looks like the framed photograph of pappa that sits not three inches to the right of the mirror's oval frame. Except pappa had short brown hair like grandda, not long white-blond like him and mamma. The man even has pappa's green eyes; the ones grandma says were hers, once upon a time.
The man is frowning at him, and he ducks his head a bit guiltily as he slides off the bed, mouthing "Sorry". That he can see and talk to the man in the mirror is supposed to be secret, a big boy's secret. He is a big boy now — the man of the house, grandda says — so he can keep a secret. It's just hard to remember, sometimes.
He hopes the man won't be gone now. It's nicer to talk to the man than to pappa, like mamma does sometimes when she thinks he is asleep. At least the man in the mirror can talk back. He asks questions, like how his day was, and gives advice, like don't try making mamma breakfast without grandma's help. And he tells stories about faeries and knights and princes and princesses (who rescue themselves; he's not sure if that's proper princess behavior, but he likes it because it makes the stories more exciting).
Pappa's picture never says anything.
At six, he is the one watched silently as he prepares for school and brushes his hair in front of the mirror on the bathroom wall. The man in the mirror is silent more often than he used to be, only telling stories when asked and sometimes not even then, but the man doesn't seem to mind listening when he talks about his day or tries to tell the stories that he makes up himself.
The fact that the man seems to enjoy listening is nice. Grandma and grandda's stories are fun to hear (some he even re-tells to the mirror later, as best he can), but they like to talk more than they like to listen. When he tries to share his own stories with the two of them they interrupt him with so many questions that he loses the thread of the original plot. He still prefers the telling, though, rather than writing like mamma encourages him to do, because his hands are clumsy on grandda's typewriter and his written scrawl is still too messy for even him to read.
The man in the mirror only asks questions if it's important, or could make the story better, not just to have something to say. Sometimes the man even smiles at his stories, face looking just like pappa's picture. Other times, he doesn't.
The odd thing is…
When the man in the mirror doesn't tell stories, or smile at his, the man's eyes are grey rather than green.
The day he turns ten, the first person to wish him a happy birthday is the man in the mirror.
The man is smiling. It's good when people smile, right?
Except… he's noticing that when the man in the mirror smiles, if he's grey-eyed it doesn't reach his eyes like when morsa or grandma or grandda do. It's the sort of smile Mr. Olsson gave morsa when she would pick him up from school rather than grandma, until Miss Lindberg suddenly replaced Mr. Olsson as the fourth year teacher and grandma said, "Good riddance, he was a snake."
The man in the mirror today has grey eyes and Mr. Olsson's smile.
He shivers, and smiles back, and doesn't run on his way to the kitchen where morsa is making a special birthday breakfast. He doesn't want the man to know that the smile makes him worried, especially since there's no Miss Lindberg to make it go away. But he's a little bit glad there are no mirrors in the kitchen.
He misses green eyes and faerie stories.
When he is fourteen, his family calls him their little philosopher. At school, despite being vice-captain of the track team, everyone calls him Professor.
He asks questions — "Where is the nature of reality?"; "Where does a reflection end?"; "What is the measure of sanity?" — but finds no satisfactory answers from teachers or family. Books are his solace, but the few philosophers housed in the small town's tiny library ask even more questions than he would have considered on his own. Precious few have answers that make sense, and plenty of those contradict each other.
He will go to a big city for University and find the truth there. He's sure of it. He simply has to make it through graduation next year and then three years of upper secondary after that.
Checking his mirror as he enters the bathroom, he hopes for a second pair of green eyes to be looking back at him. He wants advice about how to approach the leggy blonde cheerleader with the locker across from him, but his family members aren't the sort of people to ask things like that, and none of his friends have given him advice that actually sound reasonable. Also, it worries him when the likable man in the mirror is absent for more than a day or two — a recent but growing trend.
Today is day five, and the ageless face visible behind his reflection is at last a welcome sight.
"Finally! Where have you been? Finding someone else to haunt?" He doesn't expect a proper reply — after ten years, he has yet to even learn his not-reflection's name. Names. Whatever. He's also never found out why he can see them when no one else can, or why there are two but only one at a time, or what happens to one when the other is present.
The man with green eyes — he calls him Karl in his head, though not aloud — gives him a faint, almost pained smile: an answer without truly answering at all. "I'm here now."
He crosses his arms without thinking. "Are you staying?"
Karl hesitates. "…I'm here now. Did you have a question for me?"
"Hmph." But it's hard to be angry, when the man appears truly apologetic and Eira won't be single forever. He lowers his voice, even though morsa is making breakfast in the kitchen, like always. "Yeah. There's this girl…"
Karl's face is priceless.
By the end of first year at University, he is nineteen and has realized that the philosophers found in the big city don't help; there are simply more of them with a worse cacophony of opinions. His professors are more interested in lecturing and publishing than discussing the nature of reality with a still-green philosophy student over a mug of lager.
It is when year-end exams finish and he can think straight enough to start counting days again that he realizes he hasn't seen Karl in over two weeks. The grey-eyed man in the mirror, when confronted, merely responds with the smile that still gives him shivers, and asks why he has no ambitions when a mind like his could lead an army.
He doesn't have a good answer, because on a bone-deep level he knows that he could. He'd been elected student body president in his last year of upper secondary without even nominating himself for the campaign. Alrick and Stefan had managed to rally a majority vote in his favor without him even knowing, on the grounds that he didn't want the job, but if elected would be brilliant at it anyway and fair to everyone. They'd been right.
"Why try to unravel a world you can bring to heel, instead?"
He glares. "I respect people too much to trample on them. I want to talk to K… to the other guy."
If anything, the grey eyes narrow in dark amusement. "Giving orders already, O respectful one?"
"But you said you wanted to talk… I'm all there is."
He's followed enough rabbit trails to know a dead end when he hears one, and leaves to track down his copy of Beowulf. He's had enough of philosophers for a while.
Luckily he gets up an hour before his roommate to meditate and Rasmus sleeps like the dead, so the pattern of hissed arguments goes unnoticed for almost three more weeks. That's when he breaks his hand in two places smashing the mirror into a heap of sparkling shards and an empty frame.
Rasmus insists on taking him to the doctor, and once home with a splint that he is forbidden from removing on pain of pain, also insists on cleaning up the broken pieces with their usual meticulous care alone. The small boon of the day is that his roommate doesn't push for him to talk about why he destroyed their bathroom mirror. With his short mop of curls, Rasmus never used it much anyway.
They don't buy a new one.
When second year begins, he tells his professors he's switching from philosophy to business. They protest, citing his promise in the field, but he no longer cares. He studies accounting; numbers aren't going to unexpectedly change on him, or ask questions he can't answer. It's easy to forget, in their solid structure, that he might be crazy.
He avoids mirrors now because he doesn't want Grey-eyes to tell him that he is.
It's fortunate he's never particularly been one for communal activities. Shaving by touch, cutting one's own shoulder-length hair, and avoiding public spaces beyond the classroom puts a crimp on one's social life — though his new professors sing praises about his dedication to learning and quality of work thereof. Despite Rasmus's attempts to drag him out for a night on the town, he's quite content staying home with his homework and his books.
Rather than philosophers, in his free time he reads histories and myths and legends from around the world, trying to find the stories that Karl told him once upon a time. After a year with no proper matches, he starts to record what he remembers of them instead. It's surprisingly easy to fall into the rhythm and flow of writing an old tale, and he's glad to have something solid to prove, if only to himself, that Karl existed.
Rasmus discovers the compilation notebook by accident towards the end of third year and asks why he crunches numbers when he ought to find a publisher and get rich as an author. Answering that accountants still make more money is less complicated than explaining that the stories aren't his to share — and he can't ask the original author for permission any longer.
Rasmus protests. Because his roommate only found the notebook in the first place because he'd fallen asleep in his chair as defense against a migraine, it's easier to grudgingly promise that Rasmus can read Karl's re-imagining of the 'Rabbit on the Moon' legend when it's finally finished than to argue.
He keeps writing.
He is twenty-one, and despite a history of debilitating migraines for the past six months, graduates in an hour. The mob of triumphant pre-graduates has converged in preparation for the ceremony. Morsa and grandfather and grandmother are in the audience, having already exclaimed how he is far too pale and thin and needs to come home for a vacation before he applies for jobs.
…It probably says a lot that he doesn't offer even a token protest to the idea. Doctors have poked, prodded, sampled, poked some more, and scanned him from every angle known to man, but they're still completely baffled over his apparently idiopathic migraines. All the help they can provide is the offer of counseling if desired and a supply of industrial-strength painkillers that leave him with lethargy fit to rival Endymion's eternal sleep.
He can feel one building now, as the blinding summer sun, crush of milling people, and stifling clothes conspire against him. Of course, because the gods have no pity for him either, it's not a slowly growing one today — his mouth is already starting to water in counterpoint to the familiar eye-deep throbbing as he breaks away from the crowd for the nearest building. For further irony, he can't dry-swallow the pills in his pocket without also triggering the gag-reflex he's desperately trying to suppress. The graduation robes had no room for the canteen he's carried to class for years to avoid exactly this scenario, as he'd foolishly hoped to make it through the next few hours without needing it.
On some level he remembers that he's avoiding public toilets, but at the moment the migraine and severe nausea are making it hard to walk, let alone think. But there are several thousand colleagues and strangers around that he doesn't want to throw up in front of, and at least he'll have tap water.
Fifteen minutes later, his stomach is empty and he feels capable of movement without triggering a spasm of dry heaves. Barely. He stumbles to the sink, eyes squinting against the fluorescent lights, and rinses his mouth before fumbling in his pocket for the small bottle of pills. He'll take walking through graduation half-asleep over not making it through the ceremony at all.
Three handfuls of water and two pills later, he finally raises his head from the sink—
Karl is in the mirror, looking as pale and wide-eyed as he knows he must be, but instead of his face as he remembers it completing the pair, the other man in the mirror is Grey-eyes. A split-second later, gaze darting across the glass surface, he realizes that Karl's face is actually his own. He is the spitting image of his childhood phantoms.
And as he stares, his grey-eyed likeness gives him the slow, terrifying smile that he's been running from for the past two years.
"No. No, no, nonononoNO…"
He lurches backwards, but as his reflection mimics the action, Grey-eyes steps forward and somehow in front of his true self, so that only one person can be seen in the mirror, far larger than it should be for an arm's length of distance.
Exactly an arm's length, it turns out. He discovers this is the case when his false twin violates all previous rules of behavior and sense, and an arm reaches out from the depths of the mirror to grab him by the throat.
"It's been too long, boy. Don't run off so soon."
Even while feeling as if nails have been hammered through his skull, he is hardly weak by any stretch of the imagination. His fingers still can find no purchase on the other's grip, however, and the most he can manage is a bewildered wheeze.
"All is a matter of balance. As she rises in power again, so too do I. The old fool has nothing but memories left, no strength to fight me any longer without the connection to his precious little prince. He sleeps now, lost in nightmares of long, long ago…" Monologuing seems to distract his lookalike, because he briefly manages to loosen enough fingers to breathe before the hand tightens again.
"Sh…e?" Keep him talking. The more he talks, the more chances there might be to escape this… impossibility. Finding out what the hell is going on would be nice, too.
"My Lady Queen. She calls… Punishes when she receives no answer."
Grey-eyes laughs, without humor, as his eyes flare in horrified suspicion. "Oh, yes… the body responds to pain originating from the mind. Did you enjoy the bleed-through?"
"Fff…" He would love to curse his doppelganger into oblivion. Unfortunately, that requires air.
The arm effortlessly pulls him closer to the mirror until he is flush against the sink, eyes glazing over in sheer, unadulterated panic. "I was so close, the last time we spoke… A matter of days broke the weak fool for good. And yet you ran beyond my reach, until now."
"What… d'you want?" He claws again, this time ineffectually, at his double's arm and hand. "Who are you?"
The smile widens, a sinister light in the steel-grey eyes plummeting his stomach into his toes. "I am power, and darkness, and her loyal servant. As she created me to be. But most of all, little Kristoff… I am you."
Lack of air begins to blur his vision, dark spots gathering at the edges.
He doesn't know, exactly, what help he's hoping for. Anything would be better than this.
Oddly enough… Somehow, for a moment, things seem to shift. The choking grip feels less so, his senses sharpen, the remnants of headache dim. The sensation is akin to an adrenaline spike, and prying at the relentless fingers is rewarded by another breath of air.
Another moment, and the hand is off his throat altogether, life rushing past bruised muscle and what feels like a half-crushed larynx into grateful lungs. He shoves the hand away unsteadily, staggering backwards from the sink.
However, before he can move out of range entirely, the other arm darts through the mirror and catches his throat from the opposite side with bone-jarring force.
"Not this time, boy. You won't escape me twice."
Even as he fights the new attack, his unexpected energy quickly fades. One hand becomes two, tightening painfully against his efforts. A weak sense of presence touches the back of his mind, an impression of apology mixed with regret. When the stray thought follows afterward, he is almost positive that it's neither his own, nor a memory from a story once read.
Duty twice failed… how may it be forgiven? And yet this I beg, unheard, unremembered. Endymion…
Grey-eyes is speaking again. "I am you, little Kristoff, as you once were. And now? You… are me."
The last of tunnel vision fades in conjunction with the gut-twisting sensation of the hands around his neck somehow sinking deeper through his skin. All that remains is void, and he knows no more.
AN: This story was inspired by Hans Christian Anderson's The Shadow: en wikipedia. org/wiki/The_Shadow_(fairy_tale)
The name Karl means, fittingly, 'man'.
Thanks for reading, and please review!