Up and up the stairs Ichigo ran, an envelope clutched tightly to his chest. The mail hadn't come for a few days due to a postal strike. Ichigo was now in a panic as he had only just now received a ticket to a book signing with Aizen Sousuke. The world-renowned author was on his book tour for the release of the eighth in the series. Ichigo had been ecstatic until he realized that the signing ended in two hours.
He bolted to his room and frantically shuffled through his copies of Infinity Mirror 1 through 8. Ichigo glanced back and forth between two shelves, one containing his copies that were worn, frayed and earmarked from being read through cover to cover multiple times, and his pristine set of collector copies; each of which contained an original sketch from Aizen Sousuke himself. Some he had to get on preorder for a good chunk of his high school paycheck, some he was lucky enough to hunt down online and one that had been sold for 100 yen at a garage sale.
Oh crud oh crud oh crud. Ichigo thought evaluating his choices. Maybe he's only signing the new books? But what if he isn't? A full collector's set is nearly impossible to get, but maybe he'll just think I'd some spoiled rich kid. The crap set shows that I've been reading them a lot, but will that just make me look obsessed? Gah they look like shit anyway."
Ichigo unzipped his backpack, dumped all 16 books in it, zipped it back up and left.
"I'll just pick when I get there."
Since elementary school Ichigo became an instant fan of his first book. A fantastic story about two enemies who were fated to duel against each other through time, cursed to live forever and throughout the ages. The first book had taken place in ancient Mesopotamian times and now eight books later was going into the late Renaissance, the war between Cain and Abel still waging a war of wit, finesse and resourcefulness. As Ichigo grew up loving and reading the Infinity Mirror series the world did with him. Author Aizen Sousuke was dubbed the 'Shakespeare of the East,' for his ability to appeal to the general public with a captivating tale of adventure, betrayal, love and sacrifice; meanwhile literary critics and historians the world over gave him high praise and awards for his use of deep psychological themes and integration of historical accuracy without ruining the integrity.
Ichigo's fandom peaked in high school when he found any excuse to use the Infinity Mirror series as a topic for a paper or project. His literature teacher at first was annoyed by this, then found through grading Ichigo's papers that he had put much thought and analysis into the novels, being able to draw out surprising numbers of themes, archetypes and nuance to discuss.
This obsession of Ichigo's went well into his senior year of college, where he was now studying a double major of Literature and Pre-Med. He was in his last semester before graduating and couldn't wait for it to be over.
"Holy..." The line out of Tokyo's Kinokuniya bookstore wrapped around the block twice. A couple police cars were parked to guide traffic and keep the hordes of fans who lined up safe. A horrible feeling filled his gut knowing that he only had an hour left after the train ride until the signing ended. With a heavy, but hopeful heart Ichigo dashed to the end of the line and flashed the bookstore employee manning it his ticket.
"Oh you don't need to worry about this line sir," she explained pleasantly. "That's a premium ticket. Just show that at the main entrance and someone will show you to a shorter line."
Ichigo's eyes went wide and he rushed out a thank you as he started dashing the other way. Hundreds of fans were lined up clutching their copies of volume eight that had released a week earlier. Even though he had a regular and collector's edition preordered and delivered early Ichigo still had gone to the midnight release at this same store for the sake of hanging out with other fans.
Ichigo finally made it to the end of the premium line, which still stretched halfway through the large store, but it was still only a tiny fraction of the regular line. Taking a deep breath Ichigo tried to calm down, clutching the straps of his backpack that held the weight of his fandom, waiting for the line to inch forward.
And finally, there he was. Aizen Sousuke always had such a scholarly air, no matter if it was in pictures, on television programs or here in the flesh. Though none of those could compare to the intensity of the latter. Ichigo felt giant butterflies trying to tear through his stomach as his throat went dry. He swallowed his saliva hoping he would have a voice by the time he reached the signing table.
Finally, after what seemed like eons, Ichigo was standing before his hero, separated by a mere piece of furniture. Aizen smiled softly, if not quizzically as Ichigo unzipped his backpack. As gently as possible Ichigo get down his two stacks of books onto the table. This seemed nearly impossible with his hands trembling as much as they were. As soon as the books were down he stuffed his hands into his pockets.
"I um...thought I would let you choose." He said with a nervous grin.
Aizen blinked at the twin columns of his books for a second. Then he laughed softly with delight at the enthusiastic fan that had been carrying the weight of his works twofold on his back.
"I must say. It's refreshing to see a cover handed to me other than the latest," the author said with a smile.
With the tenderness of a father holding his newborn, Aizen shifted volume one from Ichigo's well-read stack and placed it on the table in from of him. Being easily the most fragile looking of the tomes Aizen gingerly opened the cover. He paused, mid-turn, Ichigo panicked to think what he could have possibly done wrong.
"Y-yeah?" He glanced down and noticed his name written inside the cover in his shaky middle school calligraphy.
"Surely not BlackCloak15?"
Ichigo felt like a volcano of embarrassment had erupted inside his chest. He could feel its heat filling his body making his skin flush cartoonishly red. Somehow his simultaneous hero, role-model and god knew his forum username.
"Um...yes actually... that's uh...that's me..."
"Pleased to meet you finally. You probably know me on the Infinitely-Mirrored forum as Indigo."
Ichigo now felt like he had just received a punch to the gut. That couldn't be. This had to be some weird, sick joke. There was no way that Aizen Sousuke not only knew about his Infinity Mirror fan forum, but also was an active participant. His head raced, skimming through his thoughts of what he might have posted over the past few years that might be remotely embarrassing or insulting, but couldn't come up with anything immediately.
"I try to keep an eye on what fans think of my work. It's much easier after the renaissance of the internet and the invisible ring it provides. I believe the books are equally owned by myself as much as the audience. Your message board is particularly well moderated and thoughtful so I find myself there if I find the time."
"Since there's no one else to tend to let's take a look at what you've brought."
The signing was technically over as employees came to start clearing away dividers that had controlled customer traffic and temporary bookshelves were now completely emptied of the crisp, new, shiny copies of Infinity Mirror. As everything cleared out around them Ichigo sat across from his idol as one by one they went through each of Ichigo's books. Ichigo proceeded to share at what time in his life he had read each one and how it had impacted him. Something that he never went into great detail on the forum before. Aizen in turn would comment briefly on where he had been in his life as he had written each one. He had an intricate autograph of classically penned calligraphy in both the western alphabet supplemented with his kanji. He would take the small stains from the well-used volumes and trace them into small drawings of landscapes in some and doodles of his characters in others. In the first volume there was now a heartwarming picture of child Ichigo holding open a book with a look of wonder.
Ichigo had to suppress that same look of wonder watching Aizen transform his careless finger smudges and creases into delicate vignettes, the whole while holding a conversation as if they had been friends for years. Ichigo supposed they had considering their pseudo-friendship that had been established over the forum. Ichigo got another pang of awe and disbelief realizing that he had communicated with the man for so long without realizing it.
Their conversation was suddenly interrupted by a telephone ring,
"Sorry, I need to take this," Aizen listened as he continued to add a few more flourishes to his drawing. "Yes, alright Kyouka. No, I understand I will see you in Nara then."
"Girlfriend?" Ichigo inquired, knowing that Aizen wasn't married.
Aizen cocked an eyebrow as he pocketed his phone, "Editor. We had a dinner meeting at the hotel tonight, but it seems her train is late. Perhaps you would like to join me? The hotel has a very nice restaurant; it would be a shame for the reservation to go to waste."
Ichigo couldn't believe he was actually awake. Only in his dreams would world-renowned author, genius and savant Aizen Sousuke ask him to dinner.
"I-I-I...it would be an honor."
.~'~. . ~'~.
Less than an hour later Ichigo found himself feeling a little out of place in the classy restaurant in the clothes he had worn to class that morning. He relaxed a little knowing that if he left his designer jacket on, he might blend in enough. Aizen fit into this world perfectly with his intelligent, cultured air and tailored burgundy sports coat. The food had an excellent presentation and aroma. However, Ichigo was having a hard time gathering up an appetite in the presence of his hero.
"I must say your insight has fascinated me for a while now." Aizen stated handing the wine list back to the sommelier.
"What's that supposed to mean?" Not really sure what the differences were between the hundreds of reds and whites available he ordered whatever Aizen was having.
As the sommelier left Aizen took out his phone and deftly flicked the screen around until he reached something.
"This post of yours is what first piqued my curiosity. I did a reread of book 5 over the weekend. I know we have already talked about the impact of Elsa's death on Abel, but there's a few things I didn't notice until now. There were tiny hints that she was trying hard to hide her illness from him. But these occurrences were so frequent we accepted them as quirks in her personality. So when her death came so suddenly we felt Abel's pain even more with that shared sense that we should have seen it coming. The vicarious pain I felt from Aizen-sensei's words was so strong that I feel he must have suffered a similar loss to be able to express that feeling so thoroughly."
Ichigo gulped a lump in his throat. He knew it was silly but his first thought was that he might have insulted him somehow.
"I wrote that after receiving the news that my sister had died." Aizen sighed and took off his glasses, tucking them into his pocket. His face was neutral though and Ichigo was unsure of how to respond.
"Oh, I'm...sorry to hear that…"
"She had fought a long fight with cystic fibrosis. When she died I felt terrible grief, worsened by the guilt of having become complacent with her illness and forgetting how sick she was. I didn't prepare myself for the inevitability of her young death. Thereare several other posts of this nature. You have astonishing skill at reading people's hearts, Kurosaki Ichigo."
"But I can't have been the only one who noticed." Ichigo was stunned. He didn't think that it had been a particularly unusual observation. Though he supposed other folks might not have read that book fourteen times already. Still, he felt weirdly exposed and vulnerable that the author of his favorite series ever had all of his opinions now literally in the palm of his hand.
"My editor and I keep up to date with the critics and academic literary journals. No one else had picked up on that subtly. I myself did not even see the parallel, or at least how deep deeply it affected my words. When I read that post I felt the wind had been knocked from me."
Ichigo had a hard time imagining this calm, collected individual experiencing such things as mortal emotions. Of course, until today Ichigo never conceptualized celebrities as somewhat regular people you could contact on a personal basis. Everything went better than expected, however, as Aizen paid for the meal and offered Ichigo a ride home.
Aizen had been a bit taken aback, upon reading some of BlackCloak15's analysis of his work. Somehow this faceless name on a small, but eloquent board had picked up on details in his work that not even the most praised literary critics had even touched on. Not only that, but this male, age 20, located in Japan had even picked up on some of his thought processes and feelings that he had been going through when writing certain parts. Many of those thoughts and feelings he did not even realize himself until they were so eloquently typed out before him. Charmed by this anonymous character Aizen had joined the discussions of the forum to gently coax out more of his insight.
More than pleased with what he found Aizen put in a request with some of his more shady acquaintances to find the person on the other side of the screen. As soon as he got the manila file back with all the information that could be found about the young man who called himself BlackCloak15 he had called his editor to reschedule his tour. Kyouka obliged with making Tokyo the first stop, much to the bookstore's delight and dismay. It was troublesome, but Kyouka was a childhood friend of Sousuke's and knew that if he didn't get what he wanted things would get ugly.
She had to resist the urge to tease him after she handed him the extra premium signing ticket and caught him gently placing the envelope to his lips after addressing and sealing it. All she could do now is hope that his expectations for this young man would be met.
And as Aizen glanced at the student in his passenger's seat, thoughtfully gazing out the window with the streetlights setting his unusual orange hair aglow, his expectations had been easy met and succeeded.
Ichigo hoped his roommates weren't watching as they pulled up to his apartment in the sleek, black town car.
Before Ichigo could say goodbye Aizen stated. "I travel often, but I live here in the city. Perhaps we could arrange a time to catch up again?"
"I-yeah of course! I um…guess you know how to contact me."
"Excellent, I'll send you my schedule when I have the chance." And then in a moment Ichigo would have never seen coming, Aizen Sousuke leaned down to kiss him on the cheek.
.~'~. . ~'~.
Ichigo woke up in his apartment hours later with Keigo yelling at him for fainting in public.
This is gonna be a two-shot. Not going to give myself more multi-chaps to worry about. Started as a Valentine's Day one-shot but kinda swelled on me when I got ideas. Been holding onto it while trying to finish the second part. But with Sariniste being in such a dark place right now I thought I'd put out something to cheer her up even if its just he first part. Look for the second lemony fresh part in the next week. The more reviews I get the faster it will appear :)