Summary: How does a criminal genius cope with doing time in a fairy jail?
Warnings: Suicidal references and a creepy relationship. Other warnings withheld.
The Mother of Invention
Despite a long-held conviction to the contrary, you have decided that the death sentence isn't barbaric. It would have been a kindness compared to what your sentence has actually turned out to be.
The first, and most obvious, problem with having a human-sized body in a fairy-sized jail, is that the cells are simply too small. At first, it doesn't matter, but you are growing taller all the time. Soon enough, the ceiling is too low for you to stand up, and the bed too short for you to stretch out on, too narrow to comfortably curl up in.
Only lying down on the floor allows you to straighten your body completely, but the rough-hewn rock digs into your back however you lie, and in the end you find that you're more comfortable even awkwardly folded onto your bed.
You're considered too dangerous a prisoner to be allowed out of your cell for exercise, so you have developed a permanent hunch within the first year as your muscles accept the constraints your mind still rails against. It is with a sense of irony that you realise that, despite everything, you are now as tall as you will ever be; however much more you grow, it will only deepen the curvature of your spine rather than making you any taller.
It's difficult to get a sense of just how much you have been stunted without a mirror, but you are perversely glad that mirrors are on the list of restricted items, as a suicide risk. You don't want to see yourself; you don't want to see your slim form bowed and broken by imprisonment; you don't want to see your pale face as black as your hair from the accumulated grime in the soot-filled air.
But even if you can't see yourself, you know that others are watching, enjoying seeing you brought so low. You try to project an unbroken façade, try to keep them believing in you, even as your faith in yourself is beginning to flag. There is something comforting about being feared, even as a broken and hopeless prisoner.
There are nine cameras watching you at all times. One is specifically trained on the peg that anchors you by your ankle to the back of the cell. The chain is long enough to allow you some movement, but short enough to prevent you from accidentally (or intentionally) making a fatal leap from edge of your cell into the abyss beyond and the magma lake at its base. The other cameras are positioned in each corner of the cell, covering the entire room multiple times over without a single blind spot.
You try every possible one to meddle with the seeker-sleeper device they've embedded in your arm anyway, only to wake up hours later with the knowledge that your attempt has been seen and you have failed. The viewing angles of each camera are pathetically easy to calculate – probably because there are simply no weaknesses. Foaly has made no mistakes, and he knows it.
But it really isn't the cell itself that is the worst thing. It is knowing that life is going on outside its walls, knowing that those who imprisoned you are out there, receiving medals and adulation for their roles in your capture while you are slowly forgotten. You have been outsmarted for the last time, and you can feel your brilliant mind rotting, neuron by neuron, brain following body into institutionalisation as you stare – day in, day out – at the same bare rock walls, floor, and ceiling.
You're not sure whether to be glad that you weren't sent to a hard labour camp. Your slender fingers are soft – the hands of a genius, an inventor, a schemer – and they had been torn to shreds in your one stint of physical labour. At the time of your sentencing you had thought it would be second only to the death penalty as a punishment, but at least it would have relieved the relentless monotony.
The elf judge hadn't even suggested it as an option. It wasn't mercy, of course; in killing a member of the LEP, you had crossed a line meaning that there was no mercy remaining in the judicial system. 'Beyond redemption' the court pronounced you, the faces of eight jury-members hard with agreement. But they also agreed that anything allowing you contact with the outside world was an unacceptable risk; you'd always been far too good at capitalising on opportunities no one else had seen. That opportunity might have been all that was needed to unleash your vengeance on fairy society once more.
But they needn't have bothered restricting your communication with the outside world; it makes no difference. You have no more friends or employees on the outside to help you. They all betrayed you, in the end, and you have vowed to trust no one, ever again. No one, that is, but yourself.
Far from the other prisoners, your isolation consumes you.
You can barely even hear the goblins rattling their bars over the thermal wind that moans through miniscule cracks and chinks in the rocks around you.
No communication with the outside world. No activities. Nothing but five rough planes of rock and one empty abyss, overlooking the central crater and the matching cliff-face far opposite.
Within two years, all your plans for escape, no matter how ludicrous, have been exhausted; there is simply nothing to work with.
You haven't seen the face of another sentient being since you woke up in this place. The last face you remember seeing was Foaly's, still tight with grief and anger, just before they activated your seeker-sleeper for transport. It had been a year since the death of his colleague, but your trial had opened up the wounds again and again. You remember thinking, as the sedative took effect and you fell into dark oblivion, that if that centaur had anything to do with it there would be no escape, not this time, not ever.
In three years, you've received no news of the outside world, human or fairy. Nothing. You've taken to spending your time semi-comatose, in that trance-like state that allows your mind to freewheel, but with no end in sight it hasn't been enough. Your powerful intellect has long turned from the topic of escape onto how you can end this interminably boring existence. Even those ideas have turned from absurd to utterly impossible over a year ago, and you are left with no recourse but to sit and gaze into the abyss.
Eventually – one day some uncountable eternity after you had arrived – the monotony breaks.
Your body clock has learnt the prison schedule, but the hum of a shuttle approaching down the central void of the prison is unexpected. It isn't time for one of the regular patrols or meal deliveries, and it confuses you. The guards are coming, for some reason, moving past the windows of the low-security prisoners, down the cliff-face towards the higher security cells.
Maybe a new prisoner. Or a special visitor, perhaps, for one of the other prisoners. There are never any visitors for you. You don't even look up as the roar of the engine grows louder and louder, which is why you are so startled when you feel the telltale lethargy of your seeker-sleeper activating, hear the sound of the engine slipping into idle right near your cell.
Then, for a time, you know nothing more.
Your first reaction, upon waking to find that a second bed has been set up in your cell and upon seeing me lying on it, is laughter. Peal upon peal of hysterical laughter.
Your second reaction is to shove me off onto the rocky floor and drag my bed over next to yours, giving you enough room to sleep comfortably.
I don't complain with words as the rocks dig painfully into my back, but you hear my silent protest nonetheless.
At first, it amuses you as you imagine how I feel. Betrayed? Indignant? How could I possibly expect you to treat me fairly?
But gradually, your amusement dies. Every time your eyes drift in my direction, burning like a brand into my delicate skin, you feel the weight of my reproach. The sharp pangs of guilt are unfamiliar inside your chest.
The air at Howlers's Peak is so thick with soot from the active magma lake at its base that my delicate pixie face, as pale as yours, begins to darken within hours of my arrival. Only my hair stays its natural colour, as dark as midnight, unable to get any more black than it had started.
You don't understand why I have come and I don't enlighten you, but you consider piecing together what has happened to be a worthy challenge for your rapidly deteriorating brain.
Perhaps it hadn't been until after the end of your trial that they had even thought about what would be done with me, your unwitting partner in crime. Dr. Argon had surely begged to be allowed to keep me, right up until the point where funds ran out. Perhaps he even applied for a government grant to continue my treatment, but the Council turned him down flat.
Allowing me to be out of jail or a secure mental hospital would have been almost as dangerous as allowing you out. But now the money was gone, and I still required care. They didn't know what to do with me – their only options being expensive, distasteful, or illegal – until someone had stumbled upon the perfect solution: let you deal with me.
The whole situation is your fault, after all, and you have no more magic to lose by disobeying the Book. As long as they provide you with all the tools necessary to keep me alive, the burden of my care, and fundamentally my life or death, will be on your conscience rather than theirs.
Despite your theories, however, you don't truly believe that they will let me die. You've already tried starving yourself to death, but gave up when it became clear the only result was to be put to sleep and force-fed, waking up sore and unable to induce vomiting. If they aren't willing to let you die, after what you have done, surely they won't let me die – in your latest scheme, I had been merely one of the victims, after all. If you ignore me, I will eventually be taken away.
Or I will die.
It doesn't particularly matter to you either way. Why would it? I've never been more than a useful chess piece to you.
A new nutrient IV bag comes with your breakfast tray. The soft plastic tubing that should connect it to the needle embedded in my arm isn't strong enough to be useful for another suicide attempt, so you throw the whole thing out of your cell and into the abyss beyond. You smirk as you imagine its slow parabolic passage to the fiery lake below and the face of the centaur as he watches you declare your intent. He will be fascinatingly conflicted as you prove him right by causing the death of any living being – even though the victim is only my empty shell.
You watch as my current bag runs, drip by drip, into my veins. Drip by drip, running out. Your mind is suddenly alert, stimulated by even this trivial challenge of getting rid of your unwelcome cellmate.
And then it's empty.
The next IV bag arrives the next morning, and quickly follows its predecessor. You try to ignore me as assiduously as I ignore you, but you've already mapped the exact dimensions of everything else in the cell. I am the only thing you haven't been looking at for the past three years, so it is difficult for you to keep your eyes off me.
The third, fourth, and fifth bags go out into the magma. Deep within my coma, lying helplessly on the rough floor of the cell, you know I am smiling.
They can't force you to look after me. They haven't put you into a hard labour camp because you are too dangerous to be allowed even that small freedom; you won't allow them to put you to work in your own cell.
But you can't take your eyes away from the slow deterioration of my body, watching the flesh slowly fall from my bones as I dehydrate, watching my flawless face shrivel and blacken. You tell yourself you don't care, but deep inside, you mourn as my beauty fades.
You still can't really believe that they will let me die. But you are beginning to wonder. Can they actually let it happen?
When the sixth IV bag arrives, you hold it gently for almost half the day before sending it into the centre of the peak, and when you wake the following morning, I am still here. Dying.
The guilty feeling in the pit of your stomach spikes; you had been so sure that they couldn't possibly let me die on your watch, but as your leaden stomach twists you suddenly realise that, if you do nothing, it will really happen.
You've killed before, but it hadn't been like this. It had been a critical element in your plan: a bomb activated from a safe distance as you taunted your opponents with false hope and laughed in their helpless faces. It wasn't forced upon you, a situation engineered to damn you whether you do or don't.
You can't bear the thought of being the LEP's executioner: doing exactly what they want you to do; bearing the responsibility for their crimes; imagining Argon and Cumulus tutting over the depths of your depravity as they write up the incident in your psych file.
When the drip arrives that morning, you connect it to my arm as though you had intended to do so all along. But the twisting sensation in your gut doesn't go away, as you had expected: it intensifies, and it feels like flying, it feels like floating, it feels like falling.
My skin is now so dark with soot that I practically blend in with the bare rock floor where I'm so uncomfortably sprawled, but your eyes automatically seek me out in the semi-darkness. There is something about that feeling in your stomach that draws your eyes straight back to me every time they start to look away.
No one, least of all I, would deny that I am beautiful, whether in human or fairy form; no amount of soot can ever hide my stunning features and flawless skin. If I were able, I would protest at the gaze that burns into my unprotected skin so intently, but I cannot.
And soon it isn't enough to let your eyes linger.
Three days after the first time you replace my drip, you use your barely adequate ration of drinking water to clean up my face, white strips appearing in the wake of the moistened bit of cloth as you wipe away the sooty grime with blackened fingers. You work methodically and slowly – oh, so slowly! – savouring the revelation of each centimetre of pale skin, and it doesn't seem wrong to be enjoying it so much, not at all, because it has been so long since you have touched another person that the very contact makes you feel alive. You had almost forgotten that feeling.
That night you barely sleep, tossing and turning in our joined beds, staring at the near-incandescence of my newly clean face in the pale red-orange glow from outside the absent wall. Somehow, that familiar face seems like the most beautiful thing you can remember seeing in your whole life.
Is it really guilt you're feeling?
You've felt guilt before, but it had been nothing like this.
You haven't the faintest idea what time it is when you give up on sleeping and cross the room to my slumbering form. You pick me up as best you can, but you aren't strong enough to make it all the way in one go: you've never been physically strong, after all, and the combination of three years of inactivity and the warping of your growing body haven't helped. But you manage it slowly, careful to lift me properly rather than dragging me over the rocky floor, careful not to worsen my already reddened and broken skin, where the rocks have cut into my back.
I don't thank you when you finally hoist me up onto the pushed-together beds and climb in beside me yourself, but you know that I am grateful. You're not surprised to feel me stretch contentedly inside the circle of your arms and slumber on, although perhaps you should be. It seems insignificant though. The feeling in the pit of your stomach isn't gone; it's growing stronger and you can't identify it, can't pinpoint what it is, but you're certain now that it isn't guilt.
"Is it love?" you ask me, days later, as you are reverently cleansing my face once again, the scattered remnants of your mind finally coalescing enough to supply you with a whisper of an explanation. "Is this what love feels like?"
Again, you are not surprised to see my eyes fly open and a familiar smile like a contented cat cross my face, a mirror of your own. That smile is the most stunning thing you have ever seen and you cannot resist the compulsion to lay your lips against mine. It is an epiphany, it is everything you had dreamed of, it is everything you had never found in a lover, and you cannot imagine how you had never realised before that I am the only one for you.
Am I really that beautiful? I ask you in my silence, and you smile into my mouth, keeping your eyes open so as not to lose sight of my perfection even for an instant. You know I am.
Somewhere inside you, you know it's not right, that it can't be, but it seems so natural, as though every choice and happenstance in your life, wrong or right, fortunate or unfortunate, has been leading to this point. You wouldn't change a single one of them: wouldn't change the disapproving parents who could never accept you for who you are, the betrayal of those you had thought loyal, the death of the LEP Commander that had sealed your fate, wouldn't even change the wretchedly lucky interference of Short and her Mud Man friends. It is that journey that has brought you to this point, this point where I am here with you: quickened in your arms, animated by your love.
Time moves on around us – days, months, years – who can tell? It doesn't matter.
You care for me more assiduously than you have ever cared for anything other than yourself; you wipe away the smallest specks of soot from my pale, perfect face; you cradle me gently, as though I might crumble to dust at the slightest touch; you touch me cautiously, possessively, fervently, desperately. You know that your own face is dirty, your hair unkempt. You know that you would never have let such a thing happen before, that you're falling apart at the seams, and you don't care in the slightest.
Surely they are still watching, from their cameras, but you have no more false pride to show them; all your thoughts and emotions are wrapped up in me. You are finally content in this innumerable string of days, stretching into eternity together.
Sometimes you realise that what you see, what I am, can't be real – that I am merely a figment of your imagination, a splinter of your fractured psyche personified in your inanimate clone – that Argon and Cumulus, watching us from their monitors, will be having a field day. Sometimes you push me away, spending whole hours as far from me as you can manage, moments of clarity breaking through the haze of infatuation.
Other times – as you hold me in your arms and stare out into the void that makes up the sixth surface of our tiny cell; as you trace my pointed ears with nostalgic fingers and mourn for the loss of your magic; as you sneak admiring glances at the face and body so similar to your own and completely forget that you aren't allowed a mirror; as you intersperse gasps and moans with reverent kisses on the unresponsive mouth of the only one who will never betray you; as you sometimes truly believe that I am kissing you in return – you understand that it doesn't matter if I am merely another part of yourself.
Reality is in the mind of the beholder, and who is to say our little bubble of reality isn't just as real as that of the Mud Men who have never even heard of fairies? Just as I need you to keep me alive, you need me to help you chase away the interminable loneliness, to give you a purpose to this inescapable life.
Perhaps you will never be truly happy in the dual prisons of rock and your own mind, but you can certainly be content whether or not I am an invention of your mind, merely a cover for the narcissism of which Fowl once accused you.
Could there be anyone more worthy of your love, after all, than yourself?
A/N: If your response is something along the lines of "But he… who…" ::whimper:: then my work here is done. ::climbs aboard the HMS Opal/Opal waving all the Opal/Opal paraphernalia she's had to keep in her closet for the last three months to keep the ending of this fic under wraps:: Artemis Fowl – the only fandom with so!totally!nearly!canon clonecest! And if you knew what was coming… more power to you.
Technically: if you have anything to say to me about tenses or grammar that is not "Wow! That's amazing!" please be specific enough to tell me where the problem is, because I have beaten my brains out trying to get it to make sense, and I'm beginning to dream about The Monster Book of Grammar hunting me down. Man, that thing's got sharp teeth. Still, if you do think a particular line/paragraph/etc. is wrong, please do let me know! There's nothing that I love (or reciprocate) more than constructive feedback…
As for my dedicated and beloved betas, who took a rough, confusing draft, littered with intolerably long sentences and bizarre tense changes, and poked it until it managed to turn it into what you see here, and whose thank you note was sadly and unforgivably mislaid in a last minute update – I cannot thank them enough. Dim Aldebaran, Kitty Rainbow, and Blue Yeti… thank you. ::offers cloned chocolate truffles::