FYI When I wrote this it was before season 3, when I didn't know he shared a cell with Andrew. After I did know, I didn't want to add him in because I felt it messed too much with their interaction.
Right now what I'm thinking is that this is supposed to be set early in his imprisonment, and that perhaps he started alone, and then they later realized he needed a cellmate.
Thank you all so much for your lovely comments, they really really do help me have motivation to continue things like this, I'm so happy you guys are enjoying it.
I'd really appreciate if you could comment again!
(Please read the end notes too, because I'd like your guys' input on something after you're done!)
Varian's blue eyes are questioning, almost glowing behind his fringe, like shards of ice holding prehistoric monstrosities just waiting to thaw.
She clears her throat, her tongue searching for where to begin. Options flare behind her lips;
The anger returns; she could tell him what he once was, and how he's changed too much, and it breaks all their hearts.
She could lecture him about how hurting people is wrong, and she disapproves of all he did.
She could turn around, and say nothing at all; give in to the fear bubbling below the surface, run far away, and leave him wondering why she even came, thinking he won, without quite knowing what game they were playing.
She could demand why he did what he did, and for his apology. She could demand for him to bow before her, and beg for mercy.
But, if she lectured him, he would not be receptive to her words. If she asked him questions, he would surely put the answers in a magician's box with swords in it and tell the audience to watch carefully. If she was angry, if she yelled at him and demanded he see her as his queen…she'd never be able to sleep.
But he is not a child for her to order around. Nor was he a villain for her to condemn.
None of that would matter. None of that would work. None of that is why she's here.
"The truth is"—where to begin? How to set the tone?—"I don't approve of what you did."
She starts with something disciplinary even so. Something queenly. Something motherly, but stern. Her intention was not to lecture, but she thought it best to start from a place of principle. Sympathy is best given by those whom you respect—best given by from those whom you think it's worth being given. It was somewhere to begin at least.
He gives a small smirk. "You came all this way to tell me that?" He inclines his head. "How sweet."
She tries to ignore the venom in his voice.
Even in this cell, he believes he's in the right, that he can control her, make her afraid. But he does not. Will not.
She is not doing this for him.
Now she can move her pieces on the board; her words are pawns, which can move only forward, step by step.
"I think it was harsh, and cruel and in some ways, I still don't understand why you did it."
In a lot of ways.
But what would she have done to get Rapunzel back when she was gone? And wouldn't she have spat in Mother Gothel's face, had she known, had she met her? And what did Frederic do for her when she was dying?
He is not some monster, not something she can't understand. She has to remember they are not so different.
"Glad I'm still a mystery."
His tone makes it harder to remember what he is. Just a boy, locked in this cell. And the difference between them is that while she may have to line her words up in the right order; put them in neat little ribbons and bows, building up her case, or everything will come crashing down…words are all he has. He will use them to hurt her, because he has words…and nothing left to lose.
"That, however, is not why I'm here."
His eyes flick up before he can hide the surprise in them.
...But they darken, and he stands up, his raccoon hopping to the ground, chittering, as if he could feel the tension bubbling below the surface.
"Oh, really? Then what, pray tell," he mocks, lifting a hand, "are you here to tell me, your Majesty?" The words are the scorpion's sting.
This is how he is, how he was then, how he's going to be. …But she knows this is not all he could be.
And this is how she is.
She wraps her free hand around one of the bars, holding onto it like it's her own resolve, and if she doesn't hold tight it will turn to sand and slip through her fingers. She is going to get as close as she can, she will prove to him that she is unafraid, though everyone else treats him like a beast.
Even though she is. She is—
She's afraid of a fourteen-year old boy.
These words won't get through the bars to him; they are destined to topple. For they are the same as they were that day. The same tone, the same message, though they may be kinder, they still look down upon him, they scorn his goals and treat them as childish. And if they didn't get through to him in his lab, they won't reach his heart now that its had time to harden in this cell.
She hates that; knowing that it is their fault, her fault, in some way, that he is like this—
That is why she must forgive him. In a way, she is setting herself free from her own prison.
And she wants this to work. She wants him to realize there's more to him. She doesn't want him to be like this forever. She wants to set him free too.
Speaking to him as the Queen, judging his actions, starting from a place of truth, but disapproval, will not get through. Appealing to lofty ideals like the good of the kingdom, the good of the king, and of his own soul won't matter to him. Lofty ideals mean nothing to a boy grieving for his father.
This is not for him. This is for her. It doesn't matter what he says, what he thinks. In the end, all she can do is try to reach him, knowing it is ultimately his choice to take her hand through the bars. But the success or failure of this mission is measured by whether it helps to heal the fear ingraining itself in her heart, whether it helps to heal the way she thinks of him.
So, in light of this, what can she say to gain some amount of closure? To heal her heart? Her fear?
She takes a deep breath.
It isn't easy to say aloud, to anyone, especially to him. But she knows the truth will save them both.
"What you did…" Her words now gain a far-off quality, more ragged themselves.
The words tasted like anger and fear. They are not the queen's lofty proclamations…they are Arianna's real feelings. Her grip tightens around the cold metal of the bar as she whispers darkly, "It scares me." Her eyes dart to him, her own resolve tightening in coils inside her, becoming something more than the fear. But, despite the still-present anger, there is something very sad in her voice; "You scare me, Varian."
At first he wants to sneer—she can almost taste the poison on his lips.
But something about these words catches up to him, reaches the mainframe; the edge in his blue eyes falters, and for a moment, a mere moment, he is a boy again. He is the kindness, the Oh I'm so sorry! the Did I do something wrong? and he is realizing that there is something about her words that makes him sad too. But he pulls the plug, hits reset, the venom replenishes itself, and he is the villain again. He folds his arms over his chest, turns his head, and scoffs, his tone becoming blank of anything that reached him;
"So what? You expect me to be sorry?"
"No." She answers immediately. "No Varian,"—she is going to say his name as much as she can, calling to something deep inside him that is still Varian—"I don't expect you to be sorry, nor do I expect that you'll care about anything I have to say."
Because she doesn't.
She wants him to be. She knows from that single look that that boy is in there; the one who does very much care, who would care if his friends got hurt, who knows there is more to life than just making his father proud, and who would care if the Queen was afraid of him, for whatever reason. She knows that that boy is sorry, even now.
But she doesn't expect to see that boy.
She knows he will hide him, shove that boy and his kindness to the side—(just like they all did, once upon a time)—push him down into the pieces of his shattered heart where there are monsters, and little oxygen, and black rocks growing like thorns.
If she expects him, she will never see him again.
If she doesn't, she will see him in every passing glance.
He takes a step forward.
He is, so unbearably small. He is weak, and dirty, and she can tell he hasn't been eating well. Yet he's so tall in her eyes, even here—like he was that day, when she was on the ground, and he on the ladder, his heart is incased in living metal, his motions wound to the tune of a sad music box. He seemed so tall then…though he'd fallen so far then.
"Then what are you expecting? What do you want from me? Why did you come here, your Majesty?" He gets close to the bars, too close, but she isn't letting his words get so close to her heart. "Did you come to gloat? To condemn me? To lecture me?" He pauses. "Don't bother,"—His voice becomes a quiet breath—"I've already heard them all."
At first she wonders where he's heard them, who told them to him—if she was wrong, and Frederic came after all, opted for lectures, instead of accusations. Then she realizes, Ah, of course. Quirin. And that thought, the way he mentions his father, the hopelessness hidden in the midst of the intense sadness…it makes her thoughts falter, reshuffle.
"I don't think you yourself even know why you're here." The sting still hides in his tone, slithering in the background, and it will latch its fangs onto her conviction, a parasite, stealing it away, if she isn't careful. She can almost feel his breath now, he is so close, so horribly close. "Do you? You're…scared. So why come before the object of your fear?" His lip curls as he mocks, "You must think you're so brave."
Anger ignites in her gaze. She can't believe he'd talk to a queen like this. She grips the bar tighter, the imperfections in the cold metal digging into her palm.
Her fear makes her feel like a little girl before him. But if he's weaving fear into the little girl in her heart, she will sow doubt into the little boy in his.
And from now on she will speak simply to him. Without the judgment, the lectures, the threats. Not as a queen, but as a mother. She will sit down with that boy as he cries in the dark, bring down a drop of sunlight, stolen from the outside, to the boy who doesn't believe he deserves it.
"You want me to—?!"
"Listen." She breaks though his words.
"What?" he takes a step back.
That's all it is. All she needs to heal her heart. All he needs for a chance at redemption. It's so much simpler than they all thought, than she thought at first.
"I came here because I want to talk to you. Forgive me if it sounds like a lecture," She laughs a little, sadly still, "I'm afraid I don't have much practice. But I don't pretend to have all the answers either."
At first he grits his teeth, trying to fight her request, but he turns away, his hand to his chin like when he's doing serious calculations. He pauses for a long moment, then his eyes tick back to her and scan her.
He shrugs. "Not like I've got anything better to do." The words are not kind, but the snake in his voice curls up quietly.
She releases the bar at last.
"I don't approve of what you did." She takes a step back, assuming a more reserved position. "I don't like it, I don't understand it, and at times, you still scare me. But this,"—she stops and gestures to the bars—"this cell…" Her eyes fall upon him. She is not afraid to meet that blue now, now that the electricity has calmed slightly, now that he is at least willing to listen. "It won't change that. It won't change what happened, or how either of us feel about it."
She is meeting him where he is now, in this cell, not standing above him and calling him villain.
"Locking you up …I thought it would give me some peace of mind, and while it might mean that you can't hurt Rapunzel anymore…" She shakes her head a little and murmurs. "I don't think it helps either of us sleep any easier."
He pauses, looking down.
"I don't want our happy ending to mean the unhappiness of yours."
What? The boy in his eyes whispers as he jerks his head up.
"This is not where I want your story to end."
She can see it. That drop of sunlight she stole for him taking root in his eyes.
"So what are you going to do?" The snake in his voice lifts its head, hisses. "It's not like you're going to let me out."
"No." She gives a small smile. "It's not much, I know…but I have made a decision."
"And what's that?"
"I have decided to forgive you."
The fear is gone from her voice now. And at last, she means it. She has done what she came here to do.
Surprise, sunrise, flares behind his eyes for a moment. Then he folds his arms, turns away and scoffs,
"Is this some sort of joke?" The snake has moved to his hands, curls them into fists at his sides, rattling noiselessly in warning.
"It's not a joke, Varian." She answers simply. "Would I go this far for a joke?"
"I didn't ask for this." The snake raises its head, bares its fangs.
"No, you didn't." She gives a small tinted smile, and she can tell at once just how angry her kindness makes him.
The snake shoots at her.
"I don't need your pity, your Majesty! Or your—!"
"No, you're right, you don't." She cuts him off. Her voice is completely calm and collected. She can feel the snake in her own heart, slinking away. "Nor am I intending to give it. I didn't come here for you, Varian."
He looks up at this thought.
She has no reason to hide the truth from him.
"I came here for me. For my own presence of mind. I wanted to forgive you. Nothing more. No one made me do it. It's not a joke, or a lecture, or a new form of punishment."
"I get it," he sneers. "Just like the royal family to forgive for the sake of yourself, or your precious kingdom…never for me. Never for the poor boy who just needed a second of your time!
"What would your beloved family think of you if I told them you came down here to see me? If I told them—!"
"Tell them if you want to. Frederic may be angry, but what's done is done. This was my choice. That's not what this is about, and you know it. I came here for my sake… because I knew if I came here for you, you wouldn't give me the time of day. So thank you, Varian, for listening. That is all I needed." She bows slightly. "Think whatever you want, after I'm gone. It doesn't matter to me."
He isn't looking at her, the rattling his spread to his body.
"I have one last thing for you, if you will except it."
His eyes flash to her like lightning.
"Again, I know it's not much, but it's the best I could do."
In lieu of an explanation she lifts up the journal and quill, smoothing her hand over the cover, and holds it through the bars for him to take. She knows putting even her arm through the bars is risky, that it might leave her with serpentine venom in her veins...but this is her act of good faith
He tsks his teeth, folding his arms, turning away.
"Its not for you." She says simply.
He raises an eyebrow. Oh? Then who is it for?
"It's for that boy I met the day of the science competition. You know, the one who cleaned the library? Do you think you can give it to him for me?"
That makes him angrier, but she isn't leaving till he takes it.
"Don't call it pity." She smiles, seeing the look in his eyes as he takes a step closer. "Call it revenge, if you that makes things easier."
At first he simply stands there, dark hair covering electric eyes, glancing up every few moments to see if she'll go away. Then he sighs, walks over to her, snatching it from her grip.
"I gave Rapunzel a journal just like this one."
His hands shy away from the pages, like they'll bite him, at the mention of her daughter. She knew the name would not help, but she needs him to know what this means; that she is treating him the same way she treated her own daughter.
Threats flare behind his eyes, but quell themselves. He returns to the journal, flicking through it roughly.
"I thought you might need something to do." She explains lamely.
It is a feeble excuse, but a true one nonetheless.
What will he fill it with? Not drawings, like Rapunzel, or flowery interpretations of his adventures. He will likely fill the pages with calculations, like the ones that littered his desk and the walls of his lab, the ones he put the withered sundrop flower on, the ones surely detailing the plot that put him here in the first place.
The fear is all but gone from her by now. In its place is growing something akin to a flower; hope, the sunlight she intended to bring to him, the seeds planting in her heart too. That's what forgiveness does, after all.
His eyes scan the empty pages.
He starts at the back, and ends up at the front cover. Upon seeing the inscription, he holds the notebook up in one hand, trying to decipher the words. Unlike her daughter, he doesn't make some ill-attempt to pronounce the foreign language, instead his eyes pivot to her, demanding an explanation.
"Plus est on vous," the translation rolls off her tongue, "It means 'there's more in you.'"
He slams shut the journal with one hand, closing his eyes. He runs his finger along the spine as if trying to give it chills. Then he pulls out the quill, thumbing through the feather, likely checking that they wouldn't give him anything too sharp.
"You honestly believe that, don't you?" His words are dull now. Not sad, not spiteful either. Still grey.
"What can I say?" Her smile is entirely genuine now, it contains that stolen sunlight. "I'm a sucker for a happy ending."
"Even for someone like me?"
"Oh, especially for someone like you."
He smirks. "You really are a fool."
"Better a fool than a cynic, right?"
The smile fades, and his eyes lid as he pauses, thinks, then murmurs, "...How do you know I won't use this to plot against you and your precious kingdom?"
(Though, from the softness of his tone there, she is almost certain he won't.)
"So why would you—?!"
"I told you, I didn't come here for you. I don't care what you do with it after I'm gone. That's your choice."
"That doesn't make sense!" The turmoil, thinly veiled, boils over. "Why would you come here?! Why would you act like everything's okay?! Like I'm not the guy who kidnapped you, and chained you in his lab?!"
And at last she knows she has reached him... because behind every word she can hear that little boy crying out for mercy.
As the sky bleeds into navy she knows the last drops of day that guided her down the stairs to him have been planted in his heart.
She raises an eyebrow, tilting her head slightly. "Oh? I thought you'd heard all the lectures."
His eyes widen.
"Goodbye, Varian." She turns and begins to leave. "I do hope to see you again, out free. And when I do,"—She stops to look back his way—"Maybe you can teach me that home alchemy after all."
She catches one last glimpse of the boy she met that day before she exits the dungeon, sure, after all this, she will at least be able to sleep.
I would like to continue this storyline...but I'm trying to decide if I should just continue it on this fic, or make it into a series. What do you guys think?
This technically is the conclusion to this particular story (and was all I wrote back when I originally wrote it), because it was specifically about Arianna's presence of mind, her wanting to forgive him for her sake, and her being able to sleep. But I don't feel like this is truly the conclusion to this storyline as a whole, and this relationship, (nor do I feel it's entirely satisfying in that regard), and I would love to write more for it, especially since you guys seem to like it so much. But, especially since I think I'll be switching to Varian's perspective, I'm wondering if it might make more sense to let this be the conclusion of this story, and continue the larger storyline in a separate fic? But I don't know if that's weird because I think you'd need this fic in order to understand the next one...Do fics in a series need to stand alone?br /
Which would you guys prefer/do you think is better? Continuing the story on here, or creating a second fic in the series? Are you interested in reading more at all?br /
Also, please let me know if you want me to message you the title if I decide to make it a series, and I will let you know once I post the first chapter!
I hope I didn't portray Varian incorrectly. As I said, for the most part I wrote it after S1 when I didn't know his redemption arc, and this is set somewhat early in his imprisonment, when I think he would be a bit more confrontational and villain!Varian-ish. And honestly I preferred writing him that way. I thought it made their interactions a lot more interesting.