It starts with a bang.
He enters, a flurry of excitement and smiles, with all the confidence of a king but none of the grace.
Or perhaps, at this moment in time, it would be best to compare him to a prince. He doesn't have the energy of a king, yet; doesn't feel like a king, yet, and it's more acceptable for princes to march in his way, anyway. Much more acceptable for princes to wear those wide and wild grins that he's prone to wearing. Much more acceptable, yes, for princes to address kings in the way that he addresses this one before him, with wide eyes.
This king has no crown to his name, and no glittering jewels either. Such thinking would be far too romantic even for a little boy, he has learned. No robes, not even sequined blankets or scepters or marvelous thrones. Instead, there is the familiar and somewhat reassuring sight of a black top hat atop this king's head, and rather than jewels the king seems to be concerned with money, actual currency. Robes are replaced by proper clothing, and sequins make this different king, this king of kings in the modern age, want to scream. The prince doubts the king even knows what a scepter is, which is very impractical for royalty!
Still, even so, he knows his revered king's throne sits in a palace somewhere.
…It's just that his palace happens to be a prison, that's all.
And there's nothing wrong with that. If anything, the prince reasons, there is almost everything right with it, with exceptions that he himself could fix. Why fill rooms up with plush and jewels and knights clad in shining armor when you can fill rooms up with concrete and iron bars and guards clad in uniform? Real heroes don't fight dragons, they fight the dark creatures called "criminals" and their despicable acts, and "criminals" are much more of a threat to society than monsters with fire in their belly. These "criminals" aren't content with fires in their bellies, anyway. They would rather stick to their "seedy underbellies," whatever those are.
While regular princes are content to wander marble halls, this prince sees it fit to dance between cells and grasp at iron bars with little fingers. He has spent the majority of the day pretending to be someone regal, someone powerful, occasionally daring to venture out of waiting areas and into all the ruckus and bark orders at the "criminals" from the other side.
But he is bored, by now, of pretending to be like his father the king. So he does one of the next best things and pokes his head in to talk with the king himself. It's almost impossible to socialize with his father's employees, and definitely impossible to socialize with the "criminals." Black and white stripes can only entertain a young man for so long, anyway. Balls and chains can't possibly hold a person down if he's stuck observing them.
Besides, today's visit is going to be very special. He has ideas.
Oh, he always has those, to be sure, but today's are different. Today's involve not the grand scheme of things, as his ideas usually do, but those pesky technical details, and they are unique in that he has actually lost sleep over them and dreamed of them all at once. These are practical sorts of plans that he's actually relishing in, something he just knows his father will appreciate and understand. Something… …serious, very serious. And Father appreciates seriousness.
He barely takes a moment to observe the room around him, from the portraits lining the walls to the wide and expansive window overlooking civilization outside of correctional facilities. He does scan the floor as he tromps across it, looking for any sign of his little jail and building blocks, a work of art and a work in progress, but even that fails to capture his attention for very long. What is important is this paper of his, almost becoming crumpled up in his grip.
Father is busy, of course, which isn't really all that surprising. Busy screaming at Jarrell, the natural order of things in the palace. Still, the prince smiles enthusiastically and tries his very hardest to stand on tip-toes and flail the piece of paper in his father's face, waving both arms up and down in glee. He's sure that in any regular palace, he might be reprimanded for addressing the king like this, but this palace is really a prison, and he's seen the "criminals" act ruder than he is.
"Father," the prince sings out, tugging at the man's pant leg and waving the paper about, "Father, look—"
He goes unnoticed on his first try, and his pleas for attention become nothing but background noise set to his father's rage. The prince frowns, almost biting his lip to keep from being bothersome and then deciding against it. Whatever he and Jarrell are fighting over could probably be resolved soon as the prince snapped his fingers! This is important, more important than anything else in the entire world. This has to do with justice. Surely his father cares about justice!
The little boy is fidgeting as he tries again.
"Father, I have this—"
Again, he finds himself unheard by the man in the top hat. This time, though, Jarrell is gesturing to him with an urgent look in his eyes, trying to catch the king's attention. This is a very bold move for the king's assistant to make, and for a brief moment the young boy's eyes almost light up in admiration, before he realizes that he doesn't really like Jarrell regardless. Jarrell's the reason his father's not responding in the first place.
Now Father is beginning to growl like a panther, convulsing a little in his suit. This is never good news for Jarrell, who is in the direct line of fire. "What? What the dickens is it, Jarrell? Whatever is so important that the matter at hand has to—"
Another gesture towards the young prince in his purple cap, and he understands.
"—you." The king snarls, already sounding more like a wildcat than a man as he turns to face the little boy and rave and spit at him. He receives nothing but eager smiles and a nod from the self-proclaimed genius at his feet.
This only serves to make him angrier, of course, and his monocle very nearly cracks at the sheer force of his rage. But the prince continues to smile, almost waving up at him with joy and waving the paper about in the process. "Yes, that's me! Hello, Father!" he calls out jovially, as if he's won some sort of grand prize.
"You..." his father begins again, shaking his head a bit, "I was in the middle of something important—"
"Oh, no, you weren't," the boy is quick to interrupt, bouncing happily from foot to foot. He's so accustomed to these little fits that his father has, these little rages, that he's almost learning to tune them out. It's difficult, yes, but he's come to realize that most of the time they have absolutely nothing to do with him at all, and that he's being nothing but a silly, sullen grouch. "But now you are!"
Not even a beat and he's practically shoved the paper in the king's face, beaming. "It's funny how you're always in the middles of things, Father. Have you noticed? I have."
His father takes the paper this time, his gaze still as unforgiving as it's ever been, eyes scanning it as he continues to growl. He doesn't look nearly as proud as the prince imagined he might, and if the prince didn't know any better, he'd think the king was even more agitated by what he's seeing on the paper than his argument with Jarrell. Still, he continues to prattle on as his father looks his brilliant plans over.
"I don't know; nothing seems too terribly exciting about middles. Not to me. Does it ever get boring, being stuck in the middles of things? I'd rather be at the beginnings, where things are brand new!" He's talking too fast, he knows, but expecting him, much less any other boy his age to contain his excitement even in the face of something like justice is asking too much.
And then, a look to his father for approval reveals that perhaps his king is not angry, just befuddled. He lets out a little noise of surprise. "Oh! Are you sad, Father? I'll fix it!"
No reply from the man, who is now doing nothing but blinking at the paper. "Sad" is the closest word the boy can think of to describe that look and that feeling, at this point in time. He knows it's not good, and that people have taken to wearing that look around him whenever something gets kind of lost in translation. Whenever they don't quite understand him or his little jail, this certain look comes over them, and sometimes they smile but their eyes don't, not when they tell him to run along. That's when he knows he's lost them and lost their attention.
Not that his father ever smiles for anything, but…
…he's bracing himself for such a happening, for running along, even as he straightens his own posture and gives out a small "ahem," ready to embark on one of the explanations that have made him infamous among even the staff at the prison. "Well, I had this dream, Father, about the 'criminals' and their pokey sharp things. In the dream, I had this… …this thing that could take the pokey things away."
Still no words coming from the man's mouth, but he is looking at his son, now, really looking.
"And every single time the 'criminals' made mock'ries of justice," the boy plunges on, mostly oblivious to the look on his father's face, "they'd be punished. The... …the thing made sure of it." He is clearly floundering for words, trying to articulate things that most young boys his age aren't built to understand, but he is doing a super job in his view. This idea is revolutionary, it is new, and it is just what even this palace made for incarceration, fine as it is, needs right now.
The prince isn't looking at the king, now, but to somewhere else, something else, right through him as if he doesn't exist. There are things grander than the king to attend to, now, things that take precedence even over him and this correctional facility he's running. All the while he is prattling on about contraptions that literally pull inmates' skin right off of their bodies, of machines to set them on fire, of ways to make them squeal, and all the while he is smiling, smiling with such great joy that anyone catching a glimpse of him might worry that he's about to crack his face in half or hurt himself.
He talks of things that run on "wheels, but not boring wheels." He talks of things that spit fire and shoot off smoke. He talks of bones being crushed, of bodies being hacked to pieces, of weaponry before he even learns what weaponry is. He talks of various torture techniques and why they might be beneficial to his father's institution, before he's even learned the word "torture."
"And don't worry," he says as his speech draws to a dramatic close, seeming so beside himself with happiness that it's a struggle to even spit words out onto the floor of his father's study, "I tried it all out on the rabbits first!"
He chirrups an insignificant "that's all!" then, and leaves the king and his assistant to praise him in the privacy of the king's throne room, not having the attention span to eavesdrop as originally planned and leaving the paper with his father. He skips down hallways and finds the waiting room, where he continues to sit very patiently and quietly, grinning out at the world.
He's satisfied. His father was watching, and he thought he could even feel Jarrell's gaze on him. What a good prince he must be, to capture everyone's attention just like that! Even in this place with striped clothes and vulgar language, he reigns supreme. It's in his blood. He can feel it there. And as he thinks of all the eyes on him, and all the eyes that are soon to be on him… …he feels like a king.
"What I don't understand," he can hear the Prison Mogul saying even from his spot, "is how such a young lad could be so taken with blood…"
His father seems preoccupied with his genius, regardless. He goes out that same night, on a scavenger hunt for bloodied animal carcasses and tell-tale signs of his son's mental instability. Jarrell tends to the boy and tries to hide the fear in his eyes.
And for the rest of the night, the young Warden laughs.
His father never finds the rabbits.
How is he to know that rabbits don't exist in middles?