The next morning, Aaron arrived at work and navigated through security well before 7:00am, unable to explain to himself why he was quite so eager to see Erica again. He passed it off as a morbid fascination with the tiny criminal but still… there was more to her than met the eye, as he had since discovered.
The little human was completely undeserving of her situation — he could only imagine what it was like to spend countless days in a sparse, unwelcoming cell like hers, while she actually had to bear the torturous monotony of prison life… which was why he had decided that today he was going to allow her some reprieve.
By rights, prisoners were able to claim a blissful few minutes of fresh air and a stretch of the legs in a spacious, outdoor unit right behind the human sector of the jail. No one had bothered to inform Erica that she had this option, of course, but with the way things were now… Aaron didn’t feel like it would be noble of him to deprive her.
He was on his way down to the solitary confinement block with this plan in mind, but as he passed the main offices he was stopped, as before, by a familiar authoritative voice to his left.
Aaron gritted his teeth and stopped in his tracks. “Sir?” he responded, turning on his heel to face Sergeant Thelm, who had materialised in the doorway of his office.
The higher-ranking gentleman beckoned Aaron with a flick of his head. “Step into my office for a moment, son,” he ordered. “I need to talk to you.”
He disappeared behind the doorframe again and Aaron followed, dropping into a seat at Thelm’s indication.
“What’s this about, sir?”
The sergeant raised his eyebrows, shooting the lower-ranking man a meaningful glare as he slid behind his desk and sat down. “I want an update from you, lad. On our only current resident in solitary confinement.”
Aaron shifted uncomfortably, knowing his incomplete investigation was about to be put in the spotlight.
"I managed to get a full confession out of her, about what really happened that night at the docks. What she refused to testify publicly," he announced. "Ross provoked them, attacking Erica's companion, and then her. Shooting him wasn't an act of discriminating violence, it was self-defence. Sir... this isn't a murder case."
Thelm's face continued to fall as Aaron went on. At last, he sat back with a sour look on his face. "I expected more from you. Falling for the wiles of a woman's lies…"
"She's not lying. Her story checks out!" Aaron retorted, braced to stand from his seat.
"And how do you know this? You've been snooping around on your own time?"
"Investigating," Aaron corrected. "Ross was the closest thing I had to a brother. I deserve to know the truth."
Thelm knit his fingers together, narrowing his eyes at him. "Well, I have to say you were rather quick to turn on Ross. Your own friend–"
"Stop it!" Aaron snapped, breaking what was left of his orderly façade. "Don't talk about him like that! You can't just call up his memory like that excuses what he did. I wish to God he was still alive but he brought this on himself."
Thelm merely rolled his eyes at the outburst, picking up an electric cigarette and flicking it on. "I already have her dipshit lawyer trying to convince the judge to try it as an investigation into one of our own officers. Now you, too?"
Aaron scoffed, unable to believe his ears. "And you should let him! She shouldn't even be contained in solitary at this point."
"She did this to herself. She chose to withhold information. She was obstructing justice."
"She was scared," Aaron pressed. "Protecting someone. You can't just ignore the facts and continue pinning her as some maniac."
"You have eyewitnesses? Anyone who can prove this little shit isn't just changing her story to get a sympathetic jury?" Thelm raised his voice to match Aaron's.
The blond sentry opened his mouth and shut it again, faltering. For all his late-night wanderings, he had nothing concrete as of yet.
Sergeant Thelm rose from his seat, taking advantage of Aaron's seated position to tower over him. "You have no proof Ross came with foul intentions that night. None. Until you get your hands on some cold, hard evidence, that girl is staying in that cell and will be tried to the full extent of the law if I have any say about it. Are we clear?"
Aaron clenched his jaw, glaring up at his superior with a muted fury. "Yes," he gritted out.
"Then you're dismissed," Thelm said coolly. Aaron rose promptly and headed for the exit. "And Stryke?"
Aaron stopped in the doorway. "I expect your regular duties performed additionally from now on. Unless she has a different story to tell the world."
Aaron sent him one last seething look before disappearing down the hallway, towards the captive felons.
Erica slowly surfaced to consciousness not long after 8:30am, wading through oceans of distorted, nonsensical images — a burning house; a courtroom with walls stretching 150 feet tall; a dock churning with blood red water and a single, smashed boat; silhouetted figures hiding among trees; enormous soldiers in endless lines of blue eyes and blond hair; a dying giant with a noose trailing from his destroyed eye-socket—
She gasped and her eyes flickered open, immediately squinting against the glaring white light of her cell. She heaved herself up onto her elbows. A glance at the clock in the outer room told her that it was really far too early for someone like her to be awake right now.
Turning over onto her back, she yawned and scrubbed her fringe out of her face with a groggy hand, already shutting her eyes again.
I got no reason to get up just yet. Good thing about this place, she thought wryly, is that I can always sleep as late as I want without inter—
Her eyebrows furrowed. She sat up once more as a dull rumbling struck up, her bed quaking and juddering.
That all-too-familiar beeping of the door assaulted her ears, followed by the loud rush of air as it slid open and the sentry walked in. Groaning, Erica gripped the thin blanket that had pooled around her thighs and dragged it back over herself, flopping down on her back. Her voice came out as a muffled growl from beneath the covering.
“You’re a little early, aren’tcha?"
Aaron stole a look at his wristwatch. "Late, actually."
He got down in front of her cell, carefully clutching a tray of morning gruel in his left hand. With a few expert clicks, the front barrier flickered out of existence, allowing his hand passage inside the barren space.
His steely gaze lightened when he realized the odd little lump under the blanket was Erica, shielding herself from the fluorescent lights of the waking hours. Aaron snickered softly as he dropped her breakfast on the table, watching her all the while for signs of stirring.
"I was wondering," he started awkwardly. "If you'd... If sometime today you’d like to go outside with me. Er, not with me, of course... under my supervision."
The covers stirred and he whipped his hand out of the cell so fast, he singed it against one of the remaining walls. He hissed as the sting made itself known, a bright pink streak on his littlest finger.
"We don't have a garden, but we have a little grass out back," he finished softly, managing to curb himself back to a professional demeanour.
Hearing him tripping over his own words, then uttering a sound of pain, Erica smirked and twisted around under the blanket, lifting the edge to peer out at the giant. The barrier was raised but she saw through bleary eyes that his hand had withdrawn.
With a strange boldness she sat up, pulling the blanket over her shoulders like a cape, and swung her legs over the side of the bed.
“Hm?” She tilted her head, trying to appear nonchalant, though inside she was buzzing.
Thank God, I’m going to get some fresh air. It’s about damn time.
Slipping into her boots, she stood and stretched leisurely, shooting Aaron a fond smile. “I’d love to, ah… go outside with you,” she teased. “Or you know. Whatever.”
Dropping her arms, she turned away and moved to the sink to splash some water on her face, blinking away the haze of lethargy from her eyes.
“No one told me you guys had an outdoor bit,” she commented, looking up at the sentry from over her towel.
"It's not a courtesy often extended to those who are assigned to solitary," Aaron admitted. He frowned, watching her wiggle into her shoes without so much as giving her breakfast a second glance. "You don't want to eat first?"
"If I eat it warm or cold, it won't make it taste any better."
A little smile lifted the corners of his lips. "Fair point," he muttered, digging a hand into his pants pockets. It came back with a pair of tiny metal cuffs resting in the crease of his palm, glinting innocently in the light.
Aaron lifted his eyes to her, apologetic. "These are necessary for the move. Unless…" he faltered, fingers flexing as he considered a new possibility. "Unless you would prefer a carrier?"
Erica grimaced at the sight of those handcuffs, dropping the towel to the floor and folding her arms.
“Yeah… steady on, big guy, I’ll take the carrier over those any day.” A slow smile crept onto her face. “I get to choose myself, huh? This is an improvement,” she trilled, grateful that she’d been given the option.
She stepped forward eagerly, remembered the absence of the barrier, and halted before she got too close to the sentry. She returned his gaze, green eyes hopeful. “So, if it’s really no trouble,” she added, finally. “Please.”
"No," Aaron blurted. "No trouble."
The little handcuffs disappeared into the deep recesses of his right slacks pocket, while he rose to access a second giant cube on the other side of her cell. Instead of seating, it served as storage of some sort. The view from her cell was obscured, but Aaron returned with a standard issue human-carrier and aligned the opening to that of her cell.
"You wouldn't be the first person to avoid hands," he remarked, contemplative as he kept the box steady beneath her barely perceptible footsteps. His thoughts took a dark turn as he realized he and Ross both played a hand in likely turning her away from giant contact for ages to come after this ordeal.
"I... I understand the trepidation."
When she gave the wall a pat, Aaron shut the grate of the carrier and lowered it to his side, moving for the door.
Erica braced herself in the dark for the nauseating sensation of being swung through the air. She felt the box lurch and heard the whoosh of the door opening. Gritting her teeth, she shut her eyes for a few seconds, frowned, then opened them.
Perhaps it was her mind playing tricks, but this box seemed a little less cramped than the one she had arrived in, and the ride was perceptibly smoother. Glancing up at the carrier’s ceiling, she wondered if Aaron was taking extra care with his strides.
She was grateful. Deciding that this was far preferable to being carried on a bare hand, she relaxed a little, loosening her grip on the walls but keeping her legs braced in case of turbulence.
Aaron gripped the edges of the box firmly as he navigated the corridors of the prison, and took pains to keep his arm from swinging too much. She wouldn’t have thanked him for that.
A few officers watched as he strode past them to the door at the back of the facility, swiped his ID in the scanner and walked through into daylight.
It was a chilled morning — the sun was glaring but a light fog rested in the air. Adjusting his collar with one hand and supporting the cell with another, Aaron lowered himself to a crouch. With a finger and thumb he clicked open the latch and drew the grate up and back, watching as Erica appeared in the light and stepped out onto grass.
“Wow,” she breathed, hugging her arms to her chest.
Quietly as possible, Aaron set the carrier by the doorway, his eyes remaining on Erica rigidly. There was a natural tension that came with bringing a prisoner outside; the stress of having to worry they were going to pull some hare-brained escape attempt. And that tension was curiously absent as Erica wandered a few steps forward into the close-cropped grass.
He remained in a tight crouch, as close to her level as he could get without laying flat on his stomach. A light morning breeze ruffled Erica’s silky hair, causing wavy strands to pirouette under the wind's influence. She hugged her arms a little tighter around herself.
"You can go as far as that post there," Aaron told her, pointing at the warning signs about the high-voltage fence in the distance. "Your boots will lock up if you try to go any further."
Raising a hand to her forehead, Erica stared across the vast space, zeroing in on the distant post.
She shifted on the spot and glanced down, seeing how the blades of grass, blunt as they were from being cut, brushed up against her hips. A bird flying overhead cawed as it passed. Dew clung to her grey trousers and made her shiver.
“Okay.” Erica nodded and turned to look back at the guard. She found herself craning her neck even further, having misjudged just how large a figure he presented even crouching down. He was completely still, mouth turned down in an adorable little scowl.
“You can relax,” Erica sighed, arching a brow at him. “I won’t go far.” There was also the fact that, no matter how fast she ran, she couldn’t put herself out of his reach. She’d be caught in seconds.
She took several steps backwards through the grass, eyes wide as she tore her gaze from the monumental sentry before her. She moved slowly in a circle, drinking in the surreality of the situation.
“This is mental,” she sighed aloud, voice heavy with awe for this scaled-up landscape. “It’s been years since I’ve seen anything like this.”
In other words, since she’d set foot on land cultivated by giants for giants. Her homeland was a very human-centric environment — she was used to seeing giants squeezing past trees that barely even reached their thighs — everything that grew was, well, normal-sized. Giants had their food imported in from far-off plantations.
A childish excitement alighted in her eyes at this strange illusion; in which Aaron and the field were the perfect sizes and she… some small, unnatural creature.
Until now, she’d barely given a thought to the wholly giant-occupied areas worldwide, where genetically upsized vegetation and animals resided along with them. She wondered with not a little curiosity whether Aaron came from one of these places.
It’s lucky the grass is so well-groomed, she thought as she picked her way through it, carving a meandering trail away from Aaron. Or I might get lost.
The remnants of a mown-down dandelion squatted among the blades, its severed stem swaying five and a half feet tall. This catching her attention, Erica took a moment to lift up one of the leaves and peer under it, smiling.
Aaron shook his head, bemused by her apparent fascination for a simple weed. She looked different outside... smaller, if that was possible. She didn't linger near the building like most of the prisoners. He was afraid to take his eyes off her, lest she simply disappear into the plain of green. She stood there under the slight shallow of the severed dandelion, looking at it like it was a long lost friend.
Maybe that's not the only tall thing she likes. Aaron squared his jaw, banishing that unruly thought to the back of his mind.
"Last I checked, grass hasn't changed much," he called over.
Erica let the leaf drop back down and sent the guard a flat look that lasted all of a second before turning into a smile again. She raised her voice as high as she could manage. “Maybe not to you, Beanstalk — but I’m used to regular sized grass, y’know?”
She tugged at a nearby stem to exaggerate her point, having to use two hands… and even then only able to snap a bit off the top. She waved it in midair for a second before letting it flutter over her shoulder as she walked a little further on her way.
Aaron snorted softly. "Regular sized..."
A small mound rose up before the human, a piece of bark overgrown with lichen. She sauntered around it, gauging it to be about three metres long. Tilting her head, she placed her hands on her hips. “Whatever tree this came from must’ve been huge,” she commented. “Hang on…”
Curiosity getting the better of her, she dropped to her knees and pushed her hands underneath the bark — it was lighter than she had expected, for its size. With a small noise of effort, Erica stood, raising the bark to the level of her head and flipping it over onto its other side.
Before she knew what was happening, a skittering black mass materialised; rushing over the ground from under the bark and pooling on the grass — and Erica failed to withhold a shout of surprise.
All Aaron saw was the look of shock on her face, her frightened posture. It didn't fully register for him what threats she could possibly find in a highly-monitored prison yard. But it sure as hell got him on his feet.
"The hell?" His voice was an urgent bark as he came to stand beside her in the field. All he saw was a piece of overturned bark and Erica's skinny shoulders tensed up. The last little black beetle that seized up from his ground-shaking steps went unnoticed at his standing altitude. "What's wrong?"
Erica let out a shaky breath, watching the swarm of weevils vanish into the grass. “Whew… okay, I’m okay.”
In her shock she’d completely failed to register the giant’s advancing footsteps; and so when she turned towards the voice she let out another yelp, lurching back from the surprisingly close and colossal legs that had somehow managed to sneak up on her. “Oh, geez!”
Recovering, she felt her face growing warm and she laughed, trying to cover her embarrassment.
“Nothing, nothing! I, uh… I’m just upsetting the local wildlife,” she explained, gesturing vaguely towards the last critter making a break for the shade once again. “Oops. Forgot that these guys happen to like dark, damp places.” She exaggerated a grimace and shrugged, taking a few dainty steps away from the bark, and indeed the tall figure standing by.
It was easier to see him as a vast monument rather than a living organism from down here, she noted. If she tried to look up at his face from this vantage point, she’d never see it, it was just too damn high up. Unreachable. Suddenly disconcerted, she skipped backwards a little further, until she could see all of him without hurting her neck. She had to repress a curious sensation, a mix of fear and fascination, as she braced her hands on her hips and cocked her head to one side. He wouldn’t be able to see it, but he could hear the smirk in her tone of voice as she called up to him.
“Were you worried about me, big guy?”
"Give me a break." He dismissed such notions entirely with a scornful roll of the eyes. "You're my prisoner. Something happens to you on my watch, they dock my pay."
He shuffled away from her, picking up on her discomfort way down on the ground. Yet he couldn't make it back to the door without adding more. "So just... try not to raise any more hell with the wildlife, okay, Tinker Bell?"
He smirked down at her before nudging the abandoned bark with the toe of his boot. No more beetles scurried out, and Aaron turned his back on her with the satisfaction that she would find no further danger there.
The little woman grinned at his exasperated retort, crossing her arms over her crumpled grey shirt as she watched him go. “Cute…” she called after him, quirking an eyebrow.
She found herself gritting her teeth involuntarily as each step he took reverberated through the soil beneath her, creating a sensation not unlike an earthquake.
It was odd. She’d spent more than twenty years coexisting happily alongside the bigger people, but the strange and awe-inspiring novelty that came with feeling their every footfall had never left her.
A sudden inclination took her and she unfolded her arms, began trotting leisurely back through the grass towards the imposingly tall prison wall and the sentry, who was once again lowering himself down onto the ground. She came to a halt only a handful of metres away, sidestepping gingerly away from a stinging nettle the size of a coffee table. “Half expected those critters to be giant-sized,” she laughed. “Damn, it’s weird seeing nature like this.”
Trying not to look too interested, Erica regarded the giant coolly. “So, you have much of this stuff where you came from? Plants your size?” She furrowed her brow, looking almost wistful. “I’ve never been to America, but I imagine there’d be lots of giant settlements like this, right? Big place like that…”
She reached out a hand as if to touch the nettle, then seemed to think better of it — changing her course to wrench another blade of grass free. She knotted it idly and looked back up at the guard.
Aaron reached down, flicking away specks of blunt grass that interrupted the perfect sheen of his black boots.
"There's a lot more giant-heavy settlements on the West coast. Open space, places you can really step back and breathe. East coast... You really gotta watch where you step." He straightened up again, wearing a calm nostalgia.
His pondering gaze drifted back to Erica, straining to see every detail her size made so difficult for him to comprehend. She was still looking over the blade of grass like it was ancient papyrus, finding joy even in a desolate place.
"If you think our grass is impressive, you should see the trees," he told her, finding nothing in the moment more satisfying than the way her eyes lit up.
“I can imagine,” she sighed, almost reverently. Her smile slipped only a little. Not caring how the damp grass chilled her, she lowered herself down to sit with her legs stretched out before her, looking up at Aaron through blurry green bars.
“Maybe if they let me go I’ll pay a visit one day,” she went on, longing seeping into her voice. Perhaps if she found Roman again, they could go together. Her eyes flickered. Or... maybe not. She twisted up the grass blade and let it fall.
A dark look crossed Aaron's face when she wasn't looking. He recalled his conversation with Thelm all too vividly. The fact that there were authorities actively looking to keep Erica framed made him sick to his stomach. All the politics... That wasn't justice. That wasn't why he served the system.
"They'll let you go," Aaron murmured, his voice so quiet it hardly sounded like his at all. "You've got people fighting for you. The truth will come out in the end."
Erica huffed out a breath and lay back in the grass, feeling it prickle her scalp through her short hair. With the damp came the cold, but she simply folded her hands behind her head and ignored it.
“Yeah, like who? Phillips?” She barked a laugh. “Please. He means well, but he’s not really falling over himself to find some good evidence for my case. The sod probably hasn’t even found the time to review the statement I gave him.”
Light eyebrows shot up on Aaron’s face as he leaned over his knees briefly to glimpse her resting place in the tangle of grass.
"He's requested your charges be altered," Aaron offered, resigning his gaze back to the horizon. "It's not as straightforward as it should be. There's a lot of people who still think this was a hate-crime. Or maybe they just want it to be."
“I don’t doubt that,” she agreed, propping herself up on her elbows so she could see the sentry. “Bloodthirsty bastards… people love a good hanging.”
Her tone was disturbingly lighthearted, but her insides ran cold at the thought. They just want an example made of me. They don’t care about details — I killed a giant and now they want recompense. She pressed shaking hands into the dirt and sat up rigidly.
Aaron watched her quietly overhead, withholding his inner conflictions. His fingers twitched from the urge to reach down and gather her out of the yard, into absolute safety.
"There's still time," he insisted, his voice a monotonous rumble. "These things are a mountain of paperwork and red tape, you have to know that."
This time, she did not reply right away. Her silent despair seeped into the air, fears that could not be justified by words. His fingers twitched again, and this time he could not resist the pull to get closer to her. Closer, but not quite touching.
A great ocean of fabric folded and rustled as he bent over, hand outstretched near the tiny prisoner. She stiffened up as the shadow crossed her – but his shadow was the only thing to touch her. His fingers dove instead for a lone beetle wandering over towards her shoes. Pinched carefully between a finger and thumb, he moved it far from Erica and blew it into the air. Then his hand retreated once more, restless as ever in her presence.
Erica spotted the little creature only a second after he did, and she inhaled sharply as his hand came down right next to her, fully expecting to experience its destructive power right in front of her. Instead she watched with mild amazement as the beetle was scooped up — its delicate exoskeleton kept intact by gentleness unfathomable for a giant.
“Oh! Thanks,” she breathed, mortified to hear how small and flustered her voice was. She let a smile cross her face all the same, reaching to rub the back of her neck. “They’re following me.”
Her eyes glazed over as her fear dissipated a fraction. That forefinger had been so close that she could have reached out and ran her hand across it…
At that moment another little black blur buzzed through the air and alighted on her arm.
"Oh, now you're just inviting them," Aaron groaned.
Erica jolted in surprise as the weighty insect perched on her arm, spindly legs wrapped around her bare skin. He waited for her to shake it off, to shriek and smack at it.
She did nothing. She just... sat there, wearing a wide-eyed look. Her eyes flickered up to his for the briefest of seconds, and Aaron suddenly felt his mouth go dry. She was waiting.
His breathing swirled the air around her as a hand-shaped shadow crossed over her once more, this time aiming right for her. Both their breathing hitched as Aaron caught the pest between a finger and thumb, pulling it off her arm. Her skin was soft under his fleeting touch, and she swayed under even the gentlest of pressure.
"We should get back inside," Aaron said, shaking the bug off to his other side. "Before you're eaten alive out here."
Erica looked away for a second, her hand coming unconsciously up to clasp her arm where his finger had brushed her.
“I…” She shook her head, ahemed, and gave a reluctant nod. “Yeah, I suppose we should,” she laughed.
But despite the ridiculous amount of insects around here… the little plot of land was far preferable to her sterile and claustrophobic cell. She’d hoped taking a turn outside would improve her mood, but now came the dread of being shut up alone once more; so it was with a rueful sigh that she got to her feet. Shaking out her arms, she directed a sorrowful glance up at the sentry.
Don't look at me like that. Turning away from those heartbreaking eyes, he twisted around to retrieve the carrier. He pressed the open box onto the grass before her, giving her a silent nod of his head to proceed forward. Even forced down by his right hand, the grass kept the lip of the box at what was thigh-high to Erica. She didn't struggle for long. Without offer or warning, Aaron was suddenly clasping her tiny hand within his vastly larger one. Her momentum to climb aboard was assisted by a flick of the wrist from the giant. He gave her hand such a brief squeeze, it could have been imagined.
She was left to wonder just that, for when she turned around, the grate was pushed shut behind her, the carrier lifted into the air. She squeezed her eyes shut tight as Aaron scanned himself back into the prison complex, hating the sterile halls that loomed within more with every passing day.