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the oil slick

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all the dark words pouring from my throat
sound like an oil slick coating the wings we've grown
there goes a love song drifting out to sea
i'd sing along if i could hear over the oil slick

It’s a long cold slog, this lost cause mission they’re on, traipsing through the shadows of the undercity and hunting down shimmer facilities.  It’s been weeks-- months, maybe; time had held its breath and stopped mattering the minute Jinx fired a rocket at the council-- and Vi has reached a level of exhaustion that almost has her dreaming of her cell in Stillwater and the lumpy blankets she’d had to sleep with.

Stillwater was a unique sort of hell, but it had been consistent. Solitary confinement, cold concrete, the warning of a walking stick on paving stones to prepare her for the worst to come at her.  No one but herself to look out for.  No shimmer ravaging the streets she considered home, the neighborhoods she knew like her own bloody knuckles.  No Jinx, dragging bloody footprints all over the undercity and topside and the memory of Powder, shining a light on all of Vi’s guilt.  

No Caitlyn, shadows under her eyes and mouth set in a sharp constant line, refusing to speak about her mother and the coma she was in, Jayce and the warpath he was on, the lost child look in her father’s eyes when she marched through the front door of their house with Vi in tow, the both of them bloody and bruised and likely concussed, and announced that they would be returning to the undercity to finish what Vi and Jayce started.  

(“You can’t just run off with some half-cocked idea of destroying every single shimmer facility in the whole city!”

Caitlyn doesn’t flinch, finishing reassembling the rifle with the snap of the sight and smoothly collapsing it back down, clunking it down heavily on the desk.  She hadn’t said a word throughout the last ten minutes since Vi followed her the workshop, eyes wide and mouth twisted down into a scowl that they both know is a front for covering her fear, and set off on a rant about Caitlyn planning another venture to the undercity to take the criminal enterprise that made Jinx, made Sevika, fueled every terrible thing that’s happened to Vi.

Vi breathes out heavily, hands limp at her sides, chest moving visibly as she breathes because fighting is one thing but fear is another and yelling is another still, and she’s exhausted, heavy with worry and anxiety, wanting nothing more than to drag Caitlyn up to her cavernous bedroom and fall asleep wrapped up in her.

“I think we both know that everything I do is fully-cocked,” Caitlyn finally says, smooth and lazy, expanding the rifle again and whipping it up to stare down along the sight.  There’s an easy arrogance to her voice, lazy and haughty, the type that would normally-- normally, as if they have a history of longer than a week, as if the imprint of Caitlyn on Vi has any right to be as distinct as it is, as if Vi knows her as well as the patterns of scar tissue covering her own knuckles-- circle past irritating for Vi and, eventually, land squarely in the realm of things that make her shiver even now in the breath before a civil war because Caitlyn is Caitlyn and Caitlyn only ever uses the full weight of her Kiramman aristocracy when she wants something and there is nothing hotter than Caitlyn when she’s going after something she wants.

It’s easier, for the moment, with Caitlyn ready to go to war and singlehandedly pry the undercity out of the grips of shimmer instead of dealing with her grief, for Vi to lean into the weight of the attraction that neither of them would put words to than to sink into her worry.

“Cait,” Vi says, an ache creeping into her voice.  “Please.”

Caitlyn ignores her, shoving a belt with a holstered pair of handguns into Vi’s chest with one hand-- handguns, like an enforcer, like Jinx, for closer ranges and dirtier work than the immaculate distance of Caitlyn’s rifle-- and flipping the rifle smoothly into the holster on her back with the other.)

He’d argued, but it had done nothing.  Even Vi, reeling in her own uncertainty and worry, had known there was no changing Caitlyn’s mind at this point.  The pattern of Caitlyn’s stubbornness, revealed in pieces over the worst week of Vi’s life, from breaking Vi out of prison to refusing to give up on Piltover, on the undercity, on Ekko and the firelights and even, somehow, Jinx, is consistent and unwavering.  Vi had  followed her silently, packed up the first aid kits and spare ammunition and improbable stacks of cash that Caitlyn had handed her, paused only when Caitlyn’s father had pulled her aside and begged for her promise to continue keeping Caitlyn safe.

She’d nearly slipped, nearly said that she’d done nothing to keep Caitlyn safe, that she’s the one who’d had her life saved by Caitlyn more than once with nothing to offer in return but a murderous sister and a brewing civil war; instead she’d gripped his hand on her shoulder and murmured a promise.

“I’ll do my best,” she’d said, quiet enough to keep it from Caitlyn, even though Caitlyn’s already marching out the door.  Her limp is less pronounced, though there’s no telling if her leg has actually healed at all or if she’s willing herself steady.  

It’s been weeks, and they’ve slipped from shadow to shadow, shredded one manufacturing facility after another.  It’s easier than it was with Jayce-- Caitlyn is methodical where he was wild and undisciplined; they make a good team like they always have, Vi handling challenges from close range and Caitlyn picking off shimmer-dosed guards from a distance-- and even without a small army of enforcers at their back they manage to destroy one factory, then another, then another.

It’s another day, another slog, another morning when Vi had asked Caitlyn if she was ready to go home yet and Caitlyn had hummed quietly, murmured maybe tomorrow, and loaded her guns.  Another day of metering out a modicum of the cash Caitlyn had brought to scrounge up food, to buy information, slipping from alley to alley to find their next target.

“Are you sure this is the right place?” Caitlyn’s voice is soft at Vi’s side, their footsteps quiet in the dark of the long empty stretch of abandoned warehouse they’re stalking past.  

“Why wouldn’t it be?” Vi fights against the urge to clench her fists-- the gauntlets are loud in such dark places, cutting off her habitual approach to burning off tension-- and instead tilts her head, hitches one side of her mouth up into a smile.  A facade of confidence, as if she isn’t exhausted, and worried, weeks into Caitlyn methodically shutting down every moment of concern she'd tried to voice.

“This deep into the fissures,” Caitlyn murmurs, frowning thoughtfully.  “Surely there are risks to a factory--”

“As if Silco cared about risk if it wasn’t to him.”  Vi’s lip curls in distaste at his name.  He’s dead, the man who took her worst mistake and ruined her sister with it, and she didn’t even get to be the one who killed him.  Caitlyn has her own warpath now, one Vi understands, but her own was decimated with a burst from a railgun and Silco’s unceremonious death and now all she has left is a sister who doesn't want her and Caitlyn to follow.

They're halfway into a suicide mission, Vi caught in a constant tension of anxiety at the way Caitlyn doesn't sleep properly or eat enough, but she's also riding high on beating her way through the lieutenants of Silco's empire, crushing factory machinery, maybe actually imparting some modicum of change.  She'll probably die down here, like she's always expected, but maybe she can take shimmer down with her and protect Caitlyn in the process.

It'll be worth it, all the black eyes and bruised ribs and split lips, if she can get Caitlyn home safe, a little less shimmer in the lanes.  Even if it kills her.

It should be like any other of the factories they’ve hit.  Silco was a horror of a man, but he was also smart, business-minded; his factories followed consistent structures and patterns, centrally located alarms and less centrally located shimmer-fueled guards waiting to be woken.  She and Caitlyn have it down to an art now, Caitlyn disappearing to high ground, taking out the alarm access points with well-placed sniper shots while Vi bludgeons her way through the resistance on the ground.  

They have a system, a plan, one that they don’t need to speak to because they don’t really need to speak at all anymore, not now.  Caitlyn and her kind heart, who staunched the bleeding in Vi’s stomach and traded her rifle away to save Vi’s life, who held her steady with gentle hands and kind eyes, is checked out and more shell than heart, more weapon than kindness, and Vi stopped trying to talk to her two days into this lost cause of theirs.

Vi knows grief, and fury, and pain, knows that trying to drag Caitlyn out of it will only bury it away, undermine trust, leave Caitlyn still reeling but without a fixed point to hold onto or anyone to watch her back.

They have a system, and Vi shakes her shoulders out, curls the gauntlets into fists, crashes one of them through the door.  She needs to clear a line of sight for Caitlyn to take down the alarms, draw the attention of the people inside until the combination of Vi’s fists and Caitlyn’s bullets dismantles the factory.

They have a system, and it’s wrecked thirty seconds in when Vi drops the second guard in a shimmer-dose suit, and she pauses, breathes, cracks her neck as Caitlyn fires the shot that dismantles the alarm, and Vi turns to face the expected half-dozen guards and instead if faced with more than a dozen.

She’s good.  She’s the best, honestly; Sevika taught her even more than Vander did, and the only fight Vi has lost since the day her family died was when Sevika had spit out she’s like his daughter and manifested a sword out of her fucking arm.  Vi is the best at this in the whole of the undercity, but even she has limits.

There’s no chance to breathe, to look to the rafters to find Caitlyn; the first of them come in at a shimmer-fueled sprint and steam hisses out of the gauntlets as she shakes her shoulders out and throws out the first punch, the second, the third and the fourth, bone crunching and ribs snapping as she dispatches of one, then the next.  

It won’t be enough.  Vi doesn’t lose fights, but she knows a losing fight, and the gauntlets can only help her so much.  There’s a crunch of glass as a bullet smashes through one of the guard’s helmets, but every time one of them falls another one pops into the room.  

Vi sends one guard flying with a clean uppercut, blocks a swipe from one of those fucking swords with the other gauntlet, lets out a grunt when the guard inside it-- he’s less gaunt in his helmet than the others, cheeks less sunken and eyes less clouded, maybe on his first crashing dose of shimmer strength-- bears down and nearly drives her to one knee with his weight.

It takes precious time she doesn’t have to break out from under his weight, and just as she does the long edge of a sword bites into the muscles of her back, just under her left shoulder.  A strangled yell wrenches out of her throat, unfamiliar pain rioting down her spine, down her arm, and her legs give out.  

She manages to get her uninjured arm up to block the first hit that comes at her, but her left shoulder is useless, and there’s nothing to stop the next one from crashing into her cheek.  The weight of it sends her crumpling to the side, vision blurring and blood welling in her mouth.  A boot crashes into her stomach and her ribs crunch under the impact.  She drags her knees up towards her chest, the gauntlet up over her head, moving on instinct, as if there’s anything to do in an outnumbered fistfight when she can’t lift one arm.

Vi’s always been sure she would die like this, in the dirt and shadows of the undercity, brutally and violently.  She curls around her broken ribs anyways and wishes it wasn’t today, that she’d managed to convince Caitlyn to go home before this.  

Caitlyn will be out of their reach, at least.  Caitlyn with her bright eyes and good heart, her quiet strength and hands that have held Vi together more times than should be possible, is distant enough in her sniper’s nest, armed to the teeth with guns she can dismantle blindfolded and a stubborn conviction to clear the undercity, will be safe.

Another kick lands between her shoulder blades and Vi grinds her teeth together around the blood in her mouth.  There’s a yell, somewhere, distant, and a crack that could almost be a gunshot.  Something crashes into the gauntlet protecting her head, and Vi’s vision softens around the edges, blurring and staticky.  

There’s a chorus of yells, the distinct sickly sound of bones snapping, of gunshots cracking out, and Vi tells herself to move, to get up, to find Caitlyn and get them out of there, but her spine is liquified and her entire skeleton broken, surely, and no matter how hard she tries, her muscles refuse to cooperate.

She opens her eyes enough to see one of the guards coming at her, sword out.  Before she can move, a dark blur crosses in front of her, long legs planted, dodging the swing from the guard and crashing the butt of a rifle into his helmet, following the momentum into a turn and firing a handgun straight into the faceshield.

Then, suddenly, there is quiet.  Vi isn’t dead, even if her teetering grip on consciousness feels like she might be.  She uncurls the gauntlet halfway, tries to drag her head up to look past it; a gasp wrenches past her bloody lips at the wave of pain that pulses through her body, and the world tilts on its axis even from her spot on the ground.

Somewhere in the blurred space in front of her, a familiar tall figure stands surrounded by still bodies in shimmer suits on the floor.  One of them stirs, and instinct has Vi’s fingers twitching into a fist in the gauntlet, but Caitlyn pivots smoothly and fires with one of those horrifying handguns, and it falls still like the rest.  There’s a furious set to her jaw and blood on her hands, eyes a furious violent blue that glints in the fluorescent factory light, and for a dragging delirious moment Vi wonders if Caitlyn recognizes her or if she’s going to kill her too.

Vi groans without meaning to, blood in her teeth and ribs protesting every inhale, and Caitlyn’s posture breaks immediately, gun clattering to the floor as she skids over to Vi’s side.  There’s a spray of blood across her cheek, along the side of her neck, and Vi reaches for it without meaning to.  

“You need to stay still, love,” Caitlyn murmurs, hand on her cheek, swiping uselessly at the blood leaking out of the split over her cheekbone.  “I’ve got you, okay?”

Vi blinks, slow, groggy, staring at Caitlyn and the blood on her face, the grim set to her mouth.  A wracking cough rips out of her, dragging a gasp with it because her ribs are broken and it hurts, it hurts horribly, and she can see her reflection in Caitlyn’s bright eyes.  She looks terrible, and instead she glances past Caitlyn to where the factory floor is littered with the dead bodies of shimmer-infused guards.

“What,” she starts to say, but another wave of pain crawls over her, and her eyes slip shut against her will.  

“Vi.”  That’s Caitlyn’s voice, echoing and distant, and Vi  wants to reach towards it, to hold onto it, but the gauntlets are heavy and her body is broken, and she drifts towards sleep to the feel of Caitlyn dragging the gauntlets from her arms. 

Vi wakes up, and she’s warm. 

She pulls in a breath, instinct on the inhale and hands reaching to push herself upright, and her entire body flashes cold and then burning hot with pain, and a whimper creaks past her clenched teeth.

“Hey, hey, take it easy.”  It’s a distant voice, ragged, tired, quiet, and Vi relaxes immediately, without meaning to, because she’s been here before, breaking and broken and held together by Caitlyn’s voice, Caitlyn’s hands on her cheeks.

She slumps back down and takes a shallower breath, barely enough to inflate her lungs but also sparing her ribs, and lets it out.  There’s a hand on hers, fingers fitted loosely between her knuckles, and she peels her eyes open to see a familiar ceiling, ornate and gilded.

“Hey,” Caitlyn says again, still soft, still tired, still creaking and careful.  She appears in Vi’s periphery, hand still loose in hers, eyes shadowed and bloodshot.  “Stay down, okay?”

Vi wants to fight, to argue, to push back.  Protests build behind her teeth because she's never stayed down in her life, but then there’s a hand on her forehead, brushing her hair back, and, well.  Maybe she can stay laying down for a little bit longer.

“Where?” she croaks out eventually.  She recognizes the ceiling over Caitlyn’s bed, the patterns of light filtering in through the oversized windows, but she doesn’t believe it, not really.  Weeks of trying to convince Caitlyn to go home, to give up on her suicide mission; weeks of following her through the undercity; weeks of quietly resigning herself to the fact that she’ll be following Caitlyn until she found a foothold against her grief and can face her home again.

“Home,” Caitlyn says after a long moment of dragging her fingers through Vi’s hair.  “I-- you needed medical attention.  More than I could find in the undercity.”

Vi’s back throbs, the violent ache deep under the muscles of her shoulders and radiating down her spine a memory of a blade biting into her shoulder.  She flexes her left hand as much as possible, a feeble twitch but better than nothing, and closes her eyes again.  

It’s a mistake.  The minute she closes her eyes she sees flashes of Caitlyn, a dark angular blur, rifle in one hand and handgun in the other, dispatching one guard after another after another with cold, violent efficiency.

Her hand goes slack in Caitlyn’s, and the hand in her hair falters, trembles, pulls away.  Vi breathes in as deep as she can with her broken ribs and opens her eyes, exhales, looks to where Caitlyn has pulled her hands away, twisted them around each other.  

Caitlyn took on a dozen gangsters full of shimmer in close range, and won.  Caitlyn, who even full of rage and grief has always been the cooler head to prevail, the shot from a distance while Vi charges in fist-first with her heart on her sleeve.  Caitlyn, with her gentle childhood and kind heart and the ragged scream that ripped out of her when a rocket launched at the council, her kind heart buried under her grief.  

Caitlyn killed the people who were going to kill Vi.  

“Can you help me up?” Vi says after a long moment of staring at the tension in Caitlyn’s hands.  There’s a bruise dusting the knuckles of one hand, another shadowing the clean line of her jaw.  

“You should rest--”

Vi ignores her, pushing against the mattress with her less injured arm.  Her body feels like it weighs as much as a concrete block and is just as unwieldy, her entire left side dragging uselessly behind and hurting like the day Vander died.  She only makes it up halfway before her body starts to give out, muscles in her supporting arm starting to tremble and a fall backwards inevitable; she’s already closed her eyes to brace against the coming impact of her stitched back and shoulder on the mattress, but it never comes.

A familiar hand curls along the back of her head, gentle and unwavering, another splaying along her spine, shouldering her weight and stopping her fall.  Caitlyn is stronger than she looks-- Vi’s been intimately familiar with that fact since the minute Caitlyn hauled her out of a dirty alley and halfway across the undercity-- but her hands are as impossibly gentle as the rest of her.

Except she’s not as gentle as Vi thought.  She tore through a crowd of shimmer-enhanced guards to get to Vi, the rifle she normally fires from a distance, the one that normally drops people with neat clean bulletholes, decimating skulls and sternums from close-range.  There’s still dried blood on her face, on her knuckles.

Vi moves stiffly, every strand of muscle protesting the painstaking progress of making it from laying down to propped up against the pillows Caitlyn stacks behind her.  Caitlyn is close, so close, close enough as she adjusts the pillows behind Vi, one hand soft on Vi’s shoulder, that Vi can pick out every individual fleck of dried blood on her face.  

It hurts, looking at Caitlyn and the uncertain set to shoulders, the guilty slant to her mouth, the rage and violence that Vi had never suspected she had lingering under that kind heart; it hurts, reaching out for her, knowing that Caitlyn was just as filthy with violence as Vi is, no longer distant and separate like a clean sniper shot.  The stitches in her shoulder pull against her, clawing and aching, and an uncomfortable heat skitters down her spine, along her skin.  It hurts, but pain is a warning sign and Vi has never been good at warnings, and she reaches for Caitlyn anyways.

Her fingertips brush over the spray of dried blood on Caitlyn’s cheek, following it towards the familiar high slope of her cheekbone, the bridge of her nose.  Caitlyn pauses under her touch, one hand still on the pillow behind Vi, freezes on the inhale and doesn’t move as Vi thumbs at the spatter of blood near the corner of her mouth.  

This close, Vi can count the flecks of gray in Caitlyn’s blue eyes, the precise lines of the exhaustion smudged under her eyes, the blood spatter and where it ends and where the shallow cut on her cheek begins; this close, Vi doesn’t remember how to breathe, because Caitlyn has always been steady but she lost control of something Vi didn’t even know she had in her, for Vi, and has blood on her face to show for it.

“You should clean this,” Vi says, her voice grating in her throat, thumb ghosting over the cut on Caitlyn’s cheek.  She swallows when one of Caitlyn’s hands curls around her wrist gently and her bruised knuckles come into view.  

“I’m fine,” Caitlyn says, no trace of aristocratic arrogance or the confidence that she’s always worn like a second skin, tall and steady and sure.  

“You need to clean these,” Vi says again.  “Please.”

It feels like cheating, saying please, like she’s taking advantage of everything she knows about Caitlyn and her good heart.  Caitlyn flinches when she says it, fingers spasming around Vi’s wrist, and Vi sets her jaw and doesn’t look away.  Caitlyn’s never looked away from her, from the filthy furious ghosts in her past or the way it’s dragged the two of them together, from the bad choices and worse consequences that make up who Vi is, and it’s the least she can do to not look away from Caitlyn’s own guilt.

There’s a first aid kit open on the bedside table, soiled bandages scattered around it, and glances at her own hands.  The wraps are gone, her hands bare and knuckles clean.  They hadn’t been injured, the wraps and the gauntlets protecting them throughout this whole filthy journey, and wouldn’t have been addressed by a doctor.  Caitlyn must have cleaned them while Vi slept, and it makes Vi want to drag her closer, to kiss her, to hold onto her and haul the both of them out of this city forever, to somewhere safe and calm and quiet.

Instead, she tilts her head towards the first aid kit, swallows against the way it makes her brain rattle in her skull, and waits until Caitlyn sighs and offers it to her.

It takes longer than Vi expects to pull her hand back, her touch lingering before she moves to take the kit from Caitlyn and settle it on the blankets over her legs. 

"Come on, cupcake." She pats the bed beside her and frowns until Caitlyn takes a seat, eyes downcast and hands in her lap.

“You don’t have to--”

“Cait,” Vi says over her.  It hurts her throat, her head, her whole body to speak, but it also softens the stormy edge in Caitlyn’s eyes, so Vi says her name again, quieter this time, a murmur and a request.  Caitlyn’s hands clench in her lap but her posture softens and Vi, sure now that she’s not going to bolt, finally looks from Caitlyn to the kit in her lap as she pries it open one-handed.

Caitlyn is silent while Vi sorts through the kit until she can find alcohol and gauze, fumbling momentarily but letting out a disgruntled noise when Caitlyn tilts towards her to help.  

“How did we get here?” She manages to unscrew the lid on the alcohol bottle and lets the question hang in the air between them, something else for Caitlyn to focus on.  

“The gauntlets,” Caitlyn says quietly.  

Vi dumps alcohol onto the square of gauze in her lap, spilling some onto the blankets at Caitlyn’s answer.  One eyebrow lifts and it hurts like someone is peeling it off her face.  

“They’re incredibly uncomfortable,” Caitlyn mumbles, and for the first time since she woke up, Vi smiles.  It earns her half a smile from Caitlyn as well, a small thing, one side of her mouth tilting upwards and her eyes lightening and levelsetting back towards their normal vibrant blue.

“You’re not supposed to be in fights like this,” Vi says.  She touches the gauze tentatively to the largest split in Caitlyn’s knuckles.  “We have a system, you know.  I take the punches and you take them out from a distance.”

“You were hurt,” Caitlyn says, defensive, cracking.  “They were going to kill you.”

“Trust me, I’m very happy to be not dead.”  Vi dabs at her knuckles, murmurs nonsensically when Caitlyn hisses at the sting.  “But this-- you-- you need to be home, Cait.”

“I need to be in this fight,” Caitlyn counters.  

“You need to be safe,” Vi says, careful, gentle, as much with her words as she is with Caitlyn’s split knuckles.  She pulls Caitlyn’s hand closer, inspects the cleaned cuts, ghosts her thumb over the angular ridges of her knuckles.  “You have to be safe for your dad.”

“My father is fine.”  Her voice is firm but her whole body wavers in contrast, mouth tilting downwards and hand flinching in Vi’s hold, and nausea twists in Vi’s stomach.  Caitlyn doesn’t flinch, not around Vi, not even when Vi walked away from her in the rain, but she’s flinching now, covered in other peoples’ blood and sporting the sort of damage that Vi has always been the one to take.  Caitlyn flinches, now; Vi did that.

“Your mother is in a coma and he’s here alone,” Vi says softly.  She pulls Caitlyn’s hand down to rest just over her own knee and presses it there, sets to pouring alcohol on a clean piece of gauze.  "Your family is still here.  You should be too."

“There’s nothing I can do to help her right now.”  Caitlyn’s voice cracks and she inhales sharply when Vi dabs at the cut on her cheek.  

“Maybe not.”  Vi drags her left arm-- still weak, still useless for much of anything, still aching-- up until she can press her hand against Caitlyn’s cheek, steady her head, set to cleaning the blood on her face.  Caitlyn inhales audibly, the hand on Vi’s leg gripping at her knee.  A different heat, dichotomously opposed to the stinging skittering pain her whole body is drowning in, radiates out from Caitlyn’s hand, and the contradiction makes Vi dizzy.  “But you can help him.”

“I need to--”

“Cait,” Vi says, a measure of desperation edging into her voice; she pauses, breathes, slows.  “I know you’re grieving--”

“She isn’t dead,” Caitlyn says, cracking and too loud, fingers digging into Vi’s knee, hard enough to bruise even if her whole body wasn’t already one enormous bruise.  

“No, she’s just in a coma, and you’re on a suicidal revenge quest because my sister put her there.”  Vi presses too hard against her cheek as she speaks and pulls back, murmurs an apology; she discards the gauze and presses her hand against Caitlyn’s cheek again to hold her in place, framed in Vi’s hands.  

“Cait,” she says again, softly, carefully.  “You need to deal with this.”

“There’s nothing to deal with.”  Caitlyn’s lips go white as she pushes them together, her hand flexing and releasing methodically against Vi’s knee, almost like she’s forgotten it’s Vi she’s holding onto even as anger sparks in her eyes and she aims it right at Vi.  “She’s in a coma and even if she miraculously wakes up and miraculously has her mental faculties there’s still a state of disaster to deal with, and a war brewing, and the only thing that I can influence is the shimmer production because nothing anyone ever does will mean anything if the city is still full of shimmer--”

“This isn’t your mess to fix," Vi says over her, ragged and aching as it peels off her throat at the realization that Caitlyn-- Caitlyn, tall and steady and sure, who marched into Stillwater and broke Vi out without a second thought, who carried Vi’s dying body through the undercity and traded her only defenses for a miracle to save her life, who never gave up even when the council and Piltover rejected their pleas for help-- has given up.  

Vi did that.  Vi and Jinx, Vi and her ghosts, Vi and the undercity and Silco and shimmer took Caitlyn’s kind heart and clean hands and dragged them through the mud, set the city on the edge of war, took Caitlyn so far into Vi’s fight that she has bloody knuckles and twenty dead bodies left behind at her hand, visceral and immediate and so much realer and more violent than any shot she’d ever taken before.

“This isn’t your shit to clean up,” Vi says again, hands pressing weakly against Caitlyn’s face, wishing she had the strength to shake some sense into Caitlyn, to cut through her anger to the heart of her grief and take it on her own shoulders.  Caitlyn has suffered so much since Vi crashed into her life, and there’s nothing Vi can do to change it.  “It’s mine.  You need to deal with what happened to your mother, what happened to you, to be home with your dad--”

Caitlyn jerks aways, nostrils flaring as she yanks herself free from Vi’s hold and is suddenly towering over her.  Vi stares dumbly up at her, fatigue and pain clouding her mind, and she does her best to track on what just happened, what she said that Caitlyn reacted to, but she’s exhausted and Caitlyn is beautiful and tall and the world is terrible and Vi wants nothing more than to lay back down and fall asleep with her head pillowed on Caitlyn’s chest.

“It’s not my-- what are you saying,” Caitlyn says, heated and angry, so angry, angry like Vi has only tangentially witnessed from this exact room, the edges of Caitlyn’s yells with her parents only barely reaching through thick walls.

“This is all because of me, and Jinx,” Vi starts to say, slowly.  Vi, who hauled her through the undercity, who left her alone on a bridge to be blown up; Jinx, who Vi made, who kidnapped Caitlyn, who fired the rocket that left her mother in coma.  

“I broke you out of a prison!” Caitlyn is shouting now.  If Vi was less tired, she could pretend she isn’t unbearably drawn to the way Caitlyn moves as she paces, shoulders coiled tight with fury and pent-up energy; if she was more horny, maybe she wouldn’t be so sick with worry at Caitlyn’s mental state.  As it is, attraction wars against care and leaves her unsteady and reeling, staring stupidly as Caitlyn paces and gestures and rants.  “...the one who forged paperwork to get you out and brought you into this mess that never would have touched you--”

“Wait, what?” Vi says.  She laughs, a dry pathetic thing, and has to cut it off to press a hand over her broken ribs.  “Are you saying I was safe in Stillwater?”

“Are you saying I was safe before I met you?” Caitlyn counters.  “I met you because Jinx blew me up, Vi.”

“And I was getting the shit beat out of me once a week for ten years there!” Vi says hotly.  

“And you almost died today because of me!” Caitlyn’s voice hits a volume that Vi didn’t know was possible, shaking the rafters.  

Vi blinks at her, understanding unraveling her guilt, her worry, her desperate need to keep Caitlyn safe.  

“You think this is your fault,” she says slowly.  

“Of course it is,” Caitlyn says with a sigh, scrubbing her hands over her face.  Her shoulders slump forward as she paces away from the bed and back again, away and back.  “Of course it’s my fault.  I dragged you back down there and--”

“Caitlyn,” Vi says, firm, slow, sure for the first time that she can remember.  There’s a gaping, yawning fear in Caitlyn’s eyes, in her posture, in the way her shoulders round forward and her eyes are murky and watery, and Vi curses her body’s inability to work so that she can stand up, can hold onto her, can touch her and ground her and make her understand how none of this is her fault.  

Caitlyn’s steps falter, and Vi takes it as a win.  

“This isn’t your fault.”  She gestures as best she can towards herself, presses her hand over her ribs instinctually.  “You didn’t force me into anything.”

“You called it a suicide mission.”  Caitlyn’s voice folds in on itself, retiring and exhausted, and the weight of it compresses Vi’s lungs.

“It is.”  Vi shrugs and regrets it, pain flashing down her spine, and Caitlyn’s shoulders jerk towards her momentarily.  “But that doesn't mean I didn't want to be there.  I went because I wanted to go with you.”

“That-- you-- what?”  

The uncharacteristic stammer settles warm and quiet in Vi’s chest, and her palms itch to touch, to press her hands against the architecture of a face she can map blind by now, to drag her palms along the strong line of Caitlyn’s spine, to kiss her and make her feel exactly how much Vi doesn’t blame her for anything.  Caitlyn is so sure, all the time, poised and prepared and steady, but here, now, she’s reduced to nothing but stuttering ineloquence all because Vi said she wanted to be near her.

“You gotta know by now that you can’t make me do anything I don’t want to, cupcake,” Vi says, smiling even though it makes her whole face hurt.

“This isn’t funny,” Caitlyn says with a sigh.  Her arms cross over her chest, chin lifting into full Kiramman aristocracy, but there’s no arrogance in her eyes or her tone, nothing but a tired downturn of her mouth, a contradictory slump to her spine.  

“I’m not kidding around,” Vi counters.  She gambles with a reach, stretching her uninjured arm out as far as she can without pulling on the stitches across her back.  She doesn’t get very far, arm only a third of the way extended, but it works because Caitlyn moves the minute a wince crosses Vi’s face, long legs eating up the distance and hand curling into Vi’s automatically.  Her fingers sweep along Vi’s knuckles, dragging a shiver along Vi’s spine and down her arms, and Vi breathes in, swallows, fits her fingers between Caitlyn’s with a soft murmur.

“This isn’t your fault,” Vi says carefully.  “We went looking for a fight, and one found us.  It happens.  If it hadn’t been for you, I’d be dead.”

“If it hadn’t been for me you wouldn’t have been there at all,” Caitlyn says with a shaking inhale.  

“I can live with that,” Vi says, ducking her head until she can catch Caitlyn’s downcast eyes; Caitlyn dodges her gaze, as if she isn’t holding onto Vi’s hand and dragging her thumb methodically over the back of her knuckles, and Vi sighs.  “Cait, come on.  You can’t blame yourself for--”

“You’ve been blaming yourself for weeks for my mother,” Caitlyn snaps out.  “Why are you the only one who gets to feel guilty?”

Nausea swoops in Vi’s stomach, sudden and twisting, and her hand goes slack in Caitlyn’s.  

“That’s different,” she says stiffly.  It’s different, of course it’s different, the way Vi made Jinx, the way her cascading list of failures created a danger in Jinx that no one can counter, the way she put Caitlyn square into Jinx’s crosshares, the way she made every wrong choice and practically pulled the trigger herself on the missile that put Caitlyn’s mother in a coma.  

“It isn’t.”  There’s a thin unfamiliar edge to Caitlyn’s voice, different from the pretentious expectation that had dripped off her in Stillwater.  This is something new and uncomfortable, something Vi hasn’t run into before, and she redoubles her hold on Caitlyn’s hand, sets her jaw firm.

“It was my choice to go with you,” Vi says, stubborn, certain, so certain, that she can paint the difference in clear strokes, make Caitlyn see that none of this could be her fault because it’s Vi’s fault.

“It was my choice to break you out of prison,” Caitlyn counters.  “And to follow you through the lanes, and to stop Sevika from killing you, and to bring you here.  I chose that and it’s done nothing but hurt you since I did, Vi, why can’t you just see that?”

"And I chose you," Vi says before she can stop herself, because she did; she chose Caitlyn on the bridge to Piltover, in her parents' house, when Jinx put a gun in her hand and offered the beautiful false promise of her sister back.  "Why can't you see that?"

It's too much, too soon, too much of everything that's been building in Vi's chest since Caitlyn fired a shot through Sevika's shoulder, too much too soon that will make Caitlyn-- guarded careful Caitlyn, drowning in her grief, too overwhelmed already with the world cracking under her feet to be burdened with the way Vi had been careening headfirst into love since Caitlyn shouldered her weight all the way to the water tower-- shut down, close off, sink into her Piltovan elite mask and walk away.

"Vi," Caitlyn says, and something cracks and wavers, the edge in her voice shattering, and she slumps down onto the edge of the bed, pulling free of Vi’s hold so her head can drop into her hands.  Vi reaches for her again but her strength fails her again, arm spasming and falling down onto the bed uselessly.  

An uneasy quiet fills the room, spreading into the distant corners and gilded ceilings, broken by little more than the ragged sound of Caitlyn’s breaths.  Vi’s chest aches in a way that has nothing to do with her injuries, her useless injured body holding her back in a way she’s so rarely experienced, and it’s all she can do to focus her energy into her right arm, lift it enough to brush her knuckles against Caitlyn’s, scar tissue skidding over new damage.

“I’m sorry about today,” Vi says softly, as if narrowing the focus of her apology will make Caitlyn hear it.  “I-- you shouldn’t have had to do all of that.  I’m sorry.”

She drags her fingertips along the bruising and splits in Caitlyn’s knuckles, so familiar from her own hands and so out of place on Caitlyn’s.

Caitlyn lets out a laugh that’s anything but funny, palms scrubbing over her face as she sits up and turns on Vi.  Her eyes are dry and disbelieving, her mouth set in an incredulous line, head shaking and hands curling into fists.

“You’re sorry,” Caitlyn says.  “You’re sorry that I almost got you killed and that I-- that you had to see-- how can you just sit there and be kind to me when you saw what I did to those people?”

There’s a creaking aching edge in her voice again, as if the whole world is about to crack open around them, and Vi burns with the need to hold them together, to understand, to fix it and unwind the violence that Caitlyn had stepped into to save Vi’s life.

“I-- what?” Vi stares at her, at the shadows under her eyes, the way her mouth is trembling with uncertainty, with guilt, with something that looks like shame.  “You-- what the hell else do you expect?  You saved my life, Cait.  I was dead if you didn’t do that.  If anyone should be apologizing for it it should be me because I made you do it.”

“You didn’t make me do anything,” Caitlyn says, too loud, too unsteady, too everything for Vi to handle, and Vi’s self control-- never perfect in the best of times, and practically nonexistent when it comes to Caitlyn and the clever line of her mouth, the stubborn spark in her eyes, the unwavering kind heart that underpins everything she does-- snaps in two.  She scrambles for Caitlyn’s arm with her uninjured hand, scrabbling along the line of her bicep and fumbling until she finds the edge of her collar, yanking with what strength she has left until Caitlyn falls towards her and Vi can kiss her.

There’s a muffled sound from Caitlyn, high and surprised and disappearing into Vi’s mouth, and she barely catches herself from falling into Vi’s broken ribs, one hand planting on the mattress and the other thunking loudly into the headboard.  Vi kisses her like she’s wanted to for weeks, since the first time she walked away from Caitlyn on a bridge in the middle of the night, since she found her in the smoking ruins of Jinx’s explosion, since she woke up next to her after the first proper nap she’d had in ten years and left her behind in the rain and realized with blessed terrifying relief that Jinx hadn’t murdered her.  She kisses her like it can explain everything, like it can make Caitlyn understand, like it can close the wounds on her hands and right her world and fix everything that’s gone wrong since Vi fell into her life.

One of Caitlyn’s hands finds the side of her neck, presses against her cheek, slides into the mess that is her hair and pushes closer, pulls back.

“I’m serious,” Caitlyn says, quiet, cracking, the splintering edge of exhaustion as her forehead drops against Vi’s.  “What I did, Vi, I--”

“You saved my life.”  Vi kisses her again, twists her hand into her collar, swallows the sound of her uncertainty as best she can.  “It’s no worse than anything I’ve done.”

“It’s not the same,” Caitlyn says, gasping and unsteady when Vi chases her lips, lets her speak in favor of kissing the sharp line of her cheekbone, the hinge of her jaw.  “You-- it's not my home.  You’re not some topsider killing a bunch of--”

“Caitlyn,” Vi says softly, carefully, lips brushing along Caitlyn’s ear as she pulls back until she can look her in the eye.  “They were dead the minute they were put into those suits.  No one comes back from that much shimmer.  You just stopped them from taking me with them, and it wasn’t wrongYou weren’t wrong.”

She pulls herself forward until she can kiss Caitlyn again, inhales the protests and guilt building in Caitlyn’s throat and kisses her instead of entertaining them, kissing her and holding onto her like it can make Caitlyn understand, make her get it, make her internalize the fact that she’d follow Caitlyn anywhere, that the undercity is what it was made to be and there’s no fixing it with clean hands.

Vi’s  chest is burning, separate from the ache of her bruised and broken body, by the time they come up for air.  She breathes out shakily, hand still holding tight to Caitlyn’s collar, stopping her from pulling too far away.

“I walked away from you once and you got blown up,” Vi says, close enough that she can feel Caitlyn’s unsteady exhale, see her own reflection in the overbright blue of her eyes, and she tightens her hold on Caitlyn’s collar.  “And then I left again and you were kidnapped.  You really think I was going to let you go off without me after that?”

“None of that was your fault.”  Caityn’s hands are still on the side of her neck, palms warm against her skin.  Vi could fall asleep to the feel of her heartbeat in Caitlyn’s hands, could settle into the place between Caitlyn’s breaths and live there forever, safe and warm and unafraid.

“Not the point, cupcake.”  Vi drags her hand up from Caitlyn’s collar, along her neck, up to her familiar jawline until she can ghost her thumb along Caitlyn’s lips.  It earns her a shaking exhale that washes over her hand when Caitlyn turns into her touch, presses a kiss to the callouses on her palm, and Vi wants to kiss her again, wants to be caught in Caitlyn’s precise sight and feel every ounce of her hyperfocus and the way it can translate into Caitlyn absolutely railing her into a mattress, wants to fall asleep at her side and wake up wrapped around her.  “You’re stuck with me.  Is the point.”

She has more to say-- more apologies; more promises; more ways to make Caitlyn understand that she’s seen every part of her, arrogant and stubborn and violent and everything in between, so very very kind, and wants to hold on to every single piece of her like a lifeline-- but it falters in her throat because there’s a heavy exhaustion dragging Caitlyn’s shoulders down, wounds that still need to heal for the both of them.  She pulls weakly until Caitlyn leans forward enough for her to kiss her, again, quiet, less desperate and more promising, less heated and more open.

“You need to sleep,” Vi says against Caitlyn’s lips.  

“I’m fine,” Caitlyn says, completely undermined by the jaw-cracking yawn that rolls through her entire body, and Vi scoffs.  

“Sure you are, babe,” Vi says with a put-upon sigh.  “But maybe I need someone nice and warm and sweet to fall asleep on top of. Did you consider that?”

“You’re manipulating me,” Caitlyn says, even as she discards her jacket and helps Vi to lay down on her side, hands gentle and sure.  She wiggles an arm under Vi’s head and Vi flops onto her chest with a sigh.  It’s followed by a groan when her ribs ache, but then Caitlyn’s arm curls around her, finds the space between her vertebra and starts mapping them, and the pain fades away.

“You know,” Vi mumbles after long minutes, when Caitlyn might already be asleep based on how her hand has stopped moving, wiggling more comfortably into Caitlyn’s chest.  A hand smooths lazily down her spine, a quiet hum sounding from under her cheek.  “So many shitty terrible things happened because I tried to turn myself into the enforcers.   Jinx happened.  But it got me here.  And I don’t know if I’d change that if I could.”

Caitlyn is quiet, hand tracking methodically along Vi’s spine, and Vi closes her eyes, pushes her face more into the clean line of Caitlyn’s neck.

“Does that make me a bad person?” Vi says without meaning to, long minutes of silence after she’d last spoken, half-asleep from Caitlyn’s hands on her, calming and quiet and warm.

“What?”  Caitlyn’s hand stalls momentarily.  “Of course not.”

“It makes me feel like a shitty person,” Vi says into Caitlyn’s collarbone.  “Shitty sister.”

“There’s no way of knowing what might have happened if things unfolded differently,” Caitlyn says reasonably.  Her hand resumes its measured pacing up and down Vi’s spine, the other dragging through her hair before falling down to where Vi’s arm is slung carefully across her stomach, matching pace with her other hand in its own path up and down Vi’s arm.  “It very well could have been even worse.”

“That’s cheerful,” Vi says with a groan.  

“You know me,” Caitlyn says, a smile in her voice.  “Ever the optimist.”

“That’s definitely one way to put it,” Vi says, turning further into Caitlyn’s neck to mask the grin teasing at her lips.  It earns her a shudder rolling through Caitlyn’s body when her lips brush against the skin of Caitlyn’s neck, and a swat on her arm that barely even counts as a hit.  “What can I say, cupcake, I guess I’d blow up some Piltie lab all over again if it got me to this ass.”

She punctuates it with a shift of her hand, dragging down over Caitlyn’s hip and towards the aforementioned ass, and is thwarted by Caitlyn slapping her hand again, an air of indignation settling over her and drawing a laugh out of Vi in response.

“You’re impossible,” Caitlyn says with a huff and a sigh, giving up and letting Vi’s hands wander.  Vi’s too injured to do much of anything, tragically, but it doesn’t stop her from mapping the line of Caitlyn’s side, the jut of her hip, the scar tissue on her thigh.  

“Wait,” Caitlyn says suddenly, and Vi freezes, hand in a downright demure hold on Caitlyn’s waist.  “Blow up a-- that was you?”


“You blew up Jayce’s lab?”

Vi sits back enough to catch Caitlyn’s full bewildered face and immediately regrets it when her entire body protests, but the gaping stare from Caitlyn overwrites the pain.  

“That was Jayce’s lab?”

“I was there!” Caitlyn says indignantly.  “You could have killed both of us!”

“I was fourteen!” Vi counters.  “It’s not like we knew he had magic marbles rolling around the place!  We just wanted to fence some gold so we could buy some-- that was really his lab?”

“I was literally right outside the door,” Caitlyn says flatly.  

“Well,” Vi says slowly.  She settles back down on Caitlyn’s chest, presses an absent kiss over her collarbone and wonders again how she got here, topside in the biggest bed she’s ever seen, curled around six lanky feet of bright-eyed sharpshooter with a heart of gold, getting to feel the way her own lips make Caitlyn shudder and her breath hitch and teeth close around her lip.   “Maybe don’t tell him that was me.  He already hates me.”

“To be fair, you stole the gauntlets from him,” Caitlyn says, lazy and good-natured, hand working its way under Vi’s shirt to follow its earlier path, this time directly against her bruised skin.  

“To be fair,” Vi parrots.  “He wouldn’t know what to do with them if they bit him in the ass.”

“Bite him in the--that doesn’t even make sense,” Caitlyn says.  

“Nothing makes sense,” Vi says into the skin of her throat.  “Doesn’t make them less true.”

Caitlyn scoffs, quiet, a huff that Vi feels more than hears, and she turns her head more comfortably into Caitlyn’s neck.  The hand under her shirt fits neatly against her back, fingers notched between the vertebrae, and Vi’s hand drags absently at Caitlyn’s shirt until her palm finds the skin of Caitlyn’s hip, settles against it.

“Behave,” Caitlyn says.  “If I have to get your stitches redone because you can’t keep your hands to yourself I’ll sleep on the couch.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Vi says with a scoff of her own.  “You’d miss me too much.”

“Would not.”  There’s a familiar teasing lilt to Caitlyn’s voice, the proper formal clip of her accent that she leans into when she wants to annoy Vi slipping back in.

“Just wait til I can sit up without getting dizzy,” Vi mumbles, thumb dragging over the jut of Caitlyn’s hip with intention she absolutely cannot follow through on.  “Gonna rock your world, cupcake.”

“Bold of you to assume that I won’t be rocking your world first,” Caitlyn says, arrogant and aristocratic, and Vi’s hand spasms without her permission, a shudder rolling down her spine.  

“Promises, promises.”  Vi manages to regain some of her cool, theoretically, but the damage is done if the smile pressed against her hairline and the dismissive hum are anything to go by.

“Go to sleep, darling,” Caitlyn says softly.  “You need to rest.”

“Bossy,” Vi says, even as she nudges her nose against the line of Caitlyn’s neck, eyes sliding shut.  She doesn’t dignify the you like it from Caitlyn with a response.

Vi’s nearly drifted back to sleep, warm in Caitlyn’s hold, safe, sure, when Caitlyn’s head turns, lips brushing over her hair.

“I’m glad I met you,” Caitlyn says, half a whisper, drowsy and weighty.

“I’m glad I met you, too,” Vi mumbles, and she means it.  All the violence, the loss, the fear and pain and fury that led her here, and she knows now, selfishly, that she wouldn’t change it if she could, because it landed her here, now, wrapped up in Caitlyn with an unreasonable certainty that as long as she’s at Caitlyn’s side, things will turn out okay. 

There’s still a war on the horizon, Jinx in the wind, violence haunting their steps and following their every breath.  Vi’s back is full of stitches, her ribs broken, her entire body at the very beginning of a recovery that will take weeks, possibly monthly.  Caitlyn’s fists are bruised and bloodied, her pulse heavy with the weight of the violence she’d doled out so efficiently to save Vi’s life.  The world is cracking, at a breaking point, a cataclysm in motion and they’re caught in the middle of it with no guarantee of survival, but Caitlyn’s lips brush against Vi’s forehead and Vi’s hand fits at her hip like it was made to be there, and maybe-- maybe-- they’ll be okay.

there is light but there's a tunnel to crawl through
there is love but it's misery loves you
we've still got hope so i think we'll be fine
in these disastrous times, disastrous times