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House of Bricks

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Vi’s shoulders ached. Not an uncommon thing when you worked with stone, came home every day with rock dust in your hair and grit that had worked its way beneath your Hextech gauntlets and dried your fingers, brittled your nails. The day’s labour - hell, the week’s labour - sat upon her sleeveless arms, the weight of it pushing her natural swagger into a stiff march through Zaun’s neon-drenched and fog choked streets. With one of her lead limbs, she shoved the double doors of The Last Drop open, swaying a little with the motion.

 

The two couples in the booths didn’t look up at her, nor the three men sitting in stools along the lengthy part of the L shaped bartop. That suited her fine. There was a time, in the way back, where she’d welcomed the challenge of stares to heat her blood. Now, anonymity was far more her speed.

 

Absently, she touched the tattoo on her cheek. A parting gift from the old days.

 

Pour one out.

 

She made her way to the short end of the L-bar, sitting in one of two stools and scrunching her body on it, making her look smaller. In the same motion, she hefted her pack - stuffed with her Hextech gauntlets, still covered in stone dust - and thumped it on the bartop. It took only a few seconds before a smaller, more hollow thump followed them, golden beer in a pint glass, neatly placed atop a coaster.

 

“One of these days,” Vander, owner and - today - the sole barman, said, “you’ll come in here without getting rock dust on my mahogany.”

 

“Aw,” Vi cooed, “am I hurting your spic and span image?”

 

Vander grinned, and Vi grinned back. The man who raised her looked good in advanced years, healthy amounts of salt joining the pepper in his hair and beard. He still kept the air of a man who knew how to handle himself, but the edge had dulled, turned from capability to wisdom hidden behind his eyes.

 

“And for what reason,” Vander continued, “do I owe the pleasure of meeting your gauntlets again?”

 

“Thought I’d give you a taste of the old days.”

 

“I never wore anything so fancy.”

 

“No, you preferred to strap an airship bulkhead to your knuckles and just give ‘er.”

 

“Those were the days,” Vander said wistfully, as Vi took a long drag of her beer, huffing out a pleasant hmm at the taste.

 

“Great pour, Vander.”

 

“You gonna answer my question?”

 

Vi lifted a finger as she drank again, and Vander busied himself wiping down the already gleaming bartop. Aside from the smudge of rock dust her gauntlets had left, of course. Smacking her lips to be extra annoying, Vi grinned.

 

“Fine motor skills are on the fritz again. I wanted to see if I could patch them up some before I handed it over to Powder.”

 

“And you’re gonna test this in my bar?”

 

Vi said, “I’ll be handling glass next week.”

 

Vander stared at her for a moment, then reached below the bar to pull out a red plastic pint glass, little bubbles ingrained in the pattern. Slowly, he set the cup beside her glass one.

 

“You know, I bet you can test fine motor skills on things that aren’t drinking.”

 

“Two birds stoned at once,” Vi said, finishing her beer. Vander whisked the glass away, poured her second beer into the red plastic cup, set that in front of her.

 

“Don’t break anything,” the barman warned, and stepped away from her to attend to his other customers. None appeared to be the regular crowd, just slow Monday wanderers in from the cold.

 

First beer done, Vi settled into her bar stool, pulling out one of the gauntlets and slipping it over her hand. She activated the Hextech, wiggling her fingers and watching in dissatisfaction as the index and middle fingers were slow to react, half a second behind her hand movements. Pulling a set of screwdrivers out of her bag, she set to work on diagnosing the problem.

 

She wasn’t nearly as good a gearhead as her sister Powder, but Vi could handle her own repairs from time to time. She’d needed to, as foreman. The rock quarry in the bowels of Zaun served as an important beacon between the uneasy truce that Piltover and Zaun found themselves in; it was the best bargaining chip the undercity had against the City of Progress. Most of the materials that went into Hextech’s products had to be mined from deep in the bowels of the quarry, and the turning over of those materials was one of the stipulations that the Zaunites conceded in order for a semblance of freedom.

 

Freedom with strings was better than no freedom, after all. There was a time when Vi wouldn’t have agreed - when she’d vehemently fought to cut every string that Piltover had attempted to put on them, when the first purge took her and Powders’ parents away from them forever. She’d been more willing to have blood on her gauntlets instead of rock dust, bruises on her face instead of smudges of grease.

 

It felt like a different age. It certainly had been a different Vi.

 

She was lost in her thoughts, thinking back to the pain of the past and the disappointment with the present when the bar door opened again, and the little hairs on the back of her neck stood straight up.

 

The figure that entered the bar was short, barely reaching five feet with the worst pattern of balding she’d ever seen - hair shaved low and smooth aside from two tufts of grey that shot out on either side of his head. He coupled this with a pair of goggles that made his eyes owlish and huge, and reminded her of Claggor. He seemed to bristle, eyes darting everywhere around The Last Drop, finally settling on where Vi sat, in one of two stools at the short end of the L.

 

Vi didn’t acknowledge him, and observed him from the corners of her eyes. Something was here, crackling under her skin simmering her with nervous energy. She curled the gauntlet into a fist, let it rest lightly on the countertop as she set the backpack with the second gauntlet on the floor, out of the way. Lots of space if she needed to swing suddenly.

 

The stranger made his way down the bar, and - because of course he did - swung himself up on the stool beside Vi.

 

It only took a look from Vi to communicate to Vander that there was a problem, age-old instincts from fighting enforcers back to back through the smoke of molotovs and tear gas, but Vi held her gaze in check as he sauntered over. No need to worry him, and maybe it was all in her head. He was just a stranger. Nothing he’d done implied a threat.

 

“What can I get you?” Vander asked the stranger.

 

“Hmm,” the voice that came out of him was thin and reedy. “A beer?”

 

“Great,” Vander said, with thin patience, “I’ve got Heineken, Budweiser, and Molson on tap.”

 

“I - guess, Heineken?” came the confused response, punctuated by a slightly manic giggle.

 

Vi’s non-gauntleted hand tightened on her beer, raising it to hide her observation of him. A quick scan showed no visible weapons, his business casual dress and elegant Hextech watch pegged him as upper class, way too upper class to be from around here. Piltover, then. What would a businessman from Piltover with a too-fancy magi-tech watch be doing here?

 

Vander slid a full glass to the stranger, and the stranger laid a twenty on the bar. “Keep the change.”

 

No second round, then.

 

As Vander pocketed the bill and moved back towards his other regulars, the stranger closed a fist around the beer and said, “I’m early.”

 

Vi didn’t react, set her own brew down, waited. The words didn’t seem to be directed at her, but there was nobody else at their little corner of the darkened bar, so waiting seemed to be the thing to do.

 

“I didn’t think I’d be nervous, but I am.”

 

Vi took another beat, glancing at his beer, then shrugged her left shoulder. “It’s best to just dive right in. The longer you wait, the worse it is.”

 

The stranger nodded. “That makes sense. It’s just my first time.”

 

Vi worked her jaw muscles, trying to shake away the tension in her body, trying to comprehend it. First time with beer? Or first time drinking in Zaun? Both, she guessed, could be intimidating. But she clocked this guy for at least fifty, sixty.

 

“Everyone has a first time,” she said, drinking again.

 

The man nodded again, and relinquished his beer, reaching inside the breast pocket of his suit jacket. Nearly imperceptibly, Vi slid her beer into her gauntleted hand, in case his hand came out with a gun and she needed to disabuse him of that notion quickly. Her other hand laid flat on the countertop, ready to grab if needed.

 

When his hand came free with a manilla envelope, Vi slid the beer back to her bare hand, passing the movement off as idle, even playful.

 

“You are her?” the man said, his voice a lilting question.

 

“Who else would I be?” Vi answered, trying to inject her voice with confidence.

 

The man nodded. Nodded again. “Here’s half now - ten thousand. The rest when she’s gone.”

 

The man laid the envelope at Vi’s free hand. Drank his entire beer. Left quickly.

 

All Vi heard was ringing, a pinging sound between her ears. The shattering of glass in her mind’s eye, flame erupting over an enforcer’s squad car, Vander and Claggor’s shoulders at each of her own, the three of them fighting through gas and smoke, pummeling anyone who came close in a uniform.

 

“Hey, wait,” she said, her words hollow, voice thin, way too late. The envelope felt heavy, thick.

 

Vi looked up, looked through the large plate glass that acted as a window front to the bar, but the man was long gone, disappearing into the neon streets of Zaun. Vi popped the envelope open, found a wad of bills and a 5x7 photograph. The picture was of a woman, staring straight into the camera - dark navy hair, face mostly sharp angles, an intelligent gleam to blue eyes.

 

Vi shuddered out a breath, downed the rest of her second beer, and flipped the photo of the woman marked for death over.

 

Caitlyn Kiramman. An address in Piltover - one of the less snobby areas, an apartment building.

 

Vi drummed her fingers on the table, looking between the envelope and the photograph quickly. The sounds of fire and feelings of impacts against her fits intensified briefly, accompanying a pounding headache between her temples. She nodded, once, folded the photograph up and placed it in her sweater pocket, shoved the money back in the envelope and placed it in her other pocket.

 

Vi unclasped the gauntlet, shoving it into the bag at her feet, and then slung the bag around the bar, dropping it behind and out of sight. She did her best with a bar napkin to wipe up the traces of rock dust the gauntlet left behind, whapped at her clothes, her hair. A glance at the clock showed her it was ten to seven, meaning that if the weirdo was early , then whoever was supposed to take this contract and kill this Kiramman girl hadn’t arrived yet. He also had no idea what he was looking for, meaning she had a chance to stop this before it started.

 

She straightened in her chair, then slouched, frowned at herself, prepared to try and save a life.

 

The door to the bar opened at five to, and in walked a tall, brown skinned woman with a left arm made of metal and gears. She was built like a brick shithouse, angry gleam in her eyes, dark hair pulled in a ponytail. Vi immediately marked her as exactly the type of person who’d be paid twenty thousand to kill a Piltoveran.

 

Vi lifted two fingers in a small salute, and the woman sauntered over, boots clomping against the scarred wood of the bar.

 

“Budweiser,” she said to Vander as he was halfway over, and he poured her drink effortlessly, with practised movements.

 

When they were left alone, the killer said, “You’re early.”

 

“You too,” said Vi, making a guess on the time.

 

The killer hmm ’d, and took a long drink of beer.

 

“Look,” Vi said, “I’ve had a change of heart.”

 

The killer pursed her lips, shook her head lightly, and appeared to try not to smile. “Is that so?”

 

“It is,” Vi said, “but not to worry. We’re - I’m still paying you the half up front, for doing nothing.”

 

“Because of your change of heart.”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Normally, that’s not how this works. The change of heart is after it’s done - you regret what you did after.”

 

“Well, call it pre-guilt then. Either way.” Vi removed the envelope, sat it on the bar top.

 

There was a beat.

 

“There’s no way it’ll be tied to you,” the killer continued, “I’m very good. She won’t suffer. Or she will, your preference.”

 

“My preference is you sitting tight on this. Ten thousand for no work.”

 

“I’ve already bought the knife,” the killer said, an idle, easy complaint. Like having bought too many groceries. Nausea boiled in Vi’s stomach.

 

“An investment in the future,” she said.

 

“Mm,” the killer responded, pocketing the envelope.

 

They sat in silence, and then the killer lifted her glass, swallowing her entire beer in scarcely a second.

 

“I’ll see you around, then.”

 

Vi nodded. “You got it.”

 

They walked out the door, and Vi stood from her stool on wobbly arms and legs, ignored the sound of glass smashing against a window in her brain, and skulked to the plate glass, peering out of it. The killer walked towards a car, sat in the driver’s seat - nobody else was in the sedan. The killer opened the envelope, thumbed through the cash, seemed to be searching for something else.

 

The photograph burned a hole in Vi’s pocket, and she touched it to ensure it was still there.

 

The killer then reached below her seat, pulled a device out from under it. A small cylinder, it looked like, that then was stuck onto the roof of her white sedan. The cylinder flashed blue as the sedan pulled away from the sidewalk, into the dark Zaunite roads.

 

An enforcer, Vi thought, as she pulled all the way back, walked towards her pack, hefted it onto her shoulder. There went informing the authorities, though the only crimes she could’ve possibly reported was a disrespect of beer and the confession of buying a knife.

 

“Leaving?” Vander said, and Vi hesitated, watching him. His expression changed as he took in her own, eyes scanning her face, recording the distress.

 

“Vander,” Vi said, “if someone comes looking for me in the next few days, tell them that you’ve never met me before.”

 

“I wish,” Vander snorted.

 

“I’ve never been before, just a standoffish lesbian who got rock dust on your counter.”

 

“You are a standoffish lesbian who got rock dust on my counter.”

 

“Well. Say that. Okay? I’m gonna be unavailable for a while.”

 

“Violet,” Vander said, bringing her full name into this because he was serious , “what’s going on?”

 

The crashing of a molotov against glass. The impact of her fists hitting uniformed flesh. Reacting to adrenaline, the heat under her skin.

 

“It’s about a woman,” Vi said in response, and turned to leave.

Chapter Text

Jayce answered on the third ring with a “what is it, Vi?”, voice huffy and annoyed, quiet amidst the heavy background noise that sounded distinctly like some sort of meeting based on all the accents.

 

“Do you know the Kirammans?” Vi asked, with no preamble.

 

Her and Jayce weren’t good . Not since the second purge, the negotiations on Zaun’s independence, the entire rigamarole around the two of them leading the strike teams to cripple the chembaron’s operations around the distribution of shimmer to Zaun. Jayce talked a great game, but he was a politician through and through in her eyes. Once the going had gotten tough, Jayce had remembered how much more comfortable the cushions topside were and split.

 

Vi wasn’t bitter. Vi was acidic. But the boy wonder still had his uses.

 

“I serve on the council with the matriarch,” Jayce said, instead of saying yeah I know them from work like a normal human being.

 

“Like, do you know them well enough to call up one of them and vouch for me?”

 

She was speaking astride her motorcycle on the edge of the bridge between Zaun and Piltover, one arm curled defensively around her midsection, cell phone gripped tightly between thumb and fingers. She’d been doing figure eights around Zaun, making sure she wasn’t followed, keeping her circuit light and breezy.

 

“What’s this about, Vi?”

 

“Answer the fucking question, wunderkind.”

 

“Yes. I know them well enough.”

 

“Caitlyn Kiramman.”

 

Suspicion colored Jayce’s tone. “I know her.”

 

Vi rolled her eyes. The familiarity in his tone had her suspect exactly how well Jayce knew her, but she pushed right past it. “Can you call her and let her know I’m coming? And that I’m not some weirdo she has to worry about?”

 

“Not without knowing why,” Jayce said, stubbornly, “I’ve known her since we were kids. I have a right to know-”

 

“I’m calling in my chip.”

 

“You’re- really?”

 

“Really. Calling it in.”

 

“You’ve had that chip for a decade, and you’re calling it in over this ?”

 

“Yes. No questions, Jayce, because I don’t have the answers. Or I don’t know if I have enough of them. I just need her to know she can trust me, and the only dickhole Piltie I know who has a chance of convincing her is you.”

 

Silence met her on the other line for a moment, before Jayce huffed out a long, wheezing breath.

 

“I’ll call you back in five.”

 

The line clicked off, and Vi lowered her cell phone, rubbing the bridge of her nose with a thumb and forefinger, working at the micro-knots she found there. Not for the first time in the hour since she’d left Vander with his instructions, she wondered what - if anything - she was aiming to accomplish here. This was such a colossally bad idea she could see it from space . She was some rock crusher from Zaun, trying to save some stuck up Piltie from getting wasted for.. What? A pretty picture? She didn’t know Caitlyn from Adam.

 

But she knew she was pretty. She knew she chose to live in a decent area when she could live in a swanky high born place based on her last name. She knew that someone pretty scary wanted her dead, and in Vi’s circles that was at least grounds for a second date.

 

The only other stop she’d made, right after she’d figured she wasn’t being followed, was to stop by Powder’s. Her kid sister ran a jointly owned tech shop with her childhood friend Ekko, and the two of them were responsible for repairing and maintaining the majority of Zaun’s beaten up Hextech grifted to them second-hand from the Pilties. It was the opposite of clean in design, exploding with Powder’s very specific decoration choices and Ekko’s time-themed flair. The showroom was a large clock divided into different sections based on need, as pertaining to the hour markers. It was a system that confused and baffled but allowed the two to push customers to what they needed, and it worked for them.

 

Vi went in the back, slipped upstairs to the second story, and had just finished giving Powder the same spiel she’d given Vander - if someone asks about me you don’t know me, never heard of me, yadda yadda - but Powder threw her a curveball right before she was finishing up.

 

“You in trouble?” Powder asked.

 

“No,” Vi said, because she wasn’t.

 

“Making trouble, then,” Powder retorted, nodding deep.

 

“I don’t want to,”

 

“You never want to. You just do .” Her sister’s voice was tinged with a whine, her blue eyes hidden behind a pair of welding goggles with a single horizontal slit. She was working on something that looked like a hand-held bear trap wrapped around a soda can - decorated with rabbit ears and a demonic, curling grin. Her blowtorch sparked blue and green as she worked copper into the design, routing around the teeth of the bear trap, attaching some sort of speaker device to the top.

 

“I guess,” Vi said in response, shoving her hands deeper into her sweater pockets, hunching slightly. Her right hand touched the photo of Caitlyn Kiramman, and she rolled her right shoulder absently.

 

Powder didn’t respond, touching up the copper wiring and turning the blowtorch to low. Removing her goggles, she swivelled in her office chair, patched with burn marks and needlework, and levelled her older sister with a stare.

 

She pointed.

 

“You have guilty face.”

 

“I’m not guilty.”

 

“I know guilty face when I see it and sister, you’re wearing guilty face.”

 

“It’s not- I’m not wearing guilty face ,” Vi sputtered, “I just- look. I need you to tell me you understand what I’m asking you.”

 

“I’m not doing that until you can tell me more. It’s not gonna be like last time, is it?”

 

Powders words were heavy, laden with concern, and Vi softened her features, ran a hand through her short pink hair, exhaled upwards. Last time. Last time, Vi had thought she had no other options but to turn herself in after the robbery that led to the second purge. Last time, Vi had told Powder she loved her with the intention of disappearing.

 

“It’s nothing like last time, Powder. I promise.”

 

Powder worried her lip for a moment with her teeth, letting her goggles dangle from curled fingers. After a brief moment, she pushed back in her chair, extended her arm fully, hand open to shake.

 

Vi clasped the hand, squeezed. Their callouses met, clung.

 

“A friend of mine needs my help. It’s a little dangerous - that’s all.”

 

“Okay,” came Powder’s response, nodding vigorously. “If you get a new number, text me our last name. So I know it’s you.”

 

Vi smiled. “Scout’s honour.”

 

They didn’t have a last name. It was their own little joke, a way to throw off the bugs and wiretaps the enforcers buried in Zaun when the second purge got bad. Anyone who sent Powder a single message without the word ‘none’ to start would get found out as a faker immediately.

 

Vi jerked back to herself when her phone rang, her thighs still straddling the motorcycle, goggles affixed firmly to head. She answered on the first ring as soon as she saw Jayce’s contact info light up the screen.

 

“She’s curious, a little uneasy, but she’ll see you. You know the way?”

 

In response, Vi gunned the engine, letting it rev and then die as she fixed the goggles on her head.

 

“Thanks, wunderkind.”

 

“Sure. Vi - I know we don’t always see eye to eye, but Caitlyn’s - she’s close. To me. So if-”

 

“It’ll be okay, boy genius. If I had more to say to you about this, I’d do it.”

 

A terse silence greeted her.

 

“I wouldn’t normally,” Vi said, softening her tone, “but I know that she’s special to you. I don’t hate you enough to keep you twisting for no reason.”

 

“We’ve been friends since childhood.” Jayce said, a little defensively, and Vi was flooded with understanding. Friends. Gotcha.

 

Immediately chasing that thought was down, girl.

 

“Understood,” Vi said, and clicked off. The engine roared to life again as she zipped off of the sidewalk and tore off down the bridge towards Piltover.

 


 

Caitlyn Kiramman lived on the sixth floor of an apartment building on the outskirts of Piltover. Her view was such that she had a direct view down one of the lanes, the yawning chasm of soft green light breaking up the complete darkness, casting shadows from below. From this view, Vi could understand how you could grow up looking down on an entire city and its people - you quite literally couldn’t look at them any other way.

 

She could understand it, but comprehension didn’t make her any less angry.

 

She parked her bike on the sidewalk next to a beaten up looking sedan and the curb, and flipped her viking-style saddlebags open to retrieve two things - her weighted gloves, which she stuffed in the back pocket of her ripped jeans, and Mylo’s B&E kit. Mylo was a public defender specialising in Zaunite clientele now, but before he’d worn a suit he’d picked locks and filled his pockets with Piltie belongings with speed and skill. He’d also talked a lot of shit.

 

Now he still picked Piltie locks, just in a more legal way. Vi told him every week how proud she was of him.

 

She unfurled the B&E kit, outwardly disguised as a brown leather belt. On the inside, there were several tension wrenches, lock picks, and a single keybuster Mylo used on the fancier locks you could find topside. They all fit seamlessly, not visible on the outside, just as intended.

 

Lastly, Vi wrapped up her fists and forearms before shoving her sweater sleeves down her arms, rolling her right shoulder habitually. She then checked her parking job, idly re-latched all of her saddlebags, played with her hair using her rearview mirror.

 

Out of things to stall with, she hunched her shoulders and crossed the street to the apartment, finding Caitlyn’s buzzer code using the sign posted in the lobby.

 

“Yes?” came a clipped, accented voice that made Vi smile a little.

 

“Caitlyn Kiramman? I’m Vi.”

 

“Ah - Jayce said you’d be popping by. He also said you weren’t going to use my skin as a coat.”

 

“Nice,” Vi muttered under her breath, then: “Can I come up? I have to talk to you about something.”

 

The answer was the buzzing door, and Vi flicked her hair as she walked through. Two humans in formal dress paused in conversation as she passed by, and she smirked, gave them a two finger salute, and bypassed the elevator completely for the stairs.

 

She bounded up them two at a time, boots squeaking on the cement staircase, coming to each doorway to glance in, look around for tall, brown skinned killers with arms made of machine. When none appeared after five floors, she took her chances with  the sixth, tossed her hood up.

 

A door stood open midway down the hallway, the carpets puke green, walls an unflattering tan. In the door was a flattering figure, tall and slender, navy hair kept down around her shoulders and dressed in an expensive looking pantsuit, jacket removed. On her wrist was a slim gold banded watch, nothing fancy like the hitmaker had on.

 

“Caitlyn?” Vi called out, voice thick, tongue feeling thicker.

 

“You must be Vi,” Caitlyn responded, dark blue eyes skating down her figure, taking her in head to toe. Vi shifted on the balls of her feet, uncomfortable under the scrutiny.

 

“Jayce tells me you have something important to say,” Caitlyn continued.

 

“Yes ma’am,” Vi nodded, stepping closer. 

 

There was a beat as they stared at one another.

 

“Well?” prompted the dark haired woman, forcing Vi to grin.

 

“It’s… not the type of thing I’d like to say in the open, if you don’t mind.”

 

“Ah. A closed door kind of important.”

 

“Yes ma’am.”

 

“Very well,” Caitlyn said, and stepped backwards into the apartment. It was only then that Vi noticed that her body had stood half out of the doorway, right hand out of sight. When she stepped back, the pistol held in it came into view, causing Vi’s smile to sharpen.

 

“You can keep that pointed on me if you feel better.”

 

“I don’t need to,” Caitlyn replied. It was said casually, easily, like a simple fact that she could shoot Vi before Vi could close any amount of distance.

 

Vi felt her jaw begin to hurt under her smile. She stepped through the door, closed it behind her.

 

“I thought Jayce vouching for me would make you more comfortable.”

 

“I love Jayce to bits, but his trust has been misplaced in the past. I tend to be more cautious these days.”

 

“Mm. Can’t be too careful, dealing with Zaunites.”

 

Caitlyn raised an eyebrow. “You’re a laner?”

 

Vi squinted, her smile eased a few degrees. “You didn’t know?”

 

“Jayce didn’t mention your background.”

 

So not prejudiced, then. Paranoid. We can work with paranoid.

 

“Well, born and bred.” Vi finished, awkwardly.

 

They stood, a few feet apart. Vi with her fists wrapped, rhythmically clenching and unclenching. Caitlyn holding her pistol, worrying the grip with a thumb in a much more idle, practised motion.

 

“Will this take long?” the taller woman asked.

 

“What do you do for a living?” Vi asked in retort.

 

“Is this the important question?”

 

“You look like the law.”

 

Caitlyn’s eyes narrowed. “Careful now.”

 

“I’m just saying what you look like. You’re not the law?”

 

“I washed out in boot.”

 

“Not the law, but you’re licensed?”

 

“How do you know I’m licensed?”

 

Vi pointed. “The pistol’s still got it’s serial. And you had it near the door. Wouldn’t risk it being seen if it was unlicensed.”

 

Caitlyn looked at the serial number above the grip, and huffed. “Yes, I’m licensed for this and a rifle. I own both. I’m a journalist.”

 

“Can you shoot?”

 

“I’m an excellent shot.”

 

“Good. What are you working on for a story?”

 

“Can we please get on with what you have to discuss? I’m terribly busy, Vi, and it’s late.”

 

“Something to do with chembarons?”

 

Caitlyn had a good poker face, or Vi was nowhere near the target. “What would make you think that?”

 

Vi nodded to herself, absently looking around the room, hands moving to her pockets. The walls were mostly filled with knick knacks, a lifetime of pictures hanging on the walls. A young Jayce and Caitlyn holding boxes. Her father and mother posing with her at a young age, another as a teenager. Caitlyn holding a gold medal hung around a rifle, dated five years ago. A few shooting trophies. One newspaper clipping about a softball game - probably her first published story.

 

“Someone wants you dead,” Vi said, and took the photograph out of her sweater pocket, chucked it on the counter. Caitlyn stepped closer to examine it with a small frown.

 

“Someone with a lot of scratch,” Vi continued, “based on the heavy hitter that strolled into the bar tonight. Paid twenty thousand, half up front.”

 

Caitlyn flipped the photograph over, reading the back. Her expression was carefully neutral, no expression fighting its way to the surface that Vi could discern. It made her so much more interesting.

 

One of the pictures on the wall had Caitlyn and another woman, tall and buff, rubbing each others’ noses with what appeared to be ink. Caitlyn was half-laughing, the other woman grinning.

 

That, too, was interesting .

 

“I assume you’re not here to kill me,” Caitlyn said, putting the photograph in her own pocket.

 

“No,” Vi said.

 

Caitlyn nodded. “This is a photo of my driver’s licence.”

 

“Figured as much,” Vi said.

 

Caitlyn sat at a bar stool flanking the countertop, put her elbow atop it, and pressed her fingers to her forehead.

 

“Tell me,” she said.

 

Vi did, and spared no details. She told her everything she remembered, tip to toe. When she was finished, Caitlyn had pulled out a glass of water, filled it from a jug in the fridge, and set it in front of Vi.

 

She didn’t know if it was the extended adrenaline since leaving the bar or the talking that made her more parched, and Vi grabbed at it quickly, gulped it down.

 

“If they have my licence photo, then they probably have connections. Meaning they likely are coming here next.”

 

“Yeah. I probably bought us time, but that’s about it. The heavy hitter didn’t look like I was fooling her when I pulled the ‘eh, change of heart’ thing. I wouldn’t either, if I were her.”

 

Caitlyn had gone still. “Us?”

 

Vi rubbed the back of her neck. “Yeah. I’m involved now, unfortunately. They’ll want me gone too.”

 

Caitlyn nodded, her chin cupped by her palm. “I find myself relieved to know it.”

 

Vi rubbed harder.

 

“Dignity,” Caitlyn continued, “would ask that I insist you stay out of it from now on, thank you and tell you to leave. It’d ask too that I not believe you, make dinner, and go to bed, hope that you’re not right and you’re some crazy woman Jayce tossed at me to avoid dealing with.”

 

Something about her tone of voice implied that this wouldn’t have been the first time.

 

“You believe me?”

 

“I’ve known a lot of liars, Vi. You don’t sound like any of them. So I’m relieved to know that I have someone else who’s in this with me, as I don’t have the faintest idea of how to avoid a killer. You carry yourself like someone who does.”

 

Vi didn’t say anything, and Caitlyn continued to study her, giving her another long once-over.

 

“At every point, you had a plan. You didn’t just take the money and run, because you’re either too practical - they’d have hunted you down harder that way - or too honest - someone’s life was in danger. You told the killer that you had a change of heart, knowing that it’d only buy you time to warn me. You made sure you weren’t followed on the way here. You’re also standing here with weighted gloves in your back pocket, looking as if you’d half expected the killer to have beaten you here anyways.”

 

Vi shrugged. “Boy scout motto.”

 

Caitlyn grinned at that - a fleeting thing, soon crushed by the worry that creased her brow.

 

“So I believe you. I also trust you enough now that you’ve come this far to ask what I should do now.”

 

Vi nodded. “Are you working on a story about the chembarons?”

 

“I am.”

 

“Get everything you can find. Every shred of evidence you have here. Then pack a bag - preferably a backpack.”

 

Caitlyn hopped to her feet. “How many days?”

 

“Assume like, a week. We can get more stuff if we need it.”

 

As Caitlyn left to go get packed, Vi made her way towards the living area. There was a glass sliding door, locked on top and bottom, that looked out over the looming lane and down towards the undercity below. There wasn’t a lock on the balcony door - who would lock a door six stories in the air?

 

Vi tilted her belt back, pulling out three thin pieces of metal and bending them into loose V shapes, slotting them in the sliding door track at six inch intervals. Then she unlatched the top and bottom of the sliding door, lifted it with a grunt, and placed it on top of the makeshift door jambs, slotting it back into the tracks. A firm tug, and it held steady.

 

Pilties always forgot how Zaunites got around, and if she were the killer, approaching from the balcony would be Plan A. They weren’t going to be here, but that didn’t mean Vi could make it easy on them.

 

Caitlyn emerged from her bedroom dressed in a long T-shirt, jeans, and a short bomber jacket. Her hair was in a ponytail, and she had a backpack on her back and a briefcase in her hand. For a moment, as she turned to the side to adjust the straps of her backpack, Vi caught the line of her throat as the weak moonlight touched it, highlighting fair skin and blue eyes, the angles of her cheekbones striking, throwing her face into dramatic shadow.

 

Caitlyn raised an eyebrow at Vi, and she shook her head.

 

“You own a car?”

 

Caitlyn nodded.

 

“Good. You drive. I’ve got to call a buddy about all of this.”

 

Vi went through the door first, Caitlyn on her heels, keys firmly clasped in her palm.

 

“Where am I going?”

 

Vi smiled. “Where the wind takes us, to start.”

Chapter Text

Caitlyn owned a sleek little dark blue number, with tinted windows and a dashboard that lit up with a GPS and directional information, a pristine leather interior, three different heated seats zones, and arrows on the rearview mirrors to show how close other cars were and how much distance was between you and them. It was the kind of wealth that automatically set Vi’s teeth on edge, thinking of her battered eleven year old motorcycle that Ekko and Powder kept going out of the need for a challenge and familial responsibility, respectively. Her sweater was four years old, one of only two sweaters she hadn’t immediately cut the sleeves off upon purchasing, and her boots were even older than the bike.

 

Before Vi got into the passenger side, she laid flat on her belly to check beneath the car, then opened the door to check the back seat. Her right fist was adorned in a weighted glove, the pressure felt familiar, felt like going round after round against the battered old boxing bot Powder had built for them in the basement of the antique store everyone knew was a shimmer front.

 

“Pop the trunk,” Vi said, deliberately leaving a handprint on the roof of the car, smearing residue of rock dust on the top. Caitlyn complied without a word.

 

Nothing in the trunk except an empty jerry can, a roll of half-used duct tape, and a compartment for a spare tire. The compartment opened easily enough, and Vi confirmed that, indeed, there was only a spare tire in there.

 

When she shut the trunk, Caitlyn was out of the car, pistol drawn and kept low. When Vi raised her scarred eyebrow, Caitlyn holstered the weapon, shrugged.

 

“Properly paranoid,” the taller girl said, climbing into the driver’s seat, “in case you didn’t know, someone’s trying to kill me.”

 

Vi closed the passenger door once she was seated, and frowned hard at the automatic seat belt that slid over her shoulder, keeping her snug against the car seat. “Nice ride,” she bit out.

 

“It’s my mom’s,” came Caitlyn’s response, “mine’s in the shop.”

 

“Councillor Kiramman?” Vi grunted, pulling out her cracked cell phone and unlocking it with a six digit pin. Powder and her, much younger, popped up on the home screen, grinning like fools. Pre-second purge, pre-independence. Just a couple of kids who could’ve taken on the world.

 

That heat in her blood simmered, and she closed her eyes.

 

Caitlyn didn’t respond, instead pulled out of the basement parking garage and hung a left at the entryway. They stopped at a red, idling as Vi navigated her phone to her contacts, scrolled to C. It was dialling on speakerphone as she looked around them. Behind them she could see two men smoking on the balcony of an apartment across from Caitlyn’s, talking.

 

The lane stretched between the two buildings. It was a long way to fall.

 

She continued to watch as the line clicked. “Vi? You have any idea what time it is?”

 

“I have an ask, Claggor,” Vi said. Nobody in their circle said hello.

 

“What can I do ya fer?”

 

“I need to use the flop house for a few days. Can you stock it before we get there? We’re in Piltover, two minutes from the bridge.”

 

“I stocked it yesterday. Mylo was using it to stash a client from the fuzz. You remember the room code?”

 

“Sure do,” Vi said. One of the two men put his cigarette out, pulled out a device from his jacket pocket. He aimed it at Caitlyn’s building.

 

“Okie-doke. You safe, Vi?”

 

“As houses,” Vi said, clicking off the call.

 

The light turned green. The slick ride pulled forwards. The device fired out a thin coiled rope that smacked into the side of Caitlyn’s building, hooked into a sixth floor balcony.

 

“Safe as houses,” Vi murmured, as they turned a corner.

 


 

At Vi’s direction, they parked the car just over the bridge on the Zaunite side, but nowhere near the flop house. The fact that the car had navigational data spooked Vi just enough to ditch it and walk the twenty minutes - enough of a distance to be a nightmare to go door to door, but not far enough away that a mad dash for the car wouldn’t make it. Despite her blue blood, Caitlyn didn’t seem visibly nervous upon crossing the bridge, never once changing out of her relaxed driving posture; hands at ten and two, competently handling the steering wheel, navigating as was second nature.

 

“You hate the car,” she said, when Vi was busy fidgeting with the half roll of duct tape in the trunk, spinning it in the air and catching it on one finger.

 

“I’m more of a biker,” Vi admitted.

 

“You hate it because it’s fancy.”

 

“Eh, hate’s a strong word. Fancy is also a strong word.”

 

“Do you ever answer a question straight?”

 

“I rarely do anything straight,” Vi said, shooting a grin at a very unamused expression.

 

“You hate the car, you don’t like my mother. You haven’t even met my mother.”

 

“I’ve met her,” Vi said, softly. Caitlyn threw her an incredulous look.

 

When ?”

 

“During the peace talks. Pull over right here - park behind this truck.”

 

Caitlyn followed the directions, threw the car into park, then turned in her seat - a full ninety degrees, torso pointing right at Vi, fire in her eyes.

 

“You were in the peace talks? The Zaunite freedom campaign?”

 

Vi shrugged, spinning the duct tape on a finger. “I knew a guy who knew a guy. Your mom’s spooky. Full bodied authority figure, kinda badass. Didn’t care for us though.”

 

Caitlyn was busy skating that gaze over her again, and Vi squirmed. “Stop doing that.”

 

“Biker,” Caitlyn rattled off, counting off on each finger, “knows the underground, was in peace talks, trying to save me. You’re a puzzle.”

 

“Okay.”

 

“I’m going to figure you out.”

 

“Sure. We should go.”

 

“I’m good at puzzles,” Caitlyn continued, sass filling her voice as her backpack and briefcase were on her back and in her hand. “I’m very, very good at puzzles.”

 

“Never doubted you for a second, cupcake.”

 

Vi’s phone buzzed in a three-short pattern, and she rushed to answer it.

 

“Vi,” Vander said, “she was just here.”

 

“Fuck. Already?”

 

“Yep. Brown skinned girl, metal arm. Asking a lot about you. Asked everyone about you, but nobody here are regulars.”

 

“When did she leave?”

 

“Ten minutes ago. I waited until I was sure she wouldn’t come back and see me on the phone as soon as she left.”

 

“Okay,” Vi said, pinching her nose with her free hand, then turning to grab at Caitlyn and tug her along, marching as fast as her legs could carry her. “Okay, thanks, Vander.”

 

“Be careful, Violet. She doesn’t seem like she’s fucking around, this one. I know you know what you’re doing, but - just be careful.”

 

Vi suppressed a laugh. Knew what she was doing. Right.

 

They said their goodbyes, and it took three blocks before Vi realised the part of Caitlyn she had grabbed was her hand. As in, fingers entwined, palm to palm, hand holding type shit. She released her immediately, and Caitlyn didn’t comment.

 

“Bad news?” the taller woman asked.

 

“Yeah. The killer’s on the prowl. Doesn’t seem like they bought my whole song and dance.”

 

Caitlyn visibly deflated, the worry back on her brow. A thumbnail - pristine, manicured, though unpainted - raised to full lips to be worried by a set of straight white teeth. For the first time Vi noticed the front two were gapped. It added a small amount of charm to the whole deal.

 

Right. Focus up.

 

“This way,” Vi said, leading Caitlyn down an alleyway bathed in red neon. She shouldered past a pair of yordles whipping a balled up wad of elastics against a wall, ducked between two humans playing death sticks, and found herself staring at a fire escape with the ladder retracted all the way to the top.

 

“Ugh, Mylo,” Vi grumbled, taking her hands out of sweater pockets and walking directly underneath the ladder. The alley was narrow with a chain link fence on one side and brick buildings on the other, about five feet apart. Too far apart to shimmy, but too close together for a proper running jump. The chain link was hell on clothing - anything baggy would get torn to shreds by it. She knew by experience.

 

Huffing, Vi took off her sweater, shoving it in a ball into Caitlyn’s stomach. “Hang on to this, ‘kay?”

 

Caitlyn held the bundle in one hand, wisely taking a step back.

 

With a grunt of effort, Vi took two steps and leapt off of her starting foot, kicked at the chain link fence, and vaulted herself to the brick wall, sticking to it briefly with her knees and elbows. Pushing off, she twisted her body in midair, snagging the bottom rung of the fire escape, her lower body swinging forwards and back with momentum.

 

Her biceps bulging with the effort, she hauled herself up, one rung at a time, until she was on hands and knees on top of the rickety fire escape. With two swift kicks, Vi unlatched the ladder, sending it careening downwards, stopping four inches off the ground.

 

“Come on up,” she called down, and caught a faint trace of-

 

Caitlyn stared upwards, jaw a little open, gapped teeth peeking out from behind full bottom lip. It was hard to tell from this distance, but Vi could swear she could see a blush.

 

Deciding to lean into it, Vi leaned against the railing of the fire escape, cupping her chin in her hands. The tattoos up and down her arms caught the neon, made her pale skin glow with them.

 

“You want me to do that again, cupcake?” Vi called again, voice dripping with smug .

 

Caitlyn snapped out of it, spluttered once, and then dutifully climbed the latter, rung by rung. Ignoring Vi’s hand to help her up, she shoved the sweater back at the shorter girl and began to ascend the fire escape.

 

Vi grinned, tugging her sweater back on over her head, covering up the compression tank top she wore for work. It was too tight for the public eye, now that she considered it, but she wasn’t expecting to have to do anything except drink alone at The Last Drop and maybe watch a fight.

 

This was more exciting, to say the least.

 

“All the way to the top,” she called, following Caitlyn as she went. Vi was pretty sure the other woman was staring, but decided to ease back the throttle a little. There was that tall blonde chick in the picture she was kissing to consider, and also the small factor of Caitlyn having a maniac after her.

 

That… should probably have been the first thing on the Do Not Flirt With Caitlyn list.

 

Once at the very top, Caitlin waited for Vi to overtake her, the fire escape leading to a small emergency door with no visible handle. Vi stepped to the right, out onto a ledge, and reached into a flower pot on the roof for a small black handle. She shimmied back over, snapped it against the metal door, and yanked. The door creaked and popped open, leading to a dark corridor within.

 

“Go on in,” Vi said, “I promise it’s safe.”

 

Caitlyn ducked her head to fit through the space and Vi followed, tugging the door closed, enclosing them both in the black. There was some fumbling along as they walked a few paces, Vi using memory and touch to reach for, fumble, and-

 

The room was awash with light.

 

The flop house was nothing special. When the peace talks had happened and Zaun had finally gained independence, Claggor had taken over some of the real estate in the area and worked to find things that they could all use in times that were unstable. Claggor, ever the worrier, had assumed that the peace talks would be taken back by Piltover with a moment’s notice, and ensured that a few of his residences were open and available in case of emergencies, scrubbed off most records.

 

The apartment was a bachelor style, single room affair, with one bed against the far wall, large and luxurious (“Vander and I are big ,” Claggor had said, “and nobody else will complain. Don’t even think about paying me back.”) a fully stocked, well prepared kitchen with an island in the middle (“I like to cook, and you guys could stand to learn. It was all at half price, Vi!”) and an L shaped couch in front of a flatscreen TV (“I’m not saying a word,” Vi had said, “that one I’m happy to not pay for.”) that dominated the right wall. The decor was all exposed brick, and a single framed photo hung against a far wall.

 

Caitlyn took it all in, slowly rotating in a circle, blue eyes dancing over tiny details, little points of interest. For some reason, having Caitlyn here, so close to something personal, made something inside Vi squirm. Instead of examining that, she went to a closet, popped it open, and dug through one of seven different backpacks, pulling out a dark red one that was labelled “VI”.

 

She opened it to find a spare set of weighted gloves, a week’s worth of clothes. A flashlight, a gasmask, two burner cell phones, one tin of military rations.

 

Brass knuckles.

 

Those she slipped into her pocket, before zipping the pack up and tossing it on the floor outside of the closet, closing the door behind her. She looked up to see Caitlyn studying a photograph on the wall.

 

Vi winced, knowing exactly what it was. Her, with much longer pink hair and much more eye makeup, grinning smugly with hextech gauntlets on, Claggor’s goggles on her head and her arms around Vander and Powder. Powder was giving a peace sign, holding on to a too-big chain gun of her own design, and Vander still was wearing those bulkhead gauntlets he loved so much, the rust wearing thin on them. Claggor and Mylo lay on their sides with arms propping their heads up, each with bruised knuckles and grins on their faces, smoke and ash speckling their noses and cheeks. Ekko sat in the very middle of all of them, hoverboard across his lap, owl mask dangling from his fingers.

 

Across the bottom of the photo, in Ekko’s hand, the words: Freedom Day (Last Day Of Purge 2)

 

The words Vi had been dreading for years, avoiding recognition of, finally came out of Caitlyn’s lips as she stared at the photograph.

 

“You were a Vandal.”

 

Vi huffed out a breath. “Don’t use that name.”

 

“But you were. Vander’s Vandals. The Zaunite freedom fighters.”

 

“That’s just press crap. It was such a stupid Piltie name to give us, made us sound like a boy band.”

 

Caitlyn’s eyes were round, awe struck as she studied Vi, a new light in her gaze that made that simmering heat slow and cool slightly, prickling across the back of her neck. The something , the thing that Vi was when adrenaline was pumping, crept closer, pushed its way in.

 

You missed us , it seemed to purr, and we missed you.

 

“You actually fought in the second purge? The push for Zaun’s freedom, the battle of the bridge - you were in all of those?”

 

Vi shrugged half-heartedly, her right shoulder lifting half as high as her left. “Ages ago. For all the good it did.”

 

Caitlyn accepted this, turning back towards the picture. Opened her mouth, closed it, then narrowed her gaze to study it in detail.

 

“I didn’t recognize you with your hair so short. On the news it was like this pink wave behind you as you zipped around punching enforcers.”

 

“I’m sure the Piltie news did a fair and level job,” Vi said, sarcasm dripping from her tone.

 

Caitlyn lifted a brow. “I am Piltie news, you know.”

 

“I’m aware,” Vi gritted out.

 

Now, Caitlyn cocked her head to go along with the eyebrow. “Are you lashing out because I discovered this photo out in the open of your ‘flop house’? Or are you just upset that I’ve discovered you’re a folk hero?”

 

The air quotes were implied - the other woman didn’t even need to use them. Vi opened her mouth to respond, shut it quickly, glowered for a moment. Then, she spun on her heel.

 

“I’m using the bathroom first,” she called over her shoulder.

 

“Sounds great,” Caitlyn replied. Vi didn’t catch her smile, or the way her eyes trailed lower - for just a few moments. When Vi closed the bathroom door on herself with a quiet click, Caitlyn took a moment to exhale, running a hand across her face, wiping the ghosts of a blush from her cheeks.

 

Seeing how effortlessly Vi parkoured to the fire escape had lit something… hungry in her, something that had remained dormant since Tiera walked out. Tiera had said everything in the cliche book, from too married to the job, emotionally unavailable, cold and unfeeling. Tiera had been a councilman’s daughter, too. The match had pleased mother, and Caitlyn had found that even after everything, after washing out from the force and writing about Enforcer brutality and exhaustive coverage of Vander’s Vandals and the second purge, her mother’s opinion had still mattered.

 

Caitlyn could outrun a lot, but she couldn’t outrun mother’s loving tendrils, surrounding her.

 

But even there, Caitlyn hadn’t been good enough. Too closed-off, too work obsessed. Too nihilistic. Tiera had left after a year, after her suggestion of moving in together had Caitlyn absently saying ‘where would my office go?’ and kicking off a massive argument that had resulted in Tiera hurling insults like broken glass, some glancing off and others cutting deep. Since her, Caitlyn hadn’t felt the pool of want in her belly, the dry mouth feeling of seeing something she really, really liked.

 

Until, of course, Vi pulled herself up the ladder using only her arms. Her tattooed arms.

 

Caitlyn was in some kind of trouble.

 

And now - what? She was in some strange place with this would-be savior, having been told that someone was lurking out there and ready to murder her, possibly for a story she’s writing on the chembarons. She was there for God knows how long, with a woman who fought for Zaunite freedom and who was, as an aside, distractingly muscular and razor sharp.

 

Hitting on the bodyguard would not be advisable, she knew. At least not until they knew which way was up.

 

Heading to the couch to set up camp, Caitlyn grabbed her laptop and file folders, spread them out on the glass coffee table and set her laptop on her knees, open to the four different word processor files open, each windowed to a perfect quarter of the screen. Each contained different information that she was collaborating in her offline-only laptop - witness accounts, money trails, potential organisational charts. If this was what was about to get her killed, perhaps there was something here, some tidbit of information, that would let her in on the why.

 

Vi’s pink head popped out of the bathroom. “You good for a minute? I’m just going to shower - I haven’t had a chance today.”

 

Caitlyn nodded her assent, and the pink hair ducked back around the corner.

 

When she heard the shower hiss on in the bathroom, Caitlyn got to work in earnest, figuring she had some time to kill.

 

Scrolling through her witness information, Caitlyn found a few contacts she hadn’t touched base with in a few weeks. She called one’s information up - a kid named Deckard who was a soldier in one of the chembaron networks but otherwise didn’t have much to offer - and dialled his cell.

 

It was time to get some answers.

 

 

When Vi exited the bathroom, showered and changed into a tank top and sweats, keeping her feet bare and a towel around her neck, Caitlyn was up and waiting for her. One hand clutching a cell phone, the other wrapped around an open laptop, looking as though she’s been pacing for a while. The phone was held to her ear as her eyes stilled on Vi, locking her in place.

 

“I see,” Caitlyn was saying, “thank you so much for the update. I’ll make sure to do that. Goodbye.” Her phone hung up, and she placed it on the counter, eyes never leaving Vi’s.

 

“Serene DiPotalli died two days ago.”

 

Vi drew a complete blank, especially in the face of how gravely these words were said by the taller woman, but Caitlyn seemed to be expecting a response so Vi settled on “oh?”

 

“She was one of my five sources on the Enforcers’ corruption in the chembaron organization.”

 

Oh. How’d she die?”

 

“A mugging gone sour. Apparently she didn’t give up her designer purse fast enough. I talked to her for eight months about this, building a case, and she had the same purse every day - a beaten up brown thing that was seasons out of date. The woman never spent a dollar when ninety cents would do - designer isn’t exactly her brand.”

 

Vi grimaced. “A plant?”

 

Caitlyn nodded, placing her laptop on the counter and spinning it to show Vi, taking up a position beside it like a twisted game show presenter. “Of the sixteen sources and witnesses I’ve compiled over the last year and a half, ten are dead or missing. Deckard Smith, car crash a week ago. Elaine Musk, died in a mining accident where she worked. Randall Stewart, stabbed while preventing a robbery eleven days ago. They live in Zaun and Piltover, they’re rich and poor, Enforcers and politicians and cargo dock workers and gate keepers. Vi, they’re everywhere, and ten of them are dead.”

 

“Or missing,” Vi muttered, knowing what missing meant. Missing meant a ganger in Zaun had a spot the Zaunite Enforcers hadn’t found yet. Missing meant liquified or burned or stuck so good with shimmer that you were in the undercroft now, holding hands out for scrap coins to buy your next fix. Missing was worse than dead.

 

Missing was erased.

 

“There’s more,” Caitlyn said, expression grave.

 

“Tell me.”

 

“I found the earliest one - Maxine Schwimmer, twenty one days ago. They were actually the one that put me onto this case. Found dead in their apartment, evidently robbed. They didn’t have any close ties to anyone, worked mostly at the docks, and oversaw some shipments coming in and out. The weights were improperly stated and didn’t match official documentation, which they assumed was tampering. They reported it to their cargo watchman-”

 

“Lark Wilson?” Vi supplied, following along.

 

“Yes. Lark took it up to her CO, Randall Stewart, who informed others. That was my first big break in the case, following the trail of the tampered shipments all the way up the ladder.”

 

“So it seems that whoever this chembaron is is doing the same thing.”

 

“Yes,” Caitlyn said, enthusiasm colouring her tone despite the subject matter. “So they found Max, who gave up Lark, who gave up Randall, and on and on it goes until they get to me. They’re closing the leak, tying up loose ends.”

 

Vi nods, going to shove her hands into her pockets but finding her hoodie no longer on. She instead switches to a separate processing tic - rolling her right shoulder as she worked this all out. “You’re pretty chipper for a person who just discovered the exact method that someone used to decide to kill you.”

 

“Like I said before. I like puzzles.”

 

Caitlyn met her eyes, raising both eyebrows, a clear challenge. Vi decided to ignore everything to do with that.

 

“Okay. This is good. This is very good. When people close the leaks like this, it usually signals an attempt to go legitimate. It also means that whoever you’re talking to, whatever this is, you touched a nerve or a wound or something that hurts. Hurts bad enough to go after a councillor’s daughter.”

 

Caitlyn opened her mouth, closed it, frowned. “I hadn’t considered that angle.”

 

Vi smirked. “I had. It’s how I know we’re dealing with a heavy hitter. This isn’t your run of the mill shimmer slinger or two bit gangster. This is someone who either is so confident that they’re removed from the consequences, or-”

 

“They’re not scared of a councillor,” Caitlyn finished slowly, eyes popping wide.

 

“And I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t be afraid of Piltie royalty,” Vi said.

 

“Other than a Zaunite,” Caitlyn pointed out. Vi tapped her nose in agreement, the gesture spinning her nose ring.

 

“Good work, cupcake,” Vi said, turning from the laptop to open a cupboard. Sure enough, box of crackers. Right where she liked them. Vi tipped the box down towards her, twirled it in the air, and ripped into it.

 

“Why do you call me that?” Caitlyn wondered, closing the laptop and leaning against the counter, watching Vi shove a fistful of crackers into her mouth.

 

“Cohs ya sho seet.” Vi replied, working her jaw furiously until the dryness and the salt made its way down her throat. “Like a cupcake.”

 

Caitlyn rolled her eyes, pushing off of the countertop to stand at full height. “My turn to shower?”

 

“Go ahead,” Vi said, gesturing. “I think we can sleep tonight, and in the morning we can figure out a plan of action.”

 

“Grand,” Caitlyn said back, and made her way back towards the shower.

 

Vi waited until she heard water before zipping over to her bug-out bag, slipping on the pair of weighted gloves, pocketing the flashlight, and throwing a red and black flannel over her tank top. She checked her phone for the time - 10:45, nearly an hour after they’d arrived to this place. Enough time to track the car, or start tracking it, if these people’s resources were anything close to what they suspected.

 

Vi left a note on the kitchen counter next to Caitlyn’s pistol, and slipped out the way they had come in, and made her way down the fire escape to make sure the ladder was pulled up and latched. She was leaving Caitlyn alone, but she needed to make sure nobody had easy access while she was gone.

 

Once the ladder was secure, she made her way back towards the top of the building. In two easy leaps - one to the railing, the other to the awning of the rust coloured roof - she was atop the city streets of Zaun, underused muscles screaming in anticipation, the hot feeling of her skin itching, reaching, curling fingers around her as she backed up - one, two, three steps.

 

With a running leap, she was across the alleyway and onto the neighbouring rooftop, and her blood roared with joy.

 

Across the rooftops as only a Laner could, Vi made her way back towards the car.

 

To check her hunch.

Chapter Text

It had been years since she’d done this, years since she’d felt the rapping of rooftops beneath her boots as she leapt from apex to apex, always three moves ahead, checking her line mid-flight, twisting and contorting to grab the next storm drain, railing, windowsill. She was a blur of red flannel, dark sweats, and pink hair flapping in the self-created breeze of reaching maximum velocity. Her muscles screamed with joy as she scrabbled up an alleyway, crested over a roof, slid down the other side and leapt across a small plaza, hooking her arms over a railing and vaulting up and over a small apartment roof. With a few careful adjustments to vantage point, she’d taken that twenty minute walk and cut it to five.

 

Vi crouched, hidden behind a neon blue sign that had once boasted live girls, now only reading I  GIR S. The bright blue would mask her from those looking up from the street, and she turned her gaze there.

 

A white sedan with a flashing blue cylinder was pulled up beside the fancy blue car Caitlyn’s mom leant her, the exact one the killer drove away from the Last Drop. There was no passenger from Vi’s vantage point, just a licence plate number she took note of, a pair of fuzzy pink dice swaying slightly back and forth, revealing that someone had moved in or out of the car recently. Caitlyn’s car hadn’t been touched - no latches flipped, no trunk opened.

 

The rock dust handprint on the roof was nearly swiped off, leaving only the index and ring fingers.

 

Vi shrank back from the building she was on as the door below opened, and Vi saw the killer for the second time.

 

A small cylinder jut out of her metal arm, purple and swirling with some kind of liquid. Shimmer, she’d guess, if she still played the slots. The Killer’s face looked tense, angry, half-lit around a burning cigar she chewed through lips that seemed to relax into a dark scowl.

 

Vi kind of admired that projection of fuck off , if it weren’t for the small fact that this woman was trying to murder her… stranger. Just a stranger.

 

The killer stood on the door steps to the Live Girls building, tapping at her phone. She was wearing an Enforcers uniform, but something was off about it - the shoulders weren’t equidistant from one another, the sleeves appeared too short. Enforcers topside got their uniforms hand measured in an incredibly exposing ritual where you stood surrounded by Enforcers fully clothed while you were in the buff, and they poked and prodded you, moved you around as they took measurement after measurement to get it just so .

 

Shaking her head from the derailing thought process, Vi focused on the jacket. The blue and gold had flecks of white, but it was about three years out of date. Probably would pass muster to a layman, but another Enforcer would be able to call bullshit pretty quick. Vi would know, too - that jacket was the same one she’d ripped off for good five years ago, and Powder had pointed out when they’d changed it. It’d seemed important to both of them that that period of Vi’s life was well and truly over.

 

But the out of date cop gear meant that homegirl with the angry mouth and metal arm wasn’t the law. That complicated things less - if push came to shove and it was Caitlyn or this girl, Vi wasn’t going to hesitate to give her the business. Especially now that Pilties wouldn’t come crawling from the woodwork to investigate a dead Enforcer on Zaunite soil.

 

Killer kept texting, keeping her phone screen close to her face so that nobody could read it - not even nosy pink haired humans hanging out on the roofs above. It seemed to take her a while - either writing a lot or writing very slowly. It was a good excuse to look around at the surroundings, figure out if killer had a buddy system or was working solo.

 

The block they were on had a few walk ups, some market stalls that were incorrectly zoned as residential, and two large imposing buildings - one upon which Vi perched, the other large and likely registered as abandoned. A few candles glowed in a few windows, including one that seemed to cast shadows moving on the far wall. Vi shuffled backwards on her rooftop, ducking her head lower to try and get a glimpse inside.

 

The door opened and the candle snuffed out, a massive iceborn human with tattoos all the way up and down his arms ambling out into the street. He wore the underclothes of an Enforcer, but they were comically stretched out - the white tank top so thin from trying to contain his massive frame you could see the greying skin beneath. He cracked his neck, and Vi could hear it from nine stories high, a loud and satisfying sounding pop.

 

“They know nothing,” he said, voice rich and deep, “they saw nothing. All these Laners - see nothing.”

 

Killer’s response was muted, much quieter, the phone sliding into her jacket pocket. Vi produced her own phone, turned off the flash, took a picture of the two meeting in the street, looking around. Quickly, she tabbed to Mylo’s number, shot him a text of the plate number and the picture.

 

Vi:

Ever seen either of these two?

 

The iceborn and the killer moved towards the white sedan, the Iceborn so massive that he needed to curl into a ball in the passenger seat. Killer stopped at the driver door, inhaling on her stogie as she glared at the Kiramman car, her eyes glinting.

 

Vi turned to see what she was looking at, and the heat beneath her skin quickened.

 

Duck, it said, duck now!

 

Vi dipped her head low, rolled onto her back, just as Killer’s neck began to turn. Carefully, she made her way crab-walking back towards the ledge, side stepping flung broken beer bottles and pieces of ceramic that fell from topside. When she was far enough away, she rolled back to all fours, shuffled over the side of the rooftop, and dropped off until she was hanging from her fingers onto the ledge, feet tucked into a power cable connection that was long out of use. Two more quick leaps and she was on another building’s balcony, scaling it for safety, a different vantage point.

 

The white sedan now sat empty, and Killer was pointing to the roof she was just on, pointing to the back window of the Kiramman car. The window was angled just so that Killer probably had seen her reflected there.

 

Well, there went the element of surprise.

 

Her phone vibrated once, twice, three times, and she crouched low, elbows on her knees as she lifted the phone and tapped twice at it.

 

Mylo:

charming woman is named Sevika - muscle for the west dockers last her rap sheet says, shame about the smoking
big guy they apparently literally just call ‘big guy’, rap sheet long as my forearm

you ok there girl?

 

Vi:

Thanks. A-okay. Say hi to Bea for me.

 

Mylo:

call if you need help, we’re all worried

 

Vi nodded at her cell, put it in her jacket pocket, and then straightened out of her crouch. Concern from her friends - found family, whatever -  always left her back aching, her right shoulder tingling in a reminder of the depths she could drag them all to if she wasn’t very, very careful. They were loyal to a fault and blind to her failures, and sometimes she could kill them for it.

 

Turning, she vaulted onto the roof behind her to start heading back, tossing a cursory glance towards the Sedan. It still sat empty, but Killer - Sevika - was nowhere in sight, and the big guy was similarly absent.

 

Her skin hummed again, made her feel twitchy, antsy. Get off the roof , it seemed to say, if Sevika was a West Docker, she’s Zaunite too. She knows the roofs.

 

Pushing the feeling down and feeling hyper aware of the amount of time she’s been away from Caitlyn, Vi slid down a slope, hopped onto a chimney, and monkeyed her way higher. As a concession to that thing that kept reminding her of molotovs shattering and her fists hardening against jawbones, she decided to take a longer, looping route, careful to not be followed in case this Sevika did indeed know the roofs as well as Vi did.

 

She barely got two leaps into her routine before a hard body was snatching her out of the air by her ankle, metal biting into her skin as a machine arm clutched into her, whirling her around and tossing her into the wall of an open-air cafe, tables and chairs set up on a large balcony. Vi corrected mid-flight, managing to get her feet under her to brace against the wall and kick off, spinning in mid air to land in a three-point stance, eyes snapping upwards.

 

Sevika was there, six foot three if she was an inch, rubbing her flesh forearm against her nose in a disgustingly audible smear of snot and adrenaline.

 

“Well well,” she said, “if it ain’t miss change-of-heart.”

 

Vi squeezed her weighted gloves into fists, mind racing. Worst case scenario. She couldn’t risk Sevika finding Caitlyn. Truly, the best way to ensure a stop - or at least a reprieve - would be to disable the killer here and now, take her out of the fight until whoever was after Caitlyn could find a replacement psycho in a city filled with them.

 

But Vi was rusty, and Sevika, if Caitlyn was right, had been working for three weeks killing people.

 

“New-knife,” Vi said, keeping Sevika’s name to herself. Card to play later, asshole. You’re not the only one with friends in high places. “Fancy running into a place like you in a girl like this.”

 

“Funny,” Sevika sneered, purple cylinder popping out of her arm, pushing back into it as her face contorted in pain and rage, purple smoke filling her irises.

 

Shimmer.

 

Shit.

 

“We’ll see who’s laughing when you’re in the ground,” the bigger woman yelled, and lunged.

 

Vi leapt past her initial wild swing with the metal arm, dancing backwards and aiming two punches at Sevikas joints, testing the metal. It clanged, held firm, and Sevika responded with a spinning backhand that forced Vi to bend backwards, twisting up to send a kick sounding into Sevika’s torso. The wild woman screamed out and lunged backwards from the blow, and Vi was already hopping from foot to foot in a loose boxer stance, rolling her right shoulder to loosen up tight muscle, eyebrows drawn, lips in a frown.

 

Can’t take a shimmer-shined up monster, the it whispered beneath her skin, but you can slow her down. You’ve never lost on the rooftops before.

 

When Sevika whirled to attack again, Vi shifted to her left, grabbed an umbrella stand from the centre of one of the tables, and swung it hard at her opponent, metal rod snapping against mechanised arm. Following the rod was a wooden table that crashed against Sevika’s back, splinters digging deep as the bigger woman howled, swung blindly. She caught Vi in the side and ripped open skin and flannel both, making Vi grunt in pain as she continued to dance away, working Sevika in a slow circle, right where she wanted her.

 

Sevika cackled, reaching her flesh hand up to smooth back her hair. “You’re running, heart? You looked so capable, sitting at that bar, lying to me about my target. You sweet on her, heart? You tap that already?”

 

Vi said nothing, but something must have given her away because Sevika’s countenance darkened, her grin widening.

 

“No, but you want to, huh? Get yourself some scared woman. Bet that makes it even better.

 

Sevika laughed, voice tinged with shimmer-tinged phlegm, making it thick and full. A few passerby stopped to watch, whispered to one another about a bleeding pink haired girl and a cackling, babbling psychopath.

 

“Shut the fuck up, man,” Vi huffed out, and darted forwards.

 

The wall she’d braced against when Sevika threw her felt weakened, unstable, loose stone from shitty masonry an age ago. Now, Vi moved towards it, forcing Sevika to aim a punch right at her torso, a force that could easily shatter bone. At the last minute, Vi ducked, forcing the metal arm to arc over her head, slamming into the weakened wall and punching right through it.

 

Vi popped back up around Sevika’s metal arm, hand in the pocket of her jeans. It emerged with her brass knuckles already on her fingers, and with a smirk, Vi’s arm cocked back.

 

It took three punches to fully knock Sevika out, to her credit, but Vi left her there, slumped forwards with her arm through a weakened wall, out cold, face and chest caked in blood from the split skin of her cheek and temple where Vi had hit her.

 

She didn’t have much time. Concussion knockouts didn’t last long, and with the amount of shimmer in Sevika’s system, Vi doubted she’d feel many effects. She took Sevika’s wallet out of her pants pocket, tossed it over the railing and into a gutter without a backwards glance. Took her phone too, dropped it to the cafe pateo, and stomped on it with her boot. Vi found Sevika’s fancy new knife she bought just for killing Caitlyn, and used it to cut up that fancy Enforcer’s uniform so that particular disguise couldn’t be used again.

 

“Sevika?” called a deep male voice from street level, and Vi grimaced, clutching at her bloody side. She had to leave while the adrenaline still flowed, before she could ascertain what kind of damage a shimmer punch with a mechanical arm could do.

 

Without a backwards glance, Vi leapt back on the rooftops, and headed back towards the flop house.

 


 

Caitlyn was pissed .

 

The second she’d emerged from the shower, she’d known. She’d put it together while leaning against the marble, head tilted, allowing herself a moment to just absorb the day she was having in a place where no strangers - no Vi - could see her crumble. She realised abruptly why Vi had her park where she parked - a lot with two rooftops for vantage points, several escape routes - and why Vi was always frowning at the navigation system in mother’s car during the entire ride to Zaun. She was worried about being tracked, Caitlyn had assumed.

 

Now she realised Vi was counting on being tracked. Intending to follow up on being tracked.

 

Despite being confronted with the other woman’s intelligence full frontal yesterday, it would appear that Caitlyn had underestimated her. From the moment Vi had shown up at her doorstep, grin as sharp as a switchblade, she’d found herself on her back foot.

 

So when she exited the shower dressed in a long black terrycloth robe, hair wrapped up in an old t-shirt to keep it from dripping down her back, she wasn’t surprised to find a note with, of all things, a drawing of a cupcake on it.

 

Had to check on your car. Don’t open the door to anyone who doesn’t say cupcake first thing. Feel free to use the TV

 

Vi.

 

Caitlyn huffed in annoyance. Made to wait like a helpless damsel, while big, strong Vi went off to protect her. She should be there with her - they should be doing this as a pair, to watch each other’s backs. Vi said as much yesterday - they were in this together now, like it or no.

 

The flop house didn’t have any windows - likely by design, she imagined, to prevent eager snipers or peeping toms to take a look inside at those who were protected within. Another piece of the Vi puzzle that she found so interesting - Vi’s friends all appeared to be connected . The only mention of Vi Caitlyn found on a Hexster search was a bare bones profile that boasted being the foreman of the rock quarry that supplied Hextech materials to Piltover. Another listing search on an official Zaun food delivery app found no address on the ninth floor of the building she found herself in - it only went as high as seven.

 

A foreman of a rock quarry that used to be one of Vander’s Vandals, friends with someone who could keep an address in the dark? From her time covering the second purge, Caitlyn knew that each of the Vandals were appointed a position of importance, so full of distrust in the council’s intentions that they needed to see the changes made and Zaun’s freedom given first hand. One had become an important lawyer, another an important real estate and zoning agent. Two had been given free reign to take over Hextech for Zaunites. But as for Vander and the sixth - Vi, she now knew - nobody knows what positions they held.

 

Caitlyn hadn’t really looked into it. After the second purge and Zaun independence, the story had lost public appeal and Caitlyn had first learned of the chembarons. Part of her covering the second purge had been covering the atrocities that the Zaunite people had suffered with, chembarons operating in a lawless land. Unchecked poverty, constant drug trafficking, underage indentured servitude. The list went on and on. Having covered it from the start, it gave her a leg up with contacts and sources when she started working on covering just the chem trade as a specialty - and shimmer specifically - instead of just the civil war. It allowed her to get closer than anyone had to the seedy underbelly of Zaun.

 

And still, with all her years and years of digging, forging relationships, and writing stories, one day with Vi has taught her she knew so very little.

 

She killed some time messing around with the television, idly flicking channels until she was bored. The flop house had a meagre supply of books, including an entire shelf of queer romances that sported varying degrees of nude models flexing near horses, castles, haunted forests. There was also a technical manual with gum attached to the spine, a book about old ships, and a biography of Jayce Talis, heavily marked up.

 

Cracking open Man of Progress: The Jayce Talis Story, she found six different types of pen in the opening pages, six different names, like a legend for commentary. Powder was a light blue, Ekko was a dark green, Vander was black, Claggor was a dark blue, Mylo was a fluttery purple, and Vi was red.

 

Flipping through the book, each page was a riot of colour, every person using their pens liberally to comment, mock, correct. Caitlyn couldn’t help but grin down at the pages, wondering how on earth Vi had gotten someone she clearly didn’t care much for to vouch for her.

 

A cough from the fire escape, and Caitlyn drew her gun from her robe pocket, sliding on bare feet to a shooter’s position, pistol aimed steady at the doorway. Her breathing was slow, even, her imagination conjuring up a monster with purple eyes and jagged teeth just waiting for her to pop open the door and take her away for a light snack.

 

“Cupcake? Could you open up? I’m leaking out here.”

 

Vi.

 

Baring her teeth, Caitlyn crossed the short distance, shoving the door open to the night air. She was ready to rant, her jaw jumping as she prepared to give the woman both barrels, put her fully on blast for leaving her alone-

 

-and deflated when Vi gave her a weak grin through pale lips, hand gripping the fire escape railing tightly, other hand cupping a heavily bleeding ribcage.

 

“Oh, you idiot ,” Caitlyn murmured, rushing over to slip her shoulder under Vi’s arm, helping hoist the woman up and into the flop house. Vi was heavy, laden with muscle and weak limbs, and it took all Caitlyn had to not buckle under her as she dragged her towards the couch, dumped her upon it.

 

“Thanks for dressing up,” Vi said, icy eyes taking in Caitlyn’s legs, her wrapped up hair. The taller woman rolled her eyes, perching on her knees above Vi’s side, bending close to examine the wound.

 

“We’re going to need to dress this. Take your shirt off - I’ll be right back.”

 

Dashing back to the bathroom, Caitlyn briefly considered changing, but concern for Vi overrode her innate need for propriety. She belted her robe extra tight as a concession, opened the medicine cabinet, grabbed the sturdy looking medkit from inside. She checked briefly to see if it contained everything she’d need, catalogued, composed.

 

When she emerged, Vi was laying on her side, wound exposed to the air, torso bare except a red sports bra. Tattoos adorned her arms, collarbones, swirling around her navel. They told a story -  a history of Zaun in gears and pulleys, steam like flowers rising up and curling around her joints. Against her pale skin, the tattoos were like a starless night, black and inky.

 

Vi looked up at her, and Caitlyn became very, very aware of her robe.

 

“Bare enough for ya?” Vi said, winking lightly. Caitlyn rolled her eyes again, setting the medkit down on the table and flipping it open, seating herself gingerly on the edge of the couch. Vi pressed herself further back into the cushions to make room, leather creaking and sticking to sweaty skin. The way they were positioned, Caitlin’s side was pressing against Vi’s thighs, and she felt the strength there, corded muscle against the robe.

 

Swallowing once, Caitlyn focused on the task at hand, bending and gingerly touching the puffy, angry red gashes at Vi’s side. The other woman didn’t even flinch.

 

“What did this?” Caitlyn asked, pulling out a suture kit and a red vial filled with bubbling liquid from the kit, resting the vial in her lap and the suture kit on the cushion in front of her.

 

“The killer,” Vi said, and they both watched Caitlyn with steady hands thread the suture through a needle, preparing it, “caught up to me on my way back. I went to stake the car out, see if they’d tracked it. I wasn’t careful enough.”

 

Caitlyn hmm ’d, popping open the red vial and pouring a small portion directly on the wounds. Again, Vi didn’t even flinch, eyes locked on Caitlyn’s fingers as she worked.

 

“She had another guy with her. I got a picture to Mylo - he’s a defence attorney, ran them through facial recognition and got a couple of hits. Her name is Sevika, and his is just ‘big guy’.”

 

“Inventive name for a criminal,” Caitlyn commented, watching the potion do its work. It bubbled, hissed and stilled, the blood congealing and slowing as it worked. It would heal on its own with application of the red, but it would scar if it wasn’t sutured, leave an ugly looking gash. Vi’s body was pockmarked with evidence of occasions where she clearly hadn’t had the time or inclination to seek proper medical attention.

 

The second purge had left something behind on her.

 

“She’s scary. Apparently she ran with a gang of fissure-folk back in the day, did some jail time. Hasn’t been seen or heard of in a while. Uses shimmer to fight - is kinda wild, like she’s used it a lot.”

 

“Sevika was the name?” Caitlyn murmured, eyes meeting Vi’s for the first time since sitting down. The potion was finished, and she had the needle ready, pausing above Vi.

 

“Yeah, so says Mylo.”

 

“Sounds familiar. Stay still.”

 

The only sound Vi made was a quick hiss of breath through her teeth as Caitlyn worked, tugging the skin closed in a nice even line.

 

“You’ve done this before,” Vi said. Her eyes were glassy, unfocused, filled with that faraway look she sometimes got when the second purge came up. Caitlyn spared her a glance before continuing her work.

 

“Stitched up someone who got wounded on some hare-brained scheme they cooked up to go out alone and face down a killer?”

 

Vi frowned. “I didn’t intend to face her down.”

 

“I should’ve been with you, Vi.” Caitlyn said, sternly.

 

“It was too dangerous- ow!”

 

Sorry ,” Caitlyn responded, sugar-sweet, “what did you say?”

 

Vi gave her a bland look. “I’ve fought fissure folk all my life, cupcake. You’re used to keeping opponents at a distance.”

 

“Oh,” Caitlyn continued, that sweet tone still lingering on her tongue, “just walked right on up to her, did you?”

 

Vi glowered.

 

“It’s my life that’s at risk,” Caitlyn reminded.

 

“Mine too.”

 

“So we should be doing this together. I promise to run when you say run. Whatever you say, I’ll do.”

 

Vi nodded, then sighed. “Okay. You’re right.”

 

“I know,” Caitlyn said, then leaned down to bite the thread, tied it in a neat little knot. The three jagged lines were already pinkening with the healing potion. With her mouth so close to Vi’s skin, she could almost feel the ragged inhale, her ribs expanding with a sudden breath.

 

She set the needle and thread down, lightly touching the wound on Vi’s ribs, feeling the warm skin, gently trailing fingertips up one of her tattoos. She could feel Vi’s eyes on her, her hand, as she checked her handiwork. Those magnificent ribs expanded again on a deep inhale, held under her palm as she slid it around to warm Vi’s back.

 

“All done,” she said, belatedly, and went to rise to her feet.

 

Vi’s hand came around her forearm in a tight grip, keeping her seating on the couch. Slowly, Vi tugged, pulling at Caitlyn’s wrist until her palm was beside Vi’s head, an inch, maybe two away.

 

Excruciatingly slowly, Vi turned, pressed a kiss into Caitlyn’s palm, a brief touch of full lips and scar tissue, a hint of teeth and tongue.

 

“Thanks, cupcake,” Vi said, holding her gaze.

 

Caitlyn’s entire word flushed hot.

 

“Y-you’re welcome,” she said, and gods, was that her shaky, breathless voice? Her robe felt too tight, constraining her suddenly.

 

Vi released her arm, and Caitlyn shot up straight, hands falling to her robe tie immediately.

 

“I’m going to dress for bed,” she said, and fled to the bathroom with her backpack. The door closed like a gunshot, and she leaned her back against it, staring at the shower.

 

She was so fucked.

Chapter Text

Vi was second to brush her teeth after Caitlyn, and she found solace in the simple motions, staring at her own reflection while she dragged too-stiff bristles around her mouth. The flop house had six toothbrushes fresh in the wrap, Mylo’s guest having used one for the short duration of his stay. Caitlyn hadn’t seemed to have had any trouble finding one, or had brought her own.

 

Spitting in the sink, Vi leaned closer to her reflection, wiping the errant toothpaste off of her lips with a nearby towel. The it beneath her skin warmed at her again, tugged at her, an indication that her dreams weren’t going to be quiet. She’d been hearing shattering glass and feeling the thuds under her fists all day, and usually, in the rare times that it had sucked her back into its grasp, she went back there in her sleep. The choking fog, the good companionship, the never-ending onslaught of gasmasked men and women in blue hoods.

 

Vi spat again, expecting to see blood. When she didn’t, she flipped the tap on to rinse the toothpaste and saliva, lifted her tank to check the wound.

 

Potions were a hell of a thing. The very best that Piltie science and Zaunite lack of ethics had to offer. She’d be right as rain come morning, and thanks to Caitlyn’s work, wouldn’t even scar.

 

Vi exited the bathroom to find Caitlyn nestled on the couch, blanket over her thin form, a book in her hands, thin black glasses perched on her nose. The glasses called attention to the angles of her face, making her look like a model or actress playing the part of a scientist. With glasses, she looked way, way smarter.

 

Smart had always done it for Vi. Something about a woman who knew more than she ever would made her knees go a little weak.

 

Caitlyn’s glance jerked up, the book flopping onto her blanketed chest as she regarded Vi, tilting her head to look over the glasses at her.

 

Vi exhaled very slowly.

 

“I, uh, was gonna take the couch. Since you’re a guest and all,” Vi said, gesturing towards the perfectly made up king sized bed that rested against the far wall.

 

Caitlyn shrugged. “I’m already camped out here.”

 

“So I see.”

 

Vi tilted her head slightly, trying to catch the cover of the novel. When Jayce’s face stared sternly back out at her, she couldn’t help but grin.

 

“That’s the, uh, annotated version.”

 

“I noticed that,” Caitlyn said, smiling back, “Powder is very verbose.”

 

“She gets that from Mom, I’m told.”

 

“Mylo swears like a trucker.”

 

“It means more because he wrote it out, too,” Vi said.

 

“You all aren’t big fans of the councilman, I see,” Caitlin continued, closing the book and setting it on the coffee table. Her legs shifted under the blanket, appearing restless, uncertain. She kept glancing around the room.

 

Vi could sympathise. She had never been good at sleeping in unfamiliar spaces.

 

“No,” she returned as she crossed the room, killing the main lights and turning on the dimmers. The room was bathed in soft orange like a sunset, just enough light to make out details, not enough to blind you if you stared at it. Made for quick getaways in the dead of night easier, and, coincidentally, it was called candlelight mode.

 

Caitlyn appeared to be waiting for more, but when Vi pulled back the covers on the bed, shifting the pillows to be on the right side of it, Caitlyn huffed.

 

“I bet Powder would’ve given me details.”

 

“Powder would talk your ear off about Jayce, and half of it would be true, too, but it’d still amount to ‘no’.”

 

“Why would he vouch for you?”

 

“He owed me a favour,” Vi said, curling the bedspread, shrugging her right shoulder once, twice. She began doing the nightly exercises with it, doctor ordered, to loosen it up and shrug off the damage it’d sustained.

 

Caitlyn waited for another beat, then chuckled to herself. “You’re terrible at answering questions.”

 

“Never claimed it was a strength. Look,” Vi said, “you’ve had a horrible day.”

 

“And I wasn’t even the one stabbed.”

 

“You’ve had a horrible day,” Vi continued, lifting her right arm all the way up, shifting it to straight horizontal, letting it fall to her waist, repeat until the ache was too much, “and I’m the one who brought the horrible day to your doorstep. I’d feel awful if you slept on the couch.”

 

A navy eyebrow lifted. “You’ve been stabbed. I’m not letting you sleep on a couch . The potion should work its magic but you still need to heal in a proper bed.”

 

“This thing is massive , cupcake. We can share it.”

 

Now, both of Caitlyn’s eyebrows shot up to her hairline, cheeks tinged pink. Vi rolled her eyes.

 

“I promise to behave myself, cupcake. You don’t need to worry about the Zaunite getting handsy.”

 

“You being a Zaunite,” Caitlyn snapped, “has never entered into my line of reasoning.”

 

Vi paused in her stretches, looked over at the other woman. She looked… angry, frustrated. Vi put both her hands up in an appeasing gesture.

 

“Okay, well. Still. I’m not going to spoon you - I just want both of us to get some sleep.”

 

Caitlyn searched her gaze for a moment, shrugged, and got to her feet. She too, was dressed in a lightweight tank top, shorts that went down a few inches of her thighs, and she was all pale skin, legs, hips. Vi slid into the bed quickly, closing her eyes, mouthing what are you doing to the ceiling.

 

Caitlyn dragged her own blankets to the bed, settled her own pillows on it, and flipped her hair back so it was spread out on the grey pillowcase. She rolled her legs once to the left, once to the right, settled in with a self-made cocoon of comfort. Vi just kind of slept where she lay, head too heavy and body too tired to care about a sleeping routine.

 

But Caitlyn’s was endearing. Caitlyn was endearing. Maybe if they hadn’t met like this, maybe at a bar somewhere, or at a club somewhere. Ignoring the fact that Vi hadn’t been to a bar not owned by Vander in years, and the only clubbing she’d done in the last decade had been with a nightstick.

 

There it went again, making her hand curl around an enforcer’s club, the hand motions and twitching fingers that went into twirling it, bringing it down.

 

Vi’s hands curled into fists, knuckled white.

 

“Goodnight, Vi,” Caitlyn said to the ceiling.

 

“‘Night, cupcake,” Vi breathed.

 


 

She was being dragged, half-conscious, through hallways that were familiar to her. Enforcer’s standard issue boots clopped to either side of her as they held her arms, the sound undercut by her own Enforcer standard issue boots dragging along the linoleum, leaving twin streaks of black in her wake, a semi-conscious slug. Her own uniform labelled her as Protector, a tear above her left breast where they’d torn off her badge that had read Sheriff. When she looked at their faces with swollen-shut eyes, she saw nothing but the gas masks affixed there, nothing but hardened features.

 

Lifting her head was hard, so she let it sag downwards, let them drag her past rows of cell blocks with jeering prisoners that rapped on the bars and shouted.

 

Nice hair, pink piggy.

 

Oho, look who’s joining us down here, huh?

 

You got got, bitch. They all get got eventually.

 

The two enforcers dragging her dropped her unceremoniously in front of an open cell, a single chair sitting there, two figures enshrouded in darkness flanking it. They encouraged her with fists and boots to crawl towards the chair, hoisted her until she was sitting on it, curling in on herself. Her stomach felt like it was on fire, blood pooling in it, making her instinctively gag, hiccup, loll her head. The movement caused fresh blood from her left cheek to spill downwards, still raw from the inkwork they’d pressed into her skin - two symbols. Her name.

 

What do they call you, again? A voice whispered to her right, and her right arm was lifted with a gentle, condescending touch, moved until it was horizontal in a soft, iron touch.

 

The right arm of the law?

 

With a thrust of a palm, her collarbone shattered, and she let out a choked gasp. The fire in her skin suddenly flared, and her swollen eyes snapped open, her body snapping to alertness. She followed through in the motion, her left fist meeting something fleshy, her anger and pain burning white hot.

 

When she dreams of this, she never remembers the details - just the aftermath. She remembers the feeling of flesh between her teeth - what flesh, whose, she cannot recall, doesn’t want to recall. She remembers slamming heads into walls, rabbit punches to the throat, broken cheekbones beneath knuckles. She remembers the chair in her fist crashing down on a man in an enforcer’s uniform, the splinters of it wielded like daggers. She remembers the roar of the inmates going quiet, still, as they watched a hurricane of pink hair and deathly silence.

 

In the end, there were four bodies in the room and she was found leaning against the cell bars, exhaling on counts of five, inhaling on counts of three, right arm dangling uselessly, feebly. The newly formed Zaunite Enforcers saw their sheriff, who’d fought so hard to create them, fought for years to stabilise them, brutalised in her own jail.

 

“Vi?” Garren, one of the young blood, with a big body and a bigger heart, crouched in front of her, eyes blue, hair navy and long.

 

“Vi, darling,” Garren continued, “it’s just a bad dream.”

 

Soft fingers touched her bloody face, and all she wanted was to keep them away. The hands were too beautiful to get mired in her shit. She gripped the wrists and Garren gasped, voice high, feminine.

 

“Vi,” he breathed, “it’s me.”

 


 

“Darling,” Caitlyn was saying, and Vi’s eyes focused, one of her hands gripping Caitlyn’s wrist, the hands and fingers having gone bone white with the loss of blood. Quickly, Vi released her grip, shuffled backwards, gaining space.

 

She was sitting up in bed, surrounded by tangled sheets. Caitlyn was sitting in front of her, nearly in her lap, leaned over with one arm supporting her. The taller girl was rolling her now freed wrist, intelligent eyes roaming Vi’s sweaty face and flattened hair.

 

“It’s okay,” Caitlyn whispered, soothed, and reached out to touch Vi’s cheek. She recoiled like a snake, scrambling further back until her head slammed into the wall, letting out a quiet ow at the thump.

 

“It was a bad dream, baby. It’s okay. You’re okay. You’re here with me, Caitlyn, in your flop house. You’ve been asleep for two hours.”

 

Vi’s breathing slowed. Panic subsided. Caitlyn. Caitlyn Kiramman. The hit put out on her, the dudes shooting a device at her balcony, Sevika and her metal arm. Vi placed her hand on the bandage against her side, a new wound. A wound that had been given to her that day. She wasn’t back at the Zaunite prison. She wasn’t still sheriff.

 

Vi’s hands reached out, and Caitlyn clasped them, smoothed her thumbs over calloused knuckles. She watched closely as Vi inhaled for five, exhaled for three, her body slowly calming from the panic. Caitlyn was calm, breathing nice and easy, and Vi matched her rhythm, took strength from her, allowed it to absorb from their joined hands and warm her skin as the it inside her slowly receded, coiling back, putting itself away.

 

“There you are, baby. There you are, darling. It’s okay. I’m right here.”

 

“Caitlyn?”

 

“Yes, Vi. It’s me. I’m here.”

 

A rushed explosion of breath, and Vi rolled her eyes, smiling through another breath. “God. What a trip. You okay?”

 

Caitlyn snorted. “Are you?”

 

Vi nodded once, curtly. “Will be.”

 

“Do you often get nightmares?”

 

“No,” Vi said, then considered. “Not recently. I’m usually better at wearing myself out so I sleep through the worst of it. They’d been getting better, and then-”

 

“Sevika,” Caitlyn said, nodding with sympathy.

 

“Yeah. Sevika.” Vi’s fingers released Caitlyn’s but creeped higher, massaging the wrist she had been strangling. They both watched Vi’s fingers work the flesh, pressed in little circles, working the tension out. Vi needed something simple to do, and Caitlyn allowed it.

 

“When I fight,” Vi said eventually, searching for the words, hesitating and slow, “I think it comes back. All I did for a few years, there, was fight. I thought I was fighting for something, but the way I fought for it was to always fight against something. I didn’t know there was a difference until it came crashing down.”

 

Caitlyn was silent, the hand that Vi hadn’t claimed coming to rest on Vi’s thigh, gently stroking.

 

“I wasn’t smart enough to be the law. I definitely wasn’t savvy enough, politically. I got taken advantage of and pointed to the wrong targets. I didn’t know how hard the job I signed up for was - naively thought I could just enforce the way I saw things, and that was that. But the thing about the law is that it’s rigid for a reason, and my way of enforcing things wasn’t always consistent. I pissed off people, I made enemies I couldn’t block, and with Mylo so busy at the law firm and Claggor working up zoning schemes for Zaun and Vander forced into retirement and Powder and Ekko working with tech, I had no allies. I was alone.”

 

Caitlyn’s stroking became long, contemplative caresses, hip to thigh, her body shifting closer. Vi swallowed a lump, latched her gaze onto those dark blue eyes, let herself see only them.

 

“Chembarons got to me. Paid off two guys to get me in my own jail. They wanted to disfigure me, remind me of how the enforcers always worked in Zaun. A kid had died in the initial raid to bust up their operation, so the political sphere was dicey. I was so wrapped up in dealing with the fallout, I didn’t pay attention to my own back.”

 

“The shimmer raid,” Caitlyn recalled, nodding.

 

“Yeah. So… they got to me. Made me realise that I wasn’t cut out for being the law. Sheriff Garren got appointed, brought in his sister Lux as deputy, and the two of them have been running the Zaunite enforcers ever since. Doing a better job than I could’ve ever dreamed up. And I-”

 

Vi hesitated, voice breaking, and Caitlyn’s touch became firm. Those dark blue eyes became blurry suddenly, and warmth hit her cheeks, her entire body clenching with the attempt to stop the tears from continuing.

 

Caitlyn pulled her in, shifted them so Vi was lying down and Caitlyn was wrapped around her, burying Vi’s head in her chest, hands caressing her hair, her back, her shoulders. Vi’s fingers wrapped around Caitlyn’s tank, her sobs wracking her body, making the bed creak under their weight. A dam, years in the making, had finally crumbled under the mounting pressure.

 

They lay there into the night, held tight to one another, Vi crying, Caitlyn soothing. 

 

After, they slept like the dead.

 


 

In the morning, Vi woke to hair surrounding her, in her mouth, nose, eyes. She huffed a breath out, reached one hand to swat it away, found her fingers tangled in navy blue. Somehow, she found herself having broken her promise, wrapped tight around Caitlyn like a vine - leg thrown over her body, arm pulling her close. Her left arm was numb, asleep from using it as a makeshift pillow for both of them.

 

Vi extracted herself quietly, shifting Caitlyn’s body so that she remained asleep. Padded to the bathroom to answer the call of nature.

 

Last night made her feel empty, hollow. Like she’d been close to bursting for a year and now the pressure had finally been released. Caitlyn had been so sweet, so patient, allowing Vi to soak her shirt and curl into her. She was too relieved to be embarrassed by what had happened - it had been a long time coming.

 

Maybe when all of this was over, the two of them had a shot at being friends. Vi hadn’t slept this well in a long, long time. Platonic cuddle buds? Snuggle pals?

 

Leaving behind her confused jumble of thoughts, Vi moved to head back to the bed, but stilled suddenly when a shrill sound - her ringtone - erupted into the quiet space. She froze as Caitlyn shot awake, looking around wildly, hands half curling into fists.

 

“Uh, morning,” Vi muttered, rushing to her phone. She froze on the contact screen - unknown number. Her phone was unlisted and Ekko had been very insistent upon how untraceable it was, so this was either one of her people with a new cell, or a rando.

 

Vi lifted a finger for quiet, and answered the phone on speaker. “Hello?”

 

“You fuck her yet, Vi?” Sevika’s voice rang out.

Chapter Text

Vi grabbed the phone and pressed the speaker button again, the heavy breathing crackling over the line suddenly cutting short in the room, becoming a personal sound that curled into her brain, set her on edge. The it in her skin, subsiding over the night’s rest, suddenly roared back, filling her veins with fire, running the fight with Sevika through again, analysing, calculating. 

 

Caitlyn was already on her feet, pistol in hand as she made her way to the bathroom with her carryon, leaving the door open. The back of Vi’s neck was already drenched with sweat.

 

“New-knife,” Vi said, pleasantly, “how’s the hand?”

 

“You lucked out, bitch,” Sevika snarled, “I wasn’t dressed for a dance. Next time, I will be.”

 

“Maybe,” Vi returned, moving to the kitchen area and pulling a small box of tools from under the sink, walking towards the fire escape door, “you should reconsider your wardrobe before going out.”

 

“You ain’t answered my question.”

 

“I’ve been told I’m bad at that.”

 

“Tell ya what,” Sevika droned, “I’ll let you fuck her first. Then dump her on the street and let me do what I do. Nobody will be able to tell you got your slice.”

 

“On the street, huh?” Vi murmured, pushing open the door and lifting a yellow pry bar from the toolbox. There were five bolts that connected the fire escape to the wall, and she pressed the bar into one of them, yanked. It popped free after two pulls.

 

“Fuck the bitch, dump her on the street, let me know where. You’re too involved now, Vi. You don’t need this kind of trouble. Ain’t you had enough for a lifetime?”

 

Three bolts got yanked out. The fire escape made a dangerous groaning noise when she stood atop it, now. Tossing the pry bar back into the tool box, Vi pressed a small black button on the magnetic handle attached to the outside of the door, disengaged the magnet, and threw it into the box as well.

 

“Maybe trouble is exactly what I’m looking for, new-knife.”

 

“Ah, you fixing to slum it with high class ass for once? Tired of fucking in the gutter?”

 

Vi didn’t respond.

 

“Well, careful what you wish for,” Sevika snapped, and then ended the call.

 

Immediately, Vi launched her phone out into open air, watching it tumble end over end into the Zaunite streets. It disappeared from view before it smashed into the concrete below.

 


 

Caitlyn was just finishing pulling her runners on when Vi re-emerged, lugging the toolbox back to its position under the sink. She felt grubby and unshowered after a night of holding Vi, feeling her tears stain her shirt. After the phone call, she expected that she wouldn’t be getting a chance to clean today.

 

“We’re moving,” Caitlyn said, and Vi nodded, rubbing the back of her neck in a gesture Caitlyn was beginning to recognize as a thinking pose. She pulled a burner out of the backpack, quickly sent off a series of texts, no doubt warning the rest of the Vand- sorry, her friends about what had happened.

 

“If they got my number,” Vi said, “they can track me. Probably means we’ve been upgraded in their crosshairs. Claggor took this apartment off of the grid, but.”

 

A deep sigh exploded out of her, and Caitlyn nodded. Vi’s expression was far away, distantly pleasant, as if remembering some hidden memory. For some reason, it scared her. It wasn’t the quick devil-may-care grins Vi had shown her once or twice, or the smile of a secret joke. It reminded her of the grin Vi had worn when Caitlyn had revealed she had a gun, back when they first met - sharp, vaguely dangerous, focused in a way that she suspected she’d never understand.

 

Caitlyn had met people who had run on the streets, used many as sources in stories about the underpinning of Zaunite society and how Piltover had failed the fissure folk in every conceivable way. They all had a few things in common - one of which was the supposed ‘game face’, an expression they wore when recalling traumatic or unpleasant events. They all talked in a similar language around it, too - clipped, evasive.

 

Last night had opened Caitlyn’s eyes a lot to what the woman in front of her had been through. It was intimidating, but not unpleasant.

 

“Vi,” Caitlyn started, “about last night-”

 

Vi’s eyes hardened. “Forget last night.”

 

The words you can trust me died on Caitlyn’s lips, her head tilting in confusion.

 

“Last night was - I shouldn’t have said all that. That wasn’t meant for you.”

 

Caitlyn nodded, stung. It was stupid to be stung, but there it was, coursing through her.

 

“Whatever you say, Vi,” she said, voice weary.

 

Vi grabbed her backpack, facing away from Caitlyn as she tore off her shirt with little fanfare. Caitlyn got an eyeful of tattoos, a continuation of what she’d seen last night when she’d stitched the other woman’s wound closed. She also saw a vicious looking scar around the right shoulder blade, medical scarring from surgery. Another lower, puckered scar the size of her fist was nestled next to Vi’s left hip, three long scratch marks - like slashes - carved into her upper back. A rich history in ink and injuries.

 

Caitlyn watched, her cheeks heating as Vi’s muscles flexed. A sports bra - green and white striped - went on first, followed by a sleeveless hoodie. A pair of jeans was pulled over her sleep shorts, and Caitlyn turned to continue packing up as Vi turned back around, wrapping her forearms and hands with fresh tape.

 

Caitlyn threw the biography of Jayce in her backpack for good measure, pulled on a high collared jacket and fluffed her hair out from under her collar.

 

“What’s the plan?” Caitlyn asked, turning to face her companion, backpack over her shoulders, briefcase clasped in her fist.

 

“Can’t be on the street - they’ve clearly got the resources for it. They know who I am now, which means that they know the rest of my crew, probably got a bug on them.”

 

Caitlyn quirked her lips. “This doesn’t seem like something a chembaron could do.”

 

“No,” Vi said, meeting her eyes, “it doesn’t.”

 

“We need to find another place to hole up - something better defended, right?”

 

“Yeah. I know a few joints, they take cash. Then we gotta go through your stories, figure out who you pissed off and get them to call it off. You said Sevika was familiar.”

 

“I don’t know her, but the name is.”

 

“We’ll dig into that,” Vi promised, and jerked her head to the door.

 


 

Leaving was eventful. Vi had Caitlyn boosted onto the roof of the building, popped the fourth of the five bolts of the fire escape, and clambered up after her. The entire apparatus shivered and shook in the light wind that managed to squirm its way down from Piltover and grace Zaun with its presence. Next, Vi showed Caitlyn exactly how she got around.

 

Their route was one of Vi’s easier ones, less leaping from awnings and more scrabbling up and down gentle inclines. Caitlyn kept up remarkably well, clearly having some athletic ability despite her job being sitting down and writing for eight hours a day.

 

“Shooting competitions are about speed,” Caitlyn had said when Vi asked, “lots of running through the forest and jumping over stuff.”

 

Their route was interrupted when, ten minutes later, they heard a deafening metallic screech, followed by an explosive crash from the direction they’d come from. Vi’s smile was icy and sharp and satisfied, the it bursting from her chest.

 

“They’re close,” Vi said, looking at Caitlyn. The taller woman was crouched with her pistol out, clearing the slide of jams, holding it comfortably. The two were crouched in the shadow of an abandoned church steeple, eyes locked on the flop house, waiting to see exactly how close their pursuers were.

 

“You still have your phone?” Vi asked, resting her elbows on her knees in a loose, comfortable crouch.

 

Caitlyn nodded, and wordlessly reached into her pocket to produce it. She dropped it onto the church roof, stomped on it, and let it slide to the street below. They watched it disappear, Caitlyn exhaling shallow and slow, a symbol of how far this had all come.

 

They didn’t look back as they slid off of the church roof, landed on a stack of pallets, and dropped to the street to keep moving.

 

“Okay,” Vi said, “there’s a motel I know called the Art Palace. It’s-”

 

“I know it,” Caitlyn said, surprise in her tone, “right off of Claybourne?”

 

The Art Palace had a reputation - the kind of reputation that was only gained by having mirrors above the beds and complimentary tripods and rope provided upon booking. It made its name off of discretion, the perfect place to have an illicit affair or hide from metal-armed maniacs.

 

Vi nodded, scarred eyebrow lifting. “You’ve been?”

 

She had expected a blush, and instead got a devilish grin. “A few times. Chasing down leads. Other activities.”

 

Vi nodded again, shoved her fists deep into her pockets.

 

Caitlyn waited a beat, smugness colouring her tone as she gently bumped Vi’s elbow with her own. “ You’ve been?”

 

“Yeah,” Vi grumbled. Caitlyn chuckled and bumped her elbow again.

 

“I’m sure that the Art Palace was an awakening for many people,” Caitlyn’s voice was prim, proper.

 

“How’d you cotton onto it? I live down here.”

 

“My first girlfriend was from Zaun. She wasn’t out to her clan yet, and it was the only way we could meet without them knowing. Your options for a torrid lesbian affair are somewhat limited when you’re seventeen and a councilwoman’s daughter, but for an iceborn clan chieftess, they’re the size of a pinhead.”

 

Vi didn’t reply other than a soft hm , her hands clenched in her pockets as she nodded.

 

Caitlyn waited a beat and then shook her head. “You’re so close-lipped. I thought we were swapping stories.”

 

“Nobody said we were swapping.”

 

“That’s what people do, you know. Tit for tat.”

 

“Well, in that case,” Vi pointed out, “I’ve shown you my tats.”

 

Vi’s expression froze, disbelief washing over her. Her and her fucking mouth. She kept her gaze locked forwards as they walked, not wanting to see the look of disgust that Caitlyn was probably wearing, deal with the hot anger that Sevika’s you fucked her yet bouncing around in her brain instilled in her. She only held out so long, however, and glanced to her travelling companion to see Caitlyn’s teeth biting her lower lip, fighting off a grin.

 

“Nobody said we were swapping then, either,” Caitlyn said.

 

Vi rolled her eyes, ignoring her own flushed cheeks. “This is such a stupid conversation.”

 

“You started it,” Caitlyn said.

 

“Did not.”

 

“You so did. You asked me to divulge my torrid lesbian activites to you right here on the street.”

 

“Torrid - you told a story about a girlfriend , cupcake.”

 

“You didn’t tell a story at all , darling.”

 

Vi’s eyebrows lifted to the heavens. “Are we doing that?”

 

“Hm?”

 

“Darling and shit. Are we doing that?”

 

“You call me cupcake , Vi. You tell me.”

 

Vi lowered her head, grunted in response. Was the Art Palace always so far away? Not that the idea of bringing Caitlyn to a sex motel filled her with relief, but at least it’d get her away from this conversation.

 

“Look,” Caitlyn said, her voice suddenly quiet, full of guilt, “if - if it bothers you, or reminds you of-”

 

“I don’t hate it,” Vi said quickly.

 

Caitlyn smiled.

 

“Okay then,” she said, as if that settled that.

 

After another moment of quiet companionship, Caitlyn slowly put her arm through Vi’s, tugged them as they walked closer. Just another couple headed to the Art Palace, to consummate their relations. Caitlyn’s bicep nestled against hers felt good, solid. Wiry strength beneath velvet skin.

 

It felt like breathing.

 

Almost made her forget they were being actively hunted.

 

“Sevika,” Vi said, and Caitlyn hmm ’d. 

 

“Sevika. I’ve been wracking my brain about it. The last five stories I’ve published have all been about the continued river of shimmer that slips through the Piltover enforcers and into Zaun - I feel like I’ve heard it somewhere along the line.”

 

“I don’t think we’re dealing with a chembaron,” Vi said, “or at least, not one who worked alone. The first dude who tried to hire me - he was older, two tufts of hair, looked sixty or so, had this high, thin, reedy voice.”

 

Caitlyn’s expression froze, hardened. “Did he giggle like-”

 

Caitlyn burst into a manic, high-pitched giggle.

 

“Yeah,” Vi said, suspicious.

 

Caitlyn grit her teeth.

 

“I see. Do you have one of those burner phones?”

 

“In my bag. Why, what do you know?”

 

Caitlyn’s expression was hard, angry. Her eyes flashed like steel in the weak morning rays that managed to eke through the smoke to touch briefly upon her face. The red neon light of the Art Palace peeked around the corner.

 

“I’ve heard that laugh before,” she said, “and I need to call in my own favour.”

 


 

Jayce Taris hadn’t slept well.

 

To call Vi a ghost from the past was overdramatic nonsense, but something about being contacted out of the blue by her didn’t result in restful sleep. She was a reminder of a key failure, her voice bringing back imagery of a young boy falling through space, colliding with the ground in a sickening splat.

 

She had stood over the corpse with him as he called the raids off, swiping hands through the air definitively, angry, righteous. She had levelled him with a patient, angry gaze, watched him rant and rave about danger, and then-

 

One kid, Talis? There are dozens more up there. Hundreds more in a half dozen laboratories just like this one. They die of mechanical failure and shimmer exposure and beatings and gang wars. You’re failing them if you call this off now.

 

Jayce had the stomach to start it, but not the balls to finish it, she’d say privately. Jayce couldn’t help but agree. And when he’d pulled out, removed his resources from the raids and stuck to Piltover society and council dealings, Vi had paid the price.

 

He’d owed her one - a big one. Vi’d called it in to get an introduction to Caitlyn, and it had kept him up, staring at the ceiling of his shared apartment with Mel, the dark skin of her shoulder peeking out of the bedsheets. Jayce watched her for a moment, frowned, and then stood from his desk.

 

It was early, still pitch black, when he powered up his council computer and started scrolling logging into his various backends, Vi’s voice and the content of their conversations rolling through his mind. Vi wouldn’t have asked idly, and she’d sounded… distressed. He hadn’t known her well, but over the peace talks his annoyance with her warred with a respect for her insistence on reform and demands to be set free. It helped that he’d actually aligned with her on most things - treatment of criminals, access to Hextech being universal instead of only the upper class, Zaun’s own enforcement agency. She was the type of person who he found impossible to argue with, and they’d found they had made a formidable team.

 

But the only reason she’d want to go to Caitlyn - the only reason she’d call her chip in - would be over something big.

 

He started with Caitlyn’s latest articles - her one-woman crusade against chembarons pumping poison into the lower city’s streets. She was an excellent journalist, would’ve made an incredible enforcer too, had she been interested. She was single minded, adept at figuring out puzzles, was upstanding and trustworthy. One of the best friends he’d ever had in his life.

 

When Jayce was surrounded by wolves at the door in every council meeting, and a hundred expectations weighed down his shoulders, he’d needed good friends.

 

Six months back, an article appeared about the life of an anonymous soldier in a chembaron organisation, detailing the life and violent times of living under the thumb of someone who wasn’t beholden to the law. The article was a good profile piece, solidly written, painted the life of this young boy as a heartbreaking reality.

 

But what caught his attention was a single line.

 

“After a shipment from the gate, they’d have us unpack these crates - yellow, green, and gold. They’d get sorted as to what colour was what drug.”

 

Jayce opened a new tab, and in a few moments he was looking at a house standard, a symbol of power and pride. House Inventuri, a gold gear on a field of yellow and green. Ugly thing to look at, but Inventuri was an older house, one that grew up with the city. It hadn’t been active in many years, according to their Lineage.com information, having died off with the matriarch marrying a nobleman some forty years ago.

 

Something about that prickled at him, had him drumming his fingers against his desk. The whole thing stunk to high heaven when his cell phone rang.

 

Unknown number. Still, with the context of Caitlyn and Vi doing something potentially dangerous, he answered, said nothing.

 

“Jayce, it’s Caitlyn. You tell everyone your eyebrow scar is from an invention exploding, but it was actually from when you broke my mother’s vase when we were fourteen and we blamed it on Rufus.”

 

Jayce smiled into the earpiece, remembering the fluffy dog being hurled outside, his guilt flying with it.

 

“Are you safe?” he asked.

 

“As- as houses. I’m with Vi. Jayce, do you remember the man who met you about the shipping ledgers to Damascia? About six months back.”

 

“The creepy giggle guy?” Jayce asked, furrowing his brows. That meeting hadn’t gone well for the potential shipper, who had asked for no questions asked access to the Hexgate.

 

“What was his name?”

 

Jayce swivelled to his daily planner, flipping through six months of meetings. There, in Mel’s hand: 4 o’clock. Sebastian Seward.

 

“Sebastian Seward. Why? What’s going on?”

 

“Can you find out where he lives?”

 

Jayce tapped his fingers on the desk, drumming idly, mulling this over. “I can,” he said, slowly, “but at one point, Caitlyn, you’re going to have to answer questions of mine.”

 

“Sorry. A friend is rubbing off on me. I need an address.”

 

“I’ll call you back at this number, Caitlyn. Please be careful.”

 

“We are. I’ll tell you everything when things are a little more-”

 

In the background, he heard well hello babies, welcome to the Art Palace.

 

“IhavetogoJaycebye,” Caitlyn rushed, and the line went dead.

 

The Art Palace had a website, and Jayce read the first two lines before closing the tab. Some things, he figured, friends didn’t need to know.

 

He then rose to change into his official Councilman outfit to ask some questions about Sebastian Seward.

Chapter Text

“Booking a room, sweetlings?”

 

“For two, please,” Vi said, handing over a few bills, “and we’d like the no-name service.”

 

The lobby was washed out with red neon, the shiny surfaces almost looking slick with moisture. The colour scheme was deep purple, red velvet, and black accents. Caitlyn stood near the counter with her briefcase held loosely in both hands in front of her, studying Vi’s profile, the way her pink hair almost looked purple in the haze. Vi kept fidgeting, fingers messing with her wrapped forearms, touching weighted gloves, running her knuckles over the counter as the receptionist tapped at a touch screen computer.

 

She was a yordle, looked old - late 3rd century, Caitlyn would imagine. She’d probably seen enough working this front desk that two slightly awkward late-twenty something lesbians didn’t even rate on the C-tier of unusual.

 

“You’re all set,” she said with a grin, tugging at thin gold glasses on a silver chain, “room 108, just down that hallway there. The phone on the desk is patched to the front counter, so feel free to give a ring if you need any special amenities.”

 

Vi let out a sound like a cross between a cough and a groan, and Caitlyn side-eyed her before taking the key from the woman.

 

“Thank you so much,” Caitlyn said, tugging Vi by her elbow. They moved down a darkened corridor, each door they passed looking heavy duty and sound proof. In one of the alcoves, a tall blonde woman had a feline-hybrid pressed into a dark space, leaving a trail of hot kisses up their neck. Caitlyn gave them a nod, unlocked room 108, and gestured Vi in first.

 

Vi stepped into the center of the room, looked around with wide eyes, sniffing at the air and frowning. There was a mirror above a queen sized bed shaped like a heart, a tripod in the back right corner, pointed at the bed as well. The single window had bars across it, and a lamp was already lit, turned down to low. Caitlyn watched Vi watch the room for a moment, before chuckling and shaking her head.

 

“You said you’d done this before?”

 

Vi flinched, hunched inwards slightly. “Once.”

 

“Once?”

 

“It was right before the peace talks. A Vastayan. Maggie offered free rooms if we were marching on the bridge.”

 

Caitlyn nodded, eyes quizzical as Vi finished her inspection, dropped her backpack, and met her eyes. Immediately, the shorter girl hunched inwards again, shoving her hands deep into her sweater pockets, right shoulder rolling forwards. “What?”

 

“Nothing! I just - you seem nervous,” Caitlyn said.

 

“I’m not.”

 

“You seem it.”

 

“Well,” Vi started, but didn’t seem to have a follow up.

 

“I’ve never seen you nervous,” Caitlyn said, locking the door behind them, fixing the deadbolt. Until Jayce called back, they had nowhere to be now that lodging was secured. Likely, their target lived in Piltover, so there was the matter of transportation, but for now, it was just them and the room.

 

“It’s interesting,” Caitlyn continued, leaning against the door.

 

“Alright,” Vi grunted, “okay. So I kind of didn’t want to have this conversation, but maybe we should be honest with each other.”

 

Caitlyn nodded. Vi nodded back. After a moment, Caitlyn’s lips quirked.

 

“About?”

 

Vi huffed.

 

“Look, okay. You’re attractive,” Vi grit out.

 

“Aw, thank you.”

 

“Not helping, cupcake. You’re attractive, and you’re also vulnerable and in a bad position. I would feel like if we were to - if we used the room to its capabilities, here, I’d be taking advantage.”

 

Caitlyn nodded, eyebrows furrowing. Oh, they were being honest honest.

 

“That - yeah, that makes sense.”

 

Vi rubbed a hand over her face, through her hair, right shoulder rolling again. Caitlyn had never been able to read her so well - the frustrated tension, clear anxiety. Last night was like a skeleton key, laying Vi’s vault open and bare.

 

It allowed her confidence to fill the space Vi’s had vacated, allowed her to push off of the door, walk slowly until she was standing directly in front of the shorter woman, toes of their shoes nearly touching. Vi didn’t shy away.

 

Slowly, Caitlyn reached out, clasping Vi’s fingers in her own, steadying their fidgeting. Vi stilled at her touch, met her gaze.

 

“For the record,” Caitlyn said, “I also find you attractive. And your chivalry is sweet, darling, but if I didn’t want anything to happen, nothing would.”

 

“I know that,” Vi said, voice soft, “I know. You can handle yourself. But, still. It - uh, it wouldn’t feel right, right now. It’d feel like a-”

 

Vi’s voice died as Caitlyn brought her fingers to her lips, pressed a small kiss on her index and middle fingers of her right hand. The two that didn’t quite close into a fist when Vi tried.

 

“Distraction?” Caitlyn murmured.

 

Vi nodded.

 

“You’re vulnerable, also. I’d rather - if we do this, like, if we were to-”

 

“Fuck?” Caitlyn said, voice honey sweet and barely above a whisper. Vi’s fingers tightened in her own, a shiver suppressed at her spine. Caitlyn watched all of this, a ghost of a smile curving her lips.

 

“Yeah,” Vi breathed, “if we were to - yeah, I’d want to be able to look back and go I didn’t take advantage of her . It’s- it’s sort of-”

 

“A perception thing,” Caitlyn murmured, her lips moving against the fingers she’d clasped. Vi tugged, frowning, and Caitlyn let her go, letting her hands fall behind her back, clasping one wrist with her hand.

 

Vi nodded.

 

“Very well,” Caitlyn said, watching her, eyes roving over her. In the mood lighting of the room, she could see Vi’s shape cast in dramatic shadows, her ice blue eyes blazing bright. The scars that marred her lip, her eyebrow, gave her face intrigue, asymmetry. Her nose ring glinted in the light as Vi’s gaze dropped to Caitlyn’s lip, and she realised she was biting it.

 

“I don’t mind waiting until all of this is over,” Caitlyn continued, leaning slightly into Vi’s space, “if you’re still interested.”

 

“I will be,” Vi blurted, “uh, am. I’d like that. Until then-”

 

“Until then we’ll behave ourselves.”

 

Vi nodded again, rubbing the back of her neck, coughing into a fist. Caitlyn watched each movement, then turned slightly to set her briefcase down, her backpack following it.

 

“You’re so confident about this,” Vi muttered, voice tinged in complaint.

 

Caitlyn shrugged. “I know what I like in a woman. One of the benefits of having to be self driven and not lacking for resources meant I had time to experiment and figure myself out. I didn’t have a city to save or a civil war to fight.”

 

She looked pointedly at Vi. The freedom fighter, veteran of both purges - wars labelled as riots. From there to chembaron raids to being sheriff of a new law enforcement agency to being a recluse with trauma. Caitlyn didn’t know if Vi had ever had time to figure out what Vi wanted.

 

She didn’t mind giving her some.

 

As Vi turned away to check on the bars of the window though, biceps flexing as she gave it a tug, Caitlyn bit her lip again.

 

Maybe not too much time.

 

The ringing of the burner phone interrupted her thoughts, and she answered it on the second ring.

 

“Hey,” Jayce’s voice came through, “got an address for you.”

 


 

Sebastian Seward lived in a row of bungalows in Piltover, one of the more centralised parts of the City of Progress. Claggor would’ve called it prime real estate - two good schools in walking distance, plenty of front and side yard, a grocery store five minutes away. Ten minutes and you’re in downtown Piltover for all the parades and festivals and whatever Piltie shit you could shake a stick at. Vi navigated the beat up pickup truck along the brass shiny streets with care and caution - Mylo’s baby deserved the best.

 

It wasn’t the first time she’d stolen his truck, but it was the first time she hadn’t left a note - couldn’t risk it. Vi’s crew all knew she was into some heavy shit now after her flurry of texts from a burner phone, and Claggor knew that the fire escape probably needed replacing after her little successful booby trap, but as always, her found family operated under a ‘whatever you need’ basis. Asking forgiveness later was quicker than permission now, and they all understood that.

 

Mylo had been parked where he always was - a minute away from the bridge to Piltover, in a parking garage that only had one entrance or exit. He left the truck there in case he needed to rush supplies to a client - Piltover police weren’t always the best to Zaunite criminals, and he sometimes needed to grab suitcases for them with essentials - toiletries, food, clothing. He had a story that got him especially fired up where the Piltie police hadn’t supplied his client with pants.

 

“Ten hours in custody on trumped up possession charges,” he’d raved at the judge, “and my client is standing here in her underwear. I haven’t read the sections on Piltover basic freedoms in a while, but I’m pretty sure pants would fall under that umbrella.”

 

“Your client resisted arrest,” argued back the arresting enforcer, “and was clearly dangerous.”

 

“You have a gun , patrolman. Are you that scared of a fully clothed woman?”

 

“It’s sergeant.”

 

“Not when I’m through with you, it isn’t.”

 

Mylo had been true to his word.

 

The story had Vi bursting with pride, having spent so long being half friend, half mother to Mylo, Powder, Claggor, Ekko. Each had risen far above society’s plans for them. Each had become a truly beautiful person.

 

And she crushed fucking rocks for a living.

 

“Right here,” Caitlyn said, snapping Vi to the task at hand. The midday sun beat down on the little bungalow house as they drove past it, a meandering pace, an unsuspicious pace. The vehicles in the driveways were all a little newer than the beaten up pickup, but not so much that they stuck out like a sore thumb. They drove a little further, figuring out an approach to the house. A public park wasn’t too far away, and the bungalow’s back fence was separated from its neighbours by a meandering creek with some plant life growing on both ends.

 

Vi hopped out of the truck, grabbed four pairs of gloves from her bug out bag, and tossed two at Caitlyn. They both pocketed them, and, to maintain cover, held hands as they meandered up the creek.

 

Anyone watching them would hopefully just see two lovers on a meandering date, not hardened criminals about to break and enter. As they roamed on one bank of the creek, an elderly man walking his dog passed them. Vi nodded, Caitlyn waved.

 

They reached the back fence of the house, and to their luck found a gate door that was latchable on both sides. Vi shook her head as she slipped the gloves on, detached the latch, and stepped into the backyard.

 

“Piltie security,” she said, mockingly.

 

“We’re a trusting bunch,” Caitlyn nodded, patting her belt where her pistol was stowed.

 

They both let out a quiet, nervous giggle, then shut the gate behind them.

 

The back door was a simple three pin lock made of steel, enough to stand up to a boot but not quite enough to stand up to a one minute pick job. Vi set to work with the tools in her belt as Caitlyn drew the gun, leaned against the brick, and kept a sharp eye out. No neighbours emerged at 1pm on a Wednesday, no curious glances spotted. Vi had the door open quickly, stepped into the darkened garage.

 

A slick convertible, bright red, was parked. All four tires were flat as if slashed.

 

Caitlyn cocked the pistol, crouched low. Vi tugged her weighted gloves on harder, stepped to the house door, and found it ajar - already kicked in. A smell assailed her nostrils - pungent, rotting.

 

Caitlyn took a moment to pull a handkerchief from her back pocket, tied it over her face. She nodded at Vi, and Vi eased the door open.

 

The kitchen was a mess - completely trashed. Food had been flung everywhere, silverware dumped onto the ground, drawers pulled out, cabinets smashed open. A distinctive three knuckled indent sat in the dishwasher door, similar to a healing wound on Vi’s right side.

 

Wordlessly, Vi hopped onto the kitchen table to avoid stepping on the silverware and giving away her position, hopped back down as soundlessly as she could. The living room was in similar disarray - television smashed and sparking, entertainment centre toppled over. A collection of old movies playable on a Hextech projector were strewn about the room.

 

Caitlyn stepped into the hallway, gun drawn and out in a close Enforcer’s stance, sweeping each room with her pistol out first. Vi followed, ducking in after Caitlyn cleared them to take a closer look. Second bedroom, trashed. Bathroom, trashed. Office, trashed. Master bedroom-

 

Caitlyn’s eyes watered and an oh god came out of her lips as she pushed an arm to her nose, trying to bite back the smell. Vi ducked in after her, to see Sebastian Seward, spread out on the bed, tied to all four corners.

 

He was dead, had been dead for some time, now, dressed in nothing but a pair of boxer shorts. His ribcage was totally caved in, each of his arms and legs broken. Cigar burns marred his stomach and hips. His face was left intact, his expression frozen in twisted pain, the two silver fun buns on either side of his head intact, standing immaculate.

 

“Check the office,” Vi murmured, “see if you can dig something up.”

 

Caitlyn left eagerly at the excuse, and Vi stepped away, checking the lock on the front door, finding it secure. She moved to the backyard quickly, idly kicking away silverware to clear a path that was safe to tread, and jogged to Seward’s clothesline, plucking a clothespin off of it and attaching it firmly to her nose.

 

The master bedroom wasn’t tossed, but there were two distinctive puke stains on the carpet, old and dried. Too far away to be Seward, meaning that whoever Sevika was with hadn’t been able to stomach what had been done to him. He had been tortured, judging by the broken limbs, cigar burns, everything else. For what reason, Vi couldn’t guess.

 

He had left fingernail carvings into the hall walls, meaning that they had attacked him swiftly, mercilessly. Came in the same way Vi had - picked the back lock, kicked in the kitchen, grab and torture.

 

She recognized the method, and it made her green, her stomach roiling. This had been Silco’s MO, before he and Vander had put their differences aside during the second purge.

 

Silco did this to those who squealed.

 

“Vi,” Caitlyn called.

 

When she ducked into the office, Caitlyn was standing by the desk, pointing. A tiny bit of wood at the bottom of the desk was slightly raised, cylindrical in shape, designed to not be noticed easily. Caitlyn pressed it, and something clicked in the back of the desk drawer.

 

A false back.

 

Prying the wood away with a pocket knife, Caitlyn pulled out a file folder and tossed it onto the battered desk with a muffled fwap . The computer was completely smashed, the tower taken, but the desk itself still stood with large scratches gouged into the wood.

 

Vi moved to pick it up, but the it came calling, surging through her in a moment of panic and dread.

 

“Grab it,” she said, moving towards the front of the house. With a finger, she lifted the blinds in the living room, looked out.

 

A van had pulled into the driveway, and the Big Guy stood at the driver side door, a mean looking club in his hands. With him were two skinnier dudes, dressed in blazers with T-shirts that screamed I’m a dickhead . Big Guy pointed the bat towards the front door, and the three walked towards it.

 

Vi’s gaze swiveled to the kitchen door, and her whole body went cold when she saw it.

 

A little metal wire, broken.

 

“Caitlyn!” Vi roared, turning to run back towards the office as the front door caved in.

 

She backpedaled, fists in a boxer’s stance, right foot leading as she hopped to put herself between Caitlyn and the intruders. The two men stood with switchblades in their grasps, smug smiles on their faces.

 

“Well,” the Big Guy snarled, voice booming and deep, “if it ain’t the saviour herself. Before we’re through here, can I get an autograph?”

 

Vi grinned, sharp and icy, and rubbed her nose with her thumb.

 


 

Caitlyn heard Vi yell, and she grabbed the file, stuffing it into the back of her jeans as she looked around, gun in her hand. The sound of the door caving in had her head jerking upwards, thumb quickly shifting the safety from engaged to off, and rushing towards the guest bedroom after a moment’s hesitation. She grabbed a pillow off of the bed, raced back down the hall, and rounded the corner with the pillow firmly placed over the gun muzzle.

 

“Vi, duck,” she growled, and Vi hit the floor.

 

The three men rushed, and she squeezed off six rounds into the pillow, down feathers and burning pillowcase filling the air. The sound was muffled just enough so that the ringing in her ears was fainter, hopefully enough that neighbours didn’t emerge to see the hubbub.

 

Through raining feathers, the three men all sprawled on their backs, each clutching two shattered kneecaps, breath stolen from shock.

 

Vi jumped to her feet, raced towards the biggest one, and slammed her boot into his skull.

 

Anything for a fan,” she snarled, before leaping towards the kitchen door. Caitlyn was hot on her heels, dropping the ruined pillow behind her as they ran.

 

They stripped off their gloves and chucked them into the creek, sprinting down the narrow alley that separated the back yards of the bungalows, the truck in sight. Vi took only a second to punch the latch on the back fence into an awkward bent position, something that would buy them a few seconds, maybe more.

 

Caitlyn’s hands shook as she kept her gun pointed downwards, legs pumping. Vi had a shorter gait but was in better shape, their footfalls slightly out of sync as the truck was thirty yards away, twenty, ten.

 

A roar of an engine came from down the street, and the white van was closing the distance fast.

 

Caitlyn leapt to slide across the hood of the truck and jump into the passenger seat as Vi cranked the ignition, whipped the truck into reverse fishtail and sped out of the narrow lane, shooting over a curb in their haste. The truck skidded into a drift as Vi turned right, the white van hot on their heels, a single driver - female, hair buzzed close, eyes shielded behind mirrored sunglasses - barking into a cell phone as they manoeuvred with one hand. The van seemed impossibly fast, gaining on them.

 

Caitlyn reached behind the seat to pull out her briefcase, snapped open the clasps to reveal several mechanical parts. Quickly, she began to assemble them, drawing Vi’s eye once, then again in a double-take. Vi snorted with laughter.

 

“All this time,” she said, shaking her head.

 

The briefcase had the disassembled pieces of a rifle, which Caitlyn was quickly putting together with a meticulous ease, unable to contain her own grin.

 

“What? I told you I owned one,” she said, putting more poshness into her voice than necessary.

 

The moment of levity was disturbed by the van smacking into the truck’s rear bumper, the motion making the truck wobble, skid slightly. Vi fought the steering wheel for control, foot pressed flat as they burst from the suburbs out into midday traffic, the van skidding out wide as the truck, lower to the ground, handled the turn better.

 

Caitlyn was finished screwing on the barrel to her rifle, unrolled the truck’s window, and turned in her seat on her knees. She poked the rifle and her head out of the truck, closed one eye to sight on the van, taking a deep breath.

 

“Keep her straight,” Caitlyn said.

 

The van jerked right, avoided a sedan, jerked left, and Caitlyn waited.

 

Two cars swerved to avoid the van, forcing its driver to make creative decisions that sent sparks flying as it sideswiped a bus, narrowly dodged a motorcycle, and Caitlyn waited.

 

The van sped through an empty intersection, and Caitlyn fired off one shot.

 

The front tire exploded in a cloud of dust and smoke, and the van immediately sank to one side, skidding on asphalt, losing control. Caitlyn cocked the rifle, ejected the spent shell into the street, and fired again. This time, the engine sparked, sputtered, and died in a gush of fluids.

 

Caitlyn ducked back into the truck, blew on the barrel twice to help it cool, and began to disassemble the rifle as the truck cantered back down the bridge to Zaun, the sun disappearing behind the far away buildings. As she was putting the pieces back into the briefcase, she glanced at Vi, started at what she saw there.

 

“What?”

 

“‘I’m an excellent shot,’” Vi parroted, shaking her head, eyes back on the road.

 

“I believe I said this.”

 

“There’s a difference between excellent shot and I don’t miss a target ever and can kneecap three dudes through a pillow and disable a van from a speeding truck.”

 

Caitlyn shrugged off this praise. “I got lucky on the engine shot, admittedly.”

 

“Lucky,” Vi said, humming, “didn’t seem that lucky. Seemed like the kind of luck you’d get after working on your craft for years.”

 

Caitlyn closed the briefcase, pulled out the file folder. “Well,” she said, primly, and opened it to read.

 

Vi looked over, shook her head.

 

“Well,” she agreed.

 


 

They pulled back into Zaun, parked the truck where they found it, and Vi sent a message to Mylo letting him know the truck might be hot now.

 

Mylo called back sixteen seconds after Vi hit send.

 

“It wasn’t my fault,” Vi began.

 

“They started it?” Mylo sounded amused, a little worried. It was good to hear his voice.

 

“They always start it. We finished it off, though - don’t worry.”

 

“Enforcer hot, or like, underground Zaun hot?”

 

“Both?” Vi guessed, wincing.

 

There was a brief silence.

 

“You’re so lucky I love you, Vi. I swear.”

 

Vi grinned into the phone, hopping out of the cab and taking her bag with her. “I know, My. Thank you.”

 

“Yes, yes,” Mylo waved it off, “whatever you need. Family first, and all that. I did some more digging on that name you coughed up.”

 

“Oh?”

 

“Mhm. Sevika’s been active since the first purge. One of Silco’s goonies. She fought at the bridge, but when Silco died she kinda stuck to the underground for a bit. Lost her arm in the fighting, according to some medical records. She shows up in one of Ekko’s limb replacement programs for shimmer to help phantom limb, but Ekko had to cut her off for misuse.”

 

Caitlyn was walking while reading the folder, and Vi steered her gently away from walking into a sign post, making her blink and smile absently as she continued to read.

 

“Well, she’s freelance now.”

 

“Hm. Makes a boy wonder, Vi.”

 

“What’s it make a boy wonder, My?”

 

“Makes a boy wonder what you’re doing clashing with an ex-Silco goonie who was in the second purge. She goes back, Vi. She’s got at least fifty heads under her belt to hear some of the seedier folks tell it, and those are the ones she’s either gotten picked up for or taken credit for. In and out of prison for ten years. It all fell apart after Silco bit the farm for her.”

 

Vi was silent, mulling this over.

 

“Seems like she had a good head on her shoulders, but after the arm and Silco, well,” his voice saddened, “shimmer does what shimmer does.”

 

“Thanks, Mylo. We ought to get off.”

 

“Yeah, snap that burner. Use your second. If you need more, I have a few stashed.”

 

“Staying paranoid,” Vi said, grinning.

 

“The bastards just never stop trying to get us,” Mylo responded, and the line went dead.

 

Vi snapped her burner in half and tossed one half into a nearby bin, the other she shoved in her pocket to dispose of later. Vi leaned over as high as she could reach, looking over Caitlyn’s shoulder as she walked.

 

“Anything good?”

 

“Plenty. Do you know about the Inventuri?”

 

Vi shook her head.

 

“Neither do I. But there’s some interesting stuff here about tracing them. It seems Mr. Seward wanted to keep a record of the seedier side of his business in case he needed to blackmail them. Apparently, he was mostly in charge of arranging shipments of shimmer and illegal weaponry to and from Damascia.”

 

“Through the hexgate?”

 

“No, actually,” Caitlyn said with a twist of her lips, “Jayce started going hard on that after Zaun was formed. It was too risky, especially after Marcus was arrested for conspiracy and the new sheriff was appointed, and Jayce started watching Hexgate shipments like a hawk after the chembaron raids.”

 

Vi remembered the boy falling, and remembered how shaken up Jayce had been. It was his way of holding up his end of the bargain - disrupting their business in the only way he knew how without getting his hands dirty.

 

“Hm,” she said, noncommittal. Caitlyn quirked a brow, but continued.

 

“A lot of the transactions, Mr. Seward traced back to old Inventuri holdings. Sold property, traded gems, some e-transfers.”

 

“How’d you know who he was?”

 

“Because Jayce took a meeting while I was visiting,” Caitlyn said, “shadowing him for a story. Mr. Seward wanted urgent shipping rights on a no-questions-asked basis, and was willing to pay Jayce big for it.”

 

“How much did the Man of Progress get?”

 

Caitlyn frowned at Vi. “Nothing. He turned him down flat.”

 

Huh.

 

“Jayce can’t let just anyone put whatever they want into Piltover. He compromised early on in his councilman days, but now that he’s Piltover’s golden child and Viktor’s taken the hextech side over, Jayce has a lot more time to dedicate to stopping the flow of illegal goods - or, as he likes to put it, making the flow more of a trickle.”

 

“So these goods are heading to Damascia,” Vi murmured, “and someone who’s been using traditional means of transport suddenly wanted to use a gate.”

 

“Yes. This all happened six months ago.” She paused, and her expression grew more worried.

 

“Vi, six months ago I published my article about my source inside a chembaron operation.”

 

Vi nodded, tapping her fingers on her thighs.

 

“And three weeks ago, the first source on your list died.”

 

Caitlyn shook her head. “The other thing - Seward didn’t order any hits other than - well, me. The last thing in his ledger is being paid to be the middleman to secure a target. Half now,”

 

“Half when she’s gone.”

 

They walked in silence for a few minutes.

 

“I’m hungry,” Vi said, and Caitlyn shook her head in disbelief.

 

“Car chases get your metabolism up?”

 

“Mmmmhm. We should head back to the room, get room service.”

 

“A plan as good as any.”

 

Caitlyn shoved the file away in her backpack. Vi waited a beat, looked away, and reached out to snare her hand, threaded their fingers together.

 

It took a second, but Caitlyn gave her a single squeeze.

Chapter Text

They made the most out of a day of hiding, bellies full from a surprisingly filling meal that their seedy little slice of heaven offered. Maggie at the front desk was eager to recommend protein rich, light snacks to keep stamina and recovery time up. Caitlyn went for some waffles, and Vi had two full orders of dinner entrees that she consumed with an enthusiasm that had Caitlyn staring in wonder and… other things.

 

She hadn’t been jealous of roast beef before, but there it was, being shoved into Vi’s mouth and devoured.

 

Since they had nothing to do but wait this out until they figured out where the hit was ordered from, Caitlyn started laying out the trail of evidence from start to finish on their motel room floor - using a batch of complimentary red rope to tie together her theories. Eventually, they were looking down at photographs, a map of Piltover and a map of Zaun overlaid with victims being found where, photos of Sevika and Big Guy and an Inventuri family crest just hanging out on an island on the top right corner.

 

Seward had his fingers and toes in a lot of pies, and when Caitlyn looked down on it from a chair, chin cupped in her finger and thumb, it looked close to answers.

 

Vi helped by shooting theories nonstop, ranging from this whole thing being an extended revenge plot by a jilted lover to KDA performing in Zaun the weekend previously, meaning traffic was too clogged and congested and the murders being a way to lighten the crowded streets. Mostly they were fun barbs, meant to lighten the mood from all the death that Caitlyn had been sifting through, most of the victims people she’d had face to face interactions with.

 

“What if Silco’s back from the dead, puppeteering Sevika from the shadows?”

 

That one gave Caitlyn pause, considering. “Did you see him die?”

 

“Yeah,” Vi said, tapping her temple, “got hit right here. Enforcer bullet.”

 

“What’s the story there, anyway?”

 

“What, Silco?”

 

“Mm.”

 

“Vander never really spoke about him much,” Vi said, flopping back on the mattress from her seated position, “but when he did he would say that Silco was helping gain our independence, though in ways Vander didn’t like or support. Silco’s part of the reason that the Enforcers had the bridge so poorly defended in the last battle - he had drawn a lot of them elsewhere with his little chembaron squad.”

 

“Seems like quite a man,” Caitlyn murmured.

 

Vi shrugged against the mattress, pulling herself up - without, Caitlyn noted, using her hands. It was like she was on an invisible rope.

 

“He always kind of creeped me out. There was this way he’d lean in and whisper ,” Vi said, shuddered, “like he was telling something only to you. Except you’d see him doing it to everybody, and not always in the most pleasant situations.”

 

Caitlyn nodded, wrote ‘Silco’ on a piece of paper, stuck it near where Sevika was pinned to the floor. Vi watched her, brows furrowed in thought.

 

“The Inventuri still bugs me.”

 

“Yes, me too. I was thinking we might want to stop by the Piltover Academy to see if anyone there has learned of them.”

 

Vi was silent, fidgeting her fingers together, worrying her lip with her teeth. Then, Vi noticed Caitlyn notice, which set off a chain reaction of both of them looking everywhere but each other. Eventually, Caitlyn coughed into a fist and shuffled some papers around, and Vi stepped out to refill the ice bucket.

 

They spent the rest of the afternoon exactly like that - Caitlyn moving around the room staking new evidence, taking the occasional five minute session of staring at what they’d found, Vi alternating between sitting up on the bed and lying flat, contemplating the ceiling.

 

Vi’s interrupted sleep from the previous night caught up with her shortly after - a combination of crashing from the burst of action and legitimate exhaustion creeping up and making her answers become slurred, nonsensical. Eventually, they ceased all together, becoming a soft snore as she sprawled diagonally across the bed.

 

Caitlyn let her sleep for an hour or two before her own eyes began to droop. Quietly, she flipped all of the most damning evidence into her folder, shoved it between the mattress and the bedframe, and stepped into the bathroom to change into something a little easier to sleep in than clothes that vaguely smelled like death and panic sweat.

 

“Vi,” she whispered, when dusk began to creep upon them, gently shaking the other woman’s shoulder.

 

“Muh?”

 

“Get changed, darling.”

 

“Bed time?”

 

“Bed time.”

 

“‘Kay,” Vi yawned, and hopped out of bed, shucked off her pants and shirt, and dove back under the covers.

 

Caitlyn, shaking her head, laid down beside her. She got four more pages into the Jayce biography - complete with assorted commentary - before she got drowsy enough to put it down, turn out the light.

 

She rolled to her side, indulged in watching Vi sleep for a moment. She was sprawled on her back, limbs stretched as far as they could go, head tilted to the side. She appeared… younger, somehow. Much less troubled. It was a rare thing to catch her this still - Vi always appeared to be moving, working things through in her head via motion in her body. Caitlyn wondered at the struggles that had created the tough woman beside her that had moments of incredible softness.

 

Vi had been nothing but kind, risking all of this for someone she hadn’t even met. At several points, she could’ve gotten off this roller coaster, refunded her ticket, forgotten the whole thing. But here she was, putting her body in front of Caitlyn’s, navigating this whole mess for her.

 

Gently, very gently, Caitlyn slipped her hand over one of Vi’s, slowly closed her fingers around it. She curled around the hand, took strength from it, and found sleep shortly after.

 


 

Vi was surrounded by warmth, a fluttering of soft kisses on her throat as she arched her back, fingers tangled in dark hair. She was standing in ankle deep water, clear and warm, her movements echoing in the motions of the fluid, water sluicing from her calves. There was a ghostly touch surrounding her breasts, hips, thighs, beckoning, whispering. She could see dark blue eyes from the darkness, making her feel safe, wanted. A throb from deep inside her, coiling around her pelvis, pooling in her stomach as she shifted on feet made of stone. Safety, warmth, desire, all floated around her.

 

The pooled water began to form a wave, and she watched it, beckoned it, yearned for it. She could see its peak, a white cap upon it as it began to grow higher, higher, her gaze following the curved lines and deep furrows of the warm ocean. Spreading her arms, Vi beckoned it closer, feeling friction between her legs.

 

For the second time, she woke up with Caitlyn surrounding her, but this time it was tangled together, their chests pressed together. Somehow, in their sleep, Caitlyn had wormed a thigh between hers, and she was pressed into the other woman, arms wrapped around her. Vi’s eyes darted around Caitlyn’s face, finding her still sleeping, soft puffs of breath hitting her cheek, her ear, moving a fringe of her hair. It was comforting. Kinda cute.

 

But her thigh was still touching parts of Vi that made her squirm, and so Vi tried to back off, cringing at how wet the slide of her boxers were against Caitlyn’s skin. She eased out of Caitlyn’s grip, squirming slowly, slowly backwards-

 

Caitlyn let out a tiny sound, a sort of mewl , and tightened her hold, shuffling forwards until they were hip to hip. Vi’s eyes rolled backwards, her lids snapping shut, hips quivering at the want to just begin rocking on that slender leg. She resisted, shuffling up against the pillows, giving herself some much needed space.

 

As if she was specifically looking to torture her, Caitlyn let another sound out, pressed her leg upwards, shifted forwards until Vi rolled over on her back.

 

Now, Caitlyn was draped over her, leg still entwined, hips still touching, nose pressed to Vi’s neck, and Vi was dead. She was dead and this was hell and she deserved to go here after a life of punching first and lusting after a woman who wasn’t hers to lust after. She’d probably die of dehydration with all the moisture collecting on Caitlyn’s thigh and Caitlyn would wake up and find a dumb gay corpse and shake her head and laugh.

 

Vi felt Caitlyn’s eyelashes flutter against her neck, skin dragging as she propped herself up, blearily staring down at her. She must’ve seen the want carved into Vi’s features, because her eyes darkened, gaze shifting town to how they were pressed together, her hips rocking forwards in a questioning, stuttering motion.

 

Vi answered with a groan in the back of her throat, her hands suddenly leaping to life, grabbing Caitlyn’s shoulder, her hip, squeezing.

 

“This okay, darling?” Caitlyn asked, voice gravelly and deep. Ahead of her, Vi could see a winding path, mistakes carved in the sides of it, and all she needed to do was say yes to begin walking it.

 

Fuck it.

 

Yes ,” Vi hissed, rolling her hips upwards.

 

Caitlyn hummed, rocking with her, setting the rhythm as they moved, nothing but heat and slick and sweat. Caitlyn’s lips found her throat, Vi’s hands found Caitlyn’s hair, tightened there, locking her in place as Caitlyn kissed, licked, bit down on her jaw hard enough to have Vi seeing stars.

 

“Don’t be gentle,” Caitlyn whispered, when Vi’s hand found her breast through her thin sleep shirt.

 

Vi wasn’t. Together, they let out breathless gasps and moans, locked in a driving rhythm that ended with them both shivering, gasping into each other’s slick necks, hands greedy, grabby, pulling and tugging.

 

After, they found themselves in a repeat of how they woke up, Vi’s gaze on the back of Caitlyn’s neck, the other woman’s breathing deep, even, but off rhythm enough to indicate she was still awake. So was Vi, arms limp and fingers splayed, safely pressing them so that they landed on the mattress rather than touching Caitlyn’s body.

 

Her mind was full of dark thoughts, Sevika’s you fuck her yet rattling around in her skull. She felt dirty, like she had touched something she wasn’t supposed to and wouldn’t understand why until much later. The anxiety in her gut curdled, made her pull back slightly, eyes squeezed tight to chase the thoughts away.

 

“I,” Caitlyn started, then hesitated, reaching behind her to grip Vi’s forearm, stilling her retreat.

 

Vi waited, breathless, needing her to finish her sentence.

 

“From the first moment I saw you, I wanted you,” she said, tugging the forearm closer, pressing her lips to scarred, tattooed skin, “this muscular woman walking down my hallway, all swagger and sharp grin, and I thought ‘Jayce didn’t tell me she looked so…’”

 

Vi snorted, and when Caitlyn tugged on her forearm, she relented, shifting closer until she was flush with the taller woman’s back, wrapped fully around her.

 

“I know you said,” Caitlyn started, but left the sentence hanging, “but could you just hold me?”

 

Vi nodded, squeezing her.

 

“We have to talk,” Vi whispered, pressing a kiss to the back of Caitlyn’s neck, “about this. We should, anyways.”

 

“Yeah,” Caitlyn breathed, “but that can be for the morning. For now…”

 

Vi nodded, throat closing in on itself. In the morning they could negotiate sleeping together or how it was a one night thing or maybe they’d actually fuck and get it out of their system before they figured this out and got these people off of Caitlyn’s back.

 

“For now,” Vi whispered, and pulled Caitlyn closer, wrapping her arms fully around her waist, her shoulders. Caitlyn let out a contented sound, nuzzled in, and sighed quietly.

 

It was the best sleep Vi had ever gotten, two nights in a row.

 


 

Once Jayce had started digging, the hole dug itself, an entire conspiracy hidden behind scrap paper flimsy as wet paper mache. The perpetrators just didn’t count on anyone actually looking , having the pieces to look.

 

The key, of course, had been Mel.

 

Mel hadn’t asked him what he was up to, why he was squirrelling away at all hours of the night. When you’d been through as many political trial-by-fires as the two of them had as a couple, respect was something ingrained in the fine print of their relationship. She knew he’d come to her if he needed her, and after finding Seward’s address he’d decided it was time. He’d laid out everything he knew, everything that Vi and Caitlyn had found, his own discoveries. She had taken a look, scrolling through things, reading over his shoulder with a hand perched on his upper back, rubbing occasionally. They theorised together, and Mel, as Mel always did, brought up global political angles he hadn’t seen.

 

“Why Damascia?” she asked, clicking a nail against his monitor and smirking when he frowned at the gesture.

 

Jayce hated people touching his screen, and Mel loved how much he hated it.

 

“Guess that’s where their contacts are,” Jayce grunted.

 

“Noxus would be the usual culprit. It’s empirical and warlike - there’s always a market for weaponry wherever Noxus is mounting a campaign. Damascia, by comparison, is well-behaved and secluded.”

 

Jayce nodded, following the line of reasoning. He hadn’t considered that Damascia would be an odd choice.

 

“They’re close to one another, and often in conflict. If you wanted to move shimmer and weaponry that was illegally taken from Hexgate labs, you might even get a better price from Noxian warlords versus the official military of Damascia. My mother would pay a premium for weaponry of this kind.”

 

“So we’re looking for a Damascian?” Jayce questioned.

 

Mel hummed in acknowledgement, then twisted her lips, bringing one hand and tucking a curled finger beneath her bottom lip.

 

“I’m almost certain it’s a Piltoveran, at any rate. Your friend is right - this is no chembaron. Someone well connected politically. All the usual suspects I’d point to in the distant past are dead from the second purge or, in the case of our beloved ex sheriff, arrested.”

 

Jayce nodded, pointing to Caitlyn’s article first mentioning the colour of barrels in the shimmer operation.

 

“Maybe something about this shipment would have a clue.”

 

“Yes, the Inventuri,” Mel said, frown deepening. She shifted behind Jayce, draped herself over him. “I’ll keep my eyes and ears open, dear - perhaps, with both of us on alert, we won’t miss the sign when it comes.”

 

It arrived hours later, with Mel coming home late. Jayce was in his office, tinkering with the espresso machine - it had been on the fritz, and Mel had been making grouchy noises about her morning routine being disrupted. He heard her kick off her shoes, the soft padding of her feet as she leaned against the office doorway, and turned to look over at her, a smile already on his lips.

 

They looked at each other for a soft moment, before Mel seemed to snap out of a trance, giving him a sly smile.

 

“Noxus has declared war on Damascia.”

 

Jayce stopped tinkering, furrowing a brow.

 

“When?”

 

“Yesterday. One of my contacts in my mother’s court was there when she was given the order by the emperor. They march in a week’s time. With enough ships and military to overwhelm the Damascian defences - a legion’s worth.”

 

Jayce placed the cover back on the espresso machine and began the delicate process of assembly as Mel walked towards him, trailing fingernails down his neck, across his shoulder. Her love language was touch, and she spoke it often.

 

“The plans seem like they were in place a long time, too,” Mel said, smiling fully now, “and mother even suggested how long he was planning to march for.”

 

“Oh?” Jayce asked, clasping Mel’s trailing fingers and kissing her knuckles.

 

“Six months,” Mel said, and outright grinned.

 

“Seward’s meeting,” Jayce said, “Caitlyn’s article.”

 

“Someone knew. Someone decided that slow shipping without a gate became too unbearable. Someone wanted to get the shimmer, the weapons there faster . To prepare.

 

“They did it through back channels,” Jayce mused, “did with political knowledge, with considerable resources, and weren't worried about councillor reprisal.”

 

“It’s a councillor,” Mel confirmed, “nobody else has this kind of pull.”

 

Jayce spun in his chair and Mel dropped into his lap, fingers idly running through his hair, a nervous, habitual gesture.

 

“It’s not Councillor Kiramman, considering she wouldn’t put a hit out on her daughter. Hoskel and Salo enjoy Noxian goods too much to upset those potential trade partners. It’s not you or I.”

 

“That leaves Shoola or Amara.”

 

Mel scoffed. “That leaves Shoola. Amara couldn’t hurt a fly. Totally harmless.”

 

Jayce nodded, tapping his fingers against her knee, mulling this over. With a nod, he wheeled towards his computer - Mel still perched on his lap - and grabbed for his cell phone.

 

“Hello, it’s Councillor Talis. I need the Sheriff, please.”

 


 

Something slithered under Vi’s skin, and jolted her awake. The it was back, and she surrendered to it, rolling away from Caitlyn and landing on the carpeted floor on bare feet, rising quickly, quietly. She tried to read what it was telling her, but all she got was panicked signals, jerking anxiety rushing along her spine, curling around her neck.

 

She snatched the baggy jeans she wore to Seward’s, pulled them up her hips, pulled Mylo’s security belt around her waist and cinched it. The tank top went over her sports bra, her shoulders and back aching from having slept in it all night. All that could wait as Vi couldn’t shake the something being wrong this morning.

 

“Caitlyn,” she whispered, and, almost imperceptibly, she heard a click at the door.

 

“Caitlyn,” she said, slowly moving to a crouch near the bed, reaching over to slap at Caitlyn’s thigh. The taller girl grunted, blinking awake-

 

The door creaked open, and Vi had barely seen the small cylinder being tossed in before dropping to the ground, covering her ears and head.

 

Light and sound exploded - muffled against her arms - causing her ears to ring and vision to distort. She was up on her feet in an instant as a metal arm shoved the door open with such viciousness that the handle slammed into the wall, sunk there. Sevika’s frame filled the doorway for a moment before she rushed towards Vi, her mean mouth in a sadistic grin.

 

Vi curled her fists and rose from her crouch just in time for Sevika to shoulder tackle her into the iron bars of the window, causing the breath to leave her lungs in a whoosh . Photos and red rope flung into the air behind Sevika as she slammed a forearm into Vi’s chest, bouncing her off of the wall a second time, her head rattling against iron.

 

Vi dropped and rolled to the side as the metal arm came crashing down, popping up to aim two punches at Sevika’s midsection - one hitting paydirt against the larger woman’s ribs but the second glancing wide of Sevika’s hip. The larger woman responded with a sweeping haymaker that caught Vi on the jaw, the soundless blow rattling through her skull, keeping the ringing in her ears company. She shook her head to clear it, managing to deflect a metal left hook with both of her hands before leaping into the air to score a punch on Sevika’s cheekbone.

 

Sevika staggered backwards, and Vi stumbled back as well, slapping each part of her face, waking herself up fully, the ringing finally beginning to subside. Short effect flashbang - crude but effective, especially against Piltie enforcers who considered Zaunites just gutter trash with more brute than brain.

 

Vi got into a lighter boxer stance, a sinking feeling in her stomach when she took stock. Sevika was wiping off a cut on her cheekbone, her eyes murderous and flush with purple thanks to a recent Shimmer hit. Behind Sevika lay Caitlyn, on the floor between the wall and the bed, covering her ears, mouth open in a shuddering scream. Vi had managed to dampen the flashbang but Caitlyn had caught it full force.

 

Vi needed to draw this out, keep Sevika focused on her.

 

“Sevika,” Vi said, using her name for the first time, “you piece of shit.”

 

Sevika chuckled, pointed to Vi’s neck, the spot that Caitlyn had latched onto in the night. “You really did fuck her, Vi. Makes you right on schedule to hand her over.”

 

Okay, fuck keeping her distracted. 

 

Vi was going to kick her ass.

 

“No?” Sevika mocked, as Vi advanced, left foot forwards, “Just as well. This stopped being about her the moment I found out you were a Vandal.”

 

Vi faked a high right cross and ducked low under Sevika’s guard, slamming a one-two punch combo into the larger woman’s gut, making her step backwards. It was like punching iron, individual ab muscles rebuffing her attacks. Sevika swung out with a brass and steel elbow, clipping the top of Vi’s head, and even the air had her staggering. Off balance, she wasn’t prepared to be grabbed, lifted easily, and thrown into the side of the room, leaving dented plaster in her wake.

 

Vi fell to the carpeted floor, face down. Her nose dripped blood. Sevika laughed.

 

“One of the mighty Vander’s Vandals,” Sevika mocked, “the only heroes that stormed the bridge that day. Do you know what we lost, Vi? Us little people?”

 

Vi slowly got to her feet, plugged one nostril with her thumb, and snorted blood and snot onto the carpet, allowing her to breathe normally. She once again raised her fists, rolled her right shoulder.

 

“Silco died creating this city - where’s his statue, Vi? You all got cushy jobs,” Sevika snarled, “we got Stillwater.”

 

“You were criminals,” Vi snarled.

 

Sevika cackled. “We all were criminals.”

 

At this, Vi had no answer. Instead, she stepped forwards and swung - a five punch combo, chest-chest-chest-face-uppercut, trying to drive the bigger woman back, keep her close. She needed to compensate for how much reach the larger woman had, that metal arm prevented from being used the longer she kept the fighting in Sevika’s personal space.

 

Sevika responded by stepping on Vi’s foot, shifting her metal arm into an open hand, and slapping Vi to the ground again, making her entire world tilt on its axis. Vi hit carpet, staggered to get up, and was assisted by a fist in her hair. Vi’s hands gripped it, clawed at it, struggled to break free.

 

“You,” Sevika said, and slapped her again, brass and grease filling Vi’s nose.

 

“Are,” Sevika said, and slapped her again, the metal hand coming away dark red.

 

“Not,” Sevika said, and slapped her again, the hand looking darker around the edges.

 

“Above,” Sevika said, and slapped her again, and Vi coughed up blood.

 

“Me,” Sevika said, and slapped her again, Vi collapsing in a heap. She spat more blood, a tooth, her entire world shaky and weak around the edges. She put her fists in the carpet, struggled to rise, and was halted by a boot on her back.

 

“Now,” Sevika whispered, “say his name. Say the name of the man who died to bring you your Zaun. Say the name of the man who made all of this.”

 

“Fuck you,” Vi snarled, and the boot grinded against her back, earning a grunt of pain as Sevika curled the mechanised hand into a fist and punched down at her shoulderblade - her right shoulder. A twinge went all the way to her fingers, electrifying her.

 

“Wrong choice,” Sevika hissed, and reared back.

 

Suddenly, the pressure against her back was gone, and Vi glanced up to see Caitlyn pressing the muzzle of her pistol against Sevika’s jaw, eyes narrowed.

 

“Back up,” Caitlyn growled, and Sevika obliged, a dark chuckle erupting from her as they both moved back, Caitlyn’s eyes narrowed, Sevika’ grinning brightly, hands raised up placatingly. Her metal elbow dripped with blood - Vi’s blood - and Vi felt nauseous as she struggled again to stand, barely getting to her knees.

 

“Run,” Vi said, spitting again, “Caitlyn, keep the gun on her and run.”

 

“I’m not leaving you,” Caitlyn said, keeping her eyes locked on Sevika. “Can you stand?”

 

“Caitlyn,” Vi hissed, “stop being a fucking idiot. I’m not worth it, just - go. I’ll keep her here.”

 

“Touching,” Sevika interrupted, as Caitlyn’s face contorted further into angry lines, “but do you even know how to shoot that thing, Kiramman?”

 

“It’d be hard to miss this close,” Caitlyn spat back.

 

“I mean how to shoot a person, not a target. It ain’t easy, taking a life. You ready to be a killer?”

 

Caitlyn’s face twitched, and Vi saw it - the gambit. The world slowed, time crawling as Caitlyn slowly lifted the pistol towards the roof to fire a warning shot above Sevika’s head, and Sevika was anticipating it. As soon as she moved to raise it, as soon as the muzzle was clear of Sevika’s temple, her forearm gave a soft whizz , a blade elongated from the elbow. It crawled so slowly to Vi that she could hear the slide against metal, hear the faint rattle of the pistol, hear the crinkling of the skin around Caitlyn’s eyes as they widened, realising her mistake.

 

She didn’t hear her own scream as the blade sunk into Caitlyn’s shoulder, twisted so the gun went wide, the bullet firing into the ceiling.

 

Sevika followed up with a sickening punch that sent Caitlyn sprawling to the floor, and Vi was up and leaping towards Sevika with a roar of fury, ignoring the ache in her own body. She slammed into the older woman, mounted her on the floor and was raining punches faster than she knew to control. Face, chest, arms - she battered and beat and screamed, saliva and tears dripping onto the larger woman as she punched, and punched, and punched.

 

It didn’t register that Vi’s guard was too good to stop. Didn’t register that she had minimal damage, that her opponent was re-directing her blows with all of the skill of someone who had been doing this for much longer than Vi. What did register was the consistent low cackle that erupted from Sevika’s throat.

 

As Vi raised a quaking, bloody fist for another strike, Sevika caught her throat with her metal arm, lifted her into the air as she began to gag, choke. All the fight left her, her spent limbs sagging as Sevika brought Vi close, nearly nose to nose.

 

“I’ve got guys at every Vandal’s house, Vi,” she sneered, “and when you wake up, you’ll be the last of them. Then we can talk about you.

 

The last thing Vi saw before the world went back was Sevika getting suddenly smaller as her unconscious body was thrown into the ceiling.

Chapter Text

Caitlyn sat, dirty rope around her mouth and parting her teeth, bound to a chair that was welded to the floor of a filthy building somewhere in Zaun. She could still taste the copper of blood, still clad in her sleepwear that was caked in scumwater and rot from being dragged through Zaun like a sack of potatoes.  Her legs and arms were bruised and scratched, her right cheek still bearing the large gash and prominent bruise from where Sevika had hit her.

 

She wasn’t aware of the time. No sunlight nor moonlight reached her in this place. Every now and again, a man or a woman in a blue boiler suit would walk in, grab her face and shake it to keep her awake, and leave her there to wait for something. All she could think about, running in a loop in her brain, was the sound of her ears ringing accompanying Vi fighting, struggling, losing. The look in her eyes as she’d begged Caitlyn to run, leave her, live on. The look in Sevika’s as she’d outsmarted her, had her take the pistol muzzle away for a moment and capitalise.

 

Caitlyn’s face throbbed with pain in time to her heartbeat when Sevika stepped into the room. The large woman didn’t even look her way as she turned, leaned against the wall, and drew a large knife, absently sharpening her metal fingers as she waited.

 

Caitlyn glared, and Sevika didn’t even look her way, the shick, shick of the blade against her fingers the only sound in the room. They sat there for a while, in uncomfortable companionship.

 

Finally, the door opened again, and out stepped Councillor Amara.

 

“This better be good,” Amara hissed, “and how dare you demand me - me - come down here to visit the likes of you . Do you know hard it is to muster a guard to escort me at this time of day?”

 

“What’d you tell the middle?” Sevika said without looking up, still sharpening her fingers.

 

“You had me come down here to ask that ? You could’ve-”

 

Only now did Amara notice Caitlyn in the room, and her mouth went slack, wide eyed. She turned to Sevika and hissed.

 

“Why is she alive?”

 

“What’d you tell the middle?” Sevika said again, calmly.

 

“You were paid to kill her. Should’ve not trusted Stillwater gutter trash. The only reason you got the job in the first place was out of respect for Silco, for our arrangement to protect what was ours.”

 

“What you found,” Sevika corrected, “what he stole. I was on the Inventuri safe jobs. What did you tell the middle?”

 

“Nobody was missing the money, and it turned into lucrative business. Anything marked in the sigil sold to Damascia in their constant wars against Noxus. Great business, Sevika, but Silco would be rolling in his grave if he saw the way that you-”

 

Sevika flung the knife, and it vibrated into the wood beside Amara’s ear. A single lock of silver-grey fluttered to the floor, landed softly on the scarred wood.

 

“You’re new here,” Sevika said, drawing a second knife and continuing to scrape at her fingers. Vi’s blood came off in rivulets of red, and Caitlyn felt sick to her stomach.

 

“You’re new, so I’ll update you on the procedure. Down here , the biggest wolf runs the pack. Down here , your councilorship, you respect the mighty. You’re the sheep. I’m the wolf. Answer my question. What did you tell the middle?”

 

“Same thing I tell every middle. Give the package to the built woman with the metal left arm.”

 

I was cleaning my left gauntlet , Vi had said, when this guy shows up, gives me a folder. Your picture, and ten thousand dollars.

 

Sevika shook her head. “You didn’t.”

 

“I did.”

 

“You didn’t, because I didn’t get the fucking package. Had to track down the middle. Get him to tell me. Had to kill him. Track the girl’s car. A Vandal was protecting her.”

 

Sevika jerked her knife towards Caitlyn.

 

“They skipped town, booby trapped the apartment door. Two of my best guys, stuck on her balcony while the enforcers rolled in.”

 

Curious, Caitlyn looked through her cracked bathroom door, seeing Vi slipping tiny bent pieces of metal into the balcony doorway.

 

“Tracked her car to a spot in Zaun, a Vandal was there scoping us. Lost my phone, destroyed my disguise, busted my arm up in a wall.”

 

The killer caught up to me on my way back. I went to stake the car out, see if they’d tracked it. I wasn’t careful enough.

 

“Got a trace on her cell, found her in this nine story apartment that was off the grid. The fire escape collapsed when we tried to climb it.

 

Hiding in the shadows of a steeple as a metallic screech was heard in the distance.

 

“They made it to the middle’s place, found all his paydirt. Four of my guys out of commission.

 

The smell of gunpowder and burning pillow, the feeling of a rifle bucking as a van squealed and sputtered and died.

 

“Money,” Sevika said, advancing on the older woman, “money, money, money. This cost me more than the last thirty hits combined, covering for you while you make your blood money with the Noxian Damascian war. This’ll cost you more than greenbacks, Amara. This’ll cost me blood.”

 

Amara wet her lips, tongue darting over dry mouth. “What do you want?”

 

Sevika towered over her for a moment, point made.

 

“I’m going to kill a few Vandals,” Sevika said, “and I want their deaths to go away.”

 

Amara paled. “You can’t-”

 

“You make their deaths go away, and I’ll go away. Nobody left to tie you to this. Me and my crew, packed up and gone. The wolf disappears into the mountains. You get to keep playing arms dealer, and I get my free ride.”

 

Amara wet her lips again, hesitated, and nodded. “What about her?”

 

A slender finger pointed at Caitlyn, and Caitlyn glared.

 

“She’s the bait to catch the fish that slip through the trap,” Sevika said, and smiled.

 

Amara nodded.

 

“Fine.”

 


 

Vi woke up to her cheek caked in blood and snot, eyes watering profusely from passing out, blurring her vision. She was staring directly at a patch of blood on the motel room floor, where a built-in sword had cut through Caitlyn’s shoulder. She could still see the way Caitlyn had jerked at the impact, the gun clattering to the ground.

 

Caitlyn was gone.

 

She groaned, pressed her knuckles to the carpet again, slowly pushed herself to her feet. The shadows from Piltover were shortened, signalling that it was noon in Zaun, her body feeling like it had been pulled taut, face feeling large and numb as it throbbed on her face, a bloody cut of meat welded to her neck.

 

She could feel every bitchslap that Sevika had doled out, welts raising in a handprint on her jaw and neck. It burned, humiliation and pain in equal measure. At her feet was a burner phone that was snapped in half - much like Vi had destroyed Sevika’s phone earlier.

 

Groaning, she shuffled her way towards the bathroom, shutting the light off as she splashed water on her face, the lukewarm liquid feeling heavenly cool against bruised and battered skin. She had no desire to see what she looked like - she felt like shit, death warmed over.

 

Caitlyn’s briefcase sat on the counter next to the sink, Vi’s toiletries also hanging out nearby, including a small bottle of moisturiser, some various lotions for her elbows and knees to prevent from being ashy. Vi reached out her right hand towards it, grunted at the sharp pain the simple action sent through her shoulder.

 

Useless. Fucking useless. Stupid fucking rock crushing bitch, no friends, no Caitlyn, can’t even keep a fucking Piltie safe for two goddamn days.

 

On a roar of fury she grabbed the toiletry bag and threw it at the wall, lotion smashing against it, white on blood red walls.  It didn’t do much to quell the self loathing, but seeing evidence of it helped.

 

God, she was so tired .

 

She shuffled back into the hotel room, sat down on the bed, threaded the fingers of her left hand through her hair as her right arm dangled, moving it at all sending sharp pains up her bicep. She thought of the five years of physical therapy - including the months of rejecting it and whining about it and begging Ekko to just let her skip one session of it to do something, anything else. The two years of unemployment while she sat around Powder’s apartment scratching her ass, lacking the will and motivation to do anything with her life.

 

Absently, she squeezed her right hand into a fist, and watched the index and middle fingers curl, nearly touching palm before falling short. The whole thing started with curling her hand into a fist wearing those gauntlets, and seeing those two fingers fail.

 

Now, Vi watched them fail in flesh and blood.

 

Ironic.

 

Sevika had taken a knife to all of her clothes in her bugout bag and her brass knuckles were missing. Vi found a single sweater to wrap her arm in a makeshift sling, moving gingerly so as not to disturb the injury further. She found enough in there to get half dressed in a shredded tank top and the jeans she was wearing when Sevika kicked her ass. She left the bloodstains on them, did nothing to hide her face as she stepped into the hallway, walked towards the front desk on socked feet.

 

Maggie wouldn’t look at her, but there was a cut on her face poorly bandaged, a rapidly blackening eye.

 

“Anything you can tell me,” Vi croaked. Maggie remained staring at the desktop, shuffling papers absently.

 

“Maggie,” Vi croaked again, a desperate note in her voice.

 

Maggie continued to look down, and Vi felt the it curl around her left arm as it slammed her fist against the tabletop, jerking Maggie’s head to face her.

 

“I fought for you,” Vi said, her grin curling around busted open lips, a gap in her tooth shining wide. Her eyebrows shaded her eyes, made them black pits as she hunched forwards, all bloody teeth and bruised skin. Caitlyn had called her smile sharp when she first saw her, and that’s how Vi felt - like a knife finally out of its sheath.

 

“I fought for you and everyone in this fucking city, and you will answer me when I ask you a fucking question.”

 

Maggie watched her, opened her mouth, thought better of it, snapped it shut. “They- they said something about,”

 

When she trailed off, Vi pressed her left hand to the desk as if she was about to vault over it. Maggie squeaked.

 

“Excuse me,” a man behind her said, voice too chipper, friendly, “would you mind if I-”

 

Yes ,” Vi snapped, turning over her shoulder. Something about her face made him take a step back, hands out, placating.

 

“Finish your sentence,” Vi said to Maggie, turning her full attention back to the yordle.

 

“Where Silco died,” Maggie squeaked, “they- they want you to meet them where Silco died tonight. But- Vi, you’re in no-”

 

Vi shoved the desk, grunted in pain as she made her way towards the service desk tucked into the corner of the lobby. A rotund man in a bowler hat was using the free phone stationed there, but clearly had heard her conversation and said a quick goodbye as Vi stomped over, hanging the phone up and handing her the receiver.

 

“All yours,” he murmured, slipping away.

 

Vi clutched the phone in her shoulder, and began to dial.

 

“Mylo?” she said into the receiver.

 


 

Mylo had missed the signs.

 

He hadn’t really seen it coming, but when there was a rope around your neck and someone taller than you pulling up, you remembered all of your tricks.

 

They caught him while he was sitting at his home bar, relaxing with a gin and tonic after a stressful day. He’d taken his tie off, shoved it in his pocket, taken his jacket off, unrolled his shirtsleeves, and sighed into his single high back stool with his drink. He’d swished it like you saw in movies, taken a sniff - also like you saw in movies, though it just smelled like gin and tonic to him, but you had to do it - and taken one lovely sip when he’d felt the strangulation wrap around him. He had a hand against his throat to preserve his windpipe, stepped on the bottom rung to make himself taller, and thrown his furry head back and hit paydirt when he’d felt a crunch and soft impact of hitting nose.

 

The highball glass of gin and tonic went slamming into the attackers face, sending shards of glass erupting across his hardwood basement floors. The attacker - a tall, thin, reedy woman with arms made of industrial cable - curled backwards on herself as he’d whirled, taken the stool, charged her with it like a knight jousting.

 

He pinned her against the wall with the stool, and two good pushes had it sinking into his drywall, penning her in. A second figure swung at him high and wide and he ducked, tackling them low and onto the fresh shards of glass as he rained punches down at them, getting past their guard as if he hadn’t missed a beat, slamming his knuckles into their temples in a one-two-three staccato rhythm.

 

When they were down, when they were still , he rose, panting, to find the woman had busted out of the stool, and was kicking out in a wide arc. He caught it on his chin, spinning, grabbing a lamp and smashing it into her, sending ceramic across her torso as she yelled.

 

Mylo vaulted the bar counter, lifting a glass to hurl - shit, this was Powder’s Solstice present last year - lifting a different glass to hurl at her, a second, a third, an assembly line of glassware raining down on her until she was in the foetal position, arms curled over her head.

 

He rushed her, stood over her for a moment, glowering.

 

“Last call,” he snarled, and slammed the leg of the stool against her skull until she was still.

 

He spiked the stool at her in a touchdown motion, raised his arms over his head.

 

“Mylo’s still fucking got it,” he snarled, pointing at each of them in turn. Fucksticks, thinking they could come here, and jump one of the Vandals and come away clean. They’d need a lot - hell, they’d need an army to take one of Vander’s people out.

 

He froze.

 

“Fuck. The crew,” he gasped out, and raced for his cell phone.

 


 

“What about Claggor?” Vi asked.

 


 

Claggor had missed the signs.

 

If he was on his A-game, back when things were bad, or if his head hadn’t been filled with worry for Vi and this mystery girl that Mylo swore up and down he’d heard when they’d last spoken on the phone, or if his low-grade headache hadn’t been bugging him ever since the zoning laws on the east end of Zaun had been violated by a few merchants who thought this whole place was still chembaron central, he might have caught the signs of forced entry in his house - the scrape on his lock, his front closet being slightly more ajar than he’d left it, his armchair being totally out of place.

 

But he did notice his bedroom door closed. He always left in a hurry, forgot to close it. When you lived alone, who were you being courteous towards, anyway?

 

He didn’t react audibly, instead casually walked towards his kitchen, set down his jacket, keys, and bag on the kitchen table, reached under it to grab the hard mahogany baseball bat that he taped there when he moved in, twirled it in one hand to test the weight of it. It seemed unchanged since he had rushed across that bridge with the rest of Zaun, the final push for freedom.

 

Claggor removed his glasses, reached into his bag for his much more sturdy motorcycle goggles, prescription strength. When they were snug and secure around his head, he whistled as he walked to the bedroom, slowly unlatched it with his left hand, bat in his right.

 

Then kicked it in.

 

It slammed against the gut of one of the stooges who was clearly hoping to hide behind it, and the bat in his fist crashed against the skull of the second who was waiting with a silenced pistol. The pistol went under his bed as he brought the bat down again, whirled to the stooge behind the door, slammed it into his stomach and kicked at one of his knees, pulling the scrawny man to the floor.

 

Mylo probably would’ve said something cool, but Claggor just hit him until he was passed out, dragged the two to his kitchen, and sat them on his wooden chairs with the assistant of industrial strength duct tape. His cell was out ten minutes later after he swept the rest of his penthouse apartment, bat in hand, checking every corner.

 

“Powder,” Claggor said, “can you make sure Vander’s not alone? We have some problems.”

 


 

“And Vander?” Vi asked, her voice regaining life, still hoarse and stiff.

 


 

Vander had missed the signs.

 

He used to be sharper than this - both as a bartender and as someone who spent their life on the seedier side of things. The two individuals who sat at either end of the bar and shared a knowing glance didn’t rate as particularly of note, even if something in his stomach kept jerking him towards the centre of the bar, where he kept a long iron pipe that was bent at a right angle at the head. It was an instinct that was often wrong, working in the heart of Zaun, and he saw no special reason to ignore it now.

 

However, he did take note of a sound outside - a high muffled whine, followed by a pop .

 

When Vander glanced out the plate glass windows, he registered that the two customers had moved, one in front of him, one moving around behind him. The sound had the three of them all looking out the window, and Vander’s hand went to the pipe, resting on the head.

 

The front door jingled, and Powder stepped in, blowing a long, slow pink bubble, letting it snap and sink back against her teeth, chewed it back into her mouth. She smiled a bright, girlish smile, and walked into the bar, absently twirling a pistol.

 

“Hiya, Vander,” she said, “can you get me my usual? We’re all gonna be here a while.”

 

Vander froze, glancing at either of the two men. They were both frozen, staring between Powder and him, like they were calculating which was more valuable. Vander frowned deeper - he was way too old for this, and never had he felt it more acutely than being saved from a beating by the youngest of his found children.

 

“You two may as well take a seat,” Powder said, still twirling the pistol and perched on her knees on a stool, “‘cuz, like, I know you’re here to fuck us up or whatever, but it’s gonna wait.”

 

“Fuck you,” said henchman one, though it came out more like a question. Dutifully, Vander poured apple cider into a glass Powder had welded when she was nine, and slid it across to her, complete with her own crazy straw.

 

Powder lifted an index finger towards the speaker, took a long sip, smacked her lips. Then, she exchanged the index for a middle, smirking.

 

“That sound?” she said, “was your ride. You have no exit strategy. We can do this the easy way, where we have a nice friendly chat and you walk the long way home with your kneecaps, or we can do this the hard way, where I put a bullet in you for every question you don’t answer. Or, we can do this the real hard way, and the Hound of the Underground,”

 

Here, she pointed at Vander.

 

“Can take it out on you for every slice you were supposed to carve in his children.”

 

Vander froze, his countenance darkening, eyebrows furrowing low. He pulled the metal pipe from under the counter, twirled it in one hand, smacked it against the other.

 

“What’s this about my kids?” he asked.

 


 

Vi nodded, a small smile forming on her ruined lips, pain fighting past the blooming pride.

 

“Ekko,” she breathed.

 


 

Ekko hadn’t missed any signs.

 

He knew people were in the store from the get, as soon as he walked up to the stainless glass door and had seen the thin wire Powder always left over the crack snapped. He checked it casually, as if he were a simple window shopper checking the hours on the door before continuing on towards the back entrance, immediately grabbing onto the drain pipe and climbing from up to the roof. Here, he slid down a short chimney, tumbling into the workshop he shared with Powder, landing on soundless feet.

 

His desk was measured meticulously, built to fit into its space. If they ever moved he’d need to take a blowtorch to it, but it worked with his limited space, and he liked having Powder at his back, a friendly face to work with. Each tool had an outline on his wall where it was carefully placed, a few stopwatches and clocks adorning his shelves.

 

Powder’s, by contrast, was a riot of mess and colour and vibrancy. Things dangled from the ceiling, tools strewn about a metal desk that was clearly too small, with two extra extensions added on to it after the fact. It was all sharp edges and glowing screens, with not one, not two, but five music players set up across it, in case she ‘wanted to listen to five things at once’.

 

Their system was a good one, and Ekko stroked her desk fondly before grabbing his mask, his key-shaped cudgeon. Then, with a jerk of his forearm, he killed the lights in the shop.

 

Neon faces would light up every part of the ceiling, the walls, the floors. Carefully scribed there with Powder’s trademark flair. Ekko put on his owl mask, hit the thermal vision indicator, and strolled downstairs, avoiding both the booby traps and creaking spots as if it were second nature.

 

The first goon was fumbling with a lighter, trying to get a candle lit he’d produced from his coat pocket. Ekko hit him in the knees with the cudgel, brought him down hard, and three quick smacks silenced him. A  second goon fumbled in the dark, knocking over a display of firecrackers that all promptly began to explode, sending sparks of light and noise across the cramped space as Ekko jumped a third, sending them face first into the shop counter, reversing them, and sending them again, thudding the cash register closer and closer to the edge.

 

The fourth clicked on a flashlight, only finding the slumped body near the register and an unconscious sprawled out ally. Her voice called both of their names in succession, fear rising in it.

 

Fire-crackers boy was suddenly face first in the exploding gunpowder, Ekko’s fist in his hair. The cudgel worked its way up his spine with loud blows until it hit the base of the skull, sending him to sleep in the midst of a mini firework show. The flashlight beam danced to him, finding nothing but the unconscious body.

 

It danced back, and saw only an owl mask with cudgel raised.

 

Afterwards, Ekko took off the mask, kicked the flashlight idly, sending it rolling across the floor. His phone began to buzz as he pulled out a remote he snagged from the shop, pressed a button as all the lights came on.

 

“Hey, Mylo. Yeah, I know. Anyone know where Vi is?”

 


 

“Baby,” Vander said from the door of the hotel room forty minutes later, Mylo, Claggor, Powder, and Ekko crowded in behind him.

 

Vi’s eyes were watering as she opened her left arm, and the five of them pushed into the room, surrounded her. Her legs trembled, gave out, but they held her up.

 

She started to break, and they held her together.

 


 

Later, Vi sat on her bed alone. The room was cleaned up, free of charge. Maggie provided that and a request that Vi never return here, which wasn’t a problem for her. She had no desire to stay anywhere near Caitlyn and her had made such precious memories, no need to taint them.

 

Caitlyn might have been gone, but Vi would make the city bleed for it if she had to.

 

Ekko wasn’t as convinced she was dead, and that had lit a small glimmer of hope in her chest.

 

“If she was dead, Sevika would’ve done it here. Left you a real message about it. I think they were trying to capture us, dangle us in front of you when she met you on the bridge. Stupid to only send double us.”

 

“Stupid or no other options,” Claggor grunted, “since it sounds like you and the journalist tuned up some of her muscle along the way. Still, we should expect the worst.”

 

Vi blinked. “You guys are coming?”

 

Powder rolled her eyes. “Of course we are.”

 

“This bitch fucked with your girl,” Mylo glowered, “and her being your girl makes her our girl. We’re gonna settle this with you, Vi.”

 

Vi didn’t correct him that Caitlyn wasn’t necessarily hers , but instead nodded hard. Her right arm was in a full sling, and Powder had brought her left gauntlet, cleaned off and fully functional. Vander had tended to her wounds while the others ran some recon, collected gear, made some arrangements so their busy lives could be on hold for a few days. Vander had also let her lay her head on his thigh as she curled into herself, blubbered about being weak and stupid and too damn soft for this.

 

“You should’ve seen me,” Vander grunted, “the so called hound of the underground couldn’t sniff two stiffs in his own goddamn bar.”

 

“We’re a far cry from the old days,” Vi had said, sniffing.

 

“I am. You, though? You have a few left hooks in you still, I’d say. Save one for Sevika for me, make Silco feel it through her face.”

 

Vi nodded. Vander wasn’t coming with, remaining back to call the law if they were needed. It was a good excuse, but they all saw the way he moved, stiffer, footsteps heavier. He wasn’t cut out for heavy work anymore.

 

The advice and the wound care were all he offered, that and a potion he instructed her to drink that numbed the pain and made her looser, move better. The it began to bubble from her chest, coiling and ready to strike, urging her to her feet, her fists to curl. The it wanted its pound of flesh. The it wanted revenge.

 

For the first time in years, Vi was fully aligned with the it. It felt scary, hateful, powerful.

 

It felt good.

 


 

“My guys say they’re there,” Ekko’s voice filled the earpiece of Vi’s new burner, “and they look ready to roll. Ten of ‘em, no guns. All ex-cons from Stillwater from purge 2. Caitlyn's with them - she's alive.”

 

Vi nodded, flipped up her hood. She dressed in the old fighting clothes, red leather jacket with the sleeves rolled up, black hoodie, boots with metal welded to the toes, dark jeans. She stepped into the streets of Zaun, hands in her pockets, face down, icy blue eyes peeking out.

 

It had rained while she recovered, the weak, choked moonlight that kissed Zaun’s streets through the overhead shadows of Piltover reflected in puddles as she stomped through them. The streets were abandoned, the night quiet as she walked, a quick pace, a forced march. The left gauntlet strapped to her back kept rhythm, a steady, pulsing thump against the small of her back.

 

A splash to her left, and without looking she knew Mylo was there, flexing his fists into gloves he’d fitted with bottle caps on the knuckles, the faint jingling familiar to her. He was still dressed in his suit, tie loosely dangling from around his neck, collar and jacket open, shiny shoes exchanged for steel toed boots and his torso bulging with the armour he wore beneath it.

 

A scuff of a boot to her right, and without looking she knew Claggor was there, the sound of a mahogany bat cracking against the pavement as he bounced it back into his fist. His goggles were affixed to his face, shaggy hair wild and curling around his ears, long biker boots climbing to his knees, yellow t-shirt with a leather vest overtop to help against stab wounds. He carried a satchel around his neck - his fighting gear, in case he needed it.

 

A low hum to her left, and without looking she knew Ekko was there, atop his board, owl mask affixed to his face. He wore his trenchcoat that flapped behind him, cudgel rotating in his grip in slow, easy movements. Swinging from a chain at his hip, a soft ticking accompanying the jingle and jangle of a chain medallion, his ever-present stopwatch kept time with their footsteps.

 

A popping of gum to her right, and without looking she knew Powder was there, swaggering low and slow, pistol in her right hand loaded with bean bag rounds, satchel in her left clattering with chattering devices - grenades and nail bombs and smoke bombs and tear gas. Her boots were sloppily pulled up, her legs bare up to her leather jogging shorts, a bralette on her chest. She fought as bare as possible, free to go wild.

 

If Vi were to close her eyes, they were ten years younger, hearts filled with fear as the streets clamoured for them, this five person walking V, moving through smoke and gas, the final assault on the bridge to begin. Then, they had an army of disgruntled rock crushers and angry miners and furious labourers raising whatever weapons they could carry and screaming so loud that Pilties cowered, peered down into the Lanes to see what could be making such a racket.

 

Now, they were just five, moving through silent, wet streets. Their mood was grim.


Someone had their girl, and they were going to get her back.

Chapter Text

They called it the old bridge, the previous connecting tissue between Piltover and Zaun that was more of a long ramp, with shadow on one side and light on the other. It had been the only real way for folks in the undercity to cross into Piltover beyond the usual free climbing shenanigans that most preferred anyway. It had once been heavily patrolled by enforcers with demands for permits, reasons for visits, names of people you were going to see. If you were suspicious, the enforcers could detain you for a long time, checking your story over with as much manpower as they needed.

 

When the second purge resulted in Zaun independence, the two cities came to a joint decision to build a second bridge and retire the old one, it being too unkempt and in need of too many repairs after the constant fighting to bother fixing it. Piltover paid for the supplies, design, and construction, while Zaun installed overseers and labourers to work around the clock. The joint bridge was called the Alliance Bridge, and it was a fancy four lane highway with no permit checks, a symbol of the freedom of movement it allowed for.

 

The old bridge remained dormant, and eventually, crumbling iron and flaking rust resulted in travel upon it being banned, the Piltover side being raised permanently, the Zaun side being closed for travel. Zaun being Zaun, however, it didn’t take long for citizens to move in on the potential real estate, the bridge becoming flooded with ramshackle houses made of scrap wood and leftover masonry. Rusted out cars left abandoned on the bridge during the battle and never recovered made for quick shelter from the rain, or makeshift baths if left open. 

 

Vi, Claggor and Mylo walked shoulder to shoulder along the bridge, weaving between cars and houses, eyes locked dead ahead. Around them, Zaunites battened down hatches, slammed doors, closed windows - the people here knew a fight brewing far too well by the set in the combatant’s jaw.

 

Eventually, they found themselves in a ring of rusted out cars in front of a large wooden building, firelit torches illuminating the rusty, groaning metal they all stood upon. Claggor reached into his satchel, pulled out two handfuls of items and placed them in Mylo and Vi’s hands as the door to the building burst open, and figures began pouring out.

 

They stood on the edge of the ring of vehicles - Mylo opting to lean against a rusty trunk, fold his arms over his chest, Claggor standing still and tall, Vi placing her left hand on her hip, cocking it, her foot tapping with anxiety, dread.

 

One by one, the nine figures began to spread out on the other half of the ring, armed with blunt instruments - two hockey sticks taped together, an iron bar on a chain, a crowbar.

 

Vi’s brass knuckles were brandished on the hands of a thin, spindly looking dark skinned woman with purple eyes, her head already bulging out in the way that only long exposure to Shimmer could do. Vi’s eyes tracked the knuckles, looked up at the woman’s face, a smile curling Vi’s lips, sharpening, growing.

 

“There’s our girl,” Mylo murmured when he saw his friend’s grin, shaking his head, “these guys are fucked.”

 

The last to step out of the door was Sevika, who looked the three of them over with disdain, rising to her full height. Behind her, she dragged Caitlyn forwards, threw her onto the dusty pavement.

 

“What’s left of the Vandals,” Sevika said, sneering, shaking her head, “though not what I expected. I figured Owl Boy would be here instead of the troll doll.”

 

She jutted her chin in Mylo’s direction, and he snorted. “Not with the lacklustre muscle you brought for me. I didn’t even have to bust up my fine china.”

 

Sevika grinned wide, looked over Claggor. “You, I expected. This should be a lot of fun.”

 

Claggor didn’t respond, too busy dancing his gaze over each combatant, eyebrows pulled low, calculating.

 

Finally, Sevika looked at Vi, who hadn’t looked away from Caitlyn’s prone form. The two were staring at one another, drinking each other in, relief and anger filling both of them. Sevika snorted, shaking her head.

 

“Wow,” she said, and laughed - a harsh, metallic sound. “You didn’t just fuck her, Vi. You caught feelings for the mark. If it weren’t funny it’d be sad.”

 

Vi’s gaze locked on Caitlyn’s, and slowly moved up. After a moment, Caitlyn followed what she was looking at.

 

Powder was stationed along the highest point of the bridge, hidden in shadow. Carefully, the slight girl raised her hands to cover her eyes, then her ears, in a large, exaggerated movement.

 

Caitlyn’s eyes slid closed, her body curling in on itself as she tried as best she could to plug her ears.

 

Looking now at Sevika, Vi said, “just give her back. Zaun’s bled enough, Sevika. Whoever’s paying you can’t be worth all of this.”

 

“I told you,” Sevika tutted, and Powder, from high above, pulled five canisters from her bag, nodded across the high bridge struts at Ekko, who crouched on his board, ready.

 

“This stopped being about getting paid when I learned you were Vandals. It’s about what’s right.”

 

“Silco,” Vi gritted, through a wide, lip splitting grin, “doesn’t deserve a statue. Silco brought pain and misery to everything he touched, and if he hadn’t died here that day he would’ve continued to bring pain and misery. Men like him don’t back down.”

 

“Zaun was his dream , you stupid fuck.”

 

“Men like him don’t back down, Sevika. Men like him don’t give up power when they’re presented with it. It would’ve only been a matter of time before he made another move, collected more.”

 

“You don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about.”

 

“Don’t I?” Vi challenged, “You ever seen an enforcer back down from a position of power? Ever seen an academy graduate not use his station? Men like him don’t just collect a set amount of power and say oh, gee, that’s enough, I’ll go home to my simple life now . Men like him grab it where they can find it at any cost -  your cost, mine, anyone but his.”

 

“You shut the fuck up ,” Sevika growled, and that piston in her arm, glowing purple, raised and lowered, Shimmer flooding her system, flashing her pupils, stretching in her veins as she pulsed, jerked forwards, snarled. Her breathing came sharp and fast in the firelight, chest heaving with the effort.

 

“Fuck Silco,” Vi said, reaching her left hand over her back and sliding it into her gauntlet. It hissed as she activated it, metal plates shifting and twisting as she curled her fingers - all four touching metallic palm. She grinned down at it.

 

“Fuck Silco and everything he stood for.”

 

“You’re all runts,” Sevika panted, talking past her now, the rage consuming her, “and you never learned your place among wolves. We’re the wolves now, and we’re going to show you what it means to be a wolf.”

 

Sevika moved forwards, and Vi sliced the air with her gauntlet.

 

Mylo and Claggor had already subtly put in their earplugs during the conversation, and Mylo rushed forwards to shove a pair of headphones over Vi’s ears as five canisters fell from the top of the bridge struts. Sevika glanced up as they fell, jerked her gaze back towards the three Vandals, to find each were wearing tinted dark sunglasses, wearing smug smiles.

 

Sevika barely had time to cover her eyes when the canisters detonated in light and ringing sound.

 

A whoosh filled the air, and Ekko was speeding forwards, bent low over his board, gaining speed rapidly. In a flash, he had his arms around Caitlyn, hauled her up, zipped away as Sevika’s blade came crashing towards the asphalt and metal where Caitlyn had lain, a squeal of steel and rock as the blade bit deep.

 

Sevika looked upwards, and a gauntleted fist slammed into her chin, sending her flying back through the wooden wall of the house in a vicious uppercut. Vi’s face was contorted in rage, all except that sharp smile.

 

“Huff and puff, bitch ,” Vi snarled, and all hell broke loose.

 

Claggor immediately brought the bat down onto one assailant’s knee, kicking it immediately afterwards with a sickening crunch as the knee caved sideways and the ganger fell forwards. A heavily pockmarked man leapt at Claggor in reprisal, and Claggor blocked two quick jabs with a knife before spinning pockmark around and grabbing him in a headlock, raining punches into his face as a yordle leapt onto his back, tried to get an iron bar around his thick neck.

 

Mylo slammed his bottle-cap adorned fists into the chest of shimmer addict with the brass knuckles, and was rewarded for his efforts with brass grazing his temple, shearing some skin off with the force of it. He fell backwards against a sedan’s hood, kicked out with both feet when Knuckles tried to close the distance, then rolled backwards to the car’s roof when an iron chain slammed down where he was an instant ago. Mylo let out a manic little laugh, hopped to his feet, leapt over another swing with the chain and dove onto the chain-wielder’s shoulders, digging his thumbs into the assailant’s eyes.

 

“Ride ‘em, Cowboy!” Mylo hollered over the sound of Powder’s pistol firing beanbags hard and fast, smoking two assailants in a whuff of light and sound. Hockey Sticks closed the distance towards her, swinging up in an arc and she bent her body to the side, dodging the attack, sidestepping another as she shook out her pistol, loaded it. She dropped into an effortless split as Hockey Sticks swung horizontally, ruffling her long blue braids with the wind disturbance, only to find the pistol pointed up at his chin.

 

“Hmm,” Powder said, pulling the trigger, the beanbag slamming his jaw shut, his teeth severing his tongue as he careened backwards. Then, Powder shook her pistol out again, began to load it as a crowbar suddenly slammed down on her shoulder, making her grunt in pain as she rolled away, Crowbar giving chase.

 

Ekko took Caitlyn to a little wooden platform high in the air, amidst the struts of the bridge. He cut her bonds, pressed a ready-made poultice to her shoulder, checked her face.

 

“Who-” Caitlyn wheezed, still shaking off the effects of the makeshift flashbangs.

 

“Oh. Hi, I’m Ekko. I’m a friend of Vi’s,” he said, the owl mask distorting his voice and making him sound huge, nasty.

 

“Oh,” Caitlyn breathed and Ekko reached behind him and tossed a familiar looking briefcase onto the platform.

 

“When you’re ready,” the distortion continued, “we could probably use a hand.”

 

With that, he zipped back down towards the fray. The yordle on Claggor’s back had finally gotten the thin metal rod around his neck, was starting to tug, Claggor’s strength starting to wane, when a cudgel slammed into the yordle’s temple and Claggor sucked in a decent breath to squeeze down on his captive and subdue them. Claggor nodded at Ekko in thanks, the smaller man offering a salute as he wheeled to go help Mylo.

 

From Caitlyn’s position, she could see the four of them, moving as a unit, as if no time had passed at all. Mylo steering an enemy directly into Ekko’s cudgel, then leaping to intercept a combatant that was lunging towards Claggor. Claggor kicking Crowbar in the stomach as he chased Powder, grabbing him and throwing him into Knuckles as Knuckles leapt to catch onto Ekko’s board. Ekko swinging the board around to catch Chain’s fingers in his hover fans as Chain tried to grab onto Mylo’s hair, holding him still long enough for Powder and Mylo to both roundhouse kick him into the barricade of the bridge, sending him collapsing to the asphalt.

 

They fought brilliantly, skillfully, trading assailants back and forth, ensuring nobody had more than they could handle. And still, it was nine versus four, and Caitlyn could see they’d lose.

 

That is, until she finished building the rifle, took aim.

 

Mylo was being held against a car hood on two sides as Knuckles reared back to punch him in the eyebrow when a gunshot erupted outwards, and Knuckles’ brass knuckles arced into the air, the hand they were attached to suddenly gone at the wrist. She screamed, twisted enough for Mylo to rear his feet up and kick her away, using the motion to contort his body and get a foot on one of his restrainers.

 

Claggor was brought to his knees by a powerful blow by Crowbar, and another shot slammed through his elbow, making his arm fall limp. Claggor punched Crowbar in the dick without missing a beat, nodding vaguely upwards in thanks.

 

Caitlyn cocked the gun, sending a spent shell arcing through the air, and sighted up once again, but was distracted as Vi came crashing back out of a wall of the wooden house, left gauntlet scraping the road, palm out, as she flipped and recovered her feet. Vi dusted off her jacket of wooden splinters as a brass and metal arm grabbed hold of the wall, Sevika stepping out of the freshly made entrance, eyes fully purple now, veins throbbing. She was growing in size, muscles being created on her large frame, making her impossibly taller, impossibly broader.

 

Vi never stopped smiling as she jerked to the left, then right, sprinting towards Sevika, left gauntlet curled. She ducked under Sevika’s punch, grabbed her midsection with the gauntlet, and ejected all of the steam buildup in the metal glove to give her more momentum as she tossed Sevika back into the house and out the other side, racing to catch up with her quarry.

 

“Yo, sniper!” called Powder, as her hands wrapped around an iron rod being pushed against her neck, “Little help!”

 

A gunshot sounded, and Iron Bar squealed, a hole in his foot. Powder kicked him off of her, loaded a fresh beanbag, and shook her head as she pointed the pistol down at him.

 

“Almost,” she sighed, and pulled the trigger, knocking Iron Bar out cold.

 

On the other side of the house, Vi ducked under another clumsy slow punch of Sevika’s and unleashed two quick shots with her left hand in Sevika’s contorting ribs, making her grunt out in a voice tinged heavily with Shimmer phlegm. The blade on the metal arm swished out and Vi ducked, a chunk of her pink locks being sliced off and falling earthward even as she countered with a right elbow to Sevika’s jaw, sending pulsing pain through her right arm as she followed up with another left. Sevika stumbled back a few steps, ever closer to the middle of the bridge, the Piltover side drawn up, nothing but ocean beneath them.

 

Sevika lunged, and Vi sidestepped, slamming her gauntlet into Sevika’s knee to drop her down, kicking her chest. It was like kicking brick, no give at all, and Vi turned it into a leap to gain space.

 

Sevika predicted this, grabbing Vi’s ankle and attempting to throw her, but Vi ejected more steam from the gauntlet, allowing her to flip and right herself in midair, skidding across the ground in booted feet, gauntlet pressed to the asphalt. Her eyes jerked upwards, chest expanding, contracting in quick, uneven breaths. Sevika was half-transformed, nearly completely mutated by the Shimmer coursing through her. Maybe with two gauntlets and not beat to shit, Vi could’ve taken her.

 

But Vi wasn’t damaging her. She was just shrugging everything off.

 

“Vandals,” Sevika grunted, but didn’t seem capable of speech beyond that hate-dripped word. The piston on her arm raised, full of purple liquid, and lowered, more Shimmer coursing through her as she screamed out - sounding more and more monstrous, unhinged.

 

“VANDALS,” Sevika roared, and charged towards Vi. Vi stood, crouched low, pulled the gauntlet back, and closed all the vents, building steam rapidly, needle on the dial slowly pulsing towards red.

 

As Sevika neared, Vi unleashed the built up steam and thrust her fist forwards, sending her careening towards Sevika in a desperate uppercut. She caught the larger woman on the chin, sending her into the air, head cocked backwards, eyes wide. Vi leapt after her, raised the gauntlet above her head, and slammed her back down to earth, Sevika’s body crashing through the asphalt and metal, a crater forming around her.

 

Vi landed, panting, her gauntlet needle falling down to zero, quivering there. She wiped her mouth on the shoulder of her jacket, turned to head back towards the rest of the Vandals, the sounds of fighting still reaching her.

 

From behind her, she heard the piston raise and lower, and froze. Rocks and metal crumbled and groaned, and she slowly turned to see Sevika, purple and black, standing easily nine feet tall, light blue drool slowly rolling down her chin.

 

Vi exhaled slowly, raised her gauntlet, and Sevika roared, lunging towards her. Vi managed to block two of the strikes before a third caught her low and on the inside of her thigh, sending her teetering to the right. A clawed hand raked across her gauntlet, twisting her around as a fist slammed into her midsection, sending her skidding ass over teakettle over the asphalt.

 

She lay there for a moment as Sevika roared, her gauntlet’s steam gauge shattered. Useless. Vi pressed the release lever, pulled her hand out of it. It had gotten her far enough tonight, but would go no further. She pressed her knuckles into the asphalt, rose to her feet, but not quick enough - a fleshy, muscular hand gripped her hair, and in a sickeningly familiar position, she was lifted, Sevika’s brass and metal arm raised, a sneering smile twisting monstrous lips.

 

A crack of thunder, and the piston on Sevika’s metal shoulder shattered, sending her squealing backwards, Vi dropped to her knees as Sevika desperately tried to cover the rapidly depleting shimmer, alternating between pressing her hand to it and licking her hand, needing more.

 

Roughly, Vi gained her feet, gauntlet behind her, exhaling slowly. Caitlyn, no doubt. Buying her time. But she couldn’t run - she had to finish this here, or Sevika would come back. She’d keep coming until she was put down. But Vi was already exhausted, the it the only thing left in her tank, pushing her onwards, while the rest of her body just wanted to sleep -

 

A splash of puddle to her left.

 

The scuff of a boot to her right.

 

A low hum to her left.

 

A pop of gum to her right.

 

“Alright,” Vi said, and the rest of the Vandals stood behind her, a walking V on the bridge where they’d won their freedom, “get her limbs.”

 

The five of them drove Sevika back. The monster would reach for Claggor and Mylo would dig a knife into her side, force her attention on him as Powder fired shot after shot of nails and screws into her face and eyes, forcing her to go stumbling back. The monster would reach for Ekko and Claggor would pull on its thigh as Vi punched it in the chest, making it howl as it staggered back again. The monster kept trying, reaching, one arm useless and leaking Shimmer as the Vandals attacked, attacked, attacked.

 

Finally, with an exchange of nods, Mylo dove to the ground, clamping his entire body around Sevika’s right leg. Claggor blocked a wild swing, pinned her left leg with his arms. Ekko ducked a grab attempt, wrapped a thin rope to attach Sevika’s good arm to his board, and cranked the throttle to spread it out, immobilise it. Powder grabbed the brass and metal, pulled it over her shoulder, heaved until all four limbs were locked in place.

 

Sevika glanced around at them, one at a time, and glared at Vi, her countenance darkening as Vi began to run forwards, straight for her, right fist cocked back.

 

“Vandals,” Sevika snarled, and the last thing she saw before the world went black was Vi getting suddenly closer as her unconscious body was thrown from the bridge.

 

Everyone let go as Vi’s fist connected, stood as one as they watched Sevika getting smaller and smaller, swallowed up by the poisonous black. They watched until they saw a dark fin rise from the water, slowly sink in the spot Sevika disappeared. They watched until there was no sign of anything else.

 

Then, Vi clapped Claggor on the back, touched Powder’s face, shook Mylo’s hand, hugged Ekko. Together, they walked back to the ring of cars.

 


 

It wasn’t over by a longshot, as the sound of fighting and gunfire and the roaring of shimmer monsters were bound to attract an amount of attention. Zaunite enforcers arrived to the scene with questions and disdain, but when they learned that former sheriff Vi was among the ranks, alongside the other ex Vandals and a Piltie councillor’s daughter, they quickly called in the big guns, and woke sheriff Garren from a dead sleep at 1am to come to the old bridge.

 

Garren was a large man, and he was dressed in full plate armour, a shiny sword on his back. He wore a cape, too - a fancy gold and blue thing, a full regalia of the Zaunite emblem. He watched the Vandals and Caitlyn from a distance, shoulder to shoulder with Vi, bandage around her wounds from pushing Sevika into the Piltover sea.

 

“It’s a tall tale,” he said, turning to her. Vi kept her gaze on her companions, nodding absently, eyes flat.

 

“If anyone else told me this, I’d say it’s something out of a novel. One of those Zaun-Noire stories or something.”

 

Vi shrugged. “It’s real.”

 

“I believe you.”

 

They sat in comfortable silence for a while, watching the enforcers question each of the Vandals, each Vandal adopting their trademark reluctance to discuss things with authorities. Mylo kept flitting around to each round of questioning, quick with the are you detaining my client and you don’t have to answer that ’s.

 

“We have evidence back at the room under the mattress. Maggie can show you.”

 

“A councillor met with Sevika,” Garren said, and Vi’s eyebrow raised in question, “Caitlyn confirmed it. Councillor Amara. Councillors Talis and Medarda had the enforcers waiting for her when she got back from meeting her. She cracked in twenty nine minutes, apparently.”

 

Vi shook her head, turned back to look at Caitlyn. She looked so small, pale, fresh stab wound still blooming red against her bandage, bruises dotting her legs. She’d been seen to by paramedics, given a large fluffy blanket that made her seem younger, fragile. Vi’s palms itched.

 

“You know,” Garren said, “I’ll never be as good as you were.”

 

Vi’s eyes cut to him, surprised.

 

“You were a born leader, Vi,” Garren said, warmth in his tone, “and the policies you’ve laid out have curbed violence in our city by a massive amount. Investigative work, due process, everyone’s right to an attorney. You created a force that cares about its people because you did.”

 

Vi felt a lump in her throat, and looked back at Caitlyn, drawing strength. Mylo was now with her, one hand pointed towards the enforcer that tried to ask her something, his face insistent, demanding as Caitlyn looked tired, vaguely relieved. Caitlyn met her eyes, and gave her a soft smile.

 

Vi smiled back, glanced at the ground.

 

“What I’m saying is,” Garren continued, nudging her shoulder with his pauldron, “it wouldn’t hurt for you to check in now and again, make sure we’re on the straight and narrow.”

 

“I’m not the law,” Vi said, and Garren shook his head.

 

“No, but you care about what the law should and shouldn’t do. You’d be a civilian advisor, see what we’re doing wrong, correct it. I wouldn’t ask if I didn’t think you were the right person for the job.”

 

Caitlyn was watching her now, lip clenched between her teeth, seeming to fight off a smile as Mylo was parroting the enforcer’s words with a low, dumb sounding voice. The enforcer threw up his hands and left Caitlyn alone, leaving Mylo free to drift over to where Claggor was answering a female officer’s questions with one word answers.

 

“I’ll think about it,” Vi said, and hopped off of the hood. Garren rose too, nodding at her as he clapped his gauntlets together, started barking orders. Vi’s feet were on auto pilot, and suddenly she was standing directly in front of Caitlyn, left hand reaching out to touch Caitlyn’s right.

 

They smiled at each other, eyes filling as they squeezed tight, forging a connection in iron.

 

“All I kept thinking,” Caitlyn said, “was how I hadn’t kissed you yet.”

 

Vi smirked. “We can do that, if you want.”

 

Caitlyn hummed, her free hand reaching up, cupping Vi’s jaw, sliding over her cheek, pressing her fingertips into her hair. She tugged lightly, and Vi leaned downwards.

 

Their lips met softly, tentatively, chastely. Until Vi pressed her hands on either side of Caitlyn’s hips and leaned forwards, until Caitlyn wrapped both arms around Vi’s neck and tugged, until there was nothing but Vi standing between Caitlyn’s spread thighs and the slow, soft, wet meeting of their lips, over and over and over. They stood there, amidst the chaos of the enforcers hauling cuffed people into cars and her friends’ rapidly excited tones of voice recapping the battle, and lost themselves in one another.

 

Caitlyn broke the kiss, leaning back, tongue running along her top lip, eyebrows raised in question.

 

“There,” she said, “ now Sevika can capture me.”

 

Vi shook her head, lips twisting in a smile. “Too soon.”

 

Caitlyn smiled back, then straightened her expression, looking back towards the nearly demolished wooden house, eyes darting back to Vi’s.

 

“Look,” Caitlyn began, “I know that I might bring back some memories, and I’m not saying it has to be now and I’m very willing to wait, but I think-”

 

“Do you want to get dinner with me?” Vi interrupted.

 

Caitlyn’s expression lit up, nodding. “Yeah. Yes. Yes, I think I would love that.”

 

“Cool,”  Vi said, lamely, and Caitlyn laughed, kissed at the corner of her mouth.

 

“Cool,” Caitlyn hummed, and the it within Vi was silent, still, tucked back into her skin.

 


 

Vi’s shoulders ached. Not an uncommon thing when you worked with self righteous assholes, came home every day and bitched to Caitlyn about how some enforcers only wanted to stomp heads and shoot guns and be entitled to be a little rough instead of, you know, protecting the city. The day’s stress sat upon her shoulders as she made her way into the Last Drop with lead shoulders, swaying a little with the motion.

 

People noticed her now - the two couples in the booths lit up a little, nodding towards her. The three men sitting in stools along the lengthy part of the L shaped bartop said a form of oh, that’s Vi to one another as she made her way to the short end, seated atop it, dropping a leatherbound journal to the countertop with a muffled fwap .

 

“One of these days,” Vander said as he made his way over to her, a full beer already in his grasp, “you’ll show up here without the weight of the world on your shoulders.”

 

“At least it isn’t rock dust gumming up your mahogany,” Vi fired back, grinning.

 

Vander frowned, leaning on the bar across from her, the three years since he’d dressed her wounds in that hotel room showing in peaks of white amongst the salt and pepper, hair on top thinning out.

 

“You look weird in suits.”

 

“I wear the fuck out of suits,” Vi corrected, popping her collar obnoxiously. She scooped up her beer, drank a lusty, full sip, let out a heavy sigh of satisfaction.

 

“I remember the girl who was allergic to sleeves, the unfriendly lesbian who sat herself at this bar and would drink alone for an hour before leaving like a ghost.”

 

“The times,” Vi said, “they are a-changing.”

 

And they had. After a long recovery period of six months, Vi had accepted Garren’s job offer, put in her notice in the quarry, and started working as a civilian liaison to the enforcers. She didn’t need to wear the uniform, finding it still constricting and full of the smell of blood and the feel of flesh on her teeth, but she was around enforcers for forty hours a week, consulting, training, advising. She found their respect wasn’t hard won, once they knew who she was, what she’d done. She had to do media appearances every now and then, but it was a small part to play to feel as though she was making a difference.

 

Caitlyn’s story about being kidnapped won her a Pulitzer, once she’d come to grips with the psychological trauma of it. It had been two years of having a bad night weekly, where she’d be sure that Sevika was outside the door, that she could still see and hear the flashbang, feel the blade in her shoulder. The two of them spent a lot of time curled in bed together, whispering, baring souls. It was a quick journey to love when your first time meeting involved so much pain and violence.

 

Being with Caitlyn also meant seeing more of Jayce, which Vi… tolerated. The two of them were at each others’ throats more often than not, but Vi could see the nobility in him more, now, even if she’d always reserve a place in her heart for him as man-child. Then again, Mylo could have his moments too, and Caitlyn said nary a bad word about him.

 

Vi took another sip of her beer, and her cell phone vibrated, a text from Caitlyn. Curiously, she opened it, seeing it was an image, and her eyes widened, beer choking in her throat as she pulled her phone screen closer to her face, tilted her head.

 

“Problem?” Vander asked, and Vi looked at him, pressed the lock button on her phone, downed her beer.

 

“Yeah. Yes, urgent problem. Uh, back at home. I need to go home and take care of this… urgent problem.”

 

Vander’s eyebrows raised, and Vi shook herself, giving him a two finger wave and scooping up her book.

 

“Anything I can help with?” Vander called as Vi started to leave.

 

Vi turned back, smiled.

 

“It’s about a woman.”

 


 

This little piggie had a house made of bricks,

Hand over hand over hand over fist,

This little piggie had a house made of bricks,

Huff and puff, bitch, you ain’t blowing down shit.

Despot, House of Bricks