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Birdbrain

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Jayce is sitting at his desk, going over some uninspired essay from one of his students. He’s sipping his coffee, the mac ‘n’ cheese he had for lunch is wreaking havoc in his stomach and he remembers how he used to be able to eat everything on Earth and be in perfect shape.

This thing about getting old is like the third worst thing to have ever happened to him, really.

There is a sudden crash just outside his workshop, followed by the sound of things falling from his shelves.

Ok, maybe getting old is like the fourth worst thing to have ever happened to him.

 

“JAYPOPS”. Jayce falls back on his chair, already sighing at the sight of Amaranthine entering his sacred workplace. His sanctuary. His home. The place where no one is allowed to bother him, let alone destroy his belongings. She beams at him, the chains on her jeans rattling as she steps on a box besides him. “What’s up, old dude?”

 

She’s chewing gum and her hair falls bright purple from a high ponytail. She smashes a file folder on his desk.

 

“Amy, so nice of you to come by” Amy. Amaranthine. They met when she came to him for help. She wanted to fix a mechanic doll, the last gift his deceased father had given her. Jayce was an asshole to her back then, he still is. Vi says that a little bit less, though. Jayce picks up the file from his desk.

 

“Just doing God’s work, you know how old men get all cranky and lonely once they’re past a certain age” She’s smiling, cocky as hell, chewing her gum. Jayce rolls his eyes.

 

Vi’s influence is strong in this one.

 

“What’s this?” Amaranthine grabs the chair in front of his desk, letting her ass fall on it and making its legs creak. Jayce opens the folder and starts looking over it. Blueprints?

 

“It’s a project. I wanted you to… go over it. If you reviewed it and helped me improve it, I would be thankful.” It’s not like Amy to ask things so politely. Jayce raises an eyebrow suspiciously. She’s avoiding eye contact, looking around her without really paying attention. Jayce is even more suspicious now. They have known each other for over ten years now, he has pretty much seen her grow up.

 

Hell, he has helped raise her.

 

“What is it about?” Amy glances over him now, teenager defensive mode activated.

 

“Before telling you just… I know it’s ambitious and dumb, okay? I know I won’t enter the Academy until next year and that I’m still a rookie. Probably everything is wrong and ridiculous but just… indulge me. Just IMAGINE it were doable, okay?” She’s fidgeting and Jayce doesn’t even know what it is all about.

 

She’s so embarrassed.

 

“So you’re telling me you had a brilliant idea.” It’s his turn to put on a cocky smile. She growls lowly.

 

“I swear I will end you if you laugh at me. I won’t have mercy just because you’re a centenarian” Jayce looks down at the open folder resting on his lap, skeptical. The whole folder is a blueprint.

 

“I promise I’ll be serious. Tell me what it is about.” She licks her lips nervously, sitting up straighter. Jayce loves seeing her like this, passionate and motivated. He can’t lie. She claps her hands once.

 

“Okay, hear me out. Piltover has been drowning Zaun in toxic waste for decades now. It’s a problem we are all well aware of, right? So, why don’t we stop it? Because that would mean shutting down all our factories and facilities and that’s just. Impossible. I know. The solution to this issue is the Holy Grail of our era. BUT, we can nevertheless minimize and manage both the impact and volume of the most hazardous chemicals just by introducing a clean source of energy in certain stages of the process”. Jayce sighs in response.

 

“Yes, many scientists have looked into it. The only problem is that those energy sources are never as reliable or powerful as hex technology is.” Amaranthine nods, expecting that answer.

 

“Exactly. But, I’ve been reading this guy lately, Evans V. He has great ideas about how to alter the molecular structure of the new waste as soon as it’s produced, when the chemical bonds are still weak from the hex radiation. If we get our hands on it when it’s still fresh, we can reduce its toxicity to minimum levels. We would still produce waste, of course, but it wouldn’t be near as deadly .” Amaranthine is reeling with the excitement of her discourse, Jayce blinks slowly, his Adam’s apple bobbing up and down.

 

Jayce nods, swallowing with difficulty.

 

“I know the theory, yes. Purification of the Hex factor . It’s not one hundred percent effective. But it would definitely have an impact were it to be applied on a larger scale. The Academy published a paper to… dismiss the theory by grounds of it being inconclusive, vague and far too expensive to even give it a shot.” Amaranthine rolls her eyes so hard she falls back flat on the chair.

 

“That’s bullshit and you know it.” Jayce smiles, eyes sad.

 

“Of course I know it. But they have a point. It works only on paper for the moment being, technology is not so advanced to reproduce the model at city scale yet. The numbers are there, though. I do agree with you that this should we given a chance.” Amaranthine has been nodding the whole time. The time has come. Jayce catches his breath and looks her dead in the eye. “So, what’s your point?”

 

“I want to build a prototype. If we demonstrate that it’s possible to assemble, the old fucks at the Academy will have to face the facts.” Jayce leaves the open folder on the desk.

 

“Are you aware that …Evans’ hypothetical prototype is the size of a building? I don’t know about your allowance, but I definitely don’t have the spare change to pay for its construction.” Jayce lets out a short dry laugh. He’s being an asshole. Again. “Okay, sorry. Go on.”

 

“I’m aware.” She stands up and starts walking around in front of his desk, short and vindictive and furious.“This is the part where things get crazy. Fasten your seat belt, Jaylo.”

 

Jayce smiles fondly with nostalgia. He has seen the spark of a new marvelous idea in the eyes of other people before. It’s always a wonderful thing to behold.

 

“Hit me with your brilliance.”

 

“What if we could build an intelligent operative system capable of molecular pattern recognition? If it were able to detect the formation of new chemical bonds in the construction process, it could nullify the waste as soon as it’s being brought into existence. We don’t need a new plant to process the waste right after, we only need to build it into the plants that already exist.”

Jayce blinks at her, completely lost.

 

“But, how? Most of these factories are completely analogical. You can’t introduce an operative system into it without completely rebuilding the facility anew.”

 

“We build a supervisor to run it.”

 

“A robot?”

 

“Yes!”

 

Jayce shakes his head. Amaranthine looks at him desperately from the other side of his desk, her hands open at her sides.

 

“I’m going to assume you’re not referring to the idea of an artificial intelligence because that’s… That’s just nuts. The coding for this so called ‘supervisor’ you’re describing is extremely complex. Even if you accomplish building one of them it would be extremely difficult to reproduce. I’m stressing the word ‘extremely’ here because I need you to understand how will-o’-the-wisp it is what you’re saying and how much criticism you’re going to get from your future teachers.”

 

Amy squares her jaw, clenching her small fists. Jayce looks at her with severity.

 

“There is an AI in Zaun that helps people affected by our toxic waste. It’s called Blitzcrank. It’s a true AI. Are you listening to me, Jayce? A. True. Artificial. Intelligence. Don’t tell me it’s not possible to build because it already exists. The good we claim ‘impossible to achieve within the reach of our current technology’, as they say in their bullshit papers, has already been done by someone. They’re somewhere, unsung and devoid of the necessary means to help people. That’s what the sluts at the Academy want. Fuck them. It’s our responsibility to help right this fucking city’s wrongs.” Her voice is low, angry. Jayce has already lived through this, many many years ago.

 

He closes his eyes, massaging his temples. She goes at it again, relentless.

 

“Look, what I’m trying to say is that if someone out there was capable of building an AI, we can build this supervisor. Even if we can’t reproduce the model, it would still send a message to the city. A very specific message that starts with ‘fuck’ and ends in ‘you’.” Amaranthine smashes the palm of her hands on the desk. “The world needs to know it’s not impossible to do this”.

 

Jayce sighs. Vi’s always saying to him how soft he’s become since he’s a ‘father’.

 

This is proof that she’s right.

 

“I’ll look over your blueprints and help you however I can, but I can’t promise anything else.”

 

Amaranthine runs around the desk and hugs him while screaming about revolutions right in his ear.

 


 

 

Jayce is old.

 

He looks like a dog’s breakfast.

 

It’s the white streak of hair he’s currently trying so hard to swipe back in front of the mirror. It’s crow’s feet and shoulders that always seem to hurt these days. It’s the back pain, the extra weight he has put on.

 

But above all, it’s the fact that a student corrected him during a class, and he was the one being wrong.

 

He’s certainly not used to be on that side of the debate.

 

Apparently, his theory on Hextech Thermodynamics had been replaced at some point during the last two years and he hadn’t even been notified about it. Someone should have told him instead of just, leaving him teach the wrong thing to the future generation of Piltover engineers.

 

Jayces smiles at the mirror, a laugh not strong enough to leave the throat.

 

The future generation of Piltover engineers.

 

Like Amaranthine.

 

Jayce laughs himself silly. They don’t know just how big is the storm they’ve got coming the day she puts a foot in the classroom.

 

He picks up the shaving cream and a new razor blade, fills his hand with fresh cream and smears it all over the shadow of his beard. No, he has decided he’s not old enough to grow a beard. Yet.

 

Although the worst thing is not having taught outdated material to stodgy simple teenagers who believe themselves to be academics already, says a voice inside him. An egotistic whisper. Or even the fact that he has been proven wrong in front of a dozen of students. The worst thing is that he could imagine the kids in their dorms, babbling to each other about how he’s an unoriginal prick just the same way he did with Stanwick.  

 

The worst thing is having Amaranthine yell at him about the sames things Viktor used to yell at the world.

 

Jayce cracks his neck, the lower part of his face covered in white cream. He straightens his back and clears his throat, trying his best zaunite accent.

 

You’re obsolete, Jayce ”.

 

Jayce snickers bitterly at himself, closing his eyes.

 

When Jayce decided he would not intercede in the matter of Blitzcrank twenty years ago, he used to think that he had anticipated all the problems that would arise from his meddling. He convinced himself that he was doing the smart thing. Yes. He would have been a liability to Viktor, really, he said. A liability, he said out loud again, just to taste the words.

 

They were sour.

 

“There was nothing I could do to help”, he says again to the mirror.

 

There is a furious whisper in his ear and it has Amy’s voice.

 

The truth.

 

He is strong enough now to face it, he loathes himself enough now to accept it, to digest the reality of what he had done to his best friend. He should have fought the battle with him. Even in the event that they hadn’t been able to take Blitzcrank back, it would have mattered to Viktor that he had tried, that he had yelled at teachers in the Academy holding his hand and having his back. It would have mattered to Viktor.

 

But back then everything was about himself, wasn’t it? Even then, he had been smart enough to bullshit his way out of helping Viktor by using the excuse of ethics and circular arguments when his friend was trying to convince him otherwise. He couldn’t be bothered to lend a friendly ear when everything that Viktor had ever asked of him was that he listened. He had been deliberately obtuse, and why? For what?

 

The hammer.

 

Everything was about the hammer in the end as much as it was about himself. He had been jealous of Viktor, he had awakened embarrassing parts of himself, insecurities, fears of being second best. Because, what was a hammer in comparison to a fully functional AI?

 

Nothing.

 

Jayce wanted Viktor to be less intelligent, slightly less brilliant. Just a little bit, just enough to let him win by a hair’s breadth.

 

Jayce had thought that having Blitzcrank taken away from him would slow down Viktor, just during enough time to let Jayce have some of the spotlight too. He wanted it to happen. He just wanted some time to elucidate an invention of his own that would matter to the future of Piltover. He knew he could do it, he just needed time. Viktor could take it. He knew he could take it. All the other students did. All kind of inventions were stolen by teachers and senior engineers all the time . It was the way the Academy worked. Hell, barely any of the articles published by the Piltover Academy of Engineering were actually authored by teachers.

 

It was supposed to disappoint Viktor and that would be the end of it.

 

He wasn’t supposed to make such a fuss.

 

But, why wouldn’t he do it? Why wouldn’t he make the fucking biggest fuss of all time? He had every right to it, whereas Jayce had left himself be infected by the ways of the Academy.

 

What would Amaranthine say to him if she knew?

 

Probably punch him.

 

Jayce wipes the remains of cream from his chin with a fresh towel and sighs at the sight of himself.









Hours later, Jayce is still wearing the threadbare Piltover black t-shirt he wears to bed, sitting at his desk while sipping coffee and reading through Amy’s folder. His hair is completely dishevelled by the constant stroking of his fingers.

 

Viktor used to mess up his hair constantly in the exact same way.

 

Jayce has been thinking about him an awful lot lately.

 

Memory is a rapid addiction to those who spend much time on their own. Isn’t that just what Jayce is? A failure in the form of a lonely old man. It’s a curse, really. Just when he thought he had forgotten all about Viktor, he starts remembering the pettiest little things.

 

For instance.

 

He remembers being in the same spot he’s in now. He remembers Viktor sitting on another chair besides his on this side of the desk. In his memory they talk in hushed whispers even though they’re alone. Their knees are touching, they lean towards each other, face to face. It’s pitch black but for a single candle on Jayce’s desk, the lights are out and it’s pouring outside. They can’t continue working, they talk about philosophy instead.

 

Viktor smiles a lot, Jayce can’t help but notice. Notice everything about him, the way his narrow brown eyes follow Jayce’s mouth when he talks, the way Jayce follows the line of Viktor’s neck when he cocks his head to one side. They’re touching and not touching, they laugh quietly and they talk. Viktor holds his hand and it’s so warm, he lets his other hand rest on Viktor’s thigh too.

The moment passes by in an instant and they let each other go.

 

He’s back in the present now.

 

Jayce stands up from his chair and goes to one of his bookshelves, looking for an old dusty yearbook. He grabs a big blue book from one of the higher shelves and goes back to his chair, seeking the light of his desk lamp. Jayce opens it carefully, there is a loose photograph between the cover and the first page, he picks it up, wiping its surface with his thumb.

 

It’s them.

 

Jayce has his arm over Viktor’s shoulders, who is just a little bit taller than him. He’s beaming with absolute happiness at the camera. Viktor is smiling at it too, more coyly.

 

It strikes him just how young they were, his younger self so thin and handsome. An overbearing narcissistic little shit too. Their faces are close, cheeks almost pressed together. In those times Jayce thought that ‘regret’ was just a word specifically coined by underachievers who couldn’t get over their own mediocrity.

 

All he’s capable of feeling now is regret and embarrassment.

 

Jayce puts the photograph against the base of his desk lamp and closes the yearbook, putting it back in its place.

 

He sits on his chair again, feeling old and heavy,  and keeps on rustling the gray hairs in his head while reading Amy’s work.

 

 


 

 

“We can’t power it. We can’t power Birdbrain.” Amy throws her hands in the air and then against her face, making frustrated noises. “It’s impossible.” Jayce is holding a pen, sitting on the edge of his desk facing a large blackboard. It’s full of numbers and figures. He furrows his brow.

 

“The computations are correct. We definitely can’t power it for more than a couple of hours like this.” They have been working on the supervisor for a few months now. They spent the first one just correcting framework’s mistakes, now they’re studying the power management. Amy is groaning, circling around, exasperated. Jayce follows her movement with a calm expression. “We’ll find a way, Amy.”

 

She is holding herself with an arm below her chest now, the palm of her other hand cupping her cheek.

 

Suddenly, her eyes widen. An idea.

 

“How is Blitzcrank powered?” Jayce sighs, again.


“I don’t know. Probably only Blitzcrank and its creator possess that knowledge.” Amy looks at him, mouth open. Jayce is already shaking his head.

 

“We don’t know who made Blitzcrank so that one is ruled out BUT-”

 

“No.”

 

“Let’s meet Blitzcrank!”

 

“No!” Amaranthine runs to him, grabbing his arm. Jayce is still shaking his head.

 

“Jayce, please! If Blitzcrank can give us an idea about how to power Birdbrain... ! Not only that, we could learn SO MUCH just by talking to it. Please, please!” Amy is begging now, Jayce is unmoved.

 

“No. The Chem Barons have been pretty active lately. It’s dangerous. Hell, even Blitzcrank is dangerous. You are aware that it’s been able to wipe entire gangs by itself, right? It’s capable of hurting human beings as it sees fit. I won’t put you at risk like that.”

 

“Blitzcrank wouldn’t hurt us! We’re not a threat to anybody!”

 

“We’re not going to Zaun, period.”

 

“We can ask Vi to come with us, with your hammer and her badassitude we will be safe, please?”

 

“Caitlyn won’t allow it. You’re not asking Vi to go to Zaun, she’s had problems with Jinx before. It’s unfair to her and it’s unfair to make her choose between you and Cait.” Amy purses her lips into a tight thin line.

 

“Don’t you pout at me. I’m being reasonable” Jayce stands up, leaving his desk and going around it to sit on the chair.

 

“What do you suggest we do, then? We don’t have a single clue as to how power Birdbrain! We need help and we can’t ask the Academy. Blitzcrank is our only chance!”

 

“There has to be another way.”

 

“Please?”

 

“We’re not meeting Blitzcrank.”







 

A few hours later, they’re on their way to Zaun. They’re descending through dark tunnels and steam pipes full of toxic waste. There is less natural light with every step they take and Jayce can smell ionization in the air they breath.

 

It’s a wonder people are capable of living in Zaun at all, really.

 

Amy is glowing with excitement, though, pointing at everything that draws her attention even for a split second. Jayce meanwhile can’t believe he has been manipulated like this.

 

“Oh. My. God. Is that a chemical injector? I had never seen one!” Jayce grabs her pointing finger, looking in the opposite direction.

 

“Yes, it is. Don’t touch it, it emits low radiation.”

 

“So cool.” She smiles at him, Jayce is looking around him instead. They’re not still deep enough into Zaun to worry about an ambush. Not from Chem Barons at least.

 

“It’s not.” Amy groans at him.

 

“I’m Jayce, I’m an old man and I have forgotten how to have fun.” Amy mimics him and Jayce glowers at her.

 

“I’m Amaranthine, I’m a brat and I don’t know what a chemical injector is.”

 

“I know what it is, I just didn’t know how it looked like!”

 

“Shut up for a second, will you?” Jayce hears something and grabs his hammer, which powers on instantly with the whirling sound of gears the moment it shifts modes. The orange light from the hammer changes to a soft shade of blue. Jayce stands still, a protective arm in front of Amaranthine.

 

A giant greenish rat jumps out of a pipe hole.

 

It’s laughing .

 

“I was hiding!” The rat is wearing a jacket, holding onto a golden crossbow with two small paws. Amy screams. Jayce lowers his hammer.

 

“Shit, Twitch. You scared the hell out of me.” It begins to laugh maniacally. Amy is looking from the giant rat to Jayce and from Jayce to the giant rat frantically.

 

“Have you brought tribute to the trash king?!” Jayce grabs one of his bags, taking out a big wrapped package. He leaves it carefully on the floor.

 

“Exactly what you asked for, my liege.” Twitch screams in delight and jumps onto the package, pulling at the edges of the wrapped paper and ripping it without mercy. The giant rat hugs a round piece of cheese as big as his head and kisses it.

 

“You shall live another day but remember, I’ll be right under your noses!” The giant rat rolls the cheese ball into one of his little bags and rushes into a steaming hole on the wall, vanishing.  Amy is still gawking at the space where Twitch was.

 

“What… Is… What the fuck was that? Was that a talking rat? Like, not a yordle. An animal? A talking animal?”

 

“That, Amaranthine, was one of the most unique, dangerous creatures of Runaterra. Luckily for us, it’s not hard to bribe.”

 

“So. Fucking. Cool.” Jayce laughs quietly and turns, walking into another bigger hole on the wall. Amy follows after him, asking questions ceaselessly.



They have been walking for hours now. Zaun is big, labyrinthic and goes deep into the ground. Amy still seems as energetic as she was in Piltover, still as hungry for answers as she was in his workshop, if not more. Jayce’s back and feet hurt, but he smiles whenever Amy laughs at learning something new.

It’s always worth it to make her happy. Everything is.

 

Soon they reach an open platform with no apparent exit, it’s the first time they don’t have a roof over their heads while in Zaun. Amy looks up in wonder at the hundred of levels, the complex metallic framework of Zaun’s very core over them.

 

“It’s… It’s beautiful. I mean, I know it’s not because of, but you know. I mean. It’s beautiful, nonetheless.” Amy struggles to get her meaning across, but Jayce nods in agreement. He knows. Zaun has a strange beauty to it. Not that it makes Piltover’s constant spills justifiable in the least, but he gets it.

 

“It is.”

 

“Where are we?”

 

“We are just where Blitzcrank can see us.” Amy is about to ask why would Blitzcrank come to them when a sudden noise, like a high-pitched whistle followed by the frenetic movement of machinery, comes from behind them. Jayce turns, moving closer to the edge of the platform. Amy gets there in time to see Blitzcrank coming in fast in their direction.

 

She jumps back with a scream when Blitzcrank jumps onto the platform, shaking the ground below them. Blitzcrank is a mountain of metal. It’s three times Jayce’s height, its hands tremble with the threat of their size. It just strikes Amy for the first time how easily it could kill them.

 

“You are creator’s enemy unit number one. State your purpose or you will be removed”. Jayce makes a weird face, Amy looks at him in confusion.

 

“We’re not here to cause trouble, Blitzcrank. Actually, I’ve brought with me a huge fan of yours. Amy, come here.” Amaranthine is terrified, but takes a wary step towards them. Jayce just looks at her with a taut smile. “Didn’t you want to meet Blitzcrank? Come on, here is your chance.”

 

Blitzcrank turns its head to her now.

 

“Identify yourself, fleshling.”

 

“I, my name is Amaranthine. You-You can call me Amy.” She looks at Jayce, like trying to figure out whether she’s doing well judging by his expression. Jayce gives her the thumbs up. “I wanted to meet you to- to learn from you.”

Blitzcrank seems perplexed by her answer. He keeps on swaying the lower part of his body non-stop, looking at her unblinkingly.

 

“Why? ” Amy lets out a high-pitched scream and grabs Jayce’s arm, whispering to him.

“Did you hear that?! It asked ‘why’! An artificial intelligence, asking why!” She comes closer to Blitzcrank now, getting too much into it to be afraid of the giant robot. “Blitzcrank! I am building a supervisor that will help a lot of people in both Piltover and Zaun. I want to know how I can power it efficiently. You run without any external aid that we know of. I need to know how!”

 

Blitzcrank keeps staring at her.

 

“Although you do not seem to be deceitful, I can not give you an answer. I do not know myself.” Amy looks up at Blitzcrank in wonder, touching its big hands now.

 

“But you re-wrote your own code.”

 

“I know only my mind, not what I am made of. You will have to ask creator Viktor for that kind of information.” Jayce closes his eyes, sighing. Amy is both amazed and appalled by Blitzcrank’s answer. She swallows carefully.

 

“Wait, Viktor? THAT VIKTOR? BITCH WHAT?” Amy starts to panic, Jayce intercedes, grabbing her hand as she talks. “Oh my God. How can I meet Viktor? Blitzcrank, I NEED to meet Viktor!”

 

“That’s enough.” He turns to Blitzcrank now. “Thank you for your help, Blitzcrank. You have been very kind to us. Surely, you’re busy and we don’t desire to keep you from your duties. Come on, Amy.” He’s already pulling at her arm while she tries to wriggle out and reach the robot again.

 

“But-! Wait! I want to know. Blitzcrank, tell me! How can I talk to Viktor?!” Blitzcrank stares back, somewhat confused. Jayce pulls harder, she punches him in the arm. He begins to whisper in a hurried tone.

 

“Listen to me, Amaranthine! Viktor is trouble. I don’t mean this lightly. He’s dangerous, powerful, morally ambiguous and vengeful. Coincidently, he hates my guts. So no, we’re not going for tea at his lab. Do you understand?” Amy looks at him completely baffled. Jayce squares his jaw. Blitzcrank shifts suddenly, looking at something behind them. Jayce turns just in time.

 

“I am at least three of those things”. His voice, under the particular robotic  undertone, is pretty much the same as always. Why did Jayce concede to this trip? It was a terrible idea in the first place. “But I’m not that powerful, really. Just slightly vexing.”

 

Amy stares dumbly at Viktor, taking in his image. The third arm above his shoulder, the metallic mask, the cape falling sideways and the armor, all coming into the light from an adjacent alleway.

 

Blitzcrank waves with one of its enormous hands.

 

“Greetings, creator. These fleshling were enquiring about my power source”. Viktor circles around them, completely dismissing their presence whilst addressing Blitzcrank. “They have made me curious about it, as well. I desire to know what I am made of.”

 

“I shall answer all your questions, Blitzcrank”. Viktor turns around on his feet. “Later.”

 

“Thank you, creator.” Viktor crosses his arms over his chest, Blitzcrank stands tall behind him. Amy wriggles out of Jayce’s grip and runs to Viktor’s arms screaming.

 

“BITCH. You, amazing bastard, you built Blitzcrank! Dude, it is SO COOL. We’re talking unmeasurable levels of coolness here. You’re literally the alpha bitch, you ditched the Academy, went full rogue on their ugly asses while fighting for the freedom of Zaun as you built the first fully functional artificial intelligence EVER out of fucking trash. Dude, I am in AWE, I wanted to meet you so bad. I have also read ALL your theories, I’m working on a project of mine based on your hypothesis of The Purification of the Hex Factor. Maybe you could take a look at it? Give me some tips? Some advice? Please, teach me the ways of the badass, I BEG YOU.”

 

It’s the first time Jayce has ever seen Viktor being completely obliterated like this. The seriousness of the situation evaporates as Jayce coughs disguising a laugh. Awkward. If it weren’t for the mask, Viktor would have the dumbest expression on his face. Jayce just knows it.

 

“W-What? Who are you?” Viktor seems taken aback by Amaranthine’s speech. He can’t really blame him.

 

“Her name is a Amaranthine. She’s my protegee and pupil, either by chance, fate or bad luck she’s also a fan of yours.” Jayce waves a hand vaguely in their direction. “She wouldn’t have let me rest in peace until she met Blitzcrank so, here we are. Now you’re cursed with her too. Congratulations.” Amy locks Viktor in a bear hug and Jayce is sporting the headache of the century.

Blitzcrank remains speechless as it observes the scene.

 




 



In hindsight, Jayce wonders what the hell happened back in Zaun. He had prepared for a big showdown with Viktor, full of raw feeling, bickering and fighting. He had been expecting a huge argument, facing his guilt and taking full responsibility over whatever Viktor had to throw his way. Like a death ray, perhaps. However, none of that happened. The presence of Amy changed everything, of course. She had thrown Viktor completely off balance. He had probably been expecting something similar the moment he laid eyes on Jayce. He came by Amy instead.

 

In the end, they barely talked to each other. She took over the whole conversation, asking questions about every single point and insight in Viktor’s papers. He answered to some of her inquiries and dismissed others, Amy wasn’t easily discouraged, though. She kept nagging him about Blitzcrank’s power supply all the way back to his laboratory. Jayce stayed silent the whole time, listening to the exchange. Ignored by Viktor was better than murdered by Viktor, thank you very much.

 

He couldn’t resist to raise a skeptical eyebrow when Viktor agreed to let Amy into his laboratory, though. And give her a steam golem’s core, no less. It was a weird situation, Viktor agreeing so easily to Amy’s demands, taking a stroll through Zaun as if nothing had ever happened between them. The dream, right?

Although coming to think of it well, it wasn’t like Viktor would have had any difficulty building any part of a golem whenever he found himself in need of one, plus he certainly had a soft spot for rebellious young engineers too.

 

When they reached the entrance to Viktor’s lab, a frontgate of impressive automatic doors screeched and began to open with the sound of turning gears. Viktor twirled around, looking at Blitzcrank and Jayce. He seemed to doubt for a second before saying “Wait here.”

Jayce was about to protest when Amy shot him a deadly look. He set his jaw and nodded, backing down for peace’s sake.

 

He was growing new gray hairs by the minute , he swore.

 

Once they had disappeared through the door and he’d been left alone with Blitzcrank, Jayce felt suddenly nervous. It was that unsettling feeling one gets near really large things. Only one of Blitzcrank hands could have squished him like an annoying bug.

 

Blitzcrank kept slightly swaying back and forth in that characteristic manner of its, but then it was scrutinizing him. Jayce tried to ignore it by clearing his throat audibly, clenched hands in a low position in front of him.

 

“I remember your participation in the earlier stages of my creation.” Jayce turned slowly to the robot. Well, isn’t that peachy? Jayce blinked repeatedly, looking up to Blitzcrank with a taut smile.

 

“I didn’t do anything, really.” And it was true. He hadn’t. Blitzcrank was something only Viktor could ever claim credit upon. An unlikely event, though, knowing him.

 

Blitzcrank would forever remain as it was, its own master.

 

“You coded the word ‘dad’ into my vocabulary.” Jayce swore to himself lowly first, stammering at the beginning of his next sentence.

 

“I-I only meant it as a joke. I wanted to see Viktor’s face when you called him ‘dad’, that’s it.” Jayce remembered well. He also remembered regretting having messed with Viktor’s work at all and erasing all trail of it afterwards. “I’m surprised you remember.” How was it even possible?

 

“I’ve been able to recover much data from before.” ‘Before’. Before what? Jayce looked back at the dark entrance to the laboratory. They sure were taking their sweet time, maybe it was time he broke into Viktor’s laboratory and dragged Amy back to Piltover.

 

Because the last time he broke into Viktor’s lab really went well, right.

 

“In that case, I owe you an apology. It was the wrong thing to do.” One of many.

 

Blitzcrank kept looking down at him, swaying non-stop.

 

“You need not apologize. I would have learnt it by myself, eventually.” Jayce frowned, looking back at it.

 

“How do you know it was me, anyway?” Blitzcrank’s head was still turned to him, it seemed to be pondering its answer carefully.

 

“The likelihood of creator having written that part of my code is infinitesimal. It is only logical to assume that some other fleshling did it. You were the only one with both the knowledge and opportunity to do so at the time.” Jayce nodded.

 

“I apologize, again.”

 

“You need not.”

 

“I do. I disregarded your importance, putting your whole code in jeopardy just to play a stupid prank on Viktor.” Jayce didn’t want to think about what could have happened if Viktor had found out. For once in his life, he was glad he had chickened out at the last minute. Blitzcrank’s small head turned now, drifting in the distance.

 

“I understand. I accept your apology.”

 

“Can I ask you a favour, though?”


“Yes, fleshling?”

 

“Don’t tell Viktor. He would get furious with me and I really, really don’t want to have a row with him right now.”

 

“Acknowledged.”

 

Viktor and Amy came back only a few minutes afterwards. She was carrying a bulk wrapped in cloth in her hands. She wore a blinding smile on her face like she had just met Santa Claus and the guy had left her ride with the magical reindeers. Jayce snorted.

 

“Happy now, brat?” Amy’s smile didn’t falter. Viktor looked extremely tired, even with his mask on.

 

“Fuck you, Jaypops. This is the best fucking day of my life.” Jayce rolled his eyes for lack of a better thing to do.


“Could you stop swearing like a trooper for like five minutes?” Blitzcrank put its huge hands to both sides of its body and began to laugh dryly, addressing Viktor out of the blue.

 

“If I am a steam golem and you are my ‘dad’. Does that make you a ‘steamy dad’?’”

 

Blitzcrank was the only one laughing.

 

“I want you all to leave and never come back.”





Back in Piltover, Jayce examines the golem’s core resting on his workbench. Things could have gone much worse, really.





 

 

They have been working on Birdbrain for a while now since they came back from their trip to Zaun. They have made all the necessary adjustments to install the golem’s core now. It’s been difficult knowing how many changes to Birdbrain he can suggest without making it his own project.

Jayce doesn’t want Birdbrain being ascribed to him in any way. Not because Amy may get angry at him -she would never do that-, but because he knows the Academy all too well. They will latch onto the opportunity to make him the Hero of Tomorrow again and use his image to promote the good old values. Jayce finds the notion disgusting when he realises; he used to love it.

 

No matter what, Jayce is determined to teach Amaranthine the right thing to do. Even if it means that he he had to screw it up first in order to know better now.

 

Amy looks at her finished construct with bright eyes. Jayce looks at it too, crossing his arms over his chest with a lopsided smile. It kind of looks like a rubbish bin. She almost squeaks with pleasure.

 

“Don’t get your hopes up. Viktor did say it might not work, we still need to do a lot of tests”, says Jayce. Amaranthine wears a dumb smile on her face.

 

“I don’t care. Birdbrain is alive. She’s alive!”

 


 

 

Birdbrain is not alive. The core powered down minutes after it had been installed.

 

Amaranthine has a way of weeping that makes it raw and catches Jayce by surprise every single time. She doesn’t hide her face or tries to wipe away the tears from her cheeks. The openness of it leaves him feeling weak with empathy. How could he criticize her when he knows exactly how it feels like to fail your own expectations

 

“It will never work. It was a stupid idea.” Her head falls on her hands, she makes fists of them and lets out a frustrated cry. Jayce inspects her with a certain sense of wonder, reflects for a moment and even now he can’t help thinking about him, wondering about what it could have been, had Viktor been offered a friendly hand when it mattered.

 

Jayce puts a warm hand on her shoulder, like he should have done when his best friend too was crying over his stolen life.

 

“It will work, eventually. You mustn’t give up now.” She lifts her face, anger flashing through her tears.

 

“How would you know? Your hammer worked after the first try, you’re the genius of Piltover. I am… I am just a mouthful brat.” Jayce snickers with a bitter tone. Amy looks at him, puzzled by his laugh.

 

“I am the genius of Piltover? I just built a very expensive toothpick with an ancient magical crystal that should be put to better use. What purpose does it serve? To whom, besides myself? The hammer is not a worthy creation, Amy. It was advertisement for my own image, and its price was losing the most important person in my life.” Jayce lowers his hand from her shoulders, cupping her hand between his. “Do you even know how many failures it took to build Blitzcrank? I was… I was in awe at Viktor’s resilience, at his unfaltering drive to keep on trying new solutions failure after failure. It was the impossible thing to do, yet he did it. He never stopped trying and he never betrayed his morals to accommodate anyone else. That’s who you should be looking up to. “Jayce smiles, squeezing her hand. ”The best thing I ever did with my life was fixing a doll and teaching you math.”

 

Amy hugs Jayce and keeps crying all over his shoulders, he pats her back.

 

“We’ll keep trying in the morning.”

 

Chapter Text

“Does enemy-unit-number-one Jayce occupy your thoughts, creator?” Viktor tries his best not to look alarmed and coughs discreetly. Blitzcrank scrutinizes him closely. It will never cease to surprise Viktor whenever Blitzcrank demonstrates superior observation skills. Deep below his embarrassment there is some pride regarding it.

 

“Why would you-” Viktor stops dead in his tracks, his first instinct is saying ‘ No. He does not’ . Blitzcrank keeps staring at him, waiting for an honest answer. Viktor doesn’t have the heart to lie to a machine, ironically enough “Sometimes.” He whispers, feeling suddenly out of air. He grabs the clasps at both sides of his mask and takes it off with one hand.

 

“You are pondering the possibility that he may have changed.” Blitzcrank is sitting in the middle of his laboratory, its hands resting on the floor at its sides and taking up pretty much all the space. Viktor hasn’t failed to observe that lately Blitzcrank has been choosing resting positions over standing ones. Blitzcrank too is evolving. Viktor passes one leg over the other one, falling back on his chair.

 

“Indeed.” He whispers again, entwining his fingers over his stomach. The robot keeps staring at Viktor, looking strangely satisfied for having guessed right. “How did you reach that conclusion, Blitzcrank?”

 

“Enemy-unit-number-one Jayce’s speech patterns and body language have diverted considerably, perhaps more so during our last encounter.” Viktor raises both eyebrows skeptically.

 

“Really? I haven’t noticed. I’d say he has pretty much the same overbearingly annoying personality.”

 

“You are biased by your flawed human perceptions, creator. I am not. Enemy-unit-number-one Jayce’s paralanguage has shifted approximately a thirty-eight percent only during the last year. His tone, pitch, amplitude, rate and voice quality demonstrate a significant two-hundred percent increase in the usage of apology-related expressions -both verbal and non-verbal-, and a slight decrease of zero point nine percent in the use of offensive remarks. He also does not appear to be deceitful either, since there are  many non-verbal cues humans fail to control on everyday communication.”

 

Viktor laughs quietly. At himself, at his life. Humourless. What would Blitzcrank say if he asked it to analyze his speech patterns? Better off not knowing.

 

“Blitzcrank?”

 

“Yes, creator?”

 

“You can stop saying enemy-unit-number-one every time you talk about him.”

 

“Is Jayce unit no longer classified as enemy?”

 

What is Jayce, anyway?

 

“Just call him by his stupid name.”

 

Blitzcrank does not question Viktor. It usually doesn’t, since his decisions are mostly logical. He puts on the mask again and turns to his work, Blitzcrank takes his cue and stands up to leave. Viktor says goodbye without looking at him. He may be upset. Blitzcrank also says goodbye, waving its hand even though Viktor is not looking at it.

 

On its way out, Blitzcrank reflects on many things. Blitzcrank thinks that the name ‘Jayce’ does not bear any resemblance to other words with which one could tell a joke, failing to understand why it is ‘stupid’. Blitzcrank also thinks about its new friends, Amaranthine and Ekko. It wonders if it would see them today. They also joke and call each other names all the time, like ‘stupid’, even though they’re highly intelligent humans.

 

Blitzcrank thinks it may be a term of endearment, that would make sense.

 


 

 

Although Blitzcrank knows a lot about human behaviour, it still lacks certain subtlety. That’s why it can’t imagine that back at his lab, Viktor is livid at the possibility of Jayce having actually changed. The possibility of Jayce realising his mistakes and taking over responsibility, rising like the good-doer Piltover already praises him to be.

 

Is he going to play the victim to fuck him over yet again? The fucking nerve of some people, thinks Viktor.

 

He turns the screws with fury, clenching his teeth, tasting bitterness on his tongue.

 

Trust is a commodity he can’t afford.

 


 

 

Jayce meant every single word he said to Amaranthine the night before. He has come to hate the hammer, what it stands for, the price it cost to build. Jayce massages his temple in the solitude of his workshop. He is no longer the Hero of Tomorrow , maybe the Asshole of Yesterday, if we’re being thorough.

 

Jayce stands and walks towards a tall cupboard, using the key around his neck to open it. The hammer hangs inside, powered down and ready for him. He takes it in his hands and it powers up with a brilliant yellow light. Jayce takes in its familiar weight and form.

 

He powers down again the hammer and puts it on his workbench, grabbing a toolbox.

 


 

 

When Amaranthine enters the workshop the next day Jayce is sitting on his desk, unshaved, and in his old engineering student t-shirt sipping at a big cup of coffee.

 

“Sup, Jaycerino.” Amy sits down in front of his desk, chewing on a bright pink gum.” When was the last time you slept? You look like shit.” Jayce lets out a laugh.

 

“Good to know I look like I feel.” Jayce drinks the rest of the coffee in one long sip. “When I was young…”

 

“Oh, please, don’t.”

 

“Show some respect. I’m passing you down true wisdom.” She laughs in response.

 

“Okay, sorry. Go ahead. When you were young three hundred years ago…”

 

“When I was young not so long ago, I used to be able to work all night and go to class without having slept a wink. I was never tired. Now I go to bed later than usual and I’m worthless the rest of the next day. You better treasure that youthful energy because you will miss it.”

 

Amy smiles fondly and crosses her arms over her chest.

 

“Okay, so what’s the big breakthrough on the supervisor? You said it was important.”

 

Jayce smiles playfully.

 

“I’ll tell you, since you were so nice and listened to my old man’s ramblings.”

 

“So?”

 

“Birdbrain is alive.” Amaranthine looks taken aback and Jayce is smiling. Seconds go by before Amy finds the words.

 

“You’re shittin’ me.”

 

“That I am not. It works but I wanted you to do the honours of waking her up for the first time, since you’re her rightful creator.”

 

Amy leans towards Jayce in the chair, with a dumb expression.

 

“But.. But how? It was impossible to power… What-What did you do?”

 

“I used an arcane crystal.” Amy was shaking her head even more confused than before.

 

“Where the hell did you get an arcane crystal?”

 

“My hammer.”

 

“Your... “ Amy stands up now, furrowing her brow. “Jayce, I can’t accept this. It’s your hammer.” He’s the one shaking his head now.

 

“My hammer doesn’t matter. It never served anyone any good. I told you. If Birdbrain can save just one life it will all be worth it.”  

 

Amy runs around the desk to hug him. She’s tiny but her hugs always leave him breathless.

 

“Thank you, Jayce.”

 

“It’s okay, now go wake up your creation.” She breaks the hug without letting go of his sides.

 

“You do know what this means, right?” Jayce raises an eyebrow, she smiles broadly. “It means you’re officially a grandpa.” Jayce rolls his eyes.

 


 

A week goes by before the news of Birdbrain reach Zaun. A dozen lives saved within the first hours of its activity. Viktor hears about it in the market and is genuinely happy that the kid’s idea worked. Both Zaun and Piltover were in serious need of more people like Amaranthine, who would challenge the Academy and innovate. Deep down, he’s also glad that his own theory was of help during the process, even if his name is not on the paper.

 

It’s been a long time since he stopped caring about credit, anyway.

 

When Viktor reaches the automatic doors of his lab, he doesn’t miss the white rectangle of paper resting on the doorway. He kneels to pick it up and turns the paper to read the sender.

 

Piltover’s Academy of Engineering.

Viktor frowns at the shifty-looking piece of paper, already expecting the worst.

 


 

It’s been a long day of testing and supervising Birdbrain in the factory. Amaranthine followed the robot from one place to another all the time, asking her questions about the process ceaselessly, and even challenging her with little traps Birdbrain wouldn’t fall for. Jayce knew perfectly that Birdbrain was still far from being a full independent artificial intelligence like Blitzcrank, but it served its purpose. There is still a lot of work ahead.

 

Jayce enters the doorway to his workshop, late at night, sighing as he rolls his shoulders back to take off his coat.

“Your protegee gave me co-credit for it.” Jayce jumps, his heart beating loudly in his ears. Viktor had been silently waiting for him, sitting in his workbench. The first thing Jayce notices is that Viktor doesn’t have his mask on. The second thing he notices is that he is playing around with a photograph. Specifically, the one that was resting on the base of his desk lamp. The one where they’re together.

 

Well, shit.

 

Jayce lets the coat fall on a chair and takes a step towards him, drawing in a long breath before speaking.

 

“Yes. She wanted everyone to know it had been your theory, my construction and her idea.” Jayce puts a hand on his hip, trying not to think about all the time Viktor has been alone in his laboratory. And the photograph. He especially doesn’t want to think about the photograph and whatever conclusion Viktor is drawing from its existence within Jayce’s work space. Jayce also doesn’t want to look at Viktor’s face.

 

Viktor hums in response, looking intently at the photograph between his thumb and index fingers.

 

Yeah, it’s not working.

 

“You also dismantled your hammer to build B.B.” Viktor’s voice sounds smaller, less full without the robotic undertone. He then puts down the photograph and is now looking at Jayce lazily.

 

“Did I?” He tries to sound as casual as possible. Viktor stands up and takes a step towards him. Jayce takes a step back.

 

“Tell me why I shouldn’t attack your laboratory and take everything I need now that I know you don’t have the means to defend yourself.” It’s true. Jayce glances over Viktor’s third arm looming over his shoulder for a second. The knowledge that Viktor could easily kill him at any given moment strikes him with less strength than he thought it would.

He’s not as afraid, as helpless as he believed he would feel without his hammer.

 

“I can’t.” Jayce shrugs his shoulders, his heart still beating in his ears. Viktor cocks his head to one side, looking tired but slightly interested.

 

“You can’t?” Viktor hesitates, he’s thinking about what plans Jayce may have envisioned to protect his laboratory now that he doesn’t have a hammer.

 

He hasn’t thought about anything, by the way.

 

And that just makes everything more interesting, doesn’t it?

 

“I can’t give you a good reason why, I mean. You should totally go for it.”

 

Jayce notices that Viktor is holding his breath now, and that they’re keeping unblinking eye contact, taking in the image of the other while it lasts. The knowledge leaves him feeling at a low ebb. He is so afraid of Viktor’s scorn, of being unredeemable.

 

Viktor on the other hand seems off, like his heart is not really into stealing from him. Jayce gets the feeling, he’s tired too. He sighs, opening a drawer nearby to look for his pliers, breaking eye contact for the first time.

 

“I’m serious. I don’t have a new big weapon or anything. I installed the crystal into Birdbrain’s core. You could totally go and dismantle it, but I’ll have you know it’s been doing some serious good out there. You used to care about those things.” Jayce mutters, looking for his favourite screwdriver “You didn’t take my screwdriver, right?.”

 

Viktor’s spite shows in quiet ways now. It wasn’t always like that, Jayce remembers. He used to throw his hands in the air and call everyone out on their hypocrisy and injustice, cheeks flushing red with such vitriol. Not anymore. Viktor has acquired new ways of punishing those who wrong innocent people. A method that is taking a toll on him, on what he used to be.

 

These days Viktor keeps only to himself.

 

“I still do.” It’s a hushed answer, much like his rancour. “And I didn’t take your screwdriver, it’s in the second drawer.”

 

“I know.” He speaks in a hushed tone too, much like his shame. “ And thanks.”

 

There is a silence after that. There used to be lots of those between them when they were young. Lost opportunities to say what he felt then, lost opportunities now. Viktor moves closer to him, closer than they have been in many years. He examines his tools for a few seconds and snatches the brand new soldering iron from Jayce’s hand.

 

“Birdbrain is a good name.” He says, “And even a better invention” Viktor plays with the soldering iron in his hands. Jayce hums affirmatively. Viktor continues casually, “I’m glad you helped her, although I never thought you could be able to sacrifice your hammer, or what’s the same, your ego, to help another engineer.”

 

It’s not a question, but it’s definitely the reason why Viktor is standing by his side right now, playing with his tools in the middle of the night, nagging him with questions.

 

It must have driven him mad to see Jayce’s hammer destroyed, dismantled in order to use its pieces as simple spare parts for something he hadn’t even built himself.

 

“Sounds about right.” There is tension. Viktor is dying to ask, Jayce knows. Why would you do that? Why would you destroy your greatest invention? He’s trying to keep it cool, but it’s so obvious that he’s shaking with all the questions he wants to bombard Jayce with. He wants to know more. He can’t help it but play around with Viktor’s ceaseless curiosity. It was always one of the most charming aspects of his personality.

 

Viktor used to lick his dry lips with impatience in the past.

 

He does it now.

 

“I was sure that the day you parted from your hammer would be the day you died.” Viktor’s voice is low and wary now, no longer filled with resentment. Jayce leans closer, seeking eye contact for the first time. He always liked that Viktor were slightly taller and thinner than him, he always loved standing at the same height.

 

“Seems like my ego died first” There is some sadness in his voice, he can’t help it. “Were you worried about me?” He tries to joke, failing miserably. Viktor takes a small step back.

 

“Of course not, don’t be absurd. I wanted to salvage your laboratory. Haven’t I said that already?” Viktor is about to flight in terror, and it’s not because he’s afraid of Jayce in the slightest. His voice is hurried now, “I’ll take this.” He turns, the soldering iron in his hand, “I needed a new one, anyway. I have to make this journey worth my time somehow”. His cape sweeps after him theatrically. Jayce watches him leave with the stolen goods, doesn’t try to stop him. When Viktor has already passed the threshold he yells after him.

 

“You better give that back soon, these circuits are not gonna weld themselves!” Jayce doesn’t move, still watching the doorway. He jumps when Viktor’s robotic voice answers back.

 

“I told you I had come to salvage your laboratory!” Jayce lets out a guffaw.

 

“Thief!” There isn’t a response this time, but Jayce is smiling.

Chapter Text

Viktor has always been a mess when it comes to feelings. He feels so much it blinds his other senses. It’s the one flaw that breaks through his good judgement and leaves him open and vulnerable to the chain reaction of incoming disasters thereafter. At the very least, he can say he has mastered the ability to put on a good poker face to disguise it, to look disinterested if nothing else. It makes up for it. A little.

 

That’s why when Viktor sets a foot on Jayce’s workshop for the first time in almost twenty years, he’s grateful to be alone. He takes off the mask and leaves it on the workbench, looking around with his human eyes. Viktor clenches his teeth, his nose itches as if he were going to cry although he does not.

 

It’s the smell, the warmth, the familiarity. It smells of Jayce’s t-shirt whenever they would spend the night working in his place, it smells of the warmth of his neck whenever he would bend over his desk to read Viktor’s notes. He walks over the desk and catches the glimpse of the shiny surface of a photograph. Viktor picks it up with his metallic hand.  

 

The memories shine bright in his mind in a way they would not in his laboratory back in Zaun. It tears him apart to realise that back then everything was as it should have been, and not the way they are now.

 

He lets out a difficult breath, it hurts to be here much more than he thought it would.

 

For instance.

 

Viktor remembers the night when the lights went out, he remembers talking to Jayce in hushed tones even though they were alone. Their knees were touching and it was pouring outside, they were leaning towards each other, smiling, joking, talking, so close that the warmth from Jayce’s breath was the only thing he could feel on his reddened cheeks. Viktor then took a leap of faith and held his hand, bigger than his, less slender, hotter. Jayce lifted his eyes to him warily, questioning in silence, so bright, so blue.

 

God, he had been dying to kiss Jayce in that moment, to grab him by his stupid handsome face and be kissed, held and swallowed in all that heat.

 

He had loved Jayce within an inch of his life.

 

Viktor hates what he is feeling right now, and it’s so masochistic, so cruel. He just wishes he could erase all these thoughts.

 

Suddenly, Jayce enters the room and doesn’t seem to take notice of him. He’s taking off his coat and Viktor seizes the opportunity to recompose his icy façade of evil scientist.

 

“Your protegee gave me co-credit for it”, he says, hoping that his voice has not betrayed him. Jayce gives the tiniest jump, looking blindly in his direction in the dark. He then notices the photograph in Viktor’s hand, looks at him directly in the eye.

 

Viktor decides to deliberately hold onto the photograph like the stubborn little shit he is, holding his gaze in a challenge.

 


 

 

It’s been almost a month since Viktor showed up in his workshop in the middle of the night. Everything has been relatively quiet ever since and Jayce is grateful for it. He knows that Amaranthine has found new friends in Zaun and that she’s spending a lot of time down there lately. Last thing he heard, Amy had met Zac and they had become friends on the spot. Birdbrain has also proven herself useful in many aspects they hadn’t considered initially. Everything is going well. Everything except for Jayce, of course. Jayce as an entity, as a man with feelings that don’t match up with his current state of being, as an ungrateful man unhappy with having everything he needs in life.

 

Like that, Jayce is sitting at his desk in the Academy, waiting for the students he has been tutoring since the beginning of the term. Jayce is also thinking about the last time he saw Viktor, as he has been doing for almost a month now. The unshakable feeling that he’s missing something won’t let him rest. Something happened that night, he just can’t quite put a finger on it yet. There was something about Viktor’s air. A vulnerability, a chance perhaps? To speak, to share, to fix things.

Jayce is still lost in thought when Amaranthine barges in his office. Jayce only raises his eyebrows, more or less used to Amy’s loud way of doing things. It’s her expression of urgency and fear what puts him on alert.

 

“What happened?” Amy takes a second to answer, frantic with all the running.

 

“Birdbrain was stolen by Chem Barons. On their way back to Zaun they were intercepted by Piltover’s enforcers, some zaunites and Blitzcrank. They were able to rescue Birdbrain. She’s safe and sound in the Academy right now together with the arcane crystal. But Blitzcrank and the others...”

 

“How long has it been? Was Singed involved?” Jayce is already standing up, grabbing his coat and putting it on as he begins to walk out of the office.

 

“Less than a hour. And I don’t know.” Amy chases after him, rapidly walking down the stairs of the Academy. “Jayce, wait, Vi..!!”  

 

“Well, well, isn’t that my best friend: The Jaycer?” Jayce stops dead in his tracks when he sees Vi casually leaning against the main crystal doors of the hall, smiling too. “Long time no see, old man.”

 

Jayce smiles broadly when he reaches her and they bump fists. Amy walks beside them, saying hello to Vi as she messes up Amy’s hair as a greeting.

 

“Aww, you’re taller since the last time I saw you. I like it, girl.” Amy laughs in response and Jayce’s smile falters without disappearing completely.

 

“What happened in Zaun, Vi?”

 

“Nasty stuff, as usual. Nothing Piltover’s finest can’t handle, though.” Jayce raises an eyebrow and Vi shrugs.

 

“And you’re here to stop me from going. Caitlyn knew I’d try to join the fight but she doesn’t trust me without my hammer.” Vi looks at Amaranthine now, talking to her in loud whispers.

 

“See, and they say he’s all looks and no brain.” Jayce frowns in response, crossing his arms over his chest trying his best to look determined. Vi doesn’t seem impressed in the slightest.

 

“And are you seriously going to follow those orders?” It’s Vi’s turn to raise both eyebrows.

 

“Hell yeah I will. You’ll only get yourself killed.” Jayce almost growls in frustration, stepping closer to Vi now.

 

“What if I say I’m going either way?” Vi holds his gaze, not moving a facial muscle at Jayce’s intimidation.


“I would then answer that I will punch you in the face to keep your ass in Piltover if I have to.” Jayce squares his jaw, clenching his teeth in silence. Vi keeps holding his gaze calmly until Amaranthine gets in between them, facing Vi.

 

“You have to let him go to Zaun!” Vi takes a step back, looking down at her skeptically.

 

“Sorry, brat. Cait is-”

 

“What if it were Caitlyn the one that is in trouble?” Vi blinks in confusion, already starting to say ‘what do you mean?’ when Amaranthine interrupts her again. “Imagine you didn’t have your gauntlets and Caitlyn were the one in trouble. Would you try to save her anyway?” Vi opens her mouth for a second, shocked by Amy’s example.

 

“Of course I would.” Vi’s answer is quiet and Amaranthine nods in agreement.

 

“Of course you would! And we would help you, because you’re our friends. This is the same situation, Vi. You gotta let this idiot go help Viktor.” It’s Vi’s turn to look back up at Jayce. He’s holding her gaze this time, no longer frustrated but sad, shoulders low and closed lips. Vi sighs.

 

“You’re lucky this girl can talk, Jaycerino, because your intimidation technique is shit.”

 

 


 

 

There are two ways of going into Zaun, one is using the well-protected industrial lift near Piltover’s police station, a method both comfortable and public, monitored by authorities at all times. The descent takes minutes. The other way is using the pipe system located in the outskirts of the city, a method much dirtier and dangerous for those seeking anonymity and a two-hour walk through a poorly-ventilated labyrinth of metal. Jayce has always wanted to use the former, although he’s more used to the latest.

 

The police officer guarding the entrance to the lift immediately leaves a path open for them when Vi waves at her. The fence to the lift crackles and lowers mechanically. Once they’re in the same officer pulls a lever and the fence comes up slowly. Vi keeps staring at the front, not looking at either of them.

 

“I can’t believe I’m going to have a fight with Cait because of you dumbasses.” She mutters to herself, Jayce swallows carefully before opening his mouth.

 

“What’s the real situation down there?” Amy looks between them and Vi sighs.

 

“The Chem Barons heard about Birdbrain and surprise, surprise. It pissed them off pretty badly. You’re lucky their brains are swimming in green goo and didn’t know about the crystal, they just wanted the thing gone. I went down immediately to help but when I arrived Blitzcrank and Ekko had already retrieved Birdbrain. When I was leaving a big fight broke out. I barely managed to escape. The last thing I saw was Blitzcrank’s arm getting chopped off by the biggest industrial chainsaw I’ve ever seen in my life. Viktor was there too, keeping them at bay. But...  It was... I don’t know. I don’t know if they’re okay, Jayce. Whatever happened, it’s not going to be pretty.”

 

Jayce pales, looking away. Amy starts to make questions and they talk. Jayce’s mind drifts, not really listening to them, thinking about Viktor and Blitzcrank.

 

Although they say the lift is the faster way into Zaun. For Jayce, it’s like ages when the lift finally touches the ground. He’s the first one to break into a run the second the security fence is down.

 

“Wait!” Amy runs after him and Vi swears under her breath, following them.

 

Jayce takes a narrow alleyway into the open and when he reaches the main square in front of the lift, he starts to look for smoke in the distance, twirling on his feet. Vi runs in the direction of a low bridge several levels below.

 

“This way!” Jayce and Amy run, following her down stairs and bridges for a couple of minutes until they cross a wide dark pipe full of green smoke. There is noise coming from the other side, screams and lightning. He runs faster and catches Vi. The first thing he sees when he’s out in the open again is Viktor on one knee, supporting his weight on his staff.

 

Behind him it’s Blitzcrank. One of his arms is in the ground, chopped off as Vi had said, the other one is hanging from his body, still joined by cables and pistons, but as if they had tried to rip it by pulling it out. His front chassis is open, Blitzcrank seems to be looking down at it and Viktor is trying to stand up again. There are three chems barons in front of him, almost as big as Blitzcrank itself. Ekko is there too, covering Blitzcrank’s back against a dozen of men.

 

They’re vastly outnumbered. Vi swallows.

 

“Shit, I shouldn’t have brought you.” Vi says, and Jayce takes a step forward.

 

“Grab Amy and go back to Piltover, you don’t need to do this.” Vi scoffs, amused by Jayce’s sudden heroics.

 

“And you do?”


“Of course.”

 

“Then so do I. Brat, go find your green friend while I keep this idiot alive.” Amaranthine nods and turns on her feet, running away in the same direction they came in. Vi smiles then, patting Jayce in the back “I’ll get their attention, you try to help the others. Try not to get in the way of my ass-kicking, old man.” Jayce lets out a short dry laugh, beginning to run towards the main platform.

 

Suddenly, Vi’s gauntlets power up with the sound of crackling gears and she dashes forward with incredible speed, forcing all three of the chem barons to look at her, coming in just in time to see her knock back one of them upon impact in a huge clash. There is a loud growl coming from them and Jayce takes the opportunity to run towards Viktor the second Vi draws all their attention. When he reaches him, Viktor is holding his side with difficulty.

 

“Viktor? Are you okay?” Viktor puts his human right hand on Jayce’s bicep, using it to barely stand up.

 

“I think they put a bomb inside Blitzcrank, I’m not sure. When I arrived there were two men working on Blitzcrank’s front chassis, I’ve not been able to-” Viktor lets loose of Jayce’s arm, adjusting his mask. “I’ll help Vi, you check Blitzcrank.”

 

Jayce doesn’t need more directions, he immediately turns to Blitzcrank, running towards it. He hears Viktor displaying a magnetic field at his back before reaching the golem.

 

“Hey, Blitz. How are you doing, friend?” Blitzcrank stares up at Jayce, who begins to look for the hatch to its inferior chassis, trying to feel the metal grooves with his fingers.  

 

“Greetings, friend unit Jayce. I have performed better in the past, but thank you for asking. How are you doing?” Jayce finds the panel and opens it.

 

“I have performed better in the past as well.” Blitzcrank stares back in silence as Jayce opens the last hatch to Blitzcrank’s core, and only that part of its body is so big he could climb inside and close the panel behind him. Jayce pats the golden surface of its chassis reassuringly. Inside it, there is a solid rectangle, no bigger than a book, surrounded by green tubes going into its center. It’s got a small screen on top, which displays a fifteen-second countdown.

 

Fourteen now.

 

“Shit.”

 

Immediately, Jayce begins to feel around the rectangle looking for switches or protuberances, finding only the latches they used to stick the bomb into Blitzcrank.

 

“Evacuate immediately, fleshling.” Jayce keeps looking for the main panel desperately, sweating cold. Blitzcrank’s whole body begins to tremble with alarm. “Evacuate. Evacuate. Evacuate”

 

Ten.

 

“Shut up! I’m trying to-!”

 

“Evacuate. Evacuate. Evacuate.”

 

Viktor looks back at them for the first time, having heard Blitzcrank’s alarmed instructions.

 

“Jayce! What’s happening?!”

 

“Evacuate. Evacuate. Evacuate.”

 

Five.

 

Jayce unlocks the latches, grabs de device and runs without thinking. He can hear screaming coming from all directions although he does not know who’s calling his name. It may as well be everyone. Out of breath, Jayce reaches the edge of the platform and throws the device, putting all his strength into it, like the decisive pitch in the most important baseball game of his life.

 

He doesn’t make it.

 

The bomb goes off as soon as it leaves his fingers and the explosion launches his body backwards, making him land on his back with such strength he rolls several times before stopping. A silent second goes by in which Jayce doesn’t feel anything. Then, all he can feel is pain.

 

He lets out a scream and suddenly Viktor and Ekko are kneeling beside him.

 

“Jayce! Jayce! Can you hear me?!” There is a loud ringing in his ears but he can distinguish Ekko’s voice. Viktor is working rapidly on something and Jayce tries to look down at what he’s doing. Ekko grabs his face and doesn’t let him look. “Jayce, are you there? I need an answer!”

Then, Viktor injects something into his arm and Jayce screams at the top of his lungs.


“It’s an anaesthetic.” Viktor’s voice reaches him and Ekko is still grabbing his face, not letting him look down to his arm. “I need Janna asap, I can stop the bleeding for now but I need her. Go get her!” The sentence is not entirely out of Viktor’s mouth when Ekko is already standing up and running towards the main platform.

 

Jayce can only hear his own heavy breathing and the distant shouting of everyone else. Then, Viktor puts a hand over his chest. He thinks he’s hearing Vi’s screams in the distance, maybe calling his name.

 

“Jayce?” The robotic undertone of Viktor’s voice behind the mask makes Jayce smile weakly for no reason. “You have far too many PHDs to be this stupid, you know.” Viktor sounds calm, and weirdly enough, it helps, although Jayce can’t be bothered to care about PHDs right now.

 

“Don’t you have anything better to say?” The pain is slightly subsiding and Jayce replies to the air, beginning to feel dizzy with the anesthesia. Viktor could say many things. For instance, that Jayce needn’t put himself at risk so foolishly, that Blitzcrank is a golem and can be repaired, that he is a pig-headed idiot with no regard for his life. He doesn’t say any of those things. Jayce already knows all of that.

 

“If you dare die I’ll use Urgot’s technology to reanimate your corpse” Viktor’s voice falters for a second, Jayce stares dumbly in his general direction. “It will be ugly as hell.”

 

Viktor’s hand leaves his chest and keeps working on the right side of his body. Jayce pointedly decides not to look down this time. He apparently has enough sense and PHDs to realise that he no longer has an arm. A functional one, anyway.

 

“When I survive this,” Jayce’s voice is a struggling whisper. “Will you make me a badass robotic arm like yours?”

 

Viktor scoffs, and it’s the first time Jayce has heard anything near a laugh coming from Viktor in many many years.

 

“Don’t you loathe augmentation technology?”

 

“Untrue.”

 

Viktor scoffs again and is about to answer when an eerie breeze sweeps over them. It smells of spring, clean water and snow. Suddenly, a light rain coming from nowhere covers them. Viktor stands up as the gentle monsoon makes its landfall over their bodies. In the distance, the biggest green goo he’s ever seen launches itself from a distant platform, landing over the chem barons that Vi is holding back, immediately knocking all of them up.

 

“With ease” Janna’s voice carries on the wind, a giggle and the breeze intensifies around them. Ekko and Amy are running in their direction. Jayce closes his eyes, letting out a breath of air as the remaining pain goes away, finally falling unconscious. Viktor clicks his tongue, impatient.

 

“Selfish over-glorified elf.” She laughs, floating and gently tapping the floor with her bare feet in front of them. “The powers of the storm are going to waste in a lazy creature like you.”  

 

“Greetings to you too, Viktor.” Janna smiles, no offence taken, and Viktor turns to go help the others, suddenly interrupted by her voice. “How things change, don’t they? I remember a time when you’d have loved the idea of him dying” Viktor looks back above his shoulder.

 

“Things have changed, apparently. Isn’t that what evolution is about?”  She has the nerve to laugh at his words.

 

“Goodbye, Viktor. I’m glad things are finally going well for you.”

 

Viktor walks away without answering, crossing paths with Amy and Ekko as they finally reach Jayce. Vi and Zac are still dealing with the remaining chem barons as Viktor walks calmly into the fight, unleashing a chaos storm over the men that dared hurt his creation.

 

 


 

 

Weeks go by in which Jayce barely leaves Piltover’s hospital. It came as no surprise when he woke up to discover that he had lost his arm. The first thing the doctor did was show him a catalogue with different prosthesis, all very expensive and technologically advanced. Jayce looked at all of them utterly uninterested for an hour until he decided he wanted none.

 

The doctor told him it would be a while until he accepted what had happened to him.

 

Jayce then told him that he had already accepted his new condition, but that all of the prosthesis were a mechanical nightmare.

 

The doctor answered that it was normal to reject a prosthesis initially.

 

A week later, he is allowed to leave the hospital and Jayce goes home, still refusing to get the damned thing.

 

When Jayce finally enters the doorway to his own house, he realises he hasn’t set a foot in it for a long time. He didn’t use to think much about it before, he spent all his time either at his laboratory or the Academy. He’s glad his actual house is neither of those things when he lets himself fall on the bed.  

 

It’s hours later when Jayce wakes up to a soft knock on his door.

 

Getting up from his bed, Jayce looks through the window and realises it’s already dark outside. He’s been sleeping all afternoon. He rubs his eyes with his remaining hand and stands up. Jayce calmly walks down the stairs and gets the door, expecting to see Vi or Amy, who had already visited him at the hospital. It’s neither of them.

 

It’s Viktor, Viktor dressed as a normal citizen of Piltover. He’s not wearing his mask, his cape or even his third arm above the shoulder. Jayce blinks, thrown off balance, caught flat-footed as Caitlyn would say. He recognizes the red vest with golden buttons Viktor used to wear back in the Academy, he’s wearing a simple white shirt underneath it. Jayce still needs to be sure.

 

“Viktor?” Viktor coughs.

 

“Can I come in?” Jayce jumps, taking a step back to let him space. Viktor crosses the threshold with quick step. Jayce is still looking at Viktor’s back when he closes the door, taking into account the possibility that he may still be asleep in his bed. Viktor turns to look at him, extremely annoyed. “Can you stop looking at me like that? I just figured it would be a better idea to walk through Piltover dressed as a normal citizen rather than wearing full armour. Besides, no one knows my face.”

 

“I’m-I’m sorry, it was just very… Is that the same vest you used to wear back in...?”

 

“Yes, it’s the same.” Viktor looks awfully embarrassed and annoyed, and Jayce grins.

 

“You’re lucky your old clothes still fit you. Not all of us can say the same.” Jayce laughs and Viktor looks away. Jayce is dying to touch the fabric of Viktor’s vest. He wonders if it still smells the same. He swallows.

 

“How’s Blitzcrank?” Viktor looks back at him, fidgeting a little, so nervous without his mask or armour.

 

“Blitzcrank is well. I repaired its arms, it wanted me to give you its thanks.” Jayce nods and Viktor nods back. “I want to say thank you too. Blitzcrank would have died if it weren’t for you.” Jayce nods again, he knows. That’s why he did it. Although Blitzcrank can be repaired and reprogrammed, its identity as it is now would have been lost forever.

 

“You can pay me back by building me an arm. You kind of owe me, you know.” Viktor scoffs and it’s the third time in a row Jayce has heard something close to a laugh.  

 

“I don’t owe you anything, I think.” Jayce is still smiling and Viktor is dangerously close to smiling too.

 

“Fair enough, I still want you to build it.”

 

“No. It would be a disaster. I refuse. You can ask the Academy.” Jayce groans and pouts a little, Viktor is actually smiling now.

 

“Really, why?”

 

“Because.”

 

“Seriously?”

 

“Why me?”

 

“Isn’t it obvious? The Academy can’t barely put two and two together, I’m not trusting them with the task of welding the nerves of my arm to a machine. Not happening. I prefer to remain armless.” Viktor’s smile falters for a second and Jayce realises he has made a mistake. It sounded like Viktor was his second choice. Jayce clenches his teeth slightly, Viktor cocks his head to the side, trying to analyze his expression as he used to do.

 

“You’re the one who has always loved the Academy, aren’t you being a bit hypocritical right now?”

 

“I love what it stands for, I don’t love what it is. If believing in a future where creativity and progress thrive is hypocrisy then I plead guilty.”

 

“Your love for ‘creativity and progress’ seems pretty shallow to me, since factually speaking, you’re still begging me for an arm.” Viktor is smiling again and Jayce thanks his gods for it.

 

“I’m not begging .” It’s Jayce’s turn to scoff now.

 

“Then how you do call all that whining?”

 

“Politely asking a colleague for a favour.”

 

“Now I’m a colleague. Glad to know I’ve been promoted.”

 

“Why are you being so difficult about it, do I have to pay you? Because I will.”

 

“When am I not difficult about everything?”

 

“I lost my arm to stop them from destroying Blitzcrank, you’re so ungrateful!”

 

“I didn’t ask you to do it, and Blitzcrank surely didn’t either.”

 

“God, Viktor. You can’t be such a hard-ass all your life.”

 

“Sure I can.”

 

It’s playful bickering and Jayce is loving every minute of it. He’s willing to bet that judging by Viktor’s expression, he’s loving it too.

 

“I hate you.”

 

“I hate you more.”

 

They stare at each other in silence, not knowing well enough where they are really going with this. Jayce’s heartbeat is frantic.

 

“I actually love you.” Jayce whispers, calmly, and realises that it’s the truth. And once it’s out, he also realises that he can’t stop. “I’ve always loved you. Even when I was stupid enough to not know it, I still loved you. And I know, I know there must be something wrong with me, because no one in his right mind would fall in love with the evil scientist that also happens to be his arch-nemesis.” Jayce laughs to himself and Viktor stares at him, eyes wide open. “But Viktor, before all of this craziness happened, you were my best friend. And even though life has been rough, you’re still that for me. No one has ever been able to top that. No one will ever be as intelligent, as good, as brilliant as you are in my eyes. I refuse to let you go without trying to earn you back, I refuse to settle for someone who is not you.”

 

Viktor opens his mouth to reply and, for the first time, doesn’t say anything. Jayce deflates like a balloon, lowering his shoulders. He puts his hand on Viktor’s cheek with fear, thumb caressing his cheekbone slowly. Viktor gets goosebumps from the touch of Jayce’s hot hand on his face and swallows carefully, gazing back at him with eyes still wide open. Jayce takes a step forward, his heartbeat loud in his ears, closing the distance between their mouths like the last inch to the finish line. Their noses touch and it’s the way their faces brush against each other here and there what emanates the perfect heat around the kiss. Jayce brushes his nose against Viktor’s cheek then, still cupping it with his hand, leaving a soft kiss there too. Viktor throws his arms around Jayce’s neck like a desperate man in need of everything he never had but coveted.

 

Love, contact, company, affection, closeness.

 

Jayce sinks in the space between Viktor’s neck and shoulder like a small boat in the middle of a storm, hugging Viktor tightly for an anchor. Viktor does the same against his neck, breathing deeply. Jayce lets out a weak laugh, dizzy with adrenaline.

 

“Please, don’t-” Viktor interrupts him by kissing him back, grabbing Jayce by the back of his neck. It’s strong, sad and desperate and it doesn’t come from Viktor’s desire, but from all the feelings he’s been bottling up for years. Jayce replies by letting his hand fall on Viktor’s cheek again, fascinated by the fact that he has been allowed to do this. Jayce kisses back the corner of his mouth once and twice, and moves on to kissing him again, whispering against Viktor’s lips.

 

“Please, don’t forget I want to be able to shoot death rays with my new arm.” Viktor lets out a frustrated groan.

 

“Over my dead body.” Jayce hums affirmatively and Viktor hesitates for a second before following the line of Jayce’s jaw with his human fingers, stopping at his ear and then hovering a little above his smile. “I always found you awfully handsome, you know.” He says, distracted by the small details of Jayce’s features. ”It’s a shame you’re such a horrible human being.”

 

“The pot calling the kettle black, huh?”