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Grit

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There’s a lot to unpack when it comes to Talon. Even after almost a year of knowing him Sett still finds him elusive and secretive. He’s certainly unravelled a little, but Sett wonders how many threads he’ll have to follow before he understands who he is.

 

His mother would definitely lecture him on the irony of bedding a Noxian, if she knew, but Sett finds himself here anyway. Assassins strike from the shadows. Maybe that’s why he got blindsided by this situation. Sett may talk with his fists but he ain’t dumb. He’s vastayan enough to acknowledge when he’s been caught out.

Originally he’d meant it to be a one time invitation. That night spent fooling around in the pit had been his prize for winning their hectic duel, and the morning after just an extension of that. If Talon had crossed his mind at all after that day then it was by accident. 

Until a few months later where he turns up again. Unannounced, as if he never disappeared to begin with. Hairs a little longer. A few new scrapes on his skin. Sett remembers standing there in the entrance hall of his fancy home and hearing his heart pound in his head. A crowd roaring inside his brain. 

It’s different this time. His body is as warm as Sett remembers and tonight he doesn’t hold back, looking to bite and mark and bruise. Punishment for returning, that’s his shallow justification. Talon deals it out just as sharply. When Sett holds him down he claws at his back and writhes. Bites his shoulder so hard that when he grins—lethal and odd—there’s red streaked on his teeth. The pain quickly fades into nothing but a buzz. Energy is all it is, zapping up Sett’s spine, and he makes sure Talon feels it too. All but consumes him. Fucks him so hard there’s tears in his eyes and he thinks he might make him cry, but he doesn’t. Instead, during the red tinted afterglow Talon’s fingers twist his ears and he says—tone even, eyes bright—

“You’re bad.” 

Sett props himself up on one elbow to look at him. Littered with purpling spots and red streaks and lazily sprawled out. No wind under his wings. “What’s that mean?” He scowls, not understanding. Bad at what? He pokes the Noxian in the side once and a smile flashes across the man’s face, faster than a shadow. A different look from the blood stained mouth earlier. This time it is—soaring high above Ionia, above the clouds even—

—better. 

 

Two nights, then gone. Sett wonders if he could have stayed longer or if he kept their meeting short on purpose. It’d really be better to forget about him. Should have told him not to come back before he left. Better off that way because Talon is tempered steel and they may have fallen into each other before but Sett doesn’t need this in his life when his fists are still good and ready. A Noxian too. Life’s already busy enough as it is to deal with that shit. 

But a month later Talon’s asleep in his arms and Sett’s thinking about every time he’s called his name. It sounds special when Talon says it. Makes his fur tingle. Gods, his momma would chew his ear off for sure if she knew but it ain’t his fault that the assassin is small and fits against him like a key fits in a lock. Feels like they’re meant to be.

With the moonlight leaking through his windows Sett devours the sight of him like a starving dog. When asleep the Noxian looks dead. Every hard edge has disappeared from his face, guard completely dropped. Sett hovers his fingers an inch over Talon’s eyes, his straight nose, his chapped lips, his narrow chin. Almost as if he’s tracing his features to ingrain them in his memory, for the next time Talon vanishes again.

He must trust me, Sett realizes. To let himself look like that. Gotta feel some level of safety to rest so carelessly. Does he trust Talon? He grapples with the question for a few minutes. He would say only skin deep, teeth biting into his collar, fingernails digging into his back. But it must be more, right? He’s seen the knives Talon carries. They all promise the same quick death. To bed an assassin like that certainly requires a decent level of confidence or recklessness or something. Sett knows he’s got the first two at least, but what else?

Talon’s cheek bumps against his bicep and Sett slowly curls his arms tighter around him. He could strangle him in grip and nothing would stop him. Chokeholds are easy. Sett’s wrung people out plenty of times because sometimes they’re too thick headed to stay down in the dirt. Anyone can pull those off, regardless of size or strength. There’s no doubt that he could snap Talon in two. Could probably finish killing him before he even wakes up but—

He buries his nose in Talon’s hair. If he stays awake then he’ll be able to see when he sneaks away again. Maybe Sett can convince him to stay longer.

 

But the morning light wakes him up. The bed is empty and Sett runs his tongue over his teeth, tasting early morning grit. Disappointment settles low in his stomach.

 

Before Talon he hadn’t known he was hungry. 

 

***

 

Almost eight months after their initial meeting Sett thinks he knows the pattern pretty well. Around once a month Talon will show up, unannounced as always. He’ll stay anywhere from a night to half a week but if he stays for only one day he’ll show up a few nights later for one extra evening. Sett’s thought about pummeling him with nagging questions. Are you here just for me? Where’d you go? Why do you keep coming back? Can’t you stay longer? But in reality he only interrogates him with his mouth and his fingers and their skin sticking together and maybe a few innocent inquiries before they sleep.

See, Sett’s gone about his whole life not giving a fuck, and that’s definitely worked out. He’s got a great house sequestered by the river, a thriving business, and plenty of coin to throw around. But Talon is from a different life. Deep in Noxus, that much he knows. It’s why his Noxian dialect is so clean and clear. He’s from another world and Sett finds himself caring enough to worry. How’d he end up caring so much?

He’s never been one to shy away from anything, but secretly he thinks a spell will be broken if he asks for more and Talon won’t come back at all. Cause maybe that’s why he does come back? Sett’s stopped asking important questions after their first night and Talon’s never talked much to begin with. 

 

If Talon doesn’t come back then Sett might just starve.

 

Is this how momma felt? Is this what it was like? History is more painful when it repeats itself.

 

“Hey, ma?” Birds are chirping outside, filling the small garden with pleasant sound. Sett runs his fingertip along the edge of his cup. If he doesn’t finish his tea soon it’ll grow cold. 

His mother hums. She’s patching a tear in one of Sett’s old pair of pants (on her insistence) and the needle moves skillfully through the fabric. Sett wouldn’t make her do it—would buy all new pants so she wouldn’t have to do a damn thing—but she’s always had an affinity for sewing. Makes her happy.

“What’d ya think when you first met dad?”

He watches her ears twitch, perk up just a little, and she sets her sewing down on her lap. “Settrigh, where is this coming from?”

Sett runs his tongue over his teeth. He glances around at the back of his momma’s house, a graceful little cottage set among the trees. “I was just—thinkin’.”

His ma laughs softly, musically. “That’s a surprise.” She twists the needle between her claws, silent for a moment. “I thought he was handsome.” 

Sett stares at her, looking for any extra information in her face. He’s so used to doing it with Talon to try and understand every single thought that he won’t voice. His mother looks serene, resigned.

“That’s it? Just handsome?” 

“Settrigh,” she sighs. “You don’t really know how things will end until you’ve gone too far to stop.”

 

***

 

Two nights later he presses his nose against the back of Talon’s neck, breathing in the smell of sex and midnight. 

“You should stay.” He whispers it in Ionian so that Talon wouldn’t be able to understand even if he was awake. “I want you to stay.” Saying it aloud, even if in secret, causes the fur on his ears to prickle with unease. He’s fought plenty of people, knocked ‘em dead with his knuckles, but Talon is different. Sett knows he’s full of fierce drive and conviction, which is why he finds it so satisfying when Talon unravels in his arms. When they fuck it’s like a fight all over again and Sett always wins and his reward is having Talon’s half lidded gaze and his secret smile. The smile that is flying. 

“You can spit knives all you want,” he’d told him once. “But here we both know I’m in charge.”

And he is. Talon gives it all to him. All his control ends up in Sett’s claws. Maybe it’s a relief for him to not have to think too hard. Maybe that’s why he keeps coming back. Damn, Sett’s thought about this more than he’d care to admit. He’s been thinking a lot lately. About all of it.

Cause the sex is great. Sett’s certain they’ve done it on every piece of furniture he owns at this point. Talon’s body feels like it was made to fit against his and Sett’s still not over the way the Noxian’s voice breaks when he really does something right. But nowadays Sett’s thinking about the stuff that happens afterwards, when he’s dismantled Talon’s defenses and left him wide open for all the sappy shit that Sett’s been busy dreaming about. Talon is, oddly enough, lost when it comes to that. He’ll know the perfect way to roll his hips and get him going with just his mouth but as soon as Sett initiates gentle contact, usually in the afterglow, he’ll go still and confused and hesitant. He’s got no experience with that, Sett understands.

For better or for worse he thinks he’s starting to like that more than the sex. It makes him grin when he holds Talon close and feels his hands fluttering awkwardly across his shoulders because he doesn’t know where to place them. Rubbing his stubbly chin against his cheek to hear his stuttering, breathy laugh. Pressing soft kisses across his face to watch him turn red and quiet. So quiet. Sett’s gotten him to open up, luring responses and even questions from him. He explains the pit to Talon, talks up loads about his momma and the night he took over the arena, details the most exciting fights he’s ever won.

Talon’s more talkative than the night they first met, and though he still doesn’t tell the vastayan very much, he’s learned a lot. From Noxus, no parents, travels all over doing things for his own boss. And Sett is the only one he goes to bed with. That might be all there is to some people, but you can read so much more by watching his face. That’s the reason he hides it, Sett’s realized a while back, when his guard is down his eyes talk more than his mouth does. It’s just getting to that point that takes the longest. 

 

For example, Sett knows from the way they sleep together, with Talon sandwiched between him and the wall, that for Talon, safety is hiding. A dark spot where no one can reach him. He dislikes the open, pale gaze always flickers towards the windows and doors when they’re inside, examining every possible escape route. 

He’s deadly sharp too, but brittle. Sett’s known this from their first night together. Talon tries so hard to be perfect. Obsessively so. That’s where all the scars on his hands came from. “Practice,” he’d revealed when asked, but Sett had seen haunting fixation written on the curve of his mouth and the corners of his brow. He assumes that with Talon, every single failure is followed by a meltdown. Maybe in the dark, in hiding, inside, where Talon is safe and no one can see. Certainly had a meltdown when they first met. He’s independent to the point of self-destruction.

 

Sett rubs his forehead and scratches behind one of his ears. The left one always itches the most. Gods, he’s been thinking too much lately. Gonna end up giving himself a headache. 

“Aren’t you hungry?” His momma asks, and Sett’s attention returns to her and the garden. He eyes the basket of sweetbreads laid out in front of him. He’s not hungry. Not for that. She’s watching him though so he takes one of the rolls and tears into it. Sweet and airy. Nothing beats her cooking.

“Thanks ma,” he says, mouth full.

She smiles gently. Today she’s not sewing anything, instead there’s a cup of tea in her hands as she basks in the spring sunshine. She reaches out to touch his arm. “Settrigh, what’s on your mind?”

For her it must be easy to tell something’s off. He’s not usually this quiet. Not one to leave food untouched either. Sett shrugs. “You don’t gotta worry bout it, ma.”

Momma’s fingers tighten around his wrist. Sett reaches for another roll. Fine then. He knows how she gets.

“Ma, how’d ya know you were in love?”

Her eyes widen. “Are you in love, son?” 

I don’t fuckin’ know. Maybe. “I—” he doesn’t have the heart to lie to her about this. “I dunno.” He rips the pastry apart with his claws. “I ain’t—” A pause while he tries to organize his thoughts. “I ain’t even afraid of being in love, ma. I’m just—worried about—” 

 

What if he asks him to stay, and tells him why— and Talon flies away and never flies back. What then?

 

“Rejection,” he finishes lamely. “I guess.”

Ma tilts her head. She leans back in her chair and takes a sip of tea. “I don’t know how I knew.” She looks up at the clouds. “Maybe it wasn’t even love.”

Sett leans forward, says nothing.

“It was sweet—” Ma plucks a roll from the basket, holds it up nimbly. “—while it lasted. That’s what I think about.” She presses the bread into his palm. “Ask yourself, Settrigh, are you happy with only a taste? Or do you crave more?”

She pinches his cheek fondly. Sett’s head hurts.

 

***

 

Maybe he wants more than what he’s been given. His whole life he’s done that, bruised his knuckles taking more than what he has. Over half a year into this mess he’s given up all pretenses of not caring. Without a doubt he’s stuck on Talon. His entire routine has been sacrificed for his visits. Sett knows the weeks when he can expect the Noxian to show up and his entire mood pivots around those days. 

He’s not one to tiptoe around decisions but with Talon he’s cautious. He really is like a bird and Sett—ain’t afraid of being in love but— 

 

Tonight something’s spooked him. Sett wakes up in a sweat, full moon shining and Talon is gone. What? He sits up, drowsy and confused. He never leaves this early. Always waits till the crack of dawn at least. Sett thinks he might like the dark too much to leave him during it. He stares dumbly at the spot on the bed next to him, pats it once. Still warm. He stumbles out of bed quickly, yawning.

Downstairs he finds him. Sitting in the dayroom by the entrance hall, (perhaps—nightroom, right now) curled up on one of Sett’s imported Piltover sofas. A knife flashes in his grip, repeating the same movement over and over again. Turning across his knuckles then flipping under his thumb to the other hand and back again. As Sett moves closer he sees the Noxian’s fingers are bloody.

“Hey.” He approaches from the front, like he would a frightened animal. Talon remains rigid except his hands and the knife glints in the moonlight. “What happened to you?”

Talon meets his eyes for a second. They’re glass and he’s got this weird, blankly anxious look in them. A thunderstorm mood where Talon is electricity, raw and sensitive. This is new. Everything new about Talon is a victory.

Sett shuffles even closer. When he sits next to him the man freezes completely, blade hidden in his grip. Sett watches a bead of dark blood well up on his thumb.

“What’s wrong?” He asks, voice still rough from sleep. He reaches out to take his free hand into his own and Talon shivers suddenly, violently. He looks up at Sett, wide eyed and miserable. 

“Tell me what’s wrong,” Sett repeats, this time an order. He smudges Talon’s blood against his skin with his fingers. “Practice,” he hears Talon echo in his head. It’s worrying to see him like this. During their first night together he’d thought Talon was perfect. Later Sett had realized he wasn’t perfect, but damned close. Perfect in the way a sharp knife is unrivaled at what it’s meant to do and nothing else.

The assassin ducks his head and shakes it, wordless. 

“C’mon,” Sett coaxes. He curls his arm around Talon’s shoulders and pulls him closer. The man sort of tips stiffly into his chest. “Don’t you trust me?”

Talon’s knuckles are white around his blade. 

 

He shakes his head, barely, against his chest. 

 

Sett’s blood runs cold. Huh? No? Suddenly he feels numb, like he’s just taken a beating. Like nothing else will get to him. The hair on his arms stands straight up.

“Why not?” His mouth is dry, so dry suddenly. He grabs Talon’s shoulders and pushes him away to look at his eyes but Talon won’t meet his gaze anymore. Almost eight months of sleeping in his bed without any trust? He has to be lying.

“I was your trophy—” Talon struggles with his words. “Our first time.”

“My trophy?” Sett snarls, furious at the mere idea, and Talon shivers once again, a tremor rolling up his entire body. “You’re not my— trophy.” The word’s an insult. “That’s not what you are to me and that ain’t why you keep coming back.”

Talon says nothing. He squeezes his eyes shut. Draws in a long, shaky breath.

“This ain’t some glorified surrender,” Sett snaps. “You can’t say you’ve felt nothin’ this entire time.”

When Talon doesn’t respond Sett shakes him. Angry. Desperate. “ Look at me.” He’s tired of this game they play where Talon won’t communicate and Sett’s always forced to figure out what he’s going through. He’s tired of being purposefully left in the dark.

 

Maybe that comes through in his tone. He sees the truth in Talon’s eyes when he opens them. Panic is written across his face, pale in the moonlight, and all the anger bleeds out of Sett’s posture. Even with all his knives Talon appears to be ill equipped to handle his own feelings. 

Right now he could say it. “Are you happy with only a taste?” His momma had asked. No. Not since the first time they met. It’s never enough for Sett. He always dreams bigger, wants more. None of that ‘love at first sight’ bullshit. Love at first fight. When Talon’s eyes are alive and his smile is the whole sky in a single second.

 

“Stay longer,” he tells him. Almost pleads except he’s The Boss and he doesn’t do that kind of thing. “Don’t leave so early tomorrow.”

Talon jerkily raises his free hand. He hesitantly touches Sett’s face, smears red across his jawline with his thumb. Sett holds his breath. In the moonlight he is glass.

Sett carries him upstairs and lays him out on the bed and kisses him and—tonight, at the earliest hours of morning, he mouths love against Talon’s body. Fucks him so gently that he might be dreaming. Always dreaming of more than what he has.

 

In the morning Sett is alone again, as he usually is.

 

Ironic for someone who’s pa disappeared to be in love with a ghost. 

 

***

 

His initial reaction is hurt. He’d really thought they’d made a breakthrough. Every thread he can pull from Talon’s emotions is revolutionary. And for nothing to change after all causes bitter pain to stab through his temples. But that quickly numbs into rotten anger. 

Frustration fouls his mood. What’s the point? He got all caught up caring about someone—who doesn’t even trust him. Almost a year wasted in bed with someone who won’t talk to him or rely on him or even bother trying to return the same comfort that he offers. So what’s the point? He feels as if he’s given everything to get back less than nothing. 

At the pits everyone can tell he’s on edge. They practically tiptoe around him as he seethes. Fucking Noxians. Making everything worse. Did Talon know what he was doing too? Did he know how much he was playing around? Did he know how much Sett cared? He must have. Maybe it was his plan all along.

 

Fuck him. If only he hadn’t given a damn. Then things never would have gone so far in the first place. He hopes Talon never comes back. There’s just no future in him. If his bed feels empty and colder than before then he’ll just get used to it. Was plenty fine before that Noxian came along in the first place. “Do you crave more?” His ma had asked. Yes. Course he did. Who wouldn’t when they’re faced with someone who looks like that.

Sett covers his eyes with his arm, scowls at the ceiling of his bedroom. It’s the middle of the afternoon and any other time he’d be at work, but he hasn’t slept well since that night, half a week ago. Exhaustion is a vulture picking at his bones. A single day off is fine. He runs the damn place he can take off whenever he wants.

 

A barely audible creak sounds downstairs and Sett immediately sits up. There’s a boiling in his stomach. Starving. He rushes downstairs to see—

 

Talon is in the middle of the entrance hall, a little hunched over and awkward. Paler than usual. He blinks, clearly wasn’t expecting him to be home, and when Sett stops at the bottom of the stairs his lips barely part, standing uncertainly. There’s a new bruise on his face and one of his sleeves is torn up at the bicep. Wounded. Sett pushes away any worry. No point to it. He’s tried being nice, but being nice ain’t working for him anymore. 

 

His hands slowly curl into fists. “You’re gettin’ blood on my floor.”

 

Talon stills, eyes suddenly unreadable. It’s like a switch is flipped and now Sett can’t tell what he’s feeling anymore. Then again, could he ever really tell in the first place? Maybe not.

 

He swings the first punch before his brain’s fully caught up, body practically acting it’s own. Talon dodges nimbly and the wall cracks under the weight of his fist. His eyes are wide but they tell him nothing.

 

Sett swings again, knuckles split and bleeding, and this time Talon ducks under his arm and hits him in the jaw and kicks his legs out from under him. He knows that he won’t win when it comes to raw strength. Must know from all the times Sett’s held him down and every fight story he’s told him afterwards. The only way to try and gain an upper hand would be through some crucial outplay. 

Of course, it won’t work. Sett falls to the ground but he grabs Talon’s sleeve and pulls him down with him. They roll, Sett trying to lock the assassin in place. First Talon is beneath him, then above him, sitting on his chest with both hands wrapped around his neck, knees pinning down his arms. Sett howls something fierce. He stares at Talon, brown bangs falling into his face, biting his lip so hard that red drips down his chin. His grip tightens and Sett can’t breathe and can’t believe—that someone he’s loved might be trying to kill him. Trying to kill him. He can almost hear the buzz of energy in his mind, vastayan magic rushing—pounding— roaring. 

He bucks his hips up and rocks his body, to try and unbalance him, but Talon moves seamlessly along with him, as if they’re still between the blankets. Might as well be fucking, not fighting. Black spots encroach on Sett’s vision. Even if Talon’s only trying to force him unconscious, what happens after that? They don’t trust each other. Not anymore. Maybe never to begin with. He jerks his hips up again and again, trying to get his legs underneath himself. The Noxian quickly switches his chokehold so that his forearms are crossed against his throat instead of his hands. He’s closer like this, and his bangs fall forward to tickle Sett’s skin. 

He can feel unconsciousness approaching. Not like this. His endless winning streak won’t be broken by some Noxian blade. Quick thinking usually involves his fists, but with those out of commission Sett’s mind works on overdrive. 

“Come on—” he forces the anger out of his voice as he struggles to talk. “At least—kiss me—”

He sees his opening when Talon’s face flashes with confusion. Hesitation. The minutes after sex where he doesn’t know what to do with his hands. It’s enough of a window for Sett to smash their foreheads together. Talon gasps in pain, loud, and Sett bucks once more and this time Talon is off balance and tips off of him. The vastayan sucks in precious mouthfuls of air and rolls to his feet. His head barely aches at all. That’ll arrive later. Talon however, holds one hand to his forehead and stumbles drunkenly upright. Sett lunges, pressing his lead. The man doesn’t manage to evade him this time. Sett grabs him by his collar and throws him completely into the kitchen. The narrow dining table cracks when his back slams heavily into it.

Oh he does not care anymore. Sett charges forward. He’s cornered now, and if there’s one thing he knows about Talon it’s that the only way to pin him down is to corner him. Silver shines in his grip and as Sett gets close a knife whispers through the air and buries itself in his shoulder. Sett doesn't care. Talon is panting, afraid. He’s afraid, it’s written on his face clear as day and Sett doesn’t care. Should never have cared to begin with. He catches Talon’s ankle as he tries to escape over the table and yanks him off his feet entirely. He yelps and Sett does not care. He crushes his ankle under his palm till he feels something give out and Talon screams, his other foot kicking wildly for Sett’s face. Another knife digs sharply into his leg and this time it’s so deep that it does hurt and his leg buckles. Talon drops to the ground while Sett yanks out the blade. It’s narrow and thin, perfect for that sort of thing. Perfect— 

He roars. “Get out!” 

Talon’s scrambles away, desperately limping towards the closest window. He looks back at Sett and all Sett sees is hurt and he thinks maybe Talon sees the same thing when he looks at him. 

He picks up one of the dining chairs and chucks it at the assassin. It misses and goes straight through the window instead. Sett swears, loud and furious. “Noxian bitch!” He’s never been more angry—never been this awful. “Get—out! I’ll kill you—I swear I’ll kill you!” 

 

Sett continues to shout long after Talon’s disappeared into the treeline. Yanks out the knife in his shoulder and swears and howls like an animal. A beast.

 

When the anger finally fades he is in pain again. This time it doesn’t go numb.

Chapter Text

The day of.

 

A piece of him is missing. Ripped from his chest, or thrown out onto the grass, or escaped into the woods, maybe never to return. Sett is hollow as he patches his wounds and cleans up the mess. He lugs a bucket of water from the nearby river to scrub the blood off the floors and retrieves the broken remains of his chair. The table will survive, but Sett wouldn’t trust it with too much weight, and the damage to his wall is substantial but only in one spot so maybe he can hang something over it. 

The water in his bucket is muddy red by the time night’s fallen. He tosses it out into the grass and wanders back to the stairs. Sett sits heavily on the bottom step. His shoulder hurts, his leg feels worse, and his head’s finally started aching.

Talon’s face flashes through his mind. Afraid. Even as he stabbed him.

 

Is this how momma felt? Sett’s tired of all of it. He cared so much and he tried so hard for nothing. Two knives and some broken furniture and a couple fresh wounds. Sett doesn’t cry, not even close, but he sits there on the stairs and wonders at what point a Noxian became so important. Wonders at what point things went wrong.

 

***

One day after.

 

Sett throws himself back into work. A storm is brewing and the air lies hot and humid, hanging over him like a shadow as he goes about the usual business of managing the fights and the pits. Shit used to be real simple. Run the arena, rake in the gold, and make sure his ma’s good and cared for. If he got to knock some teeth in along the way then that was a plus. Life had been good. Now it’s complicated. Well—maybe not as much anymore. 

The only mark that’s left is his limp. On the way home it’s most noticeable. An annoying, prickling pain whenever he puts weight on his leg. Damn. At least he heals faster than most—something to do with his vastayan blood probably. In another day or two he’ll be good as new. Then he can forget that Noxian. His hands against Sett’s chest, his face, his eyes. He’d been afraid. 

Sett shakes his head, scowls. Caught up thinking again. There’s no point in dwelling on it. Let ghosts stay ghosts.

 

***

 

Two days after. 

 

He visits momma when he knows she’s asleep. He doesn’t feel like answering questions tonight. He doesn’t feel like lying.

 

***

 

Three days after.

 

It rains. For days it rains. A proper typhoon rages across the land, forcing everyone indoors and marking the beginning of the wet season. Wind tears at the roof of his house. Sett watches the green and gray sky from his bedroom, waiting for a moment of sunlight. In the meantime he busies himself thinking about work and his momma and nothing else. Nobody else. A crack of lightning splits the sky in two and makes his hair stand on end. Energy, charged like static, claws up his back and gasps against his neck. He busies himself doing push-ups next to his bed, trying to work out all the restless energy. Forty, fifty, seventy-five. Sett continues until his arms are burning and the only thing he can focus on is his breath.

A sudden bang from the kitchen below causes his ears to twitch and fresh heat blazes through Sett’s chest. He rushes down the stairs, two at a time, every footfall loud in his head.

 

There’s nobody there. Sett’s ears twitch again. The tempest outside had blown one of his windows wide open, shutters and all. He shuts it again and mops up the puddle already created by the rain.

Nobody there.

 

***

 

Five days after.

 

A starling lies in the grass. Sett thinks it might be alive at first, but as he approaches it he understands otherwise. Typhoons don’t treat birds kindly. For only a moment he stands over it, boots sinking into the wet grass, cloak torn into a frenzy by the wind and rain. He’s no stranger to death but something about it strikes a chord in him. Sett can’t describe it. It pisses him off. He nudges one of its fragile wings gently with the toe of his boot before hurrying on his way. No use gettin’ sad over what’s dead. 

His ma’s house isn’t too far of a journey but this time the storm fights against him the whole way. Ten minutes in and he’s completely soaked. Still, he pushes onwards, determined. A man that doesn’t lose. Trees and branches are strewn across the road and several parts of the trip are spent wading through almost knee high water. Sett pictures the starling, limp and dark with rain. It bothers him. Maybe cause it’s a bird and it doesn’t feel right seeing one tied to the ground. Something else too. Sett can’t quite process it yet. 

 

Ma lets him in after he bangs on the door, struggling to be heard over the storm. “Settrigh,” she gasps, pulling him inside. “What are you doing here?”  

Sett won’t hug her, even though he wants to. He doesn’t want to get her too wet. “I just—” He pulls the hood of his soggy cloak down and water drips from the tip of his nose. “I wanted to make sure you were okay.” 

Momma reaches up to pinch his ear and he winces. “In this storm? Son you’re going to get sick. That was dangerous.

Sett shrugs his shoulders weakly. “You know me, ma. I ain’t afraid of some danger.”

She shakes her head. “Foolish boy. Don’t move.

He stands dripping, awkward, sniffling, until his ma comes back with a stack of towels. She stops when she sees him, concern suddenly enveloping her features. 

“Oh, Settrigh,” she says sadly. “Why did you really come here? What’s wrong?”

Sett sniffles again. It’s not sickness—he’s damn resilient to that sort of thing—and it’s not rain. 

Now that he’s indoors he discovers that he’s been crying. 

 

***

 

A colorful blue vase collects water dripping from a hole in the roof. Sett sits at the round table in the kitchen covered in towels and blankets, listening to the steady drip, drip. 

“You shoulda told me bout the leak,” he rubs the bridge of his nose, eyes aching. “I’ll fix it for you.”

Momma sets down a cup of hot tea and a bowl of steaming soup in front of him. “I didn’t know until yesterday.” She sits down at the round table and hides her hands in her sleeves. “Eat.”

“Thanks ma, I’m not hungry.”

Her brow furrows. “Something is very wrong then. Eat. It’ll keep away the chill.” Though her disposition is sweet, Sett knows she’s not playing around. Ma’s a sweetheart and he loves her to death but he inherited his fangs from her. So he takes a drink of his tea and a spoonful of broth and lets the quiet rest comfortably around them. 

“What’s on your mind?” She asks once his spoon scrapes the bottom of the bowl.

Sett doesn’t know what to tell her. I got snared by a Noxian. I fell in love with a phantom. A bird died on the way here and it must have died alone in the storm and it made me think about how easily things break.

“Do you—” He clears his throat, almost scared to ask. “Do you regret meeting dad?”

Momma’s face clears. She covers his hand with hers. “Ah so it’s about love.” 

Sett remains quiet. 

“I don’t regret it because you’re here with me.” 

Sett sucks in a breath. Course she’d say something like that. “But—”

“You are a good son.” She squeezes his hand. “You look like your father. Have the same chin. And nose.” 

He runs his thumb along his jawline. I feel more like you right now, ma. 

 

***

 

Six days after. 

 

He finally talks about him. With halting words Sett tells ma about a wanderer. Explains that he was deceivingly quiet and deceptively soft. Tries to put into words how he was jagged unless you knew where to look, and even then there’s flawlessness in a sharp blade.

“Your heart-light?” She asks, nearly solemn.

He runs his tongue over one of his sharp canines. “A Noxian.”

“Oh.”

Sett stares up at the ceiling and listens to the rain pounding against the roof. His feet hang over the end of ma’s small wicker loveseat.

“I understand now,” she murmurs. “Where is he?”

That’s a good question. “Dunno.” Sett blinks furiously. Not again. Not twice in less than a day. No way. “We fought. He’s not going to come back.”

“Are you sure?”

He pictures that face, alive with hurt and pain. “Yeah.” He rubs his eyes. “And that’s fine by me, I just need to get over it.”

His momma purses her lips in thought. She’s curled up with her sewing across from him, picking apart a couple ugly stitches. Sett doesn’t really get what makes some stitches ugly, but she has an eye for that sorta thing.

“I don’t hate your father,” she reveals quietly. “I don’t like him either, but I want to talk to him just one more time. I want to know what he felt.”

 

***

 

Seven days after.

 

The storm’s broken. Gray-green sky has peeled away to reveal blue. Sett patches up the hole in his momma’s roof and kisses her cheek before he leaves. 

 

***

 

Eight days after.

 

The pit has lived up to its name and water has flooded the middle of the arena. Sett glances up at the sun, squinting. There’s not a single cloud in the sky. 

“It’ll dry eventually.” 

He and the crew grab buckets from the back rooms anyway, making some attempt to clear out the flooding and speed up the process. The whole building is a little worse for wear. There hasn’t been a storm that bad in many summers. Repairs will have to be made to have the place looking nice again. His crew talks among themselves as they work, chatter buzzing lazily through the building. The world is still waking up after the storm and Sett focuses solely on the cleanup until something catches his attention.

“What’d you say?” he asks sharply, looking up. 

Next to him Ryo, a scrawny spidery man, licks his lips nervously. “I was talking about the elder from Zhuv'le who was almost assassinated.”

“Almost,” Sett repeats.

Ryo shrugs. “Dunno that much about it cause it happened right before the storm. Noxian’s probably rotting, alive or dead.”

He narrows his eyes. “They wouldn’t kill someone without a trial.”

“Dunno Boss, it’s Zhuv’le.” Ryo chuckles. “The closer people are to the coast the more Noxian they seem.”

Suddenly his bucket of water feels shockingly heavy.

“Why’d you care anyway?” Ryo asks curiously.

Sett rolls the tightness out of his shoulders. “I don’t.”

 

***

 

Nine days after.

 

Zhuv’le is only a day’s ride. Over the west hills. That’s what Sett thinks as he stands barefoot in his kitchen. He doesn’t particularly like horses—something about their faces—but he could definitely find one to borrow or rent for a day or two. 

He shakes his head. Might not even be him. The assassin he knew was skilled enough to almost bring him down. A wrinkled elder would have stood no chance against his knives. Sett’s seen the way he aims them, deadly accurate—

Digging into his shoulder, burying itself in his calf. 

He must not have been striking to kill. Otherwise Sett would be dead on his floor. He locates a small cloth bundle, high on one of his shelves next to a row of ornate goblets. Sett knows as he unwraps it that he shouldn’t. He should really just leave things buried and done with. It’s probably not even him anyway.

Except he had done a number on his ankle. Maybe—normally—the assassination would have gone flawlessly. With an injury perhaps an error was made. The fabric unravels entirely, revealing two familiar blades. Sett picks one up, the thinner point that had bitten into his leg. 

“This one’s my favorite.” He imagines the whisper so clearly that the fur on his ears prickle. The knife drops noisily back onto the table. Sett wishes he was angry. It would make things so much simpler if he could rage like he did when they fought. Realistically he should be. Pa left years ago and Sett’s still itching to beat him to the ground. 

This is a different kind of itch. Why even care? Sett grits his teeth. That Noxian dog had stolen all of his feelings and thrown them back in his face. Taken advantage of the safety he’d offered.

“I want to talk to him,” momma repeats in his head. “Just one more time. I want to know what he felt.” 

Sett releases his white knuckled grip on the kitchen table. He thinks about the starling forgotten in the mud.

Swearing under his breath, Sett fetches his shoes. 

 

***

 

Ten days after. 

 

Zhuv’le is a bigger town than the one Sett’s from and he can see traces of Noxus everywhere he looks. From the stone-laden road to the sharp corners in the architecture to even the Ionians who eye him warily as he rides through on horseback. Sett’s no stranger to distasteful looks but there’s something about the people’s cold expressions that show they’ve lost too much.

Trepidation rolls up his spine. It’s that mood. The one where he’s hungering for an excuse to fight. He has to be careful though. Zhuv’le isn’t that far from home and his momma will certainly hear if he gets into too much trouble. Sett operates on the gray side of the law when it comes to his business and he’d rather not attract any attention from stuffy Ionian officials.

The council jail is clearly Noxian built. Sett can tell because it reminds him of his arena. It doesn’t flow with the earth and sky like Ionian buildings. The single bored looking guard looks young and out of place behind the stone counter. He straightens when the vastayan approaches, eyes hardening in an attempt to hold authority. Sett’s not bothered. He’s almost a head taller than this pipsqueak.

“What brings you here?” The guard asks. He holds a spear in two hands and his grip betrays him as his hands shift anxiously up the pole. This will be easy. Sett can already tell. He’s seen so many wannabe fighters like this kid.

He looks past him at the hallway of stone cells. Black iron doors stand ominously, all closed. “I heard there’s a Noxian assassin here.”

The guard is surprised. He leans against the staff of his spear. “That dog? What’s your interest in him?”

Sett cracks the knuckles on his left hand, one after the other. Watches the man flinch with every pop. Him. “What’s his name?” 

“Wouldn’t say.”

It has to be him. It has to be. 

“You know,” the guard clears his throat, a tinge of nervousness leaking into his voice. “He still needs to go on trial before the summer council. I can’t let anyone see him. He almost killed Elder Weiri.”

Elder Weiri. Sett doesn’t keep track of all the town elders, not even his own village’s. They’re all too old for him to care about. He reaches behind himself to take the coin purse hanging on his belt. Sett’s learned pretty early that money can get you almost anything. People will die for it every week to a roaring audience. Thankfully he’s got plenty of filthy gold to throw around.

 

“Y’know who I am?” He asks, voice measured and intimidating. Like when he talks to a new hire for the first time.

The guard swallows, fingers fidgeting with his spear. 

“Around here they call me The Boss,” Sett continues, stepping closer. He tosses the coin bag up and catches it with a rattle of metal, money clinking satisfyingly together. “Well, a couple towns east. And I’ve got a lotta use for dangerous fighters in my line of work.”

The jailer takes a step back and he mirrors his movements, body tingling, that mood. He takes one step too many and the point of the kid’s spear digs into the center of his chest, drawing blood. Sett barely feels it, just an echo of pain. 

“Aw, what a shame,” he looks down and yanks the spear out of the guard’s grip. He’s petrified, trembling from head to toe. A sorry excuse for a jailer. “You ain’t even holdin’ it right.” He tosses it to the ground and the weapon clatters against the stone noisily. 

“You—” the guard stares at the cut on his chest and then his eyes dart to the spear. He’s cornered against the back of the hall. 

“Listen, you ain’t cut out to be a jailer.” Sett hefts the bag of coin. “ I’m a nice guy, lemme take the Noxian dog off your hands and maybe you can find something else to do with your life.” 

“I can’t—” But the man’s gaze locks onto the leather bag greedily. “He’s already tried to escape once, they’d—”

“Already tried once?” Sett laughs. Unsurprising. “Well then that makes it easy. Guess he’s gonna escape again.” He reaches down and rips the man’s keyring off of his belt, waving the bag in the guard’s face. “He escaped again, right? And that’s all?”

 

After a minute the guard’s resolve finally breaks, whether under stress or the promise of a small fortune is unknown. A day and half of payouts is in that bag and Sett knows he’ll regret it later but it’s not like he can kill the guy. Momma would tear his ears off if she knew. Money keeps things simple and anyway it wouldn’t be fun to fight someone who could hardly fight back.

“And that’s—all,” the guard repeats.

Sett smiles, only fang. “Right. And if you remember things differently later, I’ll know it was you, right?”

“R-Right.”

“Perfect.” He pats the guy's cheek twice before he knocks him out. 

 

As an afterthought he takes off the guard’s cloak and carries it with him as he starts checking the cells one by one. The first one is empty, the second too. Down the line until he finds one that’s not. A woman sleeps on a sparse pile of hay but Sett doesn’t care about her. He continues down the hall, apprehension growing with every door. He doesn’t have to do this. Could just walk back the way he came, take his coin back too and leave that sorry idiot with one hell of a headache. But now, the closer he gets, the more he starves. Not angry, a bitter mess instead. Sett doesn’t know how to approach this. Should he feel angry? Happy to see him? If it is him. How would momma handle it? Probably with gentle hands, sharp claws.

 

Halfway down the hall on the opposite side he unlocks a door and instantly recognizes the figure curled up against the far wall. Despite the lowlight Sett can tell it’s him. Brown hair ratty and unkempt, skin dirty, clothes torn—small.

Even after all of his thinking he doesn’t know what to say. A million words fly through his head at once but nothing becomes even remotely coherent. Sett stands there in the doorway, frozen. 

“I don’t hate him,” his mother sighs quietly. He’s not angry like he was when they fought. Or happy. Truthfully he doesn’t feel much of anything. Relief—maybe, but for a reason that Sett can’t understand.

Pale eyes stare back at him, expressionless and empty. Sett’s seen them when they were alive. Has had the privilege of knowing Talon’s fear, his tears—Talon, whose smile is the entire sky. Talon, who fits perfect—feels perfect, who leaves Sett hollow and hungry and makes him crave something more than money can buy.

 

“You look like shit,” he finally manages.

 

The Noxian’s eyes remain stone and Sett realizes that despite all his steps forward he is now very much behind.

Chapter Text

Getting him out is easy, but quiet. On the way back from Zhuv’le Talon says only five words and Sett hears ‘em all while he’s crouched on the stone unlocking his shackles. 

“You should let me rot.” Talon’s voice is raspy and underused and he says it so matter-of-factly. As if he’s not talking about his own imprisonment or worse.

Sett looks him over. What a mess. His hair is matted and dark with dirt, skin’s all scratched and filthy. Clothes are ripped up too. His left leg’s straight out in front and the pale skin of his ankle is marred with fierce purple bruising. Ten days and it looks like that? Must be broken.

“Yeah, I should.” He throws the guard’s cloak over the Noxian’s head. As Talon sorts his way through the folds in the fabric Sett slides his hands beneath his body and lifts him unceremoniously into his arms. He can hear Talon’s sharp intake of breath but no more words. Not for Sett or anyone else.

 

He carries him outside in the fading light to his horse, a pretty chestnut mare still tied up to a flowering tree. She’s a tall, sturdy breed, because Sett is also a tall, sturdy breed. He quickly helps Talon onto her, shrouded in the jailer’s cloak, glancing around for any passerby that might see something out of the ordinary. Getting himself on is fairly clumsy—something with their faces, Sett just doesn’t care for horses—but once he’s secure in the saddle he looks behind him and sees Talon, brown bangs wild under his hood. There’s an old leaf tangled in his hair and Sett picks it out and flicks it to the ground.

“Hang on,” he orders. Talon’s arms snake around his middle and he feels the man lean heavily against his back. Warm. Sett glances at his foot, still sticking out weirdly so that it doesn’t knock against the horse’s flank. He’ll have to figure that out later, right now they need to get out of town before they attract too much attention. Sett has a habit of that. He digs his heels gently into the mare’s side and they start off on a slow but steady pace. Sett knows that Talon’s in pain. He can hear it in every breath against his back as they travel across the beaten path into the hills. It doesn’t quite feel real. Ten days ago he’d sworn Talon off entirely and spit blood on his floor.

“What happened to you?” He asks sometime along the way. Sett receives no response so he rides the rest of the journey in silence. 

 

***

 

It’s past morning when they reach the river by Sett’s home, having ridden through the night. There he stops and roughly helps Talon off and straight into the water. The assassin staggers and falls but they’re in a shallow part of the stream so Sett only smiles, a bit coldly, at the wet Noxian. His eyes itch with exhaustion and the days barely even started yet.

“You’re filthy. I ain’t letting you ruin my nice furniture.”

Talon sends him a witheringly dead look, clearly equally worn out. He unclasps the cloak around his neck and it falls into the cold water. For a minute he doesn’t move at all.

“What’s the big deal? I’ve seen you naked plenty of times.” Sett’s poking—can blame weariness for that—a bit spitefully but he actually thinks he knows the problem. Talon doesn’t like being out in the open where there’s no corners to hide in or walls to climb. 

The assassin hunches his shoulders and strips down anyway, maybe taking up Sett’s words like a challenge. While he cleans himself up Sett ties the mare by the house and gathers some supplies. Spare clothes and towels and other things. All the shirts with sleeves that he never wears. When he returns to the river Talon’s sitting in the middle of the shallow water, shivering and clearly—even with his blank eyes—disgruntled. Sett helps him out and wraps him in several towels and carries him into the house and upstairs and all the way back to his room—his bed. Talon hisses when his foot knocks on the doorway and Sett mutters an apology except he doesn’t really know if he means it.

“We’re gonna need to fix your ankle,” he says as Talon pulls on one of his shirts. It’s too broad for him and Sett thinks that if he wasn’t so exhausted from all this horseshit he might want to lean over and sink his fangs into Talon’s exposed neck just to taste him again. 

Talon shrugs. Sett can tell he agrees from the way his lower lip juts out in unhappy acceptance so he grabs the supplies he’s set aside. A roll of bandages along with a few narrow strips of wood from the chair he broke during their fight. He lays them out on the bed next to him. Sett doesn’t mention that it will hurt because they’ve both had enough injuries to know it and Talon curls his hands into the bed covers in preparation. Sett remembers that same movement differently. He used to make Talon twist up the sheets for other reasons. 

 

The assassin tenses when Sett begins to wrap his ankle, shaky breath explaining how much he’s hurting even if his words don’t. His back arches gracefully when Sett tightens the bandage but his arms are rigid and a strangled yelp escapes from between his gritted teeth. The vastayan doesn’t look at him after that, focusing instead on the injury. He lines up one of the thin pieces of wood flat against Talon’s leg and ties it tightly into place, followed by another on the opposite side. Sett’s had plenty of practice fixing up injuries like these and now his fingers practically move on their own, which is helpful considering he’s so tired. When he’s done he stands up and drinks in the sight of Talon laying flat on the bed, staring at the ceiling with watery eyes. 

“I gotta go to the pit today,” Sett mutters, cause he doesn’t know what else to say. How do you talk to someone that refuses to communicate? How do you talk to someone who tried to choke you out in your own home?

Talon’s gaze flickers to him. He opens his mouth just enough for Sett to see blood staining the edges of his teeth from where he bit his tongue—but no words come out. 

Bitter hurt washes over him. Sett remembers the rage he felt that afternoon. Knows exactly where it comes from. Giving so much and getting so little. This time however he’s too worn out to be howling mad. Really can’t feel much of anything. 

“You’d better be here when I get back.” Some amount of raw desperation has leaked into his voice and—looking at the man’s splinted foot—Sett takes secret comfort in knowing he won’t be going anywhere. 

 

***

 

It’s past sunset when he returns on foot, mare dropped back off at the farmer’s stable he rented her from. What a long day. Sett yawns as he heads up the stairs. He almost expects Talon to be gone again—so used to him disappearing—but upstairs he finds him on the bed in nearly the same position he left him in. Talon’s eyes flutter open instantly when Sett enters and it causes a dull ache in his chest. He used to stay asleep when Sett would get up in the middle of the night. Or at least he used to keep his eyes closed and let Sett pretend that he was trusted.

With a heavy heart Sett understands that he’s fucked up, cause when the Noxian watches him warily he realizes that Talon must’ve actually trusted him—in some way—and now he doesn’t. He’d gotten him to eat from his hand and now that exact comfortable closeness has turned sour. 

Surely Talon would already be gone if he wasn’t flightless.

“Why’d you leave that night?” He asks as he changes out of his expensive pants into something more snug

No answer. Talon’s staring at the ceiling again.

“Y’know,” Sett growls. “I let you in and gave you everything and you still left anyway.”

Nothing. Might as well be speaking a different language.

“Don’t pull this shit with me—I’m done.” He’s so tired of this. “Talon.”

At his name the Noxian glances at him. Sett has no clue what he’s thinking and his frustration only grows. 

“I’m done with this,” he snaps, mood worsened by sleep deprivation and frustration. “I don’t know what’s running through your head and I’m tired of guessing. I fucking saved you and you won’t give me a damn thing. Learn to communicate cause I’m done trying to figure you out.” 

He waits for a breath to see if miraculously—maybe that will have Talon talking, but there’s no response so Sett stomps towards the door. 

“I’m sleepin’ downstairs.”

 

It feels pretty bleak and Sett doesn’t know how he could be more clear. He stares out the windows at the dark grass. Fuck. His feet stick out over the edge of his dayroom sofa too but not nearly as much as when he’s at ma’s. Spent the whole day half asleep and now his mind’s moving too fast to rest anyway. Thinking about Talon in his shirt and how quiet he is. What did you feel? Sett knows the answer for himself at least. Maybe it’s the fatigue but he feels numb, like nothing’s really reaching him. It’s still hard to believe that Talon is upstairs right now. 

What is he doing? He’d rode a full day on horseback to find a man who lives in silence.

 

Something thumps against the ceiling above him and Sett frowns. Everything’s been falling over in his house as of late. He rolls off the sofa and to his feet with a grunt. 

 

He finds Talon on the floor next to his bed, face twisted up and white with pain. A shiver travels across his shoulders as Sett watches and he ducks his head. Not quick enough to hide the way his lower lip trembles. Reminds him of that night when he’d found Talon downstairs and strange.

“Tryin’ to escape?” Sett asks dryly. 

The Noxian’s frustration is palpable when he looks up at him, eyes flashing ice cold and awful. Sett crouches down to help him up but his hands are slapped away. Suddenly Talon is frantic, swinging at Sett and ripping at his hair, trying to push him away and Sett’s too tired for this.

“Stop.” In the midst of his frenzy Talon yanks hard on his ear and Sett’s had enough. He shoves him flat on the floor and locks both of his hands in his own. “I said stop.” He’s still struggling so Sett shakes him around once. “What’s the matter with you?” 

Talon spits at him. “You should have let me rot—” 

“No,” Sett cuts him off. Enough. “I couldn’t have—cause I love you.” An invisible weight lifts off his chest once he finally says it. Being tight lipped about shit isn’t his style anyway. It’s much easier to be open about all of it which is ironic considering he’s fallen for a Noxian so secretive and private.

He watches Talon’s face fall, all the energy draining out of his gaze in an instant as he goes limp. Sett is hollow. What did you feel? As if in answer Talon falls apart beneath him, a sob breaking through his silence. He squints up at Sett, narrow eyed tears breaking through his defenses. His broken ankle bumps against Sett’s foot and he knows. He understands that every single failure might as well be the end of the world for Talon. Knew that from the first night they met where Talon lost, but this time is worse than all the others. Sett quickly gathers him in his arms and Talon fights him still, clawing and sobbing. He reminds Sett of a wounded animal.

After a couple minutes more Talon’s attacks have faded to half hearted struggling. Oddly enough Sett feels dismally calm just sitting on his bedroom floor with an assassin caught in his arms. He lets Talon break down, leans his head back against the end of the bed and listens as he tries and fails to stifle his ugly sobs. Always failing, Sett supposes tiredly. 

 

Once Talon’s tears finally start to lessen Sett drops him back on the bed next to the wall how he likes. The Noxian curls up on his side and Sett can read every emotion on his face. There is no more hiding. Something has fractured in his stare and he’s afraid. 

Sett doesn’t know what to do. He sits on the edge of the bed and smudges fresh blood on his face from a scratch on his cheek, awkward. Should he even be here? Maybe he should give Talon some time on his own to calm down. Sett sighs quietly as he stands. Too tired for all this. 

Thin fingers snake out and grab the hem of his pants. He glances down at Talon.

“What?” 

A weak tug. Talon mouths something silently and Sett is reminded of the starling days and days ago. Against his better judgement he lets himself be lured down onto the bed and once he’s there Sett settles protectively around Talon. This is familiar. They used to sleep like this all the time, with Talon’s back to the wall and his face buried against Sett’s neck. Safety.

The assassin sniffles quietly and Sett stares at the wall. He’s been up for so long—a full day at least—and everything is blending together. His eyes feel so heavy that he might as well have been the one crying.

His last coherent thought before sleep finally overtakes him is that he’d wanted Talon to stay but not like this. Not in pieces.

 

***

 

Sett oversleeps and that late morning when he wakes up is the worst. Not because Talon is cold and emotionless, but because he’s completely fallen apart and Sett’s never seen him like that before. He lies listlessly in bed, curled up beneath the blankets so that only the top of his head sticks out and is unreachable to any attempts at conversation. 

Sett spends that morning trying to figure him out. It must have something to do with the fact that Talon can’t walk. He’s someone that prides himself in movement and escape and now he has none. He’d failed his assasination attempt too so that makes it worse. And apparently he’d fucked up whatever it was they had since all the light had left his eyes when Sett had told him. When Sett had said— 

Gods. What would momma do? She’s too kind. Kinder than Sett by far.

 

When he gets home that night Talon is still where he was. Hasn’t even touched the food that Sett left by the bed. 

He sighs. “It’ll be at least a month till you can walk. You gonna do nothing till then?” 

Talon doesn’t respond but his eyes are still alive, peeking over the covers. They’ve been that way since last night, guard finally dropped for longer than a few minutes. A sad reassurance that something has changed.

“Am I sleeping here tonight?” Sett asks. The hollow feeling is still there, along with the numbness, but at least a night’s sleep let some feeling back into his chest. 

In answer Talon lifts the covers and Sett slides beneath them, fits around him. 

“Guess I’m just a sucker for you.” He almost feels like he’s talking to himself. “Get treated like shit and I’m still back.”

“Sorry.” 

Sett almost doesn’t catch it, mumbled so softly under his chin. He lets out a slow breath. Now we’re finally getting somewhere. “You tried to choke me out. Messed my leg up good too.”

“You attacked first.” 

“I was mad,” he tells him honestly. “You just— left. Why’d you even come back?”

“I don’t know.” Talon whispers, miserable. Sett cradles the back of his head. He can hear the fragility in his voice. If he’s not careful he might have another meltdown.

“Did ya ever think about being less complicated?” 

Talon is silent.

 

Sometime before dawn he feels Talon’s hands wander. They fumble, unsure and strange as they cup his cheek and touch his shoulders. Pressure is a ghost on his skin. Sett pretends to sleep. He knows how much Talon relies on his hands for trading blows, climbing walls and maybe (he hopes) practice.

 

***

 

Sett’s not used to the strange satisfaction of finding Talon in his bed every night when he comes home. He doesn’t bring up love again, not yet. Instinctively he knows that Talon will only unravel further if he mentions it. Sett would be done with him entirely were it not for the fact that he’s no longer hiding behind some stone faced glare.

He’s willing to try and untangle Talon’s threads because after so much taking he’s finally given himself back. Every vulnerable and fractured piece. 

 

On the fourth day he retrieves the cloth bundle and lets Talon unwrap his knives as he sits on the kitchen table. His eyes shine and he flips the blade elegantly across his thumb in a way that Sett could never hope to emulate. 

“That one’s your favorite,” Sett recalls. “Why?”

Talon’s eyes glitter. There’s more life in them than before. He glances up and Sett sees the uneasiness in his look for only a second. Scared to share, but then he talks anyway. “I’m still waiting for a kill on it.”

“A kill?” Sett watches the metal glint as Talon tilts it between his fingers.

“A certain kill.” There’s a hunger in his face that Sett recognizes. It reminds him of himself and his heart aches coldly.

“Someone in Noxus?”

Talon holds his knife close, stabs the air a couple times. “Yes.”

Sett swallows back his jealousy. Jealousy? He steps closer, fitting between Talon’s spread legs. “Someone that you—” He stops because he won’t say that word and anyway the edge of Talon’s knife fits firmly against his throat. Speak carefully, it seems to warn. Secretly Sett’s pleased that he also receives the threat of a blade, not just the unknown soul back in Noxus.

“I could kill you,” Talon murmurs weakly. “Shouldn’t have given me these.”

He remembers the pain when the steel cut into his skin during their fight. “You coulda killed me months ago.” To prove it, he moves even nearer, till suddenly they’re so close and Talon’s leaning up almost closing the gap between their mouths and the blade notches hungrily against his neck. Sett feels that.

Something in Talon’s gaze splinters. He abruptly stabs the knife into the surface of the rickety wooden table and shrinks away, arms wrapping around himself. Sett’s hands quickly follow him, cupping his face in an effort to keep him steady. 

When Talon remains despondent Sett carries him back upstairs.

 

***

 

The knives help. They keep Talon occupied while Sett is away and when he returns—earlier than usual, another storm might be brewing—he’s sitting on the edge of the bed, still in Sett’s too large clothes, spinning the weapons between his fingers. Just seeing him like that draws Sett closer, cause Talon doesn’t even glance at him, which must mean that he trusts him. Sett can’t help but sidle closer and tug the Noxian’s long hair so that his head tips back and he presses their mouths together—just for a taste before he realizes what he’s doing.

Talon grabs his collar and tugs him back down. This is familiar. 

“I can’t,” he mumbles apologetically against his lips. “I can’t do it.” Talon’s persistent and it takes all of Sett’s willpower to pull away as his coat is yanked down his shoulders. “I can’t,” he repeats. “I can’t just fuck you I need more than that.”

Talon bites his lip, now tense. Shattered.

“Do you—care about—anyone back in Noxus?” He blurts out, careful to avoid what might cause a meltdown. 

Talon stares at him and Sett thinks the assassin understands what he’d meant to say. “No,” he says finally.

“Ionia?” Sett won’t ask that yet because he’s not one to lose and if he doesn’t ask he can pretend that he’s still undefeated.

 

***

 

The next evening two strangers approach him while he watches over the final round of betting. 

“You’re Settrigh?” 

Sett turns around, taking note of the official looking robes and stately behavior. “What do you want?” He asks loudly, baring his fangs in a less than welcoming smile. The crowd is loud around them as they hurry to place their bets on which sorry soul will die next.

One of the strangers, a woman with long black hair and a pinched face, raises her eyebrows disdainfully at the clamor. “May we talk in private?”

Sett sees one of his lieutenants watching from the other end of the large room. He shakes his head slightly and waves the two strangers along. “Fine.”

He doesn’t lead them far, just to the back of the foyer away from most of the people.

“This is good enough.”

The woman shifts uncomfortably, clearly expecting someplace more secluded. Her partner, a fair haired man, looks equally unexcited.

“This is your business?” 

“Yeah.” Sett cracks his knuckles. “All of it.”

She watches his hands. “I see. A bloody occupation.”

“It ain’t too bad,” Sett shrugs. He rocks back on his heels and glances over at the crowd. What do they want? 

“Have you travelled recently? Perhaps over the hills to Zhuv’le?”

“Zhuv’le?” His raucous laughter booms through the foyer. “I ain’t even know where that is.”

The two strangers share a look and Sett crosses his arms, confident in knowing that it was their mistake to meet him here. They should have tried to interrupt him on the road home. 

“If you haven’t heard,” she explains, bowing her head. “One of our own, Elder Weiri, recently succumbed to injuries he sustained during an assasination attempt.” 

Sett sobers up at that. He’s dead. Secretly he’s relieved because he knows if he was still alive Talon would go back for him. “Ah—sorry to hear,” he lies through his teeth. 

 “The scoundrel that attacked him escaped from our custody,” the man finally speaks up. His voice is reedy and grates on Sett’s nerves. “You wouldn’t happen to know anything about it?”

“Why would I?”

Another shared look. “A man rode into town the day he escaped. Cut a memorable—” The woman’s fingers jerk towards the top of her head. “Figure.”

It’s always the ears, Sett thinks sourly. Nobody’d have a problem with him if he just had normal human ears. Now they twitch back, showcasing his annoyance. “You think I’d want something to do with a murderer? What kinda businessman do you think I am?”

He takes a step forward and they both step back.

“Settrigh—”

“Only my momma calls me that,” he growls. “You got balls comin’ into my pit just to insult my character. People earn an honest livin’ here.” Or an honest dyin’. 

The woman backpedals, raising her hands placatingly. Sett mentally pats himself on the back for his own performance. “Our apologies. Perhaps our attention was misguided.”

“Misguided,” he repeats. “Yeah that’s puttin’ it lightly. You’re the type to rag on anyone that looks the least bit different.” He glances behind him again, excited to be done with their conversation. “Look I’ve got a job to do.”

 

His lieutenant asks him what happened when he gets back up in the stands and Sett doesn’t tell her much. “Buncha stuffy fools.” Is all he says. Internally his mind races. At least the nervous jailer hadn’t ratted him out, because surely they would have come far sooner, right? And with far more evidence. How’d they track him down? People must have taken notice of him in Zhuv’le, but that’ll be all there is to it, because Sett’s damn good at lying. They’d swallowed his words hook line and sinker. 

 

By the time he gets home a light rain has started and Sett is breathless at the top of the stairs as he barges into their room. Their room? 

Talon is under the blankets and he blinks blearily at Sett. 

“Elder Weiri is dead.”

Immediately Talon is wide awake. He sits up, hair messy and loose. “How?”

“Died to his injuries. Now you don’t have to…” Sett trails off. Without his emotional walls Talon’s face is alive with sharp relief. He sags back against the headboard and Sett climbs onto the bed, giddy. “You did it, see? Guess not even magic could save him.”

Talon laughs, shaky and fragile but a breath of fresh air nonetheless. He lurches forward and wraps his arms around Sett’s neck. Warm against him, Sett can’t resist pressing a kiss to the side of his neck. There’s no escaping it, he’s stuck on Talon. Even his numbness has transformed back to undying starvation. A desperate need for more than what he has. 

“I love you,” he mouths against Talon’s skin and the Noxian stills.

He’d accidentally said it louder than intended, Sett realizes, pulling away to make sure Talon’s not going to fall apart again. Maybe if he just keeps him in his arms he can hold him together— 

“I—” Talon’s voice breaks and he shivers, once. Sett can tell he’s struggling to talk so he lets him work it out. Appreciates the effort, honestly.

“If I—”

Sett waits.

“If I couldn’t say it back?” The hoarse question is a knife and it buries itself in his chest with deadly precision. Sett is suddenly dizzy, emptiness flooding his body with frigid loss. If I couldn’t say it back?

“Because you don’t love me?” 

“Because I don’t love anyone.”

He doesn’t understand but he can see how Talon’s eyes are flickering back and forth between him, the doorway, and the window. Sett shifts backwards on the bed to give him some space, has to brace himself on the headboard cause he might just tip over.

“I don’t like—” Talon’s trying to explain it for him, speech halting. “It’s not for me. I don’t like the idea of being with anyone like— that.”

Oddly enough, Sett finds himself grounded by the fact that he’d said “anyone.” So it’s not just him then, it’s everyone?

“You don’t like love?” He asks to clarify, a little incredulous.

Talon hides his face in his hands and Sett gets the feeling that he’s never told anyone this before.

“The idea of it.” Slowly, word by word pulled out. “It makes me sick.”

Sett frowns. “What if it’s just—” He doesn’t know how to say it. “Maybe you just need time.”

“Well then I need time,” Talon snaps. Defensive, Sett recognizes. “But I still don’t love anyone and I’ve never liked thinking about it.”

“How do you know it ain’t love?” 

“It’s just— not.” He’s louder now, more desperate. “I don’t know what it is but I know what it isn’t.”

 

Sett lets that sink in. Sick at the mere idea? He’s never heard of anything like that. Can’t even imagine what that feels like. For Sett, love is a hungering cavern in his chest, electricity burning down his spine. 

“Do you even fuckin’ like me?” 

Talon doesn’t answer, just looks back at his hands, eyes wet. 

“Say something.” Sett scowls. “I need you to talk to me cause I can’t figure you out by myself.” He’s not as good at picking apart threads as his momma is.

“I do.”

Relief. “You like it when we sleep together? And you like bein’ around me?”

“Yes.”

“But you don’t—love me.”

He sees Talon struggle, shiver. “Yes.” He rubs his eyes, looking as exhausted as Sett suddenly feels. Like telling him this secret has worn him down to nothing.

His mind doesn’t know how to process this. Sett initially feels hurt and anger, because what a waste, right? Except Talon’s watching him, miserable and small, and Sett understands that this is probably the biggest sign of trust yet. He’s real wrong about Talon never giving anything back. 

“I—need some time,” he tells Talon, forcing his voice to be calm, almost reassuring, as he stands up. 

Pale eyes stare at him as he leaves. Stabs into his back.

 

Sett digs through the kitchen, blinking away confusion and heartbreak. Well, maybe not heartbreak. He doesn’t understand Talon. Maybe he never will. On one of the bottom shelves—in the dayroom, not the kitchen—he finds an unopened container of plum wine. A gift from an admirer ages ago. Rain falls outside and he listens to the sound as he uncorks it and downs a sweet swallow. 

It makes sense the more he thinks about it. All of Talon’s awkward touches against him like he’d had no idea how he was supposed to act. That might be partially the case but it could very easily be that he doesn’t understand it in the first place. And it makes sense cause Talon would always appear out of nowhere and ask for nothing else except Sett’s touch and a warm bed. All the strange little moments start to add together. 

“Are you happy with only a taste?” He swallows another swig of warm wine. He ain’t ever thought this much before Talon. He ain’t ever felt this much either. That’s the thing isn’t it? Sett’s always looking for more and turns out that more might just be less. He’s still hurt over it, rejection stings no matter what, but the longer he considers what Talon said the more he realizes that this situation isn’t too bad. 

After all, he coulda been outright rejected, just imagining that makes Sett upset and he grips his bottle tighter. Having his feelings returned would have been real nice, but that’s not happening either, at least not in any way that Sett’s used to. And maybe—

Maybe he cares too much. Sett frowns to himself. At some point after meeting Talon he’d started to give a damn about everything so maybe it’s time to quit caring so much about every annoying little detail of his life.

 

The bottle of wine is nearly empty and Sett is decidedly done with complex thought and thinking in general. He stumbles back upstairs, footsteps heavy on wood even though the rest of him might as well be ten feet off the ground. He’s lighter than air. Talon’s curled up beneath the covers and if he’s awake or hears him he doesn’t move. Not until Sett climbs over him and pulls the blankets away, surrounds him in his arms and breathes him in.

“Listen, listen. I matter to you, right? More than anyone else?” 

Talon looks up at him, tense and confused. “Of course.”

“Then I don’t care anymore. You should be mine.”

His eyebrows furrow, gaze threatening to crack again. Sett knows that look. Gods he’s so pretty. He wants him more than anything. 

“Sett I won’t love you.”

“I don’t care about that anymore.” Sett rolls off the bed. There’s too much energy in his bones. He could do anything. 

Talon sits up, watching him as he paces back and forth in front of the bed. His nose wrinkles. “Are you drunk?”

“Nah,” Sett shrugs. “I was just—” a breath. “—thinkin’.” He turns and there’s something sharp and welcoming in Talon’s eyes so he prowls closer. “You’ve been stuck in my head for so long.”

Talon combs his bangs away from his face. He doesn’t look away. “Don’t you want love?” He sounds lost. Sett imagines that this is foreign to him, being wanted despite his perceived flaws. Talon tries too hard to be perfect and once he fails he is nothing but fragments.

“I only want you.” They’re so close together, Talon’s on the very edge of the bed and Sett can kiss him, so he does. You don’t gotta be perfect, he thinks. I’ll help you survive no matter how many pieces you’re in.

“You’re sweet,” Talon mutters, shy even as he licks his lips. 

“Blame it on the wine.” Sett presses him back against the bed with one broad hand in the center of his chest. “This okay?”

Talon blinks at him.

“Do ya like this caring shit?”

“It’s fine,” he whispers, face red. 

Good. He kisses Talon again, relieved, and this time the Noxian bites back like he used to, knotting his fingers through Sett’s hair and pulling a growl from his lips. Sett might be more drunk on him than the alcohol. He wants to go further but the sober part of him remembers that Talon’s still so fragile and Sett doesn’t want any complications. Instead they tangle together between the blankets and he falls asleep light headed and floating against Talon’s side. 

 

***

 

As Talon’s ankle improves his temperament does also and with every passing day Sett finds himself more and more enraptured. They’ve fallen back into their old habits but this time everything is sharper. Talon is wide open for him and that makes every simple touch more satisfying. Satisfying, Sett never thought he’d be satiated by someone so different. 

Is this how momma felt? The question is air in his lungs. 

“After you can walk,” Sett asks. “What are you gonna do?”

Talon’s polishing his favorite knife as he sits across Sett’s lap in the dayroom. It’s humid and his brown locks stick to his forehead. “I have to go back to Noxus.” He tilts the blade in the light and scratches a spot away with his fingernail.

“For how long?” 

He shrugs. “I’ll be back.” 

“To kill another elder?”

Talon bumps his head back against Sett’s chest. “And for you.” 

“Only for me,” Sett corrects him and Talon’s quick grin is the bright horizon.

I love you, Sett thinks, but he doesn’t say that even though he’s told Talon that he doesn’t have to say it back. “I need you.” is what he says instead. Because he does. He’ll starve without him.

Talon doesn’t respond. He pricks his finger on the point of his knife and a tiny drop of blood wells up. Then he presses the hilt of his weapon into Sett’s hand and leans comfortably against his chest. 

 

Sett understands. Talking is hard for Talon sometimes. He’d been mad about it earlier but by this point he knows that communication is more than just words. Sometimes it’s taking off your mask and lowering your defenses and letting someone see all of you. 

 

There’s a lot left to learn. Talon’s secretive by nature and fragile by design, but they still have a couple weeks left ahead of them.
Sett is more than willing to fight for every little victory. After all, he hasn’t lost yet and this is one winning streak he’ll carry with him for as long as he can.