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Katarina can't read the markings on her left wrist. They're sharp and angular, squared off in places, so much more complicated than the simple Common script on her off-hand; she used to think, when she was still figuring letters out in the first place, that it was just particularly complex or maybe a specialized alphabet and she'd get it later but—

But it's just not in Common in the first place.

It's easy to assume which is which, then. There's a name in Common—not noticeably Noxian or Demacian or anything in particular, but there's no reason it shouldn't be Noxian. It seems a little short for a Noxian name—an actual family name, not the Nox indicative of a guttersnipe, but only one middle name attached. There's no reason for her not to have her share of enemies in her homeland as well as outside it, but when she knows for a fact that one of the souls linked to hers is from somewhere else... the odds feel pretty decent that the foreigner is probably her enemy.


死蓮.

Apart from that single section, Hiroto can't read either one of his linked names. They aren't any alphabet that he learns, isn't from any one of the isles; he's never personally met a mainlander before, so he can't exactly ask them what his wrists say. (They probably wouldn't even bother learning Ionian, even if it is the island closest to the mainland.)

Yone says he's heard that most of the mainland speaks one language most of the time, which frankly feels like bullshit considering the size of the place, but it's not like Yone can read it either. He can speak some Common—they both can, just in case, especially since it looks like the isles can't just avoid contact with the mainland for much longer—but reading it isn't a priority. And just running around showing everybody the names in the hope that someday, someone will be able to tell him what they say—

It would be pretty weird. It's private, anyway.

He'd at least like to know why this person, whoever they are, has a single Ionian name in amongst this... frankly ridiculous mix of other ones. Or why it's so godsdamned... pretentiously grim. It sounds like one of the Kindred's priests, but they only have the one name in the first place. Not six , assuming he's understanding the spacing right. And it can't be that all mainlanders have names that unwieldy; his other wrist only has four sets of characters, and all of them are much shorter.

(What the hell kind of mainlander names their child death lotus? Or, worse still, what the hell kind of mainlander gets weirdly obsessed enough with Ionia to name themselves like that?)

 


 

Half the reason Katarina leaps into her Ionian studies as hard as she does, when her father finally tells her about the overseas part of her curriculum, is in the hopes that she'll finally at least have a name to put to the lines on her skin. She has a person to put to the other name now, at least: a soldier who shouldn't reasonably be alive, put in a minor command just by dint of outliving everyone else who could have qualified. A cripple (although Katarina knows better than to assume that means much of anything, or he would have died before making it into the army at all), a strategist, with a six-eyed raven as a familiar. Some sort of witch, and almost as old as her father.

(No one ever said that a soulmate had to be romantic. Many of them aren't. It's childish of Katarina to be disappointed, but she is.)

Reading the language is far more difficult than speaking it, and even if keeping one's full name a secret is a habit that only Noxians needed to cultivate, it feels wrong to unwrap her wrist and show her teacher the marks. Or even to copy them down somewhere else and ask that way. (Her handwriting is terrible, anyway, even with the simplest characters.) She learns it in bits and pieces, months apart; and she doesn't get the full context until she's already on Ionian soil, living with the Kinkou.

Yasuo. No middle name, she's expecting at this point (Ionia, as it turns out, does have its own problems with local spirits and elementals; they just don't seem overly bothered with using a name for power—not so much less malicious as just following a different set of rules). No surname... is odd, but enough of the Kinkou forego them that it's not out of place here. It gets under her skin, rubs her the wrong way. It can't be safe, your entire identity stripped down to three syllables that anyone can know. Katarina— Shiren, she still has to remind herself; she's Shiren as long as she's here—still doesn't like the idea that her full name is seared into a birthmark on someone else's body. (Possibly even more than one, depending on how many enemies she makes in her life, how much reason she gives them to hate her.) She can't imagine...

She can't imagine having no such protection at all.


He goes to the sword school at ten; he gets renamed at twelve, the moment that his skills start to surpass where the masters think his ego ought to be. (He can deal with their censure; the fact that Yone agrees, the fact that his very identity gets rewritten, that he has to relearn how to respond to something that isn't even his real name—)

It's fine. It will be fine, eventually.

He meets her at seventeen.


If Shiren comes with a warning, it's not one that he hears. The masters don't seem surprised to see her, but Yasuo isn't convinced they'd even show it if they were, so for all he knows she just... shows up to be taught. More, because can't be that much younger than him, and he's never seen a brand new student show up that old.

They don't actually meet for the first couple of days; the masters are keeping them both busy, and if she shares the same curiosity about him that he has about her (she's a mainlander and she's here, so maybe—), she doesn't seem interested in going out of her way to pursue it. She does show up for dinner, but getting near her without being obvious about it is... a challenge.

She doesn't look like much when he finally manages to get close enough to look. She's smaller than him both in height and in build—a swimmer's build, or a dancer's (or a ninja's, but he hopes not). Her accent is off, but she's still understandable, and she's at least doing a hell of a lot better than he was expecting from a mainlander. She has an angular face, like a fox given human form. Her eyes are shockingly green; her hair is black, but her eyebrows are a deep red, her eyelashes amber. It's not a color that feels like it should exist on a human being, but...

"If you dyed your hair to trick people into thinking you're Ionian," Yasuo says, food halfway to his mouth, "I have some bad news for you."

Shiren looks up at him, startled. For a (tense) second, she doesn't react; but whatever she was waiting on or looking for, she must find it, because then she just looks back down and snickers. "I don't want to stand out from a distance," she says. "That's all." She pauses. It's not clear whether she almost says more and then thinks better of it, or whether she's just having difficulty figuring out what else to say in the first place. "I'm Shiren," she offers finally.

He knows. He knows, but his heart still twitches in something that might be terror when she says it. His skin itches under the hem of his sleeve. "Yasuo," he says.

She looks up again, sharper this time. Her eyes—her eyes are so green, but also narrowed just slightly, as if...

As if she's asking herself the same questions he is. Gods, he wishes he could see the insides of her wrists, but they're wrapped in interlaced fabric from the heels of her hands to somewhere inside her sleeves. (Maybe it's a mainland thing. Yasuo's never met anyone who particularly put the names on display, but maybe they're stricter about it where she's from.)

"Yeah?" she says, in a voice that's trying just a little too hard to sound neutral. His heart strongly reconsiders having a predictable beat. "Just Yasuo?"

He swallows. "Just Yasuo," he says.

Her eyes flicker to his hands. "I might have to ask you about that," she says, so quietly he barely hears her over the general conversation. "Later."

Later. Right.


Later is harder to figure out than she expects. The swordsmen push her... well, about as much as the Kinkou did when she first came to them. This school is smaller than the Temple, but she somehow still manages not to be alone with Yasuo for a couple of solid days, despite her best efforts.

She eventually at least gets the opportunity to spar with him—which is frankly terrifying, since she still doesn’t know what he is to her. The sun is high, the wind smells slightly of flowers (she’s still not used to those; the wild plants that can survive in Noxian soil don’t tend to produce flowers worth looking at, let alone safe to put to one’s face), and Yasuo—

He’s beautiful. That’s safe to admit, no matter how this ends up going, what he ends up being. There’s a tension that leaves his shoulders the moment he steps outside, as if there’s something inside him that unfurls and blooms only when he can see the sky. He turns to her, mouth pulling into a challenging smile even as he bows from the other side of the makeshift arena. If she’d spent any less time here than she had, she might have forgotten to return the gesture.

He draws his practice blade and strikes in a single movement, dashing forward faster than seems possible for a normal human—but there’s no magic in the air, only excitement, the leap in her chest as she just barely ducks out of the way. He deflects her return blow, twists back out of reach; faces her again, now that they’ve tested each other a little.

“You’re quick,” he says. His voice feels like a caress, settling between her lungs and warming her blood.

Focus. “I hope so,” she answers, circling, mirroring him. “I’ve been staying with the Kinkou for the last few years.”

Yasuo pulls a face. “Should have known,” he says, but he's smiling before he finishes speaking. "I'm surprised you haven't started throwing things yet."

Throwing things, shunpo-ing behind him, is almost impossible to resist—it's what she's been doing, it's what the ninjas taught her. But that's also exactly why she's ended up here.

"I have to learn how to fight fair eventually," Shiren says. She grins, lashing out at his sword arm. “Besides, I’ll probably be disqualified if I try, right?”

She expects him to leap back or just block her strike, but he dashes forward instead, closing the distance before she can react. His hand closes around the wrist of her off-hand, pulls her in too close for their weapons to be of any use.

“I have a few things I’m not allowed to do either,” Yasuo says. He’s not so close that she can feel his breath on her neck, but her skin prickles anyway. “I might show you later so we can have a real fight.”

Shiren stays tensed, fully prepared for them to get right back to sparring, but she does lean ever so slightly into him. Her eyes flick down to his wrist, the curves of letters she can’t quite see at this angle. Yasuo’s fingers dip underneath her sleeve, catching on the cover over her wrist.

Oh. Right.

“If you’re looking for your name, you’re holding the wrong one,” Shiren says quietly.

She can just barely hear Yasuo take a breath. Behind them, a teacher clears his throat, and they jerk back apart as if burned.

 


 

Her footsteps on the tatami don’t make a sound. Yasuo doesn’t even realize someone else has come into the room until she wakes him up with a hand on his shoulder.

He blinks up at her, bleary and confused, but she puts a finger to his mouth before he can say anything. She points to the cracked-open door leading outside, gets up to her feet, and offers him a hand up.

He’s at least half certain he’s dreaming, or that she’s an apparition, but her hand feels solid when he takes it. She’s still silent as a cat as she makes her way to the door and through it, but she takes a slow and audible breath when they’re safely out in the open air. She looks real enough, stretching briefly in the pre-dawn light.

"So," Yasuo says, biting back a yawn. Either Shiren's been up for a while or she just wakes up more quickly than any reasonable human would. He's trying not to resent her for it.

(Maybe she is his nemesis after all.)

Shiren shakes herself, glancing back at him. "So," she agrees. For a moment, she looks like she's going to actually say something, but then she closes her mouth and starts fidgeting with her sleeve.

Or not her sleeve. She undoes some sort of knot he can't see and starts unwinding her not-quite-glove from her wrist.

Yasuo takes a step closer, remembering to breathe. "You keep those on when you sleep?" he asks.

Shiren glances up at him, twisting the strip of fabric around her fingers. "It's—" She scrunches her nose in thought. "It's for safety," she settles on, finally. "We have—I don't know your word for it. They're not human."

"Vastaya?" Yasuo guesses.

"No," Shiren says, shaking her head. "Some vastaya don't want to kill you. These are just..." She shrugs helplessly. "And even outside of the fae—” and that’s definitely not an Ionian word but he’s not sure how to ask— “names have power where I'm from, more than they do here. We can't risk people knowing the whole thing like this."

Yasuo thinks, abruptly, of how much space her name takes up on his skin. "That why yours is so long?"

Shiren bites back a smile. "No one knows the whole thing but my father and I," she says. "And you."

"I wouldn't go that far," he says, looking out towards the woods just to diffuse the inevitable awkwardness of the next few seconds. "I can't read most of it." Yasuo clears his throat. "But I can't read any of the other one, so if you wouldn't mind helping me with it..."

She snorts a laugh. "Maybe," she says, balling up the last of the wrist-wrap in her hand. "Come here."


It's... maybe it's akin to anxiety, the tension buzzing underneath her skin. Maybe Yasuo can understand some of it, because he's meeting her in the same way she's meeting him, but there's no way he can grasp exactly how—how intimate this is for her. For any Noxian.

(He can't read her name. She doesn't have to tell it to him.

But she wants to.)

Yasuo takes a few steps closer, just brushing the edge of her personal space. She doesn’t know what to do with her hands at first, whether she should look at her name or show him his, but he finally just reaches out himself. She can feel every callus on his fingers catching on the skin of her forearm as he raises it.

They both know what he’ll see when she turns her uncovered wrist over. She can hear his breath catch anyway, just slightly. Shiren can tell just from the length of the script that her name isn’t on his left wrist, but when she pulls his right closer—

She’s never actually seen her name written down, not in its entirety. It feels wrong, inherently alien; she almost wants to hide it since he doesn’t seem to have any interest in it, but—

“Katarina,” she says, brushing her fingertip over the first segment; and then she continues, each name in turn, while he watches her trace the letters on his skin.

“I’m never going to remember all of that,” he says. She doesn’t have to look up to tell that he’s smiling.

Shiren—Katarina—laughs under her breath. “I’m not leaving for a while,” she says, meeting his eyes. “We have time.”

Yasuo’s mouth twitches up a little. “Katarina,” he says, like even her given name is a secret. His fingers trail down to hers. It’s impossible to tell if he tangles them or if she does. “I don’t... think we’re enemies.”

She doesn’t want to be. He’s—he’s too godsdamned nice to look at for him to be her nemesis. “I don’t think so either,” she says.

She can feel her heartbeat in her throat when he kisses her.