And if along with these should come
The man I held as half-divine;
Should strike a sudden hand in mine,
And ask a thousand things of home;
And I should tell him all my pain,
And how my life had droop'd of late,
And he should sorrow o'er my state
And marvel what possess'd my brain;
And I perceived no touch of change,
No hint of death in all his frame,
But found him all in all the same,
I should not feel it to be strange.
"In Memoriam: A.H.H." — Alfred, Lord Tennyson
“Vitenka,” she says as she slowly shaves another small curl of wood onto the floor.
It lands and tumbles forward in the breeze, catching on the grass at the ledge. He looks up at her, eyes wide and full of tears.
“They try to hurt you because you’re different.” She tries to keep the weight of her sadness from her voice and fails.
The noise of the gears behind them is loud but peaceful and measured. It reminds her of the cracked metronome on her grandmother’s piano, or the sound a music box makes as it moves — the natural accompaniment of gears turning as they power the music itself.
She strips off another bit of the wood with her knife and then lifts it in front of the setting sun.
“That’s bad, isn’t it?” He dangles his feet over the edge, swinging them back and forth arrhythmically, one leg far stiffer than the other.
“No,” she says immediately so he won’t hesitate or draw unnecessary conclusions. He’s too perceptive and introspective for his age. “Vitenka, it is your greatest strength.”
He wrinkles his nose as she reaches forward to help him up, placing the freshly-made cane in his hands.
“It doesn’t seem like one,” he says.
She then watches her sweet, empathetic boy turn quiet with forced apathy.
He grows taller.
His smile rarely moves his mouth.
His eyes light up but he quickly shutters those feelings with a blink and a small tilt of his head to the side.
It gives him a more thoughtful expression, rather than an overly-emotional one.
As he grows, he returns home with fewer scrapes and arms filled with books and a steely expression to hide how much he cares.
It hurts, but she still takes pride in his caring, even if it has to be buried in scientific methods and hidden away in laboratories on the surface.
His mother had once said that the gears sounded like a music box. He hadn’t understood then, but he does now.
He hopes that this music can accompany Sky, although it’s wholly inadequate.
“I’m sorry,” he says. “I don’t know where you would have preferred.”
So I brought you here. To my place.
Viktor cannot bring himself to say this aloud. He doesn't feel as if he has the right to say much at all. He had taken advantage of her kindness, their common ground, and then she had died for it.
It had been one thing to experiment on himself. The freeing feeling he had experienced for those brief seconds he had been able to run had only been rivalled — and surpassed, really — by the weightlessness of he and Jayce floating on the professor’s vaulted ceiling.
It had been one thing to experiment on himself, but no one else should have been hurt for it.
He holds Sky’s ashes in a small container with his gloved hand — hiding the results from the awful things that had cost Sky her life.
Blinking away tears, he slumps on the precipice, dangling his feet over ledge like he did when he was a boy. There’s a stiffness in his right leg. It’s different than the stiffness he’s used to — heavier.
There’s nothing else he can do or say, yet Viktor knows it’s not enough.
Her ashes fall to the ground more quickly than he expected. He throws the canister over the edge after her.
Coughing, he drags himself to his feet, his arm trembling under the pressure.
He looks back out across the spillway — a place where Zaun and Piltover meet. A place not above or below, but between.
“Vitenka, it is your greatest strength.”
He closes his eyes.
He breathes, exhaling loudly.
It never was.
The breeze moves through his hair and Viktor shivers as a few strands stick to the sweat on his forehead.
Viktor, I know this will probably never see the light of day—”
He shuffles forward.
”—But watching how you work so tirelessly to make the world a better place—”
He feels as the point underneath his foot where the ledge meets the air shifts until his toe is firmly over the edge.
It too, is a feeling of weightlessness.
“Am I interrupting?”
His voice is patient, kind, and far more assured than Viktor’s was all those years ago when he talked Jayce down from a similar precipice.
They rarely talk about that part of the night.
They rarely talk now at all.
Jayce’s uniform looks like a suit of armour as he places a large hammer down on the ground and steps forward towards Viktor.
He’s so bright, even as the sun has already set behind the distant buildings, that Viktor has to look away.
Without invitation, Jayce sits down across from where Viktor stands.
“Remember the Distinguished Innovators competition?”
Viktor feels his face stretch into a smile before he realizes what is happening or what Jayce has said.
He must look wrecked—
—And impossibly, irrevocably, in love with Jayce.
He’s too tired to hide it, despite everything that has happened. And perhaps he didn’t always do the best job of hiding it to begin with.
“I remember you notching gears on the carriage over,” he tells Jayce, holding back a fresh wave of tears that threaten to fall.
“They started cranking the engine and the whole thing started rattling,” Jayce says. “I thought a loose cog was going to take someone’s eye out.”
“At least you didn’t throw up,” Viktor says with no small amount of derision for his younger self.
Jayce laughs but it’s short and brief — not at all Viktor’s favourite laugh like the one on the night they met in his ruined study.
“Everything made sense then,” Jayce says.
“You have to destroy it,” Viktor tells him.
He now knows that he cannot do it himself. Even if he wants to, the thing he created — the new Hexcore — it won’t allow him.
Jayce looks back at his hammer and Viktor nearly sobs at how literal Jayce can be sometimes. Although he does, quite obviously, have the tool on hand for the job.
“The Hexcore,” Viktor continues. “I can’t…I can’t do it. You have to. Please.”
Looking down at the small patch of grass on the ledge, Jayce shakes his head. “What about your disease? Without the Hexcore—”
Viktor interrupts Jayce not by finishing his sentences, as he used to all those years ago, but with a wracking cough that shakes his entire body.
In saying this one thing, Viktor’s voice is hoarse but firmer than it has any right to be given his condition. He’s glad his lungs held out to say this much clearly.
He knows that when the Hexcore is destroyed, his body will finally erode away.
Jayce stares at him, stunned. Viktor narrows his eyes in what he hopes is a glare that keeps his idiotic fondness away for a few milliseconds.
“Okay, okay,” Jayce finally says.
Rising, Jayce places his hand on Viktor’s shoulder.
Viktor cannot look at him.
He soaks up Jayce’s warmth for as long as he can as he stares back into the waterway mechanism. Jayce doesn’t pull away.
“We lost ourselves,” Viktor whispers. “Lost our dream.”
He looks out across where he had just released Sky’s ashes. The water moves continuously away from him, dripping off of the ledge into the spillway. “In pursuit of great we failed to do good. We have to make it right.”
Jayce doesn’t move, except to squeeze Viktor’s shoulder even more tightly.
It burns just as every touch from Jayce over the years has always burned.
If he lifts his head and leans slightly, Viktor’s forehead will meet and rest just below Jayce’s. Viktor has been presented with myriad similar opportunities over the years and taken none of them.
When he takes this one chance, he’s surprised at how Jayce automatically presses their foreheads together.
As if he had been waiting for Viktor to respond.
It’s warmer than anything Viktor has felt in a long time.
At first he thinks it’s the wind blowing through his hair. But it’s Jayce’s fingers — tentative at first and then firm — moving through the curls at his neck.
Viktor doesn’t know how long they stand there together. It cannot be too long, but it feels like time has stopped as he slowly breathes in time with Jayce.
“For now—” Viktor breaks the silence. “In…in the meantime. We do what we do best?”
It’s an answer.
Jayce laughs. It’s the laugh that lights up his entire face while his shoulders shake uncontrollably and his eyes shine with something that Viktor cannot accurately define.
It’s Viktor’s favourite laugh.