“Your daughter shot a gun today. A proper one. I thought you ought to know.”
The statue is silent, still only half-finished, all its parts made of cut-metal scrap salvaged from Piltover’s dregs washed up in the river, added day by day. Vander, lost in a terrible accident with his children. All but one, at least. No one objects to a statue of a great man. No one wonders why his successor spends time conferring with his effigy.
Silco shakes his head. “She’s a good shot. A great shot. I admit, I’m surprised. Did you teach her?”
But Vander didn’t. Vander was a terrible shot all his life. And he never preferred the simple utility of a good dagger. His fists, or nothing, and even then he couldn’t manage to finish the job. The bruises ring Silco’s thin neck like a scarf. Compared to Sevika, compared to Deckard, compared to explosion, it’s nothing of note. No one has asked. No one would dare.
He fingers it, wraps his own fingers where Vander’s lay. And he might have broken a neck easier than strangle the life from one, but he didn’t. Twice, he had the chance to end a life. Twice, he gave it up. Oh, Vander.
“No. What am I saying. I wonder, did you have time for her at all?” And how sour, to be angry about this of all things. To feel defensive about this.
But the child is loud. The child is eager to please, to a fault. A bare moment of absent praise makes her day. The suggestion she has skill, has worth. Silco digs his fingers into the shadow of bruise where the man he once respected, once loved, made his half-hearted attempt at an ending. It aches, almost enough. “You spent so much time raising her sister. Did you think your lessons would trickle down like Piltover’s waste?”
He imagines this. Vander imparting wisdom to his dull eldest daughter, thinking it would reach Jinx’s delicate hearing, her sensitive soul. The girl cries, often. Silco is no parent. He’s no family of any kind. hardly a brother to the only one that might have counted him as such—though, they were more, weren’t they? Hard to recall now. They were.
There was blood on the girl’s face when he carried her home. Blood in her hair, blood on her clothes. What to dress a child in? He sent for something from Babette and the stripes and blue brought back were warm, at least, and dry, and clean. In the end, he’d sent for something from his own tailor, too. New shoes, of finest leather. New clothes, of whatever make the girl wanted. The hairbrush he had already, at least, and she flinched when it was tugged through her wet locks, after the bath she hadn’t wanted but desperately needed.
“I’ll raise her better than you, old friend.” And he means, I’ll raise this city better. I’ll make it something grand. I’ll make it what it should have been.
The statue makes no reply.
If there is something wrong with the girl, and there is something wrong with the girl, there is more right with her.
“She built a clockwork insect today. Out of nothing. Out of spare parts.” Silco raises his hands to the empty air, still in wonder.
This is all true. It had wings stamped from metal and wire, and when twisted right, when wound up, it could flap those wings and create its own flight. She sent it fluttering across his office with the shine of triumph in her eyes and he held his arms open and she met him in a hug that stole his breath. I’m proud of you. How magnificent.
And if she fell asleep the night before weeping, in his arms, that is not worth mentioning. The trigger was a pair of goggles some lackluster subordinate thought to wear for style and though Silco had them confiscated and burned, the damage was well done, soaked into his shirt with snot and tears. But in the morning she woke full of inspiration, full of drive, and showed him her new creation by evening, with all the pride of a child showing off a new drawing though he thought even the strangers at the academy might have been impressed with her. When he asked her what it did, with all politeness, she looked at him like he was a fool and told him it could start a fire, anywhere, on command. There, the fuse. There, the spark.
He would have settled for an end to the crying and been happy enough.
“She’s a treasure,” Silco marvels. “Could you imagine Zaun would birth such a thing?”
For that is what she is, first of Zaun’s children. Young and born in the worst of it, born in foul air and worse water and still so good. She reads, fast. She makes faster. Anything. Anything she puts her mind to. A gun. A bomb. An animal of gears and wires that dances on command, that dances on its own. An insect capable of flight. The tears are only natural after so much pain.
And it’s easy enough to avoid what might trigger the worst of her reactions. He’ll learn, in time, and move ranks accordingly. No one with pink hair, for starters, he thinks with a sigh and a pull of his hand over his face. A mistake he only made once. Still, new arrivals are coming to him, swearing loyalty to him and to his city and to Vander’s memory, lamenting.
He laments with them. This, at least, is honest. This, at least, is true.
“You would be proud of her.”
This, he hopes, is also true.
Silco sits at the feet of the statue and tips head head back to lean against it with the lowest of sighs.
“Did you know a thing about braiding hair?”
Sevika doesn’t. None of his cohort do, or none are brave enough to admit it on the rare occasion he’s brave enough to ask. But Jinx’s hair is getting long and for all that he knows how to cut, he knows nothing about what to do when a child screams in glee and grabs her hair and laughs and says, No! I don’t want to cut it.
Hard to deny a child that when he won’t deny her gunpowder and freedom and the leeway to draw what she wants on all his belongings. Given three years out of her sister’s shadow, she’s magnified, flourishing. She wants long hair. She wants her own workshop. She wants tattoos. She wants clothing that shows her skin and well, all it took was beheading the first misadvised soul in The Last Drop who dared to comment on that. Sevika did it, at little more than a nod. And then second, who implied anything untoward in the way his daughter sat on his desk, at his side. That was more violent, more immediate. Silco did it himself.
No one has since. “No. Of course not. Vi never needed her hair braided. Why would you?” Perhaps Vi did it, then. How hard can it be? He might ask Sevika to ask Babette and then it will be easy enough. Why should she cut her hair? Why not be exactly what she is? Zaun is as Zaun does. They will never be what Piltover wants them to be. They will never fit into a perfect box. Why should his daughter?
“Look at me,” Silco says to Vander’s metal gaze. Vander can’t, of course, or can’t help to—at the makeup Jinx patted onto his face, around his ruined eye. At the brow she drew on with an artist’s skill. If it makes her happy, it’s a small concession. She cries less, now. Does more, now. She reads whatever books on engineering he can drudge up or have stolen from Piltover’s grand academy. She builds with such precision. And it’s been a year now since she mentioned her sister, since he found her crouched under his desk in utter terror of a memory.
A season back, she tired of watching him apply the Chemist's tincture to his eye and took the device in hand and he would not have trusted Sevika with it but he trusted the shaking hands of a child come into her own to set the cold metal over his eye. It gets worse each time, minutely. Now, the pain is nearly bad enough to cripple him. But before the gaze of his child, it was easier to pretend the pain a folly and the mutation rotting his eye nothing but the smallest inconvenience.
If a daughter was Vander's weakness, Silco will be different. He will make it his strength.
“I wonder, would you even recognize me?”
He is, after all, Vander’s creation.
“Would you recognize her?”
She is her sister’s age now, the age her sister was when she died, or near enough. More beautiful, he thinks. More useful. Stronger, by far, if not in muscle. This is his defiance. His proof. Zaun grows, day by day. Industry is the mark of his city. Industry is the mark of his daughter. She is clever where Vander was not. She is progress where Vander was stagnation.
He pours the remains of his drink at Vander’s feet. This is the Zaun they dreamed of. The last of Vander’s children, the best of them all.
“I’m only sorry you aren’t here to see it,” he says without meaning too, and in his next breath realizes the truth of it. He is sorry. The number of days he’s wished Vander at his side are many and more each day.
The Undercity smells of smoke. It smells of burning flesh. Silco has no time to linger here, at this place, but he’s earned the moment of quiet, he thinks. The moment of commiseration.
“Your daughter set a building on fire today. I thought you ought to know.”
I made this, she said, and Silco patted her hair and told her she had done well and had not expected the impromptu demonstration that followed, the utter chaos. He’d known in a distant sense that her guilt over her friends’ loss, over Vander, could not be impersonal. That the explosions that night were not an error of Shimmer’s creation or a random lighting of gas as they used to have in the early days of their semi-independence. He’d known someone did it. He’d known there was intent.
He simply hadn’t thought to attribute it to a nine year old and a toy.
The bomb she lit off today was not a toy. It also contained no stolen Hextech, and that’s a boon. It’ll take some time to rebuild—once the fires are out. Rather more damage control. He laughs to himself. As if damage can be controlled. Jinx is nothing if not an exercise in that particular paradox. She is damage uncontrolled, building itself into something newer and greater. Sevika disagrees on this point, but her hair will grow back, and The Last Drop has needed a facelift for rather a while.
After the explosion, after the burning, he had his moment of revelation at its source and Jinx’s shocked face, the horror, as if she expected to be hit. Instead, he pulled her close and told her it would be okay, because it would. It was only a small thing.
He pulls a hand over his face, smearing his concealer and his drawn-on brow. “Raising a child and a city….” He shakes his head. “I don’t know how you did it. But then, I suppose you didn’t, did you?”
Piltover has already seen the smoke. Marcus asked for answers and went away a pound heavier and richer. It isn’t ideal, but sometimes organizing a city is a series of stop-gaps and delays. What works today should work tomorrow. If nothing changes. If no more buildings go up in smoke.
Well. One or two, he concedes to himself. However many are needed
He opens his mouth for the usual gloat. Nothing comes out. Vander’s metal visage seems to gloat in its regard. Silco should have given him one eye to even the odds. He opens his mouth again and closes it with a snap. Voicing this is beyond him. It will make it too real.
“She’s a good shot,” Silco says instead, faintly. “I suppose I should be glad it was no one important.”
A minor dispute in the lower city. A nobody who thought picking fights with children would be wise. Sixteen—still a child. Still a child, after everything. Well. He got what he deserved, didn’t he? Silco raises his flask in a one-sided toast to Vander’s statue. He deserved it. He did. They all get what they deserve.
But Silco can’t make himself say this out loud, either.
She came to him after, unbloodied and unmarked and not crying, really. Eyes wet only because Sevika said he would be mad, and she still fears Sevika’s words at times. she stuttered the story out. He—I thought he was going to, you know—and I just— She’d mimed a shot, the sound of a gun, choked with her own tears, still unfallen. Unlike her to cry for a stranger. She won't. She cries for her own sorrows, and her own sorrows alone, and he cannot begrudge her that. Better that she never cry at all.
It’s fine. It’s just fine.
But it wasn’t. And now he’s at the feet of the statue of a better man—better in some ways, in few ways, in ways that he’s starting to wonder if they might count—and he’s begging for reason. “She didn’t know what she was doing.”
This is true. Truer than anything else. A new revelation. Rare are the times that his daughter considers consequences. Silco is ruled by them. Vander was ruled by them. It had not occurred to him someone could not be. The man she killed will have family. That family will have friends. Friends have ears and voices and the rumor of Jinx’s impulsiveness will spread like poison worse than the gas that once polluted their streets.
He buries his face in his hand. “She’s fine,” he tells Vander. “She’s just fine.” And oh, he’s always hated lying, even to a statue, even to a ghost.
A twist of movement catches the corner of his eye and this is the only warning he has before a pair of thin arms are wrapped about his shoulders from behind and a face is buried at the crook of his neck. She has a habit of touching his neck. No one else could possibly get away with it. He lays his hands over hers. “It’s okay,” he says, no longer caring if it’s a lie.
“I messed up,” she says, in her rough, sweet, dear voice, not a hint of regret in it—but fear, oh yes,
Silco is shaking his head before he knows if she’s looking at him. “No. No, you didn’t. He deserved it.”
“I thought—” She chokes, she swallows. “I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know, I don’t know—”
She grips her head and her braids that he tied for her not two days back and he pulls her thin hands from her hair and says, “You did what was needed. It was the right thing.”
It wasn’t needed. It wasn’t right. Almost. Almost right. Scare them, he’d said, and what could be—scarier--than that end? He’ll be more specific. He’ll be more direct. She’s sixteen now, with clouds inked all over her body, the kind they only ever see in Piltover. One day, those will be hers. One day. And if she scares someone in the mean time, if she takes an order too seriously, too zealously, if she messes up, he can hardly blame her for that. He won’t blame her for that.
“You did well.”
She pulls her hands from his grip and wraps her arms back around his shoulders, holding him that bit tighter. She’s big now. She might grow to be bigger than him, which is a horrific thought as much as it is comforting. Why shouldn’t she be? She’s vastly more beautiful than he was in his youth. Vastly stronger, given a youth without the toxic gas he breathed. He returns the hold with double the strength, reminded of that first night, that terrible night when she leapt on him and might have had a knife in her hands and he would have been no wiser until it was buried in his side.
“I’m sorry,” she sobs, still dry-eyed.
“No,” he says. “No. Never be sorry. Not to me. Not to anyone.”
Vander might not have thought so, but Silco is nothing if not his greater in this way above all others.
“Is there anything so undoing as a daughter?”
He won’t give her up. He knew this, as the Councilor asked it. Ordered it. He might have asked for Silco to cut out his own heart in the council chamber and offer it up with a smile and gotten what he wanted. His daughter? No.
It’s laughable. He laughs, without humor. The surprise of it is the regret. But this is beyond explanation. Vander could never have made him understand this. Only years and years of caring and concessions and small loves and smaller sorrows. Give her up? But she drew a picture on the back of his hand while he was asleep one night three years back. She brought him Piltover’s gem, and he was not so impressed with that as he was with her cleverness at knowing exactly what they needed, exactly what would hurt Piltover most.
“She’s a marvel,” he whispers, only for his own ears, maybe for Vander’s. She’s like a plant grown up between the cracks of the barren Undercity to fill every edge of the space afforded it, bloomed in bright colors. The sort of thing he could never have imagined as a child, or a teen, or even grown, even when he and Vander talked of what Zaun might be with the innocent ambition of boys in love with their ideals and the future and each other.
No. He won’t give her up. This is the choice Vander made. The making of it is a tribute greater than all his libations and half-realized regrets. He won't give up their daughter. Not for peace, not for Zaun. Not for every wretch he's watched scrape a living in their gutter city, not even for his own hide, sorry and worn and un-worth the saving. Vander knew this. Vander knew all of this.
Silco raises his head to meet that metal gaze, for the first time in years, and sees instead familiar young eyes in unfamiliar brightness just beyond. Pain blooms at the side of his head, even as he reaches for his daughter. And then he sees nothing at all.
Perhaps Vander will see it all for him.
But then, what need has a ghost to see the same folly lived twice?