Cognitive Dissonance @hexmage
Chapter Nine Worries, speculation, catharsis.

It’s torture, sitting with what he now knows. This whole thing had started out as… gods, it’s hard for Jayce to recall anymore with his head swimming with questions and answers and uncertainties. It had started, really, with a blow to his head. Then the odd hospitality of Viktor.

Then Jayce’s squandering of that for the sake of his own damn curiosity and fear. Would things have been different if he hadn’t gone searching for clues? Would he even be here, lying awake at night in his own bed thinking about all of this?

Maybe. After that came his attempt to turn Viktor in to the only authority that could deal with him. He’d stopped that out of fear - it seems silly now, accusing Viktor of playing some sort of three-dimensional chess game. The man couldn’t even play the system he’d been raised in. He was probably genuinely turning himself in, there, and Jayce had stopped that in a particularly genius display of overthinking. Then their discussion, his realization, him leaving-

Maybe. After that came his attempt to turn Viktor in to the only authority that could deal with him. He’d stopped that out of fear - it seems silly now, accusing Viktor of playing some sort of three-dimensional chess game. The man couldn’t even play the system he’d been raised in. He was probably genuinely turning himself in, there, and Jayce had stopped that in a particularly genius display of overthinking. Then their discussion, his realization, him leaving-

Gods, he left Viktor there after the man had put his heart on his sleeve. He’d felt fear and shame and guilt and used them to run away instead of sitting there with his mistakes. He’d hurt people, people he didn’t know the stories of - people he couldn’t apologize to. Truthfully, people that would be better off if he never bothered them again. Has it ever been about apologizing to them, or has it always been about apologizing to Viktor? Viktor is a more reasonable target, after all, because he’d hurt Jayce too - in that regard, they were equal victims. His hands still feel as if they are burning, sometimes, although the skin has healed as much as it could.

Thinking about all of this is doing nothing for him, so Jayce flips his pillow over to the cool side and tries to drift off from exhaustion if nothing else.


Jayce catches a few hours of uneasy sleep until a particularly bad dream wakes him. It’s something that he’s already forgotten some of as he sits up with a gasp - all he recalls is eyes and mouths and fingers staring and talking and pointing at him, headlines blaring from radios - but he’s not going to get back to sleep anytime soon. The clock on his nightstand says it’s three in the morning, and he clicks on his bedside lamp with a clenching of his eyes.

Where was he in his recollections? In putting together the puzzle of the past few months into something approaching order? Caitlyn, yes. Caitlyn and her claim that he’d be brain-damaged (yes, alright, that was paraphrasing) if he ever stopped opposing the Glorious Evolution. Caitlyn and the line she walked between being just and fair. It seemed that things rarely were both, no matter where you went.

Is he going crazy if he can see where Viktor is coming from, now? The man had something that was supposed to be a crowning achievement stolen from him, his team betrayed him, and his city had done nothing. Wouldn’t Jayce have wanted to run away from that too? Maybe not to the extent of trying to excise his humanity, but… pain was pain, and no one wanted to be in it.

It was a bad choice to make, but it was Viktor’s choice. Not anyone else’s. Not after he’d had so much taken away. It was the acolytes’ choices too, whether or not they’d follow Viktor to his self-destructive end. The issue was, again, when that choice wasn’t one any more. If Viktor did become truly emotionless, would he care so much about things like consent over efficiency? A robotic world would certainly be more efficient, certainly more free of pain - but just as free of joy.

A thin line to walk. Does Viktor even know the balancing act that his work entails?

So then there was Jayce’s attempt at an apology, with the journals. He cringes with hindsight at that - giving a man an article on the invention he’d gotten stolen from him is a particularly egregious mistake, even if Jayce hadn’t had even the faintest understanding of the truth. It doesn’t make Viktor’s explosive anger acceptable, of course, he’s not stupid enough to absolve Viktor of choking him. But it’s not like he’d just left the other man alone when asked - he had to get in a dig. No one’s really blameless here, are they?

He’s not getting back to sleep any time soon, and sitting up in his bed isn’t particularly productive. Jayce gets to his feet, deciding that he might as well get a pot of coffee going if he’s going to be awake.

 

The coffee doesn’t help. He’d turned on the lights in his kitchen, because sitting and brooding in the dark is something that he didn’t do even as a teenager, but that just made the empty streets outside feel as if they were watching him. This house is a product of his heroism, too - Piltover’s city council had awarded it to him when he became a Champion, something about a hero not needing to live in an apartment. It had taken him a while to get enough furniture to make it feel less empty, more lived in.

Blitzcrank. That’s where he was at in his thoughts. He’d really been starting to see the robot as a person, re-evaluating his behavior on the Fields as simply being battle-ready. (Wasn’t Jayce different on the Fields, after all? All style and quotables?) But… well, actually talking to Blitzcrank had changed that. He wasn’t like any person Jayce had met before, up to and including Viktor.

Viktor rejected his obvious humanity, didn’t he? It explained the outfit he usually wore: every inch of the other man was covered by metal or armor or clothes except for, oddly enough, his hair and perhaps his ears. It explained how he talked in public. It explained all the times something deeper than that persona had been exposed. He rejected his humanity, but he was still very much human.

Blitzcrank wasn’t human, and any attempts at acting human were for… fitting in, probably. Being more agreeable, less foreign. More for the benefit of others than himself. Did other people find him pleasant, with his simulated laughs and over-emphasized body language? Zaun certainly seemed to. But Jayce… Jayce has always been good at being social, at joining and leaving conversations with ease and charisma, and all he sees in Blitzcrank is a robot that’s replicated the unwritten social code of the world without any care for why it was that way.

Viktor, at least, is honest in his disdain.


The sun rises in a blaze. Summer is rapidly approaching - there’s nothing but long days and clear skies forecasted for Piltover, as usual. Jayce won’t be spending today in Piltover, though.

He’d made that decision somewhere between his second cup of coffee and breakfast. If he didn’t go to Zaun now, if he didn’t apologize to Viktor now, when would he? He’d lose his nerve (or regain his senses) in the coming days. He’d justify not going for some reason or another, tell himself that he was worried about what the ever-present press would think - what Piltover would think, how Caitlyn and all the others would react. Tell himself he was being absurd to think that Viktor was capable of receiving an apology. Something to dissuade himself from doing what was hard, but right. So he’ll catch the first ferry to Zaun today, take the shortest route to Viktor’s house, and hope he isn’t cut in two by a laser before he can get out his apology. Then his work was… not done, of course, but the ball was in Viktor’s court on how he’d react. The best-case scenario is a begrudging acceptance. The worst, of course, involves the aforementioned laser. In reality (or at least what he hopes is reality) Viktor’s reaction will probably be somewhere between those extremes.

 

Zaun’s skies are its typical self-inflicted overcast. It doesn’t bother Jayce as much as it did on his previous visits. Maybe it wasn’t that bad today. Maybe he was getting used to it. The train ride isn’t awful, either. There’s still just as much graffiti on each train car, just as much reckless destruction of the inside. But it’s less starkly horrifying. This is just Zaun, for better or for worse. They probably feel just the same about Piltover.

He finds himself at Viktor’s doorstep with nothing but a sense of calm determination. If this goes well, it goes well. If it doesn’t, well, it’s best not to think about that. Simple things. simple logic. He knocks.

It takes a minute, but Viktor’s familiar (and when did it start being familiar, rather than foreign?) mask appears in a sliver of open doorway. “Leave.”

“Let me say what I came here to say.”

The door opens a fraction more.

…He really should have prepared something to say. “I know why you got upset about Blitzcrank. I talked to him and he told me about what happened to you-“

Viktor slams the door shut - the unmistakable sound of locks clicking comes next. Well. At least it wasn’t a laser to the face.

Jayce continues. Maybe he’s monologuing to a door and nothing more. Maybe Viktor is standing behind the door, obscured by it. Does it really matter, so long as he says what he needs to? “What happened to you wasn’t right. I don’t know if I could do anything about that. It’s been years, I’m not a Zaunite… I could try to discredit him, you know? Piltover would believe me, I think. I wouldn’t bring you into it. You’ve had enough. But, with Blitzcrank… you really wanted to help people, didn’t you? To have a waste-disposal robot be your doctoral project? You could have picked something else, something more exciting. You were the team leader. But… you picked that. I think you’re still trying to help people, now. When I was looking for those journals, I… look, my name was the only one in a lot of the prosthetics journals’ checkout-cards. There’s just one group of doctors publishing on the subject. Maybe you are just filling a niche that needs to be filled. Giving people back what they lost. Maybe that’s okay - good, even. Maybe… I don’t think you need to become a robot, alright? I don’t think that’s how you should run away from all of this.”

He sighs heavily, shifting his weight. “But who am I to tell you that, right? I’m not in your shoes. I don’t know how I’d react. I’m not going to try to stop you on that, anymore. Be a robot - or whatever term you want to use, I know you told me that robot isn’t right - if you want. Just… you can’t assume that that’s what’s best for others. You can never assume that it would be better for people to be like you. I don’t want to be. I want to be human. I want to keep my emotions, even though they might hurt me sometimes. I don’t want to have limited sensation in my body because I’m metal instead of flesh. And a lot of other people want just the same.”

Maybe he’s rambling. Maybe he should get to the point. Jayce sucks in a breath. “I made the mistake of assuming I knew what was best for others, what they wanted. I hurt people who had already lost too damn much, and I know I can’t make up for that with this apology… or anything I can do, other than just staying as far away from your acolytes as I can. But… I wanted to show you that I’ve thought about it. That I get it, maybe. Not all of it. But… enough.”

“I’m sorry, Viktor. I’m sorry for everything I did. I’m sorry for what Zaun did to you.”

There is utter silence, and Jayce is gripped with the absurdity of the situation. Of course Viktor wouldn’t listen. He had no reason to, after everything that’s happened. He probably went off to his office or workroom or whatever it was and Jayce had just emotionally bared himself to empty air. How else would it have gone?

Jayce laughs hollowly, turning away from the door. “I’m going, now. Sorry I took you away from your work.”

There’s a series of clicks behind him, and then Viktor’s voice. “You aren’t leaving.”

“I- oh, you were…” Jayce turns back to face him, eyes wide. He doesn’t hear the hum of the third arm charging, but… “Oh. I… look, you probably don’t want to talk. I’ll just go.”

Viktor’s shoulders are squared, and he stands tall. “Come inside.”

What else is Jayce to do, if not shuffle inside like a prisoner on his way to his execution?


The house is just as Jayce remembers it. The kitchen is just as Jayce remembers it. Why was he brought in here? Surely whatever Viktor has finally snapped and decided to do is going to be messy. Can he even blame the other man? All he’s done is poke and prod at Viktor’s darkest moments in an attempt to figure him out. It doesn’t matter what reasons it was for, the end result is the same - old memories being stirred up like a cloud of silt on a riverbed. Things best left undisturbed for everyone’s sake.

Why is Viktor clearing away a spot at the table? Is he going to have Jayce sit for his inevitable death? Maybe that’s more efficient.

“Sit down.”

Jayce does.

“I am going to make you tea.”

What?” What.

“I am going to make you tea, Jayce.”

“…I thought you were going to-” wait, no, maybe he shouldn’t mention that he thought Viktor was going to kill him, “I, uh, you don’t have to. Make me tea, I mean. I don’t want to impose.”

Viktor stares at him from behind the mask, completely frozen. Then he turns on his heel and makes his way to a row of kitchen cabinets, producing an appliance from one that looks like a malformed kettle atop a boiler with a tap. Of course Zaunites have their own way of making tea. Would Jayce expect anything less at this point?

Jayce watches with interest at the process, at how foreign it is in comparison to Piltover’s way. The kettle itself seems to be for highly concentrated tea, judging by the amount of loose tea-leaves Viktor’s put in… hopefully there’s a strainer. Viktor’s motions are practiced - if he needs two hands, and his left’s prosthesis is too bulky for the task, his third swoops over or under his shoulder as a replacement. It’s still bizarre, of course, because having tea made for you by someone who you were just convinced wanted you dead is bizarre. Seeing someone with a cut-out on the back of their sweater for a third arm is bizarre. But Viktor shows no sign of caring about the strangeness of it all.

…Why is Viktor making him tea? There has to be a logic to it, somewhere, because no matter how hard he wants to be a robot, he’s human. Humans don’t glitch and malfunction and serve their rivals (or whatever he was to Viktor) a hot beverage. There has to be a reason.

“Oh,” Jayce says as the water boils with a whistle.

This is Viktor accepting his apology, isn’t it? Accepting it in the most roundabout way possible, but accepting it nevertheless. The man would never be direct about such a thing. This explains his insistence, his odder-than-usual mannerisms, his calling Jayce Jayce. Viktor’s trying, in his own way.

“It is different to your city’s style of brewing,” Viktor says stiffly, placing a matching cup and saucer in front of him. “It produces stronger flavors.”

Jayce isn’t a fan of tea from any city-state, especially not without cream and sugar. But he looks up to Viktor, standing by him and waiting, and is well-aware of what asking for something more would actually mean. He sighs softly. “You can sit down, you know. Even if you’re not going to have a cup.”

Viktor’s shoulders rise in what Jayce can only interpret as surprise, but he sits at the other cleared spot. He’s still waiting, still watching, perhaps even still doubting Jayce’s sincerity. Perhaps he expects Jayce to get up and walk out the door. There is a wealth of paranoid speculation here, all ifs and coulds, and there is only one way to end it all.

1. Prologue 511 0 0 2. Chapter One 2197 0 0 3. Chapter Two 3090 0 0 4. Chapter Three 2314 0 0 5. Chapter Four 2635 0 0 6. Chapter Five 2371 0 0 7. Chaper Six 1845 0 0 8. Chapter Seven 1291 0 0 9. Chapter Eight 1188 0 0 10. Chapter Nine 2996 0 0 11. Epilogue 667 0 0