Cognitive Dissonance @hexmage
Chapter Two Jayce talks to Caitlyn about the whole kidnapping thing. Later: the first of many moral crises!

He’s unceremoniously kicked out of Viktor’s house at a time that can’t be past seven in the morning. The Defender doesn’t even get breakfast. Not that he would have eaten anything Viktor cooked.

Jayce makes it back to Piltover an hour or so later, his brain nearly telling him to kiss the dock he disembarks onto. Must be the sleep deprivation. He’s still lucid enough to undo and dispose of the bandage Viktor had put on his head (the wound doesn’t feel deep, so he simply brushes his hair over it) before making his way to Piltover’s police headquarters and barging into Caitlyn’s office. He’s halfway through starting up the coffeemaker when he feels her disapproving gaze on his back.

“Mama cat kick the tom out?” she says in her posh accent, eyebrow raised. Jayce wishes he wasn’t known as Piltover’s Most Eligible Bachelor, sometimes. It wasn’t even that well-earned of a title!

“Mama cat kick the tom out?” she says in her posh accent, eyebrow raised. Jayce wishes he wasn’t known as Piltover’s Most Eligible Bachelor, sometimes. It wasn’t even that well-earned of a title!

“Kidnapped,” he grunts, staring at the coffee as it slowly percolates.

Caitlyn’s joking tone is gone in an instant. Did she pull out a notebook? “When? By who? To where? How did you escape? Are they still in the area?”

“Last night. Viktor. Zaun. He kicked me out. Yeah, probably.”

The Sheriff’s forehead crinkles in confusion. “Viktor, Zaun, yes… letting you go? That’s not characteristic of a kidnapping.”

“He, uh, asked me to join his Evolution. Again,” Jayce replies, grabbing the steaming cup of coffee and taking a tentative sip. Finding the temperature bearable, he begins to down the whole mug.

“He kidnapped you to question that?”

“Beats me why. Said it was too late for the ferries to be running and gave me his guest bedroom.”

Caitlyn’s stunned silence urges Jayce to continue on. “I went looking around his house and found this room just full of dust. Think it was his parents’. No clue what he did to them… nothing good, probably.”

“Don’t assume based off of partial evidence,” Caitlyn chides. “Off the record, however… I would be quite inclined to agree. You should report this to the Institute - cases like this aren’t in my jurisdiction.”

“Maybe he’ll lose Institute funding for this… if they even fund him. Or his immunity. Maybe even his Championship.”

“Perhaps. Anything else?”

“No, Cait.”

“Alright - get out of my office and go home, Jayce. You need to clean up.”

Jayce sets the empty mug down and leaves without another word. In her office, what Caitlyn says might as well be law.


It feels far too soon for Jayce to be called to another training match by the Institute. He’d been mulling over how best to report what had happened to him - Cait had made it obvious that it was out of her jurisdiction, since the whole thing had occurred entirely on foreign soil. The training match was enough to motivate him: after the game, he could go to the Summoners’ office and file a verbal or written report. He’d just have a nice, easy warm-up… maybe Viktor would be there. That would be cathartic. A match with no legal stakes, no arguments over land or inventions or war… like most matches concerning Piltover these days. Something purely for the entertainment of the masses - and to keep Champions’ skills well-sharpened.

Of course, Viktor was in the match… and of course, not in any way cathartic. They’d been placed on the same team due to someone’s idea of a joke… or just bad luck.

“Viktor.”

“Merriweather," and of course, Viktor continued to refuse to refer to him by anything but his last name.

The match proceeded as normal. Jayce was thankful beyond measure that he was an entire lane away from the Machine Herald, although that changed as soon as the Summoners began to gear up for teamfights. The two found themselves nearly back-to-back as the enemy team closed in, them having quickly dispatched the rest of Jayce’s team.

“I’ll deploy a Gravity Field. Knock them into it,” Viktor says sharply, beginning to raise his hand to signal.

Jayce glowers but shifts his Mercury Hammer back into its default form. Viktor smoothly points to an area left of the encroaching team, and his Summoner just as quickly deploys the device. It springs up, purple energy crackling as the machine activates. Jayce takes a breath and plunges into the fray, hammer connecting with Katarina’s side and clipping Swain. The assassin is practically shot across the lane - and directly into the Gravity Field.

“Score!” he mutters, and rounds on the rest of the team. He can hear the crackle of Viktor’s Death Ray and smell something that is most likely burnt hair and skin. Jayce hates striking the killing blows up close.

Viktor seems to have no qualms about the matter. The process repeats, Jayce batting the enemy team into the Field. He straightens as the Mercury Hammer transforms into its cannon variant, deploying an Acceleration Gate as he turns to face Viktor. He’d meant to fire off a charged shot to finish off the other team, but… it looked as if Viktor had deployed a Chaos Storm as Jayce had lost himself in the fray.

The Herald stepped over the downed bodies. “Let us end this.”


The post-match lobby filters out quickly, as it always does. Jayce helps himself to the room’s supply of lemon-infused water. Viktor is standing stiffly in the opposite corner. Is he watching Jayce? Trying to see if he’s afraid? The Defender is never afraid, especially not of a cyborg he’s seen in pajamas. He’d go to the offices now to file the report.

Viktor exits after him.

No big deal. Maybe the Zaunite had somewhere to go. Somewhere to go that was on the same path as Jayce. Would it be silly to duck down a hallway and see if he followed? Probably. He’d just confront the other man if it continued.

“Stop following me,” Jayce finally says.

You are following me.”

“No, I’m not,” what is he, twelve?

“So we are conveniently headed to the same location. The Summoners’ office,” Viktor replies, voice unamused.

“Yeah- er, wait. What?”

The Zaunite sighs, mask amplifying his breath into something like static. “Must I spell it out to you, Merriweather? I am reporting myself to the Summoners.”

Jayce feels as if he should be picking his jaw up off the floor with how far it dropped. “I- sorry, what?”

“I committed a crime.”

“Well, yes, several-“

“You were kidnapped for me,” Viktor says tiredly, his mask’s lenses fixing on Jayce’s eyes. “Unprofessional. Emotional. Foolhardy, even - to accept them offering you…”

“So… you’re… turning yourself in,” this should make him ecstatic, shouldn’t it? He doesn’t even have to deal with paperwork and Summoners and their piercing eyes… Why does he just feel nervous?

“As I said, I am reporting myself. Will you stop following me, now?”

The Defender shifts from foot to foot, leaning on the Mercury Cannon. Is Viktor actually talking about himself? Like a normal person? Not like an unnatural mix of man and machine with a single-minded purpose? The idea is wildly uncomfortable. “Uh.”

Uh,” Viktor mimics, “is not an answer.”

“I. What?”

What’s his angle? Viktor has to have one, to be acting like a person. He can’t be ashamed, can he? Jayce knows that all the nonsense about the Machine Herald removing his emotions is precisely that - nonsense. Neurochemistry isn’t anywhere near prosthetic design, and his outburst at Jayce poking around his house was proof it was all just smoke and mirrors. But shame? From him, of all… people?

“You should wear ear protection on the Fields if matches decrease your hearing capacity to this extent.”

That’s more like Viktor. But it’s still too uncomfortably human - Jayce would have expected some quip about augmenting his ears, or…

“Can you stop that?”

“…Stop what?”

This is the longest conversation they’ve had, except for the first time they met. He’s not going to count Viktor monologuing and yelling at him while he was stuck in Zaun. “The… whatever you’re scheming. With this turning yourself in shtick. Is it to get there before I do? Tell the story the way you want to?”

Viktor is silent for a few seconds, before a harsh laugh makes its way from his throat. “Who do you think I am, Merriweather - Swain?”

“Your leg’s not a bum one,” he replies. Or maybe it was. The man wore a brace, after all, but his gait was sound.

Oh. That wasn’t the right thing to say. He can feel the disapproval radiating off of Viktor. “You’ve resorted to making fun of disability, I see.”

They’re still walking, strides nearly synced up. If it weren’t for the nearly-visible current of hatred between the two, they’d look like old friends catching up. Jayce hates that thought - and he hates how Viktor is clearly misinterpreting his words. “What? No! I’m not that sort of-“

“You have a vendetta against an amputee, if we are going to describe individuals by their physical characteristics.”

Oh, he really hates their relationship being described like that. “Yes, but, it’s- it’s not because-“

He’s not an asshole, right? Everyone in Piltover agrees that Viktor is dangerous, just like every other champion in Zaun. And all of Piltover can’t be assholes, right? Surely there’s some amputee somewhere who hates Viktor? Right?

Viktor’s laugh cuts through his moral panic. “You look distressed. Re-evaluating your decisions, Defender?”

…Yeah, he’s an asshole. Jayce walked right into that one - like he was some sort of vaudeville performer stepping on a rake for physical comedy. He’s been doing that a lot in regards to Viktor. Maybe even now, with the whole turning-him-in-for-kidnapping thing. Oh, gods, what if this was all part of Viktor’s plan? Like in a chess game, where you sacrifice a small piece to capture your opponent’s king later down the line…

Jayce is not good at chess. But he knows damn well that most educated Zaunites are - they even have tourneys televised in Vaskervon Coliseum when the League isn’t in session. Clearly Viktor has to have some motive for turning himself in, something Jayce can’t see. But just because he can’t see it doesn’t mean he’s blind to Viktor’s… schemes.

“You know what? Don’t turn yourself in.”

Viktor stops in his tracks. “…Excuse me?”

Jayce wants this over and done with, and that want is obvious in his tone. “Don’t. I won’t either. It can be like you didn’t kidnap me and make me sleep in your awful guest bedroom at all.”

Apologies that the mattress wasn’t to your taste. Why are you doing this.”

Oh, you know, because you’re an evil genius who is cutting the rope that you want me to hang myself by. “Call it charity.”

“Because Piltover is so interested in helping the less fortunate.”

“More than you are.”

To his surprise, Viktor makes a noise of affirmation. “Zaun’s social services are lacking. That, at least, is something I can… commend Piltover for trying to implement.”

“No, I meant you. Personally. With your… cultists,” Viktor calls them acolytes, but the terms seem interchangeable considering what Jayce knows of them.

That makes the cyborg cock his head to the side. “What do you mean?”

“What do you mean, what do I mean? You clearly…” wait. He has no actual proof of his accusations - but that’s not going to stop him, because it’s obvious. “…pay them or something so you can cut off their limbs.”

“…No?”

No?

Viktor sighs and leans on his staff. “I see you are as misinformed as everyone else. If we are going to discuss this further, I’d prefer to do it somewhere that isn’t in the middle of a hallway. The library?”

Right. The Institute had a library… Jayce had never found reason to use it. Any papers he might need to reference he could get in Piltover - the Institute’s library dealt much more with magic and history. What would Viktor even want in there? It wasn’t as if he was a studying college student. The man had to be in his forties, at least… what with the white streak in his hair.

Oh. They were leaving.


The library is a massive structure, with a domed ceiling rising high above the shelves. Jayce gawks at the architecture and sheer number of tomes - although he quickly recollects his face into something more neutral whenever Viktor glances back at him. The other man leads him past rows and rows of dark wooden shelving until they finally came to a small reading area. Jayce is pretty certain that he sees the pointed ears of Nasus over one particular shelf. Maybe he frequents the library too.

Viktor clicks on a purple-shaded reading lamp as he sits down, resting his elbows on the table. “The Evolution is entirely voluntary.”

“Who would voluntarily cut off their limbs? Want to become an emotionless machine? Except you.”

He can feel Viktor’s withering gaze, even through his mask’s lenses. “You do realize most amputations aren’t auto-amputation.”

“Well, yes…” he’s not going to say but here, even if he desperately wants to.

“And that Zaun has a high rate of industrial accidents due to a lack of workplace regulation.”

Yeaaaah…?” He doesn’t like where this is going.

“And that due to our pollution we have an abnormally high rate of birth defects, although most are mild.”

The puzzle Jayce is putting together in his head is one he wishes he couldn’t see. “Uh. Alright.”

Surely a city like that couldn’t possibly have a high rate of amputation or disfigurement.”

Great! More sarcasm! “Look, there’s- there has to be other protheticists. There’s some in Piltover!” There are, right? Surely. He wouldn’t know, but there has to be.

“Yes, and they overcharge and under-deliver. Or can do nothing more than give someone a glass eye.”

“So… you’re saying that you’re just filling a niche. With your cult.”

“It’s not a cult,” Viktor replies with a long-suffering sigh. “I’ve helped several people who have no interest in the Glorious Evolution, or with me as anything more than a repairman for their prostheses. It just happens that many people are… thankful when you restore something they lost. I don’t tithe or make demands.”

“…But you had your cu- acolytes jump me,” Jayce counters, hand going to the scab on the side of his head. No one’s commented on it, fortunately, as it blends in well enough.

Another sigh. “That was their decision. They thought I would-“

Would?” Viktor, cutting himself off? It was clearly something he didn’t want to tell Jayce about, and that made it interesting.

“It’s not important.”

“I have a scab that hurts every time I try to shampoo. Seems pretty important to me.”

Apologies for the disruption in your shower routine. Now, as I was say-“

“No, tell me. What did they think you’d do?” He was done joking to try and get the information that way.

Viktor’s body language screams of social awkwardness. How hadn’t Jayce noticed how expressive the cyborg was before? For someone convinced he was above all negative emotions, the man practically wore his (artificial?) heart on his sleeve. It was almost funny.

“Kill you.”

“Uh,” that wasn’t what he was expecting. But it makes a horrible sort of sense. “But.”

“I’m not a murderer.”

“The Fields beg to differ.”

“Then your body count is far higher than mine. You’re much more popular, after all.”

Okay. Fine. Maybe using their tenures as champions as a way to prove Viktor was a killer was a mistake. It’s not like that death stays, after all… although it certainly does hurt. “Yeah. But. Murdering me?”

Viktor’s voice is cold. “Considering what you did to them, it’s perfectly reasonable.”

“Look, I know I had to get through a few t-“

Get through a few. Is that what Piltover calls crushing someone’s arm?”

That’s the same anger from Viktor’s house, from when Jayce had wandered into the wrong room and had half a mind that he’d die. It’s burning and made even more unsettling by the cold, alien gaze of his mask.

“It- I didn’t know-“ he wants to explain, to tell Viktor that he hadn’t known, that he wasn’t a monster, that he’d thought his acolytes were nothing more than mindless drones that Viktor had somehow converted to his cause… but the man is on a warpath and he can hardly get a word in.

You didn’t. Perhaps I shall enlighten you, then?” and he sounds cruel, now, and in a fervor that Jayce has never heard from him before, “I’m certain you had your wounds to treat, but I am just as certain that you were not treating others.”

“But-“

The cyborg’s third arm swivels towards Jayce, menace in its movements. “I was. Some I could set, some I could bandage, but a few were particularlyunlucky, as you might put it. Your Hammer is very good at shattering bones, as I’m sure you’re well aware. It must be some sort of resonance. So I worked. I stabilized everyone and amputated when I had to - not when I wanted to, as I’m sure you’re thinking. Losing one limb is traumatic enough, and losing another to the actions of a self-titled hero on a quest for vengeance spurred by his inability to listen is even more so. So you can see why some of my acolytes would rather you be dead than potentially cause more harm.”

Jayce is silent for a long, long time. “…I’m going to leave now.”

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