When We are Weak

Riven/Kat isn't my OTP but it's fine too and it needs more love, so please forgive me.

Have my Leona and Diana headcanon too.

League of Lesbians.

[]RAT[]

The first time her shade is summoned to the Fields of Justice is vile. The summoner's voice sinks into the back of not-her head, whispering things that are not commands that she can't ignore. Every instinct burned into not-her body fights the whispers, because they are incorrect, but it takes thought she can't afford.

And something that isn't her falls. Falls so very many times. Every time, Riven feels like she's fading a bit more. By the end of it, the whispers of the summoner have all but vanished, and not-her is left to the remnant of her solitary will. But by now, the enemy has too much of an advantage, and the strength of her shade is lacking.

[]RAT[]

Riven is left to stumble alone back to her quarters when the disaster of a match is done. It comes, in some way, as no surprise at all that she nearly walks face first into Katarina Du Couteau. The Sinister Blade's lip curls when she sees Riven's state. The scar over her eye is new - regardless of how old it is.

But that look on Katarina's face lights Riven's blood with anger. She straightens, and meets Katarina's disdain with contempt. Whatever fire Katarina would put her to is nothing before what Noxus already has.

So when, "Coward," rolls off the Sinister Blade's tongue like she's trying to draw blood with her voice, it barely reaches Riven's ears. She brushes past Katarina without acknowledging that she's spoken. Still, it rings.

It is only when she's closed the door of her quarters behind her that she realizes her heart is pounding. Riven peels open her fists, and stares at the deep crescents left in her palms. She leans against the door, and considers the sting Katarina has left in her palms.

She hasn't even touched her.

[]RAT[]

She may not have cuffs on, but that's about the only thing her prison is missing. It is a far cry from the last seven years. When she closes her eyes, she can still hear the crashing of waves.

Riven's pulled from her reverie by the sound of someone sitting on the bench next to her. She opens her eyes, and the sight of Sarah Fortune brings a smile to her lips. "Captain," she says.

Miss Fortune's ever present smirk seems a touch more pleased than usual. "You finally caught up," she says.

"Someone had to come fetch you. Ship don't sail without her captain."

"Damn right she doesn't."

The garden (jungle) of the Institute stretches before them. Riven sinks against the wall. This isn't the most private place on the grounds, but who'd be spying on her and Sarah Fortune?

"Crew holding up?"

Riven shrugs. "Don't see them much when you aren't there." She's spent years working side by side with them, and she gets along with most of them well enough, but. But. She's still Noxian, and that carries baggage everywhere in Valoran. Even in places that aren't officially her enemies.

It draws a frown across Miss Fortune's lips. This isn't news to her, though, and after a moment she shrugs it off. Everyone's loss, she'd said the first time it got mentioned.

Then she asks her real question. "Finally living your dream, huh?"

Her captain knows her so well. "Sometimes," Riven says, "Your dream comes for you."

"Don't we all know that feeling." Sarah Fortune laughs. She rests her hand on Riven's shoulder for a minute before standing. "See you 'round."

Riven smirks, and, in her most obnoxious pirate voice, says, "Aye captain."

She gets a swat to the ear for her lip.

[]RAT[]

The training facilities of the Institute of War are nothing to scoff at - at least, in the sense that someone has clearly spent a great deal of coin on them. Riven weaves her way through the various mechanisms she can't put name or use to. The entire place is... clean. The closest analogue in her homeland Riven can think of is in the College, and that's always in some degree of disarray.

And usually pretty bloody.

They're not very much alike at all.

She's about to give up on the area as fucking useless, when she hears the ring of steel on steel start. It takes her a few minutes to find the source - the acoustics in this place are awful, and tracking was never her forte.

The source is a veritable giant of a woman, with glowing copper hair, clad from chin to foot in armor that shines like the sun. Rakkor, Riven thinks. She must be aware of Riven's intrusion now, but her drill does not abate. A suit of empty armor stands before her, shield and sword in locked gauntlets. It moves well, but every strike the Rakkor sends against it is flawlessly executed. Again and again, her blade snakes past the defense mounted by the automaton, carving deep, cruel gashes into it.

Shortly, the redhead lowers her weapon, and watches absently as the armor retreats. With a burst of steam, the rent steel seals itself, and the armor folds into a pile.

"Who are you?" she asks.

"My name is Riven."

She turns to face Riven, and says, "I am Leona. Think you would offer more of a workout than this?"

Riven shows off her empty hands. "I am unarmed," she says. Unarmed and unarmored.

As though insulted, a scowl draws Leona's features tight. "I would not raise a weapon against another within these walls." She sets her sword and shield aside, then approaches Riven. One mailed fist extends, and momentarily Riven accepts it.

Even now, standing on the elevated ring, Riven has to look up to meet Leona's eyes. She knows she stands north of average for a Noxian, and still the Rakkor towers a full head above her.

Riven's blood churns in her veins.

Leona's fists crash together. She arches one copper eyebrow. "Ready," Riven says. It has been a very long time since she tried to kill someone with her fists alone - and longer yet since she fought some without intending to kill them.

The strike comes out of nowhere, and though she shoves it away and her answer splits her knuckles on Leona's side, she's left blinking away the streak of light it burns into her sight. Leona looks down at Riven's hand, and then at the spatter of blood.

"Would you have me remove my armor?" she asks, sounding as though the fact that she had not already asked is distressing.

Riven shrugs. "Only if my blood on it bothers you."

"It will not rust," Leona says with the certainty of experience. The blow she follows with is faster still, and Riven cannot turn it as before. The open handed blow to her chest lifts Riven off the floor - but it is a shove to prove that her defense is penetrated. Her attempt to divert Leona's arm becomes a grip, and when she lands, Riven throws her weight into dragging Leona to her.

There's a flicker in Leona's eyes, and it very nearly doesn't work. But just before Riven allows the action to change from trying to unbalance the Rakkor into a terribly risky attempt to close the gap between them, Leona's balance comes undone. She stumbles. Riven drives her fist into Leona's exposed back, but even that is not enough to take her off her feet.

"That was a clean blow," Leona points out.

Riven shrugs. "If you choose not to put your enemies down, you shouldn't be surprised when they don't kneel for you."

A moment of silence follows, and the chuckle that Leona breaks it with is deep and smooth. "Don't worry about that," she says.

Over the next half hour, Leona proves over and over again that she is faster than Riven, that she is stronger than Riven, and that her life has been more fully immersed in the art of war. By the end of it, Riven's ribs ache from the punishment, her arms are red and raw from contact with Leona's armor, and there is only one more bloody mark on Leona's armor.

And she cannot pry the smile from her lips. "Thank you," Riven says.

A quirk of Leona's lips and a nod is her only acknowledgement. Her eyes drift down Riven's arms, linger on her blooded knuckles. "Follow me," she commands, and retrieves her sword and shield before turning to leave. She doesn't look back.

Riven follows her anyway.

[]RAT[]

She wakes the next day as though she'd never met Leona. Leona said the salve isn't magical, but it might as well be.

[]RAT[]

Riven finds herself waking in the middle of the night to the shine of metal hovering over her.

Well, she thinks, surprise.

It takes a moment to register that the steel lit by starlight is not, in fact, bared at her. It's just - even when Katarina's blades are not drawn, their steel is left for all to see.

"You should have stayed dead," Katarina whispers. Though her voice froths with all the rage Riven's ever heard in it, it lacks her usual venom.

She sits up, and her sheets fall puddle around her waist. Katarina isn't, but she asks anyway. "Are you going to rectify that?"

Katarina grips Riven's chin, her hand trembling with the strain of... forcing herself to do it? Restraining herself from doing more? "I should," she says. "I should." Green eyes bore into Riven's, digging for something. "Fuck," she spits.

The air isn't cold, but it stings her lungs. Riven sits and waits. Katarina is here to kill something. Unless she's become much, much more foolish, it's probably not Riven. No sense in attracting that intent to herself.

"You let everyone think you were dead." Katarina's grip shifts, and the rivets of her glove dig into the sides of Riven's neck. She burns.

But (almost) everyone who matters is dead. Her mother is dead. Her command is dead. Everything she built is fucking dead. Riven surges up, trapping Katarina's arm between them as she slams the other woman into the wall. She seizes Katarina's free wrist, pins it in place with the blade she's gone for still not free. "Did you forget?" she demands. "Just who it was that poured fire on me and mine?"

Katarina looks up at her. A snarl bares her teeth.

"Our enemies take from us," Riven recites through clenched teeth. It's one of the things taught in the College.

"When we are weak," Katarina doesn't finish it. When we are dead.

"Your precious command took from me," Riven says. "Everything I had."

And then it is not Katarina before her, nor the Sinister Blade. She is something cold and blank, with eyes like glass. "Everything," she echoes.

Riven releases her hand and steps back. She doesn't look away. "Maybe," she says, "I'm still trying to find that out."

Though her face remains frozen, Katarina's eyes dance.

[]RAT[]

Riven's neck itches.

So many years she's spent embracing small aches, small irritants. She can't set this aside. She doesn't know how anymore. She'd think poison, but that's never been Katarina's style. Too little blood for Noxus.

More than once, she finds herself scratching at it idly. It is, in fact, what she's doing when her captain finds her.

A brilliant laugh announces Miss Fortune's presence. "Finally had a good night?" she asks.

Riven closes her eyes. "Long one," she says.

By the timbre of her voice alone, Riven can see the pout on Miss Fortune's lips. "You'll live," she says, and sighs. Same old song and dance.

A noncommittal hum is her answer.

"You need something, captain?" Riven asks after a moment of silence.

"Can't I just want to talk?"

Riven opens her eyes. Sarah Fortune is rarely serious. The raised eyebrow and curl of her lip say now isn't one of those times. "Anytime," she says. "It'd be rude not to ask though."

"So what's your plan?" her captain asks.

"Didn't have one." Riven yawns. "The hell do you do around here when you aren't being summoned?"

"Drink!" Miss Fortune laughs. "Go home. Sometimes find a nice warm bed."

None of that is particularly interesting to her.

"Scheme and plot. Dream about the future."

"Sounds like a lot of nothing," Riven says.

"So much nothing you could drown in it."

Silence falls. Riven can't think of anything she needs to say. Sarah Fortune seems content to watch the sun set over the walls of the Institute.

"Riven," she says, after it is fully night and not even the sky is lit with the sun. Riven turns to meet her captain's eyes. "What are you planning to do after...?" and she waves at the entrance.

"This was always my dream," Riven says. Because nightmares are dreams too. "Never something I'd planned for. I don't know yet."

Sarah Fortune doesn't blink. "Well. Whatever you decide, you know your way back home."

There is nothing fake about Riven's smile.

[]RAT[]

Riven breaks her fast before the dawn. Champions of the League keep their own hours, and it is easy for her to keep to the habits she's held aboard ship. She doesn't recognize many of those who take a meal at this time, but well, with so many inhabitants and so few of them champions, it's not terribly surprising.

The fare offered by the Institute, Riven would describe as functional. It is intended to keep them walking, and that it achieves. It is not a pleasure to partake of, as some of Miss Fortune's celebrations have been.

(It is better than the rations Noxus fields her military with, but that is like saying it is better than eating bark and cinder)

She's eaten her fill, and is almost ready to sleepwalk through another day when Leona enters the hall. Riven tilts her head to acknowledge her, and moves to leave.

"Noxian," she calls, and Riven pauses.

"Yes?"

"You were," she says. It takes Riven a minute to connect the answer to the question, but when she does, warm satisfaction settles in her gut. "I should like a repeat performance."

An eager smile takes her lips. "You can find me by the pond," she says.

Leona nods. Riven takes it as dismissal.

[]RAT[]

It doesn't actually occur to Riven that Leona hadn't said today until she's seated by the Institute's pond, familiar brackish scent teasing her senses. She hadn't exactly had plans for the day, and whatever they might have been, the Rakkor overwrote them.

Idling and waiting for something that might not happen doesn't sit quite right with Riven. It feels... needy. Desperate. Pathetic. As though all that she is comes up lacking against this.

Dependent.

On someone she barely knows.

And she isn't. She's just acting that way.

It doesn't make her happier.

She stays anyway.

[]RAT[]

When it's over, and she's battered and bleeding again, the guilt has long passed from her mind. This time she's come prepared, and wraps her hands and forearms in bandages after stepping down from the ring. She's landed only two clean shots to Leona's armor this time, which is disappointing and thrilling. She's bleeding more from some low percentage attempts to keep her ribs intact. The edges of Leona's gauntlets are as sharp as they look.

This time she declines Leona's offer to tend her injuries. She's had time to assemble some basic supplies, and this was something she'd prepared for, intending to ask for it before Leona offered.

And she's not quite ready to give up this delicious ache. It sits distractingly at the front of her mind, and that she needs. The Institute of War leaves her far too much time to think. The slow, bone deep pain in her chest, and the sharp sting if she moves her hands just wrong make thinking hard.

It's in this pleasant haze of adrenaline crash that she actually walks into Katarina. She's at a total loss for what's happening until she's flat on her ass.

Katarina's glare and sneer slide around her. She hears the venom in her voice, but misses the words. Riven stands, takes a deep breath so she can feel the nascent bruises twinge.

"Watch where you're going," she says. It doesn't have the edge it would if she were more present. She checks, and there's a corner, but it's not so close that Katarina has any excuse for being surprised.

She meant it to happen.

Riven steps around her.

[]RAT[]

She doesn't notice Katarina following her until she's pinned face first against her door, a cruel spike grinding against her spine in that way Katarina loves so much. Excruciatingly painful, and done just right, paralyzing.

"Wake up," she snarls into Riven's ear. One of her hands seizes Riven's, and drags it up to where they can both see it. She threads her fingers through Riven's, and then squeezes. Katarina's nails bite into her palms. Her knuckles split again, and the stain spreads.

It takes Riven's breath away.

"The fuck are you trying to seduce now?"

"No-" and she's cut off by a sudden twist of her arm. A couple of the tears Leona's armor has left on her arm reawaken. Blood for something.

"Try again." Katarina is practically chewing on her ear as she speaks.

The point of her knee digs into Riven's calf just below the joint, though she barely feels it. Until, that is, Katarina puts more of her weight against her, impatient.

Riven breathes. She can't answer, because Katarina has always been able to figure out when she's lying. She twists as much as she can to try and catch a glimpse of Katarina's face.

Katarina gets it. She slams Riven's hand flat against the door, but it's her palm, and that hurts less than any slap.

And then, silently, Katarina is gone. The sudden lack of support sends Riven to the ground, saved only by the fact that her other hand has been wrapped around the doorknob this entire time.

Hanging from it, with the scent of Katarina's hair wrapped around her, Riven wonders if she didn't open it to keep Katarina out, or to keep her close.

[]RAT[]

The salve Riven's been granted is mostly to prevent infections, and what painkilling properties it has are probably by virtue of it being a gel. It does little for the purple clusters Leona left around her chest, and it does shit all for the deep bruise Katarina left on her back.

The marks Leona's left on her ache, but Katarina's hurts every time she moves.

She always did like to mark her territory.

[]RAT[]

It's not intentional, but Riven doesn't see Leona for a fortnight. Not in person, anyway. The Institute does so love broadcasting their blood sport. She doesn't stop to watch it, but the Rakkor's shining figure catches her eye in passing.

It's not long thereafter that she finds Leona sitting against the base of their ring.

She looks up as Riven approaches. "Come to discuss my performance?" she asks.

Riven shrugs. "I didn't watch."

"I see." Leona hums, and considers her. There's something discomfiting about standing while Leona sits, trying to hold a conversation. Riven squats in front of her, resting her arms on her knees, and settles to wait.

"How many people have you killed?"

She has to think about this. Riven remembers every fatal blow she landed in the service of Noxus - but combat aboard ship has a tendency to turn a crippling blow into a lethal one, and she has spent seven years fighting.

"Six score and four," she says at length, perturbed by the fact that she's not sure of that number.

Leona closes her eyes. "I have killed none."

But she is Rakkor. Of all the legends about the Rakkor, not one fails to mention their lethality. It does not follow.

"I have killed none," Leona says again, "except on the field of Ionia."

No. There's no way that is what she said. It's just the tone of her voice, the seething despair it holds, she can only hear Ionia.

Riven bites her tongue. It's not real is impossibly wrong to say. The magics of the Institute of War are as real as anything - more real than many. No one dies is wrong too - irrelevant. Whether or not something truly dies, the act is killing. It wasn't you is even more a lie, summoners demand, command, and suggest, the things they can compel are few and far between. It is not easy but resistance is not impossible. She has nothing to say to comfort Leona.

This light it shines on her is terrible.

"You don't understand."

Riven hesitates. "No," she says. "I don't."

She's rewarded with a thin smile. "Thank you." Silence settles in.

"Once I landed on an island nation." She doesn't understand. "And I killed. All those who took up arms against me. Their strength broke against me and mine. I took from them, and now I am the only one who remembers."

Leona's face is perfectly neutral. But she is listening.

"And it was done for a lie," she says. "Pettiness. To prove the strength of an army lead by weak men, at the cost of strength that now lives only in my memory." She doesn't understand.

But she feels.

The Rakkor says nothing.

The words are not coming right. They're close, so close, but they do not grasp the trespass against everything Riven holds as unassailable truth. They do not grasp her trespass against that truth.

Noxian High Command took everything from her. Without contest.

Riven's blood sears her veins. The echo of her blade that sits in her soul stirs.

Unacceptable. She takes several deep breaths, rubs her temples. Focuses on the pain in her back - focuses on the pain named Katarina. It is agony, but it is hers.

And slowly, the berserk frothing hatred - that she will never allow to amount to anything - is driven back.

Her eyes snap open at the touch of a hand on her shoulder. Leona's face is still etched in stone, but her gauntleted hand rests on Riven's shoulder. Her eyes bore into Riven's - her hand does not squeeze. But there it stays, and she sees Riven.

She doesn't understand.

But maybe she feels.

[]RAT[]

These past weeks, Sarah Fortune politely ignored that she'd been stiff as a board. Riven appreciates the gesture. It's almost entirely faded now, and there is a tension in her captain that's appeared and gone with it. Aboard ship, this shit wouldn't have flown, but in port Miss Fortune has ever taken a lax approach to policing her crew.

And now that the pain is almost gone, she's deliberately doing all of the things that make it twinge and hiding that. Sarah Fortune has seen her ignore hurts before, never hide them. It's the only reason it works.

Or Miss Fortune is pretending that her act is working to make her feel better.

She thinks, now, that it's the first though, because her captain crashes into the seat next to her and slings an arm over her shoulders. The sudden weight sends pain shooting up her back, and Riven's jaw clenches.

There's no alcohol on her breath. That's in her hand, twice the size of the drink Riven's been working her way through.

"Decided to join the party?"

Riven shrugs. "Seemed like something to do."

"Keep your head above water, kid," her captain says like she's imparting some great wisdom.

They toast to that.

It's not good beer. Like everything else the institute provides it's champions for free, it serves its purpose and little more. Or at least, it's not much like what Riven's been told is good beer.

"So whatcha think of her?" Miss Fortune asks, a few cups in. Not drunk yet - she holds her alcohol like no one Riven's seen.

"Who?" Riven asks.

"That Solari you've been eyefucking," she says.

That leaves her speechless. Solari?

Sarah Fortune notices. Eventually. "I'm sorry," she says, and she actually kind of sounds it. "Were you being subtle?"

No. Of course not. It's hard to be subtle about something that isn't happening. Really hard.

"I don't know what you're talking about," Riven says.

It gets her a raised eyebrow. "You don't?"

Riven shakes her head.

"You're not imaging what she looks like in your bed?"

"Who?" Riven asks.

Her captain sighs. "I was pretty sure you had a thing for redheads, too."

Is she talking about Leona?

"So what's going on with you and her?"

She can't think of an explanation. Leona is an unassailable strength. How can she not admire that? Not break her own strength against it? Not learn from it?

"She's very strong," Riven says at length.

Sarah Fortune doesn't accept that. "This is the Institute of War," she says. "Who among us isn't?"

But that's not quite it. There is strength born and strength earned, and though all is a combination, Leona's is built upon the same foundation as her own. A healthy body honed with time and devotion.

Strength achievable. Measuring herself against Janna Windforce - for instance - is utterly irrelevant. No path she could have chosen would leave her matched with the mage. No path she could pursue at this moment would end in comparable strength.

"Some will always crush me," Riven says. "Some now would, but may not."

Her captain shrugs. She doesn't understand.

Katarina would.

[]RAT[]

Katarina is not following her. Riven has to remind herself of that every time she spots her, because it's started happening more than she'd expect.

Which is doubtless influenced by the fact that she's seen Katarina about once a year.

Most of the time Katarina doesn't even notice her, which is not a surprise. When she does, the only way she acknowledges Riven is a glare and the occasional unpleasant sound - not even a word proper.

Once, when the only other person present was Cassiopeia, it was a look Riven would categorize as sick.

It's not keeping her up at night. What's keeping her up at night is wondering if Katarina is going to show up with blade in hand. (Her brother and the other, innumerable assassins Noxus employs don't actually occur to her for a very long time, and even then they don't keep Riven up)

She never does.

[]RAT[]

Riven is less blooded and less battered. She isn't sure whether the blood part is because Leona is becoming more careful with her sharp ends, or herself being better at not running into them. The lack of damage to her ribs on the other hand, Riven attributes only to her own improvement.

She's seated on her bed, letting the disinfectant dry out when her door opens. It's nearly midnight.

"Katarina," she says. Not only does she have no naked steel, she has no apparent blades on her. Even her spiked bracers are missing.

The sound of the bolt sliding home is the only response she gets.

For about two seconds, Riven wonders if someone else has possessed Katarina's body by accident and thought of her as their best chance for help, which makes approximately no goddamn sense, about as much as any other idea. Then she meets Katarina's eyes, and that thought gets pitched aside at the so-very-Katarina burning within.

It alone doesn't tell her much. She's seen the look in Katarina's eyes on her way out the door to kill someone, the look in her eyes when she's still covered in someone's blood, and the look when she's about to pull someone aside and drag them off to something like a bed. They're all pretty much the same.

"You hid from me," she says. Her voice is all the steel she has on her.

No. "Yes," Riven says, because she's willing to follow Katarina's script for a while here. Katarina's fists unfurl. Now she has to crane her neck to keep eye contact. One hand wraps around Riven's throat, but the contact is the barest brush of skin on skin. The other frees her hair.

Riven grips her own knees. Katarina's script.

She doesn't know if she wants this. She knows she misses it. It hurts.

She's been trying to forget for eight years. It hasn't worked yet.

Katarina pushes her down - about as gentle a pressure on her throat as it could be. Her other hand goes to her waist reflexively, but none of her blades are there. She straddles Riven's thighs, slick leather shifting aside her skirt.

Riven's hands come to rest on Katarina's waist - not even her belt with its hidden edges - for a moment, before the curl of her lips says no. Slowly she lifts them away, twists her hands into her bedclothes.

The wrap around her breasts is too new to rip easily. Katarina proves it when she slides her fingers under the top layer, and twists. It feels only like someone is... well, wrapping a cord around her chest and tightening it.

After a moment, Katarina frowns, digs under the whole damn thing, and wrenches it down. It doesn't quite free her tits, leaving them pressed together and up, but nonetheless the frown leaves Katarina's lips. There is a moment of blank silence as she traces a finger over the thin raised scar that could have tickled her heart two inches left.

The mass of twisted, discolored flesh on her back is the signature of the Zaunite melters, but it's not the only mark Coeur Valley left on her. This one is Ionian.

There's anger in her eyes, but it's distant and not directed at Riven.

Katarina takes her glove off with her teeth so her other hand can keep Riven pinned. And once it's her bare skin on Riven's, the tremor her mere presence leaves in her heart will not be contained. She can't but close her eyes, arch her back to embrace the scratch of calluses.

Fuck, she breathes, though the word doesn't escape her throat.

"You hid from me," Katarina says again. Her feather light grip on Riven's throat quakes.

Riven doesn't need to open her eyes to reach up and tuck that errant lock of hair behind Katarina's ear. She trails her fingertips down the curve of her jaw, finds her lips.

"No," she says. Here Katarina's script calls for a revelation, not a lie. She doesn't have a world shattering one to give her. "I hid from Noxus."

Yes, she hid from Katarina every time she poked her head into a pub and called for some broke sailors to go relieve some fuckin merchants of someone else's gold.

No one is ever stupid enough to put a bounty on a crew that might as well be running up Noxian colors.

She can't feel Katarina's breath on her exposed fingertips. Then her hand leaves Riven's chest, and she opens her eyes at the pop of a button. Opening the button of her leathers reveals nothing new, but it draws her attention to that new tattoo Riven already knows every line of.

She can't help it. Not after how long Katarina spent sketching it, on her skin and in her blood.

Katarina finally lets go of her neck, though she doesn't release her. Riven obeys, remaining still while Katarina shrugs her way out of her jacket, though she doesn't give up her claim on Katarina's lips. When her hands are free of the leather and it's dumped on the floor behind her, Katarina leans down, places her hands on either side of Riven's head.

And stops.

Katarina's script.

Slowly, gaze locked with Katarina's, Riven pushes herself up. Katarina may as well be carved of marble - she doesn't blink, doesn't breathe.

Already, Katarina has done more than her share. This is not meeting her halfway, this is taking every single step down the road and asking of her only one. Allowing her only this last one.

So she closes that gap and kisses her.

And suddenly, Katarina is alive, skin burning against hers where it's bare. "Fuck," Katarina spits out, and there's a flurry of arms and legs and hair and Katarina flickers in that way she does and they're both naked.

An assassin, Katarina said once, knows many handy tricks. You only need the one, and she laughed.

Katarina's hands are everywhere, and Riven's trying her best to match her. There's a stutter when she finds Riven's back, but she does her best to make her forget with teeth on her shoulder and a hand teasing her thigh.

It works.

Without thinking about it, Riven's hand traces the tattoo from where it cups Katarina's breast down to the tail end at the apex of her thighs. She's slowed, distracted, trying to taste every pinch of Katarina she can reach, but-

And then Katarina rams three fingers into her cunt, and Riven's body seizes.

"Katarina!" she hisses. She feels the grin against her collar, and then Katarina bites down hard like she's trying to draw blood - probably is - and pumps those fingers. "Fuck," Riven gasps.

It's been far too long, and Katarina still knows her too damn well, and at the brush of a thumb on her clit, she comes undone.

She sits up, straddling Riven's waist, and smiles, lips shining with blood while she surveys her prey.

Describing her as purring is a bad idea, because cat comparisons really piss her off, but Riven's still going to think it. Her breath comes back to her slowly, and she doesn't try to rush it - eyes half lidded and basking in the pride shining off Katarina.

And when she finally figures Katarina's script is done, she rolls them over - nearly off the fucking bed, forgetting how damn small it is. "Hey!"

But her tongue is already picking up where her fingers left off, because while Katarina's body isn't exactly what she remembers, it's the same in the most important ways.

[]RAT[]

Riven awakens alone.

[]RAT[]

The marks Katarina's teeth left on her collar are bared by her blouse to anyone who cares to look.

That's not many people.

Miss Fortune gives her a thumbs up and the biggest grin.

Leona sees it, stares a moment, but never says anything.

And Katarina, she has to bite down on a victorious grin. She does so love to mark her territory.

Riven wears them with pleasure.

[]RAT[]

This comes very close to making up for the fucking summoners of the Institute dragging her here. With her captain already here, of course, she hadn't been at sea often, but.

But she'd had the sea and the sky.

Now she has a pretty fucking prison and nothing to do while she waits for Noxus to come for her. She doesn't imagine Ionia will - not when Katarina and Singed are left alone. Maybe she's wrong.

"How is it," her captain asks, "that your generals have ignored you?"

Riven shrugs, watching the... whatever the fuck Fizz is play in the pond. The mermaid is trying her very best to ignore him, but he's as obnoxious as he is exuberant.

"Too weak to bother with," she says at length. "Eventually someone will think, but she got away with it, think to do the same, and an example will be made."

"Bothers you that much, does it?"

Riven turns to her. "No," she says. She can't meet her captain's eyes, because then she might think about it, and then she'd end up saying what she really thinks. "I chose my path for myself, not whoever might follow."

"And what path is that?"

She waves out at the pond. "One that led me here."

"One that led you to my ship," Miss Fortune says. Of course. At her blank stare, her captain sighs. "Maybe you walked it, but you didn't plot that course alone."

"No," Riven says, voice just above a whisper. She closes her eyes, pinches the bridge of her nose. "But I can't."

Sarah Fortune doesn't have to say it, Riven hears it all the same.

Won't.

She won't. Opposing Noxus - and if she were to do anything more than avoid her blades and ignore her, she would be doing just that - is a thought that resists being. She shies away from the idea, because it makes that hatred she holds rattle its chains.

"I love Noxus," she says at length. It is her last word on the subject.

Sarah Fortune pats her shoulder.

"There's more than one kind of service," she says, "and not all can serve the same way."

Obviously. Riven is no mage, no summoner, and never will be.

And then Sarah's voice brightens right up - though its volume lowers and her breath comes close to Riven's ear. "So... who was it?"

Riven can't help the smile that comes, but she makes sure that's her only answer.

[]RAT[]

Riven isn't positive, but she thinks this is the summoner who invited her to the Institute. Noxian, if she is any judge - she's taller than him, but how much of that is natural height, and how much is the slouch in his back, Riven can't tell. She folds her arms.

"Is my presence required on the fields?" she asks.

"No," he says. "The High Councilor wishes to know if you are settling in well." His eyes flick to the teeth marks on her collar. "I suppose I'll tell her you are."

"Suppose so." Riven shrugs. "Is that all?"

"One more thing," he says. "The High Councilor wishes to inform you that you have been granted the privilege of leaving the grounds of the Institute. If you are needed, we know how to find you." He manages to keep the smile off his face.

Riven holds her breath. Her hands clench, fingernails driving deep into her palms.

"Is that all?" She asks, voice devoid of emotion.

"It is."

"Then give the High Councilor my regards."

She doesn't slam the door when she leaves. She doesn't stomp through the halls. She slides her hand into her gauntlet with extraordinary precision.

And she smashes it into a striking dummy. Her will flickers into being at the instant of contact, and the dummy shatters.

But it is built to do so. Riven stares at the fragments, hands fisted at her sides. Her teeth grind. Her blood flows black and thick.

She hasn't moved before the Rakkor finds her. Riven refuses to meet her eyes.

"Need you more of a workout than that?" she asks.

"Yes." Riven bites out.

It helps. Leona is untouchable. Riven's blows are faster and sharper than before, and Leona denies every one. Her left hand is bleeding freely by now, and the pain helps. Leona's gauntlets do not drip with her blood, but neither do they shine like polished bronze.

But most importantly, the clash of metal on metal and dull wet thumps of metal on flesh lead her to that silent place in her head.

At length, she drops her guard. Her hands are loose at her sides. "Thank you," she says.

The echo of her blade that sits in her soul is still again.

Her heart still pounds. Nervous energy moves her body. But her blood no longer burns her veins, and it flows red instead of black.

She breathes, and the air no longer tastes like ash.

The ground is still beneath her feet. She wishes it wasn't.

Leona takes her bare hand to inspect the damage.

"This may require a trip to the infirmary," she says.

Since Riven can't actually open her hand, she agrees.

[]RAT[]

Leona leads her there. When Riven asks, she says that she is not so careless as to risk Riven being accosted because of her. Riven doesn't mention Katarina.

The medic takes one look at her hand and sighs. "Foolishness," she says. "You would think even Noxians would know better."

Then she pours something that feels like fire onto Riven's hand. Her flesh bubbles, melts, and flows. She stares at it, watching for the slightest hint of green. The medic leaves. The sound of Leona's armored foot tapping does not.

Eventually, it cools and stills. Her skin is raw and red, sensitive and smooth to the touch. But she can open her hand.

She opens the door, and Leona turns to look over her shoulder. Riven shows off her hand.

Leona nods.

[]RAT[]

It takes her captain about five minutes to figure out something is off. Riven's aware she's not particularly engaged in the conversation - she can't even remember what it's about - but can't bring herself to change that. Her new flesh is wrapped in bandages, which isn't stopping her from rubbing at it every now and then.

"Gonna talk about it?" she asks.

"No."

Miss Fortune waits.

"The High Councilor has afforded me the opportunity to leave the grounds." She isn't done, and her captain knows it. "Because I can be found."

Miss Fortune shrugs. "You were on my ship," she says. "Not exactly discreet."

"I was on your ship," Riven says. "There weren't many looking past the one bringing the bounty home."

"How many times was the target's crew Noxian?"

"Never." There is a difference between Noxian and from Noxus. Though Bilgewater is home to many born in Noxus, Noxians number a rare few among them. Few are foolish enough to put a bounty on a ship actually flying Noxian colors - those that do are rarely in a position to pay out. So, never.

Not that her captain believes that. "Twelve," she answers. "And how many of them recognized you?"

"Two," Riven says. She's only confident of two. It's pretty hard to miss the particular sort of fear that the face of Noxian conscription instills in those who left her.

Those two were close enough that when she killed them, she saw it very well.

"More than that," Miss Fortune says. "Do you think none of those told anyone?"

"No one who would care."

"Five," she says. "That's how many Noxians who came to suggest if I knew you, I shouldn't."

Riven says nothing.

"The military may have ignored you, but you weren't hidden."

Riven clenches her fists and her jaw.

"Maybe they can't pretend you don't exist anymore, but you disappearing? Won't be much of a mystery."

"Doesn't have to be much of a mystery if no one asks."

Her captain stares at her for a moment, then slaps the back of her head. "Idiot."

[]RAT[]

Katarina doesn't get close enough to speak to her until the teeth marks have faded. Riven can't say it's surprising, but it would be a lie to say it doesn't sting anyway.

It's not avoidance. Riven manages to catch far too much lingering eye contact for her to believe Katarina is avoiding her. It's really more like... she's done what she needed to do, and wants to bask in the desire it left behind.

Or it's a test to see if Riven is so lacking in discipline as to come crawling.

Or it's a test to see if Riven is so lacking in that same desire as to stay away.

Or she's just fucking busy and Riven has put more thought into it than Katarina has.

When she does, her voice is empty of venom and full of steel. "Deserter," she says. Cassiopeia's eyes flick between them. She sinks back as her body coils beneath her, long, pointed fingernails clicking against her scales.

"Assassin," Riven says. She tries to keep how much she wants to throw Katarina up against a wall and fuck her on the spot out of her voice. From the way Cassiopeia's eyes suddenly fix on hers, and then drift down toward her throat, she's done about as shit a job of it as she thought.

There is an instant in which Katarina's eyes unfocus, and Riven's pretty sure she wouldn't notice a fucking Demacian walk up and slide a knife between her ribs, but then she's back and wearing a smile so arrogant Draven would be proud to call it his own. She slips past Riven like smoke, and casts over her shoulder:

"Can't hide anymore."

It is a good fucking thing that she isn't looking at her anymore, because Riven's heart has stilled. Cassiopeia lingers, her eyes drift back to Riven's face. Riven doesn't bother blinking when she meets her eyes. For half a moment, Riven thinks how much easier it would be if Cassiopeia were to loosen her control.

And then, "I suppose not." Cassiopeia stirs at the sound of her voice, arches an eyebrow. It sounds much more calm than she'd thought she could manage.

Cassiopeia is in her way, but Riven isn't eager to stay in this fucking hallway. She steps over the end of Cassiopeia's body.

[]RAT[]

After night falls - actually falls, the sun over the horizon, not just the walls of the Institute - Riven goes for a walk. The main gate of the Institute is not barred, but neither is it open. She takes one of the side exits.

Riven's not exactly sure where the Institute is. It's somewhere in the middle-ish of Valoran, but whose territory exactly it was carved out of is unclear. The land outside does not help - it's flat as far as she can see in the starlight. She wonders if the summoners chose to build here because of this, or they chose to build here and made this.

She sprawls, not far from the wall, and stares up at the stars.

She's here too early, probably. It takes a while for the moon to reach her.

When she can see - this cloudless night lit more than adequately, she rises and draws her blade. The echo of its true self stirs, and she ignores it. She conjures up instead the ghost of a thought, empty handed and featureless, and sets to trying to kill it.

It's a practice she hasn't thought about in years and years. Since, well, since the College decided they were done with her.

Every time she nears it, the thought evades her murderous intent. More than once, it vanishes with the sound of fire being born, to appear behind her and twirl.

And when she has tired herself out, the thought does not slip away as it is supposed to. Featureless, but the way it cocks its hips and bends over her is unmistakable.

Riven folds her hands over the flat of her blade and stares up at it. She isn't going to waste her breath talking to a figment of her fucking imagination. Not out loud, anyway.

Eventually, for lack of any other idea, Riven allows the ghost of it to fade. Even on this side of the Institute, the sky is brightening.

She stops off for breakfast before she goes to pass out.

It isn't until she's back in her room and catches herself in a mirror that she realizes how obvious it is she hasn't slept. Riven tries, but can't remember anyone noticing.

What a fucking useless exercise. No wonder she never remembered it.

Fucking Katarina.

[]RAT[]

Riven awakens sometime after noon. She's not quite rested, but she can't sleep any more.

So she heads off to find something to eat.

"You look like shit," her captain says. Riven hums her acknowledgement. Sarah Fortune doesn't watch her eat, but she stays - reclining casually against the table - until Riven is done.

"Feeling more alive?" she asks.

"Yes."

"Feeling like talking about it?"

No. "No." Riven's not sure she can deal with a retread of that conversation. Whether her captain is right - probably - or not, it doesn't really matter. Thinking about it more is only likely to lead to taking it out on Katarina.

Miss Fortune sighs. "Gonna fucking do something about it?" she asks. It's the first time Riven's heard that voice from her.

"Got an idea," Riven admits.

Her captain gets up to leave. "Good."

Riven watches her go. Now, where might she find Katarina?

[]RAT[]

The problem is not actually finding Katarina. The problem is finding her somewhere that doesn't catch the both of them the interest of half the Noxian residents of the Institute.

Cassiopeia, at least, has been discreet about it, but for all her reputation, a spy isn't much of a spy if she can't hold her tongue.

So it's sort of a good thing that she slept most of the day away, because Riven finds herself outside Katarina's door. No one is within sight when she tests the handle and finds it unlocked. At first glance, the room is empty. Riven shuts the door behind her before taking a second.

It is far more lavishly decorated than her own room. The furniture has actual craftsmanship, rather than being untreated planks nailed together. Her sheets look like silk, but Riven doesn't dare touch them to find out. On one wall hangs the flag Katarina sails under. It does not bear the Du Couteau coat of arms, but one of Katarina's own design - all edges and implied blood.

And then there is her mirror, full length - of course. It's only when she looks in it that Riven remembers she slept with her hair up - locks have been loosed from the bun. A sprig of grass has managed to stick atop her head. She pulls the tie out, runs a hand through it. It's never going to not look like she woke up and ignored it, but at least now she doesn't look like she's been sleeping in the dirt.

The light bags under her eyes she can't do anything about. Even if she had any kind of hand with makeup, and Katarina kept it, it's not like any of it would match her skin. She can - and does - splash a bit of water on her face to clear away the tracks of dried sweat.

She returns to staring at Katarina's flag. There is something familiar about it she can't quite place, and she's not had a chance to study it before.

That's still what she's doing when Katarina ploughs through her door, and slams it abruptly behind her. Riven watches her out of the corner of her eye, taking a moment to finish composing herself.

Katarina leans casually against her door. She's trying to hide her smile with a sneer, and it's only half working.

Katarina's had her script. This is hers.

Riven wraps her hand in Katarina's jacket. Drags her closer. Katarina gives in to her smirk, drapes her arms over Riven's shoulders. Riven pops the buckle of her belt - it clatters to the ground along with the only blades she's wearing openly.

She takes the only fragment of revenge she'll allow herself. Riven digs her hand into the waistband of Katarina's leathers, and rips out. The button tears through the leather, gives her more room to work with.

Katarina crushes their lips together, devours Riven's breath.

Eager.

Riven bites her lip hard, and it draws a low moan from Katarina. Receiving pain is not - in Riven's experience - Katarina's thing. But there are small things that she can enjoy, not because they are hurts but because they are demonstrations of control. So much the better that, right now, Riven needs that demonstration.

A clatter wakes Riven as Katarina's bracers hit the ground. She hadn't even noticed Katarina releasing her head to do that. She breaks their kiss to fight with Katarina's jacket. Katarina proves cooperative, but she reclaims Riven's lips before it clinks to the ground. Riven unzips her top, but the press of their bodies together keeps it pinned up.

Riven runs her hand down Katarina's back, traces the scars she knows Katarina isn't proud of. Katarina tightens her fists in Riven's hair. She doesn't bite Riven's lip, but she makes damn sure Riven feels her teeth.

Her fingers play along the waistband of Katarina's leathers, half teasing, half making sure that she's not got one of her nasty hidden blades on her. Katarina does this shimmy, but it's not like her pants are loose enough to slip off. No, she must be unwrapped.

Katarina growls and pushes Riven toward her bed. Riven picks her up (she helps, wrapping her legs around Riven's hips), stumbles blindly toward it. She misses, crashing into her armoire. Katarina laughs and jerks Riven's head to lead her. Riven grunts, and seriously considers dropping her. She doesn't, but only because the grip on her hair is solid.

She topples, landing on top of Katarina with a chuff. She pushes Riven off to take the matter of her leathers into her own hands. Riven unbuckles her boots, and throws them away - by the time she looks back, Katarina's done working them to her knees. Disappointing.

One foot comes free, and Katarina decides that's enough, so she grabs Riven's waistband and drags her back in. She isn't about to complain, not with so much Katarina naked under her. Katarina kisses her again, all too brief, and pushes her down. Riven resists long enough for that particular frustrated snarl to cross Katarina's lips before she yields to the demand.

Her only thought is the one that she had the first time Katarina bent her over table and fucked her:

One way or another, Katarina Du Couteau is going to be the death of her.

[]RAT[]

Katarina doesn't kick her out until well after midnight, and by then Riven's had her few hours sleep.

[]RAT[]

"Are you well?"

Riven looks up at Leona. "Doing better."

She's more worn out than tired, and her blood pumps hot in her veins. She rises.

Leona meets her eyes. She keeps her thoughts to herself.

"Tomorrow," she says. Riven hides her disappointment.

"See you then," she says.

Leona leaves. Riven returns to dangling her feet in the pond.

[]RAT[]

But when Leona shows, there is something off about her. Her usual quiet is replaced by a stony silence that Riven doesn't dare test.

She is for the first time, without her armor. Riven takes the opportunity, as Leona climbs into the ring, to admire how little it changes her. And then she puts that thought out of her mind, because Leona has raised her hands.

Her own come up to guard, and then Leona hits her. Not particularly hard, but fast like she's actually fighting. Riven's heart surges, and she comes alive. Leona swings again, and this time she can see it, can react. She gets an arm down to throw the blow off, and Leona crushes it like it isn't there.

And then the tap against her side is just as light as before.

Riven steps back, rolls her shoulders, and breathes deep. She meets Leona's eyes. There's something there, but Riven doesn't know what it could be.

Prepared now, she steps back in. This time she pits her full strength against Leona's strike, and stops it. But it puts her off balance, and the follow up sits her down. Riven grunts as her ass hits the mat.

She climbs back to her feet. This isn't a new lesson.

This time, she steps in and rams her shoulder into Leona's chest. The swing turns into a one-armed hug that crushes her arm between them. Her other hand seizes Riven's free arm. Riven pushes in and up, and as Leona slides, snaps her foot behind her ankle, and they crash to the ground.

Leona hits first, and before Riven settles, she flips them over and kneels on Riven's arms. She presses one hand, open palmed, between Riven's breasts, and the other threatens to take her head off her shoulders.

Riven stares at her eyes, but Leona isn't looking at her. It's almost a minute before Leona gets off her and allows a reset.

[]RAT[]

Her arms are purpled to hell and back. Leona was gentle with her, but not her attempts to stand in her way. She wraps them in bandages just so no one asks questions.

Not that it stops her captain.

"What's up the Solari's ass?" she asks.

Riven shrugs. "I don't know."

Sarah Fortune sighs. "You aren't very good at this," she says.

"Good at what?"

"Being a friend," she says. "Did you even ask?"

A frown crosses her face. "Leona was not in the mood to talk," she says. She's not really sure what kind of friend satisfies their own curiosity rather than lending an arm, but it's not the sort Riven will ever be.

Her captain rubs her temples. "How did you ever get promoted?" she asks.

"My command trusted me more than the last lieutenant. So when he told us to go die and I gave them an alternative, they followed me." Riven plays with the food in front of her. She's served too much for how unappetizing it is.

"What kind of alternative?"

She pushes the plate away and sips at the now tepid water. "Get rid of him and win the battle instead." The particulars of that strategy she doesn't really remember - it gets mixed up with the others. She turns to find Miss Fortune staring at her.

"How did anyone trust you after that?"

They didn't, obviously. High Command burned her and her command.

Except that, for years, they did, and then Jericho Swain was retired so the Ionian Campaign could be proof of competence for those few who were anything but. And then they managed to cock it up anyway. The poison in the heart of her homeland.

"Under my command, we fulfilled our orders." In the end, her command performed where his did not. And results - results are what Noxus cares about.

And really, no one cares exactly who's in command of thirty-odd soldiers. Especially without a mage among them. She's pretty sure that it might actually have gone unremarked if she hadn't handed what was left of him over.

"Seven years," her captain shakes her head. "I take it you approve?"

Riven looks at her. She can't imagine trying anything of the sort on her captain's ship. Sarah Fortune is very, very good at what she does.

But. But her captain doesn't know that. She meets her eyes. "I have never been as proud to follow someone as I am you," she says.

Sarah Fortune sighs and shrugs. "You'd told me that six years ago," she says, "and I'd have kicked you off my ship without waiting to get back to port." Riven does not look away. Miss Fortune has done it before, on crew who didn't stop when ordered to. "But you've earned your bunk, so."

A breath she didn't realize she was holding escapes.

And then, in a subtle-ass subtle change of topic, she asks, "So things are better with your girlfriend now?"

Riven hesitates. She would never call Katarina her girlfriend. Not now, and not back when that would have been a much more accurate description. But it's not like she doesn't immediately know who her captain is talking about. (She does think that her captain doesn't know who she's talking about.)

"Better," she says. That's not a conversation she's interested in having.

"You forgave her, then?"

That's... not a question she knows the answer to. She has chosen. Elected to accept from Katarina this hurt, because she matters more than it.

And maybe because she knows what hurt she put Katarina through. And though hurt does not cancel out hurt, and she doesn't enjoy it, perhaps she cannot deny a certain satisfaction in it.

"She made it up to me," Riven says at length.

Sarah Fortune leans in close. "Do tell," she says. "Flowers and cinnamon?"

Riven cannot help but snort at the mental image of Katarina Du Couteau, tricorne in hand, uncomfortable blush, a handful of purple hyacinth, and a jar of spice.

[]RAT[]

It's not particularly surprising when she runs into the other outcast of the Institute. Diana has proven to be almost as bad at making friends as she is, and even less interested. There's only one thing within the walls of the Institute that she seems interested in.

The stare she fixes Leona with every time they're in the same room has this way of silencing pretty much everyone in it. Riven wouldn't call it hatred, exactly. But it's something like that.

It's something like hatred - but still different from the way she looks at Leona - in her eyes when she looks at Riven now. It's just the two of them here, though the sounds of summoners bustling keeps it from silent.

Riven thinks it's a little early to be breaking into the alcohol, but apparently Diana disagrees.

She takes a sip from the ceramic gourd. Riven steps around her, continues on her way back to her room. She doesn't miss the padding of feet behind her, but with her blood alive she doesn't exactly care either. At least, not until she's outside her door and Diana is still behind her.

She turns. "Diana."

The woman lets her bottle hang loosely at her side. "You're quite cozy with her," she says.

The only person who would be insulted by pretending she didn't know who Diana was talking about would be Riven herself.

"You are blind if you think that," Riven says. Though she enjoys spending time in Leona's company, it is only because in it, her blood lives in a way nothing else in the Institute can draw out of her. She has seen the smile Leona bestows upon her friends.

It has never been directed at her.

Diana snorts. "You are blind if you do not," she says.

She disagrees. But arguing about this will not satiate her curiosity. "You know her so well, then."

A brief flicker of that not-hate crosses Diana's face. "Better than all but Pantheon."

Whether Leona will agree is her question.

"So what is it?"

Diana pauses. Riven wonders if she's actually thought about this before.

"Believe in her if you wish," she says. "Don't fucking rely on her."

And with that bit of advice given, she spins on her heel and slips away.

Riven is left staring after her.

Rely on her for what, exactly?

[]RAT[]

It is not a simple matter to ask. It takes Riven a week to decide it is, in fact, worth doing so. Even then, she can't bear to ask before Leona has finished tearing her defenses asunder.

"Diana," Riven says while once again wrapping her arms. Her blood stains the fabric.

She looks at Leona to see her paused in cleaning her armor. Her eyes are locked firmly on Riven.

"How well do you know her?"

"Not well," she says, and there is a regret in her voice. "Not as well as I should."

Riven isn't sure whether she wants to press on this. She could live without knowing. Unless Diana meant something.

"She said I could believe in you, but not to rely on you."

It hangs between them for a long minute. Leona laughs humorlessly. "She would."

She can't convince herself to pry any more. If Leona wants to tell her something, she will.

Judging by how she returns to cleansing her armor of Riven's blood, she's done with the subject. She finishes tying off her bandages, and stands.

"Diana was Solari," Leona says. Riven stops. There's that word again. She still doesn't know what it means. "She wasn't very good at it."

That Riven can understand. Too much of High Command is not very good at being Noxian.

"She found something she was better at. The elders ordered her executed for it." Leona slams her mailed fist into the wall. The stone cracks. "I was here already. She killed them and escaped."

The ever present radiance Leona carries with her dims a bit.

"She never once asked," she says. Her voice is thick with something Riven can only think of as helplessness and she can barely stand to hear it. "She couldn't. She wouldn't have been allowed to." Leona's eyes burn, and the intensity of it almost drives Riven back. "She shouldn't have had to," and this last is nearly a whisper.

Asked for what?

As though she has read the question from Riven's thoughts, "I am blessed by the sun. But before that," Leona snarls. Riven crushes her reflexive response and presses her hands flat against her thighs. "I am Rakkor. I refused to kill for them."

She falls silent, and her attention goes distant. This blank, though, Riven thinks she can fill in.

Leona would do no more for any who asked that of her. Or any who asked her to step aside and allow it.

Except, of course, on the field of justice.

Riven lays a hand on Leona's arm. She starts, and snaps her focus back to Riven's eyes.

The silence remains unbroken. Riven can only think of one thing to say, but she can't force the words out.

Leona isn't very good at being Rakkor.

Eventually, Leona sighs, closes her eyes, and runs a hand over her face.

"Thank you," she says.

Perhaps Diana was not wholly wrong.

[]RAT[]

She finds herself in front of Katarina's door without considering the time of it. She hesitates, feeling the eyes of her countrymen upon her. This is not her place. She does not belong here.

She needs this.

That thought, not the spiteful glares, is what keeps her walking instead of knocking.

[]RAT[]

That night, Katarina appears in her room. Her touch is forceful, controlling, and Riven cannot bring herself to resist.

Nor, the next day, can she bring herself to cover the marks Katarina has left on her.

[]RAT[]

It is not a surprise that her captain comments on it.

"Wild night?" she asks.

No. Even this, where Katarina's teeth have bruised her neck and drawn blood from her collar, is tame for her. The only weapons Katarina has brought to her rooms are the ones her mother forged her with.

"Something like that," Riven says. Katarina is a terrible bar by which to judge.

"I suppose asking won't get me anywhere."

Riven shakes her head. It is not just self-preservation. Her lovers are not game for public debate, and while not all of them have shared this discretion, it has never proven a mistake.

"Well." Sarah Fortune pauses. "You're definitely good at that."

What?

Her captain must read the confusion on her face. "Being a secret."

That is a fair way of putting it. Whatever has ever been between her and Katarina has never been shared among many. The only ones that come to mind are Cassiopeia and Talon, and that only when Katarina concluded it was infeasible to not tell them something. After which, Cassiopeia working things out was an inevitability.

"We value our privacy," Riven says.

There's also the complicating factor that there are about five people within the walls of the Institute that do not hate her. And while the overlap with people who hate Katarina is hardly trivial, well...

One way or another, Katarina is going to be the death of her.

Riven would prefer not to be the death of her as well.

Miss Fortune sighs. "I suppose you would have to."

Riven finishes undoing her sandals, and lowers her feet over the edge of the pier. The water, agitated only by the magics of the summoners, laps at her soles. It is pleasantly distracting - and so, wonderfully soothing.

"You don't have to worry about it," Riven says.

"Of course I do." Her captain leans back on her hands.

She can't come up with a response to that.

[]RAT[]

Diana proves difficult to find. She isn't quite sure why she wants to find her, and so most of the time Riven only passively searches the Institute for her, which doesn't help. It took Diana seeking her out, after all, to run into her the first time.

It is only when the both of them are chosen for some practice blood sport that Riven even sees Diana again.

This time it is her turn to follow, though Diana is not half as willing to ignore her presence. And too, this time Riven is not being carried on the draught of her blood alive.

"What do you want?" Diana does not bother to turn before she asks.

"Leona," Riven says. The name escapes from her just as she realizes she isn't going to figure out the answer standing in this fucking hall with Diana.

Diana stops.

"What of her?" She asks.

"I asked her about you," she says.

Even though Diana is not facing her, even though she has spoken less than fifty words, and even though Riven is half trying to figure out why she's doing this at all - she can hear the snarl in Diana's voice.

"What of it?"

She'd really been thinking to use whatever time Diana would give her off that to figure that out.

"She said you would have been killed."

Diana rounds on her. "And? Do you expect tears and sorrow? Regret? Should I cast myself upon the rocks of Noxian mercy?" Her eyes burn with a pale white light. "Shall I cry over the sin of surviving?"

She isn't done, but Riven suspects she never will be. "No," she says.

"Then what do you want?" Diana taps her foot.

"I wanted to talk," she says.

"About what?" Diana grinds out.

Riven shrugs. "I don't know," she admits. "Tell me about your goddess."

Whatever irritation there is in Diana's posture is wiped away and replaced with suspicion. "Why?" she asks.

Her voice catches in her throat for a second. Diana doesn't have a reason to care. But she can't ask for this truth from her and lie for it. "Because you had the strength to stand up to your leaders and say no," Riven refuses to look away. No matter how much she wants to. That might be justification enough, but it is not why, so in a voice that sounds like the echo of her blade, she finishes:

"And I did not."

Cannot.

There is something that might be pity in Diana's eyes.

"Age and stupidity," Diana says, in a voice that's softer than any Riven's heard in years, "do not make leaders."

Oh.

"Come," Diana says, and turns to continue on.

And now that no one is looking to see, Riven allows a shaky breath.

[]RAT[]

Diana's quarters are at the end of what must be the most inconvenient wing of the Institute. It doesn't feel uninhabited, somehow, but no one is to be seen.

The interior makes her room look lavish. Diana has a bed, a stand for her armor, and a cabinet with one drawer. Riven has to wonder how she can stand it - she avoids her own room as much as possible, but still.

"I have no goddess," Diana says, and pauses. "You might call the moon one, perhaps."

Riven suspects this is the first time Diana has ever tried to talk about her faith. At least, to someone who was listening. She goes on like that, contradicting herself and stumbling.

She listens raptly.

[]RAT[]

Katarina is waiting for her when she arrives at her room. The waiting has stolen whatever patience she had - and while she's not naked already, she's lost her shirt and her feet are bare. She doesn't allow Riven the time to appreciate the sight properly, capturing her by the wrist.

How safe of her.

She does throw Riven onto her bed. She crosses her arms and stares.

It is very, very difficult to resist the urge to laugh. Not because it's terribly funny, no, but because...

Her shirt comes off, and slowly, with excessive precision, Riven begins to unwind her binding. Katarina frowns, and Riven meets her eyes. She finishes, and leans back on her hands.

Katarina leans over her, nearly brushing her nose against Riven's. Her breath is warm.

Her finger lands solidly in the middle of Riven's chest, nail leaving a trail of heat as she drags it down. It meets the waistband of her skirt, digs under it.

Then she pauses.

Riven's breath is the only sound in the room. After a minute of this, she settles a hand on Katarina's hip, tracing circles with her thumb on the exposed skin just above her belt.

Katarina tugs, and Riven obediently lifts her hips. Her skirt vanishes.

Then Katarina rips her supporting hand out from under her, and Riven sprawls over her bed. Katarina straddles her waist, rests her weight fully on her. She curls over Riven, caresses her throat with her lips. Riven's breath stills at the touch.

Her heart doesn't.

It isn't until Katarina finds her way up to Riven's ear that she feels teeth. Riven's breath escapes her at last, and she digs her hands into Katarina's hair.

She peels her away. Katarina's lips bare her teeth and her brow furrows. Riven captures her mouth with her own, bites her lip just hard enough to keep Katarina there. Katarina lets out that particular hum that says she wants something else, but she's not mad about this. Her hand slips into Riven's hair.

Then she goes absolutely still.

Katarina sits up, and isn't looking at her. Riven follows her gaze to - oh. Her hand is beneath one of her pillows. She pulls it out like she doesn't know if she wants to see it or not.

With it comes an old blade. It is small, concealable, shaped like a kite, but unmarked. It is polished to a mirror sheen, and a strip of leather stretches over the edge, though the tip of it has pierced that.

Riven keeps her mouth shut.

Katarina peels the leather away, staring fixedly at it. The doing so reveals that the angle of the blade changes abruptly a thumb from the end. The tip of it is as sharp as it ever was, though past the bend it has not been kept.

She has a glimmer of recognition in her eyes. She should, Katarina was the one to throw it at Riven once upon a time. The tip chipped, and she never cared to ask after it.

Her eyes remain fixed on it. Even Riven's hand closing around hers draws no reaction. Nor does guiding it to her side, just below her breast.

Riven breathes deep.

The tip splits her skin, and Riven closes her eyes at the familiarity of it. Reflexively, she tries to gasp and discovers that she can't. In one slow, careful motion, she guides it through a curve toward her navel. She stills it, and tugs it away from her body.

Only once it is a handspan away does she let out the breath she's been holding, and with it a shudder. Her hand falls limply away from Katarina's.

When her eyes flutter open, she finds Katarina's. There is a light in them she's never seen before, and then Katarina is crushing their lips together. Her tongue burrows into Riven's mouth - she nips it.

Katarina jumps up, fumbles furiously with her belt - not helped at all by only using one hand. Riven traces her fingers along the cut she's inflicted on herself, they come away slick with her blood. Katarina finally manages to free herself of her pants, and peels them off. Her thighs glisten in the candlelight.

Stilled as she is, Riven tries to compare the sting in her side to the tattoo on Katarina's. It's not something she's tried before. She doesn't think she's screwed it up too bad, but fuck getting up to look in the mirror. Her legs aren't going to support her.

And also Katarina is back on her.

[]RAT[]

In the morning, everything hurts. Her side is a mass of scabbing, and when she tears her sheets away, they look... well they look like someone was a little bit stabbed in them.

Katarina is still asleep beside her. She's wearing Riven's dried blood across half her chest. She's not touching Riven, but she's close enough that Riven can feel the heat of her body.

And to her chest, she cradles the old blade. Even now, in deep sleep, she's kept the edge of it away from her flesh.

Riven brushes a lock of crimson hair out of her face. Katarina twitches at the touch, bringing it right back. She follows the line of her scar without touching, wondering just how close it came to taking her eye from her too.

It's not long before she stirs awake. There is a flicker of something else Riven's never seen before, and she vanishes from her bed. She manages to get her pants on and her jacket closed over her breasts (impressive, Riven's never actually seen it done up before, hadn't thought it would actually fit her figure), and then she's out of Riven's door.

Sitting up is hard.

Katarina's left her shirt and her boots behind, but she's taken her knife.

Riven laughs, and then winces as it pulls at her side.

[]RAT[]

She has to basically write off her mattress and her bedding. There's no getting blood out of them. At this point, any chance of hiding it is washed overboard.

So, leaving it for whatever mechanism the summoners have crafted to maintain their quarters, she dons a robe and staggers off to the least used washroom.

[]RAT[]

Riven considers saying no when Leona asks if she wants to fight. But she does.

So it is that she finds herself up in their ring, stretching and wondering how it is she's going to do this without Leona finding out about Katarina's signature. Nothing in how she fights has ever protected her left side. Never has she accepted that she will be hit, but cared about where so damn much.

Leona is again without her armor, though this time there is none of the stillness in her. She carries a hint of a smile playing about her lips, and her eyes see Riven.

Riven taps Leona's forehead. Her response is a half second late, snagging Riven's wrist as she pulls it back.

"Is that it?" Leona arches an eyebrow.

"Just making sure you were awake," Riven says.

A shrug is her response, and then Leona hauls on Riven's arm and steps on her foot. Riven hits the floor, managing only just to get her right arm under her. Her side stings, but she checks while she stands, and she isn't bleeding again. Or at least, not enough to stain her shirt.

But she's closer to Leona now. Her hand whips up and around, curling into a fist just before Leona stops it cold. But she expected that, and so lifts her knee and rams it into Leona's hip. It feels like hitting a fucking brick wall.

Not that striking Leona has ever felt otherwise. At least the skin of her knee doesn't split.

Leona steps forward, bumps into Riven, and knocks her on her ass.

She's being very gentle today.

[]RAT[]

Riven bleeds despite it. A few too many trips to the fucking floor to keep from tearing her side open again. Leona doesn't miss the red spreading on Riven's shirt, but she's polite enough to leave it be. It doesn't show much, though Riven thinks it's enough to know exactly what the shape of the wound is.

"You talked to Diana," Leona says.

It's not a question. "Yes," Riven says anyway.

"Good."

[]RAT[]

Katarina has vanished.

Which is not true. She still appears in the broadcast blood sport of the Institute, ever a favorite of a certain breed of Noxian summoner. Despite that, however, Riven hasn't seen her in over a month.

Perhaps she's made a mistake.

Katarina always did hate leashes, after all.

Oh well, she thinks, and tries to ignore how much of a lie that is.

[]RAT[]

"What did you do?" Cassiopeia demands.

Hisses, and Riven can only just keep the sorrow of that off her face.

She shrugs. "Returned something I borrowed," she says.

Cassiopeia does not touch her, but there's no way Riven is getting past. She's not trapped, in any way - Cassiopeia obstructs only this entrance. Nor would it be the first time Riven slept in the dirt.

But that's not the point.

For all that Riven is surrounded by nothing but air and light, this is a private encounter. Cassiopeia has chosen well. Sometimes Riven wonders if Katarina is not the less dangerous of the Du Couteau sisters. Now, though, it's not particularly likely Katarina will rebut that by showing up in her room covered in someone else's blood.

"It was more than that."

Riven shrugs. To her it was. To Katarina? It looks that way now.

She can feel the power building in Cassiopeia, though. It is heavy and slow, and the mere proximity of it is tiring.

"Katarina," she says, and then stops because she has no idea what Katarina is doing. Eight years ago she'd have called it being thrown out. Today?

Today Riven thinks Katarina's chosen something and it doesn't include her. Still the same, but before it wouldn't be so hard to think about.

"Katarina didn't say anything to me about it," she says.

Cassiopeia pauses. The magics building in her eyes fade, though the dregs of it cling to her. She frowns.

When, after all, has Katarina ever needed words to get her point across?

Still. Katarina's given her answer.

Cassiopeia rises from her coils. "What was it?"

At this, Riven hesitates. She doesn't know how close the Du Couteau sisters are or aren't anymore, but that doesn't matter. It wasn't really about Katarina, just something for her. Cassiopeia has never known Riven well, but people are what she's good at.

And she is Noxian.

So Riven folds her arms. "Ask Katarina," she says.

Suddenly Cassiopeia is in her face. Up so close, the smudges under her eyes are obvious - so is the way her headpiece is slightly askew. Her hands fidget near, but not touching, Riven. Her decorated gauntlets click far more than they probably should.

She breathes: "She won't talk to me."

That doesn't sound very much like Katarina at all. Riven keeps her mouth shut.

"So what did you do to her?" Cassiopeia demands. The fangs she usually keeps folded back come to full extension. They lock her mouth half open. A moment later, Cassiopeia covers her mouth and turns away. When she looks back at Riven, her mouth is closed and her jaw is clenched.

The magic in her eyes is back.

Nothing she's said changes anything. Nothing Riven can say will change anything for her. Telling Cassiopeia will help nothing. The only thing it can possibly accomplish is to give her a weapon to use against Riven. Shit.

"I trusted her," Riven says in a voice that sounds like the sharpening of a blade. She looks away from Cassiopeia.

[]RAT[]

It's not that Diana really does anything notably different. It's just... sometimes Leona isn't the one she's looking at. Sometimes it is the mermaid. Riven has no idea what to call that look in her eyes.

Not taking her measure - it is neither predatory nor wary. But there is a measure of something like that in her.

She'd ask, but the only thing Diana ever likes to talk about is the moon. And really, the passion in her voice is just something Riven can't try and compete with. Diana does not believe in anything. She knows the strength and protection of her goddess.

It's both hard to listen to and impossible not to.

It is unfair. It is stupid. It is meaningless. Similar is not the same. There's no competition.

All the same, when Diana talks, Riven listens that she might someday glean why.

[]RAT[]

The next time Katarina shows up within her room, there are no smiles involved. She has a certain air about her, an utter calm that Riven has never seen. There are signs about her - the perfect stillness of her hands, the color of her lips where she has bitten them, the collapse of her shoulders - that reek of rage. And yet, she is lacking in that eager energy that always fills her before a day of bloodshed.

She's carrying what looks like every sharp thing she's killed someone with.

Riven's hand strays to the hilt of her blade while she takes Katarina in. Katarina would never forgive her if she lay down and died.

Katarina lifts one arm, hesitates, and then folds them. "I need..." Katarina says. Her voice is that of a dead thing. Riven hates it already.

What remains of her blade comes free of the hooks mounted in the wall. Riven shoulders it. Katarina meets her gaze unblinking.

"I," she repeats. Quiet enough that even here her voice is almost lost.

She tilts her head. She's listening.

But Katarina doesn't continue. She's breathing (Riven's pretty sure), and her eyes remain fixed somewhere near Riven. Her jaw might as well be welded shut.

"Fuck," she bites out at length. "Fuck."

Oh.

Riven risks taking a step closer, and another. Katarina doesn't move, but everything about her becomes... sharper. She doesn't reach out - touching Katarina would likely cost her that hand right now - but she's close. Close enough to feel the way Katarina's heel is tapping against the floor through her sandals.

"You heard what happened to my father," Katarina says.

Disappeared, politely. Dead, realistically. Riven nods. She didn't know the General personally, even with Katarina as they were. But he knew how to get things done without drowning his own command in Zaunite fire, so.

Katarina bares her teeth and doesn't say anything. She unfolds her arms, drops them to her sides like they're made of lead, clenches her fists, looses them, digs her nails into her leathers, pounds fist into palm, covers her mouth, and finally manages:

"I have to ask someone a few questions."

She says ask. Riven hears torture.

She steps around Katarina, not touching her. She opens the door to her room, steps out, and doesn't look back. She holds it until she hears the thud of Katarina's boots in the hall.

Riven isn't going to leave her alone right now. Can't.

What she can do is take the long way around, so this moment of privacy Katarina needs is long enough. Even still, it doesn't feel like long before she's standing in front of the ring she bleeds on with Leona. She climbs up, and tilts her head back to look at the ceiling. She doesn't look back down until she hears Katarina land.

Her swords come free.

This is really, really dumb.

All the same, Riven lifts her blade. Katarina swings at her. It's fast, but that's all it is. How embarrassing for one of Noxus' only blademasters.

Riven slaps the weapon away with her free hand and swings. It's not a blow meant to kill her, just to wound and slow her down so the kill is easier. Katarina twists away, and when she turns her eyes back to Riven, they are focused directly on her. And this time, when she swings for Riven, she does it right. Not like she means to kill her - that's not how Katarina fights. She means to make Riven bleed, to make her slow, to make her kneel before she dies.

Blood for Noxus.

[]RAT[]

It lasts the better part of an hour, because Katarina isn't ready to stop and it's not about Riven. Her blade hasn't been perfectly steady for the last third of that, and neither of them has the breath to shout or the control to stay silent.

By the end of it, Riven is bleeding from a few dozen odd cuts that are mostly deep enough to hurt and not enough to scar (including one that nearly left her unable to walk), and the one that ended the fight, that lays bare her collar bones. Katarina could have placed it a half inch higher - it would certainly have been easier to do - and Riven would be dead on the ground right now.

Katarina walks only with an arm over Riven's shoulders from a solid kick Riven put into her knee. She can't remember if it felt like she broke it, but it wouldn't be surprising. She cradles her other arm to her chest, with a hand that can't close anymore.

Halfway to the infirmary, she finally says, "I need your blade."

It's not a question.

She answers by turning and pressing her lips to Katarina's shoulder. She can't reach anything else.

Katarina doesn't look at her, nor does she blush. But a hint of a smile she can't fully suppress does tug at the corners of her lips.

The medic looks at them when they stagger through the door and says, "Fucking Noxians."

[]RAT[]

Riven attributes that no word of it gets out to Cassiopeia.

[]RAT[]

So it is that a quiet voice in the back of Riven's mind leads her to one of those less shitty Bilgewater pubs. There's a few faces she recognizes, and a few more that greet her in passing, but no one is particularly interested in talking. She breezes past the bar and up the stairs.

The voice gives her a number, and she tries that door. It's unlocked.

She sits at the table inside. Cassiopeia has occupied the bed.

My sister will be here soon, the voice in her head says.

Cassiopeia is not naturally talented at this. Nor has she been practicing for long, and mostly with her brother and sister.

"Okay," Riven says.

Talon will not be coming.

When Cassiopeia speaks as summoners do, her voice sounds as it did before the curse. It would be bullshit for Riven to say that she has not made the curse a strength, but it would be just as bullshit to say she thinks Cassiopeia would not change it if she could.

True to her word, it isn't a quarter hour before Katarina slinks in.

She barely acknowledges Riven before she sprawls over the only other chair. "How is it?" she asks.

Riven shrugs. Cassiopeia's touch on her mind is light. She doesn't know whether it will hold against a more experienced summoner. Nor how resisting her demands will go.

And just as Katarina had warned, Cassiopeia's magic burns her. It is only the heat of bare skin on a sun warmed rock, but under her scalp. Even this Cassiopeia's curse has touched.

She won't pity Cassiopeia, she refuses to insult her like that. Neither can she pretend to sympathize. Instead, Riven does the only thing she can do - accept Cassiopeia as she is.

Tolerable, and Riven's mouth is halfway open before she realizes the answer isn't hers. She stills, and meets Cassiopeia's eyes. A smirk dances on her lips.

"Tolerable," Riven says when enough time has passed that both of them know she does so by choice.

And yet.

She'd prefer the heavy hand of a summoner commanding her to do something incredibly stupid on the fields of justice. At least she knows to fight that by instinct.

It is unlikely that her presence will be necessary. It is more so that she will need protection against a summoner.

But there's no point in running that risk.

Whatever questions Katarina has for the High Councilor are between them.

[]RAT[]

Her captain is not happy about the new scar Katarina's given her. She doesn't ask about it, but Riven's blouse hardly hides it, and she doesn't hide her stares either. It is thick, dark, and raised - Riven would dare to say the medic didn't care overmuch how it healed.

But it's kind of hard to miss the suspicion in her voice when Sarah Fortune asks, "So how's your girlfriend?"

Riven has to consider her answer for a moment. Eventually she admits, "Stressed."

"How are things between you?" Miss Fortune's voice sounds just like it does right before she throws some idiot overboard.

Riven shrugs. "I do what I can."

"And her?"

Katarina takes what Riven offers. Once she would have demanded more, and Riven doesn't know why she hasn't.

"She appreciates it."

Riven has always thought of her captain as towering. And right now, though her captain is sitting beside her on the pier, Riven feels like she's about two inches tall.

Her captain doesn't even have to say anything.

[]RAT[]

Whether Diana cares, or even notices Riven can't tell. For all that she's told Riven about herself, Riven still doesn't know anything. For years and years she resisted when told to just sit down, be quiet, and be a good Solari.

But.

Why?

She never went along with it, with expectation that someday she would get a chance. She did not bend her knee to them.

Not once did she allow others to take from her.

Of course it's possible that it is all a lie. That Diana is making up a history to look better. In whose eyes, though? Not Riven's, Diana doesn't care about her opinion. Leona's? But even if Riven were to tell her Diana's tale, she knows it already, and what is Riven's story of Diana's word worth?

Even then, suppose she is lying. That every day Diana bowed her head, worshipped a goddess she didn't believe in, that didn't believe in her. That every day of her life, she surrendered a little more.

Diana still stood before those masters, and when they threatened her, she killed them.

If she is lying, then her words hold something she believes about strength. All Riven wants is to know what that is.

[]RAT[]

Leona proves oddly interested in her new scar. Riven refuses to say much of it, only repeating:

"Practice," when Leona asks.

"What sort of practice leaves you with that?" She asks every time.

The answer is the best kind. The kind that makes her heart pump blood through her veins. The kind that makes her pull every trick, every idea she's ever proven will save her life and make up some new ones. The kind that's only separated from actual battle in that it doesn't always end with at least one corpse.

Noxian practice.

Which she can't say because that as good as admits who it was with.

"Enthusiastic practice," she says instead.

Because, in the end, what Riven does with Leona is play. She's increasingly convinced - any time she strikes Leona, it is because Leona allows her to. Well, not quite that. Leona presents a level of skill that is just above her own, and adjusts it to keep it that way when Riven does better.

In all of Valoran, Leona is the only warrior Riven knows she would kneel before rather than die.

It's not an answer that satisfies her. But Leona never presses further.

Silence, Riven can bear.

It is in such a silence that a summoner approaches Leona. It is almost public - as public as the Institute of War may be. "You have visitors," he says.

They are... they are Rakkor and yet not. Tall and broad, but lacking in that iron edge that Pantheon, Leona, and even Diana have about them.

"Chosen," the first of them greets.

"Elder." Leona nods. Riven's presence goes unremarked. She steps back, not away, but far enough that if they desire privacy, they may have it.

Judging by the volume, they don't.

"The Institute has granted us an endorsement," he says.

Riven spies Diana. The way she looks at Leona is not quite hate, but in her eyes right now is a frothing, murderous rage. It is the look of someone who, with her dying breath, would lay a curse on her enemy.

"A match, where in our victory will the heretic be released to our care."

No.

No.

No.

No.

No.

No.

No that's not possible. What the fuck. No. Champions of the Institute are fucking protected. No. The safety of those who shelter here is fucking guaranteed. No. The Institute settles disputes, it doesn't hand over its warriors like so much cattle.

Fucking-

"No."

Leona's voice sounds like the fall of a hammer. She carries not her shield nor sword, so she folds her arms across her chest. "That is not going to happen."

The man looks as though his world no longer makes sense. It is not the look of a man betrayed - it is that incomprehension that comes before realizing that.

"You are obligated-" he starts to say.

There is something utterly unlike a flash of light. When she can see again, nothing is changed, except...

Except Leona.

Her armor no longer looks forged of light and gold, but mortal bronze. Her hair, not burnished copper, but orange. And her skin, no longer radiant, but tanned.

"I will not allow you to kill her."

"She is a murderer!"

"Yes."

Leona falls silent, though she remains firmly placed. The man doesn't manage to come up with anything to say.

Riven can think only, self defense is not murder, but even that defense pales before Leona's silence. An argument, after all, may be attacked. Leona has already conceded Diana's actions. It just doesn't matter to her.

The hatred is gone when she thinks to look at Diana again. Riven can't put a name to the way she looks at Leona now.

[]RAT[]

Katarina crashes into her room with all the subtlety she's ever claimed to expect of Riven.

"This," she says, "this is good. Convenient. While everyone is distracted by the match, we can-"

"I can't," Riven stops her.

"What?" Riven meets Katarina's bemused stare.

"I'm going to be in it," she says.

Katarina bares her teeth. "Do you want to fuck her so bad-"

And Riven's fist crashes into the wall. The light of her will flares, and the stone cracks and her knuckles split.

"Tell me what exactly the difference is between Diana and me," she spits out in the voice of her blade.

Noxus doesn't punish murder half as harshly as it punishes desertion in the face of the enemy.

There is a reason Riven has spent eight fucking years avoiding Noxus and her blades. Murder is ignored - General Du Couteau - and forgiven - General Darius - all the time, so long as the murderer isn't stupid or gets results.

Cowardice is not.

And now Noxus knows Riven is alive, and whoever might have been hiding her can't anymore. And if this shit fucking happens, Noxus is going to be after her head.

Riven has killed for Noxus, and she would die for Noxus.

Not for the poison at the heart of her homeland.

"Fuck," Katarina says.

"Fuck," Riven agrees.

[]RAT[]

The match gets delayed. With both Pantheon and Leona refusing to stand with the Solari elders, that team is left without half its members. Perhaps more, but Riven doesn't know who else they might have had lined up.

Leona ceases to wear her trademark armor. She dons instead some loose orange... thing. Riven would call it a sheet. Mostly it serves to emphasize that Leona is a fucking giant.

More than once, Leona borrows Riven and Pantheon alone to the fields of justice. Whatever sort of magic she usually wields, she isn't now. On the fields, her shade comes wrapped in thick, savaged steel plate.

There is a certain ease to her now. One that manages to, for a bit, make Riven forget just how fucked she is if this ends wrong. It's only after those (and when Katarina is done wearing her out) that sleep comes swift and sound.

Katarina makes sure she's well aware that Riven looks kind of like shit when that isn't happening. It's too easy, falling back into the habit of sleeping mostly in naps and gorging once a day. She hasn't lived like this since trailing the Zaunite war machines in Ionia.

Small wonder that sometimes she wakes with screams in her ears.

Once, it is Cassiopeia's burning touch on her mind.

[]RAT[]

It's one of those few times she's sleeping for more than an hour. Katarina's let her stay, and while she's not in her arms, she's close. It's actually just fucking insane that the presence of Noxus' most sadistic assassin is what lets her sleep well. But...

Katarina Du Coteau will be the end of her.

Riven starts awake when Cassiopeia brushes her mind. She sits up, ignoring the twinge in her thighs, except to check that the wrap hasn't slipped. For all that Katarina does appreciate sleeping in blood, she's not interested in wrecking these sheets.

She's actually kind of surprised Katarina didn't confine the both of them to the lounge chair. It's comfortable enough, and she's done it before.

At Cassiopeia's command, she pulls her clothes back on. She dares a glance in Katarina's mirror. She looks exactly like she feels:

Fucked.

She hesitates, though, to wake Katarina. Cassiopeia insists, but every time Riven looks, the way Katarina's rolled over and thrown an arm where Riven just was stays her hand.

Cassiopeia does not react well to the suggestion that she wake Katarina up. There's a sensation oddly like something is digging into the back of her skull, and Riven goddamn near drops to her knees. She can't quite see clearly anymore, but she reaches out to shake Katarina's shoulder.

Before touching her though, Katarina seizes her arm, drags her closer, and sinks two fingers deep into the hollow of her throat.

Riven's having trouble breathing, and she's not sure how much of that is Katarina and how much of that is Cassiopeia.

The sleep fades from Katarina's eyes. She frowns.

"Sister," Riven hears. It takes a minute to realize it's Cassiopeia's words on her voice.

Katarina rips her hand away like Riven burns her. Riven coughs.

"What is it?"

Her tongue is her own again. Riven clenches her fist, and listens.

"She says the High Councilor fucked off to Noxus."

Cassiopeia's anger burns, but Riven's fully awake this time, and she can't drive it so deep. This is her fucking body, and Cassiopeia doesn't get to use it as a puppet whenever she wants.

"For how long?" Katarina isn't bothering to do more than sit up in bed. Riven stares at her breasts. Cassiopeia does not appreciate them.

Also, she's starting to wonder why exactly Cassiopeia wanted her dressed.

"She doesn't know."

Katarina snarls. "Then why the fuck did she wake me up now?"

Riven starts peeling herself back out of her clothes. Cassiopeia's touch gives up and fades.

"Because it's four hours after daybreak," she says.

[]RAT[]

She hasn't seen Diana since. Leona only shrugs when she mentions as much. She probably could find Diana in her room if she tried, but. There's something just too pushy about that. There's nothing she needs so badly to talk to Diana about.

Riven isn't even really sure she can say she misses Diana.

It's just...

It's just that Riven wants to know what Diana thinks of all this shit. Fuck, she doesn't know what she thinks of it except some kind of bone deep chill. At least assassins would just kill her. But if Noxus were to win her...

The best she could hope for is an execution in the Fleshing. The worst, well, High Command believes in making public examples.

When she finally does spot Diana, it's about where she should have expected.

Riven's staring out at the pond. It's the middle of the night, and she is not so fortunate with sleep just now. Though it isn't going to put her to sleep, there's something soothing enough about the sight of the moon on the waves and the smell of saltwater to be restful. Not much, but maybe enough that tomorrow she'll be able to navigate the institute without thinking about not walking into things.

So it takes her a few minutes to notice that she's not completely alone.

Not that Diana is close to her, almost halfway around the pond and head turned up at the crescent moon. Riven stands, brushes some of the sand off, and heads over. She meets Diana's eyes briefly, and Diana goes back to her moon.

But she doesn't leave.

And when Riven finally sits down near her, Diana says:

"Hello."

"Diana," Riven says.

There's a long moment of silence.

"So you're going to be protecting me?" Diana asks.

Riven snorts. "You hardly need my protection."

"No," Diana agrees. "I don't." Eventually, she asks, "Why?"

Self-interest. "You're not the only one whose homeland wants her dead." And because Riven still doesn't know what Diana's strength is. And because Leona is. And because so far, the ones that want Diana dead just look like assholes.

And maybe because the Riven hates the thought of doing nothing and knowing that Diana is dying alone.

"So you expect me to stand by you?"

Diana's eyes burn with white light - as does the mark on her forehead.

"No," Riven says. "But I expect some people will think that."

Her eyes still fixed on Riven's, Diana hums.

"Do you," Riven hesitates. Diana arches an eyebrow. "Do you believe in Leona?"

And Diana looks back at the moon.

"She's just a woman," she says eventually.

But isn't that the reason to?

[]RAT[]

Her captain doesn't tell her that she's going to be joining them. Riven finds that out from Leona.

"Captain," she says.

Sarah Fortune looks up from her pint to shoot her that smug smirk. "Sailor," she says. "Pull up a chair."

The table's empty now, other than the two of them. Riven sits down, sets her own mug on the cleanest bit of table she can find, and slides the other over to her captain.

She bumps her hat. "Thanks."

Riven waits for her to finish downing it.

"Leona says you'll be on her team," Riven says. Her captain nods. "Why?"

"Someone has to." She stretches. "And your Solari friend asked me."

Sipping her drink buys a moment.

"Didn't know you were until after I agreed," she says. "Not disappointed at all."

Which is an odd thing to say. Instead, Riven asks, "What do you think of Diana?"

Her captain shrugs. "Don't know her. Heard she killed some people who thought they had a right to her life." She looks Riven in the eye. "Ain't the first time I heard that song and dance."

All of the answers to that Riven comes up with start with yes, but. Which means none of them are worth saying. So she keeps her mouth shut.

"And you?"

"She's very strong," Riven says.

Her captain clicks her tongue. "So it's not her either," she says.

What?

And then Riven notices how her captain's gaze is locked on the new scar Katarina gave her.

"No she isn't," Riven says. She goes back to nursing her drink.

"You're an adult," Sarah Fortune says. Riven raises an eyebrow. "And I can't tell you that you can't fuck whoever you want. But I'd consider whether someone who makes you bleed is worth it."

One way or another, Katarina Du Coteau is going to be the death of her.

She checks, but no one is paying attention to the two of them.

"I don't know," she admits. "But I'd rather not know with her than without."

But most of the time, yes. Eight years couldn't get Katarina out of her system. Riven doesn't know what could - especially not after this new dose of her.

Sarah Fortune shrugs. "Good luck with that," she says.

"Thank you," Riven says, but her captain isn't looking at her and she doesn't say anything in response.

She doesn't say anything before she gets up and leaves.

[]RAT[]

They aren't much of a team, not really. Riven's fought on the fields of justice with and against each and every one of them. Leona only manages to organize a single practice with all of them (including Diana, something Riven expects but doesn't believe) before the Solari elders get five champions of their own.

She would dare to say they're rushing it, because the same day they give their final list to the Institute, they set the date for a week away.

Somehow, Riven is utterly unsurprised to find Cassiopeia on the other side.

[]RAT[]

Not that she is the only familiar face. In a fit of what Riven can only believe to be desperate stupidity, the Solari elders have enlisted a team that includes General Darius and his brother. She can't imagine what they promised the General - though if the stories about his brother are half true, all he needed was the promise that the match would be the event of the season.

Onto this Noxian backbone, the elders have pinned both the... plant woman, and the mummy. Zyra and Amumu.

She finds her personal opponent to be the General himself.

Riven may have once been Noxus' favorite soldier, but the only reason it wasn't him is that the General is the living, breathing monster Noxian nobles terrify their children with.

The worst part about this is staring at what might have been. The story - a peasant, enlisted in the military, a rising star whose ascent began on a foundation of Demacian corpses - is all too familiar.

And this is the best she's going to get. Not to test her strength against his, her blade against his axe, but these fucking walking corpses that pretend to be them.

Muscles scream when she stops his axe, but they aren't hers. Something that shouldn't tears, and her blade doesn't quite come around right when she returns the blow. But he's taller, and though it isn't much, there's enough of an angle on his block that when she shoves, he slides backward.

Leona wouldn't.

And then the barbed hook on the back of his axe buries itself in her flesh and drags her in. A shout bursts from her lips, and his eyes defocus for an instant.

Her blade's pinned between the two of them, too damn close to swing, so instead she grabs his axe hand, and forces it onto the edge of her blade as she pulls back.

The corpse that isn't General Darius looks at the bone showing, shrugs, and whirls. It tears through her guard like she isn't there, and fucking ought to leave both of her hands limp. She looks down at arms that really aren't attached to her anymore, and spits.

Then her blade comes up.

And then out of fucking nowhere, Diana's pale, glowing weapon erupts from Darius' chestplate.

Riven blinks.

The thing that isn't Darius crashes to his knees. There's a moment of too-familiar hate in his eyes before the body dissolves.

Her summoner drags her back.

Bathed in the light of the flesh factory, her corpse knits itself together. Charms appear on her belt, and everything about this becomes a little bit worse.

The strength in this corpse's limbs is multiplied. It's not yet hers, but it's closer now. Not that it matters in any way, not here where the body she wears can go toe to toe with the likes of Morgana and not be brushed aside like a noisome fly.

Soon enough, she stands before General Darius again. Whatever advantage in charms she has over him still doesn't quite cancel out the fact that he's years of experience on her, that he's dulled his axe on more corpses, that he has not lacked in enemies who could actually threaten his life. His axe cuts deeper than her blade, though her flesh knits faster.

Her summoner commands her attention to where Leona approaches her, trailed by what appears to be the rest of the Noxian half of their enemies.

Then Leona jumps. She does not reach half the heights Pantheon does, nor the distance.

But it is high and far and when she comes down shield first on the General, it puts him flat on his back for Riven to finish him.

Then an axe comes whirling at her, and it would tear her arm off if the rules of this fucking place allowed it. The corpse she's wearing gasps, and its insides burn with Cassiopeia's magic. Riven doesn't look at this flesh, because she's seen all too many times exactly what Cassiopeia's magic does and she will never watch as her muscle sloughs off bone.

She inflicts her will upon the world with a hiss, and her blade forms like it once was. She drives forward, and her summoner rips a hole in the world for her to pass through. The scream Cassiopeia lets out every time she forces her poison through her eyes stings her ears, but she doesn't see it.

She shouts, and it stills both of them for a moment. She spins, catching a glimpse of Leona as control returns to her, and carves a mark on Draven. A second, and then bandages tangle her limbs and bring her to a halt. Tears rot away at her, and with a tumble that rakes scraps of the mummy's wrapping through this body, it fails.

The last thing she sees is a burst of cold, white light.

Not that she's allowed to rest for long. It does not take long for the summoner to unspool enough energy from the nexus to spin flesh on a skeleton enough like hers that it won't throw her off too much.

She draws her blade and steps back out of the pool of light onto the field.

Her summoner directs her toward the dragon. Whispers of a fight that's brewing there.

The water is nearly knee deep, and somehow poses no difficulty to walk through for this corpse. Her captain is nearby, spinning her guns idly. Leona she can hear, if not see. Pantheon, her summoner whispers, is close enough to be there with a jump.

And Diana, when she sees Riven splash into view, swings at the fucking dragon.

Not that it's a dragon. Not really, and it's not really much like one either. It sits and breathes fire at Diana, and barely fucking tickles her. Riven steps forward, and her summoner commands her to halt.

Bait.

Draven's axes rip out of the tree line, rip through the dragon's wings, and nearly take Diana's leg off. She lets out a sound that's half scream and half laugh, and the dragon dissolves. She turns to flee, and then the General is in the pit with her, the hook on his axe sinks into her side, and drags her in.

Riven lunges. Darius carves through the back of Diana's legs, a wound that for no fucking reason at all only slows her down because it's inflicted by him. Riven hits the bed of the river hard enough to stagger the General momentarily.

Roots burst through the water, digging through her calves and locking her in place. Riven spits, enforces her will upon this place, and with the full length of her blade can still fucking hit Darius. Bandages entangle Diana, and then the mummy is beside them. Cassiopeia's magic burns her lungs.

Draven's axe tears through her back, and she lunges again for his brother. She hits him again, and then some kind of ancient script freezes her in place. She flings a hungering wind at the General, and then more vines finish tearing this corpse apart.

Her captain's mad laughter is the last thing she hears.

Her summoner claims things are going well, that her allies have taken more territory than their enemies.

When she has a body again, Riven returns to trying to bring down the turret that Darius was guarding. It falls, unaided, and she can't imagine why. Her summoner confirms that the enemy team isn't off killing hers, nor off destroying turrets.

Her summoner drags her back.

And none too soon, for their enemies surge toward their turrets, fueled by their slaying of the purple worm. The first of their turrets falls as they race to gather behind the next.

Impatience, overconfidence, Riven doesn't know what exactly to attribute it to, but Amumu flings his bandages at them. Leona intercepts it, meets the mummy with her shield to the face. A bed of vines erupts beneath their feet. Riven lunges, and her summoner rips her a path into the enemy.

Leona digs the hooked tip of her sword into Cassiopeia and drags herself forward. Draven's axes tear toward her captain, who rolls out of the way and off the vines as they snap closed on the heels of Pantheon's jump.

Cassiopeia shrieks in Leona's face as she stomps hard enough to stagger the four of them, and Riven will never forget the expression it freezes there. Her captain's mad laugh rings out and a fusillade of bullets covers the lot.

Diana rides a burst of white light through a wall, and when she lands next to Leona, drives the tip of her sword into the ground. The weight of her magic drags them all closer. Pantheon crashes back down as Riven forges the world into her blade once more.

She loses track of who dies to what, and what wounds are returned by who, but in the end it's her team that's intact and the enemy that's fading into dust.

She doesn't quite believe that they've won, even as the enemy stronghold collapses in upon itself.

[]RAT[]

Riven's still not sure they've won when Katarina congratulates her that night.

[]RAT[]

It takes setting foot on her captain's ship to believe it.

She's not really supposed to be here. At least, according to some of her fellow crew. But Miss Fortune never said anything about it, and right now Riven really needs the rock of a ship beneath her, and the ocean breeze in her lungs.

Admittedly she really wishes she wasn't docked, but.

Diana is safe.

She is too.

Now she can go back to thinking about things that matter, like how in the world she's going to keep Katarina alive.

It doesn't seem so hard right here.

[]RAT[]

She gets her first full night's rest alone in what feels like forever.

[]RAT[]

It isn't long before Cassiopeia's magic sears her mind again. It is as gentle a touch as Cassiopeia can manage. Riven would call it polite.

The High Councilor is on her way back to the Institute. She's arriving that afternoon, and Katarina has run dry of patience. The way Cassiopeia says that makes Riven think she has too.

Anyone who ever said Cassiopeia is not as scary as her sister has clearly never felt her anger.

So it is that, when the sun has set, Riven is standing obnoxiously in the middle of a hall with the remains of her blade slung across her shoulders. Cassiopeia's magic is firmer seated than she's ever felt it, now it feels like a sunburn with saltwater drying on it. She's silent - has been since she settled in.

It's vaguely worrisome in a way that slips away from her like an overly greasy sausage. Hard to pick up, and she's not sure she actually wants to.

It is twelve minutes since Katarina passed by her. It wouldn't be the first time Riven's stood guard over a torturer working their trade, and in her experience a rush job of it is still going to take an hour or two. Still, Katarina is very, very good at killing people painfully, so perhaps it won't be so long after all.

Riven focuses on breathing. On the way her blade digs into her shoulder. On the burn of Cassiopeia in her head. On the sting of Katarina's latest signature. All of these things make it easier to not think about who might be coming around that corner any minute now.

Because there are hundreds of summoners, and almost a hundred of their champions. Even those Riven would recognize would drive her mad to try and plan for.

So she's actually caught flatfooted when that same fucking summoner who came for her rounds the corner. He stops dead seeing her, and they spend a moment staring at each other.

"What are you doing here?" he asks.

Cassiopeia has to prompt her to speak. "I went for a walk," she says. The searing heat of Cassiopeia's magic makes it harder than usual to keep her voice even. "Stopped to rest."

Which is obviously a lie. Riven's blade has only left its stand for practice drills since she arrived at the Institute (and once for Katarina). Unlike some, she does not idly wander the halls armed.

The summoner frowns. "Please step aside," he says.

"Now," she says. It is as much Cassiopeia's word as hers. "That wouldn't be very restful, would it?"

"You're blocking the hall." The summoner keeps looking at her blade. His mouth draws tight.

Riven looks around. "So I am," she says. Cassiopeia manages to make her sound surprised.

"Move."

She hums. "I don't think so."

The summoner frowns. His brow furrows. Riven feels nothing.

Cassiopeia whispers. "You're not half bad at that." Riven's lips curl into a smile that bares her fangs. But that isn't enough. Cassiopeia is as much the General's daughter as Katarina is, and no shit summoner is half the Noxian she is. For every loop they can sink one of their hooks into Riven's mind with, Cassiopeia has three.

The summoner takes a step back. His eyes are wide with surprise.

And then Riven hears Katarina storming toward her. What?

But though she thinks it can't be, it must be someone else, one of the hundreds of summoners who just happens to have that exact pace and weight and anger, it is Katarina who shoves her aside. It is Katarina who nearly bowls over the summoner. It is Katarina who Riven has to marshal a snarl after, so late that the summoner is almost back to looking at her by the time she thinks to.

His eyes fix on Riven, narrow. It's much easier to glare at him.

Then he steps forward. Riven stays against the wall Katarina put her on. The summoner appears to decide that Riven's not going to do anything now, and continues past her.

What the fuck happened in there?

[]RAT[]

Riven doesn't need to know.

Whatever happened between the High Councilor and Katarina is just that. Perhaps she has shared with her sister and Talon, but that's her choice. And anyway, this is really a Du Coteau matter. They need to know much as Katarina does. Whatever's between them, Riven's just a peasant who wouldn't know what to do with the details anyway.

Riven doesn't need to know.

And if Katarina did all this just to get Riven to stand in a hall for a half hour for her, that's actually insane. But even for a Noxian, Katarina enjoys watching people bleed out a little much. And if because she's gotten Riven to do that, Katarina doesn't need her anymore, and isn't going to talk to her ever again, well. Riven doesn't have much room to complain.

Riven doesn't need to know.

Maybe eventually she'll be able to stop telling herself that.

[]RAT[]

Riven has to stop the shot to Leona's side before it actually lands. She stares at her fist for a quarter second before Leona dumps her on her ass.

"You stopped," Leona says.

A grunt is the only response Riven can muster. She rubs her knuckles and doesn't get up. She's sweating altogether too much for how little time they've been in the ring today.

Leona sits down next to her. She lets the silence draw out for a few minutes before she finally says, "Thank you."

There's not much to be thanking her for right now.

"Diana is safe," she says.

Oh. That. "You would have found someone else," Riven says.

"But I didn't have to," Leona says. "I trusted you."

Riven blinks. She turns to look at Leona. Or rather, Leona's back. She isn't wrapped in armor today. South of the sharp line of her tan, her skin is pale white.

On her shoulder blade, there is a patch of skin no larger than her palm, which draws her eye because it is ever so slightly sunken and even though they haven't been going long enough for her to work up a sweat, glows with a slight sheen. It is a scar unlike any Riven has seen before, but unmistakable.

Equally so is the shape. A circle, cradled by a crescent.

"You say that like you believe I didn't do it for me."

Leona shrugs. "You're just a woman. You did," she says. "But you also did it for Diana."

No response comes to mind, so Riven keeps her mouth shut.

"What happened?" Leona asks.

"I," Riven pauses. It's too embarrassingly arrogant to actually say. Whatever strength she holds, Leona is far too strong to not see coming. Had it caught her by surprise, with every ounce of her will dedicated, she might have been able to hurt Leona. "I wanted to hurt something," she admits. "And I can't."

"It wouldn't be the first time," Leona says.

And she's right, of course. Riven closes her eyes, draws her knees up and rests her forehead on them. She forces her breath to come slower.

"That's not a reason to do it," she says.

Leona hums. "How long has it been?"

"A month yesterday," Riven answers before wondering what exactly Leona is asking about. "Since what?"

A smooth chuckle follows the hand on her shoulder. "You haven't had a single surprising bruise or cut for a while."

She hasn't even seen Katarina.

"What happened?"

"I don't know."

[]RAT[]

"You've been moping," her captain says. It's the only thing she's said since she sat down almost an hour ago.

Riven stares into the half full mug in front of her, and the two empty ones next to it. "Huh," she grunts. There's an anchor at the base of her skull, and it might be the only thing keeping her head attached.

Miss Fortune spins her own empty lazily.

"You didn't," she says. Riven thinks she should know what her captain means, but she doesn't.

"What?" She looks up from her drink.

"Did you do something to piss off your girlfriend?"

Oh. "No," she says.

Her captain waits a minute, looking at her like she expects Riven to admit that was a lie and spill her guts.

"What did she do?"

"Nothing," Riven says. Katarina's done nothing. Nothing. At. All.

That's fine. It's her right. It's exactly what she owes Riven, after all. And Riven doesn't need her.

It's just, it feels kind of like her stomach is collapsing in on itself and doing its best to crawl its way out of her mouth.

One way or another, Katarina Du Coteau is going to be the death of her.

"So what happened?" Her captain drums her fingers on her mug.

Riven shrugs. "She talked to someone and didn't seem to like it."

Miss Fortune frowns. "Did her family not like you?"

Well... not really, but. Cassiopeia and Talon don't care enough about her, and Katarina's parents are dead.

"It wasn't about me," Riven says to her cup.

"So have you talked to her about it?"

"No." Riven stops to consider whether this is enough to identify Katarina before deciding that she doesn't care, and says, "I haven't seen her since."

It's the sound of Miss Fortune dropping her mug that makes Riven look up again. "And you haven't tried to find her?"

The idea of trying to find a Noxian assassin who doesn't want to be found is, of course, hilarious. People who try that end up dead, but she can't fault her captain for asking.

Also, there is no world in which Katarina thanks her for it. Katarina leads. That's how she works. Riven follows, or Katarina doesn't so much as look at her.

But that too Sarah Fortune can't know, so Riven shrugs. "It'd just give her an reason to hate me," she says.

"So you're drinking."

That's fair though. Riven can't remember the last time she drank this much at once.

"So I'm drinking," she agrees.

Her captain grabs Riven's wrist. There's no challenge in her eyes when Riven meets them.

"She worth it?"

And it's fucking hard, but Riven dredges an answer up. "To me," she says, but it sounds just like the crack when she broke her blade.

Her captain gets the next round.

[]RAT[]

When the knock on her door turns out to be Diana, Riven lets out the breath she's been holding. It is, in some small way, a relief, and that alone is almost as bad.

On the other hand, she doesn't remember ever telling Diana where her room is.

Still, she opens the door wide and stands aside. Diana enters.

"I wasn't expecting you," she says.

Diana shrugs. "I never got to thank you," she says.

What the hell is this.

"I'm not the one you should be thanking," Riven says.

The mark on Diana's forehead dims as she frowns. For the first time, Riven can see that it isn't just a mystical symbol. It is backed by a taught, pale (even more than Diana's normal tone), raised scar no larger than her palm.

Riven has seen brands before.

"I'm glad," she says.

"She said you'd be reluctant," Diana says.

It gives Riven pause. "If it wasn't me, you would have found someone else."

"But it was you."

She can only shrug. There are vital roles and there are warm bodies, and she's pretty sure which of those she served.

"Was that all?" Riven asks.

"Yes." But Diana is no disciplined spy, and the way she glances around Riven's room betrays her.

"Then, if you have time, I could use another pair of hands."

There's no smile when Diana nods, but the way her attention firms on Riven is close enough.

Diana proves not very good at darning, but Riven isn't either.

[]RAT[]

It is both not a surprise at all and a shock that makes her blood race in her veins when Katarina kicks her bed to wake her up. She's wearing every single weapon Riven's ever seen on her.

There's a demand on the tip of her tongue, but the clench of Katarina's jaw and the way she keeps looking away shuts Riven's mouth again. Instead she sits up, and her sheets pile up in her lap. She rolls her shoulders to buy a moment to think.

"Katarina," she says eventually. Her voice is calm and level and so full of iron that she might as well be pointing her fucking blade.

Despite that, Katarina ploughs right in.

"My father isn't dead."

Riven has to close her eyes to consider this. Katarina, she supposes, would be the one to know. She must have already confirmed. Still...

"It's been three years," Riven says.

That particular sound of leather on leather says Katarina is squeezing her own arm in lieu of someone's neck.

"He died," she says. "But he's not dead."

Oh.

Oh fuck.

"It's not my father," Katarina says. And it won't be, exactly as much as it is. The necromancers are good at what they do, but their materials do have a tendency to rot a bit before they get their hands on them.

Once again, Riven feels like trying to touch Katarina would end with her bleeding out on the floor. Instead, she extends a hand and leaves it out.

Katarina's hand slips into her own, and when Riven looks up, Katarina is very much not looking at her. Riven shifts over, and Katarina takes the space she's left as the invitation to sit down it is.

It is a long, quiet night.

[]RAT[]

"I need you," Katarina says. Riven strokes the back of her hand with her thumb. Dawn has yet to break. She's scooted back to lean against the headboard. Katarina stares in the general direction of her door and spins one of her throwing daggers. She has yet to reclaim her other hand.

"Kolminye can get my father out." Katarina turns, kicks both feet up onto Riven's bed with boots still on, and leans back. Her shoulder bumps Riven's. "The price is your head, attached or not."

This isn't Katarina killing her, though.

"Do you believe she will?"

"No," Katarina says. "So I'm asking you."

Riven wouldn't believe the High Councilor if she said the sea was green.

"I don't know her," Riven says.

"Neither do I. What would you do?"

But Riven doesn't have a father. "I would want to know why it's taken years to tell anyone about him."

Katarina doesn't say anything, but her shoulders curl in and her hand goes slack in Riven's.

"I'd ask," Riven breathes, "If you'd do it for me."

It is so unlike her - so gentle and slow - that for a minute, Riven doesn't realize Katarina's head is resting on her shoulder.

"If it didn't work?"

Riven closes her eyes and breathes in the scent of Katarina's hair.

"Blood for Noxus," she says.

"And if it did?"

"Blood for Noxus."

[]RAT[]

There isn't the slightest hint of surprise in the High Councilor's face when she sees Riven following Katarina. Even if there was, Riven would call it a lie.

"I remember," the High Councilor says, "When you first came to find me after the Coeur Valley betrayal."

What?

She taps a finger on her desk, and the door closes behind them.

"It's good to see you've finally tidied everything up."

Riven crosses her arms. So this is the bullshit they're going with.

"Well done." The High Councilor's smile is cold. "Miss Du Coteau, your father is released into your custody."

"I'll be accompanying her," Riven says.

"But of course. Exactly why I sent for you." She points at the wall to Riven's right, and she only just has time to see something flying at her before she gets a hand in the way to keep it from smashing into her face. "At last, you can wear that openly."

The emblem is a red horned skull on a black background.

This is a strange game. The Crimson Elite have been dead for decades.

Riven shoves it into her belt.

[]RAT[]

General Du Coteau is a man Riven knows only by reputation, but she's pretty fucking sure this isn't the same man. There is the obvious, the stitching holding flesh together. His skin is loose too, as though he's lost a great deal of weight. One of his eyes has been replaced by a camera that wraps halfway around his head. When he talks, the wrong word comes out in the middle of a sentence:

"Katarina, how harpoon to see you again."

And then, of course, there's the way Katarina looks at him like he is a knife in her back.

The necromancers claim to be pleased with his progress.

Katarina looks exceptionally sharp right now. Another day, Riven might wait until they've settled in for the night, but here and now, aboard this carriage, she threads her fingers through Katarina's. The leather of Katarina's glove creaks as she does her best to crush Riven's hand.

She uncrosses her knees and continues to stare at her father. The man is absolutely still, and the only sound he makes is the soft mechanical hiss of his breathing. He stares out the window, chin in hand, as though he hasn't seen the outdoors in years. If the tower they dragged him out of is any indication, he hasn't.

A burning touch slinks up her spine.

Cassiopeia and Talon are waiting.

Riven isn't clear on why neither of them went to haul their father out of the... laboratory. They certainly know where it is, so it's not a matter of secrecy.

Her eyes pull toward the man. Cassiopeia's touch on her mind goes silent and still for a moment, then leaks away.

Breaking the silence with a cough draws both of the Du Coteau's attention. She can see something of Katarina in her father, though he lacks a certain edge. "Cassiopeia is prepared to receive us," she says.

The grip on her hand loosens.

[]RAT[]

Riven stops and sits down next to the fire while Katarina ushers her father upstairs toward a family reunion of sorts. She pulls the Crimson Elite emblem from her belt and turns it over in her hands, staring at it.

It seems, at first glance, to be plain metal. Perhaps it even is, though Riven has yet to get a chance to examine it in detail alone. It has a solid weight to it, and it sounds that way when she raps her knuckle against it.

No amount of pulling, prodding, scratching or spinning results in any discernible change to it.

Still, Riven has all the magical talent of a rock. Whatever secrets this fucking thing holds might just be inaccessible to her alone.

Eventually, she looks up from it to find that at some point Katarina's come back down.

"The Crimson Elite," Katarina says. "It's a pretty chain."

It is at that.

[]RAT[]

Riven is sort of surprised when Cassiopeia comes down. She draws no small amount of attention as she slips onto the couch next to her sister. The tip of her tail winds its way up onto Katarina's lap, and she shoves it off.

"He didn't recognize me," Cassiopeia says softly.

The emblem is still cool to the touch as Riven rolls it in her hands. This is a conversation between sisters, and she's just an uncomfortable intruder in it. But there's nowhere to go, not really, and Riven is good at not listening to things.

Also, if things go that way, she knows how to dig a grave and they don't.

Out of the corner of her eye, Riven catches Katarina's attempt to mask a snarl. Her hands clench, and then press flat against her thighs. Riven flinches, and discovers that she's almost driven the emblem into her palm hard enough to bleed.

"Cass," Katarina starts.

"I had to tell him," Cassiopeia says like she can't hear her sister. "And then he knew, and it was like it happened yesterday."

Katarina inches her hand hesitantly toward Cassiopeia's. Cassiopeia's claws punch through the cushion. She hides her mouth with her fist.

"That's not father," she says. "Just the bad part of him."

"It's what we have," Katarina says, but her voice is harsh and it sounds more like she's cursing than comforting.

"Exile," Cassiopeia says. Riven looks up. "Why are you here?"

As Cassiopeia well fucking knows, Riven doesn't have an answer for that. Not one she can put words to.

Not when Katarina would never forgive her for it.

[]RAT[]

Her captain barely glances at the emblem. "What is it?" she asks.

Riven crosses her arms. "It's a collar," she says.

Nothing happens when Miss Fortune picks it up - the same way nothing happened when Katarina did. Riven's almost ready to believe it's just metal. She tilts it to the light through her window.

"Do you need me to tell you to get rid of it?"

Riven doesn't know if she can.

"It's from the High Councilor," she says. "It's an easy way to protect myself."

"Be protected," Miss Fortune says, and Riven has to concede that. "Is it really easy?"

It is. All she has to do is wear that fucking thing.

"Yes."

The answer makes her captain pinch the bridge of her nose. "What's the price tag?"

"It's a collar and a leash," Riven says again.

"So, your freedom." Miss Fortune drops it back on the table and leans back in her chair. "For which you get, what, a title and to go back to killing whoever you're told to?"

Yes.

But also, not being the reason her captain and fellow crew go down lost at sea.

And also, not having to stand back and watch Noxus in the hands of that poison killing everything true about her.

And also, not pretending like every time she hears fucking Noxian she doesn't look to see who's talking about her.

And also, Katarina.

"You don't owe me anything," her captain says. But that's shit and they both know it. "If you want to give up everything you've made for some paper, that's up to you."

Our enemies take from us.

Riven shoves the emblem back under her belt. "Thank you," she says.

[]RAT[]

There's a new uniform waiting in her room. It is black as night with red detailing to match the shawl. She finds with it a purely decorative golden headpiece, more a diadem than a helmet. It is thicker and harder to the touch than it looks. For the best, since it looks like it's made of paper thin leather.

With it laid out in front of her, Riven has to admit she was wrong.

This is the collar.

She's still staring at the fucking thing when Diana knocks on her door.

"What is that?" she asks.

"A uniform," she says. "From Noxus."

Diana touches it. Riven nearly pulls her away from it, but then can't figure out why. It's just clothing. It can't infect Diana with an absurd fondness for Zaun and it can't kill her.

"It's... well made?"

That's true.

"It's a command," Riven says. "I go back."

After a moment of silence, Diana meets her eyes. "Are you going to?"

Riven shakes her head without saying anything. Diana rests her hand on Riven's shoulder. She squeezes gently.

"I'm listening."

If there's anything Riven has learned about Diana, it is that above all else, the idea of saying something and not being heard is what she is most afraid of. All the same, she can't force a smile out. Riven closes her eyes and tilts her head back.

"I know what I'm going to do," she says at length.

Opposing Noxus is a thought that resists being.

Diana waits without saying anything. Riven doesn't know if she's done yet.

In the end, Riven is a daughter of Noxus. And she serves.

"Thank you," she grinds out. It's only hard to say because she doesn't know what she's thanking Diana for. But she needs to anyway.

As soon as Diana lets go of her shoulder, Riven misses the contact.

[]RAT[]

It's not long after that Diana leaves. It's not long after that Katarina slips in her door.

"Awfully cozy with her," she says. But her eyes have already locked on the fucking uniform, and she doesn't wait for a response before she starts to circle it. Her hands curl like she's holding her swords.

Too fucking bad.

Riven grabs her jacket and drags Katarina to her. She doesn't let her get out much of a protest before crushing their lips together. Katarina doesn't melt into her arms, but she doesn't freeze up and shove Riven away either.

She sinks her one hand into Riven's hair, the other draws her skirt up until Katarina can slip under it. Riven lets go of her jacket and slips both hands beneath it. Okay so it's taken her a while, but Riven's figured out how to get that bustier of hers off. When she feels it come apart, Katarina straightens, pulling away, and laughs.

Riven gets up on her toes to kiss her again. Katarina finds her bed and sits.

This is clearly unfair since she's still wearing her goddamn pants. Riven tears her belt off and drops her skirt anyway, before straddling her lap. The smirk Katarina wears is so fucking perfect that Riven has to bury her face in her neck to avoid it. She sucks hard on that sensitive spot just behind the corner of Katarina's jaw, letting her feel teeth.

The sound she's rewarded with - that she will always refer to as a moan, and never, ever a whimper - is almost perfect, but since it isn't her fucking name it's not good enough. She works her way down just below Katarina's collar and does it again, absently tweaking her nipple.

This time, Katarina has to breathe, "Riven." Her nails rake down Riven's back, a thing she figures out mostly by the staccato thud of it, and a little when she reaches the smoother skin at her waist. It's bare now, and she's not entirely sure how that happened or where her shirt is.

Katarina's jacket isn't coming off, and neither are her pants, not like this. She fumbles with the belt buckle, temporarily forgetting how it works with the taste of Katarina in her mouth. Eventually, Katarina's hands close over hers and pull them away. Her hips roll, and suddenly Riven's sitting next to her.

A shrug gets rid of her jacket, and she makes quick work of her belt. It isn't until she's worked her pants down past her hips that Riven remembers she's still wearing her boots, and decides she doesn't have the patience for all that. She isn't half as sudden as Katarina (but maybe as distracting), but she manages to pin her on her back all the same.

She gets that arched eyebrow of Katarina's that, just now, says really?

Yes, really.

There's only just enough space for her. Katarina tugs at her hair, and Riven nips her inner thigh half warning and half teasing.

"Fuck," Katarina manages.

This is actually turning out to be terribly difficult, especially with Katarina's thighs trapped by her pants. It's the first thing to come to mind, so Riven drives her arm under Katarina's hips and props them up. It's not perfect, and it's not really even good, but it's better, and she can deal with it.

(She knows at some level that Katarina is cursing, but it's all tangled up in an ongoing laugh so she continues to ignore it)

Her tongue starts to trace a half-remembered Du Couteau coat of arms but doesn't even manage the outline before giving up and settling for a quick thrust that elicits a gasp and a twist on her hair. She takes up a slow side to side motion, intermittently throwing in a quick upward stroke that never quite tags Katarina's clit, and even rarer as deep a thrust as she can manage.

It isn't long before Katarina's thighs are slick with sweat, and she's writhing and panting and oh okay Riven can't deny that this is definitely a whimper. But she at least is merciful, so Riven shifts upward just enough to gently flick her tongue across Katarina's clit.

And Katarina comes undone. Her entire body goes taught like a main sheet in the wind, her weight comes off Riven's arm, and everything goes very, very still for a moment. Then Katarina deflates.

Riven rolls off her, though her arm remains trapped. The floor is cold beneath her, and there's a dull ache in her knees, but she can't muster the effort to free herself, so she sits and rests her head on her shoulder.

"I'm not done with you," Katarina mumbles, and Riven shuts her eyes.

Good.

[]RAT[]

The moon is full, and it's light pours in through her window. Riven settles for blocking it out with the crook of her elbow. She can feel the beat of her heart in her chest. Katarina's slow, measured breathing fills her ears.

"I need you," she confesses.

For a moment, Katarina doesn't respond. Riven counts a dozen heartbeats.

Then Katarina pulls her closer, wrapping her in a light but firm embrace, and rests her chin on top of Riven's head.

"We are stronger," Katarina says.

Riven is sure Katarina can feel the heat of her blush on her breast.

"We are," Riven affirms.

[]RAT[]

This uniform is ostensibly made to put on alone. Riven doesn't really believe that, since the both of them can barely squeeze her into the damn thing. It's not that it's too tight once it's in place, it's that Riven does indeed have hips and the zipper only opens down to the waist.

It fits well. She's not surprised, the summoners can fabricate something that feels like her enough to move. The High Councilor could doubtless have a corpse made to fit it on.

Katarina presses a kiss to the nape of her neck before finishing zipping her up.

Riven's pretty sure there was a hood at some point, it takes her a moment to find it on the floor, edges frayed. She hadn't noticed Katarina cutting it off.

But without the hood to anchor to, the diadem bites into her forehead.

"What are we going to do?" Katarina asks.

That's easy. "Teach the High Councilor what it means to take from a daughter of Noxus," Riven says.

Katarina's smile is eager and her laugh full of hunger. "Blood for Noxus."

[]RAT[]

The High Councilor doesn't bat an eye when Riven walks in without the hood. The remnant of her blade remains in her room as instructed - supposedly she's being presented with a new weapon, befitting her station. And maybe that's true and maybe that's just a way to get her to surrender unarmed to Noxus' tender mercies. It doesn't matter. Either way, it will be a spectacle.

"Good, you're on time," Kolminye says. "Come along now."

They end up in a room with an arch that has the Noxian flag atop it. "Step through."

Riven does. She doesn't recognize where she is on the other side, but it isn't the Institute. The High Councilor appears beside her, and then takes off at a brisk clip. Riven follows her past the stares of the guards and the steel of their weapons.

They come to a halt on a balcony overlooking a plaza, and now Riven knows it. This place is recorded, broadcast live strategically throughout the city (and later across the rest of her territories), used for momentous events - the promotion of a general, declarations of war, executions of traitors.

Fucking perfect.

Riven assumes a proper military posture, back straight, head held high with pride. Kolminye throws her arms wide and smiles out into the sun.

"Noxus," she says, and Riven knows well that even normal speech booms in the plaza below. "Today it is my honor to welcome one of our own back home. She has served me loyally for these last years, but those days are done. It is time to release her from my employ to the greater Noxus."

She turns her head and gestures for Riven to step forward.

"The first of our reborn Crimson Elite: Riven."

This is hard. Almost as hard as Riven expected it to be. Her arms are taut with the effort, and her heart races in her chest.

"I am a daughter of Noxus," she says, and manages to keep her voice even. This is so much easier with her blade. "My every breath serves. The enemies of Noxus are my enemies. They thought me dead, but I survived because I was not done with them."

Because the world remembers what her blade is supposed to be. It resists her will enforcing its shape so much less. Here and now, with empty hands, she will never be able to forge it.

But she doesn't need her blade, and this she knows - if anything - better than it.

"So here I am. The enemies of Noxus know me now, know where I am."

There is a flash of green light as she finally strikes the dagger into existence - an old blade, shaped like a kite, but unmarked. Polished to a mirror sheen, the edge of it bends in before the tip.

She drives it into Kolminye's chest before the High Councilor has a chance to realize something is happening. There's a moment that Riven gets to watch the satisfied smirk blossom on her face before the woman evaporates into smoke.

Yeah, she hadn't really expected that to work.

Still, she turns to point the blade out at the crowd below. "Come to me, enemies of Noxus. You tried to take from me once. I will show you what strength is."

The weight of the world crushes the blade back into order, and Riven turns and runs.

Past the guards - the corpses Katarina has left to lead her to safety.

They lead to a broken window. She takes it without hesitation. It isn't a long fall, only a single story, but it fucking hurts when she lands all the same.

Noxus is a city built on a mountain. Most of the governing offices stand near the peak of it. Fortunately, this one is not. This one is within the sprawling military district at the foot - the only place with enough space to house Noxus' army in one place.

Now though, Riven is on her own. Even Katarina can't get away with slitting throats in the open. She has to find her own way to the harbor.

[]RAT[]

It's easy to figure out where Katarina is waiting. There's only one pier on which everyone is dead. It's just...

It's just the redhead waving her on isn't the one she'd expected.

"Board!" her captain roars, and Riven obeys without thinking.

"You're lucky," Miss Fortune says, ushering her below decks. "Your girlfriend is much smarter than you are."

She is at that.

Katarina is pacing when Riven finds her. Her hands are still red and slick with blood like she's killed almost a score of people in the last five minutes, which, well, she has. Riven captures her wrists, presses her lips to each palm in turn, staining them.

The diadem fell off at some point during her flight, so there's nothing to stall her when Katarina trails her hands up into Riven's hair, smearing blood across her face and streaking her hair with it. She tilts Riven's head back, and leans down to claim her lips.

[]RAT[]

"So. I hope your plan is better than your exit strategy was," her captain says.

Riven closes her eyes. "It's not," she says. It's been a long fucking time since she planned anything.

"Well. Let me know when you and your girlfriend figure it out," Miss Fortune says. "We're heading for Bilgewater in the meantime."