((Vroomvroom, it's time for some crack!
There's the fanfiction.net link, although I honestly prefer the look of it here. Well, except for the rampant censoring and all.))
Chapter 1: Melodramatic Melancholy
I am in love with a fish.
Isolated, he could understand all of these words. I, an extremely common pronoun. Am, an equally common verb, and the first person singular present indicative of be. In, a preposition, in this case, used to indicate a condition. Love, somewhat more nebulous, but often used to indicate a feeling of closeness or -- more apt in this case -- romantic attraction, caused by social conditioning and chemicals produced by the body.
Perhaps he should use infatuated, instead.
I am infatuated with a fish.
Hmm. Still not much better.
With, another preposition, to indicate a relationship between --
His mind stuck on that word. Relationship. A honeyed word in this case, a word capable of meaning something entirely benign and in this case, but in this case --
Shouldn’t his cheeks be beyond flushing by now? Or was it perhaps a trick of the mind, this heat consuming his face? Ah, he could only put his head in his hands, long, bandaged fingers splayed across his mangled face, and mourn the long gone days of sanity where he wasn’t in love -- infatuated -- afflicted with feelings for a FISH.
A, an article, used to denote a singular item.
Placing his hands on his workbench, head bent, the little wisps of remaining hair pulled down by gravity across his scalp, Singed thought about everything that word entailed. Yet, despite how he tried to put it in perspective - despite how he tried to reduce her to just a finned, scaled, meandering denizen of the ocean, he just… couldn’t. Somehow, this simple task escaped his incredible willpower.
Not when Nami’s smile stood out to him like a patch of sunshine peeking through the clouds on a stormy day.
Immediately, Singed stopped, recoiling at what he’d thought. What had he turned into?! A melodramatic sop? How did that thought even cross his mind? He should be working, concocting the latest and greatest mad brew! He should be stoppering death, weaving disease! And here he was, brooding, brooding like some adolescent boy over a fish!
(A fish with a very pretty face, his traitorous mind added, and a rather nice figure. )
Mermaid, technically, he tried to justify to himself, fingers curling in on themselves as he slumped into his seat.
(What would Warwick say? his traitorous mind mused, his fervent brain already whipping up what his old mentor would have to say about the grim situation Singed found himself in. A fish (mermaid), how had he let it come to this?)
Singed, the mad chemist, pining and aching like a schoolboy over a chipper, upbeat mermaid. He let his head clunk onto the wooden table housing his materials, a heavy sigh passing through his thin, beaten, scarred and strong form.
Why? He asked himself, asked the world. Why her?
he remembered that night when he honestly, genuinely thought he would die, his body filled with his own glorious creation, the bandages around his mouth stained and soaked with blood, the beautiful flower blooming from his own mistake, his own miscalculation, his frame wracked with hacks and his mind fading away
An accident in the lab, was that what began it?
When mixing his chemicals, he’d unintentionally blended some toxin so powerful that it could affect him, even in this mangled state. Had his brain rotted that night? Had he breathed in some drug that he had yet to, months later, purge from himself? Was the damage permanent? Would he be afflicted with this disease for the rest of his pathetic life?
She’d found him there, lying on the floor of the Institute of War, dying, and she’d cared for him. It’d taken over a week to nurse him, or so they’d told him, chiding the chemist for his latest descent into madness.
He had only vague memories of that time. The cool touch of water on his skin, reaching down into the muscle and organ, mending him, repairing him (as much as it could, at this point, with a body as irreparably damaged as his, vitality and strength bred from death and decay.) Hands, a gentle voice. He awoke to a face, pale blue with vibrant golden eyes. Had it been love at first sight?
(no, no, no it hadn’t, he’d been so bitter, refusing any further treatment, getting up immediately, shutting everyone out, and never thinking anything further of the girl who saved his life. He hadn’t thanked her, it hadn’t been some revelation, he just -- went on as normal -- but --)
She hadn’t, had she?
Maybe it was pity. She had an awfully big heart, after all, the savior of her people, the girl brave enough to venture into the dark and take on the mantle of Tidecaller. Perhaps she had multiple hearts, you never knew with fish, weird little buggers. He smirked, head propped in his hand. A truly incredible heart it must be, to have enough room for him in it, enough room to spare him kindness.
Ah, yes, she’d taken notice of him. How did you get those scars? Her worried face when she asked that, her gentle concern. Her look of horror when he said he’d done it all to himself. Did he come off as some lost lamb, as some poor soul to save? Bah!
You’re too thin! You need to eat more. She’d brought him food, setting it outside his door. Occasionally she’d force her way into his lab to watch him eat it. It ended up happening more and more often. She’d ask him questions. He would answer, for some inexplicable reason. Perhaps he thought it would make her flip her tail and leave, never to return, having seen the depths of his monstrosity. Somehow that morphed into talking. Somehow, that transformed nto long discussions, the two of them sitting against the wall in his lab, her arms wrapped around her tail, him talking about himself and her talking about herself, and that world under the water, and what brought her to that place.
He found her in the library and helped her get a book that was too high for her to reach. He found Nautilus harassing her, and glared down the monster in the tin can. Her laughing afterwards, throwing her arms around him and calling him sweet… Things like that, and those sunshine days...
Was that why he felt this way right now?
Because of that day, sitting outside, with a -- with a picnic basket, into a day she’d dragged him into? Into the sunlight and a blue sky? Some fresh air will do you good, Singed! I made it all myself, see?
It should make him sick. He tried to make himself feel sick. He succeeded when he thought about her more, about talking to her about these feelings -- although, surfacing memories of those grotesque seaweed and shrimp sandwiches helped, too. But it was the boyhood kind of sickness, nervous, flighty, a prickling in the stomach, not the illness that came from embarrassment or disgust. It wasn’t the proper kind of illness he wanted. The proper kind of shame, embarrassment, and a return to sane behavior.
Again and again she sought him out, by chance or by intent, again and again and again she smiled and slowly, slowly, so slow that he hadn’t realized it at first, he warmed up to her. Told her about his experiments. Told her about Zaun, studying with Warwick. Told her about how he needed to create. The lights that filled his mind.
He always wondered why she never found him horrifying. She was too nice to hang around someone like him. He had, quite unobjectively, done awful things. Spreaded death and discord and absolute suffering. Burned flesh, burned nature, burned it all in chemical fire. And he liked it. He had no shame. He wasn’t repentant. He’d do it all again, given the chance. When the forests rotted and people rotted and everything rotted he thrived, because it was genius.
Nami couldn’t be that naive. She couldn’t be that blind. She had to see him for what he was. And yet… every day, there she was, knocking at the door with a bright, happy smile. It baffled him. Every day she sat with him, and they talked for hours upon hours. Describing the world to her as he knew it, telling her at length about his homeland, aye, she listened to all of his thoughts and beliefs without shame, and she presented to him a world under the water, far removed from anything he knew...
Ugh! That didn’t matter. Her idiocy shouldn’t matter, it didn’t matter, what mattered was…
This longing to see her again. To have her… to have her accept him. To maybe, to maybe -- he didn’t even dare think of it. Shame, an uncertain trembling, oh, what a disease, what an awful illness. An awful indiscretion, an ultimate failure on his shoulders. Perhaps the drug of fascination affected him so strongly because he’d lost his tolerance. It’d been so long since he’d felt anything like this.
The sound bid him out of his reverie. Irritation flared up as he stood; who dared interrupt him now? He was having such a nice brood! A growl of irritation rumbled in the back of his throat as he stumbled over to the door, practically flinging it open in his irrational annoyance, and --
He stopped. Actually, it was more like time everything stopped - time ground to a standstill and his heart stilled in his chest. ****, it felt like being hit with one of Zilean’s time blasts. ****, ****, ****. He stared down at a beautiful pair of amber eyes. ****!
“Singed, are you alright?” Her sweet voice called to him (and he was being unobjective, he was certain he could qualify it, quantify it, test it, it was not a symptom of this horrific affliction)
Smoothing back his lack of hair, he composed himself and replied, “Yeah. I mean, yes, I’m fine.”
“Are you certain? You seem… preoccupied.”
“I thought it was someone else,” he answered with a vague half-truth. “What are you doing here? I’m very busy, so…”
“But it’s time to go to the bar!”
Oh. ****. Really? He leaned back on his heels, ducking his head into his room and eyeing the clock. Oh. ****. Yes it was.
“Should I go tell Gragas you won’t be…”
“No!” Oh no, if Gragas found out, that would be a nightmare. No no no, Gragas’ big fat nose needed to stay firmly out of this situation, his fellow alcoholic mastermind could not get any inkling of this. Singed didn’t need any of those uncomfortable questions. “No, I’ll just, uh… just give me a minute.”
****, why in all of Runeterra did he promise Nami that she could watch him open the bar?
(Because she seemed so curious, his traitorous mind helpfully reminded him, because this was the only thing you could show off to her with pride, the bar that he co-owned and co-ran with the keg master, and because she smiled so widely when he gave in…)
Pressing his back to the door, he tried to calm himself. He had to act normally, and that started by getting dressed.
Not that he wasn’t dressed already, mind, he wouldn’t have answered the door in the buff, but when he worked the bar, he liked to dress with a modicrum of style. It was nice to do once in awhile, and he felt like his shorts and harness weren’t going to cut it for such a public job.
(Besides, if he wore a suit, he might actually somewhat approach the term handsome, and wouldn’t he like Nami to think -- )
Fumes, he must be mad. His sallow body would never be handsome again. He’d traded that for strength and knowledge, he traded that for his own passions and had never looked back, never once regretted.
He put the suit on anyway, though, crisp black lines and a stark white shirt cutting a fine figure. Straightening his bowtie in the mirror, he sighed and rolled his shoulders, trying to work the stress from the day out of them. How did the rest of the world stand things like this? It was unbearable! (He wasn’t like the rest of the world, though, was he…?)
With a grim face, he turned to the door to face his doom, masking itself in the guise of a beautiful mermaid.
She leaned against the wall, delicate, scaled hands clasped together. Her seaweed like hair floated around her, as if she were still suspended in the ocean. Until he called out, she didn’t seem to notice his presence - in fact, her expression appeared quite troubled, her front teeth pushed into her lip and her brow furrowed.
“Nami?” He tried to rouse her with a word, in a tone that gave his harsh voice some degree of gentleness. Immediately, her eternal smile flared up once more.
“Wow, you look nice!”
Thank goodness for the bandages covering his face.
“You don’t have to lie; I’m far beyond caring about my appearance.” Singed smoothly chided, and the mermaid puffed out her cheeks in offense.
“I’m not lying! You do look nice.”
“Well, I’m glad even a fish can appreciate good dress sense.”
“Wh-- hey! You…!” Her arms waves about at her sides for a moment. “You, you… butter! You’re being a butter!”
Having come from the ocean, Nami didn’t quite have a handle on most surface colloquialisms, such as swearing. Singed couldn’t stand it - the laughter bubbled up and soon he was cackling. He assumed she meant ‘butt’, and that made it even more hilarious.
“What is it? What has you so amused?” It was times like this that amused him so, when she tried to draw herself up so regally, like a true leader of her people, and fell utterly short.
“I don’t think that was what you meant to say,” he finally managed.
“You’re right, I meant to call you a -- a rapscallion!” She finished off the word with a proud smile and a flick of her tail.
“Well, that I admit.” He spread out his hands, his grin so wide that it was visible underneath his mask. “I am a devilish rogue, through and through.”
“Shameless!” Nami thudded her fist against his arm completely ineffectually. Even if he didn’t have a skin so tough that it could deflect even the sharpest of Katarina’s blades, it wouldn’t have done much, as the mermaid wasn’t particularly strong.
Well, at least with her fists. Her water magic, however… Her displeasure with him was clearly conveyed by a splash of water sent flying up at his face. The shock of cold and the douse of water in the eyes made him splutter. “H-Hey!”
Already, though, she was gone, flicking her tail and swimming down the hall, a giggle trailing after her like the tail end of a scarf.
“You…!” And he was off after her in an outraged rush, the chased becoming the chaser for once, following the shining scales of a rather peculiar girl.
His cloth wiped around the edges of the glass, a steady, endless repetition. It was a slow night - most patrons, what few there were, had settled down with their drinks, only disturbing the quiet buzz of the evening for the occasional refill. Instead of accomplishing anything, the idle cleaning helped limber his thoughts, occupying his hands while his mind worked.
At first, she’d stuck by his side in fascination, watching them prepare the day’s drink list, wipe everything down, set the chairs up - all the little things that they needed to do before they opened. Question after question she fired at them, most of them about alcohol, all of which Gragas cheerfully answered (Singed wouldn’t dare take away the pleasure of talking about booze from the man who made it his life). Eventually, though, when patrons came in, she drifted away to socialize. He caught the occasional burst of bright words, but other than that…
Well, she seemed to have herself entertained, her hands flying about in some passionate story she was telling to a table containing Fizz, Lux, and (hah!) Riven. The white haired girl spared a look at him, glaring death down his way, and he paused briefly wave cheerfully at her. Heh, heh, heh...
He couldn’t help but wonder what she was talking about. Something fish related, judging from the hand motions, she seemed to be mimicing a shark. A broad smile coated her face, though, so nothing depressing… perhaps a narration of some cunning escape? That seemed like her.
Despite having asked so many questions, she hadn’t ordered a single drink the entire night. Actually, now that he thought about it, he’d never seen her drink, and her curiosity seemed to imply an unfamiliarity with liquor… Perhaps he should take the time to give her a lesson. It would probably be hilarious.
“Ey, snap out of it, lad!”
Singed flinched as his partner behind the bar smacked him, and he looked over at the potbellied, red haired man. “Ah… Yes?”
“What’s got you distracted today, eh? You’ve been starin’ at the fish fer the past ‘alf-hour!”
The wiping stopped, and he stared at Gragas. ****.
“Have I been?” He casually redirected his gaze back over. “I hadn’t realized; I’ve been thinking. I’ve got a big project I’m working on.”
“Mmmnmm.” Bushy eyebrows lowered a bit, and Gragas peered up at his gangly companion. “You’ve been a bit out of sorts, lately.”
“As I said, big project.”
“Been spendin’ an awful lot of time with her, haven’t you?”
****. He knew where this was going.
“For some inexplicable reason, she seeks out my company. It’s less troublesome to indulge her.”
“Jus’ indulging her, eh?”
They met each other’s gazes, equally steady. Singed set down the glass, picked up another, and began to wipe it down.
“Well, if things keep up like tha’, you won’ have to indulge her long.”
The words what do mean died on his lips as his gaze snapped back to the gathering. Fizz had an arm thrown around Nami, and the pair were laughing uproariously. They looked quite close. Squeak. Squeak.
“Then you’ll have more time for yer big project, eh?”
A rough sort of nod. I don’t care. She was lifting him up over the table with her bubble, Riven and Lux clapping at her feat. A fish suits a fish.
“I never said what fish I was talkin’ about, boyo.”
It took him a moment. There were two champions there that could be called fish, yet he automatically responded as if they were talking about Nami. He set down the glass he’d been cleaning. Gragas poured himself a drink.
Damn perceptive bastard.
One by one, the patrons trickled out, until only the drunken remnants of the night remained, waiting to be kicked out before closing. Well, the refuse, and Nami. Singed had managed to relax a bit once Fizz had left, but he kept his eye on her the entire evening - with more subtlety than before, or at least he hoped. Gragas hadn’t commented again, at either rate, a boon to the man’s already frayed nerves.
It’s none of your concern. They’d suit each other, anyway. Quite a lot in common. This is an idle crush, anyway. It will fade soon. You will look back on this and laugh at your foolishness.
Laugh and laugh and laugh.
It’s nothing that won’t pass.
“Oi! Time for all you sorry sods to get out, we’re closin’!”
Without a word, Singed ducked below the counter to grab some cloth for cleaning the tables. Best to get the sticky alcohol residue off early before it… coagulated. In the backround, he could hear the protests of Gangplank as their bouncer for the night, Rammus, threw him out on his inebriated, briney ass.
“PUT ME DOWN YA STINKIN’ LANDLUBBER -- “
A thudding crash.
“A-Ah, you don’t have to --!”
“Rammus?” Singed piped up, stopping him before he tossed Nami outside as well. Immediately she shot him a look of intense gratitude. “She can stay.”
“Good work! See yeh tomorrow, spikey!” Gragas dismissed the odd armadillo with a laugh.
“Ok.” Rammus said no more as he lumbered out, the door clunking shut behind him. The atmosphere quieted down, and Singed stepped out from behind the counter, brandishing a wetted, soapy rag.
“Is there any way I can help?” Nami floated to his side, looking up with those bright eyes of hers. He could feel Gragas staring at him, probably smirking. A quick glance back confirmed that.
He rolled his shoulders in a shrug, and then stooped over to begin, squeezing out some of the water and then scrubbing. “We’re just washing up the tables and counters for now. Just grab
a rag and go at it.”
“Alright! Actually…” She waved her hands a bit, arcing some of the suddy water from their bucket and splashing it onto the table. With a gentle push and pull for her fingers, she manipulated it, scrubbing the table with her magic, and then grinned up at Singed. “Ta-da!”
“Well, I suppose that works.” He wouldn’t praise her ingenuity while Gragas watched. Still though, her excitement rubbed off on him, and he couldn’t help but smile a bit as he watched her work. He might almost be tempted to call her enthusiasm cute...
“Yeh dun hafta do this, girlie. Got a match early, don’t ya?”
“Yeah, but I want too! I’ve been here all night without buying anything, so it’s the least I can do.”
A rumbling laugh. “It was a slow night, yeh weren’t takin’ up space.
“I don’t mind it, anyway. It’s fun!” With a flourish, she sent water skittering across another table, stirring it up and washing it off. Like skipping stones, she moved from table to table, greatly quickening their work. Singed continued to watch, amused, leaning back against the wall and folding his arms.
“Does the floor need to be cleaned, too?”
“Yeh, but we do tha’ after we stack the chairs ‘n get the floor clear. Speakin’ of, stop bein’ a layabout, boyo!”
“Fine, fine.” He flicked his hand, tossing the rag back in the bucket, and hefted up two of the heavy wooden chairs around the table Nami had just cleaned. Singed had no trouble with this task - he could throw a fully engorged Cho’gath over his shoulder with ease, so a couple of chairs didn’t stop him for a moment. With a smooth motion he flipped them, hoisting them and dropping them upside-down on the table with a clatter. Again and again he repeated the motion, hoisting them up and setting them down.
The sound of something banging to the side drew Singed’s attention. Done with the tables, Nami apparently had decided to try to mimic him with much less success -- the chairs were designed to be able to hold the mighty heft of even the largest champions in the league, and were no small task to lift. Without a word, he stepped behind her, grabbing the legs out from under her and heaving it up. “Maybe you should leave this part to us.”
“Haw! Look at ye, bein’ a gentleman”, Gragas smacked his apron covered belly and laughed, noticeably (and quite hypocritically) not helping.
“More of a gentleman than you, I’d wager, although I don’t see how that’s possible given how much of you there is to work with.”
“It’s protection! You won’t see me gettin’ hit in the nutter by Blitz’s ol’ metal one-two, eh?”
“I thought we weren’t going to discuss that anymore -- “
“Um,” came a small voice from right beside Singed and goodness she was close how had he not noticed -- His fingertips still lingered on the legs of the chair, his arms encircled around her, her back brushing up against his chest and how had he not noticed that she’s looking up at him and he dropped his arms to his sides and stepped back -- “What’s a, um, a nutter?”
A pause, and then Gragas burst out laughing.
“Balls! ********s! Ahh, do your fishfolk men even have ‘em?”
Singed was about ready to die. No, no, murder would be a much more effective solution to this particular problem. He would murder him, slowly, flay the flesh from his bones, throw him into a vat of acid, poison him and watch him choke on his own blood they were not going to talk about this. “Gragas.”
“They’re sensitive parts o’ a boy’s body, lass! And Singed here certainly found out how much they can hurt wh-- “
“Gragas.” To emphasize the word, he moved on, picking up two more chairs and smacking them onto the table.
The embarrassment would not get to him. This entire situation was puerile and childish.
“Ahh, don’ be such a spoilsport!”
“You’d best get to work, lest you become more of a fat, lazy dullard than you already are.”
“Ahh, boy’s got a bite to ‘im tonight! Feelin’ defensive?”
Singed was about to snap back a reply when a small giggle stopped him. Nami quieted herself once she realized they were both looking at her, shaking her head and explaining. “Sorry, it was… funny.”
This seemed to lighten the mood a bit, and Singed flipped over two more chairs. Her smile, her laugh. Damn it all. “The things I put up with.”
“Yer own fault, y’know!” And finally, Gragas resumed working.
Soon enough, they had the bar tidied - chairs stacked, tables pushed aside, floor washed, and all there was left to do was lock up the bar and leave. Keys in hand, Gragas ushered them out, and then the click ended the evening.
“Thanks for helpin’ clean, girlie.” Gragas pocket the ring, silencing the jingle. “Will ya be in tomorrow?”
“I guess so!” She replied cheerfully, looking up at Singed, who didn’t meet her gaze, hands stuck in his pockets and eyes on the ceiling.
“At this rate, we might have ta hire ye! Whaddya think, a lil fish waitress on staff?”
“...” A steady, even stare. Singed didn’t even bother replying.
A laugh, then, “Well, night, you two.” With a wave, Gragas turned his back on them, and set off down the hall.
...Ugh. Referring to them as a unit. Nami didn’t protest, however, so if would have been awkward if he did. Instead, he swept his gaze downward. “Shall I walk you to your room?”
The words were out of his mouth before he could really think about them, and by that time it was too late. ****. Oh well. He half-hoped she would refuse, or say that he didn’t need to, but she didn’t oblige.
They walked together, side by side, the halls feeling muted due to the lateness of the night. He tried to prevent it, truly, he did, but soon his mind was back to dwelling. Nami, Nami, Nami. Desperately, he tried to think about projects, formulae, anything, but it proved futile. He tried to think about how annoying she was, and how much he wished she’d just go away. He tried to think about his life before the accident, before she butt into it. He tried to think about (and then there was that image, Fizz with his arm around her, them so close, and --)
“Mmn?” Shifting idly, he responded with a mere noise.
“Would you be lonely if I left?”
To his credit, he didn’t stop dead in the middle of the hallway. Instead, he walked steadily beside her, only missing a single beat. “Why do you ask?”
She struggled for a minute. “No reason, I just…”
Oh, there definitely was a reason behind it, but he wouldn’t press. But -- don’t leave -- please leave -- it’d be easier if you left -- I wouldn’t feel like this anymore -- hadn’t he just been wanting her to leave -- “Not particularly. I’m not some lonely shut-in, starved for companionship”
Odd. She seemed to relax at this answer, and he wondered more about her motives for asking. Was she planning on taking a sabbatical from the League? Perhaps to look for the ever elusive Moonstone she so deeply desired?
A soft murmur of anxiety fluttered through him, but he silenced it. Well, if she did leave, it’d be good for her, and for him. Perhaps she’d fine what she sought after and return to her people as a hero. It seemed like the fate laid out for her. Maybe she’d even take Fizz. They could have an adventure together. He seemed like the whimsical sort, perfect for adventures, unlike him, a notably unadventerous person.
It’d be better for her. It’d make her happy. She’d fade away, and this would just be a ridiculous memory. Why, he quite enjoyed the notion. As Gragas had said, he’d be left in peace in quiet.
Yes, truly, it’d be for the best if she left. Perhaps in the coming days he’d start encouraging this. Why, he could feel himself getting calmer already, thinking about never seeing again. This unfortunate, ridiculous crush would be over and done with. They spoke no more during the walk, the both of them confined to their own thoughts, until they reached Nami’s door. She turned to him, and he turned to her. Only one of them wore a smile.
“Thanks for tonight, Singed. I had a lot of fun.” She clasped her hands behind her, and then before he could reply - in a motion so quick and fluid, it seemed almost like a small pebble dropped into a lake, there and then gone, she leaned up, pecking his cheek and then opened the door.
One second passed, two seconds, three. The thing about water is that once something breaks the surface, it keeps resonating, ripples fanning out from the initial break, and so it was with Singed, staring at her door. In that moment, everything was ruined for him.
Thud, thud, like a schoolboy once more. Please don’t leave. What did you mean by that? You’ll be at my door tomorrow, right?
“...Goodnight,” he murmured, standing there, and then lightly he leaned forward, closing his eyes then resting his forehead against the wall.
Damn it all.
I’ve fallen in love with a fish.
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