((So. Kind of embarrassing, I have had this written for months now. I just kept... Picking over it, aha. Actually, this is a cut short version - there was more that was supposed to be in this chapter but it was getting egregiously long, so another chapter might be coming out soon? [wow what a laugh]))

Of course Gragas had to immediately begin planning a party with the sort of gusto he usually reserved for drinking egregious amounts of booze. Perhaps it was because the two things were irrevocably linked in the man's mind; where there was a party, the ale flowed like a glacial stream in the springtime. This, on its own, did not bother Singed, for while he did not necessarily enjoy large, rowdy functions, he could tolerate them well enough. No, what made the brewmaster so truly insufferable these past few evenings was how he would never shut up about his various elaborate plans for the "celebration", and even worse, he continually bothered Singed about every minute decision.

"Ey, boyo. Should th' balloons be blue or green?"

"I have no opinion."

Honestly, he just - wanted it to be over. He wanted Nami to just be gone; he couldn't stand this constant fuss. It was like ripping off a bandaid, and the slow crawl of it was agonizing.

"Oh, cmon, they're both fishy colors but which do yeh think'd be better?"

-He was so tired of it. Singed let out a rough sigh, slamming a clean glass onto the countertop and picking up a dirty one in its stead. Something had to keep his hands busy so they wouldn't be tempted to try (most likely in vain) to strangle his much larger companion.

"Hah! Fine, both." Singed heard the skritch-scratch of him noting something down. "What kinda stuff she like to eat?"

"We're going to serve food too?" Somewhat incredulously, Singed balked at how much work Gragas was setting up for them. And it would be them, because the chemist knew he wouldn't be able to squirm out of making some of the tangible preparations.

"Well, yeh! Gotta have some feastin' t'go with the drinkin'!"

*He massaged the bridge of his nose, staring out over the collected patronage. Nami crossed his vision, bubbling about and taking orders. "Fruit," he absently murmured, forcing his gaze back down to his idle cleaning.

-And chocolate cinnamon cake.


"Fruit, eh? Hmn. We'll sneak some proper bar food in there too."

They hadn't talked about that day. Actually, they hadn't really talked at all, although whose machination that truly was he didn't know. It simply seemed like – there was nothing to say. It was good, he told himself. Distance could only be good. It was like a siege assault, and he just wanted it to be over. Let him hide in peace!

Damn that Gragas. He wasn't stupid, he knew, he wasn't stupid and he knew, so that could only mean he was doing it on purpose.

Bastard. Fuck that fucking bastard.

"Hmmn, should we have a specialty house drink fer it?"

Slam. He moved onto a new glass.

"If you want."

"Well, that sure is helpful commentary, got any ideas?"

-It was enough. He'd had enough. He couldn't stand it anymore. Singed rounded on Gragas, shoulders set and mouth tense. "Shut up," he hissed. "I do not care. Do whatever. Just shut up."

Gragas looked down at him dispassionately, and even in his fury, the sight alarmed him somewhat. He'd never seem such a frosty expression on his face. Singed had expected alarm - hurt, perhaps - and some anger in return. A conflict would feel so good right now. So satisfying. That heavy glance, that slight frown, they both took him off guard. He opened his mouth. Stopped. And then Gragas started talking, his voice low and serious.

"Listen. Nami is a good girl, and she's been'a fine lass t'both of us, but especially you. Ya ain' the easiest person to get along with, and she's put a lot of effort inta bein' yer friend and don't ya dare lie an' say you ain' been enjoyin' it." Gragas shoved a pudgy finger at Singed's chest, and he gawked in return. "It ain' her fault ya got unfinished business with 'er, so get that stick outta yer ass and help me give her th' send off she deserves, like a good friend would. Y'follow?"

Suitably cowed, Singed nodded complacently, still staring up at Gragas. The other man's features softened somewhat. "…Look, I understand. But you ain' just takin' it out on me, yer takin' it out on her. And she don' deserve that."

His lips thinned, and Singed stared down at the half-cleaned glass. Quietly, he set it down on the countertop, hanging the rag over its brim. "I need to take a walk."

Gragas patted him on the back lightly, guiding him out from behind the counter. "When ye get back, yer helpin' me plan this damn party."

"—Yes," his voice sounded a little hoarse to his ears, but he nodded more firmly. "I will."

Head bowed, he tried to escape from the crowded bar as quickly as possible. The last thing he wanted was to be stopped. He needed air, he needed space, he needed to think. Guilt wasn't something he was well accustomed to dealing with. Everything he did was with pride. It was… unsettling.

"S-Singed?" he heard a soft voice call, and he stopped slightly and turned, looking down at Nami and her little order book. She'd been heading back to the bar, it looked like. He prayed to anyone that was listening that she hadn't heard a word of what just happened.

Sound normal, sound calm, sound collected. He told himself these things. "Yes?"

"Are – are you alright?"

"I'm fine," he answered, lying like usual. "I just need some air."

She didn't seem entirely soothed, but a strange sense of claustrophobia was overtaking him. He didn't have time to reassure her more; he needed out. "I'll be right back, I promise."

"Alright…" She squirmed a little, clearly fretting, but she didn't press the issue further. A pang of… something, passed through him, and he placed a hand on Nami's shoulder to give it a quick squeeze. It occurred to him that it would be hugely embarrassing if anyone noticed this public intimacy, but some part of him was beyond caring. The slight, shy smile that appeared on her lips was worth it. He pulled back and left, stalking through the door with slumped shoulders and a lot on his mind.

He still was processing it, what Gragas had said, but he knew he was right. It was weak to act as such, it was… childish, even. She was doing something brave, something dangerous, and he ought to make her last days as pleasant as possible instead of sulking incessantly. It was the least he could do for his coworker, his friend, his –

No, the person that he loved. He had no right to call her 'his'.

With a heavy sigh and quick, clipping steps, he walked down the hall, seeking out a door to the outside world. It was less that he wanted fresh air and more that he simply wanted space to be alone. He didn't want some champion – or even worse, a summoner – straying across him and poking their nose into his business. With that thought in mind, he lunged for a door handle, wrenching it open and stepping into one of the patches of greenery bordering the walkways around the Institute. For some reason unbeknownst to him, landscaping projects had been commissioned and carried out to make the grounds look visually appealing. It probably had something to with the League's current celebrity status.

It didn't matter to him, although the scenery did make him slightly uncomfortable. Trees and bushes and pretty green grass really had no place in his life. Zaun's charms and beauties did not lie within its agriculture… at least, not anything that looked so quaint as this. Things in Zaun glowed, they writhed through cracks – sometimes they ate people, depending on the part of town they were in. They weren't so nice and delicate and tameable as his current surroundings.

…Well. He didn't really come out here to get nostalgic. Instead, he took a few steps off the path, coming to a more deeply shaded area underneath a tree, and let his body drop by its base. Perhaps here he could get a little privacy.

Immediately, his thoughts returned to this foreign sense of guilt. As weak and stupid as it was, as foolish and shortsighted as he knew it to be, he loved her, and he ought to at least maintain some amount of class and composure. Once she was gone, he could forget about it, and it'd all be over. Until then, he'd manage.

…Yet something felt wrong with that. But what else could there be, for him? He tried at length to wrap his mind around it. Chemistry had taken sole and complete ownership over his life. He'd given everything to his work, body and soul. There wasn't room in his life for love. He barely even had room in his life for hobbies, although mixing drinks held some of the same appeal to him that mixing toxins did.

Besides, he… absolutely was not what she needed. Closing his eyes, he sighed and slouched farther back onto the ground. She had a passion in life, and she deserved someone that could help her achieve her dreams. She needed someone who could help her be a hero. Someone who could follow her to the ends of the earth.

And that wasn't him.

He'd made his choices in life, and those kept him tied to the lab. He couldn't imagine doing anything differently. He wouldn't change his life, not for the world. Regrets weren't the sort of thing he tolerated.

So… he could not speak to her about this terrible affliction, for nothing positively would come of it - could come of it - and ultimately, Gragas was correct. He was being a child and a terrible friend. He had to make his peace and wish her well on her journey, like a true friend would. Her convictions were so admirable, and he had to do that for her.

Now, he just had to make this foolish heart of his behave according to his whims.

Distantly, a clank and clatter of a latch registered somewhere in his field of hearing. He would have filtered out the rest of the noise, retreating back into his own thoughts, had it not been for the distinct shuff and shuffle he heard on the stone pathway to his right. That rumbling breathing, the whoosh of air from a snout… He recognized those sounds. With an inclination of his body, he peered around the trunk, staring up the walkway at the figure farther up at the path. Its nose was turned to the ground, as if trying to catch a scent.

It was Warwick.

While, normally, he was more than happy to see his friend – delighted, even – a deep sense of shame filled him at the possibility of an encounter. Did he know? Had he caught wind of Singed's indiscretions? The thought of Warwick knowing how far he'd regressed, and what, exactly, he'd turned into… He couldn't bear it.

The thought of losing his mentor's respect was paralyzing, and so he pulled himself back into the darkness, making himself as small as possible and hoping he wasn't the one Warwick was looking for. Of course, that was a vain and foolish thought, as he was one of the few people the beast would actually seek out.

Heavy footsteps made their way over to Singed's flimsy little hiding place.

Uncharacteristically, he wanted to run. It was a blasted, abysmal feeling, this - this shame. He never felt shame. He never doubted himself. Singed was always wholeheartedly assured of his rightness. As always, he told himself to act normally.

"Hello, Warwick, he said, standing up and slicking back his lack of hair. "How are - "

His old teacher placed a clawed paw on his shoulder. "We are going to talk," he rumbled, his characteristic growl enhanced after his transformation. Warwick exerted pressure, lowering him back to the ground.

Feeling like he was facing the execution block, Singed replied, "Ah… Very well." He could do nothing but follow Warwick's lead. There was no escaping his grip, and besides, where could he run? There was a reason why many summoners directed him to roam in the Jungle. Whatever Warwick wanted to find, he did, and usually it involved him ripping said thing apart.

Singed swallowed. It was hard to get a read on the other man's mood, but he figured whatever conversation was about to transpire would not be pleasant. He sat back down, Warwick taking a place beside him, although it was really more of a crouch than anything else, his great, furry legs bent at the knees. Even like this, he towered. He said nothing, though, gaze piercing into him like he was trying to rip open his chest and extract his deepest secrets.

"What's this about?" Singed ventured, wanting to get this over with.

"You tell me." He leaned in, peering, and since Singed was trapped against the tree-trunk, there was no way he could lean back. "You've been acting strangely for months now, and then tonight, mrrhrn… you storm out of the bar. What is going on?"

Singed raised his hand to his face, rubbing at the bridge of his nose. "Nothing is 'going on', I simply - had a disagreement with Gragas." Play it safe, maybe he'd give it up and things would go back to normal.

"A disagreement about what?"

"It's - really nothing to be concerned about."

"So, you've been out here for two hours just to enjoy the weather?"

"Wait - two hours? You're joking." No, that wasn't - If he had to guess, he would have said twenty minutes, not - two hours! Although, now that he thought about it, the quality of the light around them seemed to have changed. Darker, deeper, more solitary - a late-night quiet that confirmed Warwick's accusation. Bugs collected around the garden lamps spilling their light over the grassy landscape, and their flickering bodies cast brief and inconsequential shadows on the ground. Had he really been thinking for that long?

"Yes. The bar already closed."

"And - and did Nami -?" He clamped his mouth shut. Fool!

Warwick did not seem at all puzzled by the question. Somehow, that made him even more anxious. "She went back to her room." At Singed's expression, he added, "What, did you think I hadn't noticed?"

The chemist buried his face in his hands and wished he really had died that day Nami had saved his life. '"I... had hoped it wouldn't be so obvious."

"You've always been terrible at hiding things from me.

-Dammit. He was right. Warwick never had let any of his embarrassments slide.

"...Fine. Fine. I'll admit it. I've developed some sort of inappropriate affection for her. I've become distracted enough to fall in love. Are you satisfied?" His admission - it'd been the first time he'd confessed to his unfortunate affliction out loud. Lots of firsts tonight, it seemed. Ah, that wriggling guilt struck him again. He hadn't come back when he said he would. Now he'd have to apologize for that, too. Damn. He groaned. Warwick was still staring at him in contemplation. "-Well? Isn't that what you wanted to hear? Aren't you going to chastise me? I've failed you!"

"My boy... why do you think you've failed me?"

Singed paused, staring at his former mentor in something akin to shock. He'd - well, in his anxiety driven musings, he'd imagined Warwick's reaction to his plight, and it was nothing so stoic. "Wait, you mean - you're alright with..." He wouldn't say the "l" word again, so he waved his hand somewhat vaguely to encapsulate the topic. "With - that?"

"Should I not be? I'll admit, she isn't the sort of person I expected - but you seem fond of her, and she's not woefully, hopelessly stupid. A little naive, perhaps, with a questionable taste in friends, but she's not vapid or nauseatingly obsessed with "harmony.'" Warwick's tone became more than a little snide at the end of that statement. "I don't see anything in particular to disapprove of."

He gawked. Of all things, he hadn't expected a calm and rational assessment of Nami's character. "I mean," he began, struggling. "I mean, it's love. Soppy, sickening, - I want to give her flowers and take her on dates! It's an embarrassment, I've become an embarrassment. I've... strayed. From my life's work, from our life's work."

"Singed," Warwick began patiently, as if explaining the concept of equilibrium to a small child. "Girls do not have cooties. You are not twelve. Liking a girl is not something you will be teased for on the schoolyard, and it certainly doesn't, mrnn…" Warwick snuffed. "Mean you've abandoned your calling."

"I - I don't think she has cooties! I just - " Singed struggled between embarrassment and offense. "I mean, it's obvious! Love - I've given my life to science. I stoppered death and unleashed it upon the world - how can something like me love? The sort of thing those blasted peaceniks talk about?"

Warwick let out a long-suffering sigh. "Have you, perchance, developed an urge to snuggle bunnies and kiss babies?"

"Er, no?"

"Perhaps cocoa and a hand-holding singsong?"

"E-Excuse me?"

"Perhaps a sudden urge to kiss and make up with those you've wounded, say, Riven?"

"Wha - No. What are you getting at?"

"If you haven't had some change of heart and decided to reform, then I think you - like any reasonable adult - have survived the process of falling in love without letting it turn your brain to mush. I also think you can safely ask her on a date without worrying about it damaging your scientific credibility."

"But - you make it sound so simple!"

"That's because it is simple. Is this really what you've been worried about this entire time? Mrn… I thought something more substantial must have been bothering you." Warwick sighed a little gruffly, scritching his chin with his gigantic claws. "You're a person, Singed. You're allowed to have more than one facet to your personality. These parts of yourself aren't in conflict. You do not have to think about one thing all the time to be who you are. If someone teases you for not being a shallow caricature… Then they're idiots."

Singed ran a hand across his head. He couldn't believe he was having this conversation. The air smelled like fresh blooms - an entirely unsettling scent in the cool night air. It was really nothing like Zaun. He felt a soft pang of homesickness for the smoke clogged air that carried a different scent every hour of the day.

"I… She..." He began, but stopped himself short. What would other people think indeed? And when before had he given a shit about that? Food for thought, that and he didn't like the conclusions it led him , there was another reason why it could never work. "She's leaving. She has her own place to be."

Warwick gave him a critical look. "That she is. It means you ought to get over yourself soon and speak with her."

"What's the point? I mean, really, Warwick, first of all, I'm Singed. There's no point in confessing to her; I have no chance. Secondly, it's not like - even if she, hypothetically, was - well. Accepting, of, perhaps, such a notion... She's leaving. She'll find her Moonstone and go back to her people. There isn't a place for me in her life. I've accepted that. So what's the point of potentially embarrassing myself for something that won't work out for either of us?"

"The only embarrassing thing is how you're deciding the matter without actually asking her for input. Have you, mrrnr... actually spoken to her about any of this?"

"-I… Well, what else could we do? I mean. Even just - staying friends. She lives in the ocean. It's sort of… doubtful we'll stay in contact."

"I have no idea, but perhaps you should ask her."

"Ah..." There had to be some argument he could spout out to get him to lay off. Sadly, nothing seemed forthcoming, and the man himself would not relent.

"It would give you peace of mind. Perhaps it would even give her peace of mind. Even if it's not about all this ho-humm love business, at least put some work into one of your friendships."

"If she wanted to... remain friends, wouldn't she have said something?"

"You cannot expect people to always chase after you, Singed, and you cannot run from everything. At some point, you need to turn and make an effort yourself. It's not fair to her otherwise. Just... stop being a damn fool and speak with her honestly. It's been painful to watch all this."

Singed looked up at Warwick, somewhat at a loss for words. Nami had been the one to approach him each time, hadn't she? He'd never - not once - gone out of his way to find her. Whatever this way between them, it had all been instigated by her. And - they were right. Warwick and Gragas, they were absolutely right. If he wanted to keep her friendship, he'd have to do something. "Have you truly been aware of it for so long?"

"It would be hard not to notice." Warwick smiled - an expression reminiscent of a snarl unless one know what to look for on his face. "It seems, even now, I will always be your mentor."

That hit a little too hard for Singed to comment on, a pang of intense nostalgia overcoming him for a moment. "Why didn't you say anything before?

"I was, quite honestly, waiting for you to come to me about the matter, as you usually do when you've become stuck. Did you really think you were hiding it from me?"

"I'd - hoped. I had thought you'd scold me, or be disappointed in me. Love is... nonsense, after all." He said this somewhat bitterly, not entirely sure how to feel about the whole matter yet given the context of the rest of the conversation. "...Or so I've thought."

"The drivel you read about in books is, perhaps. However, anyone who faults you for your affections is a prole of the lowest degree, and we don't listen to the unwashed masses, do we?"

Singed started then, and after a beat, raised one perfectly practiced eyebrow at Warwick. "I'm not so certain; I've been talking to you for this long."

"Shut up, you little shit," Warwick growled, lightly cuffing his former student. "I'll have you know I am extremely well groomed."

"Hm," he smirked, the expression clear even underneath the bandages. "You've gotten rid of all the fleas, then?"

"Oh, don't start with me boy. I'll remind you of every stupid thing you've done since you were a child, including the Noxian Geotechno Conference - "

"No! No, no, no, I think I'm quite good, thank you." There were certain events in his life he did NOT need to relive. Instead, he focused on conceding defeat with grace. "This has, ah. Thank you. It's been a good discussion. If you'll excuse me..." A breath. "I need to think on this more."

You're right, as usual, hung between them unspoken, only made physical by Warwick's smug look. "Of course. Do not be a stranger. I look forward to hearing of your progress." Singed wouldn't be wriggling away from this.

"...Of course, my friend." He sighed, looking up at the beast of a man- one of his truest , he laughed, a chuckle escaping his throat and molting into a helpless cackle. "I - I never," he managed, in an attempt to ease Warwick's puzzlement, "I never imagined you'd be giving me advice on a girl."

Warwick joined the dissolution into laughter. "Somehow, I must count myself lucky to have put those matters off for so long. You never were overly interested in such things as a teenager. Honestly, I might have been somewhat concerned, had it not been easy to see where your true passions lay."

"It - came as quite a shock to me too, to be honest. I'm not entirely sure where it came from. I suppose... I admire her tenacity, and her drive to get things done. She ignores naysayers and does whatever she pleases with great cheer. I've never... met anyone quite like that, before." It felt somewhat strange to talk about but also, in a way, cathartic. "Perhaps it's also because I've never had someone so hellbent on securing my association before. It's hard to say, really."

"You'll do fine, I'm sure. Just keep yourself reasonable and don't work yourself up again."

"Thank you, again. I am, perhaps, far luckier than I deserve," Singed stood, stretching out his legs. He'd been sitting for quite awhile, and his limbs were honestly a little numb.

"At least you recognize it." Warwick joined him, and set his paw on Singed's head. Years ago, it would have been accompanied by a ruffling of his hair. Sometimes, Singed missed the little things from the past. However, he had no room in his life for regret, which was, he supposed, another reason why he needed to talk to Nami. Damn. What was he going to say?

The gesture ended, and Singed bid Warwick goodnight. Walking away from that shaded grove, Singed felt the deep peace of resolve bubble up within him. All of his fretting, his worrying, his excuses - they all fell away before indomitable purpose. He took a breath of cool night air, and threw open the door leading into the halls of the Institute. Yes. He could do this.

...Tomorrow. Nami would be asleep by now, and it would be terribly rude to wake her. Besides, he had to figure out what, exactly, to say.

"Nami," he began, puzzling out the problem as he walked down corridors basked in the soft, blue night lighting that emanated from crystals in the ceiling. "I've been something of a brat lately and I would like to..." Hm.

"Nami, I've been concerned lately... Nami, I think of you as a friend, and even though I understand I can be somewhat hard to deal with, I appreciate your friendship and would like it to continue - ugh, Nami, I've appreciated the time we've spent together, despite how I haven't expressed it, and I couldn't let you leave without... Hm. I apologize if this sounds selfish... Ugh, no, no!" He threw his hands up in the air. It all sounded like trash!

"Nami, this might be sudden... Nami, I know... Hrm. Nami,I apologize for how I've been acting lately, you're important and I - " He swallowed. Should he really be that forward?

"Nami, this is sudden, but I lo-"

Singed turned a corner and stopped cold.