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i've never heard silence quite this loud

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They were sixteen when he crossed the line. Damian and Anya had a well known routine throughout Eden Academy. Anya would do something, most commonly fail a quiz or trip over herself, Damian would direct some kind of witty remark (he liked to think so) her way, she would get frustrated and return the favor, and they would go back and forth for a while before moving on. 

The reason it worked so well was because Anya let most of his comments go. He taunted her for still being short, her weird hair, her failing grades, anything was fair game. Or so he thought. 

Somehow, at some point in their time at Eden, Damian always found himself sitting next to Anya, who obviously had Becky at her other side, and he had Ewen and Emile next to him. Their little group of five worked out, as it discouraged the other students from harassing him, most of them still being afraid of Anya. More importantly, though, it gave him a prime opportunity to see Anya’s results firsthand and commence their usual routine. 

Today was the day things didn’t go as anticipated. Anya failed a math quiz again and was looking forlornly at her sheet of paper covered with red marks. On her other side, Becky was trying her best to cheer her up, telling her that she was improving and that next quiz would be one she aced. 

Damian looked at the large red forty circled in the top right corner. “I don’t know why you’re still surprised.”

“No one asked you,” Becky said, almost automatically. 

“Hey, don’t talk to boss man like that, Blackwell!” Emile said, from his left. 

Becky frowned. “Ignore them, Anya.”

Anya waved her off, “It’s fine, Becky.” She smiled, cutely stupidly as usual. Damian couldn’t understand her. How was she fine with failing grades? Yes, she always ended up with a passing grade, but just passing wasn’t something an Eden student should strive for. It irritated him. Anya was an airhead, but she wasn’t a complete idiot. Somehow, she almost always knew what he was thinking and could call him out, if the situation called for it. 

He started again, “Hey, Anya, I know you don’t think-” At that, Ewen and Emile snickered, and Damian felt validated already, “-but, did you ever realize your parents had another kid so they’d have one with a brain?” He turned around to find his friends laughing, Ewen almost about to fall out of his seat. 

“Good one!” Emile chortled. 

Feeling satisfied with their response, Damian turned back around to find Anya, wide eyed and crestfallen. Her lower lip quivered and considering they were sitting right next to each other, he could see the beginnings of tears in her eyes. She opened her mouth, as if to reply, but then closed it. In the span of five second, she then got up and rushed out of the room, wiping her eyes with her sleeves as she passed through the doorway. 

Had he gone too far? He barely had time to think about that, when he was then face to face with the absolutely murderous glare of one Becky Blackwell. 

“Damian! You’re such a jerk!” With that, she got up and nearly knocked over one of their classmates,  presumably to chase after Anya. 

He shrugged. While Anya hadn’t cried at school in years, it wasn’t necessarily out of character for her. He ignored the twinge of regret he felt, choosing instead to focus on the assigned class work. 

Anya and Becky didn’t come back for the rest of class. 

The next day, he sat in his usual seat, Ewen and Emile would be arriving shortly, and then Anya and Becky. His two friends joined him and the three of them discussed, briefly, how dull the assigned reading was. As Damian criticized the reading, he kept looking over the clock. Neither of the two girls had come in yet, and class would be beginning shortly. 

Thirty seconds before the bell rang, Anya and Becky walked in and, in a turn of events, sat at the bench closest to the door and not at the same bench as the three of them. Anya looked straight ahead, the picture of a model student focusing on the backboard, while Becky looked over her shoulder and glared at him. 

The day passed by in a blur. At every free moment they had, Anya and Becky would disappear to another part of the building, as if they were trying to be as far away from him as possible. 

It was… frustrating to say the least. If anything, he thought, this just highlighted her immaturity. Ignoring him ? Did she forget who he was? While his father might not be the leader of the National Unity Party anymore, he was still an heir to the Desmond Group, which had its hands in almost every major industry in Ostania. 

Well, he decided, if this was the game she wanted to play, then game on. 

Two weeks pass before he gets the opportunity to even try to talk to her again. In those two weeks, unbeknownst to him, he had been staring at her, as if trying to will her to even look in his direction. Ewen and Emile, probably the people who knew him best after Jeeves, simultaneously came to a certain conclusion within three days of noticing it. When they confronted him about it, Damian blushed and stammered out, “No way, not in a million years.”

Despite his denial, everything else about him screamed the opposite. It was, to be blunt, painful to watch, if you asked either Ewen or Emile. 

That’s why they were convinced the teachers had it out for them. During class, the teacher wanted them to complete some problems. Typically, the class would then break out into smaller groups, but today, for some reason, the teacher got it into his head to assign groups alphabetically. That meant Anya and Becky were separated, to their dismay. 

“Mister Desmond, Mister Egeburg, Mister Elman, and-” Their teacher paused, checking the class roster. “-Miss Forger. Group 2.”

Becky, who was already sitting with her assigned group, looked upset and opened her mouth as if to say something, stopping only when Anya shook her head. She mouthed something to the other girl, who looked upset but sent her an encouraging smile nonetheless. 

Anya picked up her things rather slowly and made her way over to his (their) bench. She paused as she approached the seat next to him, before sighing as she sat down. 

There was an awkward silence before Ewen broke it. “These don’t look too hard.” 

The class period passed by in silence, for their group. Anya, despite definitely needing assistance on the problems, chose instead to struggle through them herself. Damian tried to angle his notebook, so she could at least see how to do the problems, but she blatantly refused and turned away. 

The three of them finished the problems with time to spare and witnessed the steam coming from Anya’s head as she tried her best on her own. It was, also, painful to watch. Ewen and Emile could only watch on as Damian kept pretending to be discreet in sneaking looks at her. 

After the bell rang, and their papers had been collected, Damian, Ewen, and Emile hung back while, Anya and Becky sped out of the room for lunch. 

“Forger’s a nutcase,” Emile announced as he stood up. 

“Agreed,” Ewen replied. 

“Nuts…” Damian muttered. An idea hit him. He knew how to fix this. 

The next morning, Becky looked up at him, with obvious dislike in her eyes. “What’s this?” She gestured towards the bag he had unceremoniously dropped in front of Anya. 

“They’re peanuts.” The “for Anya” part was unspoken, but hung in the air. The girl in question was looking down at the bag, and as such, he wasn’t able to see her reaction. He assumed it was overwhelmingly positive however. After all, he had just given her a gift. 

She didn’t say anything ( rude , he thought) and the bell rang, alerting the students class was about to begin. 

He thinks he’s finally made it up to her, considering she made eye contact with him once in class instead of completely ignoring him. However, sadly, on his way back to the dorm, he found a very familiar half-empty bag of peanuts lying next to a tree. There was a squirrel next to the bag, cheeks bulging with, what he assumed, were the peanuts he had meant for Anya. 

He can’t pinpoint why he feels a sudden pang of hurt in his chest, but it’s not a feeling he relished. 

It had been almost a month since The Incident. It was spring now and that day was Eden’s infamous Field Day. The morning always started off with a scavenger hunt, before pausing for a picnic lunch, and then a plethora of other games and activities throughout the rest of the day.

This year, to up the ante, the winners of their grade’s scavenger hunt had been promised a Stella star, if they were able to find every single object on the list within the allotted time. Damian, only two stars short of becoming an Imperial Scholar, was eager to prove himself. 

That was until Henderson called the next pair, “Damian Desmond and Anya Forger.”

His heart sank as he scanned the crowd to find her and he felt his heart sink even more when he saw the visible unenthusiasm on her face. There went his chance at the Stella star. 

As he approached her, he heard Becky offer to switch partners, and Anya told her she could manage. 

He didn’t know what to say when he approached the duo, but the reproachful look from Becky was enough to make him second guess everything all over again. 

“Er, I guess we’re partners, Anya.” He tried his best to look confident, but he saw his chances of receiving a Stella star rapidly fade away. 

After he received the list of items from a teacher, Damian led the way, with Anya trailing a few feet behind him. His eyes glanced over the list, but his brain hardly processed any of them. Most of the items on the list were presented as riddles or as their scientific names, and he did not have any brain power to spare, not when he had been agonizing over Anya Forger for a month now.

The silence was oppressive and he just couldn’t take it anymore. Finally, he spun around. It startled Anya, who bumped into him before stepping back. She looked at him quizzically and he felt the blush spreading across his cheeks. 

He took a deep breath. “I’m sorry for what I said about your parents. I didn’t mean it.”

She took a moment before responding, “Really?”

It was the first word she had said to him in weeks, and Damian looked dumbstruck. “Yes. Your parents… are nice. They obviously love you.” He kicked a rock near his foot. “And they’re probably always proud of you.”

“I accept your apology.” She paused. “Also, I’m sure your parents are proud of you too.”

He scoffed. “As long as I don’t besmirch the Desmond name, they’ll be proud of me.” Damian frowned. It didn’t help that Demetrius was the perfect son already. Until he reached his level of accomplishment, he would continue to be the forgotten second son. If anything, why had his parents even bothered with another son when they already had- before he could finish that thought, Anya was suddenly too close and also, did she just grab his hand? “Hey, what are you-“”

“Sy-on boy, I’m sure they’ll always love you! And be proud of you!” she exclaimed. “Don’t think like that.” 

He barely processed what she had just said, brain too focused on the fact that Anya was currently holding his hand, and were girls’ hands always this soft-?

“Boss man! We found you!”

The two of them turned away from each other to find Becky leading Ewen and Emile. “Anya! The scavenger hunt finished forever ago and I was so worried!”

Suddenly, all three of them, and also Anya, realized she was holding his hand. She quickly dropped it. “You didn’t see anything-” Damian started.

“So you two made up, I’m assuming?” Becky teased. 

Anya nodded, completely unfazed. “Is it lunchtime yet?”

Wrapping her arm around Anya’s, Becky pulled her in the direction they had just come from and the two of them started chatting completely nonchalantly. Damian wouldn’t have believed that just happened, if Ewen and Emile hadn’t waited for the two girls to be out of earshot before bombarding him with questions. 

“Did she apologize?”

“Did you apologize?”

“Why were you holding hands?”

“Did you tell her you like her?”

Damian stumbled over his words before finally stringing together a somewhat coherent response, “She’s not mad at me anymore. That’s it.”

“Well, that must be a relief! You looked so stressed!” 

“Yeah, like someone stole a Stella star from you!”

Two of them laughed, not realizing Damian was currently experiencing a crisis. Had he really looked that forlorn? Was it that evident that he was upset Anya had ignored him? He groaned loudly. Even when she didn’t say a word to him, she affected him. 

It was like she was the sun, and he was a lowly planet, forced to orbit around her. 

Later, they end up in the same canoe back to the main campus, and in between chatting with Becky and Mr. Green, she gave him a warm smile, the first one in weeks. 

If this was what the sun felt like, well, he supposed he could deal with it.