SPY X FAMILY
CHAPTER XXI: Melting Heart
Damian’s breath formed white fog in front of his mouth, but he kept walking. He had lost sight of the house a long time ago. He had passed the small forest, went beyond the maze in the park, kept walking past the old ruins. It was only when he caught sight of the little town, nestled in the middle of the hills that he slowed down a little. It was over twelve kilometres from the Desmond residence. He hadn’t realised how far away he had walked, how desperate he had been to get away.
He turned around, towards the mansion he couldn’t even see.
He turned his back from it and kept walking, his legs heavy from all that walking in the heavy snow. He arrived at the town, where almost everything was closed. It had snowed again the previous night, it was freezing, it was two days before Christmas. Everyone wanted to stay with their families. To celebrate, gather warmth and rejoice together.
His stomach rumbled, but he ignored it, as he walked through the town he had visited so often as a child. In summer, he often cycled or went horse riding all the way there. Although Penelope was very nervous around cars, and he avoided coming too close.
He stopped at a stone bridge that had been decorated with mistletoe for the festivities. He shook the snow off the tiny little plant, sweet and innocent looking. He then looked down at the river that went on quietly under the bridge. Half-frozen, the flow was much slower than he was used to.
He put his elbows on top of the stone wall, looking down, but he couldn’t see his reflection, only a muddy brown something that probably was his head.
A memory came back to him. He must have been four or five years old, he hadn’t entered Eden yet. It was spring, or summer, warm enough that he had been wearing shorts and held onto a sweaty hand. Big, large, with long fingers tight around his wrist. Tight to make sure he wouldn’t get hurt if he tripped in the roots and branches of the nearby big forest through which the river continued south.
“Look, Damian, these are tadpoles. They are baby frogs.”
“They look weird!”
“All babies look weird. But they’ll grow to become big frogs.”
Just then, a frog had jumped from a rock to Damian, landing on his chest. Screaming, he had fallen backwards and tripped into the river, splashing water everywhere. He had started crying but someone had lifted him up, high, high above their head, as high as their arms could lift him. He had stopped crying, looking down, amazed and comforted by his father’s strong arms and how tall he was and how high he could lift him.
Damian thought he remembered his father smiling in amusement.
The photograph showing his father’s expressionless visage, while watching children being tortured, interrupted the memory.
A sudden headache hit the side of his head. Damian frowned, massaging his temples, and closing his eyes. He didn’t have any recollection of that memory, at the river, looking at tadpoles, with his father. Had he imagined it? Had he imagined his father’s smile? Some of it must have been true, but how much of his father had been an illusion, a lie?
“Oh, it’s the young master!”
Startled, Damian whipped around, surprised to see Joseph standing there, accompanied by a woman of his age, and three children of various heights, two girls and one boy.
“Joseph… Hi,” Damian said, blinking.
The two younger children hid behind their mother’s skirts, but they grinned at him mischievously. Not quite knowing what to do, Damian gave them a little wave. They chuckled, but remained hiding.
“Come on, children, say hi to Master Damian, don’t be shy,” Joseph said, encouraging them with a gentle pat on the head.
They obeyed, mumbling shyly.
Damian lost his smile, witnessing such an unexpected act from his driver.
“What are you doing here, young master?” Joseph continued with a smile, “I would have expected you to stay with your lady mother and the master. It’s so rare for the three of you to be together.”
“Oh, uh… I… needed a walk…”
Joseph blinked, losing his easy composure.
“You walked here? Surely someone could have driven you here… Should I accompany you back at the house?”
“No! No, no, no, I… I enjoyed the walk… I needed it. To clear my head.”
“…Very well, sir. If you need my services, we live right around the corner,” Joseph continued, pointing at a house.
It’s quite small for such a big family… Damian thought, blinking.
“We are very lucky to be living in such a nice place,” Joseph’s wife added with a smile, “It’s thanks to your brother’s protection, sir. We are very grateful to the Desmond for the life they have offered us.”
Damian felt a knot in his throat. He nodded automatically. He looked at the three grinning children. He thought back on the hundreds, possibly more, who had died because of his father.
But those three smiles gave him comfort.
He could never endure the guilt and weight of the lives gone too soon… but his brother, his family, had managed to help this family. Had helped these children grow up with such an innocent joy.
“I’m glad,” he said, voice tight, “Are you… looking forward to Christmas?” he asked the children.
They nodded eagerly.
“Santa Klaus is going to visit me first!” The youngest exclaimed suddenly, jumping up and down.
“Santa Klaus will visit all three of you in the same time, he doesn’t have any favourite,” Joseph intervened.
“But, I’m the baby!”
“That’s not fair!” The middle child exclaimed.
“Now, now, no arguing or Santa Klaus will not visit at all,” their mother said.
That quieted them down quickly. They rapidly turned back towards Damian with smiles on their faces.
“Are you the mister who lives in the big, big mansion where daddy works?” the youngest asked eagerly.
“I… uh, well, I spend most of my time in Berlint. I’m only here… to visit my family.”
The children looked confused.
“Where is your family?”
Lost. Scattered. As cold and lonely as those snow-covered mistletoe.
Incapable of finding an answer, Damian just stared at them. The silence stretched on and on, only interrupted by the occasionally gurgle of the river under their feet.
The children, starting to worry they had done something wrong, and a little scared of the consequences, looked up at their father.
They looked up at him as if he had all the answers in the universe. Joseph smiled at them, to reassure them they had done nothing wrong. They immediately relaxed.
“I should go,” Damian said suddenly.
“A-are you sure? You look pale, sir…” Joseph hesitated.
“I’m fine, thank you…”
Damian walked off, feeling the worried gaze of Joseph burning in his back. Damian kept walking, down the main street, until he heard running footsteps coming towards him. Panicking a little, he turned around but saw Joseph coming with a smile.
“Let me accompany you, young master.”
“…You don’t have to. I know the way back.” Damian answered automatically.
“I know, but you look like you need a little bit of company.”
He didn’t have any answer to that. Joseph walked by his side quietly.
“…I didn’t know you had children…” Damian finally said, cutting the silence.
“Ah, yes, lovely little ones. A little mischievous and high on sugar, but who can blame them at Christmas?”
He laughed, as if it was an obvious joke. Damian didn’t quite understand it, but perhaps it was his exhaustion nagging at him.
He had barely slept the previous nights, catching only glimpses of blank darkness until the sun woke him completely. He had thought everything had been a terrible nightmare, but he had found the COEUS document under his pillow. He had hidden it again, in his locked drawer, then he had gotten dressed and had walked out while the servants were still preparing breakfast.
“Are you sure you are well, sir?”
His voice trailed off, he looked up just as they were walking past a small hand-craft gift shop. He went to a stop. Joseph sent him a strange and curious look.
Damian stared at the window of the shop, at the mountains of wooden toys, little figures, little Christmas trees that lit up, doll houses, silly mugs… but what had drawn his attention was the big and beautiful crystal star, with edges decorated with gold.
His guiding star.
The ice of his heart finally started melting, a slow-burning fire making his heart beating once more. How easily he would have let his heart turn to stone. It was so much easier, to numb it all, than face any of the pain. But not when he thought of Anya, of her smile, of her light. If it was for her, if it was with her, he’d face a lifetime of shame and guilt, as long as he could keep her smiling.
Letting out a heavy sigh, his shoulders dropped as he stared at the slowly twirling star that hung there, catching light and reflecting hope.
“You must love her very much.”
Damian turned towards Joseph, eyes widening and his cheeks taking an unexpected red that had nothing to do with the cold.
“The young lady you spent quite a while in the car with,” he continued with a smile, “I had never seen you so happy before. You must love her very much.”
Damian looked back at the twinkling star, blinking.
And he remembered that he had had one objective when coming to see his family: tell them about Anya. With all the chaos of the revelations surrounding his father’s past, he had forgotten that there was life and love ahead.
“I do,” he repeated, his voice stronger.
“I’m very happy for you, young master,” Joseph said.
Damian blushed, but he nodded.
“I… I remembered that I needed to buy some Christmas presents still… That’s why I came here… I’ll uh… finish that. Have a good holiday, Joseph.”
“Thank you, young master. You too, have a Merry Christmas!” Joseph exclaimed, visibly reassured that Damian had cheered up.
His young master stared at him, a little stunned by such profusion of joy.
He heard these words every year, but somehow, they had always seemed meaningless. Until now.
“Merry Christmas,” he answered with a genuine smile.
Joseph bowed to him, then walked away. Damian watched him stop at a confectionary shop, probably more sugar for his children that he obviously doted on. He felt a bit guilty, knowing that Joseph spent most of his time in Berlint, away from his family, driving his mother or himself around the city.
Damian walked into the shop, startling at the little bell that announced his entrance. He had hoped to walk in discreetly and have a look first but the shop keeper, an old lady with a big smile and a bun of white hair, turned to him.
“Welcome! Oh, young mister Desmond!”
He glanced around. The shop was small and he felt clumsy, worried he’d hit something and break it. He had never felt so little confidence in his life, and yet here was, a ridiculous version of himself.
“I haven’t seen you since you were tall as three apples! How you’ve grown! You’re becoming a charming young man!” she exclaimed, standing up and wiping her hands on an apron.
He blinked, he had no memory of ever entering this place. But it was a delight for children, so he had no trouble imagining himself dragging his mother, or a servant in here, and buying half of it just because he could.
“You used to come every time you and your brother went to the river down in the forest, to look at insects, animals and even frogs! Your brother always took such good care of you!”
She laughed cheerfully at the thought. Damian almost fell over in shock.
His memory of the tadpoles… it hadn’t been his father?
…Of course, it hadn’t been his father. Why was he so sad at the obvious realisation?
The temperature difference with the outside hit him. And the sheer warmth of that lady’s smile. He felt too hot and sweaty, very uncomfortable.
He took out his hands from his pockets, then his gloves and opened his jacket.
“I… wanted to buy…”
He pointed at the big crystal star, blushing well enough for the shop keeper’s eyes to twinkle in a knowing manner.
“Of course, sir!”
She took it off its hanging place and carefully wrapped it in many layers of paper for safe transport. While she was doing that, Damian walked around the shop, looking at everything.
He grabbed a snow globe with a meadow of flowers in it, for his mother. A wooden glasses box, decorated with painted owls, for his brother, even if he didn’t need glasses (yet).
He had other gifts for them he had brought from Berlint. A luxurious leather bag Blackbell had said was the top of fashion for ladies. A silk tie for his brother. But somehow, those silly and inexpensive gifts felt… more authentic.
He added them to the table, glancing around to make sure he wasn’t forgetting anything. His gaze landed on the big wooden doll house, every room equipped with furniture and details he would have never even thought of. There was a sizeable wooden train and tracks. He vaguely remembered having one of those as a child, although he had no idea what had happened to it.
“I’ll take those, as well,” he said, pointing at the wooden train and the doll house.
The shop keeper blinked, confused. He flushed, then continued, head down.
“D-do you know Joseph, who lives across the bridge? He’s my driver and uh…”
“Oh, I see!”
“Could you have it delivered for them?”
“Of course, sir!”
He looked around, vaguely remembered Jeeves talking about his granddaughter.
In the end, almost an hour later, Damian walked out empty handed, but feeling a lot lighter. The shop keeper waved at him, her booming laugh for “getting her out of business by buying so much” still resonating in his head. She hadn’t seemed to mind though. Everything he had ordered would be delivered in time, before Christmas, to everyone he had wished to offer a gift. Some would be delivered to the Desmond mansion by the end of the day, including the star he wanted to offer Anya.
He crossed through the little town, jumped off the wall that surrounded it, and made his way towards the vague direction of the Desmond manor. He decided to take the shortest way, through the hills. Which proved to be a terrible idea when, half-way back, walking steadily on the snow, he suddenly ended up falling into the sparkling powder up to his knees.
“Damn it!” he exclaimed, feeling snow sneaking into his boots.
He tried to raise his leg and make another step forward but it only made him fall deeper. Buried to the waist, he shook his legs and lost his balance. He fell into the pile of snow, shaking his arms and legs and cursing. He tried to get up, but that proved impossible.
“Damn it!!” he shouted, flailing his arms and legs around in annoyance, trying hopelessly to get up again.
He shook off the snow, got wetter, colder, more annoyed. Frustration built up in him and he expressed it with a sudden, furious scream. He kept screaming and screaming, until his throat was sore and he was out of breathe, falling into the snow that was turning into a surprisingly comfortable bed. A bit cold, but comfortable nonetheless. Arms and legs spread out like a star, he closed his burning eyes.
The quietness of nature surrounded him, smothered him, like a blanket.
Some birds screeched in a tree. Some snow fell off a branch on the ground. Potentially in the aftermath of his agonising shout.
He opened his eyes and tears rolled down his cold cheeks. He sniffed and wiped them away quickly.
His heart hurt. His comfort had only been temporary. The closer he got to the house, to his family, to the secrets, the more he feared seeing anyone again.
The more he feared having to face his father’s ghost. A father he was growing to hate, a hatred he abhorred all the more. An abhorration that was taking root in the depth of his chest, tangling in his ribs, pulsing through his heart. He hated hating his father. He hated himself for hating his father.
A couple of birds fluttered through the sky, just above his head, then flew off in the distance. He watched them go.
“If they have love, they can soar through the sky!”
She probably didn’t remember ever telling him that. He never understood why it had stuck in his mind. Engraved in his heart.
His heart, that had melted and iced again, warmed up once more. Even though his entire body was, quite literally, freezing.
He sat up, accidentally getting deeper in the snow. He tried getting up, fell down. He stayed there, face buried in his knees.
Some birds sung.
It made him stand up again. He managed to take a step. Perhaps if he stacked the snow enough with his weight, he’d get out of this impossible trap.
He fell face first into the snow. He spat out what he had gotten in his mouth, an annoyed look on his face.
Upon hearing another bird song, further away, he stood up again.
It took a long while, but by falling, standing, and eventually, unceremoniously, and in a very non-gentleman-like fashion, rolling down the hill, he managed to stand on two legs again, shaking off the snow that had gotten in every bit of clothing that were supposed to keep him from the cold.
Hair wet, socks wet, boots squeaking, he eventually arrived at the mansion. If he had looked at himself, he’d have run away. His face was pale from lack of sleep, his eyes had deep and dark circles, his legs ached from all the walking and struggling in the snow, his stomach was tight from hunger after skipping several meals…
But he stumbled towards the conservatory. He was so sleepy that if he weren’t so uncomfortably cold and wet, he’d probably just collapse in bed. He stumbled on a patch of ice, catching himself against the stone wall of the house. He started opening the conservatory door, kicking his boots against the first step to get rid of any accumulated snow there.
Just as it dropped, he heard the voices of Demetrius and his mother, talking around a cup of tea, so preoccupied by their conversation that they didn’t even notice him behind them.
“…Must tell him before the gala.” His mother continued, staring at Demetrius intensely.
“He’s in enough shock already. I’m not going to add more to what he’s going through at the moment.”
Dafni opened her mouth, just as Damian sneezed. Loudly. Demetrius and Dafni jumped, turning around, seeing Damian there, glaring and red-nosed, an absolute mess.
“What in heavens happened to you?” Demetrius asked, looking him up and down, completely bewildered.
“The snow attacked me,” Damian answered with a serious expression.
“Oh, dear! Oh, I’ll go get a towel!” Dafni exclaimed, running out of the conservatory.
“Mother!” Demetrius called after her, “No, fetch a maid, you don’t know where the… towels are kept… anyway…”
He gave a stern look at Damian’s poor appearance.
“…Did you at least win, against the snow?”
“Of course, I did,” Damian answered, rolling his eyes.
He could have almost laughed, if it hadn’t felt so surreal. His brother, Demetrius Desmond, just made a joke.
They stared at each other.
“…How are you feeling?” Demetrius asked, lowering his gaze on the floor, as if he was the one who had committed some atrocity in the past.
“…Not as bad as I could be, but…”
“I don’t really know…”
Demetrius nodded, absentmindedly.
“You’re handling it better than I did. I spent three days locked in my room with liquors. Fighting snow is better.”
“You think?” Damian exclaimed, his voice dripping with irony, holding out his arms, just as more snow fell off his shoulders.
Demetrius’ lips tilted up, then he sobered up, as if controlling himself from showing any amusement.
“What was it I heard? More secrets?” Damian mumbled as he took off his now useless and wet coat and threw it on the first chair he saw.
Demetrius looked uncomfortable. He acted uncomfortable. He moved on his chair and looked away, as if he didn’t want to face Damian at this exact moment.
Damian narrowed his eyes, even more suspicious. He had never seen his brother act this way. His brother was never uncomfortable. He made people uncomfortable, not the other way around.
“Spit it out, Demetrius,” he hissed.
“I’m getting married,” he let out so quickly that Damian wasn’t sure he had heard it well.
“I’m… getting married.” Demetrius repeated with a determined look on his face.
Damian stared at him. Did he have snow in his ears?
“You’re… getting married?” he asked, blinking in astonishment.
“Yes, well… Rather, I am getting engaged. Soon.” He continued, talking slowly as if his brother was dumb.
Spending so much time outdoors might have had more consequences to his health than Damian initially considered.
“…You’re getting married… with what? Who? A woman?”
“Well! Yes! Not a snowman!” Demetrius snapped.
He stood up, starting to walk around in long paces. He was nervous. He was nervous because he would get engaged soon.
“…I didn’t even know you were… considering… that you were interested in women! Or getting married!”
“What did you think I was interested in?” Demetrius mumbled, rolling his eyes.
“I don’t know!” Damian exclaimed with a big shrug, “Spending the rest of your life escaping your own reflection in the mirror!! You never showed any interest to anyone! How long have you been dating?! Who even is that woman?!”
“Oh, we have not been dating, what are you even thinking, Damian? We are gentlemen, we can’t flounder ourselves to the first woman who gets our attention!” Demetrius exclaimed, looking wildly shocked, “I have been courting her since last summer, but I wanted to wait for… well, to discuss with you about father before… officialising my courting.”
Oh no, Damian thought, his heart beating fast.
He had forgotten how very old-fashioned his mother and brother were. How could he ever tell them about Anya? His brother would have an aneurysm.
“As for who she is… It’s Diana Blum.”
Damian opened and closed his lips, straightening up.
“Diana Blum… of the Blum family? The heiress of the Blum family?” he asked.
“How many Diana Blum do you know?” Demetrius mumbled impatiently.
Who had not heard of the Blum family? They were new money, but already so powerful. The father had gotten incredibly rich between the two wars by increasing his wealth through real-estates. Now, he owned half of the buildings of Berlint, most of the entertainment malls, centres, theatres, and cinemas. He had married a gorgeous (and very rich) American actress who had given him three daughters who were considered the brightest jewels of the country: Diana, Elena, and Frida. Frida was a year younger than he was, at Eden, with six Stella stars.
If he recalled well, Diana had been from the same year as his brother, but in different classes. She had been, since middle-school a horse-riding champion. She had made it her professional career, winning almost every golden medal and trophy she could. She had qualified for the Olympians, and gotten a Silver medal. He remembered watching the interview where she had placed second, and laughed about it, looking forward to her next chance to win Gold.
“You want to marry Diana Blum?!” Damian shouted.
“YES! Will you please get over it?!” Demetrius exclaimed back, voice rising uncontrollably.
Several maids and butlers poked their heads in, curious to hear the two brothers screaming, but they only watched curiously.
“DIANA BLUM?! Why of all women did you choose the one with a name that starts with a D!! Don’t we have enough D’s in the family, by now?!”
“That’s your issue?!”
“NO! My issue is that I was the one supposed to tell you that I’m in love with someone and you’re ruining EVERYTHING!!” Damian shouted furiously.
Dafni came back just then, arms heavy with several covers. She looked between her two sons whose eyes were wide and cheeks red. In anger or embarrassment, she couldn’t tell. She leaned towards a maid:
“What just happened?” she asked in a low voice.
“Master Demetrius just said he intends to marry Miss Diana Blum…”
“Oh dear, I should have been the one telling Damian, Demetrius has no tact…” Dafni sighed, shaking her head.
“And Master Damian just said he’s in love with someone…”
“He hasn’t said who, yet,” a butler piped in discreetly.
“Oh no, he should have told me first…” Dafni despaired, giving the covers to the maid.
Dafni stepped forward, to calm things down, but Demetrius finally reacted. He lifted his hand, one finger shaking, as if in disbelief.
“…What did you just say?”
Damian looked away, blushing terribly.
“…None of your business,” he mumbled.
“You did not say that! Did you say you’re in love with someone?! You’re a child, what do you know of love?!”
“More than you know! Mister-Courting-Diana-Blum-In-Secret as if we were still in the eighteenth century!!”
“Who is this young woman! Please, do not say Anya Forger–”
“Anya Forger,” Damian answered quickly.
Demetrius closed his eyes, clenching his jaw. He brought a hand to his face, massaging the bridge of his nose in utter abjection.
“…Well, that’s said and done, I’m gonna take a shower!” Damian exclaimed in a hurry, trying to walk away.
“Hold on a minute!” Demetrius cried out, grabbing his shoulder.
Damian made a strangled sound, as his brother continued:
“Please, do not tell me that you have started courting her without my authorisation!”
“Well…” Damian stammered, looking as far away from his brother as possible.
“Or her father’s authorisation!!”
“Well… the funny thing is…”
“We may or may not have missed a few steps of the whole, uh… courting thing…” he admitted in a low voice.
His brother’s hand tightened on his shoulder, suddenly hard enough that he yelped. More out of fear than proper pain.
“You have what…” he hissed in his ear.
“Oh! Give me a break! We’re not in a history book! Or in a romance novel from Janet Austen!!” He exclaimed, walking away from his brother.
Considering the long, long silence that followed, Damian dared a look over his shoulder.
Demetrius looked completely shocked. Appalled. Distressed.
“Darling, are you okay?” Dafni asked when her sons finally got silent.
Demetrius ignored her, looking back at Damian.
“Is she… missing a few steps… did you… are you… is she… is she in a compromising position?” Demetrius asked in a low, frightened voice.
Damian turned fifty shades of red. His body became so hot that he was quite certain than any melted snow left on his clothes went into steam.
“NO! NO! YOU– We did NOT!! We are NOT! YOU! HOW DARE YOU IMPLY SUCH A THING?!” Damian shouted furiously.
“YOU SAID YOU DIDN’T COURT HER!”
“WE JUST KISSED, YOU DUMB APE!
“YOU KISSED HER!?”
“YES! YES, I HAVE KISSED HER AND LOVED KISSING HER AND I WANT TO KISS HER AGAIN! I EVEN KISSED HER IN THE LIBRARY!! HOW IS THAT FOR A SHOCK, BROTHER?!”
Damian ended up out of breath, glaring at his brother as much as Demetrius was fuming. He raised his finger again, as if to scold him, but Damian started walking away.
“DON’T turn your back on me! We are not DONE!”
“We are DONE! I have nothing else to say to you! You are incapable of love or attachment, it is not something you could possibly understand!!”
“She is rude! She’s a commoner!”
Damian whipped around, pointing a vicious finger at his brother.
“Don’t you dare talk of Anya that way! She may have been born a commoner, but she is a thousand times nobler and braver than any of us, fancy idiots! She is bright, intelligent, beautiful, optimistic, cheerful! She is the light of my life! She is the star of my nights! I have been in love with her since she punched me in the face! I have been in love with her before I even knew what love was! I am happy with her, she makes me happy, and I would rather give up on the Desmond name and wealth than ever think of a life without her!!”
Breathless, blushing, Damian stared at his brother who gaped at him like a stupid fish.
“Oh, Damian, my darling,” Dafni whispered, hands coming to her mouth.
Demetrius looked around, confused, and startled by Damian’s unexpected confession. He took a deep breath, not looking away from his older brother’s flabbergasted expression.
“…I am not giving up on her… and I had intended to tell you about her in a more… relaxed manner, but you threw me off with your… your secrets and new political party and your engagement to Diana Blum of all people! What you are even getting married for is beyond me, but I… I’m in love with Anya. And I’m not giving up on her.”
With these words, Damian felt hope flaming in his chest that maybe, maybe, his feelings would reach his brother. Surely, if he was considering getting married, he might know what love was, after all. He might understand how Damian felt. How important it was for him, to be allowed to be with Anya without ruining forever his relationship with his family.
Demetrius opened his lips. He said nothing and closed his mouth. He opened it again. He frowned, silent.
Damian’s nerves were so stretched, after the previous night, and the entire morning and early afternoon spent battling his emotions and the snow, that he was very close to just punch his brother in the hope he’d make another face than that aghast expression.
“Say something–” Damian hissed furiously, all the pent-up anger, frustration, and annoyance of the last night – not, the last decade – coming back full force until his body shook.
“You… kissed her… in the library?” Demetrius finally said, after a long moment of silence.
Damian tightened his fists. He held back, he tried, he truly wanted to hold back. But faced with this impossible, idiotic, older brother, he could not–
With a raging scream, he attacked. He jumped against Demetrius who, too stunned to react, was pushed against the nearest wall.
Maids and butlers gasped but Dafni held them back with a sharp nod of her head.
Pressed against Demetrius, as if to tackle him, Damian kept screaming. Demetrius, beyond his initial shock, finally grabbed him by the collar, trying to push him away.
“Let me go, you little brat!” he exclaimed, using words he had never even thought of.
“You! Are! Stupid!”
Another urge of strength from Damian had the fragile door of the conservatory open wildly. They fell through it. Demetrius stumbled in the snow until they both collapsed in a pile of white powder. The biting cold hit him and he pushed Damian off. He stumbled and grabbed snow that he threw in his brother’s face. Demetrius did the same, cursing while spiting snow out of his mouth.
“You! Stubborn! Stick-up-the-ass! Idiot! Old! Bamboozled! Gorilla! I can’t believe I was ever JEALOUS of you!!” Damian continued, punctuating every word with another handful of snow he forced against his brother’s face, neck or whatever he could reach.
“Madam, shouldn’t we do something?” a maid asked Dafni who stared at the spectacles.
“Don’t be ridiculous, they never played in the snow like that,” she answered with a smile.
“I don’t think they’re playing, madam…”
“Fighting is therapeutic…” she replied stubbornly.
The maids and butlers glanced at each other worriedly, witnessing the first and very unexpected snow fight of the Desmond children.
“Ungrateful kid!” Demetrius shouted, “You’re the second one! You don’t know how lucky you are!”
“What did I ever get except being kicked in the dirt by father?! By you?!”
“I never did anything to you!! I only wanted to let you be free! That was a mistake!!”
“You’re the mistake! You never cared for me!” Damian exclaimed, tripping over his own feet.
“I only cared for you! Always!! More than father ever did!!”
“I don’t believe you!!”
“She’s a commoner!”
“What’s so wrong with being a commoner?! With being in love?!”
“It’s just hormones!!”
“She punched you in the face!! You can’t be in love with someone who punched you in the face, when she KICKED me!!”
Damian stopped, mid-swing. The snow fell out of his hand. Eyes wide, he stared at Demetrius snow-covered, red, furious face. It was the first time he saw his brother with hair out of place. Most of it was standing wildly.
“She what now.” He asked in a harsh voice.
Demetrius pushed him off, into the snow, sitting up and trying to dust off what had accumulated on his shoulders. He blushed more, although Damian couldn’t tell if it was his anger or embarrassment.
“She accidentally kicked me in the face when going down her horse… That’s how we got acquainted,” Demetrius mumbled.
Embarrassment, definitely embarrassment, and Damian would never let his brother forget this moment.
“My punch wasn’t an accident, it was very much intentional,” he answered.
Demetrius glanced at him, unimpressed. If anything, he was more horrified.
“We were six!” Damian exclaimed, as if it justified anything, “And I… deserved it.”
“Ah. I remember now. A friend of mine came laughing to tell me that my little brother had made an embarrassment of himself for getting punched by his classmate on the very first day of school.”
Damian glared at him.
Demetrius looked down, looking a little remorseful and ashamed of what had just passed between them. A silly fight, as if they were toddlers fighting for the same toy. The toy being simply the need to let out the steam they had held on for too long.
“…You should have talked to me before doing anything to her. Commoner or not, once her father finds out, they’ll have expectations. You’re too young to understand what you’re doing, neither of you, and with the growing uncertainty about the Desmond Group, and my party…”
“Believe me, I’m quite certain that Loid Forger’s last wish is to get his daughter married to me,” Damian answered with a bitter smile, “All he wants is for her to be happy. And I intend to do just that. With or without your blessing. It’d be easier with. For all of us.”
Demetrius glanced his way. His brother was staring with a stubborn, unflinching look on his face. His gaze was alit with a determination he had never witnessed before.
“…It’s the first time you ask something for yourself.”
It surprised Damian enough that his expression morphed into one of confusion.
“You’ve always only wanted to make father proud, to be noticed and receive praise. You never asked for anything in return for all your efforts.”
“…Does this mean I have your blessing, then?” Damian asked hopefully.
“Not until I meet her and her family,” Demetrius answered, standing up suddenly.
“Why! I’ll never ask anything else from you, ever! I promise! Just let me be with Anya! I beg of you!!”
“A Desmond does not beg, have some pride,” Demetrius scolded, as if they had not just fought in the snow like petty children, in front of half of the staff of their house.
“Then, I’m not begging! I’m asking very, very strongly to have your blessing!”
“I am not giving my blessing until I have met her and her family, Damian!” Demetrius exclaimed in a tone that didn’t leave room for more debate.
Grimacing, clenching his fists, Damian stood up to face him. He crossed his arms over his chest. He realised that they were almost the same height, which flared his ego.
“Then I’m not giving you my blessing to marry Diana Blum!” he replied with a casual shrug.
“I don’t need your blessing to marry her!” Demetrius answered with wide eyes.
“But you would like it all the same, isn’t it?” Damian said and his brother grimaced in a way that told him he was right, “I’m the same. I won’t stop dating Anya because you haven’t given your blessing… but I would like it all the same.”
They stared at each other. Neither willing to give up.
Dafni moved closer, carrying some covers, but she glanced between the two curiously. She had never seen her children so unruffled, so uncaring of their appearances, of their duties as Desmond. For the first time in their lives, they were unknowingly following the same path: listening to their hearts, being stubborn for it, rather than hope for a dead man’s approval. She couldn’t help but smile, even though they were quite confused with the whole ordeal.
“…I will ignore you dating this commoner for now, at the condition that you don’t make a fool of yourself. Don’t make it known that you two are… courting. Ask for her father’s blessing before taking any other move. Do not make a fool of yourself. Do not kiss her in the library, it’s irresponsible and rude. I will reserve my blessing, if I judge her good enough for you, until I meet her. I might have some time off in spring.”
“In spring?!” Damian repeated, “What do you want me to do until then! Count flower petals in the hope she doesn’t dislike me?!”
“Court her properly, discreetly! Be a gentleman! And don’t make a joke of the Desmond name!” Demetrius snapped, “It’s bad enough you didn’t wait for anyone’s blessing before kissing her, father would return from his grave if it’s ever known you… you… did anything to ruin this young woman!”
“Oh, she’s the one ruining me…” Damian muttered to himself, cheeks blushing.
Demetrius glared at him. So that was what he meant by ‘not making a fool of himself.’
“As for Diana, don’t you dare embarrass me in front of her. You’ll meet her during the gala. If you say anything discourteous, I will disown you, understood?”
“You sound about as threatening as a squirrel, covered in wet snow like that.”
“Alright! I will not say anything discourteous to that poor woman you intend to marry!”
“She is very pleased with the arrangement, I’ll let you know.”
“I’ll reserve my blessing, if I judge you good enough for her,” Damian replied with a shit-eating grin that infuriated his brother.
Before Demetrius could reply anything, Dafni finally intervened. She forced towels in both of their arms.
“Now that you’re getting along again, come in, before you catch a cold, sweetpies,” she said with a smile that was so happy that both young men were a little stunned.
They hadn’t seen their mother so happy in a long time. They glanced at each other. Perhaps they should fight more often.
As they walked in, Damian remembered something. Before leaving the conservatory, ignoring the servants shuffling away quickly, surely to spread the gossip as fast as possible to the rest of the staff, he turned back towards a shivering Demetrius. He was glaring at the unfortunate tea that had cooled down by now.
“By the way, I’m taking Anya out at the Grand Theatre the day after the gala so you won’t see me for two days.”
“You are WHAT!”
Damian quickly escaped out of his brother’s shouting range, ignoring the way the maids giggled at him as he passed them. And yet, despite being covered in melted snow, shaking and still full of too many emotions… he had never felt this warm in this huge house.