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Guiding Star

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FANFICTION

SPY X FAMILY

Guiding Star

CHAPTER XXIII: Fated Promise

 

Anya let out a long and heavy sigh, leaning against the side of the couch, her chin nestled in her palm as she killed time counting the very few cars that passed by on the road. She glanced down at the book she had been reading. A spy novel she should have been enjoying. That she usually enjoyed, but every time she tried to keep reading it, the main character’s arrogance reminded her of Damian and it hurt to be so far away from him and have his absence thrown in her face again and again.

 

She thought she’d be okay not seeing him for a week. She was wrong.

 

Ever since she had entered Eden Academy, Damian had been here. He had been a constant part of her life. Over the years, with her feelings growing for him, her attachment hadn’t felt like a necessity for some mission anymore. It had felt real. He had always been a bright and inspiring fire she looked out for, that she couldn’t help turn to. He was a celestial object that had mesmerized her into a dance in the night sky. Confessing their feelings to one another, reaching out for one another, finding comfort in their touch and bodies had changed things. Now, his absence made her feel cold and lost. Without him, she felt like a half-broken, half-forgotten, half-sad constellation.

 

Anya had been okay the first day after seeing him leave to his estate. But the moment she had received a phone call from Becky and they had spent three hours talking about everything that had happened in the library, after Becky decided to show up at her doorstep for an emergency shopping session to find her an appropriate dress for the theatre… it had been much harder. Becky had meant well, but every moment spent with her had reminded Anya that she’d have to spend days, days and days without seeing Damian while, unfairly, Becky would get to see him at the Desmond’s Christmas Gala.

 

The gala happening right now. She had never wanted to be invited, she didn’t want to participate to such a fancy event… but she couldn’t help but fear the worst. What if all the time spent away from her proved to Damian he deserved someone better? Someone like him, who was rich and well-mannered, who didn’t kiss him on the crotch in the library. Someone he could dance with. Someone he might be dancing with right now.

 

“Anya! Where did you leave the parsnips?” her father called out from the kitchen.

 

It drew her attention back to her family. She stood up to help her parents in the kitchen, not noticing the one car that suddenly stopped in front of her building. She passed by Uncle Yuri who was making funny faces and cooing at Rosaura.

 

Anya carefully avoided looking for too long at the cute scene. Her relationship with Yuri had definitely improved since she had been a child, she’d even say they had grown very attached to one another. He eventually grew to consider her Yor’s child and his family. But the moment Rosie had been born, Yuri had focused all his attention on Yor’s biological child. Anya had been old enough to understand, she pretended she didn’t mind it and her parents didn’t love her less for not sharing blood, but Uncle Yuri didn’t realise that his behaviour to Rosie was so different to the one he had ever displayed for Anya. She didn’t hold a grudge against her little sister. It was still her family. She still loved them, but sometimes… she couldn’t help but feel like she didn’t quite belong. As if occasionally, she stumbled off a carefully drawn line she had had to follow her entire life to keep her family together.

 

She found the parsnips her parents couldn’t find in a cupboard.

 

“Can I help you out?” she asked, desperate for a distraction that wouldn’t remind her of Damian.

 

“We’re fine, thank you, just enjoy your time with your sister and uncle,” Yor answered with a smile, skilfully chopping the vegetables.

 

Anya hid her true feelings with a smile. Her parents were so distracted by each other, they didn’t notice that it was half a grimace.

 

The bell suddenly rang, surprising everyone.

 

“That must be Frankie and Francesca,” Loid said, wiping his hands on his ‘Kiss the Cook’ apron he wore.

 

“I’ll open the door for them!” Anya exclaimed, cheerfully running to the door.

 

Uncle Scruffy had never changed behaviour with her, and she knew he had quietly figured out her slight jealousy against Rosie and Yuri. He had compensated by being even more of a fool around her, dragging her into crazy adventures and games whenever there was a family dinner.

 

She opened the door wild with a bright smile, but it wavered when she recognized the person standing there.

 

Damian breathed heavily, cheeks flushed, as if he had run up the stairs, too impatient to wait for the elevator.

 

For a moment, she thought she was dreaming.

 

It must be a dream. Damian was over two hours away from Berlint, at the Desmond Gala, with his family.

 

“Anya…” he let out in a whisper.

 

His green-golden eyes were glazed with emotions she couldn’t begin to fathom.

 

“D-Damian?” she stammered.

 

Everyone must have heard because Yor, Loid and Yuri carrying Rosie suddenly approached, standing a few meters behind the young couple, still too bewildered to do anything but stare at each other.

 

“Who is that brat?” Yuri asked in what he intended to be a low voice, eyes narrowed in suspicion.

 

It startled Damian back in the present, out of his reverie of seeing Anya again. He shook his head, straightening a little bit more. He opened and closed his lips, glancing behind her, at her family.

 

“Damian, what are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be at your family gala?” Loid asked, stepping forward, a worried look on his face.

 

The young man swallowed hard. His thoughts, that had been sparkling in quiet joy to see Anya again, suddenly crashed. It was sudden enough that she couldn’t control her power and read all his thoughts, stumbling wildly one after another.

 

Oh no, I shouldn’t have come. Of course she’s with her family… I’m an idiot, I shouldn’t have bulge into her without warning. They’ll hate me for interrupting their time together. I need to go. I need to return to…

 

Memories of what seemed to be the previous days, of long dark talks with his brother, loud arguments, and overwhelming emotions in the snow, flashed rapidly in his head.

 

Anya wavered, shaking her head, and bringing a hand to her temple. Loid immediately noticed and put a hand on her shoulder to stabilise her. Eyes widened by what she had perceived, what she couldn’t quite understand, she looked back up at Damian.

 

“I… I’m sorry,” Damian suddenly stammered, looking down at his feet, “I shouldn’t have come so suddenly, without… I apologise for interrupting your family dinner. Have a Merry Christmas.”

 

He gave a quick bow, turning his heels and leaving in long strides.

 

Anya almost gasped, jumping after him. Loid almost stumbling by her sudden move.

 

“Anya, wait–”

 

She grabbed Damian’s hand. He stopped, looking back at her, shocked. Anya stared back, holding his hand with two of hers, clenching it. He was real. She could touch him. It was all real. He was standing right here, he had come all the way here, for her. Just as she couldn’t think she could endure missing him any longer, he had showed up on her doorstep, as if answering the silent call of her heart.

 

She slipped her fingers against his palm, through his, and he looked down, in disbelief that after this journey and awkward moment on the doorstep, she was holding his hand so tenderly.

 

His shoulders dropped.

 

“Don’t! I-if you’ve come here… just… stay… a little longer… please… You are more than welcome here. Please…” she said, sounding pleading, her cheeks flushing.

 

Damian couldn’t help the way the corner of his lips tilted up. He turned back towards Anya, wanting nothing more but dive his fingers through her long, soft hair, to bury his face in her neck and forget the last few days. His chest hurt, heavy with emotions he hadn’t yet been able to grasp. Seeing Anya again had been the trigger for everything to slowly start crashing down on him. The dam he had carefully built around his heart was cracking and he was about to drown.

 

Anya’s unexpected joy to see him morphed as she felt all these emotions passing through him. She opened and closed her lips, wanting to talk to him, to ask him what had happened that had driven him to go all the way to Berlint to see her. She couldn’t make sense of what he thought, he was too much of a mess.

 

A loud ting came from the elevator as the doors opened on Frankie, Francesca, and their little girl.

 

“The partyman has arrived! Who is ready to celebrate the greatest Christmas of all times!” Frankie exclaimed, stepping off the elevator.

 

He stopped, blinking, when he saw Anya holding hands with Damian, in the middle of the hall, Loid standing in front of his apartment, Yor, Yuri and Rosie glancing from the door.

 

“Oh dear, did something happen?” Francesca asked, sensing the tension.

 

“What is the Desmond runt doing here?” Frankie asked without any tact.

 

“Anya!” Amelia exclaimed, running to her without caring about the young man she had never seen standing there.

 

Anya stumbled a bit at the force Amelia used to hug her legs, and she hugged her back, temporarily letting go of Damian.

 

“Amelia… it’s nice to see you again, darling,” Anya said.

 

She looked up at her father and he finally reacted.

 

“How about we all go in?” Loid started with a charming smile, “Damian will join us tonight, apparently.”

 

“Good thing we always cook big meals,” Yor added, gladly welcoming him.

 

“What are we eating tonight, Uncle Loid?” Amelia continued, rushing to him instead of Anya.

 

“It’s a Christmas special, and a surprise for good girls.” He answered easily.

 

That delighted the little girl who went inside, followed by her parents.

 

Anya turned back towards Damian, and she finally noticed a driver at the end of the hall. The poor man looked lost, going from one foot to another, staring hopelessly at his master.

 

“I… I forgot the gifts, damn it,” Damian muttered, looking away from Anya, “I should have brought them, I’m sorry, I–”

 

“Hey, hey,” she started, putting her hands on his face to draw his attention back on her and divert his thoughts away from this… this guilt she didn’t understand, “It’s okay. You’re the surprise. We don’t need any gift. Okay? Are you… you don’t look fine, Damian…” she murmured worriedly.

 

Damian breathed heavily, his eyes darkening in a storm of emotions. He put a hand against her face, brushing his thumb against her cheekbone, as if to make sure she was real and tangible.

 

He opened his lips to say something, but a voice erupted from behind:

 

“Oi, keep your hands off my niece, if you don’t want to lose those pretty fingers of yours.”

 

“Uncle Yuri!” Anya exclaimed, whipping towards him, “Do not threaten to cut off his hand!”

 

Damian blinked, swallowing hard as he glanced at the uncle. The latter didn’t mind his niece’s warning, he only sent an intimidating glare at Damian.

 

“Yuri!” Yor’s voice exclaimed from inside the apartment, “Leave them alone for now! Come help us prepare dinner!”

 

Reluctantly, Yuri went back inside. Anya sighed heavily, massaging her temple in exasperation, but she didn’t seem truly annoyed by her uncle’s behaviour.

 

“Jeremiah,” Damian called to his driver who startled, “I’ll… find my way back. Go… home, to your family. They live in Berlint, right?”

 

“Y-yes, sir, but…”

 

“I’ll be fine,” he answered, waving it off easily, “I’ll go to an hotel or something.”

 

“But, sir…”

 

Anya glanced between them at the exchange.

 

“Go.” Damian said in a firm and slightly impatient voice.

 

It made Anya startle more than the driver. He tightened his lips then nodded, bowing thankfully before leaving the building. She kept staring at Damian, she had never seen him lose his patience so quickly to one of his family’s servants, or anyone who wasn’t her. Whatever had happened had left him frail and easy to anger…

 

She didn’t like that. She had a bad feeling.

 

But she took his hand anyway, and took him inside the apartment.

 

Frankie and Yuri looked at them from the living-room, one curious and amused, the other annoyed and slightly threatening. Amelia was playing with Rosie. Her parents were cooking dinner. Loid glanced at her worriedly, but Anya forced a smile.

 

“We’ll be back soon,” she said, pulling Damian away from the smothering looks of her family.

 

What is going on with these two? I don’t like that he showed up so suddenly, unannounced and obviously shaken by something… She caught her father thinking, but she ignored it.

 

She dragged Damian into her bedroom, half-closing her door, knowing that if she closed it completely her family would barge in with guns and knives in their hands.

 

She forced him to sit down on the side of the bed and somehow, he didn’t even realise that they were (mostly) alone in her bedroom. He just let her push him around like a stringless puppet. The moment he was sitting, he stared at an empty spot, elbows on his knees, chaos in his head.

 

Anya, desperate to get him to talk or feel anything but such despair, knelt in front of him. She gently touched his knees, brushing her hands against his.

 

“Damian, what happened?” she asked in a hushed voice.

 

His lips trembled, then an unexpected, strangled laugh escaped him. He raised his head, jerking it backwards and covering his eyes as he kept laughing, and laughing. It wasn’t his usual laugh. It was harsh, brutal, and agonising.

 

Anya shivered.

 

A heavy breath escaped him. His shoulders shook, and she understood he was holding back from crying.

 

“Damian, what happened?” she repeated, her voice more urgent, more worried.

 

“He… he told me everything… my brother told me everything about… my father…” Damian finally said, calming down as suddenly as he had erupted into laughter.

 

Anya shook her head, still confused, trying to ignore the jumble of chaotic thoughts that bang in his mind.

 

“W-what is it? W-what did he do?” she questioned, her own guilty memories of Donovan clawing at her soul like a forgotten demon that had woken up to tear her apart.

 

Damian didn’t answer right away, breathing deeply, to make sense of his emotions, of how to say any of it. His thoughts cleared a little.

 

Anya focused on them. She stopped breathing.

 

He listed to himself his own memories from two days ago, everything his brother had revealed. She saw files that had become engraved in Damian’s mind. Words and images she had thought forgotten.

 

COEUS. White hospital walls and halls that made her skin blanch. Smells of chemicals, disinfectant, burnt flesh, that covered up the family dinner cooking in the Forger apartment. PROJECT CHIMERA. Photographs of children attached to the medical equivalent of an electric chair. She could still hear the rumbling of wheels rolling on the marble tiles when they got rid of a dead one. TEST SUBJECT 007– The doctors in their white gowns and cold eyes stood over her.

 

She was four years old again. Lonely, frightened, longing for nothing more but a home and a family.

 

Even though she was in the apartment she had lived for years, her parents, sister, funny uncles just on the other side of the wall, it was as if it had all been an illusion. Her family had gone into smoke. The young man sitting in front of her, who needed her, shaken as he was by his family secrets, was nothing more but a shimmering lie.

 

Anya unconsciously moved away from Damian, horrified. Horrified of what she saw into his mind. Horrified of what it meant. Horrified of what he knew.

 

“During the war… and after the war… my father… he gave money to some medical institution called COEUS that worked on something called ‘Project Chimera’… it… it wanted to– it doesn’t matter what they wanted to do because in the end, they did something horrifying.”

 

Anya couldn’t breathe. She couldn’t talk.

 

Damian mistook her silence for encouragement, unable to look at her as he unravelled his family secrets, his pain, unconscious of what hurt he was putting her through.

 

“They picked innocent children and… and experimented on them to do impossible things… they… they died, Anya– all of them, most of them, I don’t know, but my fatherI… I loved him so much only to find out that all this time he had been a monster…”

 

He finally looked up, seeing revulsion on Anya’s pale face.

 

No, please, please, don’t look at me like that… he thought hopelessly.

 

He wanted to stop, he needed to stop, he couldn’t handle the way his heart shattered seeing Anya in such despair. But the dam broke into pieces and the water flowed. He lost control, of his tongue, his emotions, his life.

 

“I-I didn’t know, I swear, I… my brother found out recently and he tried to get them all arrested! But I can’t believe… how could my father do this to innocent children? I knew war had hurt him, but I had never though he’d become such a terrible person– he wanted… he gave money for mad scientists to create… create some sort of super human, who could read minds and other impossible things! He killed them in the process, and I could never… I could never live with the guilt, the shame, knowing what my father did to innocent children–”

 

He stopped abruptly as tears burnt his eyes. He covered them, sniffing. He tried to wipe them away. But the numbness he had grown comfortable into was gone, a safety net that had been ripped from his body. He was now left naked and vulnerable.

 

He hated this. Feeling this way, so raw, so hurt, so impossibly damaged.

 

He covered his face with his hands, smothering the sobs that threatened to break out. He barely breathed in the process.

 

Anya’s silence lingered.

 

Deep down, he hoped she would reach out for him, gather whatever pieces were left of him in her arms, and kiss him back to life… but she didn’t. She remained motionless, wordless, too shocked to do a thing.

 

The anger at his father, at this heritage of nightmares, burnt out.

 

Fear, its cold and treacherous sibling, took residence instead. It stabbed him through the heart, icing his soul, at the very thought that perhaps… perhaps it wasn’t something Anya, bright and cheerful as she was, could handle.

 

Anya could make or break his heart. Truth might mean losing her forever.

 

He thought he had been ready for that possibility. He’d rather be honest with her, a thousand times over, than having to lose her in the future.

 

But when he looked up, silent tears streaming down his face, and saw the terror on her face, something snapped. His heart maybe. Or whatever good he had inherited from his mother. Or that red string that suddenly grew taunt and painful, pulling at the part of his heart that belonged to Anya. Most of it.

 

What was he, if not a Desmond? What would be left of him? What was he, if Anya didn’t love Damian?

 

“Anya… please…” he pleaded, reaching out for her.

 

She moved away so suddenly, she fell behind, on the floor, one hand held up to protect her face.

 

From him, his hands, his touch, the violence of his father’s legacy.

 

Damian froze, more tears rolling down his face, helplessly, hopelessly. They dropped on the floor, resonating in the aching silence.

 

Anya gasped, breathing hard, eyes wide, covering her mouth with her hands, in horror. Not of what she had heard and realised. But at what she had just done. She shook her head, opening and closing her lips to apologise but her throat was too tight. So tight she couldn’t breathe, she was choking, the darkest part of her childhood she had left behind came back haunting her, more violently than if she was reliving it all over again.

 

I have lost everything now…

 

That thought, that simple thought, and the crushing, overwhelming, heart-breaking despair that came with it, startled her.

 

Impossibly, clumsily, she reached out for Damian. He jumped at the touch of her cold hand grabbing his. There was none of the gentle tenderness of earlier, gone was the worry and questioning look. It was desperate, awful, the way she dug her fingers into his skin, but he held her hands with his free one with the same clawing desperation.

 

Now or never. Broken heart or reborn soul. Loss or love.

 

He couldn’t bear the waiting, the way she looked at him, eyes glazed by terrifying thoughts he couldn’t understand, and it left him wavering, dizzy and trembling– not knowing what went through her head, what she felt for him after all that.

 

“S-say something…” Damian breathed, voice breaking.

 

Anya must have heard how much he needed her reaction. She saw herself in his mind, slapping his face, clawing his skin off, screaming, kicking, or on the contrary, hugging him, kissing his tears away, carrying his hurt off his heart. What he feared fighting against what he hoped.

 

But she couldn’t do either of those.

 

Her heart had stopped beating when she had seen, through Damian’s mind, that photography of Donovan Desmond’s distant and cold face as he watched children being tortured. Watched one of her earliest comrades and friends. Could have watched her being torn apart and built anew until she had forgotten any identity but Test Subject 007.

 

“Y-your father was… he’s the reason why…”

 

Her voice broke. She fell down, tearing her hands away from Damian’s. She watched her nails scratch the wooden planks of her floor. She remembered doing it in her white cell, forever ago, to create something different, new, so it wouldn’t be so white, so empty.

 

Something built up in her chest. Her mind snapped, separating body, feelings, and consciousness. She hurt. It hurt, it hurt, it hurt so much. She wanted to tear out her heart from her chest and crush it to a pulp. Perhaps then, the pain would cease.

 

“A-Anya?” Damian hesitated, kneeling in front of her, suddenly worried for her rather than his own fate.

 

A low, painful wail rose from her throat. It smothered her, drowned her–

 

“Anya, what is it?!” Damian exclaimed, his own tears rushing at his helplessness, at his guilt, at the pain he had caused her.

 

The door opened suddenly, startling Damian. He rose his hands in defend, falling backwards, confronted to Loid Forger who walked in quickly.

 

“That’s enough,” he snapped, frowning darkly.

 

Whether it was the door slamming, or her father’s voice, Anya calmed down, so suddenly, it was even more frightening than seeing her unravel.

 

Yor hurried in, wrapping an arm around Anya’s shoulders, and quickly dragging her away. Away from Damian, away from him, from the blood that was on his hands, through the actions of his father.

 

Damian instantly tried to follow, desperate to help her, to make it right, but Loid grabbed his shoulders and held him back.

 

“She needs help, she needs–”

 

“So do you, now calm down!” Loid exclaimed.

 

Damian tried to push him off, but he was far stronger than he looked and held on, keeping Damian back.

 

He ran out of strength and will far too quickly. Trembling, he only watched the door through which Anya had gone.

 

Surprisingly gentle despite having made his daughter fall apart on Christmas Eve, Loid pushed Damian back on the bed. He passed a hand against the young man’s back for as long as he breathed heavily, not understanding what was going on, why his chest was so tight, the air impossible to inhale, his insides so cold–

 

“Let it out, breathe slowly, in and out… breathe in, breathe out…”

 

Half-conscious, Damian listened to the doctor’s words and slowly, they sank in. Slowly, he followed his instructions. Slowly, they became effective… His breathing calmed down.

 

Drained beyond recognition, eyes red and burning, Damian just leaned over his knees, staring at the smeared tears of Anya and himself, mixing on the floor.

 

“In and out… good…” Loid said, putting a hand on his shoulder.

 

That simple gesture gave him more strength than he would have thought. His brother’s touch was still clumsy and hardly comforting. His father had had no idea that physical touch could comfort his children.

 

No one had ever held him upright like that. Damian found it strangely calming.

 

Confused, feeling that numbness creeping back on him, he turned hesitantly towards Loid Forger. The doctor was frowning, out of worry rather than anger.

 

“…I-I’m sorry…” Damian stammered.

 

“What for?” Loid asked, confused.

 

“I… I hurt Anya… I… lost control… I’m… I’m sorry…”

 

Panic threatened to smother him again. Loid sensed it and leaned forward, forcing Damian’s attention on him.

 

“Hey, calm down, Damian. Anya will be fine. I promise you, she will be. And so will you, okay? You don’t have to apologise for feeling this way, okay? You have every right to be overwhelmed and struggle with panic attacks after finding out so much… about your father…”

 

Damian hesitated, glancing back at the man who didn’t stop holding him up.

 

“Y-you heard…” he realised, fear taking on a new form, “Y-you can’t tell anyone, if my brother finds out I told anyone–”

 

“I won’t tell anyone, neither will Yor. I swear it. I promise. Believe me, your secrets are safe with us.”

 

Strangely enough, even though he barely knew the man, Damian believed him. A little reassured, and panicking still enough that he felt the need to cover himself with a mask of slight arrogance, he couldn’t help but comment:

 

“…What? You’re going to tell me that you have some horrifying skeletons as family heritage as well?” he said ironically, a little bitterly.

 

Loid smirked, surprisingly amused.

 

“You would be surprised. Every family has its secrets, some heavier than others.”

 

They paused, taking in the far-away sounds of the uncles and young children playing, unaware of the quiet, intimate war going on in a young couple’s hurtful souls.

 

“Do you want to talk about it?” Loid asked, turning towards Damian as soon as he knew the young man wouldn’t shatter again.

 

“…There’s nothing else to say. I’ve told Anya and she hates me now. I’ll never tell a soul again, I should have listened to my brother and kept it all a secret…”

 

“If there is one person you can’t keep a secret from, it’s Anya. She is incredibly perceptive.” Loid answered, as if he was sharing a very important secret with the young man.

 

He paused thoughtfully.

 

“She would have found out eventually… You may not think so right now, but it’s better you faced her honestly and told her everything in your own terms, rather than let the wound fester and affect you both when you didn’t expect it. Besides… I don’t think she hates you. She is… in shock, she is hurt, but it has nothing to do with you.”

 

“…My father, instead.”

 

“Who is not you. She knows that, even if it might take her a bit of time before she comes to terms with… everything. Give her time, and everything will be back to normal.”

 

Damian looked away. He finally took in the fact that he was in Anya’s bedroom, sitting on her bed. Her pillows were surrounded by many animal stuffed toys, but the two that stood out the most were a massive penguin, covered in terrible scars, and a colourful chimera.

 

A chimera… how ironic that, of all creatures, she’d have picked a chimera… he thought with a bad taste in his mouth.

 

“I won’t. I can’t. Let it go back to normal, I mean. Nothing will ever be the same. Not for me…” he admitted, finally tearing his eyes away from the stuffed toys, only to look down at the floor once more.

 

Loid observed him from the corner of his eyes.

 

“You can’t go back to normal with Anya, because you somehow think you hurt her, or you can’t go back to normal with yourself, because your father hurt you beyond his grave?”

 

Damian’s heart missed a beat. It became heavy as stone. Tears filled his eyes once more, but they didn’t roll this time.

 

“…I only ever wanted his approval… his love, and… I thought he was a good man, the best man… I loved him, I hate him… I still love him, and I hate myself for that…” he murmured, voice breaking like a thousand shards of glass, “K-knowing everything he did… everything he let happen… how could I love a man like that?”

 

“He’s your father, it’s normal to love him. It’s normal to have a complicated relationship with him, especially now that you can’t confront him about it. You’re confused and hurt. It doesn’t make you less of a man for loving him, even knowing his wrong doings. It doesn’t make you less of a man for hating him… You feel what you feel, Damian. There is nothing wrong with it. What your father did doesn’t define you.” Loid continued, staring helpfully at the young man whose life had been turned upside down.

 

“But I admired him! I hate him so much for what he did, but I can’t stop loving him! What does that say about me?! He was a monster! I hate him! That makes me a monster too!”

 

Loid put a heavy hand on his shoulder, almost throwing Damian off-balance. Or pulling him back on whatever tightrope he had been blindly walking on his entire life.

 

“Damian, his crimes are not yours. This is not your guilt to carry.”

 

He hesitated, before continuing, tightening lightly his grip on Damian’s shoulder.

 

“You and I haven’t talked much in the past, but I believe I know you enough. You’ve been part of my daughter’s life for almost as long as I have. It offends me as a father, but you might know her better than me by now. Just like she knows you better than anyone else and… from everything she told me over the years, I know that you are a brave and kind-hearted young man. She admires those traits in you… she fell in love with you because of those. And those are not the making of a monster.”

 

He let the words sink in before he kept going, diving his eyes into Damian’s, still shimmering from tears.

 

“You can love your father, it doesn’t mean you condone his actions. You can hate your father, it doesn’t make you a monster. From the little I know of you, Damian Desmond, you are a thousand times the man your father could have ever hoped to be. And I know it’s his pride and attention you always wanted, but if I were your father, I would be more than proud, it would be my greatest honour to call you my son.”

 

Loid slid his arm around Damian’s shoulder. And even though it wasn’t his own father’s comfort, even if it wasn’t Anya’s peace, the young man still found some unexpected solace from that strong and heartfelt embrace.

 

“I…”

 

He turned his attention back to Loid who was smiling, a little sadly, but it was gladness that shone in his eyes.

 

“I can’t think of anyone more worthy of my daughter… than you…” he said slowly, making sure every word was heard loud and clear.

 

Hope, thankfulness, and unexpected pride flared in Damian’s chest. Flamboyant and beautiful, chasing all the darkness and demons away.

 

“I would do anything, everything, to make your daughter happy, to make her smile… I will never give up on Anya, I promise it on the Desmond name, on my name, Damian.”

 

Loid smiled, almost cheerfully if he weren’t so torn by melancholy. He tapped Damian’s shoulder eagerly.

 

“I’ll hold you up to that promise, Damian Desmond.”

 

***

 

Anya didn’t realise her mother had carried her in another room until she was on the floor, and she felt the soft carpet of her parents’ bedroom. Somehow, it made her panic attack worse. She couldn’t breathe, her chest hurt, her throat was too tight. Tears didn’t stop, sobs threatened to shatter her body to pieces.

 

“Anya! Anya, darling! Look at me!”

 

Yor’s voice was strong and unwavering when she took her daughter’s face in hers.

 

“Look at me, Anya!”

 

Through blurry tears, dizzy from her own thoughts and everyone’s overwhelming feelings, Anya bravely tried to find her mother. The silhouette was far away and ghostly. The doctors’ figures were real and threatening.

 

“Anya!!”

 

Yor pressed her forehead against Anya’s. It made her daughter wriggle, trying to get away but Yor didn’t let go. Anya shook, closing her eyes, whimpering, but eventually, she stopped struggling.

 

“It’s okay! Anya, you’re with mama, you’re safe, you’re with your family…” Yor murmured, drawing Anya against her chest and hugging her tightly, careful not to break any bone.

 

But from the way Anya held onto her, strong and desperate, she could have hurt Yor. She didn’t mind. She could endure a million times the worst pain in existence if it meant her daughter found any comfort.

 

“He did it! He did it! He did it all!”

 

“Who? Who did what?” Yor asked, not having heard as much as Loid from the young people’s conversation.

 

He’s behind COEUS, he’s the one who did this to me, he’s the one–”

 

Her voice broke into sobs. She fell against her mother, shaking all over.

 

Yor’s eyes widened, her heart missing a beat. The horrifying understanding washed over her coldly.

 

Donovan Desmond was behind COEUS, he was the one behind her daughter’s long-ago torture and pain, he was the one behind her terror right now

 

Her gaze sharpened, a dangerous flame lighting deep in her blood red gaze.

 

“…If he weren’t already dead, I would be on my way already to tear him apart…” Yor hissed.

 

Anya froze in her arms. Slowly, she moved away, panicked. She shook her head.

 

“No… no, no, no, you c-can’t do that, you can’t do that to Damian–”

 

Yor startled, realising that she had fallen into her old and dangerous habits. Anya was panicking, she shouldn’t be thinking about revenge.

 

“No, no, sweetheart, I didn’t mean it…” she tried but Anya’s words hit her a moment later, “Donovan is dead, he’s already dead, I can’t kill him, he won’t be killed again! I promise, Anya, Damian won’t be hurt again, I promise!”

 

It seemed to calm Anya a little.

 

“Now breathe, breathe, in and out, like your papa taught you…” Yor continued, breathing in the same time as her daughter.

 

Slowly, eventually, light came back in Anya’s eyes and the shaking subsided. The tears stopped. But she remained sitting on the floor, looking lost and half-broken…

 

Yor went to pick up some tissues, wiping away her tears. Once Anya had cleaned herself up, red eyes and sniffing, she kept her gaze down.

 

“…I never thought… that Donovan Desmond had been… that he…”

 

“No one knew, Anya. Don’t let it bring you back in that dark place. It happened a long time and you are never going back there.”

 

“D-do you promise?” Anya asked in a shaky voice.

 

“I promise, I swear it on my life, I will never let anyone touch a single hair of yours again…” Yor said fiercely, drawing her daughter into another hug.

 

She caressed her shoulders in comfort and for a long moment, mother and daughter just held onto each other, like they have so many times.

 

“…How can I ever face Damian again…?”

 

Anya’s voice was barely higher than a whisper.

 

“What do you mean?” Yor asked, blinking in confusion.

 

“T-the way I reacted… I… he must hate me now… he needed me and I… I–”

 

She couldn’t shake off the memory, replaying again and again, in her mind, of Damian leaning towards her. The way she moved away. The way, for a short moment, she saw Donovan Desmond himself, trying to capture her.

 

“No, darling, Damian would never hate you, no matter what you did… You were in shock, and so is he… both of you are feeling… raw and vulnerable… Give it time and he’ll understand. Just like you will understand why he needed to tell you all this…”

 

Damian knew everything, in far more horrifying details than she did, about Project Chimera and COEUS. He knew everything that had been done to her.

 

But he had no idea she was one of his father’s victims.

 

If what she had sensed, his despair, guilt, and shame, gnawing at the deepest parts of himself, had been what he felt knowing his father had committed such a crime… how would he react to know Anya was one of his father’s monstruous creations?

 

“Should I tell him?” Anya asked in a whisper, more frightened than she ever remembered being.

 

For years, she had feared losing her family. But a smile and holding their hands had been enough to chase away such a fear.

 

Losing Damian would shatter her completely.

 

She hadn’t even realised how much she loved him, until she was faced with the possibility of losing him. Until she was faced with that gaping hole that tore her soul apart. That chasm in which she might plunge if he ever found out the truth and, for one reason or another, fate would be cruel to them again.

 

Yor took a long time to answer Anya’s question. Probably the most important question she would ever ask her mother. The most important answer her daughter would ever need.

 

“If you want to tell him the whole truth… your father and I will support you, no matter what.” Yor said with a smile.

 

Anya observed her, still lost, and confused.

 

She looked away, not knowing if she could ever be brave enough to jump in that void, not knowing if she would land safely at the bottom.

 

Telling him about her mind-reading ability would immediately reveal to Damian that she had been one of the test subjects of Project Chimera. Beyond the heart-breaking revelation and what it would do to him, he was smart enough to understand something else: Anya was not Loid Forger’s family. If she started telling him the truth, she couldn’t lie to Damian and she’d have to reveal everything to him.

 

Her father’s former spy activities. Mission Strix. Her mother’s former assassination activities. Their made-up family.

 

His father’s death.

 

Whatever hatred and disgust he felt towards his father would most definitely be aimed at her.

 

Having him hate her would be a worse fate than losing him.

 

“It will be alright,” Yor said when she sensed her daughter’s slowly growing fear.

 

“…How can I be with him when his father was…”

 

“It’s quite simple,” Yor continued, drawing her daughter’s gaze back to her, “Do you love him more than you hate his father? If the answer is yes, then what reason do you have to not be with him?”

 

Tears filled Anya’s eyes.

 

Yes, yes, I love him so much, so much more than I ever thought I could love…

 

The hatred she felt for Donovan Desmond, for the scientists, for anyone who had had a hand in Project Chimera was a mere candle compared to the majestic sun that was her burning love for Damian.

 

“What if… when I tell him the truth… he hates me more than he loves me?” she asked in a raspy voice.

 

Yor tightened her lips, caressing her daughter’s face to chase away the frightened tears.

 

“You won’t know the answer to that question, until you talk to him. Today, or in a week, or in a year… you can take your time. But if he loves you half as much as you love him… and I’m certain his feelings are just as strong… he will have the same answer as you. Love is stronger than hate.”

 

Anya captured a wandering thought from her mother’s mind.

 

Loid and Yor should have been enemies. But they fell in love, unknowingly on opposite sides. They should have hated each other. They did hate one another for a short amount of time, when they found out the truth and the hideous lies… but their love was stronger than any hatred that could have ever existed. What they had thought had been hatred and anger had been nothing else but pain and betrayal, which they chose to turn into honesty and promises.

 

Their love had grown only stronger for it all.

 

“Have faith in Damian. I don’t believe his heart is so easily shaken.” Yor finished with an encouraging smile.

 

Have faith in Damian.

 

Anya stood up on shaky legs, ignoring her mother’s worried look. She carefully, silently, moved towards her bedroom. She remained behind the wall, overhearing everything Damian and her father were discussing.

 

“…From the little I know of you, Damian Desmond, you are a thousand times the man your father could have ever hoped to be. And I know it’s his pride and attention you always wanted, but if I were your father, I would be more than proud, it would be my greatest honour to call you my son.”

 

Anya’s heart missed a beat. She had never doubted of her father’s approval, but to hear it, to hear such words, even though they were meant for only Damian… It meant the world to her. That someone else saw Damian’s worth.

 

“I… I can’t think of anyone more worthy of my daughter… than you…” Loid added, his voice betraying the slightest hurt of having to let go of his daughter.

 

Anya closed her eyes, leaning against the wall, a smile growing on her face. She focused on Damian’s thoughts, suddenly bright and beautiful, as if a field of sunflowers had grown, erasing the warring darkness.

 

Such beauty, such radiance, couldn’t mean anything but love. A love strong enough to burn hatred away.

 

“I would do anything, everything, to make your daughter happy, to make her smile… I will never give up on Anya, I promise it on the Desmond name, on my name, Damian.”

 

She almost gasped. Even after everything she had done to him, leaving him to swallow in self-pity, in hurt, pushing him away, rejecting him… he still aimed to make her smile, he still put her before himself.

 

She stepped out, just as her father smiled warmly.

 

“I’ll hold you up to that promise, Damian Desmond.”

 

Damian must have sensed her presence, somehow, because he looked up just as she appeared in the doorway. Even her father was surprised, but Anya didn’t detach her gaze from Damian’s astounded expression, as if she were an angel sent to him by the heavens.

 

“…I’ll finish cooking that dinner,” Loid said, easily sneaking out of the room.

 

He patted his daughter’s shoulder, with an encouraging smile and a nod.

 

Be happy, he thought, knowing she’d hear him.

 

More tears filled her eyes. She nodded quietly.

 

This time, Loid closed the door to give them some privacy.

 

Damian stood up, looking uncharacteristically hesitant. It was different even from the look he had shown Loid a moment ago. That look, that golden hope shining in his eyes, it was hers and only hers.

 

He opened his lips to say something, but they both understood at the same time that words wouldn’t be enough.

 

Anya ran into his arms, surrounding his body with her arms, holding as tightly as she dared. He almost fell over, in shock more than her light weight. He hesitated, arms trembling, before returning her embrace.

 

It was strong. Like their feelings for one another. It was unexpectedly tender. Like their love.

 

For the first time in days, they both felt safe and sound, warm and comforted.

 

“I’m sorry,” Anya started, voice cracking, “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry–”

 

“No, no, Anya, whatever for?” he asked, pushing away her hair to look at her face and her still red eyes.

 

“I should have been here for you, but I-I pushed you away, I didn’t mean to, I swear, I–”

 

“No, no, my love, don’t apologise, ever, I… I don’t blame your reaction. Believe me, your reaction was a lot better than mine…”

 

A dark chuckle escaped him, as he thought back on the shameful fight with his brother, in the snow, all these pent-up emotions they had let out at one another in that short moment.

 

“I can imagine…” Anya answered with a half-smile, a little bittersweet.

 

He had no idea she knew him so well.

 

“It was a lot to… to tell you, to expect of you… I won’t burden you anymore with my family–”

 

“No!” she exclaimed, shaking her head, surprising him, “Don’t say that! It’s not a burden… y-you are not your father, you are not his offenses… You are you, and I choose you, Damian Desmond. Skeletons, secrets, lies and everything else that comes along with you! I’ll share the burden, but don’t… don’t shoulder it all by yourself… You’re not alone anymore, I’m here, okay?”

 

Damian’s breathing hitched. He pressed his hands against her cheeks, staring at every inch of her face, her bright, determined eyes, the slight pout of her lips.

 

How could he ever resist her?

 

“Promise you’ll let me be here for you, no matter what!” Anya continued.

 

His lips turned into a wide smile. A grin like he had never smiled before. One that made his eyes lit up.

 

Her own lips smiled to mirror his, giddy and amazed by the sheer beauty of it.

 

“I promise… and you promise in return the same?” he asked, brushing his thumb against her cheek.

 

She closed her eyes, burying deep the fact that she would keep hiding some truth about herself for a little longer… She leaned her cheek against his palm, nodding.

 

“I promise… No secret between us, I’ll tell you everything. I promise.” She murmured against his skin.

 

She met his eyes and he dived towards her, sealing the most important promise of their short lives so far, with a passionate kiss.

 

Their lips moulded against one another perfectly. They gasped into each other’s mouth, tilting their heads and going deeper, deeper.

 

They could breathe again.

 

They could live again.

 

Damian gathered his arms around Anya’s tight waist, lifting her up so she’d be the same height as him. She started laughing, giddily, putting her arms around his shoulders, suddenly over twenty centimetres taller.

 

He would have captured that laugh, into his mouth, to breathe it back into his lungs, his heart, every time he’d feel lonely.

 

The door opened suddenly. He dropped her on the floor as they turned towards Amelia’s grinning face. She turned back towards the living-room.

 

“Mama! Papa! I told you they would be kissing!”

 

“Amelia!” Anya exclaimed, blushing.

 

“Leave them alone, Amelia!” Francesca exclaimed.

 

“Who is kissing who?!” Yuri called from afar.

 

“And they are kissing a LOT! With the tongue and everything!” The mischievous little girl continued.

 

“Amelia!!”

 

“Then leave them to it!” Frankie laughed.

 

“Dinner is ready!” Loid interrupted loudly, “Anya, Damian, come join us!”

 

Amelia ran off before Anya could strangle her. Grabbing Damian’s hand, she pulled him to the living-room, both red in annoyance and embarrassment. Loid and Yor were smiling, and everyone else (besides Yuri) seemed to tease them.

 

But it was warm and welcoming.

 

Anya sensed Damian’s sudden gratefulness. She turned to him, squeezing his hand. He squeezed back, a small smile tugging on his lips before he turned back towards the Forger chaotic family.

 

“I apologise for our abrupt introduction earlier, and my lack of manners. My name is Damian Desmond, it’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance.”

 

Anya suddenly wrapped her arms around his, embarrassing him further.

 

“He’s… he’s my boyfriend, so be nice, all of you!” she scolded, frowning at each and every one of them.

 

They glanced at each other, grinning in what seemed to be a hell lot of teasing to come.

 

“After all these years, we were despairing you’d ever come sit in the chair we’ve been saving you!” Frankie exclaimed with a laugh.

 

“Come on in, you’ll fit right in!” Amelia added, grabbing his hands and pulling him forward.

 

He was forced into a chair that was slightly different than the others. He soon realised that almost the chairs were mismatched and there wasn’t enough room for everyone to comfortably sit without elbowing one another a little bit.

 

But everyone was smiling, everyone was laughing. Anya most of all.

 

“Welcome to the Forger family, at long last, Damian,” Yor said with a bright smile, handing him a dish of steaming potatoes.

 

He would have thanked them, but mere words wouldn’t be enough. But from the way they smiled, he knew they understood.