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Guiding Star

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FANFICTION

SPY X FAMILY

Guiding Star

CHAPTER XXV: Gifts

 

When Damian woke up, something tickled his nose. He sighed against it, breathing in a wonderful smell, feeling a warm body pressed against him.

 

Another dream about Anya, he realised, his body slowly wakening, in more ways than one.

 

He smiled, still lost in his sleepiness, switching back into a state of complete darkness for a few seconds, or an entire hour, he had no idea. The body moved around then started licking his face. Damian grimaced, pushing away the creature that had forced him to wake up.

 

“Not now, Max–” he grumbled in a raspy voice.

 

But his dog didn’t stop licking his face, the fur getting into his mouth. Damian pushed the huge dog away, before realising that Max was not allowed into his room, nor his bed.

 

Panicking a little, he opened his eyes wide and was met with a dog alright. But not his dog. He was slightly confused, until the mountain of white fur moved to show two brown and kind eyes.

 

Screaming, Damian jumped away from the unknown dog that had climbed into his bed. His bed that was suddenly too small because he fell backwards and onto the floor. Hard.

 

“Who the fudge–”

 

The dog barked, tail wagging happily.

 

“Bond?!” Damian exclaimed, finally recognising the dog that stood on the small bed.

 

Anya’s bed.

 

Oh no, it wasn’t a dream. We spent the night together. She was in my arms. Anya was in my arms last night and she’s turned into her dog?! Wait– no

 

“Hey! Good morning!”

 

He startled, looking up at Anya who walked in, still in pyjamas, with the addition of big fluffy socks, carrying two large plates of food.

 

“Anya! Don’t eat on your bed!” Loid called out from another room.

 

“We won’t, papa!” she answered, slamming the door with her foot.

 

Damian was still lying on the floor, legs tangled in the duvet. The duvet they had slept in together. His back ached from his harsh fall, but it didn’t quite sink in yet.

 

“Come on, get up, sleepy head!” Anya continued, putting the plates down on her desk before climbing over the unused mattress on the floor.

 

She reached down for him, helping him up. His long, gangly limbs got more tangled but after a few seconds of struggle, he was freed. Bond had already given up the bed, sniffing eagerly the plates that smelled delicious. His stomach rumbled, louder than the dog’s, and he flushed in embarrassment.

 

Anya only smiled.

 

“I’ll push the mattress out of the way so we can have more space,” she said, leaning down to put the pillows and covers in a messy pile on her bed.

 

“Your room is too small,” he complained.

 

She stood up again, face-to-face with him, their chests almost touching. Damian tried to get out of her way, but she followed suite. They both moved in the same direction a moment later, and with some awkward chuckles, he eventually jumped in a corner as she pulled up the mattress and moved it out of her bedroom.

 

“Bond, come on!” she called, “You already had breakfast!”

 

Damian moved to help her out but his leg caught onto something. He glanced down, at a canvas that had been covered in a white sheet and hidden between her wardrobe and her desk. All her other drawings and canvas were out in the open, half-finished or brilliant works of art, but not this one. Curious, he bent over to observe it just as Anya came back in.

 

“Bond, I told you to go, come on!”

 

The dog whined, giving her puppy eyes.

 

Sausage… bacon… he sent her way, tilting his head in an adorable manner.

 

“The poor thing is obviously starving, have some pity,” Damian intervened with an amused smile although the fluffy big dog was nowhere near showing he had ever missed a meal with the Forger.

 

Bond had always been a very bright animal and he eagerly, hopefully turned towards Damian, wagging his tail.

 

“No, no, the veterinarian said he needed to lose weight,” Anya said, giving a scolding finger to her dog.

 

“It’s Christmas, everyone deserves a treat on Christmas,” Damian answered, grabbing a sausage from his plate and bending down.

 

It was swallowed in one happy gulp by Bond who immediately pulled closer to him, licking his face in thankfulness.

 

Happy, thank you, Mr Anya, thank you! He thought, which melted Anya that Bond’s interpretation of Damian was “Mr Anya”.

 

“Good boy, now listen to your mistress, okay?” Damian continued, ruffling his fur.

 

Bond barked happily, then went towards the door.

 

“He doesn’t obey so enthusiastically to me,” she complained, as she pulled the door wider for the dog to walk though.

 

Anya quickly closed it, leaving them alone. The smell of food draw his attention and she vaguely caught his thought about not having a proper meal during the few days he had been with his family.

 

“Eat,” she said, pulling him down on the only chair of the room.

 

She pulled open the curtains of her room, letting the morning light flow in. The wonderful sight of the soothing Berlint, covered in snow, celebrating Christmas quietly, met them. She lived right across from a big park, a bit further away from Eden than in her youth.

 

“Nice view,” he commented, comparing it quickly to the view he had from his rooms at the estate.

 

“…Not nearly as good as what you’re used to, I bet,” she replied, rolling her eyes.

 

She grabbed the bathroom chair then joined him. Without another word, they started eating the food prepared by Loid.

 

“Wait, what time is it?” he asked after realising how high the sun was.

 

“Ah, past lunch time, but we both slept in very late. Bond took over me when you didn’t even budge when I got up.” She explained.

 

Damian flushed a little. He had grown up sleeping in dorms, surrounded by more-or-less loud boys, who went through puberty, of course he’d be a heavy sleeper.

 

“Sorry, you should have woken me…” he mumbled, looking down at the hands staying on his lap.

 

Anya observed him a short moment, recalling the sight that had greeted her that very morning. He had been sleeping so soundly, so peacefully, looking a lot more relaxed than she had ever witnessed. His hair had been sticking everywhere, his lips half open, as a steady breathing moved his chest up and down. She hadn’t caught it all, but she knew he had been dreaming.

 

She had watched him sleep for a good hour before she had even tried to move out of his arms, enchanted by the sight of a Damian she had never seen before. Sleeping, vulnerable, hopeful, looking his age rather than a few years older once awake…

 

“Oh, I tried,” she replied, a moment too late to be convincing, especially with such a smile on her face, “But there was no waking you.”

 

He stared at her, not believing her lie, but his cheeks flushed to guess she had probably stared at him sleep.

 

There was a knock at the door and Loid passed his head through. He stared suspiciously at the two young people, then he glanced around the room, checking for anything… unusual. They remained still and awkward, knowing very well what he was looking out for.

 

“…I’ll pick up your plates if you’re finished,” he said.

 

“O-oh, thanks, pops, the food was delicious,” Damian said, standing up eagerly, a little too quickly to be inconspicuous.

 

“Thank you. Your mother called again this morning, but you were still sleeping. She said she’d send a car for you. It should arrive in less than an hour.”

 

“Oh, thank you,” he replied, shoulders sagging in slight disappointment.

 

Loid hesitated, clenching the empty plates of brunch he had made for them.

 

“…I believe you’ll be back tomorrow, to take Anya to the Grand Theatre, right?” he asked.

 

“Ah, indeed, I’ll arrive around 5pm. I’ll take her to dinner, then the theatre. It will last until almost midnight, I’m afraid…”

 

“…Alright.”

 

Loid made to leave, but Damian awkwardly took a step forward:

 

“And– uh– if it’s alright with you…”

 

He trailed off when Loid turned back towards him, raising a single eyebrow.

 

“Yes?”

 

“…I… I would like to… uh… I mean… I don’t want to trouble anyone so late at night, after returning from the theatre… especially with the baby sleeping… so…”

 

“…So what?” Loid asked, aware of Anya’s gaze vividly going from one to another.

 

Damian blushed profusely before asking what he wanted:

 

“So I thought that I could take Anya to my mother’s apartment instead of… back here. For everyone’s sleep.”

 

The older man narrowed his eyes, not in the slightest bit fooled.

 

“For everyone’s sleep?” he repeated, “You don’t have to worry, Yor and I have gotten used to having our sleeping interrupted by Rosie. You and Anya coming back late will not bother us in the slightest.”

 

“B-but, papa, you’ve been so tired…!” Anya continued, pinching in to help out Damian give themselves a moment of peace.

 

No. It’s one thing to exceptionally let him sleep on the mattress in your bedroom, it’s another to let the two of you go for an entire night in his apartment, left alone to whatever hormonal rush you’ll experience.”

 

Anya had a very clear idea of what he imagined the two young people would be doing, left alone, and he wasn’t entirely wrong, but…

 

Damian didn’t give up so easily, he coughed lightly, straightening up:

 

“Ah, I believe that after last night’s Monopoly game, I won a favour from you. If you are an honourable gentleman, you’ll hold true to your word and let me ask any favour.”

 

“I know damn well what you’ll ask of me and it’s out of the question! I won’t let my daughter and you sleep in some unknown place, completely alone and supervised!”

 

“I can ask for a maid to be present for the entire time that we will be at my mother’s apartment, we would not be without a chaperone.” Damian immediately replied, without any hesitation, which made Loid’s argument far weaker.

 

He narrowed his eyes at the young man who continued with a genuine look on his face:

 

“I promise you I have no intention of doing anything ungentlemanly to your daughter. We will have different rooms. We will not be left alone. Until I receive my brother’s blessing, Anya and I will not do anything untoward that could tarnish her reputation.”

 

Besides, if I were to properly ruin her reputation, I would do it over the course of a whole week, not a single night, Damian added to himself, making Anya blush hard enough to make her father even more suspicious.

 

“Papa, please,” Anya intervened, taking his hand in hers, “We’re… we’re not even interested in any of the scenarios you’re thinking of.”

 

Well, a little, Damian thought but he didn’t correct her.

 

“We just want to spend some time alone. We never get any of it, at Eden, or during holidays, or even here! We’ll get to talk about… important things.”

 

She dived her gaze into her father’s, to make him understand that despite everything that had gone well the previous day, Damian and she still had things to talk about. Things that couldn’t be overheard and needed to be done in private.

 

And Loid could never say no to his daughter, not when she looked so torn.

 

He sighed deeply. He thought about it for a long time.

 

“Papa, please. Damian and I need a moment alone… and it’ll be our only chance until the next holidays, if we’re lucky.”

 

Loid looked back at Damian and pointed a finger at him.

 

“Anything happens to her, I hear even a rumour of you brushing even one strand of her hair… and I will find a way to make you suffer. Do you understand, Desmond? Nothing is done to my daughter. More than her reputation, it’s her heart I care about.”

 

Damian straightened up, his expression serious and solemn.

 

“That’s one thing we have in common, sir,” he replied, holding out his hand.

 

Loid growled but grabbed his hand. They shook it firmly, and Loid tightened his grip to give him a lasting impression, but Damian didn’t seem in the slightest bit unfazed by it, smiling even more.

 

The brat is probably used to shaking hands with politicians and share-holders since he’s been a child, damn it, Loid thought to himself, realising he couldn’t intimidate him with his handshake.

 

“Consider that one favour done and paid for.”

 

“It’s an honour, sir.”

 

“Don’t call me ‘sir’, it’s ridiculous after all this time. Loid or ‘pops’ like you usually do.” He replied, rolling his eyes, “Don’t make me become a bad guy, or worse – provoke my wife’s anger. You are too young to understand what it’s like to protect one’s child. If one day you have a daughter, you’ll understand what I’m going through. Until you’re finished with Eden, engaged and married, I will never stop keeping an eye on you, Desmond.”

 

Anya and Damian both gasped, blushing at her father’s words. He left before any remark could be done.

 

“…Did your father just give me his blessing to marry you?” he asked in a hushed voice to Anya.

 

“No, I didn’t!” Loid exclaimed from the other side of the door.

 

“Papa!”

 

She closed the door, crossing hers arms in annoyance.

 

“…Your father is really kind to me, should I worry I’ll die in my sleep?”

 

“Believe me, if he catches us in any compromising position, he won’t wait for you to be asleep,” she answered, gritting her teeth, knowing far too well what he planned on doing to Damian long before any engagement could even be thought of.

 

Despite what she’s saying, I’ll take his words as encouragement that he’d be happy to let me marry his daughter, Damian thought with a little smile to himself. And he even wants grandchildren– a granddaughter! I wonder how many children Anya would like, she loves children and she’s so great with them, after all–

 

“Damian,” Anya mumbled, clenching her legs tight as his thoughts went way too far ahead.

 

“Sorry, I lost track of what we were talking about?” he answered, turning back to her.

 

“My father planning different ways of murdering you without anyone tracing it back to him,” she replied without any hesitation.

 

“Ah.”

 

Maybe I should wait a little longer before asking Anya what she would like our future to be like. And… I’ll have to wait for Demetrius’ full blessing… he has yet to give it to me.

 

That thought made Anya more hesitant, slowly catching up on his memories. She had only been a little worried about Damian’s family reaction to her, but now that she was aware of the disaster of the last few days between him and his brother, she dreaded what this Demetrius would think of her.

 

Nerves started rattling her.

 

An awkward silence fell between them.

 

“What’s this?” Damian suddenly asked, pointing at her covered painting.

 

Anya flushed, which only made him more curious.

 

“It’s… a painting.”

 

That, I know. What does it show? It’s the only one covered.”

 

“It’s a painting… of you.” She admitted in a low voice.

 

She immediately wished she could take it back, so she could keep surprising him and see that wonderful expression on his face again and again. He had not been expecting such a thing.

 

He glanced down at the painting next to him.

 

“Can I… look?” he asked.

 

She nodded, pushing herself off the door.

 

She sat on the edge of her bed as he grabbed the painting and unwrapped it. Once the white sheet was off, he stared at it for a long, long time.

 

Wow… She painted that? It’s me? …Where am I? Ah, it’s too abstract, I don’t get it.

 

Anya’s lips trembled in amusement, as he turned to her, placating a fake smile on his face.

 

“It’s beautiful, I love it,” he lied.

 

Even if she couldn’t read minds, she would have caught his lie. He had always preferred classical paintings to contemporary ones.

 

“You’re looking at it upside down,” she answered.

 

He frowned, confused, turning the canvas around. His eyes lit up.

 

“It is me! I knew it, obviously.”

 

He observed it for a long time, catching a few details. It was the painting she had done so long ago, before realising her feelings for him. A painting of various shades of dark green, sad, and haunting, representing his hurt, the corners of his minds, with some golden details for glistening tears and hopeful dandelion.

 

The longer Damian looked at it, the more he saw himself. His soul. Even the parts he hadn’t acknowledged yet but had been slowly clawing at him the last few days.

 

“…How do you do that?” he asked breathlessly, turning his attention back to Anya.

 

His gaze was hard as marble and shone like crystal. It caught her breath.

 

“It’s like… you know me, better than anyone, better than myself… How do you do that?” he continued.

 

“I’m…”

 

She could say that she was very perceptive. Of course, she had come up with this painting by losing herself in his mind. But deep down, she knew that she had never needed any mind-reading ability to know him. She always had, she always would. Reading his mind and understanding his feelings had just accelerated the process.

 

She had always been drawn to his thoughts, his heart, his soul. It was part of the reason why she had fallen in love with him, after all. That connection that magnetised them.

 

“I guess I’m just… meant for you…” she murmured, glancing up at him shyly.

 

They both felt it in the same time. When their hearts missed a beat, the way that red string pulled. There was no pain, no tightness, just the silent acknowledgement that they had always been meant to be.

 

Someone knocked at the door and Yor popped her head in:

 

“Anya, dear, could you look after your sister for a short time?” she asked with a smile.

 

Rosaura walked in just then, her steps a bit clumsy in her big winter socks.

 

“Ana!” she called, holding out her arms for her sister.

 

Anya automatically bent down to take her sister in her arms.

 

Yor disappeared, as Rosie snuggled into Anya’s arms.

 

“Ana, play wiz me?” she asked, still struggling with long sentences and some syllables.

 

“Not this time, sweetie. I’m staying here. You go and have fun with mama, papa, and Bond, okay?”

 

Rosie looked disappointed, but she quickly cheered up when she saw Damian, still sitting on the desk’s chair. She wriggled out of Anya’s arms and stumbled towards him, holding out her hand very seriously.

 

“Ah, um, hi,” he hesitated, taking her little fingers in his to shake her hand.

 

She giggled but as he tried to pull away, she held onto his last two fingers, holding tightly, and grinning adorably.

 

Anya watched curiously as Damian’s mind blanked for a moment.

 

“Rosie! You?” Rosaura asked eagerly, making Anya bit her lower lip in anticipation.

 

“Ah, I’m Damian.”

 

“Mian? Miaow? Kitty?” she continued, frowning, obviously confused.

 

“No, no, I’m not a cat. My name is Damian.” He corrected, very seriously.

 

“Damiaow.”

 

“Da-mi-an.”

 

“Damiaow!”

 

Anya couldn’t hold any longer and started laughing. It distracted Rosie from Damian and she let go of his hand, smiling widely to see her big sister laugh.

 

“Ana! Ana!”

 

“Yes, yes, I’m here, you did a very good job saying his name,” she answered, bending down as her sister reached for her again.

 

For a short moment, Damian’s chest tightened. Not in pain or guilt, but in longing. For a moment, he couldn’t help but have what he assumed was a vision of the future. His future, their future. Anya bending down with a sweet smile and a soft look on her face, hair falling around, as she gave her full and unwavering attention to their daughter. He longed for it, almost as strongly as he craved Anya’s presence in his life. For a small child to hold and a family that would be true and honest.

 

Anya looked up at him suddenly, eyes wide, sparkling, her cheeks rosy. She reached out for his hands, squeezing them tightly. She opened her lips to say something just as the doorbell rang.

 

“Damian! Your driver has arrived…” Yor called from the living-room.

 

“Already?” he exclaimed, frustratingly glaring at the door.

 

“Well, there probably isn’t any traffic, it is Christmas, after all…” Anya answered with a pout.

 

Sighing deeply, Damian realised that he wasn’t even dressed. Cursing, he rushed into the bathroom, pulling his clothes on as quickly as he could. By the time he was ready, tie stuffed into his jacket and clothes a little wrinkled, his driver was casually drinking a cup of coffee with Loid and Yor.

 

“Ah, young master,” Joseph said, standing up.

 

“Joseph… Shouldn’t you be with your family?” Damian exclaimed, shocked to see him here, especially because of his silly escapade in Berlint.

 

“Ah, well, I couldn’t refuse the lady after the wonderful gift you offered my children. They are so busy playing with the wooden house and the train that they barely noticed me leaving the house!”

 

He laughed good-heartedly, genuinely grateful to Damian.

 

Anya, still in her pyjamas, but wearing a bathrobe to look a little bit more decent, glanced at her darling, smiling to feel his joy to know the children had enjoyed his gift. She quickly cut from his thoughts when she almost got spoiled with the gift he had bought her.

 

“AH! Gift!!” She exclaimed, rushing back in her room.

 

She looked for her Christmas gift for Damian that she had completely forgotten. Hair a mess, clothes barely suitable for anyone but her family, cheeks pink in her hurry, she caught him waiting in the entrance. Even as messy as he looked, he was breath-taking to behold.

 

“Your gift! I almost forgot!” she exclaimed.

 

She handed him the package. He blinked curiously at the size of it. it was about the width of a book, but much larger. Something inside clicked as he moved it around.

 

“Is it fragile?” he asked.

 

“No, it should be fine, but don’t play soccer with it,” she replied with a smirk.

 

He glanced up at her, eyes twinkling in amusement. He passed the gifts under one arm, using the other to pull her to him. She gasped and chuckled, suddenly flushed against him, a wide smile on her face.

 

“Merry Christmas, Damian,” she said, sparkling joyfully.

 

“Merry Christmas, Anya,” he answered, heart full of warmth.

 

He leaned down to kiss her but from the corner of his eye, he caught sight of Loid standing right behind Anya, staring in a menacing manner at Damian. He hesitated. Anya whipped towards her father, glaring viciously.

 

“Father.” She hissed.

 

Loid gasped, putting a hand on his chest to be called with such a distant name.

 

“What happened to ‘papa’?!” he exclaimed, eyes wide in panic.

 

“I’ll call you papa when you’ll stop looking at him as if you were threatening his very existence.”

 

He didn’t seem in the slightest bit happy about it, but Loid eventually rolled his eyes and turned around, away from the young people.

 

Anya turned back towards Damian who gave her a very quick and reasonable peck on the mouth.

 

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” he whispered against her lips.

 

“Tomorrow? I’ll dream of you long before that,” she answered cheekily.

 

He chuckled, unable to resist giving her another kiss on the cheek.

 

“In our dreams, then.”

 

Damian let go of her and with more ‘thank you’ and respectful bows to Loid, he left the building. Joseph was waiting outside and opened the door of the fancy car. Jeremiah probably got the day off considering the sudden journey he had been forced to do because of Damian’s sudden urge to see Anya. He did feel guilty towards Joseph for missing the day with his children, but the man was almost glowing in thankfulness.

 

Damian caught sight of Anya staring at him from her window. He gave a little wave for her, and only her. She dramatically brought her hands to her chest and pretended to be swooning.

 

As Joseph drove away from Berlint, Damian opened Anya’s Christmas gift. He found a little paper, in her lovely handwriting.

 

For all my future wins!

Merry Christmas, Damian!

- A.

 

He stared at a beautiful, luxurious, and custom-made edition chessboard. The top was beautifully engraved with a lacquered, dark wood for the black cases, and golden ones for the white. He unlocked the box and found the two sets of pieces beautifully aligned inside. A series of dark green pieces, contrasting with light pink ones.

 

“…As if I’d let you win so easily,” he murmured to himself with a bright smile.

 

Once returned at the Desmond Estate, he felt a little strange by how very quiet it was compared to the previous night. All the guests had left sometime in the night, even most of the servants were off for Christmas.

 

He wandered around, leaving Anya’s gift and Yor’s box of cookies in his room and grabbing the few gifts he had yet to give. He found his mother and brother having a late light lunch in the family (enormous) dining-room. Dafni brightened upon seeing him, messy hair, winkled clothes, and everything. Demetrius barely looked up from the book he was reading.

 

“So, Mister Desmond dares honouring us with his presence, at last,” Demetrius mocked.

 

Damian let out a heavy sigh, frustrated but not quite as annoyed as usual with his brother.

 

“I apologise for ruining your engagement with Miss Blum last night. Although none of it would have happened, had you bothered telling me that you were yet to even mention to the poor Miss Blum that you considered proposing to her.”

 

Demetrius let out a sigh that could have competed with Damian’s, putting his book down and finally sending a harsh look at his little brother.

 

“…Diana told me that you went after her to salvage the situation… I am…”

 

“Like we practice, Demetrius,” Dafni intervened with an encouraging nod.

 

He rolled his eyes with passion.

 

“I am grateful that you… did such a thing… Even though, it was your fault anyway.”

 

Damian opened his mouth to reply to this, but Dafni clapped her hands, standing up.

 

“All is well! Everyone is cheerful and happy to be spending Christmas together!”

 

Her two sons stared at her, only mildly enthusiastic to her declaration. She ignored their sour faces and approached her youngest.

 

“Damian, tell me, how was little Anya?”

 

Memories of the previous night, of the morning, of the warmth of the Forger family flooded to him. A soft smile appeared on his face.

 

“It was wonderful to see her…”

 

Dafni and Demetrius both stared at him, eyes wide to see him in a state of such solace… They had never seen him like that.

 

Dafni smiled, shoulders relaxing.

 

“I’m very happy for you. Now come, tell us, how did you spend the evening? How were the Forger?”

 

“They were very kind. I’m glad I got to see such a happy family spend Christmas together. Anya was… she was so lovely…”

 

He hesitated, glancing quickly at his brother who felt the question coming before it had even appeared in Damian’s eyes. He answered before he’d even open his lips:

 

“As rude as you leaving the gala was… I’m not nearly as angry at I should be. Everything else went far too well. I’m glad… you had a good time. Although I am hoping it wasn’t too good…”

 

“Demetrius…” Dafni started.

 

“Alright, alright. I will try my best to meet this Anya Forger and her family as soon as possible.”

 

Damian smiled, genuinely happy.

 

“In the meantime, comport yourself. Ah, and Marius looked for you before leaving last night, he’ll probably give you a phone call before your New Year’s party at the Blackbell.”

 

“What did he want?” Damian asked curiously.

 

“He’ll tell you himself. I won’t interfere. Until then. Merry Christmas, mother. Merry Christmas, little brother.”

 

He pushed a couple of gifts for each of them. Dafni smiled, taking hers and unpacking a beautiful and high-quality silk scarf in a shade of blue that lit up her skin. Damian opened his, immediately recognising the shape of a book, quite curious about it.

 

He stared at the title, engraved in gold on the leather cover. A sardonic smile appeared on his face.

 

“…Brother.” He started, through gritted teeth.

 

“What? I thought it necessary.” Demetrius answered with a wave of his hand.

 

Dafni leaned over curiously, chuckling when she saw the title of the book: Manners and customs of a gentleman. A short summary of high-society’s etiquette and expectations.

 

“I haven’t touched that book since I had been ten, at most,” Damian whined.

 

“Which is probably the reason why it is sorely needed again,” Demetrius answered with an exaggerated shudder.

 

Damian rolled his eyes, but pulled out his own gifts. Both the fancy ones from Berlint and the ones he had bought at the town’s shop.

 

Dafni was delighted by both gifts, thanking him with a kiss on the cheek. Demetrius stared warily at the box of glasses.

 

“…I don’t understand. I don’t wear glasses.”

 

“Not yet, but you’re not getting any younger,” Damian said with a teasing grin.

 

Demetrius didn’t seem quite as amused. It was Dafni’s turn to offer them a small gift, the same one, of the same size. They opened it and found a card game. It was beautifully made and hand-painted, the drawings far more exquisite than in a regular card game.

 

“My friend, Alicia, painted those.”

 

They both couldn’t help but admire the artistry for the cards’ design. Glancing over at one another’s decks, they realised they had been customised. Demetrius’ cards were painted in an art deco style, whereas Damian’s looked like stained glass, the characters in elaborated, colourful, and slightly wild demeanours that reminded him of some Joan Niro paintings.

 

“There’s a card missing,” he realised as he looked through them again.

 

“Indeed, it’s a card deck doubled with a game. You need to find where the missing card is hidden.”

 

“Is it somewhere in the house? It’ll be impossible to find, mother, it’s far too big,” Demetrius mumbled.

 

She only smiled mysteriously, obviously happy to have her sons do something unusual for once.

 

Damian looked over all the cards once more, counting them until he found out which card he had to find. A half-smile pulled on his lips.

 

The Queen of Hearts

 

His mother was as perceptive as Anya sometimes. These women were scary. But perhaps that was why he admired and loved them so much.

 

“I’ll look for it,” Damian decided, although he had no idea where to even start.

 

“Thank you for the gift,” Demetrius added, looking less convinced that it’d be worth any of his time to look for the missing card.

 

Damian wondered briefly if he had the same card to find, or a different one, but then his brother turned towards him once more:

 

“You should get changed, your clothes look terrible. And your hair. Oh, and, there’s another gift waiting for you in your room.”

 

“Oh, really? Thank you…”

 

“Yes, yes, you can go now and reappear once you look human again,” Demetrius said with a dismissive wave of his hand, picking up his book again.

 

A few days ago, this behaviour would have pissed Damian off beyond reason, but now he only smiled.

 

He stood up, gifts gathered, and went into his room to take a well-deserved shower and change clothes. He did look, and potentially smelled, quite bad. He couldn’t shake the smile off his face.

 

He easily found Demetrius’ second gift, sitting on one of his pillows, wrapped in a red paper with little Christmas trees and smiling reindeers.

 

“Does he still think I’m a child, for such a wrapping paper?” he mumbled, tearing the paper off.

 

It was another book, except that there was no title or author on the cover or on the spine. Demetrius had left a message, in his sharp handwriting.

 

If you’re old enough for your ‘late activities’ and ‘love’, I assume you are old enough for this reading. I learned a lot, make the most from it.

Do not bring shame to the Desmond name.

- Demetrius

 

Curious, Damian opened the book and almost dropped it, turning fifty shades of red.

 

“What the–”

 

He covered his face with his hands, remembering with great mortification that he had stupidly tried to hide from his brother the COEUS document by pretending it had been ‘porn’. Demetrius had taken it too literally.

 

Despite his bashfulness upon the initial shock, Damian couldn’t help but pick up the book again. Swallowing hard, he opened it again. He had unfortunately fallen upon a very detailed depiction of one of the scenes of the novel. An erotica novel.

 

What did his brother mean by ‘he had learned a lot’? ‘Make the most of it’? ‘Do not bring shame to the Desmond name’? As if he’d leave anyone unsatisfied… not that he knew how but, surely, it couldn’t be that difficult, right?

 

Blood flooded hotly through his veins as he went through the pages, half cursing and half thanking his brother for, well, encouraging him, in his own embarrassing manner, to pursue Anya. He stopped at a particularly confusing scene, and he lifted the book, turning it over to figure out where was the top and bottom.

 

Biting his lower lip as he imagined everything he could learn from this particular reading… and everything he could explore with Anya when their relationship will lead them to such things… Damian quickly put down the book. His mother and brother were expecting him back at some point, after all. He couldn’t waste too much time.

 

He quickly hid the book under his pillow then got showered and changed, stubbornly ignoring the late-night reading waiting for him. When he saw his brother again, Demetrius was smirking teasingly. Damian glared at him, knowing full well that the main reason Demetrius had done such a thing had been to torment him. After all, Damian was forbidden to do anything with Anya until they received his blessing… which wouldn’t arrive until spring, at best.

 

***

 

The next day, Damian actually felt rested and eager for his date with Anya. Their first date. To watch Roma and Juliet, at the Grand Theatre, the play that had unexpectedly brought them together a few weeks ago.

 

He got ready in an elegant suit. His waistcoat was a light grey and he made sure the black buttons of his shirt contrasted against the white of the fabric and his white bow-tie.

 

“You look irresistible.”

 

He turned towards his mother who had entered the room without knocking, or perhaps he hadn’t even heard. A butler followed and grabbed Damian’s bag with his change of clothes and the gifts he had decided to bring Anya and the Forger.

 

“Thank you,” he answered with a casual shrug, “It’s not the first time I go to the Grand Theatre for an evening special, after all.”

 

“No, but it’s the first time you’re bringing a lady friend. People will talk.”

 

Damian tightened his lips, far too aware of this fact, even though Demetrius had not officially given his blessing. Perhaps by not forbidding him to take Anya out on a date, it was half a blessing? It was hard to tell, especially because Demetrius was still sulking a little with the accident with Diana.

 

“Here, to thank the Forger family for looking after you during Christmas,” Dafni intervened, handing him a bouquet of beautiful of pansies, probably from her own greenhouse.

 

“Oh, thank you, I ordered a box of French Richard chocolates to offer them, it’ll be a lovely addition.”

 

“And… here is for your lady,” she added, bringing out another bouquet from behind her back.

 

It was a series of pink and red roses. A dozen of them.

 

Dafni smiled knowingly, a twinkle in her eyes. Damian’s shoulders dropped.

 

“…You know that I’ve been offering pink roses to Anya every Valentine… don’t you?” he realised, raising an eyebrow.

 

“I’m your mother, I always look after you, even if you don’t realise.”

 

“…So you’ve known this entire time I was in love with someone, and you never mentioned it? Even if she was a commoner?”

 

Dafni didn’t answer right away, dusting off some invisible fluff from his shoulders. She tried arranging his hair, but he was grimacing.

 

“Mother…”

 

“What does it change? Commoner or not? Both your father’s family and mine are long-ago, forgotten nobles… but it doesn’t make us any better. She may not have the same origins as us, or she has not been raised with the same values and expectations as the rest of us, but she is still a student at Eden, she’s an Imperial Scholar and most importantly, she’s the one you chose and who makes you happy. Right?”

 

Dafni, satisfied with her son’s outfit, finally looked up with a smile. She tilted his chin up, plunging her golden eyes into his.

 

“Does anything else matter but your happiness?”

 

“…Do you think Demetrius will accept it…?”

 

“I’m sure he will. He is just terribly stressed with his new party. In a few months, things will have quieted down and we’ll have some time to relax. He’ll propose to Diana, properly, and he’ll meet Anya. I’m sure he’ll give you his blessing then.”

 

Damian nodded, half-heartedly.

 

“Until then, just enjoy your time at Eden. You’ll graduate sooner than you think and in a few years, you’ll look back and realise how peaceful it had been.”

 

She gave him a quick hug, careful not to damage the two bouquets of flowers.

 

“And as promised, a key to my apartment. Maria will be there to look after the two of you, as agreed with Mr Forger.” She continued, holding out a pair of keys for Damian.

 

He reached for them eagerly, but she held them away.

 

“Can I count on the two of you to be careful and not… make any mistake that young people too often commit?” she continued, surprisingly serious for once.

 

“Of course, mother!” he exclaimed, flushing.

 

“Good, I know you and your brother were raised well but, youth… Hormones and the changes your bodies are going through can make you think you are ready for activities that are far beyond your years.”

 

“Mother, please…” he pleaded, too embarrassed to receive the ‘talk’ from his mother.

 

“I expect you to remain untouched and inexperienced until the wedding night, both of you–”

 

“Mother!” he exclaimed, finally grabbing the keys and putting them in his pocket.

 

“Alright, we’ll discuss this further after your brother will give his blessing and your relationship will be official. You should go, you don’t want to be late. Be sure to thank again the Forger for welcoming you in their home.”

 

He truly, deeply hoped his mother wasn’t seriously expecting him and Anya to remain untouched until the wedding day – or he might marry Anya a week after they’d graduate. But she was so old-fashioned, and so was Demetrius who, despite his other gift, would never encourage his brother to do anything that could damage Anya’s or the Desmond’s reputations.

 

Dafni walked him to the entrance, a cover wrapped over her shoulders against the winter cold. Demetrius was casually checking the newspapers in the main hallway, which was an obvious attempt at pretending meeting Damian had been an accident.

 

“You look reasonably well dressed,” he remarked with a quick look at his brother.

 

“Thank you for this heartfelt compliment, brother dear. On that note–”

 

Demetrius grabbed his shoulder before he could leave, and leaned over his ear so he’d be the only one to hear:

 

“Uncle Tim called me. Among tonight’s guests… there are a few members of the National Unity Party.”

 

The memory of the way they had reacted to Demetrius’ announcement was still fresh in both their memories.

 

“They’ll probably ignore you, you’re not important enough for them for as long as you’re just a student at Eden but… watch out for anything you might say or do in front of them.”

 

“…I’ll be careful,” Damian answered, tightening his jaw.

 

Demetrius tapped his shoulder.

 

“Try to enjoy the evening. The reviews for the play are quite good.”

 

“Thank you.”

 

But his heart wasn’t there anymore. Determined to enjoy his first date with Anya and not let his brother’s politics get in the way, Damian made his way to the car, driven by Jeremiah, that would take him to Berlint for the next two days. Two days with Anya, an entire evening in her delightful presence, a whole night alone with her in his mother’s apartment… Even if good old Maria would be here to ‘look after them’, she’d be long asleep by the time they come back from the theatre.

 

By the time the car pulled up in front of the apartment complex where the Forgers lived, Damian had completely erased any thought or warning from his brother.

 

He insisted on bringing up all the gifts himself, not letting Jeremiah accompany him upstairs. Oh, he couldn’t wait to be old enough to drive his own car and be free to take Anya anywhere he wanted without feeling constantly chaperoned.

 

He rang the door, which opened after a short moment, on Loid Forger. Eyes narrowed, he looked up and down at the young man before letting him in.

 

“It’s a pleasure to see you again, pops,” Damian started.

 

“Damian, welcome back,” Yor intervened, stepping forward.

 

“Here, flowers for you. From my mother, to thank you both for taking care of me on Christmas Eve and Christmas.”

 

“Oh, that was nothing! Please, thank your mother! It’s so kind of her!” Yor exclaimed with flushed cheeks, happily taking the flowers.

 

“Pwetty!” Rosie exclaimed, reaching out for the flowers with sparkles in her eyes.

 

“And what about Anya–”

 

“Of course,” Damian quickly intervened, bringing out the second bouquet of pink and red roses, “I have another set of flowers for her.”

 

The two men stared at each other. Loid, annoyed that he had thought of everything and hadn’t a mistake yet, and Damian in triumph that he would never make a social faux-pas. Not for that, at least.

 

“And to thank you both, I brought the gifts I had forgotten to offer you the other day. I apologise again for all the trouble.”

 

And he pulled out several carefully wrapped packages. One for Loid, one for Yor, one for a delighted Rosie – he even had brought a particularly tasty bone for Bond and bottles of wine from his brother’s extensive collection for Yuri and Frankie.

 

Damn it, he’s too good, Loid grumbled to himself when he opened his gift – a very nice watch, his own had been getting old after all.

 

Yor had gotten a perfume and Rosie a little doll she was already hugging tightly.

 

“Thank you so much, Damian!”

 

“Thank you, Dameow!” Rosie exclaimed, making her mother chuckle at the strange nickname.

 

Yor noticed that Damian still carried the roses for Anya and a last package under his arm. She smiled, standing up:

 

“She’s still getting ready, but you can go see her in her room. She’s been really looking forward for tonight.”

 

Flushed, Damian glanced quickly at Loid, but he simply nodded in agreement. Damian eagerly went to Anya’s bedroom, knocking once.

 

“Come in!” she exclaimed, sound muffled.

 

He walked in, finding a bit of a mess all over her bedroom, mostly when it came to clothes that had been thrown randomly, but she wasn’t there. The bathroom light was on.

 

“I’ll be ready very soon! I’m sorry I’m late!”

 

“Don’t worry, we’re still very early,” Damian answered.

 

She made a weird sound and he heard the clicking of her products. How did she not make everything topple down was beyond him.

 

Something drew his attention and he blushed. He swallowed hard, resisting the temptation. He glanced at Anya’s bathroom door. He glanced over his shoulder. He stared at the wall.

 

Time ticked by. She was still moving around in the small bathroom.

 

His gaze was drawn once more at her pink, lacy bra, resting casually on her bed, in the middle of so many other clothes.

 

He swallowed again.

 

A very quick look, a peck, barely a touch, just out of curiosity. For practice, to know what to expect. That was all.

 

His hand reached out and he picked up the piece of fabric. It wasn’t particularly soft, but it was more layers than he would have expected. The little hooks seemed impossible to put on or off.

 

…Another woman’s mystery. How did she manage to put that devil’s trap on?

 

“I’m ready!” Anya exclaimed, coming out of the bathroom so suddenly Damian jumped.

 

He let out a pathetic scream, blushing madly, and throwing her bra right at her face. She gasped when it hit her, then fell between her hands. She looked down at it, blinking.

 

“I-it-it wasn’t me!” he exclaimed, panicking, “It was just lying around! It’s a damn mess and I tried to clean up! It just happened to, uh, land in my hands!!”

 

She stared at him, quickly catching up on what had really happened. Her silly, majestic grin that had the power of always getting under his skin appeared. Damian gasped, taking a step backwards but he bumped into something on the floor. He looked down, seeing several pairs of shoes thrown there in absolute chaos.

 

“Oh? An accident? Is it?” she teased, coming closer.

 

“I-it is, yeah! Just an accident–”

 

“Then you are not in the slightest bit interested in my underwear, heh?”

 

“N-ne-never, I’m a gentleman, I have manners!” he continued, heart beating far too fast.

 

“Then, you will not be interested at all to know that I’m not wearing any bra right now?” she concluded, still grinning.

 

Damian stopped working. His mind turned into such a blank, chaotic canvas that Anya couldn’t help and laughed loudly. Her head fell backwards and she covered her mouth, delighted by his reaction.

 

It drew him back in the real world and he stared, cheeks red and eyes wide at her lovely expression.

 

“You should have seen your face!” she exclaimed, still laughing.

 

“S-stop teasing!”

 

She grinned up at him, obviously delighted to have trapped him so easily. At some point she had dropped her bra back on the bed. And damn it, it drew his gaze again.

 

“Y-you’re not really… not… wearing…” he continued, unconsciously glancing down at her chest.

 

“Of course, I am, silly. I’d only avoid wearing a bra if I had a bare back dress, duh.”

 

“…Obviously.” He replied, at a loss.

 

He looked at her, from head to toe, and was once more frozen, this time in awe and admiration.

 

Becky had tried to warn him, but nothing could have prepared him for such a sight.

 

Anya wore a long, beautiful, sparkly, evening dress in a midnight blue shade that emphasized the porcelain tone of her skin and the rosy tint of her cheeks. It kissed her body delightfully, showing the curves of the woman she had become, that he had barely noticed under the Eden uniform. Her makeup was light but made her look older than she was, in a sparkly gold that made her eyes look like jewels. Her silky-looking hair had been pulled back into an elegant bun.

 

“Y-you’re… you’re beautiful…” he stammered, knees trembling.

 

She smiled, as if she knew exactly what he was truly thinking. ‘Beautiful’ wasn’t a word strong enough to describe what he felt.

 

“Oh! Is this for me?” she asked, sparkling as she finally caught sight of the flowers he had almost dropped five times already.

 

“YES!” he shouted, pushing the bouquet in her hands abruptly.

 

Damn, how does she manage to make a mess out of me, every single time? He thought, terrified on how he could control himself for an entire evening.

 

Anya stared at the roses, obviously loving them. She looked back up at him, her smile making his heart miss a few beats. He could die now and he’d die happy.

 

“Thank you so much for the flowers, Damian! They look so lovely!”

 

“A-an-and this!” he exclaimed, handing out his Christmas gift.

 

Anya took it and sat down on the side of her bed, despite the messy clothes everywhere.

 

“Did you like my gift?” she asked as she slowly unwrapped hers, somehow knowing it was fragile.

 

“I loved it. I can’t wait to beat you with it,” he answered, sitting down next to her.

 

She elbowed him, rolling her eyes. Banter was easy, banter was familiar. He relaxed a little as she discovered the sparkling star, shining with golden details.

 

“I love it! It’s beautiful! Look how it catches the light!!” she exclaimed, making it spin on its thread.

 

“I thought you’d love it,” he answered.

 

My guiding star.

 

She glanced at him, flushing.

 

“The golden details look like embroidery, look,” she continued, pointing at many details he had failed to notice.

 

She admired for a while longer before leaving it, carefully wrapped, on her desk, pondering out loud where she’ll put it.

 

“Kids, you should start going soon,” Loid intervened with a quick knock at the door.

 

He glanced around suspiciously, but he didn’t find anything he could blame on Damian. Nevertheless, the young man started sweating uncomfortably.

 

“Ah, right, we should go. We don’t want to be late at the restaurant.”

 

Yor handed her own white fur coat to Anya that she put on. Both were ready to go.

 

“You know what to not do,” Loid said as a last warning to Damian, shaking his hand and patting his shoulder.

 

“Ah, uh, of course, I will never ever do anything… wrong…” he replied, intimidated.

 

“…Enjoy the evening, both of you,” Loid said, genuinely smiling.

 

Relaxed, finally feeling free and like they could be themselves, Damian offered his arm to Anya. She took it, grinning excitedly.

 

“Anya, aren’t you forgetting something?” Loid asked before they left through the door.

 

She blinked, checked her little handbag, looked up at Damian in confusion. Shrugging, she went up on her tiptoes to kiss his cheek, despite her parents’ presence.

 

“Thank you for the Christmas gift and the flowers?” she hesitated, not understand why her father wanted her to show her thankfulness to Damian again.

 

“Your shoes, Anya! You forgot to put on your shoes!” Loid exclaimed angrily.

 

“AH!”

 

She ran back into her room, while Loid and Damian both massaged their foreheads at that airhead. Upon noticing they had had a similar reaction, they straightened up, looking away from each other.

 

She came back, cheeks red in embarrassment, a few centimetres taller with her shoes on.

 

“Let’s just go…” Damian sighed, rolling his eyes.

 

“You distracted me…” she accused him, pouting.

 

“How is this my fault?”

 

“Have fun at the theatre, children!” Yor exclaimed, waving at them eagerly.

 

They barely noticed, too busy bantering and flirting.

 

“Aren’t they cute?” Yor continued, closing the door.

 

“…Adorable.” Loid admitted regretfully, glancing away.

 

“Come on, he’ll take good care of her. And she won’t be your baby girl forever, you know.”

 

“…I know…”

 

Yor leaned against him, smiling.

 

“Besides, it’s not such a bad thing that they’re going to spend the night at Mrs Desmond’s apartment.”

 

“How so?” he asked, genuinely baffled.

 

She leaned to kiss his cheek, flushing her dear husband.

 

“Because once Rosie is in bed, it’ll be just you and me…”

 

He made a sound from the back of his throat and closed his eyes in mild embarrassment.

 

“Perhaps, he should take her out more often, mm?” she teased.

 

“…Maybe.”

 

Yor laughed and Loid finally relaxed a little, trusting that, for better or worse, Damian was a gentleman, and he was in love with his daughter. He could trust him.

 

Once outside the building, Anya stopped Damian. She started patting his sleeves, his collar, his pockets.

 

“What… uh, are you doing?” he asked, confused by the intense look on her face.

 

“…Making sure he didn’t leave any listening device on you,” she answered seriously.

 

Damian laughed at how ridiculous this sounded. Not finding anything suspicious, Anya finally let go of her search, staring up at him and his relaxed demeanour. He had never behaved like that before. Before her, before them.

 

Her smile lit up her eyes that made them brighter than a thousand constellations. When he caught sight of her beauty, of that soft smile, his heart skipped a beat. His laughter died in his throat. He stared at her, mesmerized.

 

He leaned down, tenderly kissing her lips. She went up, kissing him back.

 

They pulled away after a moment, foreheads pressing together.

 

“Time to go, Your Majesty,” he said, taking her hand in his and kissing it sweetly.

 

She flushed, but a cheerful hop accompanied her steps when he drew her to the car. She felt like a princess, back as a child and playing with her father and uncles… No. She felt like a queen. And only Damian could have made her feel this way.