SPY X FAMILY
CHAPTER XXIX: Faith
If anyone found suspicious that Anya and Damian walked together, holding hands, in the ballroom miraculously cleaned of everything from the previous night and turned a breakfast buffet for all of Becky’s closest friends, no one said anything. At least, out loud. But Anya heard their every thought and had a keen suspicion of the horrifying and shameful rumours that would soon start spreading at Eden Academy.
There was no way Demetrius Desmond would never hear of it.
She has no shame, walking in there, holding his hand like he belongs to her…
Damian deserves better!
What a whore…
I’ll tell my father, he’ll be sure to force Damian’s brother to put him back in place.
She’s just a commoner, she’s nothing!
That’s not fair… Damian is a much better man than she could ever hope for!
Anya had a very different opinion of Becky’s friends, especially the ones who usually were nice to her at Eden. She had had no idea that dating Damian would antagonise so many of them.
Becky, on the other hand, immediately perked up when she saw them. She had been clearly flirting with Antonio, at her side, but he smiled, good-heartedly to Anya and Damian. She waved eagerly at them, and patted the seat next to hers.
“Anya! I kept you a seat! Desmond can join too, I guess…” she added in a less enthusiastic voice.
Damian rolled his eyes, sitting down on the other side of Anya, and greeting Ewen and Emile who were yawning, not handling the alcohol and long parties as well as the rest of them. Pretty much everyone was hangover.
“You look perky! Did you have a good night’s sleep?” Becky asked teasingly.
Anya almost chocked on the orange juice she had been drinking. She leaned towards her friend to have some privacy.
“You… did it on purpose, didn’t you?” she mumbled, blushing.
“Of course! Consider it my New Year’s gift, you’re welcome.”
Becky took her hands, drawing her away from the others and lowering even more her voice. Her eyes were sparkling:
“So… did you do it?”
Her voice trembled in excitement, images of what she assumed Anya and Damian had done flashing in her mind (Anya almost chocked again to see such things in her friend’s mind).
“O-of course not!” she answered, but her hesitation made Becky raise an eyebrow.
“Liar, liar, double penitence, you know… You don’t have to hide anything from me, I won’t tell a soul!”
“W-we really didn’t do it, Becky… w-we decided to wait…”
Becky knew that her friend was too honest to lie about this sort of things. Her shoulders dropped, utterly defeated, and clearly disappointed.
“B-but, we still did some stuff…” Anya added.
That cheered up Becky, who clasped her hands.
“I knew it!!” she exclaimed, loud enough for everyone to hear.
“I know, I know– I won’t tell anything to anyone, but you MUST give me the juicy details later–”
“Later, Becky, now hush before all Eden finds out before lunch that I spent the night with Damian!!”
Becky giggled, far too happy about it to debate it any longer with Anya. The moment she was back at the table, sighing deeply, Damian leaned towards her:
“You’re okay there? If she’s troublesome, just tell me and I’ll give her a warning or two…”
“It’s fine… just Becky being Becky…”
During the brunch, the atmosphere far lighter than the previous night, Becky opened most of her gifts, thanking the ones who were present, and making a list of ‘thank you’ notes to send to all the others.
Becky had organised some games for her large group of friends, which finished with much laughter and amusement. Even Damian dropped some of his usual aloofness and relaxed, inspired by Anya’s easy demeanour. Eventually, the entire group had to start leaving, and as promised, Damian was the one to drive Anya back to her home. He walked her all the way to the apartment that the young people found empty. Loid and Yor had gone for a walk with Rosie and Bond.
“I should go soon, or my mother will worry,” Damian mumbled, noticing the time.
It was winter so the day passed by quickly, but the sky was already turning into shades of greyish purple.
“So… I’ll see you… at Eden?” Anya asked, pouting a little.
“Less than a week, it’ll go by quickly,” he answered, forcing a smile, “I’ll be back at the academy on Sunday, we could meet somewhere, if you want?”
“You’ll be tired, I don’t want to take all your free time. Besides, if you fall behind and your grades fail, you’ll blame me.”
She meant it as a joke, but he frowned. He cupped her cheeks, pulling her towards him.
“As if I would ever let myself fall behind… The one I’m worried about is you.”
“Hey! I’m not that bad at studying! Even if I get distracted easily…”
“And I am your greatest distraction.”
She rolled her eyes, but she didn’t deny it. He kissed her nose and she immediately started smiling again.
“Just a few days, and I’ll see you everyday…” he murmured, brushing his nose against hers.
She smiled, tenderly. A warm softness surrounded them. She leaned against him and he hugged her tightly. She felt so comforted, she could have fallen asleep.
Damian kissed the top of her head, then after a few more minutes of soft and regretful goodbyes, he left… Only a few minutes later, her parents and Rosie came back, surprised to see her back so quickly. She was curled up on the couch, covered in a blanket.
“Anya, are you okay?” Loid immediately asked, jumping to the worst conclusions.
“…I miss him already…” she muttered.
Loid sighed in relief and he smiled, sitting next to her. He put his hand against her head, brushing it softly.
“You’ll see him again soon enough. Did you have fun at Becky’s party?”
Anya couldn’t hold back the wide smile that took over her face. It made her parents smile in return. She nodded eagerly.
“Yes, it was so much fun,” she answered.
There were still a few days before her necessary return to Eden and she spent most of her time painting, drawing, and spending time with Rosie, giving some much-needed reprieve from her parents. She loved taking her sister for walks in the park where they played in the snow for hours, before going home, grabbing a hot cocoa on the way back – and a babyccino for Rosie, of course.
“Is your babyccino good?” Anya asked.
Her sister nodded enthusiastically, licking her upper lip covered in a white line of warm and foamy milk.
She looked up when she heard over a dozen of voices calling her. Smiling, she waved and brought Rosie closer to a group of orphans from a nearby children’s homes where she had spent the last few years volunteering.
“Anya, how lovely to see you again,” Marta, one of the carers of the centre, said.
The whole group approached Anya and Rosie. Many of the children hugged Anya or held onto her coat and legs.
“Oh, how you’ve grown already! And you, Mary, look at your new hair! Robert, have you practiced your counting?”
They all happily piped in all the progress and new things they had been doing in the last few months since last seeing Anya. After a few minutes, they went on the snowy playground, including Rosie in their games, while Anya and Marta looked over from afar.
“You must be very busy now that you are at a high-school level at Eden,” Marta continued with a smile.
“Ah, yes, many things have happened recently. How have the children been doing? Did you receive the funding that you had applied for in August?” she asked.
Marta darkened, then shook her head. Anya’s shoulders dropped, severely disappointed.
The children’s home – a fancy name for what was an orphanage – had been struggling for years to have enough money and fundings to properly take care of the children until they’d find a home and family… If they ever did. Not everyone was as lucky as Anya had been. Especially when it comes to teaching essentials, these children had a few teachers or went in local schools but most of them had had difficult lives that had made education difficult. By the time they arrived in any school, they had accumulated too many struggles to keep up with their classmates. Anya had been volunteering, for years, at several children’s homes, in particular this one because it was so close to her home she walked by the children very often, to help them with their studies, or with other activities such as painting, sports, or theatre (with the occasional help of Becky).
And the more years passed by, the older a child got, the more difficult it was for them to be adopted. If a child didn’t meet a parents’ expectations, scholarly wise, it made things even harder for these children. By the time they reach eight or ten years old, especially if they’ve gone through several families, they had a tendency on giving up on every little joy…
Anya had become aware of her incredible luck – she had been adopted by the best parents in the universe, she was receiving one of the best educations from the elite school of the country… What else was she supposed to do but share the little she knew with these children? What else was she supposed to do but give them a fighting chance in this world?
“We didn’t get the funding… You know how difficult it is for children’s homes to receive any help. The government has increased the electricity tax too, so we’ll probably have to quit the monthly movie outing…”
“It’s not fair. These children need all the help they can get. If they are unable to be adopted by a family, the least they deserve is a chance to create a good life for themselves!”
Marta only smiled, sadly. She was used and worn to the bones to see the same history repeating itself again, and again, and again…
“You’re a very good girl, Anya.” She said, patting the young lady’s shoulder.
She clenched her fists, glancing at her little sister who was running after a few of the children. Some were sitting on the benches. They were so small, they looked so fragile, but their eyes were already so old.
“I’ll come back soon. To help them out. I could teach them more things. And if you can’t go to the cinema, we could create stories ourselves!”
Marta opened and closed her lips, obviously hesitant.
“Why would you do that? Didn’t you receive your eight Stella stars, already?” she asked, confused.
“Yes, but I’m not doing any of it for the Stella stars. I want to help them. To help all of you.” She answered determinedly.
The older woman smiled, visibly relaxing, but there was some sort of doubt in her eyes. As if she didn’t quite believe that Anya would actually come and help.
“Thank you very much, Anya. We appreciate it so much.” She answered with a smile.
She felt so angry at the world, at the government for not giving enough fundings, for the amount of money that her friends spent on ridiculous things, that Anya ordered hot cocoa with marshmallows for every single child. If possible, they all loved her even more after that, thanking her as if she were offering them a treasure.
Heart wrenched, she noticed how none of them had gloves. Their clothes looked old and worn out. She knew better than anyone that Marta and the other carers at the children’s home did their best, but they could only do the best with what little they received…
When she went home, and for the several days left before she returned to Eden, she prepared a whole plan to help out this children’s home. But as she watched her carefully written planning, she realised something disheartening: whatever she came up with would only be a temporary solution. She had helped before, she knew other adults and students who had helped as well, but it had never been enough. The problem had its roots far deeper. It was the lack of attention and help that children’s homes, all across the country, received from the government. She wanted to believe that what she could do, as a young student at Eden, could help, a small step forward could be enough… If she could help just one child she’d be happy.
But she couldn’t forget their small hands, reddened by the cold and the absence of gloves. She couldn’t shake off those haunted gazes on too young faces.
“You’re so good with children. Why don’t you do a career taking care of children? They love you and it’d make you happy, I think.”
Damian’s words came back to her, on a loop, again and again. Every time she thought of those children.
She pulled the paper she had been written on, turning it into a tight, angry ball she threw in the bin. Her gaze landed on her Eden bag, as if seeing through the leather to find the paper she had been ignoring for months now. Hands clenched tightly, she picked up her bag, and pulled out the document the teachers had asked them to fill in at the beginning of the year.
She scratched it all. And rewrote what she was now considering:
Psychiatrist Help people. Help children and orphans.
At the Desmond Estate, Damian had been practicing his piano when he received a phone call from Marius Steinmann. Demetrius had mentioned the old man had wanted to talk to him during the Gala that he had escaped unexpectedly.
“Marius, how are you?”
“Fine, fine, my boy. How were your many evenings with your lady friend, eh?” he answered in a teasing tone.
Damian couldn’t fight the flush that coloured his cheeks. He still had dreams about that night he had spent with Anya at the Ritz-Charlton. He still sometimes wondered if it had all been a dream.
“It was really nice. Demetrius told me you had wanted to talk to me at the gala…”
“Ah, right, it’s the very reason why I’m calling you. Look, I won’t beat around the bush. I know you’re unsure about your future after Eden, but you are considering becoming the CEO of the Group, right?”
“U-uh… I… I’m not sure yet, I… I guess I wouldn’t mind but…”
Marius laughed, for a reason that escaped Damian.
“That doesn’t sound very convinced!”
“There are a lot of things I’m not convinced about anymore…” he admitted in a low voice.
There was a short silence, the conversation suddenly a lot heavier, even though the two men were in different cities.
“Would you like to join the board of directors during our next meeting?”
Damian blinked, not sure he had heard right.
“Uuh… but, it’s… forbidden? Only the directors and share-holders or their representants can assist the meetings… I’m… I’m just a kid.”
“Nonsense! You may be underage, but you’re studying at Eden, you’re a Desmond! If you’re going to become the CEO someday, you might as well start making yourself known as such! And even if you decide of another path… what have you got to lose to assist to those meetings? All you need to do is show up, and figure out if you might enjoy doing it for the rest of your life.”
Damian pondered this option. Even if he had already chosen to become a businessman, he hadn’t considered that Marius, or anyone else, would let him walk into Donovan’s footsteps so quickly…
“I’m warning you, kiddo, it involves listening to a lot of boring people and signing a lot of incomprehensible papers!” Marius added, his booming laugh echoing to the words.
Damian couldn’t fight the smile that appeared on his face.
“That sounds a lot like Eden to me.”
Marius snorted, very inelegantly.
“You wish! But you’ve got plenty of time to figure that out… Would you join us, then? Our next meeting is on January 15th. Your brother already agrees, and he’ll sign the authorisation to let you off the academy grounds. If you get bored, no one will be angry at you for leaving early – you’ll be the only one allowed to do so, so don’t waste that chance, AH AH!”
“Why not?” Damian said, his mouth speaking before he could think properly.
He felt a weird rush of adrenalin he couldn’t quite comprehend.
“Wonderful! I’ll tell my assistant to prepare you some hot milk and add more croissants to put you to sleep with ease!”
“Hey! I’m not a child!”
Marius laughed gleefully.
“If you’re going to let me assist to the meeting, then send me information beforehand so I can be prepared,” Damian added seriously.
“Damn, kiddo, you already sound like you know what you’re doing.”
“On the contrary, I have everything to learn.”
Marius laughed again and promised to have him some documents sent – but nothing confidential, for safety, before the Desmond Group’s meeting.
When Damian put down the phone, he let out a heavy breath, heart beating fast.
It was starting.
He wasn’t sure what made him so excited, so eager. But something new in his life had started. He had never felt such a genuine rush to learn before. It had always only been to earn Stella stars but this… this was far more important, something still unknown which could determine the course of his life.
It was starting.
A few days later, at Eden Academy…
Damian stood at the gate, arms crossed over his chest, ignoring the cold that seeped through his Imperial Scholar cloak and winter uniform. Many students walked past him, curious to see Damian Desmond stand there. But many more would side-eye him and whisper to their friends, obviously sharing gossips from the last few days: Damian Desmond had been seen at Becky Blackbell’s birthday party, he spent a night with a girl, he was dating Anya Forger, Anya Forger had tricked him into a relationship, he had even been seen to the Grand Theatre with three different people…
He ignored it all. These whispers and heavy gazes slid off his shoulders like oil from water.
When Becky’s car pulled up, she stepped out, flashing her new haircut for everyone to see. He raised his eyes to the sky, just before he caught sight of Anya. She immediately smiled and walked faster to get to him.
“Look! Look, it’s Damian Desmond!”
“Is he really dating the Forger Bolt girl?”
Lost in their bubble, completely ignoring the nasty words thrown at them, Anya slid her hands into Damian’s just as he leaned down to kiss her cheek.
“Elizabeth will be RED!”
“I knew it!!”
“I need to tell Anastasia!!”
“You two are disgusting,” Becky growled, hushing Damian away from Anya with the back of her hand, “Keep doing that and the professors will expulse you.”
“Physical gestures of affection are forbidden on the academy grounds, but I am technically outside the gates, right now,” Damian answered, tapping his foot on the sidewalk.
“Don’t stretch your luck. I don’t want to lose my Anya because you can’t keep your hands off her.”
“I’ve studied the academy’s booklet in lengths, I know what we can and cannot do in details,” he replied with a determined look on his face.
Becky didn’t seem particularly impressed. She put her arm through Anya’s, forcing her to walk towards the gates.
“Let’s go, we don’t want to be late because Mr Swooning is too busy sticking his tongue down your throat.”
“OI!” Damian exclaimed, turning red.
“Don’t worry, Becky, we know what we’re doing,” Anya replied, although she wasn’t sure she was entirely confident about that.
“Do you, though, you silly lovebirds,” Becky replied.
For better or worse, they made it to their classroom, Damian and Becky bickering about each other’s nicknames. They were about to take their seats, when Anya saw Professor Henderson make his way to another classroom.
“You two go ahead!” she exclaimed, turning around.
They watched her run to the old professor. She talked to him for a few minutes before going back to Becky and Damian.
“What was that about?” Becky asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Just a few questions,” Anya answered vaguely, sitting down at her usual seat.
She could feel Damian’s intense gaze, but before he could ask any question, their first class started. Maths, the one she dreaded the most.
At the end of the day, even though she wanted nothing more but spend some time with Damian at the library (studying), she left her friends behind to go see Professor Henderson in his office. He received her with tea and biscuits, like always.
“So, what was it you wanted to discuss with me, Miss Forger?” he asked once the young woman was comfortable.
“I, well, I was wondering… I think I know what I want to do after my studies at Eden.”
“Oh, how wonderful, miss,” he answered, raising surprised bushy eyebrows, “And you are asking me because…?”
“I want to become a professor…” she finally said, flushing in embarrassment.
She looked away, unable to face the old professor. To her surprise, he chuckled.
“Aaah, I did think you had a good understanding of children’s difficulties. You’ve volunteered as a teaching assistant, if I remember well. With your education at Eden, it will be easy for you to continue studies at the university, similar to those I followed, and become an elite professor. Perhaps you could work here in the future, or even as a private teacher for powerful families.”
Anya pouted, then she reached the part of her plan that was more complicated:
“Actually… I… I would like to be a professor for orphans and work in children’s homes, or rather… I want to ensure these children receive a proper education. Raise the fundings for such projects, make sure that children’s homes can stop relying so heavily on private donations. Ensure that orphan children who don’t get adopted will have a good education and the tools to start a life once they turn eighteen years old.”
“I see… It’s a noble and difficult project you have in mind, young lady.”
Anya had no answer to that, she already knew how difficult, impossible it might prove. But it was a little flame, guiding her into her future. She stared at the professor, a wilful look on her face which surprised him.
My, my… I have never seen her so determined in anything. Miss Forger has always been headstrong and stubborn, but she had used her willpower for naps, snacks and avoiding detention… Never for the greater good. What a refined young lady she has become, I am strangely proud.
“Very well. We can look into the best path for you to follow for such a project. Education, of course, but perhaps…”
He stood up, pulling out a few books for children’s orientations.
“A superintendent is not an easy path, it will be long and difficult. You would need to rise to become a school principal first, which is no easy feat in itself, then perhaps a practical doctoral degree, but business is always a good addition to the education they have already received. Then there would be the superintendent licence…”
Anya paled to hear so many steps before being able to help a little. Years and years and years of studying, working, studying some more… A dreadful doubt buried itself in her heart, but she tried to ignore it.
“A-and… uh, all that would let me… help children in home cares?”
Professor Henderson paused, fingers brushing his elegant moustache and beard thoughtfully.
“Mmm… It’s possible you might need additional knowledge and education.”
“Of course…” she mumbled, twisting her mouth.
“But I’ll discuss your project with Mrs Abeln and Mr Simons.”
“Professor of Law and the Head of the Department of Political Sciences?” Anya questioned.
“Yes, they might have a better guidance than me. I am simply a Professor of History, after all.”
“You’re far from being simple, Professor Henderson. Your classes are far too engaging.” She answered with a smile.
“Thank you, Miss Forger.”
Anya thought for a moment of everything he had told her already. If she went through with this project, she wouldn’t see it become anything concrete for years, for decades but… for the first time in her life, she had an idea of what she would do with her knowledge, the education and life she had had the chance to receive thanks to her parents.
The least she could do is return the favour to the thousands… no, the millions of children who didn’t have her luck.
“Thank you for everything, Professor Henderson,” she answered, smiling gratefully.
“I will talk with my colleagues about your elegant project. I will come back to you once they have an answer.”
She couldn’t help but give him a quick hug, out of sheer gratefulness that this old man who had seen her grow up would go to such lengths to help her figure out her life. She wasn’t sure many professors would be that determined to promise a good future and life to the children they had cared for.
“My, my, now you go back to study. I will keep in touch with you, Miss Forger,” he answered, touched by her gesture.
“Thank you again, professor!”
She went out of his office, a hop in her steps, excited to share the news with her friends and family – once she will have figured out the details. She found her friends at the library. Obviously, they couldn’t voice their questions too loudly, but she felt their curiosity.
Damian hooked his foot around hers to force her attention on him rather than her notebooks (for once). He was frowning and leaned over the desk:
“Is everything okay? You’ve been spacing out all day, and now you’re all happy…”
“Everything is fine, I just met Professor Henderson to… uh, to discuss about what I want to do after Eden,” she answered with a smile.
He blinked, visibly surprised.
“Oh? Oh, that’s great…”
She knows what she wants to do? What the hell am I doing, hesitating about everything? We only have two years before we have to make choices…
Anya reached out for his hand, squeezing it until he raised his gaze towards her.
“Hey, we’ve still got time. Don’t worry about making choices right away.”
He blinked, stunned by her incredibly intuition.
“Y-yeah… You’re right.”
She let go of his hand, going back to her notes and books, almost humming to herself.
Damian observed her, a strange sense of dread creeping up in the back of his mind. It wasn’t the first time she showed such insane discernment. About a lot of people, their worries, and fears, but especially about him. He had almost always assumed she was just naturally perceptive… but…
No, there’s no way. It’s impossible.
He shook his head, forcing himself to focus on his homework. But Anya had caught his thoughts and looked up, a second too late for him to catch it. She started biting her lips, suddenly worried about what he was slowly understanding…
You’re the one who is insanely perceptive, Damian, she thought to herself, her mind too far away to focus on anything.
The first week back at Eden was quite easy as they slowly went back into their usual rhythm of a full day of school, after-school activities, homework… with the addition of Damian and Anya meeting in some hidden corners of the academy whenever they could, usually at lunch time or after school. They weren’t as bold as that one time in the library (students were now back to roaming the libraries all the time), they most definitely couldn’t sneak into his dorms and only had access to the (busy) common room of Cecil Hall… They often went into empty art classrooms, or Anya found Damian behind the football club’s changing rooms. They couldn’t do anything beyond a few kisses and snuggles. After everything they had done during Becky’s party, as big as the temptation was, they didn’t dare do more in fear of going too far on academy grounds which risked being caught and therefore, expulsed.
But the frustration was growing. It was almost worse than being separated, to be so close to one another on a daily basis, and incapable of sharing more than a few kisses in a dark hallway. Which was why, Anya quickly decided on having a date outside of the academy grounds. They were both busy on Saturday, which only left Sunday, supposed to be their only day off, to meet. It had been a last-minute decision, two days prior, and they hadn’t made plans so they just met in a nearby park.
The snow had held on, surprisingly, but the cold was discouraging everyone from going out. They were almost completely alone, walking by freezing benches, dark trees and a big pond that was sadly empty of any animal at the moment. It still had a charm unique to winter. A quiet and tranquillity that no other time of the year could offer. As if everything was slowed down, to enjoy the simple fact that they were alive and living in this moment.
“I’m going to be busy next week, I might not see you as much,” he told her as they walked, hand in hand.
“Uh? But you’ll still study with me, right?”
He grimaced, and shook his head lightly.
“I’ll do my homework late in the evening, after you’ve gone home. I need to spend the rest of my time looking into the files Marius sent me.”
“Oh, because you’re going to assist him with that big meeting… Are you excited about it?”
“I guess so… I think I’m more curious to find out what his life is like. I’m surprised Eden authorised me to go off the academy grounds in the middle of the week, for so many hours, even if my brother authorised it. And uh…”
She already knew what he was about to tell her, it’s been plaguing his mind since the morning, but she smiled innocently anyway.
“My brother said I could help him out after school, with the last preparations for his political party… The official beginning is coming in three weeks, and it’ll give me an idea of what to expect a politician’s life to be like…”
“It’s good that you’ll get to have an idea of both your possible careers, it’ll help you make a decision!” she exclaimed cheerfully.
“Yeah, but… it means I won’t be able to see you outside of class until Democratic Development has been launched… in February.”
Anya had known about it all day, she had known it was coming. It didn’t mean the thorn of displeasure in her heart wasn’t real.
She forced a smile. She was certain he could see through it.
“It’s okay, it’s important to you. I understand.”
“It’s only temporary, I’ll make it up to you somehow,” he answered, shoulders dropping a little in relief.
They had both known what dating one another would involve. They were already busy as Imperial Scholars at Eden Academy. Besides classes and after-school activities, they had a responsibility to maintaining high grades and volunteering. They had known without talking about it, that Damian especially would become busy before even finishing high school, because he was a Desmond.
They knew it’d be difficult. It didn’t ease the disappointment.
It hung in the air, clung to their skins, chasing the tranquil winter atmosphere of the park.
Damian looked away, grimacing, feeling guilty for being busy, for being a Desmond. More than the guilt he felt to let down Anya, he felt terrible because he wanted to spend time with her, and it’ll be impossible for the next few weeks.
“What about you? You haven’t told me anything about what you’ll do after Eden. You have an idea, right?”
“Y-yes, and it’s thanks to you…” she answered, cheeks flushing deeper.
“Me?” he asked, surprised.
“I… I think I want to work with children… orphan children… but I’m uh, still figuring out the details. Professor Henderson has been helping me.”
“That’s very kind of him. He’s always had a soft spot for you.”
“That’s because he has a soft spot for my father…” she answered in a low voice.
“But I’m sure you’ll do great!” he exclaimed, turning to her.
“R-really? E-even if… it’s not as impressive and fancy as… um, movie director, politician, CEO… or what everyone else wants to do?”
Damian turned to her, eyes wide, and he shook his head.
“Who cares about that? As long as it makes you happy to do this job, then it’s all that matters. I’m certain that anything you’ll choose to do, you’ll do great, but I’d rather you choose something you enjoy. A-and I’ve seen the way you sparkle when you spend time with a child, when they thank you or make some progress because you’ve helped them… You’ll be brilliant, Anya. And I’ll support you, no matter what you choose.”
Anya let out a heavy sigh, not having realised how heavy her worries and self-doubt had been weighing on her. Her parents had been happy and encouraging, but their words had been nowhere near as comforting as Damian’s. Her parents had been happy she knew what to do with her life, but they hadn’t realised she had been distrusting her own abilities. Damian had immediately, unconsciously, caught on it, and given her the words she needed.
“Thank you, Damian…”
They passed on merrier topics, chuckling, and laughing. They saw three children playing together in the snow and Anya let go of Damian’s hand, running to the nearest pile of snow. She made a snowball and threw it at him. He hadn’t expected it and it landed square into his face.
It didn’t take long for Damian to crouch down and gather some snow to throw at her. Unfortunately for Damian, she had many years of snow fighting experience with her crazy uncles and family. She easily avoided anything he threw at her, while landing most of her snowballs at him. She laughed a little louder, a little brighter, every time she did so. Eventually, he just gave up on trying to land any projectile on her. Screaming, he ran after her.
Anya tried to escape him, but she had been laughing too much to keep an eye on him. He grabbed her by the waist and lifted her up over his shoulder. She started laughing again, his shoulder digging into her belly, but she couldn’t stop her laughter, he was covered in snow and looked ridiculous.
Damian walked straight for a pile of snow, standing a little afar from the little path they had quietly walked on this entire time. She screamed when he threw her into it. She fell through the snow, almost buried. Laughing at her legs and arms moving desperately, he fell next to her. She tried to throw snow at his face, but he grabbed her wrists, twisting them a little to make the snow drop on her face. It was his turn to laugh as he stood over her, holding her hands tightly and rolling on top of her.
“I won,” he whispered with a cocky grin.
“I didn’t know it was a battle,” she answered, realising that her winter hat was slipping off, “But if it was, I won! I hit you with every snowball!”
“But I defeated you in the end!”
“Throwing me in a snow pile isn’t fair!”
“All is fair in war,” he replied stubbornly.
She glared at him, lips shaking as she held back a laughter. She wriggled her wrists, but he had a firm hold on them. She moved her neck up, kissing him on the lips quickly. He gasped, surprised, and let her go. She pushed him off, sitting up and laughing.
“Or in love! All is fair in war and in love!” she exclaimed as her hat fell off into the snow.
“You sound like Becky,” he mumbled, sitting up as well.
He grabbed her hat, shaking the snow off it.
“She is my best friend, you know.”
“Does this mean she’ll be a thorn in my side for the rest of our lives?”
“You act like you can’t see each other, but you like her more than you are willing to admit.”
“Oh no, I will have to spend the rest of my life with Blackbell in my vicinity,” he continued, faking an exaggerate horror at the idea.
She elbowed him, he pretended to fall, holding his side as if she had used her mother’s strength.
“Oh no! Look at me! I’m injured! I’m dying!”
He grabbed her arm, pulling her down to him instead of sobering up. She chuckled, snuggling into his side, even though they were still half-buried in the snow and the cold was starting to settle deep in their bones.
“Hey, my parents are probably out right now, should we go to my home? It’ll be warmer,” she said suddenly.
Damian flushed, his mind reeling at the idea of being alone with Anya with the certainty of her parents being away… but he tried to control himself as he nodded.
“Y-yeah, sure. Let’s go.”
She stood and helped him up. He brushed snow off her hair, brushing strands behind her ears, then he carefully put her winter hat back on, making sure her ears were covered. She was smiling that silly, enamoured smile of hers when he looked back down at her. Knowing damn well that she loved the attention, he offered her his arm. She happily took it, grinning and holding onto him tightly.
They weren’t far from Anya’s apartment and as planned, her parents were away, spending the evening with Frankie and his little family, but they would be back before dinner. While Damian was busy in the toilets, Anya prepared hot cocoa, the way her mama always did, for the two of them. She even put five marshmallows, instead of the usual three.
She brought the mugs in the living-room, the radio was on in the background, letting out some Christmas songs, and he noticed the last Bondman’s comics that he picked up. They started talking about it, Anya easily falling into the excitement of talking about one of her favourite things. She gathered her legs under herself, making herself comfortable, sipping the hot cocoa.
Looking up at Damian who was going through the comics, she snorted suddenly.
He looked back at her, confused.
“…Nothing, Mr Desmond.”
She took a big gulp of her hot cocoa, then pulled the mug away, pushing her chocolate-covered upper lip out to mimic him.
“Ah! Damn it!” he exclaimed, rubbing his hand against his mouth.
Anya started laughing, almost falling off the couch in the process.
“Watch out, silly!” he scolded, grabbing her mug before it’d fall on the carpet.
But she couldn’t stop laughing. Grumbling to himself, Damian, grabbed her waist. She cried out, pulled to him. He leaned over until they were lying on the couch. He glared at her, blushing in embarrassment to have had a chocolate moustache just a moment ago. She kept pushing her lips out and laughing, still covered in cocoa. He leaned down and shut her up with a long kiss. She smiled into it. His tongue tickled her lips and she eagerly opened her mouth. Their kiss deepened and she put her hands against the back of his head, leaning into his touch.
They both tasted of chocolate and their bodies were fuzzy from the feeling that only a warm home in winter could provide.
He pulled away for breath, chuckling at the sight of her lips, still covered in chocolate. Anya licked her upper lip and rubbed her hand to chase the last traces of it away.
“Every time I see you lick your lips, it makes me think of what we did the other night…” he admitted, thumb brushing her lower lip.
A teasing smile made its way on her face.
“I know,” she answered.
He snorted, rolling his eyes.
“How? You read my mind or something? I’m more discreet than you think, Anya.”
Anya’s smile wavered. She joined in his laughter, but her heart wasn’t in it.
He sat up, glancing at the clock and thinking that they wouldn’t have time to do anything other than kissing, not with the risk of her parents coming back at any time.
“Can I borrow your last Bondman? I’ll give it back to you tomorrow,” he continued, picking up his mug of cocoa and the comics to flip through the pages some more.
Anya sat up, looking in front of her. Right in front of her, next to the radio that let out the silly Christmas songs, she could only see a series of photographs from her family. Her parents a few summers ago. Her parents and her, last summer. Rosie as a baby, Anya holding Rosie. So many photographs, so many precious memories they had shared and kept to always remember what they were holding onto. What they had fought for. What they sought to protect. What they had promised to each other. Her family, founded on lies and fake identities, that had become more real and more precious than anything else she had ever had. Until now.
Never lie, always tell the truth.
Damian was commenting on a passage of the comics, but the words sounded far away, as if she was buried at the bottom of the ocean, and he was screaming at her from the surface. It didn’t make any sense.
“What do you think?”
Not receiving any answer from her, Damian finally looked up. He saw her looking at nothing, her expression distant and… sad. As if something heart-breaking had dwelled on her unexpectedly.
“Hey, Anya? What’s wrong?” he asked, touching her arm.
She turned to him, his words suddenly loud and clear. Resonant and vibrant with intensity, with ignorance.
“How? You read my mind or something?”
“Have faith in Damian.”
“I… I can. Read your mind. I can read your mind.” She stammered.
She looked into his eyes, suddenly terrorised by what she’ll see.
Damian blinked, confused and lost. He frowned lightly, and shook his head, but there was something hidden deep, deep in his gaze that revealed that he feared he had heard her right.
“What?” he asked, pretending to be too foolish to understand what she meant.
But he couldn’t fool her. Never her.
She didn’t just say that, she’s messing with me, he thought.
“I’m not messing with you, Damian. I can read minds.” She replied.
He froze, eyes widening.
She chuckled, but it was strangled, cut with wet tears filling her eyes. She looked away, incapable of looking at him. She couldn’t escape his thoughts. She couldn’t escape the fear.
That’s… impossible… it’s not… it’s not possible…
Words hung in her mouth, on the tip of her lips, “it is very possible, your father made sure of it,” but she couldn’t.
She swallowed hard.
Gone was the sweet and warm atmosphere that had wrapped them. The jolly Christmas songs on the radio clashed against her ears. The tension between Anya and Damian was impossible to describe.
Her heart beat fast, hollow in her chest. Ice had replaced the blood in her veins. She felt like a porcelain doll that had been thrown into too many careless hands. If she was dropped, she’d shatter on the floor like crystal. If she lost him…
“No one can read mind. It’s impossible.” He said quickly, the words hurried one after another, as if he couldn’t say it fast enough.
She looked back at him, opening her lips, but he shook his head, continuing:
“You’re just messing with me! You’re playing a prank because… because of what I told about my father! It’s not funny, Anya! Stop it!”
“I’m not… it’s not a prank, it’s… it’s not a lie, it’s the truth, I-I can read mind, I always have…” she added, voice shaky and pleading.
Silently pleading that he wouldn’t drop her on the floor.
He opened his lips to silence her with well-chosen, sharp words, but the moment he met her eyes, he stopped. He froze, staring at her. Shocked and appalled, he could only stare into those green eyes he loved so much.
They were filled with tears. Filled with fear. A fear he recognized because he saw it every time he looked at himself in the mirror. He didn’t want to be left behind, left in the shadow of his brother, forgotten by his father. The fear of being abandoned was far too real for Anya to be lying.
“No,” he said, shaking his head.
He stood up suddenly, walking away quickly.
“No, no, it’s not possible–”
But it suddenly made sense, all those times she had finished his sentences with ease. All the moments of incredible intuition and perception. How she managed to know how he felt, how she always found the right words. How she knew him better than anyone.
He looked over his shoulder, covering his mouth with his hands, knees shaking.
“It’s not possible…”
He was a smart person, he knew that this sort of things, such as mind-reading, was impossible to reach. It belonged to comics and fantastic stories. Not reality. Not his life. His father had committed crimes trying to bring this into reality.
This is not possible!
His father, and COEUS, and Project Chimera–
This is not possible!
This is not possible! Not her, not Anya!
She made a strangled sound, standing up, as if to come to comfort him, but she looked like a frightened animal.
“NO! No, it’s not possible! I-if you can read minds, then…”
She opened and closed her lips, trembling all over. She couldn’t tell him what he had already pieced together.
If she developed mind-reading abilities, then… she must have been part of Project Chimera. She’s one of COEUS victims… one of my father’s victims! But it’s not possible, she’s… she’s here! I’ve known her all my life, she’s been at Eden since we were six! She’s Anya Forger, she’s Loid Forger’s daughter and…
He looked up, at the photographs lined up next to the stupid radio that let out stupid jolly songs. He wanted to punch it out of the way, to shut it up. He stared at the pictures. At little Rosie who looked so much like her parents. At Anya whose eyes, face, height, figure, was so different from Loid. There wasn’t a single picture of her biological mother, as if she… had never existed. He kept staring at Loid’s blond hair and bright blue eyes, clashing against Anya’s features. So different, too different.
I’ve been so blind… It’s– it’s so obvious they’re not related–
“M-my father found me, and adopted me… just before entering Eden…” Anya clarified, as if following his line of thoughts.
He whipped towards her, blanching. She had followed his thoughts.
She flinched, looking away.
She had known everything, all this time, always.
She tightened her lips, balling her fists.
She had always known everything that was going on in his mind. His fears, his hopes, his distress, his guilt, his shame at his father’s actions–
She looked back up, eyes filled with tears. And like always, when Anya Forger cried, his heart was gnawed away by the incomprehensible desire to chase them away.
He looked away, incapable of facing her. His stomach twisted in disgust. Not at her, but at himself and the blood he shared with his father.
His father – who had paid for… for these inhuman experimentations… for… for Anya to– No, no, no, I can’t do this– I can’t be responsible– I can’t be the one who– I can’t know that– I can’t–
A hushed gasp. A smothered sound that felt like a cold shower falling on him. Hurried footsteps forced his attention back to Anya. She was running, she was running away, away from him, escaping him.
The apartment door slammed.
He jumped. He should go after her, he should comfort her, she was crying because of him, she was crying because she was scared he’d leave her behind and what was he doing?!
“Y-your father was… he’s the reason why…”
His legs were stuck to the ground. Tied by roots he couldn’t shake off. Twisted, invisible stems that had wrapped around his body, pricking him with shame, guilt, and horror.
All he could see was Anya’s face when he had revealed to her the truth about his father. The revulsion on her pale face. The way she had moved away from him. Her scars. Her panic attack that had taken her so suddenly he had lost all sense of what was happening. It had shattered his heart, he had nightmares about it. But when he had told her everything, when she had known everything weighing on his heart, when his soul had been entirely bare, raw, and hurt, she had still reached out to him, tried to comfort him. Even if she hadn’t known why, even if she had been the one in need of comfort…
The way she had clawed at his hands, even as her mind broke. He could still feel her nails, desperately digging into his skin.
“You are not your father, you are not his offenses… You are you, and I choose you, Damian Desmond. I’ll share the burden. You’re not alone anymore, I’m here, okay?”
“I promise… No secret between us, I’ll tell you everything. I promise.”
“Damian… I need to tell you something… I… I just don’t know how…”
No… what have I done? What have I done?! What are you doing, Damian?!
He took a hesitant step.
The apartment was entirely silent.
The only sound was the stupid Christmas songs that rattled against his head. It was the silence and the absence of Anya that pushed him forward, running fast, faster than he ever did before. He ran so fast, he barely felt the ground beneath his feet, he almost felt and slipped down the stairs a dozen times. But he kept on running, he kept on running as if his life depended on it – and perhaps it did.
Because what was he, if he lost Anya?!