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Guiding Star

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FANFICTION

SPY X FAMILY

Guiding Star

CHAPTER XXXVI: Safe and Sound

 

It didn’t take long after the doctor and nurse had checked on Anya, for the SSS officers to arrive. To Damian’s surprise, Loid followed them, along with a tear-strained Becky and Demetrius.

 

“Becky! You’re alright!” Anya exclaimed, trying to sit up but still too weak to do much.

 

“Anyaaaaa!!” she cried, running to her friend.

 

Becky hugged her, leaning over the bed, almost smothering Anya under her body. Her shoulders were shaking, and Damian felt a little guilty for having completely forgotten about Becky.

 

“You’ve scared me! You’ve scared me so much! When we heard the bomb, and then, I couldn’t find any of you! And then– and THEN, Damian took you to the hospital and I had no idea what was going on!!”

 

Another sob shook Becky as Anya tried to comfort her, smiling softly at her friend.

 

“I’m fine, it’s alright, Becky… You don’t have to be scared anymore,” she murmured, tapping her back with her hand with the catheter.

 

Her other arm was in a sling, she couldn’t move it without causing pain, having a sprain on her shoulder and an enormous dark bruise, almost black, on the entirety of her arm. According to the doctor, it would be the fastest injury to heal – other than the various scratches and bruises all over her body.

 

“She was so panicked, I didn’t have the heart to ask her to wait any longer,” Loid intervened, kissing his daughter’s forehead, clearly relieved to see her awake and as well as she could be.

 

A cough resonated from the other side of the room and Becky stepped away, sniffling, and going to hide next to Yor and Loid. Damian and Demetrius remained to Anya’s left side as the two SSS officers approached.

 

“If you are well enough, Miss Forger, we have a few questions to ask you about the events,” the first one started, taking off his hat respectfully, “I am Lieutenant Pfeiffer, I am in charge of interrogating all witnesses to the terrorist attack that hit Eden Academy. I believe you were on of the most badly injured student. Do you recall anything that could help us find the culprits?”

 

Anya hesitated, recalling every minute of the attack in clear details. She glanced at her father who nodded.

 

Tell them everything you know, he told her through his mind.

 

She swallowed hard, then started talking:

 

“I was on my way to the library to meet with Damian… so we could study…” she added, glancing quickly at Demetrius standing ominously tall on her left, “Just as I approached, there was this boy. He must have been around twelve, or thirteen years old, but he looked younger.”

 

The Lieutenant’s assistant scribbled it all down eagerly and from the way the SSS officers’ eyes flashed, it was obvious no one had given them such a detailed description of the event.

 

“What did he look like?”

 

“Ashy blond hair, pale, uh… grey eyes… he looked like he hadn’t had a proper meal in months… He wore dirty clothes, and a jacket from Eden on top. It was too big for him.”

 

“What else happened?”

 

“I asked him who he was and where he came from…”

 

She knew the boy had been from COEUS but surely, she couldn’t reveal such a thing to the SSS without revealing her origins or making them suspicious.

 

“He didn’t say anything,” she added – not entirely a lie, as he hadn’t explicitly said anything.

 

“What happened next?” Lieutenant Pfeiffer asked in a harsh voice.

 

“Then… he told me he had a bomb on his body, and to run away. I heard the beeping getting faster, so I jumped off the window.”

 

“WHAT?!”

 

She blinked, glancing at Damian, Becky and Loid who had all reacted in the same panicked voice. Yor had simply gasped in horror. Demetrius looked baffled and the two officers stared at her as if she was an alien.

 

“Oh, that explains your arm and bruises…” Yor commented.

 

“…You jumped off the window from the second floor?” Lieutenant Pfeiffer asked, raising a doubtful eyebrow.

 

She nodded, trying to focus on the officers and not her overprotective family.

 

“I didn’t think I’d have time to run away…”

 

“…You were right to jump off, you wouldn’t have been out of the hallway in time…” Loid intervened, nodding, worried, proud and relieved all at once.

 

“What next?” Lieutenant Pfeiffer continued.

 

“I don’t remember much… The bomb exploded when I was still in the air… I landed on the ground and saw my wound… I passed out quickly… Oh!”

 

She tried to sit up, but winced when pain shot through her body. Yor immediately put a reassuring hand on her shoulder to force her to sit down.

 

“T-there was a hand… the boy’s hand… on the ground… I found a folded paper in it, but… I don’t know what happened to it.”

 

Damian paled. He glanced at his brother who nodded.

 

“It must have been the photograph my brother found in your hand, Miss Forger. The officers have been given it yesterday.”

 

Anya blinked, glancing back at her boyfriend.

 

“W-wait… you found…”

 

She looked around, suddenly confused, before landing her gaze on Becky.

 

“Y-you said Damian had brought me to the hospital… I-I thought… Where were you when it all happened?!” she exclaimed, turning towards him.

 

“I… was in the library, waiting for you,” he answered calmly.

 

“B-but… I thought– Mama told me you had been safe and sound!” she cried out, turning to look at everyone.

 

“I was safe and sound, nothing happened to me but I… I found you…” he admitted.

 

The sick look on his face suddenly made sense. Anya swallowed hard, tears burning her eyes as she sensed, through the pounding headache in her head, his blurry memory and ongoing terror of finding her, half-dead and bleeding out on the ground.

 

“Damian saved you,” Loid said with a grateful nod towards the young man, “He’s the one, with the help of Professor Dunkel, who made a tourniquet to stop the bleeding on your leg. It gave you enough time to survive until arriving at the hospital.”

 

“And you saved my brother,” Demetrius added darkly, “If it weren’t for you distracting this child-assassin, he would have walked right to my brother in time for the bomb to explode. Thank you, Miss Forger.”

 

He bowed respectfully, albeit a little cold. Even Damian was surprised by the gesture.

 

Anya opened and closed her lips.

 

She wasn’t so sure about that statement… If the boy from COEUS had wanted to kill his target, he would have had plenty of time to walk into the library before her arrival. But he had been standing without entering it.

 

“He didn’t want to hurt anybody…” she murmured, tears filling her eyes once more, “The boy was forced to do it, he didn’t want to hurt anybody…”

 

Damian took her hand in an effort to comfort her.

 

“What makes you think such a thing?” Lieutenant Pfeiffer asked suspiciously.

 

Yor, Loid and Damian immediately stiffened, glancing dangerously at the man who kept his gaze focused on Anya. She swallowed hard.

 

“…H-he told me so… that’s why he told me to go away before the bomb exploded…” she explained, keeping her mind-reading ability secret.

 

“Mmm. If we have any more question, we’ll come back to you. Thank you.”

 

They were about to leave, but at the last minute, Lieutenant Pfeiffer looked back at Anya and Yor:

 

“You are Major Briar’s sister and niece, isn’t it?”

 

“T-that’s right,” Yor said, nodding.

 

“He talks a lot about the two of you. He’s very proud. Have the best of recovery, Miss Forger.”

 

And without any more emotion that could mistake him for a human being, he left them.

 

Anya was shocked to find out that Uncle Yuri would talk about her to his co-workers… His sister, or Rosie, she had no trouble imagining, but herself?

 

“We must go as well,” Demetrius said, glancing at his watch, “Come, Damian.”

 

“W-what? Already? But–”

 

“You wanted to see if Miss Forger was still alive, this is done. You return to the safety of the apartment now. Mother is beside herself, she wants to see you right this instant.”

 

“But!”

 

“Dwayne,” Demetrius continued, ignoring his brother’s protests, “Drive my brother back to the apartment. I’ll be back tonight, and we will discuss the next steps.”

 

“Yes, sir.”

 

“Demetrius, give me one minute, please!”

 

“Mr and Mrs Forger, Miss Forger, it was a pleasure,” Demetrius said as way to say goodbye.

 

“Demetrius!!” Damian cried out.

 

He turned towards his little brother, his dark eyes cold and undisputable. Shivering, Damian understood he wouldn’t be able to discuss this any longer. He glanced back towards Anya, hopelessly, and she forced a brave smile on her face.

 

“I’ll be fine. Go with your family…” she told him, even though she had a thousand questions to ask him – or rather just one big and important…

 

“…I’ll come back tomorrow.”

 

Demetrius glanced at him, frowning, but he didn’t refute such a statement. Damian kissed her forehead quickly, then grumpily followed his brother, the two of them surrounded by half a dozen of bodyguards.

 

“Demetrius Desmond is cheerful as a graveyard, like usual…” Becky muttered, glaring at the door they had just walked through, before leaning towards Anya on a tone of secret, “Are you sure you want to marry into this family?”

 

“Becky…” Anya sighed, smiling despite herself at her friend’s antics.

 

Smile accomplished, Becky was joyful once more.

 

“I’m so glad you’re okay, Anya. I don’t know what I would have done if anything had happened to you…”

 

“I guess it makes you grateful towards Damian for being there at all to help me, eh?”

 

“Ugh, I guess I will thank him properly once we’re back at Eden. Oh, I need to tell you everything since the attack!”

 

Becky eagerly started telling her about everything that had happened, or rather, everything that they still didn’t know about – such as whether they’d return to the academy on Monday and how everything would have changed – but after only a few minutes, Anya had fallen asleep.

 

Yor tapped Becky’s shoulder, stopping her in her long talk.

 

“She’s asleep. Let’s accompany you back home, Becky…”

 

“O-oh, I had so much more to tell her… Thank you, Mr and Mrs Forger.”

 

Reluctantly, Becky followed them, leaving Anya to rest.

 

*

 

Anya woke up and fell asleep several times through the rest of the day and most of the night. She was already feeling better, even if everything ached. Or rather, she was getting used to the pain that shot through her every time she woke up. The painkillers were effective, at least.

 

The next time she woke up fully, she was surprised to find that her parents, Becky and Damian were all absent. She wasn’t alone though.

 

She sat up, blinking away sleep, wincing at every movement that made her right arm and left leg throb.

 

“Please, don’t exert yourself, dear.”

 

Anya looked up, swallowing hard as she faced an elegant woman sitting there. She was holding a cup of tea, drinking it delicately. Her brown hair was tied back in an updo and despite the tired look on her face, she was still pretty.

 

“Y-you’re Damian’s mother…” Anya realised, recognising Lady Desmond from seeing her from faraway and through his memories.

 

“I wish we could have been acquainted in a more enjoyable context,” Dafni Desmond continued, putting down her teacup to the side.

 

Anya stared at her, stunned.

 

Of all people, she hadn’t expected Dafni Desmond to visit her at the hospital. Dafni breathed calm and serenity, sitting with her legs on the side, ankles crossed, her dark grey skirt-suit an absolute perfection of ladyship. She didn’t even have a hair out of place. She smiled at Anya, soft and sad, in a way that made her grey-green eyes shine.

 

“He has your eyes…” she murmured, only half-conscious of what she was saying, although she found Damian’s with more gold and even more beautiful.

 

“My, thank you. My sons do take a little bit after me. I am glad. It’s difficult not to see their father as they grow older.”

 

“W-what are you doing here?”

 

“Weren’t we supposed to meet and have a tea party? Granted, the hospital is a little less charming than the Ritz-Charlton Hotel, but I have brought enough sweets and tea to make up for it.”

 

She waved her hand and a maid brought in a whole tea service and several piles of little sandwiches and cakes elegantly disposed on trays that took over the only small table where the beautiful flowers were standing.

 

“I-I’m sorry we are to meet in such… circumstances…” Anya mumbled, although she wasn’t sure why she felt so guilty.

 

Perhaps because she hadn’t a proper shower for days, that she imagined herself stinking of blood, ashes and antiseptics, and she could barely sit up. As she realised this, she struggled, pushing on her right leg, and breathing through the pain.

 

“Please, you can remain lying, dear,” Dafni said, blinking to see her exert herself in such a way.

 

Anya pretended not to have heard, continuing her struggle, until she found herself in a more comfortable position for a discussion that she felt would be important. It was the first time she would talk with Damian’s mother, after all, as disastrous as it felt to be such a mess in contrast to her perfect lady-like demeanour.

 

Dafni observed her closely, from head to toe, and although she didn’t seem judging, she pinched her lips.

 

“Demetrius met you yesterday. He has quite an opinion of you.”

 

“A-ah?”

 

“He thinks that you are stubborn and reckless.”

 

“H-he’s not entirely wrong…” Anya admitted with a flush, head a little dizzy from all her efforts.

 

Dafni kept observing her closely, as if trying to look through her soul.

 

“You probably are already aware of it, but Damian is of a similar disposition.”

 

Anya didn’t answer, waiting for the lady’s next words.

 

“Once he decides upon something, nothing can take him off his chosen path… And I believe he chose you many, many years ago, before he even realised what a choice this would be.”

 

“M-me?”

 

“Yes, you, Anya Forger. He has been in love with you for a long time. Tell me, how long have you felt the same for my son?”

 

That was embarrassing. Anya hadn’t expected the talk to turn around her relationship with Damian so quickly. She wasn’t sure what was going on, but she knew one thing: she had to be honest, or Lady Desmond would immediately figure it out. She was far too sharp to be fooled by Anya.

 

“I-it happened so suddenly, so unexpectedly, I can’t tell when it even began. I have cared for him for far longer though, as a friend, and as a platonic soulmate, long before my feelings turned to love.”

 

Dafni blinked, visibly stunned by such strength.

 

“I see,” was all she answered.

 

She picked up her tea again, drinking it absentmindedly. After a moment of hesitation, she continued speaking, without looking at Anya, lost in her memories of past love and grief:

 

“Do you know why I fell in love with Donovan, so many, many years ago?”

 

Once again, Anya chose silence, sensing that there was more to come:

 

“He wanted to make the world a better place. And I believed him, with all my heart. He was headstrong and if there was one person who could accomplish such a thing, it would be him. That was why I loved him so much. He had a good heart, even if many do not remember him in such a way… his sons most of all.”

 

She spun the spoon in her cup, before delicately taking it out of the cup and onto the side of the saucer she was holding. Not a sound was made over the porcelain. Had it been Anya, even in her full capacity and not bed-stricken, it would have all clattered on the floor a long time ago.

 

“Donovan had always been a man of thoughts and careful reasoning, whereas I had always been a creature of emotions and instinct. We completed each other.”

 

Dafni looked down at her tea, then glanced back up at Anya:

 

“I wonder if two people, so similar in spirit and heart, like Damian and you are, could work so well.”

 

Anya’s heart missed a beat. She was suddenly aware of the beeping machine that revealed to the whole world the way her emotions betrayed her.

 

“W-what are you saying?” Anya asked hesitantly, scared of the answer.

 

“What I am saying is that I wish for my son to be happy and fulfilled. I don’t want to see him hurt as he has been the last few weeks, upon finding out his father’s secrets, or now, because of your accident… I–”

 

“If by ‘secrets’, you are referring to Donovan Desmond torturing children to create some sort of mind-reading monster, then I know all about it. I believe the term you’re looking for is ‘crime’ rather than ‘secret’,” Anya continued, sounding far harsher than she intended.

 

Dafni stared at her, stunned. Then she closed her eyes, visibly torn and hurt.

 

“…You are right. What my husband committed was horrific, and beyond. Whatever good heart I fell in love with, it became dark and twisted after the war… He never was the same when he came back to us… but I never thought he’d become such a…”

 

“A monster?” Anya hesitated.

 

Dafni swallowed hard, shaken by the turn this conversation had taken.

 

“Please, believe me, when I say that, once upon a time, he had been a good man, full of good intentions…”

 

Anya saw through her memories, of long ago, before even their wedding and Demetrius’ birth. There was no doubt Dafni had deeply loved Donovan, that he had felt just as strongly for her… Strangely, the way Donovan’s eyes sparkled when he talked excitedly about projects to rebuild after the war and make a better world reminded her painfully of Damian, eager to learn and make his family proud.

 

She remembered Donovan’s last thoughts, as he had been turning cold in a pool of his own blood…

 

“…I believe you… He wasn’t… he wasn’t always a bad man, I’m sure…” she answered, looking away, conflicted between Dafni’s love for Donovan and what she knew he had done to her specifically.

 

It was easy to wave away some past crime and horror from an individual or a country when it belonged to history… It was completely different when it concerned one’s life or family. When Anya herself was concerned directly by Donovan’s crimes.

 

“You said that you and Donovan completed each other… but Damian and I… we’re so similar, so stubborn, so alike, so eager to outmatch one another… we understand each other. W-we’re two sides of the same coin and we aim for the same thing…”

 

“And what would that be?” Dafni asked, genuinely curious.

 

“Peace,” Anya answered, voice shaking a little, “I’m not scared of what your husband did in the past. I’m not scared of being with Damian because of what his father did. They are different people, with different goals, and Damian and I won’t repeat the mistakes people before us did. I’m not scared of being with Damian because of who he is.”

 

“…It sounds very sweet and determined… but what happens when one of you gets hurt? What happens when Damian, for being a Desmond, is targeted, or worse, when you end up targeted to hurt him? What happens when you feel betrayed by his choices? What happens then? Do you think that leaving Berlint with my new-born son was a pleasurable journey? I didn’t escape with Demetrius simply because of the war, but because we were the biggest targets that would have hurt Donovan, had we been caught at any point.”

 

Anya looked away, heart beating hard against her chest. She hadn’t even considered that anyone would dare target the Desmond, with the level of high security around them… but here she was in a hospital because Damian had been targeted to hurt his brother.

 

Dafni leaned forward, taking Anya’s hand in hers. It was cold, colder than Anya, and yet, her eyes were warm when she spoke up:

 

“I wish for my son, and for you, to be happy. And you certainly love each other very deeply. For that, I am grateful. But I also want you to understand, Anya, what it would mean for you to engage in a relationship with my son. It could be far worse than a bomb you luckily escaped. It wouldn’t bound you to him, it would bound you to the entire Desmond family, and the legacy that comes with it. And being a Desmond is a heavy burden…”

 

Anya’s eyes filled with tears. They hadn’t been aware of the danger at the beginning. But now, she knew. She knew all too well how far she could go to protect Damian, were he ever in danger. But that didn’t make her afraid, because for all the wounds the world could conjure to tear them apart, there was no comfort like her hands in his, or the way his eyes lit up when looking at her.

 

“Then, I’ll share the burden with him. Whatever may come.” Anya declared, turning back to look at Dafni, trembling from defiance and decisiveness.

 

Dafni stared at her, eyes wide. She opened and closed her lips. Then, she smiled, looking a little reassured as she let go of Anya’s hands.

 

“I see.”

 

She stood up, picking up her handbag. She kept smiling at Anya.

 

“I said what I needed to. I heard an answer I wasn’t expecting, but which I respect all the same. Rest well, Anya. I am looking forward to meeting you again, in more pleasurable circumstances.”

 

Anya hadn’t expected Dafni to leave so suddenly, so she nodded, dumbfounded. By the time Dafni had left, she felt dizzy and exhausted. She dropped back against her pillows, passing a hand against her forehead.

 

“What a pain these Desmond can be…” she murmured to herself, with a smile, knowing that despite it all, her Damian was worth it.

 

*

 

The next day, Anya hadn’t expected any visit besides her mother and little sister. It was Monday, after all, and even if Eden hadn’t reopened, the students were expected to work remotely, when they could.

 

She spent the morning with the doctor and nurses who made her stand on her leg, no matter how painful it was. Then she was helped into a delightful shower and her bandages changed. The nurses showed Anya and Yor both how to make it a good bandage, although Yor was familiar enough with wounds that she didn’t need it, but she kept from mentioning her old habits to the sweet nurses.

 

“We’ve cut off the painkillers, you will feel the pain more intensely but try to stay off it for now. If everything goes well, we’ll let you go home tomorrow,” the doctor announced with a smile once he had checked over her completely.

 

Anya would need a lot more time to recover – at least two months of walking with a crutch or limping because of her leg. A week or two struggling because of her right arm. Her bruises were already turning a bluish green, her ribs were not as bad as initially thought and breathing was almost easy. As for her blood loss, it’d take time before she’d feel rested enough to not fall asleep every two hours.

 

“Papa will come pick you up tomorrow morning, and I’ll prepare your favourite movies to watch at home. We’ll visit you tonight to bring you your clothes, okay, my darling?” Yor said, kissing her forehead.

 

“I’ll be fine. Thank you, mama.” Anya answered with a smile.

 

Yor had brought her several books, but as bored as she was, she didn’t have the energy to read more than a few pages. And so the long hours of the afternoon stretched endlessly where all she could do was sneak up a peak at some words, doze off, watch some bad TV, admire the course of the sun, attempt more reading…

 

Perhaps part of the reason why she couldn’t focus wasn’t how foggy her brain was, but how difficult the thoughts that came through haunted her.

 

She couldn’t close her eyes without seeing that boy’s sad smile. She was almost certain that he hadn’t intended to hurt anyone. She hadn’t told much to her father yet, because they were worried of being listened, but he hadn’t found anything about COEUS still existing, still functioning, or worse, some of the children having survived and gone in the wild, or into the wrong hands.

 

She knew he had been a boy from COEUS.

 

She had tried for years and years to never think back of that place. She had hoped it had shut down long ago. Damian had affirmed Demetrius and the SSS thought COEUS ended and forgotten.

 

And yet, this boy proved it wrong. He had somehow survived the tests, for years and years, looking half a corpse when he got the bomb strapped around his waist. Would it have been her fate, had she not escaped? Half-fed, miserable, wretched, smiling to be torn to pieces for a lost and desperate cause?

 

As grateful as she was for her escape and the life she had gotten… a more horrifying thought survived: Damian had been targeted.

 

She didn’t know how far the investigation was, but there was no doubt that Damian had been targeted to impact Demetrius and his political party. The timing had been too perfect. If she hadn’t been there, if the boy had walked into the library all the way to Damian

 

Her heart beat faster, only in her head now that she wasn’t connected to the heart rate monitor. It was even more haunting when it pounded into her mind, the constant and awful reminder that she was alive and the boy was dead. She was alive and Damian could have died. Guilt gnawed at that stupid heart of hers that kept on beating, again and again, hollow, angry, and sad.

 

If anything had happened to Damian…

 

Anya took a deep breath, turning around despite the way her injuries cried out. The pain was another reminder of her living state. All she had seen of the boy had been his hand, torn away from his body. There wasn’t even enough left to give him a proper funeral. Was it what would have been left of Damian, had he been the tragic victim of this attack?

 

Trembling, she turned away once more, closing her eyes hard enough to see dots dance behind her eyelids.

 

“What happens when Damian, for being a Desmond, is targeted, or worse, when you end up targeted to hurt him?”

 

Anya had carefully avoided thinking about what Damian had gone through in these few hours, keeping her down, watching her bleed, holding her hand… No one had given her any detail and her mind-reading was too difficult in her weak state to go through memories… but she had seen Damian’s eyes. She had seen how haunted he was. As if he was facing a ghost.

 

The idea of losing Damian, of having almost lost him, was unbearable. It sunk down on her chest and pressed her ribcage until she choked on her own fears. Losing him was unthinkable. It rotted her brain until all her thoughts turned to misery and grief. It was an inescapable void, made of terrors and trauma, that ate her alive.

 

A knock at the door startled her. She jumped in bed, gasping, as she sat up. She must have gotten lost in her thoughts because the sun was lower than she remembered.

 

“Y-yes?” she called out, in a croaky voice.

 

She wondered if she had cried, but she didn’t have time to check how wet her cheeks were before the door opened and Damian of all people walked in.

 

She almost started crying to see him standing there.

 

He carried a small bouquet of purplish hyacinth and forget-me-nots. Silently, he went to her and handed the flowers. She took it with one hand, admiring the delicate petals for a moment but it stirred a bad feeling in her chest.

 

Her heart was beating hard, but it had nothing to do with her strong feelings of love she usually felt around Damian.

 

She was terrified.

 

“I finally managed to escape my brother’s high-security apartment, and my mother’s overbearing attention,” he said, attempting a light joke.

 

Anya opened and closed her mouth to talk, but she couldn’t find the words. She had had so many things to tell him, to ask him, to scold him for, and yet, now that he was here and they finally had a moment alone, she remained silent.

 

Damian took a chair and brought it closer so he could sit down.

 

“How are you feeling?” he asked, voice laced with worry as he watched her over.

 

Anya glanced at him, noticing the way his gaze went over her body. For every wave of relief that escape him from seeing that the catheter and tubes of medicine were gone, his thoughts darkened to see so many bruises and bandages.

 

Like always, it was so easy to read his thoughts. His mind was an open book for her, it beckoned her forward, inward, in the deepest parts of his soul.

 

He was feeling so culpable, so sorry, it burnt her. The bomb’s blast was nothing in comparison to facing his raw emotions that had soured over several days of worry and remorse. It was poison that had painted the walls of his mind black.

 

Ironically, she knew this all too well, because that was exactly how she felt towards that boy from COEUS.

 

She didn’t even know his name.

 

She didn’t even know if he ever had a name…

 

“Anya?” he called out, looking back at her when the silence lingered.

 

“I-I’m fine… the doctor will let me out tomorrow…” she answered, finally finding her voice but she sounded foreign even to herself.

 

“That’s good,” he sighed, obviously relieved, “I… I’ve brought you some notes.”

 

He put a pile of notebooks on the table. Anya put the bouquet on top of it, sitting up, despite the discomfort that any position offered.

 

“W-what happened with Eden? What’s going on?” she asked, feeling confused about the whole ordeal.

 

“The academy is closed and will remain so for the rest of the week. We are to study from home, following our professors’ remote instructions. It’s highly possible that when we’ll return… the security will be much higher than before.”

 

“I-it’s good… no?” she asked, simply reassured that Damian should never be in danger again while they remain in Eden.

 

But he darkened, looking down. He joined his hands, elbows resting on his knees, but his foot was restless. Anya opened her mind to his, but using her ability drained her so fast, it made her dizzy. His thoughts were so confused it made it even worse.

 

“D-Damian, what is it?” she continued, her entire body tensing despite the echoes of pain it provoked.

 

“It’s all my fault,” he let out, closing his eyes tightly.

 

“No! It’s not, nothing is your fault!”

 

He looked up, eyes wide and full of fury:

 

“It IS my fault! Anya, you wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for me! This boy targeted me! Because I’m a Desmond, because I’m the biggest liability to my family, to my brother!”

 

“Don’t say that! The people who did such a thing will always find a way to torture your brother! It could have been Diana, it could have been his friends, it could have been anyone!”

 

“That doesn’t change the fact that if I weren’t so weak, none of it would have happened!” he exclaimed, shaking his head.

 

“Weak?” she repeated, leaning towards him, “Do you think that you can just train to survive a bomb?! Do you think that you could have made it out alive if that boy had– if he had gone through with his orders?!”

 

“You know what I mean–”

 

“No! I don’t!” she cried out, tears filling her eyes as her voice broke in a thousand pieces, “I don’t understand what you mean because all I hear that you would have preferred it to be you!!”

 

He stood up so violently the chair fell over.

 

“It SHOULD have been me! I should be the one in tiny pieces! I should be the one in a hospital bed! Not you! Never you! I will never forgive myself to know I’ve caused you such pain!!”

 

Anya breathed hard, but she shook her head, refusing to hear such stubborn, horrifying statements:

 

“Do you think I’d be feeling any better if you were the one in here? Or in a coffin?!” she shouted.

 

“You should! You would be a lot better without me! You’d be safe! You’d be free! What can I offer you, but disaster and desolation?!”

 

“I don’t care about any of it, Damian!”

 

“I do! I do care about you, and I don’t want anything to do with you!!” he shouted.

 

Anya stopped breathing, watching him with wide, panicked eyes.

 

Damian froze, opening and closing his lips, as if his tongue burnt for saying such things. Slowly, he looked down, closing his eyes in absolute shame.

 

“…I didn’t mean it like that…” he murmured, clenching his fists.

 

“…I know. It doesn’t make it any less painful…”

 

She looked away from him, covering her mouth with her good hand, still bandaged.

 

A long, sad silence followed the tense exchange.

 

“Anya… I’m sorry… but you know I’m right… You could never be happy with me. Not like that. Not when my life is forfeit and I’ll always have a target on my back… You’re the love of my life, but I can’t put you through such things… I can’t imagine you going through what my mother did when my father died. You’d… you’d be better off without me…”

 

His voice cracked on these last words, like a wrong step over a frozen lake.

 

Anya turned back to him, tears now burning her eyes, pain clawing at her throat as sobs threatened to choke her.

 

“D-don’t do that… Please, Damian, don’t… don’t say any of that! I chose you, remember? Burdens and all!”

 

“Anya…” he whispered, shaking his head.

 

“I love you, I don’t want to lose you–”

 

Her voice broke on these words. A sob strangled her. Tears blurred her vision. Her cries, that she hopelessly tried to smother, echoed against the white walls of the hospital room.

 

“What happens when you feel betrayed by his choices?”

 

Ever since she had met Dafni, she had felt it coming, that luring fear in the back of her mind, slowly creeping in closer. She had never thought Damian would be the one to make a choice that would break her apart so easily.

 

Her shoulders shook as she desperately tried to smother her cries. Her breathing became faster and faster, her chest rising and falling, but no air reached her lungs.

 

Damian watched on, heart torn apart, soul wretched and miserable, as the love of his life cried and sobbed because of him, because of his words, because of his choice.

 

Like always, when Anya Forger cried, he couldn’t do anything but wish for her tears to turn into a smile.

 

He leaned towards her, cupping her cheek, brushing his thumb against the flow of tears that didn’t stop.

 

Anya… Anya, please…” he started, swallowing hard.

 

Her panting got worse, faster and faster at every breath. She was shaking all over.

 

“Anya, listen to me…”

 

“I-I ca-can’t… I can’t lose you– please, please… I can’t lose you…!”

 

She hiccupped through the tears as her panic attack increased in intensity, fighting through the words strangling her.

 

“Anya…”

 

“Not you– y-you’re the only one who chose me for me! You’re the only one I can’t lose– please…!”

 

Test subject – tortured.

 

Daughter – abandoned.

 

Daughter – replaced.

 

Daughter – left behind.

 

Daughter – just a mission. Daughter – just a pretence.

 

Love of his life – real.

 

More than ever before, Anya’s life was falling apart. Had she been standing, the floor would have collapsed beneath her feet. Her chest was tightening. The world was caving in. Everything was dark and hopeless.

 

All that was good, all that she had looked out for, held a hand out for, smiled for, her northern star guiding her home – he was leaving her behind, like so many others before she had loved with all her heart, only to have it trampled and left in the dust like an old, shattered porcelain doll.

 

“Don’t leave me!” she cried out, wailing loudly, like a child in the middle of bombed ruins, lost and alone.

 

Damian’s eyes burnt. He wrapped his arms around her, pulling her close. She kept on breathing hard, weeping wretchedly into his chest, holding onto him with her one good arm.

 

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, Anya, I’m sorry–” he repeated, again and again, holding her tight.

 

Tears started rolling down his cheeks, but he barely noticed, as lost as he was into her sorrow.

 

“Anya, I’m sorry–”

 

“Don’t leave me! Please, don’t leave me! Please…!”

 

“I won’t– I’m sorry, I won’t, I… I only want to keep you safe, I promise, I only want you safe and sound–”

 

Anya shook her head against his chest, then pulled away. Her eyes were red and puffy, her lips trembling, but with her good hand she hit him in the arm, weakly.

 

“You idiot! You stupid Sy-on boy! You imbecile! You’re the only one… you’re the only one who makes me feel safe and sound!! You’re the only one!” she cried out, more tears streaming down her cheeks.

 

She tried hitting him again, but it was half-hearted and she only tightened her fist around his shirt. Damian cupped her cheeks, pressing his forehead against hers.

 

I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I’ll never leave you, I can’t lose you too, you’re the one I feel safe and sound with… I’m sorry, Anya, I’m sorry

 

And even though ever since she had woken up, her mind-reading had been nothing but painful, pounding into her head, whistling like a bomb, for the first time, the fog dissipated. Her breathing calmed down as his thoughts washed over her. She closed her eyes, leaning into him, fist shaking, never letting go of his shirt. For the first time since she had woken up, his mind was lighting up, like sunlight piercing through dark storm clouds.

 

When she calmed down, breathing deeply, eyes still closed, she listened to his heartbeat, strong and steady against her ear. She realised he was brushing her hair and back, the gesture slow and comforting. He kept repeating the same words, again and again…

 

I can’t lose you, I was so terrified of losing you, I can’t go through this ever again… I love you too much. I can’t lose you. I love you. I’m sorry. I love you, please don’t leave me

 

“Everyone left me behind…” she let out in a voice still tight with tears.

 

It quieted Damian’s thoughts as he tried to focus on her words.

 

She didn’t dare meet his eyes, sniffing, as her most horrible truth spilled out of her lips:

 

“I don’t even know if my biological parents ever loved me… The lab was a nightmare… Four families hated me for my mind-reading ability… They left me behind, one by one, crushing my hopes again and again… Even my parents had ulterior motives when adopting me… All I ever wanted was a family… but they kept on leaving me behind, they keep on abandoning me…”

 

Her breathing fastened again, her panic attack threatened to smother her once more. But Damian was ready this time, and he held her steady.

 

“I won’t. I’m not. Never.” Damian said, tears slipping against his cheeks and into his lips, invading his mouth with a bittersweet, salty taste.

 

“Y-you said–”

 

Her voice cracked.

 

“You’d… you’d be better off without me…”

 

“What happens when you feel betrayed by his choices?”

 

“I know what I said, and I take it all back…” he answered, pressing his fingers against her cheeks to draw her attention to his words, “Anya, look at me.”

 

He raised her head so her eyes met his and despite the tears that kept on glistening, sliding down helplessly on her cheeks, all he could do was wipe them away as they kept on coming. All he could do was take back his regretful words.

 

“I take back what I said, I just want to protect you and I… I thought you’d be better, happier, if I’m not part of your life…”

 

“You’ve always been the better part of my life, you’ve always been the star I looked out for at night…” she murmured.

 

He swallowed hard, murmuring in his mind the words that echoed her sentiment.

 

My guiding star, my guiding star, my guiding star…

 

“I-I want to protect you, Anya… But… I can’t protect you from the world… I can’t force you in a cage in the hope you’ll never get hurt… but whatever happens in the future… I choose you. I’ve chosen you times and times again, I’ll choose you again, if… if you want to spend such a life with me.”

 

Slowly, Anya calmed down, the last tears rolling down her cheeks as she closed her eyes. He held his breath, watching this horrifying vision that reminded him far too much of these minutes she had been bleeding out beneath his hands.

 

But despite the horror and the nightmares, there was hope shining in his mind. The muddy warzone Anya had envisioned so often, was now covered in poppies and cornflowers. Sunflowers turned towards the light. A radiant sun in the night sky. A star, more brilliant than a thousand diamonds.

 

She wanted to paint this. This new portrait of Damian’s soul.

 

She let go of his shirt and raised her good hand to his, brushing her thumb against his skin.

 

She opened her eyes, cleared of all distress. She dived her gaze into Damian’s golden ones, full of hope. Hope for forgiveness, hope for a promise, hope for a future.

 

“Together…” she whispered, “We can’t spend our lives trying to protect one another against a whole life of dangers… but we can face it together, whatever may come.”

 

“Have faith in Damian.”

 

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

 

“You are you, and I choose you, Damian Desmond. I’ll share the burden, but don’t… don’t shoulder it all by yourself… You’re not alone anymore, I’m here, okay?”

 

“I promised I’d share my burdens with you, if you did the same, so let me help you out! Let me carry your burdens!”

 

I love you…

 

“I love you too…”

 

“I’ll share the burden with him. Whatever may come.”

 

“Together,” Damian repeated, nodding softly.

 

They intertwined their fingers together, holding tightly, pressing their foreheads together, barely breathing as they held onto this new promise, one among many before, one among many left to make, one that mattered just as much as all the others.

 

“Together…” Anya breathed, a desperate relief washing over her so suddenly she almost fell over.

 

She leaned her head against his chest, feeling his heartbeat, focusing on nothing else but this.

 

“Y-you need to lie down,” Damian intervened, holding her up but worried that he had done too much, said too many hurtful things, when she was still fragile and recovering.

 

She wanted nothing more but to close her eyes. She pushed herself upwards.

 

“Lie down with me, please,” she demanded.

 

He didn’t have it in him to deny her anything. Not after he had almost ruined everything.

 

He let go of her hand, moving around the small hospital bed. He climbed over the small barrier as Anya shuffled aside, ignoring the pain in her body. He leaned against the pillows, and she nestled against him. He put an arm around her, careful not to hurt her in any way.

 

Her breathing slowed down, turning peaceful and sleepy as she kept her head tucked against his chest. He started brushing his finger against her shoulder.

 

He observed her, pale, tear-streaked face and eyes closed.

 

“Anya…” he called.

 

She looked up at him, relief tightening his heart painfully.

 

“…Every time I see you close your eyes, I feel like I’m seeing you die again and again…” he said, feeling incredibly selfish when she needed rest.

 

But he couldn’t watch her fall asleep without tremors going through his body, the inevitable need to shake her awake, make sure that this time, her eyes opened, her body answered. He never wanted to hold her, pale and heavy, like he had a few days ago.

 

Having read his thoughts, understanding the terror he had been through, but only gazing at the top of the iceberg of what they still had many, many things to talk about this terrible day, she just picked his free hand. She pressed it against her chest, just above her heart. His fingertips trembled from the steady movement of her most vital organ and the seat of her most faithful feelings for him.

 

He swallowed hard, nodding slowly as he understood, without a word passing between them, what she was telling him.

 

“Listening to your heart makes me feel safe and sound, like a lullaby… It… it reminds me that it’s real. All of it, all of us. It’s real.”

 

He nodded once more, settling a little more comfortably, keeping his hand on her chest to make sure he could feel her heart beating.

 

“…You’re safe and sound. Sleep… I’ll watch over you…” he said, kissing the top of her head.

 

She closed her eyes, not sensing any dark or traumatised thought that she might be dying… Peaceful and warm into his arms, she slipped into the most restful sleep she had had in days.